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Only Look Ahead

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He doesn't have a name for her. It's the first thing to cross his mind when Briana’s text comes through. He's not ready.

Neither is the baby: they've got four and a half weeks to go and this is the start Louis' been afraid of, false and then too fast. It wasn't supposed to happen like this, but then, not much of this was.

Briana’s only been here for less than a month, took an overnight flight to New York and then a private plane to London. If the baby had been born in America, it would’ve incurred a slew of absolutely unnecessary legal shit Louis wasn’t quite ready to deal with, especially taking a trip to the passport office with his newborn. He can imagine how the press would’ve loved that one.

They agreed he should have full custody, and he lives in England now that he’s not nomadic and living elsewhere doesn’t really fit, so the baby should be British. It feels strange, getting to decide on an important part of a person’s identity, based on where she’s born. In the past few months, Louis has become more aware than ever of his exponentially growing list of responsibilities. A list that’s more than buy a pram, learn infant clothing sizes, and involves awkward things like calling the maternal grandmother of your child to let her know she should probably catch the next flight.

After that bit of business, Louis has approximately a trillion fucking people to text, but he ends up shooting the exact same thing to his mum and to Liam, It’s happening now x, because dealing with his phone frantically buzzing is the last thing he wants to do right now.

His mum calls, within a minute, and Louis picks up breathless, trying to shove a clean t-shirt into his rucksack. He knows Briana had a bag packed for when she was supposed to go in, but he hadn’t been that prepared. His car’s supposed to be out front in five minutes. He has no idea what a new father is supposed to take to the hospital.

“It’s early,” Jay says, not scolding him, or even particularly concerned, but observing.

Louis laughs, because it’s not his fault, and his mum knows that. There’s nothing either of them could’ve done. “Yeah, I know,” he agrees, his voice rough and a little panicked.

Jay’s calm as ever: she’s had plenty of experience in this field. “Ernie and Dotty were earlier than this, remember? Lottie and I will be on our way soon, I’ll text you.”

“Okay, mum.” He doesn’t want to hang up, stands in his living room staring at the twinkling lights on his too-tall Christmas tree.

“It’s going to be fine, Bear,” Jay says.

Louis holds onto that, childhood pet name and all, all the way to the hospital. Then he realizes he left his rucksack at the door.


He’s immediately corralled by a nurse in the maternity ward hallway who either recognizes him as that bloke from One Direction or, more specifically, as that bloke from One Direction that’s been paying hefty amounts of cash for his baby mama to come to the hospital as often as she likes.

She proceeds to tell him exactly how many centimeters Briana’s cervix is dilated and exactly nothing about what that means, precisely. Louis could’ve read that What To Expect chapter on Delivery a few more times, probably. “Would you like to go and sit with her?” she asks, looking unbearably cheerful about the prospect.

Louis blinks. “Maybe I’ll go fetch her a Coke,” he blurts out. It’s the first thing that comes to mind. He has no idea which way the cafeteria might be, but he’s already backing away towards the lifts, so that’s a start.

His phone buzzes in his pocket as he counts the dings of floors passing on the elevator buttons. it better fucking be diet, Briana’s sent.

aren’t u in labor?? Louis sends back, because he doesn’t really know what else to say.

i’m a modern woman, pops up on his screen. i’m srs about that drink tho.

After a bit of wandering about, Louis manages to find the canteen, gets Briana the largest Diet Coke with crunchy ice they’ll give him and a ham butty in a plastic box for himself. Finding his way back to the maternity ward proves to be more of a challenge than anticipated, his hand is fucking freezing from holding the drink for too long, and his phone has buzzed at least ten times in his pocket, unreachable thanks to his busy hands. Probably Liam.

Thankfully, the nurse from earlier has moved on down the hall, and Louis gets directions to a room 213 from the older lady at the counter, who doesn’t find the need to talk about the mother of his child’s cervix dilation.

It’s kind of weird to be greeted by Nick Grimshaw’s voice as Louis steps into the room, after rapping his knuckles on the door to the best of his abilities. Briana had been really into this series of The X Factor, and they seem to be re-running the last few episodes in between Christmas films on the telly. They’d talked about Briana going to the final, but after the One Direction shows she tagged along for felt more like a dog and pony show than a fun concert, she told Louis she’d rather watch it in HD at her flat and eat crisps all night.

“Oh my god,” Briana says. “I thought maybe you’d ditched me.” She grins, not looking too worried. “To be honest I was more concerned about my Diet Coke.”

“Diet Coke? Shit, I thought you said Fanta,” Louis makes a face as he hands her the cup. Briana watches him through slit eyes as she takes a sip.

“You’re a funny one,” Briana rolls her eyes. “Fuck, that’s good. I hate you a little less right now.”

“About that,” Louis says, gestures vaguely with the hand that’s holding his sandwich. “How’re things… going?”

Briana grimaces. “I feel like I swallowed glass and my guts are trying to squeeze it out. Pretty gnarly stuff, and apparently it’s gonna get worse, so that’s super cool.”

“Bloody hell,” Louis tries to sound appropriately sympathetic, but he can’t really even imagine that properly.

“Best of all, you’ve got a front row seat,” Briana grins, looking back up at the screen where Nick and Rita are arguing over whether Ché was slightly flat towards the beginning of his performance.

“Sick,” Louis says, and slumps into the chair beside her bed. “I wasn’t sure, like, where you wanted me.”

Briana shrugs, and then frowns deeply, her free hand going to the side of her stomach, gently massaging what must be a bad twinge. “They don’t think anything exciting’s going to happen for a while, so you can keep me company if you like. Make fun of Simon’s shirt. It’s an awful one.” She glances over at him. “I know you’re scared shitless, and you don’t have to stay for the ugly bits, but if you want to hang out for now I’d like that.”

“I’ll stay,” Louis nods after a beat. If he watches Briana’s belly more than he does the television, he can’t be blamed.


It must be a couple of hours later when he wakes up in his chair with a crick in his neck to the sound of Briana and the nurse talking. He can’t quite tell what they’re saying, sleepy, but the room feels tense, like things are definitely ramping up, which feels like his cue to see his way out.

“Are you—do you—” he asks Briana, rubbing at his eyes, and she smiles at him a little too brightly.

“You’d better leave or I’ll probably get out of this bed and fucking kill you.” Her voice is a dangerous brand of cheerful that he recognizes immediately from growing up with a single mum and a bazillion sisters.

He scrambles out of his seat so fast he almost slips and cracks his head on the bed frame. Briana waves at him, but he’s not sure if him waving back would make things worse or better. Her face has gone very white.

He’s barely out the door when he hears a familiar voice a few paces down the hall. “Tommo!”

Liam looks about as frazzled as if he were the one about to have a baby, literally. There’s two cups of coffee on top of a stack of magazines next to him in the waiting lounge, and a large overnight bag on the floor by his feet. His hair looks like he’s been running his hands through it over and over the way he does when he can’t find the right word for a lyric or can’t nail the right note for an ad lib in the studio.

“Oh my god,” he sighs, “I’ve been here for an hour, I was afraid I’d missed it.” Louis doesn’t remember walking over but suddenly Liam’s close enough to wrap his arms around Louis’ middle and hug him tightly. “Is everything okay? I brought you clothes in case you forgot to bring some.”

Louis holds on for dear life. He can trust Liam to always feel the same, warm and solid, smelling like fabric softener and the same cologne he’s been using for years. Louis sneaks the tips of his fingers underneath Liam’s shirt at his back. “Things are happening,” he mumbles into Liam’s breast pocket vaguely.

“Oh, wow,” Liam breathes. He pauses. “What… things?”

“Baby-shaped things?” Louis offers, tipping his head up to nuzzle Liam’s neck. He’s considering just never letting go of Liam. They could totally live like this, permanently attached by their chests. “Okay, maybe not that yet. But things. I don’t know. I got shouted at.”

“By who?” Liam sounds equally horrified and confused.

“Context clues tell me Briana’s in pain,” Louis mutters, finally pulling back minutely but not quite meeting Liam’s eyes. “But it’s still too early for the pain meds, other than gas and air. Too early for a baby, fuck, Liam.”

“It’s gonna be okay, Lou,” Liam rubs at his back, firm and reassuring. “You’ve got this, mate. The baby’s gonna be just fine. She’ll be great, she’s just excited to meet you and her amazing Uncle Liam.”

Louis very much does not feel like he’s got this, but it’s nice of Liam to say so. “Thanks, Payno,” he says. “Sorry you’ve been sitting here so long.”

Liam shrugs. “I’ve had like three different nurses ask which baby is mine, but other than that it’s been fine.”

That makes Louis grin. “Daddy Direction,” he says, pleased. “Can’t escape it, can you Liam.”

“Says you,” Liam laughs, watches for Louis’ reaction like Louis is gonna lash out at him for it, but he’s long since accepted that the Daddy title is now rightfully his. It’s only weird when it gets sexy in his Twitter replies. When Louis lets it pass, Liam asks, “Have you told everyone? Is your mum coming?”

“Shit,” Louis moans. “I dunno, haven’t checked me phone in ages—” he steps out of their hug to tug it out of his back pocket and scroll through his missed calls and texts. The latest from his mum is timestamped fifteen minutes before, saying she and Lottie have just left the dentist, please send her what room number they’re in. Louis chokes back a nervous laugh. His sister just got her teeth cleaned and he’s having a baby. He texts back before he can have a breakdown about it.

“You should maybe let the other lads know,” Liam says, gently, and Louis nods, pulls up their group text with Harry and Niall.

Thunderbirds are go. brickin it, he sends, along with a baby emoji. Liam’s phone buzzes in his pocket with the message. Harry will probably be asleep, and Louis is pretty sure Niall’s back home for Christmas already, if the pictures of Theo he’s been sending are anything to go by. Louis looks up at Liam, pockets his phone. “Are you staying? You don’t have to hang out the whole time.”

“I’ll stick around ‘til I get sick of you. Deal?” Liam nudges their shoulders together.


Liam stays the afternoon, even walks up and down the hallway with Louis and Briana when The X Factor reruns end and she gets restless. Her contractions have slowed back down, so the nurses have said to keep moving. Louis isn’t sure if that’s supposed to help keep things slow or speed them up. Briana complains about her back a lot, and the weird slippers they gave her to wear, but doesn’t say much about the rest of it. Liam’s happy to make small talk about The X Factor, and what they’ll have for dinner. Briana wants a cheeseburger, so after what feels like a billion laps of the floor, Liam and Louis walk her back to her room and go down to the canteen to pick up food.

Briana’s just about halfway through her burger when she makes a face and shoves it away, “That was a bad one,” she says, tightly. “Wow. I do not like you right now, Tomlinson. Are you gonna buy me a new kidney?”

Louis probably could—he got her a flat, and a driver, and a 24-hour grocery delivery service.

Liam looks between them awkwardly and wraps up his own club sandwich, backs towards the door. “I’m gonna—” he gestures, and shows himself out.

“I’m sorry,” Louis says, for what it’s worth.

“I’m not.” Briana shrugs, and sets her burger to one side, takes a long sip of water from the very old school Thermos the nurse has kept refilled all day. “We made a decision and I’m not gonna change my mind about it now, so don’t tempt me. This is gonna suck, but I’m not going to like, back out now.”

“Is there more they can do to make it better? Should I get the midwife?” Louis fiddles with the plastic edge of his sandwich box, put off his meal. He keeps thinking of the conversation they had months and months ago about this. It’s so easy to forget this is a big deal when he’s not the one with the massive belly, or the increasingly painful contractions.

“If they give me meds right now it’ll take longer,” Briana says. Louis is also in awe of the fact she just remembers all the shit the nurses tell her. “I’m better off waiting until it’s ‘almost unbearable’ and then getting something.” She rolls her eyes, but smiles at him. “You could get me another drink? Or like, a popsicle or something. Ice lolly, sorry.”

Louis thinks about the nursery he’s prepared back home, and the pram and carseat he bought, and about the drawers full of onesies he’s been collecting over the past few months, and getting through this bit is a no brainer. “I’ll text you what they have, yeah?” he nods, setting his food aside and getting to his feet.

Briana grabs her phone off the table and sets it on her bump. “Cool.” He’s almost to the door when she laughs a little. “This is weird, right?” She sounds vaguely apologetic. “Like, we had sex, and that wasn’t awkward at all, and now you’re bringing me popsicles in the hospital and it’s totally awkward.”

Louis stops at the door, sticks his hands in his pockets as he turns to face her. “And I’m getting a kid out of it,” he concludes. “It’s… yeah. It is one of the weirdest things that’s happened to me, too.” He twists his fingers in his pockets. “I’m kind of glad it happened, though? That it worked out the way it did, anyway.”

“It isn’t over yet,” Briana reminds him, solemnly. “I still haven’t gotten my popsicle.”

“Yes ma’am,” Louis nods formally, salutes, and makes a swift retreat.


Louis has just delivered the necessary ice lolly and is about to go refill Briana’s Thermos when his mum arrives. She grabs him up in the tightest hold, kissing his cheek. He feels small in her arms, lets himself melt and the worry drain away for a moment.

After a minute, Jay holds him back at arms’ length and looks him over. “You’re alright,” she informs him. “A bit tired, though, aren’t you dove?”

Louis laughs, a little manic. Jay gives him another kiss on the forehead, and pushes past him into the room. “And how’s the star of the show?” She leans down to kiss Briana’s cheek. Louis always feels a bit weird about how well they get along, but he’s more grateful for it now than ever.

“I’m fine,” Briana says. “Y’know. Giving birth. That whole thing. No biggie.”

“Uh huh,” Jay laughs, “I know how that goes. Just be glad he didn’t give you the gift of Tomlinson twins.”

Briana can’t help the way her face twists up, and honestly, Louis doesn’t blame her.

Mum,” Louis groans.

“That’s right, I’m your mum, I can say that.” Jay waves him off, settling in the chair by Briana’s bed and fluffing her pillows. “Your sister’s out there with Liam, go see how nice her teeth look.”

In the hallway, Lottie gives Louis the kind of massive hug he’s learned not to rib her too much for, sweet and honest. “You’re gonna be a dad,” she marvels.

“I thought you knew that,” Louis smiles at Liam over her shoulder. “I definitely told you that was happening.”

“Shut up,” Lottie sighs, and hugs him harder.

Louis rubs circles between her shoulderblades, over her soft jumper. “Mum says you got your teeth cleaned?” He tries, casual.

Lottie nods, but she can’t let go of either the hug or the fact that she’ll be an aunt in a matter of hours. “I was at the dentist and you’re having a baby.” It’s so reminiscent of Louis’ thoughts earlier he has to laugh a little. It’s less manic, this time. Just having his family here makes everything a little less scary.

“I know,” he says. “Weird, huh. It’s like I’m an adult or something. More adult than you, hey Liam?”

“Oh piss off, Tommo,” Liam says jovially. It’s gracious of him not to mention that technically this situation is prime proof of the opposite, Louis thinks wryly.

Liam has to leave soon after, has a missus and dogs to get back to at home, but promises to keep his phone on, begs Louis to remember to let him know when the baby actually comes. Louis promises, but really, he has no idea what the fuck he’s going to do when that happens.

Jay stays with Briana longer than Louis had anticipated: there’s a selfish part of him that wants nothing more than to sit wrapped up in his mum’s arms until this whole thing is over, but he’s thankful she’s keeping Briana company, especially when Briana’s own mum is somewhere over the Atlantic. As strained as he’s gathered their relationship to be in the last few months, it would still suck being in a hospital in a strange country without your mum. He can sit with Lottie in the waiting room and watch Best of Vine compilations instead.

It’s getting close to nine when his mum comes back out, fishes a water bottle out of the tote at Lottie’s feet. “She’s doing really well,” Jay tells Louis. “It’s still early stages yet but I think it’s the real deal this time.”

Louis doesn’t know what to say to that. Good? Great? Fantastic? Let’s get this show on the road? It all seems a bit insensitive. He nods instead, and Jay leans over him to give him another hug.

“I”ll be back in a little while, yeah? You and Lottie should go and get a coffee, you look like you’re going to fall over.”

They make the trek to the canteen slowly and in companionable silence, shoulders bumping. Looking at his little sister, Louis can’t help but wonder if his baby will grow up to look something like Lottie, like the small army of brilliant girls his mum raised. Trying to live up to Jay’s success as a parent seems like a daunting task, and the baby hasn’t even been born yet.

“You okay?” Asks Lottie, eyeing him carefully over her paper cup on their walk back to the waiting room.

It would be the perfect prompt to give himself another bout of nerves, of the feeling of dread and impending trouble that’s been keeping him up at night, of a whole new kind of performance anxiety that feels ten times worse than pre-show jitters. Instead, he straightens his shoulders, firms his jaw. “Okay,” he nods.

Lottie lets it stand, examining a nail, leaning one shoulder against Louis’ as they slump on a sofa by the windows. It’s still a little weird when she reads him so well: a far cry from what he remembers of the nagging little sister of their school days.


A nurse comes for Louis just before six thirty in the morning. Louis has been dozing in his seat for what feels like ages, rubbing at his eyes with the sleeves of his jumper pulled over his hands, Lottie sleeping on his shoulder. It’s just he couldn’t sleep, not when the baby would be here any minute, when things could change in the blink of an eye or five minutes of shut-eye.

“Mister Tomlinson,” The nurse says, and Louis perks up immediately, careful not to jostle Lottie too much. “Would you follow me?”

“Yeah, yeah,” he props Lottie up against the arm of the couch and gets up, his legs tingling a little as the blood rushes to them. “Is everything okay?”

“Everything went well,” she smiles pleasantly, leading him down the hall. “Your—Briana did a wonderful job,” the nurse quickly corrects herself.

Before Louis can ask any more questions, they’re standing at the closed door to Briana’s room. Louis looks at the nurse as if to ask for permission, but then he overhears a cry through the door, and even if the nurse had told him he wasn’t allowed in the room yet he would’ve barged in anyway. There’s a baby crying, and that’s a good sign. Healthy lungs, his mum would say.

Louis has had a lot of tv show moments in his life over the last five and a half years, but this seems more surreal than any of them. He takes in the beeping monitors, the green scrubs, the pale relief of Briana’s face—but everything else fades away when he zeroes in on the tiniest naked baby he’s ever seen cradled in a nurse’s arms, his mum standing close by, watching adoringly.

“Can I hold her?” he asks no one in particular, his voice sounding choked and strange to his own ears. He feels like he’s floating, like all the air in the room has been replaced with something thick and muggy. Like he’s in a dream and he’ll wake up in the waiting room with his head tipped against Lottie’s.

The nurse settles the baby in his arms and Louis doesn’t have time to worry if he’s holding her right because she’s right there, and her eyes blink open and she screams right into his face.

Jay laughs, and the nurses laugh, and Louis glances around and even Briana looks nominally amused. He’s so relieved that he laughs too, and cradles the baby closer against his chest. His baby. His baby girl. “Hi little one,” he whispers, “you’ve got such a pretty voice.”

He hears his mum say something about calling Dan or texting someone (Louis trusts her to take over when he’s got an armful of baby), and most of the nurses clear out, and all Louis can do is stand by the window, hunched over his baby, taking in the way the early morning light illuminates her tiny features. She’s here. She’s early, but she’s here, and she’s all in one piece, and she’s as loud as he is already.

He’s just a little distracted, but as a nurse does something with the monitors by the bed, Louis can focus enough to turn to Briana and give her a grateful, relieved smile. “Are you okay?”

Briana’s voice is rough, and her face looks different, but Louis can’t quite put his finger on why. “That was an experience,” she says drily, breaks into a smile. “You two look so cute it’s insane.”

“You must be tired,” Louis offers, feeling weirdly shy. Everything is weird. He has a baby.

“Could nap for a week,” Briana says. She bites her lip. “What’re you gonna name her?”

“I don’t know.” He’d thought maybe it would come to him, when he saw her, but now all he can think is she’s okay. A name is a big responsibility. He’s doing good to not drop her.

“You’ve got time,” Briana wipes at her cheek. She’s crying a little, and Louis doesn’t know what to do with that. “I’m fine,” she says, quickly. “It’s just like, she’s here! Wow! I’m so tired.” She rubs her hands over her face. Jay comes over from the window, putting her phone away and sitting on the edge of the bed, wrapping an arm around her shoulders.

“She’s fine,” she tells Louis. “She just needs some time to herself, don’t you love? You’re alright.” She kisses Briana’s cheek and holds her, and Briana turns her face against Jay’s chest. She looks so small in the hospital bed, and Louis wants to comfort her, but she doesn’t need that from him.

“Mr. Tomlinson?” A nurse he hasn’t seen before is standing in the door with a wheeled plastic cot. “I’m Nurse Sadie. We have another room ready for you and your daughter if you’ll come this way.”

When Louis spares a glance to his mum and Briana, Jay nods like she’s sending him off, confirming that she’ll hold down the fort while he takes a moment. Louis follows Nurse Sadie with both arms carefully cradling the baby against his chest, slow and careful. They’d arranged this in advance: there had been seemingly endless nitpicky details to go over in preparation for the birth, and now that the baby’s here he’s glad everything was taken care of so early, and that a small fortune could get them the privacy and space he needed and Briana deserved.

The nurse takes him a few doors over into a room with an identical setup to Briana’s: a bed and a rocking chair next to it, a corner lined with monitors and an empty space for the nurse to roll the cot into.

“We can take the baby to the nursery, if you need time to rest,” Nurse Sadie says, making notes on the pad clipped to the bassinet, “we’ve already got all her stats, so there’s no need to worry about that.”

“Do you have to?” Louis can’t stop staring down at her tiny pink face, even to look at the nurse. He doesn’t want to send her off to some nursery to be just another swaddle of cloth in a plastic cot.

Nurse Sadie’s voice goes a little more gentle. “Of course not, it’s perfectly fine if you’d like her to stay with you. I’ll go grab supplies for you to feed her in a minute? She’ll be hungry, and she’s got a powerful set of lungs, that one.”

“She does,” Louis smiles proudly. “Thank you.”

Louis sits at the edge of the bed as the nurse heads off, kicks his trainers off but can’t quite figure out how to properly get on the bed with an armful of baby. He sits on the edge instead, peeling her blanket back a little to see her whole face. Louis Tomlinson has seen plenty of babies in his time, but it’s all a bit different when it’s his own. He can’t help taking a moment to catalog every bit of her despite the nurses’ affirmations that the baby is happy and healthy: she’s got two legs, and the right amount of toes, and arms and fingers that look just fine. Her eyes are mostly closed now, her wispy, barely-there brows furrowed, hands curled into the smallest little fists Louis has ever seen. Her nose looks like his, and she’s even got cute ears.

She yawns, showing off pink gums and a little tiny tongue, and sighs, her fingers clenching reflexively. Everything about her is in delicate miniature, and Louis can’t help himself, starts over with his inspection. It’s like he notices something new every time.

He’s counting her toes for the tenth time when the nurse returns with a premixed bottle of formula. “I can give you instructions on how to mix it up later,” she says, handing it over. “You’re probably a little distracted right now, huh? She’s a beautiful baby—”

Louis is more than a little distracted, and the nurse’s voice fades out into the blur of background hospital noise. His baby is frowning distinctly, her entire tiny face screwing up, mouth opening and closing around noiseless sounds until she comes up with a real wail.

“Oop, someone’s hungry,” the nurse says, passing him a bottle. “Just prop her up with that arm underneath, and take the bottle with your other hand, just like that, and now let her press her face up against your chest as she drinks, she wants that touch. You’re trying to emulate the contact she’d get if she were breastfeeding.”

“Should I take my shirt off?” Louis jokes, settling the baby comfortably against his chest.

The nurse shrugs. “If you’re comfortable with it, that’s not a bad idea at all; the skin to skin contact will calm her down. Would you like me to hold her for a moment?”

It feels like the most difficult thing in the world to give her up even for a second, but Louis nods, and does exactly that, chucking his shirt over his head like he’s going for a quick change during a show. The air’s a little chilly in the room, but the nurse is peeling back the blanket from around baby and when she hands her back she’s just in the tiniest little nappy Louis’ ever seen—and Louis’ seen a lot of them as a big brother. “I’ll drape this over you when you’ve got her,” the nurse says, gesturing with the blanket. “Alright, there we go. I’m gonna let you two get started; it’s normal if it takes a little while for her to catch on, but if it’s more than ten minutes you can press this button here—” she gestures to the red tab on the side of the bed, “and I’ll come help.”

“Thank you,” Louis nods. Baby’s starting to wriggle in his arms impatiently, scrunching her tiny face, and Louis looks back down at her when she cries out. “Hungry, huh? I’m here, darling, hey there.”

She mouths around the teat when Louis first offers her the bottle, confused and fussing. As Louis holds her closer, rocks her gently and tips her against his chest, they both figure it out together, her tiny head propped between the crook of his arm and his pec, Louis holding the bottle at just the right angle for her to finally latch on.

The slurp she makes around the teat is somehow the cutest noise Louis has ever heard, and more deafening than the largest crowd he’s sung to.


After baby’s fed and Lottie has had a chance to meet her, Jay and Lottie head out to Louis’ house, promising to be back later with Dan and the girls. Baby gets to take a nap in her bassinet and Louis gets to take a shower, changing into the clothes Liam brought him—a shirt he hadn’t seen in the couple of months since he got home from tour and a pair of Liam’s trackies. He doesn’t want to wake baby by picking her up, so he just sits on the bed and touches her head gently, rubs her tummy a little. Feeling her quick, shallow breathing is the most magical thing in the world.

When his stomach growls, he presses the button on the side of the bed. Nurse Sadie is at the door in a minute, voice quiet so as not to wake baby. “Yes, Mr. Tomlinson?”

“I was wondering if you could, uh, keep an eye on her for a second? I sort of haven’t had anything but coffee since yesterday afternoon,” Louis admits. “As much as I wanna stay here forever.”

“Absolutely,” the nurse smiles, steps into the room and waves, “go on, she’s had her brekkie and so should you.”

Louis gets a cup of tea and another sandwich from the canteen and decides to bring them back to his room. He stops as he passes Briana’s door and takes a chance, knocks gently at the door and takes a peek inside when Briana calls, “Come in!”

“Hey,” he says, stepping inside, “just passing by. Did you eat breakfast?”

“My mom’s picking something up on her way from the airport, actually,” Briana says. “I had some tea earlier, though, so I’m good to wait.”

Louis nods. “Well. If you need anything else.” He takes a sip of his tea.

“Nah, dude, you’re on baby duty now,” Briana smiles tiredly. “Is she doing alright?”

“Yeah,” Louis can’t help the dreamy sigh, shifting his weight from one foot to the other, fiddling with the price sticker on his sandwich. “She’s… Really great.” He could go on rambling about her, make a bigger idiot of himself, but instead he looks down at his shoes.

“Listen,” Briana says, shifting to sit up better in bed. “So obviously you might’ve already come up with something, or you might not like it—I don’t know if there’s family names that take priority, but like. She looked kind of like an Olivia to me? When I saw her earlier. I don't know if that's like, cheesy 'cause of the song, or whatever, but I did really like that one.”

“Oh,” Louis says, softly, perching on the side of the bed, setting his cup and sandwich on the bedside table and nodding. “That’s—I like that a lot, actually. That’s really great.”

“Cool.” Briana smiles. “So now all you need is a middle name and we can fill out all the boring bits of the paperwork. The nurse said they’d have it ready this afternoon.”

“That works,” Louis laughs. “You’re doing all the work around here, huh?”

“Someone’s gotta,” Briana nudges his leg with her knee through the blankets. “You’ll catch on.”

“I’m sure,” Louis raises his brows, nods knowingly. “Would it be weird if I gave you a hug?”

“Please,” she scoffs, and leans up a little. “C’mere, you goon.” She still has an IV attached to one arm, and the cord touching Louis’ neck as she wraps her arms around his shoulders reminds him how real this all is. He rubs her back a little, lets her lean into him. “I’m really happy for you,” she whispers, and then, when he exhales shudderingly, adds, “you’re so lucky she looks like me.”

Louis laughs, and Briana laughs too, pulling back to look at him. “I think Olivia Tomlinson is an awesome name.”

“Bit Olivia Newton-John, innit?” Louis grins, delighted at the realisation.

“Of course you like that.” Briana gets in a nice pinch at his ribs and then pulls away, looking a little weirded out.

“What? Are you okay?”

She laughs, shaking her head. “I’m fine, just. Whoa. Post-partum hormones are no joke. I could probably kiss you right now, which is like. Eek.”

“On that note, I think I have to discuss this naming business with little Olivia,” Louis makes an exaggeratedly put off face, gathers his breakfast, and waves his sandwich at Briana.

“Yeeeah,” Briana nods. “You do that. No more babies, thanks. I’m good.”

“Cheers for that one, though,” Louis stands up, careful not to spill his cup.

“Don’t mention it.” Briana tucks the covers back around herself, reclines in her pile of pillows. “I’m hoping the entire labor will like, slip my mind if I pretend it didn’t happen.” Her voice turns serious. “But you’re welcome. I’m really glad, like. She’s gonna have a great life with you.”

Louis feels warm all over, mumbles a quiet, “Thank you,” and makes a mental note to have flowers delivered to her as he heads back out.

Just as he gets through the door, Briana calls after him. “Don’t fuck up her middle name, Tomlinson!”


They go home on a Tuesday afternoon. It’s snowing lightly, but from wispy clouds that let the cool December sun through to brighten the day. Louis has never driven more like his gran. The Range Rover feels heavier than normal with the weight of the carseat in the back, and Louis feels a bit like a spy, checking the reflection of the back seat baby mirror in his rearview.

It’s only him and Olivia and the rucksack that Liam had brought over for him a couple days before, when Louis refused to leave the hospital but couldn’t stay in the same set of clothes any longer. He’d had the nurses distribute all the flowers they’d received, including a massive arrangement of tiny pink roses from Niall, to the other new mums in the ward, except for the bouquets he’d sent for Briana, who’s staying another day or two. She’d had trouble with some stitching, and the doctors wanted to keep an eye on her. He had asked if she was alright staying on her own and she’d given him a look and informed him she was quite alright with the peace and quiet, thanks.

Jay and Lottie will be over in the morning to bring breakfast and have more time with the baby, but Louis gets to have his first night alone with her, and he’s tiredly pleased about that. The hospital staff were all aces, but he’ll be glad to be home.

Olivia’s asleep when they arrive at home, and Louis sits in his garage for a moment psyching himself up to remove the carseat with a sleeping newborn still in it. He’s heard plenty of people even put their babies down for naps in their carseats, go out for a drive at night when they’re fussy and restless.

He’s a person with a baby now, a parent, which is kind of a cool thought, something that deserves its own minute of contemplation before he laughs at himself quietly and gets on with things.

There’s a massive bouquet of speckled lilies and baby’s breath and a handful of flowers Louis doesn’t know the name of sitting on the kitchen island next to his mail, and a note from Ashley, his PA, informing him that his fridge and pantry are both full. Louis plucks a small sprig of the little white flowers off the arrangement and places it gently by Olivia’s feet in the seat. “They’re tiny, like you,” he grins, then sets the carseat down on the floor to get on his tiptoes and lean over the counter, reaching for the envelope nestled at the top of the arrangement.

The front of the envelope says Olivia Joy in black ink. He recognizes the handwriting as Harry’s, which is sort of impressive, considering he’s in America and the baby was just born over the weekend. “First bit of fanmail,” Louis announces, leans against the island and slips one of his keys under the edge of the envelope, tearing it open carefully.

He has no clue where Harry found the card inside, but it’s perfect: the front of it is adorned with a little, smiling stuffed green olive in a nappy, complete with tiny stick arms and legs.

Dear Olive,

May I call you Olive? I thought it would be a nice nickname for you. A friend of mine drew you as a happy little olive, anyway.

There are so many people who are very excited at your arrival, and it seems apt that you sensed it and graced us with your presence a bit early. I know your dad is very happy to meet you. Surely you’re the best birthday and Christmas present he’s ever received. He’s one of the greatest people I know, and I’m sure you share lots of his better qualities. (Hopefully not his smelly feet.)

I hope you enjoy your flowers, and I hope to meet you soon.

All my love,


Louis snorts. It’s nice of Harry to personalise his usual Twitter sign off, anyway. The three foot tall bouquet is a bit much, bigger than his child, and she won’t be able to read the card for ages, but still. It’s a nice gesture. Harry’s full of nice gestures. Louis crouches down next to Olivia’s carseat and reads her the card out loud, because sure as he doesn’t, Harry will ask and have his feelings hurt. Olivia’s eyes scrunch up and open as she wakes at his voice, but they drift shut again by the first line.

He plucks his phone out of his back pocket then, feeling sufficiently endeared by the gesture to warrant a text to Harry. Got the flowers. Sorry to say Olive is my great nan mate, not my kid. He knows better than to expect a response any time soon, with the time difference and the fact that Harry had flown out to Miami with his family for the hols, so his phone goes on the kitchen table and he carries Olivia’s carseat back to the nursery carefully.

He’d painted it a month ago, on a whim, gone and bought the paint himself (a creamy grey called Stargazer) and then spent two days trying to make the walls match after he forgot how many layers were on each. Then he spilled half a gallon on the carpet and had to have the floor ripped out, and the walls still looked streaky, so he just had his PA arrange for painters along with the men to redo the flooring. It’s the thought that counts, maybe.

He hadn’t wanted to do a theme theme, but things happen when one’s expecting a baby, and one late night found him on Pinterest looking at wall-plug projectors that illuminate bedroom ceilings with galaxies, and. Well. He already had an astronaut helmet from NASA lying about, anyway.

“This is your room,” he whispers, looking down at the carseat where Olivia remains asleep. “I hope you like it. I s’pose if you don’t there’s spares.”

He means to set the carseat down in the nursery and go do things like taking a shower and making sure the guest rooms are ready for his mum and sister, unsure of whether they’ll be staying tomorrow. Instead, he ends up sitting on the rocking armchair in the corner, Olivia at his feet, and dozing off for a nap of his own.


Louis jerks awake to angry, hiccuping sobs, and cracks the back of his head against the panel of the rocker as he sits up. Olivia’s face is bright red and tear-streaked when he turns her carseat around, and it seems like it takes forever to undo the clasps of her buckles.

“Oh no, darling, hey,” he says, as gently as he can manage. He has no clue what time it is; they could’ve slept for fifteen minutes or two hours, and Olivia is probably starving, and he’s already shit at this parenthood thing. She doesn’t calm down in his arms, either, just turns her floppy little head into his neck and wails right into his ear.

“Are you hungry? You’re probably hungry, is that it?” He asks, as if she’d stop crying and tell him. When that doesn’t quite work out, he pads to the kitchen, bouncing her gently in his arms. “Okay, you need a bottle, is that right?”

Olivia yells, which Louis takes as a yes.

He turns to the high chair set up by the breakfast bar but quickly realizes it’s still too big for her, and something tells him putting her down isn’t really an option right now, anyway. Louis then proceeds to make a bottle one-handed with a sobbing baby in the crook of his arm: a scoopful of spilled formula and a small puddle of water on the floor later, he manages to shake the clumps of formula out without jostling Olivia too much and to get her to latch onto the teat mid-scream.

She sighs huffily around it, like he’s profusely inconveniencing her, and Louis thinks for a moment that this must be payback for the hell he gave his mum as a kid. Only for a moment, because then he’s too busy being relieved that she’s gone quiet. He notices only halfway through the bottle that it’s been dribbling down his wrist: he must not have gotten the cap screwed on quite right, and now it’s all down his sleeve and her onesie. Louis is getting a bit of a headache.

Olivia’s little brows slowly smooth out as she drinks, though, and she peers at him with big blue eyes, just like Louis’. She starts wriggling in his arms as she nears the bottom of the bottle, which Louis doesn’t blame her for; both his sleeve and, he assumes, her onesie, are going cold with the damp. He should get her out of it as soon as possible, probably. Just his luck, his kid catching pneumonia from her first feeding at home.

“Okay, we’re gonna multitask a bit,” Louis decides, setting the bottle in the sink once Olivia’s finished and shifting her upright, leaning against his shoulder. Surely if he walks slowly he can burp her as they head back to the nursery for a change of clothes.

He can. She throws up on his shirt.

Louis stops in the middle of the hallway as the warmth spreads across his collar and drips down his chest. Olivia coughs and then starts crying again, and he completely understands.


Louis doesn’t even try putting her down in her crib. It’s taken forty-five minutes to wipe her down after the bottle leak and the spit-up, and they’ve been traumatised enough by a nappy change and Louis having to put her back in her carseat to go take a piss. He also brushes his teeth, because she’s already crying in the carseat on his bedroom floor and thirty seconds won’t change anything, and strips out of his jeans.

She doesn’t like his desperate lullaby rendition of Blink-182’s “I Miss You,” or the dummy he tries to fit into her pursed-up mouth. Louis might have joined her in the tears, then, but somewhere through the fog of sleep deprivation and self-disappointment, he remembers what the nurse had said about skin to skin contact. He takes off his shirt and her onesie, props up on two pillows and settles her on his stomach, petting her back.

It isn’t a miraculous about-face, or a lightbulb moment, but after a couple minutes Olivia goes quiet, sobs turning into sad little gasps like she can’t quite regulate her breathing. Her back shudders with every deep breath, but when Louis glances down, her eyes are shut, face slack.

He considers turning on the telly on mute to maybe try and catch something on Sky Sports, but he’s absolutely shattered. Rather than try to move Olivia, he stacks up his extra pillows on either side of himself, then drifts off.


The first week passes in alternating painfully slow motion and nauseatingly quick blur. Louis has bags under his eyes that have graduated from blue to purple, like a particularly bad bruise, and at some point between the two a.m. and five a.m. feedings, he stops feeling entirely human.

His mum does stay for a couple days, which means he has at least showered, but Olivia decides that she’ll only eat if he feeds her, and she’ll only sleep if he rocks her. Daddy’s girl is no longer a cute slogan on a onesie that Fizzy gifted him, it’s the blackest curse Louis has ever heard spoken aloud.

It doesn’t matter. Maybe it’s the lack of sleep killing his brain cells, or maybe it’s just her blue eyes, but Louis has fallen head over heels for his tiny monster in a nappy. Now he almost can’t sleep alone even if he tries, has to have her tiny fists against his chest or her fluttering pulse under his palm as he rests a hand on her back.

He’s as fascinated with her as he was that first day, can still spend hours just poring over her small features. He tries to learn her expressions, too, so he can respond more accurately when she makes a pinched face or curls her lip up disdainfully. Sometimes he swears she makes a face just to test him.

Olivia keeps her healthy appetite through the first week, and after Jay drops them off at the doctor's’ office for her one week check, Louis texts her from the exam room because he’s so proud that she’s put on nearly 200 grams. The nurse says that’s down to their bond and his talent for getting her to enjoy her feedings, and Louis flushes down to his toes, it feels like.

She hasn’t grown any more hair, but she hasn’t lost any either, which apparently is something that happens to babies sometimes. Louis finds that piece of information vaguely horrifying, but he can totally see someone—like, Harry—having a baby born with a mop of hair that all falls out within a fortnight. Olivia, however, is sporting the same precious blonde-peach fuzz that she was born with, downy soft to the touch. The doctor checks her ears and eyes and tiny pink mouth, and tests her reflexes, and gives Louis the all clear. The secretary gives him a card with a date in three weeks, and Louis can’t help heaving a deep sigh of relief when he’s settled her carseat back into Jay’s car and they’re off home.

As mental as the last six days were, the assurance that Olivia is perfectly normal—in spite of Louis’ best efforts falling horribly short—makes up for it.

Naturally, she cries the whole ride home. Louis thinks it’s probably on purpose. Keeping him humble; or just keeping his ears ringing. Probably the latter. It’s his kid after all. She only stops crying to smile when she poops her nappy.


Niall turns up on New Year's day, wearing sunglasses and an outfit Louis is pretty sure he saw in pictures on Instagram the night before. He’s sporting a huge smile nonetheless, and a carrier bag of shopping on one hip.

Louis bars his way in the doorway with one foot and an arm. “What’re you doing here?” he asks, suspicious. “Weren’t you just in the motherland?”

Niall’s smile widens, and if possible, brightens. “Yeah yeah, good to see you too, you twat. Let me in, this is killin’ me wrist.”

Louis huffs and lets him through; not without a shuffling fight, and a good elbow to Niall’s ribs. Niall grunts and dodges the second attack, sliding into the kitchen and putting the island between himself and Louis’ lonely hands. “Where’s your kid?” he asks, looking around like she might be next to the KitchenAid mixer or in the bowl with the oranges.

Louis laughs. “She’s not in here, weirdo. She’s napping. I was just about to make sausage rolls… what’s in the bag?”

“Not fuckin’ frozen sausage rolls,” Niall says, making a face. “I was afraid of this.”

Frowning, Louis comes around the island and puts his hands on his hips. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

Niall gestures to the largely empty (but for baby bottles) counter, and shriveled oranges in Louis’ fruit bowl. “You’re wasting away, Tommo. Are you living off bottles now too?”

Louis crosses his arms over his chest. “No, what—”

“Cause that’s all I see around here, mate.” Niall makes an honest-to-god clucking noise with his tongue, which is not okay on any level with Louis. Niall does not get to be the mature and condescending one.

“One day, little Nialler, when you grow up and have a family of your own—” he begins, in a solemn voice, and Niall laughs.

“Fuck off. I’m cooking you dinner, d’you really want to pick a fight?”

A part of Louis does, but a larger part is rumbling in his lower belly at the moment.

Niall smiles. “Yeah, that’s what I thought. Where the fuck are your paring knives?”


Louis thanks the powers that be that he and Niall are already at the end of their meal by the time the monitor app on his phone pings. According to the built-in timer Olivia’s been sleeping for the past two and a half hours, and her disgruntled, sleepy whines sound tinny and far away through Louis’ mobile speaker.

“Quite high tech, that,” Niall whispers, like speaking loudly will somehow wake the baby even more. He fiddles with the edge of the placemat he insisted on using, and for a moment Louis is reminded of dinnertime backstage, the same blue spotty tablecloth every night.

“I’ve got another one with night vision,” Louis waggles his brows, takes one last sip of his beer before he’s on his feet. “I’m the Batman of parenting. You gonna come along and meet her?”

Niall looks slightly weirded out. “I dunno, she sounds awfully upset.” He shrugs. “Maybe you should calm her down a little first?”

Louis gives Niall a pointed look. “I’ll get right on that, then, Niall,” he says drily.

“I dunno,” Niall insists, “you’re her dad! You’ve always been good with kids, and they don’t always love me, so I didn’t want to meet your daughter when she’s like, already emotionally compromised and she’ll forever link me with waking up on the wrong side of the bed. Cot. Jesus.”

“Wait out here,” Louis decides, when Olivia’s whines start forming into proper little wails, already halfway to the hall. “Load the dishwasher or sommat. Make yourself useful.”

He slips his phone into his pocket and Olivia’s cries grow louder as he approaches the nursery. Opening the door feels like facing an inevitable battle. She’s always grumpy after a nap, although she’s been managing to sleep for longer each day, if only by a couple of minutes. The app on his phone turns her nap times into a handy graph. Louis really is the Batman of parenting. He should text Liam that.

Her face is only carnation pink instead of coral or strawberry red, yet, when he peeks into her cot and lifts her up. It feels like a small victory. She smacks him in the side of the jaw with one small fist, and wails into his ear, but that’s just because she’s hungry. She sounds more inconvenienced than anything.

“Aw, come on, love,” Louis sighs, rocks her gently to try and get her to calm down before her feeding. She shouldn’t want another bottle for at least half an hour. “Did you smell the dinner your Uncle Nialler made? He’s good, but don’t tell him I said that.”

Olivia gurgles, and kicks her feet in her little sleep sack. Maybe if he changes her into her onesie that’ll buy them some time. And let Niall finish loading the dishwasher.

Settling her on the changing station seems to calm her down a bit, but she’s wriggly and impatient as Louis changes her into a little striped bodysuit. She doesn’t need a new nappy just yet, at least. “Excited to meet Uncle Nialler, then?” Louis smiles down at her, pets her few wisps of downy hair. “He sent that little ram you’ve got in your crib. Be gentle with him; I think you intimidate him.”

Olivia smiles at that, waves a fist around quite menacingly, at least for someone who’s not even a month old. “That’s right,” Louis laughs, picks her up and props her against his shoulder.

Niall’s plugged the kettle in when Louis returns to the kitchen, has two mugs out with tea bags at the ready, and he’s leaning against the counter scrolling on his phone, foot tapping Louis’ kitchen baseboards. He looks up when Louis comes in and his face seems to soften before he intends it to, a goofy smile lifting one side of his mouth. Louis wonders if he’s been hanging out with Harry to have picked up such a ridiculous smile.

“Niall, Olivia; Olivia, Uncle Nialler. Don’t spit up on him.”

Niall’s smile is gone in a blink. He looks wary. “Does she do that?”

“Nah,” Louis says. “Not unless she’s just eaten. You’re safe for now.”

