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With The Strength To Carry On

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Harry

Harry’s palms were sweating an unusual amount, and no amount of wiping them on his dress slacks was going to change that. He stared at the silvery interior of the elevator, trying to talk down his own nerves. He didn’t think he’d ever been this nervous.

He hadn’t been worried when his plane had landed in America just days ago and he’d been stopped in customs because they thought something was wrong with his Visa. He’d just stood there calmly, looking at Liam on the other side of the gate and praying that he’d be over there with him in a few minutes. Everything had been fine.

He hadn’t had a problem when he and Liam had gotten to their tiny apartment above a church and across the street from a private college. The apartment had the tallest ceilings he’d ever seen, which meant he and Liam could get a huge Christmas tree for the next few years, but other than that, the place was empty and the walls were the ugliest shade of white he’d ever seen. He’d spend the next three days with Liam driving to all sorts of American shops to buy furniture and paintings and bathroom linens, but he’d enjoyed it. It made him feel happy, independent.

He hadn’t even been bothered when the toilet overflowed the night before he and Liam were due to start at the hospital, and they were up half the night drying the carpet with fans and a hair dryer borrowed from their neighbors. He’d just thought of it as one of many adventures he’d have while spending the next four years in the tiny town of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania.

But when he’d awoken that morning, he couldn’t even muster up the energy to eat Liam’s amazingly well-prepared breakfast. Liam had had no problem in scarfing down four eggs, a bagel, and two glasses of orange juice, but Harry had taken a few bites of toast and given up.

“Don’t worry, Haz, it’ll be great. We’re gonna do great.”

Leave it to Liam to be Mister Optimistic. 

“We aren’t even working on the same floor! How you got to work down with the blood analysts is beyond me,” Harry had said, sipping water from his cheap plastic cup and trying not to be sick.

“Maybe because that’s what I specialized in,” Liam had mocked, and Harry had rolled his eyes, pushing himself away from their small wooden table to stand and pace back and forth. “You’ll be fine without me. You at least get to work with the guys who came before us. I’m gonna be all alone.”

Harry had tossed his used napkin at Liam. “Yeah, well you’ve always been the better adult out of the two of us. You’ll fit right in.”

“Whatever you say, mate. Oh, we’d better get going, we’re going to be late!”

They’d gotten into the car they were issued and turned on the GPS. Apparently, driving around to all those shopping malls hadn’t taught them how to get around the town well enough, and they turned down the same dead end road twice before finally finding the parking lot of the Chambersburg Hospital.

He and Liam had parted at the elevator, Liam heading downstairs to the basement, and Harry heading up to the fourth floor. He was going to be working in Pediatrics, the speciality he’d chosen at only eighteen years of age. He was ready. He had studied for years, he had passed every exam with flying colors, and he loved what he did.

And here he was, in the elevator, watching the little red number tick upwards towards 4, and he felt sick. In the email he’d received a few weeks ago, he had been informed that he’d be under the supervision of a Mary Anderson, the resident MD of the Pediatric Ward. Supposedly, the two people that had been accepted into the American British Doctoral Exchange Program before himself and Liam were also working on this floor as Senior Residents, so he wasn’t going to be alone.

Ding.

The doors of the elevator whooshed open, and Harry found his ears bombarded by American accents as he stepped onto the tiled floor. The doors closed behind him, but Harry didn’t move, just trying to take everything in.

The walls and ceiling were an almost blinding white, but the floor had little sparkles in it that caught the fluorescent lighting nicely. He could see signs: Pediatric Ward, Left; Physical Therapy, Right; InPatient Ward, Left at Front Desk. The front desk was off to his right, where he could hear someone speaking on the phone about a prescription that they needed refilled. There were a few nurses walking up and down the halls in various decorative scrubs. Harry felt suddenly self-conscious in his freshly pressed pants, buttoned up shirt, and tie. He ran a hand through his recently cut hair, unsure of where to go to check in or what he was supposed to do. He wished Liam was with him.

Harry figured that the front desk was a good place to start, so he turned and started walking slowly towards it, still looking around. He had almost reached it when a voice sounded behind him.

“Hey, you must be Harry!”

Harry felt a sense of relief wash over him, and he turned to see a man a little shorter than him, with brown hair and blue eyes and a dimple in his chin grinning at him. He was wearing blue-grey scrubs and had a clipboard in his hands.

“Umm, yeah, that’s me. I’m Harry Styles, the new, umm, intern.”

The man had reached him, and his smile had only gotten wider. He stuck out a hand and Harry took it in his, shaking firmly. He could do this. He was made for this.

“Nice to meet ya, Harry. I’m Niall Horan, one of the Senior Residents here.”

Harry tried not to show how welcome Niall’s strong Irish accent was among all of the American ones, and he smiled. Niall’s enthusiasm was clear even with the few words he’d spoken - he loved his job and couldn’t be more excited that Harry was there.

“So … do I have to sign in, or is there someone I have to speak to before we get started?” Harry asked, his heart rate finally returning to a normal pace. It was weird, but he felt at home here, now that he wasn’t full on panicking. He had grown used to the white hallways and the smell of lavender coupled with antiseptic. He felt comfortable when he was surrounded by other nurses and doctors.

“Nah, no sign in, but we gotta wait for Louis. As much as I’d like to spend my days with someone as charming as you, Louis will be the one training you.”

Harry, confused, looked up quickly from where his eyes had been trained on the floor. “But I thought that Mary Anderson was training me.”

“Dr. Anderson heads up the program and the ward here, but because you’ll be taking over the job that Louis and I have been doing for four years, she figured it would be a better fit if one of us did it.”

Harry nodded and looked down awkwardly at his clothes. He should have known he’d need scrubs. “Umm … I’m really sorry, I didn’t know I needed scrubs. It was stated in the email that the hospital would provide …?” He trailed off awkwardly, looking down at his shoes. His feet were starting to point inwards again, like they always did when he was nervous.

“Oh, don’t worry, we are providing them. Louis went to get a set for you. Oh, there he is! Hey, Tommo, look who I found!”

Harry turned, seemingly in slow motion, and he felt his cheeks flush. Coming towards them was undoubtedly the most attractive man Harry had ever seen. He walked with an air that suggested he was very comfortable here, and the blue of his scrubs only made his blue eyes brighter. A light dusting of scruff covered his cheeks and chin, and his hair was swept up carelessly from his forehead. Harry decided then that this man was the only person that could make scrubs look attractive. Harry felt suddenly breathless, and had only just gotten hold of himself when the man stopped in front of them, a cheeky half grin on his face.

“Louis, this is Harry, the new intern. Harry, this is my best friend and your supervisor, Louis Tomlinson.”

“Nice to meet you,” Louis said, and Harry’s heart rate spiked at the sound of his voice - raspy and high but not too high, and with a slight edge to it that made Harry think he might be from the north of England. It fit him perfectly. He took Louis’ hand in his, feeling how small and delicate it was, and prayed that none of his inner thoughts were showing on his face. If they were, Louis gave no indication that anything was off. “As Niall said, I’ll be showing you around and teaching you how we do things here. I brought you some scrubs - interns usually wear purple, but they might be a bit small. I didn’t realize you’d be so tall. Niall, Mary wants to see you in her office. Something about the donuts in the staff room.”

“I only had five, I don’t see what her problem is,” Niall called with a laugh as he headed off down a hallway. Harry swallowed as Louis turned back to him, trying to remain calm and professional. Louis smiled softly, and Harry felt warm all over.

“Don’t be nervous, Harry. This job is one of the best you can get right out of med school, and working with kids is one of the perks. They’re going to love you.”

“Not so sure about that,” Harry mumbled as he followed Louis down the hallway to a room closed off by a wooden door. Harry could smell coffee and … was that cake? Louis pushed the door open, and Harry followed, watching as the few other nurses and doctors greeted Louis. As they entered a small closet at the far end of the room, Louis spoke again.

“Trust me. With curls and dimples like yours, what’s not to like?”

Harry felt his cheeks grow hot and he bowed his head, trying to hide the ridiculous smile on his face. He was happy that Louis was currently facing the other way, looking for scrubs that would fit him.

“Ah, here we go. These should do. Might be a little long, actually, but you can roll them up.” Louis turned back to Harry, holding out a pile of purple fabric, and Harry took them from Louis, his smile still intact.

“Thanks, Louis.”

“Well, there’s a small bathroom over there, just pull the scrubs on over your clothes and meet me out in the hallway, and we can get started. It’s going to be a lot of walking around and learning today, but with any luck, I might be able to take you in to visit some of the kids if they’re feeling up to it.”

Harry nodded and felt his heart swell. He had always had a soft spot for kids, especially sick kids. Getting to know them was the part he was looking forward to most, and having someone like Louis Tomlinson show him around? Yeah, he definitely wasn’t complaining.

“Sure. I’ll meet you out there.”

Louis threw another smile over his shoulder as he headed back across the room. Harry would be lying if he said he hadn’t watched him leave before heading into the bathroom. He was clutching at the scrubs a little harder than he needed to be, but he wanted to stop his hands from shaking.

Once the door was closed behind him, he leaned up against it for a second, letting his head fall back. Of course, of all the supervisors he could get, he had to get the insanely attractive one. Didn’t exactly help with the nerves, but he had to focus. This was his job, the one thing he could do to contribute some good to the world. He couldn’t allow himself to be distracted by a pretty face and mesmerising eyes. Such gorgeous eyes …

Harry pulled on his scrubs quickly, chancing a glance in the mirror. The purple looked surprisingly good on him, but Louis had been right - the pants were a little long. He leaned over to roll them up and then stood up again, running a hand through his hair. He could do this.

As he stepped into the hall, Harry very nearly ran into Louis, who had been waiting just outside the door. He stepped back, almost tripping over his feet, and felt a hand on his arm steadying him. The pressure of Louis’ hand left his arm quickly. Harry had a fleeting wish that it had lasted longer.

“Looks good, Harry. Oh, I almost forgot. We all get badges here, even the interns. Dr. Anderson wanted me to give you this.”

Harry held out his hand, and Louis placed the badge in it. They had used his University ID photo from a year ago, which didn’t look as bad as Harry had been expecting. The words Harry Styles, Intern were printed in a bold font next to his picture. He looked back up at Louis’ face -  Louis was watching him with a very strange expression, and Harry looked away from those eyes, instead trying to focus on pinning his badge to the pocket of his scrubs. He couldn’t get the little clasp open and he pressed his lips together, trying not to show his obvious embarrassment and frustration.

He heard Louis chuckle, a high little tittering sound that made Harry’s stomach turn over in the most pleasant of ways. “Here, let me help you. The new clasps can be a pain in the arse sometimes.”

Louis reached out, plucking the badge nimbly from Harry’s fingers, and stepped closer to Harry. Harry caught a whiff of something almost spicy, and he swallowed.

“There we are. You’re all set.”

Harry snapped out of his thoughts, hoping his cheeks weren’t as red as they felt, and nodded at Louis. “Thanks … sorry about that. I’m already being outdone by little pieces of metal.” He meant it half as a joke, but Louis’ face turned suddenly serious, and there was that pressure of his hand on Harry’s arm again.

“Harry, seriously, don’t worry about it. It’s your first day, you’re bound to be nervous. But you’ll learn quickly around here. You’re smart, it will come naturally to you. Come on, I’ll show you where everything is.”

Louis turned and started down the hallway. Harry stood there for a few seconds, still a bit in awe of Louis’ voice and still feeling his touch, and then hurried to catch up.

 

Louis  

Louis was awakened that morning by the smell of burnt toast, accompanied by a few Irish profanities. The next thing he knew, the smoke alarm was ringing out through their apartment. He groaned and stumbled out of his room to the sight of Niall, clad only his boxers, wafting a tea towel under the alarm, desperately trying to make it stop its incessant screeching.

“For god’s sake, Niall, only you could be the sort of person who can save a child’s life with a complicated trach yet burn something as simple as toast.” Louis pulled a chair underneath the alarm and unhooked it, taking out the batteries. He made a mental note to replace them once the smell of smoke had disappeared.

Niall, at least, looked a little shamefaced as he dropped the charred slices of bread into the bin, instead pulling out a couple of cereal bowls and Louis’ beloved Coco Pops. He’d spent a small fortune on them from the British food shop across town, despite often moaning about how he was struggling for money. They both shook out a small amount into their bowls and ate quietly, the only noise the hum of their old refrigerator in the corner of the kitchen.

“So, how are you feeling about your first intern then, Tommo?” Niall questioned, watching as Louis sipped the last of his milk and wiped away a milk moustache with the back of his hand. Louis stood and deposited his bowl into the sink, then turned back to Niall.

“Honestly? I’m feeling okay, not as nervous as I thought I’d be, to be honest. It’s just a lot of responsibility, you know? What if this person is a bit shite? I have the job of trying to turn them into a qualified, competent doctor

, and I’d really like it if they weren’t terrible at their job. Fingers crossed I get a decent candidate. It’s alright for you, though. I can’t believe the other candidate is working in blood analysis. Trust you to land on your feet as usual,” Louis joked, trying to ignore the smirk on his friend’s face.

“Get over it Tommo. You love bossing people around, so you’ll be great with an intern. I’d probably just use them to fetch me donuts and have some extra naps. Anyway, only one way to find out whether they’re any good or not.” Niall shoved his chair over to the wall, climbed on it, and popped the batteries back into the smoke detector, locking it shut with an audible click. “Shift starts in an hour, so we’d best get a move on. Glad we’re on earlies this week anyway. It would be rough to get an intern on a night rotation.”

Louis hummed in agreement and headed back to his bedroom. He pulled his blue scrub trousers on, followed by a white long sleeve top and his blue scrub top. It wasn’t the nicest of outfits, but pulling on these clothes always got him into the right mindset.

He and Niall rode together every day. After Louis pulled their car into their reserved space in the staff car park, they walked in together, talking about random things, and rode the elevator up to the Pediatric Ward. Louis’ intern wasn’t due to start for another half hour, so he parted ways with Niall, who was off to the staff room and the smell of donuts, and headed off to his boss’s office, knocking before he pushed the door open.

“Morning Dr. Anderson,” Louis said, taking a seat as the woman in front of him gestured for him to do so.

“Good morning Louis. Today’s the day! Excited to meet your new intern?” Louis smiled and nodded, taking the manila folder that was being pushed across the table at him. He cracked it open and pulled out some of the paperwork, just glancing over the man’s qualifications. Harry Styles, it seemed, was a talented young man, if these exam results were anything to go by, and immediately, Louis felt an ease. At least he was working with someone competent who know what he was doing. He felt something else at the bottom of the envelope and turned it upside down, Harry’s ID badge sliding out onto his lap. He quickly pocketed the badge and looked back up at his boss.

“Harry’s a very nice young man. I spoke to him on the phone when he secured the transfer to the program, and he’s excited to work here. I’ll let you get going, but make sure you get him some scrubs, and you have everything ready for him. Good luck.” She stood up and shook Louis’ hand firmly, letting him out of the door. He tried to arrange his slightly dazed expression into something more confident as he stepped out into the corridor.

He glanced down at his relatively new scrub top and the I.D. badge pinned to it with ‘Dr. L Tomlinson, Senior Resident’ in bold type next to his picture. This was real, it was happening, and he had better get his head on straight. The corridor was filled with people bustling around in different scrubs, carrying clipboards, IVs, tubes and other various medical paraphernalia, and Louis loved it. He loved the feeling of being part of something important and knowing that he had an important role to play in this building. He was needed - people relied on him.

He headed off to the linen closet to find this Harry some scrubs, glancing back down at the page of references in front of him. Harry had had glowing reports from all his tutors at University back in England, so it was no wonder he was picked to be part of the program, much like Louis himself had been four years ago. Louis rifled through the selection, trying to find a purple set of scrubs that might fit. He grabbed the first set he saw that seemed reasonable for a man and tucked them under one arm, stepping out of the closet. As he headed off towards the main desk, he was stopped by one of the RNs who worked on the ward.

“Louis, Josh Smith in bay 4 is heading off to CT shortly. Do you want him to take his amoxicillin before he goes or after?” Kayleigh asked. He took Josh’s chart from her and flicked through before making a decision. Josh was a patient Louis had grown fond of, and he was determined to get to the bottom of the boy’s problem. He’s been stuck in Chambersburg Hospital for three weeks now, unable to fight off a persistent infection, and Louis was sure there was more to it than anyone else was seeing.

“Let’s give him 500 mgs of that now, and I’ll come round when he’s back from CT and see if there’s any progression. Would you page me when he’s done, love?”

Kayleigh nodded and took the chart back, heading back to her patient. Louis took a breath and carried on, coming around the corner to see Niall leaning against the counter and talking to a tall and very handsome man. He was hunched over slightly, toes turned in, but there was something endearing about the sight.

“...hey, Tommo, look who I found!” Louis heard as he got closer, his friend pointing at the man next to him. Louis wondered if this was Harry, and as he neared, the man turned, and wow. Louis focused on keeping his expression straight as he took in the man’s stunning features. He had springy curls poking out in all directions, a gorgeous chestnut brown colour, and his eyes were a stunning green. Louis had to wrench his gaze away. He swept his eyes clinically down Harry’s body, making a note of his long, lean legs and the smart suit clinging nicely to his tall frame.

“Louis, this is Harry, the new intern. Harry, this is my best friend and your supervisor, Louis Tomlinson.”

“Nice to meet you,” Louis said, extending a hand to Harry, which he took carefully. Louis swallowed at the feel of his own hand begin engulfed by Harry’s, and yet his touch was gentle. He imagined that Harry was good at putting his patients at ease, using those hands to comfort and reassure when it was needed. He smiled easily at Harry, hoping his face wasn’t betraying him and making his first impression too obvious. “As Niall said, I’ll be showing you around and teaching you how we do things here. I brought you some scrubs - interns usually wear purple, but they might be a bit small. I didn’t realize you’d be so tall. Niall, Mary wants to see you in her office. Something about yesterday and the donuts in the staff room?”

Louis bit back a laugh at the look of horror that flitted across Niall’s face before he replaced it quickly with a cheeky grin and a laugh, calling over his shoulder as he walked away, “I only had five, I don’t see what her problem is!”

Louis turned back to Harry then - it was just the two of them now. He could see Harry looking around, taking in his surroundings. The Pediatric Ward was certainly a sight to behold, and while Louis felt entirely at home here now, it did take some getting used to. He was determined to help Harry settle in as quickly as possible.

“Don’t be nervous, Harry. This job is one of the best you can get right out of med school, and working with kids is one of the perks. They’re going to love you.”

“Not so sure about that,” he thought he heard Harry mumble in reply, but he chose not to comment, sure it was just first day nerves that were bringing out Harry’s more negative side. He led Harry down a long corridor and swiped his card to grant them access to the staff room. Louis smiled and nodded at a few of his colleagues who were taking their break, not stopping to chat for the moment since he had Harry with him. Louis pulled open the door to the linen closet and held it, noticing Harry still had a very nervous expression on his face. He decided to be a bit cheeky to put him at ease.

“Trust me. With curls and dimples like yours, what’s not to like?” He hoped his cheeks weren’t on fire thanks to his comment and quickly turned to the shelves, looking at the multitude of folded scrubs in front of him and searching for something bigger.

“Ah, here we go. These should do. Might be a little long, actually, but you can roll them up.” Louis turned, holding out the purple pile of fabric to Harry, who took it eagerly.

“Thanks, Louis.” Louis’ tummy flip-flopped at Harry’s deep, gravelly voice, a hint of a northern accent hidden in its depths, and he coughed slightly, trying to push those thoughts away. Harry’s eyes darted around as if unsure if he should just strip off and put them on now, and as much as Louis wouldn’t mind that, it wasn’t the most professional of things to want in that moment.

“Well, there’s a small bathroom over there, just pull the scrubs on over your clothes and meet me out in the hallway, and we can get started. It’s going to be a lot of walking around and learning today, but with any luck, I might be able to take you in to visit some of the kids if they’re feeling up to it.” Louis smiled and stepped out of the closet, closely followed by Harry, and pointed over to the bathroom on the left wall. Then Louis headed over to take a seat next to Leo, another of the RNs on his floor, clad in a set of green scrubs.

“That the new British transfer?” Leo asked, jerking his head in Harry’s direction, who had just gone into the bathroom, clutching his scrubs. Louis nodded, grabbing a paper from the table in front of him and flicking idly through the pages as he waited for Harry.

“Yeah, that’s Harry. He’s my intern for this year, so fingers crossed he’s good. Seems like a nice guy, a little nervous, but I guess it’s all different. Feels like a lifetime ago that I went through all that, the move here and stuff.”

Leo drained the rest of his coffee and stood up, heading for the door. “Well, good luck Louis. I hope he’s as good as I was in my first year.”

“So modest, you are,” Louis called as Leo stepped out of the door and back to the ward, poking his tongue out at Louis as he did so. Their harmless flirting always put a smile on Louis’ face, and Louis knew the next time he ran into Leo on the ward, he’d be nothing but entirely professional. That’s just how their friendship worked.

He sat forward, putting the paper back on the table and rested his elbows on his knees as he waited for Harry to come back out. His first impression was a good one - Harry seemed a nice enough person, albeit a little shy, but Louis was sure he’d get him to come out of his shell. He was more than qualified and was pretty darn handsome, too. Louis couldn’t help but feel like he’d hit the jackpot here, and he was already excited for the year ahead. With any luck, things were falling into place, right where Louis wanted them.

Louis heard a commotion and stepped out of the staff room, lingering outside the door as he watched several of his colleagues running towards the other end of the ward. Someone was calling a ‘Code White’ over the intercom as they sprinted off. Louis swallowed heavily, as he knew that meant a child was in serious trouble. He hoped it wasn’t one of his.

The door behind him creaked open, and Harry stumbled out. Louis automatically reached out a hand to steady him. He felt something zip up his arm as his skin made contact with Harry’s, and Louis tried not to react to the fact Harry had very firm, toned arms under the scrubs. The purple scrubs somehow suited Harry. It gave him a royal air, somehow, making the pale ivory tone of his skin glow in the harsh hospital lights, and Louis could honestly say he’d never admired how a person’s scrubs clung perfectly to their body before. He shook the thought away as he pulled his hand away from Harry’s arm without being too obvious, and grinned at his new charge.

“Looks good, Harry. Oh, I almost forgot. We all get badges here, even the interns. Dr. Anderson wanted me to give you this.” Louis reached into his pocket and pulled out the badge Dr. Anderson had given him earlier, pressing it into Harry’s hand. Harry looked down at it, seemingly in awe of the fact this made his position official somehow, and a small smile fluttered across his face.

Louis himself was trying to ignore the swarm of feelings that were whirling around in his head now. He couldn’t deny his attraction to Harry. The boy was everything Louis liked in a guy - tall, handsome, and with a smile that could light up several city blocks. Louis knew that if he had bumped into Harry at a bar or a club, he’d have tried to take him home and to bed. But no, he had to meet him at work, where he had a position of responsibility over him, no less. As much as his heart (and other parts of him) wanted more from Harry, he knew that was an impossibility.

Louis had allowed himself to become distracted before, to the detriment of nearly everything he’d worked for, and he was not about to let that happen again, even if he felt there was already a spark of something between them. He realised Harry was staring at him and rearranged his features quickly, watching intently as Harry struggled to pin the badge onto his scrub top. He had to laugh a little - Harry looked like an annoyed child with his lips pursed like that.

“Here, let me help you. The new clasps can be a pain in the arse sometimes.” Louis stepped forwards and took the badge out of Harry’s hands, swiftly clipping it into place and trying desperately to ignore how close his fingertips were to Harry’s chest. He knew that if he pressed a bit harder, he could probably feel Harry’s heartbeat under his touch. Louis blinked quickly, bringing himself back to reality.

“There we are. You’re all set.”

“Thanks … sorry about that. I’m already being outdone by little pieces of metal.” Harry said, Louis paying no attention to the blush high on Harry’s cheeks now. He didn't like how Harry was being negative about himself and his abilities already, and decided to stop him in his tracks. He reached out, pressing his hand onto Harry’s arm again, the butterflies flapping around wildly in his stomach at his actions.

“Harry, seriously, don’t worry about it. It’s your first day, you’re bound to be nervous. But you’ll learn quickly around here. You’re smart, it will come naturally to you. Come on, I’ll show you where everything is.” He gave Harry a quick smile and turned on his heel, heading up the corridor towards one of his favorite wards, flicking his head around when he didn't hear any footsteps behind him. Harry hurried on behind. Louis was happy and confident on the outside as he passed his colleagues, but inside, his mind was full of turmoil, wondering how on Earth he was going to handle working alongside Harry every day without making a huge mess of everything he’d been working for.

Chapter Text

Even after Harry’s extensive training in school and the hours upon hours of memorizing names of medications and machines and diseases, he was still overwhelmed by the amount of things he learned from Louis on his first day. Louis walked him around the entire floor at a relatively slow pace, walking into unoccupied rooms to point out things about the computer system and how the beds worked, and every so often, Louis would be stopped by a coworker who just wanted to say hi or who wanted to ask questions about specific patients. Harry watched, almost in awe, as Louis moved from one conversation to the next, smoothly transitioning from talking about the weather and his weekend plans to complicated medication schedules and possible surgeries.

They ate lunch together down in the cafeteria, where Harry just barely caught a glimpse of the back of Liam’s head as he walked through the line with a bunch of people in white coats, and they acknowledged each other with a small wave each before parting ways for the second half of the day.

It was during this time that Louis sat Harry down and went over the list of patients he was currently taking care of, just so that Harry would be familiar with the names when they eventually went in to meet them. If Harry was being honest with himself, this was his favorite part of the day. Not only did he get to hear about the little kids he’d be helping take care of in the coming weeks, but he got to listen to Louis’ soft, raspy voice for hours.

“And this one here, her name is Julia Peters. She’s only three, poor thing, and she has pretty bad asthma. I’ve been taking care of her for a few weeks.”

Harry watched as Louis flipped over some of Julia Peters’ paperwork, his eyelashes threatening to brush his cheeks as he blinked slowly. Harry was hopelessly endeared, so much so that he completely missed whatever Louis said for the few minutes after that.

~

“And yeah, so that was my day,” Harry said, gulping down half of his glass of wine in one go and looking up at Liam from his reclined position on their couch. Liam leveled a look at him, chewing on his pizza for a minute more before swallowing and opening his mouth to speak.

“So basically what you’re saying is that you’re already crushing on Louis, someone you work with and is training you.”

Harry felt his cheeks grow hot. Must be the wine getting to him. The American stuff wasn’t as good as the stuff he’d had in England, but it would do for now. “I never said that.”

Liam laughed, flopping down on the couch next to Harry and sighing. “Yeah, well, you didn’t have to. Louis was every other word coming out of your mouth, and you get this look on your face when you talk about him. Misty eyes and all. I know you, Harry.”

“I mean, he’s attractive, yeah, I’m not going to deny that, but I’ve only known him a day... less than a day, really. He’s just really good at what he does.”

Harry hoped his face wasn’t betraying him. He knew Liam was right, but he really couldn’t help it. He admired Louis, even aside from how pretty his eyes were when the lights hit them or how he held himself with such ease. It was in the way he threw himself into his work and how much emotion was in his voice when he talked about the kids he took care of. Harry had avoided that kind of connection in the medical world for a long time, and for good reason, but seeing the way Louis did it made him think that a little emotional attachment might not be so bad after all.

“Harry, are you even listening to me?” Liam’s voice shook Harry out of his thoughts, and he focused his eyes again on his best friend. “Just … be careful. I know how easy it is for you to fall for someone, and I just don’t want to see you get hurt.”

Harry pressed his lips together and nodded. He wasn’t sure what else he could say that would convince Liam that he really was here for work and not to fall in love, so he opted to stay mute, sipping more of his wine until the silence became too much for him.

"How about you? How was your day?”

~

The next few days that week were more of the same for Harry. Every morning, he ate breakfast with Liam, and they drove to the hospital. Every morning they would part ways at the elevator, promising to meet up for lunch if they got their break at the same time, and every morning, Harry would ride the elevator up to the fourth floor in his purple scrubs, his fingers playing with his ID badge until the doors opened. Louis was always waiting for him at the front desk, usually talking to Niall or one of the other nurses.

Louis continued to show Harry the inner workings of the Chambersburg Hospital Pediatric Ward, talking him through procedures and letting Harry try entering data from his sheets into the computer. Harry always felt a little nervous, having Louis stand right behind him while he typed away at the computer. Admittedly, he wasn’t the fastest typer in the world, but he wanted Louis to be proud of him for some reason, so he typed as fast as he could, often having to back up because of the horrible spelling mistakes he made. Sometimes, Louis would lean over and put his hand on top of Harry’s, typing in something he forgot or something he misentered, and Harry found himself holding his breath at Louis’ touch.

When Friday finally came, Harry exited the elevator, fully prepared for another day of logging paperwork and learning how specific models of machinery operated within the ward, but instead, he found Louis standing at the front desk with a clipboard and his usual half grin that made Harry’s stomach turn over in a pleasant way.

“Hey, Louis. What’s going on?” Harry asked, adjusting his ID badge and stopping in front of Louis. His toes were pointing towards each other again. He really needed to kick that habit. Louis’ smile widened, and he handed the clipboard to Harry.

“You’re well up to speed, and you know what you’re doing. I think it’s about time you met some of the kids you’ll be helping me take care of, so that’s where we’re going first. Gotta check up on my older kids and then we can visit the babies.”

Harry gasped, and he knew his face must have lit up because Louis laughed. “No, no, not actual babies, though it’s good to know where you stand with possibly visiting the maternity ward. My babies.”

Harry just stood there for a moment. Louis was always a cheerful person, or at least, he had been for the last four days, but today, there was something almost … bouncy, about him. His whole being was alight with happiness. It looked good on him.

“Well, come on then, Harold, let’s not keep them waiting,” Louis said, poking Harry in the side and making him double over almost at once. Louis gave him a mischievous look and then headed off down the hallway to a set of double doors that were card protected. Harry followed, not quite sure how he felt about Harold as a nickname, but deciding not to comment on it right now. Louis swiped his card, and Harry followed him through the doors, which had opened in opposite directions, and into the hallway of occupied rooms. Louis led him to the very end of the hallway and knocked softly on the door before pushing it open. Harry hastened to get into the room before the door closed, his hands too busy clutching the clipboard in anticipation and excitement. This was it. This was what he’d come here to do, what he’d been waiting to do since the day he graduated and was offered a place in this program. It was really happening.

“Hi there, William. How’re you feeling today, lad?” Louis said, and Harry finally got himself around the curtain so he could see who Louis was talking to. A boy with ebony skin, probably no older than seven, was nestled among the crisp white blankets and pillows, but the blanket on top was a baby blue one decorated with elephants. Harry’s heart was already melting as he looked down at the clipboard. The full name was printed on the top, but before he could read it, a small voice reached his ears.

“Who’s that, Dr. Louis?”

Harry looked up sheepishly and smiled as Louis beckoned him closer. “This is Harry, William. He’s my assistant … of sorts. He’s going to be helping me take care of you, how does that sound, eh, love?”

Harry looked down at William. He looked so small - his wrists were tiny and Harry could see the bones starting to poke out, but his eyes were bright, full of life and a manic energy that only kids could have.

Louis nudged Harry, and Harry cleared his throat awkwardly. Of course he needed to introduce himself again, or at least say hello.

“Hi, William. I’m Harry. I’ll be helping out Louis, if that’s okay with you.”

William just stared up at Harry for a few more seconds, and Harry gave a sideways glance at Louis, unsure of what to do next. Then William grinned and held out his tiny hand to Harry.

“Hi, Harry. I’m William Williams, nice to meet you. I’m doubly important because my name is the same thing twice.”

Harry laughed, a loud, barklike sound that only came out when he was caught off guard by a joke. Louis chuckled, though whether it was at what William had said or Harry’s obnoxious noise, he wasn’t sure. He took the kid’s hand in his, completely engulfing William’s tiny fingers with his own.

“Good to meet you as well. And how old are you?”

Harry knew he could just look at it in the file Louis had given him. He could find out anything he wanted about William in there, but Harry knew that it was important for William to see that Harry trusted him and wanted to hear things from him.

William held up seven fingers and was about to answer before a fit of coughing wracked his tiny body. He covered his mouth with both hands, trying not to cough all over everything. Harry felt his heart lurch painfully at the sight, and his immediate reaction to that was to stop feeling and start analyzing, but there was something in the way Louis was watching him, almost as if he wanted to see what Harry would do, and Harry knew that he had to let those feelings in. He had to try.

“Got quite a cough there, mate. You alright?” Harry asked, trying to use the bedside manner he’d been taught all through school and that came naturally to him, even if he’d tried before to block it out in favor of being professional. William finally stopped coughing and wiped his mouth.

“Dr. Louis says I’ll be fine. He says I’ve got puh-na … um, puh-ni …” William’s brow furrowed as he tried to recall, and Harry looked over at Louis. Louis was watching the boy with such a fond expression that Harry felt his own cheeks heat up, like Louis was looking at him like that.

“Pneumonia, remember, William? No ‘p’ sound, just the ‘n’ sound,” Louis corrected kindly, adjusting the IV drip next to William’s bed and checking the multiple screens around the bed.

“Heart rate, good. A little fast, but that’s to be expected. IV, good as well. Harry, are you writing this down?”

“What?” Harry said, startled, and he looked up to see Louis grinning and William laughing a little as well. “Oh, right.” He remembered the clipboard in his hand and he flipped through, marking the things Louis said down with a pen.

When Louis was finally finished, he reached into the shirt pocket of his scrubs and pulled out a wrapped peppermint, which he gave to William with a wink. William gasped and unwrapped the peppermint, putting it in his mouth and closing his eyes with the widest grin on his face.

“We’ll come check on you later, yeah? Come on, Harry.” Louis headed for the door, and Harry flipped the paperwork back to the front sheet.

“Bye, William. Nice to meet you,” Harry said, and William nodded, waving energetically at Harry as he exited the room behind Louis. Harry’s heart felt light, content, happy. This was everything he’d ever hoped for and more. And that was only Louis’ first patient.

Louis had stopped at the smaller desk in the heart of the ward, smiling at the receptionist and speaking to her quietly. Harry came up behind him and Louis plucked the clipboard from his hands, handing over the paperwork to her.

“If you could get me the paperwork for Josh, that would be great, thanks, love.”

The receptionist rustled through the piles on her desk and produced a stack of paper, thicker than the rest, handing it over to Louis. Louis nodded with a smile and handed the clipboard back to Harry.

Harry looked down at the first page, glancing at the name and the diagnosis as he followed Louis down the hall a bit to another room. Joshua Smith was nine years old and had a persistent kidney infection, something that, it appeared, Louis hadn’t quite been able to figure out. He’d been in and out of the hospital for the better part of a year now, according to the typed information on the paper. Harry felt his heart drop a little in sympathy. No one deserved to be this sick, especially a child.

By the time Harry entered the room and looked up from the paperwork, Louis was already settled next to the bed, talking animatedly with Joshua. Joshua’s blond hair looked like a halo against the stark white of his pillows, and under one arm, he clutched a small, rather tattered, stuffed rainbow bear. He walked over to stand next to Louis, turning his attention to their conversation.

“My moms said that when I get to go home this time, we’re getting ice cream. I think Boo really wants some. I know I do.” Joshua clutched at his bear and grinned.

“Yeah? And your moms, are they coming in today?” Louis asked, rubbing his thumb over the back of Joshua’s hand, which Harry now realized he was holding. Harry could see Joshua’s little veins sticking out starkly against the milky white of his skin.

Joshua’s face dropped a little. “No, they both have to work today, but they said they were definitely coming tomorrow. Hopefully I can go home tomorrow!”

Louis nodded, though Harry knew as well as Louis that Joshua wouldn’t be going home for at least another week or two. His paperwork clearly showed that no medication was doing much for his infection for more than a few weeks at a time.

It was then that Joshua noticed Harry, and Harry watched as his eyes widened and he shrank back against his pillows, looking utterly terrified. Louis was quick to comfort him, putting his other hand on top of Joshua’s.

“No need to be scared, Josh. This is Harry. He’s going to be helping me take care of you. You want to say hi to him?”

Harry knelt down next to the bed, figuring that standing up and hovering over him wasn’t the best way to make a first impression. He smiled softly. “Heya, Josh. I can call you Josh, yeah?”

The little boy nodded once, his eyes still wide and scared, and he held his bear tightly to his chest. Harry felt his throat tighten a little. He’d never once met a child who was this terrified of him. He wasn’t quite sure what to do. He decided to try something else.

“I like your bear. Boo, right? Did your mums get that for you?” Harry spoke quietly, in the voice he’d only used a few select times in the past. Joshua nodded again, and the stuffed animal was squished even closer to his chest. “Rainbow is my favorite color,” Harry said, but he was starting to lose hope. Joshua wasn’t responding to him the way kids usually did, and he was out of ideas.

“Harry, how about you wait in the hall for me, yeah? I’ll finish up in here,” Louis whispered in Harry’s ear, and Harry nodded, standing and walking numbly towards the door. He felt a strange pressure in his chest as the door closed behind him. He stood awkwardly outside the door, his fingers fumbling with the edge of his pants. He wasn’t sure what to do or what to think. The only thing he felt was that dull ache in his chest and a tightening of his throat.

Five minutes later, the door opened next to him and Louis stepped out, sighing and running a hand through his hair.

“How is he?” Harry asked, trying to keep his voice casual. Louis looked up at him, a small smile on his face.

“He’s feeling a little better than yesterday, which is a good sign. The medication I’m using this time around seems to be doing the trick for now.”

Harry nodded, but anything else he might have said was stuck in his throat. Louis put a light hand on his elbow and his gaze was drawn back to Louis’ bright blue eyes.

“Don’t worry about it, and don’t try to deny that you’re worrying because I can see it in your eyes. He’s always been a little shy around new people. He’s in and out of hospitals. It takes him a while to warm up to people. It took him three weeks to say one word to me. It’s not you, I promise.”

“Sounds like a line, that,” Harry mumbled, and he felt actual tears prick in his eyes. He was being stupid. Not every kid had to like him, he knew that. But there was something about the way Joshua had looked at him, like he was a terrifying monster, that had gotten to him.

“Harry, look at me.” Harry bit his lip and forced himself to look at Louis, who had gripped onto his arms and was looking up at him, his gaze burning. “It’s ok. He will get to know you soon, I promise. I’ve only seen you interact with one child and I can see how much you care about them, about this job. You have such a big heart. Just give Josh time to see that.”

Harry was overwhelmed, the tears that were brimming in his eyes threatening to spill over, not so much because Joshua hadn’t liked him, but because Louis had known him for four days and was already saying such amazing things. Louis didn’t even know half of it, and yet he believed in Harry much more than Harry believed in himself right now.

“Th-thanks,” Harry finally stuttered, feeling his lips turning up in a small smile. Louis smiled back.

