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these streets are yours (you can keep them)

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*

“Who the hell is this?”

It’s just past five in the morning, really too early for Louis to be dealing with this kind of disturbing vision.

He is standing on the steps of the hospital garage, cheap and nasty coffee clutched in one hand, and did he forget to wake up this morning? He thinks back in time. The day had started so innocuously. He’d gotten up an hour ago in the bleary darkness to his harsh alarm, taking a minute to find his bearings. With a sleep schedule like his, it was regular now for him to wake up to an overwhelming sense of confusion.

Rolled out of bed, stumbled into shower, found some kind of foodstuff to put in his mouth on the way out the door: all routine. Walked the five blocks to the hospital through the chilly darkness, located the coffee vendor, came to the garage and -

Someone new has appeared.

For seven months now, it has been just Louis and Zayn in the ambulance. There’d been someone before to round them out into a trio, Matt. Nice enough guy, but he’d cracked under the pressure of the job and left after three months. Honestly, Louis likes it when it’s just him and Zayn. They’ve known each other since training, they have the rhythm down, a harmony to their working relationship that comes as easily as their friendship. Zayn puts up with Louis complaining about things like humanity and being expected to do things, and Louis puts up with Zayn’s whole having-emotions-thing. They understand each other.

Now some blonde who looks far too cheerful for this time of morning is swinging his legs over the back of the ambulance, Louis’ ambulance, and Zayn is just shrugging nonchalantly, mostly ignoring Louis in favour of a drag on his cigarette.

“I’m Niall,” the interloper offers cheerfully without prompting, and god, he’s Irish too. Cheerful and blonde and Irish at five am. There should be a law against that sort of thing.

“He’s on his probationary period,” Zayn supplies, his voice rough from the morning or the cigarette or some combination thereof. Niall nods eagerly.

“You lads are taking me for the last leg of my training. Field experience and all.”

Why did Louis have no idea this was happening today? Or did he, and it just slipped his mind? Surely an upheaval of this magnitude couldn't possibly have drifted out of his brain so completely. No, he must have been left in the dark.

“Fantastic,” Louis mutters, blinking at Niall. He takes a sip of coffee and welcomes the bitter, slightly burnt taste as he appraises this scene. “Simon didn’t tell me this.”

Zayn shrugs. “When does Simon tell us anything that doesn’t need to be yelled?”

Zayn has a point. Simon, the EMT convenor, is not the softest of people. He also does this scary thing with his face where he smiles while he yells. It gives Louis the creeps, to be honest.

Right. Newbie. Who is apparently a morning person. Well, maybe he can do the grunt work, Louis thinks. Zayn’s gotten scarily good at worming his way out of paperwork duties lately, and that doesn’t please Louis. This new kid could be useful.

“Welcome to Team Louis then,” Louis adds, and Zayn snorts quietly. He throws his cigarette on the ground and hops off after it.

“We off then?”

“Time to clean up the drunks,” Louis confirms, heading around to the driver’s side. “Niall, you’re in back.”

To his credit, Niall doesn’t argue, just pulls the ambulance back doors closed behind him and clambers through to find a perch on one of the benches.

It’s a fairly boring morning for the first few hours. The sun climbs slowly into the sky, and they manage not to have to drop anyone back at the hospital for a suprisingly long run. It’s mostly passed out drunks in danger of becoming road kill. Procedure is easy for them: responsiveness check, water and aspirin, and avoid the vomit. The usual.

Louis walks Niall through the first lot, but Niall actually takes to it relatively quickly. He’s able to duck the swings of the more violent ones and find things to joke about with the conscious ones. Even when one of them sees fit to be sick on his feet, he gets a laugh out of her, and is still smiling to himself as he cleans his shoe off with a nearby tap. He seems to have a bit of a knack for it all, and at one point Zayn starts calling him The Drunk Whisperer.

There is only one house call, a woman who thinks she’s having an aneurism, but it becomes apparent within about a minute that she is making the whole thing up for some company. Sad, sure, but it’s a fairly common occurrence and they’re getting pretty immune these days. Louis can still find it within himself to feel sympathy for the poor old thing, but only just, and that particular ability is getting smaller day by day. The predominant emotion has now become irritation.

I’m getting worse, Louis thinks to himself as they exit the house, leaving the woman alone again. When he’d started this job that would have settled nastily in his gut, walking away from a lonely old woman. When he’d started this job, he might have humoured her, given her a ride to the hospital anyway.

“Is it ok, for us to just leave her?” Niall asks, all jittery as they reach the ambulance. He keeps looking back at the big house, all orange brick and wisteria and empty except for its sole occupant. “Can’t we do something?”

“Things to do, places to be,” Louis replies, swinging himself up into the driver’s seat. Zayn says nothing, just fiddles with his lighter. He tends to leave the calls to Louis.

Although as it transpires there’s not really anywhere for them to go just this second, which deflates Louis ever so slightly as they pull away from the orange brick house. It doesn't bother him, but Niall looks a little helpless, and it's always easier to walk away from something if you're moving towards a better purpose. Louis can't give him a better purpose right this second, but he can give him caffeine. So they drive round the block and find a cafe, and leave Niall in the front seat with the radio on to listen for any calls.

“Make sure to crack the window so he has some air,” Louis calls to Zayn, who is fussing with the radio, making sure Niall knows what to press if he needs to reply. Zayn just turns and gives Louis the finger, closing the car door softly behind him and jogging across the road to catch up.

“He wants a donut,” Zayn says as he opens the door for both of them, letting Louis in front of him. The warmth of the coffee shop is a welcome change from the brisk autumn air outside, and Louis allows a small smile. He briefly entertains the idea of telling Niall that donuts aren’t for newbies, just for the hell of it, but a bit of his good humour has been restored by the warmth of the shop and the fact that he hasn’t gotten anything from the inside of a human on his shirt so far today. He orders one for each of them, and three takeaway coffees, and leans against the window while they wait.

“I like him,” Zayn announces, slumping onto an uncomfortable chair he’s pulled half out from its table. “He’s got spirit.”

“Matt had spirit,” Louis replies noncommittally, eyes on the barista as she chats with the cashier. Apparently the employees at this place have never heard the phrase “prompt service”.

It's not that Louis doesn't like Niall. On the contrary, Niall has just made it his first several hours on shift without pissing Louis off, and this is a heroic feat for a newbie. Especially before Louis' had his second coffee of the day. It's more that Louis woke up feeling listless this morning, a little bit staid, like he so often does these days. He doesn't have the energy to pull his optimism together just yet.

“God, you’re moody today,” Zayn sighs, leaning his head on the back support and gazing up at Louis through long lashes. Louis looks down at him fondly.

“I am always a moody git, Zayn. We know this.”

“We do,” Zayn agrees with a laugh. “You should take up meditating, or knitting. Maybe it’s about time you got laid, might loosen you up a bit.”

Louis directs a pointed look at his companion, deciding not to leap on the obvious innuendo that is on offer. “I do not need to get laid.”

That might have been a lie, if Louis is honest. It’s been about six months since his last hook-up, some Italian guy from a nightclub who’d been disappointingly short-lived in bed. Even longer since his last relationship. When was the breakup with Aidan, one year ago? Two? Time has kind of blurred into itself since Louis began this job. The irregular hours, the heightened emotions and strange experiences, it distorts things.

He guesses he misses having someone in his life. The regular sex part, definitely. The everything else part, well… maybe. If they’re worth it. But frankly, every serious attempt he’s ever made has ended in disaster. It was never worth it, in the end.

“Sheila is my one true love, Malik. I shall never betray her,” Louis declares, easily dodging Zayn’s half-hearted attempt to swat him.

“The ambulance is not called Sheila, Louis.”

“I’ll tell her you said that.”

A voice is calling out two long blacks and a caramel latte (apparently Niall likes to drown himself in sugar), and Louis realises that’s him. He pushes himself off the window and takes the tray, gesturing for Zayn to grab the bag of donuts.

The outside air is a shock to the system as they leave the haven of warmth and make their way back to the ambulance. Louis can see Niall bopping to something in the front seat. As they get closer, it’s apparent that Niall has switched the radio on to some nostalgia pop station, because if he’s remembering this song correctly it’s a Spice Girls hit.

Niall,” Louis calls out, hoping to see the Irishman freeze with embarrassment. Instead, Niall just turns to lean out the window, his face plastered with a goofy grin.

If you wanna be my lover, you gotta get with my friends,” he sings, pointing at the two of them.

“What in hell’s name are you making Sheila listen to?” Louis moans, and Niall stops singing to glance around the ambulance.

“Who’s Sheila?” he asks, and Zayn frowns and shakes his head as Louis answers,

“You’re sitting in her. Now shove off, that’s Zayn’s seat.”

Niall swings himself into the back, reaching out to accept his coffee from Louis. “You don’t hate the Spice Girls, Louis. No one hates the Spice Girls.”

“Don’t let him fool you, Louis knows all the words to Spice Up Your Life,” Zayn replies as he pulls himself up into his newly vacated seat. He ignores Louis’ scowl, turning to face Niall in the back. “Donut?”

*

It’s after lunch by the time they get a Category A call. There’s been a road accident, two cars ploughing into each other at a stop light. It’s only five minutes from where they are, so Zayn grabs the receiver and confirms to dispatch that they’re on the way.

Both cars are a total write-off, and one of them is on fire, so it’s probably a good thing the two drivers involved have been removed from their vehicles. Before he’s even opened the ambulance door Louis can see they’re both conscious, sitting by the side of the road all bloody and bruised and too stunned to be fighting with each other over insurance.

There are a couple of police officers scattered around the scene, and a few bystanders, but no sign of the fire truck yet. As Zayn and Niall rush to aid the injured drivers, Louis scans around for a familiar face. His gaze settles on Eleanor just as she locks eyes with him, waving him over to where she’s filling out something in a notebook. Her police uniform is dirtied along the left side, and there’s a smear of charcoal over her left cheek. Louis figures she was probably the one to get the drivers out. He lets out a long-suffering sigh as he approaches.

“You shouldn’t be pulling the civilians out of wrecks, El. Could have done some serious damage to them.”

Eleanor scoffs. “Hello to you too, Louis Tomlinson. Cheerful today, are we?” She pushes a loose strand of hair out of her eyes. She’s delicately pretty, fine-featured and doe-eyed, but Louis has seen her take down a man twice her size with a Taser, so.

“As per usual,” Louis replies dryly. “But seriously-"

“Seriously nothing, Louis. The man got himself out. The woman was pulled out because, as you may have noticed, her car was on fire. Or would you prefer to do a stopover at the morgue as well as the ER today?”

Louis just shrugs, knows he can’t really come back with much to that. He glances over her shoulder at the police report she’s filling out.

“It wasn’t me anyway,” Eleanor continues, snapping the book closed before he can read anything. “My new partner apparently has something of a hero complex. Actually, could you give him a once over? He’s over in our squad car.” She gestures over Louis’ shoulder, already distracted by one of the other officers, and Louis finds himself wandering over to the car to see what awaits him. It’s hard to see through the tinted windows, so he knocks on one and waits for it to roll down.

When it does, Louis has to blink several times, the words of reprimand on his tongue fading and dying as he takes in the officer reclining in the passenger seat. He’s got a mess of curls that a six-year-old girl might murder for, and his uniform cuts his long and lean figure into something that sends a jolt through Louis’ stomach.

“Hi?” the officer says, his voice low and syrupy. He’s staring a little confusedly at Louis, like he’s not sure why someone has appeared at his window.

“Are you the officer that dragged the woman out of the car?” Louis asks, surprised that he can remember how to speak with such gloriously green eyes watching him. The officer nods slowly. “I’m the EMT, your partner asked me to check you out,” Louis continues, trying not to think of the secondary meaning behind those words. Zayn was right, maybe he does need to get laid.

“Oh!” the officer exclaims, reaching for the door handle. Louis steps back as the car opens, and the officer spills slowly out onto the street. “I’m alright. My trousers got a little bit singed which is annoying, seeing as this is my second day wearing them.  I’m guessing you don’t care much about my pants,” he adds, watching Louis with a friendly expression. Louis is fighting a sudden and completely unexpected urge to blush that threatens to envelop him, and it takes him a second or two to answer.

“Uh, well I should probably check under them?”

The officer’s eyebrows raise. “Under my pants?”

“Under your trousers. To see if you’ve sustained any burns,” Louis quickly continues, mentally slapping himself. His eyes flick to the burning car, and he wonders for a second if the smart thing to do right now would be to just fling himself into the wreckage.

“Ah, of course,” the officer replies, his voice laced with amusement. He meets Louis’ gaze with a lazy grin and sits back down on the car seat, long legs splayed out before him. He rolls up the hem of a very singed trouser leg, and Louis crouches down to inspect the skin.

Louis can feel the officer’s eyes on him as he gingerly takes the proffered ankle in his hands. The whole situation feels completely bizarre, which is ridiculous, because this should be second nature to Louis. Christ, he was groped by a forty-year-old woman high on ecstasy this morning. Examining the leg of an attractive stranger is not the most out-there thing to happen to him all day.

“Looks good,” Louis declares, gently depositing the ankle back on the ground before straightening himself upright. “You’re a lucky one.”

“Harry,” the officer says, offering his hand to shake. “Harry Styles.”

“Louis Tomlinson,” Louis replies, accepting the handshake. “You’re new around here, Harry Styles.”