“Cheers,” Niall scoffs, pushes himself off the counter and approaches slowly. Olivia’s got her little head leaned on Louis’ shoulder still, and Louis stands sideways so Niall can see her face.

“Go on, lad,” Louis says, looking at Niall over her head. “Say hello.”

“Hiya, Olivia,” Niall says gently, with a tone of voice Louis hasn’t heard him use since Lux was teeny tiny. He keeps his eyes on her even as he addresses Louis. “She’s so small, Tommo.”

“She wasn’t supposed to be born yet,” Louis reminds him. “She’s an impatient one, though.”

Niall scoffs a laugh. “No clue who she got that from. Alright if I touch her?”

“You can hold her if you like, mate,” Louis offers. Olivia huffs against his shoulder, and although Louis can’t see her, he can imagine her furrowing her brows; Louis bounces her soothingly.

“Think we’d better get to know each other first,” Niall says warily, and Louis doesn’t push it. Instead, Niall reaches out to pet her arm over the soft cotton of her onesie, steps closer to look at her little fist, pushed against Louis’ arm. “Her hand’s like, smaller than a golf ball.”

“She’s pretty tiny,” Louis agrees. “The doctor said she’s putting on weight though, so that’s good.”

“Yeah,” Niall says. Olivia has caught his finger in her fist, and he still looks slightly unsure, but pleased.

“Actually I might make her a bottle, or she’ll be angry in a mo,” Louis thinks aloud. He’s grown used to talking to himself and to Olivia when they’re in the house alone, and it’s sort of nice to have someone else there, even if Niall just nods.

He’s gotten quite good at making bottles one-handed, a far cry from the disastrous first feeding they had at home. This time at least he can make Niall screw the top on tightly and give the bottle a good shake. Olivia keeps hold of Niall’s finger, all dimpled knuckles and a surprisingly strong grip. “She’s been really good about eating,” Louis says; it’s not like any of the details of Olivia’s development mean much to Niall, but it’s always been so easy to have companionable small talk with him. He pets her back gently, smiles proudly. “Keeps it down most of the time and everything.”

“Glad to hear it,” Niall mutters, and he and Louis share a grin over Olivia’s head.

“Let’s go sit in the living room,” Louis suggests. “She likes it more if I sit down to feed her, something about the angle.” Niall follows him with their mugs and sits down on the other end of the sofa, watching intently as Louis turns Olivia around in his arms and situates her in the crook of one elbow, holds the teat to her mouth.

“So do you just… do bottles, since you don’t have someone to nurse her?” Niall asks, watching Olivia intently. If she side-eyes him once or twice, it’s probably entirely coincidental.

“Yeah, it’s a special formula,” Louis nods. “I know some people say it can affect, like, development or whatever, but. It’s not like I’ve got another option, do I?”

Niall shrugs. “Guessing Briana wasn’t too keen on that bit.”

It’s Louis’ turn to side-eye him. “Nope,” he hums. “That wasn’t ever an option, really. I dunno.” Louis’ shoulders deflate a little, resigned. There’s something about Niall that brings out the soft, honest bits of him at times, and it’s been long enough that he can put his guard down. “I’m just glad she let me keep her, you know? That she’d actually go through with it.”

“Would she have wanted to be more involved, d’you think?” Niall asks, kicks his shoes off and pulls his legs up on the sofa cushion.

“She said—” Louis hitches Olivia up a little higher in his arm, cleans a dribble of formula off her chin. “I dunno, she didn’t love the whole… One Direction thing. And I know we’re taking time off, but it isn’t stopping, y’know?” That feels a bit sore, a fresher bruise. It’s something he’s thought about a lot, hopes he’s on the same page as the other lads.

He can count on Niall on that front, at least. “It’s not over,” he nods in agreement, shifting against the sofa arm. “I like being Niall from One Direction.”

Louis tilts Olivia’s bottle up a little higher and bites his lip. “I think like. Maybe if we’d met later? I wasn’t in a really good like, mental place. And then the whole baby thing happened and was just really nasty for Bri, and she didn’t deserve that. She shouldn’t have to deal with it.” He looks over at Niall. “I’m not upset about it. Like, her not wanting to be more involved? It sucks for Olive, but I get it.”

Niall snorts. “You just called your kid Olive.”

Louis rolls his eyes. “Not the point, Neil.” Ever since Harry’s stupid card he’s been thinking of the silly nickname.

“I think fatherhood looks good on ya,” Niall offers earnestly. “Even if you can’t remember your own kiddo’s name.”

“It’s Harry’s fault,” Louis groans, rocks Olivia when she grumbles around the bottle. “He sent this card, it’s just—” He stops mid-sentence. Has Niall been talking to Harry at all? Their group text has been mostly quiet, aside from holiday pleasantries and celebratory wishes for Louis’ birthday, and for a moment he’s not sure if he’s crossed a weird line of some sort. They might not be talking or they might be hanging out every day without him, and he wouldn’t know. It’s one of the many things Louis is uncertain about, now that they don’t live in each other’s pockets, their lives planned ahead and scheduled to the last minute. “He had someone draw an olive in a nappy, it was dumb,” he finishes weakly.

“Sounds like Harry,” Niall agrees easily. “He sent me this picture of a new painting he’d bought the other day, couldn’t even tell what it was. You know how he’s into that weird art shite.”

If Louis laughs with more enthusiasm than necessary, relieved, Niall doesn’t seem to mind. “Always with the weird art. My favourite’s still that boxing Jesus statue.”

“I asked him if he could get me a golfing one and he said I didn’t understand the piece,” Niall says, shakes his head.

“Fuck that,” Louis scoffs. Olivia’s nearing the end of her bottle, and he looks down at her, raises an eyebrow. “Don’t repeat that.”

“Gonna have to get you a swear jar like Lou had for Lux, d’you remember that?” Niall smirks. (It hadn’t lasted long. Harry and Zayn had been the best and worst about it; they both started putting in hundreds as “credit,” and Louis had baited Liam into many a conversation that resulted in Liam’s pocket money being surrendered to the jar. And then they started calling Harry Uncle Knobhead, and it sort of became a lost cause.)

“It’s my own money and it’d go right back to me, so it wouldn’t matter, Niall,” Louis points out triumphantly. Olivia hiccups and scrunches her nose.

Niall straightens his leg out on the sofa and pushes his toes at Louis’ thigh. “You could fleece Liam out of a couple grand, I bet. It’s not going to be just you, Lou, y’know. We’ll be around.”

Louis feels the tips of his ears warm, and the feeling seeps down, his cheeks gone pink. Niall can smell blood.

“You’re doing a really good job,” he continues, wriggling his feet halfway under Louis’ leg. “You’ve done all of this by yourself so far, mate. I don’t think any of the rest of us have what it takes to do everything you’ve done for her. You’re raising a person.”

Louis huffs. “Shut up, it’s not—”

“It is, though,” Niall insists. Louis’ chest hurts. “I’m proud of you, Lou.”

Louis has never been more relieved his daughter has an attitude problem. Olivia’s tiny face scrunches up, probably because he’s been too busy blushing at Niall’s compliments to begin burping her, and she lets out an almighty yell that’s interrupted by an apparently unsatisfying burp. She starts crying, then, just to follow it up.

Niall grimaces. “She’s certainly got your lungs, mate.”

“I’m gonna make her sick up on you,” Louis warns, shifts her around to prop against his shoulder, pulling her little swaddling cloth up to cover his shirt. “Shhh, come on, darling, it’s okay. We can kick Uncle Nialler out whenever you like. I know he’s a pain to listen to.”

“I can go if you like,” Niall says. He doesn’t move his feet, tucked under Louis’ thigh. “Or we could watch the game. There’s still beer in the bag I brought.”

Louis hums, rubbing Olivia’s back. “Give us a few? I can set her up to chill here for a bit after I make sure she won’t be gassy.”

“Hate a gassy Tomlinson,” Niall grins. “The worst.”

“Her farts,” Louis widens his eyes comically, tips his head on top of Olivia’s as her cries wind down, distracted by the burping. “She’s winning the stinkiest Tomlinson contest by miles right now.”

“Babies, mate,” Niall says, sympathetically. “Theo’s dangerous.”

“Your brother and Denise doing alright? How’s Bobby?” Louis grins. It’s been much too long since he’s seen Niall’s family.

“They’re great, you know, doing the whole modeling thing with Theo. He’s a total poser, mate, can’t point a camera at him without him pulling a little model pout. I think they might try for another kid?” Niall scratches his knee through the rip in his jeans.

“Tell ‘em to rethink that one,” Louis laughs, indicating Olivia’s dribble of spit up. “I can’t imagine having one and being like oop, I think I’ll do that whole bit over again.”

“Haven’t you always said you wanted a ton of kids?” Niall points out.

“I was young and naïve,” Louis simpers.

“Bobby’s doing alright,” Niall continues, rolling his eyes. “Trying to convince him to retire, maybe, but you know he’s stubborn.”

Louis shakes his head. “Can’t quite see your dad sitting at home all day.”

“He’d lose the craic,” Niall nods. “He and Aoife are on holiday at the minute, gone to Spain for New Year’s; it’s the first time he’s taken one in years.”

“Good for Bobby Horan,” Louis says. “That legend.”

“If I grow up to be half the legend he is I’ll be satisfied,” Niall agrees.

Louis quirks an eyebrow. “Plan on growing up any time soon, lad?”

Niall pulls his feet out from under Louis’ thigh and laughs tiredly. “Gotta find something to do over the break, mate. I’ll grab beers while you finish up with that, yeah?” He gestures at Olivia as he stands and straightens his jeans out.

“I’ve got another eighteen years of this, Niall, take your time!” Louis calls after him.

They finish the six pack Niall brought over, and there’s nothing left on telly to even pretend to watch, so Niall phones for a car and says he’ll leave Louis to this parenting thing and come by when Olivia’s big enough to actually do something. Louis might be offended, except it’s Niall, and Niall’s dismissed Harry Styles for being boring, so. Obviously his taste is just off. Their bandmate might be a dozen other things, but never boring.

Niall’s nearly to the door when he turns back around, almost whacking Louis in the face as he follows him out. “I meant it, though,” Niall says. “You’re killing it, mate, and I’m really like, proud of you.”

“Didn’t we get through this earlier?” Louis rolls his eyes fondly, rubs at his jaw. He could use a shave, probably; he’s got almost a week’s worth of stubble.

“I can’t tell my mate he’s doing a good job twice?” Niall looks entirely too knowing, like he’s sussed that Louis might need to hear it twice, which is just embarrassing.

“If you keep saying that I might end up believing it,” Louis leans against the door, crossing his arms over his chest. “You sure you wanna feed my massive pop star ego?”

Niall laughs, and wraps his arms around Louis’ neck, pulling him in tight for a hug. “Won’t ever get the band back together if you realise how ace you could be on your own, will I?”

Louis tucks his face into Niall’s neck, nuzzles his throat just to give him a healthy bit of beard burn. He deserves it. “Let’s not kid ourselves, Ni—” He’s pulling away from the hug when Niall tips his chin down and catches Louis’ lips, and for a second Louis stiffens, unsure.

“Don’t be a twat,” Niall mumbles, right up against his mouth. “Learn to take a compliment, Tommo.” His eyes are closed, eyelashes pale against his freckled and pink cheeks.

Louis bites Niall’s lip, because it’s there and because he deserves it. Niall’s very good at turning bitey snogs into normal snogs, which is what he does, arms around Louis’ shoulders. It’s the most action Louis has gotten aside from his hand in the shower in longer than he’d like to admit.

Niall’s lips have gone a pretty, swollen pink as he pulls away, glancing at his phone when it pings with a text. “Car’s here,” he mutters, ducks in and steals another kiss.

Louis rubs the back of his hand across his mouth and then gives Niall’s jaw a little smack. “Cheeky,” he says. “Thanks for dinner, though.”

“Figured someone had to feed you,” Niall says. He looks flushed and pleased. “Go take a cold shower, mate.”

“Oi, out of my house,” Louis laughs, unlocking the front door and making a big show of ushering Niall out.

“Yeah, yeah. Love you, see you later.” Niall blows him a kiss from halfway down the front steps, and Louis could swear he skips down the walk to where the car is pulled up outside the gate.


He’s just put Olivia down for a nap a few days later when someone buzzes at the gate, and for a second he’s worried the sound might’ve woken her, freezing in place in the hallway and glancing at the monitor in his hand. As soon as he’s confirmed Olivia’s sleeping, he legs it to the kitchen before they can ring again and almost lets the person in without even checking who it might be, just for the sake of making the noise stop. Thankfully it’s not a murderer, or a stalker fan, or a murderous stalker fan, but the FedEx man.

He runs out to the gate to sign for the package, the concrete driveway cold against his bare feet as he unlocks the gate door. Flashes go off before he’s even had a chance to say hello to the delivery bloke, just as he realises that he’s wearing sweatpants and there are two paps lingering on the sidewalk by the delivery van. Louis scrawls his name across the pad of the FedEx guy’s scanner, grabs the package and closes the door carefully so they won’t have the pleasure of video where he slams it. It’s as an afterthought that he unlocks the mailbox attached to the door and grabs the post, piling the envelopes on top of the FedEx box.

Once back in the safety of his kitchen, Louis sets the package on the island, fits his hands at the edge of the counter, and sighs. Apparently two and a half weeks isn’t long enough to shake the press. He pours himself a glass of water, ignores the slightest tremor in his hands as he takes a long gulp. It’s not that he’s scared: if anything it frustrates him that these people won’t let him live. He wants to protect Olivia from the scrutiny, the probing, the lack of privacy. He knows he can’t stay holed up forever, and he can’t keep Olivia locked up like some sort of pop star offspring Rapunzel, but he’d like her to grow up seeing him as her dad, not as Louis From One Direction.

He checks the security cameras over the kitchen counter just to make sure no one from The Sun has lost their last marble and tried to climb the wall as the FedEx deliveryman left. They’re still milling around beyond the gate, checking the displays on their cameras. Maybe they’ll decide they’ve gotten enough for the next day’s skeezy headline. 1D’s Louis Tomlinson 1 Dad Mess, maybe. Louis needs to talk to his lawyer about getting a bunch of restraining orders he can fill out as needed, like signed checks. Maybe he can throw them out the window as paper planes.

He uses a steak knife to cut the tape on the box, only to find a gift-wrapped box inside, with a small, printed card that reads, To Olive, from Harry. Louis nearly rolls his eyes. He’ll have Harry to thank for the pictures of his loose balls in three-day-old sweatpants on the front page of The Mail, then. Whatever it is better be good.

It’s expensive, at least.

And when he’s got them out of the box, some of the frilly, ridiculous, Burberry-tagged pieces are even cute. There’s a pair of booties, and a tiny knitted hat, and what Louis can only describe as a bright pink, down-filled marshmallow of a snow suit. It’s ridiculous; he can’t imagine how Harry must’ve found that in sunny, snowless California, and it won’t fit Olivia for at least another couple of weeks, but Louis can get into it if only for the opportunity it gives him to take the piss out of his bandmate. A snowsuit, he sends off immediately. mate uve been away so long u mightve forgot but we live in england not the bloody north pole. He adds a santa emoji, a snowflake emoji, and a crying laughing face emoji for good measure.

He locks his phone and then brings it back to the lockscreen just to stare at the picture of Olivia. He’s taken countless snaps of her sleeping and eating and even a few of her crying, but his favourite is still this one of her in a tiny onesie dress: he’d managed to lean her up against the sofa cushions in the living room so that it looked like she was sitting up, and Harry’s massive bouquet loomed in the background where it sat on an end table, making it look like Louis actually keeps his house up. Her facial expression passed for something almost like a smirk, when really, she’d been having a huge, noisy poo. Honestly, it only makes Louis love the picture more.

He’s pulling up Instagram before he really thinks about it. The papers want a picture, and he’d rather give them one on his own terms. He’s had no less than three voicemails from his publicist about that. He might answer the door to sign for packages barefoot in sweatpants, with an unholy mess of bedhead, but he isn’t the worst dad. He can manage a good picture of his child, and at least this proves he knows how to dress her, if not himself. He almost goes without a caption, but after checking that his location is off at least three times, ends up typing, happy new year from Olivia :) and posting the picture.

Louis is staring at the eternally baffling explosion of notifications on his Instagram when Harry texts back. Remember the time Liam called Santa the little Christmas man?

He smiles. Of course he does, he’d never let Liam live that down. good old payno!! He replies.

It’s been ages since Louis scrolled through his Instagram, but he attempts it: there’s pictures from some of his old friends at New Year’s parties, blurry and burnt out from the harsh cell phone flashes, and when Louis tries to picture himself in them, perhaps with an arm around Calvin’s shoulders or wedged between two girls holding shots, all he can think of is Olivia. Louis barely remembers last New Year’s, but he spent this one holed up at home with his baby, Skyping his family and sending beer emojis in response to Liam’s fireworks and balloons and streamers at midnight.

And then Instagram crashes under the volume of notifications when Louis gets another text from Harry. Please read Olive her letter, it’s a funny one.

Louis digs through the box, but aside from the new wardrobe for Olivia and a gift receipt, there’s nothing else. No letter in the box m8.

it’s not in the box :(, Harry replies, promptly. Louis doesn’t remember the last time he actually watched the ellipses blink until a new text appeared from Harry. it should have been in the post.

Louis rolls his eyes. Honestly, why not just put it in the box. He’d have to actually look through the pile of mail he brought in as well, the bills and, if he’s having a particularly unlucky day, the occasional sketchy parcel. He’s saved the trouble when his phone begins vibrating in his hand, a call from his publicist. He picks up quickly, instinct to cut off any noise that might rouse the baby. “Hiya, Kim.”

“Nice of ya to text back, Louis,” Kim says, but Louis knows her well enough to know she’s not angry. “How’s Olivia?”

“She’s napping,” Louis hops up on one of his breakfast barstools. “Wish I was, too, but I was busy signing for a package. And uh, there might be pictures of me doing that, by the way.”

“Signing for a package?” Kim sounds not at all surprised, but a little weary, like she’s waiting for exactly why he’s telling her this.

“Harry sent a box of stuff for her,” Louis explains, and if he doesn’t quite cut to the chase right away, sue him for wanting to keep the conversation fun and light. “And I look like a single dad of a newborn. So, y’know.”

“I know,” Kim says drily. It’s not intoned as a question, but Louis knows it is meant as one.

“Uh, like, beardy, wearing sweatpants,” Louis looks down at himself. “Well, commando in sweats. Possibly a little bit of spit up on my shoulder. Shabby dad chic.”

Kim’s silent on the line for a beat. “Okay, so what led you to post the picture on Instagram? We’re already getting a new wave of requests for comments.”

“I looked like shit,” Louis says, annoyed. “And they were gonna post it and be like ‘ooh, 1D’s Louis having a rough time of hiatus’ or some bloody something, and I didn’t want the first picture of us out the hospital to be shite!” He takes a breath. “I figured if I posted something like, more exciting, nobody’d care much about the photos of me.”

“So not doing the exclusive with Hello!,” Kim notes, more to herself than to Louis. “Or do you still maybe want to do—”

To be fair, Louis hadn’t remembered that was on offer, so at least he hadn’t intentionally been pissing in Hello!’s wheaties. Not that Kim would believe him if he said so. She’s had to deal with a lot the last few months. Louis pulls a face at his wall. “It wouldn’t be the worst, I guess. She’s just so little, still, I don’t want to do anything too intense, you know?”

Kim seems to take pity on him at that, at least. “We’ll revisit the idea, then,” she concedes. “The fact that you took the picture and released it yourself is sweet and genuine; we can work with that. You did take it yourself, didn’t you?”

“All me and me iPhone,” Louis confirms, smiling proudly. “She let out a huge fart right after I took the picture.”

“Don’t think I’ll share that particular tidbit of info when we get press requests,” Kim laughs.

“What, that’s not genuine enough for you, Kim?” Louis smirks. “Y’don’t think the press wants to hear about how many times she’s blown out her nappy or weed on my hands?”

“Right, happy new year, Louis, always a lovely chat,” Kim shuts it down immediately, and for a moment Louis wonders how long she got off for the holidays. “Take care and please do let us know before making any more sudden moves, yes?”

“Cheers,” Louis says. He feels vaguely remorseful. “Thanks, Kim.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Kim says, and rings off.

Louis has another text from Harry. well?

hold your horses styles! He has the horse head emoji in his recently used category, for some reason, so he sends that, too, before reaching for the mail pile. It’s not difficult to find Harry’s envelope, addressed to O. Tomlinson, sealed closed with an actual aubergine wax seal with a butterfly design on it. The thing looks like something straight out of a period programme on the BBC, except for the big, Express Mail stamp on the upper right corner.

feel like i shouldnt open this before she wakes up, louis sends off, turning the envelope over in one hand.

The three dots on Harry’s end pop up on Louis’ screen, then disappear, then pop back up, like Harry’s making some sort of crucial life decision. I guess it can wait until naptime is over esp. if you already opened her present without her, Harry sends, and Louis almost falls out of his stool laughing. Thanks mate, i appreciate you not making me wake up my child early just to read a card to her.

I’m very charitable. :), Harry sends back.

It feels really good, just having bants over text. Louis has no fucking clue where this is going, but at least it’s kind of nice to have someone to talk to that actually says something back. He hadn’t realised he was lonely, and Niall’s just visited too, but being cooped up in the house with just a fussy baby for company has made him eager for contact. Louis scrunches his nose. He doesn’t want to seem too eager to indulge Harry’s weird penchant for pretentious gestures. Next thing he’ll have a miniature pony deposited at his door. The Mail would love that.


Louis gives himself two weeks before he texts Kim that he’s interested in the Hello! shoot, promising he could be persuaded to schedule something, and to email him details. His mum comes to stay for a few days, and Dan brings the littles over a couple afternoons to spend time with Olivia. It’s weird, seeing Ernie and Doris playing on the rug around Olivia’s tiny form.

Lou and Lux also drop by, technically coming to pick up Lottie after she’s spent the afternoon looking after Olivia so Louis can sleep, and hang out for a couple of hours in Louis’ living room. Lux very earnestly asks if she can sprinkle some glitter from her purse on Olivia, please, Uncle Tommo, it’s magic, and Louis feels kind of bad saying no, and that’s how he ends up with glitter in his hair and beard.

It’s an unseasonably mild early February day when Liam texts Louis asking if he’s busy. After some goading and insisting that the weather is soooo niiiiice tommooooo :(, Louis agrees to meet Liam at Regent’s Park for a walk with Olivia. Louis bundles her up into Harry’s ridiculous snowsuit, even though it’s still a bit big on her, and loads her into her carseat whilst going over the mental list of things she might need for maybe an hour away from home. He’d only realized he hadn’t got a changing bag when his mum asked where it was the week before. Now that he’s got one, Liam might make fun of him for his extra pack of wet wipes, but he’d rather err on the side of too prepared. He barely spares himself a glance in the rearview mirror before he’s off.

He manages to find a baby-friendly parking spot and Liam and Paddy come over to meet him, Paddy insisting on taking the changing bag as Liam watches Louis manoeuvre Olivia out of her carseat. He still feels like he’s going to break her every time he has to pick her up at an awkward angle, her head flopping for that moment before he can get a hand behind it. Liam helps him fasten the straps of the sling behind his back and then they’re good. The pram’s in the boot, in case Louis needs it, but he’d rather keep Olivia warm and close.

“I think she might be my favourite Tommo now, Lou,” Liam grins, petting Olivia’s wispy hair underneath her pink hood.

“Fuck off,” Louis says cheerfully, slinging an arm over his shoulders. “You can change her nappy later, then.”

Paddy hangs back as they walk, and Louis doesn’t even have to ask him to be extra vigilant as they make their way along the path, surrounded by mostly melted tufts of snow and bare trees.

“You look so much older like that,” Liam points out, reaches over to pet Louis’ scruffy cheek. Louis may have a hand on Olivia’s lower back over the sling, but he can still shove Liam with the other.

“I’m a parent now,” Louis says, as if that explains it all, looking down at Olivia. She blinks at him before getting distracted by a bird flying past.

“Very grown up,” Liam agrees. “Actually, that reminds me—” he laughs a little, “there’s something kind of important I’ve been meaning to tell you, and I didn’t think I should do it over text when we haven’t talked in a while.”

“Oh god,” Louis makes a face, “tell me you haven’t been in the studio with Naughty Boy, Liam.”

“Why is that always your first assumption?” Liam frowns. “No, it’s not about—you are so weird, mate—it’s not anything like that.”

“Are you pregnant, Liam?” Louis eyes him warily. “Did your zombie kidney call it quits?”

“It’s not a zombie kidney, and we’re not pregnant,” Liam says, then pauses for a moment. “We’re, uh. Engaged.”

Louis stops in his tracks. Liam’s been thinking about proposing for months; Louis knows this because Liam’s told him about every step of the way, even dragged him to an appointment with a jeweller before Christmas to look at rings. Last Louis checked he just hadn’t decided on a good time to ask. “Are you having me on?”

“No?” Liam looks unsure. “No, but don’t be mad, I didn’t know how to tell you! You’ve been so busy with Olivia, and I didn’t want to be like ‘oh, that’s nice and all mate but I’m engaged.’”

“When did you even—fuck, Liam, you fucking did it,” Louis laughs, delighted, and looks back at Paddy, who offers a thumbs up. “He actually did it!”

“Do you wanna hear how I did it?” Liam grins. He’s so giddy he’s almost skipping down the path.

“Dunno, I’m indifferent,” Louis shrugs, barely able to contain his smile. “Go on.”

Liam bumps their shoulders together and adjusts his scarf. He’s smartly dressed, boots and clean jeans and a sleek black coat that make Louis’ sweatpants and beanie look a bit haggard, but Louis is a dad, he’s got a pass. At least so he thinks. “We took that trip to the Keys in Florida,” Liam says, “and like, I’ve been carrying the ring around with me because I figured since I didn’t have anything planned I might stumble upon the perfect situation to do it, and I wanna be prepared, you know?”

“Typical Liam,” Louis says, more to Olivia than anything else. Olivia puts her fingers in her mouth. She’s just figured out how to do that, and as long as she’s not gagging herself, it’s pretty cute.

“So one day we went on this boat ride to go diving in a coral reef,” Liam continues, “and we were supposed to get back around sunset, so I had the hotel set up a bunch of candles and this dinner and stuff on the beach for when we got back. It worked out so perfectly ‘cause when we got back to the hotel Soph wanted a shower, so I left her a note to come down to the beach. I’m not sure if she could tell like, right away that I was gonna propose, but by dessert she was like, ‘why’d you do all this?’ and I couldn’t wait anymore.”

Louis bites the inside of his cheek to refrain from pointing out that Sophia would have to be, well, Liam himself, not to have caught on, and instead nods along. “Tell me you got down on one knee, mate,” he says.

“I did,” Liam grins. “And I came up with—”

“A Liam Payne Speech?” Louis interrupts him, because he knows this is important to Liam, but he won’t miss the opportunity to gently tease him about his speeches. Paddy snorts behind them, and then politely pretends to sneeze.

“I had all day to think about it, Tommo,” Liam laughs. “The diving was proper inspirational. I didn’t even write it down.”

Louis huffs a laugh, himself. “Thank god for the fish, then. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Liam, but especially now that the band’s taking time off—you really could have a future as a politician. PM Payne. It sounds badass, if you ask me.”

Liam waves him off. “I’m committed to being a full-time fiancé now, I haven’t got time for politics.”

“What does a full-time fiancé do, exactly?” Louis asks, glancing at Liam in his peripheral vision.

“Look at loads of wedding magazines, apparently,” Liam laughs. “I didn’t know there were magazines just for wedding planning, but there are hundreds, Tommo.”

Louis shakes his head. “You’ve brought this on yourself, mate.”

“I know.” Liam sounds nothing less than delighted about it.


Louis sheds his coat in the hall and looks down at Olivia in her carseat, still in her fluffy marshmallow suit, and immediately feels bad. “You just look so adorable in that,” he laughs, and Olivia makes a face. The little tufts of hair pressed down around her face look damp with sweat, and her cheeks are a bit pinker than usual. “But I bet it’s quite warm, isn’t it? C’mon, it’s bathtime.”

She had her last bottle right before leaving for the park, so she’ll be hungry again by the time Louis is finished bathing her. He carries her in the carseat to his bathroom, spreads out fresh towels on the counter and gets the water running before he gets to undressing her. Her baby body wash sits next to Louis’ toothbrush by the sink. “Did you enjoy the park? And seeing Uncle Liam? It’s a lot more fun out there when it’s not all icy and frozen; I’ll take you over the summer.”

Olivia makes a grumpy noise as he lays her down and gets her nappy off, and a more distressed sound as he wipes her down with what must be cold wipes against her overheated skin. He ought to look into ordering one of those wipe warmers on his next late night online shopping stint. She seems relieved to be out of her snowsuit, wriggling about now that she’s cleaned up, but even the heated air is making her shiver, so Louis checks the water temperature and then sets her down in the sink. She wrinkles up her nose, balled little fists flailing, and kicks a bit, splashing Louis’ jumper with warm water.

“There we go,” Louis says, soothingly. “You’re alright, aren’t you love. Look at how cute you are—” he glances in the mirror, at her downy soft hair sticking up every which way, the dimples at her back and her little poochy tummy. She’s way too cute, blinking a bit at the water droplets she’s kicked up on her cheeks.

Louis helps her lean back to keep the water out of her eyes as he wets her head, and he hums softly as he washes her hair, spreads some of the lather down her back. It’s the same baby wash his mum used with him and all his siblings, and the smell of chamomile reminds Louis of home.

Olivia goes limp and sleepy-eyed as he rubs her back, massages her little arms and legs like his mum taught him to do. Her fingers lazily close around his thumb, and her tiny toes curl and uncurl in the warm water.

“If you fall asleep before your bottle you’ll wake up super cranky later,” Louis warns her. He could do with something to eat, himself. A cheese toastie sounds appetizing. Maybe a frozen pizza. Olivia huffs at him in response. “Oi, cheeky one.” She yawns, pink tongue poking out, and sighs deeply.

“Right, we’re getting you out,” Louis says, rinsing the last of the suds off her shoulders with a handful of water and standing her up with hands under her arms, lifting her out and laying her down on a cushy towel. Olivia stretches luxuriously, and kicks at his hands.

Louis has to tug his phone out of his back pocket, and after an artful arrangement of the towel over any sensitive bits, snaps a couple photos of her to send to his mum.

“You like that, don’t you?” Louis grins. Must be hereditary. He’s spent a lot of time lounging on hotel beds in fluffy robes after showering. He sends the picture to the boys on WhatsApp, too, for good measure. Loving bath time !! He should have a quick Google later to see if he can find a baby-sized dressing gown. That’d be cute.

ahhhhh sick, Liam’s message pops up in the chat. she looks like u tommo!!! it’s the messy hair ;)

Louis sends back the smirky emoji with sunglasses on. Olivia yawns again, kicking her feet, and pouts at Louis. “Ready for dinner, then? C’mon, before you fall asleep on me,” he says, swaddling her in the towel and carrying her to the nursery for a fresh nappy and pyjamas.


Liam and Sophia have an engagement party a month later. By some miraculous happenstance the media hasn’t found out about the engagement yet, and Liam is all too excited to announce it on their own terms, if only through paparazzi pictures outside the restaurant they’ve booked out for the evening.

The morning of, Louis is sat in the kitchen having a cuppa when he hears the sound of someone at his front door. A few people have keys, and at first he thinks it’s Ashley and Kim come to forcibly nail down details on the Hello! shoot, but it turns out to be Lottie and Lou.

“I can call the police on you burglars,” Louis calls out before they’ve entered the kitchen; it’s highly unlikely he would be threatened by anyone who makes it past his gate and multiple locks, but he likes to play fearless homeowner sometimes, or something.

“Don’t be a dickhead!” Lou calls out from the hall.

“Okay, that’s actually the password, hello,” Louis hops off his stool as Lottie walks in. “Where’s Lux?” he asks, hugging Lottie, even as she’s in the middle of unbuttoning her coat.

“Got a cold,” Lou says, tousling his hair and dropping her satchel by the closet door. “Staying in with Sam for a girls’ night, she’s all crusty and drippy, not good for a swanky engagement party.”

Louis shrugs off her hand in his hair and frowns, “I was wondering if I should have mum keep Olivia in, don’t want her picking anything up.”

“Please, she’ll be fine,” Lottie says. “Remember how many times mum dragged us out to Tesco when it was freezing rain? We never got ill. Besides, I bought an outfit to match hers and it won’t be nearly as cute if she’s not there and people can’t tell.”

“Yeah, what’s she wearing, then?” Lou narrows her eyes. “Tell me you’re not letting your child out in a hoodie and sweatpants, Tomlinson.”

“Nope!” Lottie grins. “She’s got a cute little dress and bloomers she’s going to wear, well fancy.”

Lou nods approvingly, and then gives Louis a look. “Well, if she’s going to look like a proper little salt, you’d better clean up too.”

Louis eyes her warily. “Is that why you’re here?”

“Don’t get me wrong, you’ve got a shining personality, but I’m not here for bants,” Lou says. “We’ve gotta make this quick ‘cos I’ve got to go help Soph later, but you need a trim. And a shave, probably,” she tips her head, eyeing Louis’ jaw.

“Olive will be up in a sec,” Louis warns, glancing at the monitor on the counter instinctually. “And she’ll need a bottle.”

“Why’d you think I brought her favourite Auntie Lottie?” Lou grins. “Come on then, haven’t got all day.”

Lottie is laughing into her hand behind them, and Louis knows when he’s lost a battle. He doesn’t have the energy to be stubborn these days.


Preston comes round an hour before to drive them to the restaurant, and Louis is having heart palpitations already, but it’s nice to know a familiar face has his back. Especially as they pull up to the kerb for valet parking and are surrounded by a sea of flashbulbs.

Venue security come out to meet the car, and part the crowd so Louis can get the door open, and his hands shake so hard he can barely undo the snaps that secure the carseat to its base. Preston is leaning in the other side of the car and gets them from his side, and Louis’ sure he looks like he’s shitting himself, but Preston just grins. “I’ll come around, mate.”

Louis doesn’t even try to move until Preston is behind him, a hand on his shoulder, and then it’s a blur and bustle through the press of people to the door, Louis’ hand in a death grip around the carseat handle. He’s glad he’d pulled the cover down on the carseat, so Olivia hadn’t been bothered by the flashes, but she’s blinking owlishly when he opens it inside.

“Made it!” Preston grins, patting Louis on the back firmly. Louis could honestly cry from gratitude. He bumps his shoulder against Preston’s chest instead.

Once inside Louis is reminded that the vast majority of the One Direction extended family hasn’t met his kid or seen him since he became a dad. Somewhere in between saying hi to Sandy and Shanna and getting a rib-crushing hug from Geoff, Lottie steals Olivia away, carseat and all.

When he gets a break from speaking to approximately half the planet, he goes to the bar for a rum and Coke and scopes out the room: he hasn’t had a chance to say hi to Liam and Soph, but it’s easy enough to locate them lingering by their table towards the back of the room, attached at the hip. It’s a nice surprise to see Paul, not their choreographer but their former tour manager, off to Sophia’s left having a conversation with Liam’s mum. A bit further down, Marco and Harry are chatting away over drinks, and Niall’s loud laugh mixes with the banter towards the other side of the room just as Louis spots Lottie sitting Olivia on her lap at a table opposite Basil and a gaggle of sisters. It’s overwhelming to be in one place with so many people Louis likes and has missed, and he doesn’t know where to start, so he stays by the bar and sips at his drink. He’s been watching Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt on nights when he can’t sleep, Olivia propped up on stacked pillows next to him in bed, and for a second he feels a bit like a mole woman, back to reality after what feels like years with only a baby for company.

“The loo’s that way.” Gemma Styles jogs his elbow gently, leaning against the bar beside him, pointing towards the back of the ballroom.

Louis frowns, and laughs. “What?”

She raises an eyebrow. “You look like you were thinking about having a good poo.”

“Not quite,” Louis rolls his eyes, but gives her a hug all the same. He likes Gemma’s sense of humor, even when he’s the butt of the joke. “How’ve you been, love?”

“Fan-fucking-tastic,” Gemma grins beatifically. “Actually spent some quality time with the kid brother over the hols for the first time since you lot started.”

“He flew you all out, didn’t he?” Louis hums, takes a sip of his drink. He distinctly recalls Harry sending a picture of his family at the beach to their group WhatsApp, all with sunglasses on. Niall had responded with a video of Theo rolling around in the snow.

“Yeah, a very tropical Christmas,” Gemma nods. “You were here, right?”

“Mum and the girls popped by on my birthday but Olivia was too small yet to subject everyone back home to her crying fits at arse o’clock,” Louis laughs.

Gemma’s expression softens. “How’s all that going? She’s honestly too cute for words.”

“Yeah she is.” Louis still warms up any time someone compliments her. “We’re alright, doing our own thing, aren’t we.”

“Well, she looks alright, so you must be doing okay at it,” Gemma ribs him. “Haven’t scarred her for life or anything.”

“I fucking hope so,” Louis snorts, and although it’s a joke he can’t help but make a quick mental inventory of anything he could’ve possibly done to traumatise Olivia.

“My Olivia fell in the toilet the other day, so you can’t be doing worse than that,” Gemma laughs.

Louis makes a face. “That… sounds horrible, Christ. I’ve never had a cat but I can’t imagine how awful that’d be. Like, holy shit, did she run off and get everything gross with toilet water?”

Louis trails off looking at Gemma, but she’s glancing somewhere above Louis’ shoulder. He turns, expecting to find maybe Niall doing something ridiculous in the distance, but instead finds Harry with Olivia in his arms, looming like an oaf, stupid smile on. “Riveting conversation,” he mumbles. Olivia has a hand around one of his necklaces and might be drooling on his shirt.

“I see you’re making friends,” Louis says, more to Olivia than to Harry.

“We have been friends,” Harry says, anyway. “Pen pals. Haven’t we, wee Olive?” Olivia blows a spit bubble, and Harry pops it with his pinky, beaming.

Louis sighs. “You kidnapped my child.”

“Just borrowing her for a bit,” Harry promises. “We came to get Karen a refill, didn’t we love?” This time Olivia doesn’t even acknowledge him, and he still looks equally delighted in her existence.

“I’m off to catch up with Roo and Nic, boys,” Gemma says, gives Louis’ elbow a gentle squeeze. “Soz for enabling him, Tommo.”

“If she needs anything, Preston brought in the changing bag,” Louis says to Harry, and only realises he hasn’t said goodbye to Gemma when she’s already gone. “Just like, remember to support her head when she’s not leaning on you?” He swipes his fingers over the condensation on his glass, restless. It’s weird seeing Olivia being so cool in someone else’s arms. She’ll let Lottie or his mum pick her up, but usually he’s around for that, and all his dad alerts are on high.

“Yup,” Harry grins, serene, as the bartender sets down what’s presumably Karen’s drink on the bar. “Glad she likes the clothes I’ve sent. Say bye to dad, Olive!”

Louis catches himself raising his hand to wave at his daughter and grimaces, flips Harry off instead as he waltzes back into the crowd.

“You ready for another one of them?” The bartender asks, and Louis sighs. He’s not driving, and his asshole bandmate’s absconded with his child.

“Yeah, hit me.”


The rest of the night is a pleasant blur of familiar faces, friendly small talk, and watching Harry Styles show off Louis’ child to all their tourmates, family and acquaintances. Louis can see phones out wherever they go in their tour of the room, which will be a bitch later if people have public Instagrams, but whatever. He’s not going to worry about it for now. And Gemma was right, Olivia looks adorable tonight.

Or at least she’s adorable right up until she gets cranky and starts whining so loudly Louis can hear it halfway across the room. She’s hungry and tired, cheeks going pinker by the second, and she has one hand tight in Harry’s hair, yanking hard enough that it looks painful.

It’s oddly satisfying for Louis to walk over and take her back, something settling in him as she pushes her hot little face against his shoulder and whimpers, calming down quickly.

“Thanks,” Harry mutters. “was getting a bit concerned about the barnet.”

“Yeah, it’s a lost cause for me,” Louis laughs. “Never have time to do me own hair these days, not worth it with her around to pull on it.” Olivia whines, and it’s past her bedtime, but even more so past her second dinner. “Alright then, huffy one. Let’s get you a bottle.” He’s about to say bye to Harry, but someone’s already come up behind them and they’re deep in a new conversation. Right then.

Louis flags Preston down and he points Louis to a table near Liam’s at the back of the floor, where the changing bag’s sitting. It’s so easy for Louis to slip back into dad mode, sharp focus on Olivia and no one else, weaving through the crowd towards the table. He’d had the foresight to prepare a bottle for her at home, so he doesn’t have to put her down in her carseat, just gives the bottle a quick shake before popping the cap off. “Sorry it’s not warm, love, I hope it’s not awful,” he mutters.

Olivia doesn’t seem bothered, slurping as she latches on to the teat and blinking up at him tiredly. “There you are,” Louis smiles, “not so bad, now, is it.”

“Can I join ya?” Niall is standing a little off to one side of the table, looking wary. “Time for the night feed, eh.”

“You’d know all about that, wouldn’t you, Nialler.” Louis gestures him over. “You won’t bother her, she’s not too fussed.”

Olivia glances up at Niall as he takes a seat next to Louis, but otherwise she’s too preoccupied with the bottle to care. “She’s been all around the room tonight, Tommo. More popular than you.”

“Yeah, well, she makes friends easily,” Louis bristles, shifting Olivia closer against his chest. He doesn’t mean to snap; it’s just weird to share Olivia, even with people he considers his found family. He changes the subject quickly, gesturing at Niall’s arm in a sling. “What’s with that, anyway, Neil? I don’t mean to be crass in front of innocent ears, but too much time to yourself over the break?”

Niall rolls his eyes, laughing. “Golf injury. If it’s not the knee it’s the foot, and if it’s not either of those I have to pull a muscle in my shoulder, I guess.”

“Golf, mate,” Louis shakes his head. “When will you lot realise it’s useless?”

“Just because you’re useless at it, it doesn’t mean the whole thing is useless,” Niall retorts. “What’re you gonna do if Olivia grows up to be the next Michelle Wie?”

“The next who?” Louis pulls a face. “Silly Nialler. Olivia’s going to be the next Steph Houghton.” Olivia kicks her little fabric Mary Janes against Louis’ arm, almost on cue. “See?”

Niall grins. “I’m still taking her out for a few rounds when she’s bigger, mate. Think how cute she’d be with a little set of clubs.”

“Wouldn’t that just be mini golf? Is there a difference between what you do and the one with the windmills and that?” Louis is purely taking the piss now. He shares a look with Olivia, who nudges the bottle in Louis’ hand with her little fist, already half empty. She really was hungry.

“Yeah, the world number one golfer plays a mean round of mini golf,” Niall laughs. He’s got Louis down, not bothered in the least.

Louis grins, triumphant. “All the same, then.”

“You’d think,” Niall corrects him. “Harry’s alright at normal golf, but garbage at the mini variant.”

Olivia’s mouthing at the teat on her bottle sleepily, like she’s too tired to finish the last ounce of formula. Louis can’t exactly check his phone for the time, but it mustn’t be any later than nine thirty. It’s not the latest Olivia’s been up, but he’s actually been making an effort to get her into bed at a decent hour, attempting to train her to sleep through the night. “Is Harry staying with you?” Louis hums.

“Nah, think he’s at Nick’s for the weekend,” Niall shrugs. “Some quiche thing, he said? Or clique? Quiche clique?”

“Sounds very Primrose Hill of him,” Louis rolls his eyes, unsurprised. He glances across the room, finding Harry’s tall, stooped shoulders easily in a sea of people. “It’s nice of him to show up, anyway. It’s gotta mean a lot to Liam.” It had nearly been a surprise when he saw Harry’s message in their WhatsApp, announcing he’d be getting in early this afternoon, couldn’t wait. It almost seems weird for Harry to be in London these days.

“That’s Harold for ya,” Niall leans back in his chair, shifting carefully to stay off his bad shoulder.

Olivia whimpers, and Louis can already tell it’s gonna be bedtime as soon as he’s finished burping her. “You all done with that, pet?” He tips his chin down, watches as Olivia frowns and scrunches her little nose, kicks Louis’ arm again. “God, so grumpy. We’re really off our party game, aren’t we?” He glances at Niall momentarily. “Prob’ly gonna try to get her to sleep soon. You don’t have to stick around, it’s boring dad stuff.”

“If you need me to go, I’ll go, but I’m not just leaving ya, weirdo,” Niall tips his head, rolls his eyes. “We’ve been over this.”

“Yeah, whatever, not alone, can’t get rid of you, bloody leech,” Louis huffs. “Make yourself useful and grab us a burp cloth, then, should be towards the side when you unzip the top,” he gestures at the changing bag on the table.

“Anything for you, little Liv,” Niall waggles his eyebrows, but Olivia isn’t looking, eyes squeezed shut and tiny pink mouth in a pout.