“C’mon, Hazza, let’s get this paperwork in and then I think it’s time to snag some of Niall’s donuts, what do you say?"

Harry laughed and followed Louis back to the front desk and then through the double doors to the rest of the floor.

“Hazza?” Harry asked, something stirring inside him. He hadn’t heard that nickname in a long time, and yet he loved how it sounded coming out of Louis’ mouth.

“Yeah, figured you needed a good nickname, and it was the first thought that popped into my head,” Louis said, turning back to look at Harry with a slightly worried expression on his face. “Why … if you don’t like it, I can change it, I’m sure I can come up with something …”

Harry shook his head furiously. “No, no. I like it. Better than Harold, if I’m being honest.”

Louis’ grin returned, his eyes sparkling. “That’s too bad. I quite like Harold. Come along, now. Donuts await us.”

~

“Hey, Harry, you ready to go?” Liam asked as Harry stepped off the elevator. The day after his and Louis’ donut break had consisted of more paperwork, as usual, and going back to visit William. Harry had talked for ages with him about his favorite superheroes, which had eased his mind about the situation with Joshua. Louis was right. He would come around eventually. Harry just had to keep trying.

“Yeah, let’s go. I’m ready for some takeout and a beer, honestly.” Harry sighed as he and Liam made their way out through the door and to the parking lot. They had almost reached their car when Harry heard someone calling his name, and he turned to see Louis hurrying after them.

“Hey, Haz, was wondering if you wanted to come for drinks tonight? Me and Niall always go on Fridays, and I figured you might want to join.”

Harry hesitated, looking over his shoulder at Liam. Liam was studying Louis, trying to figure out who he was, and then Harry saw it click. He turned back to Louis quickly. “Yeah, that sounds great, but only if Liam can come too.”

Louis looked around Harry at Liam and smiled widely. “Of course. Nice to meet you mate, I’m Louis Tomlinson.” Louis held out a hand to Liam, who walked forward to shake it. Harry watched Louis, fascinated by the amount of energy he still had after a long day. “Well, I’ll let you lads go home and get changed, and you can meet up with me and Niall. Relax Lounge, it’s out by the highway, attached to the Orchards. I’ll text you the address.”

“Wait, Lou, I don’t have your number,” Harry said, wincing as the nickname slipped past his lips, but Louis didn’t seem to mind. On the contrary, Harry thought his eyes might have gotten a little brighter, but maybe it was just the sun getting in them as it set behind the mountains surrounding the valley.

“Oh, right. Hand over your phone then,” Louis said, reaching for Harry’s phone, and Harry wordlessly let Louis take it from him. A few seconds later, his phone was back in his hand with Louis’ contact information staring up at him from the screen. “There you are. Just text me so I have your number, and I’ll see you both later. Was nice to meet you, Liam. Harry’s only said good or embarrassing things.”

As Louis walked off towards his own car, Liam nudged Harry, and Harry turned to see him smirking. “What?”

“Oh, nothing,” Liam said, drawing out the second word, and Harry rolled his eyes as he got into the car.

“Seriously, what? We’re friends, just like you told me to keep it. I don’t understand.” Harry persisted as Liam slid into the driver’s seat, closing the door behind him.

“Well, yeah, I still stand by that, but it is fun to watch both of you get all blustery and animated around each other,” Liam answered, his smirk growing. Harry whacked him with his ID badge as Liam pulled out of the parking spot.

Chapter Text

“I told you we’d be too early, Niall. You never listen to me,” Louis huffed, pushing through a crowd of people to take a seat on one of the bar stools, the pair of them having decided to wait for Liam and Harry before they got a table. Louis caught the attention of the barmaid with one of his typical dazzling smiles and ordered Niall a pint and himself a Coke.

“Not drinking, Lou?” Niall questioned, frowning at the soft drink put in front of his friend. Louis sipped at it and shook his head, swallowing down the fizzy liquid before answering.

“Nah, mate, I’m on call tonight, and even if I don’t get called in, at least I’ll be able to get you home in one piece,” he joked, knowing full well how merry Niall could get after he had a few. They chatted easily about their days for a while, Louis lighting up a little too much when he spoke about Harry and how well he’d been doing over the past few days. He noticed that Niall's eyebrows were climbing higher with every word he spoke, but Louis knew his praise of Harry was just because he was an intern who knew what he was doing. He hoped Niall wasn't getting any ideas.

Dance music was playing at a low volume in the background, and Louis glanced around, soaking up the atmosphere while Niall talked about one of his little patients and the difficult conversations he’d had with some parents earlier. Delivering bad news was one of the worst parts of Louis’ job, and he dreaded it. It didn't matter how experienced he was or how many times he did it, it never got any easier. It was why he and Niall sometimes needed to let loose and get completely drunk, something he knew his friend would probably be doing tonight since he wasn’t on shift tomorrow.

The bar was one that Louis felt quite at home in, and in some ways it reminded him of home. Vintage style posters hung on the walls in frames. The bar was sleek and wooden and felt cosy, yet modern at the same time. Bar stools sat in a row, but there were plenty of small wooden tables to sit down at and a plethora of cocktail and drink menus dotted around, something there to tempt every kind of patron. Low lighting bathed the room in a soft yellow glow, affording a relaxed atmosphere, and Louis appreciated the lack of harsh overhead lighting, having had enough of it all day at work. He lifted up his frosty glass, feeling the cool liquid snake its way down his trachea, shivering slightly as it lowered his body temperature.

“So, Tommo, gonna tell me what’s put such a big smile on your face lately?” Niall questioned, wiping his beer moustache away with the back of his hand. Louis, knowing what was coming, arranged his features into a puzzled expression and just stared at Niall, waiting for him to explain. Niall took another swig of his beer and then put it down, folding his hands on top of the table. “You’ve been strutting around with a huge grin these past few days. Was just wondering what it is that’s got you so happy.”

Louis just shrugged, running his index finger up the side of the glass, rubbing patterns into the condensation. “Nothing specific, mate. Just had a good few days. Everything’s fine, can’t really - hey Harry, Liam! Over here!” He’d caught sight of Harry’s tall frame coming through the door, and he waved enthusiastically, returning Harry’s bright grin. “What can I get you both?” he asked as Liam and Harry came to a halt behind himself and Niall

“I’ll have a beer, please, Louis,” Liam said, shaking hands with Niall as the Irishman introduced himself. They seemed to have a lot in common and Niall immediately engaged himself in conversation with Liam, both of them prattling on about some medical thing that even Louis didn't understand. Louis felt something shift next to him and then Harry was there, leaning on one elbow against the bar, one foot crossed over the other.

Louis let his gaze slip down then, taking in Harry’s outfit. Louis couldn’t help but realise how the scrubs Harry wore on a daily basis did his figure no favours. Tonight, his legs were encased in the tightest of skinny jeans that clung like a second skin to his muscular thighs, and his bold floral shirt was unbuttoned almost to his navel. On his feet were some scuffed tan Chelsea boots that were somehow so Harry, and Louis couldn’t help but chuckle to himself. He felt a little underdressed in his own outfit, a baggy ‘The Who’ band t shirt he’d had since Uni, and some tatty jeans that had seen better days, along with his ever-present checkered Vans.

“Um, don’t judge me Lou, but I’ll have a Zombie, please.”

Louis raised his eyebrows but didn’t say anything. In truth, Louis’ really preferred the sweeter drinks to the hard stuff, so Harry’s order wasn’t that far off from what he’d order himself. He took another sip of his Coke. Harry stood up straight, reaching for his wallet, but Louis stopped him with a hand on his wrist, shaking his head.

“Nope, this one’s on me, to say well done to both of you for a great first week,” he said with a grin. He caught the attention of the barmaid again as she walked past and ordered for Liam and Harry, handing over a few five dollar bills from his own back pocket.

“Thanks, that’s really kind. I can’t believe I’ve been working here a week already. It’s gone by so fast, but it’s been so amazing. Working with you has been really fun and eye opening for me. I feel I’m learning so much just watching you work.” Louis watched as a blush spread across Harry’s cheeks, betraying his embarrassment over his words, his gaze falling to the table. He thought it was quite sweet how Harry was rambling on, and managed to hold himself back from pressing a kiss to Harry’s lips to stop him talking.

“Well, I’m glad you’ve enjoyed it Harry. You’ve made a really promising start,” Louis said, grabbing the two glasses and his change. He stood up and handed Harry his glass, who took it with a mumbled thanks, head turning this way and that as he looked for a table. He spotted one and jerked his head in the right direction, heading off to claim it with Louis trailing behind him, yelling for Niall and Liam to follow. They settled down and chatted easily about work, Liam explaining what he was up to down in blood analysis, none of the other three men understanding his fascination with it all.

Louis waxed lyrical for a while about a couple of his patients, and as he spoke, he could feel Harry’s gaze boring into him. Louis couldn’t deny he loved having all of Harry’s attention on only him, but it seemed that Niall had had enough of their fawning. He drained the rest of his pint, pushing back his chair with a loud squeak.

“Bloody nora Lou, stop going on about work. We’re out to have fun, yeah? Any more for ya lads?” Everyone shook their heads politely as Niall made his way to the bar, making conversations with strangers. Louis admired that skill - he himself was always able to talk easily with patients and their parents, but when it came to strangers, he tended to hang back a bit, following in Niall’s wake.

The next few hours passed by quickly, Louis on his third soft drink by now. He missed the buzz alcohol gave him, but being on call was a responsibility he didn't take lightly. He couldn’t afford to be drunk when one of his kids might need him.

It was nearly ten o’clock now, and the music suddenly got louder, crowds of people heading over to the dance floor, ready to lose themselves in the rhythm of the tunes ringing throughout the bar. Louis tapped his feet on the floor along with the beat, watching as couples moved seamlessly together, hands roaming over bodies, sweat trickling down the back of necks, chests heaving in unison.

He startled out of his daze when Harry suddenly stood, offering him a hand, cheeks slightly reddened from the cocktails he’d been drinking.

“Come on Lou, come and dance with me,” he said with a cheeky grin. Louis bit his lip, pondering over whether or not this was a good decision. He finally decided to just go for it. They were in public, and their friends were with them. How badly could this go? He put his hand into Harry’s outstretched one and allowed himself to be pulled from his seat, following Harry to the dance floor, not dropping his hand even when they got there.

The song wasn’t one that Louis recognised, but it had a mesmerising beat, and Louis began to sway his hips. He felt slightly self-conscious, thanks to the fact he had no alcohol flowing through his veins to lower his inhibitions, but he tried his best to lose himself in the music. Harry, on the other hand, had no such qualms. His arms were in the air and he was singing loudly, and Louis was quite taken with how beautifully he sang. His deep voice was distinctive, and he harmonised effortlessly with the tune. Louis tried not to be too obvious about how he was staring at him in adulation.

“What?” Harry said when he realised Louis hadn’t taken his eyes off him in a while. His cheeks flushed a bit pinker, and Louis felt his stomach flip. “Sorry, when I’m tipsy, I tend to sing a bit loudly. Haven’t been out for a while!” He stumbled then, and Louis automatically stepped forwards, catching him before he could hit the floor. Harry just giggled and pushed his hair back, his dimples like caverns now from his wide smile.

“You alright, Harold? No more drinkies for you,” Louis teased, stuttering slightly as Harry reached forwards, placing his hands on Louis’ hips. Now, Louis might not have been in a relationship in all too long, but he’d had a few one night stands, enough to keep certain wants and needs at bay. But when Harry touched him - on top of his clothes, but still - it ignited something in him. He blinked as their gazes locked for a moment, and Harry took that as an invitation to step forward, glancing down at Louis as he began to move them together, letting the bass pulse through both of them.

“Love this song,” Harry said, leaning forward to mumble the words into Louis’ ear. Something inside Louis snapped at that, and he turned around in Harry’s hold, pressing his back against Harry’s chest and closing his eyes. He enjoyed the feel of Harry’s firm torso pressed against him, the way Harry guided his body in their shared movement. The way Harry’s fingertips dug into his hips did things to him he didn't ever want to admit to. He let his lower half tilt backwards slightly, far too freely, really, as Harry kept pulling him backwards with his big hands. Louis felt a little surprised at how easily he was letting himself be led, but he couldn’t find any reason to care.

Louis felt a little breathless at his proximity to Harry and what they were doing. He caught Niall’s eye across the bar and tried to push his surprised expression out of his mind. He knew this was a bad idea, deep down, but something about it felt so right - he couldn’t bring himself to stop. Harry was bending his head down, breathing heavily into Louis’ neck, and it was too much and not enough at the same time.

Just as he was rocking gently back on his heels, something started buzzing against his hip. He frowned, trying to work out how Harry’s fingers could be causing it, but he came flying back to Earth with a bump when he realised it was his pager. He unclipped it and read the message, still letting Harry grind gently forward into him. The reality of the situation hit him fully then, and he pulled away almost roughly, reattaching the pager as he stumbled off the dance floor, hastily walking back to the table and grabbing his keys.

Harry had followed him and stopped him as he turned from the table, concern etched on his face. “Lou? Was that the hospital? Everything okay?” Despite the fact that Louis knew what had just happened between them wasn’t only Harry’s fault, he couldn’t stop himself from snapping at the young man in front of him, all pigeon-toed and anxious.

“Well, obviously not, if it’s the hospital, Harry.” Harry flinched at his tone. “I’ve gotta go. Tell Niall where I’ve gone, yeah? He’ll need to get an Uber home.” Louis made to walk away, pocketing his phone, but Harry stopped him again.

“Do you need me to come with you?” he asked quietly, and Louis felt a sudden need to put a stop to all of this, and now.

“No! I don’t need you to hold my hand, Harry. I’ve been working here a lot longer than you. I can deal with my patients on my own.” Without even turning to say goodbye, knowing he couldn’t face the inevitable hurt expression on Harry’s face, he stalked off into the night, reaching his car and heading for the hospital.

~

He arrived at the hospital just twenty minutes later, coating his hands in the antibacterial gel all staff used before entering a patient’s room. He noted the nurses crowding the bed, a scared little girl in the middle of the activity. Another of the shift nurses, Remy, handed Louis a clipboard and quickly brought him up to speed on what had happened.

“Okay, she needs to be on a nebuliser, and now. Albuterol, let’s start her on .15mg of that, every twenty minutes. We need to get these airways opened. What are her O2 sats?” Louis glanced over to one of the one of the monitors, frowning at the figures he saw there. “I want to see that back up at 96, then we can think about weaning her off the neb, and putting her on high flow oxygen for the rest of the night.”

He smiled confidently at Julia’s concerned parents, knowing it helped reassure parents if he projected an outward confidence, no matter what was going on inside of him. “So it looks like Julia’s had another acute attack, so I’m putting her on some medicine through the nebulizer that will hopefully open up those airways and get her breathing at a normal rhythm. Tonight, my focus is purely on that, and tomorrow when she’s had a rest, we’ll start thinking about what’s brought this on. Are you guys okay? Can we get you anything?” Louis smiled as them as they shook their heads, stepping out of the room.

He let out a breath. He hated seeing his young patients in such distress, especially ones as young as Julia. His heart was racing, and while he knew he was the picture of professionalism, he felt a little shaky at the fact he’d just had to deal with that all by himself. Every decision rested on him, and if he made the wrong one, it spelled more trouble for the little girl who was relying on him to get it right. He wished someone was there to talk it through, Niall, or even Harry, but instead, he was alone. He brought his hands up to his face, rubbing over it and quickly running through his medical choices in his head. He knew in his heart he’d made the right ones, but there was still that tiny part of self-doubt that was eating away at him.

He stood at the reception desk, filling in some more paperwork when suddenly a Code White was called, an alarm blaring out down the relatively silent corridors. His heart plummeted when he realised it was to Julia’s room. He took off at high speed, sprinting down the corridor, several nurses in his wake. A white light was flashing on the outside of her room, and Louis burst in through the door, heading straight for his patient. The heart machine was beeping erratically now, and the little girl was gasping for breath. Her parents stood at her bedside, looked petrified.

“Open up the neb now, up to .25mg of Albuterol, let’s sit her up please, we need to calm her down and get these airways open. Julia…” Louis walked over and twisted her so her legs were dangling off the side of the bed, ensuring she kept her back as straight as she could to open up her chest. He crouched in front of her and took her shaking hands in his. Her eyes were red and streaming with tears as her chest heaved with each effort of breath. Her tiny hands were scrabbling at the mask, trying to get it off. Louis pulled her hands away as gently as he could. “Julia, you need to calm down, love. You need leave the mask on and take some deep breaths, let that medicine get into your lungs. I want you to breathe with me as I count-” He reached behind him and silenced the monitor, knowing it was only agitating the young girl more.

Louis knew if she didn't start to breathe more deeply and soon, her sats would dip to dangerous levels, and he’d be forced to perform an intervention he really would rather not. He gripped the girl’s tiny, fragile hands in his own and counted lowly, inhaling and exhaling, showing her how to do it. She kept clawing at the mask but he replaced it each time, stroking her hair until her breathing was more under control. He could feel her heart rate beginning to calm as well, and he helped her shuffle back onto the bed, propping up her against her pillow.

“Fantastic, you’re such a brave girl. You’re doing so well,” he said, pressing at a few buttons on the nebuliser to increase her dosage for a while. He knew how much the little girl hated that mask, the straps digging into her soft cheeks, but it was one of the things he couldn’t change for her at that moment. Her sats were still too low for Louis’ liking, but he decided to tackle one thing at a time. “Feeling a bit better now?” She nodded, tears still leaking from her big brown eyes. “Good, now keep taking those big deep breaths. Mum, can you come over and keep her going like she has been? Right, I’ll be back in a bit love, you just rest, alright?”

Louis squeezed her hand gently and stood, stepping out of the room and heading for the staffroom. He avoided the gaze of his colleagues as he strode down the corridor. He fumbled with his keycard, gritting his teeth in frustration until the green light appeared, granting him entrance. He was thankful to realise he was alone, and he clenched his hands into fists.

“Fuck!” he shouted, kicking out with the toe of his shoe at the sofa, landing a couple of hits there before he slumped down on it, elbows on his knees. He was trembling, could feel it in hands, and he hated himself for slipping into this mindset again. He closed his eyes and took some deep breaths, trying to find some semblance of control. He stumbled over to the kettle and quickly made himself a cup of lukewarm tea, his go-to when things got tough. He ran through his decisions in his head again, second-guessing his earlier choices before coming to the conclusion that he had done what he’d do with any other patient. It was just unfortunate that his choices hadn’t helped Julia earlier on. He stood up, grabbing his stethoscope from where he’d thrown it onto the sofa and hooked it around his neck again. He opened the door and set his shoulders, putting on his brave ‘trust me, I’m a doctor’ face and heading back to check on his young charge.

~

Two days later, Louis was feeling a bit relieved that Harry was finally back on shift with him. He hadn’t had any contact with him since the night at the bar, and even Niall had been a bit cool with him, making Louis realise he really had made a big mistake. He couldn’t decide which mistake Niall was more angry at him for though - dancing with Harry like he did, or shouting at him when he was only trying to help.

Louis clipped on his ID badge and stepped out of the elevator, making sure to hold the door for a little girl and her parents. He smiled fondly as she toddled on unsteady feet into the metal box, grabby hands reaching out to press the buttons. The doors closed behind him with a metal clank and he stopped to chat to a few of the night staff, listening intently to a couple of comments and taking paperwork that was being handed to him.

He rounded the corner, still engrossed in his paperwork, but he slowed as he heard Niall’s dulcet tones coming down the corridor. He could see his friend gesturing with his hand and he ducked into a nearby doorway, ensuring he couldn’t be seen by either Niall or whoever he was talking to.

“I just don’t know if he’s angry at me for dancing with him or what. I hope I haven’t ruined this already. He’s been such a good mentor to me so far, and I … I really admire him. I hope he doesn’t think less of me because of what I did. Stupid bloody cocktails, I should know better-” Louis’ eyes widened as he realised the person Niall was talking to was Harry, and while he felt guilty for eavesdropping, he couldn’t quite bring himself to move away.

“Look, Haz, there’s something you should know about Lou. When he’s embarrassed or feels he’s in the wrong, he lashes out, usually at the wrong people. He wouldn’t have danced with you if he didn't want to, trust me, I’ve seen him rebuff enough men on the dance floor to know that much. But I bet when he got the page, it all hit him and he panicked.”

“You sure, Niall? I mean, I just don’t want him thinking less of me, that I’m easy or something, cause I’m not.”

“He doesn’t. If you’re worried, Harry, just talk to him. Lou’s a pretty open and upfront type of guy-” At that, Louis slipped away down a side corridor, not wanting to hear any more. He hated that Harry felt bad for their dance, and he needed to sort this out; he just didn't know how. He looped around and caught up with Harry at the reception desk, handing him the forms and charts the nurses had handed him earlier. Harry smiled shyly at him.

“I’ll get right on that Louis, thanks,” he said, stopping in front of one of the computers and starting to enter the information, updating patient charts. Louis trusted him with this task - he’d proved himself more than competent by now, and it was one less bit of paperwork for Louis to deal with. He stood idly for a moment before he saw Niall heading down the corridor, pulling off his scrub top.

“Hey, what’s up with - oh, shit, yuck. Get it away!” Louis joked as Niall stuffed the vomit covered top into one of the laundry bins before nipping in to the laundry closet and coming out with a new one. Louis held his badge and stethoscope while Niall pulled it on.

“So are we going to talk about Friday night, or are we just going to pretend it didn't happen?” Niall said, retying the strings of his scrub trousers and glancing up at Louis, who felt the pressure in Niall’s tone. “Harry feels like shit, you know, and it’s not fair to put it all on him. You were dancing with him just as much as he was dancing with you, Lou.”

“Shit, I know. God, I feel horrible, Niall, I really do. I was bloody terrible to him and he didn't deserve it. But, shit, I just feel so awkward now, like I’ve fucked everything up, professionally and, well, personally, I guess.”

“What’s the deal, Lou? I mean, do you like him or something? I haven’t seen you dance with a guy like that for a while, and you looked a bit too into it to deny it…”

“Swear you won’t say anything?” Louis said intently, and Niall rolled his eyes. “You can’t say anything Niall, I mean it.” Niall nodded, clearly understanding the brevity of the situation by Louis’ intense expression. “I’m crushing on my bloody intern. I’ve got eyes, Niall. He’s gorgeous, he’s kind, he’s clever. What’s not to like? But, fuck, this has happened before and I am not going down that path again, no way.”

“Who’s to say it’s going to be the same as before?” Niall asked, glancing down at his own buzzing pager then. “Sometimes, Louis, you have to take a chance. Harry seems a really decent guy. Just please, go and apologise to him? Tell him you’re sorry, and act like you mean it? He’s really hurt, and he doesn’t deserve that. He doesn’t know why you’re acting like this. I gotta go.” He headed off in the direction of one of his patients, and Louis sighed, spinning around to look back down the hall at Harry.

He still managed to make his purple scrubs look handsome, the material clinging snugly to his long limbs and the top of a black t-shirt peeking out just under his collarbones. His green eyes were narrowed in concentration, a pen dangling from between his plump pink lips. He was quite honestly the picture of innocence, and it just made Louis feel even worse. Harry’s eyes flicked up then and met Louis’, lips curving up in a small smile which Louis hurried to return.

He fiddled with the ear pieces of his stethoscope and bit his lip, making a decision. He was an adult, he was the one with the position of responsibility, and he needed to right his wrong. He headed over to Harry and plastered a smile on his face, ready to finally be the bigger man and own his mistakes.

“So, how are you today?” Louis questioned, his eyes flicking up to meet Harry’s briefly. He tried not to notice how they sparkled under the hospital’s bright lights, how the green flecks in them caught the light and lit up his whole face, how his dimple popped when Harry smiled back at him. No, he didn't notice any of these things.

“I’m okay. Pleased to be back. I really missed the kids,” Harry answered honestly. Louis took in a deep breath, readying himself for an apology. He wasn’t one who was quick to admit he was in the wrong outside of work, but this felt important, like it had to be done.

“Harry, before we do anything else today, I need to apologise to you for my behaviour the other night at Relax. It was really unprofessional of me to dance with you like that, and I’m sorry if I’ve led you on at all. I’ll respect our professional relationship from now on, I promise. And I didn't mean to snap at you either - you were only trying to be helpful, and I was rude. I hope we can put this past us and move on.

He might have delivered the words steadily and with a neutral expression, but inside, it was killing Louis to have to say this to Harry. All he really wanted to do was jump into the younger man’s arms and kiss the living daylights out of him. He wanted to tell Harry he enjoyed the feel of his body against his as they had danced together, that he wanted more from Harry than just being colleagues at work. He knew there was something bubbling below the surface between them, that they had a spark he hadn’t found with anyone else for years, but no matter how much he wanted it, to try and see if there really was something there, he couldn’t. He couldn’t risk it all, not again.

Harry's eyes widened, his cheeks flushing the perfect shade of pink that Louis was coming to quite like on him. Harry shook his head furiously, pulling his hands away from the computer and clasping them behind his back. He rocked back on his heels slightly, and Louis bit back the urge to put his hands on his hips to still him.

“No need to apologise, Lou, I understand. And for my part, I’m sorry if I forced you into dancing with me. I’m quite a handsy drunk; I enjoy letting go with my friends, and, well, I consider you a friend now, so….” Harry trailed off, shrugging those broad shoulders that Louis so badly wanted to touch. Louis knew friends wasn’t enough, and probably wouldn’t ever be enough, but it would have to do. He quickly repressed the urge to say something inappropriate and nodded.

“Friends is good with me,” Louis said with a grin, leaning forward to nudge Harry with his shoulder. “All good then?” Harry nodded back and logged out of the computer, handing the paperwork over to the receptionist to be filed now that it was on the system. “Come on then Haz, let’s go check on the kids.”

Chapter Text

As the days got hotter and the sun stayed out longer, Harry grew to truly love the hours he spent on the fourth floor with Louis. As each week passed, Louis began trusting him with larger tasks, such as changing an IV or helping a patient and their family leave if it was just an overnight stay. Harry felt like he was becoming an actual doctor now instead of following Louis around like a lost puppy.

He and Louis had been on good terms since the incident in the club, and Harry had finally stopped feeling pangs of embarrassment every time Louis walked past him. As a result, they’d actually grown closer and were able to joke about it now. Gentle, joking touches were now normal between them - a pinch or a smack on the bum, a nudge of the hip, a hand on the waist. Harry pretended he didn’t feel a swoop in his stomach every time Louis got close to him. He pretended that his feelings weren’t getting stronger. But in those moments when he was left alone with his thoughts, all he could think about was Louis.

It was a particularly hot June day and Harry was running late. Liam hadn’t set his alarm, and Harry had slept right through his own, so both of them were rushing out the door five minutes before they had to be at work, and the hospital was a ten minute drive away.

Harry, foregoing the slow elevator, took the stairs two at a time up four flights until he burst through the stairwell door, sprinting down the long hallway and nearly knocking over a few of the night shift nurses who were just now getting off. He skidded to a halt in front of the front desk, gulping down lungfuls of air while trying to maintain a professional disposition.

“Harold, there you are! Woah, did you run here or something?” Niall’s cheerful voice rang down the hall, and Harry turned, clutching onto the counter to support himself. Niall was grinning, and Louis was right next to him. His lips were pursed, but his eyes were crinkling at the sides - a sure sign that he was trying very hard not to laugh.

“Not - not quite. Oh, go on then, Lou, laugh all you want. Pretty sure I look like a tomato right now,” Harry said, rolling his eyes as Louis immediately burst into a fit of laughter. They reached the counter, and Louis stood up straight, regaining his composure.

“You don’t look that bad, Haz, I promise. But you are late, which puts us behind, so we’d better get started on our rounds. Gonna take you in to see Julia today.” Louis waved at Niall, who had been called off down another hallway, and then turned back to Harry. “Poor girl. She’s been in twice in the last month for asthma, and she’s only three.”

Louis leaned over the counter to grab the files he needed, and Harry hastened to stand up straight, trying to smooth out any wrinkles there might have been in his scrubs. He ran a hand through his hair, clearing his throat just as Louis turned back to him. Harry held out his hand automatically for the patient file, knowing their routine by now. Louis would let Harry read over the file to make sure he knew what to do and how to treat the patient. Then he’d take him  in to see the patient and introduce them if it was someone Harry hadn’t met, which was the case today.

Harry scanned the file as he followed Louis through the double doors and into the ward, and a date caught his eye. The last time Julia had had a severe episode was the night of the club incident. That would explain why Louis had run off, and why he’d been so snappy with Harry. It made him feel just a little better about that whole situation, even though he’d told himself repeatedly that he was over it.

Louis stopped at a door about halfway down the hallway and pushed it open quietly, peering in before going all the way inside and holding it open for Harry. Harry stepped inside and was greeted by a sight almost too familiar for his liking.

Julia looked so small and fragile among her blankets, and her eyes were dark and tired over the top of the breathing mask covering her mouth and nose. According to the file, she’d been up most nights with minor attacks and was having trouble even laying down to sleep. Harry felt slightly sick, but he pushed his memories away. This wasn’t the time. He had to be professional. He stood by the end of the bed, and Julia’s brown eyes locked on to him.

“Hi, darling. I think we can take that mask off you for a bit, what do you say?” Louis said in a soft tone, a voice that Harry had come accustomed to but that still gave him goosebumps. The little girl nodded as Louis reached for her, but her eyes were still on Harry. Louis noticed and smiled as he lifted the mask over her head. “That’s Harry, Julia. He’s helping me with my patients. You want to say hi to Dr. Harry?”

Louis had begun referring to Harry as Dr. Harry to the kids, because that’s what they were supposed to call him if they were able. Harry wasn’t sure if he liked it or not - it made him sound a lot more professional than he thought he was.

Harry gave Julia a little wave and waited. It was a painful three seconds of silence before Julia smiled and giggled, making grabby hands for Harry. Harry walked towards her, feeling a smile starting to creep onto his face, and he knelt down next to her bed, right next to Louis.

“Hi, Julia. What a sweet girl you are. I’m Harry,” Harry said, putting a gentle hand on her blanket-covered foot, and Julia giggled again.

“Ha … H … Hazzy,” she tried, her face contorting as she tried to figure out how to say Harry’s name. Harry’s breath caught in his throat. He hadn’t heard that name since …

“Seems like you’ve got a new nickname there, Haz. I kinda like it. Makes you seem less like the big, gangly, curly monster you are, and more like a really tall teddy bear. The tightness in Harry’s chest eased a little at Louis’ easy smile, and he decided that maybe the return of that nickname wasn’t such a bad thing after all - at least, not when it made Louis all smiley and sarcastic.

Harry smiled as Julia reached for his nametag and began playing with it, her tiny fingers, flipping clumsily through the cards.

“You’re my doctor too?” she asked suddenly, looking at Harry with big eyes, and Harry nodded.

“Yeah, love. I’ll be in here whenever Louis is, if that’s alright with you.”

Julia clapped her hands in excitement and laughed again. Louis had stood up and was checking all of her monitors and scribbling things down on her paperwork, and Harry just stayed where he was, squatting next to the bed and letting Julia play with his hair. His knees were killing him, but Julia was laughing so hard now that he didn’t want to do anything that would wipe the happy smile from her face. When sick children were smiling, Harry felt like he was doing his job right.

It was another ten minutes before Louis finally put the paperwork down and cleared his throat. Julia released Harry’s hair and Harry stumbled to his feet, his cramped legs barely holding him up.

“Alrighty, lovely, time to put that mask back on,” Louis said, trying to make it sound cheerful, but Julia’s smile disappeared and her bottom lip jutted out in a pout.

“I don’t want to,” she said defiantly, crossing her arms, and Louis imitated her position, pouting right back at her. Harry couldn’t help but be hopelessly endeared as he watched Louis have a staring contest with Julia.

“I know, but it’s helping. You’re getting better. Your breathing is much better. You only have to wear it for a little while longer and then you get to go home. How does that sound?”

“Home is good. Miss my toys,” Julia grumbled, her grumpy expression making Harry suppress a giggle. She was the most adorable kid he’d ever worked with. Louis knelt down next to her and lifted the mask over her face again. Once it was situated where it wasn’t hurting her, Louis stood up and beckoned for Harry to follow him out of the room. When the door was safely closed, Louis’ smile dropped, and to Harry, he looked more exhausted than the time he’d worked two doubles three weeks ago and Harry had found him half asleep in the staffroom, a full tea cup threatening to spill onto the floor from his loose grip.

“You okay, Lou?” Harry asked carefully. He had learned over the last few weeks that when Louis was stressed, there was usually no point in asking him if he was alright, because he would lie his ass off to keep himself looking as professional and put together as possible. But lately, Louis had begun opening up to Harry, not putting on a fake smile as often around him and saying things that he would never let any of the other nurses hear. Harry was getting through to him, which was why he only hesitated slightly when asking this time.

Louis shook his head. “I guess. I just hate seeing her like that. She’s so little. She doesn’t deserve to be going through this, waking up in the middle of the night because she can’t breathe. It’s not fucking fair.” Louis ran a hand through his hair and his fake smile returned. His eyes, however, told a completely different story, and all Harry wanted to do was wrap him in blankets and serve him a nice, hot cup of Yorkshire tea. It was the only thing Louis would drink - Harry only knew this because he’d found Louis’ secret stash in the staff room the week before. Louis had made him swear not to tell anyone about his secret obsession, but Harry had only been hoping that he might make Louis a cup of that tea in the morning, maybe after he stayed the night. A dream that will never come to anything , Harry thought to himself for the hundredth time.

Harry put a hand on Louis’ shoulder, and Louis only stiffened slightly. Harry didn’t move his hand, and finally, Louis looked up at him. “I know, Lou. That’s the hard part of our jobs, seeing kids like this. But then we get to make them smile, we get to laugh with them and experience the happiness and perseverance of a child even in the most dire of circumstances. It’s inspiring. And you’re so good at it! Didn’t you see the way her eyes lit up when she saw you come in?”

Louis gave Harry a tired smile and nodded. “Yeah, she really has taken a liking to me, I guess.”

Harry grinned back and gave Louis’ shoulder a squeeze before letting go. “See? I know how you’re feeling right now, but she’s getting better. What you’re doing is working.”

Louis nodded and took in a deep breath, a smile back on his face for real this time. “You’re right. Besides, can’t waste too much time wallowing. We’ve got more kids to see. C’mon.”

~

Harry and Louis ran around for a majority of the morning and through their lunch break, meeting with all of their regular kids and some of the overnighters. Harry’s hand was starting to cramp from how much writing he was doing.

Harry heard the tell-tale ding of the elevator, and he stepped off it, his stomach protesting at its lack of food. He had just taken his sixth overnight patient downstairs after discharge, and all he wanted to do was lay down and sleep.

Louis was waiting for him by the counter, a banana in his hand and a tired smile matching Harry’s own as he strode up to Louis.

“This for me?” Harry asked, and Louis nodded, handing it over and pulling a granola bar from the shirt pocket of his scrubs.

“Figured you had to be about as hungry as I was, so I grabbed you something. We’ve only got ten minutes, though, cause we’ve got to go in and see Joshua.”

Harry took a bite of his banana and felt his cheeks flush a little. He’d almost forgotten about the boy with the kidney infection, but it all came rushing back to him. His unease must have shown on his face, because Louis’ expression softened.

“Don’t worry, Harry. Last time was your first time meeting him. He was bound to be nervous. I’m sure you guys will hit it off soon. He just has to get used to you.”

Harry nodded, putting on a brave face as he gulped down another piece of his banana. As he ate, he watched Louis’ jaw work as he chewed his granola bar, and it made him just a little dizzy.

When they’d finished, Louis handed over Joshua’s paperwork to Harry, and Harry followed him down the hallway and into Joshua’s room. This time, Harry was met with two young women, both in their late twenties, holding hands as they talked to their little boy.

“You’re such a brave boy, Josh. Soon, Mommy and I will be able to take you home, and you can see all your friends again. I’m sure they miss you.”

“I definitely miss them too. It gets boring in here sometimes,” Josh answered.

“Guess I’ll have to step up my game then. I run a fun-filled ward and I pride myself on it. Can’t have any of my patients getting bored, now can I?” Louis walked over and Joshua smiled, holding his arms out for a hug. Louis obliged and then turned to his parents.

“So nice to see you both again. Dr. Anderson would like to see you in her office for just a few moments. She’s going to discuss the treatments I’ve been giving Joshua and how they are progressing, but if I may be so bold, I think he’s well on his way to a full recovery.”

Both women smiled with relief, and the younger of the two brushed her long blonde hair out of her face and proceeded to grip Louis’ hand in both of her own. “Thank you. For everything that you’ve done for our son - we couldn’t be more grateful.”

“It’s my job, love. I’m just glad I’ve been able to keep him as healthy as I can,” Louis responded with a gracious smile, and it struck Harry once again how amazing Louis was at his job. He put people at ease and encouraged them like it was nothing, and he had a way with kids - if Joshua’s smile was anything to judge by - that was beyond anything Harry had ever experienced.

Louis walked Joshua’s moms to the door, and that’s when Joshua saw Harry. His smile vanished, and Harry felt immediately disappointed. It was his job to make kids feel comfortable, and Joshua’s aversion to him wasn’t exactly boosting his self-esteem.

Louis poked his head back inside the room and Harry’s gaze snapped onto him. “Haz, I’ve got to take care of something real quick. Can you stay in here and make sure all of Joshua’s stats are good?”

Harry shook his head minutely, widening his eyes in the hopes that Louis would understand that Harry couldn’t do this. Louis couldn’t leave him alone in here. This was about to be the worst disaster of his life. If he couldn’t connect with the child, he couldn't do his job, and the thought of messing something up or making Joshua even more frightened than he already was was terrifying.

“It’s just for a few minutes. There’s a new patient in, and they have to brief me on it. I’ll be back soon, don’t worry. Just talk to him. How could he not love you?”

Louis left the room before Harry even had time to figure out how Louis’ parting words made him feel, and then there he was, alone in the room with Joshua. Harry pressed his lips together and rubbed his hands on his scrubs, trying to stay calm. He could do this.

“Looks like it’s just you and me then, eh?” Harry said, trying to act conversational like Louis had been, but he couldn’t quite get it right with this kid. Joshua looked away from Harry, his small hands fumbling with the edge of his blankets. Harry looked around and saw the rainbow bear from his last visit sitting on a counter too far away for Joshua to reach on his own. He walked over and picked up the tattered bear in his hand, pulling up a chair and sitting down next to Joshua. He placed the bear next to Joshua. “I thought you might want this. I could never sleep anywhere unfamiliar without mine when I was your age. He wasn’t rainbow, though, so he wasn’t as cool.”

Joshua reached out and pulled the bear to his chest, still not saying a word. Harry sighed and stood up, reaching for the paperwork he was supposed to be filling out.

“Gonna just check everything and make sure you’re doing well. Is that okay?” Harry asked, more out of courtesy than anything, but to his surprise, a tiny voice spoke up a moment later.

