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in this life, i think i'm falling

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Louis wakes up to the ungodly sound of one of those default alarm settings being pressed against his ear and a pair of scrubs thrown at his face, stinking rather unattractively of disinfectant. Coughing bits of material out of his mouth, he flings the trousers to the floor and bats Zayn's hand away, groaning at the sunlight peeking through the blinds. The sun's too bright; somehow along the way, his career has turned him into a vampire. He blinks slowly, trying to catch the fuzzy remnants of a dream he was having; he can’t remember much aside from feeling warm and rested and safe. Which is the opposite of what he’s feeling now.

"What the hell, Malik? I was sleeping."

"I can see that, mate," Zayn answers, sounding spectacularly indifferent to Louis' plight, and pushes Louis' legs from the couch without warning so he can sprawl next to him. Louis makes a face but doesn't say anything to that; Zayn looks almost as tired as Louis feels. He stretches his arms above his head and moans appreciatively at the cracking sound his neck makes.

"Why did you wake me?"

"I woke you up because you made me promise to never let you sleep here again. Because - quote - you have your own flat and your own bed and your own plant that needs constant attention - unquote." Zayn rolls his eyes at that and Louis kicks out at him half-heartedly. He promised his mum that this time, the plant she got him would last more than a week; it's been three days. The plant is still standing. "Also because you are the only human being alive who can sleep through Marimba. Seriously, Lou, the cleaning lady assumed you were dead."

"Might as well have been. Ugh, my back is killing me. This couch is the devil."

"This couch isn't for sleeping."

"Give over, Z, I was here all night. I clocked twelve hours in the delivery room. Twins," he whispers theatrically. "Dad broke his wrist the second time he fainted. There was drama."

Zayn nods with understanding. "Still no excuse. You've got to be at work in -" he checks his watch, makes a sympathetic face at Louis, "- 'bout half hour."

"Not work. Sleep," Louis says petulantly, burying his face in the cheap plastic-like fabric covering the sofa in the doctors' lounge. A hand comes to poke him in the arse cheek repeatedly. He wiggles it in retaliation.

"You've got my appointments to cover too, Louis. Pez will freak if you're late again."

"Pez can stuff it. I need my beauty sleep. I need away from babies. I need away from vaginas." He's still speaking through a pillow. Zayn's fingers are still beating a rhythm against his bum. It's oddly relaxing. And kind of not helping his morning situation.

"We know that's not true, Tommo. We're all very aware what the priorities are in your life." He can hear the smile in Zayn's voice.

Louis sits up, resting on his elbows, scrubs rustling noisily as he turns his head around to glare at Zayn; his glasses are so loose they've slipped right down the bridge of his nose. "That," he pushes his glasses up and stresses the word carefully, tutting out the Ts, "that was said under the influence of many, many alcoholic beverages and should be never held against me."

"Niall's still got the video saved on his phone," Zayn points out lightly. He sits up straighter, adopts a silly expression and bats his eyelashes furiously, which in any other case Louis might take as an insult but today he's willing to take the compliment. "'There are three things that are important in my life, children,'" he breathes out, voice a shade higher, and Louis kicks him again, because, alright, he does not sound like a twelve-year old girl, "number one is babies, number two is vaginas and number three, right at the bottom of the list, is penises.'"

"I was intoxicated."

"Because clearly penises are at the top. Yours, specifically. Others are welcome to join."

Louis gives in and pounces this time, pressing Zayn down into the lumpy sofa. "What are you implying, Malik?"

"Nothing, you slag," Zayn laughs, flinching away from where Louis knows very well he's ticklish. "Was only - ha - messing with ya - Lou, stop! I'm a respectable doctor, you can't - ha!"

"So am I, you wanker, you can't be spreading around rumours about my insatiable appetite for dick, it's unethical. Hippocrates won't be having it."

"Don't invoke Hippocrates' name in vain, Louis. Not when you're talking about dick."

"Hippocrates was Greek. I'm sure talking about dick was like saying g'morning," Louis says primly, standing up finally and ignoring the ache in his bones; he blinks at the telly that's still on and remembers falling asleep to the calming sounds of the Kardashians.

"Ancient Greece was not the dick loving heaven you think it was, Lou, 'm like, eighty percent sure of that."

"What's next, you're gonna tell me the tooth fairy's not real? Don't you love me, Malik?" He presses a hand to his chest for dramatic effect; Zayn cackles into his white coat. Goal achieved for the day, he rubs a knuckle into the corner of his eye and winces at his reflection in the window looking out to the hospital corridor; he's looked worse for wear certainly - that time in med school when he was running on caffeine and no sleep for four days straight comes to mind - but his hair is plastered to his forehead and his skin can only be described as pallid and Jesus, Louis Tomlinson once had a reputation to uphold and it's looking shaky at best right now.

Zayn, on the other hand, even after only a couple of hours of sleep and bed hair that's flatter than a pancake could give a runway model a run for his money. Sometimes, Louis hates him. As if he's read his mind, Zayn flips him off, eyes trained in a dead-like trance on Jeremy Kyle. Louis leans down to ruffle his hair because he's a prick.

"Go to work!"

"I'm going, I'm going," Louis mumbles, shouldering his backpack with effort. He glances at his watch - he has all of fifteen minutes to grab a cab and get to their office in the City before Perrie threatens to quit the practice again - and smacks a kiss to Zayn's cheek before heading to the door. "Enjoy your - whatever. Which - actually, why're you here this early? I'm concerned."

Zayn laughs, a little distracted by the chav on tv yelling that he's not the father. "Triplets."

 

 

 

*

He manages to squeeze in a quick trip home for a change of clothes - his shirt smelt rank and there was some kind of substance on his shoes that he does not want to think too much about - before he throws a couple of bills at the cabbie and runs into their building to beat repeatedly against the button for the lift. He fixes his hair mechanically in the mirror (thank you, dry shampoo) and steps out tentatively when the doors ping open on their floor. He waits a split second for shrill curses to be thrown in his direction - he can give as good as he gets, which is why Niall invested in ear plugs early on - but there's nothing but radio silence in the practice. Frowning, he walks up to the front desk and checks for Leigh; there are a pile of law books in front of the computer and a still-warm cup of Starbucks coffee propped near the phone but no sign of their overqualified receptionist.

He makes the rounds of the offices next; Zayn's is predictably empty, Perrie's looks like it was abandoned in a hurry and there's an iPod in the exam room that's still playing the entire Eagles discography. Feeling nervous, he drops his bag off in his own office and grabs his stethoscope in lieu of any actual weaponlike object; he knows what damage a stethoscope can cause when swung with the right force.

After ten minutes pass and he's ready to call the police and report an alien abduction, their practice door swings open and the entire staff comes in, looking - for lack of a better word - shifty. Perrie's eyes narrow when they spot him. "You're late," she points at him accusingly.

"Pot meet kettle. Where the hell have you all been?"

Niall, Perrie and Leigh look at each other with expressions as though they're about to announce the end of the world or, like, the cancellation of Made in Chelsea. He prepares himself for the worst. He's gonna miss watching Francis being a posh dickhead.

"The upstairs floor's been let," Perrie whispers. Louis waits for the punch line; it doesn't come. His eyes swivel from his partner to his employees. They all look very dramatic.

"I - didn't we already know this?"

"No, you don't understand, bro," Niall steps up, planting his hands firmly on Louis' shoulders. He reminds himself to have another talk to Niall about keeping up a semblance of professionalism at work. There’s a love bite on his neck; also added to the list of future conversations. "We knew we'd have to face this soon."

Perrie flaps a hand in front of her face. "The nerve."

From the little he can see of her behind Niall's head that's right in his line of vision, Leigh is rolling her eyes as she slides into her chair behind the reception. At least there's one sensible person around. "Leigh, can you please explain what the fuck is going on?"

Perrie looks at him sharply, faint disposition forgotten. "Language, Tomlinson."

"It's our mortal enemies, Tommo," Niall mutters in a pained voice. He wipes his eyes, obviously invested in putting on a show. Perrie is back to bristling.

"Mortal enemies," Louis repeats blankly. He racks his brains for something that makes sense. Who is supposed to be the mortal enemy of an OB-GYN? "What, like - a funeral director or something?"

Niall lets him go, doubling over and laughing. Perrie's eyes are wider than he's ever seen them, which is a pretty worrying fact on its own.

"How is a funeral home our mortal enemy?"

"I didn't know we had mortal enemies!" Louis throws his arms up in the air. "Will someone please tell me before I send you all to a funeral director anyway?"

Niall and Perrie lean in simultaneously and Louis' never felt more terrified of bottled blondes, aside from that one time in Uni when he walked in on Zayn having a threesome. His brain short circuits for about two seconds - because, boy, does Zayn have a type and, come to think of it, he never did get a good look at who, exactly, those bottled blondes were - then shakes his head, looking from one pair of blue eyes to another. "Out with it."

"Midwives," comes a bored voice from where Leigh's playing that stupid candy game on her phone. Niall and Perrie look outraged.

"Leigh!"

"This conversation has gone on long enough," their receptionist replies, head bowed over her screen. "Ha, yes, suck it, level 62!" She glances up to find them all staring at her. "Look, none of you are working right now and I've been trying to clear this jelly up for days."

"OK," Louis says calmly. "Clearly we have to talk about that because she was on level 33 yesterday and that's just not healthy." Leigh clicks her tongue but says nothing, too absorbed in the game to verbally abuse him. "Now. What's this about midwives?"

"Midwives, Louis." Perrie's nose scrunches up in distaste.

"Midwives," Niall echoes, shaking his head morosely.

"Why are we terrified of midwives?"

Perrie stands up straight. "We are not terrified! As if we'd be terrified of those charlatans!" She lifts her head up haughtily when they look at her, perplexed. "What."

"For a start, stop watching Countdown, you'll give Niall a complex. Secondly - and I assume this is what it's all about and you've not all gone bananas on me - the midwives aren't gonna steal our patients."

"You don't know," Perrie hisses. Niall nods fervently. It's disturbing how much of a team these two have become. He hipchecks the door of his office and stares them down; something tells him they’re being entirely serious about this. There’s a kind of reluctant fondness erupting in his chest for these two idiots he’s known what feels like a lifetime.

"I do know. We provide different services. And we are actually doctors." It’s meant to sound reassuring but it might come across as smug. Whatever, he’s tired and they’re getting their knickers in a twist over midwives.

"Their office is full, Tommo. Full with pregnant ladies."

Louis opens his mouth uselessly. "What else would - they're midwives! Of course, it would be - wait, you went up there?" He crosses his arms and starts shaking his head.

Perrie and Niall avoid looking at each other; Leigh is snarling at her phone.

"We - uh - we might have checked out the competition," Perrie says in a small voice. Which, like, Perrie is hardly ashamed of anything. Now, Louis is the one that's terrified.

"Were you spying on the midwives?"

"Maybe." It sounds very contrite coming from Niall.

"Good Christ," Louis sighs. "Right, I guess it's up to me to act like a sane human being and go and welcome them. And probably apologise for the nutjobs I work with."

"You're going up there?" Niall asks in an awed whisper.

"Are you under the impression that midwives perform cannibalism or something?" Louis runs a hand through his hair and wonders for the umpteenth time why he opened a practice with a group of people that are certifiable at best. "Do not, under any circumstances, follow me. Leigh, keep an eye on 'em."

"Sure, Doctor T." She flaps her free hand at him, which isn't reassuring.

"Don't call me - oh, whatever. You two, stay put and do your jobs."

He makes his way to the lift again, unbuttoning his shirt a little and pressing down the collar of his coat. It doesn't hurt to look charming. For all his bravado downstairs, he's not exactly sure what he's about to see.

The doors open silently and he steps inside, instantly met with a soothing sound of waves or a waterfall or something, coming from - well, somewhere. His eyes dart around the waiting room; a couple of very heavily pregnant women are sipping on colourful tea cups, there's some kind of jungle tapestry hanging from one wall and there's one of those ancient looking gongs at the reception. Feeling like he stepped on another planet, he approaches the front desk. A girl with blue hair smiles at him indulgently. "What can I do for you, sir?"

"Um," Louis says, suddenly aware how out of his depth he is. This is all too New Age, hippy shit for him. "I'm Dr. Louis Tomlinson? Of Tomlinson, Malik and Edwards? From downstairs? I just came to welcome you to - um - our building, I s'pose."

"Of course," the girl replies, maddeningly calm. "I'll go call the doctors."

"Not doctors," Louis mutters under his breath, as she walks away. Not knowing what to do with himself, he flicks the metal disk and flinches when it makes an echoing sound. His back hits something very solid behind him. He turns around instantly, ready to apologise for bumping into a pregnant someone.

Only it's not a pregnant someone. He feels an acute sense of shame for jumping to conclusions, because he'd assumed the midwives would be - well - women. And the person he bumped into is definitely not a woman.