“Okay, okay, dinner’s over,” Louis sighs, setting down the bottle and kissing Olivia’s forehead. She must be so tired. Niall hands him the burp cloth and by now draping the cloth over his shoulder and settling Olivia on the crook of his forearm is muscle memory, something he could easily do (and has done) half asleep at four in the morning.

Niall smiles at him kind of funny, and downs his glass, tugs at the sleeves of his button-down top.

“Stop looking at me like that, you knob,” Louis huffs to mask his fondness.

“I won’t look at you then,” Niall rolls his eyes. “Jesus. I’m afraid to ask how much sleep you’ve gotten lately.”

“We’re getting heaps better at sleeping,” Louis grins, proud. Olivia hiccups as he gently pats her back. “Can almost make it through the night now. Mostly when she sleeps with me instead of in the nursery.”

“I’d be afraid I’d roll over and squish her,” Niall wrinkles his nose. “She’s so tiny, mate.”

“D’you know what? I was, too, at first,” Louis hums, “but I guess it’s like, dad instinct. I know she’s there. She’s napped on me before and everything.”

“There’s no way you were asleep for that,” Niall narrows his eyes at him, reaches for his glass to chew on a piece of ice.

Louis shrugs. “So what if I wasn’t?”

“You just sat and watched her sleep? That’s a bit like, Twilight of you, Tommo,” Niall laughs.

“I have absolutely no clue what you mean,” Louis sniffs.

“Of course not.” Niall nods agreeably. “Not one of your dozen sisters saw those films, I’m sure.” He grins, wide and sudden. “Oh shit, I just realized, your daughter is gonna watch those someday!”

“Not if I can help it,” Louis counters. He tips his chin to speak to Olivia, hushed. “None of that for you. We’re strictly a Marvel film household.” Olivia hiccups.

Niall stands up, stretching his good arm, and rubs his thumb at Olivia’s pudgy cheek. “Don’t worry babe, you can come have movie nights at Uncle Nialler’s and we’ll watch all the chick flicks you like. Uncle Harry might even bring his copy of The Notebook.”

“You can try all you want to brainwash her, but she’s a Tommo, at the end of the day,” Louis reminds him.

Proving his point, Olivia burps loudly, and spits up on the collar of Louis’ dress shirt.


It gets easier and easier to fall into a routine, but even so, Olivia’s habits change every day: her naps get longer, and her feedings more spaced out, and she seems more aware of her surroundings each day, more eager to interact with Louis. She looks whenever he speaks to her, and after a while, even makes attempts to say something back, even in the form of gestures or facial expressions, little gurgles or coos that begin sounding increasingly like a conversation to Louis.

He learns something new about her every day: reactions that might’ve seemed random before start to form patterns, from the way bubbles popping in her bath make her giggle (Louis films her once, gummy smile and crinkly eyes as he piles foam on top of her head and blows bigger bubbles between his circled fingers) to the scoffing noise she makes when she’s finished with her bottle. With each day that passes it’s like she becomes more of a person.

Louis has been watching Olivia struggle to turn from her stomach to her back—she’s nailed rolling from her back to her stomach, but can’t quite get the other way ‘round. As frustrated as she gets, it’s a little amusing to watch her flail like a small turtle.

“Go on, you’ve got it,” Louis encourages her. He’s half-watching Sky Sports, glancing at Olivia sprawled on a blanket with her soft toys. She’s really into that ram Niall got her, much to Louis’ dismay.

He calls it a night when he realises she’s drooling into the ram’s coat, eyes shut, eyelashes fluttering gently in her sleep. She snuffles a little when he picks her up, drool stringing out from her lower lip to his jumper. Louis carries her down the hall to the nursery, and although it’s gotten much easier for her to sleep without him, he still mentally crosses his fingers as he settles her down in her cot.

Miraculously, Olivia doesn’t stir once she’s tucked in in the cot. Louis very quietly but triumphantly pumps his fist, making sure the baby camera is pointed at Olivia properly before making a swift exit.

He takes a full fifteen minute shower, and feels luxurious for the first time in several months. The water is hot enough that the glass door steams up, and he takes a long time drying off, watching himself in the mirror. After giving his hair a cursory ruffle with the towel, he drops it on the floor and pads back into the bedroom naked and entirely too aware of the half-chub between his legs, just from having a moment to himself in the shower.

He crawls into the middle of his massive bed, stacking up the pillows against the headboard, and does his best not to think about what he’ll do if the baby monitor app on his phone pings (cry, probably) as he wraps a hand around his cock.

Before Olivia, Louis had been what could be cheekily described as a habitual tosser. It’s not like he couldn’t go a day without a wank, and on tour there were times when he made it even four or five days without getting off, but getting ten minutes with his right hand was far from a hardship. Following Olivia’s arrival, most of his alone time has been spent half-assedly attempting to tidy up the house, or eating, or sleeping. Getting a hand on his dick in the shower feels like more of a chore than an indulgence when he can barely keep his eyes open under the spray.

It’s been so long since he’s used the bottle of lube in the drawer of his nightstand that it takes him a couple minutes of dry hand-on-dick contact to remember he has it. It’s depressingly full, though he can’t remember when he bought it. At least it isn’t scented, or warming, like that shit Liam had left in his bag for any old bandmate to find when they were looking for clean underwear on Bus 1. That had been scarring, and taught Louis to read labels a little more carefully. For her pleasure, his arse. He’d taken the piss out of Liam for that, and again when Liam offered him some the next night they watched porn in the back lounge.

He comes to the strange realisation, dick in hand and lights dimmed and a baby sleeping down the hall, that it’s been a sizable number of months since he last slept with someone. Or even, since he messed around in the same vicinity as someone else. Liam had gotten a little weird about watching porn together after he started toying with the idea of proposing to Sophia, but Louis doesn’t think it counts when they never really touched each other in those situations, in any case.

Having more time to himself, with Olivia getting closer and closer to sleeping through the night, has only made Louis more aware of what he lacks as a single dad. He can provide for Olivia, and he’s very lucky in that sense, but it’s a rather lonely title to hold. Not that he thinks she feels unloved: she’s got grandparents and plenty of aunts and there are plenty of friends to drop by and dote on her, but Louis feels keenly aware of the fact he’s doing this alone.

It would just be nice to have someone to share the spaces in between with, is all: when Olivia goes down for a nap it’s terribly quiet in Louis’ house, and it’s not like he can just go out and leave Olivia to so much as go for lunch with Niall, let alone see someone like that. He wouldn’t even know what he wants in a partner aside from someone who’s not just there for him, but for Olivia, too. In the end, it seems like too big of a risk to take to let someone in.

He isn’t sure if he’s ready for that, either, and it wouldn’t be fair to ask for such a commitment if he couldn’t give it in return.

So relationships are out; hook-ups are out; and friends with benefits… Liam might be engaged, but Niall is still Niall, and Louis’ lips tingle a little when he thinks about the last time Niall had kissed him. It was a nice snog. It wouldn’t be fair to ask for anything more, but it doesn’t mean Louis doesn’t consider it, here in bed where no one will be the wiser.


As soon as the weather outside starts showing the first signs of warmth, spring creeping in slowly, Louis loads Olivia and the changing bag into the car to go for a walk in the park. Olivia babbles along to the music on the radio, waving her toy ram around whenever Louis glances at her in the rearview mirror. She’s got an iron grip, these days, will squeeze Louis’ fingers and refuse to let go whenever he offers them. Recently, she’s also started chewing on one of the poor ram’s horns, drooling on him almost like a puppy would. Louis makes a mental note to get her some proper teething toys.

He brings the pram this time, aware of his limitations while wearing the baby sling. It’s the kind that snaps to the carseat, and Louis miraculously has the foresight to review the instructions at home before he ends up making a fool of himself in public. Parenthood has made him responsible; Liam would be so proud.

Olivia’s fresh from her morning nap and babbles and blows bubbles the entire car trip, makes faces at him as he settles her in the pram. Then she gets distracted by the sky, and won’t look at him at all. Louis supposes it’s good practice for the teen years.

“It’s nice out, isn’t it?” Louis grins. It’s still early, before lunchtime and before schools let out, but Louis keeps an eye out regardless, out of habit, for anyone pointing a phone at them or hiding in the bushes as they make their way down the path. He’s gone farther up north today, skirting Primrose Hill, and Olivia seems into it, kicking her legs happily in her seat.

There are a few people at the edges of the park, walking dogs, and a particularly brave couple on a picnic quilt under a tree, but it’s pretty quiet. Louis hasn’t given anyone more than a passing, cautious glance until he sees a spotted dog running frenetic circles around a tall bloke just down the path. There’s something about the fellow’s hunched shoulders that seems suspiciously familiar.

Upon closer inspection, and spotting the Green Bay beanie in the dog’s mouth, he recognises Harry. “Don’t look now, but the guy who’s been sending you loads of stuff in the post is down that way,” he stage-whispers to Olivia. “Okay, that sounds weirdly like you have a sugar daddy. He called himself your pen pal, didn’t he?” Olivia coos at her ram, seemingly above her dad’s silly antics.

Ahead, the dog notices their approach and barks twice, jumping a little and then running straight towards Louis. It seems friendly enough, more excited than anything, and proves Louis’ suspicions by dropping the beanie at his feet to lick his shoes and wriggle its behind. Louis picks up the beanie, careful of drool, and watches Harry stumble to catch up with the dog.

“Oh, Pig, no,” he’s saying, a sort of mumbling call, and then he seems to realize it’s Louis. “Oh, god, sorry,” he says, more enthusiastically. “She’s just excitable, don’t mind her.”

“Where did you get a dog?” Louis laughs, handing back the hat.

“She’s Nick’s,” Harry says, slinking down on his knees to clasp the lead to the dog’s collar. “Her name’s Pig, and sorry, yeah, her paws are a bit muddy, don’t let her jump on you.”

“Ah,” Louis nods. That makes more sense. Come to think of it, he vaguely remembers being sent a Topman jumper with a similar dog doodled on it a while ago.

It’s a wonder it takes Harry this long to turn his attention to Olivia, but once he does, Louis briefly loses him to a one-sided conversation with his infant. “Hi, Olive! I’m glad you convinced your dad to bring you out to the park today so I could run into you. It’s a lovely day, isn’t it? I’ve been watching the clouds to try to figure out if any of them resemble something; so far I’ve only seen one that looked a bit like a head of lettuce, but that’s not much of a real shape, is it?”

Olivia is absolutely delighted by Harry’s slow drawl, preening and sticking her fists in her mouth and drooling over them.

“Mate, I don’t think she knows what a cloud even is,” Louis says, hopelessly.

“Babies are far more intelligent than we assume,” Harry says, cryptically. “Remember how Lux was at this age?”

Louis frowns. He barely does, and that’s weird. “Feels like ages ago.”

“Next thing you know she’ll be a teenager,” Harry makes a face. “I was just gonna sit over there on the benches to let Pig play for a bit; care to join me?”

Moving off to the side doesn’t sound like a bad idea. Two members of One Direction certainly attract more attention than one. Pap pictures of Harry go for twice what pictures of Louis on his own do, and Louis can’t imagine what photos of the two of them with Louis’ child would go for. Frankly, he doesn’t want to set up a nosy photographer’s retirement fund today.

“Why not,” he shrugs, and avoids a muddy patch as he pushes the pram towards the park benches. It seems like an awfully dad thing to do, sit on a bench at the park with your pram. He’ll have to text Liam about it.

Harry fishes a rubber bone out of his pocket for Pig, and she settles in the dirt and grass under the bench to gnaw at it, making pleased grunts every now and then. “Do you bring her out often?” he asks, glancing over at Louis curiously.

Louis fusses with Olivia’s blanket a bit, tucking it in around her tighter and making sure her toes are covered from the slight chill. “Trying to more now that it’s not so bloody cold,” he shrugs. He always feels like Harry’s a remark away from telling him that he should do something this way, according to some manual Louis’ never heard of.

“The fresh air is nice,” Harry nods easily. “She seems really like, cheerful today, you know? With the change of scenery and stuff.”

“Yeah, she likes being outside.” Louis shuffles her little ram in a dance, boops her nose with its snout. “We do tummy time in the back garden sometimes.”

“Is she showing any interest in football yet?” Harry drawls. “I know that runs in the family.”

“She’s definitely a good kicker, so I’ve got high hopes,” Louis nods proudly. Olivia yelps at him, and Louis gives back her ram before she can get properly upset.

“Seems good at the trash talk already,” Harry grins.

Pig jumps up on the bench at Harry’s side, bone in her mouth, and leans over to get a look at Olivia, suddenly very curious. “Have you brought Olive a gift, Piggy? Thank you!” Harry laughs.

“Don’t give my daughter your slobbery dog bones,” Louis laughs. “She’ll catch summat. Besides, she hasn’t got any teeth yet.” Teeth or no, she’s getting hungry by the looks of it, smacking her pink gums and little lips, and kicking her legs under the blanket. Louis brought a bottle but he doesn’t particularly want to feed her in the park. He stands up, rubbing feeling back into his legs from the cold bench. “Sorry to be a wet blanket but I’d better go, it’s nearly lunch time; but I’ll see you round, I guess.”

Harry nods, rubbing Pig’s back and standing too. “We should have lunch or something sometime.”

“Yeah,” Louis says, checking the locks on the pram wheels and tucking Olivia’s hat down on her little head. “Text me or whatever if you’re in town.” He cups his hands over his mouth and exhales for a moment. He wishes he’d brought gloves. Or at least had a cuppa to wrap his fingers around… “Hang on, are you doing anything now?” Harry shakes his head slowly. Louis mirrors the movement. “Why don’t we just get a bloody coffee or something now? It’s not like I have anything better to do.”

“Ouch,” Harry laughs, turning his beanie over in his hands before seemingly deciding he’d rather not have dog slobber in his hair, and stuffing it in his jacket pocket. “I don’t have plans, if that’s what you’re asking. There’s a nice, quiet bakery close to here, if you’re feeling that. I think they have lunch-y stuff, too.”

“Lunch sounds better than the load of spit-uppy laundry to do if I go home,” Louis says, shrugging.

“Ah. In that case, I’m glad to hear I’m a better option than spit-uppy laundry,” Harry rolls his eyes, checks Pig’s lead as he gets to his feet.

“It’s the things they don’t warn you about,” Louis reflects, solemnly.

“Did you drive here? It’s really not far at all, but if you wanna take the car we can meet you there,” Harry offers.

“We don’t mind a short walk,” Louis shrugs, looking down at Olivia. “Which way is it?”

“It’s that way,” Harry gestures broadly in the direction Louis came from. “You won’t be any farther away from your car, I promise,” Harry reassures him.

“Right.” Louis bites his lip. Olivia’s cheeks have gone pink with the chill, and he really does need to get her inside and give her a bottle. “I’ll follow you, then.”


Louis wouldn’t be caught dead in this shop on his own: better yet, wouldn’t have known it existed. It’s a few feet from being classified as a literal hole in the wall, and Louis peers suspiciously back into the kitchen like there might be actual mice for staff. He wouldn’t put it past Harry to bring him to some sort of Ratatouille-type establishment.

He feels like a wanker trying to get the pram in the front door and past the narrow rows of tiny tables to the one Harry’s picked out. He shoves it against the wall as quickly as he can, slinging the changing bag over the back of his chair and lifting Olivia out of her seat before she starts fussing any louder. The last thing he wants is to attract more attention to them.

Harry looks unfazed, and slides a menu across the table towards him. Pig sits peacefully at his feet, her lead looped through Harry’s chair leg.

“This place used to be counter service only, but people kept running into each other and spilling stuff all over the place,” Harry informs him, looking over the menu.

“I’m not surprised, given how small it is,” Louis scoffs. He briefly glances at his menu on the table, but Olivia won’t stop wriggling, so getting her bottle is gonna have to take priority. “How’d you even know that?”

“The staff here are really nice,” Harry shrugs. “They remind me of the ladies at the bakery back home.”

“Can’t forget your manic pixie dream past,” Louis flashes him a smile, reaching behind himself for the side pocket containing Olivia’s bottle. He probably should’ve grabbed it before getting her out of the pram, but if he tries to put her back now she’ll fuss even more. Dammit.

“D’you need help, Lou?” Harry asks, lowering his menu.

“Nope, I’m all good, me.” Louis manages to grab the bottle one-handed, elbow twisted awkwardly, and shakes it with a thumb over the cap. He’d learned that trick quickly. Olivia’s fussing ramps up when she sees the bottle, hands batting at his arm futilely. It’s silly: she won’t hold it herself, but she’ll whine about him not doing it fast enough. “Alright, alright, if you give me a second you won’t get crummy watered-down stuff with clumps,” Louis reminds her, as if Olivia could understand at all, but she sighs in relief once Louis uncaps the bottle and brings it towards her.

When Louis glances up, Harry has forgotten his menu and is instead watching Louis and Olivia, chin in his hand. “She’s so much like you already.”

“An impatient bastard?” Louis says, and hitches Olivia up in the crook of his arm. Feeding her feels so natural now that sometimes he forgets the magic of it, but all it takes is a look at her sleepy drowsy eyes, the droplet of formula rolling down her little dimpled chin, and he’s entranced all over again. It’s a little embarrassing when it happens in front of a bandmate, though. Louis picks up the menu and pretends to study it deeply.

“She literally made the face you make when you’re impatient,” Harry insists, going back to his menu. “I dunno how hungry you are, but the quiche here comes with a rocket salad on the side and it’s brilliant.”

“Is that what you were confusing Niall with the other day?” Louis grins, suddenly recalling their conversation. “I’ll have to tell him you took me out for quiche.”

Harry’s brows furrow for a second before he parses out what Louis means. “Oh, the clique thing,” he rolls his eyes. “It’s… an old in-joke, but sure. He’ll be very jealous you got to try my quiche, I bet.”

Louis grins, setting his menu down. The description for the quiche includes the word bacon in it, so that’s an easy choice made. “I think he’s having a bit of Rory’s ‘World Number One’ quiche these days.”

Harry’s face goes thoughtful, and then pleased. “I’ve heard the ‘World Number One’ quiche has a lot of sausage in it.”

“Plenty of balls,” Louis agrees.

It’s only then that they notice someone standing by their table. The waitress clears her throat. “Can I get you something to drink?”

They place their orders, and Olivia falls asleep before the food even makes it to the table, exhausted after going to the park and having her bottle. She’s still small enough that it isn’t a hassle for Louis to hold her, propped in one arm and leaning back against his chest, and he’s had months of practice eating with his left hand by now. It’s quiet and dim enough in the bakery for her to sleep comfortably, anyway.

“Does she like napping with you?” Harry asks over his iced coffee.

Louis doesn’t really mind the lack of eye contact, as Harry cannot seem to stop staring at Olivia; she’s an adorable sight when she sleeps. “Loves it,” he says proudly, breaks off a bite of his quiche with his fork. He’s not sure he’ll ever outgrow the part of himself that just loves being her favourite. “She always sleeps best with me, believe it or not.”

“Skin to skin contact,” Harry murmurs, nodding.

“I didn’t really know like, dads could do that kind of thing, y’know? You always hear about the bond between mums and their babies.” Louis admits, shrugging. “That’s probably kind of stupid, whatever.”

Harry hums as he takes a sip of his cold brew. “I think a lot of like, perceptions have to do with the gender constructs we grow up with? But I don’t think it’s necessarily a mum thing or a dad thing. Maybe it’s just a parent thing.”

“Has to be,” Louis nods in agreement. His quiche is delicious. He opts for ignoring the pile of greens next to it, at least for the time being.

Silence falls between them for a moment, and Harry takes two bites of his sandwich (greens on brown bread, disgustingly healthy) before Louis can think of something else to say. “So are you up to anything while you’re here, aside from walking people’s dogs?”

Harry chews slowly. “I’m meeting with someone about a film? I dunno, it’s really early yet. Just sort of scoping it out, I guess.”

“Like a real movie?” Louis is surprised by that, and he thought he wasn’t surprised by anything about Harry anymore. “Now you’ve really gone Hollywood.”

“It’s just a meeting,” Harry rolls his eyes. “I’ve had them before, I thought you knew this.”

Louis licks crumbs off the corner of his mouth. “Knowing isn’t the same as actually picturing you in a movie. I knew at least one of our iCarly reels would pay off, but I didn’t expect it to be yours, if I’m honest.”

“Liam’s too into music to leave for the silver screen,” Harry shrugs. “And can you see Niall in a movie? ‘Weyyy lads, this is me cameo in The Hangover IV.’ ”

“He’s too busy golfing and trying to join McBusted,” Louis counters. “Though they’re not really McBusted anymore, are they? They split back out into two bands again, right?”

“Two of McFly have new babies,” Harry is happy to point out around a bite of his sandwich. “I think they’re just McBabies now.”

Louis shrugs. “It’s got a nice ring to it. Baby Direction would never work.”

“That just makes me think of like… Liam in nappies,” Harry stares off for a moment.

Snickering, Louis finishes off his last bit of quiche and takes a long sip of his Coke. “Kinky.”

“He’d be horrified,” Harry grins, delighted.

“Which is why I’ll text it to him,” Louis smiles. “Just as soon as I’ve got this one back to the house to finish her nap and put in that load of spit-uppy onesies.” He wipes his mouth and balls up his napkin, places it squarely in the center of his greens. “Lunch wasn’t awful.”

“I wouldn’t take you to an awful place,” Harry frowns. “I have impeccable taste.”

“In grass roots, perhaps,” Louis says, jerking his chin at the neglected salad. “Anyhow, I’m sure Nick is wondering where you took his dog, too.” Pig snorts from beneath Harry’s chair, like she quite agrees. She’s a good dog. Louis might have to steal her, himself.

“About that,” Harry says, sheepishly, folding his napkin into an elaborate swan. Showoff. “Would you mind terribly to give us a ride back to Nick’s? It’s like a mile back and Pig’s tired.”

“Is Pig tired or are you a lazy bastard?” Louis narrows his eyes. Harry looks ready to object, but Louis continues, “I mean, I guess I’m feeling charitable. Good deed of the day and all that.”

“We both appreciate it.” Harry slides up from his chair and pulls his beanie down over his tousled hair. “Be right back.” He’s off to the counter and paying before Louis can stop him. Whatever. Louis didn’t want to pay for that salad anyway.


It’s not even a ten minute drive back to Nick’s place, and Louis feels a little awkward with Harry sprawled out in his passenger seat, fiddling with the radio the whole way. Harry points out where to pull over and Louis gives him a little wave as he extricates himself and stands on the kerb, fussing with his pockets.

Pig gives a little yip, tugging at her lead towards the door. “I should get her in—” Harry gestures vaguely.

“Yeah,” Louis says, “You think Grimshaw’s called in that dognapping yet?”

“Piss off,” Harry laughs. “He knows it was me.”

“Well then go on, dog nanny,” Louis makes a shooing gesture with his hand, grinning. He’s not really sure what else to say, lingers for a moment with a hand on the steering wheel and the other puttering blindly with the radio. “I’ll see you around,” he mumbles vaguely, in the end.

“Yeah,” Harry says, and sticks his head in the window, peering into the back seat. “See ya ‘round, Olive!”

The drive back home is quiet, with Olivia still snoozing in her carseat and the radio on low. Louis could do with a nap himself. He hadn’t thought it would be as tiring as it was just to be out in public with Olivia. He hasn’t had lunch out in months, and it’s freeing but leaves him feeling drained. It’s a relief when Olivia stays asleep as he takes her carseat into the house, sets her down in the living room floor and lays down on the couch, closes his eyes.


Louis spends a few days back in relative silence, having one-sided conversations with Olivia and re-watching old episodes of The Walking Dead (although he only does that when Olivia’s asleep, because he tried watching one with her around once but felt bad about giving her nightmares), before he decides he’s ready to socialise again. He takes a chance on texting Harry one afternoon when Olivia’s having tummy time in a tiny Manchester United onesie on the shaggy rug in the nursery. Fancy having your ass kicked at fifa?? he sends, with a fist emoji.

The reply is nearly instant. I would have loved to, but just got into LAX. Rain check?

Immediately, Louis feels like kind of an idiot. He pushes his toes under the edge of the rug, and Olivia looks up at him, little fingers clutching the soft fur underneath her. “You need to hurry up and learn how to hold an Xbox controller,” Louis mutters, and Olivia babbles.

My bad x, Louis texts back. It’s no big deal. To prove it to himself, he texts Liam the exact same question.

It takes a little longer, but the response is more hopeful. mate u know ive been practising!!!!

Prove it to Olivia, Louis sends back, triumphant. “Uncle Liam is coming, hold in your farts for when he’s here,” he waggles his brows, and Olivia throws a stuffed football at him. By which Louis means, Olivia bats the football he balanced on her stomach off with the back of her hand.


It’s not until the next night that Liam makes it over, which means Louis can sweep all the take out bags off the counter in the kitchen to make room for the new ones, and throw the baby toys scattered on the living room floor into a basket.

“Hi!” Liam grins, enveloping Louis in a massive bear hug as soon as he gets the front door open. Liam is blessedly not dressed like he’s attempting to top some GQ list this time, which makes Louis feel a bit better about his own scrubby attire. “Where’s Olivia?”

“You don’t even love me anymore,” Louis cries dramatically. “I’ve been replaced.”

“Now, Louis,” Liam pats his shoulder, “you and I both know you’re my favourite.”

“Whatever, Niall’s my favorite,” Louis says, and brushes past Liam airily, heading for the living room. “C’mon, I’ve got Chinese. Olivia’s in here.”

Liam follows Louis into the living room, and Olivia yelps when she sees them, shaking a tiny, dimpled fist in their direction from her blanket on the floor. Louis has set out the food on the coffee table, and even brought out plates. “Unleash the farts!” Louis pumps his fist, then turns to Liam. “We’ve got inside jokes now, her and I.”

“Spending too much time inside, Tommo?” Liam gives him a mock-concerned frown. “It’s okay to admit you’re lonely.”

“Fuck off,” Louis says easily. “I texted you, didn’t I?” He doesn’t feel as defensive as he might’ve a couple weeks before. “Anyway, I had lunch with Harold the other day, so your accusations are totally unfounded.”

Liam pauses with one of Louis’ seldom-used plates in hand, eyeing the lo mein. “That’s good! I mean, was it good? It wasn’t anything weird, was it?”

“There was a salad,” Louis shrugs, piling fried rice onto the orange chicken container lid. “But nah, mostly normal.”

“One time he brought over dinner and he and Soph had this like, bean sprout thing? I dunno. It was weird.” Liam shakes his head, sitting down with his back against the couch arm and stretching his legs out. “I remember when he would eat McDonald’s with me.”

“Traded it in for green juice,” Louis scoffs. He adds another spoonful of chicken to his lid for good measure and takes the seat next to Liam, legs crossed. There’s some panel show on low on the telly for now, which Louis had been half-watching as he waited for Liam and tried his best not to eat half the food before he even arrived.

“It’s good that you saw him, at any rate,” Liam smiles tentatively. “You know, having contact with adults too rather than just your kid is good. I’m glad you texted.”

“If you can call Harry an adult,” Louis spoons rice into his mouth.

Olivia wriggles on her blanket, and Louis pokes her tummy with his socked toe. She makes a face, offended, and rolls onto her stomach, holds her head up and grins gummily at him.

“Can’t poke her tummy now,” Liam laughs, sounding a little awed. “Wow, she’s really grown a lot.”

“She doesn’t really crawl yet, but I can tell she wants to, y’know?” Louis grins, proud. “It’s not supposed to happen for another couple of months. That and teething is gonna be a big thing once she hits six months.”

Liam shakes his head. “It’s so weird mate. Like, she’s more of a little human than a baby.”

“Hate to break it to you, Liam, but babies are little humans,” Louis deadpans.

“You know what I mean!” Liam elbows him. “It’s just strange, isn’t it, like. Babies.”

“You’re telling me,” Louis nods, elbowing Liam back for the sake of it. “Made one and everything.”

Liam looks contemplative, until a noodle gets stuck to his upper lip. “I dunno, the fact that you have one and haven’t completely lost the plot is encouraging. Makes me wanna have one even more.”

“Thought you were doing the whole marriage bit first,” Louis eyes him warily.

“Well,” Liam says. He dips back into the carton of chicken, spooning a few pieces out onto his remaining noodles.

“What do you mean, well? Are you having a shotgun wedding, Liam?”

Liam frowns, and flicks a grain of misplaced rice off his finger at Louis. “No! I dunno. I mean, I do know, we’re not, but—” he makes a face. “Soph missed like, a period? At Christmas. And it wasn’t a big deal or anything but we just thought for a bit that maybe, y’know. Anyway, it wasn’t. But seeing you with Olivia made it not seem like such a horrible thing if it had been, I guess.”

Louis is quiet for a moment. He feels like hugging Liam, maybe. Instead he jabs him on the ribs with his elbow, more gently than before. “I can’t believe you didn’t say anything. Wanker.”

“You’d just had Olivia,” Liam shrugs. “It was bad timing, mate. We didn’t tell anyone. It’s weird being like ‘so we might be having a kid but oops, turns out not, and now we don’t know whether to be disappointed or not.’ ” It’s honest in the blunt way Liam is, a little sheepish.

Louis chews on a piece of chicken, watching Liam. It’s always strange to think there was a time when they didn’t really get on. “Wait until you’re ready for it,” he says, finally. “Be excited about being married first and quit rushing ahead, will you? And you call me impatient.”

“You are impatient,” Liam mutters around a mouthful of noodles. “I don’t know, mate.”

“Impatient enough to have this little bundle of joy on me own now,” Louis huffs, self-deprecating. Olivia is chewing on the toe of his sock, a bit like a puppy. “Anyway, I’ve fed you, now I’m gonna destroy you,” he announces, setting down his lid still half full of food and gently wriggling Olivia off to fetch the Xbox controllers.

When he turns back around, Liam’s set his own plate aside and picked Olivia up, has her standing in his lap with his hands under her arms. She’s flailing delightedly, blowing bubbles. Louis grins. “She really likes you, mate.” He narrows his eyes. “Tell you what, if you’re so pro-baby, why don’t you and Soph take Olivia for a day?”

“Why, do you need a babysitter to do something? Are you going on a date?” Liam’s voice is light as he bounces Olivia gently on his thighs.

Louis makes a face at him. If he weren’t holding the baby, Louis would chuck the controller at his head. “A date with myself, if that. Get romantic with my right hand.”

Liam grimaces, and Olivia giggles. “Your dad is gross. I should absolutely take you out for a day so you don’t have to deal with that, shouldn’t I, princess?”

“She’s not a princess,” Louis says, wearily. “She’s an astronaut, or a ninja, or a footie star.”

“She can be whatever she wants,” Liam says. “Some girls want to be princesses, like Sophia—” his voice lifts up into baby-talk at the end, smiling at Olivia. “And that’s okay! You can be a space ninja princess if you want.”

Louis looks at him. Maybe Liam’s been spending more time with Harry than he mentioned. “Uncle Liam is off his rocker,” Louis declares, plucking Olivia off of Liam’s lap. He kisses her forehead before settling her back on her blanket and bringing her soft toys closer, offering her the ram’s horn to wrap her tiny fingers around.

Olivia waves the ram around and bops herself in the face. Louis watches her with caught breath, but she only giggles. Liam rubs her fuzzy head. “She really does take after you, Tommo.”

“You’re a silly one, aren’t you?” Louis grins, wriggles his fingers against Olivia’s side. She’s not quite ticklish, or at least doesn’t understand what tickling is, but she squirms away from the touch, waving her ram around.

“Alright,” Louis says. “Where were we? I was about to kick your arse, I think?”

“And trying to get me to babysit so you can go on a date,” Liam nods affably. “Which is a great idea, mate.”

Louis narrows his eyes at the telly screen, scrolling through a few settings on the game menus. “I didn’t say anything about a date. Where would I even find someone to date, Liam.”

“Sophia knows a lot of really nice girls,” Liam says, too quickly. He’s thought about this. Louis feels slightly ambushed. “We could introduce you!”

Louis sighs. He’s not going to get out of this with anything less than honesty, and that’s annoying. “Liam, I’m not really sure that’s the best idea, considering the last time someone introduced me to a girl I knocked her up and pissed her off.”

“You didn’t—” Liam makes a face. “Okay. What about a bloke? Sophia works with this really nice guy on one of the charity boards…” he fades off a little as Louis starts the game, thumbs flying on the controller.

The boys have known forever, but it still feels weird discussing it so casually. Not because he’s surprised at the ease with which Liam changes gears, or because he’s taken aback by the boys’ acceptance. It’s just one of those things, Louis thinks to himself, that makes up the bond they can’t ever quite shake. And it means he can’t be rude or dismissive even if Liam’s being a weirdo trying to set him up. “I dunno, Payno. I’ve gotta think about Olivia, now,” he shrugs, a moment later. “Like, if I’m gonna date someone I want it to be… more serious than just that, I guess.” Dating someone for the sake of dating them at this point seems weird, he thinks.

Liam, blessedly, doesn’t push it, too focused on trying to regain control of the ball on screen to argue.

“Thanks,” Louis says, after another minute. Olivia is asleep between their knees, the ram’s foot hanging out of her pink mouth.


Louis is supposed to be at a label meeting in thirty minutes and is already running late, trying to brush his teeth and trying to fix his hair at the same time, when his mobile rings on the bathroom counter. “H’lo?” He says through a mouthful of toothpaste, not even bothering to check the caller ID. His PA’s gonna murder him. Where the fuck is Lottie?

“Lou, I don’t think I’m gonna be able to make it,” says a voice he can barely recognize as Lottie’s down the line. She coughs. “Woke up feeling a bit shit.”

“Fuck, you sound like death,” he mutters, spits into the sink. “Oh fuck, now I have to get Olive ready.”

“I’m sorry, Lux sneezed right in my face, and it grossed me out at the moment but I didn’t think—”

“Oh, gross,” Louis groans. “Just take it easy, yeah? I’ll figure it out over here.”

“Good luck, Lou, sorry,” Lottie sniffles before she rings off.

Right on cue, Olivia shouts from the bedroom, where he’d set her down on the floor by his full-length mirror. Lately she likes staring at herself and high-fiving her reflection, and it’s a great distraction, although apparently it has limits.

“I’m coming babe,” he calls back, and stares at his own reflection for a second. The bags under his eyes are slightly better now that she’s sleeping through the night, but Jesus. He looks like such a dad.

It’s too late to get another sitter, so he’s just going to have to suck it up and hope Olivia’s in a good mood. And that maybe they can get their hour and a half meeting over in forty minutes.

“Change of plans, missy,” Louis announces, scooping Olivia up in his arms. He can pull off an improvised take your daughter to work day, surely.

Olivia looks him over and laughs, patting his cheek with her little hand awkwardly. She’s in a very touchy-feely stage, and Louis can’t help finding it adorable even when he’s literally running out the door.

He manages to make it to the meeting only ten minutes late, miraculously, Olivia sat in her carseat with her ram friend cuddled up beneath her arm and her changing bag slung over Louis’ shoulder.


It doesn’t go terribly. Louis’ focus is shot, glancing down at Olivia any time she waves her ram or tries to stuff her fists in her mouth, but he’s got a folder of papers to go over on his own time and everyone had seemed understanding. It had been weird: Louis is used to stares and hushed whispers, but not from management peers. Walking in with a baby on his hip had managed to turn even the most staid account rep into a girl running into him at Tescos, eyes wide, fingers twitching on her phone.

All in all it goes better than Louis expected, right up until he’s sharing a lift down to the car park with one of the assistants that sat in on the meeting. Olivia is getting a little fussy, sucking at a fistful of his shirt hungrily, and the girl has been watching them for the last five floors. Louis offers her a helpless smile. What can you do with a hungry baby, eh. “If you ever need a recommendation for a nanny, we’ve got a great list,” she offers, gently.

Louis can tell she means well, but sometimes he can’t help the proud part of him, the defensive impulse that drives him to give her a tight-lipped, forced smile. “I think we’re quite good without, thank you.” Olivia blows a derisive raspberry, ppppfffbbt.

Honestly, Louis agrees.


Taking Olivia along for his meeting drains Louis’ adventurous spirit for the next week; he’d planned to take her to the park again, but the weather has been ghastly and honestly he’d rather watch her roll from her back to her belly and back again on the fluffy nursery rug than finagle her into rain gear. Lottie manages to pass whatever shit she had along to the rest of the family, so Louis has banned any visits from Olivia’s aunts and uncle until they have clean bills of health from Jay. He and Olivia don’t mind the quiet, anyway, he convinces himself.

Boredom sets in just at the one week mark, and as much fun as online shopping is, Louis is tired enough of the house that he’s willing to endure going out again. He wants to find a toy box for Olivia’s room, and maybe some small bookcases; she’s amassed an impressive amount of toys and books, gifts from family and friends and celebrity acquaintances he doesn’t feel comfortable giving away, but they’ve been shoved in the cupboard for a while and she’s getting to the age where she likes playing with different things. Baby storage isn’t something he’d thought much about when he was buying furniture for the nursery: he’d thought he was covered with a crib and a dresser and a changing table. The follies of one’s youth, Louis supposes.

It’s a nippy Wednesday morning when he feeds Olivia, spends a good hour playing with her on the nursery floor to tire her out, and then puts her down for her nap in her carseat for a trip to IKEA. The one in Wembley should hopefully be quiet enough on a weekday, and he can grab nursery storage and something for lunch, all in one go.

His plan works better than he could’ve hoped for: Olivia stays asleep the entire drive, and continues her nap through him putting her seat into the buggy and perusing the children’s furniture section. He’s looking at a staged kids’ room with a bunk bed and a sick dino rug when he becomes distinctly aware of someone’s presence behind him.

“Are you planning on needing bunk beds any time soon?” Harry’s tone is flat but warm, unmistakeable.

Louis pointedly does not jump, spins on his heel to narrow his eyes at Harry. He’s too close for a secret handshake, so Louis does the only other sensible option and gives him a quick hug around the neck. “What the fuck, Harold, why does this keep happening? When did you get back?”

Harry seems taken aback at the display of affection, shoulders stiff, but he gives Louis a gentle pat between the shoulderblades before he lets go. “It’s only been like… a few days, sorry.” He has a trolley with a throw pillow, a lightbulb, and a two-pack of scissors in it, and nothing else.

“What are you even doing here?” Louis frowns. Harry Styles in IKEA makes as much sense as Louis being the first member of One Direction to have a child. It’s ridiculous.

“I’m sort of… here, for a bit,” Harry says vaguely, thumbing the edge of the pillow in his buggy. “And I can’t keep eating breakfast standing by my kitchen counter. And also my mud room is very dark without a light.”

Louis blinks. “You’re planning to stay, then? For how long?” He knows it’s the sort of on-the-spot questions that Harry hates, but he’s so surprised he can’t help himself.

“Um, a little while? Not sure. My agent suggested looking into theatre things, and the West End is nice,” Harry trails off, mumbling.

“The West End is nice,” Louis echoes. “Wow. Okay.” He doesn’t understand Harry in the least. “That’s… is that new?”

“Oh, God,” Harry laughs, puts his face in his hand. “It’s very new. It’s not—I’m not like, doing a show or anything. I’m testing the waters, y’know? Figuring out what I wanna do next.”

“Yeah,” Louis says, although he doesn’t, really. One of the plus sides to having a baby is that not only is it a nice filler for the break, but it’s also kind of determined his schedule for the next eighteen years. Sure, he’s had phone calls and Skype sessions and meetings about the label, and writing opportunities, and maybe even The X Factor, but he can’t imagine just going for something new, a completely different venture. “So do you have a new house?”

“Bought a flat a while ago,” Harry shrugs. He’s pulled his phone out of one pocket and is thumbing through something on it now. “Redid the kitchen. I was just gonna flip it, but… now I’m not.”

Louis nods. “Well, I should try to power through this before Olivia wakes up, but have fun with that.” He doesn’t really want to stick around for any photos Harry might want to show him of the renovations.

“Right, see you ‘round,” Harry says, vaguely relieved that he no longer has to answer questions he doesn’t seem too sure of. He reaches out to pet Olivia’s belly where she’s still snoozing in the buggy before he wanders off.

Louis picks up a soft book, a set of dish towels, and a lamp shaped like a star, along with the reference numbers for a toy chest and a shelving unit, before his stomach starts to growl. Olivia is miraculously still conked out, so Louis makes his way to the cafe, craving a plate of actual food that isn’t a sandwich or a frozen meal.

He’s just tucking into his lunch in a corner of the dining area, beef stew with a side of chips to dip in the gravy, when Harry plops down in front of him with a plate of his own. “Care if I join you?” He grins.

Louis laughs. "I guess not." He takes a long slurping sip of his Coke and looks at Harry's plate. "Still a big fan of the balls, then?"

“Only with extra gravy,” Harry says with a quirked eyebrow. He’s having a salad on the side instead of the mashed potatoes, which is honestly kind of offensive in Louis’ opinion. Harry lowers his voice to a stage whisper, peering over Olivia in the buggy. “Is Olive still sleeping?”

“LIke a…” Louis pauses, and makes a face. “Baby.”

Harry looks entirely too pleased, which won’t do. Louis pops a chip in his mouth. “I was surprised you would shop here for furniture; I thought you were all about like, antiques and old shite. But eating at IKEA, Harold? You’re really one of the mortals now.”

“They have good healthy options,” Harry frowns. His comedic timing is impeccable as he raises his fork, skewering a gravy-covered meatball. “And as you know, I love their balls.”

Louis narrows his eyes. He can’t be out-double-entendred in an IKEA Restaurant by Harry Styles. But he also got only four and a half hours of sleep last night, because he has a four month old. Maybe he can let Harry have this one. “I’m sure you do,” he nods, finally.

“It’s hard to find a whole set of antique breakfast bar chairs that I like,” Harry sighs. “In LA I saw some good kitchen stuff at Pottery Barn, but that’s gonna take ages to ship here.”

“You could pay them to get it here in like. Two days.” Louis takes another long sip of his drink.

“I’m impatient,” Harry shrugs easily. “I like the instant gratification of buying something and taking it home yourself, y’know?”

“I’m the actual impatient one in the band, and I’m still gonna have to wait for Liam to come ‘round to help me build the shit I’m buying,” Louis points out.

“You mean, have Liam ‘round to build it for you while you watch and claim you have to look after your baby?” Harry grins knowingly.

“Olivia is very high maintenance,” Louis says, dragging a chip through his gravy.

Harry takes a drink from his lingonberry juice. “As she should be. She’s the heir to quite the kingdom.”

“What is it with you lot always calling her a bloody princess?” Louis huffs, masks a smile by shoving another handful of chips in his mouth.

“You don’t think she is one?” Harry sets his cup down, genuinely surprised.

Louis sighs, gulps down his chips. “I mean, yes? I had this whole stupid conversation with Liam about like, her aspirations beyond just being a princess.”

“I don’t think you can really determine her aspirations until she can tell you herself,” Harry shrugs. “And then she can be like, ‘hell yeah I’m a bloody princess’ or ‘ ’scuse you, I’m a rocket scientist.’ ” Harry raises his voice to a silly falsetto both times, eyebrows quirked.

“Maybe you’ll be a space princess,” Louis says, leaning over to pet Olivia’s wispy hair to the side where she’s still snoozing in the buggy. “Colonise Mars. Suck it, Matt Damon.”

“She’d look super cute in a spacesuit.” Harry licks gravy off his fingertip.

“Already on it,” Louis laughs. “First Halloween costume, sorted. It’s sort of her nursery not-theme.”

Harry shovels a mouthful of salad into his mouth and ruminates. “As in, her nursery theme is not-space, or.”

“As in, most nursery themes are shit so I just picked vaguely space-related things totally by chance,” Louis explains.

Harry makes some approximation of an understanding noise, taking a large sip of his juice. “You know, I still haven’t seen your place.”

Louis shrugs. He’s been at this house for long enough that it doesn’t feel new anymore. “I mean, it’s… kind of a pigsty, at the moment.”

Harry cocks his head. “You know, if you don’t want to wait for Liam to come by to build Olive’s furniture I could help you out? I haven’t got anything to do after this. And then I could see her nursery, too.”

Louis looks over at Olivia, and then back at Harry, and shrugs. “You sure you don’t have more interesting and cool things to do out on the town?”

“Rather than hang out with a future astronaut princess coloniser-of-Mars and her impatient dad? Nah,” Harry grins.

“No afternoon cuppa with Kate Moss? No dog-nappings?” Louis isn’t entirely convinced.

Harry frowns, and for a moment Louis wonders how much of his exaggerated disappointment is genuine. “If you’d rather wait for Liam that’s okay, Lou.”

Olivia kicks her feet out under her little wrap, rubs her fists at her eyes and makes a snuffling sound from her carseat. If Louis doesn’t get moving soon, he’ll have a very grumpy, hungry baby on his hands before he’s made it through checkout. “We all know he’s the best tentmaker,” he sighs, shaking his head. “But who knows what he’d do with a bookshelf. You’re welcome to come over, but all I have at the house is beer and crisps, so don’t expect dinner.”

“I just ate lunch,” Harry shrugs.