“Yeah.”

That one word brought such a big smile to Harry’s face, it almost hurt. Harry walked over to Joshua’s monitors with a slight spring in his step, glancing up and then down as he scribbled down numbers and shorthand.

“You have cool hair.”

Harry’s head snapped towards Joshua, who looked down, sheepish. Harry smiled and set his clipboard down, sliding back into the chair and feeling bolder now.

“Thanks, mate. I like yours too. Could work a bit of a fringe if you put some product in it, you know.”

Joshua smiled a little, and the hold on his bear loosened just a touch. “That’s what Dr. Louis said. He said he’d teach me how, but we never have time. I’ve actually been thinking of growing it out a little more - I’ve never had long hair before.”

“My hair used to be down past my shoulders,” Harry said with a slightly wistful laugh, remembering how his curls - then stretched into mere waves - had tickled his ears and made him feel beautiful. He would have been lying if he said he didn’t miss it sometimes.

“Really?” Joshua asked, his eyes lighting up. Harry nodded and pulled out his phone from the deep back pocket of his scrubs, scrolling until he found the last picture he’d taken before getting his hair chopped off about two years ago. He showed it to Joshua, and the little boy’s eyes grew wide. “Wow. I wish I could do that.”

Harry pocketed his phone again and grinned. “You definitely could. I think you’d look excellent with long hair. I’m sure your mums would agree with me.”

As Joshua became lost in thought about hair, Harry sat back in his chair, feeling like a huge weight had just been lifted off his shoulders. He had finally found something in common with this nine year old child - it felt good to have something to talk about. It was much better than terrified silence, that much Harry was sure of.

“Maybe I’ll ask my moms if they’ll let me when they get back,” Joshua said, shaking Harry out of his thoughts.

“I’m sure they will. And always try to get a sibling on board. That always helps,” Harry suggested, remembering the many times he had used his older sister for such things.

Joshua’s face fell. “I don’t have any siblings. My moms are finding it really hard to adopt at the moment. But if they do decide to try again, I really hope I have a sister. I’ve always wanted a younger sister.” Joshua looked up at Harry, his eyes sparkling. “Do you have siblings?”

Harry swallowed, realizing that he should have known that question was coming. Even now, he was always caught off guard by the question. He cleared his throat loudly, more for himself than for any other reason. “Yeah. I’ve got two sisters. One older, that’s Gemma, and one younger. Izzy.”

“And do you get to see them a lot? Do you get along?”

Harry nodded. “Yeah, we get along alright. I don’t get to see them as often as I’d like, though. Especially now that I’m here in America. My family might not be able to visit much.”

Joshua studied him carefully. “Well, I hope they get to come here. Maybe I can meet Izzy.”

Harry was saved from answering by the opening of the door, and Louis walked back into the room, followed by Joshua’s two moms. Harry stood up and forced a smile, reaching to hand the paperwork to Louis. “Everything seems to be in order. Was very nice to meet you both,” he said, shaking hands with both women and kissing them on the cheek. Louis said his goodbyes and followed Harry into the hallway, closing the door behind them both.

“Looks like you two hit it off, then,” Louis said, and Harry nodded, trying not to smile too much. Louis praising him, even in such a small way, made his stomach feel all warm. “Yeah, we did. Finally found something to connect with him on - hair.”

“Oh?” Louis asked as they headed down the hall and towards the staffroom. Harry hadn’t realized how late it was, but according to his watch, it was time to leave.

“Yeah. I showed him a picture of me with long hair, and he said he wanted to grow his out too. It was a good time.”

Louis stopped walking and put a hand to his chest, his face the picture of mock offense. “You’re telling me that a nine year old has seen you with long hair - which you never told me about, by the way - but I haven’t? Blasphemy.”

“Well, do you want to see it too, Lou?” Harry mocked, hip checking Louis and walking ahead of him towards the staffroom. Louis hurried to catch up.

“If it isn’t too much trouble, darling,” he cooed in response. Harry pulled out his phone, his hands shaking slightly. The way Louis’ mouth formed the word “darling,” and the way it was directed at him, made him feel hot all over. If he wasn’t slightly delirious from lack of food, he would have said that Louis was flirting with him. Harry handed over his phone as he swiped into the staffroom and held the door open for Louis, whose gaze was transfixed on the screen. He stopped walking as soon as he was past the door, his jaw slack and eyes wide.

“Umm, Lou? You okay? Oh, god, you found my secret porn folder, didn’t you? Fuck, I didn’t mean …”

Louis looked up at that point, his lips quirking up in a smirk. “I’m fine, thank you Harold. And no, it’s definitely just you with hair down to your shoulders. Though good to know that there’s a folder I shouldn’t look in, should I ever have the misfortune of finding your phone unattended.”

Harry blushed furiously, snatching his phone back from Louis and shoving it in his pocket. Sometimes, he couldn’t believe what an unbelievably big mouth he had. He grabbed his wallet from his tiny locker along the wall and hurried into the hallway before Louis could make any more jokes. He didn’t think he could listen to Louis talk about porn without jumping on him and taking him right there on the ugly tiled floor.

He met Liam on the first floor, and one look at Liam told Harry that he’d had just as long of a day as Harry himself had. Liam’s eyes were dark and baggy and he was walking all slumped over, like he’d spent too much time sitting at a desk and staring into a microscope.

“Y’alright, Li? Want me to drive us home?”

Liam looked up and laughed half heartedly. “Mate, you were a shit driver back in London. I don’t even want to see how you drive on the other side of the road. I’m fine. Just a lot of blood work. New stuff came in today and I spent all day analyzing it to make sure the diagnosis was correct.”

“And? Did you get it?” Harry asked as they slid into the car. Liam looked quickly at Harry and then away again, something that Harry didn’t miss, but decided not to question it. He was too tired.

“Yeah, I … we did. Was a bit of a sad moment, realizing the diagnosis was correct, but we’re doing everything we can to make sure we get her on the right course of treatment to combat it. As long as we do that, she should be alright in the end.”

Harry sighed and leaned his head back against the headrest, pushing the button for the window and letting the hot air whip his hair off his forehead. He hoped tomorrow wouldn’t be quite as long.

~

If Harry had thought the day before was bad, it was nothing compared to the next day. Not only did he wake up late again, having been so exhausted from the previous day, but he experienced his first Code White since starting his job. Harry had been in such situations before, and it was a patient of Niall’s, not Louis’, but Louis had gone running down the hall with a dozen other nurses, and Harry had followed him.

There had been so many voices and so many words being thrown around and frantic parents being held back outside the door that Harry had to sit down for a moment afterwards. Niall had actually come to comfort him, which meant a lot, since Harry could only imagine how wired and scared Niall was.

“It’s usually not that bad, Haz. You’ll get used to it after a while. Best thing we can do as their doctors is stay calm. It helps them stay calm too, because the more they panic, the worse things can become.”

Harry had nodded at that and stood up, downing half a bottle of water before heading back out onto the floor with Louis.

They’d just finished lunch when Louis handed Harry some new paperwork for a new patient. Harry held it closed between both of his hands as Louis briefed him.

“This is the patient they told me about yesterday. She’s just come in and will probably be staying with us for a while. Her name is Madison Underwood, and she’s four years old. She’s going to be our first real joint patient. Figured it was about time to let you in on a client I didn’t already have.”

Harry smiled and followed Louis through the double doors and stopped at a room just inside them. They both waited for a few nurses who were making their way out and then slipped into the room.

Just stepping into the room, Harry felt the mood shift. The air in this room seemed thicker, gloomier somehow, than the rest of the floor. He decided to ignore it - it was probably just the effects of two very long days catching up with him - and he flipped through the paperwork. His eyes fell to the diagnosis on the bottom of the first page, and he froze. He felt the blood drain from his face as he read the word over and over again: Neuroblastoma.

There was a strange buzzing in his ears and the paperwork shook in his hands. He looked up, his breath already coming in short pants, and he barely caught a glimpse of the tiny, curly-headed little girl among the white of the pillows and blankets before it was too much.

There was a hand on his arm, and he looked, turning his head and feeling like he was underwater or moving through mud. Louis’ lips were moving, forming, saying words, but he couldn’t hear him. He felt like he might be sick, or pass out, or maybe even have a panic attack. All three seemed like likely options.

“I c-can’t … I have to go, I - I’m …” Harry knew he was saying words, he could feel the vibrations, and he hoped they were coming out coherently. He shoved the paperwork at Louis and ran from the room, ignoring the shouts of other nurses as he stumbled down the hallway, trying to put as much distance as possible between himself and that room. Harry wasn’t even sure where he was going, but he got to a point where he couldn’t move anymore, and he sank to the ground, sobs tearing their way from his throat as he gasped for air. It was happening all over again. Izzy had been so beautiful and brave and strong, and now the past was back to haunt him. Harry curled in on himself, wishing that the pain would stop.

Chapter Text

Louis stood in complete shock as the door to the room slammed shut behind Harry, silence filling the room. Louis’ heart was pounding in his chest as his brain worked furiously to figure out what on Earth had just happened, but the movement of the quiet little girl in the hospital bed next to him stirred him, bringing him back to reality with a bump.

“I’m really sorry about that. I’ll be back in a few minutes, okay? I’ll get a nurse to come in and make Madison more comfortable. I’m really sorry; please bear with me.” Louis gave Madison’s parents, who had been standing there observing everything, a half smile, and they nodded in understanding as Louis left the charts on the end of the bed and quickly left the room. He shut the door quietly behind him.

Louis walked down the hallway, looking around as he went for any sign of Harry, but he was nowhere to be seen. He kept walking, opening doors, peering inside closets he knew realistically Harry wouldn’t be inside, but he was worried now. He didn't understand what had happened, why Harry had had such a bad reaction to their new patient. Had he recognised her? Louis pushed the thought away, thinking that was an impossibility since Harry had only been in America for little over a month, and this patient, Madison, had been transferred across the state to come here.

Leo, one of the nurses, walked past then, and Louis flagged him down, the man coming to a stop in front of him. “Leo, have you seen Harry?” Leo shook his head, and Louis sighed, running a hand through his hair. He was starting to get really worried now. Leo frowned and rested a hand on Louis’ shoulder.

“Louis, is everything okay?” he asked kindly, obviously seeing the worry lines etched between Louis’ brows as he frowned, eyes still darting around for any sign of his missing colleague. “Can I help?”

“No, everything isn’t okay, but I need to sort this myself. Can you go into Madison Underwood’s room, that one over there, and settle her in please? Tell her parents another doctor will come and see her. I have to find Harry. Thanks, anyway, Leo!” Louis called as he ran off, peering up and down the little corridors and glancing into empty rooms as he ran past. After a few minutes of searching, he had covered the entire floor and searched the Pediatric ward twice. He was starting to panic now - there was just no sign of Harry at all. Where could he have gone?

His chest was heaving as he finally reached the main desk, and he stopped for a moment, hands on his knees as he tried to catch his breath. He gulped down a few lungfuls of air and walked on. He was almost at the end of the hallway for the third time when he saw Niall sticking his head out of the door to the stairwell.

“Tommo!” Niall had a worried expression on his face, and Louis jogged over. “It’s Harry, he’s … well, he’s in the stairwell, and he’s in a bad way. What’s happened?”

“I don’t know, Niall, but thank fuck you found him. We were just settling in the new patient, and he read her file and just bolted. I don’t even know … I mean, what do I do?” Louis hovered by the door, wondering whether he was the person Harry would want to see right now, but it didn’t seem like he had a choice. Someone needed to check on him.

“Go and see him. Text me if you need help, okay? I’ll stay out here for a bit and tell people not to go in,” Niall said with another worried glance at the closed door. Louis nodded in thanks and took a deep breath, carefully pushing open the door so he didn't startle Harry.

His heart fell as he saw him. Harry was sitting on the cold floor, knees pulled up to his chest, arms resting on them. His body was shaking with the force of his sobs, and Louis bent down next to him, reaching out with shaking hands before realizing that Harry might not want to be touched at that moment.

“Harry, what’s - can I touch you? Are you okay with that?” Louis pulled his hand back, looking for a nod or something, anything that would constitute a response. His worry only increased when he didn’t get any response at all. He tried again. “Harry, is that alright, love? Please talk to me.”

Harry’s sobs only got louder, and Louis realised he wasn’t going to get a response. He decided to just risk touching him - it was the only way he knew to offer him comfort, to let Harry know that he was there and that he wasn’t going anywhere.

He reached out and extended his hand slowly, letting his fingertips rest on Harry’s back. Harry didn't flinch, so Louis flattened his hand, rubbing up and down carefully and trying to soothe him. He wanted to do more, wanted to hold Harry close and rock him gently until he calmed down, but he felt Harry needed baby steps at that moment and didn't want to take it too far.

“Izzy, oh god, Izzy-” Harry was whispering the same words over and over, and Louis frowned. He didn't have a clue who Izzy was and couldn’t recall Harry ever mentioning an Izzy to him before now. Harry was rocking himself back and forth as he continued to whisper the name, his words punctuated by agonizing cries, and it was honestly heartbreaking to watch. Louis would give it all to turn time back and not take Harry into that room, sure that was what had triggered Harry, for whatever reason.

Louis just wanted to pull Harry close to him and let him sob against his chest, soak the front of his scrubs with his tears until they subsided, then kiss whatever pain he was feeling away. He wanted to be that person for Harry, the one he could come and cry to and who would help ease his hurt, but he couldn’t do that. They weren’t close enough for that, and he didn’t want to trigger Harry into a worse state than he was already in. He still had no idea what had upset Harry so badly, but he knew he needed to calm Harry down and get him out of there. He shuffled around until he was on his knees in front of Harry, and rested his hands on his shins, stroking gently, keeping the contact with Harry so he knew he was there.

“Harry, love, I need you to look at me. Sweetheart, look at me.” Louis kept his composure as Harry slowly lifted his head, tears still streaming down his face, eyes red and raw from his crying. “Well done, love, now breathe with me, let me help you, okay? In, and out.” Louis demonstrated, exaggerating his breaths for a moment until Harry attempted to copy them, inhaling and exhaling shakily, his hands trembling. Louis sat there and kept breathing with Harry for a few minutes until he was somewhat calmer. “So proud of you, well done love. Now, I want to get you out of here. Do you want to leave?”

Harry didn't speak, didn't really acknowledge Louis at all. It was like Harry couldn’t see him or hear him. He had to do something, and an idea came to him. “I’m just going to talk to Niall, okay? He’s right outside the door. I’m not leaving you, I’ll be right back.”

His hand almost went up to stroke Harry’s cheek then, but Louis quickly pulled it back, patting the top of one of Harry’s hands instead. He heaved himself to his feet and quietly went over to the door. He opened it and peered out, relieved to see Niall still standing there, leaning against a wall, and beckoned him over.

“Can you go and get Liam, please? I think I need to get Harry home, but I don’t want to freak him out by taking him back to our place. I’m pretty sure he’ll want someone familiar, too, and Liam’s all he’s got here.”

Niall nodded in understanding and took off in the direction of the lifts to get their friend. Louis slipped back into the stairwell and settled on the floor next to Harry again. He didn't talk, just making sure his arm touched Harry in a small way so he knew he was there. He listened as Harry’s breathing calmed down somewhat, much to his relief.

Louis, seeing that Harry was calm now, decided to ask the question that had been bothering him ever since Harry had run out of that room. “So, do you know Madison, then?”

It was almost as if Louis had put him back there in that room, Harry’s reaction was so visceral. His face crumpled, the calm that had settled on it quickly replaced by anguish and sorrow again. Louis panicked slightly, realising he’d done the entirely wrong thing in bringing up the patient, and went to take Harry’s hand again, but instead of welcoming the touch as he had before, Harry withdrew, tucking his arms back around himself, head buried low against his knees. He’d closed himself off from Louis, and finalised it by shuffling away from him, leaving Louis feeling immensely guilty and entirely out of his depth. Louis really wished Liam would hurry up.

After what felt like hours - but in reality was probably only a few minutes - the door creaked open and Liam poked his head through, face full of concern for his friend. Louis pulled himself to his feet as Liam made his way into the stairwell, and the pair stood together for a second. Louis shrugged as Liam sent him a confused look, clearly wanting to know what the hell had happened to get Harry into such a state.

“I don’t know Liam. We were just meeting Madison, our new patient, and he just … god, he just ran for it, I don’t-” Louis’ voice came out a bit squeaky and shaky, and Liam patted his shoulder, nodding as if he already understood, which puzzled Louis somewhat.

Liam bent down in front of Harry, speaking his name softly, and Harry looked up. Liam moved a little closer and held out his arms, and Harry surged forward into them. Louis watched as Harry fisted the fabric of Liam’s scrubs, knuckles turning white with the force of it, and Louis once again wished Harry had felt able to do that with him. Liam mumbled something inaudible to Harry that made him nod into Liam’s neck, and Louis could only look on as Liam got Harry to his feet, an arm wrapped around his waist.

Harry turned around, stumbling, and his eyes landed on Louis, his expression unreadable. Louis tried for a soft smile, but if Harry saw it or was comforted by it, Louis couldn’t tell. In silence, the three of them made their way downstairs and out to the parking lot. Harry still hadn’t spoken, and Liam helped him into Louis’ car without a word. He turned towards Louis then and handed him a key from his keychain.

“What the fuck is going on, Liam?” Louis gripped his hair in his hands before letting them slide down his face, the events of the last half hour finally catching up with him. Louis still felt a little out of his depth here, and he was worried Liam was leaving him to sort it all out himself. Liam pressed his lips together and then sighed, evidently realizing that he couldn’t leave Louis going on nothing.

“Look, I know what’s up with him. I did Maddy’s bloodwork yesterday. I hoped he wouldn’t have to work with her but I guess luck isn’t in my favor, or his. I can’t tell you what happened - it’s not my story to tell. If he tells you, though, he’ll do it when you’re alone. If there’s too many of us around, he’ll clam up and won’t talk. I know him. Take him back to our place, get him comfortable, and he might open up to you. But if it gets bad, text me, okay? I’ve gotta get back.” Liam raised a hand in way of goodbye as he jogged off.

Louis sighed and rubbed over his face with his hands again, wondering if he could do this, if he could be the person Harry needed. He climbed into his car, relieved to see Liam had typed his address into Louis’ GPS, and he started the car, checking that Harry had his seatbelt on before he drove off.

The drive back to Harry’s place was quiet, with Harry staring blankly out of the window until Louis parked his car in a free space just along from their building. They got out the car, and Louis was surprised when he felt a sweaty palm slide into his own. Harry was holding his hand. He ignored the bubble of something inside him as they made the innocent contact and squeezed gently. Harry needed a friend, and that was what Louis was going to be -  a friend and nothing more. Harry led him into the building, waiting quietly as Louis opened the front door with a key from the set Liam had given him. Harry kicked off his shoes and sat on the edge of the sofa, still not speaking but dragging Louis down with him. Louis glanced around at his surroundings, taking in the pictures dotted around, the posters on the walls, and the pile of vinyl records propped up in the corner of the room near a vintage turntable.

Louis felt a bit helpless, so he patted Harry’s thigh gently and then stood up, making his way to the kitchen. Once there, he flicked on the kettle and set about preparing himself and Harry a cup of tea, his usual go-to in emotional times. His mum had always said there was nothing a good cup of tea couldn’t fix, but Louis thought for the first time in his life that she might be wrong about that. He dunked the tea bags with a spoon and dropped them into the sink, unsure of where the bin was. Then he quietly returned to sit beside Harry, setting the cups down on the small brown coffee table in front of them.

Neither of them spoke for a few minutes, and Louis busied himself by taking his tea in his hands and blowing along the top of it while he mulled over what to do. Eventually, he decided he had to be the one to get the ball rolling, so he turned his body to face Harry. He had to approach this carefully.

“So, you want to tell me what that was all about, Haz?” His voice was soft, and he hoped his tone was encouraging enough to make Harry feel comfortable opening up to him. When Harry didn’t answer right away, Louis looked down, feeling a bit awkward, and fiddled with the handle of his cup.

Harry suddenly got up and walked across the living room, picking up something from the windowsill before returning and sitting back down next to Louis. Harry was holding a silver frame in both hands, staring at it with unshed tears brimming in his eyes. Louis realized that whatever had happened at the hospital must have something to do with this picture. Then Harry took a breath, and Louis stilled his hands, ready to listen.

“This is … um, I mean was ... this was my sister. Her name was Isabelle, but I called her Izzy. She was my little Izzy Wizzy.”

Louis smiled softly, taking the frame as Harry passed it over to him. It was a black and white photo, and in it, Harry stood tall behind a small girl in front of him, big hands on her tiny little shoulders. It was a good picture, very older brotherly, but what struck Louis was how the girl was staring up at Harry with such love in her eyes, her complete adoration for her big brother evident in her expression. Louis swallowed down the lump in his throat, all too aware there wasn’t going to be a happy ending to Harry’s story.

“She was three in this picture. Before she got sick. Before everything changed.”

Louis passed Harry back the frame, and watched as he ran his fingertip over the glass, stroking where Isabelle’s cheek was on the photo. He stayed quiet, waiting.

“We’d gone out for the day, after this picture was taken. She wanted to go to Peppa Pig World, so I took her. I’d been so busy with school and stuff, and I hadn’t been with her a lot, so I thought she deserved a bit of fun. We had such a good day - she loved every second of it. I got myself stuck in one of the rides, and she laughed so hard she nearly wet herself.” He chuckled then, clearly reminiscing and reliving the joyful memories. “I won her one of those stupid giant stuffed Peppa Pigs. I ended up lugging the bloody thing around all day, and I swear I was drowning in sweat, but her smile, Lou, her smile was so big. She was so happy. I couldn’t be the one to take that happiness away from her.”  Harry glanced over then and smiled at Louis.

“I’ve still got it, you know.” Louis frowned, wondering what Harry meant and went to speak, but before he could, Harry cut him off. “The giant Peppa Pig. It’s in my room at Mum’s. I can’t throw it away. Too many memories. It’s like, if I let it go, I’m letting another bit of her go. I’m not ready to let her go completely. Not yet.”

Louis could feel his heart breaking at how Harry spoke about his sister, how much he clearly loved her. He didn't want to pry, but was slowly piecing things together in his mind, and he didn’t like what he was concluding.

“So-” Louis said gently, taking Harry’s hand as he set the frame down on the table in front of them, but Harry cut him off again. Louis continued to rub his thumb gently over the back of Harry’s hand as he spoke, across the small cross tattoo near his thumb, and was pleased when Harry didn't pull back from the touch.

“She got diagnosed about two weeks after that trip.”

Louis swallowed, everything falling into place in his mind just as he’d feared. Harry’s reaction to reading Madison’s notes made complete sense now, and he knew he was right as he spoke the word aloud at last. “Neuroblastoma.”

Harry just nodded next to him, and he exhaled heavily. “It happened so quickly. One minute she was fine, the next she was in hospital … she was so sick, throwing up and unable to eat. They didn’t know what it was so they did all sorts of scans, and then they told us. It was in her stomach, the tumour. I felt like the bottom had fallen out of my world, Lou. I adored her, and I had to watch her go through all that, losing her hair from chemo, getting sicker and weaker every day.” More tears fell then, and Harry wiped them away with his sleeve until Louis got up and grabbed the box of tissues that was sitting by the television, handing Harry one wordlessly. He felt sick listening to what Harry was saying, but he sensed Harry needed to get it out, so he let him speak, feeling his own heart breaking as Harry continued.

“I spent as much time as I could with her, but it was never enough. There was always school and work, and when I got there in the evenings, she was asleep. She didn't know I was there half the time, but I sat there anyway, holding her hand and talking to her.” Louis nodded, trying to push the image of a broken Harry at his sick sister’s bedside out of his mind. “Then after a few months, they said it wasn’t working. The chemo, I mean. The cancer had spread. It was in her neck, her chest, her legs. She couldn’t walk anymore, she wasn’t eating - she was like a shadow of the Izzy I knew and loved so much. I was so scared, Louis. They said there was nothing more they could do for her, that they were just going to make her as comfortable as they could. And instead of being the big brother she needed, I just ran. I couldn’t take it and I ran, Louis. I wasn’t there for her when she needed me the most.”

“Oh god, Harry, I … I’m so sorry-” Louis said, and Harry squeezed his hand then, letting his tears fall freely now, not attempting to wipe them away.

“I got myself together, though. I missed the last few months of the school to be with her. I sat with her, watched telly, read to her, told her she couldn’t go outside when she so badly wanted to. I had to sit and lie to her Lou. I had to hold her hand and tell her she was going to be okay, even when I knew she wasn’t-” Harry cut off with a sob then, and Louis couldn’t stop himself from pulling Harry into a hug, much like Liam had done. Harry curled into his chest, tears staining the front of his scrubs, but Louis just sat, his arms wrapped around the man he wanted to protect from any more pain, that he wanted so badly to take care of.  His heart ached with the pain he knew Harry was feeling, and in that moment, he’d have given anything to take it all away.

Harry sniffed and sat up eventually, not releasing Louis’ hands. “She died two days after her fourth birthday. We were all with her. I don’t think she was scared. I held her hand until …” Harry took a deep breath. “I went to a dark place after that, for quite a while. But when I realised that I had to live my life for her now, I got my act together, went back to school. and redid what I had missed. That’s why I’m a few years late in doing this - she had to come first. I changed my major and got my grades up and got into medical school. I had to make her proud.”

“She would be so proud of you, love, I know that,” Louis said, and Harry sent him a watery smile. Louis felt like he could speak now, though he wasn’t quite sure what to say. He went with his gut. “I can’t even begin to say I understand Harry, because I don’t. I’ve got five sisters myself, and I can’t imagine ever losing one of them. The fact you’re here now, though, helping other sick children, is amazing. You’re such a strong person to even think about doing that after what you went through.”

“That’s why I want to do it,” Harry said, standing up and pulling his scrub top off. He threw it onto a nearby chair and heading into the kitchen to pour his cold cup of tea away, returning with a water bottle. “If I can help just one family to not go through what we went through when we lost Izzy, then I feel I’ll have done some good. I just … I didn't expect to see a case like Izzy so soon. Does that sound stupid?”

“No, not at all,” Louis hurried to say, and Harry just sat there for a bit, staring off into nothing. Louis pulled his phone out and quickly replied to some concerned messages from Niall and Liam, telling Liam that Harry had confessed everything about Izzy to him and that he’d be staying there with him for a while. He was also grateful to see Niall had spoken to Dr. Anderson with Liam and explained the situation, and that she wasn’t expecting the pair of them back in for the rest of the shift.

“Harry,” he called, standing, and Harry turned around from where he was setting Izzy’s photo back on the windowsill. “Thank you. For trusting me with that, I mean. Whatever I can do to make this easier, I will, okay? You can talk to me anytime, about anything. I hope you know that. Even in the middle of the night, if you need to talk, call me.” He bit his lip, suddenly worrying he’d been a bit forward, but Harry stepped over then and wrapped his arms around Louis in a tender hug.

“Thank you for letting me talk. I don’t talk about her much. It’s too hard. But seeing Madison and reading those notes, it all just came flooding back, and I couldn’t control myself. I’m sorry. I’ll go and apologise tomorrow-”

“Don’t you even worry about that. I’ll sort it. Niall spoke to Dr. Anderson and she isn’t expecting you back until you’re ready. And I’ll take care of Madison and her parents. Please don’t worry love. Let me worry for you, okay?”

Harry nodded shyly, toes turned in again in his socked feet, and Louis sensed there was something else he wanted to say, so stayed quiet, trying to encourage Harry to talk to him. “Um, Lou?” Louis looked up and smiled at him. “Do you, umm, do you want to see some more pictures of her? Of Izzy?”

“If you want to show me, I’d love to see,” Louis said, and he could see the tension seep out of Harry’s shoulders as he grinned and headed over to what Louis was assumed was his bedroom. Louis sat back down on the sofa then, leaning forward slightly to pull off his sodden scrub top, leaving him in his scrub trousers and the black t-shirt he’d put on underneath it that morning. Harry eventually came back out, a couple of large photo albums in his arms, and he sat next to Louis, putting the books on the table with a thud.

He picked up a royal blue one and swallowed, glancing at Louis. Louis sensed his nerves and set a hand on top of Harry’s again. “I’m only okay with this if you are. If you want to wait a while, I understand.”

“No, I want to show you, Lou. I … I want you to know her as I did.” He cracked open the first page and Louis struggled to hold back his tears.The page was filled with lots of tiny square pictures of Harry and Izzy; in one, they were laughing, in another, the little girl was kissing her big brother’s cheek, and in yet another, Harry was pushing her on a swing. They were things Louis knew he’d done hundreds of times over with his own sisters, and it was horrible to think that Harry’s ability to make any further memories with his sister had been cruelly stolen from him when Izzy had died.

“Oh god, look at her Lou! I remember this day so well - we’d gone out to the park with her kite, and she managed to get it stuck in a stupid tree.” Harry giggled and turned the page, smiling down at the plethora of colourful images. Louis shifted over until he was pressed against Harry, their thighs lined up, the book now laid out over both of their legs as Harry explained picture after picture, fingertips trailing over the images.

“She was so beautiful Harry. She has your smile, your dimples.”

Harry surprised Louis then by turning and hugging him tightly, their faces touching, the wisp of Harry’s warm breath tickling Louis’ ear as he allowed himself to hug Harry back, giving him the comfort the man was seeking.

“She was the most beautiful little girl in the world, Lou,” Harry whispered into his ear before he pulled back, keeping their bodies close as he continued flicking through the pages of the album. Louis’ eyes raked across the pages, trying to take it all in and commit it to memory.

He watched intently at how Harry came alive as he talked about his little sister. He spoke with such love, such longing, that Louis felt immeasurable sadness for the wonderful man next to him. He couldn’t believe how selfless Harry was, choosing to go into a career where he could try and prevent others from going through the pain he and his own family went through. Louis was in awe of the strength that would have taken, but it was even more than that. Louis had hoped for a while that the more time he spent with Harry, the feelings he was developing would subside, that they’d settle into an easy friendship, but it seemed the opposite was true. Louis was feeling more for Harry every day, no matter how much he was trying to push it deep down inside him. Seeing this side of Harry flared up a protective side in him - something he hadn’t felt in a long time. He wanted to hold Harry through the night, to wipe his tears and hear him reminisce about Izzy into the small hours of the morning. Harry was slowly but surely making his resolve crumble, and Louis wasn’t sure how he was going to deal with that moving forward.

Chapter Text

Harry took advantage of Dr. Anderson’s insistence that he take as long as he needed, and he stayed home the next day. He hated missing work, but the mere thought of being back in the hospital so close to someone that might as well have been his sister made him feel sick.

After laying in bed and messing around on his phone for a few hours, he decided to get up and make a cup of tea. Maybe that would make him feel better.

When he entered the kitchen, he saw a plate of food wrapped in plastic wrap and a sticky note on the counter next to it.

Figured you wouldn’t want to cook, so I made you this.

Hope it’s alright.

See you later. Li

Harry smiled, feeling tears prick in his eyes. Liam had always been such a good friend, and yesterday and this morning just proved that. He wished Liam was home so he could give him a good cuddle.

He heated up his food, made himself a cup of tea, and walked into the main room. The photo albums were still strewn across the table, and there was a half finished water bottle on the floor next to the sofa, causing the events of the day before to all come rushing back to him. Louis in his apartment, sitting so close to him that Harry could feel the heat of his body through his clothes. Louis listening to him ramble on and on about his sister as he flipped through page after page of photos. Louis letting him cry on him. Louis being there for him even at the point when he didn’t understand what was going on.

Harry settled on the sofa and let his fingers touch the open pages of pictures before him. His throat felt tight, and he set his tea down on the table, the thought of it now unappealing. He wanted Louis to be there with him now, to put his arm around him and let him cry. That’s what he needed. But Louis was at work, where Harry himself should have been. It had been years since Izzy passed. Harry felt like he should have had more control over his grief by now.

He sat there, feeling a bit lost for a few minutes and trying hard to ignore the few tears that had already made tracks on his cheeks. Then he pulled out his phone. There was only one person who would truly understand how he was feeling right now.

He let it ring for a few moments, and then his mum’s face lit up the screen. She was smiling at him, and Harry tried his hardest to muster up a real smile for her. He really had missed her.

“Hey, Mum,” Harry said, his voice sounding a bit strained even to his own ears, and Anne’s face dropped as she realized that Harry was a bit of a mess.

“What’s wrong, darling? Is everything alright?”

Harry wiped furiously at his face, but now that his mum was right there, he found his tears coming faster. “I … I just … yesterday was really hard, and I … I miss her so much, Mum. I don’t know what to do.”

Anne’s face softened and her own eyes looked suddenly brighter, as though she was holding back tears of her own. That didn’t help Harry to stop crying.

“Oh, Harry … I miss her too. Every day.”

“I just w-wish I could have done more … I could have taken up another job, helped find better doctors, something. Maybe she’d still be here if I had.”

Harry watched as his mother shook her head. “Harry, there was nothing more we could have done. She wasn’t responding to treatment, and better doctors wouldn’t have helped.”

Harry sniffed and stifled a sob, pressing his hand to his mouth. “I feel like I … I’m not living up to the brother she would have wanted me to be. I see one patient after four years and I’m right back to where I was when she died. She would be so disappointed.”

“Harry Edward Styles, you listen to me now.” The sharpness of his mum’s voice made Harry freeze where he sat, his tears stopping. “Izzy always said you were the best big brother she could ever ask for, and you still are. You’ve always been. You lost her, and then you picked yourself back up and you went to school. Now you’re in America taking care of sick children. I know that she would be … no, she is, more proud of you than even I could ever be. And don’t you forget it.”

Harry felt the corners of his mouth turn up just slightly, and he wiped his eyes again. “Thanks, Mum.”

Anne nodded, smiling again. “Now, how about you indulge your poor old mum and tell me how things are going at your new job.”

Harry took a bite of his rapidly cooling eggs, realizing just how hungry he was, and propped his phone up on the table. “It’s going really well. I love working for this hospital. They take excellent care of their patients, and the atmosphere is really nice.”

“And your mentor? You never did tell me who they were.”

Harry’s mind was immediately bombarded with images of Louis: the way he’d walked down the hallway the first day they’d met, the way his eyes sparkled when he was interacting with the kids, how close they’d been that night at the club, how much Harry wanted to kiss him until his lips were numb.

He was sure he was blushing furiously, because when he finally focused back on his mum, she was smirking, raising one eyebrow at him. Harry cleared his throat, trying to collect himself. “Umm, he’s really good. His name is Louis, and he’s just … he’s amazing with the kids, Mum, you should see him. They all love him so much.”

“And you? Do you love him too?” He knew his mum was joking - her tone made that evident - but his heart started beating just a little faster in his chest, and he felt his cheeks flushing.

“I … I think I might,” he said seriously, and Anne looked surprised. Harry was surprised himself, as he hadn’t even admitted the true extent of his feelings to himself, let alone anybody else, but even as he said those words, he knew they were true. He was falling in love with Louis. “I don’t know what it is about him, Mum, but I’m just - I’m drawn to him. The way he talks to me, the way he carries himself, the way he interacts with the kids and the parents and everyone … he’s so wonderful, and I’m scared. I don’t want to complicate things.”

“But if you … if you are really feeling something for him, you shouldn’t be afraid of it. I can hear it in your voice, the way you talk about him. He’s special. And when you find someone that special, you don’t let them slip away from you.” Anne looked at him, and Harry felt like she was right there, holding him tight to her like she used to do in the weeks and months after Izzy’s death.

“I - I really needed to hear that. Thank you,” Harry said softly, and Anne pressed her fingers to her lips, blowing him a kiss. Harry was about to say his goodbyes when Anne raised a finger, her face arranged in a puzzled expression.

“Wait, before you go … if you want to tell me, of course … you said you had a hard day at work. If you wanted to talk about it, I wouldn’t mind staying on for a bit longer. I don’t have plans today. And you still look like you’re carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders.”

Harry swallowed, his smile disappearing instantly as he felt the tightness in his throat and chest return. But this was his mum. He didn’t have to worry about embarrassing himself or getting emotional with her. “Well, Louis has been introducing me to all his patients, who I’m now helping take care of, and he took me to see a new patient, which was supposed to be my first official shared patient with him, and I … I always read the file before I go in, and … she has neuroblastoma, Mum. She’s only 4, and she looked just like her, like … like Izzy, and I panicked. It all came back to me, and I ran.” Harry’s breath hitched as he remembered how horrible he’d felt, how the world seemed to be collapsing around him and no one could hear his silent pleas for help. He took a deep breath. “I felt so lost … I couldn’t even speak when they found me. And I have to go back tomorrow, and I just don’t know if I’m ready … I don’t know if I can do this.”

Anne nodded, reaching out her hand as if to touch the screen, and Harry did the same, their fingertips meeting from thousands of miles away.

“You are so strong, Harry. Stronger than me, stronger than anyone. Izzy would be so happy to see you working with someone like her. You were always the one that made Izzy feel safe and happy, like a normal little girl. I know that it’s going to be hard, and I wouldn’t advise you to do this if I didn’t think you weren’t capable. You can make this girl happy. You can make her smile even when her body is trying to destroy itself from the inside out. You have, in a way, the power to make up for the time you feel you wasted with Izzy. Don’t squander this chance.”

Harry knew she was right. She was always right, always knew what to say to make him believe in himself. “I know … I’m just scared.”

“It’s okay to be scared. In my opinion, a little fear makes you better at your job. There’s something at stake, so you’ll do everything in your power to make things right.”

For the first time that morning, a real smile found its way onto Harry’s face, and he felt lighter, better. “Thank you. For everything, Mum, honestly. Don’t know what I’d do without you.”

Anne smiled in return. “You’re quite welcome, darling. Don’t be a stranger, and text me once in a while, would you?”

Harry laughed. “I will. I love you, Mum.”

“Love you just as much and more. And keep me updated on Louis.”

Harry felt his cheeks burning once again, and he looked away from his phone as his mum laughed and hung up. He sat there in the dim light of their small main room, taking in everything Anne had said, and then finished his breakfast. If he was going back to work tomorrow, he needed to prepare. And the apartment was a mess - he’d surprise Liam by cleaning it up. He might as well make his sick day count for something.

~

Harry walked into the hospital early the next morning, Liam having agreed to drive them in early only too reluctantly. Harry wanted to catch up on paperwork before Louis even came in, because he had a plan for today. He didn’t want anything giving him an excuse not to follow through with it.

He reached the front desk on the fourth floor and asked for the paperwork from yesterday and today. The receptionist handed it to him with a smile.

“Hope you’re feeling better! Louis told us you had a nasty stomach bug.”

Harry nodded with a smile, forever grateful that Louis had come up with such a convincing lie. They were bound to catch something, working with sick people all day. He made his way to the staffroom and settled in a chair next to the coffee maker. Even though he wasn’t a fan of coffee, he still enjoyed the smell of a fresh brew as he worked his way through file after file.