"Dr. Tomlinson?" The man in front of him says with a wide smile, looking like a welcoming Labrador. His hair's close-cropped and his shoulders are kind of insanely wide and yeah, he looks every inch a puppy that's making a new friend. He sticks a hand out for Louis to shake. "I'm Liam Payne. It's really nice to meet you."

"I - yeah, you - you, too. Um, welcome, I guess? Welcome," he repeats with more authority, shaking Payne's hand. Might as well establish seniority or whatever. Show him who's boss. Piss on the ground and mark his territory.

Wow. He definitely needs sleep.

"That's really lovely of you. We're really pleased to be here. I think we'll get along great."

"As long as we don't bump into each other too much," Louis laughs winningly but maybe he's coming off too strong because Payne looks concerned. "I mean - um -" bollocks, there's only so many ums he's allowed before he sounds like he's got no clue what he's doing, "- we? There's more of you?" The way he says it sounds like they're an infection. Perrie and Niall are getting to him.

"Oh, yeah, two of us, actually. Me and - oh, here he is!"

Liam takes a step to the left and Louis turns to throw his best I'm-a-respectable-doctor-and-you-will-bow-down-to-my-will-or-so-help-me look at the approaching midwife. It kind of fails spectacularly and Louis has the strangest urge to bang his head against the gong for good measure.

Because good Christ on a platter, this he was not expecting. He makes a strangled noise in the back of his throat and thinks, in a voice that sounds very much like Dr. Edwards', mortal enemies.

"Hi," the midwife says, standing next to Liam and offering Louis his hand. "Harry Styles."

Normal human interaction will undoubtedly return to him in no time but, for now, Louis lets himself appreciate the very attractive voice of one Harry Styles. No wonder women want to have babies with him; Louis thinks he could do a lot of things if Harry was speaking to him like that. He wonders of the babies pop out quicker just to put a face to the voice.

And, honestly, what a face. Like, Louis enjoys surrounding himself with attractive people and he’s used to it, really, because once your best friend is one Zayn Malik, it’s kind of hard to settle for anything less (though the harsh reality is that you have to, because Zayn is, well, Zayn). It’s not for nothing that their practice has earned itself quite the reputation, not only for their excellent medical services. They’re all, well, more attractive than your average doctors and nurse and law student writing her dissertation amidst managing the bureaucratic failings of the rest of them. But this guy - midwife, Louis reminds himself, handles babies for a living, argues some best left forgotten part of him - is seriously fucking beautiful. Louis would write odes and sonnets about his green eyes and bouncy hair and insanely long legs, if he hadn’t accused Shakespeare of being a first class knobhead way back when in sixth form.

It's a bit of a struggle to pull it together enough to shake hands but he does, some part of his brain making enough small talk to make him appear less than crazy. He pretends to listen attentively as Harry and Liam talk with a lot of hand gestures and tries not to imagine too clearly what he would like to do to Harry Styles. It's a dilemma between climb him like a tree and offer to bear his children. He blinks back to consciousness - or sanity, whichever - when they stop talking.

"Right," he claps his hands together and sees their receptionist - Jade, he recalls Harry making the introductions - wince at the noise. "Well, I have to go. Babies to be delivered, umbilical cords to be cut, you know the drill." He laughs a little hysterically and starts backing up until he hits the door jab. Fuck. Ow. He rubs the back of his head, still smiling. "See you around! Or not!"

He will deny he ran from the office on his deathbed.

 

 

 

*

"Charlatans! Pezza had it right the first time! Do not tell her that," Louis hisses and sinks into the leather chair opposite Zayn's desk with a flourish. It’s been a week since the day Central City Midwives opened their doors officially - or, as Niall likes to call it, the End of Days and also The Day Louis Wanked Himself Into Oblivion Because Of That Midwife Dude, which is blatant guesswork on his part. There is no way he could know about the very cold shower Louis took before he had to go to the hospital and look like a respectable obstetrician. And there was no wanking involved, despite very red cheeks afterwards.  

"I won't." Zayn keeps writing a prescription on a notepad, barely sparing Louis a glance. Louis doesn’t like being ignored. He leans in closer.

"I'm serious, Zayn, her head's big enough anyway, don't go using that as pillow talk."

"I have no idea what you're talking about."

"'Course you don't. Anyway. Have I mentioned I hate midwives?" He chews at his bottom lip, still extremely frustrated at today in general.

"Once or twice, yeah. What did they do this time?"

"Mrs. Mitchell was on the phone two minutes ago. 'Loueh, you know I love ya, and you're still my OB-GYN, but I'm much more comfortable with the idea of having the babeh at 'ome. Harry was such a sweet'eart about it.'" Niall would probably shake his head in shame at Louis' rubbish Brummy accent. "Fucking Harry."

Zayn smiles slowly at his papers, like there’s a dirty joke between the lines about calcium supplementation. "Fucking Harry, indeed. How's that going?"

"How's what going?" Louis replies dangerously.

Zayn smirks. Actually smirks. "Fucking Harry,” he repeats slowly. “How's that going?"

“You’re awful.”

“You’re the one with the ridiculous crush on the midwife upstairs.”

"It is not a ridiculous crush. There is no ridiculous crush. I have principles, you know."

"Don't go on about Hippocrates again, Lou, or I swear to god -"

"Your office is bigger than mine," Louis interrupts, voice considerably close to shouting, his hand playing idly with one of those relaxing metal ball things his mum got Zayn when the practice opened. She’d got Louis a ficus, which he left in Leigh’s care. Zayn raises one eyebrow, unimpressed.

"Smooth, Louis. And you got the view, remember? Can't complain."

"Mm. I s'pose." He glances down at his watch; he hasn't got an appointment until later and he's off to the hospital for the night again. The familiar tiredness is already settling in his bones. He massages the skin under his cheekbones and blinks at Zayn, who's smiling at him like he can't help it.

"You need to relax, Lou, you're working yourself to death. Why don't you go home for a bit, water that plant of yours. Jay sent me an email about that, by the way."

"It's still alive," Louis mutters, feeling his eyes droop. "And I can't. I've got patients. Ugh. I think I'm just gonna drown in espresso or something. Leigh!" Zayn jumps at the sudden yell. There's no answer from the reception and Louis balances the chair on its back legs, tilting it back so he can scowl in Leigh's direction.

"LEIGH!"

An angry looking head of tight curls appears over the front desk. "WHAT?"

Louis nearly topples over. He grabs the edge of Zayn's desk and throws him a look. "I think she's confused about what an administrative assistant actually does."

"You've been calling her a glorified receptionist for a year, Lou, I think she's starting to take it literally."

"Yes, but I say it with love. And the other one's a mouthful. Does this mean I have to get my own coffee?"

"It does. Get me a skinny latte."

Louis fixes the glasses sliding off his nose - he needs to get them fixed one of these days - and frowns at his friend. "You hate lattes."

"I don't hate lattes." There's something downright shifty about the way Zayn is tapping on his keyboard and avoiding Louis' eyes.

"Perrie hates lattes," Louis says slowly, weighing his reaction.

"Yes, she does." Zilch. Louis leans closer, steepling his fingers over the glass desk and wagging his eyebrows at Zayn.

"You know who loves lattes, Zayn?" There's a pause in the keyboard tapping.

"I'm sure you're gonna tell me."

Louis grins triumphantly - sometimes his workplace is better than a soap, suck it, Grey's - and tilts his chair back again. "Hey, Niall?" Their nurse's head pops through the door almost instantly, a pile of medication cradled in his arms.

"Yeah?"

"Wanna coffee, mate?" He can see Zayn whip his head round from the corner of his eyes, wildly gesticulating. Oh, fun. Niall doesn't pay him much attention.

"Oh! Yeah! Get me a latte!" He smiles dopily and lifts two empty fingers for a kind of salute before he traipses back into the exam room. Louis sits back down again and crosses his arms.

"Aaaand busted."

"Go get coffee, Louis."

"I will, thank you. Stop shagging your coworkers."

"Fuck off, Louis," Zayn says cheerfully.

"Actually, stop shagging my coworkers." Louis gets up and grabs one of the papers Zayn has stacked in the corner of his office. Ugh. Medical journal. He dumps it in the bin and makes his way to Leigh Anne who is - unsurprisingly - looking like she's about to commit a double homicide. "Jelly still pissing you off?"

"Level 99," she hisses. "You will not beat me."

"I feel like I should be more concerned than I am," Louis taps his chin. "Give me something from your stash. Please."

Leigh's eyes never leave the screen of her phone but she raises a taloned hand to wave a copy of Heat Magazine in front of him. This is why he hired her; multitasking. "Thank you, darling. I believe in you."

He flips idly through the pages as he waits for the lift to get to their floor and settles on the very imaginatively titled Can You Get To The Bottom Of This; he's proud to say he's solved more than half by the time the doors ping open. Too easy. He's an expert on bums.

He walks inside with his eyes still on the magazine, brows furrowed in concentration. He doesn't realise he's not alone until there's the sound of someone clearing their throat behind them and an amused voice says, "A bit of light reading?"

Louis jumps about a foot in the air, Katy Perry's bottom pressed close to his heart. "Jesus Christ. Bit of warning would be nice, Styles!"

Harry chuckles, leaning back against the mirror, tapping Obstetrics and Gynecology on his hip. Louis' eyes are naturally drawn there and he has to physically lift himself up to meet Harry's. Which doesn't help, really, because green, but Louis snaps himself out of it; he's stronger than his urge to stare at pretty boys. "Didn't want to interrupt. You looked busy," Harry says.

"I - yes, well. Sometimes I need a break. Sue me. We can't all save the world and sing about ohana in our spare time."

"While I'm flattered, I make a point of saving the world only during working hours."

Louis realises it's a joke when the doors open on the ground floor. He throws Harry an appalled look. "That was terrible."

Harry looks sheepish. "Sorry. I haven't had my second dose of caffeine."

"That's no excuse." They cross the road together, white coats flapping a little in the London drizzle, and Harry jogs ahead a little to open the door to Starbucks for Louis. He raises his eyebrows in question, but says nothing. There's a queue of suits and sleep deprived hospital staff in front of them that looks like it might take a while. Louis shuffles his feet, suddenly keenly aware he's essentially alone with Harry Styles. An escape plan would be good. "You stole my patient," he says as a segue into conversation.

Harry looks up from Heat - a cheerful piece on the TOWIE sextape, as far as Louis can see, and he wonders for a moment when Harry took it from his hands and how he didn’t notice - the picture of innocence; all doe eyes and fluttering lashes and slightly parted mouth. Louis swallows and tries not to stare.

"I did not steal anyone," Harry answers sweetly.

"Don't give me that, midwife."

"I sense you're using that as an insult."

"I am."

"Well, doctor -" Louis needs Jesus because he's pretty sure he felt his dick twitch at that and he has been a doctor for three years, "- I don't think I can steal someone when they come to me willingly." The queue moves forward a bit and Louis is lost in a fantasy where Harry says the words come to me in a very different context. "And she's still your patient, as far as I know. 'S up to you to keep her."

"Are you doubting my abilities?" Louis bristles because hot Harry might be, but Louis can be mean when it comes to the job he loves very, very much. A sly smile appears on Harry's face.

"I'm really not. I've heard good things about you, Louis Tomlinson."

Louis gulps. "What things? Have you been asking about me, Harry Styles?"

Harry's still smiling as he leans on the counter and winks at the barista. She blushes; Louis narrows his eyes at her. "I might have."

Louis flashes a brilliant grin at the barista when it's his turn. "Hi, love. Listen carefully, 'cause it's a long one." He rattles on, watching Harry watching him from the corner of his eye. They move to the end of the bar when he's done, waiting on his order, Harry sucking on the straw of his iced coffee. He tries not to let his imagination get away from him, but really, he's only human and he would bet his highly regarded right arm that Harry is hollowing his cheeks out like that on purpose. What purpose that is, Louis does not want to know.

"So, who've you been talking to, Styles? I want a name."

"Can't do that," Harry presses his lips together tightly, looking for all the world like a kid caught with his hand in the proverbial sweets jar. Louis narrows his eyes at him, then pokes a finger at his chest.

"You've been fraternising with my staff. Who was it? Leigh?" He gasps suddenly. "Niall."

"I said nothing," Harry grins, which is just as well as admitting it.

"Hold that thought." Louis slips his phone from his breast pocket and types a quick text. traitor.

"It wasn't his fault, you know," Harry muses, taking the bags from the barista. Louis lets him, because why not, honestly. "I can be very persuasive when I want to be. And Niall's chatty when he's had a pint or two in him."

Louis almost stops in the middle of the street, jaw dropping. Harry just steers him into safety, mindful of the cars going past. "You're hanging out with my staff? Outside of work?" He's not entirely sure why he's so indignant about this. Maybe it's because he hasn't had time for a pint for about half a year. Maybe it’s because it’s been a week and he’s already losing his mind over Harry Styles; he doesn’t need to lose his friends, too.