“Yeah, well.” Louis knows how Harry likes to graze.

Harry looks thoughtful, gathering both their plates and garbage. “What kind of crisps?”


“Get in.” Harry nods. “Text me your address?”


Louis makes it back home first, and as he’s preparing Olivia’s bottle, he decides furniture-building should happen in the seldom-used sitting room. He doesn’t know how long this will take, and although Olivia isn’t great at fine motor skills, he’d bet she could still manage to get a wayward screw in her mouth if she were to find it anywhere else around the house. She babbles grumpily from her carseat on the island as Louis gives the bottle a shake. Louis is surprised she hasn’t started shouting or crying from how long she’s been confined to the carseat, but she had been distracted enough gnawing on her ram’s horns on the way home, and making friends with a little stuffed mouse Louis couldn’t resist picking up near checkout.

“You’ve been so good today,” he hums as he unbuckles Olivia’s belt clasp, lifts her in his arms and holds her tightly against his chest. Olivia gurgles. “I know, yeah, it’s time for your bottle,” Louis laughs, shifting her to the crook of his arm and raising the bottle to her lips.

There’s a light and a beep on the security panel by his landline on the kitchen counter, and Louis checks the monitor for Harry’s pale face through the window of his car before he punches the gate open. Olivia keeps hitting the bottle with her hands, like she wants more, faster, and Louis can’t help but roll his eyes at her. “You’ll get gassy if you eat too fast,” he reminds her, pads down to the front door to unlock it for Harry. “Gonna get all burpy on Harry later?”

He’s distracted talking to Olivia back in the kitchen, trying to make her laugh around the nipple of her bottle, and wouldn’t have noticed Harry walking in if it weren’t for his cooing. “Aww, is it dinner time for Olive?”

“She missed out on our fancy IKEA lunch,” Louis points out.

“Next time, Olive,” Harry hums, glances at Louis. “This is nice, hey.”

Louis looks around the kitchen: most surfaces seem to have been taken over by baby things, from a bottle steriliser to a massive can of formula, and even a short stack of burp cloths he’s learned to keep handy in just about every room in the house. “Cheers,” he shrugs. “D’you wanna see like, the rest of it or whatever? She likes if we walk around while I feed her sometimes.”

“She doesn’t get sick?” Harry asks, setting down his keys and digging his wallet out of his back pocket, sliding them onto a clear space on the counter between a bottle and a stack of Louis’ mail.

“Nah,” Louis shakes his head. “I’m not like, shaking her or anything. Just a bit of rocking.”

“Love a change of scenery,” Harry nods. Olivia snuggles up closer to Louis’ chest as she drinks her bottle, unfazed, if not ignoring Harry outright. She lets out a tremendous sigh around the bottle teat, follows it up with another long slurp.

“So I think we’ll put all the shit together in here,” Louis indicates the largely empty formal sitting room. He’s never known quite what to do with the space, but it’s perfect for spreading out all of the building bits.

They work their way around the house, not without a few unfortunate puns from Harry. “It’s very spacious,” he says of Olivia’s nursery, after Louis turns on the nebula night light.

Louis rolls his eyes. Olivia’s nearly finished her bottle already, getting drowsy like she always does after a quick feed. They head back to the kitchen where he sets her bottle in the sink to deal with later, grabs a burp cloth, and sets her on his shoulder. “As soon as I’ve burped her I can come help you bring the stuff in from the car,” he tells Harry. “And, uh, I think there’s a tool box in the garage?”

“Sounds good,” Harry nods, leaning on the island. “D’you mind if I have a glass of water?”

“Oh, yeah,” Louis nods, patting Olivia’s back. “Cupboard on the right next to the fridge. There’s like… beer and maybe orange juice in there. And milk, but don’t drink it all ‘cos my delivery isn’t until tomorrow and I need it for my tea.”

“Such a generous host, Louis, thank you,” Harry grins, taking a glass from the cupboard. If Louis weren’t holding Olivia, he’d consider snapping at Harry with a kitchen towel.

“Actually, I might make a cuppa now, if you want one?” Louis goes for the cabinet to the left of the fridge, where he keeps his stock of tea.

“I’ll take one,” Harry nods, pours his glass of water and then leans on the island, watching as Louis fills and puts on the kettle one-handed, Olivia still sitting on his forearm, peering at Harry over Louis’ shoulder. There’s a little bubble of milk on her lower lip. Louis reaches into the cupboard for mugs, and she hiccups.

“There you are,” Louis murmurs, setting the mugs down and patting her back. “Will you want sugar in?”

“D’you have honey?” Harry asks. “Trying to keep away from refined sugar a bit.”

“Refined…” Louis shakes his head. “Check the pantry, it won’t be in the cupboards ‘cause Olive can’t have it.” He turns around to grab a spoon and finds Harry looking at him bemusedly, unmoved. “What?”

“You called her Olive,” Harry says, smug.

“Get your fucking honey out,” Louis sighs, pausing as he pats Olivia’s back to point out the pantry.

“I’m just saying,” Harry laughs. He manages to find a bear-shaped bottle of honey from the depths of a back shelf. Louis was totally lying when he said he only had Wotsits at home; his kitchen is stocked with enough food to get him through the apocalypse twice over.

“Harry’s a smug son of a bitch, isn’t he, baby,” Louis grumbles, and Olivia burps agreeably, punching his arm with a tiny fist.

“Heeey, language,” Harry frowns. “She’ll pick those up. That isn’t very nice language, Olive,” he gives her a wide-eyed look. Olivia seems too preoccupied with getting all her gas out to pay him any mind.

“She’s literally less than half a year old, Harry,” Louis deadpans. “She won’t be picking any of that up anytime soon. I’m getting it all out now while you have no fucking clue,” he tips his chin to smile at Olivia, keeps his voice light, “what the fuck I’m saying, do you, darling? Not a bloody clue.”

Harry makes a face. “It’s still making an impression! Babies can read intonation, Lou.”

“There’s nothing foul about my tone,” Louis chirps happily. Olivia looks a bit smirky. That, or a big burp is coming. “Here, I’ll trade you.” He holds Olivia out to Harry, smiling.

“Alright?” Harry takes her immediately, propping her against one arm and patting at her back with his other hand. Louis snatches the bottle of honey and steps back in time to watch Olivia spit up all down Harry’s jumper sleeve.

“Louis,” Harry says, slowly.

Louis smiles around the rim of his mug, extends Harry’s cup. “Tea?”


Louis has the decency to stick Harry’s jumper in the wash on a gentle cycle, and then to help him unload the boot of his car, setting everything up to build in the living room. Olivia, too distracted by Harry’s presence to nap again, lies on her stomach on a blanket at a safe distance from the action, her ram tucked up against her side.

“Right, then,” Louis sits across from Harry on the carpet, boards and tiny bags of nails and his toolbox laid out between them.

“Where’d you put the instructions?” Harry asks as he pulls his hair into a bun, tying it with an elastic off his wrist.

“We don’t need instructions,” Louis shrugs. “It’s a bookshelf. It has two pieces that go up and a few that go across.”

“For the safety of your child it’s probably better if we follow the instructions,” Harry shrugs. “I mean, just a thought. These are kinda heavy,” he adds, lifting one of the laminated boards.

Louis sighs. The instructions are with all the plastic and cardboard packaging, he’s pretty sure. “Hang on, then,” he mutters, sifting through the pile behind him, until he emerges with the crumpled instruction booklet.

“Thank you,” Harry says, taking the booklet and unfolding it on his knee. “So first we lay out all the pieces—”


Louis is already over it thirty minutes later, when his stomach starts growling so loudly they can both hear it. “Gonna make a pizza or something,” he says, already up and on his way to the kitchen. “It’s only polite that I feed you if you’re being so fucking helpful.”

He might overemphasize the helpful bit. Louis is going to lose his mind. Harry is so slow about the entire process, which doesn’t mesh well with Louis’ impatience.

Louis’ phone buzzes in his pocket as he’s punching in the numbers to preheat the oven. Aside from connecting it to the bluetooth speakers to play some background music, he hasn’t really looked at it since he got home earlier.

mayb stay off twitter right now tommo, says Liam’s message, which Louis takes as a cue to open Twitter immediately. His mentions are awash with the usual stuff: love you, follow me, jam your cock down my throat, but tonight every other tweet also features a grainy set of cell phone photos of him and Harry eating lunch. Louis has the brief satisfaction of seeing how weird Harry’s mouth looks when he’s taking a bite of something, before he has to close the app.

The oven beeps, and Louis shoves his phone back in his pocket. A year ago—a few months ago, even—the mess on Twitter might’ve turned his whole evening sour, but he’s strangely at peace with it now, he thinks, putting the pizza in the oven. He ran into Harry, and now he’s helping Louis put furniture together, and there’s nothing more to it.

“Hope you’re okay with margherita,” he says as he returns to the living room, kneeling beside a conked out Olivia on her blanket.

“Love a margherita,” Harry nods. “Or a margarita. Either one, really.”

“Brilliant, though I’ve only got the frozen pizza sort, I’m not a bar. Now, can we please get past the plastic bits in the holes? Just do those and then put in the screws, Harold, not everything has to be complicated.”

Harry’s easily distracted once Louis brings in the pizza twenty minutes later. They sit on the floor with their backs to one of the leather sofas, the pizza on a plate between them, and their building project is forgotten until Louis looks at the time on his phone. Olivia’s shifted napping schedule could very well fuck up all his efforts to get her to sleep through the night, but maybe if he gets her up and gives her a bath and another bottle, they could both get a couple hours of consecutive sleep. Harry swears up and down he knows exactly what he’s doing, shelves-wise, and it’s gonna be so simple and quick to finish, so when he tentatively offers to come back another time to retrieve his jumper and finish putting the unit together, Louis agrees easily. It’s worth it just to get Harry out of his house for the moment, and have a second to himself as he warms Olivia’s bedtime bottle.


The half-built shelves sit in the living room for two days, and Harry’s jumper gets thrown on the sofa into the pile of all other clean clothes. Harry’s the one to text this time, when Louis is sat in bed watching Gogglebox, Olivia trying to put her toes in her mouth next to him. Ikea project round 2? I can bring a curry.

what kind, Louis sends, along with a side-eyeing emoji. Sue him, he has doubts about Harry’s taste in food.

Whatever you like, Harry replies, twenty minutes later. What do you want? I’m in primrose hill.

Did grimmy recommend this bc i don’t think i can trust his taste after what he did w mason noise on the x factor mate

You’d trust his taste over mine on a curry; you’re quite similar, you know.

Louis narrows his eyes at his phone. Medium spice chicken tikka masala, he sends back.

Good! Nick likes that.

why dont you have chiken tika with him then harold

He doesn’t have shelves to build, Harry sends back. A second later, he adds, Or a cute baby.

true. Louis hesitates, then types out, what time are u coming??

There’s another ten minute pause before Harry’s response. Twenty-five minutes or half an hour good?

Louis pets Olivia’s hair and she waves a fist at him, cooing. He’s so distracted by her he almost forgets to send Harry a thumbs up emoji. Half an hour is just enough time to toss the clothes pile on the sofa into a basket and shove it in a closet, and grab a new six pack from the fridge in the laundry room.

He’s contemplating changing into a slightly cleaner sweatshirt when Harry buzzes at the gate. With Olivia propped on his hip, Louis makes his way to the kitchen to open the gate, then pads over to the front door to wait for Harry as Olivia tugs at the drawstrings on his hoodie. Louis is starving.

“We’re starving,” Louis grumbles, leaning on the doorpost. “Here, tradesies.” He proffers Olivia, and Harry takes her immediately, passing Louis a brown bag of good smells.

“Hiya, Olive,” Harry grins. He’s overly careful not to jostle her as he kicks his boots off inside, whilst Olivia gets her hands on Harry’s necklace, giving the chain a shake. “Ooh, you like this one?” Harry tips his chin down, making sure Olivia doesn’t try to put the quartz pendant in her mouth. “It’s a good one, isn’t it?”

Olivia makes a soft bhhhh sound, and tugs the chain again in her chubby fingers. “Careful, she’s got a grip,” Louis warns him. “She’s yanked my hair out. What hasn’t just fallen out,” he jokes.

“Maybe if you got it trimmed,” Harry suggests, looking Louis’ barnet over thoughtfully. “It’s a bit… shaggy.”

Louis just looks at him.

“Alright,” Harry says. “Point taken.”

Harry chatters away to Olivia as Louis unpacks their food on the coffee table. It’s a welcome change to have two hands to do things rather than a free hand and one holding a baby. And maybe a little sweet, Louis thinks, begrudgingly. Harry never seems to get impatient at Olivia’s obsession with his necklace and hair.

“Hey, can she eat solid stuff yet?” Harry asks. “There should be a sticky rice in there that she might like.”

“Not for another couple of months, ‘m afraid,” Louis shakes his head. “All about the bottles for now.”

“You’re so small,” Harry sighs. Olivia leans her head on his chest, echoes his sigh. “Small but clever. I bet you’d love sticky rice; you have good taste.”

“Maybe this summer,” Louis says. He’s got a chart somewhere that tells what milestones to expect for every month, and he’s pretty sure six months is rice cereal. Close enough to sticky rice, innit?

“Ooh, bet you’d like ice lollies, too,” Harry grins. Louis watches him, in equal parts for Olivia’s safety and to make fun of him if he makes a mess, as Harry picks up a plate, sets it down near the food containers, and attempts to spoon chicken onto the plate with his left hand.

“Ice lollies, honestly. Are you twelve?” Louis sits down and passes him the sticky rice, taking the container of tikka masala when Harry’s done with it.

“Don’t even try to pretend you don’t love the spiral-y fruit ones,” Harry laughs. “I’ve seen you buy them.”

“I’m more of a Magnum man nowadays,” Louis counters.

Harry makes a snorting sound around a mouthful of chicken and sauce. “Mmm, nutty.”

Olivia huffs, knocks at Harry’s chest with her hand still tangled in the necklace. “You just gonna have a kip on Harold, there, Olive?”

“I don’t mind it,” Harry shrugs, even as he loses half of his next bite of food halfway off the plate. Louis has had a lot more practice than he has at eating with his non-dominant hand.

“Let me take her,” Louis decides. “You’ll get it all over my couch.” Olivia whines at having to give up Harry’s necklace, but Louis untangles her fingers easily, holds her hands and pretends like she’s walking across Harry’s legs to his, snatching her up and lifting her a bit at the end. “Yay! You did it.” Olivia huffs happily, kicking her legs.

“You know, we could’ve eaten at your dinner table,” Harry mumbles, quirks an eyebrow at Louis. “If soiling the couch was a concern, I mean.”

“The dinner table is for folding laundry, Harold, not for eating,” Louis rolls his eyes. “‘sides, she can’t sit in her high chair by herself yet.”

Harry shrugs, spooning out another portion of chicken for himself. “I forget that she’s so little, she’s got like, a proper big personality.”

“You’re brilliant, aren’t ya?” Louis smiles proudly, wiggles his fingers at Olivia’s side. They’re still working on tickles, but his tone is enough to make her yelp happily. He’s got plenty of practice keeping her steady in the crook of one elbow while he eats with his other hand, and she’s content to wriggle a bit against his chest as he finishes eating.

“Have you seen the other boys lately, then?” Harry glances over at him, wiping a bit of sauce off his upper lip.

“Liam came ‘round last week,” Louis shrugs dismissively, recalling their conversation. “Isn’t Niall doing his trip with Eoghan and that lot soon? Going up the Irish coast or whatever? Ought to ring him before he leaves; who knows when he’ll be back.”

“Is he?” Harry frowns. “I thought he was—hm.” He hums a little, slurping a piece of mango into his mouth off his spoon of sticky rice.

“Was what?” Louis frowns. “Did he break another limb?”

“No, I just thought, like. He’d texted me about a holiday with some golf bloke a while back, but maybe that’s something different.” Harry rolls his eyes. “He didn’t really specify. The true mysterious one, Nialler.”

“I don’t blame him for wanting to travel and actually see shit,” Louis shrugs, setting his plate on the coffee table and shifting a sleepy Olivia in his arms. “Let the lad get a bit of fresh air. Do some more golfing, or whatever.”

“Play with balls,” Harry agrees. “He wanted me to come out for a tournament but I was in LA.”

“It’s kind of weird, isn’t it,” Louis pets Olivia’s wispy hair. “Before whenever we had breaks it was fine if we all just did our thing ‘cause a month later we’d be doing shows again or have studio time or whatever. We have to make an actual effort now.”

“To see each other, you mean?” Harry prompts gently. Louis can tell he’s being cautious.

“To keep up, I guess,” Louis shrugs. “Dunno. I knew it’d be different, but.” He shrugs. “Anyhow, have you finished? Those shelves won’t build themselves; trust me, I’ve checked on them.”

“Yeah.” Harry spoons a last mound of rice into his mouth and puts down his plate and spoon. “Are you going to put her down?” He gestures to where Olivia has slumped in Louis’ arm, asleep with her face pressed into his elbow, drooling down his jumper.

“Yeah, and I’ll clean this up if you want to go ahead and start on the shelves,” Louis says. It still feels a little funny, like things had gotten too close to being actually serious for a moment. He needs a cup of tea, or something.

“I mean, I can help with this stuff if you wanna go get her in bed,” Harry shrugs, already gathering the serving spoons onto his plate.

“I can clean up two plates,” Louis says. “It’s fine, Harry.”

Harry raises his hands in defeat, eyes unreadable. “I’ll be over there, then,” he gestures in the general direction of the sitting room and shuffles away, leaving Louis to stew in awkwardness as he cleans up the remnants of their lunch. He doesn’t mean to be prickly, it’s as if Harry just naturally brings it out in him, with his helpfulness and his feelings and shit.

Olivia blows a spit bubble in her sleep as he lifts her up carefully and carries her to bed. He spends a minute or two just leaning over the side of her crib and rubbing her tummy, feeling her soft breathing. She’s so sweet like this, and Louis is so grumpy, and that’s ridiculous.

He goes back to the living room and stacks the plates, puts lids back on all the take-out cartons, throwing away the empty ones and putting the others in the fridge. He puts the kettle on as he rinses the plates and sets them in the dishwasher.

Harry’s got the bookshelf on its side, checking a couple screws on the back, when Louis leans in the doorway of the sitting room, two mugs of tea in hand. “Here,” he says. “Sorry I was—” he waves a hand, and Harry gets to his feet, stretches a bit and takes the tea before Louis sloshes it everywhere. “Haven’t been sleeping well, and all that.”

“Will you still be cross if I say getting an apology from you feels like a novelty?” Harry murmurs, cautious, and takes a sip of his tea. Louis made sure to add honey.

“I have a kid now,” Louis shrugs, “I think I’ve matured a bit.”

“Well.” Harry’s mouth twists suspiciously like a smile, and he nudges his socked toe at the corner of the bookshelf. “Apology accepted.”

“Great, now we can pretend this never happened.” Louis grins.

“Sounds like the mature thing to do,” Harry laughs, setting his tea down at a safe distance from the boards and getting back to work.

They finish putting the shelves together mostly in companionable silence, interspersed with a few terrible jokes about screws from Harry. Rather than risk waking Olivia from her nap, Louis decides they can wait until later to put the bookshelf in the nursery. “Do you want a beer?” He doesn’t like the awkward silence that has descended now that there’s nothing left to do, and Harry’s stuffing the leftover tape and packing materials into a trash bag. “I’m sure there’s a match on, if you want to hang out for a bit.”

“I’ll have a beer,” Harry nods agreeably. “I don’t mind waiting ‘till she’s up to help move stuff around.”

Louis refrains from mentioning that the next time Olivia will be up is probably around eleven, for a midnight snack bottle. He’s not trying to trick Harry, or anything; it’s just nice to have company in the evening for a change, and Harry doesn’t seem to have anywhere better to be.

They settle on opposite ends of the sofa, and Louis curls up, stretching his neck until it pops. Harry glances over, looking amused, and Louis shakes his head. “I’ve got the worst crick in me neck, it’s like every time I do get to sleep I sleep on it all wrong.”

“It’s probably from like, adjusting your posture to carry Olive,” Harry points out. “Your posture can change everything, even your digestion. This massage therapist in LA was telling me about a client of hers that was constipated—”

“Ew, Harry, no,” Louis laughs, stretches his leg across the couch cushions to try and kick Harry. He’s far away enough that Louis’ kick ends up being more of a tap with his toes.

“I’m joking,” Harry grins, taking a gulp of his beer. He’s been chewing on his lips and they’re a distractingly shiny pink, now. It looks painful. “Although she did this thing on my shoulders last time I saw her that could help. You do look kind of tense.”

Louis raises his eyebrows. “Was it the bags under my eyes, or the red-rimmed bit, or the like, exhaustion-drunk-ness?”

“Might be the general aura of crankiness, but I’m not too sure,” Harry counters, raising his eyebrows. “I’d better get in there and sort it out before it’s worse.”

Louis is aware that he’s being played, and he’s not entirely sure what Harry is getting at, but his shoulders are stiff enough for him to simply not give a shit about Harry’s ulterior motives. He deserves a bloody massage. “Fine. How d’you want me?”

Harry grins, like he didn’t think Louis would agree. “Here, sit on the floor. I can reach your neck better.”

Louis drops a couple of pillows on the floor to sit on, bringing his beer along, and settles between Harry’s legs with his back to the couch. His willingness to follow directions without complaining should be indicative of both how fucking tired he is and how he trusts Harry to, if not help, at least not worsen Louis’ shoulder pain. “Go on, then.”

“How sensitive are you?” Harry asks, resting his hands on Louis’ shoulders lightly. They’re warm, if a little clammy from holding a beer bottle.

Louis rolls his eyes. “I’m not a delicate flower, c’mon.”

“A prickly cactus, more like,” Harry says, amusement evident in his tone as he squeezes Louis’ shoulders, pressing his thumbs into the tense knots of muscle on either side of Louis’ spine. Louis’ head drops, chin against his chest, like his strings have been cut.

“You’ve been holding out on us, Styles,” he sighs. “What the fuck.”

“It’s good to have a backup plan, I guess,” Harry mutters. He seems to know just how much pressure to put on each tense point along Louis’ shoulders and neck, kneading slowly through Louis’ sweatshirt. “Being a masseuse would be a solid second choice for a career.”

“Yeah, you fit the bill for creepy touchy-feely dude with essential oils,” Louis agrees.

Hey, I’m being nice to you,” Harry laughs, digs his fingertips in just above Louis’ collarbones and squeezes.

Louis muffles a moan in his knees, drawing them up to his chest and pressing his face into them. Physical affection has been in short supply the last few months.

“Ooh, that was a good one,” Harry mumbles. It takes Louis way too long to realise he means the goal they’ve just scored on the telly. Louis has never been less interested in a football match in his entire life. “Have you tried sleeping without a pillow? It takes a bit to get used to but it can help with the pain.”

Louis honestly doesn’t remember how he fell asleep last night, he just remembers falling into bed after a shower between feedings. Olivia has been particularly clingy the last week. “Yeah, okay.”

“It’s all about the quality of sleep,” Harry continues. The low rumble of his voice, combined with his thumbs pressing at the base of Louis’ skull, could easily lull Louis to sleep. “Like, I know it’s hard to get a lot of sleep in one go, but when you do get to sleep, you might as well try and make it as restful as possible.”

“Restful,” Louis mutters. “Got it.”

Louis rests his eyes for a moment. Next thing he knows, Harry’s nudging his shoulder with his knee. “Louis, hey,” he says gently.

“Shit, did I pass out?” Louis groans, rolling his shoulders. “Fuck.”

“You dozed off for like a second,” Harry shrugs. “Here,” he grabs a throw pillow from the floor and sets it in his lap. “Lie down?”

“My god,” Louis shakes his head, stretches his arms above his head and then uses the coffee table to pull himself back up. “I hope you don’t use this on all the ladies.”

“Just on the gents,” Harry waggles his eyebrows, letting Louis adjust the pillow to his liking before laying his head on Harry’s lap. Harry’s chin looks monstrous from this angle, and Louis closes his eyes to avoid any awkward eye contact.

“This thing my massage therapist did made me sleep like a baby,” Harry says above him, pressing his thumbs to Louis’ temples.

“Like my fussy baby or a normal baby?” Louis’ voice cracks on a yawn.

“You have a normal baby,” Louis can almost hear Harry’s eyeroll in his tone. “C’mon, shush.”

This time, Louis does pass out.


Louis wakes up sometime after one a.m. to Olivia’s indignant wails crackling out of the monitor on the kitchen counter. There’s a napkin on his chest, and he rubs the sleep out of his eyes with the back of a hand as he reads the scrawled note on it: Got a thing in soho, had to run. No pillows!

Fucking Harry. Louis kicks off the blanket that he doesn’t remember spreading over his feet and stumbles down the hall to the nursery. Olivia’s two hours late for her last bottle, and when he picks her up, her face is red with outrage. The two perfect tear tracks down her cheeks are fresh, though, so she hasn’t been awake all that long.

“God, I know, I know,” Louis yawns, hugging Olivia close and making his way to the kitchen down the hall at a brisk pace. “So hungry, so pissed off,” he sighs as Olivia sobs.

He makes her a bottle, and walks back down to the nursery to sit in the rocking armchair in the corner. He wipes at Olivia’s tearstained cheeks as she drinks her bottle, the angry redness fading off her cheeks. She’s almost asleep again by the time she’s finished eating, and Louis gets to his feet, flicks on the nightlight, and paces around the room, watching the nebulae projected on the ceiling as he burps Olivia.

She’s still doing the baby thing where she sighs deeply and her whole body shudders, like she hasn’t quite finished her crying fit yet, or just wants him to remember how upset she really was. Her lower lip is all trembly, and if Louis weren’t so tired himself he’d be tempted to laugh at her. Thankfully, by now he knows what a bad idea that is. They’d be up another hour if he tried that shit.

The bad news is that by the time Olivia falls asleep again, Louis is wide awake, if only in a zombie-like state. He gets the shower running on autopilot and sways staring at his reflection in the mirror until it fogs up. What even did Harry do to him? He hasn’t ever slept that well on his sofa, and hasn’t slept that well at all in months.

He feels even better with hot water sluicing down his back, steam filling up the glass shower until the air feels thick with it. He could sleep standing up, probably, if the water would stay warm forever.

He decides to have a wank instead. It’s harder than usual to keep the images in his head nondescript, which is his go-to, makes him feel less weird about standing in the shower with his forehead against the tile wall and his cock in his hand. Even focusing on the immediate sensation only reminds him of Harry’s hands on his neck earlier, which is embarrassing, and makes him speed up.

He’s jerked off over much weirder shit before. For now he’d rather make sure there’s no come on his hands before he moves onto shampooing, and think about something else.


Louis wakes up to a text from Lottie and Olivia crying down the hall following morning. He sticks his phone in the waistband of his sweats and takes care of the fussy baby first, still half asleep as he plucks her out of her cot.

He’s not proud of having forgotten their plans to drive up to Donny at lunch, and as he blearily warms a bottle, Olivia sniffling on his shoulder, he contemplates calling it off. He could probably convince Olivia to go back to bed with him, nap for a couple more hours.

Before he can do so, his phone buzzes again, almost falling down his pants leg, with another text from Lottie. dont u dare back out on me!! mum will kill me if i turn up w/o u!!

“You wanna go see nan and everyone today, pet?” He sighs, looking down at Olivia. Her crinkled forehead smooths out slightly, though that could be due to the proximity of the bottle as he tests it on his wrist and finally lets her have it.

not backing out, he texts Lottie. what time do u want to leave

im in an uber on the way to yours!

Louis groans. For fucks’ sake. Olivia watches him around her bottle. “I know,” Louis says. “Don’t say it.”

Olivia smiles around the teat. She’s way too smart for her own good, Louis thinks.

By the time Lottie arrives Louis is halfway through packing Olivia’s changing bag as she plays with her ram on the shaggy rug in the nursery. “Lou!” Lottie calls from down the hall in a sing-songy voice. “Ooooooh-liviaaaa!”

“In the nursery!” Louis calls back, turns to Olivia with a smile. He’s in a significantly better mood after his morning cuppa, even if he’s still in his pyjamas. “It’s Auntie Lottie, Olive!”

Almost on cue, Lottie appears at the nursery door and immediately beelines over to sit with Olivia, all but ignoring Louis. “Hi, pretty one!”

“Good morning to you too, Charlotte, so nice to have you,” Louis rolls his eyes, packing an extra onesie for Olivia, just in case. “You alright?”

“Oh, all good thanks.” Lottie hoists Olivia into her lap and makes her dance a little jig.

“Careful, she’s just eaten,” Louis warns, and Lottie rolls her eyes.

“Like I’ve never gotten a little spit up on me before.”

“You’re cleaning it out of that thing, though,” Louis jerks his head at the fuzzy rug, arms crossed. “Will ya keep an eye on her while I change and stuff? Gimme like, ten minutes and we can head out.”

“Yeah.” Lottie is too busy kissing Olivia’s cheeks to look at him. “Go on, you stink.”

“I do not—you didn’t even get close enough to—” Louis scoffs, and tosses a burp rag at her head on his way out.

They’re on the road north a half hour later, Lottie in the backseat with her hand on Olivia’s tummy, Olivia with an arm around her ram and her free hand wrapped around Lottie’s thumb. It’s sweet, Louis thinks, glancing in the rearview. “Doing alright in school, then? Haven’t burnt anyone’s barnet off?”

“Oi, I’ll burn yours,” she snipes back. “I didn’t know there was so much to learn about perms, or that I’d ever learn anything about perms in the twenty-first century. Like, really.”

Louis makes a face. “People still get perms?” All he can think of is Grease, and he hums a bit of Beauty School Dropout just to wind Lottie up.

“You’d be surprised,” Lottie shoves lightly at his arm. “The professor did one on a model last week. Like, the models in our classes are volunteers, Louis.”

Louis doesn’t have a response for that. When he checks the backseat mirror, Olivia has already passed out, and he can see her little eyelids flutter, drool on her chin.

“What about you, though?” Lottie asks, leaning back in her seat while still keeping a hand on Olivia.

“What about me?” Louis shrugs, eyes going back to the road. “I’m not the one in beauty school. It’s all baby time, all the time for me.”

“So did you drink all the bottles in your kitchen sink?” Lottie quirks an eyebrow when Louis glances at her in the mirror.

“What?” It takes Louis a moment. “Oh, the beer, nah. Harry was over to help build shelves for the nursery and we watched the match after.”

“Really?” Lottie asks, sounding genuinely surprised. “I saw pictures on Twitter a few days ago but I figured it wasn’t actually you, or something.”

“That’d be creepy,” Louis scrunches his nose. “Harry hanging out with a doppelganger of me.”

“Just didn’t know, like—so are you… talking again?” Lottie asks, choosing her words carefully.

Louis frowns. “We never… didn’t talk, Lotts.”

“Okay, that’s a lie and we both know it,” Lottie rolls her eyes.

“It is not,” Louis huffs. “I’ve not gone more than a couple of days without at least texting any of the lads,” he insists. It’s been five years, and it’s still true. Even after Zayn left, Louis would send him a little fuck you text every once in a while. Just to make sure he was still okay, or whatever. Just to see “Delivered” pop up underneath the message, even if there wasn’t a reply.

Lottie looks unimpressed, checking her phone in the backseat. “You know what I meant.”

“He’s thinking of getting into acting, so he’s meeting with some theatre people here,” Louis shrugs. It’s not a big deal. “Stop making it weird, Jesus.”

“I’m not making it weird!” Lottie laughs. “Dunno why you’re acting surprised, you know mum’s gonna ask about it.”

Louis pointedly does not think about his late night shower. “Do you know what she’s making for dinner?” He asks instead.

Rolling her eyes so slowly Louis is sure to catch the gesture in the rearview mirror, Lottie shakes her head. “No idea. Hoping for a nice pud, though.”

“Maybe that sticky chocolate pudding she made for Christmas that time,” Louis agrees.

“You’d love a sticky chocolate pudding,” Lottie grins, and it’s Louis’ turn to roll his eyes.

“Shall we listen to some music?”


The afternoon is a melee of younger sisters clamoring to show him their latest school art projects and the colour they painted their toenails that weekend, and the most recent lost teeth. Louis responds to each with the appropriate shock and awe, pulls as many of them into his lap as he can hold. Olivia doesn’t quite know what to do with the attention yet, but she seems to like it, clutching at his fingers and sitting on his knee, laughing when the others jostle her for a place.

Ernie and Doris are obsessed with Olivia, giving Jay wide-eyed nods when she reminds them to be very gentle, very careful, as Olivia is only a tiny baby. Louis snaps a few pictures of the three of them on the sofa before dinner, Olivia sprawled between their laps as Dotty bends down to kiss her forehead gently. Louis puts Olivia down to sleep in the travel cot in the guest room, and she dozes off easily enough after all the commotion of an afternoon playing with her aunts and uncle.

There is pudding, though it’s not the sticky chocolate sort. After dinner, Dan volunteers for baby duty, toting the twins off for a bath after getting kisses from mum. The girls filter out to watch a movie on the telly, and Louis stays to help Jay clear the table. It feels nice to just be quiet together, with the hurricane of high voices dulled a little. Louis’ missed his mum.

Jay doesn’t even have to ask if Louis wants a cuppa, getting two mugs out and putting the kettle on. “Tired, babe?” She asks, moving on to help him put the dinner plates in the dishwasher, although it’s obvious she already knows the answer.

“I don’t know how you did it,” Louis shrugs. “Like, y’had me and Lotts and Fizz, and I don’t know how you didn’t just lay down and die before the twins came along. I’ve only got Olivia and it feels like me head’s coming off.”

“I think you just… get used to it,” Jay smiles, emptying and rinsing out Ernie’s sippy cup in the sink. “Once you big kids started growing up I missed when you were babies.”

“So you just went and got more babies,” Louis teases.

“Exactly,” Jay laughs.

“I feel like there might be a flaw in that logic,” Louis hums. Jay snaps a towel at him, and Louis isn’t quick enough to move away, the towel smarting at his hip. “Ow!”

“Like I’ve never heard that before,” Jay says. “You should be thanking me. Where’s all your newfound respect and awe for the one who birthed you?”

“See, that’s the thing!” Louis puts the last plate in the dishwasher and wipes his hands off on his jeans. “You’re basically invincible. Mum almighty, and all that.”

Jay pours out the dishwashing powder and turns on the dishwasher, goes over to the kettle. “You’re not doing bad yourself,” she says. “It’s not easy being a single parent, Lou, and I’m very proud of you for trying so hard.”

“You sound like a Mothercare advert,” Louis groans. “Are nappies two for one this weekend only?”

“Will you take a compliment for once, Lou? Come on,” Jay rolls her eyes, pours Louis’ cup and hands it over. She takes a tin of biscotti out of the pantry and sits down at the table, setting one of the biscuits on a napkin for him and pushing it across to him. “You really are a great dad. I didn’t expect to be a nan so soon, but I never doubted you’d be brilliant at parenting.”

“Ugh,” Louis says, defeated. “Thank you, mum.” He takes a begrudging sip of his tea.

“You’re welcome, boo bear.” Jay gives him a knowing look over the rim of her mug. “Now what’s this about your sister saying you’ve been acting weird?”

“I literally hadn’t seen her in weeks until today,” Louis grumbles. Of course Lottie did. “How would she even know I’ve been acting weird?”

Jay swirls biscotti in her tea and raises her eyebrows. “She worries about you, love, she just wants to be sure you’re doing okay. Just like I do.”

“I’m fine,” Louis says. “Seriously. I mean, the sleep thing is getting old, but honestly I’ve gotten used to it by now.”

Jay is quiet for a minute, stirring her tea with her biscotti, then taking a bite and giving it a slow chew. Louis braces himself for some serious mum wisdom, or worse. “I saw online you went out for a bite with Harry,” Jay comments. “Was that alright?”

“It was at IKEA,” Louis says. “We ran into each other and had lunch. It wasn’t a big deal, honestly.” He grabs another biscotti out of the tin. “We’ve all been trying to stay close since Zayn left, you know that.” He bites off a crunchy end. “And you know how Harry is about babies.”

“It’s good you’re keeping up, then,” Jay nods, satisfied, and takes a sip of her tea. “Spoke to Anne the other day, actually; she might come ‘round for a weekend soon. How’re the other boys? Is Liam obsessing over the wedding yet?”

“He’s more of a bridezilla than you were, and it’s not until next year,” Louis grins, and snatches one more biscotti from the tin before she can rap his knuckles. “But he’ll look quite fit in the gown.”

“Of course he will,” Jay laughs. “I’m sure Karen’s already started crying, bless her.”

“Bless her,” Louis echoes. “We’ll all go down the aisle on a wave of tears.”

“Is he making you best man?” Jay rests her elbow on the table and her chin on her hand, smiling warmly.

Louis takes a sip of his tea. “Hope so,” he sniffs. “If he knows what’s good for him, really. I’ll throw a better stag do than anyone else he knows.”

“I’m sure.” Jay looks bemused. “You’ve got a while yet to make plans.”

The baby monitor Louis borrowed crackles to life on the kitchen counter with the sound of Olivia fussing. It’s early for her to want her late dinner, but maybe if they get this bottle out of the way early they can both get a few extra hours of uninterrupted sleep. “That’s my cue,” Louis sighs, finishing off his tea.

Jay smiles at him across the table. “Go on. I’ll put these in the wash. And tomorrow’s Saturday, so the girls won’t have school and we can have a late breakfast whenever you and Olivia are up for it.”

“Sometimes breakfast for that little monster is at the arsecrack of dawn,” Louis huffs, getting to his feet and leaning over to kiss his mum’s cheek.

“Take the leftover warm water, if you’re making her a bottle,” Jay suggests, nodding at the kettle sitting on the hob. “It’ll help her go back to sleep easier.”

“Yeah, thanks.” Louis pours out his cuppa and fills it half full with warm water. It’ll be plenty to warm the bottled water he keeps in the changing bag for making up formula on the go. Lottie is sprawled on the sofa in the living room, watching an episode of Friends, and Louis ruffles her hair as he walks past to the stairs.

Olivia has gone quiet, still whimpering a little as she kicks at the coverlet, tossing her head around. “Hey, hey,” Louis says. “You’re alright, babe, I know, I’m sorry, you woke up all alone in a strange place, it’s okay.” He smiles at her over the side of the portacrib as he fixes a bottle, then hoists her up, rocks her as she eats.

“Oof, there you go, grumpy,” Louis grins. He had sort of wanted a shower, but Olivia seems a little too distraught with the commotion and the new surroundings for Louis to leave her even if she goes back to sleep again. It’s not that he doesn’t trust his mum or any of his sisters, or even Dan, to come and soothe her if she wakes up crying again, but. It might just be a single dad thing, he thinks. He doesn’t see himself getting over his protective streak anytime soon.

Olivia has a tight grip on his fingers where he’s holding the bottle, her little nails digging into his knuckles. He should trim those, at some point, before she scratches herself. He gets his jeans off one-handed, and climbs into bed in his boxers and tee shirt, letting Olivia prop up on his chest to finish her bottle.

She clings to him when he shifts her onto his shoulder to get her gas out, one hand fisted in his sleeve and the other at his t-shirt collar, huffing and wriggling her legs restlessly whilst Louis rubs her back. “We can go back to sleep in a mo, darling, I promise,” Louis sighs, kisses the top of her head. If spending time with her immediate family stresses her out this way, Louis can’t help but worry what it might be like when they inevitably have to face the rest of the world. “You’re just not used to all this, are you, babe?” Louis nuzzles her fuzzy hair. “Noisy people and strange places, it’s all very stressful.”

Olivia seems to agree, hiccuping and dropping her head tiredly on Louis’ shoulder. “All done?” Louis asks, still rubbing Olivia’s back, just in case. He shifts her on his arm, patting her bum. “Let’s get you a clean nappy before bed.”

Louis is rather proud of his nappy changing skills. They’ve not encountered nappy rash—Louis’ too paranoid to let her stay in a wet nappy for long—and she generally doesn’t seem to mind the momentary nakedness. Louis grabs a blanket from the changing bag, spreads it out at the foot of the bed, and gets to work.

Olivia waves her arms around a bit, her little mouth pursed up in a distinct o-shape, and Louis laughs, “Ooh, is it cold? We better hurry then, huh?”

After changing Olivia’s nappy, Louis changes his shirt, and fishes a pair of trackies out of his overnight bag, keeping an eye on Olivia as she wriggles on the bed. “Alright, alright, I’m right here. Give us a cuddle, then.”

She flops her head right back on his shoulder when he picks her up, huffs like she’s been waiting forever instead of five minutes. “Got plenty of attitude, haven’t you,” Louis sighs. He’s been trying to train her to sleep through the night in her own bed, but the travel cot won’t cut it, and he’s in need of a good snuggle anyway. She can sleep with him. He’s ninety percent sure it won’t scar her for life or anything.


Louis finally agrees to schedule the shoot with Hello! for the week after Olivia turns five months. His publicist negotiates putting together a team Louis is comfortable with, and the magazine doesn’t quibble over Lou doing the grooming and Lydia overseeing wardrobe as long as their photographer is approved. They discuss a couple location options, and Louis doesn’t love the thought of cleaning his own house and ushering in a camera crew, so he goes with the rental flat with the patio garden. They’re finally having some proper sunny spring days, and he can imagine Olivia propped up next to the big flower pots in the picture they send over.

It’s not until they show up to the shoot that Louis realises he and Olivia are wearing matching Adidas t-shirts. The photographer, a sweet woman that introduces herself as Carrie, snaps a picture of them while Louis still has a terrible bedhead and Olivia is peering warily at the crew.

“I think, if it’s okay with you of course, I’d like to just shoot throughout as you both get all done up and whatnot,” Carrie explains. “I know you’re close friends with Louise who’s doing your hair, and the rest of her team, and they’re okay with it as long as you are.”

Louis runs a hand through his hair. Olivia blows a spit bubble. “Yeah,” he shrugs. “As long as you get me best side, eh? Why not.” It’s been a few months since Cal followed him around religiously, but he’s still used to it. There’s already a video camera on him for the behind the scenes video going up online with the story.

Lottie has taken off from school to be here, and at the sight of her, Olivia yelps excitedly and leans towards her. “Hi Liv!” Lottie grins, holds her arms out for Louis to hand her over.

“Already playing favourites,” Louis tsks, but lets Olivia go easily enough, leans in to kiss Lottie’s cheek. “Didn’t know you’d managed to get off school for this,” he laughs. “Did Lou write you a note? Charlotte won’t be in braiding class today as she’s assisting in an exclusive photoshoot.”

“Piss off,” Lottie rolls her eyes, bouncing Olivia on her hip. “Go get some coffee, they’ve got some really nice buns‘n stuff, too.” It’s just after nine in the morning, and Louis had a cup of tea but something sweet and caffeinated does sound good.

By the time he’s back from grabbing a cup of coffee and a pastry from the kitchen, Lottie is showing Olivia a collection of tiny sundresses and little trainers. Lydia pulls out a couple different options and Louis nods along like it makes that big of a difference to him. He does make sure that they’re planning on doing at least a few photos with her in normal clothes. “This is all super posh and all, but like. Something I’d actually put her in, you know, for every day, might be nice.”

“Quit worrying, I’ve got her some really cute leggings and your band tees,” Lydia rolls her eyes.

“Let’s do one of the dresses first,” Carrie proposes. “And maybe she can sit with you as you get your hair done, Louis?”

“We’ll see how she fares with a hair dryer,” Louis shares a look with Lou, who’s finishing setting up her work station on the dining table near the wardrobe racks.

“I can work around it,” Lou shrugs. “Nothing a bit of salt spray and hot tongs can’t do.”

“Ooh, hot tongs,” Louis sing-songs. Olivia is getting wiggly in Lottie’s arms, and she makes a sad bleating noise for Louis, who takes her back and settles in the grooming chair. “Gonna watch dad get all fancy for our pictures, Olive? Lottie, can you grab her ram from the changing bag? It’ll keep her distracted.”

The first few shots of them are of Olivia sat in Louis’ lap as Lou works on his hair. A reporter sits nearby, and although Louis had sort of dreaded the interview portion of this work day, the reporter stays within the parameters set by Kim and the PR team. Louis feels more like he’s having a conversation than giving an interview, and he laughingly thanks the reporter for gently easing him back into this aspect of his job.

They do some pictures in the open living room, Louis on the floor playing with Olivia, trying to get her to smile or laugh with some of the toys they’ve scattered around. They have to take the ram away for a bit because it inevitably ends up in her mouth, hiding her face. She’s not very happy about it, at least until Louis distracts her with a soft hedgehog, running her little palm over the fuzzy, furry bristles.

Louis’ favourite picture, in the end, is of Olivia out in the back garden, wearing a mock football kit romper. Only Louis’ arms and legs are in the shot as Olivia stands barefoot in the grass, with her hands wrapped around Louis’ index fingers and her back propped against Louis’ shin. In the moment, she’d been wobbly, but in the picture all you can see is her huge, gummy grin.