“Just transferred from Cheshire,” Harry replies with a grin, leaning over to roll his pant leg down. His curls fall into his eyes, and Louis wants to kill himself.

“Well, not sure how they do things in Cheshire, but it’s not really wise to be dragging potentially injured women out of vehicles before they’ve been cleared for movement.” It comes out a lot less pointed than Louis had originally intended. More kind of fond sounding, if he’s honest. Harry is looking at him with wide, innocent eyes, and he just kind of shrugs. Louis can see the corners of Harry’s mouth fighting a grin that’s evident from the sparkle in his gaze.

The air is pierced with a shrill wail, and the two of them glance up to see the fire engine finally rolling up. “About time,” Louis mutters, and Harry laughs, a bright peal of noise. It lights his whole face up, cheeks dimpling, and yes, Louis is definitely going to kill himself.

“Right,” Louis manages, hoping his voice is coming out normally. “Well, medically, you’re in the clear.”

“Thanks,” Harry replies, grinning up at Louis. “I’ll see you around, Louis Tomlinson.”

“See you round,” Louis agrees, striding towards the ambulance with what he thinks is a normal gait, though he’d not entirely sure. Maybe he’s forgotten how to walk. He’s sure it can happen to people. Especially people who can feel a set of bright green eyes burning a hole in the back of their neck.

“Niall, we ready to go?” Louis calls, shaking himself. He reaches the ambulance, and they’ve got the two casualties loaded up in the back, but Zayn is nowhere to be found.

“Zayn went running the second the fire engine appeared,” Niall supplies, leaning his head out the window to talk to Louis. “He afraid of firemen or something?”

“He’s running towards them, not away from them,” Louis mutters, turning on his heel without explanation and marching towards the truck. There’s a group of firemen gathered round the burning car, the hose out and spraying water, and Zayn is lurking on the outskirts of the blaze where they’ve set up a perimeter near the truck.

Zayn,” Louis calls, and Zayn’s head whips around, his expression sheepish. The firelight dances across his dark skin, and he looks a little like he’s glowing.

“Hmmm?” he replies, attempting innocence.

“He’s not even here, Zayn,” Louis says, exasperation clear in his tone as he comes to a halt, but then a familiar voice cuts in from behind him.

“Who isn’t here?”

Louis turns to find a fireman jumping from the back of the truck and landing just feet away from them. It’s Liam. Of course it’s Liam.

As annoyed as he is at Zayn right now, Louis can’t abandon friend duties. He figures Zayn probably wants to maintain at least a façade of being cool, and them standing around gossiping about Liam’s whereabouts isn’t going to help that.

“God,” Louis replies. Liam is a nice enough guy, but he’s never coped particularly well with Louis’ sense of humour; something left-of-field should throw Liam right off. “It’s the quintessential existentialist dilemma, isn’t it?”

“Uh…” Liam gets out, predictably flustered and looking slightly like a rabbit caught in headlights. And then he catches sight of Zayn, and his expression lights up. “Zayn! Hi!” he says quickly, and Zayn smiles back.

“Hi,” he says, and Louis rolls his eyes, but he’s sure no one is watching.

“Shall I just leave you here while Niall and I take care of the whole saving lives thing then?”  he mutters, and Zayn glances apologetically at him.

“I’ll be two minutes, I swear.” Zayn looks so earnest, Louis can’t help but shrug, throwing his hands in the air dramatically as he turns away from the two of them.

“I’m starting Sheila up,” he calls as he leaves them, but Zayn doesn’t even bother to protest the name. “Christ,” Louis mutters as he approaches the ambulance. Niall’s blonde head appears out the driver’s window again.

“What’s that about?” he asks, and Louis sighs, gesturing for Niall to vacate the front of the ambulance. Louis pulls the door open with more force than necessary. He enjoys the dramatics of being irritated.

“True love,” Louis responds dourly, wrenching the door closed. “Zayn went on his first date with Fireman Liam last week, after months of the most drawn-out, sickening flirtation dance I have ever witnessed. They’re adorable. It’s revolting.”

Niall laughs out of surprise more than anything else, bright and sharp. “He knows we have two patients in the back of Sheila, right?” he asks a little incredulously. “I mean, they’re not seriously injured or anything, but still.”

Louis glances at the blonde, feeling pleased at his acceptance of Sheila’s name. That’ll teach Zayn. “Oh, he knows.”

Niall is watching Louis with interest. “You don’t seem wildly on board with the whole romance thing, Louis.”

Louis just shrugs. “Romance isn’t on board with me, Niall. There is not a good thing in the world that Louis Tomlinson can’t bring crashing down in flames.”

“That’s a bit depressing.”

“Not depressing. Just based on a storied track record.” Louis sinks back in his seat. “Believe me, it’s for the best that I’ve gracefully bowed out of the long game.”

“Nah, you haven’t,” Niall says, hanging over the other chair. “The quest for true love is like the Hotel California. You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.”

Louis laughs despite himself, catches Niall’s grin with his own. This kid is definitely ok.

Niall looks thoughtful for a second, and then disappears from view. Louis can hear him rustling around in his bag, and then he’s leaning over the seatbacks, reaching for a cable in the glove compartment. Louis catches a glimpse of something that might be an iPod.

“Niall – ”

“Just, trust me,” Niall replies, cutting Louis off. He’s fiddling with the buttons on the stereo, entirely too comfortable mucking around with Louis’ ambulance on his first day, but Louis decides to let it go. He glances out the open window, cool breeze soaking into his skin, and catches a glimpse of the curly-haired officer, Harry, leaning against his car about twenty metres away. As if he can feel Louis’ gaze, Harry looks up, and gives a little wave.

No, Louis thinks, trying to ignore the feeling it provokes in him, to ignore the way Niall’s Hotel California comment is bouncing around in his brain. It’s been a while, but he recognises that prickle on his skin, that buzzing in his chest. No no no no no.

He returns the wave perfunctorily and leans down to roll the window up, just as Zayn comes jogging up to the other side of the ambulance. “Sorry,” he breathes, hurling himself into his seat. “Let’s go.”

Louis starts the engine, and as Sheila comes to life, so too does the sound system.

Love is in the air, everywhere I look around…” chirp the speakers, and Niall bursts into cackling laughter, his iPod in hand. Zayn looks distinctly unimpressed, a blush heating his cheeks.

Alright, Niall can stay, Louis thinks, as he pulls out onto the road.

*

The shift finishes at five, and as the ambulance pulls back into the garage Louis feels the tension leave his shoulders. A day without anything too over-the-top was almost too much to ask for, but somehow his wish had been granted. It had been all he had wanted when he left the flat this morning, a cloud of vague and undirected irritation hanging over him, and finding Niall sitting in Sheila had threatened that immediately.

But Niall was ok. Niall was kind of great, even. Louis could get used to him being around.

And everything else, well. Everything else today had been just fine.

As this thought runs through Louis’ head and he puts the ambulance in park, his mind flashes briefly on the curly-haired police officer who had apparently decided to play superman. Again, he feels something run through him, a feeling that has been absent from his being so long he’s almost completely forgotten what it means.

Almost, but not quite.

Well, he thinks, as he clambers from the vehicle, feet finding solid ground. Bugger.

*

To his immense surprise, Louis’ mood begins to improve as the week goes on. He finds himself enjoying Niall’s company, even if the Irishman is offensively bright in the early hours of the day and has a penchant for eating fried food in the ambulance, making it smell of batter for the rest of the shift.

They’re called to a domestic on Niall’s fourth day. Niall begs to be allowed behind the wheel, but before Louis can even open his mouth Zayn starts laughing hysterically, and that puts a stop to that.

The ambulance arrives at a nondescript house in relative suburbia, a small semi-detached with an overgrown front garden and the sounds of a screaming couple bellowing from the kitchen windows. A concerned neighbour greets them as they pull up.

“They’ve been at it for hours, and I’m sure I’ve heard things being thrown,” he tells them, and Zayn frowns.

“We can’t do anything until the police get here, I’m afraid,” he tells the man, who kindly offers to bring them tea. He shuffles back inside his own house, leaving them to lean against Sheila and listen to the screaming. Apparently, the husband thinks his wife has been cheating on him. Louis is disappointed it isn’t something more imaginative.

The police car rolls up a minute later without the siren, and Eleanor appears.

Oh god, Louis thinks, and sure enough she is followed closely by the officer with the incredible hair, Harry. Louis feels his cheeks heat even before they make eye contact, and tries to steel himself.

“About time,” he calls, going for dry and detached. Eleanor just rolls her eyes at him as she passes, marching up the drive with Harry in tow, who at least offers Louis a grin that makes Louis’ chest constrict as he follows her to the house.

“We’re here about a noise complaint,” Eleanor yells, banging on the door, and Harry is hanging back a little, leaning casually on a pillar like he’s not about to walk into a kitchen full of pointy objects and angry spouses.

“NOW YOU’VE DONE IT,” bellows the male voice from inside, and Louis can hear the stomping of footsteps even from where he’s standing at the foot of the lawn. The door flies open and the woman storms out, ignoring the deep voice behind her that yells “COME BACK HERE YOU BITCH.” She’s crying, heavy mascara leaving tracks down her face as she pushes past the officers, and Zayn meets her at the garden gate. He barely opens his mouth before she flings herself into his arms, burying her face in his shoulder, and Zayn takes it completely in his stride. He rests his chin on her head and motions for Niall to bring him a blanket.

And then the man comes tearing out after her, shouting profanities at the top of his lungs. He bowls past Eleanor and Harry, charging down the steps of the house, and Louis realises he’s actually holding some kind of carving knife in his hand. He can’t even process this fact, let alone what to do about it, but thankfully he doesn’t have to because Harry moves within a second. He leaps off the steps of the house and tackles the man to the ground, knocking the knife a good few feet away from them in the process.

It’s…well, ok, Louis knows he should be more concerned about the possible threat to the lives of everyone in the immediate vicinity, but. Harry. In his uniform. Tackling a man to the ground. And crouching over him with his knee in the man’s lower back, pulling the man’s wrists together. The visual combination is already an overload, and then Harry brings out his handcuffs and Louis just kind of shuts down.

Niall and Zayn are taking care of the woman’s superficial abrasions, and Eleanor is radioing the station. Harry glances up from where he has the man subdued to meet Louis’ stare.

“You guys ok?” he calls, and Louis reaches deep within himself and finds the ability to move his head in a nod. Harry’s face breaks into a grin like sunshine.

“So that’s a fun way to start the day,” he continues cheerfully, and everything in Louis’ brain, in his skin, in his whole body, goes asafahjskksffhjkkjs.

This is not ok, Louis thinks, wrenching his eyes from the scene and focusing his attention on the woman. You need to stop this now before it’s too late.

But even as he thinks it, he knows, just knows, that it already is.

*

On the Friday of Niall’s second week, it happens. The Day of Niall’s First Dead Body.

It was always going to occur, but Louis had managed to go a month before his first, and Zayn had somehow made it three. Apparently the universe is less inclined to give the blonde boy a break.

They’re called on a Cat-A to an alley in the city, a passer-by having noticed a man lying in a puddle of blood.

“Heroin user, looks like,” Zayn mutters, crouched over the body with his fingers waiting for a pulse that isn’t coming. He looks up, long eyelashes brushing his cheeks. “Probably fell from one of the balconies.”

Louis lets out a sigh. “How long do you think?”

“Have you seen these skull injuries, Louis? He’d have been dead when he hit the pavement.”

Louis has seen the skull injuries. There are shards of bone and brain matter mixed in with the blood, and it reminds Louis faintly of the Bolognese he’d had for dinner last night. He looks at the mess curiously, wishing that fact would bother him more, but it doesn’t.

They hear a violent coughing, and the two of them whip around to identify Niall losing his breakfast in some nearby bins.

“You alright, Nialler?” Zayn calls softly, and the back of Niall’s head shakes. He coughs a few more times, then stands, wiping at his mouth. His skin is ashen.

“I’ve seen cadavers before, in school and all,” he whispers, staring at the body. “Just never out here. In like, the world.”

Louis nods, reaches over to clap Niall on the back. It’s something almost every one of them goes through. You cut into dead bodies for class, lying cold and naked on a flat slab, and it’s so easy to disconnect. To become a scientist. You build a wall between them and the world that goes on outside, and they’re just another piece of biological matter to examine.

But eventually, the dead body you’re dealing with is out there too, in your world. It’s in the street or in a home or expiring in the back of your ambulance, and that’s another story. Those are real people, and there’s no safety barrier between you and the shocking expanse of life they’ve recently vacated.

“Don’t worry about it,” Louis murmurs, his hand resting on Niall’s shoulder as the Irishman drags his eyes of the cooling body. “We’ve all been there.”

“Louis cried,” Zayn puts in helpfully, ignoring the finger Louis raises in his direction. He gets to his feet. “I’m going to put in a call to dispatch.”

It takes about a minute, and then a siren wail becomes audible. Another minute, and a police car is pulling into the space beside them, the siren cutting out to the mercy of everyone within hearing range.

“Louis!” calls Eleanor, sliding out of the car. “To what do we owe the pleasure?”

“Stiff,” is Louis’ response, gesturing at the body on the ground. “Junkie, we think. Took a tumble from a balcony.” He’s not looking at her though, he’s watching the squad car, waiting for-

“Is he dead?” comes a familiar, low voice, and with a flush of pleasure Louis identifies a curly-headed officer stepping out of the passenger seat.