"Niall's fun," Harry shrugs as they get into the lift again. "And I was curious." There's a glint in his eye that Louis chooses to ignore, instead opting to grab his bags. "Bye, Louis!" Harry yells at Louis’ retreating back, doors closing between them thankfully.

Louis pushes the door of the practice, determined to keep himself from blushing. He drops the coffee at the front desk in front of an unimpressed Leigh Anne and turns around, cracking his knuckles. "I have an Irishman to murder."

 

 

 

*

Louis met Zayn in his first ever Histology class, when Louis zoned out because of a hangover and Zayn started snoring because he was not a morning person and they both decided to use their sleeping habits to help each other out. It didn’t much work out for them - unless you counted both of them getting companionably drunk from then on - until Perrie joined the ragtag little group and introduced them to the wonders of caffeine and frequent hydration. Louis likes to joke that, without her, it’s unlikely that he or Zayn would have ever graduated Manchester Medical School - and with flying colours, because she was just that good.

Niall became a fixed point in their pub crawls sometime during their third year, when Louis took a wrong turning in the Med School building and ended up in a class that taught him nurses were brutal when need be. He was saved from being devoured alive by overly antagonistic students wielding scalpels by an offer of a pint and an Irish brogue he instantly took a liking to and, for the next four years, he shared a too small flat with three of his favourite people in the entire world.

The real world came calling way too soon after school ended for all of them; Niall stayed in Manchester, working a job he liked well enough with the NHS; Perrie wound up in Newcastle for further training, while Zayn and Louis made their way south, to big old scary London. It was sleepless nights and hospital runs and the very occasional beer for three years until Louis was possessed by the idea of reuniting the gang. They opened their very own private practice after more than a struggle, pockets notably lighter and banks holding a noose around their necks and, finally, absolutely happy to be together again, doing exactly what they loved. Leigh was the godsend that made it all come together, taking Perrie by the hand when she'd had a panic attack over the best way to file patients. "Alphabetically," she'd said simply and Zayn hired her on the spot because it had honestly occurred to none of them.

It's been a year now and sometimes Louis can't believe this is his life. He loves his job, because his job is brilliant and pays great; he loves his friends, because they've been there from the getgo, despite being bloody mental; he loves London and his family and his new flat in the City and his plant, even, occasionally. And, OK, there are disadvantages; there's the whole insomnia thing, which he should really check out because he might as well go for a Guinness world record; and then there's his love life, which can be summed up in an awkward New Year's kiss nine months ago and a one night stand at the opening of the new Barclays Wing in the hospital, which is just depressing.

The last, he supposes, is why he's sitting in a swanky North London bar, sipping idly at a ridiculously priced Melon Daquiri (disgusting) and listening to his date ramble on about the stock market in Tokyo. He should probably know his name at this point in the evening, but, for starters, this was a set up - which he will never forgive Leigh for - and, besides, he may actually be on a date with the dullest human in the British Isles. The Daquiri is barely strong enough for another solid hour of this crap - and Louis' pretty sure he's had at least four.

To make things interesting - because he's dull, sure, but Leigh has a good eye for man candy, even if it has since been replaced by Candy Crush - Louis sweeps his eyelashes as seductively as he can, letting his fingers stray close to his date's hand. He might as well get a quick fumble out of this whole ordeal, he reasons; he knows too much about the choppy trades in FTSE for someone who, in all honesty, only just became aware that it wasn't actually spelt footsie. He figured traders just got frisky when shares fell up till today.

His date gives him a knowing look, eyes raking pointedly along his body, when the beeper in Louis' trousers decides to speak up. He fumbles with it, not recognizing the number and excuses himself outside to take the call.

"Hello?"

"Louis! Louis, Louis, Louis, how are you?"

Louis bites his lip, because of course Niall is calling him when he's drunk and Louis' about to get laid. Maybe. Eh. The cold night air makes the guy waiting for him inside look a lot less attractive when he glances at him through the window. "I'm on a date, Ni."

"I know, mate! I'm calling so you can fake an emergency if he's ugly. Is he ugly?"

"He's alright," Louis shrugs, playing with the buttons of his shirt. "Nothing special."

Niall snorts, sounding a little self-satisfied. "I told 'em. He sounded boring."

"You've no idea, mate," Louis laughs, already having a better time during this two-minute phone call than he did two hours at the bar.

"Come here, then! Promise you'll have more fun here. I promise!" The way he says it sounds too knowing to not be suspicious but Louis' already made up his mind.

"See you in twenty, Nialler," he smiles. The last thing he hears is Niall's strangled drunken cheer.

He makes his excuses - with a vivid description of a C-section, to make sure the guy doesn't attempt to call him - and hails a cab as rain starts to pour around him. He gives the cabbie the address of their usual pub - a hole in the wall in the City, close to work, that's seen more than its share of drunken doctors - and lets out a sigh of relief. It’s not that he hates dating, because he doesn’t, he did his fair share of that in Uni and he liked it, even if he's more the person who enjoys the easy comfort of a relationship over the awkward pauses of a first date. It's just - he's so tired all the time and it's too much effort to go out and meet people and, cynic or not, there's a romantic streak in him that quotes Michael Buble, I just haven't met you yet. Niall's getting to him.

It's pouring harder than before when the cab pulls over and he's forced to use his arms to protect his slightly wilting quiff as he runs into the pub. He's greeted by a burst of noise; doctor speak from one end, Carra reminiscing about his glory days on Sky Sports, some Top 40 crap coming from the speakers. It's possibly a little sad that he feels instantly more at home, compared to listening to stock market drivel and a pretentious jazzy soundtrack from before. He runs a hand through his hair and pushes it to the side, scanning the crowded room for a familiar face.

He notices Liam first, leaning over the bar, cheeks a little pink as he chats up the pretty bartender. There's a tray of pint glasses in front of him that have been forgotten in favour of Dani's bemused smile and Louis counts six of them as he winds his way through the patrons. Niall's dubious promise of a good time suddenly makes a whole lot more sense. He finds them all piled over each other in one of the booths at the back; Leigh and Perrie arguing over Leigh's phone and Zayn and Niall wearing identical confused expressions as they listen to Harry telling some story. Mentally preparing himself, he throws a casual arm over the back of Harry's chair. "Hello, children."

"Louis!" Niall throws his hands up and pulls him into a hug, making him all but lie across Harry's lap. If he didn't know better (because drunk Niall is not up to scheming in any capacity), he'd think this was premeditated. He can feel a steadying hand on the small of his back and tries very hard to keep his face from heating up when he stands up again.

"Right. Who's gonna buy the sorry bastard who fled from his date a proper drink?" He scoots in next to Perrie, flashing everyone a bright smile.

"Harry," Zayn, Niall and Perrie answer together with frankly embarrassing timing. Louis wants to dig a hole and live for the remainder of his life in it.

"I s'pose I don't have a choice," Harry chuckles, sitting up.

"You don't have to -" Louis says hurriedly, feeling completely mortified. Harry winks at him.

"Want to," he shrugs and walks over to the bar, bumping into a love struck Liam. Louis watches him go, then turns around to face the others, face scrunched up in what he hopes is a murderous expression.

"You little shits."

"You're welcome, Louis," Perrie says primly. "'S your fault. It's Date Night Friday and you're with us. Not on."

"Don't see the rest of you getting it on, either!"

"Leigh's booty calling someone as we speak." Leigh fixes her push-up bra as if on cue. Louis scowls at her because he's still pissed off about the dull trader and then points at the other three.

"What about you lot, then?"

Three pairs of previously unseen hands come up to rest on the table; Louis doesn't let himself dwell on it too much. "We don't count," says Zayn easily.

"Whatever. As if I'm ever gonna take dating advice from any of you."

"Hey!" Niall pipes up.

"Ungrateful," Leigh says, sliding out of the booth and smoothing down her dress. "Roger was fit."

"His name was Roger? Huh. And he was duller than that antique show on BBC One."

"You watch too much telly, Dr. T. And I know you've heard the phrase 'hit it and quit it'."

Louis bursts out laughing; he can never stay mad at Leigh Anne for too long. She winks at him, appeased.

"Anyway, gotta go. I have a hot barrister waiting for me outside. Good luck with the midwife, Louis!"

"Happy humping!" Perrie yells to Leigh's retreating middle finger.

Louis' eyes slide from the pub door swinging shut to the bar again, despite conscious effort not to. He can't help it, really; there's something inherently magnetic about Harry. You can't be in the same room as him and not notice him. Or maybe it's just Louis. Still, he stares at him for a long moment, takes in the long lines of him in his stupid tight jeans and his stupid baggy plaid shirt that looks like he raided a dad's wardrobe for. He's not really thinking about getting caught, but Harry's head turns like he feels eyes on him and gives Louis a thumbs up when their eyes meet. He returns it, if only to preserve the little bit of dignity left, and sinks lower into his seat. Zayn is smiling at him knowingly.

"Don't," Louis says in a small voice. Zayn raises his arms innocently.

"I said nothing."

"You wanted to."

Zayn rolls his eyes and throws an arm around Louis' shoulders, pulling him in to press a kiss on the top of his head. Niall and Perrie watch them with soft looks on their faces. "You're all disgusting," Louis moans.

"Fuck off, you love us," Niall kicks him affectionately. He takes a swig of his flat beer and then, with a none too subtle glance behind Louis, he grabs Perrie's hand and pulls her out of the booth. "C'mon, Pez, I love this song, let's dance! You too, Malik!"

It's not that kind of pub at all, but it's past ten and everyone in it is well past drunk, so Niall pulling a reluctant Zayn into a spin with a giggley Perrie shimmying with them doesn't make anyone look twice at them. Louis sings along to Olly Murs under his breath and isn't surprised when Harry slides into the seat next to him.

"Hey," he smiles, handing Louis a pint.

"Hey," Louis says back, because, dammit, he can have this.

"They look like they're having fun," Harry watches Niall twirl under Zayn's arm. "Are they...?"

Louis chuckles. "You know about as much as I do, mate. They make it look a lot more simple than it is, I know that much."

Harry looks at him intently, like he's focused on nothing other than Louis, a thin line between his furrowed eyebrows. It's kind of overwhelming, to know he has someone's absolutely undivided attention. "You think that kind of thing's supposed to be complicated, then?"

Louis gulps at his beer. A bit philosophical for this time of night. "Woulda thought three makes it complicated."

"Is it easier with just two, then?"

Louis glances at Harry, keenly aware of every point of pressure where their legs are touching. He clears his throat and it still sounds scratchy when he speaks. "No. No, it's probably even harder with two. Only one other person you can blame if it goes wrong."

There's a small smile on Harry's face. "That's a pessimistic way of looking at it."

Louis shrugs. "Realistic, I call it."

Harry laughs. "Ah, you're one of those."

Louis tries his best to look offended. "I am, actually. Problem?"

"Not at all. Is this just natural cynicism or because of the outcome of your date?"

Louis actually gasps. "First off, that was hardly a date. And just because I don't ascribe to the whole 'glass half-full', hippy approach to life, doesn't mean I'm cynical."

Harry giggles and pushes his hair back, eyes still on Louis, like there's nothing more interesting in the world. "You know what? I thought you might be a secret romantic."

Louis opens his mouth uselessly but it's like he can't help the smile curling at his lips. He wags a finger in front of Harry. "Take it to your grave, Styles."

Harry practically preens. "Scout's honour. So. How did your date go?"

"Awful," Louis plants his head on the table. "If you want stock market advice, feel free to ask, I'm an expert now."

Harry groans sympathetically. "The worst."

"And I like talking, like, a lot. I'm chatty, by nature. I swear I think I got about three words in the entire three hours we were there."

"He wouldn't let you talk?" Harry sounds genuinely offended on his behalf; Louis doesn't smile. He doesn't.

"More like, he was completely obsessed with the sound of his own voice. And I didn't feel like contributing much to the conversation. Anyway. They -" he flaps a hand in the direction of his drunk friends, "- set it up, so I'm used to it by now."

"It's a regular thing then?"

"Every first Friday of the month is Date Night Friday. It's, like, our thing. Unfortunately, it's always me getting the worst out of that deal. Given that I'm the one available."

Harry hums nonchalantly. Louis watches him sip his beer, Adam's apple bobbing up and down invitingly. Louis wants to bite it. "So this date night's been a bust, then?"

There's nothing pointed about the way he says it; he honestly sounds just curious. But Louis lifts his head up all the same, resting it on his closed hand. Harry's awfully close to him. "No. Not a complete bust," Louis says quietly.

Harry's smile grows wider and, with some sort of unspoken agreement, they both turn to watch Zayn try to untangle himself from a three-way tango. Harry's ankle locks around Louis' and Louis says nothing, just swings them both back and forth.

 

 

 

*

A couple of weeks later, there's a Holby City rerun playing on mute when Louis comes to in the doctors' lounge and he lies on the familiar couch wondering when fucking Arthur's fictional love life became less of a sorry state of affairs than his own. He supposes it could be worse; at least he has good friends, even if they're all bonkers, and his plant is still alive which is a plus in his book. He makes a mental note to take a picture and send it to mum, prove to her that he isn't completely useless taking care of something. At what point his plant turned into a metaphor for his life, he's not entirely sure.