It’s the cover, because he’s still Louis Tomlinson of 1D, even if he’s mostly Olivia’s dad in his own head these days. It’s a quicker turnaround than most of the cover stories and shoots they’ve done, but Louis is nearly glad for that. Less time to get nervous about it between the shoot and when it goes on sale.

He and Olivia go over to Liam’s the day the magazine comes out, just for a laddy hangout, and Liam spends an embarrassing chunk of time when Louis first arrives reading his favourite bits of the article out loud. Harry turns up toting his own copy of Hello!, flopping next to Liam on the couch, legs everywhere, and joining the reading in his closest approximation of David Attenborough. If Louis is a little surprised he’s still in London, he’s not going to mention it. They send Niall a selfie, just to mess with him, and get back a picture of him standing atop a massive boulder on the shore somewhere along the coast of Ireland, both middle fingers held up above his head and a massive grin on his face. u look like u need a poo, louis sends from Liam’s phone, with the corresponding emoji. Liam’s so well-trained he doesn’t even give Louis a reproving glance.

Louis does ask about Harry’s presence in London when he gets a text from Lou—u coming for me an sams roast next week luv??? harrys making dessert n says it wont be 2 weird lols

cant believe hes still in town haha! He sends back, suspicious. what r u cooking?

i said its a roast!!!

Louis sighs. He hasn’t taken Olivia to a dinner party yet. That’s another thing to check off his list, and at least he knows Lou probably has a stash of extra nappies somewhere if there are any accidents. will there b mash?

youll av to come n see won’t ya, Lou replies immediately. Louis figures spending time with the Teasdales can’t hurt, especially if he’ll get a free meal out of it. Lux really does love Olivia.

He’s oddly relieved that Harry is still in town. He can’t remember the last time they were in the same place long enough to make plans and hang out consecutively without it being for work. It seems a little safer for them to hang out in a crowd, too. Spending time alone with Harry had weirdly intimate results last time, and honestly, he’d rather avoid putting himself in a situation that leads to a confusing shower wank to the thought of a bandmate.


He’s not sure how formal an affair the Sunday roast is—he vaguely remembers hanging out with Tom and Lou and Harry years ago and having frozen roast beef dinners in their pyjamas, when Lux was a tiny wee thing smaller than Olivia. But it’s hardly 2011. He puts on a clean pair of jeans and a comfortable jumper that toes the line between casual and appropriate for a nice outing with your mum, stuffs a freshly-nappied Olivia into a pair of leggings over her onesie and puts a little hoodie on to keep her arms warm. She looks adorable and vaguely displeased, so Louis snaps a picture for WhatsApp.

They’re fine in the end: Lux smushes peas on Olivia’s onesie on accident, and Sam tells a hilarious story about Lou at Glasto years ago which results in Harry spilling red wine down the front of his ridiculous Gucci blouse. Harry insists on settling Olivia on his knee and having Lou take a picture or three.

Louis can tell what he’s thinking before he asks. “Go on,” he shrugs. “But let me have my daughter back so I can get those peas off.”

Harry captions it messy dinner pals, and turns his phone for Louis to glance over the post before he publishes it.


Louis’ favourite thing at the moment is lazy afternoons with Olivia, flopping on the couch and sitting her down on his stomach, propped against his thighs. He’s read online that it helps her core strength, and Olivia likes to busy herself playing with Louis’ hands, clapping her tiny palms against his and gnawing on his fingertips. It feels like any day now she’ll have sharp little teeth to nibble with, like a puppy; Louis already dreads the sleepless nights that process is sure to bring.

It’s on one of those lazy afternoons that his phone buzzes with a message from Harry in the group chat with the boys. It’s a picture of Ed, holding a glass of dark brown goop and making a disgusted face. There’s a spread of seemingly everything from Ed’s fridge in front of him on the kitchen counter, five different kinds of hot sauce and mayonnaise and a box of grapes and a carton of orange juice, and what Louis really hopes isn’t leftover Thai food, among other things. Getting creative with Ed’s new blender. Stay tuned for the reaction video.

Louis laughs, and Olivia gums harder at his fingers, like she wants in on the joke. He lets her see the picture, which she drools at, and snaps a photo of her to send back. She looks like a tiny owl, eyes large and unblinking, mouth pursed around Louis’ thumb. Sounds exciting, Olivias well jealous!

Louis gets two messages full of crying laughing emojis from Liam in the group chat before Harry replies a few minutes later. Video turned out really gross. Ed says hi and that he wants to meet Olive. No more experimenting with the blender :(

“You want to meet daddy’s mate Ed?” Olivia hiccups, drooling around Louis’ thumb. Louis sighs. Her bed times at 6 but if you wanna come over before then ur welcome to.

Harry’s response comes in the form of a voice note. “I’m so there,” Ed laughs, “we’re bringing beer and pizza, mate, you need a lads night—Stop it, Harry, I’m not drinking anymore of that shit!”

Olivia’s eyes widen incrementally, and she peers at Louis. Then she makes a pained face, and messes her nappy.

great, Louis messages them. We’re so excited to see you Olivia just shit her pants.


Harry and Ed arrive an hour later with the promised beer and pizza, after Louis has given Olivia a bath and gotten her into a clean onesie. Usually he’d give her a dinner bottle before her bath, but switching the order works out in their favour, as she’ll be a little less grumpy if he gives her a bottle while company’s there. She likes feeling included.

Olivia holds her arms out towards Harry, and Harry immediately sets the pizza boxes down on the nearest surface—precariously halfway off the edge of the end table next to the sofa—and takes her with a wide smile.

“H’lo, Olivia,” Ed says softly, but Olivia won’t look at him, suddenly intimidated. She headbutts Harry’s shoulder, hiding her face.

Louis gives Ed a hug and taps Olivia’s knuckles where she’s fisted her hand in Harry’s shirt. “Hey babe, can you say hi?”

She raises her head at his voice, peeking over Harry’s shoulder. “I brought you a pal, Olive,” Harry says, hushed. “He’s really nice, even if he looks a bit scary.”

“I’m the least scary person ever,” Ed laughs, stepping closer and offering Olivia a hand. Her eyes immediately follow the colours along his arm: he has far more tattoos than anyone she’s ever met, and his are much more colourful than the ones she’s used to. She reaches out, patting the brightest swatches of red and black, and grins gummily up at Louis, and then, hesitantly, at Ed.

“Hiya, little one,” Ed smiles warmly, offering his arm up to her, a big patch of green and blue on his forearm. “These’re cool, aren’t they? Bet you’ll be asking your dad to let you get ‘em in no time.”

“As long as there aren’t any mermaid vaginas,” Louis mutters. “Mermaids don’t even have—”

“You don’t know that,” Harry complains. “Everyone always says that but we don’t know that for sure.”

“You’re ridiculous,” Louis laughs, digging his elbow at Harry’s side. He’s been hovering close, just in case Olivia wants to go back to him, but she seems fairly contented in Harry’s arms. “She’ll be hungry soon, I’ve gotta make her a bottle. Think you can hold a baby and eat a slice of pizza at the same time without accidentally biting her?”

“I bit my phone one time,” Harry’s frown gets even more cartoonish.

“Jesus, Styles,” Ed shakes his head. “D’you have a bottle opener, Louis?”

“Yeah, come and grab it,” Louis nods. It takes a certain kind of trust to leave Harry Styles alone with a baby, and he’s contemplating whether he can manage it, but in the end Harry trails along after him and Ed into the kitchen.

Louis grabs the bottle opener out of a drawer and tosses it underhand to Ed, picking out a bottle from the dish rack and measuring the formula out as Harry bounces Olivia on his hip. She perks up in anticipation when Louis starts shaking the clumps out of the bottle, babbling excitedly.

Harry hands Olivia back and the four of them settle in the living room, the boys clinking their Stellas against Olivia’s bottle with a laugh. Although it’s still too heavy for her to comfortably hold on her own, she likes putting her hands on the bottle while Louis holds the end for her, leaning back on the crook of his arm. She looks like a tiny bald old man excited for his own beer at the end of a hard day, and Louis points this out. Ed laughs delightedly, while Harry frowns. “She does not, Olive looks like a sweet little ninja that’s gonna kick your ass.” The last bit is said in a baby-safe sing-song.

“She’s a little ninja who happens to look like a bald old man sometimes,” Louis shrugs. “She’s got half my genes, innit, it’s me own fault she looks like she does. And she’s got the Tommo hairline so far.”

“She’s gone a bit ginger, hasn’t she?” Ed points out around a bite of his pizza.

“You wish, Sheeran.” Louis inspects her latest fuzz. “I suppose she has though. Just a bit. Peachy, aren’t you?” Olivia blinks up at him, and burps around the bottle teat.

“You’ve always been a secret ginger, I’m not surprised,” Harry gestures at Louis’ beard with his pizza slice. Louis remembers the first time he went a few days without shaving, years ago on a short break; Harry had examined his chin closely and pointed out a few stray coppery hairs. “Dotty’s a full-blown little redhead.”

“Bless her,” Louis sighs. “Briana hasn’t got any redheads on her side though, I thought this one might’ve escaped.” Olivia thumps her hand against the bottle, and it’s unclear whether it’s her comment on the situation or just because Louis needs to tilt the bottle further for her to get more milk.

When Louis looks up, both Harry and Ed are staring at him in silence. Ed coughs. “Don’t make it fucking weird,” Louis rolls his eyes.

“I mean, that was a very casual baby mama mention, you can’t fault us,” Ed’s eyebrows shoot up, disappearing into his fringe. Harry chews on his pizza slowly.

Louis shrugs, gently scooting Olivia up closer to his chest. “I dunno, we talk a bit. I send her pictures sometimes; we try to like, keep in touch? Someday I figure my kid’ll want to meet her mum, you know? We’re not on bad terms.”

“That’s cool, mate, if it works for you, power to you,” Ed nods, taking a drink.

Harry laces his fingers around his bottle neck and nods along. “That’s really cool, Lou. I’m glad you worked it out.”

Louis rolls his eyes. “I don’t fuck everything up, ta.” Not now that there’s Olivia to think of. Harry’s gaze is almost too intense to acknowledge. Louis is glad that Olivia’s finished her bottle and he has the distraction of wiping his pizza hand off on his sweats and burping her.

“I never said that,” Harry mutters, and drops his pizza crust on the empty side of one of the boxes before going for another slice.

Louis ignores Harry’s pouting, but picks up Harry’s pizza crust after he’s finished his own. It’s a perfectly good crust; Harry’s missing out. “One time I made her sick up on Harry,” Louis tells Ed through a mouthful of food, tipping his head at Olivia. “Perfect timing, this one.”

“Sick,” Ed grins. “I gotta say, mate, she seems like the perfect baby.”

“She is the perfect baby,” Harry says, matter of fact, before Louis can.

“You’re just saying that ‘cause you haven’t had to change a thousand and one of her poo-y nappies,” Louis sighs. “Which I’ll have to do in about…” he checks his phone. “Five minutes, probably. D’you want to tell her goodnight and I’ll go do that and put her to bed? You can find something on Netflix.”

“I miss you already, little Olive,” Harry pouts, setting his slice down on the pizza box to wave at her with both hands, blowing kisses. “Nanight, babe!”

Louis rolls his eyes, smiling. Somewhere along the way, through the past few times he’s hung out with Harry, the way Harry speaks to her has become kind of endearing rather than just weird. The Harry Styles Effect, Louis calls it in the privacy of his head, as he stands and leans over towards Harry. “Here, give Harry a kiss, Olivia.”

“We’ll see if she wants to give me a kiss,” Ed jokes, awws when Olivia nudges her forehead against Harry’s.

All Ed gets is a spit bubble, but it’s still pretty cute.

Louis gets Olivia into a clean nappy without much fuss, and she goes down easily after he rocks her a bit, humming under his breath. She’s been sleeping for longer stints, which Louis appreciates, even if his mum has warned him that may change again during teething.

When he gets back to the living room, Ed and Harry have queued up Friends on Netflix, and cracked open new bottles of beer for the three of them. Louis worms between them on the sofa and grabs the remote. “Alright, you lot ready?”

“Born ready,” Ed nods. “Where are we starting?”

“I know my favourite is towards the end of season five; it’s the easiest way to make Liam laugh when he’s stroppy,” Louis waggles his brows.

Pivot,” Harry smiles knowingly. “Gets him every time.”

“Pivot!” Ed echoes, grinning. “God. It’s so good.”

They make it through three episodes and another six-pack of beer between them before Louis turns to ask Ed if he has any Friends tattoos and realizes he’s passed out against the arm of the couch.

“Haz,” Louis grins, nudges Harry’s thigh with his knee and jerks his head towards Ed.

Harry leans over him, using a hand on the back of the couch for leverage to peer at Ed, and laughs. “Of course he did. Jesus.” He doesn’t move his arm from where it’s pressed against Louis’ shoulders, and Louis considers taking the piss. He abstains from sabotaging himself, just this once, and finishes off his beer instead. Harry’s warm along his side, and Louis presses back into the touch. They’re both falling into the crack between couch cushions, and it’s more comfortable than moving.

The episode ends and Louis is grateful as always for autoplay. A new episode begins, and Harry reaches for a fresh beer on the coffee table, hands it to Louis before grabbing another one for himself. His arms are long enough that he barely has to shift to reach. If Louis had Harry’s arms he wouldn’t need a step stool in the kitchen pantry. “You’re such a sasquatch,” he says, helplessly annoyed.

Harry grins, and clinks his beer bottle against Louis’.

Louis runs his fingers around the condensation at the bottom of his bottle, takes another drink, and huddles closer. The slow rise and fall of Harry’s chest makes Louis feel like he’s swaying, interrupted only by Harry’s tiny huffs when he laughs, snapping Louis back to focus on the telly.

Somewhere along the line Harry stops laughing when Louis does. Louis glances up at him, ready to call Harry such a Phoebe, and finds Harry already looking at him. “What?” Harry says, like he could tell Louis was about to say something.

Louis closes his mouth firmly, but he can’t stop staring at how Harry’s is hanging open, lips parted just slightly, pouting. His beer is making his hands clammy. Louis moves only to set the bottle on the floor.

“Lou?” Harry prompts again, softer. The background noise of the telly seems to fade away, canned laughter turning into white noise, Louis following the line of Harry’s cupid’s bow with his eyes. Harry licks his lips.

“If I’m horribly off-base here, do tell me to fuck off,” Louis mutters, and leans in slowly. It feels like a massive gamble and an easy decision at the same time. Luckily, Harry doesn’t give him long enough to doubt himself, bridging the gap between them and pressing their lips together.

Louis leans away as soon as he realises Harry’s kissing him back. He isn’t sure what he wants to happen next, but he knows he needs to see Harry’s stupid face, and be sure they’re alright.

“Is that it?” Harry mumbles, smiling ridiculously, blindly setting his beer on the side table, but otherwise holds noticeably still.

Louis kisses him again, more forcefully this time, determined. He’s not sure what he’s trying to achieve, choosing to not think about it, shifting halfway onto Harry’s lap and wrapping an arm around Harry’s neck.

Harry eases back against the arm of the sofa, letting Louis push him over, and rests his hand at Louis’ hip, the pad of his thumb just under Louis’ jumper. He tastes like beer, and clove gum that he’d been snapping most of the evening. Louis had refused his offer of a piece, and he feels vindicated now.

He straddles Harry for the sake of not kneeing him in the gut, tugs at the curly ends of his hair, sucks at his lower lip. Harry seems to love the attention, and Louis shivers when his hand creeps up underneath Louis’ jumper, palm still a little damp from the condensation on his beer.

“Sorry,” Harry mumbles, lips bumping and sticking to Louis’, and Louis shakes his head, tugs him back in. He hasn’t been kissed like this in too long, and he’s not going to let Harry get distracted now.

Harry’s on board, at least, stroking Louis’ hip with his thumb and humming against Louis’ mouth. Louis bites his lip in hopes to shut him up, which quickly backfires, Harry moaning and pressing up against him with a shudder. Louis freezes, and slowly looks over his shoulder at Ed. “Fuck’s sake, Harry,” he whispers, after he’s confirmed that Ed is still sleeping.

“I can’t help that I’m an enthusiastic lover,” Harry sighs, as if this is a constant struggle.

Louis huffs a small laugh, and takes another cautious look at Ed’s prone form. “We have to take this somewhere else.”

Harry licks his lips. “Do you… want to take this somewhere else?”

Louis gives Harry a pointed look and pushes himself up off the sofa, turns the telly off, and pulls Harry up by the forearm. “C’mon,” he mutters, herding Harry towards the hallway.

One major pitfall of having a massive house is that Louis gets distracted halfway to the bedroom and shoves Harry against the wall to kiss him again. Harry’s arms wrap around Louis’ waist, and although Louis has to tip his head up and rise slightly onto his socked toes, Harry feels smaller where he’s pressed against Louis, letting him lead. They sway a little, and Louis gets his hands into Harry’s hair, angling his head down, running his fingers through the baby curls around his ears.

Harry groans and pushes Louis back, and they make it a few steps further down the hall before Harry’s leaning into him, pinning him against a doorframe this time. His hands are on Louis’ hips, now, squeezing gently, thumbs digging into Louis’ skin above his waistband.

Louis sucks on Harry’s tongue and sneaks a hand between them, loose enough from the beer to not think twice about groping Harry through the front of his jeans. He just needs to know if this is getting to Harry as much as it is to him, pressing the heel of his palm down against Harry’s cock through the denim. Harry always dresses to the left, and Louis loves that he knows that, feeling out Harry’s half-hard prick.

Harry pulls his hand from Louis’ waist and rests it on the wall beside their heads, going still. “Um,” he says, voice catching as he pants a little, staring down at Louis in the half-light of the hallway.

“What,” Louis huffs, hand frozen. If he somehow read this whole situation wrong he’s going to absolutely murder Harry. “Harry, what—”

“I just,” Harry bites his lip, dazed. “I didn’t realise you meant taking this somewhere else as in like,” he quirks his eyebrows, “taking this somewhere else.”

“Oh my god,” Louis says, closing his eyes for a moment, leaning back heavily against the doorframe. “Yes, Harry, I meant like, taking this somewhere else.”

Harry grins, and even in the dim light, Louis can see his cheeks go pink. “Take me to bed, then,” he smiles sheepishly, chin tucked against his chest.

“This way,” Louis says, shoving Harry gently with both hands on his chest, guiding him backwards, towards his bedroom door. He likes that Harry doesn’t make an effort to turn around, just keeps his eyes on Louis and lets himself be moved.

He’s nearly got Harry to the edge of his bed when he curls his fingers at the front of Harry’s shirt and holds him still. “Sorry about, uh, grabbing your dick,” he says, frowning slightly. It’s weird, but somehow important, that he gets this out of the way before he makes any other mistakes.

“You don’t have to like, apologise, I just didn’t wanna assume,” Harry shrugs, one hand curled around Louis’ hip again.

Louis nods, then switches gears again, pushing Harry back on the bed. “C’mon, then.”

Harry falls back easily, bouncing on his elbows in the center of Louis’ bed, and Louis hovers on the edge of the mattress for a moment, taking in his long body spread out and open and his. He doesn’t need to grope Harry this time to know he’s hard. Harry draws him in as soon as Louis crawls up on the bed, pulls him down and slots their legs together. Their kiss is heavier now, determined, and Louis pulls at Harry’s hair with a firm grip behind his ear.

“Fuck,” Harry says, dropping his head back against the mattress and rubbing his hands down Louis’ sides, rucking his shirt up and back down. “You can, um, keep doing that.”

Louis narrows his eyes, and tightens his fingers in Harry’s hair. “This?”

“That,” Harry confirms, swallowing hard. His eyes look shiny in the dim light coming from Louis’ bathroom. “What do you like, what can I—”

“God, you’re so chatty,” Louis grins, too easily endeared, and quickly makes a decision. “Shh,” he directs, pecking Harry’s lips once and giving his hair another sharp tug before he moves away, back down the bed, hands at Harry’s fly.

Oh,” Harry exhales, smiling like an idiot when Louis glances up. “You like that?” He asks.

Louis laughs, pressing a kiss to Harry’s stomach, just above the tip of a laurel. “D’you have a problem with that?”

“No-ope,” Harry’s voice cracks as Louis unzips his fly, and Louis has to hide another smile in a kiss to the waistband of his pants. “No, no problem.”

“Gotcha,” Louis mutters distractedly. He’s never seen Harry’s tattoos from this close. He rucks Harry’s shirt up and swipes his thumb across one of the leaves, grinning when Harry shivers, moving down to trace the faint smattering of hair peeking out of Harry’s waistband. Harry stays quiet, aside from his labored breathing, and Louis ducks his head to press an open-mouthed kiss to his skin.

Harry shifts, legs moving under Louis’ arms, and presses up tentatively towards Louis’ face. “Lou,” he says, when Louis doesn’t move for a moment. He’s just taking it in, the warmth of Harry’s skin and the feel of it under his mouth, the smell of Harry’s laundry detergent and body wash everywhere. He hasn’t gone down on someone in a while; excuse him for savoring this.

“I’m here, give me a second,” Louis huffs, but he’s already leaning up, just far away enough to pull Harry’s cock out above his waistband, pushing his pants down haphazardly. “Harry, d’you not trim down here?” He laughs, hand wrapped around the base of Harry’s dick. “Bit unruly, love.”

“I like feeling natural,” Harry says, in a tone that’s trying for offended but missing the mark and falling closer to mildly frustrated. “Is that, like, a deal-breaker?”

Louis sighs. Harry’s cock twitches at the puff of air. It’s a nice cock, if a bit fittingly wonky. “Not really,” he rolls his eyes. “I’ll live, I s’pose.”

Harry bites his lip, propping up on one elbow to look down at him. “Do you trim? What do you use, I’ve always been interested in those special shaving creams—”

Louis would enlighten him, but he’s busy putting his mouth on Harry’s dick in hopes that it’ll shut him up. There’s people sleeping, for fuck’s sake. Louis presses his tongue flat against Harry’s cockhead, squeezes his hip.

Harry moans, and reaches for Louis, his hand stopping just short of Louis’ hair, hovering, fingers curling in the air. “Can I, fuck.”

Louis hums in agreement and waits for Harry to slip his fingers through his hair before he bobs down, slowly taking more of Harry’s cock in. It’s a stretch already, Louis having to carefully work his jaw open, but he doesn’t want to give Harry the satisfaction of knowing sucking his cock takes effort. Not yet, at least.

“God, Lou,” Harry whines, and it goes straight to Louis’ dick. The best thing about going down on people is hearing how much they like it, hearing them moan his name. Even if he’s spent a considerable portion of the evening telling Harry to keep quiet, Louis wants to hear him. “Your mouth, fucking—bloody hell, Louis,” Harry says, and arches his back, hips tilting tentatively forward.

Louis hums, drawing back to lick his lips, wipe his mouth with the back of his hand. Harry’s cock bobs against his cheek, and he guides it back with fingers around the base, rubs it over his lips slowly. Harry’s always liked visuals.

“You’re good at that,” Harry mutters, earnest with a hint of curiosity, running a hand through his hair.

Louis knows just how to keep him on his toes. “Done this before, haven’t I,” he grins, and takes Harry’s cockhead back into his mouth before Harry can ask. He doesn’t miss the slightly frustrated look of confusion on Harry’s face. He hates not being in on people’s jokes, or even worse, having secrets kept from him. Apparently Louis’ blowjob skills are impressive enough that he’s willing to let it go for the moment, because he stays quiet, watching Louis ease his mouth down his cock again.

Louis is sure some people must get bored sucking cock, but it hasn’t happened to him yet. For his part, Harry’s an excellent recipient. Louis eases back for a deep breath, and Harry’s hand settles on his jaw, thumb tracing his lower lip.

“Cheeky,” Louis mutters, nips gently at Harry’s thumb, and carefully tucks his lips over his teeth as he goes back to Harry’s dick, sinking down lower than before. He hasn’t done this in long enough to make him hesitant to try deepthroating Harry, and he knows gagging isn’t for everyone. Harry’s perfectly content, it seems, with taking however much Louis wants to give him. Louis notices his fingers curling into the duvet and his breath growing shallow after a short while.

“Lou,” Harry breathes, tugging gently at his hair. “Hold on, please?” His voice is hoarse, which Louis likes: it’s ironic, and cute.

Louis pulls off and wipes his mouth with the back of his free hand, using his fingers to spread his spit down Harry’s cock. “Wozzat?”

“Didn’t want it t’be over so quick,” Harry murmurs, still staring at Louis’ mouth, hand still cupping his face.

“You’re needy,” Louis huffs, drops his cheek into Harry’s palm with a small smile. “C’mon, though, the whole point is to come,” he insists. While he does appreciate Harry’s commitment to drawn out sex, his jaw kind of hurts, and he wants to break Harry a little, confirm his suspicions that a good orgasm makes him even floppier and slower-talking. He kisses the side of Harry’s cock, wrinkles his nose at Harry’s pubes.

“That…” Harry smiles, slowly, “is a convincing argument. I’d hate to be rude.”

Louis resists rolling his eyes, and sucks at the vein on the underside of Harry’s cock instead. He can feel it pulsing against his tongue, and Harry sucks in a deep breath above him, fingers tightening in Louis’ hair. Louis always wins in arguments with Harry. This isn’t any different.

Harry’s whining his name again as soon as Louis sucks his cockhead back into his mouth, and Louis has to press his forearm down on Harry’s hips to keep Harry from bucking up as Louis swirls his tongue. “Lou, please,” Harry groans, giving into the feeling, and Louis redoubles his efforts, nudges the tip of his tongue at Harry’s slit.

Harry’s thighs go stiff, his knee jerking against Louis’ side, and Louis barely has time to sink further on his cock so he can swallow as Harry comes. Harry’s fingers are trembling slightly; he’s trying so obviously to keep his touch gentle against Louis’ jaw, his thumb stroking the shell of Louis’ ear. “Lou, Lou,” he keeps repeating, and Louis can’t smile with Harry’s dick at the back of his throat, but he wants to.

Louis pulls off with a dignified slurp, once he’s sure Harry has finished, and drops his forehead on one of the laurels, Harry’s hipbone digging into his cheek. Harry’s hands are clumsy as they tuck under Louis’ armpits and haul him up, and he doesn’t hesitate to kiss Louis, even as the taste of his come lingers in Louis’ mouth. Of course Harry would like tasting himself on others, Louis thinks, letting Harry suck on his tongue.

“Thank you,” Harry says, after a minute, when they’re both panting and taste like his jizz.

“You’re welcome,” Louis shrugs automatically, and then makes a face. Harry’s politeness is rubbing off on him.

“I mean, I just,” Harry stammers, laughing, “I didn’t expect you to swallow?”

“Better than having to wash the fucking duvet,” Louis rolls his eyes, shifting his hips to nudge his cock into Harry’s thigh.

“Let me?” Harry jerks his chin subtly to where Louis is, equally subtly, humping his leg.

“Thought you’d never ask,” Louis mutters, tucks his face into Harry’s shoulder and lifts his hips, pushing his sweats down to his thighs. It’s not really the most comfortable position, but he’s desperate to be touched.

Harry sits up, shoving Louis’ sweatpants further down to his ankles and rolling them over on the bed so that he’s looming over Louis, looking pleased. “That was such a nice blowjob,” he says. “Definitely in the top ten, maybe top five—”

“Harry,” Louis says. “Shut up.”

Harry grins, and leans down to kiss him again, and, finally, wraps his hand around Louis’ dick. Louis is very glad Harry’s mouth on his does a half-decent job of muffling his undignified whimper. His hips jerk up into the touch involuntarily, and he clings to Harry’s shoulders, digging his fingertips into Harry’s back.

Harry sucks on his lower lip, and leans back just enough to mumble between their mouths. “Have you done that a lot? Like, with blokes.”

“Can you let me get off in peace?” Louis sighs. His shudder as Harry rubs precome around his cockhead really doesn’t help Louis seem as stern as he’d like to. Even so, there’s a part of him that wants to brag, almost. “Not a lot, a lot, but enough times,” he concedes, eventually.

“You’re really good,” Harry nods. His forehead is sweaty where it’s pressed to Louis’, but he’s had Harry sweat on him plenty of times before. Sex sweat is way less gross than stage sweat. “Like, I’m pretty sure I’m not anywhere near that good.”

“Guess you probably haven’t had as much experience, then,” Louis huffs. Truthfully, he’s only ever sucked one other cock, even if he did so multiple times, but Harry doesn’t need to know that. Not now, at least.

“Guess not,” Harry laughs, rubbing his palm across the head of Louis’ cock before giving him another long stroke. The tips of his fingers run over Louis’ balls. “Maybe I’ll get the chance to practice some more.”

“Might shut you up,” Louis aims for snarky, but his voice comes out shaky instead. Maybe he ought to shut up, himself, and focus on the task at Harry’s hand. “Tighter ‘round the base, yeah,” he mutters, closing his eyes and drawing Harry in for another kiss.

Harry’s mouth is a little slack, distracted, but Louis doesn’t mind, is happy just sucking on his lower lip, hearing Harry whine when he draws his teeth across it. It makes Harry’s hand speed up, too, and Louis needs that right now. He’s so used to quick, utilitarian wanks that his body doesn’t know quite how to react to Harry’s indulgent handjob. He’s close, but just drifting near almost, nerves on fire.

Harry’s quick on the uptake, this time, taking control of their idle kiss and nipping back at Louis. His hand flies over Louis’ cock, and although Louis can’t find his voice long enough to remind him to steer clear of the fucking duvet, Harry rucks up Louis’ shirt and strokes him quickly around the head, sucks Louis’ lower lip as he finally comes.

Louis’ knees come up, knocking Harry’s leg, and he whimpers. He’s glad for the way Harry is leaning more heavily over him, holding him down against the mattress, because his chest feels weirdly light. He’s panting hard, when the white noise clears from his ears, and Harry is kissing his cheek, his eyelids. “God, Louis.”

“Fuck,” Louis croaks. His stomach is streaked with come, puddling disgustingly in his bellybutton. Harry doesn’t seem bothered, letting Louis’ cock rest against his thigh and immediately dragging sticky fingers up his tummy, swirling the mess around in Louis’ happy trail.

Harry grins. “I’m not like, awful at that bit, I don’t think.”

Louis presses his lips into a thin line, rather than saying something weird and vulnerable and hopeful. Harry plays dirty. “What’re you doing, you’re so messy,” he sighs, instead, trying and failing to look down at the sticky work of art Harry’s fingerpainting on him.

“Sorry.” Harry’s fingers slow, but don’t stop, dragging come up Louis’ abs in glistening lines. “I like this part.”

“You would,” Louis grunts. He’s okay with it for now, as long as things don’t start getting crusty on him. He quietly indulges Harry for another minute or two before the mess turns tacky, and Louis draws the line. “Okay, get us a flannel, will ya?”

Harry sighs heavily and rubs his sticky fingers across Louis’ nipple. It’s not a pinch, but it’s the threat of one, and he draws away before Louis can retaliate. “Warm or cool?”

“Warm, you heathen,” Louis says, “what the fuck? Does anyone ever want a cold flannel?”

Harry is perched at the edge of the mattress like an awkward baby bird, peering at Louis over his shoulder. “Some people like a cool flannel, ‘cause it’s like, refreshing after sex,” he mutters. “It’s a thing.”

“That is not a thing,” Louis deadpans. “Jesus, Harry.”

Harry stretches as he gets to his feet, hesitates for a moment looking down at himself, like he’s considering tucking his cock back into his pants, before he shucks his jeans and pants off altogether. Louis openly stares at his arse as he pads across to the bathroom. “Grab us some clean boxers, too,” he calls out, as hushed as he can make it while making sure Harry can hear him over the running water. After a moment of consideration, he pulls his t-shirt off. “Top drawer on the left in the cupboard; help yourself to a pair.”

There’s no response, but a minute later, Harry comes back shirtless with a steaming flannel and two pairs of clean boxers. “Your highness,” he says, tossing Louis the flannel, and sliding back into bed without bothering to put the boxers on.

Louis wipes himself down, tucking his chin to his chest to make sure he’s getting all of Harry’s mess, gives his dick a cursory wipe and pat once his stomach is clean. He sets the flannel on his bedside table top. He’s gone maybe three minutes without kissing Harry, and it’s too long.

“C’mere,” Louis hums, even as he’s the one scooting closer to Harry, curling up against his side. The boxers can wait, for now; Louis has more important things to do, namely pressing his lips gently against Harry’s.

Louis digs his thumb into Harry’s ribs, after spending a moment appreciating how swollen Harry’s mouth still is. “Honestly, who have you fucked that’s into cold flannels, Harold.”

Harry laughs, licking his lips. “Who have you fucked that taught you to give blowjobs like that?”

Louis looks at him for a moment, and then shrugs, lips stretching helplessly as he can’t keep from grinning. “Danny.”

“Wait,” Harry says slowly. His face goes through a whole range of emotions, confusion to wide-eyed realization to amusement with a healthy shade of incredulity. “Like. That Danny?” His voice lowers. “Zayn’s Danny?”

Louis frowns slightly. “He’s his own person, Harold.” It could be a joke, even if it comes out a little sharp.

“Sorry,” Harry says, automatically. “I just meant. Wow. That Danny.”

“It was a while ago, anyway; it’s not like, a thing,” Louis mutters. “It’s just that you asked. So.”

Harry nods, slowly, and clears his throat. “Niall.”

Louis peers at him. “What about him?”

Harry gives him an unblinking, intense stare. “It’s Niall.”

“What about…” Louis trails off. “Wait, you’ve fucked Niall? Our Nialler?” He grows increasingly indignant.

Harry makes an uncomfortable-looking face, his mouth twisting up sheepishly. “Yes…?”

“He’s only ever had a cheeky snog with me,” Louis huffs. “Drunken grope, at most. What the fuck.” Harry is trying to look sympathetic now, and it isn’t really working. Louis hits him in the ribs. “What the fuck, Harry! Have you had Liam, too, then?”

Hey, that’s hurtful,” Harry pouts, squirming away. “Liam won’t budge. If any one of us has a chance at getting into his pants it’s most likely you, anyway.”

The flattery is nice, but Louis is still flummoxed. “Hold on, Niall likes cold flannels? Is that what you’re trying to tell me? Of all the weird people you’ve slept with, it’s Niall who doesn’t appreciate the warmth of a clean flannel?”

“You know how he gets overheated,” Harry says, stifling a yawn against the back of his hand.

Louis stares at the ceiling and yawns, himself. He wishes he’d grabbed his phone when they were moving their snogging session from the living room; he’d like to give Niall a piece of his mind right about now. He’d also like to brush his teeth, if they’re going to be sleeping anytime soon. Everything tastes unpleasantly of beer and jizz. He pokes at Harry’s arm lazily. “C’mon, you should at least borrow my mouthwash before you fall asleep.”

“Thanks,” Harry sighs, kisses the side of Louis’ head before getting back to his feet. Louis would offer him a spare toothbrush, but they’re in the guest bathroom upstairs, and he’s lazy and naked. What Harry doesn’t know won’t kill him. Louis steps into his boxers and follows Harry into the bathroom.

It’s a little jarring to stand side by side with Harry in the fluorescent light of the bathroom, staring at each other’s bodies, naked from the waist up in the mirror. Louis is suddenly aware of how flushed his neck and chest are, the stringy bits of dried come left in his happy trail. He clears his throat and digs under the sink for a bottle of mouthwash, handing it over and squeezing toothpaste on his brush, not meeting Harry’s eyes. They just hooked up in Louis’ bedroom, and they’re presumably going back to bed, and it feels strangely… alright.

Harry swishes mouthwash in his cheeks, and spits in Louis’ sink, pushes his hair back from his forehead. “D’you want me to go back out to the sofa?”

Louis frowns around his toothbrush, spits into the sink but doesn’t waste a moment rinsing out. In a weird way, he’s not keen on keeping Harry on his toes right now. “You don’t have to do that,” he says. He looks ridiculous in the mirror, toothpaste still at the corner of his mouth.

Harry shrugs, and rolls his shoulders, stretching. Louis can hear something pop. “I don’t want to like, disrupt your routine,” he says. Louis remembers, with amusement, that normal people, or at least, people like Harry, actually have sleeping routines. Harry became obsessed with melatonin on the last tour, and night time tea blends.

Louis snorts. “I don’t have a routine, other than waking up around five when Olivia wants a bottle. If you don’t mind a baby monitor going off, it’s a bit more comfortable than the sofa.”

“Ouch,” Harry winces. “Five’s like, soon, isn’t it?”

“Bright and early,” Louis yawns again, leans down to rinse out his mouth with a cupped hand under the tap.

“Time for bed, then,” Harry decides, hip checks Louis as he walks back towards the bedroom.

It’s strange, getting into bed beside someone with the intention of sleeping. Louis doesn’t have a particular preference for one side over the other, but he does have a usual side, and Harry takes it, until Louis points out that the monitor is on the nearest bedside table, and perhaps they should switch. When they settle, Harry is lying on his back, staring at the ceiling, hair draped over the pillow like a wave, and Louis is awkwardly hunched on his side, trying not to stare at his profile too creepily.

Louis is too sleepy to put up with the awkwardness for long, and makes an executive decision to get cozy, scooting closer and draping an arm over Harry’s middle. “This is stupid,” he mutters, and digs his chin into Harry’s shoulder. “I can suck your dick but I can’t have a cuddle?”

“I just wasn’t sure if you were feeling cuddly,” Harry laughs, relieved, deflating at Louis’ side, tipping his head towards him.

“I am the most cuddly,” Louis huffs. “Can you sleep like this? Will your old man bones hurt?”

“My bones can take it,” Harry assures him.

Louis doesn’t remember drifting off, only watching Harry’s chest rise and fall, and grinning at the silhouette of his silly sparse chest hair in the light from the bathroom.


Like clockwork, Olivia’s up and fussing just after five in the morning. Louis reaches out to turn down the volume on the monitor, and for a moment he forgets he has company, right up until Harry tightens an arm around his middle, and Louis freezes.

Harry’s presence is something for Louis to slowly process. Not to mention Harry’s crotch against his bum, and what’s definitely morning wood nudging at his arsecrack through their boxers.

Harry mumbles unintelligibly, breath warm against the crown of Louis’ head, his hand grasping at Louis’ arm, and for the first time in a long time, Louis doesn’t immediately run for the nursery. Olivia hasn’t reached fever pitch yet, and Harry is warm everywhere. Sixty more seconds of sharing that can’t hurt.

As soon as Olivia’s crying ramps up enough for him to hear it down the hall without the monitor, Louis moves on autopilot: he wriggles out of Harry’s hold carefully, and grabs a sweatshirt off the top of his dresser that he pulls over his head, padding barefoot down the cold hardwood floor of the hallway.

“G’morning, miss cranky,” he rasps. Olivia looks adorably betrayed that it took him this long to come and get her, sobbing indignantly as Louis plucks her out of the cot. “Spoiled one. Did you miss me?” Olivia hiccups, and punches his shoulder with a tiny balled up fist. “Oof,” Louis laughs. “Let’s get you a bottle, then.”

When he gets into the kitchen, Ed is shoving his feet into his trainers in the living room, phone held between cheek and shoulder. Louis waves a hand at him and puts on the kettle while he digs through the cabinet drawer for a clean bottle teat. He’s got to wash up all the stuff in the sink at some point. Maybe he can con Harry into it, if he stays for breakfast.

Olivia sniffles, pitifully, getting snot all over his neck, and Ed comes over to the counter, makes a sympathetic face at him. “My car’s here in a mo,” he explains. “Got a studio thing. Where’s Harry?”

Louis very carefully pours warm water into a bottle. It gives him an excuse to avoid eye contact, at least for a second. “Spare room, I guess? Probably still passed out.”

Ed nods. “Wouldn’t happen to have a cup I could take with me, would ya? I’d kill for a cuppa.”

“Yeah,” Louis says, “cabinet by the fridge, help yourself. I’ve got like, a dozen travel mugs I don’t need back.”

“Cheers.” Ed shakes Olivia’s little fingers as he passes. Olivia whines.

“I know, babe, I know,” Louis sighs, gives the bottle a quick shake and testing the temperature on the inside of his wrist. Olivia reaches out for it as he offers it to her, tiny fingers leading the bottle to her mouth. “That’s better, innit? There you go,” Louis grins, and Olivia sighs in relief. “You need something to eat?” Louis clears his throat, looking at Ed.

“Nah, I’ll have Kev stop for something on the way,” Ed mutters, screwing a lid on his carafe of tea and heading for the door. “Thanks for last night.” It’s gonna be a rough day for him, Louis thinks, patting him on the shoulder and pulling the door open. Ed leans into the touch and grins tiredly from beneath his fringe. “Olivia’s wicked cute, mate.”

“Yeah, you are, aren’t you, Olive?” Louis pries one of her hands off the bottle so he can wave it at Ed as he shuffles down the walk to the gate. “Bye, Uncle Ging. Have a fun hangover!”

“Cry his ear off today, Tiny Tommo,” Ed calls back, laughing.

“You’ll do none of that, will you?” Louis eyes Olivia warily. She smiles around the teat, cheeky. “I’m watching you.”

They watch Ed fall into the backseat of his car, and pull away from the gate, and Louis walks Olivia back and forth in the kitchen as she finishes her bottle. She’s nearly back asleep before he can even get a good burp out of her. It’s just about six, and Louis puts her back to bed, leans in the nursery doorway watching her twitch in her sleep as he tries to decide whether he wants to have tea or another couple hours of sleep himself.

Sleep wins out this time, and Louis can’t help his giddiness at the prospect of a warm, cuddly Harry in his bed as he heads back down the hall. He’s surprisingly okay with the whole situation, he thinks vaguely. It’s probably down to sleep deprivation that he hasn’t had a breakdown about this yet.


The breakdown doesn’t come later, either, when Louis wakes up at quarter to nine. Olivia is babbling over the monitor, seemingly finished with her nap already, and Harry remains asleep. He must’ve shaken off his early rising habits off tour, Louis thinks, rolling out of bed to run himself a shower. Olivia can wait if she’s not upset; he’s been trying to let her have some alone time, as suggested by his mum, to encourage her to be independent.

He takes the monitor with him into the bathroom, just in case her mood changes suddenly—he doesn’t know where she’d get that trait from. Turning the shower on, he messes with his hair a bit as the bathroom steams up. There’s a mark on his neck he doesn’t remember from last night, and it makes him feel like posting a selfie to WhatsApp, just so Liam can cheer for him.

And that’s a strange thought: it’s not quite the shoe dropping that Louis expects, but it’s weird, realizing that Harry is both in that group chat and in his bed. Louis isn’t sure what Liam, or Niall for that matter, might think of him and Harry hooking up. He doesn’t think it would be the bombshell to the band it might’ve been a year ago: they are, as everyone loves to remind them, on break, and since Zayn left they’d closed ranks so tightly he isn’t sure there is anything that could come between them.

He steps into the shower, touching gingerly at the bruise, and leans into the spray, letting it soak his hair and lay it flat over his face. Harry’s still in his bed, doesn’t look to be going anywhere, and Louis is alright with that. Harry seems to be alright with it, too.

Louis doesn’t think twice before getting a hand on his dick this time, the index and middle finger of his free hand pressing down on the bruise, the back of his head against the tile. Harry could very well just walk in and see him through the fogged glass, step into the shower and press up against him like he had in the hall last night, like he had done in bed minutes ago. Harry doesn’t come, but Louis does, just thinking about it.

Louis finishes his shower humming to himself quietly, slips into trackies and a comfortable sweatshirt and lets his damp hair air-dry. Olivia seems twice as happy to see him when he goes over to the nursery, cooing at Louis sweetly. “Mornin’, Liv,” he grins, and she bops her head happily against his chest when he picks her up, babbling around her fingers in her mouth. “Wanna help me make some breakfast? Will you make sure the toast doesn’t burn?”

She perks up further at the word breakfast, beating on his arm with her chubby fingers and cawing in his ear. Soon enough Louis will be fixing her an actual breakfast, too; he’s even got the box of hot cereal mix in the pantry waiting. For now, though, she only wants a bottle.

It’s a coffee kind of morning, Louis thinks, loading a cup into his seldom-used Keurig. Maybe the smell will waft down the hall and wake Harry. He makes a small bottle for Olivia and loads the toaster, rummages through the refrigerator one-handed, coming up with butter and a jar of jam his mum gave him. There’s also a pack of fresh streaky bacon rashers, at the bottom of a drawer, that he added to his list last time he put in a grocery order, missing American hotel breakfasts. “I’m gonna have to put you down to do these,” Louis decides, looking between Olivia and the bacon. He very much would like to avoid bacon grease splattering on his baby at all costs.

Olivia grunts around the teat of her bottle, and squirms in his arms. “Alright,” Louis says, “don’t be so heartbroken about it.” He settles her in her bouncer on the floor by the dishwasher, out of danger of the stove, and props her bottle up with a blankie on her tummy.