“Harry!” Louis says with a grin, waving him over. He’s decided to take a new approach to this inconvenient situation. If he acts like Harry is a normal human being, then eventually his body has to fall in line. Right? “Come join the party,” he adds. Ok, Louis’ sense of dead-body-decorum might be taking a hit, but screw it. It was barely hanging in there anyway.

“He’s dead,” Niall confirms, arms crossed tightly against his chest. There’s a bit more colour to his cheeks than before, but he’s still eyeing the body with the look of someone who’s been challenged to a staring match by the grim reaper.

“Oh,” Harry replies sadly, glancing down at the guy. “I wonder who he is.”

Of course. Identity. That’s what normal people think about when they see dead bodies. Not Bolognese.

“Nathan Highman,” Zayn supplies, waving a wallet in his hand. Louis isn’t sure when he’d pulled that out. Thank god one of them is still a functioning human being. “Dispatch is alerting the mortuary.”

As he and Eleanor discuss the specifics, Louis leans over to Harry, who is looking forlornly at the corpse like it was a friend of his.

“It’s Niall’s first dead body,” Louis declares bluntly. “Something of a coming-of-age for an EMT.”

Harry glances up at him, and god, his eyes are just so green.

 “Actually, it’s my first dead body since the move from Cheshire.”

“Ah, well Doncaster welcomes you,” Louis returns, arms spread wide, and this provokes a grin from Harry, the forlorn look melting away.  Louis immediately feels a thrill at being able to cheer Harry up somewhat. God dammit.

Zayn appears from nowhere, apparently catching the end of the conversation. “That settles it then, you’re coming to drinks tonight with us.”

“Drinks?” Niall practically squeaks, staring at them. Zayn nods, beaming.

“Chin up, Nialler. You’re a man now.”

*

It’s a noisy evening at the pub across from the hospital, but Zayn manages to find them a booth and the three of them squeeze into it.

“Liam coming?” Louis asks, leaning back against the leathery upholstery and eyeing the bar. A group of women who look suspiciously like a hen’s night party have just commandeered the bartender, so it’s not quite worth attempting to order yet.

Zayn is blushing slightly as he nods in silent confirmation.

“What’s this, your second date and you’re introducing him to us already?” Niall pipes up, and Louis laughs.

“Rookie mistake, Malik,” he adds. Zayn looks as if he doesn’t quite know which of them to direct his death glare at, and substitutes in the table.

“Third date, actually,” he corrects, flicking his gaze up to the door. “Normal for socializing.”

The look that crosses Niall’s face is frankly devilish. “Third date, I know what that means. Plying him with alcohol and hoping to get lucky are we?”

This time Zayn bypasses the death glare in favour of physical abuse, slapping Niall upside the head. Louis has to hand it to the kid, he is slotting into their group rather nicely.

“Alright lads?” interrupts a voice, and Louis glances up with a start to find Harry standing over their table, a stack of four glasses and a jug of something that is hopefully beer in his hands. Louis can feel the blood rush straight to his cheeks, and manages a cough to hide the slightly startled squeak he may have emitted.

Nothing could quite have prepared him for the sight. He’s seen Harry in his uniform, roughed up and dirtied and all that, but this is something new. This is Harry in a well-fitted white t-shirt and tight jeans, a couple of necklaces and bracelets adorning his body that should look ridiculous but somehow just seem perfect.

“Harry!” Louis gets out, trying to school his expression into something easy-going and probably missing by about fifty miles. “You found the place alright!”

“And you brought us alcohol,” Niall adds cheerfully, plucking a glass from the offering. Harry slides the rest of them down on to the table, and Niall is quick to claim first pass at the jug as well.

“I thought I might need to ingratiate myself,” Harry replies, sliding onto the seat opposite Louis. He offers Louis a bright grin, pushing one of the empty glasses towards him.

Harry is a real person. The thought occurs to Louis, and it seems ridiculous, but. Their job is so all-consuming, and sometimes Louis feels like it swallows him and everything he knows, everything he feels, leaving nothing for the outside world. It’s been a long time since he’s done something significant that didn’t have to do with the ambulance. Since he’s done something that sticks out from a wasteland of grey.

But, this. Sitting in a bar with mates, and Harry. Fantastic, brilliant, gorgeous Harry is a thing that now exists in both of his worlds. There’s no escaping this fact.

“Any heroics to speak of today?” Zayn asks, allowing Niall to pour for him. He sounds interested enough, but his eyes have barely left the door of the bar.

Harry laughs, appearing slightly bemused. “Heroics?”

“You know, climbing trees, entering burning buildings,” Niall puts in, but Harry shakes his head.

“You seem to have confused me with a fireman.”

“Don’t play coy, Harry. We’ve seen you do it. Louis has starting referring to you as Officer Superman,” Niall returns, and Louis stifles the urge to thump him rather soundly. Instead he meets Harry’s intrigued gaze with an embarrassed shrug.

“Seemed fitting,” Louis mutters quietly, and Harry’s expression smooths and spreads into a delighted smile.

“So you’re talking about me then, are you?” he says, his low voice sending shivers down Louis’ spine. Louis takes a sip of his beer, unsure if the flirtatious tone he’s reading in Harry’s voice is deliberate, or just a natural result of him sounding like he was raised on malt whiskey instead of baby formula.

He’s saved from having to answer by a cheerful, “You’ve all started without me then.” It’s Liam, perfect heroic Fireman Liam, saving the day. Louis makes a mental note to hold off on teasing Zayn tomorrow, as his karmic repayment for having found a boyfriend with such brilliant timing. They shuffle around, allowing for Liam to squash up between Zayn and Niall, and signal for a server to bring another glass.

The conversation flows easily with Harry in the mix; he swaps inappropriate jokes with Niall and hair product recommendations with Zayn, and follows Liam’s account of a rather ludicrous afternoon rescuing what turned out to be a toy cat from a kindergarten roof by telling them his most absurd stories about policing in Cheshire. They generally involve overbearing rich people having their houses broken into, and Harry’s impressions of the victims send them all into hysterics.

One jug of beer turns into two, then three, then Niall and Harry convince Louis to join them for tequila shots. He agrees because he doesn’t want to be left alone in the booth with Zayn and Liam, who have begun talking in low voices and smiling coyly and just, ugh. Although Louis is pretty sure, as he slips from the booth, that he hears Liam say something about Spiderman. Louis isn’t sure what kind of bizarre couple have intimate, low-voice conversations about Spiderman. Unless-

“Is Spiderman some kind of sex position?” he asks overly loudly as he approaches the bar. Harry stares at him with raised eyebrows, so Louis immediately waves at the bartender and orders the shots, because Harry looking at him while the conversation is on anything sex related is more than he can really cope with.

“That’ll be ten pounds,” the bartender calls over the noise of the pub, and Louis reaches for his wallet only to find that it’s no longer in his back pocket.

“What – ” he manages to get out in panic, when suddenly his wallet is being waved in his face by a jubilant Harry Styles.

“Knew I could lift it off you,” Harry says nonchalantly, throwing the offending item onto the counter. “You need to be more street smart, Lewis.”

Louis sputters for a bit as Niall reaches over and slides the wallet towards him, clearly with the intention of settling the bill purely out of Louis’ money. Louis can see him doing it, but his brain is still stuck on being pickpocketed by a policeman.

“Is this something you do often, Harry?” he asks incredulously, but Harry just smirks at him and passes him his shot.

After that there is Niall getting on a stool and serenading some cute brunette, and Harry laughing so hard he cries. There is Liam showing them how to dance the sprinkler, and Zayn quoting Shakespearean sonnets with Niall of all people, and Louis doing a re-enactment of Monty Python’s dead parrot sketch.

And it’s good in a way that Louis doesn’t remember having in quite some time.

*

The slight hangover Louis wakes up with the next morning only adds to his usual disorientation, but it’s his day off, and he’s being woken up by sunlight hitting his eyes instead of the blare of his alarm, so that’s ok.

The thing is, when he finally manages to find vertical, and move one foot in front of the other to shuffle into the kitchen, there’s a body on his couch.

Of course that’s his first thought, that it’s some kind of corpse. The thought passes quickly from his sluggish brain, and he moves closer. The interloper is sprawled beneath the blue quilt Louis usually keeps on his bed, and if the curls poking out the top are anything to go by, it would appear that Harry spent the night on Louis’ couch.

Louis wills his brain to remember the sequence of events that produced this. He thinks he can recall the other three piling into a cab. He knows he can recall Niall’s expression from the front seat as he tried not to watch Zayn and Liam making out.

And somewhere in the haze he has a memory of weaving along the empty streets, the cool night air biting at his cheeks, humming something in harmony with Harry strolling beside him.

Louis stares at him for a little longer, trying to put the words Harry and in my flat together in his brain. It was one thing for Louis to discover at the pub that Harry was an actual human being with whom he could hold a conversation. Someone fun and funny, who laughed at Louis’ dry humour and had actual things to say that Louis didn’t mind listening to.

It’s another thing to have him here, in Louis’ own space. That needs processing.

Louis isn’t sure whether to run screaming from his apartment or to do a happy dance. He compromises by heading into the kitchen and putting the kettle on in a kind of daze.

It flickers into his mind, a conversation they’d had while Liam was beating Niall at pool, about how Harry had yet to find his own place and he was pretty sure his flatmate had sexiled him that evening.

“Just crash at mine tonight, it’s only around the corner,” Louis had yelled drunkenly over the cheers of Liam and Zayn as another ball went flying towards the corner, and Harry’s face had spread into an enormous grin.

That’s right. Louis had nowhere to be today and Harry’s shift won’t start until four.

When he has a mug of Yorkshire tea clasped in his hands, Louis returns to the living room. He loiters in the doorway, leaning against the frame, and just kind of stares, trying to figure out how he feels about this. But it’s all such a jumble in his brain, and he’s not sure if that’s Harry or last night’s tequila, so he resigns himself to having to delay his introspection until much later.

“Mmgpphh,” says the heap on the couch, and Louis raises his eyebrows.

“Morning sunshine,” he returns, his mug paused at his lips. The blanket whips back, and Harry’s bleary expression emerges from beneath it.

“Louis?” he croaks. He pushes the blanket down further, and Louis realises with a jolt that Harry’s shirt is completely absent. His chest is toned and littered with the most eclectic array of tattoos Louis has ever seen, and as Harry pushes himself into a sitting position and the muscles move and flex, Louis has to force his mind to other places. Like the taxation office. Like pot plants. Like his seventy-year-old neighbour Mrs. Frobisher.

He waits until he knows he’ll have complete control of his voice, and then says, “Do policemen do pro bono work? Because I think you owe me about a hundred hours of indentured servitude.”

“What?” Harry asks slowly, blinking in the morning light.

“Were you not the one who suggested tequila shots?” Louis asks, and when Harry nods, he continues, “So I figure you’re kind of responsible for the rhino that’s trying to redecorate the inside of my head. You owe me.”

Harry scrunches his face and reaches one hand up to run through his bird’s nest of hair. “It’s early and we’re hungover and you’re being erudite. Stop it.”

“Not that early actually,” Louis replies. “It’s nearly twelve.”

“Nyuuuurrrgh,” is what Harry shoots back, slithering off the couch onto the floor in a tangle of blanket and limbs. His head turns towards the television cabinet, and stills, and then he says, “Louis. You own all four seasons of The O.C.

“I do, yes,” Louis admits. There’s a pause. “Are you going to judge me for that? Because I was going to fry up some bacon, but I can change my mind.”

“Bacon,” Harry intones seriously, still not moving. “Bacon and The O.C. Also caffeine. Also a shirt. Louis, where is my shirt?”

Louis has to admit that he has no idea, and he can’t keep the smile off his face. Hungover Harry is like some kind of baby animal, staring at things wide-eyed and losing control of its limbs as the world comes to it in bits and pieces. It’s quite the contrast from superhero Harry, who pulls women from burning wrecks and tackles angry men. Louis feels something warm stretch through his chest at the thought.

So Louis leaves him on the floor and returns to the kitchen to fulfil his promise of bacon. It’s about the limit of his cooking ability, if he’s being honest, but there’s no need for Harry to learn that just yet. By the time he gathers the bacon and the instant coffee up and returns to the living room, Harry is disappointingly clothed, having apparently located his shirt after all. The sounds of the title menu fill the room, and Harry has nestled himself into the corner of the couch, still clutching the blanket.

He looks up when Louis enters, and his face breaks into a heart-breakingly gorgeous smile. “You,” he says hoarsely, “are a godsend Louis Tomlinson.”

Louis just nods, and smiles, and concentrates on not liquefying into a puddle. It would stain the carpet horribly.

“That’s what they call me,” he replies, setting two plates down on the coffee table. “Where was the shirt, then?”

“Hanging out the window,” Harry says, sounding utterly confused. “Drunk Harry has some strange ideas about clothing storage.” He focuses on Louis properly for what might be the first time since waking up. “You’re wearing hospital scrubs.”

“Zayn and I steal them,” Louis says with a shrug. “They make really comfy pyjamas.”

“Oh,” Harry intones slowly, thoughtfully. “Next time you do a supply run, can I put in an order for a pair?”

Louis laughs, his memory flashing on Harry’s pickpocketing stunt from the night before. “It’s theft, Harry. For a police officer, you have somewhat lax morals.”

“The being a policeman thing is all part of a clever ruse. I lull criminals into a false sense of security. Then they give me free stolen pyjamas.” Harry smiles winningly through a mouth full of bacon, and Louis feels his chest constrict.