He's interrupted from this slightly disturbing train of thought when he catches movement out of the corner of his eye and sits up to look out to the corridor. He shivers when his blanket drops from his shoulders and tries very hard to ignore the way his heart seems to beat louder when Harry Styles doubles back and sticks his head into the room. There's a ridiculous smile on his face that Louis is sick of, frankly; no one should be allowed to be this cheerful all the goddamn time.

"Hi, Louis," Harry says and, of course, somehow, he makes it sound like seeing Louis is the highlight of his day. Of course.

"Hi, Styles," Louis coughs out, ruffling his hair out of habit. Harry makes a move to step inside, them stops, tucking his lower lip in his mouth.

"Um. Am I allowed in here? Doctors' lounge and all." Louis can tell he's being teased and he does not appreciate it one bit.

"Haha. Funny. Technically, no, you're not. But knowing Zayn, more depraved things have happened in here, so." Oh, god, he's talking about sex, he's talking about sex to Harry Styles and Harry Styles is coming in thinking sex-related things happen in here. He's going to kill Zayn, because somehow this all comes back to him. Once he's had a decent night's sleep, he's going to murder Zayn. And then not think about sex and Harry Styles and the doctors' lounge.

"Hm, interesting," Harry says lightly, sitting on the armrest of the couch and gazing down fondly at Louis. Fondly. Ugh. "You look tired."

"Thanks for that, Styles. Appreciate it." Louis wants to build a blanket fort and bury himself under it. Harry's face falls.

"No, I. I didn't mean it like that. You just look - I don't know, cute and snugly and like you just woke up, it was a really weird backhanded compliment, I'm sorry."

Thing is, he genuinely does look sorry, poor sod. Louis rolls his eyes. "It's fine, Harry, honestly, I'm just touchy because I've slept for two hours collectively this week. I know I look like shit."

"You don't," Harry says fervently. "You look good."

"I wasn't fishing for compliments," Louis smiles wanly, because he can see Harry preparing to go on a roll, with more adjectives like cute and cuddly and reminiscent of fluffy woodland creatures probably thrown into the mix. Which is all well and good, but not appropriate when Louis is pretty much thinking along the lines of take me now, you filthy animal. Definitely not appropriate. Louis' mind is depraved. Depraved and deprived. Of sleep and filthy animalistic sex. Jesus.

"You had a delivery?"

Louis nods, rubbing both hands over his face. "Yeah. Tough one. First time mum and diabetic. Her partner nearly snapped my neck, I swear to god. She was bigger than me, as well, I was scared for my life."

Harry does one of his low laughs that Louis can feel in his chest. "Everything went well, though?"

"No necks snapped, as you can see." Louis smiles up at him. "All joking aside, she gave birth to a wonderfully plump eight-pound baby boy. Which I refer to as Earl, because he looks like Zayn's tattoo."

Harry shakes his head, disbelieving smile on his face. "Wow."

"All babies are born ugly, Harry. Fact."

"Blatantly untrue. There's no such thing as an ugly baby."

Louis narrows his eyes. "Oh, you're one of those."

Harry bares his teeth in a big smile. "Yes, I am."

"Well, agree to disagree on this matter, Harold." Someone's got into a car crash on Holby. "What're you doing here at this hour?"

"My best mate just had a little girl. I was in the delivery room with her."

"What, she doesn't trust your skills? Shocking, that, preferring a real doctor."

Harry swats him playfully on the leg. "Oi. Don't knock midwifery. We've talked about this."

Louis tries not to think about how it's become habit to tease Harry like this. Like they have a routine. Like Harry's already privy to an inside joke between them. "Hey, take it to your best friend, I'm saying nothing."

"For some reason, the idea that I got too close to that part of her body seemed unappealing to her. Plus, they've been a few complications, we've been watching her from the beginning."

Louis switches into doctor mode and sits up. "Is she alright? Do you want me to check on her? Who's her doctor?"

"Down, Lou," Harry laughs and Louis feels a surge of warmth at the nickname. "She's fine. Her and the baby are fine. Tom, her husband is fine. The whole family is peachy."

"Peachy? OK, mum. Why are you still here then?"

Harry shrugs. "They all just fell asleep and I went to grab a tea from the cafeteria. Was just gonna roam around a bit. Home turf, you know." He winks cheekily. Louis snorts.

"I should probably get myself something with caffeine, too. Go check on Earl." He stands up from the sofa, swaying a little on his feet.

"Want some of mine?" Harry offers the cardboard cup of tea in his hand and Louis takes it instinctively, not realising what he's doing until he presses his lips to the rim. He meets Harry's eyes as he takes a sip and tries not to be too much of a teenage girl about the fact that he and Harry are essentially touching mouths. He's saved from that when his tastes buds kick in and he almost spits the stuff out of his mouth.

"What on earth -? Do you take tea with your sugar, Haz?"

Harry looks sheepish. "Oops?"

"This is not tea, this is an abomination. You should have your citizenship revoked for this."

"Hey, I was being polite, there's no need to insult my tea drinking habits."

"Not tea," Louis mutters, passing the cup over with a look of disgust. "Well, I'm definitely awake now, so I'd better go do my job." He makes his way to the door, then turns to look at Harry. He hadn't noticed before - hadn't let himself notice - but he's in a jumper that's scrunching up at his wrists and there's a ratty beanie on his head and he looks so damn warm that Louis' not quite ready to leave him yet. Give me this, universe, just this.

"Um," Harry whips his head around so fast, his neck must crick, "hey, so I'm going to Special Care. I assume your mate's baby's there?" Harry nods. "Wanna tag along, check up on her?"

Harry smiles, all big and genuine. "Was going to anyway, later. Alright."

They fall into step with each other, Louis' tennis shoes squeaking against the linoleum. It's quiet at this time of night, usually, and it's no different tonight, only a few nurses making the rounds and couples murmuring to each other behind closed doors. Harry stops outside his friend's room on their way, opening the door carefully and smiling at the snoring that's really quite loud. There's a head of blonde-grey curls fanned against the pillow and an arm full of sketchbook tattoos belonging to the man who's got his head tucked at the woman's side. They look pretty adorable, if exhausted.

"Lou and Tom," Harry whispers. "I don't think I've ever seen them this quiet. And I've slept in the same bed as them."

Louis lifts his hands, palm up. "Too much information, Harry."

Harry bumps into his shoulder, as he shuts the door again. "Not like that, you prat. They're pretty much my family away from home. I can't believe they're replacing me."

Louis is helpless to stop the smile on his face. "Why is that not creepy? That should be creepy."

"It's the dimples. I get away with murder."

Louis can believe it. He motions at Harry to follow him and they round the corner, coming to a stop at a huge window. "Ah. Welcome to baby paradise."

They both lean against the glass pane, noses practically pressed against the window. There are only a few babies inside, about eight by Louis' last count, and they're all huddled by the wall. He spots Earl straight away - that is one ugly baby and no Harry Styles with his dimples will convince him otherwise - and walks to the side to slide the door open.

It's silent in the room, the only noise coming from the incubators whirring. Louis pulls the stethoscope from around his neck and checks on each of the newborns, just to make sure everything's alright. Most of them are just jaundiced, nothing too intense, so he heads to the end of the beds to examine Earl. A shadow comes over both of them when he's pressing the stethoscope to the tiny tummy. "I dare you to tell me this baby isn't ugly, Styles."

"I don't understand how you can say that, you unfeeling human," Harry whispers, his breath tickling the back of Louis' neck; Louis makes a conscious effort not to groan. "He's lovely."

"Liar," Louis retaliates, even though he can tell Harry genuinely thinks the world of the baby in front of them. He doesn't get it. "Which one's yours, then?"

Harry smiles. "She's not mine. Here she is, though." Harry takes a step to the left and gazes sweetly at the bundle of pink. "Hey, baby girl. Why're you awake?"

Louis walks to her other side and consults the chart, more out of habit than anything else. There's nothing to worry about, it's just routine to keep her here to make sure she's fine. He leans closer, his head bumping into Harry's lightly. "Now, this is a cute baby."

Harry's smile might split his face. "She is cute, isn't she? Her name's Lux."

"That's pretty," Louis says honestly. "Hey, Luxie. How're you, sweetheart?" She's not quite up to opening her eyes yet but he can see a sliver of blue when she moves her hands and feet. "She looks fine."

"Yeah, no, I know. Was just a precaution. Nothing to worry about." He watches Harry, the way he can't seem to keep his eyes from the little creature in front of them.

"D'you wanna hold her?" he says suddenly, even if its not, strictly, protocol. Harry's eyes light up.

"Yeah, go on then. I was the first one to hold her actually. Tom fainted."

Louis laughs. "Ain't that always the way. Go ahead."

Harry's touches are light as a feather and it's a little heartstopping to watch his huge hands lift baby Lux up with the most care in the world. One hand slides under her head carefully and the other cradles the small of her back, pressing her bum against his chest so they're face to face. Louis' mouth is suddenly very dry.

"Hi, Luxie. It's Uncle Harry, remember me? I'm the one that used to annoy you with the Beach Boys whenever your mum wanted a home cooked meal."

Louis smiles indulgently and Harry glances up, grinning. "You sang to her?"

"Yeah," Harry whispers, rocking back and forth now. "Lou hated it. But Lux loved it, didn't you, baby?"

"Debatable," Louis whispered, because it's in his most basic nature to be a prick. Harry takes it in his stride.

"You'll see," he sing-songs. "Uncle Louis will see, won't he, Luxie?"

Louis has a really intense desire to fling himself off a cliff, because when and how did he become Uncle Louis to a baby he's just met? "You look good." He doesn't really think before he says it but it's too late to take it back, Harry's eyes are already sparkling something stupid. "I mean," he clears his throat and looks at his feet, "it suits you. She suits you."

"You think?" Harry laughs, switching Lux so she's resting against one arm, snuggled near his chest.

"Yeah," Louis mutters, sounding awfully hoarse. "You want one of those, then? Down the line?"

"Not too far," Harry says, eyes still trained on the baby. "Always have, you know? Wanted kids."

There's an ache somewhere in Louis' tummy that has no explanation. He's not turning broody. He works with babies, he sees babies everyday, he is immune to babies. Harry and babies on the other hand... Dear god, no. He blinks the thought away.

"What about you?" Harry says suddenly and right, yeah, he's still here, not just in Louis' head. He looks up at him again, tries to make sense of what he just said.

"I - what?"

"D'you want one?"

Louis is silent for a long moment. It's not as though he hasn't been asked before. It's kind of to be expected when you're in this field. People automatically assume you're down with the baby making, ready to bring little Tomlinsons into this world. The thing is, though, he's never really known what to answer. It's always been there, that certain feeling, bound to be there after growing up with a big family, always surrounded by kids. But it got away from him when he got older and got to see his job for what it was, got to see himself for what he was. And then there's the fact that there's never been real opportunity, never been that one person that could make him seriously consider it.

He looks at Harry again, realizes he hasn't spoken in a long time. "Hundred percent. Yeah." It sounds like he's choking up a bit, which is horrifying enough. But he hadn't meant to say anything, was going to keep it as vague as he usually did when he was asked. Something about Harry, though, is making his rules go to shit. He coughs again, tries to tone it down. "The logistics of it make it a bit hard, though."

Harry raises his eyebrows. "Logistics? I'm not sure it's supposed to be quite that clinical, Lou."

Louis smiles half-heartedly. He's not sure why he's even continuing this. This is not a conversation he wants to be having with gorgeous, lovely, fit Harry, even if gorgeous, lovely, fit Harry is currently holding a baby in his gorgeous, lovely, fit arms.

"Let's just say, my intimate knowledge of how the vagina works is pretty much wasted on me. So, it's, you know. It is what it is." He sounds awfully defeated as he speaks. He's never told anyone this before, he realizes now.

Harry's looking at him carefully, like he's choosing his words. "There are other ways, Louis."

"No, I know. It's just. It's whatever. It's kind of hard when you do what I do."

Harry bites his lip. "For what it's worth, I think you'd be a great dad."

His heart feels too big for his chest all of a sudden. "Yeah. Well." He really can't look at Harry and, at the same time, can't look anywhere but. "We should probably. You know. Let her sleep."

"Yeah." Harry lifts Lux up and presses his lips softly on her feathery head. "Night, sweetheart. I'll come by tomorrow."

They don't say much at all as Louis slides the door shut, and it's even quieter as they walk back through the corridor. Louis stops in front of the lifts, swallowing something that seems to have lodged itself in his throat. "I, um. I'd better go make sure Earl's mums are doing OK, too. Before I. Um. Turn in. Um."

Harry nods, smiling a little. "Thanks, though, Lou. For that."

"It's nothing. It was nothing."