He finds a saucepan he might’ve used maybe once in his life, when his toaster was broken and he couldn’t think of another way to make toast. He’s been meaning to get better at the whole cooking thing, and now that he’s home for the foreseeable future there’s no excuse not to at least give a bit of bacon a go. Small steps, and all that. Maybe by the time Olivia’s eating solids he can make her a decent homemade meal.

He reads the back of the bacon package then, and sees that it takes half as long in the microwave. “I knew pans were rubbish,” he tells Olivia, rocking her in her seat with his toes. “Who needs ‘em? Not us!”

“I’m pretty sure pans are like, an important part of loads of cooking,” Harry mumbles, leaning in the doorway and fussing at a gnarl in his hair like some giant ape.

“Not American bacon, apparently,” Louis waggles his eyebrows, turns away to busy himself lining a plate with paper towels and bacon rashers instead of just staring at Harry’s mouth. “There’s coffee, if you like. I’m feeling charitable, so I s’pose you can have the first cup.”

“You’re a real Mother Theresa,” Harry huffs a laugh, loading a second cup into the Keurig for Louis. He’s quiet as he looks through Louis’ cupboards in search for sugar, and then trying a couple cabinets until he finds another mug. Louis could’ve told him, but he likes watching Harry make himself comfortable. He expects Harry to gravitate to Olivia, when he’s fixed his cup the way he likes, but instead Harry leans on the counter next to him, watching the bacon turn and sizzle in the microwave.

“Thought we could have bacon butties,” Louis says, quietly. “I know it’s not like, eggs benny, or anything.” Harry’s wearing an awful pair of socks, he thinks, staring at their feet next to each other on the tiles.

“S a good thing I gave up being vegetarian last week,” Harry says, jogging Louis’ elbow with his own.

Louis looks up at him, unable to tell if it’s a joke. “Seriously? There’s fruit in the basket, you could—”

“No, I really did give up last week,” Harry says, grinning. “Had an amazing salmon steak at Grimmy’s, couldn’t help myself.”

“Oh,” Louis laughs, eyes averted. “Well, that’s good. I really haven’t got anything else but like, an apple or two.”

“Lou,” Harry says, and Louis stares resolutely at the bacon, nearly done in the microwave. “Louis.” He tucks two fingers under Louis’ chin and turns him around, steps up against him at the counter and kisses him, right there, for Louis’ child (and sizzling bacon) to see.

Louis nips at Harry’s lower lip, huffs through his nose as the microwave beeps. He realises belatedly he didn’t brush his teeth this morning, but Harry’s mouth tastes like coffee, a faint hint of sugar cutting the bitterness lingering on his tongue.

“Should get that,” Harry mumbles, all raspy against Louis’ lips.

Louis sighs, and nods, and Harry steps away, popping the microwave door open and lifting out the plate of bacon. “I’ll get us plates, then,” he says, clearing his throat. “I assume you want a proper piece of china, anyway.”

“I’m really not as posh as you make me out to be,” Harry observes mildly, now trying different drawers in search of a butter knife.

“I’m really not as much of a slob as you make me out to be,” Louis returns, smugly, and pops the toast on two large dinnerware plates, holds them out to Harry.

“You’re not like, a slob,” Harry rolls his eyes, taking the plates. He’s set up a nice little work station for himself on the island, butter and bacon spread out. “You’re just… not very neat,” he offers mildly, buttering a piece of toast.

“You’re ridiculous, is what you are,” Louis huffs, hip-checks Harry as he crosses behind him to fetch his coffee.

Olivia yelps for attention from her bouncer. “Oh yeah?” Harry grins, turning to face her, moving on to butter another piece of toast. “You defending your dad?”

Louis’ chest swells, or it might just be his stomach rumbling. He climbs up on a stool at the counter by Olivia’s bouncer and taps it with his toes to rock her a little. “Those sarnies about ready, Styles?”

“Just about,” Harry laughs, bites his lip. He’s wearing his boxers and t-shirt from last night, nipples poking through the fabric ridiculously.

Louis takes a sip of his coffee and lets himself stare. Olivia chirps and babbles, and Louis laughs, “You want some bacon, too?”

“I like that you talk to her like that,” Harry mumbles, placing neat rows of bacon on each piece of buttered toast. “Like a person, not like you’re talking to like, a dog.”

“Well, she is a person,” Louis shrugs, even though he knows what Harry means. “Just a very small one, yet.”

“I know,” Harry nods, glancing over at him, and then down to Olivia. He passes a plate to Louis and walks around the counter with his own, settling on the stool beside Louis’.

Louis picks at his bread crust and chews on his lip. He needs a shave. “Is this gonna turn into a thing?”

Harry’s just taken a massive bite of his sandwich, but even if he hadn’t, Louis thinks he would still take an eternal moment to think Louis’ question over. That’s just the way Harry is, chewing slowly, watching Olivia who’s staring up at the two of them curiously. Finally, after a sip of his coffee, Harry hums, “Would you like it to turn into a thing?”

Louis can’t look at him, looks at Olivia instead. She’s let her bottle slide down beside her in the bouncer, is just playing with the teat of the bottle with her chubby fingers and drooling. She probably needs to be burped, but she’s angled upright enough that she should be okay a short while longer. “I don’t think I can really do things,” he says, slowly. “At least not unless they’re like, serious things, y’know? It isn’t just me anymore.”

“I’m a serious guy,” Harry frowns. There’s crumbs stuck to his lip, shiny with butter and bacon grease. Louis is still surprised health nut Harry would even eat a bacon sarnie.

“Shut up,” Louis rolls his eyes, knocks their shoulders together. “I mean that. I’ve gotta think about Olivia, Harry.”

Harry wipes his mouth with the back of his hand, leaning on the counter. “I know.” His forehead is creased, eyebrows knit up. “I just meant, I can do serious.”

Louis takes a bite of his sandwich, glancing sideways at Harry. He’s always had the kind of earnest face that makes you want to think the best of him, and for now, Louis is happy leaning into Harry’s side and dropping his head on Harry’s shoulder. “Kay. Serious,” he mutters, mouth still half full.

“Alright,” Harry agrees. Louis is ninety percent sure Harry just got toast crumbs in his fringe, but it’s a small price. He can feel how wide Harry is smiling, pressed to his temple.


Their morning is cut a bit short when Harry finds his phone in the living room and realises he had brunch plans with Gemma. Louis is feeling generous, lends Harry a clean shirt and gives him a moment to take a quick shower whilst Louis sits on his bed playing with Olivia. She’s at her best before her morning nap, alert and easy to amuse, and Louis pretends to eat her hands for at least five minutes straight just to hear her giggle.

Harry looks good in his shirt, the cotton stretching over his pecs and half tucked into his jeans from the night before. Louis lets himself stare, as Olivia gnaws on his fingers and Harry hops on one foot putting on his boots.

Before Louis can decide if asking when Harry can come back would be too eager, Harry kneels on the bed, pets Olivia’s hair, and kisses Louis, straight to the point, nipping at Louis’ lip. Olivia is propped up against Louis’ knee, and he can let go of her arm to reach up and hold Harry’s, keeping him there as the kiss deepens. Olivia blows a derisively loud spit bubble, like she isn’t impressed by any of this, and Harry pulls away, laughing.

Louis grins up at him. “C’mon, we’ll walk you out.”

Louis doesn’t call Harry out on walking particularly slow down the hall, instead shifts his hold on Olivia where she’s propped on his hip. “Am I forgetting anything?” Harry hums, pats his pockets for his keys, mobile, and wallet, shrugging his jacket on by the door.

“I mean, you can kiss me again,” Louis offers. It’s cheesy, and even Olivia seems to think so, tugging at Louis’ sweatshirt with a tiny fist.

Harry steps in, backing Louis up against the wall, leaning down and putting a hand on his hip when he kisses Louis. “Knew I was missing something,” he laughs.

“Very important,” Louis nods seriously. His heart grows two sizes when Harry leans down and kisses Olivia’s head.

“Take care of your dad,” Harry tells her, wriggling his fingers against her tummy. He glances at Louis. “Seriously.”

“Give us a call later, will ya?” Louis says as lightly as he can manage, voice reedy. He clears his throat.

“Yeah,” Harry nods, kisses him one last time at the corner of his mouth, and leaves.

Louis allows himself twenty minutes to dance to Fleur East blasting from the Bluetooth speakers in the living room with Olivia before he goes to get properly dressed.


It’s a fairly uneventful day for Louis, even if he’s in a brilliant mood. He tidies up last night’s mess in the living room, and loads the dishwasher, and even does two loads of laundry that’s been rotting away in its basket. It’s probably for the better that Olivia is napping when he contemplates hoovering the living room.

In the end, he decides to watch Netflix and veg, curling up on the couch with a beer and the baby monitor on the end table. It still feels surreal that last night he was kissing Harry on this same couch.

When he checks his phone later on, the afternoon has flown by in a blur of Brooklyn Nine Nine episodes, and his stomach is rumbling. Olivia is still taking her afternoon nap, and for a moment Louis weighs having a frozen pizza versus ordering in. He startles when someone buzzes at the gate outside, the noise disrupting the silence in his kitchen. Harry waves from his car window on the wall panel screen, making a silly face with his eyes crossed and his tongue out, and Louis beeps the gate open, laughing.

He’s waiting in the doorway, hip cocked, arms crossed over his chest, when Harry gets out of the car with an armful of bags. “What’s this?”

“I know I said I’d call, but,” Harry shrugs, trying to get a strand of hair out of his face. “I wanted to see you and Olivia again. I brought Thai? And ice cream, I wasn’t sure if you’d like flowers.”

“Can’t eat flowers,” Louis points out, taking one of the bags from Harry and glancing down at himself to make sure there’s no rogue baby stains on his shirt. His cheeks feel warm, and they get even warmer when Harry crowds up against him once they’re inside, kisses Louis softly. This time he tastes like spearmint gum.

“Actually, there are some flowers used in cooking,” Harry mumbles, lips sticking to Louis’. He leans back, chewing his gum, and smiles.

Louis tilts his head back against the wall and surveys him, his hair a little frizzy around the top, windswept, crow’s feet visible as he grins. He still has Louis’ shirt on. “I don’t even know what to say to that, mate,” he laughs.

“I’ll buy ya some of those next time,” Harry shrugs, steps back so Louis can lead the way to the kitchen. “Is Olive sleeping?”

“Evening nap, yeah,” Louis hums. The food smells delicious, and he doesn’t think twice before digging through the bag as soon as he sets it on the island. “She should be up in a bit for a bottle.”

Harry sets down his own bag on the counter and shifts on the balls of his feet, watching Louis unpack the food. “I, ah, brought my own toothbrush, just. Like, in case.”

“That’s a bit presumptuous of you, Styles,” Louis quirks an eyebrow, but otherwise keeps himself busy. “What kind of boy do you think I am?”

“One that will let me crash at his instead of Louise’s couch for tonight?” Harry smiles, hopefully.

“You know, when you told me you had a flat of your own I was naïve enough to think you’d stay in it,” Louis rolls his eyes, opening a pad thai container. “Get us some plates, will you? Did you even bring any clothes with the toothbrush or are you gonna keep wearing mine?” It’s not that he minds—on the contrary, he rather likes the thought of Harry in his clothes.

“It’s got wiring issues,” Harry frowns. “ The flat, I mean. I’ve got a bag in the car, I didn’t want to assume you’d say yes.”

“Not gonna tell my boyfriend he can’t stay the night,” Louis mutters, piling noodles onto his plate with one of the disposable forks that came with the food. He’s pretty sure that would be included in a definition of serious relationships, but if he’s got this wrong he’d rather be able to play it off as a joke Harry caught the wrong end of. Just testing you! he’ll laugh. Can’t believe you fell for that.

When Louis looks up, Harry has the goofiest grin he’s ever seen on his face, surprising a barking laugh out of him. “That’s a good word,” Harry says slowly. “I like it.”

“Well,” Louis shrugs. “Yeah, cause you’re like. A proper sop.” It’s weak, and he knows it, and he can’t stop smiling either.

“I’m romantic,” Harry counters, putting the nearly-forgotten ice cream in the freezer and getting actual silverware for both of them before fixing his own plate. “I surprised you romantically.”

“Ah, of course,” Louis laughs. A glance at his phone tells him Olivia should be up soon, but he’s hoping he can at least eat before he’s on dad duty again.

“We should really have candles,” Harry says, thoughtfully, glancing around like he expects there to just be a votive on the counter or something—Louis thinks there probably are, at Harry’s flat.

“With a five month old it’s doing good just to eat,” Louis says, before Harry can get distracted, already tucking into his food standing at the counter. “Don’t have time for much ambience, I’m afraid.”

“A lovely five month old,” Harry grins, taking a seat at the breakfast bar with his plate.

Naturally. The loveliest. Anything to drink?” Louis offers, grabbing a Diet Coke for himself.

“Water, please,” Harry nods, and Louis pours him a glass.

They eat quietly for a couple of minutes, Louis sneaking glances at Harry over the rim of his Coke can. Harry’s chewing thoughtfully, slurping the noodles he can’t quite catch with his chopsticks. Louis wants to know what he’s been doing all day, wants to know if he has plans for tomorrow, but he doesn’t know how to ask.

“Did Olive have a good day?” Harry asks, finally, after taking a sip of his water. Louis doesn’t miss the kind glint in his eye. Harry generally isn’t bothered by companionable silence, but he knows it can get Louis on edge.

“Yeah, she’s been good today,” Louis hums. “Burped like a champ after lunch, did a big poo, the usual.”

“That’s a busy schedule for such a little person,” Harry agrees. “What about you, though?”

It’d be really lame to say Louis kept himself busy so he wouldn’t go mad waiting around to hear from Harry. He shrugs, instead. “Cleaned a bit. Put the telly on and fell asleep. Boring stuff.”

“Sounds quite domestic,” Harry nods. ““D’you ever like, think about taking her out? Or having someone keep her so you could go out?” He reaches over and picks up a piece of Louis’ chicken with his chopsticks, stuffing it in with a mouthful of his own noodles.

“We go out sometimes,” Louis frowns. “We go out enough to run into you twice. Unless you’ve been stalking us.”

“When’s the last time you went out without her?” Harry tries.

Louis has to resist the urge to bristle, especially when he knows he just hasn’t, not since Olivia was born. Not for anything but a quick label meeting, with Lottie staying in to watch telly whilst Olivia napped.

“I’m not criticising you,” Harry says, quietly. “I just wondered, because it seems like you do… a really good job of taking care of her, but maybe not as much yourself, I guess?”

“What d’you suggest, then?” Louis sighs. He hates admitting Harry might be right, so he won’t, at least not out loud. “I mean, she needs me for everything, you know?”

Harry stretches, slowly, rolling his shoulders back. “Well,” he says, “it’s a good thing you have a boyfriend, to like. Help with that.”

“Bit forward, using the B word after what, a day?” Louis teases, grinning.

“Piss off,” Harry rolls his eyes, makes to steal another piece of chicken from Louis, but Louis viciously defends his plate with his fork. He kindly neglects to point out that it was Louis who used the word first. “Besides, between the two of us we have like a hundred and one sisters. I’m sure we can get at least one of them to watch Olivia for an evening, or something.”

“It’s not that easy leaving her,” Louis admits, taking a sip of his soda. “Like, I know I could. But she’s my kid. It feels weird.” As if on cue, the monitor buzzes to life on the counter, Olivia’s hungry sounds flooding the kitchen.

“If you wanna go get her, I can tidy up here if you’re finished,” Harry offers. “I’m being helpful, see?”

Louis rolls his eyes, but gets up from his stool and nods. “Thanks. I’ll be right back.” It still feels strange, leaving Harry alone in his kitchen—having Harry just hanging out in his house—but it’s not a bad strange at all.

Olivia isn’t quite to the point of crying, when Louis plucks her out of her crib in the nursery, but she will be soon if she doesn’t get her bottle. “Sorry we got started on dinner without you, babe, it’s just Harry brought food and we didn’t want it to go cold,” he hums. A quick pat on her nappy tells Louis she doesn’t need a new one just yet. “You want some drunken noodles, then? Or are you more of a pad thai kind?”

He walks back to the kitchen giving her a gentle bounce on his hip, and finds Harry standing at the counter, an all-too-soft look on his face as the monitor emits white noise on the counter. “Think she’d fancy the pad thai,” he says.

“Stalker,” Louis says, and ignoring the warmth spreading through his chest. Olivia overheats during naps sometimes, that’s all.


Louis had pictured it all rather clearly: he’d clean Olivia up, wash out her latest bottle, and then he and Harry would settle on the sofa as she kicked her heels on her play mat in front of the telly for a while before bed, maybe have a cheeky snog. Instead, he has the sofa to himself, as Harry immediately flops down on his stomach beside Olivia and makes faces at her. He does some sort of interpretive dance with the ram to his own sound effects, which leaves Olivia unimpressed, but when he sighs, dramatically displeased it isn’t working, she finds it hilarious. Personally, Louis agrees with her. Harry’s far funnier when he’s not trying.

“It’s cool to see how she’s changed since the first time I met her,” Harry says, grinning up at Louis. Olivia has her tiny fists wrapped around Harry’s fingers, now, attempting to pull herself up to sit. “You were so small,” he coos down at her. His voice is softer, but he doesn’t turn to baby talk, which Louis appreciates. He’s always spoken to Olivia like she can understand him, without resorting to silly intonation or made up words.

“She’s still pretty small for her age,” Louis says, ruefully. She’s put on weight, but she’s just petite, as his mum would say. He doesn’t like to think what Liam would say about how that just runs in the family. Sod Liam, honestly.

“Tiny but powerful,” Harry points out, helping Olivia up with a hand spread on her back. Olivia gums at Harry’s knuckles, reaches for a strand of Harry’s hair falling over the side of his face and tangles her fingers in it. “Be gentle with that, missy. Losing some of it already.”

“No you’re not,” Louis snorts, stretches his leg but just barely reaches Harry’s calf, nudging it with his toes. “Are you really?”

“I’ll be bald in a week,” Harry sighs dramatically. “Not really,” he admits, after a moment. “I did lose some when we were still on tour. All the different kinds of water and stuff messed with it, I think.”

“Your hairline’s always been a bit shit,” Louis offers, consolingly.

Harry frowns, just as Olivia gives his hair a sharp, sudden tug. “Ow,” he laughs, untangling the strand from Olivia’s hand as gently as he can, tucking his hair behind his ear, and petting the top of her fuzzy head. “She’s starting to go a bit curly, isn’t she?” He points out, brushing Olivia’s hair off her forehead.

“Yeah, Ernie’s got a nice bit of wave to his so I’m thinking it’s just a baby thing?” Louis tugs a blanket over his toes at the end of the couch, props his head on the other couch arm. “The rest of us haven’t got a bit of it, anyhow, and Briana said there’s not proper curls on her side either.”

“Mine was super straight for the longest time,” Harry nods. “Are you still sort of talking to her?” He asks, voice light and a little cautious.

Louis glances up, but Harry isn’t looking at him, blowing raspberries on Olivia’s chubby knuckles instead. “I email her,” he shrugs. “Like, send a few pictures now and then, let her know what Olivia’s up to. Milestones, or whatever. We text sometimes.”

“That’s cool, Lou,” Harry says earnestly, smiling up at Louis. “I’m glad it’s like, good? It is, right?”

Louis’ face has gone warm, and now he’s the one looking away. “Yeah,” he says. “It’s good. I mean, I want—we both want—for Olivia to like, know her, when she’s bigger. So.” He bites the inside of his cheek. “Is that weird for you?” He hadn’t entirely thought through that part of whatever they’re doing: he’d thought about what it would mean for Olivia, to have Harry in their lives, but he hadn’t considered what it might mean for Harry, that Briana would be involved to some extent, too.

“She’s Olive’s mum,” Harry shrugs. “I don’t think it has to be weird, y’know? It’s cool that she wants to be involved, I think. If it works for you.”

Louis curls his toes in his socks and sighs. “She’s not a bad person,” he mutters. “And I want Olivia to know her, at least. Not like, as a mum, but as a cool auntie or summat.”

“That’s good parenting, I think,” Harry nods. “You’re a lucky little one, Olivia,” he hums, but Olivia is distracted with her ram again, cooing as she pets its head.

Privately, Louis thinks he’s the lucky one, but it won’t do to say so. Harry’s head barely fits in his hats as it is.


Olivia has a rough bedtime that night. Her late nap has made her irritable, even though she’s clearly sleepy, and she fusses for a bit on the floor before Louis finally picks her up and walks her back to the nursery. He’s glad she doesn’t need a bath tonight, as she cries all through a nappy change, and as he puts her in her pyjamas. She only quiets when he gets her against his shoulder, walks around the nursery with just the nightlight on, patting her back and humming to her.

Harry had gone off to the master bath, mumbling something about a shower and possibly needing to wash his hair, and Louis can’t stop thinking about it. Even as he pats Olivia’s freshly-nappied bum, smoothes her downy hair back from her face, sings a nonsense song softly, he can’t help remembering how as soon as she’s in bed, he’s going to be faced with Harry in his own bed.

Olivia is long asleep by the time Louis puts her down in her crib and tucks her ram into her side. Louis tells himself it’s because she’s warm, and sweet, and not at all because he might be a bit nervous about heading back to the bedroom and to Harry. He glances at his reflection in the mirror above the changing table and messes with his fringe for a second after checking the monitor.

In the end, he has to call it a night, pulling her door closed behind him and padding down the hall to his bedroom. Harry’s propped up against the headboard, typing out something on his phone. “Did you use my shampoo?” Louis asks, sitting down heavily on the other side of the bed, glancing at Harry’s head wrapped up in a towel, the wet spots on his tee shirt.

“I forgot to pack mine,” Harry mumbles, sheepish. “Sorry.”

“Don’t mind,” Louis says, quickly. “Niall uses our toothbrushes, for fuck’s sakes.”

“Jesus, I almost forgot about that,” Harry laughs, pulling the towel off his hair and draping it around his shoulders. “I brought my own, at least. You gonna shower, too?”

“Will you be disgusted if I don’t?” Louis can barely keep his eyes open, and even if Harry says yes, he’s not sure he’ll make it through a shower. Anyway, Harry needs to know what he’s in for.

“Not showering is one of the least disgusting things you’ve done in my presence, probably,” Harry says mildly, poorly hiding a smile against his shoulder. “I reckon I’ll live.”

“Brilliant,” Louis nods. “I’ll brush my teeth, just, like, ‘cause I’m feeling generous.” He’s in the bathroom, squeezing out paste onto his toothbrush before he realizes that Harry wasn’t wearing trousers—only the blue-striped pattern of boxers and elastic had been sticking out of the sheets around his waist. He has to take a moment to compose himself before he can brush his teeth properly, which makes him feel like a nan watching a Jude Law film on a Friday night. Probably what Harry wanted.

Louis jumps a little, cursing under his breath, when Harry pops in and interrupts Louis trying to imagine Harry as a womanising limousine driver. “I was just gonna hang up my towel, sorry,” Harry grins, and Louis wants to poke him in the dimple. He rinses his mouth out instead, wipes off a bit of toothpaste from his mustache stubble, and watches Harry’s shoulders shift through his tee shirt as he hangs up the towel, stretches a little. His bum looks well fit in his boxers. “Couldn’t be bothered to bring pyjamas for your stay over?”

“I thought I was overdressed, if I’m honest,” Harry shrugs, pokes a fingertip through a hole near the hem of his shirt. “I can put on sweats?”

It would be a tragedy, and just in case he’s serious, Louis tugs him close by the waistband of his stupid boxers and kisses him for a distraction.

Harry has to lean down, wrapping his arms around Louis’ middle. His hair’s damp and a little drippy, trickling down Louis’ neck, and Louis had been tired, but he can find the energy to mess about if there’s more than just a snog on offer. Harry cheekily groping at Louis’ bum through his trackies is promising.

Harry kisses him as eagerly as he had the night before, and Louis hadn’t known he’d been hoping for that, but he’s glad for it. It’s nice feeling just as wanted now, in lazy day clothes and without a shower, as he had been when they were half-drunk and full of adrenaline.

Louis stares at Harry’s lips as he pulls away, giving Louis a meaningful look. “Too tired to shower but not too tired to mess around?” He rasps, equal parts teasing and hopeful.

Louis laughs. “All I’ve had is me own hand to keep me company for months,” he rolls his eyes. “Not going to pass up an opportunity like this, am I?”

“Right,” Harry drawls. His smile is smug at the corners, and Louis kisses it off, licking into Harry’s mouth, hands on Harry’s hips underneath his threadbare t-shirt.

“I bet you could carry me back to bed,” Louis says. He’s on his tiptoes, leaning up to keep kissing Harry.

“Is that a challenge?” Harry hums between kisses, thumbs underneath Louis’ waistband, above his arse. “I mean, I dunno if my back can take it, but we don’t have to tell my chiropractor.”

“I’d rather you didn’t tell your chiro about our athletic sex,” Louis agrees seriously.

“What am I supposed to say if you break my back?” Harry laughs, like he’s not already bending his knees into it, lowering his hands to Louis’ thighs. “I was lifting some really heavy boxes,” he grunts, as Louis wraps his arms around Harry’s shoulders and his legs around Harry’s middle, laughing. “I had to lift a car off a baby.”

“Fuck off,” Louis says, framing Harry’s silly face in his hands and sucking on his lower lip. Harry stumbles towards the door, still off balance from the lift, and Louis’ back hits the wall, the doorframe digging into his shoulder. It’s a sharp pain, and he bites down on Harry’s lip, grunting.

I carried—shit, sorry—three orphans out of a burning building,” Harry laughs, shifts his grip on Louis’ thighs and walks over to the bed, presumably before he can cause any more damage. He sets Louis down on the edge of the bed, but Louis doesn’t let go of him, sucking at Harry’s lips. Of course Louis ended up being the one with an injured back. “You okay?” Harry asks, after a moment, kissing Louis again before he has a moment to respond.

Louis pushes him back after a moment, needing a breath, and laughs. “I’m fine,” he says, kissing Harry’s exposed shoulder, dropping his head back against the pillow. “Guess we won’t have to tell your chiropractor.”

“Probably for the better,” Harry nods, settles properly on top, one leg in between Louis’. “Is this alright?” He mutters, fitting his thigh against Louis’ crotch.

“Your constant need for approval is so dreamy,” Louis mutters, hooking his calf over Harry’s, and digging his heel into Harry’s leg.

“My confidence is my best asset,” Harry sighs, kissing Louis’ jaw, the soft spot underneath Louis’ ear. “Aside from my humility, obviously.”

“And your cock.” Louis pushes his face into Harry’s throat, hiding his smile against Harry’s pulse, and grinds his hips up against Harry’s.

“Fuck,” Harry groans, pressing an open kiss against Louis’ neck, rolling his hips into Louis’. “Cheers.”

Of course Harry likes that. Louis would roll his eyes, but it’s too good. Confidence and humility, his arse. Speaking of Harry’s cock, he’s definitely at least half hard by now, if the way it feels against Louis’ hip is anything to go by.

Harry keeps kissing down Louis’ throat until he gets to the neck of Louis’ sweatshirt, and then he leans up, pecks Louis’ lips. “Can we get rid of this?” He asks, eagerly, tugging at the edge of Louis’ top.

“Go for it,” Louis agrees, wriggling to get his arms up so that Harry can pull the shirt over his head.

Harry gets rid of his own shirt after Louis’, sitting up. Louis makes grabby hands at him, digging his fingertips into Harry’s sides. Harry just stares for a moment, spreads a hand over Louis’ ribs, thumbs at the faint trail of hair underneath Louis’ bellybutton. It isn’t the first time they’ve seen each other shirtless, but Louis can’t fault Harry for wanting to look, not when he gets to do the same in return. He can tell Harry hasn’t been working out quite as often, now that he’s in London and doesn’t have a home gym like he does in his house in LA. “Can we go back to kissing?” Louis sighs, after a minute. “I know I’ve got a sick dad bod. Let’s move it along.”

“I didn’t get to look,” Harry says, frowning. “Last time. I’m a keep-the-lights-on kinda guy, don’t rush me, Lou.”

Louis sighs harshly and rubs his hand over his eyes. Harry’s still grinning at him when he peeks over his fingers, and he shakes his head. “Fine. But I’m just gonna lay here while you take your time, Styles.”

“Mm, very good,” Harry grins, digging his fingertips into Louis’ ribs to make him squirm.

Despite his complaining, Louis can’t help being charmed by Harry. He’s had sex with people who like to take it slow, make it special, make him squirm, even, but it doesn’t compare with Harry’s intensity, how just the way he’s looking at Louis makes him feel. For his part, Louis takes a moment to trace the silhouette of the butterfly on Harry’s stomach with a fingertip, and to unsuccessfully attempt to grind against Harry’s knee between his legs.

“You don’t have like, a slobby dad bod,” Harry mumbles, surprising a laugh out of Louis. “I’m serious ! When people say dad bod I think of like, someone with a big gut, but you’re still skinny,” he shrugs, poking at Louis’ soft side.

“‘m not skinny,” Louis makes a face. He always thinks about the fan collages, the shrines to his bum. He wrinkles his nose. “I’m losing my boner here, Harry.”

It seems to be the perfect thing to say. “Right,” Harry snaps to attention, lowers himself over Louis again, pressing his thigh down on Louis’ dick and kissing him, nipping at his lower lip.

If there had ever been danger of Louis actually losing his hard-on, it’s taken care of by the pressure of Harry’s warm thigh, slotted down between his perfectly. Louis grunts, pleased, and works himself up against it, getting a hand on Harry’s bum to push him down at the same rhythm.

Harry picks up the pace quickly enough, grinding down into Louis in time. Somewhere along the line his kissing turns more into open-mouthed panting against Louis’ mouth than much of a snog, interspersed with a few whimpers and soft grunts.

Louis shifts, spreading his legs further and letting Harry settle down more snugly against him. Harry’s cock is sliding up the crease of his thigh now, and Louis can feel how hard Harry is, hot even through the fabric of his boxers to Louis’ bare stomach.

“God, Lou,” Harry whines, drops his head into Louis’ neck again, his face warm where it presses against Louis’ skin. He kisses Louis’ neck again, devolving into tiny, playful nips, and Louis thinks it’s no wonder he woke up this morning with a bruise.

“Vampire,” he mumbles, sliding his hand up Harry’s hip and around to his back, fingers tracing his spine up to the nape of his neck. Harry’s curls are softer, almost downy underneath, and Louis twines his fingers through them and tugs.

Harry hisses, presses a kiss to the spot he’s been biting, soothing the sting. “Like that,” he mumbles, tipping his head so Louis’ hand tightens in his hair. “Feels good.”

Digging his thumb into the tendons at the base of Harry’s neck, Louis watches his face for the reaction, gently pulls with his other fingers. He wonders if Harry’s ever gotten off on a scalp massage. It seems like the sort of thing that would happen to him. The mental picture is funny enough that he snorts, grinning.

“What’s so funny?” Harry asks, and Louis can feel his frown against his jaw before Harry pulls away to look at him, slowing his movement to a grinding roll of his hips. “There’s no laughing during sex.”

“You don’t even follow that rule,” Louis points out. “And I was just thinking that you probably get off on scalp massages, don’t you?”

“No comment,” Harry makes a face, leaning down to kiss Louis again, muffling a laugh. He’s an absolute hypocrite, but he’s also pressing his thigh right against Louis’ cock in the best of ways, so Louis lets it slide.

He’s glad too, that the days of Harry using his text-to-speak app are long gone. “Weirdo,” he says, just to have the last word.

Harry’s too preoccupied with actually getting off to keep bickering, if the way he picks up his pacing is anything to go by. He’s kept his hands mostly at either side of Louis’ head to support himself, but he shifts his weight onto his left so he can hold Louis’ jaw with the right, sucking on Louis’ tongue. The way Harry can go from silly banter to hot and heavy grinding in a second is dizzying.

Louis goes pliant under the attention, letting Harry ease him into deeper kisses until he can’t breathe, hips working up against Harry’s desperately. He tilts his head away from Harry’s with a moan, panting. “You close?”

“Getting there, yeah,” Harry nods, tone low and rough. His rhythm is faltering, but he makes an effort to meet Louis’ thrusts with downward presses of his hips, nudging his thigh hard between Louis’ legs. “C’mon.”

“You c’mon,” Louis mumbles, and shoves his hand between them, down Harry’s boxers. He can’t really properly wank him like this, Harry’s pressed in too close against him, but this way he can feel the head of Harry’s cock bump his palm and the sticky precome smear across the heel of his hand.

Harry groans, mumbles, “Unfair advantage,” and promptly comes all over Louis’ hand. Louis kisses his neck sweetly, until his hips go still, and then pulls his hand free, smearing it all up Harry’s stomach from the waistband of his pants to his nipples.

“Congrats,” he says. “That’s payback for last time.”

Harry looks down at himself, making a face, but he seems at peace with Louis taking his revenge. “Your turn,” he drawls, sticking his hand under the waistband of Louis’ trackies and pulling Louis’ foreskin back. His arm shakes where it’s supporting his weight at Louis’ side, but he strokes Louis quickly, trying to finish him off without having to roll off of him just yet.

Louis tucks his chin into his chest to watch: it’s an awkward angle, but it’s worth it for Harry’s glistening stomach trembling as he holds himself up, his own cock soft and half tucked into the waistband of his boxers. Louis’ waistband is a bit tight, snug where Harry had shoved it under his balls, but the pressure only dials up the urgency. Harry’s hand is sticky and warm, and he’s digging his thumb into the underside of Louis’ cock, following the veins.

In the end it’s Harry kissing him again that brings Louis off, the sound Harry makes when Louis beats him to biting his lower lip. Harry seems torn between kissing off Louis’ moan and pulling away to hear him, ends up hovering close, kiss-swollen lips sticking together as Louis comes on Harry’s tummy.

“Ha,” Louis says, breathless. “More mess for you.”

Harry peers down at him for a moment, and then delicately lowers himself directly onto Louis’ chest, until they’re pressed wetly together from hips to shoulders. “There,” he says.

This time, Louis is the one biting Harry’s neck.


Harry leaves for LA and it rains the whole morning, as Louis drives him to the airport and as he and Olivia drive home. It’s still raining as Louis gives her a mid-morning bottle and rocks her, looking out at the dripping back garden. The house seems weirdly quiet without Harry’s blender going to make a breakfast smoothie in the kitchen, his weird hypno-folk music filtering through Louis’ sound system. Olivia’s fussy, too, doesn’t want to play with any of the toys Louis lays out for her during play time, just sits in the middle of her blanket on the living room floor and whines.

Louis makes valiant efforts to cheer her up, making her ram do a little dance in front of her, and hiding his face behind his hands, and even poking at her sides to see if her tickling senses have kicked in yet, but it’s no use. In all honesty, Louis just wants to sit on the blanket with her and have a strop, too. Harry’s trip back to America had been rather last minute, at least on Louis’ end. Harry’d forgotten to tell Louis about the week of meetings with his agent up until the night before his flight.

It isn’t like Louis’ unfamiliar with Harry being there one moment and gone the next, and it isn’t that he expected that to magically change. Except maybe he did, a bit, with Harry saying he wanted to be there to help. Especially now that Olivia’s in a mood, and he could really use another set of hands. He picks her up, balancing her on his hip and heading to the kitchen—she’s acting as if she’s still hungry, and he thoughtlessly slips a finger in her mouth for her to gum at while he fixes a new bottle.

Olivia bites down on his finger hard, and Louis yelps. “Jesus shit, Olivia, bloody—what the fuck,” he says, pulling his finger free with difficulty as she growls around his knuckle.

If Harry were there, he’d probably make Louis apologize for his language, but Louis is too preoccupied with looking in Olivia’s mouth as she wails in his face. “What is… ah, shit,” he mutters, looking over Olivia’s swollen gums and the tiny, jagged edge of a tooth just beginning to poke out. “Oh, babe,” Louis frowns, petting Olivia’s hair off her hot forehead.

Olivia’s crying intensifies, fat tears rolling down her cheeks, and she bumps her forehead against his shoulder in frustration. Louis rubs her back and gets his phone out of his back pocket, calls his mum.

Louis can’t even say hello without Olivia wailing over him. “Oh, dear,” Jay says on the line, “have we started teething, then?”

“She’s got a tooth,” Louis confirms, “is it supposed to look like, jaggedy and sh—uh, stuff?”

“Yours had little jagged edges when you first got them,” Jay laughs. “Get her a chew toy, yeah? Pop it in the fridge, give it to her once it’s chilly. Ice is too cold and can stick to her gums, so don’t do that.”

Louis shifts his hold on Olivia. He’s pretty sure she’s drooling on his shirt. “Won’t that take a while, though? For the toy to get cold?”

“In the meantime you can just make do with a flannel,” Jay promises. “Just run it under some cold water and wring it out and let her suck on that.”

“Right,” Louis nods, although his mum can’t see him. “Does this mean I have to start thinking about feeding her actual food, now?”

“She’s probably starting to get hungrier,” Jay says, “but you can just start with some applesauce, or mashed banana, you don’t have to go out and buy baby food this afternoon, love. Or send Harry out and he can get some baby food. You always liked squash and plums the best.”

“He’s gone off to LA,” Louis huffs. He hasn’t exactly told his mum about recent developments between him and Harry, but she knew he was staying at Louis’ while he was in London, and something about Jay’s tone tells him she might already know more than Louis is letting on. “It’s just me now.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Jay says. “I can come down any time you need, and you’ve got Liam just down the road, practically. You’re not going to feel sorry for yourself about this one, dovie.” She sighs. “Don’t worry about baby food for now. You can order it in if you like, she’ll be fine for a couple days as long as you sort the chew toys out.”

Olivia whines and smacks his arm with a chubby fist, impatient. “Right. Shit. Wait, sorry. Okay. I’m gonna go now,” Louis mutters, ducking down to kiss the top of Olivia’s head. She comes dangerously close to head-butting him on the nose.

“Love you, Lou,” his mum says. “When’s Harry back?”

Louis sighs. “At the weekend, I think?” He says, vaguely, like he doesn’t have Harry’s flight number and ETA on his phone calendar. “Goodbye, mum. Love you.”

“Love you too, give Olivia a kiss for her grandmummy.” Jay hangs up so he doesn’t have to, and Louis shoves his phone back in his pocket gratefully.

“Oi,” Louis looks down at the wet spot of drool Olivia’s left on his t-shirt. “You need a bib and a wet flannel,” he sighs, and Olivia sniffles, face scrunched up in an angry little pout. Her cheeks are hectic pink, and her hair even looks a little sweaty around her hairline. Louis recalls reading about teething and how some babies run a low-grade fever on and off during it. Maybe he can check the cupboards for some medicine in a bit.

He gets Olivia a cool flannel first, and she knots her fingers up in the tail of it as she sucks angrily on the damp end. After some digging around, Louis also finds a bib for her, mint green with a little elephant embroidered at the front, which Olivia is too distracted to notice or care about. The fewer things for her to fuss about, the better, Louis thinks.

She settles for maybe ten minutes, until Louis has to wrestle the flannel out of her grasp to run it under cold water again. She screams bloody murder until he stuffs the corner back in her mouth thirty seconds later, and then glares at him reproachfully as she sucks at it loudly.

It’s obvious right around her naptime that she won’t be sleeping anytime soon, particularly given the fact that she’s been cuddled up on Louis’ lap in the nursery for the past hour, yelping around the flannel when Louis so much as shifts to avoid getting pins and needles in his foot. The ice in the glass of water he’d brought with him for refreshing the flannel is nearly melted by the time she finally nods off against his arm.

There’s a few tear streaks on her hot cheeks, and Louis uses a corner of the flannel to wipe them off before getting to his feet. With some luck maybe he can get her in her cot and go place an order for baby food and fruit, a few things he can chuck in the food processor for her to try. He could use a shower, even, if she’ll sleep that long.

She stays asleep as he settles her in her cot, takes a long shuddering breath that pulls at something in Louis’ heart, eyelashes fluttering, but doesn’t wake. Louis rubs her back for a moment longer and checks that the monitor is on before he ducks out of the nursery.


Louis quickly discovers, in the span of the next few days, that Olivia is not a fan of canned baby food. After smelling a jar of mushed up vegetables that’s ended up mostly down the front of her onesie rather than in her mouth, Louis doesn’t blame her. She’s much more interested in chewing on a bumpy gel ring and Louis’ fingers than anything Hipp has to offer.

That leaves making his own, and while Louis has plenty of fruits and veggies, thanks to his grocery delivery service, his aspirations are foiled by the fact that Olivia won’t let him put her down for more than a few minutes at a time. It’s a fit of desperation that finds him calling Liam in for back-up.

“Took you long enough,” Louis grumbles, when Liam arrives an hour later. Olivia makes an annoyed sound around the chew toy in her mouth, seemingly agreeing.

“You look rough, Lou,” Liam frowns, gives Louis a half-hug to avoid crushing Olivia.

“I feel like shite, thank you, Payno.” Louis shoves the door shut behind them and ushers him through to the kitchen. “How’s the missus?”

“Good, she sent some teething toys for Olivia.” Liam holds up a small baggie. “She said you’re to put them in the freezer.”

“Could do with a few more on rotation,” Louis nods, pleased. “Toss them in for me, would you?”

Liam takes out a couple rings and what looks suspiciously like a bulky necklace, and stuffs them in a cubby of Louis’ freezer door. “Do you think she’ll let me hold her a bit?” he wonders, gesturing to Olivia, who’s gnawing on Louis’ collar. “You look like you could use a break, mate.”

“I’m not to be held responsible if you lose a finger,” Louis warns, rattles the forgotten toy in Olivia’s hand. “How’s about we drool on this instead of on all me clothes, missy? Uncle Liam wants to get in on the action.”

Olivia whines, but goes to Liam easily enough, pulling on his shirt collar and then at his ear experimentally. Louis gave her some fever meds earlier and it’s made her drowsy, a little out of it. “Oh, sweetheart,” Liam croons, untangling her little fingers from his earlobe, “Look at this, it’s way more interesting than your Uncle Liam’s ear.” He shakes the little rattling ring, and Olivia takes it begrudgingly, stares up at him and Louis with bleary eyes. Liam rubs her back. “She looks so poorly, Lou, why didn’t you tell me? I could’ve come over sooner.”

“We’ve been trying stuff from jars for a bit to distract her but she hates it,” Louis explains, goes to the sink to wash off some of the sticky baby drool. “Everything’s pissing her off. I thought she was just missing Harry, at first.”

Liam bounces her a little, and leans against the counter, glances at Louis. “Is he gone for long, then?”

“He’s back at the weekend,” Louis says lightly, drying his hands. He’ll have to chuck his jumper in the wash; it’s no use to try and do something about it now. “He had like, acting meetings? Dunno.”

“Is he like, staying here, now? When he’s in London,” Liam looks cautiously curious.

Louis leans on the counter, crosses his arms over his chest. “There’s a wiring problem at his flat,” he says, slowly. “Plus, Olivia likes having him around.”

Liam nods. “Cool. I knew he was like, staying with Nick for a bit during the reno, but it’s nice that you’re like. Hanging out more now.”

Liam looks so earnestly happy for Louis that he almost feels bad for not telling the whole truth. “I think Nick’s seeing someone, so that’d probably get a bit weird,” he says vaguely. “So, y’know. Yay, hanging out.”

“Oh, that’s nice.” Liam is still petting Olivia’s back slowly, and it seems to be lulling her into a nap against his shoulder. “Like, for Nick. And for you?” He bumps his foot against Louis’.

Maybe Louis doesn’t quite have to worry about full disclosure as much as he thought. Louis clears his throat, gestures at Olivia, now sleeping soundly against Liam’s shoulder. “Since when are you the baby whisperer, then?”

“Might as well get some practice in,” Liam shrugs. “Shall I just hold her a bit or do you want me to put her down?”

Louis checks the time on his phone, hums to himself. “Maybe she can nap now? Can’t use the food processor while she’s in here; let’s just put her down for a bit.”

“I’ll put her down,” Liam nods. “Have you got any beer, mate? Could do with a bottle. I’ve got a new album you’ve got to listen to as well, we can plug it in while we like, cook? Do you actually cook the baby food?” Louis is already moving him towards the nursery. Liam seems delighted in his own confusion. “I’ve never thought about it!”


It’s half ten by the time Liam goes home, leaving behind enough containers of mashed fruit and vegetables to last Louis and Olivia at least a week. Olivia is miraculously sleeping again, with a tummy full of mashed yams, and Louis takes a shower on autopilot, exhausted.

His phone buzzes with a text from Harry just as he gets in bed. Are you around?

yeah hi, Louis types out, squinting at his screen, and thumbs the brightness down. howre u?

Harry calls, rather than texting back, not a minute later. “Alright, Haz?” Louis rasps.

“‘m good,” Harry says. He sounds slightly muffled, like maybe he’s in bed, cheek pressed to a pillow like Louis’ is. It’s… afternoon, maybe, in LA, but Louis wouldn’t put it past Harry to have sprawled out for a nap post-swim or lunchtime spin class.

“That’s good,” Louis hums, stifling a yawn. “You caught me right as I got in bed.”

“Lucky me,” Harry laughs. “Did you have a good day, then?”