He worked for a few hours, his pile of remaining files getting smaller and smaller, and only looked up when he heard Louis’ voice in the hallway right outside the staffroom. He scribbled his way through the last file just as he heard the beep of the door and Louis stepped into the room.

They had only been apart for a day, but Harry ached with how much he’d missed seeing Louis’ face, his smile, his eyes, everything. Louis stopped when he saw Harry, his eyes widening.

“Harry … your shift doesn’t start till half 9. What are you … is everything okay? Are you okay?”

Louis’ voice was strained and his face was the picture of worry as he made his way quickly to the table, sitting in the seat next to Harry and placing a careful hand on Harry’s arm. Harry’s skin tingled where Louis touched it, and it took everything in him not to lean into his touch.

“Yeah, m’alright. I just wanted to get in early, make up for the work I missed yesterday,” Harry said, praying that his voice was steady. Now that he’d opened up and told someone about his feelings for Louis, he was finding it extremely difficult to keep them hidden.

Louis grip tightened momentarily, and then he removed his hand, much to Harry’s disappointment. “I mean … I just wanted to make sure you were okay, you know, after …” His voice trailed off into nothing, and Harry forced himself to ignore the pain rising in his chest.

“Yeah. I’m okay, Lou. Talked to my mum yesterday, and she set me straight on a few things. I feel a lot better now.” Harry bit his lip, wondering if now was the right time to bring this up, and his mum’s words echoed in his head: Don’t squander this chance. “I, uh … I wanted to talk to you about something. It’s kinda why I came in early. Wanted to get all this done so I didn’t have a reason not to do this, umm …” Harry felt his hands shaking and clenched them tightly in his lap so that Louis wouldn’t see them.

“Go on, Hazza. You can tell me anything.”

Louis’ voice was so gentle, and it eased Harry’s mind a bit, making him more confident with what he was about to ask.

“I, umm, I want to meet Madison today.” Louis was silent, staring at Harry, and Harry felt himself shrink a little under his gaze. He wasn’t sure what he had been expecting as far as a reaction from Louis, but he knew he had to keep talking. He had to get it all out. “I just … I feel like I have a chance to help her … a second chance that I’m not even sure I deserve, and I really want to do this. I just figured I’d ask, since she’s kind of your patient and I - I really messed up with her last time. Wasn’t sure if you’d still want me working with you on that particular case.” Harry was chewing on his bottom lip now, nervous as he waited for Louis to say something.

“Harry … of course I still want you to work with me with Madison, but … I mean, are you sure? I don’t want you to hurt yourself by forcing yourself to work on a case like this.” There it was again, Louis’ hand on Harry’s arm, and Harry’s whole arm felt numb this time. “I want you to be okay.”

Harry nodded. “I’m sure. I’m ready for this, I promise.” His voice was steady, his face was set. He knew he had to do this … now all he needed was Louis’ approval.

Louis considered him for a moment and then smiled softly. “If you want, we can go over right now. According to the receptionist, she’s just recently woken up and we’ve got a lot of things to look at with her paperwork and recent trials of treatments.”

Harry felt a bit nauseous, but he nodded again and stood up, picking up the files and making his way towards the door. He felt the brush of Louis’ hand on his lower back as he passed him, and he blushed, ducking his head so Louis wouldn’t see.

They made their way to the front desk, dropping off all the files and picking up Madison’s paperwork, and Harry followed Louis through the doors to the Pediatric Ward. They stopped in front of Madison’s door, and Louis looked at Harry, his hand on the door knob.

“You ready?”

Harry wasn’t ready. He didn’t feel ready. He felt like he was going to be sick. But he pressed his lips together and mumbled a yes, and Louis pushed the door open.

The little girl was in bed, her curly hair spread out over the pillow as she ate pudding from a cup. Harry froze and felt Louis’ hand on his back, resting gently over the curve of his spine. He turned back to look at him, and Louis seemed to see the fear in his eyes, because he ran his fingers gently over Harry’s back. It felt almost too intimate for work, but Harry couldn’t find it in him to care.

“Will … will you stay with me? I don’t think … not on my own, not yet,” Harry whispered, and Louis smiled.

“Yeah, of course, Hazza.”

Harry looked back over at Madison and saw she was looking at himself and Louis, eyes wide and curious. He looked back at Louis one more time, and with an encouraging nod from him, he stepped away from his touch and made his way towards the bed.

Harry took a seat in the hard plastic chair that was provided for guests, trying not to grip the arms of it unnecessarily hard. Madison’s eyes followed him, and as he finally relaxed fully into the seat, she smiled at him, chocolate pudding at the corners of her mouth.

“Hi,” she said brightly, tucking her wild, curly hair behind her ear. Harry stiffened - her voice was high, childlike, soft and absent of any sort of sadness. The only thing separating this girl from Izzy in Harry’s mind was her American accent. He felt slightly dizzy, but then there was a warm hand on his shoulder. Harry knew it was Louis, and the touch relaxed him slightly.

“Hey, Maddy. Is it okay if I call you Maddy?” Harry asked, realizing too late that he’d shortened her name, but all she did was nod, her smile still present.

“Yeah. I kinda like it better, but Mommy always uses my whole name. Who are you?”

Her eyes were wide - inquisitive, not accusing, as Harry had become accustomed to with kids when he, a stranger, addressed them. It was refreshing, in a way.

“I’m Harry. Well, Dr. Harry, I guess. Dr. Louis is my … teacher of sorts, and I’m helping him in taking care of you.” He tried for a smile, attempting to look welcoming and happy instead of terrified, which he was pretty sure had been his expression since he’d walked into the room.

“Oh, right, Dr. Louis told me about you. He said you weren’t feeling well, that’s why you couldn’t meet me the other day. Are you feeling better?”

Harry found that he could only nod at that. This girl was so sweet, and so smart for her age, if the things she’d said so far were anything to go off of. He sat there awkwardly, messing with a loose thread in his scrub pants, finally choosing something at random to fill the silence. “I like your hair.”

Maddy smiled again, touching it and blushing. “Thanks. It’s hard to brush, though. I look like a clown if I try to. Mommy and Daddy say they don’t know where I got it from.”

“Yeah, I know the feeling. Curly hair doesn’t really like to cooperate, does it?” Harry said with a laugh, and Maddy giggled too. Harry felt his heart lighten at the sound, but then the reality of the situation hit him again, and he felt the smile disappear from his face. He really had to keep his distance with this patient. Strictly professional on this case. He had no choice - he couldn’t go through this again. Maddy seemed to have noticed a change in him, because she reached out and put her tiny hand on top of Harry’s wrist.

“I know what you’re thinking. No one ever wants to be my friend because I’m sick. It’s hard to have a best friend, cause they move me around. But Mommy says this place can help. You can make me better. And then we can be best friends and go outside and play and get ice cream whenever we want.”

She sounded so sincere and so hopeful that all Harry wanted to do was cry. He let out a watery chuckle, praying that the tears building up in his eyes would stay there, and pressed his other hand on top of Maddy’s.

“You’re right. And from now on, I’ll be your best friend, okay? We’re best friends for life, yeah?” Harry held out his pinky and Maddy lifted her own, linking it with his.

“Best friends forever,” she said with a huge smile. Harry stood up then, releasing her hand.

“I’ll let Dr. Louis look you over then, make sure you’re doing okay. I’ll see you later, alright, love?”

“Bye, Dr. Harry!” Maddy called as Harry made his way to the door, trying to ignore how Louis’ eyes were burning into the back of his head.

Once outside the room, Harry leaned against the wall, letting a few tears slide down his cheeks. He felt drained, exhausted, and a strange mixture of broken and happy, and he really wasn’t sure how to comprehend all of that.

It was only a few minutes before the door opened next to him and Louis came out, looking up the hallway before turning and jumping a little at Harry’s close proximity. Harry wiped at his eyes so that Louis wouldn’t see him crying, but it was too late for that.

“Hey, you were great in there,” Louis said softly, his fingertips brushing Harry’s wrist. Harry nodded, wishing he could stop crying.

“She’s so much like her, Lou. So smart and happy. And I just … she cares about people in a way only kids can, I can tell. It breaks my heart, what’s happening to her.”

“Harry …” Louis whispered, and his eyes had turned sad. Harry sucked in several deep breaths, fanning at his eyes.

“I’m s-sorry, I’m sorry. I’m okay.”

Louis looked up at him, concern etched in the planes of his face, and Harry felt his bottom lip tremble. Fuck, why was he so damn emotional?

Louis’ hand was suddenly wrapped around his wrist and he was pulling Harry along down the corridor to the end, where there was an empty room. Harry let himself be pulled into it and waited for Louis to close the door. He felt his chest aching with the sobs he was holding in, but no matter how hard he tried to calm himself down, he couldn’t do it.

“Harry … hey, shhhh, you’re alright,” Louis said, pulling Harry into his arms in a tight hug. Harry very nearly collapsed against him, burying his face in Louis’ shoulder. Louis’ hand was rubbing slowly up and down his back, and Louis was whispering kind words in his ear, and slowly, Harry felt himself relaxing and coming back to himself. He let himself stay in Louis’ arms a few seconds longer than was necessary, though, because he felt warm, happy, safe. He didn’t want to let go.

Eventually, he did, however, and Louis gave him an encouraging smile, which Harry returned.

“You alright?” Louis asked, and Harry was sure Louis was just asking as a courtesy, because they really probably should be getting back to work, but he appreciated it all the same.

“Yeah, m’good. Yeah. Let’s … we’ve got more work to do. Kids to visit and all that,” Harry replied, a little too quickly, but Louis nodded in agreement and opened the door, heading back out into the hallway. Harry followed him, but his mind was wandering - he wondered what it would be like to have Louis hold him like that in a circumstance where he wasn’t crying.

~

Harry fully expected Liam to ask how he was, but the ride home was silent, and even as they made dinner, Liam didn’t say much, other than to complain about one of his coworkers. It seemed like Harry was starting every conversation, and he wasn’t sure how to feel about it.

They had just settled at the table with food when Liam finally spoke up without being prompted.

“So … how is everything going? You know, with, umm …” Liam trailed off into silence, but Harry knew what he meant. He shrugged.

“I mean … I’m not back to 100% by any means, but … my mum helped me the other day and today, Louis went in with me to meet Maddy, and I … well, I think I did pretty well, considering.”

Liam considered him for a moment, and then sighed. “I’m happy to hear it. And … I’m sorry for not asking sooner. I remember what it was like for you, when you … when Izzy died, and I didn’t want to cause you any more pain. But I had to make sure you were okay.”

Harry smiled. “Means a lot, Li. Yeah, I guess I was a bit of a mess the other day, but Louis …” Harry paused, feeling heat rising to his cheeks at the mere thought of Louis. “He, umm, he really helped me out, that day and today.”

Liam studied Harry for a few minutes as they ate. Harry could feel Liam’s eyes on him and he kept his eyes focused on his plate, knowing what was coming.

“You really like him, don’t you?”

Liam’s words seemed to echo in the silence of the apartment, and Harry felt even more color rising to his cheeks. He thought about denying it, but he really didn’t want to lie anymore, and he knew he could trust Liam with this.

“Yeah. Yeah, I do,” Harry mumbled, rubbing the back of his neck and looking up at Liam across the table. “I can’t help it, Liam. I tried so hard not to. Tried to keep it professional. But he just … he’s amazing. Everything about him is so … I’m in awe of him. And I know I’m supposed to be here for work, I know that, but … Liam, I don’t know what to tell you. I’m falling in love with him.”

“Well, you better go get him, then.”

Harry’s head snapped up as he stared at Liam. A resigned smile was turning Liam’s lips upwards.

“W-what? But you said …”

“Fuck what I said. The way you say his name tells me everything I need to know.”

Harry felt his heart swelling with affection for his best friend, and he abandoned his food and stood up, pulling Liam into a tight hug.

They sat back down, and Harry was about to take another bite when he realized something.

“Li … what if he doesn’t like me?”

“How could he not like you, Harry? You’re funny, you’re sweet, good with kids, and if I were gay, I’d fuck you without question.”

Harry barked out a laugh at that, but the reality of the situation was still at the very forefront of his mind.

“But seriously, I … even if he liked me, how could we date? He’s my mentor, he’s supposed to be teaching me how to be a proper doctor. If we dated, they might separate us or … or fire me, I don’t know.”

“Harry. Harry, relax. You don’t need to worry about that yet. Right now, you just need to think about how you’re going to tell Louis about your feelings.”

Harry released his tight grip on his silverware and and let out a breath. “Okay, alright, you’re right. So how do you suggest I do that?”

Liam smirked and ate another piece of meat. “Oh, I’ve got a few ideas.”

~

Harry felt relieved when he finally reached the weekend. Everything that had happened with Izzy and Maddy and had really exhausted him, and even when he wasn’t directly dealing with it, he was thinking about it.

This was one of the many reasons that he was glad that he, Louis, Niall, and Liam had decided to do a lad’s night. They’d been so busy recently with their respective jobs and patients that they hadn’t been able to go out on Friday nights for drinks, so Niall had suggested beers and pizza and movies, and it had sounded like a great idea.

He and Liam had just gotten home when Liam sprinted for the bathroom, and Harry tried not to listen as Liam got sick into their toilet. He busied himself in the kitchen, making some tea, but when all was silent and Liam still hadn’t come out of the bathroom, Harry grabbed a bottle of water and made his way carefully down the hallway.

Liam was sitting slumped on the floor, his pale forehead beaded with his sweat. He looked so pathetic that Harry just wanted to pick him up and take him to bed and give him a good cuddle, but he wasn’t risking catching whatever Liam had.

He did, however, enter the bathroom and pull a towel from the hook near the sink and hand it to Liam with the water bottle.

“Looks like I’m not making lad’s night, then,” Liam mumbled, wiping his mouth and taking a small sip of water. Harry felt terrible - he hadn’t spent enough time with Liam lately, but he didn’t want to bail on Niall and Louis. Liam could clearly see the conflict on his face, though, because he shook his head, turning a little green as he did so. “No. No, you are not staying here to take care of me.”

“But Liam … you’re literally sitting on the bathroom floor. I can’t just leave you here.”

Liam opened his mouth to say something and promptly vomited into the toilet again. Harry took a step back and waited, unsure of what to do.

“You … ugh, you are going . Louis is going to be there and we were gonna watch a movie and if you miss a chance to tell him how you feel because you’re here taking care of me, I will kill you.”

“Alright, alright,” Harry said, smiling a little at that last comment. “Let’s at least get you off the floor, yeah? Come on.”

Harry helped Liam to his feet and out to the couch, where he let him get comfortable while heating up some soup and making some more tea. Once he had Liam settled, he grabbed the beer from the fridge that they’d planned on bringing and went in to say goodbye. Liam looked up at him and attempted a smirk, which transformed almost immediately into a grimace as he clutched at his stomach.

“Have fun. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”

Harry rolled his eyes. “Liam, I’m not telling him with Niall there. Besides, I want to … scope it out a bit more. I want to make sure.”

“He looks at you like you hung the moon, Haz. You’ve got nothing to worry about,"  Liam responded, followed by a low groan as he reached for the rubbish bin Harry had placed next to the couch. As he buried his head in it, Harry made his way to the door, making sure he had everything and double checking what he was wearing. He hadn’t been planning on wooing anyone tonight, but now he was feeling a little self-conscious.

“You look fine. And take flowers. God knows they probably don’t keep any around, and Louis will like them.” Liam’s muffled voice made Harry laugh, and he headed out of their apartment to the car, programming the nearest flower shop into the GPS.

~

When he arrived at Louis’ apartment, he stood at the door for a few minutes, rocking back and forth on his feet. His stomach was churning with nerves, and the flowers he’d bought were shaking slightly in his hand.

Get it together, Styles , Harry told himself, and he knocked on the door. He heard a distant voice call something to him, and a moment later, Louis was opening the door, grinning as he saw Harry.

“Hey, Hazza! Come on in!”

“Hey, Lou,” Harry said back as he followed Louis into the apartment. The door closed behind him and he looked around. The place was small, but it felt more cozy than confined. Soft lights cast a nice glow around the place, which smelled like fresh pizza and something flowery that Harry couldn’t quite place.

Louis lead him into the kitchen, which opened right into the main room, and Harry set the beer on the counter, only then remembering the flowers in his other hand.

“Oh, right, these are for you and Niall. Liam said something about flowers when I left and I figured I’d grab some just in case …” Harry mumbled the last few words as Louis turned to look at him, his eyes lighting up as he caught sight of the flowers.

“Thank you! I love flowers. No one ever thinks to bring any. Then again, our apartment always smells like a garden cause of the air freshners Niall uses.” Louis took the flowers from Harry, their fingers brushing, and Harry’s heart skipped a beat. “Speaking of which, where’s Liam?”

“Oh, god. Poor guy, he’s got some stomach bug or something. We barely made it through the door this afternoon before he started throwing up. He told me to come without him.”

Louis nodded sympathetically and then let out a little laugh. “Well, I guess we both got stood up by our roommates. Niall got called into work a few minutes before you showed up.”

Harry froze in the act of grabbing a beer from the pack he’d brought. “Wait … so it’s just us?”

Louis nodded. “Yeah. Just you and me. Guess that means more beer and pizza for us, then,” he said with a chuckle. Harry gave a small, forced laugh, but inwardly, he was freaking out. Niall and Liam not being here pretty much made this a date, didn’t it? And he’d brought fucking flowers … this was a disaster. He was going to kill whoever got Liam sick.

Louis didn’t seem bothered by the fact that it was just the two of them. In fact, he seemed extremely calm. He was also a lot more relaxed here than he was at work - Harry could see how light and happy he was here. Not that he wasn’t happy at work, of course, but Harry hadn’t noticed how stressful work was on Louis until he saw him away from it.

Harry made his way into the main room with another beer in his hand, following Louis. Louis collapsed onto the sofa, already working on a piece of pizza. Harry handed the beer to Louis, who took it with a nod, and then settled down on the sofa, careful to keep a respectful distance from him. He didn’t want Louis to think he was coming onto him or something.

“So, what should we watch, Harry?” Louis asked, turning on the TV and scrolling through the movies on Netflix. He was currently looking through the horror movies, and Harry felt his stomach turn over. He hated scary movies more than anything, but Louis was looking at him, an excited twinkle in his eye.

“I … I don’t mind. Looks like you’re going for horror, though,” Harry joked, hoping that Louis would pick something else, anything else.

“Oh, great! Let’s see … which one should I pick, huh?”

~

They ended up getting off Netflix and choosing one from Louis’ personal collection. Harry had heard great things about The Shining, but he’d never actually seen it, and it was just as scary as he’d always imagined. Scarier, even. But then again, Liam always said he was a bit of a wimp, so maybe it was just him.

“Jesus fuck , Lou,” Harry said at a particularly jolting part, burrowing into Louis’ side. As the movie had progressed, they finished one pizza, two beers each, and had drifted closer and closer as Harry got more and more frightened. Louis had made fun of him at first, but now just put an arm around his shoulders and poked his stomach until he felt better.

“This isn’t even the climax of the movie, Haz,” Louis said with a little chuckle, and Harry made a noise of protest, but he wasn’t focusing on the movie anymore. Louis’ arm had slid down from his shoulders and was now around his waist. Harry had known the shirt he was wearing was a little small, but now he was acutely aware of how it had tugged itself up when he moved, revealing the skin of his waist. Louis’ fingertips were there, just sitting there, but Harry felt like his entire body was on fire.

They didn’t move from that position until the credits were rolling and Louis moved his arm to stretch. Harry, only slightly disappointed, sat up and pulled out his phone. He had a message from Liam and a few tweets, but other than that, there was nothing to distract him from Louis’ thigh pressing up against his own.

“So, what did you think?” Louis asked, turning himself towards Harry, and Harry swallowed with how close Louis’ face was. His blue eyes were bright even in the dim lighting of the room, and Harry found himself getting a little lost in them.

“Umm, it was fucking terrifying, thanks,” Harry retorted, using the most scathing tone he could manage in an attempt to hide how much he wanted to kiss Louis.

“Aww, it wasn’t that bad,” Louis said, swatting Harry on the arm. “You just wanted an excuse to cuddle me, yeah?”

Harry didn’t have an answer to that, so he just laughed, trying to brush off Louis’ comment. He was just joking, he doesn’t like you, he only cuddled with you because you literally threw yourself on him , Harry repeated to himself over and over again. But they were still sitting there, their legs touching and their faces closer than he’d usually allow.

The silence in the room was stretching towards uncomfortable, but Harry found that he couldn’t look away from Louis. His gaze flickered from Louis’ eyes to his lips, only briefly, but he thought he saw something in Louis’ eyes that suggested he had noticed. And yet he still wasn’t moving away from him. In fact, he seemed to be moving closer, slowly but surely.

“Lou, I … I should go, it’s getting late. Liam might … he might, umm,” Harry said breathlessly as Louis moved into his space, their faces now inches apart. Louis’ gaze was piercing - Harry could feel his breath on his face as his eyes fluttered closed.

“Hey, Lou, I’m home!”

Harry jumped as Niall’s thick Irish accent pierced the tense silence of the apartment. Harry stood up rather quickly, pressing his lips together and scratching his head for something to do. Louis was smiling as Niall came into the room, but there was something off about him.

“Oh, hey, Harry! Didn’t know you’d still be here. Figured Louis would have sent you packing by now - you know how he is about getting to bed on time,” Niall joked, but he stopped walking as he seemed to realized something was wrong. “Did I interrupt something?”

“No, no, Harry was actually just leaving. The movie just ended,” Louis said, and Harry could feel the tension in every word Louis spoke. He didn’t know what to think or say, so he just nodded and made his way towards the door. “Gonna walk him out,” he heard Louis say from behind him, and as he reached for the doorknob, he heard Louis hurrying up behind him. He reached around Harry and opened the door for him, avoiding Harry’s eyes.

“I … I guess I’ll see you on Monday, yeah?” Harry said, trying not to sound as upset as he felt.

“Yeah. See you then.” Louis’ tone was clipped short, nothing like Harry was used to, and it almost hurt to be spoken to like that, but he couldn’t think of anything to say.

He got in his car and drove away without a backward glance. He didn’t even bother turning on the radio in his car, preferring to drive in silence and let his thoughts destroy him.

“Hey, Haz. How was movie night?” Liam asked when Harry entered their apartment, but Harry didn’t answer. He went to his room, closed the door, and fell into bed. He didn’t sleep well that night.

Chapter Text

Louis let the door close, listening as Harry’s footsteps retreated, and he let his head fall forwards, knocking into the wood with a dull thud. He ignored the shot of pain that swept across his forehead and thumped his fists on it a few times before he stood up, turning around to see Niall looking at him with a confused expression. He ignored the stare of his friend and headed back to the sofa, flopping down on it, elbows on his knees and head buried in his hands.

“Oh fuck Niall, what the fuck was that? Shit, I-” he stood up again and started pacing back and forth on the carpet, feet burying into the softness of the material, trying to concentrate on that feeling instead of the ache in his chest.

“Tommo, I can’t help you if you don’t tell me what’s going on. Did you and Harry have a fight or something?” Niall questioned, appearing from the kitchen and holding out a beer to Louis. He shook his head, declining the drink. Niall sank onto the couch, looking concerned and a little scared. “Please sit down. Come on, Lou. Do you think I haven’t noticed you’ve been acting weird lately, and now this? Just talk to me. You can tell me anything, you know that.”

“A fight? Quite the fucking opposite,” Louis finally said, slumping back down on the sofa next to Niall. “I’ve fucked everything up, Ni. I can’t believe I’ve been so stupid.”

“Louis, unless you tried to kill him or something, it really can’t be that bad. What, did you try to kiss him or something?” Niall laughed, but he abruptly came to a stop when he saw the expression on Louis’ face. “Oh my god, Lou. You kissed him?”

“Nearly,” Louis said quietly, playing nervously with his fingers. “We, uh, had a moment? It had been fine all night, I mean, we cuddled for a bit because he didn't like the movie, but after, he just … he got closer, and I thought he was going to kiss me. I was ready to kiss him back, Niall. Shit, I swore this wouldn’t happen again. What the fuck is wrong with me?” Niall sat quietly, and Louis, unable to help it, just kept rambling. He couldn’t hold it in anymore.

“I like him, Niall. A lot. He’s just, god, he’s so good , you know? He’s so caring with the kids at work, he has this natural way of just being with them; he puts them at ease and takes their fear away just by existing. And his smile. Fuck . That smile has been in too many of my dreams. It makes me happy when I see it, Niall. He makes me so happy. This wasn’t supposed to happen.”

He dared a glance at Niall, a bit startled by the smug smile on his best friend’s face as he toyed with the label on his beer bottle. Niall slowly lifted the bottle to his lips, leaving Louis desperate to hear something from his friend, to validate what Louis was thinking himself.

“Louis, it’s okay to feel something for him, you know? You’re human, and falling for Harry doesn’t make you a bad person.” Niall took another sip of his beer and cleared his throat. “Honestly, though, what exactly were you expecting to happen?”

Louis looked up sharply, his eyes narrowing. Niall wasn’t helping. “What is that supposed to mean?”

Niall rolled his eyes and let out a laugh. “Oh, come on, Lou. Even I knew this was going to happen, and you know how oblivious I am to this shit.”

Louis just stared at Niall, at a complete loss for words. In every instance where this could have happened in the past, Louis had stopped it immediately. He knew that any relationship he had would get in the way of work, and he couldn't let that happen. But this time, he was spiraling out of control. He hadn't made a single attempt to stop what was happening with Harry and now it was coming back to bite him in the arse. It was too much, and Louis didn't know what to do, how to deal with these feelings.

“I can’t do this again, Niall. I can’t risk everything I’ve worked for all these years for a guy, not again. I was stupid enough to do that once, and you saw what happened. I nearly fucking lost everything. I almost lost myself.” He wriggled in his seat then, hands running through his hair and pulling at the soft strands until it hurt just a little too much. He felt like he couldn’t breathe. “It’s too much of a risk, I can’t-”

Niall reached out and gripped Louis’ arm. “Louis, I know. I know, I get it, I was there to pick up the pieces, remember? I know what that did to you before, and believe me Lou, the last thing I want is to see you go through that again. But I have to say this, mate. You can’t keep running from love or relationships because of the past. The past is just that - the past. You’re a different person now. You’re strong and you’re smart and you’re not the Louis who fell apart before.”

“I - I can’t go back to that place.” Louis’ voice cracked as he spoke those words, a lone tear snaking down his cheek. He hated this - he hated feeling weak like this. Niall reached up to wipe the tear away softly with his thumb.

“But what if Harry’s the one worth risking it all for?” Niall interjected quietly, resting a calming hand on Louis’ thigh, the other coming up to gently pull his hand away from his hair. “I know what happened with Kyle, how shit that was. But sometimes, Louis, the right person comes along at the right time for us. What if Harry’s your right person? I’ve seen the way he looks at you, Lou. It’s the same way you look at him. Don’t let him go because you’re scared. You could have something so special, just … let yourself have that chance, mate. Harry’s not Kyle. That’s all you need to remember. You and Harry could be so much more.”

Louis sighed and nodded slowly, letting Niall’s words sink in. Niall held out an arm then and Louis took up the invitation, curling up into Niall’s side, letting himself be hugged. He closed his eyes, feeling soothed by Niall’s steady hand rubbing up and down his back. Louis was so used to being the strong one, the one who was there to mop up everyone else’s tears that sometimes he forgot he needed taking care of too. Being held by Niall felt good, safe, and Louis’ mind drifted to the possibility that one day, maybe soon, Harry might be the one Louis could seek comfort from. That thought made him feel a little better, and he slowly pulled back from the hug, smiling at Niall.

“I’m gonna go to bed Ni. I’m knackered,” he said, stretching out his back with a yawn. Niall nodded, and they stood up together, collecting up the pizza boxes and beer bottles and setting them on the side in the kitchen. Louis sloped off back to his room, shutting the door behind him with a soft click. He pulled off his clothes, sliding into bed in his underwear, finally feeling more relaxed than he had all day. He pushed the rest of it to the back of his mind, knowing he’d have to deal with it tomorrow. For now, he just needed sleep.

**

Louis glanced over to the clock on the wall and sighed when he realised he couldn’t put it off any longer. It was time to go back to work. He drained the rest of his tea, putting his mug into the dishwasher before he left.  He opened the door, holding it open with his foot as he looked up and down the corridor, watching the familiar bustle of patients and staff walking along, busy in their tasks.

He stilled as the elevator doors opened and Harry walked through, handsome as ever in his purple scrubs. Louis tried to push the thought of what almost happened the night before to the back of his mind, how easily Harry had cuddled up to him, how natural it felt for Louis to wrap his arm around him, offering comfort like it was second nature. How Harry had nearly kissed him, their faces just inches from each other. He took a deep breath, trying to steady himself, knowing it was no good getting himself in this state while at work. Harry glanced up then, catching Louis’ eye down the corridor before quickly dropping his gaze back to the floor.

Louis realised it would have to be him that made the first move. He was the senior member of staff, and he couldn’t afford to ruin things at work. Here, no matter what, they had to remain professional. The door behind him opened again and Niall slipped out, patting his shoulder as he noticed how hesitant Harry and Louis were being with each other.

“Go on, go and talk to him,” Niall encouraged, and Louis nodded, swallowing and heading in Harry’s direction. The swooping feeling in his tummy didn't dissipate as he got closer to Harry - instead, the urge to touch Harry took over. His hand came up, reaching for Harry’s wrist, but before he could make contact, he realised what he was doing and shoved his hands deep into his pockets, taking away the temptation to reach out and touch. There was the slight possibility that if he started touching Harry now, even if it was just as simple as brushing his wrist with his fingertips, he wouldn’t be able to stop himself. Louis plastered a smile on his face, picking up the pile of files from the desk in front of him as he came to a stop next to Harry.

“Morning,” Louis said, glancing over to meet Harry’s eyes before looking back to the paperwork, checking over the night shift’s notes. He was pleased to see that things were fairly positive. “So, did you manage to get any sleep after last night?”

“Um, well-” Harry said, blushing, not meeting Louis’ gaze again, and Louis realized how awkward his question must have sounded.

“Shit, I didn’t … I mean … like, the movie. Because it was scary. You didn't have nightmares, right?”

Louis was inwardly cringing now, but Harry just chuckled softly, shaking his head. A few stray strands of hair fell into his face. Louis wanted to run his fingers through his curls, wanting to see if they were as soft as they looked. “No, no nightmares about the movie, Lou,” Harry finally responded with a small smile, his voice quiet but still shaking Louis from his thoughts. Louis just smiled back, ignoring the fluttering in his chest he felt when Harry smiled at him like that.

“So,” Louis started, but his voice came out all scratchy and high. He coughed and started again. “So, I think you’re ready to go off and see some patients on your own this morning,” Louis said, spreading the files out on the desk and picking up two of them, handing them over to a stunned looking Harry. “Hey, come on, don’t look at me like that. You’re a fantastic doctor, and I have every faith that you’ll do a great job. I’m going to take William and Julia. Are you alright with Josh and Maddy?” He felt a little guilty as he suggested Harry take Maddy, but he hoped Harry would be brave enough to say no if he didn't feel up to it.

“Yeah, that’s fine,” Harry said, flicking through the files. “Um, are you sure I’m ready for this? I don’t-”

“Yes, I’m sure, Harry. You need to start believing in yourself, because I know you’re going to be a brilliant doctor, and I need to help you start seeing that. You need to see what I see. Now go on, off you go. Come and grab me if you need something.”

Harry hesitated slightly before walking off, still reading the files, tension apparent in his shoulders. Louis wished he could massage it away for Harry, take away any self-doubt that the man had about himself - he really didn't deserve to feel that way. Louis sighed, running a hand through his hair as he turned in the direction of William’s room. Niall was still standing outside the break room, this time chatting to another doctor. He shrugged at Louis, clearly having noticed how awkward the interaction had been.

Louis knocked on the door as he entered William’s room, being greeted as usual by a beaming smile from the little boy underneath the blankets. Louis was pleased to see that his colour had returned to normal, that he was breathing unaided, and that his IV’s had been removed. He smiled over to William’s mum, who was sitting on a plastic chair next to her son.

“Hey, William,” Louis said with a cheeky smile, high-fiving the little boy as he got closer. “So, I think I’ve got some good news for you.” He waggled his eyebrows a bit, teasing the little boy and making him wriggle around on the bed in excitement.

“What is it, Dr. Louis?!” William asked, smiling over to his mom, who looked like she might have an idea of what Louis was going to say.

“Well, you’ve been doing so well, and it seems like your pneumonia is pretty much gone! What a super fighter you are! I bet your mum is so proud of you.” William’s mom nodded, taking her son’s hand on the bed. “So I think that today, I can send you home. What do you say?”

William gasped, looking wide-eyed at Louis. “I can go home?” Louis nodded, and William clambered up onto his knees, throwing his arms around Louis’ waist. Louis, taken aback, smiled and hugged back quickly before William settled back onto the bed. “I mean, I will miss you, Dr. Louis, but I have missed my house and my friends and all my toys.”

“I get it, buddy,” Louis said, scribbling down a few things on the file in front of him. “I’ve just got the boring grown-up paperwork to sort out and then I can come and let you go, okay? You can finally get yourself out of that horrible hospital gown, too!”

“Good, I hate it. I hate walking down the corridor and showing everyone my underwear,” the little boy said, folding his arms across his chest in a huff. Louis and William’s mom laughed, and Louis headed for the door, wanting to get the discharge paperwork out out of the way so he could let William finally escape. Just as he reached the door, however, William’s voice reached his ears. “Oh no! Dr. Louis, what about Dr. Harry? I need to say goodbye to him too. Is he here today?”

Louis nodded, not realising Harry had made such an impact on the little boy but finding himself a little proud for Harry. “Yeah, he’s in. I’ll make sure he comes and sees you before you go, okay?” William nodded and hopped out of bed as his mum started collecting clothes from the little cabinet beside his bed.

Louis left the room and turned right, ready to see his next patient. The door to Julia’s room was wide open, and Louis walked in, stilling when he saw the little girl asleep on her side, oxygen mask still on her face. There was something about Julia that had really affected Louis - he had grown quite attached to her, and Louis hated seeing her like that. He felt like he was failing her because nothing he was doing seemed to be working.

He nodded his head towards the door, silently calling Julia’s parents outside so they wouldn’t disturb the sleeping girl. She hadn’t had a good night, and Louis wished there was more he could do.

“Hey, so I hear Julia didn't have a good night?” he said, directing the question to Julia’s exhausted-looking parents. They both shook their heads, Julia’s mum resting her head on her husband’s shoulder.

“No. She had another attack last night, and she ended up on the nebuliser again. She’s so tired from all of this,  and I don’t know how to help her. Do you have any idea what’s going on, Dr. Tomlinson?”

Louis shook his head in regret. “I’m afraid not. I’m actually going to refer Julia’s case up to the consultants in the Respiratory department and see if they can look deeper into this for us. In the meantime, I’m going to order another CT for Julia. Let’s get a clear picture of her lungs again, just to make sure there’s nothing we’re overlooking.” Julia’s parents nodded gratefully, thanking Louis as they stepped back into their daughter’s room and pushed the door closed behind them. Louis headed back to the desk, filling in some of the paperwork for Julia’s CT and William’s discharge before he remembered his earlier promise to William.

Louis headed off to find Harry, waving at Josh’s moms as he went past his room and realising Harry must be in with Maddy by now. There was laughter trickling down the corridor as Louis neared her room, and he shivered slightly when he realised it was Harry’s laugh. He wished he was the person who could make Harry laugh like that - a full, genuine laugh that came from deep inside. He didn't want to disturb Harry or Maddy, so he hung back, leaning against the doorframe and watching from a distance.

“No, Dr. Harry, it’s not your turn, stop!” Maddy giggled, grabbing at Harry’s arm. From where Louis was standing, it looked like they were playing Snap, a game he remembered playing with his own sisters when they were small. A little smile crept across his lips then as he watched the interaction, the easy way Harry made conversation with her. Louis’ heart ached for a moment as he realised this was exactly how Harry would have been with Izzy, and he wished that he could have seen that for himself.

“Snap! I win!” Maddy shouted gleefully while Harry just groaned, slapping his own forehead and making Maddy laugh more. “You’re so silly, Dr. Harry.”

“And you’re too clever for me,” Harry retorted. Louis chuckled to himself then, realising too late that his noise would have drawn Harry’s attention over to himself. He stood up, straightening out his scrubs as he ambled over to the pair.

“Oh, I’m a champion Snap player, Maddy. I’ll have to give you a game sometime,” he said with a smile, stopping next to Maddy. She shook her head violently, hair flying all over the place.

“Nope, I beat Dr. Harry, and I can beat you too, Dr. Louis!” she said with a grin, her missing front tooth only making her look cuter. Louis looked at Harry, and they smiled at each other before Harry caught himself, dropping his gaze back to the cards on the bed. Maddy was now looking between Louis and Harry, her smile falling a little. “Do you have to go, Dr. Harry?”

“‘Fraid so, love,” he said, rubbing Maddy’s shoulder gently. “But you’re doing super good at the moment, and Dr. Louis and I will be back to check in on you later, okay?” She nodded picked up her book before turning to her mom and snuggling down for a read. Harry stood up from his chair, packing away the game before finally looking at Louis. “Did you need me, Lou?”

More than you know, Louis wanted to say. Instead, he placed a hand gently at the base of Harry’s spine, meaning to guide him out of the room. Harry flinched at Louis’ touch and pulled away from his hand. Louis tried to ignore the lump that rose in his throat. He put his hand in his pocket and forced away thoughts about how it felt to touch Harry like that, how soft the skin of his back would feel under his palm if there was no clothing separating them. He blinked and turned to Harry. He had to be professional. There were more important things to worry about right now.

“Erm, yeah. I’m discharging William today, and he asked me to make sure you went to say goodbye before he left.” Harry looked a little stunned at Louis’ declaration and stopped walking, reaching for Louis’ hand to stop him as well. Louis snapped his hand back out of Harry’s grasp, a knee jerk reaction to a touch he knew he wanted badly but couldn’t have. He instantly regretted it when he saw Harry’s face visibly fall, but he quickly took on a neutral expression, and Louis looked away.

“Me? He actually asked for me to go and see him?”

“Yeah, Harry, you. You’ve made more of an impact on these kids than you realise. I told you, you’re amazing.” Louis said, forcing himself to look back up at Harry, whose cheeks were the most delicate shade of pink, his dimples deep divots in his cheeks. Louis wished he could run a hand over Harry’s face, assure him in a different way as to how amazing he was. “Now come on, let’s go and see him before he  leaves. He’s really keen to see you.”