"Still," Harry shrugs maddeningly. He hesitates for a second, balancing on the balls of his feet and Louis has a moment where pure panic surges through him. But then Harry leans down, face inches from Louis' and presses a kiss lightly on Louis' cheek, his thumb resting on Louis' jaw. "Goodnight, Louis. See you tomorrow."

Louis can only nod as he watches him get in the lift and lean back on the wall. Harry waves with a flutter of his fingers as the door closes and Louis counts under his breath, waiting until Harry's safely on the ground floor. Then, he gives in, banging his head repeatedly on the steel door.

 

 

 

*

It's seven in the morning and it's already shaping up to be a shitty day, judging by the bane of Louis' existence wilting in the corner of the balcony. He looks at it critically, cursing mum's maddening ability to prove a point. "If you can take of yourself, Louis, you can take care of a plant." Not that he's an expert but the slight brown tinge of the leaves isn't leaving much room for optimism. He breathes out a huff of cold air that turns into smoke and turns back into his flat, avoiding his reflection in the window pane - it's an art he's perfected over the years. Still, he can imagine he looks vaguely like death, if his general grogginess and the state of his plant are anything to go by.

The second clue to the shittyness of today is the kettle that starts spitting out sparks and leaving him to make a brew with lukewarm water at best. Louis' of the firm belief that there's nothing worse in life than cold tea. He sips at it distastefully, half convinced he'll end up with food poisoning. He's seriously considering rummaging through his cupboards for his ancient coffee maker - blasphemy - when a persistent buzzing sound comes from the countertop and Louis dumps his half full mug unceremoniously into the sink to hit speaker on his phone. He frowns a little when he recognizes the practice number.

"Bit eager, aren't we, Pez? Thought I was the workaholic?"

The other line crackles and Louis imagines a very grumpy looking Dr. Edwards passed out in their exam room. "Morning, sunshine. I had paperwork to catch up on. Leigh wasn't taking any bribes."

"Ah," says Louis nonchalantly. He's pretty sure he's got an equal amount of paperwork to deal with. Best not remind Perrie of that. "What d'you want, love? I'll be there in forty, just got to hit the shower. I still stink of baby sick."

"No, you won't."

Louis pauses his attempts to figure out what the red knob on the coffee maker does exactly. "Won't what?"

"Won't be here in forty."

"Er. Well, I've timed meself before. Remember that time Niall raced me to the office? That got me twenty quid."

Perrie snorts. "Yes, I remember that. But, no, I mean, you're not coming in today."

Louis stands up, rod-straight. "Why, what happened?"

"Nothing happened, you bloody worry wart. You're taking the day off. We decided."

Louis beats his fingers against a new mug. "'We'?"

"Hi, Lou."  He can hear Zayn play with the receiver, like he's nervous.

"This is a three way call to give us more authority. And please, rise above the threesome joke. I believe in you, Louis."

Louis bites his tongue. There's a treasure trove of threesome jokes he'd been keeping to himself for a while now; what a wasted opportunity. Still. He has more important things to think about. "You can't ban me from work."

"We can," Perrie says in a clipped tone.

"Two to one, mate, sorry."

Louis gasps exaggeratedly. "What - why? Shouldn't I be asked before you decide something like this? This was supposed to be a democracy!"

"It is a democracy. We voted on this."

"What exactly was Perrie doing to you when you agreed to this, Zayn? Because I guarantee what I do to your balls when I see you is gonna be more pain than pleasure."

Zayn splutters into the phone and Louis listens as Perrie must pat his back. "We're not discussing this, Louis. You're taking the day off. Because right now you resemble the undead."

"Offensive!" He looks at the steel surface of the mirror to prove her wrong. He wouldn't look out of place in a zombie movie, truth be told. "I'm just tired, Pez. What the hell am I supposed to do with a day off?"

"The fact that you even have to ask, Louis..." Perrie sighs. "Sleep if that's the problem. Wander around London. Have fun."

"She's right, Lou. Just, I dunno. Let loose. Do something that makes you happy."

"Work does that," Louis mutters petulantly. The coffee maker is making wheezing sounds that should probably worry him.

"Lou. Stop being a baby. One day off work won't kill you."

"You need a break, Louis, love. Work's gonna be here tomorrow."

"I feel like I'm listening to one of those shitty motivational tapes. Honestly, guys. I'm good. I am."

"Don't settle for good, Lou. Good's not happy. Good's not great. Be great."

"It's just one day, Louis. We'll cover for you. See you tomorrow, yeah?"

Louis breathes out loudly. "Fine. Fine. Yeah, see you later."

"I don't want to hear from you for the rest for the day. Leigh's blocking your calls. Love you!"

"Love you, bro!"

The phone clicks off and Louis is left staring at it with abject horror. It's all well and good for them to go on about seizing the day, Dead Poet Society-style, but they're not the ones on house-arrest. Or whatever.

He deals with making coffee for a while, until there's passable slush in his mug, and he wanders around the flat, completely lost. It's probably the longest time he's spent inside not sleeping since he moved in. Slightly disconcerted, he makes an effort to get the place looking livable; there's a dusty vacuum cleaner that's never been used and he messes around with it, weaving his way through the rooms. When it's sufficiently clean - or at least when he gets bored out of his mind - he looks up the time on his phone, horrified to find it's barely been an hour since he spoke to Zayn and Perrie.

"Fuck it," he mutters to himself and grabs a pair of basketball shorts, hopping into his Vans and slipping the house keys into one of the pockets. He's about ninety percent sure there's a phonebox opposite his block of flats and he plans on using one for the first time since he was probably five years old.

He listens to the dull dial tone for a couple of seconds before the call comes through and Leigh's deceptively calm voice echoes through the phone. "Tomlinson, Malik and Edwards, this is Leigh speaking. How may I help you?"

"Leigh."

There's a pause. "Yes."

"Leigh, it's me."

"Dr. T? I'm not supposed to be talking to you. Perrie said she'd delete my score on Candy Crush."

Louis shuffles about in the phonebox. There's a number scribbled on the wall with the caption 'he's a wankER!!!' written in black marker. It takes him a minute to make sure it's not his own. "Tragedy," he says evenly to Leigh. He can hear her irritation down the line. "Right, sorry. It's nothing, love, just gimme to someone with a med degree. I want to make sure my patients are still alive."

Leigh clicks her tongue and Louis winces, because that was probably not his best approach. He's just antsy.

"I don't need a med degree to know they're still alive. I do need a law degree on the other hand if I kill you." She doesn't sound like she's joking. He decides to just give in and beg.

"Leigh. Please. I'll give you an extra day off this month. I'll make reservations at that restaurant in Mayfair that you love. Take your barrister fella there."

She yawns. "Keep talking."

"I will do anything, Leigh."

"Fine. NIALL!"

Louis winces at the noise and waits until he hears muttering on the other end. A cheerful voice talking in a carrying whisper takes over from Leigh. "Hey, Louis! I'm not supposed to be taking to you."

Louis pinches the bridge of his nose and vows to kill his partners. "What did they threaten to do to you?" Silence. He frowns. "What did they threaten to not do?"

Niall coughs. "Well."

"Right. Hold that thought for another day, because colour me intrigued and, god knows, Zayn won't tell me."

Niall laughs quietly. "What've you been doing, Tommo?"

"Nothing. Absolutely nothing. This is bullshit, Niall."

"They mean well, y'know."

"Yeah, I know," he sighs.

"They're just worried. I'm worried too. You haven't stopped working in a year. You haven't had a proper night's sleep since even longer. The longest relationship you've had in a year is with your fucking plant."

Louis stares at the word wanker long and hard. He hates worrying Niall. Of all the people in his life, Niall is the one he feels most protective over. He doesn't like the roles being reversed. "Don't knock the plant. She's the only one that really loves me."

"Untrue. So, why're you calling and threatening my sex life?"

Louis makes a retching noise. "Ew. Are my patients OK?"

"Lou. We've been open for half an hour. Of course they are."

Louis grumbles something unintelligible. He didn't really call for his patients.

"Hey, Lou?"

"Yeah, Ni."

"Say yes."

"What?"

"Just. Say yes. Promise."

Louis smiles through a frown. "Are you gonna propose, Nialler? You know I'm a sure thing."

"I know. Anyway. Gotta go, Louis! Have fun today! Bye!"

He hangs the phone up, scratching his forehead. He doesn't have time to dwell on it, though, because his phone buzzes silently from one of his pockets. Apprehensive - because it might be Perrie calling to fire him or something - he unlocks it and stares at the text on the screen.

little bird told me u had the day off! fancy spending it w/ me? :) xxx

Before he can do more than focus on his speeded up heart rate, the phone buzzes with another text.

it's harry btw x

 

 

 

*

Louis says yes, obviously.

It takes him a good hour to pull himself together enough to send Niall a couple of texts promising him bodily harm - he gets an aha :) x in reply which he responds with u 2 zayn - and to sit in front of his wardrobe panicking slightly about what to wear. Which is ridiculous, because he's just hanging out with a friend or something like, so there's no need to get nervous. Still, he does decide on his best pair of jeans (dark wash and clingy where they should be), wrapping himself in his favourite grey hoodie and fluffing at his fringe until it sits just right.

London Bridge Station is close enough to home that he gets there early, winding his way through gaggles of tourists. He finds a bit of shade by the stairs and messes with his iPod, which hasn't been updated since 2005 by the looks of it. He beats his fingers against his hipbone, thumb looped through the useless pocket of his jeans, and turns around one more time as he sees another wave of people climb up from the station, all of them blinking at the sudden sunshine. None of them are Harry, long and lanky and uncoordinated, so he leans back against the street lamp, shoving his sunglasses up the bridge of his nose, breathing in exhaust fumes from behind him.

He barely flinches when he feels someone’s chin digging into his shoulder. He turns his head slightly, smiling into a nest of hair; he's never quite known someone as tactile as Harry. “Hey,” he breathes into his ear, and he feels a shiver course down Harry’s spine.

“Hey yourself,” Harry huffs, shuffling away and grabbing Louis’ battered iPod. "The Fray? Wow, I haven't heard them in years!"

"Don't knock The Fray," Louis makes a face, bumping his shoulder into Harry's. It's too easy, falling into comfortable habit with him. He balances on the balls of his feet and claps his hands together in exaggerated expectation, turning around in circle. “So. Where are you taking me?”

Harry chuckles and presses a hand on Louis’ shoulder to steer him in the right direction. “You’ll find out, don’t worry. First thing’s first. Have you had any breakfast?”

Louis scrunches his nose up in disgust. “Do stale Cheerios count?”

Harry shakes his head fondly. “You should let people take care of you.”

Louis laughs hollowly. “Zayn gave up on that a long time ago.”

“I wasn’t talking about Zayn,” Harry says and Louis’ in no state to make the effort to interpret that. “Anyway. C’mon. Let’s go get some proper food in you.”

They cross the street, following the bustling crowd going towards Borough Market. Louis lets Harry lead the way, his hand resting on the small of his back. "If you wanted to go grocery shopping, Harry, I'm not sure why you brought me. Sainsbury's my home turf."

Harry laughs. "For some reason, I believe that. No, we're having breakfast. Welcome to the greatest cheese toastie in London." He spreads his arms wide at that, as if he just introduced Louis to the Queen. Louis raises an eyebrow.

"I don't think I've had a cheese toastie since my mum used to make me a packed lunch for football practice. Are you serious?"

Harry just smiles. "Trust me."

They wait in the small line of people outside a small stall in the market, Harry scrolling through Louis' iPod and settling on All At Once. They share earbuds as they stand, Harry pressing himself to Louis' side so the wire isn't stretched taut between them. At least, that's what Louis tells himself as Harry orders for them.

Harry insists on paying - "You'll get dinner later, OK?" and who is Louis to argue with that? - and they start walking through the market, sticky cheesy toasted sandwiches in their hands. Louis takes a tentative first bite, smiling through it as Harry watches him.

"Wow. This is. Wow." Louis takes another bite, taste buds tingling. Harry smirks.

"Told you. It's, like, my favourite thing to eat in the world. 'M glad you like it."

Louis lets that sink in; that Harry Styles wanted his approval, that Harry was nervous about getting his approval, that Harry wanted to share something even as simple as this with him. It's. It's a lot. "Better than stale Cheerios."

Harry barks out a laughter. "Thank you, Dr. Tomlinson."

They keep wandering around, Harry occasionally stopping to kiss the traders he knows on the cheek. Most of them are selling organic type foods and produce, Louis can't help but notice, and it's hard to keep his composure and not burst into giggles. Harry is such a cliche and it should bother him, it shouldn't be bloody endearing the way he pockets jars of healthy chutney and presents Louis with homemade cereal and a wink.

"This is all very," he searches for the word, arm waving as they stroll through the high street. "Quirky. You're quirky."

Harry glances at him through the corner of his eye. "That's a nice way of putting it. I was waiting for something like -"

"Hipster nurse?" Louis supplies, grinning.

"Oi! But yeah, actually."