Louis groans, wiping a hand over his face. “Ungh. Olivia’s been cranky since you left, she’s got one whole tooth and it’s the end of the world or summat. So Payno came over to help make baby food and it was sort of a disaster. The kitchen looks like World War Z.”

“Oh, that’s. That’s something,” Harry says slowly on the line. “Good thing you get to unwind now, though?”

“Until she wakes up screaming in three hours,” Louis would roll his eyes, but it hurts. He’s been battling a headache on and off the last two days. “Enough about me, though, what’ve you been up to?”

“I, uh, had a meeting earlier,” Harry drawls. “Got the afternoon to myself now, though, so I thought it’d be a good time to call.” He sighs. “Been thinking about you.”

Louis laughs. “Thanks, I’ve been thinking about you too, Harold. By the way, it’s been like, raining here ever since you left, I’ll be proper annoyed if you come back with a tan.” A tan and no bags under his eyes. Louis would kill for eight hours of uninterrupted sleep.

“Can’t help it if it’s sunny and nice here,” Harry whines. “Don’t you like it when I tan?”

Louis makes a face at his ceiling. “Don’t fish for compliments, it’s not attractive, love.” He imagines Harry’s pout, and relents slightly, “You don’t look bad with a tan.”

“I said I called because I miss you and now you’re being mean to me,” Harry says, definitely pouting. He takes an overly dramatic deep breath, too, which is just overselling the whole thing, in Louis’ opinion. “Come on, Lou,” he sighs, then somehow lowers his voice even more. “What’re you wearing?”

“What am I—” Louis narrows his eyes, and suddenly the entire conversation makes far more sense. “Are you trying to have phone sex right now?”

Harry’s quiet on the line. “I mean. Yeah?”

“Oh my god.” Louis rubs at his eyes. “Why didn’t you say so, you weirdo? Here I am talking about baby food blowing up in my kitchen and you’re like. Have you already started?” He hisses the latter question, aware that his voice is rising. There’s no way he’s waking Olivia up over this.

“I sort of… I was taking it slow,” Harry offers, vaguely. For all Louis knows he’s got a hand on his cock at this very moment. “Jesus, this is embarrassing.”

“Ugh,” Louis sighs. He’s more disgusted with himself than with Harry, honestly. He never would’ve been so slow on the uptake before Olivia, and teething. They’ve been talking for how long, now? It’s over. He’s officially a boring old dad. “It’s fine, don’t… worry about it, mate.”

“Well,” Harry drawls, “I mean, if you don’t mind, then?”

Louis is tempted to actually pull his phone away from his ear and stare at it, just for dramatic effect. “Harry,” he tries, slowly, “Honestly, I’m absolutely knackered, today’s been kind of shit. I’m just not really in the mood, right now.”

“Oh,” Harry says, but is otherwise quiet on the line again. “Right, I. Okay. Sorry.”

“It’s not that I don’t…” Louis bites his lip. “It’s not like I don’t want you. It’s just like, not tonight, if that’s okay.”

Harry’s quick to make amends, almost interrupting Louis. “It’s really okay, Lou, I just misunderstood,” he says earnestly. “Just feel like a bit of an idiot, I guess. I’m sorry.”

“You don’t have to apologize,” Louis says. He’s smiling, despite the awkwardness. “I’m not going to complain about like. You thinking I’m fit, basically.”

“Hey, I do think you’re well fit,” Harry protests. “Miss you. I’ve gotten used to your face again already, believe it or not.”

Louis believes it. He’d thought this week would be easy, a natural return to the house being just his and Olivia’s again, and instead it’s been lonely and awful. “I miss you too,” he admits. “When do you get back?”

“Yeah,” Harry says, “about that, I sort of forgot that Xander’s sister is in town this week? And we had like, made plans to hang out last time and it didn’t happen, so she really wants me to stay for this party they’re doing on Sunday? So I thought I might stay a bit longer for that and then come home on Monday or Tuesday instead.”

The fact that Harry refers to London—to Louis and Olivia—as home already should soften Louis’ heart, but he can’t help his disappointment. “Ah, well,” he laughs drily. “We’ll be here, I s’pose. Can’t really go anywhere with a teething babe, can I.”

“She must be miserable,” Harry says, understandingly. “Have you tried putting her gummy rings in the freezer?”

Louis frowns. “Yeah, my mum mentioned that,” he says, biting his tongue. It’s nice of Harry to be so interested, but somehow it adds to Louis’ frustration.

“Cool, that’s good,” Harry hums, unaware. “Maybe I’ll overnight some stuff for her, yeah?”

“You could just bring it back yourself,” Louis points out, although the thought of Harry spending unnecessary amounts of money to show he cares is oddly sweet, in a Harry way. “Do whatever you like.”

“There’s this really lovely little baby boutique in Santa Monica,” Harry says, sounding distracted. “I could stop by tomorrow, it’s right next to this really good smoothie place, they do wheatgrass shots? You’d hate it, but this one time Jeff and I went and he dared me to do like, six of them.”

“That sounds horrible,” Louis agrees. It’s stupidly endearing, somehow.

“There’s this other shop down the street from there, maybe like a block away, that has these really cool crystals,” Harry continues. Louis falls asleep somewhere in between hearing about pineapple incense and positive vibes.


Olivia has the decency to still be cranky by the time Harry gets back early on Tuesday, but at least she’s gotten a bit more used to eating solids. The swelling in her gums has gone down enough that she can eat baby veggie puffs, too, which she seems to like, or at least, likes stuffing down her own shirt and Louis’.

She’s taken to scooting around on her bum, mostly just to stay close to Louis when she’s fussy so she can continue to yank at his trouser leg and beat on his feet with her tiny fists whenever he’s trying to do something that requires putting her down for a moment. Harry is charmed by it, though, and tries in vain to get her to do it on command. Olivia sits sullenly, gnawing on her fingers, staring straight back at him, and refuses to budge.

“You do know she’s not a puppy, Styles,” Louis reminds him, as they lounge in the living room with Olivia on her blanket, telly on low in the background.

“I think she’s mad I went away,” Harry says, sadly.

“Oh, yes, very cross,” Louis nods. Olivia, who’s taken up silly babbling even more recently, makes an affronted sound around her hand. “I’ll let you give her some yams later, she’ll like that.” Olivia blows a raspberry on her knuckles, like she won’t be impressed that easily.

At any rate, Olivia warms back up to Harry after he feeds her her dinner later, in between bites of his own food, and then helps Louis give her a bath in the guest bathroom tub. Despite the teething pain, Olivia’s sleeping through the night much better, so Louis doesn’t mind pushing her bedtime back slightly if it means he gets to watch her and Harry have a cuddle on his bed.

She falls asleep patting Harry’s chest as if he’s the one who needs comforting before bed, and Louis scoops her up carefully, gives her a kiss on the forehead before he takes her to the nursery and tucks her in her cot.


A few days later finds Louis folding Olivia’s clean clothes on the couch while Harry responds to emails on his phone. “We could get take out,” Louis muses. “Maybe thai? Olivia’s big enough for that sticky rice, now, I reckon, and she’s napping so late that we could maybe watch a movie after dinner or summat.” He can picture it clearly, this perfect little domestic scene.

Harry glances up from his phone, blinking. “Ah, shit. That sounds great, but I’d forgot—I have a thing to go to tonight, it’s this gallery opening?”

“Like, an art gallery? More boxing Jesus statues?” Louis eyes him warily. “Mate, I’d skip that.”

“No, I’m like, gonna meet the curator,” Harry looks down at his phone, locking it and unlocking it a few times. “I might be working with her on a project.”

Louis cocks his head. The first thing that comes to mind is Harry posing nude, for some reason. “Film and art, eh,” he says. “Trying to make the rest of us look bad, aren’t you, Styles.”

“Dunno if I’m gonna do the film bit,” Harry mutters, runs a hand through his hair. “I had those meetings about it last week and it’s like. I dunno if I can commit to a filming schedule right now, you know? And not just filming, but the whole promo thing afterwards can take months, or even a year, which is quite a long time, I feel?”

“Yeah,” Louis agrees, slowly. He’s not sure why he’s surprised: Harry’s always jettisoned from one big idea to the next, but it’s weird observing it as a boyfriend. “Well, what time is the gallery thing, we could eat before then?”

Harry frowns, and gets up from his chair, comes over and flops down beside Louis on the couch. “I can’t, Lou, I’m supposed to meet up with Pixie for a bite before the opening.” He leans into Louis’ side, all warm and soft, curls tickling Louis’ cheek. “I’m sorry, babe, I just lost track, I thought it was like, tomorrow night.”

“That’s fine,” Louis shrugs. If he nudges Harry away in the process, well. “Just like, remember we’re not on the same schedule anymore, yeah?” He folds one last burp rag and puts it in the laundry basket. “I should go wake Liv up, she’s been asleep a while. I’ll save you some mango sticky rice.” He can feel Harry’s eyes on him as he leaves the room.

Louis might be cross, but he can’t help but be charmed when Harry gives Olivia a big kiss on the head on his way out, and Louis an apologetic, lingering one. He texts Niall later, when he’s sitting alone in the middle of his couch surrounded by take-out cartons, eating rice noodles despondently and scanning Netflix for something that looks vaguely entertaining. can u facetime?? miss ur beautiful face :((

Instead of replying, Niall calls a minute later, and when Louis answers it’s to the familiar sound of Niall’s loud cackle. “Tommo, I do have a beautiful face,” Niall says offscreen, before turning the phone towards himself. “It’s a beautiful freckly face now, though.”

“Jesus, you do have freckles,” Louis gasps exaggeratedly. “What’ve you done, Neil?”

“This is what happens out in the Irish countryside, Lewis,” Niall grins. “I’m at a bed and breakfast in Killarney for the night.”

Louis searches the screen exaggeratedly. “Killarney, Neil, really? What the fuck are you doing there? Are you with someone?”

“Ah, shut up,” Niall rolls his eyes, shifts to rest his back against the wooden headboard. “There’s a golf and fishing club out here, and I was in Limerick which is a short drive, so.”

“Save me your Irish geography,” Louis huffs. “We haven’t spoken in ages and this is what you want to talk about?” He can’t help smiling. Exasperation looks so cute on Niall.

“You literally asked,” Niall runs a hand through his hair, more brown than blonde now that Lou isn’t around to bleach it every few weeks. “Is Liv alright? Liam said you’re feeding her solid things, now.”

“Yeah, she’s pretty grumpy about the whole teeth shoving through her jaw thing, but other than that it’s been pretty cool.” Louis rubs at his chin. He should shave, probably, sometime soon. He wonders absently if Harry cares, or has a preference. “You’ll have to come and see us, when you’re through fucking about in Killarney, or, ah, fucking around with Killarney.” He wiggles his eyebrows expressively, just in case Niall missed it.

“What’s that even supposed to mean,” Niall laughs again. “You really miss me that much, Tommo? Ought to pack your shit up and bring Olivia up here, you’d both love it.”

“You know what I mean,” Louis says. “If Killarney turns out to be a person, I want all the details.” He tuts gently, and then grins, remembering half the reason he called. “Speaking of, Nialler, when exactly were you going to tell me you fucked Harold?”

Niall’s poker face is too good, and if he falters for a second, Louis must miss it through the iffy connection. “Which time do you mean?”

Neil,” Louis squawks. “What?”

“The rest of you were always seeing people,” Niall shrugs, as if that explains anything. “We were single pringles for a while. Plus, like, he’s got a good mouth on him, ya know?”

Louis does know that now, thanks ever so. It doesn’t stop him from feeling slightly jilted that it took this long for the juicy details to come out. “Why didn’t you tell me? Does Liam know?”

“You didn’t ask? I dunno. I think Liam probably knew. When did this even come up?” Niall is entirely too calm for this conversation.

Louis rubs at his face, mutters, “The first time I slept with him.”

Niall draws one of his knees up in bed, quirks an eyebrow. “Wait, so Liam was serious? Shit, Lou, that’s—”

“Liam said what, now?” Louis probably shouldn’t be raising his voice much, with Olivia sleeping down the hall, so his disbelief comes in an indignant huff.

“He mentioned the two of you were like, hanging out,” Niall explains, resting his chin on his knee. “He did that Liam thing where you can’t tell if he’s trying to sound suggestive or it just comes out that way,” he snorts.

“Bloody Liam,” Louis shakes his head. “He’s probably told everyone else, then.” He sighs. “Harry wanted to send a card, or summat, but I guess that’ll do.”

“Like an engagement announcement but for dating?” Niall grins. “Did he get jealous of Liam and Soph?”

Louis’ throat suddenly feels warm, cheeks a bit heated. “Don’t know that it’s dating,” he mumbles. “Like, if we haven’t gone on a proper date. I’ve sort of got a child now, and shite.”

“Olivia and the shite that goes with her isn’t shite,” Niall’s features soften. “Like, you know what I mean. From what Liam said it sounds like Harry’s practically living with you, Lou. I reckon you can call that dating.”

Louis knows what he means. It doesn’t stop him from giving Niall the FaceTime equivalent of a noogie, sticking out his tongue at the screen. “Fuck off, Horan. None of this sappy stuff.” He tries not to smile too widely. “Go shag Killarney or something.”

Niall smiles back, wide enough for both of them. “Might just do that. Love you, Lou.”

“Yeah, alright, love you, too,” Louis rolls his eyes, laughs as Niall puckers up and blows him a loud kiss through the screen before ending the call.

Louis sinks back against the arm of the couch, and lets his fingers linger over the screen. He could text Harry, see if he’s anywhere close to coming home. Or he could just nap for a little bit. Olivia’s slept through the night three out of five nights this week, but he’ll take the extra hours when he can get them. Harry can wake him up later, buried under takeaway boxes.


Louis has no idea what time it is when Harry does wake him with a gentle hand on his shoulder. “Lou? C’mon, your neck’s gonna hurt from sleeping like that.”

Louis grunts, shuffling upright. His neck does ache, but nothing that rolling his shoulders and cracking his back won’t fix as he sits up. “Hey.”

“Hi,” Harry grins, fiddles with the hem of his floral shirt. “Would it be silly if I said I missed you?”

Louis pushes his fringe out of his face, fusses with it. “How was your gallery thing?” He asks. He’s still a little grumpy about being ditched for a night out without any warning.

“The art was a bit boring, if I’m honest, but the curator lady was quite nice,” Harry shrugs. “Pixie says hi, although she couldn’t recall if you’ve ever met. But she says hi.”

Rolling his eyes, Louis stands up, stretching slowly. “Great. I left you some—” he gestures vaguely to the assorted take out boxes piled on the coffee table and couch. “Think I’m gonna go to bed.”

“I’ll clean this up tomorrow,” Harry mutters, gravitating towards Louis. It’s too easy for Louis to lean heavily against his side, even if he’s still a bit cross. Harry’s always so warm, and he has good, solid shoulders for Louis to rest his head on.

Harry guides them towards Louis’ bedroom, stepping behind him and massaging his shoulders as they walk down the hall. Louis fights the urge to drop all his weight back against him.

“God, wait, hang on,” Louis mutters as they pass the nursery door. Harry sticks close to Louis’ back even as he pops his head in to check on Olivia. “Just had to like, make sure she’s fine,” Louis whispers, stifles a yawn against the back of his hand. He pulls the door closed carefully. He’ll still know if she wakes up; the monitor is always on in his bedroom.

Harry shuffles them both forward into Louis’ room and suddenly his warmth is gone from behind Louis. Louis turns around and he’s stripping off, clumsy and sheepish when Louis laughs at him.

“These are a pain,” Harry mutters, shoving his tight jeans down his thighs and trying to kick off his socks at the same time. He stumbles a bit as he hops out of his trousers, tangled up around an ankle. “Sorry.”

“I mean, take your time,” Louis grins, sitting on the edge of the bed. “It’s entertaining.”

“So glad to amuse you,” Harry laughs, shucking off his blouse and trying to turn it right-side out before draping it on a chair.

Louis crawls up the mattress, shoving his sweats off and sliding under the covers. His t-shirt is clean after he changed it this afternoon when Olivia smeared yams down the front of his first one, and his boxers will survive another six hours. He’s tired, and wants to put in a few more hours in case Olivia does wake up before morning.

“Gonna brush my teeth, okay? Don’t wanna wake up with wine breath,” Harry mutters, scratching at his tummy. Louis waves him off, curling up on his side.

He’s pleasantly drowsy again when the bed dips behind him with Harry’s weight. Harry cuddles up against his back, draping an arm heavily over Louis’ side and pressing his hips right up to Louis’ bum.

“Ugh,” Louis groans. “Put that away, mate, honestly.”

“Sorry,” Harry mumbles. “Just excited to be home.” He shuffles back, all of two inches, and Louis sighs.

“I’m knackered, Harold, it’s not easy being a stay at home dad.”

“A very hot dad,” Harry points out, petting Louis’ tummy. “Very good.”

“Go to sleep,” Louis huffs, turns his head aiming to drop a kiss somewhere on Harry’s face. Harry’s quick on the draw, craning his neck to catch Louis’ lips with his.

It’s not exactly a hardship to give Harry one proper kiss, but it inevitably turns into a proper snog, and Louis is breathless when Harry lets him go again. He’s closed the gap again, too, even his knees pressed up behind Louis’, like he’s trying to fit both of them into one body. Louis turns his face and presses it into the pillow. “Go on then,” he mutters, muffled to hide his fondness.

Harry presses his hips flush against Louis’ arse, and despite his sleepiness, Louis is impressed at Harry’s ability to pop a hard-on seemingly on command. “How are you always this horny,” he sighs.

“Missed you,” Harry says, nuzzling at the hair behind Louis’ ear and breathing warmly at his neck. “Been thinking about you a lot, I even had this dream—” he trails off, hand cupping Louis’ hip.

Louis might be sleepy, but he’s awake enough to huff a laugh in disbelief, just at Harry’s general being. “You had a dream on your night out at an art gallery?”

“No, I,” Harry pauses, sounding frustrated. “I mean, like, while I was in LA, I had a couple dreams about you, it’s not that weird, Louis.”

“Uh huh,” Louis grins, pats Harry’s hand on his tummy. He’s too easy to make fun of. Louis sort of wants to keep him forever. “Hope they were nice dreams,” he yawns again.

Harry nods, hair falling against Louis’ neck. “Yeah, there was this one where you and Olivia and I were on a picnic, and then we were at a zoo? I’m not sure, I think Niall was there too.”

Louis narrows his eyes, and pinches Harry’s hand. “I thought you meant like a sexy dream, Harry, what the fuck.”

“No, there were sexy dreams too, I just thought it would be better if I led with like, the more normal one,” Harry protests. “I wasn’t sure if you wanted to hear my weird sex dreams, you said you were tired!”

“I am,” Louis insists, even though the longer this conversation goes on, the more awake he’s starting to feel. “Just… God, are you gonna get off or not?”

“Do you mind?” Harry asks, twisting his fingers to slip between Louis’ on his stomach. “I don’t want to be a bother.”

In all honesty, Louis could go either way, but there’s a part of him that’s fixated on the idea of Harry rubbing off on him, now. It was only a matter of time before Louis picked up Harry’s weird sex things. “I’m not doing any of the work,” he warns, licks his lips.

“You’re doing plenty,” Harry murmurs, nosing at his throat. “Just, you look so good, Lou, even when you were passed out on the couch, you’re so fit, babe.” He squeezes Louis’ hand and untangles their fingers, presses his palm flat against Louis’ stomach. “I had this dream where you, ah, you sucked me off? But then you sat on my chest and let me suck you, like. Face-fucking, I guess, um.”

“Christ, Styles,” Louis grunts, arching his back and pushing his arse back. Harry can go from ridiculous to ridiculously hot in a fraction of a second, and Louis is helplessly into it.

Harry kisses at his shoulder and exhales, rolling his hips against Louis’. “You should, like. Sometime. If you want.”

Louis huffs, disbelieving. Harry’s tactics are absolutely unfair. “You’re unreal.”

“It was so hot,” Harry continues, unphased. “You came all over my face, Lou, it was incredible.” He pauses, teeth just scraping at Louis’ bare shoulder where his shirt’s pulled aside. “You’re even fitter than in that dream though, like. Right now? I’d take this over the dream.”

“I’m glad,” Louis laughs, reaches behind himself to squeeze Harry’s thigh, trying to pull him even closer. Louis is half hard in his boxers, but he’s not sure he can muster up enough energy to actually get off. He’ll focus on Harry instead, work his bum back as Harry grinds forward. “Don’t wanna have to fight dream-me.”

Harry’s hand slides down his abs and he spreads his fingers through Louis’ happy trail, fingertips sneaking under the elastic of his boxers. “You’re so much better real,” Harry says, growly and certain. “Can I, Lou?”

Louis groans. “Dunno if I can, babe, you don’t have to—”

“Can I try?” Harry sounds too pleased at the prospect of a challenge, sucking at Louis’ neck.

“You’re insufferable,” Louis rolls his eyes, has to turn his face into the pillow and smile helplessly. He wasn’t aware of Harry’s mind-reading abilities. “Go on.”

“Yes,” Harry mumbles. “Get in.” His hand slides down into Louis’ boxers without any further warning, cupping his cock and balls in one and squeezing gently. Louis chokes.

“Jesus, Christ, Harry.” He rolls his head back against Harry’s shoulder, glaring at him.

“Come on,” Harry grins, kisses Louis’ cheek as he keeps his hips moving, cock rubbing at the small of Louis’ back. “You don’t have to do any of the work, see?”

“Yeah, go on.” Louis tilts his hips up into Harry’s hand and then back against his cock, hooks his ankle around Harry’s.

“We don’t have to do it now, obviously,” Harry starts, and Louis has to make a conscious effort to listen, “but I was thinking, like. On the subject of stuff I wanna do, uh, I’d like to try something like this,” Harry rolls his hips, his cock snugging between Louis’ arsecheeks, hot through the layers of their underwear. “But more like fucking your thighs, y’know?”

Louis exhales through his nose, biting the inside of his cheek to keep from making a more embarrassing noise. “You would like that,” he says. “Fuck.”

“Never tried it with a bloke,” Harry says, nuzzling at Louis’ neck. “Thought about it a lot, though. With you.”

“I suppose we could give it a go sometime,” Louis huffs, although the more he thinks about it the more he likes the thought of Harry’s cock pressed between his legs, nudging his balls on every other thrust. He might come embarrassingly soon. “C’mon, Styles. Haven’t got all night.”

Harry snorts. “Thought doing all the work meant I could do it my speed,” he mumbles. He rubs the heel of his hand down Louis’ cock, curling his fingertips around Louis’ balls.

“Not if it means you’re jerking me off at a snail’s pace,” Louis frowns, and immediately scrunches his nose at the visual that paints in his head.

Harry laughs softly, nipping at Louis’ throat. “I haven’t even started.”

“That’s my point,” Louis insists, pushing his hips forward and grinding into Harry’s hand. “Come on. Orgasms and sleep.”

Harry curls his hand a little tighter, palm pressing Louis’ cock up against his stomach, fingertips nudging briefly beneath his balls. He lets go almost as fast, moving his hand up to properly get a grip on Louis’ dick, wanking him slowly. “Maybe someday you’ll let me take my time?”

Louis is tempted to go the petty route, mutter something like maybe when you don’t ditch me for a stupid art gallery, but ruining the moment isn’t his top priority. “Maybe when I’m not absolutely knackered and it isn’t arse o’clock,” he concedes, instead.

Harry sighs heavily, like it’s actually a burden being asked to get Louis off in a reasonable amount of time, and presses his face into Louis’ shoulder, focusing on rocking Louis between his hand and hips, going quiet at last.

“Good lad,” Louis whispers, closes his eyes and concentrates on Harry’s breathing, the warm puffs of his exhales through Louis’ shirt.


Harry doesn’t mention the art gallery opening, or any further projects with the owner, in the following days, and Louis wonders if, like the film options, they’d petered out. Harry’s attention span is as short as ever: he insists on taking over making Olivia’s baby food for a day and a half and then admits it’s not as interesting as the book he’d read made it sound. He tries doing baby yoga with her, too, but Olivia is too squirmy, and babbles through his attempts at meditation. He’s still ensconced in Louis’ house, though, his clothes still thrown at the foot of his bed, his shoes left in the hall, and Louis doesn’t like thinking about what a relief that is. Harry hasn’t gotten bored of them, yet, anyway.

Once the baby yoga and meditation fails, Harry decides a better way to bond with Olivia is to sit with her and try to teach her words. She hasn’t quite grasped “dada” yet, at least not on purpose, but she spends the whole day chattering away in the form of silly noises and valiant attempts to form syllables.

It’s cute to watch, even if it distracts Louis from trying to answer a few label emails sat at the dining table. “Come on, Olive,” Harry chirps, “can you say, O-liiiiii-viaaa?”

Olivia looks up when she hears her name, but all she does is wave around the soft toy in her hand, a little black and white cat that’s been accompanying her and her ram in their adventures recently. “Bah!”

“Don’t you think you might be better off starting with something a bit easier?” Louis calls, amused.

Harry laughs, and shakes the cat’s tail, makes it pretend to smother Olivia’s hands with kisses. “I think she can say whatever she wants,” he says. “She’s just holding out on us.”

“Sits up in her cot at night and reads a spot of Shakespeare, I bet,” Louis laughs. “Maybe try something like… Milk? I dunno.”

“My first word was cat,” Harry grins.

Louis scoffs. “Sure it wasn’t another word for cat?”

“I was a child!” Harry says, indignantly. Olivia yelps.

“You had a threesome when you were like, twelve,” Louis shrugs. “You were a proper little pervert, Harry Styles.”

“There’s nothing perverted about threesomes when it’s consensual between all parties,” Harry sniffs.

Olivia laughs. “Oi, you find that funny, Olivia?” Harry frowns at her exaggeratedly, wiggles a finger at her side. A moment later, Harry laughs too, loud and delighted.

“What?” Louis asks, glancing over.

“Olivia just—” Harry shakes his head. “When I said that, she like, went total poker face, and shook her head at me! I swear, she proper did, and then she grinned, the little stinker. She totally knew what she was doing, too.”

“Mate, I thought you might’ve noticed by now that she’s an absolutely brilliant baby,” Louis grins proudly. “Quite smart, aren’t ya, Liv?” He calls out.

Olivia babbles something entirely unintelligible, and squeals. Harry makes a face at her and pokes her belly, prompting another squeak, and then laughter as he wriggles her toes, and Louis gets up from the table. There’s no way he can respond to emails when he’s got the cutest, smartest baby in the whole wide world, and a Harry to compete with to see who can make her say her first word.


It’s a sunny afternoon a few days later when Louis puts Olivia in tiny trainers and a comfy little onesie with footballs on it. She’s not big enough yet to walk, and Louis mostly lets her crawl around on a blanket in the grass, but they have an afternoon of very serious football training.

“It’s important to get you started on this young,” Louis explains to her, as Harry watches with a ridiculous smile on his face. “Before Harry or Uncle Niall can fill your brain with any golf nonsense.”

Olivia bounces on her heels, jerking in Louis’ careful grasp, and yells something appropriately enthusiastic. “Alright, Haz,” Louis directs. “Roll us the ball then.”

Harry nudges the ball, a child’s size, bright pink footie ball, over so it rolls against Olivia’s tiny leather-bootied feet. She tries to climb on top of it, and Louis sighs. “Practice,” he tells Harry. “Just needs a bit of practice.”

An hour later, Olivia is no more interested in kicking the ball, but she loves rolling over on top of it, flopping her head against it, and teething at the stitching. “At least she looks cute doing that,” Harry points out, trying to console Louis. “She’ll pick it up eventually, Lou, she can’t even walk yet.”

“I was kind of hoping she’d learn this first just so I could tell people she learned how to play football before she could walk,” Louis sighs, flopping on his back next to Olivia. “Think of how cool that’d be, for when they interview me for a documentary about her life as the world’s greatest athlete.”

Harry looks over at him for a moment, and they both break out laughing.

“Fine,” Louis says. “Fuck off, I’m allowed to be ridiculous sometimes. I just—I want her to be good at a lot of things,” he says, quieter. “So she can do whatever she wants or be whoever she wants to be, y’know?”

“But it’d be cool if she turned out to be a brilliant footballer,” Harry nods, petting Olivia’s hair off her forehead. “Just like her dad.”

“Well, yeah.” Louis pokes at Harry’s thigh. “Or like, a brilliant pop star slash film star slash art guru like Harry Styles. Guess I could deal with that, too.”

“I dunno, I’ve heard he’s a bit of a douchebag,” Harry laughs. “Didn’t he get like, Worst Person In The World from NME again this year?”

“NME is shite,” Louis scoffs. He tilts his head to look up at Harry. “You know that, right? Like, I feel as your boyfriend I should make sure you know that.”

“Thanks,” Harry rolls his eyes. “Years ago it probably would’ve bothered me, I guess? Now it just makes me feel like a villain.”

Louis grins. “Chillin’ like a villain.” Olivia flops over between them, looking sleepy, rubbing at her eyes and blinking up at Louis. Louis rubs her tummy, takes in her small strong hands clutching at Harry’s knee, tugging on the loose strings of his holey jeans. “Looks like this one could use a nap.”

“You ready for a nice sleep, little Olive?” Harry coos, pets her tiny hands on his knee, all chubby knuckles. “You did quite good, but you must be tired after all that sport.”

Olivia blows a raspberry at him, and blinks tiredly. “Nap time for you,” Louis decides, gently pulling her upright and putting her against his shoulder. She doesn’t fight it, dropping her head against his shoulder easily and putting fingers in her mouth.

Harry gets to his feet and begins gathering Olivia’s toys, and it’s nice, Louis thinks, to have someone who can help out with those kinds of bits and bobs while he tends to Olivia. He doesn’t quite feel like he has to choose between a tidy house and a happy baby, with the way Harry will rinse out Olivia’s bottles whilst Louis burps her, or take care of laundry when Olivia’s gums are achey and she won’t let Louis go. “G’on,” Harry tips his head, after Louis hovers for a moment, rubbing Olivia’s back.

“Thanks,” Louis nods. “Come on, lovie, let’s go find your ram, hm?” He bounces Olivia gently as they walk back into the house and to her nursery. She’s so drowsy she doesn’t protest when he lays her down in her cot, tucks the ram under her arm. She tugs at the ear of the stuffed animal and sighs deeply, and Louis brushes hair out of her face and closes the door softly behind himself.

Harry’s put away the toys, by the time Louis is finished, and gone to the kitchen for a glass of water. “I put the kettle on,” he smiles. “That was quick, maybe the football thing will pay off in more than one way.”

“She was nearly out by the time I put her down,” Louis nods. He gets down mugs for both of them and bumps Harry’s hip with his own. “Could do with a nap meself.”

“Aw, tired old man,” Harry teases. “Can’t keep up with the youths.”

“I’m not the one with back issues,” Louis shakes his head. “Careful, there, Harold. Don’t put your hip out of joint.”

“Heeey,” Harry pouts, wraps an arm around Louis’ waist. Louis has to laugh at the way Harry hunches down to kiss him, jokingly exaggerating his bad posture.

Louis loses track of time for a moment, just leaning into Harry and letting himself be kissed, and the whistle of the kettle startles both of them.

“I’ll grab the milk,” Harry mumbles, after they break apart, and Louis busies himself putting tea bags in their mugs and pouring the water. He takes both mugs once Harry’s poured the milk and heads off for the couch. Harry follows easily, settling so close their thighs rub as he sits down. Louis has to hide a smile against the rim of his cup at the obviousness of it.

“What, I can’t have a cuddle?” Harry whines, flops against Louis’ side heavily. “I need attention.”

Louis settles his hand on Harry’s thigh and sips at his tea. “You always need attention,” he points out.

“Or else I’ll die,” Harry sniffs, blows on his tea before taking a sip. “This whole break from the spotlight has been very difficult.”

Louis leans into his shoulder and bites his lip. “You could do something, you know. If you wanted. I know you said, like, maybe not the film thing, but that art project, maybe? You don’t have to stay cooped up here with me playing house.”

“I like playing house,” Harry mutters, runs a hand through his hair. “I’ve been emailing the curator about some stuff, it’s just at a very early stage, I guess?”

Louis nods, and picks at a rough cuticle, dips his fingertip into his tea and swirls it around. “I just didn’t want you to feel like you couldn’t do shit, if you wanted. I don’t mind you going out, or whatever, I just like. Knowing about it so I can plan for it.” He clears his throat. “I know it’s really different like, being with someone who has a kid, okay? And we never go out or anything.”

Harry digs an elbow into his side altogether too tenderly. “We could, you know? Could have Lottie come stay with Liv so we could get dinner.”

“Ugh.” Louis sighs. “I dunno.”

“C’mon,” Harry grins, elbowing him again, shaking his knee. “Go out with me. Let me take you out.”

Louis eyes Harry warily. Did Niall put him up to this? “Where would we even go? I mean, not that I have anything against being seen with you, but.” The you know what happens when I’m seen with you is implicit.

“I’ll figure it all out,” Harry insists. “SoHo House is good, but we could do somewhere else. It’ll be a proper date.”

“Alright, alright.” Louis laughs a little at how enthusiastic Harry is, and at how excited he is himself. A proper date. He can’t wait to tell Niall.


After some deliberation they decide on a Monday night for their date, as Lottie has Tuesday mornings off and doesn’t mind staying at Louis’ and looking after Olivia, and also it seems more discrete than going out over the weekend.

Louis hasn’t put too much thought into everything his agreement to go on this date entails: if they’re seen, or if there are paps, he hasn’t even mentioned the fact he’s hanging out with Harry on break to his assistant, much less a publicist. It feels heady, how much he doesn’t care.

He worries, instead, about which shirt to wear. “Is this too single dad?” He asks Lottie, holding up a denim button-down. “I’d have to change my trousers, I think.”

Lottie bounces Olivia on one hip and looks him over with amused disdain. “You shouldn’t change your trousers, they make your bum look good. Wear one of your like, fancy tees.”

“Do I wear a jacket with it, too?” Louis sighs, searching for an appropriate t-shirt. He’s pretty sure he bummed an Alexander McQueen one off Niall’s rack when they were in LA for album promo; that could work if he could find it. “Is it cold out?”

Lottie narrows her eyes. “It’s July, Lou.”

“Maybe it’s cold in the restaurant!” It’s a flimsy excuse, and Louis knows it. He can’t stand still, is all, and the nerves are coming out of his mouth as stupid words.

“Haven’t you been to SoHo House before? Besides, hasn’t Harry seen you in trackies and stained shirts?” Lottie points out. Olivia makes a sound suspiciously like an agreement.

“It’s different,” Louis huffs. “‘s a date.” Stupid, stupid words that just keep falling out of his mouth without his permission.

“A date with someone you’ve known for coming up on six years,” Lottie reminds him. “Someone you lived with at one point.”

Louis at least manages to clamp down on the comment that he’s practically doing the same currently. “Don’t want Harold showing me up in a floral suit or summat,” he grumbles.

“Does he keep his floral suits at Grimmy’s?” Lottie seems genuinely curious, even as she sets Olivia down in the middle of Louis’ bed and flops next to her. Harry had gone off to Nick’s to get ready, saying he had left something he wanted to wear there, and that it’d be more romantic to pick Louis up. “Seems a bit of a flashy choice for a lowkey date night.”

“He’s not wearing a suit,” Louis rolls his eyes, and crosses his fingers briefly.

“Brilliant,” Lottie deadpans, holding out a thumbs-up. “So t-shirt, good bum jeans, and good shoes, yeah? No trainers.”

“I’ll have to find socks,” Louis groans. “Jesus.”

“You’ll live,” Lottie insists, as Olivia yelps, now sat next to Lottie and examining the print on her t-shirt. “Us girls are gonna stay in and have a brill time, aren’t we, Liv?” She laughs, supporting Olivia with a hand spread across her back.

“Remember to feed her around six thirty,” Louis instructs, possibly for the hundredth time. “She’s been trying new stuff, but don’t force her to eat anything she’s not feeling, yeah? Seems like one day she loves something and the next she’s chucking it across the kitchen.”

“Got it,” Lottie said. “I’ve no experience with feeding babies.” When Louis glances at her she’s giving him what is possibly the driest look imaginable.

“She’s just started eating solids, though,” Louis insists. “I gave her a bath earlier, if she gets messy it’s probably easier to just wipe her down. And then—”

“A small bottle before bed, yes, very important,” Lottie sighs. “Little does he know we’re throwing a massive rager as soon as he leaves,” she stage-whispers to Olivia, who yelps excitedly.

Louis sighs and kisses both their foreheads. “Fine. I know you’ll be alright. Just, call me if anything happens, yeah?”

“Promise,” Lottie nods. “Are you ready or not? Harry’s going to be here any second.”

Louis quickly ducks into the loo to check his hair. He’s not really done anything to it, but he’s got a pot of pomade Lou gave him after the Hello! shoot. He unscrews the lid and dips his fingers in. “Lou said to just like, mess it all up with this stuff, yeah?”

“Warm it up in your hands first and work it through,” Lottie instructs. “Don’t use too much or you’ll look weird and greasy!”

“And we all know that’s Harry’s signature look,” Louis snorts. He fusses with his hair for a moment and looks it over, peeks out of the bathroom. “Okay?”

“It’ll do,” Lottie nods, gently turns Olivia to face the ensuite doorway. “Say, ‘Lookin’ fine, dad!’” Olivia coos and dissolves into giggles as Lottie claps her tiny hands for her.

Louis’ phone goes off on the counter at the same time as the bell rings at the front door, and he panics a little, tugging at his shirt, shoving his hair back a bit more. Lottie comes over and squeezes his arm. “Go on. It’s not an audition. You’re being a tit.”

“You’re a tit,” Louis says back immediately, even as he’s pulling Lottie into a hug. “We won’t be late, okay?”

“You will be if you don’t get out of here. Go, it’s our girls’ night in and you’re not invited,” Lottie shoos him off. Louis sticks his phone in his back pocket after sending Harry a quick coming!, kisses Olivia’s head once more before heading down the hall to collect his keys and wallet from the kitchen counter.


Once he’s in the car, the nerves pass. It’s just Harry, isn’t it, tossing his hair like always and rubbing at his nose, a hole in the knee of his black jeans. Louis scoffs at his silk shirt hanging open over one nipple. Entirely too predictable.

Harry grins at him and starts the car.

That’s the special thing you absolutely had to wear?” Louis teases, folding a leg underneath his bum on his seat and leaning on the passenger side door to face Harry.

“It’s a nice shirt,” Harry counters, pulling out of the driveway. “Nick had borrowed it, and he has good taste.”

Louis refrains from mentioning the Mason Incident again, and watches Harry’s face as the street lights flicker across it as they head down the quiet road. His jaw keeps tightening, like he might be a little nervous too. It only makes Louis feel relieved. He leans forward to mess with the radio, settles on something loud and R&B just to see Harry’s nose wrinkle.

“Was Olive alright staying with Lottie?” Harry asks, glances at the map on his phone for a moment.

“According to Lottie they’re throwing a massive rager,” Louis rolls his eyes, lowers the volume on the radio but keeps the song on. “They’ll be okay, won’t they? This is a good thing,” Louis hums. Harry can probably tell he’s reassuring himself more than anything. Sue him for being a clucky dad.

“They’ll be fine,” Harry agrees. “She gets on with all her aunties, Lou, you know that. Probably relieved we’re not fussing at her all night.”

“I don’t fuss,” Louis says, even though he does, and they both know it. “Where are you taking me, then?” The streets look unfamiliar, although he hasn’t been out in so long that anything might seem new and exciting. It’s a nice distraction from worrying about Olivia.

“Figured we might try something a bit more private than even SoHo House,” Harry explains. “It’s this tiny place that seats like, twelve people at a time? They do a bit of everything, but it’s mostly Mediterranean type stuff. Is that okay?”

“Sounds posh,” Louis shrugs. “I don’t mind, you’re picking.”

“They’ve got the best stuffed grape leaves,” Harry says absently, and Louis laughs.

“You can keep those, mate, I’m sure I’ll find something better than stuffed leaves.”

“Don’t hate on the grape leaves,” Harry frowns, glancing sideways. “You’re gonna love it, Lou, you’ll see.”

A few months ago, Louis would’ve worried that he was right. Now, he just shoves at Harry’s arm and leans back in his seat, grins out at the streetlights.


They would’ve certainly missed the restaurant if Harry didn’t know what it looked like. There’s a valet, so they don’t have to worry about parking, and they cross the sidewalk into the restaurant unnoticed, Harry placing a guiding hand at the small of Louis’ back.

It still feels weird, letting himself be touched like that in public, but Louis fights the impulse to crane his neck, and lets himself be lead inside. The host recognizes Harry, says something about his usual table, even, and they settle into a comfortable corner under low lights, tucked away from the other patrons by a half-wall. Louis sinks into the booth and eyes the menu warily.

“Is this okay?” Harry asks gently, settling into his seat and pushing his hair back.

“Do you bring your dates here often?” Louis teases. Half the menu is in Italian, and some of it is in what he’s pretty sure is Greek. “Usual table, and all.”

“My mum loves it here,” Harry counters, picking up his own menu. “Gemma does, too; we found out about it after she graduated, actually.”

“So I’m just special.” Louis pretends he isn’t watching Harry from over the edge of the entrée section. “What’s good?”

“The mushroom and scallop risotto is pretty good,” Harry hums, points it out on Louis’ menu. “The grape leaves, too, although I know you have strong opinions on those,” he adds, swiping his fingertips over Louis’ knuckles before withdrawing his hand.

“Have they got anything with mash?” Louis stretches his legs out under the table, bumping Harry’s ankle companionably.

“Really, Lou?” Harry rolls his eyes, grinning. “We can go down to the pub next time, if you like. For now, they do some really good lamb; I think you’d like that.”

Louis grins, and closes his menu. He’d read half a dozen items from it and can’t remember a single one in the face of Harry’s patient smile. Lamb it is. “What’re you having, then?”

Harry rolls his shoulders, scanning over his menu again. “Might do the risotto if you’re doing the lamb,” he decides, finally. “And the grape leaves to start?” He places his hand palm up on the table, offering it to Louis, and Louis’ stomach flutters. (It’s only because he’s starving, of course.)

“Yeah, let’s have them exotic leaves you’re so keen on feeding me,” he shrugs. “Why not.” Harry’s palm is a little sticky, but it doesn’t matter.

“You’ve had grape leaves,” Harry laughs, squeezing Louis’ hand. “Come on, now.”

Louis has vague memories of Lebanese take out and being convinced to try something that looked like a spring roll, but honestly, if people want their appetizers to be taken seriously they shouldn’t just call them leaves. Only people like Harry are going to think that’s a good idea. “I’m sure they’re amazing,” he says, to placate Harry before this turns into a monologue about foodstuffs.

“They are,” Harry nods, just as their waitress approaches. He doesn’t make a move to let go of Louis’ hand, which shouldn’t be as thrilling to Louis as it is. He’s missed the easy affection of holding hands with someone, even in a private setting. If he gets a little lost in the rhythm of Harry’s thumb brushing over the back of his knuckles, the cool edge of Harry’s ring digging into his palm, and the waitress has to raise her voice pointedly to ask for his drink order—well.

“I’ll, uh, I’ll have the same,” Louis smiles politely, handing his menu off to the waitress.

Harry has the decency to wait until the waitress has retreated to call Louis out. “White wine with lamb?” He wrinkles his nose.

“Ugh,” Louis laughs. “Is that what you got? Shit.” It’s funny enough he can admit it, and they both know Louis has never been a stickler for rules when it comes to drinking. “Now she knows I don’t belong, just an imposter.”

“An im-posh-ter,” Harry beams.

Louis sighs. “I could call an Uber, you know. You’re not my only ride home, Styles, I bet Liam would have my back if you got too punny.”

“Liam wouldn’t suck you off at home, though,” Harry shrugs, wickedly casual as he unfolds his napkin in his lap. “I’ll take my chances.”

Louis huffs a laugh and nods knowingly. “He would not. Glad you’ve got the rest of our evening planned out, haven’t you?”

“Like being prepared,” Harry says. “It’s my contingency plan in case you absolutely hate the grape leaves.”

“Are there other options?” Louis hums, just as their waitress arrives with their two glasses and a bottle.

Harry doesn’t miss a beat, even as the girl pours their glasses and disappears back into the kitchen. “They’ve got an excellent spanakopita, as well, and some fantastic tapas-style olives and spreads—” he glances at Louis sneakily as he takes a cautious first sip of his wine.

“You were the one who mentioned blowjobs in the first place,” Louis huffs, taking a sip of his own glass. He’s not much of a wine person, but this one has a good balance between sweet and tart; he’ll give Harry that much. “Jesus, Haz.”

Harry grins. “Have to be better than Liam at something, haven’t I?”

“I mean, I don’t wanna fuck Liam,” Louis mutters, but Harry’s already laughing before he’s even finished his sentence. “What? Fuck off.”

“I’m comfortable knowing you wanna fuck all of your bandmates, including both Liam and I, Lou,” Harry says in a stupidly reassuring voice. “We’ve always been a little weird like that, haven’t we?”