“Well I’ll see what I can do,” he manages to get out, and Harry tips his head.

“Cheers,” he replies, and then looks round at the telly. “So: teen drama time?”

They chat on and off over the television when there are lulls in the story, about the heart attack patient Louis had delivered to the hospital the previous morning, and how Harry had narrowly managed to talk his way out of serving traffic duty thanks to a made-up uncle’s heart attack. They refer back to the drama unfolding, a joke here and there about broken hearts and the importance of casting actors who look about twice the age of their characters. Louis is relieved and somewhat astounded to find that the ease with which the conversation flows is just as strong in the light of day as it was in the bar.

After two episodes of The OC, with Ryan and Marissa kissing on the ferris wheel and the two of them breaking into spontaneous applause on Louis’ couch, Harry has to go.

“Home, shower, work,” he mutters, rising from beneath the blankets he had clutched to him and stretching his arms wide. It’s all Louis can do not to stare, but when he finally risks a proper glance at Harry, he finds the curly-haired officer already staring at him. Harry’s face breaks into a smile as his gaze catches Louis’. “Thanks for inviting me last night,” he says. “I think that might have been the most fun I’ve had since moving here.”

His grin could probably power a generator, and that’s it. Louis doesn’t need to think about this anymore, about what he’s feeling and whether he can allow it. Because he knows what it is, and he’s utterly certain at this point that there is nothinghe can do about it. And that’s- well, maybe not good, and maybe not fine, but it’s more than anything he’s had in recent memory, and that might make it worth it.

Besides, there’s no harm in feeling things. It’s not like he intends to do anything about it.

So Louis gives up, and gives in.

 “Good,” he replies, and he lets it all go. “Because we’re keeping you.”

*

Louis unlocks the ambulance first thing the following morning to find a hot cup of coffee and a croissant balanced on the dashboard, with a note for him saying ‘Had to drop by hospital but you weren’t here! Consider this thanks for bacon and teen drama - will work on repaying tequila debt. H.’

He’s still staring at the note with a fond smile when Zayn flings himself into the passenger seat with a moan.

“Early,” Zayn says in a low voice, and then faces Louis. “Don’t fuck Harry, please.”

Louis chokes on the mouthful of coffee he had just taken, inhaling the hot liquid into his lungs. He turns wide-eyed on Zayn, sputtering and gasping to reclaim his breath.

“The fuck did that come from?” he wheezes out.

“Oh please,” Zayn replies, leaning back in the seat. He’s watching Louis through barely open eyes. “We all saw you two go home together at the bar. I might be too late with this request, but I’m going to make it anyway.”

Louis takes a moment to gather himself. It is far too early for this kind of talk. “We didn’t, Zayn. He slept on my couch.”

“But you want to, I can tell,” is the rejoinder, and Louis takes a deep breath to start on his self-defence. And then he stops, and thinks about it.

Because of course he does. Harry’s an attractive male and Louis is only human. Plus, the uniform. And the handcuffs. And- ok, Louis is getting a little off track. The thing is-

“The thing is,” he says out loud, allowing his thoughts to run on, “I think it might be a little bit more than that.”

There is silence, and Zayn actually raises his head to stare at Louis for a second. And then he flings himself back with gusto, letting out a groan as his hands come up to cover his face. “Loooouuuu,” he whines, and Louis punches him lightly in the arm.

“Shut up, it’s not my fault he’s all – ”

“No!” Zayn exclaims, cutting him off. “If you’re about to list his amazing qualities, I’m going to throw up on your croissant.”

“Harry gave me that croissant,” Louis replies sweetly, and Zayn shoots the offending pastry a look that would probably kill it, if it were alive in the first place. “Anyway,” Louis continues after another gulp of coffee, “Why are you so against this? You’re the one dating a fireman.”

“Yes, but consider your choice of words there, Lou. Liam and I are dating.”

“And that means?”

Zayn shoots him a pointed look. “You don’t fall in love, Louis. You think you do, but it never seems to end well for either of you.” He sighs, runs a hand over the dashboard like he’s clearing it of dust. “Sorry. That came out meaner than I intended it. I’m not trying to attack you, honestly.  I just like Harry. I want him to stay around.”

Louis should be mad at Zayn, he should, but he knows that it’s not unwarranted. In the last couple of years he’s had a pretty bad track record with this sort of thing. But Harry is just, different. He’s bright and beautiful and magnetic in a way that Louis has never encountered before.

“I’m not about to do anything anyway,” Louis says softly, picking at the croissant. He pushes away the disappointment that floods through him at his own admission. “I know exactly how this will go if I do, and you’re not the only one who wants him to stay around. So there’s really no need to be freaking out.”

There’s a moment of silence.

“Ok,” Zayn says, and when Louis looks up he sees that Zayn is scrutinizing him with a curious expression. Whatever he sees seems to be enough to satisfy him, and his expression softens. “I’m sorry, Lou. If this is something serious – ”

Louis forces a laugh, forces himself to brush it off. If he’s going to get past this, whatever this is, it’s going to have to start on the outside. “It’s fine. You know what I’m like. I’ll be over it soon enough, and we can keep Officer Superman around.”

Zayn nods, but the furrowed brow doesn’t disappear completely, and Louis turns away from him in case his cheerful demeanour slips for a second. Zayn knows him well enough now that a second is all he would need. And Louis does not want to talk about this. Yes, he likes Harry. It’s fine. He’s not going to do anything about it. It’s fine.

They sit in comfortable silence, waiting for Niall and sharing the croissant that Harry had left.

It occurs to Louis at about four pm that afternoon that he has no clue how Harry got into his ambulance in the first place.

*

On Thursday, they’re called to an out of control bonfire. The flames lick high into the night sky, threatening to catch the trees of the park alight, but no one is actually injured just yet. While Zayn and Niall saunter over to watch the firemen in action, Louis’ gaze scans the crowd.

“You broke into Sheila!” Louis exclaims when he sees Harry’s curly head bobbing towards him, and by the firelight he can see the mirth in Harry’s eyes.

“You don’t spend as much time with criminals as I do without picking up a few tricks,” Harry replies coyly, tapping his nose. “Hang on, your ambulance is called Sheila?”

“Don’t try and avoid the subject, Harold. First pickpocketing, now this. You’re a felon yourself! You probably spring prisoners out and sell confiscated drugs on the down-low.”

Not missing a beat, Harry whips out his baton and begins to tap it menacingly against his hands.

“You better not snitch,” he says in a low voice. “You know what happens to snitches around here…” He tails off, then looks down at the baton. “This might be considered dramatic misappropriation of police property,” he says, sounding a little worried. The sudden change of demeanour is incredibly endearing.

“Using your police stick of justice as a prop? Nah, wouldn’t worry about it. Niall used the defrib to try and heat up a sandwich yesterday.”

The burst of laughter that breaks from Harry sounds like sunlight. “And I thought my police work was a noble calling.”

Louis checks over his shoulder, but Niall is walking around Instagramming shit, and Zayn appears to be flirting with Liam by the truck. The bonfire has been contained down to a normal size, and nothing seems to be happening. So Louis turns back to Harry and asks sincerely, “Why did you become a policeman, Haz?”

The nickname slips out unbidden, never used before, and Louis has no idea where it came from. But Harry’s eyes light up at the sound, and Louis thinks maybe it can stay.

Harry scratches his nose, looking thoughtful. “I guess,” he says in his slow kind of drawl, the words even more strung out than usual as he thinks them through. “Ok, you’re going to think this is dumb, because I spend a lot of time doing really mundane shit.”

Louis raises his eyebrows. “Like standing around a bonfire for no reason?”

“Precisely,” Harry replies, throwing an amused glance in the direction of the fire-fighters, who at this point seem to have left the actual fire-fighting to one guy and look like they’re about five seconds away from pulling out a packet of marshmallows for toasting. “But it was the closest thing I could think of to being…” he trails off, looks directly at Louis with a sheepish expression. “I just wanted to be good. Like in the truest sense. You know?”

Harry is waiting for a response, and Louis catches a worried look flicker over Harry’s features, like he’s expecting some fell stroke of judgement. But Louis can’t help it. He can’t stop staring at this person who is just unreal. Like he is some kind of ethereal being, wholly remarkable in every possible way.

“Louis!” Louis is jolted out of his amazement by the sound of his name. It’s Zayn, calling for Louis to join them. He’s gesturing at one of the firemen, who seems to have burnt himself. Louis sighs deeply, but before he leaves, he turns and meets Harry’s eyes.

“You really are something, Harry Styles,” he says, and means it.

Harry’s face breaks into happiness, and Louis returns the smile. It’s hard not to, when the merest hint of joy on Harry’s face could outdo everything bright and beautiful in this world. He’s the brightest person Louis has ever met.

But as he leaves Harry, Louis thinks that maybe if everyone could see the inside of his chest right now, just maybe, the glow would at least outdo the fire.

*

Four am should be illegal, in Louis’ opinion.

Three am is the last hour of a great night, and five am is the first hour of a long day. But four am, ugh. What even is that.

He’s lying on the roof of the ambulance, pulled up next to a quiet little park on the outskirts of the suburbs. Zayn is snoring in the front seat, and Louis can hear the pings of Niall’s phone as he plays some game involving popping bubbles. They’d pulled a double shift and Louis feels like he has been awake for eons. The radio scanner is on, but frankly he’s not sure he should even be behind the wheel at this point.

He checks his watch. Eighteen minutes past the hour.

Please, he thinks as loudly as he can, people of Doncaster, refrain from overdosing or impaling yourselves on sharp objects for just forty more minutes until my shift is over and it’s someone else’s problem.

In the quiet of the suburbs, it’s almost peaceful up high, under the lights of the street lamps and the gently swaying branches. Even the cold doesn’t bother Louis. At this point, it’s probably the only thing keeping him awake.

“Louis!”

The calling voice is soft, and for a second Louis thinks he might have imagined it. But then it comes again, and as he rolls onto his side he realises why he recognises it. He shuffles towards the edge of the roof, and sure enough, there’s a police car pulled up across the road. Harry is leaning against its door, rubbing his eyes blearily.

“Harry?” Louis replies as Harry crosses the road, not even bothering to check for non-existent cars. “What brings you to this fine establishment?” He gestures at the dilapidated little park, and Harry laughs.

“Well I’ve heard the food is exquisite.”

As he reaches the ambulance, Louis sees him wave at someone inside, probably Niall. Then with surprising grace considering his long limbs, he hoists himself onto the bonnet, and is sitting beside Louis in a matter of seconds.

“We’re on duty til six, but El is really sick and looked like she was about to pass out. She won’t go home, but I talked her into taking a nap for fifteen minutes. Was looking for somewhere for us to hide out when I saw Sheila.”

Louis lets himself roll onto his back. “You’ve definitely got the right idea.” He checks his watch again. “Thirty-eight minutes left for me.”

Harry settles back on his hands, his legs sprawled out next to Louis’. “Any horror stories from today?”

Louis shakes his head, a difficult movement to achieve while he’s lying prone. “Nothing special.” He pauses. “Oh wait, some guy’s daughter stuck a carving knife in his leg. Blood everywhere, though she missed the vital arteries by some stroke of luck.”

The surprised noise Harry lets out is somewhere between a guffaw and a gasp. “How on earth did that manage to slip your mind, Lou?”

Louis just shrugs, shoulders sliding against the ambulance roof. “I guess these days it’s just all so…” he trails off, waving a hand in the air above him in a noncommittal gesture. “Monochromatic, maybe.” He lets his head roll to the side so he can see Harry, whose face is lit strangely by the street lamps. It casts his skin a pale washed-out colour but sets his green eyes gleaming. “How long have you been policing?”

“Four years.”

“And it’s still exciting for you?”

Harry lets a look of concentration flit over his face, but only briefly. “There can be days where it’s pretty boring, I suppose. But mostly there’s always something worthwhile going on.”

“Always another violent spouse to tackle,” Louis adds, and this provokes something approximating a giggle from Harry.

“Exactly.” Harry looks down at Louis curiously, leaning back further onto his hands. “You don’t find that?”

Louis thinks about it. He remembers when he’d first gone out in an ambulance, the hurricane of emotions every single day. The way he’d cried, and laughed, and shouted. The way his blood would rush in his ears and pulse through his body with every call, even when it turned out to be some kid with the chicken pox.

But living in that state for weeks on end, it’s too much for a human being. It wore him down, sanded him away.

“I used to,” Louis says finally, eyes back on the inky black sky. “But it got too tiring. It’s easier to cut yourself off than to be exposed every second of every day.”

From the corner of his eye, he sees Harry shaking his head slowly, furrowing at his lip. They catch each other’s expressions. “That seems kind of…I don’t know. Sad, maybe. Monochromatic, like you say.” Harry is staring at him, all wide-green eyes and concern.

“There’s nothing wrong with monochromatic,” Louis replies. He’s made the same reassurance to himself a million times, but somehow this time it feels a little…hollow.

“Maybe not,” Harry is saying, looking thoughtfully at a street lamp nearby like it holds some kind of wisdom. “Maybe monochromatic is what you need for your job. Just as long as it’s not your whole life too.” Something catches his gaze, some movement from across the road, and in a second he’s on his knees. “That was short-lived. Looks like El wants me back.” He smiles at Louis, the circles under his eyes doing nothing to blot out the genuine warmth in his expression. “Not long to go. I believe in you,” he teases, and slips over the side of the ambulance.