"You're starting to know me well, Harry Styles."

"That's been the plan all along," Harry says with such sincerity that Louis has turn away and pretend that he hasn't seen anything as interesting as the Dan Brown display in WH Smith's all day. He drags him inside by the elbow - not because he thought The Da Vinci Code was anything other than pure trite, thank you for the vote of confidence, Harold - and resists staring at Harry making faces at a little boy in the children's section while he buys The Guardian. He's never been one to read the paper but it's become a habit lately, to dawdle with the crossword whenever he's staying at the hospital. Insomnia's a bitch.

They argue over whether or not wazzock is too regional for the Guardian and Harry loses his head completely when they get a couple of words wrong and 13 across starts spelling out cum and Louis might possibly find all of this annoying on any other human being. With Harry though, he barely gets exasperated enough to swat him on the back of his leg with the rolled up newspaper.

Sometime between solving 23 down (overwhelmed, struck, usually by love, seven words; smitten) and Harry scribbling all over the crossword and officially giving up, Louis finds himself learning all about him. Twenty seven years old, from Cheshire, one older sister who he loves more than anyone in the world, a rather odd appreciation for bananas. His favourite band is Coldplay, rather unfortunately, he's never missed an episode of Made in Chelsea (a plus in Louis' book, if there ever was one), his longest relationship was with one Caroline Flack, which makes Louis whistle all impressed because he recognises her from the telly. It goes on like this for a while, a back and forth with Louis being too nosy and Harry being too polite until their stomachs start grumbling with somewhat alarming synchronisation.

They end up in a cafe in a low lit street away from most of the traffic where Louis remembers coming with his mum whenever they travelled down to London from Doncaster. The tables are made of rickety wood that creaks every time they move and the tablecloth is that wellknown red and white check with candle wax stains on it that only serves to make the place more picturesque, Harry insists. It’s too early to light up the candles apparently - though Louis does ask - but the slow murmur of the Rat Pack is enough to liven the atmosphere. Louis croons with Frank Sinatra as he lines the steak and chips on his plate, more playing with his food than eating it, and Harry watches him with a smile, occasionally joining along with Nancy, curry forgotten.

"So, what about you?" Harry says finally, playing with the treacle tart they decided to share.

"What about me?" Louis asks, even though he thinks he already knows.

Harry rests his head on his palm.

"Tell me about Louis Tomlinson," he says quietly. Louis lets go of his fork, fully prepared to do his usual routine - not much to tell, not really - but something stops him. He kind of wants to return the favour, tell Harry something true, even though he hasn't done that in what feels like years.

"Can I get back to you on that?" he says instead, biting his lip. It's a lot for one day, he reasons; it's a lot for him. Harry smiles easily.

"I'll hold you to it," he murmurs and Louis doesn't pull his hand away when Harry taps it gently.

They take the rest of their dessert to go - wrapped up carefully in tinfoil, scooping out pieces of gooey treacle tart with plastic spoons their waitress was determined to find for them.

It’s dark outside when Louis shoves the last spoonful in Harry’s mouth. “C’mon, then, Styles, spit it out. I've got a feeling you're not done with me yet."

Harry looks like he’s about to rise to the bait - half of Louis wants him too, wants them to stop being so careful around each other - but instead he laughs and fishes two narrow strips of paper from his fraying shirt pocket. Louis takes them unceremoniously, holding them up to the light from the flashing adverts dotting the road, squinting at the writing.

“An art exhibition? Really.”

“Don’t need to sound so impressed.”

Louis’ eyes flicker up. God, he feels like a fucking dick sometimes. “I...I didn’t mean it like that. Just. I didn’t know you were into art.” He glances down at the tickets with more interest, smiling to the ground when Harry comes closer again because Harry doesn't know how to keep a grudge.

“I love her. And...well, I got these a while ago now.”

Louis turns again, frowning at Harry in the half darkness. He can really only imagine the green now, turning bright and dark as they walk.

“How long have you been planning this then?”

“I haven’t been planning anything. I got these a few months ago. Wasn't sure who I wanted to take.” Harry pushes his hair back and stands still, hands in his pockets, resolutely not looking at Louis.

Louis opens his mouth but nothing comes out. He’s not sure he knows what to say anyway. Harry stops him from thinking too hard about it and grabs Louis’ hand blindly, walking through the bustling commuters.

There’s a trickle of people hanging outside a bright white building, floor to ceiling glass and neon lights pointing at the entrance.

Harry whispers, hand resting on the crook of Louis’ arm. “Let’s go get cultured.”

Louis mock frowns at him, pulling at a stray curl. He lets his thumb rest at his jaw for a second before he pulls away. “Might as well. Culture me, Harry Styles.”

Harry laughs. “Sod off. I just really love Tracey Emin.”

“Ooh, new girlfriend?”

“Shut up. You know it’s the artist.”

The actual gallery is dark, lights dimmed until there are shadows in every corner, only the art pieces glowing to full effect. Louis lets Harry walk ahead of him, glowing a little under the neon lights, bright pink and blue and green letters glowing from the walls, spelling out words that Louis finds himself too distracted to read. He watches Harry instead, watches him stop at each piece and gaze up reverently, like he’s tucking the words on the wall away for something to think about later. He tears his eyes away long enough to read the piece in front of him.

‘People like you need to fuck people like me.’ Hm. That’s blunt.”

“Or to the point.” Harry turns to look at Louis in the dark, silhouette glowing pink.

Louis hums in response, still frowning at the words hanging above him. “An elaborate come on, that.”

“Whatever works for...whoever uses it, I s’pose.”

“Prefer something a bit more subtle, meself.”

“Hmm. Duly noted."

Louis smiles and doesn’t say anything to that, just keeps moving with the small crowd.

‘Kiss me kiss me cover my body with love.’ Suit you more?” Harry nudges him.

“Much better. If a little cheesy.”

Harry huffs out a laugh. “There’s no proper way of wooing you, is there?”

"Is that what this is then?" Louis says bravely. He feels like he just tumbled off a cliff. Harry shrugs, not hiding the fact that he's not looking at the art pieces anymore. Louis catches him staring; he quirks the corners of his lips a little higher like he doesn’t care, lingering a little more than is probably necessary at Louis’ amused mouth.

"Staring much, Harry?"

"Can't help it," he says and it sounds terribly earnest.

Louis just shakes his head and walks over to the next set of glowing lights, desperate to ignore the knot of nerves or excitement that's settled in his stomach. He feels completely undone, loose limbs and lightheaded, and it doesn't help when Harry brushes past him, rings and knuckles dancing along the small of his back. It feels territorial, even though Louis knows it isn't. Can't be. Whatever.

My heart is with you and I love you. Always always always.

 

 

 

*

They get the last Tube train to Canary Wharf, rushing in before the doors shut behind them. Harry spends most of the ride making up stories about the passengers around them; the teenagers in identical Ramones shirts are sneaking back home after a gig; the redhead that gets off at Canada Water makes a living as an Ed Sheeran lookalike (Louis' on the fence about it being actual Ed Sheeran); the guy with the box-shaped face is called Simon and probably owns too many cats. A thought strikes Louis while Harry rambles on about one of the cats possibly being called Max.

"Hey, Haz? What day is it?"

"Hmm?" Harry looks about a million miles away, lost in a feline fantasy. "Er. The fourth? I think."

"No, I mean...it's Friday, right?"

The tiniest of smiles appears defiantly at the corner of Harry's mouth. "Is it," he says nonchalantly.

"First Friday of December, in fact." Louis pokes his side.

"I've no idea what you're talking about." Harry's grin says otherwise.

"I am going to kill my friends until they learn the value of subtlety," Louis grinds his teeth. Harry puts a warm hand on his thigh and Louis stares at it.

"Hey, in their defense, I don't think they realised it was Date Night Friday until last night. The plan had already been set in motion. I was the one that remembered." He shrugs, like it's nothing. Louis just stares.

"You remembered? I mentioned it in passing, like, weeks ago."

Harry shrugs again. "I listened. I always listen."

Louis' not entirely sure what he might have done had he not heard his stop being called out on the speakers. He gets of off the train, in any case, Harry quiet behind him, and they don't say much until the cold wind hits them once they're above ground. It takes him a minute of rubbing his hands uncomfortably together until he comes to a decision and swivels round to face Harry.

"D'you wanna come up?" he says in a rush, before he chickens out. "For, like, a tea? Or a nightcap? Or something?" He's fully aware of how desperate he must sound. Harry doesn't seem to make note of it.

"Yeah. Yeah, I'd like that."

His building is one of the newest on the street, all glass windows on the ground floor and a doorman named Phil, who bids them goodnight and winks at Louis, which actually makes him want to die. His hands aren't shaking when he pushes the keys through the lock but it feels like maybe they should be, the way his heart is racing in his rib cage. He has a moment where he freaks the fuck out - because Harry Styles, midwife, is in his fucking flat - but it's gone inexplicably once Harry starts walking, fingers dancing over the surfaces like he's trying to feel at home.

"Your place is amazing, Lou."

Louis smiles at his feet. "It's alright. No, I love it. Hardly see it these days, but, what can you do?"

Harry pauses in front of the wall where Louis has photos from back home hanging; Stan and Mum and the twins smiling from the frames. "What about that tea, then?" he says suddenly.

"I - erm - yeah, course. Er." Shit. He remembers the tea disaster from this morning. "Now, don't go making assumptions, but my kettle actually blew up earlier."

Harry's smile can only be called smug. "Really."

"Really," Louis stresses, aware that Harry's stepped closer.

"Is this just an excuse to get me drunk, Louis Tomlinson?"

A chuckle escapes him because he can't help himself. "I promise my seduction technique is miles better than that. Wine?"

"Sure."

He has a bottle of white in the door of the fridge, a cheap Tesco one he got for a two-for-one offer when he was feeling sorry for himself. He uncorks it expertly and grabs two wine glasses from the cupboard above the sink, making his way to the living room where Harry's nosing through his DVD collection. He hands him a glass and sits with his back to the couch, taking a sip.

"You have Love, Actually," Harry waves the offending DVD unnecessarily.

"Classic. Won't hear otherwise."

"Oh, I agree," Harry says airily. "I used to watch it obsessively. Liam's taken my copy because, and I quote, it's given me unrealistic expectations of love."

Louis can't believe he's real. "And has it?"

"Don't think so. It's perfectly normal to want someone to learn Portuguese for you. Or to alienate America while they're at it."

"Oh, perfectly normal. Can't put out unless you're Colin Firth drowning in a lake."

"True, true," Harry agrees. "I look like a baby Tarzan when I go swimming." He frowns like it's genuinely one of life's problems. Louis doesn't quite know what to say to that. Except that maybe a wet Harry Styles is not a mental image he needs when he's alone with him in his flat.

"Are you saying you'd save my mediocre novel if it fell in a lake, Harry?"

Harry's eyes sparkle as he puts his wine glass down carefully. "I think I'd probably do a lot of things for you, Louis."

Neither of them move for a long moment; Louis can feel the glass sweating in his hand. Then, in a spurt of madness or energy or something he can't put a name to, Louis says, "Fuck it," and leans across to press his mouth on Harry's.

It’s not like he’s imagined – because he has, too many times than he’s proud of. Harry bumps into him a little hard and their noses press together awkwardly. But his mouth is soft, molding against Louis’, and he smells sweet, shampoo and perfume and treacle, and Louis moves closer, making their faces fit. His hand reaches for Harry’s waist and he grunts a little as Harry’s fingers pull at his hair, Louis’ lips parting at his touch. It’s deep and it’s long and it’s more than Louis ever let himself think would happen and he bites Harry’s lower lip before he lets go, making sure he leaves a mark, just to prove to himself it was real.

Harry pulls back slowly, scrunching up his nose, a languid sort of smile stretching across his face. Louis blinks a few times, trying to wrap his head around what just happened. Almost as a reflex, he lifts his hand and presses his index finger on his lips. Harry bites his lip at the same time, teeth sinking exactly where Louis’ were a moment ago, and Louis feels his body go tight.

"That was..."

"Yeah," Harry agrees, voice shot. They're closer than they were before and Harry only has to nudge his head so their noses bump together. It's juvenile and silly and possibly the best thing that's happened to Louis in a long time.

"Eskimo kisses. Really."

"Eskimo kisses are underrated." Harry's hand slides along the column if Louis' throat, thumb pressing in the space between his collarbones. Louis wills himself not to panic, because this is nice, this is good, this is Harry. It must show on his face though, because Harry's eyes swivel between his, a frown lining his forehead.

"Should I call a cab?" He doesn't sound put out about it, just careful. It's that more than anything that makes Louis shake his head, hand coming up to cover the one wrapped around Louis' neck. He wants this, he knows he does, he's just kind of terrified at the same time. Uni Louis would be slapping sense into Current Louis if he could see him right now.

"Don't be silly." He clears his throat. "I mean, it's late. You can - stay over. If you like."

Harry smiles. "I'd like that."