“You’re weird,” Louis says, instinctively. “Christ, this is the weirdest conversation I’ve ever had on a date, Harry.”

“As long as you don’t call an Uber.” Harry seems unphased.

Louis does end up liking the grape leaves, and Harry spends an excessive amount of time insisting he told Louis so, and they almost knock over the tea light in the middle of the table in the resulting scuffle. They both like each other’s entrées more than their own, and the plates end up pushed between them to share easier, which almost knocks over the tea light again. Harry eventually moves it to the table beside them, which is probably for the better.

Louis is on his second glass of wine, warm with it and Harry’s company, his stupid laugh at the worst of Louis’ biting takedowns of the other restaurant patrons. They order too much dessert, undecided between baked quinces and crema catalana and tiramisu, and resolve to bring leftovers home for Lottie.

Harry’s just fed him a bite of tiramisu off his fork when Louis’ phone vibrates on the table. Louis grabs for it, laughing. “I’ll tell her we’re bringing home dessert.”


They don’t bring home dessert. Louis leaves it on the table, his jacket in the booth, and he honestly doesn’t know if Harry pays the tab. All he knows is his baby sister is crying on the phone and his baby is sick, something’s wrong, and he has to get home.

“Can you please go faster?” Louis asks. He hasn’t really craved a cigarette in months, too busy with Olivia and too tired when he wasn’t, but he could do with one now.

“Did she—has Lottie called your mum?” Harry asks, his tone almost timid.

“I don’t bloody know.” Louis’ head hurts with how badly he wants a fucking cigarette, and his heart’s pounding out of his chest. Everything feels like it’s moving in slow motion, even though the speedometer says Harry is pushing 115 km. Suddenly all Louis can think of is the day Olivia was born. There’s no excitement, this time around, only dread. “She said she gave her a strawberry, and she thought it was just like, the juice on Liv’s face, but when she went to wipe it off, it was a rash? And then she wasn’t breathing right.”

“Fuck,” Harry mutters under his breath. Louis isn’t sure whether to thank him or resent him for his silence on the rest of the drive home, seemingly too focused on driving to keep up a conversation. Logically, Louis knows Harry can’t know if things will be okay, if they’ll get home and Olivia will be fine. It would be nice to hear him say it, anyway.

It seems like every light in the house is on when they pull through the gate and pull up by the door. Louis is out of the car before Harry can even turn it off, sprinting up the steps. Lottie is still in the kitchen, holding Olivia up to her shoulder, and Louis can tell even before he can see his baby’s face that something is horribly wrong. Her neck and shoulders are covered in bright red welts, bumpy to the touch as he takes her from Lottie, the same pattern down her chubby forearms and the backs of her hands. Olivia’s tiny face has bloomed to nearly twice its size, painfully swollen and hot when he feels her forehead. She’s crying, but her eyes are squinched so tightly he doesn’t notice it at first until he feels the tears on her cheeks.

“Lou, she just—she liked them, I just couldn’t tell, she got the juice everywhere,” Lottie sobs, wiping at her cheeks, hovering close.

Louis’ first instinct is to turn around and look for Harry, because he has no idea what to do, and Lottie is still crying beside him, but Harry isn’t there. Louis sucks in a long breath of air and nods. “It’s okay, it’s not your fault,” he tells Lottie, but he can’t even look at her, too afraid to take his eyes off Olivia. “Get some, um, some cool flannels, yeah? Let’s try to cool her down a bit.” Olivia’s crying, he realizes, but there’s no noise coming out, and that’s what scares him most. “I’m gonna find her carseat, we’ve gotta take her to A&E.”

Lottie nods, wiping at her nose, and Louis cradles Olivia to his chest, pets her sweaty hair back off her face. She’s burning up, and shaking with every breath like it’s hard for her to breathe. Louis wants to breathe for her, wants to take every awful bump and welt away and wear them himself instead.

Of all the times he’s wished Olivia could speak, or at the very least understand him, this is by far the worst. “It’s okay, it’ll be okay, darling,” he mutters, making his way down to the nursery. If the carseat isn’t there it’ll be in the living room; he told Lottie Olivia likes to sit in it when they’re watching telly. Louis throws a couple of onesies and extra nappies into the half-packed changing bag on Olivia’s dresser, holding her tightly against his chest. “I’ve got you, baby, it’s okay, I’m here.”

He hates putting her in her carseat, but she goes quietly, chest heaving under the straps when he buckles them carefully. His hands are shaking. It’s the worst thing in the world, seeing her hurt and not being able to fix it. “The doctors’ll know what to do,” he tells her. “It’s okay.”

He carries her back out to the kitchen quickly. Lottie has a pile of wet flannels, and he uses one to wipe down Olivia’s hot face and her swollen arms and hands. “Where’s Harry?” he asks, sharper than he means to.

“‘m here,” Harry says, and he’s suddenly at Louis’ shoulder, staring into the carseat at Olivia. His face has gone a terrible shade of white.

“I need you to drive us to A&E,” Louis says, “it’s gotta be some sort of allergic reaction but I don’t know what to do about it.”

“I don’t think I can drive,” Harry says, quietly. He isn’t looking at Louis, still just staring at Olivia in shock, or maybe horror. Louis wants to shield her sad, flushed face and mottled arms from him, suddenly, overwhelming protectiveness making him blink angrily.

“What d’you mean, I need to sit with her and make sure she’s still fucking breathing, Haz, I need someone else to drive.”

Harry sways, a little, and Louis doesn’t understand. He just drove them back home from the restaurant. “I—I can’t, Louis,” he stammers.

Louis can only stare back at him for a moment, but then Olivia coughs, and he all but lunges for his car keys on the kitchen counter. “Lottie, we’ve gotta go,” he calls out, changing bag slung over his shoulder, keys in one hand and carseat in the other.

He snaps the carseat into its holder in the backseat and takes one last awful look at Olivia’s swollen face before he helps Lottie in beside her, closes the car door. His hands are still shaking as he turns the ignition, doesn’t check the rearview mirror to see if Harry came out to watch them go.


They take Olivia in, and the longest hour of Louis’ life might be the one he spends holding Lottie’s hand in a death grip in the A&E waiting room. It reminds him of when she was born, again—the mindless paperwork he fills out without remembering half of the information, the carefully kind faces of the staff, the buzzing white noise of the waiting room telly. He wishes his mum were here. He wishes Harry were, too, but thinking about Harry means thinking about Harry not coming with them, and the hurt and fear in Louis’ stomach turns sour.

They’re the only people in the waiting room, aside from a woman sat in the far corner, so when a nurse comes into the waiting room Louis immediately gets to his feet, before she’s even asked his name.

“Mr. Tomlinson? Please follow me,” the nurse says, and nods when Lottie trails after Louis, too. “Little Olivia has had a severe reaction called anaphylaxis,” she says slowly, and Louis wants to hurry her along, wants to get to Olivia now. “Her immune system responded to the new food as a threat, which caused the skin reaction and the breathing trouble. We’ve stabilised her with an epinephrine shot, and we’re giving her oxygen now just until her breathing is normal again. She’s still a bit upset, though, so we thought if you could hold her for a while that might help her calm down some.”

“That’d be—yeah, she’ll like that,” Louis stammers distractedly. He doesn’t even care that the nurse is explaining things to him like he’s in primary school.

They have a little exam room off the main hall, and another nurse carefully settles Olivia in Louis’ arms, guides him over to a chair by the window. It’s a little less scary than the hospital table with its rumpled paper cover. They probably had to hold her down to give her the shot and Louis clutches her a little bit tighter against his chest just thinking about it.

“Hey, angel,” he whispers, kissing her tousled hair. “See, I’m right here, told you it’d be okay.” She looks better, the red on her arms fading and her face not as swollen, even with more tear tracks down her cheeks. She’s not breathing as hard, either, although every few moments she gives a shuddering, raspy gasp.

“God,” Lottie whispers, sits at the edge of the exam table with her phone in her hands. She’s been keeping Jay updated, and Louis couldn’t be more thankful to have her here right now, even if all his attention is focused on Olivia.

“We’d like to put the mask back on her for a few minutes,” the nurse saying, “if you can keep her still. It’s just making sure that enough oxygen is making it into her bloodstream to get everything back to normal.”

Louis nods, and holds Olivia’s weakly flailing arms down at her sides so the nurse can put the elastic straps behind her ears, fit the little clear piece over her mouth and nose. Olivia tosses her head back angrily, new tears welling up as she stares at Louis like he’s betrayed her trust forever. Louis fights back a few tears of his own, squeezing her chubby little fingers apologetically. Once the nurse retreats, she doesn’t seem to mind the mask so much, letting her head fall back against Louis’ chest and sighing heavily, eyes fighting to stay open.

“She’s quite worn out,” the nurse says. “It’s okay if she has a nap, as long as she’s breathing alright. If anything changes just call for me. Otherwise someone’ll check on you in a little while.”

“Thank you,” Louis sighs, petting Olivia’s hair back. He has to be careful of the elastic bands holding her oxygen mask in place. Her forehead isn’t as hot anymore, but her hair’s still sweaty and sticking to her temples. “It’s past your bedtime,” Louis says, chin tipped down to look at Olivia. “Let’s not do this again, okay?”

“I’m so sorry, Lou,” Lottie says again, sniffling. She looks so small with half her makeup rubbed off, dark circles under her eyes where her mascara ran.

“There’s no way we could’ve known,” Louis sighs, rubbing Olivia’s tummy gently. “If you hadn’t given her one tonight, I would’ve given it to her tomorrow, y’know?”

“I should’ve figured it out sooner,” Lottie says, quietly. She’s picking at her nails now, tugging her sleeves down around her hands uncomfortably. It’s a little chilly in the room. “But she was acting like she really liked it, and I thought she had just got a little messy, like, with the juice on her face and shit. I’m so, so sorry.” Her face crumbles again, and Louis carefully settles Olivia in one arm, holds the other out for Lottie to come and join them in the hospital rocker. He wraps his arm around her shoulders and kisses the side of her face. “I feel like shit,” Lottie says, and Louis does too. It’s all just shit.


They make it home at half past twelve. Olivia aces her second breathing test, and the nurses give Louis an ointment to keep her from itching as her rash fades. The doctor comes back by and gives them the okay to head home, and a warning to talk to Olivia’s regular paediatrician on their next visit about getting an EpiPen when Olivia meets the weight requirements. Louis tries to pay attention to what the doctor instructs, but it’s hard when Olivia is breathing normally for the first time in hours, sleeping peacefully against his chest. He still tries to memorize what the doctor’s saying. That he’ll have to be even more careful when Olivia tries new foods, and that she’ll need to have allergy tests when she’s old enough.

Lottie’s half-asleep in the passenger seat when they pull in the drive. Harry’s car is gone, and Louis would be angry but he’s too exhausted. Instead, he concentrates on getting Olivia inside. He could use a shower, but he can’t bear to let Olivia out of his sight.

“The room upstairs is all clean,” he rasps tiredly, watching Lottie pour herself a glass of water. “There’s towels in the loo and all that. Wanna come and grab sleep clothes?”

“Thanks, Lou,” Lottie nods, leans into Louis’ side, and for a moment all Louis can do is wrap an arm around her waist and kiss her forehead, too tired for anything else.

Louis takes Olivia straight to his bedroom, still in her carseat, Lottie trailing behind. She digs a clean vest out of his drawers as Louis eases Olivia out of her carseat and undresses her on his bed. Lottie comes over and kisses his shoulder, gives him a hug around the waist. “I’m going to bed,” Lottie tells him. “Love you, Lou.”

Louis gives her a squeeze back. “Love you too, Lotts.”

After Lottie’s gone, Louis checks Olivia all over for spots where her skin’s still red, dabbing on the ointment and massaging her delicate skin. Olivia is too tired to even fuss, pouting up at Louis with a tiny crease between her eyebrows. “I know, babe, I’m tired, too,” Louis sighs, and picks Olivia up. She could use a fresh nappy, probably, and her little ram for a cuddle, so Louis pads over to the nursery, humming softly to Olivia.

She kicks at his hands as he changes her, rubs her face on the pad of the changing table sleepily. Louis can’t help but touch the little dimples in her chubby legs, brush his fingers over her round belly as he fastens a clean nappy around her hips. It’s as much to assure himself that she’s okay, that she’s all there, as it is to comfort her. “Maybe you can just sleep with daddy tonight, huh,” he thinks aloud, lifting her upright and letting her flop tiredly against his shoulder again. “It’s been rough, hasn’t it, Olive.” It’s stupid, but even using Harry’s nickname for her leaves a bitter taste in his mouth.

Louis grabs Olivia’s ram from her cot, and a tiny t-shirt from her drawers, as an afterthought. He doesn’t want her to get cold, but putting a onesie on her when her skin is still sensitive feels like a bad idea. “Come on, then,” he drops a kiss on Olivia’s forehead, and when he hands her the stuffed ram, she nuzzles its side with a worn-out sigh.

It’s become more of a challenge to get Olivia to stay put on his bed since she started crawling, but Olivia’s too sleepy to even roll over when Louis sets her down in the middle of the bed. He barricades her in with a double stack of pillows on one side, and curls up next to her on the other, kicking off his nice oxfords and wriggling out of his jeans and t-shirt.

He’d worn a clean pair of Calvin pants. Just in case they’d gotten lucky. Louis is too tired to feel anything but stupid, now, falling into bed beside his tired baby. The spots on her arms are no longer raised, but still a noticeably darker pink than the rest of her skin. Louis kisses her balled up fist and closes his eyes.


Olivia sleeps through the night, to Louis’ relief, although he isn’t so lucky. He can’t seem to sleep more than a couple of hours at a time, waking up whenever Olivia snuffles, or just as he’s on the verge of deep sleep. By the time Olivia is up properly, around quarter to nine, Louis has been watching her sleep for at least half an hour, counting her fingers and toes like he did the first time he held her at the hospital. She’s cranky, and probably hungry, Louis thinks groggily.

She doesn’t want any of the mashed summer squash that Louis tries to feed her first, shoves the spoon away and whines until Louis plucks her out of her high chair and makes her a bottle, on autopilot. Louis can’t fault her when there’s still a few pink spots around her ankles and in the crook of her arms. He wouldn’t want to eat anything weird, either. She takes the bottle eagerly enough, holding it with one hand and wrapping her fingers around Louis’ hand with the other.

By the time Lottie comes downstairs, Louis has fixed a cup of tea for himself and set the Keurig on the counter to make her a coffee. He doesn’t have the energy to do anything for breakfast, but he can manage caffeine, anyway.

“‘s Harry here?” Lottie asks, taking the mug he hands her and sitting down at the counter.

Louis shakes his head.

Lottie waves something at him. “This from him?”

“Is what—give that here,” Louis frowns, taking the envelope from her. Louis didn’t even know he had envelopes, but Harry seems to have found them. The note inside doesn’t do much to assuage Louis’ frustration. Gone to Nick’s. Hope Olive is okay. I’m sorry. -H

“I think I’m gonna head back to Lou’s, if you and Olivia are okay,” Lottie is saying, typing something out on her phone.

“Yeah,” Louis says. “We’re fine.” He feels a bit numb, but he’s going to have to face Harry at some point sooner than later and he doesn’t want his kid sister around for that. Watching Lottie get on an Uber half an hour later from his front door, Louis thinks it’s almost funny, in a fucked up way, how Harry couldn’t drive him and his kid to A&E last night, but drove to Nick’s just fine.

He isn’t sure where his phone is, and it’s probably for the best. Olivia needs burping and he should probably put actual clothes on her now that her rash has faded. It keeps him occupied, frustration curdling in his stomach the longer he thinks about Harry’s note.

They sit on the floor in the nursery and play with Olivia’s soft toys, which improves Olivia’s mood, at least. He’s sure Olivia can tell he’s not in a good mood: her babbling is softer, more muted, and her eyes still look tired after their long night.

It’s a wonder there’s still enough power in his phone as it buzzes in the side pocket of Olivia’s changing bag, sat on the floor by the changing table. “Hold on, babe,” Louis mutters, petting Olivia’s hair before retrieving the phone and answering the FaceTime call.

“Morning, pet,” his mum greets him. She has Dotty on her hip, her hair a coppery bedhead mess. “Who’s that, Dot?”

“Lou!” Doris coos happily, and Louis’ heart melts. When Louis turns his phone to face Olivia, Doris claps her hands excitedly. “Liv!”

“Go on, go watch Peppa Pig with Ernie,” Jay says, setting Doris down to direct her attention to Louis.

“Hi, mum,” Louis sighs, finally. “Alright?”

“I’m fine, love. How’s our little Liv?” Jay’s voice is carefully soft. “Lottie told me about what happened. She feels awful.”

“Yeah,” Louis focuses the camera on Olivia, who’s gone back to gnawing on her fingers and ram, alternately. “Got a few spots left but they gave me a cream to put on ‘em, so she’s not itchy.”

“That’s good.” Jay still looks concerned, and Louis hesitantly tilts the camera up so she can see his face. “How are you?”

Louis wrinkles his nose. “Tired,” he shrugs. “Waiting to put Liv down for a nap so I can have a shower.” He chews on his lip. His mum doesn’t seem to mind if he needs to take his time and get his thoughts in order. “I’m… disappointed, honestly? I dunno how much Lottie told you, or whatever, but it was just like, surreal.”

“Lottie mentioned that Harry said he didn’t think he could drive you to A&E,” Jay says. She sighs. “I know that must’ve been frustrating, but if he didn’t feel like he could do it safely, maybe it’s better he didn’t, Lou.”

“He drove himself to Grimmy’s instead,” Louis huffs, presses his lips into a thin line.

“Have you talked to him?” Jay’s voice is softly reproving. “You don’t know when he left, Louis, if he wasn’t with you. He might’ve waited for a bit. You were at the hospital for a while, Lottie said.”

Louis hates how rational his mum sounds, hates knowing deep down that she’s at least a bit right, but he’s not done being angry at Harry yet. “Olivia had a rash all over and couldn’t breathe, mum. I needed him,” he huffs, pets Olivia’s hair. “It was so scary and he just went completely useless.”

“I’m sorry, Lou.” Jay’s quiet for a moment, watching Olivia. “You should talk to him, you know. He’s probably hurt and upset, too. And if this is a bigger issue then it isn’t going to get better until you talk about it.”

“Can’t very well talk about it if he’s not here,” Louis grumbles. “For all I know he’s flying back to LA. Wouldn’t be the first time he’s pulled that one.”

Jay hums sympathetically. “Did you talk to him about it then?”

“Then he just came back and things were fine,” Louis admits. “It felt like a stupid thing to fuss over, I guess? But now it’s really, really not.”

“It’s never stupid to talk about something that upsets you,” Jay says. “You know that, I think. But it’s not too late to do it now, either.”

“Yeah.” Louis knows he’s mumbling, but he can’t help it. It’s an automatic response when he feels like a child that’s been chided. Gently, but nonetheless. His mum’s right, and he shouldn’t be whinging on about something before he’s even tried to fix it.

“I can come down at the weekend if you need help with Olivia,” Jay smiles gently. “The twins would love a play date, they talk about her all the time.”

“Maybe? ‘m not sure what we’re doing.” Louis bites his lip. “But definitely soon, mum. She’d love it.”

“Good,” Jay nods, then looks off camera at where, presumably, one of Louis’ younger siblings either needs something or is getting up to something they shouldn’t. “I’ve gotta go, I need to sort out lunch and later on Phoebe and Daisy want to go into town for a bit of shopping. Let me know how things go, yeah? The sooner you have a talk with Harry, the sooner you’ll feel better, pet.”

“Yes, mum.” Louis helps Olivia blow Jay a kiss and ends the call. Logically, he knows she’s right. He still locks his phone and tosses it across the carpet out of reach. He’ll talk to Harry, just. Later.


Louis’ just put Olivia down for her afternoon nap and tiptoed back down the hall to the kitchen, looking forward to a fresh cup of tea, when the front door opens. Harry’s trying to be sneaky, walking on the balls of his feet so his boots don’t clack on the hardwood, and Louis is somehow annoyed by that, even though he’d done the same thing not a minute before to make sure Olivia didn’t rouse. He’s waiting in the kitchen with an unimpressed look when Harry rounds the corner.

“Lou,” Harry sighs, as soon as he spots Louis. He has a different shirt on, presumably borrowed from Nick.

For a moment, Louis is tempted to not lay into him just yet, just to see what Harry might come up with. He’s shit at biting his tongue. “Glad you could drive back here safely.” He flicks the kettle on, leans his hip on the counter, and looks at Harry.

Harry purses his mouth and eyebrows, which makes him look like a particularly disgruntled toad. Louis will have to remember the simile. “Is Olivia alright?”

“She’s taking a nap,” Louis offers, vaguely. “She’s not bright red and choking, anymore, which is good.”

Harry nods. “I’m so glad she’s okay, Louis, and I’m sorry I couldn’t go with you—” he breaks off, and Louis hopes it’s because he realizes how pointless of an apology it is.

“Right,” Louis says slowly. “Well, I’m glad you seem to have made it to Nick’s and back just fine.” He shouldn’t feel as pleased as he does when Harry’s nostrils flare slightly, eyes narrowing.

“I told you I was sorry,” Harry says. “If I’d driven like that it could’ve just made things more dangerous for you and Olivia.”

“You could’ve come with us,” Louis says, just managing to keep his voice down. “Even if you couldn’t fucking drive.”

“You could’ve asked me to go with you,” Harry counters, forehead wrinkled like he’s somehow confused.

“Are you serious?” Louis huffs. He feels restless, shifting his weight from one foot to the other, arms crossed over his chest. “Are you really that unreliable?”

“I’m sorry, not being able to read your mind makes me unreliable?” Harry snorts.

“Turning into a fucking vegetable in the middle of an emergency does,” Louis snaps back. “My kid’s life was in danger, Harry, what the fuck.”

“That’s not being a—” Harry frowns. “That’s being human, Lou, I’m sorry I’m not one of your beloved superheroes who always knows exactly what to do in a terrible situation.”

“What are you even talking about!” Louis huffs a bitter laugh. “Shit, if needing you to drive me to the hospital during an emergency is too much to ask, I’ve got to seriously reevaluate all of this,” he gestures between them. His hand is shaking, and he hates it.

“I said I was sorry,” Harry says, slowly. “I panicked and I fucked up, and I’m sorry. Are you actually going to let this threaten our relationship?”

“Olivia’s life was threatened,” Louis hisses. “That’s rich coming from you, Harry, really just. Brilliant.”

“And Olivia is okay, you said so yourself.” Harry comes dangerously close to rolling his eyes.

The kettle whistles on the counter, and Louis flicks it off, crosses his arms protectively over his chest again. “What’s your point? So if this happens again, am I still gonna be the one driving to the hospital so they can give her oxygen? Did you know she’s too young for an EpiPen, Harry? I’ve got to schedule an appointment with her paediatrician to discuss the earliest age we can do allergy testing on her. Are you gonna be unavailable for that, too?”

Harry’s face blanches, his jaw going slack. “They had to give her oxygen last night?”

“A baby her age can die from an allergic reaction.” Louis, for his part, keeps his expression firm. “They swell up and their breathing passages close up, and they choke. That’s if their immune system doesn’t fuck their heart up, first.” He shakes his head, turns to open the tea cupboard, eyes down. “I don’t know, Harry. I need someone who’s gonna be there for us.” He reaches for a tea bag, bites his lip. “It isn’t just about last night, y’know. I need to be able to rely on you.”

Harry frowns, leaning forward. “You can, Lou—”

Louis laughs, because he won’t cry, not now. “Can I really? I don’t even know if you’ll be home for dinner. Even if you say you’ll be back at a certain time or on a certain day I have no guarantee that won’t change at the last minute, because you make your plans and you never ask if it’s okay with me.” He swallows hard. “And ninety percent of the time it probably would be fine, but you wouldn’t know because you never fucking ask, Harry, you just assume that we’ll be here when you get back.”

“I don’t,” Harry falters, takes a deep breath, “I didn’t think—”

“You really didn’t,” Louis interrupts him. His palm is sweaty where the tea bag is pressed to it, balled up in his fist. “Maybe you ought to take some time to do that.”

Harry nods, slowly. Louis can feel him staring but he can’t look up just yet, fixes his gaze on the turned-in toes of Harry’s boots.

“I can’t let Olivia get hurt by this,” Louis says. “Not me or Olivia.”


Louis lets Harry go. He goes out to the back garden with his cuppa and the baby monitor and a pack of cigarettes he’d shoved in a mess drawer in the kitchen months ago. He’d rather avoid seeing Harry gather his things; the traces of him around Louis’ bedroom and in his closet, his toothbrush in the same cup as Louis’.

He hasn’t smoked since before Olivia was born, had promised himself he wouldn’t smoke in the house with a baby. He’s not technically in the house, so this doesn’t count. It’s a dreary afternoon with a stormy grey sky that’s been raining on and off. Louis’ shorts are damp from sitting on the wet lawn chair. He has trouble lighting the first cigarette, but the second is easy.

He doesn’t head back inside until Olivia is crying over the monitor, and Harry is long gone.


Liam pops in unannounced a couple of days later. Olivia’s rash has disappeared, but Louis has yet been unsuccessful at re-introducing solid food, aside from a couple of spoonfuls of baby porridge before Olivia’s bottles.

“I was in the neighbourhood,” Liam smiles warmly at the security camera, and Louis buzzes him in. Liam is so obviously bullshitting, and Louis is so glad to see him.

“How’s Olivia?” Liam looks around like she might’ve started walking since he saw her last, and be about to pop out of the hall coat closet.

Louis laughs. “In the living room. We were watching cartoons.”

“Brilliant,” Liam grins, kicking off his boots next to the pile of Louis’ shoes in the hall. “This is gonna sound random, but did you know Marvel hands out a Dad of the Year award? Tom from McFly won it; he told me about it on tour. You could so win it.”

Louis doesn’t feel like anything of the year award-winner, except maybe relapsed-smoker of the year, but he’s not telling Liam that. “That’s sick. Do they give you a trophy or summat?”

“Yeah! It’s a whole thing,” Liam nods, following Louis down the hall to the living room. Olivia breaks into a half-gummy, half-toothy smile when she spots Liam, kicking her legs excitedly. “Hi Olivia!”

“Aw, are you really that bored of me, Liv?” Louis sighs, watching as Liam picks a cooing Olivia up for a cuddle. “She hasn’t given me a single laugh today, Payno, that’s not fair.”

“Just missed her uncle Liam,” he grins, kissing her cheek and making a face at her. “You’ve grown so much!”

Louis should’ve thought of this earlier, asking one of the lads to come over. Olivia’s grown used to having more than just Louis around the last several weeks, and it’s not fair of him to expect her not to be a bit lonely. It’s probably not bad for Louis himself to have a bit of company, either. “Wedding planning going alright, Payno?”

“It’s fine,” Liam shrugs, sitting cross-legged on the couch and propping Olivia on his thigh, a supporting hand at her back. Olivia tangles her fingers in Liam’s hoodie strings, far more interesting than X-Men on the telly, it seems. “Just boring stuff like invite fonts, for now.”

“Don’t envy you there, mate.” Louis watches Olivia all too predictably shove Liam’s hoodie string into her mouth.

“Is Harry out, then? I didn’t see his car.”

Louis flops on the couch next to Liam. For a moment he contemplates shoving his head between the cushions, ostrich-style. Instead, he looks down at his hands, picks at an invisible hangnail. “Don’t really know where he is,” he says, slightly.

Liam glances over at him, confused. “I thought he was staying with you?”

“He was,” Louis says slowly. It’s hard not to let his bluntness get the best of him. “But he, uh, flaked? When Olivia’s thing happened. Just completely fucking dropped the ball. So now he’s not.”

Liam slumps against the back of the couch. “Jesus. I’m sorry, Lou.” Olivia is playing with his watch now, tugging at the gold band and patting at the face curiously. “Are you alright?”

“I’m a bit pissed off, if I’m honest,” Louis says with a tight, bitter smile. “Liv’s fine, now, but I’ve gotta be extra careful about what I feed her, and she’s gonna need allergy testing and shit when she’s older.”

“Have you… talked to Haz about it?” Liam looks appropriately chagrined to ask.

Louis stares at the telly for a moment. He hasn’t quite told Liam the whole story, aside from the fact that Lottie was looking after Olivia and she had an allergic reaction, but he might as well, now. “We’d been out together when it happened,” he mutters, turning his gaze to Olivia, who’s turning the dial on the side of Liam’s watch. “It was, uh, a date? He drove us back here as soon as Lottie called, but then when I was like, ready to head off to A&E he froze, and then when we came back he was gone. He showed up the next day and I just went off on him.”

“What did he say?” Liam unfastens his watch and drapes it over Olivia’s wrist. It’s far too big for her, but she’s delighted, waving it around excitedly.

“Kept apologizing,” Louis rolls his eyes, slumping against the back of the couch and wrapping a hand around Olivia’s tiny, chubby ankle. “He was like a broken record. It blows ‘cause I’d told him from the get go that I can’t—I’m not in a place for like, flings right now, you know? I can’t casually date someone while they’re in town for a bit before jetting back off to LA or wherever the fuck, mate. I have a kid.”

Liam nods, slowly. “So do you think it’s over?”

Olivia shakes Liam’s watch off, and Louis picks it back up, puts it around her arm again. She can barely hold her hand up with the weight of the watch face on her wrist. “I told him to think about whether he really wants this,” Louis says, quietly. “I think I still do.”

“Haz isn’t dumb,” Liam says. “I’m sure he’ll come around? You and Olivia are great.” He jangles the watch on Olivia’s arm, grins as she gives a gummy smile, her lone two front teeth gleaming.

“He’s an idiot, let’s not kid ourselves,” Louis rolls his eyes. He can at least pretend his small, helpless smile is directed at Olivia. “I just don’t want this to fuck things up for everyone, either. Like, what if we fuck up and then it’s weird when we wanna write an album again? When we tour again?”

Liam makes a face. “I dunno. We’re all a bit weird, aren’t we? It’s never been an issue before.”

“You’re a weirdo,” Louis nudges Liam’s thigh with his knee. It’s kind of Liam to give him an out. “Have you heard from Nialler?”

“Not this week. Maybe last week? He was still in Ireland, I gave him shit about it. Thought he was going to travel the world.” Liam laughs.

“Y’think he’s found a reason to stay?” Louis plays absently with Olivia’s toes, but can’t keep from giving Liam a cheeky grin.

“I’m pretty sure his reason to stay anywhere travels as much as he does,” Liam points out. “Traded in music tours for golf tours, didn’t he?”

“Living his WAG dream.” Olivia laughs as if she thinks that’s particularly funny, scrunching up her nose and shaking Liam’s watch. Louis tickles her foot. “That’s right, silly old uncle Neil.”

“Is he still a WAG if he’s a bloke?” Liam scrunches up his eyebrows, considering. “Or is it a… HAB? Is that right?”

“No one’s going to call it a HAB, Liam,” Louis rolls his eyes. “That’s not a thing.”

“It could be,” Liam insists. Olivia is finding their bickering hilarious, giggling in Liam’s lap. “Drake is a HAB. It’s totally gonna catch on. I should tweet it.”

Louis snorts. “Please don’t.” He can see the hashtag now.


Louis isn’t sure if it’s more teeth coming in, or if Olivia’s as thrown off by Harry’s absence as he is, but the next week is hell. Her sleep schedule changes every night, and he’s barely gotten four hours to himself consecutively. It’s particularly annoying to think that if Harry were here, there would be two of them to take it in shifts.

He’s tried not to think about Harry too much: it still feels raw, a little ugly, but there’s a night when Olivia finally drops off in his arms and he’s too tired to fight the curiosity. He knows better than to get up from the nursery rocker, because she’ll inevitably wake up again, so he stays there, palms his phone out of his pocket and thumbs open Instagram.

Louis still doesn’t follow him, but Harry’s account is the first suggestion that comes up when Louis goes to the search bar. He hasn’t posted anything, so Louis tries Gemma next, only to find pictures of Olivia’s feline counterpart and a brunch spread, but no signs of Harry. He checks Anne’s account last, not really expecting anything, and—there he is, face down on the sofa with Dusty sitting on his back. Boybander out of work, reads the caption, followed by a crying cat emoji.

Louis stares at it for a while. It’s somehow satisfying, that Harry isn’t off somewhere more exotic. Or half-way round the world, even. He’s just… home, with his mum. Maybe it’s not so far-fetched to believe that Harry’s hurting a little too. Olivia snuffles on his chest, tightens her little fist around a bit of his t-shirt.

For a moment, Louis is tempted to leave a comment. He wouldn’t, actually, but if he gave less of a shit about what millions of people on Instagram might think, he’d say something like hope you made him do the washing up or more cat pictures pls. Instead, he falls asleep on the rocker with a hand on Olivia’s back and his phone still in the other.


He wakes up sometime later, instantly checking Olivia. She’s still asleep, drooling a wet spot through his t-shirt. He checks his phone next, opens his messages when he notices the notification.

Louis almost laughs when he taps Harry’s text open, almost forgets the sleeping baby on his chest as he reads, I want to come home.

He wants to reply, thought u were m8, but. They both know the truth. Louis looks down at Olivia’s sleeping face. dont know what ur waiting for.

Louis can’t go back to sleep after that. He fucks around on Twitter on his phone as he waits for Olivia to wake up, rolling his stiff shoulders carefully, trying his best not to rouse her.

Olivia isn’t much of a morning person. She wakes up slowly, just like he does, blinking up at Louis and then dropping her head back on his chest for a few minutes, sighing warily. Today she’s pleased to find Louis is already there, at least, offering him a tired little smile that fades into a big yawn. “Alright, Liv?” Louis mutters, voice gravelly from disuse.

She sighs heavily and blinks a bit, before launching into a babbling string of sounds that, accompanied with her insistent tugging at his shirt, inform Louis emphatically that she’s fine, thanks, but couldn’t they have breakfast now?

“Could do with a cuppa,” Louis hums, shoving his phone in his pocket and getting to his feet, Olivia propped on his forearm, leaning on his shoulder. “We have a big day ahead of us, love.”

Olivia blows a bubble and makes a suspiciously Ewok-like churring noise. Louis agrees with the sentiment.


Louis manages the small victory of getting Olivia to eat a cup of porridge for her breakfast. He puts her down for her morning nap and takes a shower. Then, he sits with her on a blanket on the living room floor, her soft toys spread out around her. It’s just as Louis is starting to consider what to do for lunch that he hears the telltale sound of gate outside opening. He scoops Olivia up, along with her ram, and steels himself before making his way to the door.

He gets his hand on the knob just as Harry does, and they awkwardly pull and push for a minute before Louis steps back and lets him in.

“Hey,” Harry says, quietly. His hair’s a mess, and he fusses with the fringe with one hand.

“Hey,” Louis echoes. He’s tempted to make Harry stand at his doorstep for this. Olivia shoves her face into Louis’ shoulder and clings, forming a tiny fist at the front of Louis’ shirt and putting her other hand in her mouth, her ram forgotten in the crook of Louis’ arm.

“Can I come in?” Harry glances from Olivia to Louis like he might be turned down.

Louis is feeling generous. “Yeah,” he sighs, rubs Olivia’s back. He leads Harry to the living room and turns the telly off. When he tries to set Olivia back down on her blanket, she whines at him like Louis has betrayed her, so he ends up sitting with her on the sofa. Olivia peers warily at Harry as he takes a seat on the opposite end.

“Hi, Liv.” Harry gives her a little wave, which she doesn’t return. He looks up at Louis. “I guess I deserve that.”

“She’s a Tommo,” Louis hums, feeling a small surge of pride. “Hope your mum’s doing well.”

“Wasn’t too pleased with me,” Harry shrugs. “But she’s fine. Talking about getting another cat.”

“That’s nice,” Louis gives him a tight smile. “So.”

“So,” Harry takes a deep breath, and Louis prepares himself for what’s sure to be a slow drawling speech. “I’ve had a long time to think, and. I wanna start by trying to explain what happened when—y’know, the emergency, I guess, and. I just... remember when we had just started out, when I used to be sick before performances? It... felt a lot like that, in the worst way, because like, I can get through a gig and it’s fine, but this was so much bigger than appearing on the telly or whatever. I fucked up, and like I said, I’m really, really sorry, Lou.”

Louis knows about the panic. He was there, wasn’t he, years ago when everything felt new and bigger than they could ever control. He nods, slowly. “Okay.” Saying I forgive you seems ridiculously formal, when Harry already knows. Louis let him in the door.

“I’ve been thinking about what I want,” Harry continues, “not just in terms of a relationship, but professionally, too. You obviously know I’ve been toying with a few things, and I get the impression that you’ve sort of held some of that against me?”

“I told you I need someone I can rely on,” Louis interrupts, bites the inside of his cheek. “I need this to be serious.”

Harry works his hand through his hair again. “I know, Lou, but going into the break you pretty much knew what you were gonna be up to, even if it wasn’t planned,” he insists. Louis can tell he’s thought about this, careful of his wording. “You’ve got a lot on your plate with Olivia, and you’re still working on stuff on the side with the label, but for me—I’m used to knowing what the next few months, or even a year is gonna be like, and now that I don’t have that, I’m trying to find something that sticks, y’know? There’s so much stuff I wanna do, but at the same time, I don’t want to get into something that would compromise going back to the band at some point down the line. I still wanna go back to touring with the lads.”

“So do I,” Louis says, a little prickled. “I don’t give a fuck about what you decide to do in your own time,” he says, after a moment. “I was annoyed with you about the film thing because you didn’t ever seem to take it seriously, and it made me nervous about whether or not you were going to take us seriously.” He gives Olivia an almost subconscious squeeze. “I know you’re, like, an adult, you’re going to have your own projects and hobbies and shit. I just want to know when you’re going to be home for dinner, you know?”

Harry nods, holding his lower lip between his teeth. “Guess I’m used to having the same schedule,” he laughs drily. “I know you can’t read my mind, though. I’ll be better about that, if you’ll let me.”

Louis bites his lip. “Olivia’s missed you.”

“I’ve missed Olivia,” Harry smiles sadly, brows furrowed. “Even if she’s still a bit cross with me. Is she feeling better? Is she eating?”

“Had a bowl of hot cereal this morning,” Louis nods. “Doesn’t seem too keen on much else solid yet, but I don’t blame her.” He exhales carefully, letting his nerves dissipate. Olivia can feel him relaxing, because she sits up a little, peering at Harry more openly. “We’ve got an appointment with her paediatrician next week just to check up on her.”

“That’s good,” Harry sighs. He takes his chances, scooting closer and reaching out to pat Olivia’s back gently. “You’re a lot braver than I am, little Olive,” he says softly. “I hope you’ve been taking good care of your dad.”

Olivia makes a rude noise, and then laughs at Harry’s face. She squirms in Louis’ arms, leaning over into Harry’s lap and tugging at his necklaces curiously. He’s got an honest to God tassel on a chain, today, and Olivia finds it hilarious.

“Oh, alright, then,” Louis grins, keeps a careful hand out to keep Olivia from rolling off the couch as she edges into Harry’s lap. He looks up at Harry, sighs. “I missed you,” he admits. “I just want her to have everything be as normal as it can be, even with everything we do, I guess. And I was so relieved when you said you wanted to be here, and then I felt so stupid when you left, for like, thinking I wouldn’t have to do it alone. ”

“You don’t,” Harry says, quietly. His hand spreads across Olivia’s back, fingertips just touching Louis’. “I’m serious, about this, and you, and Olivia. And I know what that means, now.”

“You can still like, go to LA and to your gallery openings and all that stuff,” Louis concedes. “Just let me know what you’re up to. I wanna be on the same page, even for spontaneous stuff. I think we can work on that, can’t we?”

Harry nods. “Yeah.” He laughs, suddenly, and rolls his eyes when Louis raises an eyebrow at him. “No, just. You should’ve heard the way my mum lit into me.”

“I would’ve loved to,” Louis nods, smiling. “I miss your mum. Maybe we can go up and visit soon, is that too like, meeting the parents? Does it count if I’ve already met them?”

Olivia is standing up in Harry’s lap now, gripping his shoulder in one hand and tugging at his necklace chains with the other. “I don’t know, but they’d love to see Olivia.”

“Might do that sometime, then.” Olivia has a look on her face that says she’s considering shoving Harry’s necklaces in her mouth, not just as an exploratory thing, but because she’s hungry. Louis tips his chin at her, rolls his eyes. “Someone’s peckish. Have you eaten, Haz?”

Harry looks sheepish. “I just drove down. Didn’t really want to stop on the way.”

“I was thinking of finally using that panini press for actual sandwiches instead of for reheating cold pizza,” Louis offers. “I mean, not that the pizza doesn’t turn out amazing, but I ordered bread with my last shopping delivery.”

“Sounds good,” Harry agrees. “You think Olivia’ll have some more hot cereal?”

“Worth a try.” Louis has to keep himself from plucking Olivia out of Harry’s lap on instinct as he stands up from the sofa. Instead, he lets Harry carry her into the kitchen. Olivia hasn’t given up on her quest to stuff the entire tassel on Harry’s necklace into her mouth, and Louis gets to laugh listening to Harry whine about the fringing covered in baby drool for the rest of the afternoon.

The panini press, as it turns out, makes damn good sandwiches.


Louis wakes up to the sound of Harry’s voice through the baby monitor. It’s a bit earlier than he thought he would wake up today; they have Olivia’s paediatrician’s appointment in a few hours, and Louis had hoped she would sleep in longer to make up for the appointment running into her morning nap. She’ll need a longer nap in the afternoon, he thinks. Over the monitor, Harry hums a familiar tune—it’s something Louis ribs Harry for mercilessly, but it doesn’t seem to make Harry any less proud of the fact that Olivia was named after a song Harry wrote himself.

Olivia is babbling along, more or less in tune, and Louis finds himself humming a bar or two as he slides into sweatpants and pads into the kitchen to begin breakfast. Harry always wants real breakfast, which means one of them has to actually cook something, but they’ve discovered that Louis is particularly skilled at omelettes, as long as nobody looks too close at the shape of them.

Today it’s egg whites and green peppers for Harry, and shredded cheddar cheese for Louis. He makes toast (one slice, cut into triangles, for Olivia), and coffee, and does a small victory dance when nothing gets burnt. “Haz? Food’s ready!”

“We’re here,” Harry says, coming down the hall with Olivia. “Look at our outfit, dad.” Olivia gives Louis a longsuffering look, which Louis shares. The outfit is cute, though, little jeggings and a floral blouse, tiny mary janes that Olivia is trying to kick off.

“Mm, that’s a good look,” Louis smiles. Olivia’s hair is still too wispy for any hairdo, for the most part, but Harry has managed to pin her fringe aside with a little velcro bow. Louis knows it’ll probably slide right off before they even make it to the doctor’s appointment, but it’s cute, for now. “Grab her a bib, don’t want her to ruin that top before we leave the house. Do you want orange juice with that?” Louis asks, as Harry settles Olivia into her high chair, fastening her seatbelt.

“Please,” Harry nods. He eases Louis out of the way with his hip as he comes over to grab a bib out of the drawer.

Olivia gnaws her toast into gooey pieces, offers half of them to Harry or Louis, and the ones that do finally make it to her mouth are just as likely to fall back out as she screeches about something. Harry still watches her with rapt attention, nodding along to her excited babbling. Louis has never seen someone carry out a conversation with a baby quite like Harry does.

“Liam texted me,” Louis hums, finishing the last bite of his eggs. “He wants to line up a writing session with Butch Walker; they’ve been talking and he’s gonna be in town in the next couple of weeks. Might be a cool thing.”

“Oh, that’d be sick,” Harry nods, brushing crumbs off the corner of Olivia’s mouth. “Niall sent me a little clip the other day, just a riff he came up with. Said he’s been humming it for like, a month.”

“Didn’t send me anything!” Louis laughs. “Oh no, Niall.”

“To be fair, he said not to make a big deal of it,” Harry points out, taking a sip of his coffee. “I guess we’ll see. If you wanna go get ready, I can clean this up?”

“You don’t want to go out with me like this?” Louis indicates his days-old sweatpants, with one of Olivia’s spitballs stuck to the thigh, and his holey t-shirt.

“I’ve no problem with it, but I think Olivia might be a bit embarrassed,” Harry laughs. Louis’ cheeks warm when Harry leans over and kisses his temple.

“Can’t be the embarrassing dad at her doctor's appointment,” Louis mumbles, brushing off crumbs and standing up. “Gimme ten.”

He wears the t-shirt he’d put on for their date three weeks before, with a hoodie since it’s raining again. There aren’t any of the nerves he’d had getting ready then. Harry’s just buckling Olivia into her carseat when he walks back out to the living room, stuffing his wallet in his back pocket and grabbing the keys and the changing bag.

Harry tucks Olivia’s ram into the seat beside her. “You ready?”

“Yeah,” Louis says. “You?”

“As I’ll ever be,” Harry grins.

From her seat, Olivia blows a raspberry.