**

With a sigh of mingled relief and exhaustion, Louis pushed open the door to the parking lot, heading to where he and Niall left their car earlier that day. It had been a long shift. He was tired, and his feet hurt, making him all the more desperate to get home and into a warm bath to ease his aching muscles. It had also been quite emotional, finally saying goodbye to William and his parents, the little boy eagerly waving to the staff as the elevator slid shut. Harry had turned to Louis then, giving him a bit of a wobbly smile before he turned away again, trying to collect himself. Louis had just wanted to grab Harry and give him a hug, tell him that he got it, that he had been emotional the first time he discharged a patient he’d spent time with as well, but he didn't. He just stood there, willing the last few hours of shift to tick away so he could go and wallow in his own misery at home.

He frowned as he looked around, seeing no sign of the familiar sedan, and did a quick circuit, making sure he was on the right floor. After two laps of the lot, he pulled his phone out and tapped out a quick text to Niall, asking where he was and how he was meant to get home.

As he finished texting, he spotted Harry across the lot, scanning around too. He swallowed heavily, wondering if he should go over and speak to him, if there was any shred of friendship left between them after the awkwardness of the past few days. He realised after a second that Harry had spotted him, so ignoring him wasn’t an option anyway. He shoved his hands into the pockets of his scrubs and trudged over, feeling a chill as the sky clouded over. A storm was coming...great. He’d probably end up soaking wet on top of everything else, thanks to his useless roommate.

“Hey, your ride gone too?” he asked as he stepped up to Harry, meeting his eyes for a second before letting his gaze drop back down to the concrete, nudging at a painted line with the toe of his trainer.

“Um, yeah. I don’t know where Li’s gone - he always waits here for me,” Harry shrugged, tapping away at his own phone now. It buzzed just as he was putting it in his pocket and Louis watched Harry’s face as he read the words on the screen, the way he sucked his bottom lip between his teeth as he contemplated whatever he was reading, the little lines between his eyebrows appearing as he put it back in his pocket. Louis didn't think there was an expression Harry could make that was anything other than beautiful.

He shivered for a second in the breeze, and looked up again at Harry, feeling a little awkward when he realised he was staring at him.

“You, uh, you wanna call an Uber and share?” Harry asked softly, voice laden with uncertainty. Louis hated himself for that, that Harry had to feel uncertain around him. Everything had been so good, all until he’d fucked it up when he’d thought about kissing him. It wasn’t that Louis had stopped thinking about kissing Harry, quite the opposite. He was thinking about it right now, but he knew if he crossed that line, it would all be over. He wouldn’t be able to hold back, and he’d ruin everything. But there was a part of him that felt reckless, that wanted to see how Harry kissed. Would it be soft, tender, loving? Or rough and hard, Harry chasing everything he wanted, Louis fighting back to take what he needed?

He shook himself back to reality as he realised Harry was waiting for an answer, and he hoped his cheeks weren’t as red as they felt. It almost seemed like Harry could see right through him, into his mind, what he was thinking, and that made him feel off balance. “Sure, that’d be good. I’ve not heard from Niall, so god knows what he’s up to. And I’d really just like to get home.” Harry just nodded in reply, tapping away at his phone again, hopefully ordering the Uber.

Louis spotted a few droplets of rain hitting the concrete around them, and he glanced around, wondering where they’d be able to shelter if the heavens opened. They stood silently for a minute, Louis picking at a fingernail, Harry playing with his phone, moving it between his hands when all of a sudden, the drops increased in frequency, coming down faster around them.

“Shit!” Harry cried, trying to use his backpack to shield his head, and Louis acted without thinking. He reached out and grabbed Harry’s hand, dragging him along as he ran to the small shelter he’d caught sight of a second ago. If the rain picked up any more, it wasn’t going to do much good, but surely it was better than getting soaked to the skin. Scrubs were bad enough at the best of times, let alone when they were damp. They tumbled against the wall together, panting heavily from their short sprint across the parking lot, and Louis ran a hand through his hair, pushing it back from his forehead.

“I’m gonna fucking kill Niall,” Louis grumbled under his breath, making Harry chuckle. He looked up and they locked eyes for a moment, finally smiling at each other after what felt like ages of keeping their distance. Harry craned his head, looking for any sign of their cab, and Louis couldn’t help but let his gaze fall down, noticing how the fabric of the scrubs was now clinging to the curves of Harry’s body. Louis licked his lips briefly as he took in the way Harry’s waist dipped in, widening again at his hips, at his broad shoulders, at the way the raindrops glistened on his bare forearms, nestling on the light hairs scattered around there. He bit back a sigh, and looked up, locking eyes with Harry again.

The stare between them felt intense, and Louis couldn’t bring himself to let it drop. He shivered involuntarily, but whether it was from the wind or from how Harry was making him feel, he didn't know. There was a swooping in his stomach as Harry shuffled ever so slightly closer to him, blinking slowly, his hand tentatively stretching out, fingers grazing Louis’ side. A surge of electricity ran through Louis from just this small touch, and it was then that he knew he was at the point of no return.

“Louis …” Harry whispered, taking another step closer. Louis felt his breath catch in his chest, and the ache, the need , to kiss Harry was almost unbearable. “Louis, please …”

That did it. Louis threw every single notion of putting his job first and not dating the person he was training out the window and surged forward. He crashed his lips against Harry’s, their chests colliding as their bodies met for the first time, and he closed his eyes, losing himself in the sensation. Harry was still for a moment, and Louis panicked, wondering if he’d read this all wrong, but before he could act, Harry’s hands grabbed at Louis’ hips, pulling him closer as he started to move his lips against Louis’, returning Louis’ kiss.

Louis felt Harry gasp as their lips worked against each other’s, and his mind reeled at how soft Harry’s lips felt against his own. He pulled back slightly, tilting his head to the other side, catching Harry’s eyes as he dove back in. He ran his tongue along Harry’s bottom lip, shivering as Harry parted his lips and granted Louis entrance. Tentatively, he pushed his tongue into Harry’s mouth, wanting to sigh with pleasure as Harry’s met his own, touching, caressing as Louis’ fingertips ran through Harry’s damp curls, holding on, not letting him pull away.

“Jesus Christ, Harry, wanted this, wanted you for so long…” Louis whispered before Harry pulled him back into another kiss, and Louis could feel every ounce of Harry’s desperation, his need, in that kiss. Harry’s lips against his own felt like nothing Louis could ever have imagined, and Harry’s taste... god . Louis had spent too many lonely nights thinking about this, imagining how Harry would react to his kiss, how he would taste, and now it was happening - it was almost too much. Harry let out a soft moan as Louis curled his fingers into a fist, tugging lightly at his hair, and that was something Louis hadn’t expected. He did it again, just to check, but this time, Harry really reacted.

Louis’ breath caught as he felt Harry’s hands slide around his body from where they’d sat on his hips, grabbing at Louis’ cheeks. It forced Louis up onto his tiptoes, highlighting the size difference between them, but Louis liked it, liked how Harry was taking charge, taking what he wanted from him.

“Fucking hell, your arse, Louis, I’ve dreamt about this arse, how it would feel in my hands,” Harry mumbled, kissing down Louis’ jaw and squeezing the flesh in his palms. Louis felt like he was going to explode - this was more than he could have ever imagined, that Harry had thought about him in this way, had wanted him as much as Louis wanted Harry.

With that in mind, he pushed his hips forward slowly, both of them groaning as their hips met, both of them able to feel how much this was affecting them. Harry ducked his head into yet another kiss, letting his tongue tease Louis’, delving into his mouth as they rutted slowly against each other. Louis felt his control slipping away more and more as they lost themselves in the heat of the moment.

Headlights lit up the wall behind them then and dragged Louis back to a fuzzy reality. He reluctantly pulled away from Harry’s kiss, pecking his lips just a few times before he dragged his hands down the nape of Harry’s neck. He let his fingers graze over his chest, leaving them there for a moment as they caught their breaths. Louis couldn’t miss the way Harry’s eyes were dark as they stared back at him, his chest heaving against Louis’, hearts both pounding wildly.

“Cab’s here,” Louis whispered, and Harry seemed capable of only nodding. Louis swallowed, a little unable to believe what he was going to suggest. Harry’s hands came up, encircling Louis’ wrists, letting them slip through his hands until their fingers were laced together between their bodies. Harry gripped them tightly, and Louis bit his lip, hoping Harry wasn’t about to let him down gently, adrenaline still racing through his veins.

“Your place or mine?” Harry said in the sexiest, deepest voice Louis had ever heard. It resonated deep inside Louis, sparking all his nerve endings from his toes to the tips of his fingers. He bit back the urge to kiss him again, something else deep inside taking over now, the urge to just drag Harry home and finally do what he’d been waiting months for.

“Mine,” Louis rasped, clasping Harry’s hand tightly in his own as they stepped out into the rain, running for where the cab sat idling a few spaces away. Louis opened the rear door and pushed Harry into it, climbing in after him, the raindrops hitting the roof mirroring the rhythm Louis’ heart was making in his chest. The cab sped away, taking Louis and Harry home. Together. Fuck.

Chapter Text

They had barely made it through the front door of Louis’ apartment before Harry threw himself at Louis, pinning him against the wall and kissing him hungrily. Louis let him, his hands grazing over Harry’s waist and slipping up underneath his scrubs to touch the bare skin of his back. Harry shuddered as Louis’ fingers traced burning patterns on his back, and his hands tangled themselves in Louis’ hair, keeping him there.

“Oh … fuck , Harry, we need to … bedroom …” Louis mumbled against Harry’s lips, but Harry didn’t want to let go of him. Sliding his hands down the deep curve of Louis’ back, he pulled him backwards a few feet and fell back onto the sofa, pulling Louis along with him. Louis landed on top of him, pinning him down against the sofa, and Harry’s hands slid from Louis’ back to his arse, palming it eagerly as Louis’ lips pressed against his own once again.

“Lou … god, you feel so good … wanted you like this for so … so long, fuck ,” Harry panted into Louis’ mouth, and Louis groaned, rolling his hips down onto Harry’s in the most satisfying way.

“Shirt off … off, Styles, get it off,” Louis growled, biting his way down Harry’s jawline as he sat up, tearing off his own damp scrubs top. Harry quickly shucked his off as well and then had an armful of Louis. Harry threw his head back as Louis kissed down his neck, finding a spot just above his collarbone and latching onto it.

Louis’ lips were just as soft as Harry had always imagined they would be, and he could feel the heat radiating off of Louis’ bare chest as it pressed against his own. Harry couldn’t even believe this was happening, but he wasn’t going to waste a second of it. He didn’t have much more time to marvel over how amazing Louis felt or looked, however, because Louis’ tongue was soothing over the mark he’d surely made and his wet lips were trailing opened mouthed kisses down Harry’s chest. Harry felt his nipples harden as Louis’ scruff brushed close to them, but Louis was already down near his navel, nosing at the waistline of Harry’s scrubs.

“Louis …” Harry gasped as Louis sat up, looking right at Harry with pupils blown wide. His caramel skin was smattered with tattoos, the largest of which was written in elegant script across the top of his chest, and Harry wanted nothing more than to get his mouth on the words, trace each letter with his tongue and make Louis squirm under him. But Louis seemed to have other plans.

“Hazza, can I touch you?” Louis asked, his voice raspy and a bit higher than usual, and Harry’s felt his cock twitch in his pants just from Louis’ words.

“Yeah, yeah, Louis, please,” Harry babbled, unsure of how to communicate to Louis just how badly he wanted that.

Louis’ fingers trailed slowly up Harry’s inner thigh and Harry almost screamed with how desperate he was, how much he needed Louis’ hand on him. And then it was there - Louis’ warm hand was cupping him, his fingers finding the head of his cock and pinching it slightly. Harry’s hips bucked up into Louis’ hand - he couldn’t help it. It felt that good.

“Oh god … shit, Lou, feels so good. Wanna feel your skin on me, want more,” Harry whispered, and Louis swooped down for another kiss, his lips desperate and his breath coming in short pants as his hand moved over Harry.

Tearing himself away from the kiss, seemingly reluctantly, Louis’ hands moved to Harry’s hips, to the waistband of his scrubs and his boxers. He leveled a look at Harry, a silent question that Harry answered by putting his hands on top of Louis’ and pushing down. Louis had his pants off faster than Harry could comprehend, and then he just sat there, blatantly staring. Harry felt his cheeks reddening and a whimper fell from his lips, his hips bucking up into air.

“Harry, you’re so beautiful,” Louis murmured, letting his fingertips glide over Harry’s chest, his hips, his thighs, everything but his cock.

“Louis, please touch me … god,” Harry whined, and Louis smirked, his hand gripping Harry so fast that he didn’t have time to do anything other than gasp. Louis’ hand was soft, almost too soft, as it moved up and down his shaft with precision, his thumb flicking over the head every few strokes. Louis moved to get into a better position and Harry relished the feeling of Louis’ scrub pants against his bare legs.

Louis’ hand was suddenly gone as he leaned back over Harry, grinding on him, and Harry let out a surprised noise, the fabric of Louis’ pants rubbing at just the right angle over the head of his cock.

“Oh, god, I’m sorry, I forgot I was …” Louis began, but then a strange expression came over his face, and he ground down again, harder this time. Harry’s moans echoed off the walls of the apartment, but Harry was too turned on to care. “You like it to hurt a bit, don’t you, Hazza?” Louis whispered in his ear, his teeth nipping at a spot just below Harry’s ear, and Harry nodded, his hands scrabbling at Louis’ bare back, just needing him to do something. “I thought you might … when I pulled your hair earlier, I guessed, but now … guess I’ll have to save that fun for another day.”

Harry had no idea if Louis really meant that, that there would be more times than just today, or if he was only saying it in the heat of the moment, but right now, with Louis’ delicate fingers on him and the feeling of him straddling his waist, Harry couldn’t find it in him to care.

Louis stood up, getting his own scrubs and boxers off, and Harry reached for him, already missing his touch. Louis leaned back over him almost at once, sneaking in a filthy kiss before getting a hand on Harry again, and then all Harry could see was the head of his cock disappearing and reappearing over the top of Louis’ fist.

“Louis, Louis … god, I can’t … feels so good …” Harry couldn’t find words. His mind was fuzzy, his only focus on Louis and his hand and his heavy breathing. Harry could feel his stomach tightening as his orgasm simmered just below, and the sight of Louis’ own cock, full and dripping, was not helping. He needed to touch, was desperate to hear Louis whine. He reached up and around Louis’ own hand, which was still busy on his cock, and got hold of Louis. Louis’ entire body jolted forward and he braced himself with his free hand on the back of the sofa, his eyes slipping closed and his face screwing up with what Harry could only assume was intense pleasure.

“Harry … fuck, don’t stop … keep going … gonna come soon, you’re so amazing , shit,” Louis’ words were starting to slur together as his hand moved faster over Harry’s length, and Harry sped up to meet the speed of Louis’ strokes. As his hand came up over the top of Louis’ cock, he let his palm rub over the head, and Louis nearly collapsed onto Harry’s chest, a high pitched moan ripping itself from his throat.

Harry knew he was getting close, dangerously close, considering they’d only been at this for a short amount of time, but Harry didn’t care. He knew what he needed, what he wanted, and he was going to take it. He knocked Louis’ hand out of the way, getting both his and Louis’ cocks between his one fist and stroking them together. They both moaned and Louis let himself drape over Harry’s chest, their mouths connecting for the first time in what seemed like forever. Harry let his tongue wander in Louis’ mouth, tasting him, moaning into his mouth as his hips rose off the sofa, and then he was coming, harder than he had in a long time, and Louis followed shortly after, their come mixing as they spilled over Harry’s fist. Harry was panting into Louis’ mouth, needing oxygen but not wanting to give up the feel of Louis’ lips for it.

Harry felt sticky and was starting to become oversensitive, but Louis felt so warm and pliant against him that he was almost afraid to let go, to shatter the moment. Eventually, however, he released himself and Louis, wiping his hand on the first piece of clothing he found before pulling Louis closer to him.

“Wow, that was … you were … fuck, I-”

“Oh, I’m not done with you yet, Styles,” Louis said, and Harry’s heart skipped a beat. Louis gave him a few more pecks on the mouth before slithering down Harry’s body, letting his tongue trail through the mess of come on Harry’s tattooed stomach.

“What are you … oh ,” Harry’s mind went blank as he felt Louis’ breath over his sensitive cock, which was already starting to fatten up again, slowly but surely. Louis let his tongue travel the length of Harry’s cock, wrapping his lips around the head, and Harry was gone.

Louis’ mouth was warm and wet, and his lips, already red from kissing, looked amazing wrapped around him, their color almost matching that of the head of his cock. Louis was taking a little bit at a time, his hand on the base, supporting him as he got harder, and Harry gripped the edge of the couch, needing something, anything, to hold on to.

“Louis … god, Lou, your mouth ,” Harry groaned as Louis took him deeper, hollowing his cheeks and sucking hard. It was like he was trying to suck the come right out of him. Harry slid a hand into Louis’ hair, feeling the soft strands slide through his fingers as he pushed Louis deeper, needing it, craving it. Louis tapped his thigh and pulled off, his lips wet and shining as he looked at Harry.

“Want you to fuck my mouth, Haz. Take what you want from me, take it. It’s yours.”

Harry’s groan made the springs in the sofa rattle under him as he buried his face in it, trying to stifle the sound. Louis’ hand was on his cheek then, turning his face back to him.

“No, love. I wanna hear you. Love your noises.”

“God, Louis,” Harry whined, reaching to pull him in for another kiss. Louis pulled back quickly, apparently just as desperate as Harry was to have his mouth back on him. This time, Harry got both hands in Louis’ hair, and he pushed down, moving his hips up so that Louis’ mouth fit right down to the base, his nose touching Harry’s groin. The sight of it made Harry whimper.

They kept at it, Louis not stopping for a break and Harry eventually releasing Louis’ hair in favor of driving his cock into Louis’ mouth harder. Harry could see tears in Louis’ eyes as he felt a second orgasm coming, and he barely had time to warn Louis before he was coming, weaker than before, but still a decent amount. Louis kept his head as far down as he could, swallowing around the head of Harry’s cock and forcing a string of swear words from Harry’s mouth.

Louis pulled off then, some of Harry’s come dripping down his chin, and Harry could honestly say that he’d never seen anything more beautiful.

“Lou, c’mere, wanna get you off, wanna make you feel good.”

Louis shook his head, his cheeks reddening blotchily. “I … umm, rubbed one off on the side of the sofa. You make such pretty … fuck, pretty noises. Couldn’t help it.”

“Oh, god, Lou,” Harry groaned, his whole body tingling as he came down from his high. Louis leaned over to kiss Harry, and Harry could feel his chest heaving and his heart beating wildly against his own. The fact that he could make Louis feel this way … it amazed him to no end.

Eventually, Louis stood up, surveying the damage - the side of the couch and Harry’s scrubs were covered in come stains and both of them were sticky with drying come and sweat. Louis headed off down the hallway and came back with two flannels. Harry reached out for one, but Louis shook his head, and Harry lay there in awe as Louis wiped him down before wiping himself. Harry had never been taken care of like this before.

Louis had also apparently brought out clean clothes and boxers for them both, and they dressed quickly before falling back onto the sofa, tangled in each other’s arms.

“You’re amazing, Hazza, you know that?” Louis mumbled into Harry’s chest, and Harry kissed the top of his head. Harry pinched himself on the arm, and Louis laughed, turning so he could see Harry’s face. “What was that for?”

Harry blushed. “Just trying to make sure I’m actually awake and this isn’t some elaborate wet dream or something.”

Louis laughed and craned his neck up, kissing Harry and making Harry feel boneless. He hummed into the kiss and Louis pulled away, pecking his lips a few more times. “It’s real, love. Wouldn’t have it any other way.”

~

“So … are you just going to ignore the giant hickey peeking out from under your shirt, or are you gonna tell me what happened yesterday?” Liam asked pointedly, but amused, as they walked across the parking lot the next morning. Harry felt his entire face flush red, and he adjusted the white shirt he was wearing under his scrub top to cover his collarbone.

“I … um, well … it’s all your fault, really, you’re the one to blame for leaving me stranded here,” Harry huffed, looking over and catching Liam’s smirk. “It just … well, it just kind of happened, and one thing lead to another, and … yeah.”

“Wow, Haz, you couldn’t possibly sound more cliche if you tried,” Liam said with a laugh, holding the door open for Harry, who walked into the air conditioned hospital and welcomed the blast of cool air that hit him.

Harry rolled his eyes and shouldered Liam lightly, making him stumble. “We kissed, made out, whatever, okay? That was the whole point of you and Niall fucking off without us, right?”

“Well, of course, you guys were ignoring what you wanted and we thought we’d just … give you a little help.” Liam’s hand snaked around Harry and hit the elevator button for him. “Wait … just kissed?” He raised an eyebrow as the elevator doors opened, and Harry stepped into it, turning and hoping his face was the picture of innocence.

“I don’t kiss and tell, Liam,” Harry said with a wink, and Liam laughed as he walked away and the doors closed, the elevator whisking Harry up to the fourth floor. He swallowed, adjusting his shirt again and checking to make sure nothing suspicious could be seen in the shiny elevator walls.

He wasn’t sure how this shift was going to go - he was nervous that the moment he saw Louis, he would jump on him and kiss him till neither of them could properly breathe, but he also knew that both of them could put on the professional persona. It was part of their jobs - if they lost a patient, they had to keep going like nothing was wrong, no matter how much they were breaking inside. This was similar, to Harry anyway. It made sense. He could do this.

~

Over the next few weeks, Harry’s life was working with some new patients - because it was summer holidays in America, kids seemed a lot more accident prone, and they had a lot of overnights for broken bones and things of that sort - and sneaking off to janitor’s closets and empty rooms to snog Louis.

Neither of them had really talked about what they were doing. There was no label, which also meant that there were no limits, at least, none that they’d run into thus far. They were just … letting things happen, and Harry wasn’t complaining at all.

It was the end of a pretty busy and gruelling week, and Harry had just managed to catch Louis alone by the small vending machine at the end of the Physical Therapy hallway. Louis was standing there in a daze, and it was only when Harry touched his waist lightly that he jumped, coming back to reality and looking up at Harry with exhausted eyes.

“You alright, Lou?” Harry asked quietly, letting his fingertips slide over Louis’ hip and under the edge of his scrubs shirt. Louis looked around casually before letting out a sigh and resting his head on Harry’s shoulder.

“Just really tired … I want to sleep,” Louis mumbled, pressing his face momentarily into Harry’s neck and letting his lips graze the exposed skin. Harry bit down hard on his lip to keep from reacting.

“Well, how does Chinese and a rom com sound to you? We can do it at my place. Liam’s going out with some friends from Uni who are over visiting. Just you and me …”

Louis lifted his head and looked up again, his eyes a little brighter than they had been a moment ago. “That sounds infinitely better than sleep. You’re on.”

Harry nodded and then looked over at the clock on the wall. “Shit, I should have been in Maddy’s room five minutes ago. Supposed to meet with her parents and talk about our plan for her treatment and stuff. I figured you’d want to be there for that, but I … I wanted to spend a little time with her. She … umm, with the chemo she will be undergoing, if her parents agree, she will lose all of her hair, and they wanted her to possibly shave it it before it started falling out. You know, so she wouldn’t get as scared, and they could make a wig out of it. I thought I might … help her, if she wanted.” He looked down at his feet, tucking a stray curl behind his ear. He hated feeling like Louis might possibly be judging him for his attachment to Maddy, because he knew Louis would never do that, and yet it was always at the back of his mind, nagging at him.

Louis’ hand landed on his arm a moment later, and Harry looked up through his lashes at him. God, Harry would never be able to get over how beautiful he was … how much he wanted to kiss him right now …

“I spend a lot of time with the kids, just me and them. Patients and Doctors having relationships with each other is what makes us so good at our jobs, and it makes them feel more at home when they trust us.” Louis’ fingers grazed Harry’s cheekbones, and he felt his skin flush under his touch. “Go. She’s waiting for you. I’ll be right behind you.”

Harry smiled, wanting more than anything to lean in and kiss Louis for making him feel better, but he stopped himself, making do with a small squeeze to Louis’ hip, and then turned, walking off back down the hall and towards the double doors into the Pediatric Ward.

When he reached Maddy’s room, her parents were waiting anxiously by the door. Harry put on his best smile, greeted them, and then crouched down next to Maddy’s bed. The little girl’s eyes, though dark and baggy, were bright as she smiled at Harry.

“Dr. Harry, you’re late,” she admonished, but it was in such a sweet tone that Harry’s smile only grew.

“Right you are, love. I just had to have a quick talk with Dr. Louis about some things, but I’m here now.”

Maddy pouted but nodded, and then looked over at her parents before focusing back on Harry, her eyes now wide and a little fearful. “Mommy says I have to cut my hair. Like … all the way off. Is that true?”

Harry lifted his hand on top of her blankets, where she had been reaching for it, begging himself not to think of when they’d had to cut Izzy’s hair. “Yeah, you might have to do that. And I know that will be sad, because you have such beautiful hair.” He reached up and touched it gently, making Maddy giggle. “But just think, your hair will get to go to another little girl who doesn’t have any hair, who is fighting just like you.”

“And she’ll feel pretty?” Maddy asked, tugging at her curly locks anxiously, and Harry nodded.

“The prettiest. Just like you.”

Maddy’s smile returned. “Then I want to. Will you help me?”

“Of course, love, if it’s alright with your mum and dad, of course. Have to ask them first.”

“Mommy,” Maddy began, but her words morphed into a small scream of delight as Louis entered the room. Harry couldn’t only sit back, trying not to smile too much at the sight of a smiling Louis as he greeted Maddy’s parents. Harry stood up, ready to join Louis, but Maddy grabbed hold of his hand again. “Don’t go.”

Harry shot Louis a questioning look, and Louis just smile and nodded. Harry sat back down, letting Maddy play with the rings on his fingers.

“Did you want to discuss this outside, or …” Louis asked politely, turning to the parents, but they shook their heads.

“I think, with everything she’s been through, our daughter deserves to know what’s going to be happening,” Maddy’s mom said, looking over at her daughter with an expression of mixed sadness and pride.

Louis hesitated only for a moment, and Harry pressed his lips together, saying nothing, but he knew what was going through Louis’ mind. Louis never liked discussing medical information in front of the children - not only would they probably not understand, but he liked to keep the atmosphere around them happy and free of stress. But, as always, the wishes of the parents, especially with the smaller children, were Louis’ main concern, as Harry knew all too well.

“Very well. Let’s take a seat and look at what we’ve got here.” Louis took the hard, plastic chair from the corner of the room and sat in it, opening his folder and scanning the paperwork. Harry felt Maddy’s hand tighten around his fingers. He let his thumb rub across the top of her small hand as Louis began to speak. “It says here, in the files I received from the other hospital, that her original tumor was in her leg, and that it spread only slightly before chemo was started.”

Harry swallowed hard and looked down, a burning sensation behind his eyes. Louis’ voice faded slightly as Harry fought off memories of Izzy. She’s not Izzy, she’s not her , Harry kept repeating to himself in his head. He had to be strong. He had wasted so much time with Izzy, and he wasn’t going to let that happen with Maddy. She needed his help, and he was going to do everything he could to help her. Trying to get his mind back on track, he focused on Louis, on the way his lips moved carefully on every word, until he came back to full focus.

“What I’m recommending is another scan, just to see exactly what we’re dealing with, and then I can recommend a number of chemo treatments. No matter how many, though, it will be intense instead of the normal that she was receiving before.”

“And … what will that entail, exactly?” Maddy’s dad asked, scratching the top of his balding head, and Louis shot a look at Harry - apparently checking that he was okay, which Harry really appreciated - before responding.

“She will be here for the majority of her treatment, just because of her age and because of the intensity of the radiation. She will lose most body hair, including on her head and face, so it might be a good idea for you to consider donations of her hair. She may not be able to keep it, but another patient who is coming up on being cancer free might be in need of it.”

“Hazzy … I mean, Dr. Harry is gonna cut it,” Maddy said suddenly, and all eyes snapped onto Harry. He felt himself blushing, feeling especially warm because Maddy had used Izzy’s nickname for him.

“Only if your parents want me to, Maddy, remember?” Harry said kindly, and Maddy turned to her parents, pushing her lip out in a pout. Harry caught Louis’ eye and saw him smirking, and he looked away, a smile tugging at his own lips.

“Please, Mommy? Please, Daddy? Dr. Harry will be super duper careful,” Maddy begged, and Harry smiled his doctor smile at her parents, nodding.

“If you’ll allow me, I’d be happy to help her. I’ve had … experience in this before.” Harry felt his voice growing strained, but he kept his composure and forced himself to look anywhere but at Louis, who was surely looking at him with that sadness in his eyes that Harry couldn’t see without crying.

“I wanna do it now. Can we do it now?” Maddy asked, suddenly antsy beneath the thin white sheets, and Harry laughed.

“Actually, I do have some paperwork I need you to sign if we are to move forward with this treatment, so Harry here can help Maddy if you both want to follow me.” Louis stood and got Maddy’s wires all untangled so that she could get to the bathroom unencumbered. Harry stood as Louis passed, and their hands touched - only briefly, but Louis said so much in that simple touch that Harry felt renewed, restored, and relaxed. He could do this.

“C’mon, Haz … I mean Dr. Harry,” Maddy said, already swinging her legs out of bed. Harry helped her down and they headed for the small bathroom attached to her room.

“You can call me Hazzy if you want to, love. It’s okay,” Harry said softly as he fetched a stool for Maddy to sit on. She smiled and Harry ruffled her hair, turning as someone knocked softly on the door. Louis was standing there, scissors and a razor in his hands.

“From Maddy’s parents. They figured she might need it soon, and it was at the front desk,” Louis said, pressing the objects into Harry’s hands and letting his fingers brush the inside of Harry’s wrist. He gave Louis a tired smile and Louis returned it, blowing him a small inconspicuous kiss as he left.

Harry turned back to Maddy and reached for his wrist, before realizing that he didn’t have a hair tie on him. Ever since he’d cut his hair, he’d stopped carrying one, but he still found himself reaching for it sometimes.

“You have something to hold your hair back with, Maddy?” Harry smiled as the little girl held out her wrist, a bright pink hair tie there. He took it and carefully pulled her hair back into a long ponytail, leaving a little space for him to cut it off on the one side. His hands shook a little as he picked up the scissors. It was like Izzy was sitting in front of him, like he was cutting her hair all over again. He steadied himself with a breath and then smiled. “You ready?”

Maddy nodded, but she looked a little nervous. Her small fists were clenched in her lap and her eyes were screwed shut. Harry lay a hand on her shoulder, calming her as he positioned the scissors. He made several small cuts and caught the hair in his hand. As he placed it on the side of the sink, and he saw Maddy crack an eye open, her mouth forming a small ‘o’ as she saw her uneven curls no longer touching her shoulders. Harry felt his heart tighten in his chest as she reached up to feel what was now left of her hair, and he wished he didn’t have to do this to her.

“Is it enough for a wig?” Her voice was small, and Harry put both hands on her shoulders as she looked up innocently at him.

“Yeah, darling, it is. You’re gonna make some little girl really happy.” His voice cracked, but he ignored it as Maddy pointed at the razor.

“What’s that?”

Harry held it up to show her. “It’s going to cut your hair really close to your head. Like your dad’s.” Maddy looked fearful and Harry quickly added, “But we don’t have to do that right now, if you don’t want. We can keep it just like this. It’s up to you.”

Maddy’s eyebrows knitted together as she thought. “Mommy said to Daddy that my hair would … fall out?”

Harry’s heart broke at the vulnerable tone in her voice. “Yeah. Your medicine, the stuff that makes you better, will make you lose hair.” He gripped the edge of the counter as he was assaulted with memories of another little girl, screaming in terror as chunks of her hair came detached from her head in clumps. He was brought back by the sound of Maddy’s voice.

“Cut it. Please, Hazzy.”

She said it so shortly, so firmly, and as Harry caught her eye in the mirror, he could see how set her face was. Harry was quickly reminded of how stubborn kids could be, but he wasn’t going to argue this time. It was better this happened now - he didn’t want to watch her heart break if her hair started falling out later.

“Alright love, let’s do this. You’re so brave, you know that?” He turned her around, so she wouldn’t have to watch him do it. He picked up the razor and turned it on, the soft buzzing making Maddy flinch. “What do you wanna talk about?” he asked as he put the razor to her head. It was better to distract her, he knew this.

“I got a new toy yesterday,” Maddy said thoughtfully, only cringing a little as Harry moved the razor across the top of her head.

“Oh, yeah? Was it a nice toy? Lots of colors?” Harry was concentrating now, his eyes glued to the razor as the remains of Maddy’s curls fell to the floor with each swipe of his hand.

“Yes! It was a unicorn. My favorite! And it was pink and it had sparkles on it and … and …” Maddy exclaimed in excitement. “Pink is the bestest color.”

Harry smiled widely. “Pink is my favorite color, too.”

“Did you ever have a pink unicorn?” She asked, her wide eyes now staring up through her lashes, curiosity brimming in them.

“I didn’t have a unicorn, no. But I did have all of my older sister’s My Little Pony dolls. They were fun to play with.”

“My Little Pony is so cool,” Maddy agreed, and Harry took one final brush of the razor over her head before turning it off and surveying. He put a hand on her now clean shaven head, searching for patches that he missed, and she looked up at him, realizing slowly what the absence of the buzzing noise meant. She lifted her hands slowly and felt her head, a small gasp escaping her as she felt the smoothness of her scalp. Her eyes filled with tears and Harry had to try hard to keep his own from doing the same.

“It’s alright, Maddy. You look beautiful. You want to see it?”

It took Maddy a few moments to respond, but, wiping her tears away with her fists, she nodded, and Harry slowly turned her around. They both stood there, silent as Maddy examined herself in the mirror, tears still sliding silently down her cheeks. Harry’s chest ached uncomfortably but he ignored it, putting on a brave face. Maddy needed him to be there for her. She turned to look at him, her lip trembling. “Beautiful?” she questioned, and Harry nodded, turning her around to see herself once more.

“You’re the prettiest. I’m so proud of you, Izzy.”

The name slipped past his lips before he even had a chance to consider what he was saying, and his own breath caught in his chest as he heard himself say her name. Maddy had stopped crying, but now she looked confused, and Harry wished he could run away and hide from his internal self, which was screaming at him for being such an idiot.

“But I’m Maddy. Who’s Izzy?” Maddy asked, and it wasn’t accusatory or unkind, as Harry would have expected from any other kid, but questioning, curious. But Harry couldn’t. He had barely told Louis about Izzy … he couldn’t subject a little girl to that knowledge.

“C’mon. Let’s get you back to bed. I’m sure your parents don’t want me keeping you for too long,” Harry said quickly, taking her hand and leading her back to her bed. She climbed into it and let Harry tuck her in before she said anything.

“Was Izzy … did you know her?”

Harry had forgotten how intuitive kids were sometimes, especially smart ones like Maddy. He took a deep breath and sighed it out, hoping that he wouldn’t cry. “Yeah, I did. Izzy was my little sister.”

“Was?” Maddy looked confused. “But … isn’t she still your sister?”

“Of course, but she … she died, a few years ago,” Harry said, the words burning in his throat. Maddy’s face fell a little, and even though Harry knew she probably didn’t really understand the concept of death fully, he knew that she could sense his pain.

“I’m sorry, Hazzy. I made you upset,” Maddy whispered, fresh tears in her eyes, and Harry shook his head furiously, holding her hand once more.

“No, no, of course you didn’t. I’m okay,” Harry assured her, trying to compose himself. He couldn’t be acting like this in front of patients - it wasn’t proper.

Before he had to explain anymore, Maddy’s parents came back into the room. Her mum made a small noise of surprise and pain at the sight of her daughter with no hair and her husband pulled her into a hug, thanking Harry with his eyes. Harry nodded in return, sniffing and standing up.

“Attention Staff, we have a Code White in Room 16, Code White in Room 16. All available nurses please report there immediately."

As the crackle of the loudspeaker faded, Harry felt a tightness in his chest as he realized that it was Julia’s room they were calling the code for. Louis .

“I’ve got to go to take care of that, but you’re welcome to stay until visiting hours end.”

Harry thanked Maddy’s parents and shook hands before emerging into the hallway, where at least six nurses were rushing down the hall. There was no sign of Louis, but Harry knew he was already in there, already doing everything he could for that little girl. Louis didn’t ever admit it to Harry, but Harry knew that Julia was his favorite, the one patient he’d really connected with, even if she was only 3.

Harry had almost reached the room when Niall came rushing up behind him. He caught sight of Harry and stopped briefly. “I’m going in to replace Louis in there, he’s … just get him somewhere private, yeah?” Harry nodded, confused, and Niall hurried ahead and into the room. Moments later, Louis was sprinting away from the room, nearly running into Harry in his haste to get away from the room. Harry saw that all the color had drained from Louis’ face and his eyes were wide, horrified. Even Harry could see the signs of an oncoming panic attack.

He stepped in front of Louis, grabbed his hand, and pulled him down to an empty staircase that he knew no one ever used except in emergencies. He closed the door quickly behind them, Louis’ labored breaths now the only noise echoing in the empty stairwell.

“Louis … Lou, look at me. We’re gonna sit down now, think we can do that?” Harry said softly, keeping his contact by holding Louis’ hand, and Louis nodded numbly, following Harry and sitting down next to him, his back against the wall. Harry crawled around in front of Louis so he could see him properly. “It’s alright. She’s going to be okay, Lou. They’ve got her. I just need you to breathe for me right now, yeah?”

Louis shook his head, his hand shaking violently in Harry’s. “Can’t … I can’t … Hazza …”

Harry was terrified, his mind spinning. He hated seeing Louis like this - a man who was so strong all the time utterly helpless against his own inner panic. “Louis, you can do this. You’re strong. I know. I know it’s hard, but I believe in you. I’m right here. Just breathe with me. In …” Harry breathed in, encouraging Louis to do it, and then let it go in a heavy sigh. “And out. You’ve got this.”

Slowly, very slowly, Louis’ breathing calmed until he was no longer gasping for air. His body was still trembling, and Harry opened his arms, letting Louis crawl into them. It was strange, this reversal of roles, but Harry wanted Louis to trust him. He wanted Louis to feel safe with him.

“Nothing I do works, Harry. I’ve tried everything, even got the guys up in Respiratory to help, but she keeps having attacks, and I … I … c-can’t fix it. She’s so tired, Hazza, and I can’t help her.”

“You’re doing everything you can, Lou. There’s still plenty of time to get a new treatment for her. And she adores you. She lights up when you go into her room. She talks to you, and she’s a real little person when you’re around. That’s huge. Most kids in her situation wouldn’t know how to communicate, would be coddled by their families for being ill, but you … you give them a childhood even when they’re confined to these walls. You give them hope. And that’s more important than any treatment or medication, in my opinion. Not that medication isn’t important, ‘cause it is, that’s our job, but … I mean …”

“Stop rambling, Haz,” Louis mumbled, tightening his hold on Harry, and Harry laughed lightly, dropping a kiss to the top of Louis’ head. Louis looked up at him, and Harry got lost in the brightness of his eyes. They were so blue, especially now. “Thank you for saying those things. I know you’re right. I’m just so frustrated with myself. Every time I think I’m doing the right thing, it just goes wrong. Her parents are getting hopeless, and I’m .. I’m tired , Hazza.”