"Good," Louis says quietly, as if there's anyone else beside them in the flat. "Good. That's sorted."

Harry's thumb grazes the underside of Louis' jaw before he falls back completely and it's a little crazy, how Louis already misses the contact. "Couch looks comfy."

Louis frowns and glances at the monstrosity behind him; an awful black and white corner sofa he'd bought in a fit of bachelorhood or something. He needs to replace it with a trusty Karlstad from IKEA. "You're not sleeping here, don't be daft."

Harry looks adorably confused. "Erm...

"Bed's big enough for the both of us, Styles. And we're both adults. Apparently."

"Sleepover, then," Harry muses. "Haven't had a proper one of those in years."

"Oh, I'm full of useless surprises like that," Louis says truthfully.

They share the bathroom together, Harry making a show of squirting toothpaste on his finger and making it squeak over his teeth. Louis gives up on fighting his urge to laugh, snapping a picture of Harry and his toothpasty mustache just because. He goes to his bedroom to find Harry something appropriate to wear; not that he hadn't noticed, but their size difference seems to be an issue now.

"Not to make you uncomfortable or anything," Harry says where he's sat perched on the edge of Louis's bed - Louis' bed, Harry Styles on Louis Tomlinson's actual bed, "but I usually sleep starkers."

Louis feels the blush creeping up to his cheeks. "Inappropriate. Plus, it's bloody December, you'll catch your death." He chucks one of his old band shirts at Harry's head; he catches it with a chuckle.

"And here I was thinking you'd keep me warm. Oh, Joy Division! Yay, I love them." Harry puts it on without much more preamble and Louis has to pinch himself not to act on instinct because of the way the t-shirt stretches over his shoulders. Temptation greets you like your naughty friend, he sings under his breath as they pull back the covers, careful with the corners. The whole thing is eerily close to being domestic; Louis' head feels like it's spinning.

It's quiet when Louis hits the switch and there's a rustle of sheets until they get comfortable. Louis turns to face the middle of the bed like he always does and his breath catches when he meets Harry's eyes. He flinches out of reflex and his leg connects with Harry's, only Harry isn't quick to let him go. His toes end up tucked under Harry's thighs, forehead ghosting over a head of curls.

"Goodnight, Harry," he whispers into the dark. Harry's voice sound terribly close when he replies.

"G'night, Lou."

 

 

 

*

"He made you breakfast!"

Louis glances above the rim of his glasses to see a victorious-looking Niall shoving his head into his scrubs. He knocks into the exam table before he falls into the chair in front of Louis' desk, then leans his chin on his hands, for all the world like a manic blond cherub. Louis lowers his head to Niall's height and flicks him on the nose. "And how, pray tell, would you know that?"

Niall rubs his nose with the back of his hand. "Ow. Harry told me just now."

"We just got in, I would have seen you." Louis narrows his eyes. "Unless you went upstairs before you came to work."

Niall looks sheepish.

"You are fraternising with the enemy, Niall."

"Are they still the enemy, though? Even after you and Harry," Niall made a sudden gesture that could lose someone an eye, "you know."

"Are you under the impression we practiced Kung Fu yesterday, or something?"

"I don't know what kind of kinky shit you like, Lou. Harry looks very bendy."

Louis blushes, because that's apparently a thing that he does now. He goes back to his laptop and pretends to do some thing constructive, like checking his social life on Facebook. Most of his notifications are from a certain Leigh Anne Pinnock who is still desperately asking for him to send her a life on Candy Crush. He ignores both her and Niall's suggestively dancing eyebrows.

"Niall, I need Ms. Nelson's medical history, can you - what's going on in here?" Zayn walks backwards past Louis' door again and sticks his head inside suspiciously.

"Harry made Louis breakfast," Niall claps his hand enthusiastically. Louis pounces over his desk to throttle him.

"He stayed over?" Zayn says, voice a good octave higher and sounding incredulous. He pushes the door behind him shut and sits on Niall's armrest. Louis pauses his homicidal tendencies to throw him an offended look.

"No need to sound so surprised, Malik. You set the whole thing up."

"Didn't think you'd let him sleep the night, knowing your track record," Zayn shrugs, hand on Niall's throat, checking for vitals.

Louis splutters. "My track record? I do not have a track record!"

"You used to have a track record," Niall chokes out with some difficulty. He massages his neck. "I wish you'd stop trying to kill me every other day."

"It's 'cos he loves you best, babe," Zayn says sympathetically. Louis rolls his eyes at them both but doesn't bother denying it.

"None of that. We work here. No sexy terms of endearment," he points his fingers at them accusingly.

"You literally call everyone in this office 'love'."

"Mostly me," Niall pipes up, flashing Louis a grin.

"There's a difference," Louis says haughtily. "I don't sound like I want to shove my dick down your throat."

"That cut deep," Niall whines. Zayn pats his arm in consolation.

"Anyway. I know a Tomlinson evasion tactic when I see one. What happened with the hot midwife?"

Louis sighs and glances between his two best friends. "Nothing."

"Nothing?" Niall frowns.

"Nothing," Louis confirms.

Zayn just looks confused. "When you say nothing..."

"I mean, nothing. I mean, he slept over but we didn't sleep together. Like, technically sleeping together did happen, but not, like, actual sleeping together."

"Why?"

"Because it just didn't, Zayn, OK?"

Zayn's face goes from confused to pissed off in an alarming matter of seconds. "What the hell, Louis? Is this how you drive people away now? You don't even bother to sleep with them?"

"I don't understand why you're getting offended on his behalf?"

"I'm getting offended on yours, you wanker, it's you I care about! You like him! I know you like him!"

Louis slams his laptop shut and swivels round to face Zayn properly. "I was terrified, Zayn, is that what you want to hear? I was scared shitless for some fucking reason, I can hardly catch my breath around him and I wanted him so bad it fucking terrified me. OK?"

Zayn and Niall blink at the same time. "Lou..." Niall begins.

"There's no point in feeling sorry for me, Nialler. I've probably fucked it right up this time." It's starting to settle, somewhere in the pit of his stomach, the feeling he'd been staving off since yesterday. His hands are finally trembling in his lap, some kind of delayed reaction. God, and he'd been so fucking happy this morning. Just waking up with Harry tucked close to him had made the stupidest fucking smile appear on his face. And then fucking Harry had made breakfast. He'd fixed the kettle and made toast and said 'good morning' in a croaky voice before pressing a soft kiss on Louis' cheek. He should still be happy, he should be floating on fucking cloud nine but the panic's making a home in his chest and refusing to give over.

"Louis. Louis, look at me. Lou." Louis forces himself to to meet Zayn's eyes. "You haven't fucked anything up. If like half of what he's told Niall is true, that boy is fucking gone for you."

"He made you breakfast," Niall points out for the third time.

"He made you breakfast," Zayn nods emphatically. "I don't think I've ever made anyone breakfast."

"You did that one time. When I did that thing..." Niall's voice fades out, apparently lost in a memory. "Anyway. We got food poisoning that day."

"That wasn't my fault."

"Was that when you and Perrie skived off work?" Louis asks, intrigued despite himself.

"I didn't poison anyone," Zayn mutters indignantly. "And it doesn't matter, anyway."

"Mattered to my stomach," Niall says quietly. Zayn glowers at him. Then he turns to Louis again.

"Do you know that, whatever shit you've got going on in your head right now, I really haven't seen you look this good in months? I don't know whether it's because it's Harry or because it's about time, but this is good for you, Lou. Enjoy it. What've you got to lose?"

Everything, Louis wants to say. Nothing, another, slightly less neurotic part of him wants to argue back. "I just. I don't wanna be that person."

Zayn frowns. "What person, Lou?"

"The one that needs somebody." It's not exactly what he means, but it's close enough. Niall's watching him with a small smile.

"You don't need anybody, Louis. But it's nice to have someone there anyway."

 

 

 

*

Louis avoids Harry for almost a week.

No one is surprised, especially not Zayn and Niall, who've made it their business to keep everyone out of Louis' love life - or lack of one - even though they're pretty pissed off with him in general. Zayn takes it out on the rest of the world, because he can't stay actively mad at Louis for more than maybe an hour and ends up giving a two-year old a stern telling off for no reason. She dissolves into tears and Louis spends about fifty quid on sweets from across the street to appease her and her horrified mother who'd only come in for a check up. Niall deals with it differently, attaching himself to Louis for the better part of five days, finally culminating in demanding Louis let him sleep over, just in case. A very sleepy, very moody Zayn had to physically drag Niall away, all but kicking and screaming.

Harry, bless him, doesn't pick up on it for a while. Louis' phone buzzes almost incessantly at the beginning of the week, with texts ranging from the entirely nonsensical - how many blazers is too many blazers is there such a thing as too many blazers - to the stupidly sweet - missed you on our coffee run :( - until Louis ends up feeling like the worst person in the known universe. Which is completely untrue, because he's fairly certain there are tyrants and bullies and people who jump queues and people who listen to Nickelback by choice that qualify for that position. Still, it doesn't stop him from feeling shitty every time he ignores one of Harry's texts.

Eventually it trickles down to a couple of sad emojis and backing into corners so he doesn't meet Harry in the hallways. He buries himself in work, because that's how Louis deals with things, and goes 48 hours without a wink of sleep until Leigh pries the caffeine from his cold hands and nearly force feeds him sleeping pills. He ends up avoiding his own house as well as Harry; the one time he forces himself back home for a change of clothes, he purposely looks anywhere but at his plant. As if he needs another reminder of his general failure as a human being.

It's stormy outside on Sunday, rain beating a tattoo against the hospital windows, and Louis' catching up on Made in Chelsea on 4oD, curled up with his laptop on the familiar corner of the couch. His phone's turned off - because sometimes he follows hospital guidelines - so there aren't any frantic texts coming from his friends, worrying about his well being, and he's got the alarm clock set two hours from now, when he has to check in on two of his patients that are due today. It's a comforting routine, this, and he's almost content; it's nice to know somewhere in the world (twenty minutes away) Ollie is worrying about something as earth-shattering as his eyelash curlers.

He doesn't realise he's being watched until he shifts in his seat and he sees a shadow reflected on his screen, looming by the door with his arms crossed. His breath catches a little in his chest and it takes him a couple of seconds to compose himself enough to push the laptop away and half turn towards Harry.

"Just passing through?" he says quietly, lifting his head slightly and meeting Harry's eyes. Harry stays at the door, watching him, expression unreadable. There's a pinch somewhere in the vague area of Louis' rib age when he thinks that, because he's never thought of Harry as unreadable; he's always been an open book, at least when it came to Louis.

"Yeah," Harry replies softly, then shakes his head, hand coming to ruffle through his soaked through fringe. "I mean, no, not - not really. Me and Liam were out with Zayn, grabbing dinner and he - he mentioned you were on call. Thought you might like a bite?" He lifts a small white bag that Louis recognises from his favourite Chinese place.

Louis thinks of the cafeteria food he'd been playing with half an hour ago. "You're a lifesaver," he manages. "Give it here." Their fingers brush together when Harry stretches his arm out and Louis doesn't let himself think anything of it. He breathes in the warm steam when he opens the bag and gestures at the other end of the couch. "Sit. If you want."

Harry makes an aborted move towards him, then thinks better of it. "'M all wet," he mumbles awkwardly.

"I can see that," Louis mutters and he can hear the faint annoyance in his voice he's got no right to. He shrugs the blanket from his shoulders and throws it at Harry. "Get yourself dry, there's no sense in spreading a cold around the maternity ward."

Harry tucks his lower lip in his mouth and lowers his head enough to run the blanket through his unruly hair, pulling it over his shoulders when he's done. "How are you, Louis?"

Louis looks at him, trying to see through the closed off expression he's wearing now. "Tired," he says honestly.

"Of work?"

"Of me."

Harry frowns, the first thing his face has done since he came in that fits him. He moves to Louis' side of the couch, sits on the coffee table opposite him. "Zayn tried to explain, today."

Louis hums with the back of his throat; it's not like it's unexpected, Zayn cleaning up after Louis. "Did it help any?" He raises an eyebrow, doubtful. Harry gives him a small, sideways smile.

"The 'it's not you, it's him' speech was pretty interesting. Doesn't really work as well when he's singing your praises at the same time."

Louis chuckles, not because it's funny, suddenly overwhelmed with affection for Zayn. "Don't believe the hype."

"I do," Harry says simply and Louis has to look away.

He takes a deep breath. "I'm sorry. For what it's worth." He's not sure it's worth much. Harry's looking at him oddly when he dares glance up.

"For what?"

Louis shrugs, a lift of his shoulders that means - who knows, really. "For being, I dunno. A bit of a dick, maybe. For not answering your texts. For being me."

"The text thing, OK. I'm very big on texting. Big fan," Harry says seriously and Louis has the urge to giggle at this ridiculous boy - ridiculous man, in front if him. "No real need to apologise for the rest."