Louis watches him walking across the road, and thinks about his monochromatic job inside his monochromatic existence. If you’d asked him a few weeks ago, he’d have been certain that he was fine with that. It was safe and easy and effortless. But now-

Now there’s Harry. When Harry is nearby, Louis’s whole being wants to explode into colour.

And he has no idea what to do about it.

*

Louis stands on the steps of the ambulance garage, his arms stretched wide as he shakes the early morning from his limbs. It’s five am, and today marks the one month anniversary of Niall joining them.

And of meeting Harry, says something in the back of his mind. The last week had been better than great. He’d finally seen Harry outside of work again; the two of them had grabbed a pizza with Niall and gone round to Harry’s apartment to play FIFA. It had been easy and fun and casual, and Niall’s presence had negated the constant danger Louis might have otherwise felt.

 But Harry’s not what he’s thinking about at the moment, he’s not, so Louis pushes the memory away.

Niall has been great. He’s good with the patients, quick with his medical knowledge. He’s game for a laugh and he fits into the space between Zayn and Louis like it was meant to be. At the end of his three months training, once he passes his assessment as he inevitably will, Louis thinks he might request that Niall stay on with them. The thought cheers him immeasurably.

Louis is jolted from his reverie by an angry black quiff storming past him, and it takes him a second to realise that it’s Zayn, who is wrenching the ambulance open with enough force to make Louis wince. Poor Sheila. Zayn’s bad moods are few and far between, but when they hit it’s like a tropical cyclone. Louis steels himself, and wonders over to the ambulance.

“What’s wrong with you then?” he asks, climbing into the driver’s seat. Zayn narrows his eyes.

Nothing,” he practically spits out. Louis meet Zayn’s venomous glare with his own questioning gaze, tries to make his face placid and calm, and begins to count in his head.

One, two, three, four, fi-

“Fine,” Zayn huffs, breaking the stare and throwing his head back against the seat. “Liam and I had a fight last night.”

“Ah,” Louis says, waiting.

“It’s just the stupidest thing in the world and I don’t want to be fighting with him but now I am.” It all comes out in a rush, Zayn staring forlornly at the ambulance roof. Louis sighs. How long had Zayn and Liam been dating now, five weeks? Maybe six? A fight at this point could make or break them, and Louis has no idea what the correct thing to say is.

“I’m sorry,” he finally settles on. “You want to talk about it?”

Zayn seems to deflate where he sits. “I really, really don’t right now.”

The back of the ambulance swings open and Niall climbs inside. He looks tired and worn, and he breaks into a yawn mid-greeting. It’s uncharacteristic of him; Niall is like the captain of the morning people. Louis stares at him, and at Zayn, befuddled.

For the first time in years, Louis seems to be the happiest person in the room.

*

The day passes slowly. Zayn’s mood doesn’t break at any point, so Louis feels rather as though he’s driving around with a mini storm system in the front car. And Niall, who admits that his family is in town visiting and things have devolved from there, is subdued to the point of near constant silence.

Louis finds himself going almost mad from having no one to properly converse with. Even the patients today are unusually weighted towards the crazy end, or the completely incapacitated end, so they’re either being rushed to the ER or swinging knives around and calling themselves Jesus.

As the evening rolls in and they find themselves parked under an overpass, waiting for a call, Louis fishes out his mobile and scrolls down to find Harry’s number. He still feels a thrill of nervous energy whenever he pulls Harry’s number up on screen, even though he’s had it since the night of the bar. But he’s been worn down by the day and has passed the point of needing to devise a clever premise upon which to send a text.

Everyone around me is a mess today. What are the odds I’ve unleashed an ancient Egyptian curse on my compatriots?

He hits send before he can overthink it, and glances at his companions. Zayn has his own phone out, staring at the screen with fierce concentration like he’s willing it to sprout wings or turn into a potato. Niall is napping on the patient bed.

As Louis turns back to face the windscreen, his phone buzzes with Harry’s response.

I 4got 2 tell you – govt changed date of Fri the 13th to 2day. Bureaucracy, am I right?

Louis lets out a huff of laughter, smiling fondly at his phone. The weirdly broken textspeak is very Harry. He types out a reply.

Good thing election is coming up. This Necromancer Shaman Party needs to go.

His phone buzzes with Harry’s response in under a minute.

Wat time u off 2night? I need brkfast befor shift. We cn plan revolution.

They agree to meet at the American-style diner round the corner from the police station just before eight. Harry is already sitting there, nose in a menu, and he looks up with delight as Louis slides into the booth opposite him.

“Breakfast Hazza? Really?” Louis asks, and Harry shrugs.

“I’m starting my shift at half past nine, I’ve been asleep most of today.” He leans back in his seat. “Besides, the child inside me is thrilled at the thought of having pancakes at dinner time.”

Louis can’t help but laugh at this, pulling the menu from Harry’s hands to peruse his own dinner choice. The waitress approaches and they order, Harry charming the pants off the young girl until she’s giggling into her ordering pad. Louis watches on, trying to be amused but unable to quash the sparks of jealousy that flitter through his body. He waits until the girl is gone to comment.

“Harry Styles, you charming bastard.”

Harry winks at him. “You should have seen me in high school. The girls, the boys, even the teachers were powerless before me. I was a menace. Dated my fair share of them too.”

“The teachers?” Louis asks incredulously, and Harry sputters with laughter.

“Do I look like a juvenile offender to you, Lou?” He shakes his head, curls falling into his eyes. “Just the girls and boys. First openly bi guy at my high school, I was a bit of a sensation.” He grins wickedly, folds his arms on the table and leans forward, green eyes burning into Louis. Louis feels his breath catch in his throat as Harry lowers his voice. “I could charm you now, if I felt like it.”

You already have fifty times over, Louis thinks, blood rushing straight to his cheeks and, well, other places. But he just forces a laugh and hopes it doesn’t sound too choked. Harry’s face lights up with amusement – whether mirroring Louis, or because he sense Louis’ discomfort, Louis can’t tell –  and he leans back in his seat as the waitress sets two plates in front of them. He watches as Harry begins to pour copious amounts of maple syrup over his bacon and pancakes.

“What about you?” Harry asks, still focused on perfecting the sugar-to-food ratio in his late-night breakfast, and it takes a second for Louis’ brain to catch up. He frowns at Harry, confused.

“What about me?”

Harry glances up, finally setting the maple syrup down. “What were you like in high school?” Harry expands, as Louis swallows down a bite of his lasagne.

“I was the class clown. Very high drama.”

“Really?”

“Yep.” Louis takes a sip of his coke. “Singing, drama, goofing off in front of the teachers to impress the class. The whole shebang.” He pauses. “You look surprised, Harold.”

Harry laughs. “No, I mean, I can see that. You just seem a bit more subdued these days.”

“Yeah,” Louis sighs. “My first boyfriend, when I was eighteen, kind of started to beat it out of me.” Harry’s eyes widen, and Louis hastens to add, “God, not literally! I mean, just kind of snide comments and all that. Not sure why he was with me in the first place, to be honest. But I started doubting myself, and then I got to Uni and it got worse because everyone around me was so, just, not like that at all. And I didn’t want to stick out any more than I already did being the gay one.” He sighs. “And then I took this job and the last of it kind of washed away.”

Harry is staring at him. “Why did you become an EMT, Lou?”

Louis shrugs. “I’m a necrophiliac.” He pauses to enjoy Harry’s shocked expression, which quickly dissolves into a grimace when he realises Louis is joking.

“Be serious, Lou.”

“How do you know I wasn’t?” Louis replies, grinning, but the smile fades as he thinks. “I don’t know, I guess it seemed exciting. I wanted the rush, the adrenaline. It’s what I used to love about performing, on the stage or in class, didn’t matter. Working as an EMT, well I couldn’t resist the life-and-death stakes of it all. It was big. Important.”

“But then?”

Louis pokes at his food. “Well, you know what it’s like. Stress levels through the roof, traumatic experiences, horrifying imagery. All that, punctuated by long stretches of either boredom or lack of sleep or both, where you’re nothing more than a glorified taxi driver to a bunch of hypochondriacs. There’s a reason the burnout rates in our professions are insane.”

Harry is quiet for a while, pondering this. “You could quit,” he finally says, slowly, like he’s scared it’s some taboo idea. Louis lifts a shoulder half-heartedly.

“I suppose. It’s occurred to me before.”

His mind lingers on the ambulance, and suddenly he remembers. “Hang on,” he mutters, groping around in his pockets for his phone. “Need to check in with Zayn. He and Liam are fighting.”

He sends off a quick enquiry as to Zayn’s emotional state. In the past, he’s had to come round with a bucket of ice cream and copious amounts of whiskey to coax Zayn out of various emotional breakdowns. But the reply is as quick as it is surprising.

All good, tnx Lou. Make up sex is fab.

“Oh god,” Louis groans, and Harry leans over to look at the screen. He’s so close Louis can smell his shampoo, and it’s kind of flowery, which is just so him. Harry laughs when he sees the text, falling back into his seat with a thump. “That’s sweet.”

“And a relief,” Louis says, putting his phone away. “I was really worried for a minute there.”

“Ah, Louis, you just need to trust in the power of looooove,” Harry replies in a singsong voice, and Louis raises an eyebrow.

If only I could, he thinks to himself. He’s had enough experience in the past to know that he and love are not exactly on good terms.

“You really do like other people, don’t you,” Louis says thoughtfully, almost to himself, and Harry beams.

“People are great, Lou,” he replies, as if this is the most obvious truth in the world.

“Not in my general experience.” Louis pokes at his lasagne as Harry laughs, at him apparently. “It’s true,” Louis defends himself, ignoring his food for a moment. “They grind you down, Haz. You’re a policeman, you should know this.”

Harry is shaking his head. “God, Lou,” he says through a mouthful of pancakes. He swallows it down. “Shit happens, some people break your heart. Ok, that’s life. You move on to the next adventure.”

Louis realises he is staring, but he can’t quite help it. “People break your heart?” he echoes, because he can’t for the life of him think of who would deliberately break someone like Harry’s heart. Harry nods.

“Of course. I give my heart away, get it returned in less than mint condition. It’s the universal story, isn’t it? But one of these days it’s going to work out fantastically. Just wait,” he finishes with a waggle of his eyebrows, and Louis forces himself to blink and look away.

“You’re really something, Harry Styles,” he says, not for the first time.

The food is gone in minutes as the conversation runs on to lighter subjects, like Harry’s family back in Cheshire, and his own four sisters. They get the bill and wander out of the diner, and when Louis checks his watch it’s not even nine. He’s about to ask what they should do when he notices that Harry is steering him in a particular direction, away from the police station.

“What are you doing?” he asks, and Harry shoots him a wicked grin.

“Trust me?”

It takes Louis a second to realise it’s a question. “I suppose,” he replies cautiously, but that’s apparently enough. Harry picks up the pace, and with his legs that much longer than Louis’ it’s all Louis can do not to start trotting to keep up.

“Harry,” he starts again, but Harry waves his hand dismissively, not even turning to acknowledge Louis’ question. They make it two blocks before Harry finally slows his pace, coming to a halt in front of a large fence of red metal bars. It’s dark, but the light of the streetlamps is enough for Louis to see that they’re in front of a school of some kind.

“We’re always pulling teenagers out of here for breaking and entering,” Harry says thoughtfully, finally turning to acknowledge Louis. “Shall we?”

Louis stares at him, then at the fence, then back at Harry. “What on earth are you talking about?”

Harry’s expression breaks into a mischievous grin, and he swings round to face the fence. Before Louis can get a word out he’s leapt, catlike, onto the upper bars. His grip is strong, and Louis can see his muscles flexed under his shirt, but he can’t even bring himself to be turned on by it because he’s too busy watching in a mix of horror and fascination as Harry vaults over the top of the fence and lands deftly on the other side.

“Harry,” Louis says slowly, staring at his companion through the red bars. “Harry, you broke into a school.”

“Yeah, I did,” Harry says, looking immensely pleased with himself.

“You broke into my ambulance and now you’re breaking into a school. I can’t believe I thought you were some heroic godlike being,” Louis whines, and Harry claps his hands together with enthusiasm.

“Come on Lou, it’s just a fence.”

Louis looks at him doubtfully. Now would be the time to walk away. Now would be the time to leave Harry Styles and his fence jumping and his happiness having and the way he laughs at Louis like Louis could be the sun to his earth. Now would be the time.

Louis takes two running steps and hurls himself upwards, clasping the top of the fence with ease as he pulls himself over. In one movement he’s free of it, dropping gracefully to the ground in front of Harry, who looks surprised.

“High school gymnastics,” Louis replies evenly, hoping for once he looks as cool as he feels, and sets off into the empty grounds.

The school isn’t huge, and they quickly find a playground with a climbing castle and a slide. Louis pulls himself up onto the top of the mini tower, and Harry follows quickly after him. When they’re standing on the top, Harry locates the kiddy slide and manages somehow to fit himself into it. Louis can’t help but giggle at the sight of long, lanky Harry folded into a chute intended to fit someone that probably only came up to his knees.

“You’re going to break it,” he says, but it comes out sounding less concerned and more delighted. Harry shrugs.

“I’m testing it. Helping it grow as a slide.”

“Ah, well the flower that blooms in adversity and all that,” Louis replies. Harry salutes, and pushes himself forward, disappearing over the edge. Louis leans over to see him skidding to a halt at the bottom, feet digging into the sand as he hits the edge.