“I know you are, Lou. Me too. But we can get through this. We’ve only got a few more hours, and then I’ll take you home and pamper you till you fall asleep on my couch. How does that sound?"

Louis nodded. “Do I still get the Chinese you promised me earlier? And the rom com?”

Harry smiled and leaned down, letting his lips graze Louis’ lightly. “Yeah, course. C’mon, let’s go check on Julia and see what we can figure out … together.”

Chapter Text

The next week flew by for Louis, and there were a lot of meetings and lists of medications whirling in Louis’ head when he went to bed each night, but they finally reached the end of the week, and Louis was pleased with their progress. Julia was doing better - the medication seemed to be taking a positive effect, and that was all Louis wanted for her.

Louis beamed as he walked in the room, pleased to see Julia sitting up in bed, minus the oxygen mask that was usually adorning her face. She looked brighter without it, and Louis felt relief flooding through him at the sight. His eyes quickly scanned the area, noticing that her IV’s were still in but that she had a much better colour about her - her skin had lost the pallid grey colour she’d been sporting up until her crash last week. He headed over to the bed, perching on the edge of it as the little girl smiled up at him.

“You look so much better, love,” he commented, grinning over to her parents now. They looked like they had finally managed to get more than an hour’s sleep too, and Louis couldn’t believe the change in all of them. “Seems the new medicine the doctors in Respiratory have got you on is working! How are you feeling?”

“I feel good, Loulou, all better! The medicine was magic!” Her eyes widened as she said that, her hands flying open in a gesture that matched her words. Louis ruffled her hair and looked up as he sensed movement at the door. Harry was standing there, looking handsome as ever in his purple scrubs as he watched the scene in front of him. Louis felt a shiver run down his spine as he felt Harry’s eyes on him, sharing a moment between them only they were privy to, and he hoped only he caught the slight wink Harry sent him.

“Wow, Julia, you look lovely today,” Harry said, coming in and waving at her parents who were sitting together by her bedside, chatting quietly between themselves. “I bet you’re glad that horrible mask has gone, eh?”

“Yeah. It made my nose sore,” she said, rubbing it softly. “Thank you for helping me to get better, Loulou. Mommy and Daddy say they can’t wait to take me home, and I want to sleep in my princess bed again… it’s got lights all around it! Maybe you could come and play sometime. Bring Hazzy!” All the adults chuckled at her innocent comment, and Louis locked eyes with Harry for a moment, liking how easily the girl linked them together.

It was at moments like this Louis yearned to be able to touch Harry in some way, to just hold his hand or wrap an arm around his waist, claim him physically somehow. Unfortunately, though, he had to control himself and keep his emotions in check since their - he wasn’t quite sure what to call it, but he liked to think of it as a relationship - had started. Liam and Niall both knew there was something going on, but in front of their colleagues, they were strictly professional, bar the fleeting glances and sneaky touches they got away with somehow.

“Well, I’m really pleased with all your results so far, and if you keep getting better over the next few days, I might even think about letting Mommy and Daddy take you home. How does that sound?” He smiled as the little girl jumped around in her bed, Harry reaching forward to lay a gentle hand on her ankle to calm her down, knowing that yanking out an IV would be a painful thing to experience. Louis always imagined how Harry had been with Izzy when he watched him interact with patients, and now was no exception. He loved how gentle he was, how kind, and it endeared him more than he already was, if that was possible.

“We’ll be back to check in on you later, I need to grab Dr. Louis for a minute if that’s okay with you,” Harry said, standing up and waiting in the doorway for Louis to follow. They hadn’t had a chance to catch up much that morning since Louis had been called in on a few paediatric emergencies down in the E.R., and Harry had been seeing to his own patients. Louis jotted down a few things in Julia’s notes before he waved goodbye and followed Harry out the door, wondering what it was Harry wanted to talk about.

Harry headed in the direction of one of the service corridors. Louis frowned as he watched him swipe his access card, being admitted into the dimly lit passageway. Harry suddenly stopped in front of a doorway and Louis gasped as his back hit the door, Harry lightly brushing his lips against his. Louis felt like he was on fire, his lips tingling under Harry’s touch. Louis’ hands went right for Harry’s hips, trying to steady himself.

“Hey,” Harry whispered, bringing their lips together once more. “Just needed to kiss you. Feels like I haven’t seen you properly all day.”

Louis smirked and tilted his head up for another kiss, peeking down the corridor before they kissed again, softly, keeping it as chaste as they could, no matter how much they both wanted more. Reluctantly, Louis pulled away and pulled down the hem of his scrub top, trying to straighten himself out a bit.

“Missed you too,” Louis admitted with a shy smile, grinning as Harry reached down, linking their hands together between their bodies. “Sorry I couldn’t come over last night. I got caught up here, and by the time I left, it was already really late.” He squeezed Harry’s hand gently, feeling how Harry reciprocated the touch, reassuring him quietly. Louis let his gaze drop down to the floor to see how Harry’s Converse-clad feet bracketed his own smaller ones, and he ran his thumb up and down the back of Harry’s hand.

“S’ok,” Harry spoke, leaning in to Louis’ body slightly. “Missed you though, missed cuddling you, touching you.” Louis tried to stop the shudder that rippled through his body, but he knew Harry hadn’t missed it, judging by the smirk on his lips. “I get you to myself soon though, right?”

“Oh don’t worry, I have plans for you later,” Louis muttered as he leaned in, licking up the side of Harry’s neck and smirking as he felt him shiver under his touch. He nipped lightly at the skin there, leaving a slight red mark there he knew would disappear soon enough. Harry grabbed at his wrist and pushed Louis’ hand down until his fingertips grazed Harry’s burgeoning erection, barely concealed by the thin fabric of his scrubs.

“See what you do to me? We’re at work, Lou. You can’t … can’t work me up like this,” he groaned, pressing Louis’ hand down slightly.

Louis winked, glancing down to the watch on his wrist, noting the time and the fact people would start to look for them soon, if they hadn’t already. “We’d better get out of here before we’re needed, and they come looking,” he said, rubbing noses gently with Harry and pulling a small giggle from him. “Come on, I’ve gotta go do my rounds next. Who are you seeing?”

Harry scrunched his face up a bit, chewing on his lip nervously as he started fiddling with the rings on one hand, pausing slightly before he began to speak. “I’d better go and check on Maddy. She’s not been too great, think the chemo is really taking its toll on her at the moment. Izzy went through this, feeling like she couldn’t eat anything but getting weaker because of it.” Louis felt sad as he heard Harry’s voice crack as he confessed this out loud, showing how badly it was still affecting him, all these years later. Harry took in a shaky breath, and Louis rested a comforting hand on his arm, enough to let him know he was there without crowding him. He could almost feel his own heart breaking at Harry’s honesty, and he knew how quickly Harry had become closer with the young girl, which must have made it worse to see her looking so poorly. “The nurses said she had a bad night, vomiting, not even able to keep water down at the moment. She actually looks sick now, Lou. I just … it’s hard to … to see her like that.”

Louis nodded, rubbing Harry’s arm gently, although he knew he couldn’t ever fully comprehend what Harry was going through, reliving all of his own past with Izzy through Maddy. He didn’t think he’d have been able to do it, but that was one of the amazing things about Harry. His strength was unparalleled. “Need me to come with you? I don’t mind if you need the support, babe.”

“Nah, it’s okay. But thank you. It means a lot, you looking out for me and making sure I’m okay.” He kissed Louis quickly before he grabbed the handle of the door, pulling it open as quietly as he could. “See you later, yeah?”

“Yeah, of course,” Louis said as they emerged into the corridor, Harry grazing the very edge of Louis’ wrist with his fingers as they parted. His eyes remained locked on Harry as he walked off down the corridor. He grabbed a chart from the reception desk as he walked past, only looking away when Harry turned the corner. Louis jumped when another hand came to rest on his shoulder, his heading spinning around to see who was touching him.

“Put your tongue away, Tommo, you’re being a bit obvious …” Niall uttered quietly, Louis chuckling quietly to himself as he realised his friend was probably right. Niall clapped him on the shoulder again before he walked off, calling after one of the nurses who was bustling down the corridor, arms full of paperwork. Louis headed in the same direction as Harry, grabbing a couple more charts from the desk before heading to Josh’s room. He read through the notes from last night before knocking quietly on the closed doors.

Harry had taken over with Josh’s care for the most part, so Louis was excited to check in with him again and see how he was doing. As he entered the room, he smiled at Josh, who was flanked on the bed by his mums, all doing some sort of puzzle book together. Louis was pleased to see both of his parents for a change. He knew they both worked a lot of hours, which meant they often had to tag team Josh’s care. It was nice to see them getting to spend quality time as a family.

Josh grinned widely when he noticed  Louis, shoving the puzzle book off his lap as Louis came over to review the monitors hooked up to the boy. He’d been on dialysis for a week or so now, and it seemed to be working - Josh’s numbers were going in the right direction at last.

Louis hated that the boy was resigned to laying in bed pretty much all day, but considering he was only 9 years old, he seemed to be taking it pretty well. Louis had arranged for the nurses to bring him a TV and game console down a few times a week, and he knew how grateful both Josh and his parents were for the extra mile he’d gone for him. To Louis, though, it was just as much a part of his job as the medical side; keeping Josh and his other patients happy was hugely important to him. Their emotional well-being could sometimes be the key to healing them, and Louis was well aware of that.

“Hey Josh, how are you feeling?” Louis spoke with a smile.

“I feel better, like I have more energy or something,” Josh grinned back at Louis. “The other doctors that see me say things are looking good, so am I getting better now, Dr. Louis?” Louis was happy he could finally nod in answer to that question.

“Yeah, it looks that way,” Louis said, flicking back through a few pages, reading the confusing mess of figures before adding to them and glancing up at the monitors to check everything was running how it should be. “Just want to do a few vitals, and then I’ll leave you to it.” Louis leaned forward and listened to Josh’s heart for a few seconds, flashing his flashlight in his eyes and checking his blood pressure, surprised at how satisfied he was with everything.

“How does that work?” Josh asked, pointing at Louis’ blue stethoscope hung around his neck. “You hear my heart in it?”

“Yeah, it’s clever, isn’t it?” Louis said, handing it over. “Have a go on your mum. Pop those bits in your ears, that’s it, and press this flat bit to her chest, just … there, well done. Now listen carefully, and you’ll hear her heartbeat.” Silence filled the room, and Louis loved how Josh’s face lit up as he listened to the heartbeat of one of his parents, quickly calling the other closer so he could repeat that on her too.

“So cool. Mom, can I have one of these for Christmas?” The adults all chuckled as Louis took the stethoscope back, putting it back into position around his neck again. Louis headed for the door, charts in hand, and turned to smile at the boy.

“I’ll pop in again later in my shift, Josh, but take it easy, okay? I noticed your favorite is on the dinner menu again today, by the way.”

“Mac and cheese?! Yes!” Josh cried, pumping his fist. Louis never quite got the boy’s excitement over his favorite meal, thinking the pasta was too rubbery and the cheese too bland for it to be edible, but Josh seemed entirely unbothered. “Bye, Dr. Louis! See you soon!”

“Bye Josh, see you guys later,” he called to Josh’s moms, and they waved as Louis headed off down the corridor. As he headed off back to the main desk, his hospital pager buzzed at his hip. Louis unclipped it and read the short message. He hated having to move too much around the hospital, but going up to Respiratory for a quick meeting about Julia was something he didn't mind doing.

He dropped off the charts and headed for the bank of elevators, tapping his toes on the floor while he waited. The metal doors finally slid open with a creak and Louis didn't think to look up as he stepped inside, reaching out to press the button. The doors closed and he jumped as a hand encircled his wrist. He looked up and straight into a pair of familiar green eyes, grinning.

“Hey,” Harry rumbled, his deep voice seeming even deeper in the enclosed space. “Fancy seeing you here.” He leant forward and brushed their lips together quickly. “Oops, sorry.”

“Mmmm … s’ok,” Louis muttered, quite enjoying the unexpected interaction. He had to take a deep breath to clear his head … Harry’s lips did things to him. “Where are you headed? I’m off to Respiratory; Julia’s doctor wants a quick meeting about her progress.”

“I had to take a patient downstairs since they’d been discharged. I have a few minutes, though, so I don’t mind riding up with you,” Harry explained, playing lightly with Louis’s fingers now. Louis watched the floor numbers light up and stepped carefully away from Harry when the doors slid open, winking over at him behind the back of the man who had walked in. Louis bit his lip, trying to bite back the smile threatening to erupt on his face, and the pair burst into laughter only when the doors slid open and the man exited again.

“God, this is getting harder,” Louis whined as Harry felt for his hand again. Louis knew his floor was the next one, so he squeezed Harry’s hand and placed a gentle hand on his cheek. Harry nuzzled into the touch. “Can’t seem to keep my hands off you, Haz …”

“Tonight,” Harry whispered as the doors slid open, sticking his foot out to stop them closing. “We still on for those drinks tonight?” Louis nodded and stepped out onto the floor, not wanting to be late.

“I’ll pick you up at eight. See you then,” Louis called as the doors slid shut, catching a tiny glimpse of Harry attempting to blow him a kiss goodbye before they were parted again. Louis turned on his heel and smiled to himself at the thought of that night as he headed for the meeting.

*

Although Louis had driven over to Harry’s to pick him up before their drinks, they’d decided to take an Uber over to Relax so they could enjoy their drinks together - they were both on shift tomorrow night, so neither planned to get off their faces, but still, it’d be nice not to worry about staying sober enough to drive. Louis had had to hustle Harry quickly out of his apartment when he’d arrived, simply due to the fact Harry was dressed like sex on legs, and Louis knew he wouldn’t be able to keep his hands to himself if they stayed indoors and alone for much longer.

Louis couldn’t keep his eyes off Harry’s figure as he walked into the club, swaying hips encased in his usual skinny black jeans that made his legs look endless. It was his shirt, however, that had Louis hot under the collar. It was a semi-sheer mossy green shirt, white and cream flowers all over it that did nothing to disguise the fact that you could see Harry’s torso beneath it, tattoos peeking out sinfully. If Louis was being honest, he just wanted to lick them, trace every inch of ink with his tongue until Harry was squirming under him. He shivered slightly at the thought as Harry reached back for his hand, holding it tightly as he maneuvered the pair of them through the crowd.

Louis was aware of eyes on them as they walked together, and he quite liked how it felt, almost as if Harry was claiming him, holding onto something that was his. They stopped at the bar together, Harry quickly getting the attention of the bartender with a flirty grin. Louis slid his hand into Harry’s back pocket and squeezed gently, reminding him he was there. Harry bent down and kissed his lips in full view of the bartender, making Louis blush as he watched Harry hand over a few bills, taking the glasses with a wink that drove Louis insane.

“Stop flirting,” Louis said in a low voice as he and Harry headed for a table, sliding into a sofa seat next to each other. It was quite a cosy fit - their bodies were pressed up together, already sticky in the warmth of the bar, but Louis wasn’t complaining. The music was good too, pulsing in the background, but Louis knew he needed at least one drink in him before he even attempted getting up on the dance floor. His mind flew back to the last time they’d danced together, how Harry had grinded against him, and Louis’ heart fluttered at the thought he could actually do something about it this time if it were to happen again.

After a few more drinks, both of them felt drunk enough they wanted to strut their stuff on the dance floor. The music changed, and the bass made the floor rumble beneath their feet, the pounding rhythm pulsing deep inside their veins as Louis got to his feet, grabbing Harry by the hands and pulling him up. Harry stumbled forwards, steadying himself with his hands on Louis’ hips, both looked dazedly at each other for a few seconds.

“Hi,” Louis whispered, watching as Harry licked his pink lips, and he couldn’t resist surging up onto his tiptoes to meet them with his own, trying not to groan at how good Harry’s lips felt against his own. That groan escaped him, however, when Harry flicked his tongue into his mouth, pulling away before it got too indecent for public eyes. He grabbed Harry’s hand and dragged him through the swaying bodies and into an empty spot on the dance floor.

Harry wasted no time in spinning Louis around, pulling his back close against his chest and moving their bodies together. Louis loved how it felt like Harry towered over him when they were like this, how he must look like the submissive, shy one compared to Harry. In reality, the truth couldn’t be more different. Louis started to circle his hips, very aware that his ass was at the ideal height to brush against Harry’s crotch. He kept it up, teasing Harry and working him up in full view of everyone.

Louis snuck a hand up and looped it around the back of Harry’s neck, letting his fingers run through the soft hair at the nape of his neck, watching out of the corner of his eye to see the effect his actions were having on Harry. Louis was more than aroused by now, loving how Harry was so easily falling apart for him, and so publicly, as well.

“Are you seriously trying to make me hard in the middle of the dancefloor?” Harry whispered into Louis’ ear, making him shudder at the feeling of his hot breath on the side of his neck. Louis let out what could only be described as a giggle, but his breath hitched when Harry’s hands moved south, one grazing feather light over Louis’ bulge in his jeans.

Their dirty dancing continued for a few more songs, Louis’ movements getting more and more teasing, and he occasionally turned round in favor of kissing Harry, feeling the slide of their lips together as his hands roamed over his ass. Louis suddenly felt need to mark Harry somehow, to visibly show everyone they were together, so he nuzzled into the soft skin of Harry’s neck, kissing over the thin skin before he began to suck, lightly at first, but quickly increasing the pressure of his lips, letting his teeth graze Harry’s neck. He stumbled only slightly when Harry yanked his body closer by the belt loops of his jeans.

Louis pulled back after a few more seconds, admiring the dark purple mark on Harry’s neck before leaning back in and licking over it gently, making Harry shiver again. “God, the things I want to do to you when I get you home,” he whispered into Harry’s ear, and was startled when Harry pulled away at once, grabbing Louis by the wrist and marching him off the dance floor.

He stumbled after him, trying to get his bearings, and jumped when Harry shoved a door open in front of them, ignoring the man stood at the sinks as he pushed Louis into a cubicle, slamming the door shut and Louis’ back against it.

“You are such a fucking tease,” he whispered, trying to keep his voice low despite the fact that it was pretty obvious what the two of them would be up to in there together. “Grinding that ass against my cock all night, trying to rile me up, Christ Louis-”

Louis shuddered as Harry brought his hands down, one of them pinning Louis’ hips against the door, the other working the button of his tight jeans open. “Harry, Hazza, what are you doing - oh god -” Louis let his head fall back against the door with a bang as Harry slid his hand down inside his boxers, grabbing Louis’ half-hard erection and rubbing at it roughly with his dry palm.

“This what you wanted? Me to touch you?”

Louis whimpered and nodded, eyes clenched shut at the feel of Harry manhandling him like this in public. He bit back a moan as Harry ran his thumb over Louis’ head, exactly how he knew Louis liked, and captured his mouth with a kiss. Louis sighed into it, parting his lips and letting Harry inside with his tongue, neither being gentle with their movements as Louis bucked his hips forward, chasing more friction.

“Fuck, Harry, need you, want your mouth-” Harry pulled back, and Louis was shocked at how fucked he looked already, pupils blown and lips swollen from their kisses. His jaw dropped as Harry dropped to his knees, working Louis’ jeans and underwear down his thighs and staring hungrily at his erection, which was already dripping with precome from Harry’s touches. “Touch me-”

“Gonna make you feel so good,” Harry moaned before he parted his lips and stuck his tongue out, running it down the underside of Louis’ cock. Louis gasped as Harry looked up at him with wide, green eyes, almost as if he were seeking permission to continue. Louis reached down, tangling his fingers in Harry’s hair and guiding his head gently back and forth. His breaths were shaky now as he watched Harry pull off to lick his lips, then stared as his cock disappeared between them again, hardly believing how beautiful Harry’s lips looked stretched around him.

“Fuck, Haz-” Louis moaned, trying to keep his eyes open and watch as Harry took him down over and over. The sensation of being inside Harry’s hot, warm mouth was almost too much for Louis, and he groaned as Harry wrapped his hand around the base of his cock, squeezing gently, as if he sensed Louis was already too close. Harry popped off for a second and Louis reached down, wiping a trail of precome from Harry’s lips with the pad of his thumb.

“Taste so good, Lou, want … I want …” Harry was panting a little from lack of air, his cheeks slowly becoming the same red as his kiss swollen lips. He took in a deep breath and kissed the tip of Louis’ cock, and Louis let his eyes close for a moment, willing himself not to come as he waited for Harry to finish speaking. “Want you to come in my mouth, baby.”

“Fuck, yeah, want that,” Louis nodded, guiding Harry by his hair back to where he wanted him, pushing his cock between his lips again. The sight of Harry on his knees for him, sucking his cock like it was a treat, was so much. Harry look so debauched like this, but Louis loved it - he almost wished he could take a photo so he could remember how it felt to see Harry in this way, how he was the only one who got to experience Harry like this.

“I’m close,” Louis mumbled as Harry started to stroke what his mouth couldn’t reach with his hand. Louis’ fingers tangled harder in Harry’s curls now, prompting a groan from Harry that vibrated around Louis’ cock, pushing him ever closer to the edge. “My god, your mouth is fucking amazing,” Louis mumbled as Harry bobbed his head faster, tongue swirling around the tip as he pulled up, sinking down low again and almost gagging himself on Louis’ length. Louis reached a hand down and pressed into Harry’s cheek, and he saw Harry’s eyes glance up at him, realising what Louis was trying to do. As Louis felt how deep his cock was in Harry’s perfect mouth, he could see tears starting to well in Harry’s green eyes from how deep he was taking him.

It only took a few more sucks and swirls of Harry’s tongue for Louis to start coming, and Harry swallowed every drop that Louis gave him. Louis muffled a cry with his arm, biting down to try and quiet himself, and it was only when Harry pulled off his softening cock that he let out the breath he hadn’t realised he’d been holding. He watched as Harry licked his pink, plump lips and tugged at his hair, meeting his eyes for a second.

“Get up here,” he rasped out breathlessly, watching as Harry clambered to his feet, pressing his body against Louis’. Louis pulled Harry’s head down into a kiss, groaning lowly as he tasted himself on Harry’s tongue. Louis could feel Harry’s hard cock pressing at the seam of his jeans and he wasted no time in thumbing open the button and letting his hand slide inside, taking Harry’s length as best he could into his own hand.

Harry cried out at the sensation and pushed forwards, pressing Louis’ hand against his cock as he ground down against him. Louis was slightly shocked when his hand started to feel warm and sticky with Harry’s release - sucking cock must get Harry going, he thought. Harry panted, still bucking his hips forwards slightly as he started to come down from his orgasm. He lazily tried to kiss Louis, licking his tongue over Louis’ bottom lip.

Louis carefully pulled his hand out, wiping the come down Harry’s jeans with a smirk. Harry grabbed his hand and licked across his palm, leaving Louis stunned and already wanting to get him home and to bed again. They quickly sorted themselves out, straightening their shirts and tucking themselves back into their boxers before opening the door and sneaking out. Another man was now standing at the sinks, and he smirked at the pair as they washed their hands, red cheeks and tousled hair giving them away.

They exited the bathroom and headed back to the bar, Louis ordering them a couple of soft drinks before they went home. As they stood sipping their drinks, hands linked between them and leaning into each other, Harry bent down and kissed Louis’ cheek.

“We are definitely coming back here and doing that again.”

*

“Morning Julia, morning Mum, morning Dad!” Louis called out cheerfully as he stepped into the room of his favorite patient, although if anyone said that, he’d have to deny it - he wasn’t supposed to have favorites. He was pleased to see the little girl still looked as well as she had the previous day, brighter, if anything. She’d continued to do well, and the doctors at the meeting yesterday were thrilled with her progress. It seemed the combinations of meds she was on were working, and they were ready to start weaning her off slowly.

“How are we today?” Louis asked, and Julia tried to answer with a mouthful of cereal, spraying a few drops of milk across the tray table over her lap. Louis stepped over and grabbed a napkin, wiping up the few spots before he sat on the edge of the bed.

“I’m good. I’m hungry.”

“I can see that,” he said with a chuckle. “Now, I was talking to your doctors yesterday and we were thinking we might try taking one of those IVs out this week...one of the tubes in your hand,” he corrected, pointing to the plaster and cannula in the little girl’s delicate hand, grimacing slightly at the bruised skin.

“I would love that!” she said excitedly, clapping again, which resulted in more milk flying off the spoon and onto the table, even dotting Louis’ scrub top.

“I’m so sorry,” Julia’s mum said, rushing forwards to help clean up the mess.

“I grew up with six younger siblings, this doesn’t phase me in the slightest,” Louis said, determined to reassure her. He looked up when the door creaked open and smiled to the nurse, Leo, who entered.

“Um, I’m sorry to interrupt, Dr. Tomlinson, but Dr. Anderson has asked to see you in her office straight away.” Louis schooled his face into a neutral expression and nodded, trying not to let his face betray the pounding rhythm his heart was beating inside his chest now. Dr. Anderson usually didn’t have private meetings with him out of the blue, especially during a shift. He got to his feet and smiled back at the little girl and her parents.

“Sorry about this. I’ll be back as soon as I can.” They nodded, and Julia called out before Louis slipped out of the door.

“Bye bye Loulou!” He turned and waved before following Leo down the corridor, coming to a stop outside Dr. Anderson’s office.

“Any idea what this is about?” he asked, but Leo just shrugged in response before he headed away, no doubt off on another errand. Louis took a breath and knocked on the wooden door, mentally running through his list of patients, wondering who might have made a complaint about him that would require a sudden meeting with his boss.

“Come in,” came a stern voice, and Louis reached out, pushing the handle down and stepping forwards into the room. He did a double take when he glanced over to the seats on his side of Dr Anderson’s desk and saw Harry sitting there, nervously fiddling with his fingers in his lap. Harry looked pale, and looked to Louis with worried eyes. Louis wished he could go over and reassure him.

“Take a seat please, Louis,” she spoke carefully, pointing at the empty seat next to Harry. Louis swallowed and sat down, pulling at the trousers of his scrubs so they weren’t stretching uncomfortably across his thighs. He could feel the tension in the room and frowned, trying to piece together what might be going on. One glance at Harry made it clear that he had no more of an idea what they were doing there than Louis did.

Chapter Text

Harry found himself staring resolutely at the floor, waiting for Dr. Anderson to speak. The silence was almost unbearable at this point. He’d been pulled from Maddy’s room by Leo, one of the nurses, and he’d had such a strange expression on his face that Harry was sure something was terribly wrong. Being taken to Dr. Anderson’s office had only increased that fear, and when Louis entered shortly after? Harry wanted to be sick. He wished he could reach over and hold Louis’ hand - it always made him feel better when he had contact with Louis - and Louis looked just as nervous and confused as Harry felt. Harry opened his mouth, thinking maybe if he said something, it would diffuse the tension, but Dr. Anderson had already started speaking.

“A matter has come up that we need to discuss, gentlemen.”

“Of course, Doctor,” Harry heard Louis say, but he still couldn’t look up. He had never felt so terrified in his life, and he didn’t even know if he had any reason to be.

“It has been brought to my attention that the two of you have been engaging in a sexual relationship.”

Harry’s head snapped up and he looked over at Louis, who had gone white. If the silence from before had been bad, it was nothing compared to this. Louis’ mouth was gaping slightly and Harry didn’t know what to do. Should he be honest? Should he lie to get them out of it? But why would that be an issue anyway? Harry’s mind was reeling, grasping for the words he needed.

“How have you come to this conclusion, Dr. Anderson?” Harry finally asked, nearly choking on his own words. They sounded too formal, too stiff, but Dr. Anderson didn’t seem to care.

“One of our on call doctors saw you and Louis engaging in sexual dancing at Relax last night, and reported straight to me.”

“But … that was outside of work? I don’t understand, Doctor. Louis and I have been nothing other than professional while at work.”

“So you admit to this relationship being not only real, but one that has gone on for more than just last night?” Dr. Anderson said sharply, and Harry swallowed hard, glancing over at Louis as if Louis would give him the answer he needed. But Louis was now staring straight ahead, his fingers digging into his thighs. Harry looked back at Dr. Anderson and nodded, not wanting to lie and make things worse for himself or for Louis.

“Yes, ma’am. But as I said, it was outside of work, so I’m not sure … umm, what is the problem, exactly?”

Dr. Anderson sighed and placed both hands on her desk, lacing her fingers together. “We have a policy at this hospital, a no dating policy that Louis should have informed you of during your training. We haven’t had many issues with it in the past, and if this doctor hadn’t caught you, you’d probably have gotten away with it - you are right, neither of you have given me the impression that you are anything other than coworkers, but because of the evidence I have, I have to address it. The both of you must decide which is more important to you: your relationship, or your jobs.”

“Dr. Anderson, I-” Louis finally spoke, his voice high and nervous, and Harry just wanted to comfort him, but he couldn’t.

“I don’t want to hear it. I don’t blame Harry, because he didn’t know and he’s very new here, but I expected you to know the rules, Louis. Please make your decision by tomorrow.”

It was clear by her tone that the conversation was over, and Harry rose shakily to his feet. Louis was already at the door, opening it and exiting into the hallway, but as Harry reached it, he was stopped by a hand on his arm.

“I am truly sorry,” Dr. Anderson said, looking at Harry with something close to pity. “I can see how you care for him. But rules are rules. This is bigger than both of you.”

Harry merely nodded and stepped into the hallway as well, the sound of the door closing echoing loudly in his head. He looked up from his toes, which were now pointed inwards, as they always were when he was nervous or scared. And right now, he wasn’t sure what Louis was going to say to him. He forced himself to look up at Louis, who was waiting there, sitting against the wall with his head in his hands.

“Lou, I … did you know about the rule?” Harry asked, his voice coming out in a mere whisper. Louis looked up at him with red eyes, though his cheeks were dry.

“I didn’t remember it until now … and I thought that because we didn’t do anything at work … that we kept it private … Harry, I’m so sorry.”

Harry sat down next to Louis, unsure of what to do. He couldn’t comfort him - they were both already at risk of losing their jobs, but they had to talk.

“Can we talk about this?”

“We … we’ve got patients, work to do … don’t think I can do it right now,” Louis mumbled, and Harry understood, but it still made him feel a bit sick that he couldn’t fix it for them.

“Then after work? You can come over to mine … we can figure out what to do,” Harry offered, reaching out with his fingers to graze Louis’ arm, just enough to let him know he was there. Louis didn’t pull away, but he didn’t do anything else either. Harry stood and offered his hand to Louis and it was a few seconds before Louis took it. Harry pulled him to his feet and then let go. Professional. They had to be professional. “C’mon, Lou. Let’s go see Maddy. She misses seeing you.”

Louis nodded and Harry turned down the hallway, and though his mind was now back on his job, his stomach was still in knots.

*

Harry had let Louis follow him to his apartment, and as they walked up to the door together, it was oddly silent. When they were together, there was hardly a moment they weren’t talking or doing something else where no talking was necessary. It felt weird to walk into his empty apartment without Louis’ usual babble about something or other following him through the door.

“Want some tea, Lou?” Harry asked into the silence, and Louis nodded, making his way slowly into the main room while Harry headed for the kitchen. He prepared the tea and carried it out to Louis, sitting next to him on the couch. Now that they were home, all Harry wanted to do was fall into Louis’ arms, but it didn’t seem like Louis was in the mood, so Harry sat rigidly where he was, keeping his distance.

“I’m sorry, Haz. I’m so sorry,” Louis whispered, shaking his head and looking down. Harry completely abandoned his distance resolve and reached out for Louis’ hand, holding it tightly and lifting it to his mouth to press his lips to it.

“You have nothing to be sorry for, love. There was no indication that the rule included outside of work, and how were we to know someone would tell on us?”

“I could have gotten you fired … could have gotten us both fired.” Louis’ voice was strained, almost sounding on the verge of tears, and Harry’s throat felt immediately tight. He hated seeing Louis this upset.

“It’s alright, Lou. She gave us a chance. Now we just have to figure out what to do. And we can do that, together.”

Harry smiled, hoping that it would make Louis feel better, but when he was met with a stone-faced Louis in return, his smile slipped away.

“There’s nothing to figure out, Harry. It’s clear what we have to do.”

Harry nodded and opened his mouth, speaking at the same time as Louis.

“Stay together secretly.”

“Break it off.”

Harry nearly choked as Louis’ words penetrated his mind. His mouth was hanging open, completely thrown by Louis’ conclusion.

“Wh-what?” Harry said, letting Louis’ hand go and scooting back, the better to see him. How that would help, he didn’t know, but he felt better being able to see all of Louis, see his body language and his face. And right now, it was all rigid lines and closed off expressions.

“You heard what Dr. Anderson said. There’s a policy. No dating. At all. Inside or outside of work. That means we can’t be together. We just have to accept that.”

Harry stood now, not understanding what was happening. This wasn’t the Louis he knew - the Louis he knew would be devising a long, thought out plan to save them, he would be kissing Harry’s face and telling him everything was going to be okay. But not this time.

“Lou … surely you don’t mean that,” Harry said, reaching for Louis, but Louis pulled away. Harry’s chest was starting to feel tight now, but he couldn’t give up. He tried again, and this time, Louis stood up and backed away from him.

“I do. We weren’t even really together. We never discussed it. Better this happens now rather than later, when we had time to get attached.”

His words were flat, devoid of emotion, but Harry could see it in Louis’ eyes … his heart was breaking; he hated the words he was saying.

“But I thought …” Harry began, but Louis shook his head, cutting him off effectively.

“Whatever you thought this was, it wasn’t. Not for me. I’m sorry. It’s over. I’ve got to go, Harry.”

“Louis, please ,” Harry begged, running after Louis as he made his way to the door and grabbing his wrist. Louis turned around sharply, tears on his cheeks.

“No. Harry, please let me go. I can’t let this happen. Not again. I can’t … let me go.”

Harry felt his own eyes fill with tears, but he released Louis’ wrist, unsure of what to say now. Louis hesitated for only a moment before opening the door and heading off into the night. Harry stood there, staring at the open door, his breaths coming in short pants until the pain hit him full force.

“Louis … come back …” he whispered to no one, but he knew Louis wasn’t returning. When he made up his mind, it was made. No going back. Harry finally forced himself to move, closing the door with his head hung. He turned back around to face his empty apartment, and saw Liam standing in the entryway from the hallway to the main room. The look on his face was clear - he’d heard everything.

Harry felt his bottom lip tremble and Liam’s face fell. That’s what did it. The tears came quickly and his vision became blurred as he felt Liam’s arms around him.

“Haz … hey, it’s alright, I’ve got you,” Liam said soothingly, and Harry allowed Liam to lead him into the main room again. Liam sat him down in one of the chairs and knelt down in front of him. “Harry … I’m so sorry …”

“I … I thought …” Harry tried to speak, but he couldn’t stop crying. He hated himself for it. He and Louis had barely had time to be with each other and yet Harry was this attached to him. Liam had warned him. He should have listened, but Louis had been everything Harry had ever wanted. And now it was over before it even began.

Liam sat on the floor and rubbed his knee, trying his best to make him feel better, but even after Harry finally stopped crying, he still felt empty, more empty than he should have. Liam had brought him fresh tea a few minutes ago, but he couldn’t bring himself to pick it up, not when his and Louis’ tea cups from earlier were still in his sight.

“You want to talk about it?” Liam asked quietly, but Harry shook his head. Just thinking back to what Louis had said made him want to hide in his room until the pain went away.

“I just … I thought he was it, you know? He was everything … everything I wanted …” Harry whispered, biting down on his lip to stop himself from crying yet again. Liam nodded knowingly.

“I saw the way you looked at him. You haven’t let anyone in like that since Izzy … I thought he was it for you too.”

Harry gave a very forced laugh, tilting his head back in the hopes that the movement would keep his tears from sliding down his cheeks. “He was good about Izzy, about everything. Everyone always looks at me with pity but he didn’t. He let me cry. Figured that I … m-maybe I could really fall for him …”

Liam looked up at him with those brown eyes, and Harry knew Liam was going to ask a question that he didn’t want to answer.

“But you already fell for him … didn’t you?”

Harry sniffed and nodded. “Yeah, I did. And I thought he felt the same, but I guess not.” He felt sobs building painfully in his chest, but he was done crying. “I should have seen it coming, though. Nothing good ever comes from colleagues getting together, especially if one of them is training the other.”

Harry stood then, and Liam looked at him, worried. “Harry …”

“M’gonna go to bed. Really tired.” Harry left before Liam could say anything else, and only when the door of his room was closed and he was curled under his comforter did he let himself think about what Louis had said. Harry had heard the words, and they hurt, but the knowledge that he knew Louis hadn’t meant any of it and had said it anyway that hurt more.

*

When Harry arrived at work on Monday, he knew something was off, but he couldn’t quite place his finger on it. He went to the staff room to store his things and pulled out his phone, still disappointed by the blank screen before him. He had been texting Louis all weekend, begging him to at least talk to him this way, but he’d gotten no response. As he pocketed his phone and stepped back into the hallway, Niall came running up to him, stopping just short of him and trying to catch his breath.

“I know you probably don’t want to talk to me cause I’m Louis’ best friend and all that, but I need your help. Louis isn’t here. I’ve got no idea where he is, and I was hoping he might have mentioned something to you.”

Harry shook his head. “I’ve been trying all weekend, but … yeah, I don’t think he wants to talk to me.”

Niall clenched his fists and closed his eyes. “God, I could fucking kill him right now. My busiest week and he decides to not show up.” Harry looked up from his feet as Niall turned to him. “I’m gonna need your help, Haz. Not only do I have to take care of my patients, now I have to take over for his as well.”

“I can take care of his patients, Niall, don’t worry. I’ve been working one on one with them for a little while now.”

Niall hesitated and Harry felt his stomach drop before Niall even opened his mouth.

“Umm, Dr. Anderson said I was to stay with you … something about distractions in the workplace … sorry, mate.”

Harry swallowed past the lump in his throat. So Dr. Anderson probably thought he was a terrible person for not following the rules and she thought he couldn’t do his job because he’d been distracted by the person training him. It wasn’t exactly a self-confidence boost, but he didn’t have time to think about it now. He reached over and laid a gentle hand on Niall’s arm, reaching for the pile of charts in his arms.

“Alright, Niall. Don’t worry. We’re gonna get through this. Let’s see what we’ve got to work with here.”

*

By the time Harry and Niall had time for lunch, it was almost 2 in the afternoon, but they’d gotten to meet with every single one of their combined patients. Harry had successfully taken care of his own patients (with Niall watching from the doorway - that had been nice of him; at least Niall thought he could do his job) and he’d gotten the chance to meet both of Niall’s major patients, Mikey and Meg, both of whom were eager to meet with “Dr. Nialler’s new assistant”.