Louis feels that inexplicable pinch of frustration again. "Just accept the apology, Harry. You deserve it."

Harry shakes his head. "I get it, you know. I think I get it."

"Get what," Louis asks defensively. The Chinese is getting cold.

"You," Harry says and he sounds so earnest about it. "Your...deal."

"My deal," Louis repeats. "Took me more than two decades to realise I had a deal, Harold, you think you can 'get' my deal in a few months?" He uses air quotes to drive the point across. Harry smiles, properly this time.

"You've not got the exclusive, y'know. Getting scared. I was right there with you." He says it with a completely straight face, refusing to break eye contact; Louis can't look away, simply because he's fascinated. "And I don't usually? It's usually pretty easy for me. But this was a bit overwhelming, whatever it was. And I kind of wanted to run away and run into it at the same time." He leans over, thumb absently pressing into Louis' thigh. "It was Lux that sealed the deal, I think. I kinda knew then."

"Knew what?" Louis' voice is hoarse.

"That I was running in the right direction," Harry laughs, free hand scratching at his nose. He doesn't look self conscious about any of what he's admitting and Louis doesn't quite know what to do with that.

"Harry..." Louis figures it's his turn to speak. "It's not - there's not a switch to flick. You telling me you're scared too, doesn't make me any less - whatever. That's not how I work."

Harry doesn't look deterred by any of this. God. He bites his lip, like he's steeling himself. "I could just be friends. I could deal with just friends. Probably, because I think I want you in my life, anyway you can be, and I think you want that too."

It's so sincere. And true, Louis realises. All true. He's not sure his voice is up for it, so he just sort of nods, dumbly. Harry is still drawing circles against Louis' scrubs.

"I should go." He stands up, reluctantly, or maybe Louis' seeing things. There's a sheepish smile tugging at Harry's lips. "Was only meant to drop you some food. Cab's waiting downstairs."

"Jesus, Haz," Louis surprises himself with a laugh. "Get going before you file for bankruptcy." Harry makes a silly face, hovering at the door. He sounds close enough to kiss when he speaks but Louis' only watching from the corner of his eye.

"I think what scares you is that you can see it. You. And me. Us. And maybe a baby Earl too. North London semi-detached, or detached if we're feeling lucky. Holidays in France, even though you hate everything French. Date Night every Friday because we're still in love years later. You can see it. I can see it."

Louis stays still until he's alone again, the only sound the pitter patter of his heart and the way he's panting instead of breathing. It's still raining outside; he's aware of the hustle and bustle of the hospital close by; a baby is crying for the first time somewhere on this floor. The world hasn't stopped, and it seems odd, that; it feels like it should have, for a moment at least, the world should have pressed pause and allowed Louis Tomlinson some time to just think.

That's not how it works, though. A moment of brilliant dawning comprehension does not tilt the planet on its axis and he has a split second to decide - a split second or an hour, god fucking knows at this point, but it's probably an important distinction given what he's about to do. He runs into the hallway, bypassing startled looking nurses, and all but throws himself into the lift that's miraculously open on the maternity floor. The steel doors shut around him and the dozen other doctors and Louis stares at himself in them. His glasses are perched on his flat fringe and he's in his scrubs and his ancient Converse shoes. He pushes his glasses onto his nose and fluffs up his hair and the blue hospital outfit brings out his eyes, all things considered. The floors ping one by one - three, two, one, ground floor, finally.

It's pissing down when he pushes the exit doors open and he stands there, getting completely drenched, blinking past the raindrops on his glasses. The usual posse of smokers are huddled under an umbrella; a new dad - Louis can tell by the slightly shell shocked look and the way he's holding his fag, like quitting is no longer just an option; a girl waiting for her results, tapping a finger against her hip nervously; a couple of people who are whispering words of encouragement to each other, worry lines etched on their foreheads. Louis has the sudden urge to join them, bum a cigarette from them just to steady the nerves coursing through him.

There's an ambulance pulling over at the entrance of the hospital and a line of black cabs waiting for their turn to park but it's too dark to make out any of the passengers. He squints through the rain, trying to pick out a head of curls in one of them, but it's no use, half are gone within seconds of Louis bounding down the steps.

He tries to stem the disappointment; because the worst part is done, over, he's made up his mind. He can text; he can text Harry right now and Harry will probably appreciate it all the same. I'm big on texting, didn't he say? Only Louis' not that great at sitting down and thinking about what he has to say. He's a do or die kind of person, even if most of the time he doesn't. The familiar fear rears its ugly head again, because sitting and thinking made a mess of it the first time, and what if he goes back to the quiet of the doctors' lounge and this all seems like a bad idea? He gulps, presses a hand to his tummy and forces himself to breathe. There's not an inch of him that isn't wet right through.

"Louis?"

He turns on his feet, glances up at the top of the hospital steps with his heart in his throat. The smokers have dispersed, preferring the warmth of the hospital waiting room to the comfort of a cigarette, and there's only one person standing there, hair stuck to his forehead and looking. Well. Looking absurd, really.

Louis remembers the other night. Something about baby Tarzan. Harry hadn't lied.

"Louis!" Harry shouts again, arms raises at his sides. "What are you doing? Get inside!"

"No," Louis shakes his head, determinedly staying put. "No, I'm good, thanks!"

Harry pushes the stray wet curls from his face and squints down at Louis, looking at him like maybe he's going mad. Maybe he is. Feels like it, anyway.

"Lou, what -?"

"What are you still doing here?" Louis interrupts, yelling through the downpour. Harry bites his lip and frowns.

"I - I didn't want to leave. I dunno why."

Louis nods, a little frantic, because OK, he's not alone in this, whatever this is. He takes the steps two at a time, until he's just below Harry, and wipes at his lenses. This is something he probably wants to commit to memory. Historic moment, this. Up there with the first moon landing and Queen singing Bohemian Rhapsody for the first time. Blashemy, the Freddie fan in him cries. Who cares, every other part of him throws back.

"I don't want to be friends." It's still pissing down and he should probably raise his voice even though they're only inches apart, but it feels like subdued is the way to go with this. "I don't want to be just friends."

The crease between Harry's eyebrows doesn't smoothe out. It's still as flooring as the first time, knowing Harry's watching him, and only him, the rest of the world be damned. It sends a thrill down Louis' spine.

"And you're right," he keeps going, because in all honesty, he doesn't think he can stop, "I can see it. I can see it all. I can see the date nights and the arguments and you meeting my parents. I can see baby Earl, even though that name is never happening, I can see Zayn being best man and Niall stealing the ring and Liam trying to be the voice of reason through it all. I can see you. And me. Old and probably listening to that stupid Beach Boys song together."

He breathes through his mouth, speaking over his heart beating so loudly he should probably get it checked. "I can see it. And it terrifies me. Because it's so easy to see and it shouldn't be, because I don't think it's easy at all. But I'd still - I'd still like to give it a go. Baby steps instead of baby Earl, at least for now. Maybe a proper first date instead of house hunting in North London. Just in case I get sick of you along the way."

He smiles through his last words and shrugs. If you're here for the rest, you're here for the terrible humour, is what he's saying, maybe, but he thinks Harry gets it anyway.

"We should get inside," Harry says, finally, and Louis feels himself deflate.

"Really? After all that? After me making a complete fool of myself in the rain, all I get is we should go inside?" He takes the final step so he's almost at Harry's height.

"We should go inside," Harry repeats, carefully, and, god, it's maddening how fucking slowly he talks, "because I think we might get arrested if I do any of the things I want to, right now, in public."

"Oh," Louis says simply, mind going blank. The fantasy of Harry calling him doctor starts playing in his head again.

Harry leans down, mouth breathing hotly right into Louis' ear. "You mentioned that couch had seen depraved things. Let's give it an eyeful."

 

 

 

*

His plant is dead.

After a hard fought battle for survival and enough water to flood the balcony, Louis' plant is completely dead and the worst part isn't even that. The worst part is Louis' mum is going to be here in approximately two hours and forty-three minutes and she is going to see, with ample proof, what a failure of a human adult Louis Tomlinson is.

He snaps a photo of the dead thing with his phone because no matter how dire the situation, there is always time for Instagram, and mass texts it to the list entitled 'i regret everything', which includes his partners, his nurse, his overqualified receptionist and two midwives. He expects no answer from the first three - because it's everyone's day off and they're probably nursing a hangover and he imagines it's pretty hard untangling yourself from two extra pairs of limbs - but Leigh replies with a screenshot of her phone and the words Level 213 Completed slapped over the screen. Liam texts him about a dozen question marks in a row and ends with 'is this a metaphor for soemthing?', to which Louis can only growl. Harry shows no signs of life and Louis might be petulant about it if he didn't know he spent all night in a flat in East London delivering a healthy baby girl into the world. Louis' pretty forgiving under the circumstances.

An hour of panic later and he's managed to get rid of the offending has-been member of London's plant life when he hears a key scrape into the lock of his flat. Harry's still not figured out the proper way to kick the door open, even though he practically lives here since Louis - after enough internal conflict - gave him the extra key. Louis pauses his tea-making and turns to the door, trying desperately hard to keep the smile on his face in check.

"Lou?" Harry's voice carries through the hallway and Louis can hear him dump his midwife gear on the floor. "Hi," he says with the goofiest grin as he comes inside the kitchen.

"Hi," Louis says back, butterflies erupting in his stomach, even after all these months. "How was it?"

"Good. Y'know. Same old, same old. They had a pool though, so that helped," he shrugs, like delivering a baby is a walk in the park. Louis knows, now, that it's all an act, that Harry goes starry eyed whenever he talks about his job.

"Eh," Louis plays along. "Seen one baby, seen them all, am I right?"

"So right." Harry shuts his eyes slowly and shakes his head, unable to stave off the grin as he walks over. He's almost a head taller and Louis has to lift himself on his toes slightly so Harry can brush their lips together. It's lazy and it's chaste and every bit the good morning kiss Louis' come to expect from his, well. His boyfriend.

"Honestly," Louis says, when they break apart for air and his arms are looped around Harry's neck. "How was it?"

"She was really cute, Lou. Even you'd agree. And the mum was brilliant. Real trooper."

"Good for her. Proud of you," Louis whispers like it's a secret, because that's a thing now, them whispering that to each other whenever work goes well. Harry hums happily, nosing under Louis' jaw and scraping his teeth over Louis' pulse point. Louis can't help it, because he's missed him, ridiculous as that is - it's only been twelve hours or something, but he's used to his bed not being empty now - and tilts his hips forward slightly, grinning at Harry's answering groan.

"Sure you aren't tired, love?"

Harry bites down on his shoulder in answer. That's that, then. Louis brings their heads together, stealing a kiss while his hand works at Harry's flies, and he can feel Harry smile on his lips, hands sliding down Louis' back and squeezing his bum. Every inch of Louis' skin feels tingley and he pushes Harry back with a wink, only slightly dreading the inevitable pain he's going to feel in his knees later.

Obviously, that's when the doorbell rings.

Louis dissolves into giggles, burying his face in the space between Harry's shoulder and neck, and feels Harry's bark of laughter at the same time. They're both hard, which they'll have to deal with later, but there's not much else to be done with a troop of Tomlinsons waiting at their doorstep.

"Sorry," he mumbles into Harry's shirt, still snorting with laughter.

"'S OK," Harry chuckles, like nothing funnier's ever happened to him. "Rain check?"

"Definitely," Louis says as he moves back and adjusts himself. "Fuck," he has to laugh one more time. The doorbell rings again and Louis starts moving towards it when. "Fuck."

"What?" Harry swivels round, looking worried.

"I - the plant - fuck, fuck, fuck!" He's panicking now, he's properly panicking.

Harry smiles widely. "Oh, yeah, saw that. I told you to water it last week."

"You're really not helping, Harold!" Louis sounds hysterical. Louis is hysterical. "My mum is gonna kill me!"

"No, she's not." Harry doesn't sound hysterical at all. In fact, Harry sounds bloody amused. Louis can feel the familiar wave of homicidal rage course through him.

"Harry."

"Go and answer the door, Lou."

"Harry."

"Louis," Harry says, stupidly calm. "Go and let your family in. Trust me."

And, the thing is, that probably wouldn't have worked a few months ago. A few months ago, if someone had tried to play the trust me card with Louis, he would have laughed in their face. But it's not as though Harry Styles ever played by Louis Tomlinson's rules.

He lifts a warning finger at him. "If I die, I want you to know I will come back and haunt you and every midwife after you, is that clear?"

"Crystal," Harry grins. "Go on."

"I'm only doing this because I love you," Louis starts backing out of the kitchen. "Otherwise I'd be running."

Harry blushes, like he always does when Louis lets that slip. "Love you, too. Go."

It shouldn't be a surprise when Louis walks into the hallway to the sounds of his sisters yelling bloody murder and sees a plant identical to the one that just vacated the premises standing by the door. He swallows a laugh - because it's funny, dammit - and thinks that, if this plant is a metaphor for his life too, then it's maybe not a bad one.