“Bravo,” Louis calls, clapping, as Harry makes a mock sitting bow. “The slide remains intact.”

“Now I don’t have to add destruction of property to my list of sins,” Harry responds cheerfully, staring up at Louis. Louis snorts, and slips his legs through one of the railings to sit on the bar, dangling his feet over the edge into space. He leans forward so that the crooks of his elbows hang over the top rail, lets his chin rest on the bar. He smiles down at Harry.

“The thing is,” Harry says, returning the fond look, “When you’re a police officer you spend all this time with horrible people, or petty people, or stupid people. Just, lots of really shit human beings. Like, I love humanity and all but jesus, sometimes, you know? And then everyone around you either expects you to be perfect, or terrifying, or possibly both.” He lies back on the slide so that his head meets the plastic, his eyes tilted up to graze over Louis’ face. The moonlight turns his skin a beautiful ivory sheen. “So yeah, I pick up tricks from the people I arrest, and if they’re not hurting anyone sometimes I try them out. Partly because I want to understand these criminals. And partly because a lot of the time I do understand them. Some people commit crimes because they’re desperate. But some people do it because life has to be more colourful. It has to be… more.” He gestures lazily, and Louis can do nothing but watch him as he lies there.

Louis can’t quite fathom the sensation that has settled upon him. Something in him is burning white hot, his whole body is alive with feeling. Here, in the quiet and empty school, with the night settled all around them, he feels.

“I get that,” he says quietly, looking down at the beautiful boy on the slide. Their eyes meet properly, and there’s a moment of intensity to it that makes Louis’ breath catch in his throat. Then Harry blinks, looks away, almost as if dazed.

Louis lets his head fall back, eyes on the stars. When he was a kid he used to stay up past his bedtime to watch the night sky through the curtains. He loved the changing colours, the blues and blacks and purples. When he was outside at night the inky blackness and looming shadows would put fear straight through him, but inside he was safe. From within his darkened room, the night was alive with endless light and colour.

He’d lost that sense of wonder when he’d hit his teens, and sleep had become the highest priority in his life. But the memory pops into his head now. Beneath the overbright street lamps, the sky is a kind of grey purple. He hasn’t noticed something like that in a long time.

“I need to get to work,” Harry says regretfully, breaking the spell as he pushes himself upright. Louis lets out a humming sigh and lets himself slip through the metal railing. It’s only a short drop to the sandpit below.

There’s quiet as they make their way out of the school, vaulting over the fence onto the street. As they begin to walk towards the police station, it finally occurs to Louis, the reason why he’s always shied away from thoughts of leaving his job.

“I don’t want to quit. I don’t want to burnout, Harry. I honestly couldn’t be doing anything else.” As he says it, Louis knows it’s true, down to his core. He sighs. “I just need to stop letting it drown me.”

They walk quietly into the evening.

*

It happens a week later, the girl.

They’ve been on shift since nine the night before and it’s already well into the early hours of the morning when they get the call. They get to the scene before any of the other responders so they’re the ones who double park the ambulance in the quiet side street, who are buzzed into the apartment complex by a girl in tears. It’s easy to find where they’re meant to be going, there’s a small crowd of people standing in the dawn light on the grass, evidence of a party strewn about them. The crowd parts to let them through, and then Louis sees her.

She’s lying in a crumpled heap on the grass, neck at an angle that just looks wrong. There’s blood, and visible skull, and Louis freezes as he stares at her, the blood pounding through his body.

The call had gone out for a girl hanging over a balcony, obviously intoxicated and struggling to hold on.

She had been alive, when they got the call.

*

The hall they’re in is strangely quiet as the three of them sit side by side on an empty hospital bed. They’ve barely said anything to each other since getting back, since being told to find Simon, since being told by Simon that they had to talk to the resident counsellor.

The counsellor had said a lot of things as they slumped into her office, but Louis had heard them countless times before. Psychological debriefings were part and parcel with the job. It was only new to Niall really, the possible effects of post-traumatic stress disorder that he was at risk for.

Being on edge, manic behaviour, mood outbursts. Sleep disturbance. Flashbacks.

The thing is, most of the time he figures he’ll be ok. Most of the time he is. He doesn’t get affected by this shit, at least not in the way he used to.

But now…

He barely says a word, lets the others do the talking to fill in the silences, follows them as they shuffle from the room and find somewhere to sit for a moment.

“Ok,” says Niall, breaking the silence that had settled over them. “Ok, I’m kind of freaked out.”

“About the girl?” Zayn asks quietly, but Niall shakes his head.

“No, like, about what’s going to happen to us. The girl is something I’m just not thinking about.”

“You make it sound like we’re some kind of alien incubation chamber,” Louis puts in, finally breaking his silence. “We’re not being eaten alive from the inside, Niall. It’s just an adrenaline overdose. You’ll be a jumpy, moody git for twelve hours and then it’s back to normal.”

“S’ called hyperarousal,” Zayn adds, and Niall can’t seem to contain a snort at that. “Oh god, not like that,” Zayn sputters, but Louis shakes his head.

“Actually, sometimes it is like that. Adrenaline does strange things to a person. You’ll be fine Nialler, I promise.” He puts a reassuring hand to Niall’s shoulder, and pushes himself off the bed. “Shifts over, gang. I don’t know about you lot but I’m going to go home and go to bed.”

They break up, going their separate directions once they hit the street, and Louis is left alone with his thoughts as he walks.

He’s seen plenty of dead people in his work, and they don’t usually get to him like this. Not since he started out anyway. There’s something more going on, he thinks, something to the way the image of the crumpled girl keeps flashing through his mind. Something to the general feeling of loss and, and shame, god, what the hell. He picks at it, but his mind is throwing up road-blocks, doesn’t want him in there, and he feels a surge of anger at himself.

He pulls violently at the apartment complex door and it opens, and he thinks, that’s not right, because he hasn’t put his key in the lock, and –

Oh.

This isn’t his apartment complex. This is Harry’s.

Louis is standing in the lobby, unsure of what happened. He’d been walking home, hadn’t he? What on earth was he doing here?

He checks his phone, but the last text was from Harry earlier that morning, gloating about his day off. They hadn’t made plans, there’s no logical reason why Louis has unconsciously ended up here.

He sighs, letting himself fall against the wall, and runs his hands over his face. How had things gotten so bad that his autopilot was set on Harry? How had he let himself get to this point?

A surge of anger rockets through him, and before he knows what he’s doing he’s marching down the hall, seeking out the brassy number five of Harry’s ground floor flat. He slams his fist against the door several times and steps back, waiting impatiently for a response. It takes less than a minute, and then the door swings slowly open.

“Louis?” Harry looks confused, but pleased, as he stands in the doorway. “What are you doing here?”

“I don’t know!” Louis replies bitterly, his arms folded tightly to his chest. “Can I come in?”

Harry pulls the door wide open in response, stepping aside as Louis storms past him into the living room. “What’s going on, Lou?” Harry asks gently, closing the door behind them and following in Louis’ wake.

“Trauma, that’s what,” Louis says bluntly, coming to a halt next to one of Harry’s couches. There’s a small part of the back of his mind that is screaming at him to stop, to think, to breathe. But every other part of him is pure emotion and pure energy, and it’s impossible to do anything about it. “We had trauma at work, this girl was dead before we could get to her and I came here, Harry. She died, she was twenty-one. Fell off a balcony. And I was going to go home but I didn’t, I didn’t even do it on purpose, I just came here and I don’t know why.” He stops, shakes his head. “Except that’s bullshit, I do know why.”

Harry has been standing quietly, listening, his face set in sympathy. Louis wants to do something to wipe that expression off his face, to shock him or anger him, to make him feel what Louis is feeling.

“Lou?” Harry says, softly, his eyes wide as he waits for Louis to continue, and that’s it.

They’d been halfway across the room from each other, but that’s gone in a matter of seconds, like it was never there at all. Louis has moved, has taken the space between them so that there is nothing to stop him from reaching out to bring them together. One hand grasps at Harry’s shoulder and one settles on his cheek and then their lips crash together, heat and energy rocketing through Louis like he’s been hit by lightning.

There’s a moment where Harry hesitates in surprise, but then he gives way to Louis, melts into the kiss, into the touch. Harry tastes like apples and mint, his lips firm and demanding against Louis’. One of his hands ghosts down Louis’ back as they press closer together, pushes at his lower spine as he pulls Louis back with him.

They meet the wall, Harry spinning them so that Louis’ back hits the panelling hard. He gasps, and Harry takes this as his opportunity, his tongue darting out and running over Louis’. He’s possessive, almost fierce, and Louis’ entire body is alight with every second that they remain touching. He can find no words, no thoughts, just yes and Harry and finally.

The kiss breaks as Harry steps back, panting, his darkened eyes questioning. There’s no doubt that he wants more of Louis. When Louis nods, Harry pulls Louis’ shirt over his head easily and discards it on the floor, his gaze running over Louis’ bare torso with naked desire. Their eyes meet, and their lips follow soon after, hungry and desperate with pent-up longing.

“I want,” Louis breathes as Harry’s mouth travels down to his neck, teeth grazing against the skin, “I want – ” He can’t get anything else out except a gasp as Harry bites down, tongue running over the skin. He brings his mouth back up to Louis’.

“Me too,” Harry whispers, kissing at Louis' jawline, and somehow this is happening, this is real, Louis is conscious and breathing and filled with all the colours in existence. “Me too.” He pulls away to look at Louis, his pupils blown out.

“God, Lou, you have no idea how long I’ve been waiting,” he murmurs, his voice low, and that’s it, that’s more than Louis can take. Lou grabs his shirt and pulls him in again, hungrily capturing his mouth, tugging at the buttons. Why, why today of all days, must Harry have chosen a button down. He gives up after one or two of the stupid things, laughing against Harry’s teeth, and just yanks the thing up and over Harry’s head.

He’s seen Harry shirtless before, but somehow this time it’s as if it’s more real, more beautiful and breathtaking. He runs his fingertips over Harry’s numerous tattoos as Harry watches him with a grin.

“Harry,” Louis says, looking up to meet Harry’s green eyes in wonder. There’s a million more things running through his mind, a million feelings, but it’s all there in a word.

Like maybe Harry is the only thing he’ll ever need.

*

Louis wakes with considerably less disorientation than normal. The normal panicky jolt of the alarm has been replaced by the wash of sunlight. He feels content, and worn, and comfortable.

Except, ok, his doona has gotten considerably more plush than he remembered, and there’s something warm down his left side, and where in god’s name is he?

Oh. Oh.

It rushes back to him, slams into him, winds him. He’s in Harry’s bed, the officer out cold beside him, sprawled over his side of the bed. He looks beautiful in the late afternoon light, exposed pale skin shining in the sun and curls twisting down his neck. Louis sucks in a breath.

He remembers.

He remembers how Harry had fallen to his knees in the living room, remembers the feel of Harry’s mouth around him. He remembers how they’d stumbled into Harry’s bed, clothes strewn in a line behind them. He remembers being inside Harry, the sounds he’d made, the way their bodies had fit together.

And in the late afternoon light, Louis is suddenly gripped with panic.

It’s cold and shocking and overwhelming, stops the breath in his throat and sends his heart a million miles an hour.

He’s staring down at Harry and everything in his mind is screaming at him to get out of there.

You’ve fucked this up, he thinks, and the thought hollows him out, sends ice through him. This is it, this is everything he was trying to stop, everything he didn’t want to happen. It’s done, and it’s broken, and he’s fucked everything up yet again.

God, he should have stopped it earlier. It wasn’t ok to pine for Harry, it wasn’t ok to have let it get this bad, because when Harry wakes up –

He slips out of bed as quietly as possible, the cold air almost painful against his bare skin. He finds his clothes in various heaps, pulls them on out in the living room, and hesitates, his eyes falling on the notepad Harry keeps on his kitchen counter.

He shakes his head, and slips out the door.

There’s a pit in his stomach as he meets the afternoon sunlight, as he begins to walk. It wouldn’t matter which way it went, if he’d still been there when Harry woke. The scenarios are endless and varied, but Louis knows how they all end. Every single one. It doesn’t matter how long it takes; doesn’t matter if it’s within minutes, or days, or months. It still, always, ends with him ruining everything.

It's done now.

He’s gone and ruined the best thing in his life.

*

Their shift starts at five, and Louis is an hour early, but he just grabs a coffee and sits in Sheila with the heating on and the radio blasting some mindless tune. He’s been there only five minutes when his phone starts ringing.

It’s Harry. He knows without even checking the ID, but he looks anyway, and yeah.

He lets it ring out.

Niall and Zayn pile into the ambulance, and they trundle out onto the streets of Doncaster. The two of them compare war stories of their come downs, which essentially amounted to very little. Some crying at Disney, some over-eating, some Zayn and Liam having sex on the dining table.

Louis listens, not saying anything, and once or twice Zayn glances over at him with a slightly worried expression. But he knows not to pick at it, knows Louis will talk if he needs it, and right now all Louis wants is to be distracted.

*

The window is cold against his forehead as he rests. Louis and an empty ambulance. The dream team.

It had been ok, with Niall and Zayn chirping along beside him. But right now they’re outside the vehicle, and Louis has nothing except silence and his own thoughts.

And that’s why he starts to notice.

The thing is, it’s been a few hours, and he feels almost as if he’s coming back to himself. Starting to feel more like he normally does.

He hadn’t realised what a gaping chasm there was between adrenalin Louis and regular Louis. Everything in the past few hours had been high intensity, it had barely even registered. But no, god, how had he not noticed this absence of self? How had he not seen how far removed from himself he had become?