Harry ate in silence, trying to keep himself under control, but if he was being honest with himself, he was exhausted and his heart was more than bruised. It had been difficult seeing Maddy today. Ever since she’d come to the hospital, Harry had had Louis with him, or at least around if he needed someone there. She seemed to be getting worse instead of better, and it broke his heart to have to look at her, see her get thinner and weaker even though her eyes still shone as fiercely as any other four year old. She had so much left to experience and she could barely open her eyes when Harry had seen her today. He had turned, expecting Louis to be behind him or reaching out to put a comforting hand on his shoulder, but he wasn’t there. Niall had stayed by the door, as he’d done for every previous patient, but Harry knew that Niall somewhat understood how he was feeling. There was something in the way he watched their interaction that told Harry Niall had experienced something similar.

“Louis mentioned her. Maddy, the one patient. She has cancer, right?” Niall’s voice reached Harry’s ears, but for once, he didn’t like the sound of the familiar Irish accent.

“Yeah. She … she reminds me a lot of my sister, and it’s extremely hard to watch her go through this, even if I’m doing everything in my power to help her. I just wish there was more I could do.”

Niall nodded. “I get that. I had a patient when I first started here. Her name was Melody, and she was the sweetest girl, only seven. And she had bone cancer, one of the rarest forms. It took her so quick, it was heartbreaking. I’m sorry you have to do this, and for the second time, at that. You’re a braver man than I’ll ever be.”

Harry blushed and mumbled a thank you, shoving the rest of his sandwich into his mouth to avoid having to say anything. He understood now why Louis was such good friends with him - he was a genuine guy. But Harry knew he would only have until Louis returned to get to know Niall more. Whether Niall believed in what Louis had done or not, he would stick by his friend, and Harry didn’t blame him. Niall was loyal, and in a strange way, Harry respected that.

“C’mon. We’d better get our final rounds in so we can do the paperwork, if we wanna get out of here before midnight,” Niall said suddenly, standing up and downing the last of his juice. Harry followed suit and they had almost reached the front desk when Niall turned to him. “Look, I … I know what happened, you know, with you and Lou. And I know he said a lot of shitty things, but he really cares about you. You’re one of the only people he’s ever cared about this much. When he comes back, please give him a chance to explain.”

“If he ever talks to me again, I’ll do that,” Harry muttered, not sure what else to say. If Louis did approach him with this, he wasn’t sure what he’d say, but he’d give anything just to hear Louis’ voice again.

*

Two days later, Harry got his wish, though he wasn’t exactly prepared for it. He’d been doing his early morning paperwork after he and Niall had given up the night before and agreed on an early morning to finish up, and he then made his way to the desk. He picked up all of his files and Josh’s was on top, so he headed that way. Niall had gone to the bathroom, but he was going to meet him there.

Harry walked into Josh’s room, putting a smile on his face. It was always important to look happy for the patients - sometimes a smile was all they needed to feel better. “Good morning, Josh, and how are you … feeling …”

Harry came to an abrupt halt as the adult next to Josh’s bed turned around, and he felt his cheeks flare with color.

“Sorry I didn’t come get you. Couldn’t find you when I got here, so I just figured I’d visit till you … I mean, I was just … hey.” Louis stumbled his way through his words, but Harry knew he was going to be no better the next time he opened his mouth. After not seeing Louis for days, Harry had almost forgotten how beautiful he was, but now it was hitting him. The sharp angles of his cheekbones, the bright blue of his eyes, the way his scrubs clung to his body - a body that Harry had seen without clothes.

They both stared at each other in silence for longer than was necessary, but then Harry’s fake smile returned. “Good to see you, Dr. Louis. I hope you had a good holiday. Now, let’s check these stats, Josh, shall we?”

Louis looked at him, completely confused, but Harry ignored him, checking the monitors and flipping through the chart. He knew that if he looked at Louis, if Louis talked to him, he would crumple, because everything in him was telling him to throw himself into Louis’ arms and beg him to take him back. But he couldn’t do that. He had to pretend like everything was okay, and he hoped Louis would do the same, especially for the patients.

“Umm, yeah, it was alright. Missed the kids, though,” Louis said finally, and Harry allowed his gaze to flicker over to Louis for a second, not able to help himself. Louis commanded every room he was in - all eyes were just drawn to him.

“Missed you too, Dr. Louis. Dr. Niall was alright, but I’m used to you,” Josh added in, grinning up at Louis, and Louis’ face softened, which made it all the more difficult for Harry to look away from their interaction.

Harry quickly finished the paperwork and then stopped walking in front of Louis, taking in a deep breath. “Lou … Louis, if you could take this back to the desk, I think I can take it from here. I’ll meet you in Julia’s room, shall I?”

Louis looked him in the eye, and Harry bit the inside of his cheek. Louis’ gaze was confusion and something like longing all mixed into one, and it took everything Harry had not to just lean down and kiss him like he wanted to. Louis took the folder and walked silently from the room. Harry turned around to see Josh looking from the door to Harry with a puzzled expression on his small face.

“What’s wrong with you and Dr. Louis?” he asked, and Harry almost choked, feeling his face starting to go even redder. He shook his head and put a hand on Josh’s shoulder.

“Nothing, love. We’re just fine.”

Josh rolled his eyes. “I may be nine, but I’m not stupid. There’s something off. You guys are usually so … happy together.”

Against his better judgement, he actually considered telling Josh what had happened, but then he remembered that his job was already on the line and he didn’t need to get fired for divulging personal information to a patient, a child at that.

“Just need to get adjusted to him being back again. Got used to being with Dr. Niall for a few days,” he said, hoping it sounded convincing. It didn’t to his ears, and judging by Josh’s narrowed eyes, he didn’t seem convinced either.

“Okay … if you say so. But he looked like he was going to cry. Maybe you should check on him. I don’t want him to be upset, especially if I’m the reason.”

Harry shook his head furiously and took Josh’s hand in his. “He is not upset with you, Josh. You have nothing to worry about. I’ll go check on him for you.” Keeping his smile intact, he nodded at the boy and picked up the rest of his charts, heading out into the hall with a promise to come back and play some video games later if he was allowed. And then, because he’d been stupid enough to make a promise, he went off in search of Louis.

He found him in the staffroom, sipping on a cup of tea and looking perfectly normal. When Harry came in, though, he looked away. Harry gulped, trying to ignore the emptiness that ached in him as he looked at Louis, all angles and shadows in the dim lighting.

“Lou … can we talk? Please?” Harry asked, his voice coming out a lot more vulnerable than he would have liked, but it couldn’t be helped.

“Guess I can’t really stop you, can I?” Louis responded into his cup of tea, still not looking over at Harry, and Harry became immediately frustrated.

“Look, if you don’t want to talk, I get that. But at least let me say what I have to say.” When Louis said nothing, he took a deep breath and continued. “I really missed you these last few days. Not in, like, a sexual way, but in a strange, aching sort of way. Ever since you … you left, it’s like there’s a part of me that’s missing, and I know that sounds stupid because we weren’t even fucking together, just like you said, but I can’t help it. I think I’m … I might be falling for you, and I know I have to forget about it, because you clearly have, but I can’t stand the thought of us never speaking. If you are determined not to even give this a try, fine. But I need you to try being friends with me. Our kids are starting to notice, and I don’t want them wasting precious energy worried about their doctors because we can’t get our shit together.”

The silence in the room was only interrupted by the beeping of a passing machine outside the door, and Harry was breathing hard after that declaration, surprised that he managed to get all the words out. His hands were shaking, and he took a step towards Louis, who didn’t back away, but instead regarded Harry as if he’d never seen anything like him before.

“I can’t.”

Louis’ words seemed to echo in the small room, and Harry’s heart plummeted to somewhere around his stomach.

“You … can’t? You can’t what?”

Louis set his tea down on the table and pushed his hair back off his forehead before finally looking at Harry. Harry felt numb as Louis’ gaze pierced him.

“I can’t be your friend, Harry. I can’t do it. I tried being your friend in the beginning and it just didn’t work.”

Harry felt like there was no oxygen in the room. He didn’t know what to say or how to react, and when he tried to speak, only a low wheezing approximation of his voice came out. “Why …?”

Louis threw his hands up in the air. “Because I care too much about you, okay? Is that what you wanted to hear, cause there it is. I’m fucking falling for you and I can’t do anything about it.”

Harry took another step forward, now only a few paces away from Louis, who was looking anywhere but at him.

“Then why did you leave? Why didn’t you stay?”

Because you make me weak, Harry. ” Louis yelled the words at the top of his voice, not seeming to care that people could hear, and Harry stepped back, surprised at the volume. “Being around you makes me want to break every rule I’ve ever made for myself. Seeing your smile makes me want to quit my job and settle down with you, because I can’t think of anything I want more than to see that smile when I wake up in the morning. I would give up everything for you, Harry, but I can’t do that. I can’t, don’t you understand? I can’t let this happen again.”

“You keep saying that, but I don’t get it. Again? What did I do to wrong you before?” Harry stopped then, realizing something. What if Louis had broken the rules in the past? What if he’d dated someone and it had ended badly, or nearly ruined his career? How had he never considered that? “Wait … did someone hurt you, Lou?”

Louis opened his mouth to respond, but at that moment, the door to the staffroom pushed open, and Niall came in, stopping dead in the doorway with his mouth half full of banana. He swallowed quickly, looking guilty. “Umm … bad time?”

Louis shoved a chair out of his way and moved towards the door. “No. I was just leaving.”

But Harry wasn’t going to give up without a fight. He couldn’t, not after what Louis had just said to him. “Louis, please wait …”

“No, Harry. Whatever this was,” he pointed between them, “Whatever we might have had? It’s over. We can’t let it happen. That’s the end of it.”

Harry watched as, for the second time that week, Louis walked out the door and he didn’t follow him. He just stood there, gaping at the closed door, and Niall moved further into the room now.

“Should I … do you want me to …” Niall gestured vaguely to the door, but Harry was already pulling himself together.

“No. It’s over. Nothing left to discuss. I’ve got work to do, I’ll see you later, Niall.” Harry’s own voice sounded sharp and unlike himself to his own ears as he yanked the door open, marching into the hallway. He had a job to do. And he wasn’t going to let the ache in his chest or the burning in his eyes keep him from doing it.

Chapter Text

“So we’re really pleased with Josh’s progress at the moment,” Louis said to Josh’s mothers, who both had wide grins on their faces at Louis’ positive news. “If we can continue to keep the infection under control, and Josh keeps making the steady progress we’ve seen, we can think about getting him discharged into your care, with outpatient appointments to keep an eye on him.”

“I can go home soon?” The little boy said with sparkling eyes, totally fed up at having been in hospital for so long now. Louis loved being able to deliver news like this - the way it could totally light up a child’s face and provide such relief to worried parents made him feel like he was doing something right.

“Yeah, buddy, hopefully. I’ll pop back later ... well, it’ll be me or Dr. Harry, and we’ll see how you’re doing, okay?”

Josh’s mum thanked Louis and the little boy waved as Louis picked up his notes, walking out of the room. His stomach had swooped at his own mention of Harry, as it always did. Things were still painfully awkward between them, and as much as he was trying to remain professional, Louis was finding it harder with each passing day.

Louis headed off down the corridor, stopping to talk to a few colleagues about their patients. It had been a busy night at the hospital, what with several critical cases being admitted overnight, and Louis was just relieved he wouldn’t be the one dealing with them, even if he felt a little bit bad about admitting that to himself. He had enough to be getting on with with his own patients, and his personal life had gone to hell as well - he didn’t think he could take on any more. Even so, he found himself hovering outside one of the patient’s rooms, his heart breaking as he watched the young boy’s parents sobbing at his bedside, heart monitor beeping as his mother clutched her son, seemingly trying to will life back into his motionless form.

Louis sighed and pulled the door closed a little, trying to give the grieving parents a little privacy at what was undoubtedly the toughest time of their lives. It put his problems into perspective a little, and he straightened his shoulders, taking a deep breath and walking off down the corridor, his trainers squeaking slightly on the floor.

He came to a stop at the main desk, handing in Josh’s notes to the receptionist, and didn't pay much attention to what was going on around him as he grabbed the next set of notes, reading them through before he headed off to their room. There was nothing worse in his eyes than a doctor who walked into a patient’s room entirely unprepared. He wanted his patients and their parents to have confidence in him and his abilities, and that meant knowing exactly what was what before he even entered their room.

“Oh my god,” he heard the words mumbled in an all too familiar deep voice close to him. He looked up, staring at Harry, who was looking down at a few pieces of paper, the smile on his face making his dimple pop. Louis was curious, and as Harry looked up and locked eyes with him, Louis felt a shiver run up his spine. They stared for a moment until Louis couldn’t bear it anymore.

“Everything alright?” He watched on as Harry spread the papers out side by side on the desk, beckoning Louis over with a tilt of his head. Louis put his own file back down on the wooden surface and walked over, standing all too close to Harry. He could practically feel the heat radiating from his body, and shoved his hands deep in his pockets to keep himself in check. He glanced down at the paperwork, trying to make sense of it all.

“Yeah, of course, I just ... I mean, look at this, Lou. Maddy’s tumours are shrinking. The radiation is working. I- I just can’t believe it. I’m not naive, I know she isn’t out of the woods, but this is the best news she could get at the moment. Just…”

He turned to Louis then and Louis couldn’t stop the smile spreading across his face. Harry returned it easily, and the past few weeks melted away as they lost themselves in their moment. It was Louis who caught himself first, dropping his gaze to the floor as he tried to rearrange his face into something resembling a professional expression, and cleared his throat.

“I’m really pleased for Maddy, it’s great news. Certainly a step in the right direction. I’d better go, got a new patient to go and see…” He walked away and grabbed the file from the desk as he left, not even turning around to say goodbye to Harry. He rounded the corner and stopped walking for a second, leaning back against the wall and closing his eyes. His heart ached at the somewhat intimate moment he and Harry had just shared. They’d remained as professional as they could at work, and yet their encounters were becoming more awkward and forced. Louis actively avoided conversing with Harry unless he had to, scared of what might slip out of his mouth if he were to be left alone with him.

He knew he’d hurt Harry, of course he did. He wished more than anything that things were different and he could be with him, that they could be a couple and not have to worry about the rules that were apparently set in stone. But Louis had made the mistake of putting a boyfriend above everything before, and he wasn’t about to repeat that mistake, no matter how broken his own heart was.

~

“See ya later,” Louis said, finally finishing the handover to the next shift, wanting to make sure everything that he’d set up today was in place for his patients. He was pleased that things seemed to be going well for them all, and was in good spirits as he walked towards the staff room to grab his bag and meet Niall. They had a few days off now, and it was very much needed, especially for Louis. He planned on doing nothing except vegging out on the sofa at home, watching some trashy TV and eating his own body weight in junk food. He certainly wouldn’t prescribe it to his patients, but hey, once in a while wouldn’t kill him. Anything to distract himself from the thought of Harry, if he was honest with himself.

His phone buzzed and he slipped it out of his pocket, smiling when he saw it was Niall, letting him know he was early and was waiting at the car for him. Louis couldn’t deny the way his heart always fell ever so slightly when the name on his phone screen wasn’t Harry. He hadn’t been able to bring himself to delete the old messages between them either and, for some unknown reason, enjoyed torturing himself in the early hours of the morning when he couldn’t sleep, reading the lovely things Harry had said and browsing through the pictures Harry had sent, both naughty and nice. He missed their easy friendship from when they had initially met, and part of him wished he’d never crossed that line into something more. Maybe that way, he’d still have Harry in his life as something, which would be infinitely better than the nothing he had now.

He hoisted his heavy rucksack up onto his shoulders and slotted his ear buds into his ears, walking at a brisk pace down the corridors and heading for the parking lot, eager to get home and out of his scrubs.

“Oh shit, sorry!” Louis said as he barged into someone, completely in his own world as he walked along. He stilled when he looked up into Liam’s eyes, and he was a bit stunned by the coldness he saw there. He hadn’t talked to Liam since everything that had happened with Harry, but he hadn’t expected this reaction.

“Erm, have you seen Harry?” Liam said, quickly averting his eyes to the floor and making Louis feel more than a tad awkward.

“No, sorry. I don’t know what shift pattern he’s on, but feel free to go upstairs and look for him.” Louis went to put his ear bud back in, but before he could start his track again, he heard Liam mumble something. “Sorry mate, did I miss something?”

“I’m not your mate, Louis. And yeah, you did. I said you’re a fucking idiot. You broke his damn heart, you know that? He took a real risk with you, and you threw it all back in his face when he needed you the most. He deserves better than you, Louis.”

Louis could only stand there, open-mouthed as Liam walked away, slamming the door open in front of him with his palms, the loud thud of it echoing throughout the stairwell. Louis felt a little nauseous. He knew he’d upset Harry, he wasn’t stupid. He saw the hurt in his eyes when he’d told him they couldn’t be together, when Louis had laid himself bare and admitted he was falling for Harry but they couldn’t do anything more about it. But hearing it from Liam, that he’d broken Harry’s heart, hurt deeper than anything else.

He released a shaky breath, trying to pull himself together. He knew that falling apart at work of all places wasn’t in his best interest. He quickly switched the song to something angry and loud, and sprinted down the last few flights of stairs, towards Niall and away from the hell of the hospital, and as far away from Liam and Harry as he could get, at least for the next three days.

~

“Grab us another beer while you’re there, Niall!” Louis called from his position on the sofa. They’d been watching movies all day, and Louis felt more than a bit lazy. He was used to being on his feet all day, running around after his patients, and while he usually relished a few days off, he was finding himself fidgety, like something wasn’t right.

Niall came back through, handing Louis the cool bottle of beer, a few drops of condensation dripping off the edge and onto Louis’ bare leg. He flopped back down in position, pulling the bowl of crisps between them, and hit play. They sat in silence, sipping beer and eating crisps for a while until Louis sighed, wriggling around again as his feeling of discomfort increased with every passing second. He hated this. Realistically, he knew why he was feeling this way, but there was nothing he could do about it, and he had hoped that pushing it to the back of his mind meant it might go away and allow himself to enjoy his few precious days off. No such luck.

He watched out of the corner of his eye as Niall grabbed the remote again, pausing the movie on a particularly amusing still. Louis tittered to himself, downing the last of the beer before sensing Niall’s intense gaze on him.

“What? It’s funny,” Louis said with a shrug, knowing full well that wasn’t why Niall was looking at him in that way. He sighed. “Oh come on, then, spit it out.”

“Fine, I will. You need to get your head out of your arse and sort things out with Harry.” The Irishman’s honesty was to the point as usual, and Louis just sat back, grabbing a cushion from behind his back and holding it against his torso as a shield of sorts. “Sorry, Lou, you’re my best mate and you know that, but I feel that gives me the right to say this to you. You’re being a dick. You’re throwing your chance at real happiness away over what? A stupid mistake that happened almost 8 years ago?”

Louis opened his mouth to interrupt. but Niall held up his finger. Louis blinked at the gesture, slumping backwards and listening to Niall’s diatribe. “No, I talk, you listen. You need to hear this before you fuck it all up for good. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Harry. Isn’t. Kyle. You need to get that through your thick skull. What happened back then was shit. I know you were hurt, I know how he treated you, and I know how you nearly lost everything. But Harry’s not him. He’s the opposite, actually. He’s kind, he cares about you, he’s pretty hot-” Louis couldn’t help the scoff that fell from his lips at that remark, but Niall just rolled his eyes. “Hey, I’ve got eyes. I can admit the fact Harry’s a good looking guy. But above all of that … he’s just Harry. And you love him, Louis. Can’t you see you’re making a huge mistake in letting him go?”

“Niall, even if we were allowed to do this, he won’t want to talk to me, not after what I did. I hurt him too much. I don’t think we can come back from this.”

“How do you know if you don’t try? Isn’t he worth that?”

Louis swallowed, turning Niall’s words over in his mind. He’d had enough - Niall just didn’t get it. He couldn’t possibly understand what Louis was going through, how much he wanted to make things right but just couldn’t . “You don’t get it Niall, I want to go and get him back, more than anything, but I can’t. This is my job, Niall, my career. It has to come first, it has to.” He sighed in frustration, tugging at his hair as he breathed in deeply, trying to keep his temper under control. “The rules are there, Niall. I can’t just ignore them, much as I want to.”

“Even if he’s the one? The one you’re meant to be with? The one who makes you happier than you ever thought you could be?” Louis’ heart was racing at Niall’s honesty. What if he was right? What if Harry was his one, the other half of himself he’d been missing all these years and he was throwing it all away? His heart hurt at the thought, but he stared down at his hands, willing the tears that were gathering behind his eyes not to fall.

“Look, I need to go out and grab us some more beers, we’re out. No offense, but you better not be here when I get back. Get your arse over to Harry’s, grovel, explain, do whatever you have to do to make things right. Give him a chance, Louis. He deserves that, and so do you.”

Louis could only sit still and let Niall’s rant sink in as he watched his friend gather up his shoes and jacket, slipping out of the door quietly. Louis grabbed his phone from the table and scrolled through to Harry’s message thread, debating whether or not he should text Harry and ask if he was home, but he reconsidered, knowing that if Harry rejected him, he’d be even more devastated. He looked down at his outfit, frowning at the basketball jersey and baggy shorts he had on, realising if he wanted to see Harry, he wanted to be dressed to impress. With a groan, he hauled himself up off the sofa and hurried to his bedroom. It was now or never. That much was all he knew.

~

Louis had been pacing up and down the hallway outside Harry and Liam’s flat for a few minutes now, having snuck in when a neighbour left. He felt ridiculously nervous, and decided to just bite the bullet, knowing if he didn't act now, he’d probably end up running away again. He stepped over to the door and rapped his knuckles on the painted wood, heart racing as he heard movement behind it. There was the sound of a security chain being pulled back, and Louis held his breath as the door cracked open.

“No, Liam, I said I put it in the- oh shit.” Harry stopped dead as he locked eyes with Louis, obviously more than a little stunned to see him stood there in front of him. His hand was still on the door handle, and Louis watched as Liam stepped out of the kitchen area, eyes widening as he too saw Louis on their doorstep.

“Um, can I come in? Please? I owe you an explanation, and I really don’t want to do it out here on the doorstep…” Harry just nodded, shuffling backwards, eyes now on the floor as Louis stepped in. Louis gave Liam a smile which wasn’t returned, and waited for Harry to move past him into the main room before he followed.

“You want me to stay, Harry?” Liam asked, hovering in the doorway, looking a bit like he wanted to hurt Louis, but also that he wanted to stay and protect Harry, no matter what. “I don’t mind, I can sort out my thing later.”

“No, you’re fine. I think we can be in the same room without killing each other,” Harry said dryly, smiling his thanks over to Liam, who nodded and left the room. The front door closed behind him a few minutes later. Harry finally turned to Louis, but Louis could see that the gaze was not full of adoration and love, but blank and unwavering, like he was staring right through him. “So? You wanted to talk?” Louis felt a little sick at the coldness in Harry’s voice. He swallowed heavily and nodded, trying to gather his thoughts into something Harry could understand.

“Yeah, um, I feel I owe you an apology, and an explanation. I’ve been unfair, Harry. None of this was your fault, and I was a complete bastard to you. You didn't deserve how I treated you when Dr. Andersen spoke to us about our relationship, but I can promise you one thing Harry - this was never about you. I never wanted to let you go, and I’ve regretted it ever since. I regret hurting you, I regret leaving you, and I will never be able to say enough how sorry I am.” Harry’s face was still quite blank and his hands were clasped together tightly in his lap, closing his body off. Louis plowed on.

“I know you have no reason to want me here or to listen to me, but I'm begging you to hear me out. I want to tell you the truth ... all of it. Please, Harry. I know I don’t deserve it, but give me a chance?”

It felt like the world stopped turning as Louis waited for Harry to answer, almost crying with relief as he nodded. Harry changed position, sitting himself back into the corner of the sofa, legs drawn up against his chest, the green eyes Louis had missed so much fixed on him. “Okay. Thank you, love.” He almost flinched at the easy use of the pet name, but he caught the beginnings of a smile on Harry’s lips. He wanted to smile back, but he dropped his eyes instead, wanting Harry to know that this was serious, that it wasn’t just a way to get him back after what he did.

“So, it all started about eight years ago. I was at University in Manchester, first year of Med School, and I was pretty stressed out. The course was full on, as you know, and I was pretty lonely. I’m close to my family and I was missing them terribly. So when I met the first person who showed me a bit of affection, I latched onto him. That was my first mistake.”

Manchester, 2010

Louis sighed and reluctantly handed over his last twenty pound note from his wallet, accepting the few coins he got as change, and he took the proffered shiny black plastic bag with a smile.

“Thanks, love,” he mumbled, trying to balance his travel mug of tea (making it at home saved him precious few pounds, and Louis hated being ripped off in the student cafe for what was essentially a mug of hot water and a splash of milk), the carrier bag, and the change. He carried on walking, giving up on putting the change away and trying to slide it into his pocket. As he did, he felt himself collide with something solid, and his travel mug crashed to the floor, hot water spilling out everywhere.

“Fuck! I’m so sorry, did I burn you? Are you-” Louis stopped as he looked up, staring into the darkest brown eyes he had ever seen in his life. The face looked a little angry, staring at his now sodden Converse with frown, and Louis pulled a tissue from his pocket, crouching down to try and ineffectively soak up some of the tea from his shoes. “I’m such an idiot, I just wasn’t watching what I was doing, I really didn't mean-”

“Hey, look, I’m fine. Get up, please?” The Liverpudlian accent flowed back at him, and Louis stood, cautiously taking a step backwards in case the man were to suddenly decide decking Louis for his mishap would be a good idea. “No harm done, it’ll wash out. Can I buy you another tea?”

“Oh no, it was my fault, and I made it at home anyway, doesn’t matter…” Louis trailed off, a little confused as the man in front of him started to chuckle, arms folded across his chest now. “What? Have I missed something?”

“Yeah, me trying to ask you out in my usual bumbling way,” the man spoke back, and Louis felt himself blush, not used the attention of boys just yet. “I’m Kyle, by the way. And you are…?”

“Louis, Louis Tomlinson,” Louis said, extending his hand, a little shocked at the man’s tight grip as he pumped his arm up and down. “And, um, yeah, I’d love to go for a drink with you.”

“Great! You free now?” Louis nodded, and the pair walked off in the direction of the café, Louis taking a seat while Kyle fetched them some drinks. Soon, Kyle was sitting opposite Louis, legs spread widely under the table. The seemingly accidental touch of their knees in the confined space had Louis feeling warm and a little nervous. “So, what are you studying, Louis? You look like a first year, am I right?”

“Yeah, is it that obvious?” Louis said with a small laugh, sipping on his tea, happy to see it was exactly how he liked it. “I’m a med student. Crazy busy, crazy broke, but definitely crazy in love with this whole Uni thing. Just spent my last twenty quid of the week on yet more books, so it looks like Pot Noodle for me for the rest of the week.” Kyle laughed knowingly, sipping his own coffee and Louis decided to be nosy. “So what about you? I’m guessing you’re not a first year - you seem a bit older than me.”

“Last year, Law. I’m 21. And before we go any further, I just want to make sure I’m not barking up the wrong tree here … you’re into guys, right?” Louis chuckled and nodded shyly, wrapping his small hands around the mug in front of him. Kyle’s smile widened and Louis felt his cheeks going just a little redder. He had a great smile. “Sorry, been burnt too many times to not ask that. Nothing worse than hitting on a straight guy.” Louis admired the way Kyle’s lips moved as he spoke, his hands flying around wildly as he made gestures, veins popping on his forearms that Louis couldn’t fail to drool over. “Tell me more about you, then, Lou.”

Louis blushed more at the use of his nickname, and cleared his throat. “Well, I’m 18 and I’m from Donny. Not far, but it feels a million miles away from home at times. Miss my family a lot, but being a doctor is the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do, and this is one of the best courses in the country, so here I am.”

“And lucky for me you chose this very University,” Kyle said, sneaking a hand across the table and grazing Louis’ pinky finger with his own. “Pretty lucky I bumped into you today, eh? I like a man with brains and beauty, Louis.” Louis didn't really know what to say to that, not at all used to being complimented like this. Kyle’s words made him feel all warm and tingly inside, and he tried to push down the feeling, not wanting to come across as an inexperienced idiot for the first man he’d been attracted to in so long. “I have to go soon, got a session at the gym, but I’d really like to do this again, Louis, if you’d like that?”

“I really would,” Louis said, a charge of electricity zapping up his arm as Kyle reached forward and placed his hand on top of Louis’, in full view of the patrons of the café. Louis admired how Kyle’s hand engulfed his own, pressing down a little, stroking his thumb across Louis’ skin. “Cant say I’m a gym bunny, though, more into the footie myself.”

“Well, I might have to come and watch you play sometime,” Kyle teased, pulling his phone out of his pocket and handing it to Louis. “Put your number in there, we’ll set something up soon?” Louis just nodded, fingers fumbling with the tiny buttons on the screen as he entered his number, the sounds of his own heartbeat pounding in his ears. Kyle smirked as Louis handed it back to him, texting Louis and grinning when his phone pinged. “Didn't give me a fake number then, Lou…”

“No, I wouldn’t- I wouldn’t do that,” Louis mumbled, watching as Kyle got to his feet and admiring his long, lean legs, the blonde spikes atop his head, the way his sunglasses added an edge of coolness to his appearance that Louis loved possibly a little too much. “I’ll, erm, see you soon, then?”

“Until then…” Kyle said, reaching over and squeezing Louis’ shoulder before he pulled the sunglasses down over his eyes and walking away. Louis couldn’t tear his gaze away until Kyle’d turned the corner, and then he sighed and slumped back into the wooden chair, grinning away to himself. Not a bad start to the first term, if he did say so himself.

*

“I was infatuated with him. It was probably quite embarrassing actually, how I fawned over him, hung off every word he said. But he was the first guy, the first man, that paid me any kind of attention. I was flattered.” He looked up, pleased to see Harry nodding in understanding, rather than dismissing his story so far. He hadn’t really ever spoken to anyone about this before, how the whole thing with Kyle had started, and in a way, it felt cathartic to finally put it out there, in his own words. But even so, he could feel his hands shaking slightly. Thinking about Kyle brought up all sorts of things he’d spent years trying to forget.

“You, um, you want a cuppa?” Harry asked, and Louis nodded, getting up off the sofa and following him through to the kitchen. He leaned against the counter as he watched Harry prepare the tea, smiling slightly as he stepped over to the fridge next to him to grab the milk. “So this Kyle. He was your first love?”

“Yeah, first proper boyfriend, I guess you could say. I mean, I’d kissed guys before, done a few things, but nothing like what I had with Kyle. It moved quick. Like, after we first met and had coffee and stuff, we were properly seeing each other and exclusive after about ten days. In hindsight, I don’t know how I couldn’t see what was happening. I guess I was just blind to it. Stupid, huh?”

“No, I get it,” Harry said, shrugging as he filled the mugs with boiling water. “It’s easy for someone to become your everything, to lose yourself in them, to let them fill your every thought.” Louis swallowed, realising Harry was probably talking about him, and he accepted the cup Harry passed him, mumbling his thanks as they sloped off to the sitting room again, facing each other on the big sofa. Harry had his legs outstretched his time, ankles crossed, lined up with Louis’.

“Right, so. We were together about 18 months or so when I started to realise things weren’t perhaps as rosy as they should be. Kyle was slowly changing, or maybe he’d always been a dick and I couldn’t see it. I should have listened to my friends … they told me as much, but I just didn’t want to see it ...” His voice wobbled then, and he bit down on his bottom lip, wishing he didn't have to relive this particular part of his story. He knew though, without it, Harry would never understand why he treated him as he did. He felt a little stunned when he felt Harry’s hand on his ankle, squeezing gently, reassuring Louis in a small way that he was there and he was listening to him.

Louis kept his eyes on Harry’s as he started to talk again, leaning back into the arm of the sofa and focusing on the feel of Harry’s hand, keeping him there in the moment, letting his thoughts drift away.

Manchester,  February 2012

“ I really don’t want to tonight, Ky. I’ve got this huge assessment on haematology and immunology to study for, and I can’t afford another low grade like I got last time. I can’t risk failing this year, no way.” He looked over, feeling a bit nervous at Kyle’s thunderous expression. He knew Kyle hated it when Louis didn't want to go out, but to be honest, he’d had enough of partying and just wanted to stay in, to focus on his studies, something he felt he’d been neglecting as of late.

“Fine, whatever, Louis. I’m going anyway. Only got yourself to blame if I find myself someone to waste the night away with.” Louis swallowed, hating when Kyle blackmailed him like this. He turned back to his books, ignoring the slight shake of his hand as he turned the pages and trying to keep his breathing on an even keel. Kyle tugged on his hair, pulling Louis’ head back so he could kiss him roughly. Louis tried not to whimper at the sharp graze of his stubble on his chin. “See you whenever.”

Louis just nodded, jumping when the door to his student room slammed behind him. He rested his forehead on his text book, exhaling shakily before sitting up again and rereading the paragraph he’d read three times already, not a word of it sinking in. He sighed with the realisation he’d be going out that night anyway, hoping the next four hours of study would be enough to scrape a passing grade.

**

“Oh come on Louis, stop being such a boring dick,” Kyle moaned, pressing the blunt up to Louis’ lips. His eyes drifted to Kyle who was staring at him with blown pupils, already too high from the blunts and alcohol he’d been throwing back all night. Louis sighed and parted his lips, sucking on the end, trying not to cough as the acrid smoke filled his lungs. He could feel the effects after only a few drags, and accepted the bottle of beer being offered to him, wanting to wash the taste away.

He groaned when he stood up, the room spinning slightly. Kyle took charge, pressing Louis into a wall and kissing him, rubbing his tongue across Louis’’. He tried not to flinch at the taste of his boyfriend.

The music was pounding and Louis felt exhausted. He wanted to him home, get a good sleep before his day of lectures tomorrow, but he knew Kyle wouldn’t be happy with that, so he brought his arms up, resting them on Kyle’s shoulders as he kissed him back.

He could feel Kyle getting horny, and he let him grind his erection against his denim clad thigh. Louis closed his eyes, hoping Kyle wouldn’t push for more tonight. He wasn’t in luck though, as Kyle reached down, grabbing Louis under his thighs and hoisted him up, spinning the pair around in the direction of the stairs.

“Ky, let’s go home, yeah? Wanna leave, babe…”

“Nah, let’s go have some fun first,” Kyle said, stumbling down the corridor with Louis in his arms, trying each door handle until one released. The pair stumbled into the darkness and Louis was thrown unceremoniously onto the bed. Kyle crawled quickly on top of him and started kissing Louis, grinding down and pressing the seam of his zip onto Louis’ cock, making him almost whimper in pain.

“Kyle, babe…” Kyle just shushed him, pressing their lips back together, a hand tracing up and under Louis’ shirt, pinching at his nipples. Louis subconsciously bucked up into the touch, mind a complete mess thanks to the weed and alcohol.

“I’m gonna wreck you, Lou, and you’re gonna like it.”

Louis just groaned and parted his legs, his eyes fluttering shut as he drifted off, letting his mind escape to a better place.

~

“Shit, Louis, I- I had no idea,” Harry said, sounding shocked and a little sad. Louis just shrugged, not breaking their gaze.

“Why would you? It’s shit, it happened but it’s in the past. He was a dick, Haz, but I just couldn’t see it. I can’t believe I let it go on so long, truth be told.” He leaned over and put his now empty mug onto Harry’s coffee table, noticing Harry had finally removed his hand from his ankle. Louis adjusted his position slightly, gathering his hoodie around his body a little more, feeling slightly chilly now that evening was setting in.

“Hey … you don’t have to keep talking about this if it’s too upsetting,” Harry said, fiddling with a couple of rings on his fingers, ones he didn't wear to work. Louis watched, a little mesmerised by the movements. “Lou?”

“It’s fine. I mean, it’s not fine, but … feels like shit to remember how much of an idiot I was.” Louis released a shuddery breath then and blinked rapidly, letting his eyes close as he leaned against the back of the sofa, arms wrapped around his middle in an almost protective gesture. He couldn’t help the feeling of just wanting to make himself as small as possible, hide from his memories. “I just … I was young, you know? I thought I knew what love was, and I thought what I had with Kyle was it. But really, he just-” his voice cracked again, and Louis could feel his heartbeat quickening, his hands start to shake for real now. But he had to keep going. He had to make Harry understand.

“He just wanted to control me. He didn't care about my degree, about what I wanted or what I thought about anything we did. I was there to please him, whether it was in front of his mates, or sexually, or whatever. I felt so degraded, Harry. He used to fuck me when I was so blind drunk, there’s no way I could ever have consented to what we did. We smoked together till I was sick, and even when I refused more, he’d shotgun with me, telling me if I loved him, I’d do it. So I did. I was such a fucking idiot.”

“Stop. Louis, you weren’t a idiot. You were a young guy in love, and yeah, maybe you made some stupid decisions, but he took advantage of you. Jeez, if I ever saw him…” Louis watched as Harry balled his hands into fists in his lap. He was a little surprised - he’d never seen even a hint of a violent side to Harry, but part of him liked how protective Harry was acting, even though this was all in the past.

“I don’t even know where he is anymore,” Louis said, sitting straight up again, trying to get back on track. “Even if I did, I’d want nothing to do with him. He isn’t the man I want to spend my life with.” His gaze flickered up to Harry’s then, blushing at his words. He hoped Harry knew what he had meant by them. “So. The final straw was just before Christmas in my third year. My grades were absolutely tanking. I was in danger of actually being kicked out of Uni for my behaviour and poor results. I was a complete mess, stupidly more reliant on Kyle than ever, but of course it could only get worse from there ...”

*

“No more drinks, Kyle,” Louis said, hearing the words slurring as they came from his mouth. Kyle still insisted on pushing the red plastic cup towards Louis, who just rolled his eyes, and he leaned over towards Niall, making his boyfriend frown even more. The fact he’d just got the worst score in an exam to date didn't make Louis want to drink. It had the opposite effect, if truth be told. Louis just wanted to go home and hit the books, try to claw back all of the mistakes he’d made and make things right, make it so that the University wouldn’t want to make him redo the year, or worse, kick him out altogether.

“Come on, Lou. Loosen up, you’re way too tight tonight… might have to see how tight you really are when I get you home…” Kyle smirked and Louis wrinkled his nose with disgust. There were times he really couldn’t stand the sight of his boyfriend, and right now, he could quite happily leave, damn the consequences. Since he’d left University and was trying to find a placement within a law firm, Kyle had become a bit of an obnoxious twat and was treating Louis like a second class citizen.

He seemed to have no care for the fact his boyfriend was a clever and talented medical student, preferring to take him out dancing, to grind against him and parade him around like a bit of meat instead of encouraging him to study. It was Niall, a friend Louis had recently made on his course, who was opening his eyes and making him see perhaps Kyle wasn’t the man Louis was always led to believe he was.