He runs over everything, the dead girl, the silence in the hospital, Harry’s apartment and the way he’d run out…

Oh.

Normal Louis might have panicked a little, but normal Louis wouldn’t have slunk out of Harry’s apartment like he was leaving a cheap one night stand. At least, he doesn’t think so. Surely normal Louis isn’t that awful.

This is Harry, funny, brilliant, exciting Harry, who rescues people and breaks into places that aren’t his, and all Louis has wanted for the last few weeks of his life was to have him. To let him. To keep him.

And – fuck.

Louis feels the air leave his lungs as the realisation of exactly what he’s done hits him. It slams into him, chokes him, overwhelms his every sense.

They’re parked in a side-street, the other two outside kicking rocks around, and he scrambles for his phone. After five hours, there are two more missed calls from Harry, and then a series of texts.

Lou?

Did I do smthing?

Srsly Louis, pls reply. I’m worried.

and finally,

Oh.

I can’t believe you.

Louis stares at his phone, and he feels sick. Something inside him wants to break, and something else wants to laugh, because isn’t this just so right. He’d been right. Ruining things was a foregone conclusion.

Except fuck, it was thinking like that that caused this. Stupid fucking adrenaline, drowning his rationality, bringing the worst of him to the fore.

He’d spent weeks and weeks telling himself, telling Niall, telling Zayn that everything romantic he laid his hands on would break beneath them. But there had to have been a part of him that hadn’t given up completely. There was a part of him that had let Harry in, let the way Harry made him feel in. That had believed that maybe, maybe this time, it could end differently.

“God dammit,” he mutters under his breath, his head falling forwards to hit the wheel. His mind is empty of anything except loss, because what could he possibly say to apologise? Why would Harry listen to any of it?

He’s just so tired. Not of his job, and not of his life.

He’s tired of himself.

*

Louis is dozing in the back of the ambulance when he gets poked awake by Niall.

“Louis,” Niall hisses, his face hovering uncomfortably close to Louis’ own, and Louis comes to with a start.

“God, Niall, don’t ever do that to me again,” he hisses, rubbing his palms over his eyes.

“Sorry,” Niall concedes, stepping back as Louis sits up. The clock on the dashboard says three am. Ten hours since his shift began. A little more since he’d run out on Harry. “It’s just we’ve been called. Patient broke their leg, needs a lift to the hospital.”

Louis’ brain is fuzzy, he can barely comprehend what Niall is saying. Two night shifts in a row will do that to a person. Not to mention the fact that he’d spent a significant amount of the time he should have been sleeping with Harry, doing… well, Louis doesn’t want to think about it. He just wants to get to the end of this shift, and go home, and try and figure out if there’s some way to repair the damage he’s done.

“You can drive us, Nialler,” he finds himself saying through a yawn, stretching his arms out in front of him. Niall stares at him, blinking.

“You’re letting me drive Sheila?” His voice has gone up an octave.

Louis nods, smiling fondly. “You’ve earned it. Plus, if I get behind the wheel in this state we’ll end up in a ditch. I’ll ride back here, go on.”

A grin breaks over Niall’s face, pure delight in his eyes as he vaults over the front seats and into the driver’s chair next to Zayn. Louis watches him as Zayn pats him on the back. He would have anticipated a level of anxiety, giving the wheel over, but right now all his anxiety is being eaten up by the state of things with Harry. Apparently the only thing he has left to feel about this new situation is sort of oddly pleased, maybe even proud, as the ambulance pulls away smoothly from the curb and the siren turns on.

Louis turns away from watching over Niall’s shoulder, pulling his feet to him as he glances around the back of the vehicle. It’s been a while since he rode back here.

He yawns again. He needs to think. He needs to focus.

It all happens incredibly quickly.

Later, Louis will remember Zayn saying, “I’m not sure he’s seen us,” and Niall muttering, “What is this fucker doing?” He will remember Niall sounding one blast of the horn, and swearing again as he leans over the wheel slightly to see better.

But at the time, none of that really registers, because it’s over and done with in seconds, and suddenly all Louis can comprehend is the shock of impact, the way he is flung clean from the bed and into the shelving. Something punches into his chest, something slices against his cheek. The sound of broken glass and the rain of objects that cascade around him as he plummets to the floor.

It’s too much, too fast, and on the purest level of Louis’ comprehension it’s distilled down into one thing. It’s the pain, the crackling, echoing pain, that he can understand. It shoots through his skull, slams through his ribs, takes over his body and drowns him in it.

Then, nothing.

*

Louis might be dead.

No. Dead people don’t have thoughts. When did he start having thoughts?

And hearing sounds, and oh god, feeling pain. It’s in him, surrounding him, it is him, every time he breathes in, it’s just pain.

Dead people don’t need to breathe though. So there’s that.

His eyes open, slowly, like the muscles there have almost but not quite forgotten how to do their job. All he can see is white, and he slowly realises he is staring at a white ceiling. He needs to move his head, but he’s not sure he can and he’s too scared to try.

“Louis?”

Someone is saying his name, and it sounds familiar. He struggles to put a name to the voice, and then it clicks, it’s Zayn. He opens his lips to say something, but they’re dry, and his throat is husky, so when he tries to speak it just comes out as a low growling type noise, which, what the hell.

Zayn’s face looms into focus as he hovers over Louis. “You’re awake!”

“What,” Louis manages to get out, staring back at Zayn. “Happened,” he adds with a final push of effort. His tongue runs over his teeth, and they’re all still there, good, that part of him is intact.

“We were in an accident, Lou. Some dickhead didn’t stop to let us through at an intersection, barrelled right into the side of us.”

Louis lets this sink in, lets it fill in what he knows. He’s alive and in pain, and presumably in a hospital, and Zayn is here so he must be fine, but –

“Where’s Niall?” he gasps, and Zayn shakes his head.

“Don’t worry, he was here earlier but he needed to go get some sleep. He fractured his wrist, that’s all. Feels awful though. I keep telling him he didn’t do anything wrong but he thinks it’s his fault Sheila is dead and you’re in here.”

The word dead registers in Louis’ mind and he is filled with horror at the thought that someone is dead, because that’s not right, he’s meant to save people, he’s meant to –

Sheila. Sheila is dead.

Sheila is an ambulance. Ok.

“Can I move my head?” Louis asks quietly, and this elicits a laugh from Zayn.

“You’re not paralysed, you dork. Might experience some whiplash so be careful with your neck,” he advises, looking thoughtful, “but apart from that it’s three broken ribs and a concussion. You’ve been out for two days.”

Louis actually feels relieved at this news. Broken ribs, that explains why every breath feels like the grim reaper is jumping on his corpse. He turns his head, slowly and stiffly, to look at Zayn. He’s got bruises on his cheeks and forehead, and a graze on one of his temples, but otherwise he looks completely fine.

“Ugh,” Louis says finally, unable to quite articulate anything more than that, and Zayn nods.

“Basically, yeah. Your knight in shining armour pulls through in a pinch though.”

Louis is too drowsy to try and work out for himself what that means, so he demands, “Explain.”

“Harry,” Zayn clarifies. “He responded to the call, helped lift the shelving off you. It was all rather romantic.”

“Don’t start,” Louis mutters, closing his eyes. Harry’s name elicits a feeling of sadness and pain and he can’t right now. It’s too much to process, and he can barely keep his mind functioning. “Not now anyway.”

“Fine,” Zayn says, and Louis can hear the fond tone in his voice. He lets it comfort him, lets it wrap around him, as sleep encroaches again.

*

When Louis opens his eyes again, the hospital room is a hazy bright white, and the sounds of beeps ring softly in his ears. Everything has a kind of fog to it, his mind feels disconnected. It takes a few seconds for his blurred vision to focus, but when it does he sees a figure standing in the doorway.

Something within him goes, Harry, and he doesn’t know why because he can barely see or think but he just knows.

“Lou,” says a rough voice, and yes, that’s right, it’s him.

Louis opens his mouth to say something, but his throat feels dry and scratchy again, and he only manages a sound like rasping leaves. When he tries again, it’s a little more audible.

“Come here.”

Distantly, Louis registers Harry’s hesitation, but nothing in his mind or body actually cares. “Here,” he says again, and he thinks he sees Harry shake his head.

“You’re drugged up, Louis,” Harry says, and that sounds about right, but it’s like the words float in and out of him because they’re not important. They’re ephemeral. Harry is not.

“Harry,” Louis gets out. “Please.” It might sound weak, or it might sound demanding. Whichever way, Harry responds this time. He’s slow in his movements as he approaches the bed, and when Louis shuffles painfully to one side he doesn’t hesitate this time. He climbs on top of the blankets, so so cautious, and moulds himself down Louis’ side.

The warmth of him breaks over Louis, his warmth and his scent, like baked bread and red wine. His curls brush Louis’ cheek as Louis reaches for one of Harry’s hands, pulls it with him to rest on his own arm. And Harry lets him, lets Louis fold himself into Harry’s embrace the only way he can manage.

The hospital sheets are scratchy, and the beeping is jarring, and the light is so harsh. But this is good. This is right.

Louis’ breathing slows, his eyes fall shut.

When he wakes, Harry is gone.

*

He mostly just sleeps, wakes up to eat, feels like shit, sleeps again. Zayn comes by a couple of times. Harry doesn’t come again.

Niall finally appears on his third day of consciousness. He’s got a neon blue cast on his wrist, and he enters Louis’ room looking like a kicked puppy.

“I’m so sorry, Louis,” are the first words out of his mouth. He’s loitering in the doorway, as if he’s not sure if he’s wanted. Louis stares at him blankly.

“What for?”

“The accident!” Niall exclaims, propelled forward slightly by the broad and completely ambiguous gesture he makes. “I should have seen the guy, I should have done something. I don’t know, I just – ”

Louis cuts him off as his voice begins to rise with possible hysteria. “It’s not your fault, Niall,” he says forcefully. “Honestly, you do talk some shit.”

Niall looks almost winded at this admission. Louis feels for the controls for his bed, pushes the button that lets him slowly move into an upright position. He feels a little ridiculous waiting for the bed to come to a stop, but there’s not really an alternative. “What did the hospital say?”

“Sheila’s dead,” Niall replies sombrely, coming properly into the room now. He perches on the chair beside Louis’ bed, sitting on the arm instead of in it like a normal human. “But I’m not being disciplined or anything. The insurance company agreed I’m not at fault.”

“As do I, and Zayn. So let it go before you drive yourself crazy,” Louis says as his bed finally comes to a standstill. He’s sitting, sort of, and his chest hurts like crazy because he turned down the extra pain meds this morning. He’s just sick of feeling like his mind is swimming through mud.

“Yeah, ok,” Niall huffs out, and he sounds like he’s not sure that’s possible, but Louis appreciates the effort.

“Look,” Louis starts, and he waits until Niall meets his gaze before continuing. “This is just it, ok? Accidents happen, shit gets destroyed, people end up in the hospital.” Niall winces at this, but Louis powers through it. “You of all people should know this, with what we deal with on a daily basis. It happens, Niall, whether we’re responsible or, in this case, not.” Louis looks imploringly at him. “And I’m not going to have some mopey dolt on Team Louis.”

Niall’s eyes widen as he watches Louis, his expression incredulous. “You’re not kicking me off the team?”

Louis actually reaches out, despite the pain it causes him, to punch Niall lightly on the arm. “Don’t be stupid. You belong with us, Niall.” He leans over to his side table, picking up the untouched bowl of jelly that a nurse had left him with half an hour ago. He presents it to Niall.

“Really?” Niall asks, and Louis isn’t sure if he’s referring to the heart to heart or the bowl of jelly hovering in front of his face. Either way, Louis manages the smallest of shrugs.

“Honestly Nialler, you look like your puppy fell down a well. So eat some jelly and cheer the fuck up, or I’m telling the hospital to transfer you to Neurotic Carl’s team.”

Niall laughs, finally accepting the jelly to Louis’ relief. His arm is beginning to hurt from being held out like that. Louis slumps back into his bed, and catches Niall staring at him strangely as he slurps down a spoon of green jelly.

“What?” Louis asks, and Niall shakes his head.

“Nothing,” Niall says, swallowing his mouthful. “It’s just, people with serious injuries are so…down. You seem to be, I don’t know, more animated than usual.”

“When do I ever do what other people do?” Louis says with a grin, but Niall’s words sink into his skull with a heaviness that Louis can’t shake. It’s in the way Louis feels, in the way he thinks, like everything is just so clear now. Like the world has sharpened its edges and focused itself.

Like it wants Louis to do so too.

He’d say it’s the drugs, or maybe the aftermath of the accident, that’s got him feeling this way. But when he really stops and thinks about it – after Niall has finished his free meal and departed home to rest up – he realises that it’s been going on longer than that. It was small, maybe, starting out just as an ember, but it’s been growing within him for weeks now. It’s seeped into his everything, this desire to pull himself above the black and white, above the mundane. To find the good things, like Niall on their team and the ability to be affected by his job, and keep them.

Even throughout all the crap that’s happened in the last week, it was there. It was always there.

Ever since he met Harry.

*

Zayn is hanging out on Louis’ windowsill, one foot inside and the other dangling over the edge, an unlit cigarette in his teeth. The hospital staff might have scolded him when he tried to light it, but they couldn’t stop him from pretending.

Since he’d arrived, he’d handed Louis a coffee and asked him how he was feeling, and then they’d settled into a mutual, comfortable silence. It was nice to have that with someone, Louis felt, to be able to stay within his own thoughts even with company.

“He was there, you know,” Zayn says suddenly into the quiet. The sudden admission startles Louis from his distant reverie, banishing whatever he had been thinking about to the corners of his mind.

“Who?” he asks impulsively, but as soon as the words leave his lips he knows the answer. He has a vague memory of a conversation with Zayn when he’d first woken up. Zayn clarifies anyway.

“Harry.” Zayn ducks his head out the window a little, letting the breeze play with his hair. “God, you should have seen his face when he pulled you out.”

Zayn knows what happened between them, now; Louis had filled him yesterday. But the conversation peters out again, Louis unwilling to take it any further, and Liam comes by shortly thereafter to pick Zayn up for dinner.

Alone in his hospital room, Louis lets the thought settle on him, runs his mind over Zayn’s words.

He doesn’t really know what to make of it. He doesn’t know what to do. He’s lost, and trapped in this stupid bed, beset by the certainty that he has to make this right somehow. That he has to recover what he’s lost.

A throat clears nearby, and Louis looks up to see… Harry. In his doorway. Like the universe had been listening in on his thoughts and decided to cut him some slack.

 It’s not like it was last time, when he was muffled by pain meds and unable to process. This time it hits him, slams into him, and he knows this is real.

Harry. The name resounds in his head, reverberates through his entire body, and he almost loses his breath. Harry is here, and as perfect as he always was. As Louis always found him.

Louis is filled suddenly with longing like he has never known. He had been pining for a while, sure, but all that was before he had had Harry to himself. Before he had pressed kisses down Harry’s spine, captured Harry’s mouth with his, felt Harry’s skin beneath his own.

Now that Harry is in front of him again, it’s like his ship has found its lighthouse, his planet its orbit. Every part of him feels like it’s reaching out, like it’s humming into life from out of a deathly slumber. He just stares, half expecting Harry to vanish, because there has never been someone in Louis’ life that he needs like this. He has never experienced this before in his twenty-seven years.

“Harry,” he breathes out, and he isn’t prepared for the look Harry gives him. The woundedness, the pain, everything that Louis put there and everything he wants to take away again. “You’re here,” he adds, because he honestly can’t quite believe it.

“I don’t know why,” Harry says, leaning against the door frame heavily. He sounds tired and worn, and he’s just staring at Louis with all the weight of the world. “I was worried, I guess.”

“I’m ok,” Louis replies. His chest has constricted painfully, and he’s not sure if it’s the ribs or if it’s the boy who’s looking at him like that, but either way it doesn’t matter. “Harry, I – ”

“It’s fine. I didn’t come here to get anything from you,” Harry says dismissively, cutting Louis off. “I just wanted to say…” His arms are folded tightly across his chest as he stares impassively at the floor, like he’s steeling himself. It comes out in almost a rush. “Maybe I am too optimistic about people. I just… I thought maybe it would be different, with you. More than thought. I felt like I knew. That there was something in the way you looked at me. That I wasn’t alone in feeling this way about another person.” He huffs out a frustrated breath. “Wrong again, I guess.”

He moves, shifts his weight as if to turn and leave, and Louis sits bolt upright, forgetting for a second that he can’t do things like that. He lets out a cry and doubles over, overwhelmed by the sheer pain. But he manages to lift one hand while he waits for it to subside, manages to reach out for Harry. “Stop,” he croaks out, his face screwed up, the breath catching in his lungs.

When he finds he can open his eyes again, he looks up to find Harry has indeed stopped, is watching him with open concern. Of course Harry can still manage to care, after what Louis did to him. Louis doesn’t deserve a look that full of care. Not yet, anyway. But maybe –

Louis damps down the pain, pushes it to a far off corner of his mind, and breathes as deeply as he can manage. He has been given a chance by some cosmic power to put this right, and he has to take it.

“I’m so sorry Harry,” he gets out, trying to imbue the words with as much sincerity he can manage. “I’m so sorry for running out on you.”

Harry shrugs. “I get it. It was a mistake to you. I’m a grown-up, Louis, I can – ”

“No,” Louis interrupts. “No that’s not it. I never wanted you to feel this way. I can’t hate myself enough for doing this to you.”

Harry lets out a sigh, runs a hand through his curls and only succeeds in messing them up more. “You could have faced me, you know. I can deal with rejection.”

“I wasn’t rejecting you!” Louis says quickly, alarmed by the direction he’s allowed the conversation to go in. Harry looks sceptical.

“You left before I woke up and then avoided me, Louis. How do you think that makes me feel?”

“I know,” Louis says softly, looking down at his hands. He doesn’t dare to glance up again, to see the anger and hurt that will still be on Harry’s face because of him. “I’m so sorry, Ha- Harry.” The nickname nearly slips out, but he stops himself.

There’s a sigh, and then a weight on the end of his bed, and he finally brings himself to look up. Harry has settled lightly by his feet. He looks tense, like he’s ready to flee at any moment, but he’s sitting and that’s something. Louis will take it.

“Then what, Lou?” Harry asks gently, almost imploringly, and he sounds exhausted. But Louis thinks there might be the slightest tinge of hope to his words.

“I have a bad track record with this kind of thing,” Louis says, and Harry opens his mouth to say something but Louis barrels on, needs to get this out before Harry can run. “I’m constantly full of fear and doubt and I do my best to keep it under control. But that day, god Harry. I was in a bad place, body full of adrenaline. And it got to me, I let it get to me. I was so scared that I had ruined things between us that I ended up ensuring that that was the case.”

Harry is still, is waiting for him to continue, and Louis lets his eyes close, just for a second. His stomach is a pit of nerves, and parts of his mind are screaming at him to pull back before it’s too late, but he’s sick and tired of being this person. He’s sick of letting the bad parts of him take over, sick of letting all the colour drain from his world. He doesn’t want to be monochromatic any more.

“But Harry, when we were together – I meant it, every second. That was the good part of me. That was the truth.” He sighs. “I’ll never regret anything more than walking out on you. You have no idea what you’ve done to me since we met. You’re everything, Harry.”

He’s run out of breath now, has to stop and take a moment because the pain from his ribs is crushing him. Harry is watching him, his expression unreadable, and Louis wants to reach out, wants to drag a response out of him. But he doesn’t deserve that.

Their eyes meet, and something in Harry’s expression gives, the corners of his mouth softening from their hard line into something else, something gentle and wonderful.

“Lou,” he breathes out, and then he’s leaning forward on his hands, stretching over the bed to meet Louis’ lips with his own. Louis manages to keep down the gasp that threatens to escape him, the shock of this, of Harry. That somehow Harry is kissing him, after everything. That somehow he can have this.

It’s sweet, and gentle, Harry teasing at his lips with such restraint. Louis doesn’t know why, wants to be overwhelmed by Harry. He deepens the kiss, pushing himself forward, reaching for Harry –

Pain, sickening pain, thuds into him, and he is forced away from Harry with the shock of it. Harry actually laughs, the bastard, as Louis lets out a groan.

“This is going to get really old, really fast,” Louis mutters, glaring down at his own ribcage. Harry’s hand settles on his arm.

“I know,” he says with a mischievous grin. “But think of all the things I can do to you while you just lie there.”

Louis almost chokes on the laugh that bursts out of him. “Oh my god, you are killing me Styles,” he says weakly, leaning back into his pillows as gently as he can. Harry is smiling at him fondly, but it fades a little as something takes hold of his expression. Fear, Louis thinks it might be.

“So, you mean it? You and me?” Harry asks softly, and Louis realises he’s still unsure, still tentative, and maybe Louis did that to him. Louis reaches for one of his hands, covering it with his own.

“If you can forgive me,” he replies, because he wants Harry to know that he’s feeling just as vulnerable, just as frightened that this good thing can’t possibly last. Harry strokes his thumb on the underside of Louis’ wrist.

“I do. I want this, Louis. I want you.” He smiles weakly. “But next time you’re having a full blown panic attack about me, could you maybe wake me up first before you decide to disappear?”

Louis lets out a breath that he hadn’t realised he was holding. “Now what kind of ridiculous idea is that?” he says dryly, and Harry laughs, low and soft. Louis tugs on Harry’s hand, pulling him in closer, and Harry shuffles further onto the bed. He curls into the space beside Louis, their shoulders pressing together as Louis leans into him.

“You’re really something else, you know that?” he murmurs, and he feels the hum Harry lets out through where they’re touching.

“I could say the same for you, Louis Tomlinson.”

*

It’s a blustery day, rain falling in intermittent showers, which Louis thinks might be appropriate all things considered.

He’s watching as Harry leans around a corner, brown curls bouncing as he looks both ways, then turns back.

“All clear,” he whispers dramatically, moving around to grasp the back of Louis’ wheelchair. They take off down the empty hallway, moving at a clip that probably wouldn’t be considered responsible considering Louis’ fragile condition. They’re almost halfway before Louis hears footsteps behind them, echoing from round the corner.

“Faster, Styles,” he hisses, and Harry speeds up until he is practically jogging. They skid to a halt in front of the lifts and Harry slams his finger repeatedly into the button until the doors open, as if the repetition has some kind of effect. They make it inside just as a couple of nurses round the corner, and Louis’ heart is in his throat. If they recognise him, if they make him get back in bed, it’s all ruined.

Thankfully, they’re too deep in conversation to pay much attention to who is entering the lift at the far end of the hall, and as the doors close Louis hears Harry let out a breath. Louis grins up at him.

“I thought you were a rule-breaker, Haz. You should be used to this.”

“This isn’t my home turf,” Harry replies with a grin. “It’s exciting though. Stealing a patient. I feel like a Bond villain.”

“When in the history of Bond has the key to the evil master-plan been hijacking a sick person?” Louis shoots back, and Harry shrugs airily.

“It’s in the next one. I read an advance copy of the script.”

The two of them dissolve into giggles as the elevator doors ping open on a mostly empty parking garage.

“About time,” Niall calls across the lot as they roll forwards, the wheels of Louis’ chair loud on the concrete.

“Sorry, dodging MI6,” Harry replies, which makes Louis crack up again, his laughter echoing in the empty space.

They follow Niall to the far end of the lot, away from where most of the ambulances are parked. It’s a repairs garage, and up on the blocks is the saddest excuse for an ambulance Louis has ever seen. It tugs at his heart a little bit, to see her like this, the side crumpled in and every pane of glass destroyed.

Zayn and Liam are sitting on the steps together, their hands entwined, and they look up as Louis rolls to a stop.

“So she’s dead?” Harry asks, and Zayn nods.

“Sheila is no more,” he replies, and the five of them stare at the once great vehicle. “Who wants to do the eulogising?”

“I think that honour has to go to Louis,” Niall says, and the others murmur their agreement. Louis nods. He’d been expecting this.

“Ok,” he announces, running the palms of his hands over his knees. He takes a breath and lets it out slowly. “Here’s to Sheila, the greatest ambulance a man could have asked for. She was there for us in sickness and in health, until her untimely death at the hands of a moron who has ended up in court, because the universe is a just and good place.” He looks around at their little group, gathered around the corpse of an ambulance, and is filled with a funny kind of warmth. “Sheila was a part of our family, and she will be missed dearly. I’m sure she would be imbued with a sense of duty well done, were she not an ambulance and incapable of thought.” He pauses, and Liam clears his throat.

“I, uh, brought something for the occasion,” Liam says, and pulls a bottle of champagne out from behind his back. Louis beams at the fireman, who produces a stack of paper cups as well.

“Shall we toast?” Harry asks, as they pass out the cups and pour the drinks.

“To Sheila,” Louis says, holding his cup up. “I have several broken ribs, but I’m not dead. Sheila protected me. She was faithful and true til the very end.”

“To Sheila,” Zayn echoes. “Who carried us far and wide, particularly to places that were on fire.” He grins at Liam, waggling his eyebrows, and Liam laughs.

“To Sheila,” Niall says finally. “Who brought me to you lot.”

“Cheers,” they say in clumsy unison, five voices echoing through the garage, and they hoist the glasses aloft and down their drinks.

“I need to show you something,” Zayn says when they’ve finished, and he gestures for the group to follow him out of the workshop area. They walk a short distance round the corner, to where several other vehicles are parked. Zayn halts in front of one, beaming proudly.

“This is our new ambulance,” he says, looking round. “For the three of us.”

It’s shiny and new and theirs, and though Louis feels the loss of Sheila deeply, he can’t help but feel a certain sense of new beginnings, of possibility.

“What’s her name, Louis?” Zayn asks, watching him expectantly, and Louis shakes his head.

“I think that honour should go to Niall, actually,” he replies. They turn to look at the Irishman, who is staring back wide-eyed.

“Me?” he asks, slightly higher pitched than normal, and Louis nods. Niall looks from him to Zayn, then at the ambulance. “Niamh,” he says finally, with a smile. “It means ‘bright’.”

“To Niamh!” Louis says, his cup held high again, and the phrase is repeated amongst them as they drain their glasses. Louis turns in his chair as well as he can manage, his gaze falling on Harry. Harry is laughing as he finishes his drink, his head thrown back, eyes glimmering as they pass over the others and come to settle warmly on Louis. There’s something about the way his green eyes light up, like its radiating from within him.

Bright, Louis thinks, as a smile creeps over his features.

The word resonates to his core, and he thinks maybe he understands it better now than he ever did before.

*