“Kyle, he said no, mate,” Niall said, stepping between the pair and laying a firm hand on Kyle’s chest. Kyle held his hands up in defeat and wandered off onto the dance floor, leaving Louis with Niall. Louis just sighed, turning and frowning at Niall, thoughts whizzing through his mind so quickly he couldn’t keep up. He may have only had two small beers, but somehow, Louis felt inebriated to the point where it felt like he’d had at least five or six drinks.

“Nialler, I don’t feel so good,” he moaned, resting his head on the cool wooden bar top, ignoring the slight smell from it and the sticky residue coating the surface. Niall patted his back, promising to grab him a glass of water and disappeared, leaving Louis alone again once more. Louis stayed there, immobile, only jumping when someone pressed into his backside, shoving his chest against the bar. “What the fuck-”

“Just me, baby boy,” Kyle said, and Louis leaned back, needing the comfort he could get from Kyle. He shut his eyes as Kyle turned them around, his arms wrapped around Louis’ waist. Behind his back, he was fiddling with Louis’ drink, but Louis was none the wiser, gratefully accepting it when it was offered, sipping gently. “This’ll make you feel better…”

“Thank you,” Louis said, head swimming by now. “I really love you, you know… best thing that ever happened to me…”

~

Louis cracked open an eye, and he whined loudly at the throbbing in his head. He looked around, trying to work out where he was, the setting immediately unfamiliar. It wasn’t his dorm room, that was for sure. The window was in the wrong place, he didn't recognise the poster on the wall, and there was a sleeping body behind him. Louis’ eyes widened in fear, and slowly and carefully, so as not to wake the sleeping person behind him, he rolled over and sighed with relief when he saw it was just Niall. He didn't know the man hugely well, but that was far more positive than waking up with a stranger.

He stumbled out of bed, clutching his head in pain, and headed for the bathroom, relieving himself before splashing some cold water on his face. He grimaced when he looked in the mirror, seeing the dull grey patches under his eyes. His beard was growing in, and he looked quite gaunt - he almost didn't recognise himself. He flushed the toilet and sat back down on the cool floor, resting his head against the metal door of the under sink cupboard.

The door handle rattled then, and Niall’s voice seeped through the wood. “Um, Lou, are you decent? Can I come in?”

“Hey, sure,” Louis rasped out, a bit embarrassed at how he sounded and looked, sat there on Niall’s bathroom floor, feeling like he was going to throw up any minute. “Um, I could lie and say I know what I’m doing here, but…”

Niall came in and sat down next to him, drawing his knees up to his chin. “Shit, you’ve got no idea, have you?” Niall said softly, handing Louis a t-shirt, which he quickly slipped on, feeling a bit cooler now he was out of the constraints of the blanket Niall had carefully draped over him. “Do you remember anything about last night?”

“I remember trying to forget about the fact I’ve nearly failed my third year,” Louis said, voice laced with shame and regret. “I think Kyle was there, and you, obviously… we were at a club, right?”

“Yeah,” Niall said, voice still a little guarded. “You had a few to drink, Louis. But that’s not everything. Shit, I don’t know if I should tell you..”

“Tell me what?” Louis said, sitting up straighter, starting to panic. The way Niall was talking made Louis realise something serious must have happened and he swung his body around, ignoring the swoop in his stomach, pushing back the retch that was threatening to come up. “Niall, if something happened to me, I need to know.”

“It was Kyle,” Niall began-

*

“Hey, Louis ... Lou, look at me. Breathe okay? In and out with me, nice deep breaths.” Louis nodded, covering his face with his hands, rocking slightly as he listened to the calming timber of Harry’s voice, soothing and restful. It brought him back to the present day, shoving down the awful memories. He glanced up, wiping away a tear that fell as he looked at Harry. He felt utterly ashamed, looking away quickly so that Harry couldn’t see his face.

“Sorry, I just-” Louis stopped, trying to catch his breath, and felt stunned as Harry surged forwards, wrapping his arms around Louis and holding him close to his chest. Louis relaxed into the hold, inhaling the all-too familiar smell of Harry for a second until he caught himself, clearing his throat as he pulled away. “It’s just really hard to… I-”

“I know. But Lou, you don’t always have to be strong, not with me.” Tears continued to tumble down Louis’ cheeks at Harry’s kind words, and Louis felt sick, like he didn't deserve an ounce of Harry’s sympathy after how he’d treated him. Harry reached up and brushed away a tear with the pad of his thumb, and then took Louis’ hands in his own. Louis both craved the touch and wanted to shove Harry’s hand away. “If you want to stop, you can. I understand-”

“No,” Louis said, a little harshly, taking a deep breath for a second. “No, if I stop, I’ll never tell you, and you deserve to know the whole story, Harry… why I am how I am.” Harry nodded, but didn't release Louis’ hands. Louis took several deep breaths before he began to talk again, voice wobbly and heart racing.

*

“It was Kyle,” Niall began, voice soft and almost uncertain. “He… he slipped something in your drink, Lou. One minute you were fine, a bit tipsy and propped up at the bar, and the next you were draped over him, barely able to stay upright.”

The blood drained from Louis’ face as Niall’s words sank in, the realisation of what Kyle may or may not have done to him making him feel sick, like he wanted to claw his way out of his own body, escape from this hell he was living in. “Oh shit, fuck… did he… what did he do to me, Niall? Did he … oh my god …” Louis was crying now, and Niall reached across tentatively, patting Louis on the shoulder, trying to calm him.

“No, he didn't … touch you, if that’s what you’re worried about. I got you out of there before he could do anything, and I gave him a piece of my mind before we left, as well. He was really pissed off Lou, kept saying you wanted it, and that you were his.”

“Not anymore,” Louis said between his sobs, shaking his head violently. “I’m not his, I don’t want to be with him anymore … I deserve better.” He was practically whispering now, mind churning with what could have happened had he not had a friend like Niall looking out for him. “I … thank you, Niall. For being there, and getting me away. If you weren’t there …”

“Hey, no, don’t think about that,” Niall hurried to say, trying to get Louis’ mind away from the what-ifs. “I did get you out, and now you can decide what you want to do. The ball is in your court, Lou, but it seems to me like your mind is made up.”

“It is. Someone who loved me wouldn’t have drugged me, Niall. That’s not love, that’s obsessive and dangerous. It’s … well, it’s not happened before, but I don’t think I’ve been happy for a long time. He seems to do everything I hate … smokes weed, takes me out when he knows I should be studying … he likes to have sex when I’m practically blind drunk and out of it. That’s not … it’s not right, is it?” Niall shook his head sadly and softened when Louis rested his head on his shoulder.

“It’s not what I think of as love,” Niall admitted, knowing his friend needed the honesty. “But you’ll find it Lou, you’ll find the person who treats you like you deserve, who looks at you like you’re the best person in the entire world. You’ll find him, he’s out there, waiting for you.”

*

Louis looked up, startled by Harry’s eyes boring into his own, shining with tears as he listened carefully to every word. Their hands were still linked, and Louis felt more loved in that small moment than Kyle had ever made him feel in the three years they spent together.

Quietly, so quietly that Harry had to strain to hear him, Louis whispered.

“I think Niall was right, Harry. That I’d find him. It’s you, Haz. It’s always been you.” He didn't avert his eyes from Harry’s as a lone tear trailed down Harry’s cheek, dripping from the bottom of his jaw. The room was charged with electricity, but Louis felt calm, like a huge weight had been lifted from his chest now that he had confessed everything to Harry. Now that Harry knew the truth, Louis felt free.

Harry shuffled forwards, still gripping Louis’ hands and breathed softly, biting his own lip. “I… god, Louis, I had no idea. I wish you’d have told me and not pushed me away. But…” Louis felt his heart stop as he waited for Harry to finish that sentence, closing his eyes as if to ward off any bad words coming at him. “I think I’m him, too. The one you’ve been waiting for.”

Louis’ eyes remained shut, but he felt a sudden warmth envelop his body as he felt the press of Harry’s soft, full lips against his own. It wasn’t rough, it wasn’t hard. It was gentle, just a fleeting touch, but that kiss was everything to Louis. It was acceptance, forgiveness, and love - everything Louis had been waiting for.

Chapter Text

They had fallen asleep right there on the couch, and the only reason Harry got up the next morning - instead of staying cuddled against Louis all day - was because his back was killing him and he needed to get up and walk around. He slipped his arm from around Louis’ small frame and stood up, wincing slightly as he made his way to the kitchen.

He had just finished making up some morning tea and toast when Louis walked in and sat down at the small table. His eyes were puffy and he kept rubbing at them, and Harry’s heart broke for him. He didn’t know what he was supposed to say or how he was supposed to act. Louis had basically admitted to almost being raped, and Harry had never been in this situation before. He felt like anything he said could hurt Louis now.

Pouring a cup of tea for Louis and tearing his toast in half, Harry made his way to the table and sat down across from Louis, placing the food and drink in front of him. It was only then that Louis looked up.

“Thanks, Haz.”

Harry nodded, offering a small smile. “You’re welcome. Figured you’d be hungry, and tea always wakes me up in the morning.”

“No, no - I mean, thank you for breakfast, but that’s not all. Thank you for everything … for last night. I didn’t know how hard it would be to - to remember that, to talk about it, and you were there.”

Harry only hesitated for a moment before reaching across the table and taking Louis’ hand in his, rubbing his thumb over the back of it. “Of course I was here. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.” He blushed, realizing what he’d said. “I … I mean, umm …”

But Louis was smiling now, his eyes looking a little brighter. “That’s what I want too, Harry.” He swallowed, and Harry felt his hand shaking a little under his own. “I … I know I was an ass to you. And now you know why, but it still didn’t give me the right to treat you like that. I never wanted to give you up, Harry, you have to know that. I’ve been spending these last few months falling for you, harder than I ever have for anyone else. You make me feel … free. And I don’t want to lose that, or you. I want to make this work. I want to be with you.”

Harry felt himself smiling, his heart picking up as he looked at Louis. “That’s all I want. I want to be with you. In any way that you’ll have me, I want it.”

Louis’ smile grew, and he stood up, Harry quickly following suit and wrapping Louis in a hug. Louis’ face fit perfectly into his neck and Harry wanted to stay there forever. He leaned back slightly, placing his hands on either side of Louis’ face, and kissed him. Louis seemed to melt at his touch, going boneless in his arms, and Harry only deepened the kiss, moving his lips with Louis’. And then it hit him. He pulled himself reluctantly away from Louis and pressed his lips together. Louis looked up at him, confused.

“What’s wrong?”

Harry sat back down in his chair, feeling utterly defeated. “The rule at the hospital. We … we can’t do this. We can’t lose our jobs … and I know that your job is everything to you. I don’t want to make you choose. That’s not fair to either of us.”

Louis shook his head. “I don’t care. I’m not going to choose. I’m going to have both.”

“Wh-what?”

“I love my job. Everything about it. But I also lo - I really like you and I refuse to lose whatever it is we have.”

Harry just stared at him. Now he was confused. “But Lou … the rule? How are we supposed to work around that?”

“We will just do what we were doing before. But this time, we will do a better job of keeping it secret. At least for a little while. Maybe eventually, we can talk to Dr. Anderson about it, but I want to be with you, even if we can’t tell anyone. That would be so much better than nothing.”

Harry felt like his heart was swelling the more Louis talked. “Louis … you don’t even know how much it means to me to hear you say that. I … thank you. And I’m sorry about what happened to you, you know, in the past. I didn’t know and I know I couldn’t have known, but I feel like I wasn’t fair to you either.”

Louis pulled Harry to his feet, and Harry let him, feeling his hands tingling where Louis was holding onto them. He pressed their foreheads together.

“It’s alright. I’m glad you know. We understand each other now. And … I … I want us to be official this time. We never talked about it before, but … that’s what I want. Are you … okay with that?”

Harry nodded and moved forward those few remaining inches to press their lips together. “Yeah. Of course.”

They stayed in the whole day, sharing soft kisses and basking in each other. The tea went cold and the toast went uneaten.

*

When they finally went back to work the next week, Harry was pretty sure that everyone noticed a difference in both of them, but he was too happy to care. He had a constant smile on his face, even when things were hard or he was exhausted. And every time he saw Louis in the hallway, whether it be after they’d split up to take care of patients separately or if Harry had just dashed off to the bathroom, it made his stomach swoop.

It also helped his mood that Maddy was showing every sign of getting better. All results concluded that her tumors were shrinking at a rate that could only end in the eradication of the disease, and that news kept Harry on his high. Finally, he’d been able to make it up to his sister, to make Izzy proud.

Even with all of their happiness, there were some things that still got to Harry, and only when he and Louis were curled up in bed at one of their houses did Harry voice them.

“Makes me sad that I can’t hold your hand at work. Or hug you. Or kiss you. Saw you coming out of Josh’s room the other day and you looked so happy, I just wanted to share in your happiness.”

Louis let out a sigh, turning so that he was facing Harry, and Harry pressed their foreheads together. “Me too, love. Me too. But for now, I think it’s best that we keep it very low profile. We have to figure out the best way to talk to Dr. Anderson. We need to have a close look at the rule itself and figure out if there’s any way around it.”

“I know how important this job is to you, Lou. I’ll do the research myself, I promise. I just wish I could kiss you on the cheek every once in a while. I love seeing the way you smile when I do that,” Harry whispered, rubbing their noses together in the darkness. He felt Louis’ lips ghost over his, and he pulled Louis closer, a hand on the back of his neck, deepening their kiss. Louis let out a small whimper and opened his mouth to Harry, who delved in with his tongue excitedly. Harry loved kissing Louis. It was like everything else in the world faded into a fuzzy nothing, leaving just himself and Louis, and he wanted it to stay like that forever.

“Mmmm, Haz … gotta sleep, we’ve got a big day tomorrow,” Louis mumbled. Harry sighed, pulling away.

“Way to ruin the mood, Lou,” he said, making his words whine unnecessarily, and Louis chuckled, pressing his lips back to Harry’s. Harry sighed into his mouth before he pulled away.

“I’m serious, though. Got a text from the night staff saying we have a lot of overnight patients to get discharged, and we have to check on Josh and Julia and Maddy.”

Harry sighed, a smile spreading across his face. “Maddy’s doing so well, Lou. She’s getting better. It just … it means so much to me. I can’t wait to see her tomorrow.” He snuggled closer to Louis. “But I wouldn’t mind laying here all day with my boyfriend either.”

He felt Louis shift next to him and then felt the wet press of Louis’ lips on his neck. “Still love it when you call me that,” he whispered, and Harry giggled, pulling away and tucking his head to his chest.

“Tickles, Lou,” he mumbled, and then he felt Louis’ lips on his forehead, and he sighed into that touch. There was something about Louis, something about the way he was when they were alone together, that made Harry feel so grounded, and he fell asleep right then and there, cuddled against Louis’ chest.

*

When Louis and Harry arrived at the hospital - separately, of course, because they were still trying to be discreet, the hallways were buzzing with voices: nurses getting off work, parents visiting their children, adults going to physical therapy down the other hallway. Harry didn’t think he’d ever seen it so busy. He and Louis were almost immediately separated, several nurses coming up to Louis to ask questions. Harry made quick eye contact and dropped a very obvious wink, never having been very good at winking, and grabbed a few charts for the discharged patients, heading to their rooms to help them get on their way.

It was only a few hours later, when the hallways had emptied considerably and Harry had gone up and down in the elevator more times than he could count, he finally had a moment to breathe. He headed for the break room, flopping down in one of the hard plastic chairs and sneaking a few cookies from the table. The sugar made him feel slightly more awake, and after about ten minutes, he pulled himself to his feet and headed back out onto the floor.

Harry got Maddy’s chart from the desk and headed off to her room. When he entered, he saw her, awake and looking healthier than she had in a while - her cheeks were rosy and her eyes were wide and bright, and she was actually sitting fully upright instead of laying down. Her eyes were glued to the small TV mounted on the wall, where an old black and white movie was playing. When she saw Harry, though, she clapped her hands excitedly, smiling.

“Dr. Hazzy! You’re here!”

“Yeah, lovely, I’m here.” Harry pulled up a chair next to her bed and settled in it, reaching forward to rest a hand on her leg under the blanket. “How are we feeling today?”

Maddy bounced in the bed, and Harry stifled a giggle, elated to see her so energetic. “Feel good! Wanna go outside and run.”

Harry shook his head, smiling back at her. “Can’t do that just yet, darling.”

Her face fell and Harry wanted nothing more than to be able to make her smile, but seconds later, her smile was back as she focused again on the TV. “Look, look! Oz Wizard is on!”

Now that Harry focused, he recognized the actors and the scenes from the original Wizard of Oz movie, and he wondered how such a young girl could find such enjoyment out of it. Even he thought it was a bit dull.

“You like this movie, Maddy?” Harry asked, and she nodded, gripping his arm as she pointed at the screen.

“Love it! Mommy and Daddy love it too. It’s my favorite song now.” Maddy put a finger to her lips and Harry turned his attention to the screen as Judy Garland started singing Somewhere Over the Rainbow. He could hear Maddy humming along with the song, getting an odd word in here or there, and it made tears well up in his eyes. He remembered how excited Izzy had always been for a movie with songs in it. She would sing them all over the house, even if most of it ended up being three year old gibberish.

“You don’t like the rainbow song?” Maddy asked, and Harry shook himself out of his memories, turning to face the little girl and doing his best to smile.

“I love the rainbow song, love. Reminds me a lot of my sister.”

Maddy thought for a moment, her little forehead creasing, and then slowly, she said, “Izzy? That one?”

Harry nodded, keeping his smile intact even though his heart was breaking a little inside. “Yeah, that’s her.”

Maddy bit her lip, and it was clear to Harry that she remembered their last conversation about Izzy, but he waited, wondering what she’d say.

“Did she like to sing too?”

Her little voice was small, and Harry was surprised at the amount of caution with which Maddy spoke about Izzy. As young as she was, she clearly knew how sensitive the subject was. Children amazed him sometimes.

“She never stopped singing. She had such a pretty voice, too. Just like you.”

Maddy smiled, and Harry felt the pit in his stomach lighten slightly. Seeing her happy was all he needed today.

“Daddy says that people who aren’t alive anymore go over a rainbow to live in heaven. Is that where I’m gonna go too?”

Harry’s smile vanished at the directness of her question, and he shook his head furiously.

“No, no, not at all. You’re getting better, Maddy. Things are going well. You don’t have to worry about that.”

Maddy sighed. “Okay, good.”

Before Harry could say any more, there was a knock on the door and they both turned to see Louis walking in. Maddy squealed excitedly and Harry shared a smile with him, feeling his stomach swoop at the sight of his boyfriend.

“And how’s my favorite little patient doing today?” Louis asked, and Maddy fixed him with a stare that even Harry would have been scared of.

“You’re not supposed to have favorites, Lou Lou,” Maddy chastised, and Harry let out a bark of laughter at the look on Louis’ face.

“You’re right, of course, but I think we can make an exception just this once, yeah?” Louis said with a smile, and Maddy’s smile was back instantly as she nodded. Louis flipped through the chart that he’d picked up off the table and smiled to himself. “Wanna hear some good news?”

“Yes! Yay, good news!” Maddy cheered, her voice going higher with every word. Harry looked up at Louis, having not read the charts, and waited for him to speak.

“Looks like you’re getting a lot better. The medicine is working really well. I think, if you’re good while we do a few tests, we might be able to go for a walk in the corridors. How does that sound?”

Maddy gasped and her eyes lit up like it was Christmas. She folded her hands nicely in her lap and sat back against her pillows, the picture of perfection. “I’m ready, Lou Lou.”

Harry stood at that moment, wanting to give Louis some space, and as he passed him, their fingers brushed, only slightly, and a small sigh escaped Harry’s lips. He did his best to keep his face neutral as he stood back, observing as Louis checked all the machines and the needles and tubes, and then assisted as he took blood samples for the analysts downstairs. Harry smiled, knowing he’d get to deliver that to Liam later.

When it was all said and done, Maddy was practically vibrating with excitement. Harry could only imagine how excited she was - she hadn’t been out of her bed since he’d helped her shave her head, other than to go to the bathroom.

“You’ve been so good, love. You ready? You want me to walk with you?” Louis asked, helping her swing her legs out of bed. Maddy looked shyly away and shook her head. Louis leaned in and whispered something to her, and she nodded, pointing over at Harry, who just stood still, a little nervous about what was going on there.

“You’ve gotta ask Dr. Harry yourself. Go on, you can do it,” Louis said softly, looking over at Harry, and Harry blushed at the loving intensity of his gaze.

“Dr. Hazzy, will you walk with me?” Maddy asked sweetly, her little cheeks slightly pinker than they had been, and Harry could have cried. He didn’t, however, and kept his control as he nodded, his smile threatening to break his face.

“Of course, love. C’mon, take my hand. Let’s go on an adventure,” Harry said. She placed her tiny hand into his palm and hopped out of bed, her little hospital gown touching the floor. Harry had to bend down slightly so as not to lose her hand, but he would deal with the knee pain later.

They walked all around the hallways, Harry showing her where things were and answering all of Maddy’s many questions. She was so interested in everything they saw, and Harry vaguely wondered if this is what it would have been like if Izzy had gotten better, if they’d gotten to spend time like this together.

They did every hallway twice before Harry noticed Maddy’s eyes starting to droop, and he suggested they head back to her room. She was reluctant, but Harry insisted, and eventually, he got her settled back in bed.

“Sleepy, Hazzy. Really sleepy. Thank you for walking with me.”

Harry put his hand gently on her head, smiling down at her. “Of course. You sleep now, yeah? I’ll come visit you later.”

“Promise?” she mumbled, already half asleep, and Harry nodded.

“Promise.”

*

Harry didn’t see Louis again until the end of the day. He’d just gotten back up to the floor after delivering a bunch of blood samples down to Liam, and he met up with Louis in the break room.

“You want to just come to mine? I’ve probably got clothes you can wear for tonight,” Harry said offhandedly once he realized that the break room was clear of people. Louis finished gathering his things and turned around.

“Dunno if I’m gonna make it tonight, Haz. My head’s killing me. Might just need a lie in.”

Harry frowned but waited to speak until they were both in the elevator and most definitely alone.

“Oh, no, Lou, I’m sorry. I didn’t realize … I should stay home too. Make you soup and cuddle you to sleep,” Harry said, wanting more than anything to pull Louis into a hug, but they had to wait till they were away from any prying eyes.

Louis shook his head as the elevator got to the ground floor, reaching out to brush Harry’s fingertips. Harry practically went boneless at the small touch and followed at a distance till they were outside and standing by their own cars.

“No, love, you go. Have fun with the lads. You can come to mine after if you want to. Want to fall asleep with you again.”

Harry blushed furiously as Louis moved around his car, looking around before sneaking a quick kiss to Harry’s lips. Harry gave a surprised gasp, but Louis was already pulling away, getting into his car and winking as he turned the engine over, waiting for Niall. Harry had just turned his own car on when Liam came hurrying out with Niall.

“Ready for tonight?” he asked as he buckled himself in, and Harry nodded, smiling to himself. Tonight would be a good night - he couldn’t wait.

*

Harry felt great. Liam and Niall had insisted on shots, and now, after three of them, Harry felt very fuzzy and happy. The only thing missing was Louis. Harry had gotten up to dance with Liam a few times, but it just wasn’t the same. He missed Louis’ curvy body behind his, he missed his scruff brushing up against his neck as they danced close, and he just missed his smile. He knew it was stupid, because they’d only been apart for a few hours, and Niall and Liam told him as much, but he couldn’t help it. Being with Louis made him deliriously happy.

He had been sitting with the other boys for a while, discussing whether Niall should go for it with the girl he’d been making eyes with all night.

“I don’t know, she might not be into me,” Niall complained, nursing his beer, and Liam rolled his eyes.

“Oh, come on, mate, you’ll never know if you don’t try. And besides, every guy needs a few one night stands in their life.”

“Harry, what do you think? Pretty sure I trust your judgement more than Payno over here.”

“Hey, I give good advice,” Liam complained, and Harry had to laugh, nearly spraying the table with his drink.

“Liam, you give good advice sober. Drunk? You’re more of a disaster than me. Niall, I say go for it. No one can resist that Irish charm.” Harry downed a glass of water, trying to stay on top of it so he could drive home later.

“Okay, alright, lads. I’m going for it,” Niall announced, and Liam cheered, toasting to Niall and downing half his beer in one. Niall stood up to make his way over to the bar, and Harry reached for his phone. He didn’t want Louis to miss this. He picked up his phone and got to the camera when it started to ring. Harry didn’t recognize the number, but he picked up anyway.

“Hello?”

“Hi, is this Harry Styles?

“Umm … Yeah, who’s this?” Harry asked, feeling slightly apprehensive now.

“Hey, it’s Leo, from the hospital. I figured I’d call, couldn’t get hold of Louis. One of your patients, Madison Underwood? She’s ... “

Harry didn’t even hear what Leo said next. His ears rang and he felt his face drain of color. Liam looked over at him in alarm and opened his mouth, but Harry held up a shaking hand.

“Wh-what happened?”

“Just get here, alright?”

“Yeah, yeah, I’ll be there soon,” Harry said, hanging up and sliding out of the booth.

“Haz … what’s up?” Liam asked, standing too and putting a hand on his arm.

Harry just shook his head. His mind was too jumbled to think of anything other than getting to the hospital as quickly as possible. “Gotta get to the hospital. Get a ride with Niall. I’ll … yeah, I’ll see you …”

And without a backward glance, he nearly ran from the bar.

*

As soon as he got to the fourth floor of the hospital, he could tell that something was wrong. Every nurse he could see was wearing a face that was all too familiar to Harry, but he refused to look at any of them, pulling on scrubs that were too small and sprinting towards the pediatric ward. He skidded to a halt outside Maddy’s room. Both of her parents were inside, and her father was holding her mother, who appeared to be crying silently into his shoulder. Harry’s heart sank right down into his stomach as several doctors and nurses turned to look at him. Leo, the one that had called, and Harry now remembered, came over to him as the doctors began to clear things up.

“She’s not doing well, Harry. The cancer … it’s spread to her blood. They didn’t realize until they analyzed the samples today … and it’s too late. They can’t do anything for her.”

Harry swallowed and nodded, but inside, he felt like he was crumbling. This couldn’t be happening. Not again. Mere hours ago, Maddy had been up and walking and enthusiastic and healing, and now …

“We’re going to give you all time to say goodbye,” the doctor who seemed to be in charge said, nodding at Maddy’s parents. Harry was about to leave too when a very small voice sounded in the silence.

“Hazzy?”

Harry shot a look at Maddy’s parents, and her father nodded through his tears. Harry made his way slowly to Maddy’s bedside, looking down at the little girl. She looked so small now, and her eyes were half open. Her skin was almost translucent, blue veins clear through her pale skin. Harry choked back a sob and sat down next to her. She reached for him, her little hand shaking, and he took it, letting her latch onto a finger. Her grip was barely there, but Harry let her do it anyway.

“Don’t feel so good, Hazzy. Hurts to breathe,” Maddy whispered, and Harry bit down hard on the inside of his cheek. He couldn’t cry. He had to be strong for her. He didn’t have another option.

“Don’t worry, love. You’re alright. The pain will go away soon, I promise.” His voice was shaking, he knew it, but Maddy didn’t seem to notice. She coughed weakly a few times and drew in a breath, swallowing a few times before speaking again.

“I’m going to the rainbow,” she whispered, looking off to the side, where her parents were sitting, and Harry shook his head, wiping away the tears that had escaped so that she wouldn’t see them.

“No, no, you’re not. You’re going to be just fine,” Harry insisted, but Maddy had always been smarter than he’d given her credit for. Even at the tender age of four, she understood one thing - she was leaving them.

“I can see the rainbow, Hazzy. It’s so pretty.”

Harry choked, taking in shallow breaths to keep himself calm, but it wasn’t working. The deep set pain in his throat from trying not to cry was spreading to his chest, his stomach, his head.

“Will you sing to me?”

Harry was so busy trying to contain himself that he almost missed those words, barely even whispered into the room.

“Wh-what?” Harry stuttered, and Maddy turned her face back to him. Her eyes were wide now - she was scared. Harry couldn’t let her be scared.

“Sing to the rainbow with me … please,” she said, and Harry nodded, pressing his lips together as he started the song with her.

Somewhere over the rainbow

Way up high,

And the dreams that you dream of

Once in a lullaby,

Maddy had turned onto her back, her eyes closed, but her lips were still moving, and Harry kept singing, despite his voice breaking on every other word.

Somewhere over the rainbow,

Bluebirds fly,

And the dreams that you dream of

Dreams really do come true.

Harry kept singing even after she stopped moving her lips. He kept singing when her chest stopped rising. He kept singing when the machine monitoring her heartbeat flatlined. Tears slid down his cheeks and dripped down onto his lap, but even when they covered her with the sheet on her bed, even when her parents tearfully discussed how things would pan out with the doctor, Harry didn’t move from where he sat. He felt like his heart was no longer there - there was a hole, an emptiness, where it should have been, and he knew nothing would fill it ever again. It was like he’d just lost Izzy all over again, except this time, he had no one to hug him, no one to hold him and tell him it was going to be okay.

“C’mon, Harry. Gotta get out of here.”

Harry heard Leo’s voice, but he couldn’t move. He didn’t want to. He wanted to stay right here with her. Her hand was still in his, but it was limp now, resting in his palm.

“We can’t stay here, Harry. You have to let her go now,” Leo urged, and Harry let him pull Maddy’s small hand out of his, help him stand up, and walk him into the hallway. “You should go home. Take time to process this. The first time you lose a patient is hard-”

“She was more than a patient. She was a friend. And it’s not the first time I’ve lost someone,” Harry snapped, and Leo, instead of recoiling as Harry would have done if he’d heard that voice coming out of someone, patted his shoulder and handed him a tissue. Harry crushed the tissue in his hand and walked blindly to the elevator, his chest heaving with sobs that produced no tears. It was only when he was in his car that he allowed himself to feel the true extent of what he’d just experienced.

He gripped the steering wheel hard, so hard he felt his hand straining, and he slammed his fist onto it once, twice, three times, sobbing as he rested his forehead onto the smooth leather.

“I’m sorry, Izzy … I’m sorry. I failed you. Again,” Harry choked out, his whole body shaking in the small confines of his car. He couldn’t do this. He needed someone. He needed Louis.

He turned the car over, wiping hopelessly at his tears, but more came, blurring his vision as he drove. He needed to see Louis. He needed to explain what happened. He just had to be with someone who would understand.

Chapter Text

Louis sighed as he finally arrived home, walking through his front door and throwing his keys into the small china bowl. He winced horribly at the loud clink that reverberated around the hallway as they made contact with the ceramic. The headache, which had started at the back of his head, had now spread to the front and behind his eyes. Shrugging off his jacket, Louis headed through to the kitchen, pleased that Niall wasn’t home yet. He just wanted to get to bed and sleep off whatever awful migraine was coming, even if part of him wished he’d been able to go out with Harry, or even just text him to come round for cuddles. He smiled slightly to himself at the thought that cuddling Harry was actually something he could do now, and he fired off a quick text, letting Harry know he missed him before he grabbed the box of Advil from the kitchen cabinet.

He poured himself a cool glass of water from the refrigerator and threw back two of the tablets, making a face thanks to their slightly chalky taste, and walked through to the lounge, settling on the sofa. He tried watching T.V. for a while, hoping that the background noise would be just enough to dull the headache, but the constant throb at the front of his head persisted, and after a few hours, he just wasn’t having it. He wanted to go to bed. Just as he had decided to get up, however, there was a light tapping on his front door.

He frowned, debating whether or not to answer it when the knocking picked up again, more insistent this time. He walked over to the door and opened it, prepared to send off whoever was selling whatever at this time of day, and almost fell backwards when Harry surged forwards, all but collapsing into Louis’ arms. Louis panicked, steadying himself and kicking the door shut before he pulled back, trying to look Harry over, checking for any sign that he was injured or in trouble.

“Oh my god, Harry, what’s wrong? Darling, talk to me, please-” he said hurriedly, eyes raking over Harry’s body and his heart breaking when he saw his face, the tears cascading down his cheeks and his dull, sunken eyes, so different from the Harry he’d left earlier on at the hospital. Carefully, he guided him over to the living room, getting him to the sofa. Harry fell onto it, his whole body shaking with the force of his crying, and Louis sat there, slightly helpless. He knew he had to wait it out, though … there was no point in getting Harry to talk until he’d calmed down. He rubbed a gentle hand down Harry’s back, and the fact that Harry didn’t flinch away from the touch was a good sign to Louis.

“I’m here, sweetheart. Whenever you need me, I’m here. I’m here for you, Harry,” Louis murmured softly, and Harry buried himself into Louis’ side for a minute, using the edge of Louis’ t-shirt to wipe his eyes before he looked back at him. His breaths were still coming in short gasps and he clutched tightly onto Louis’ hand as he started to speak, his voice broken and raw with emotion and tears.

“It’s- oh god, Maddy-” he began, voice cracking as tears began to fall again. Louis felt a little sick at that, wondering what on Earth could have happened to prompt such an emotional outburst from Harry. It couldn’t be anything good. He stroked his leg again with his free hand, staying silent to give Harry room to speak. Harry drew in gasping breaths, desperately trying to speak, and Louis couldn’t do anything but wait. It killed him inside. “I can’t - I don’t know why, I just-”

“Harry, what happened to Maddy? Please tell me, I’m getting worried.”

Harry looked up at him then, and Louis stared deep into his eyes as Harry spoke his next words. “She’s dead, Lou. She fucking died, and I couldn’t ... and I held her hand, and sh-she’s gone, just like ...” A sob ripped its way out of Harry’s throat, and Louis just sat still, letting the words sink in. Surely, there was a mistake. When he’d left, she was fine. She’d gone walking with Harry. She was okay. She couldn’t be dead, not Maddy. Not after everything Harry had already been through.

“Are you sure?” Louis asked slowly, and Harry just nodded, curling up into Louis’ side again. Not knowing what else to do, Louis grabbed his phone where he’d left it earlier on the coffee table, dialing Liam. He shifted slightly, wrapping his arm around Harry’s shoulders and holding him close as he got through to Harry’s friend, trying to get to the bottom of everything.

“Hey Li, it’s Louis. Yeah, I’m okay, um … Listen, I’ve got Harry here, he’s a bit of a state. He told me Maddy died… is that true?” He went silent for a moment as he listened carefully, frowning when Liam revealed he didn't know any more than Louis did. “Yeah, he’s going to stay with me tonight. He’ll be okay, I’ve got him. Okay, thanks Li, see you later. Bye.”

He hung up, and noticed the red number on his phone screen indicating he had a few missed calls, and his heart sunk as he saw they were from Leo at work. He dialed back, the phone ringing just two times before it was answered.

“Hey, it’s Louis. Um, you called?” Louis could feel his face fall as Leo revealed that what Harry had told him was the truth, that Maddy had really died, and that Harry had been there through everything, holding her hand until the end. “Oh god, right. No, no, he’s, um, he called and told me, I just wanted to make sure. Yeah, okay, thanks. See you tomorrow. Bye.”

He turned Harry’s body against his then, pulling him close. “Harry, I’m so so sorry, darling. I’m so sorry she didn't make it. I can’t imagine how you feel.”

“It’s like … fuck, it’s Izzy over again, Lou. I’ve failed her like I failed Iz. I didn't do enough-” Harry choked, his hand gripping onto Louis’ shirt, as though he thought it might fix the unfixable. Louis shook his head, running his hand through Harry’s curls.

“Hey, hey, no. Enough of that. Leo said that it was no one’s fault. No one saw the results until it was too late, and that’s definitely not down to you. You were amazing, and she loved you, Harry. And you being there for her as she died meant the world to her, and to her parents, I’m sure of it.”

“I sang to her.” Louis thought he had misheard, Harry had said it so quietly.

“You sang to her?” Harry just nodded, and Louis pondered whether or not to continue. But he felt like it might be good for Harry to talk about it, even if it was a recent tragedy. “What did you sing, love?”

“Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” Harry whispered, tears filling his eyes again. “She sounded like a little angel … told me she was going to the rainbow, Lou-” his voice cracked as he cried again, as if it was hitting him over and over that she was gone. Louis felt helpless, like there was nothing he could do or say to make Harry’s pain go away. He had to suffer it, to feel it, and Louis just had to be there for him while he did.

Louis just held him, Harry continuing to weep as he muttered Maddy’s name over and over, occasionally slipping and calling her Izzy. Louis rubbed his back, holding his head against his chest, wishing there was more he could do to help. They sat there for what felt like forever as Harry cried, and despite a crick in his neck, Louis didn't move, letting Harry get it all out.

Eventually, when Harry had calmed down, Louis managed to reassure him that he wasn’t going anywhere, and he made his way to the kitchen to make a cup of tea. He took a few deep breaths, braced against the kitchen counter. He could feel his own tears stinging at the back of his eyes. Maddy, strong, brave little Maddy, had died, and he hadn’t been there for her or Harry. It broke him, but he held the tears back, knowing Harry needed him to be strong right now.

He walked in, pleased to see Harry was sitting up, wiping at his eyes with a soggy tissue, and despite his red cheeks and swollen eyes, he was still utterly beautiful. Louis set the mugs down, Harry’s smile small but grateful as he reached for one, sipping at the hot liquid.

“Thanks, Lou,” he said softly, voice hoarse from his sobs. Louis just reached over, taking his hand and smiling, letting Harry know it was okay, that he’d always be there. Harry shuffled closer as they sipped their tea quietly, Harry finally seeming somewhat okay for the first time since he’d arrived at Louis’ front door nearly an hour ago. Harry’s leg pressed against Louis’ as they crowded into the corner of the sofa, and Louis felt oddly at home like this, comforting Harry and being the one he leaned on when he needed help. He smiled to himself slightly at the thought of them doing this in thirty, or even fifty, years time, just being together. It wasn’t something that scared him anymore.

“Harry, love, what can I do? Tell me how I can help you, baby.” He took Harry’s now empty cup and sat it next to his own on the coffee table as Harry swivelled his body, facing Louis now. He watched Harry’s adam’s apple bob as he swallowed, exhaling slowly as if building up to saying something. Louis just sat quietly and waited for Harry to speak, knowing his thoughts must still be jumbled. When he didn't speak, Louis decided to encourage him, wanting to be able to help Harry, no matter what he needed. “Baby, you can ask me for anything, or tell anything. You know that?”

“Lou…” Harry breathed out, fiddling with one of the rings on his long fingers. He mumbled something under his breath, cheeks flaming as he spoke, and Louis smiled, tucking his finger under Harry’s chin and gently bringing his gaze up to meet his.

“Sorry love, I missed that. Try again?”

“I want you to fuck me, Louis.”

Louis stilled, staring at Harry. Honestly, it was the last thing Louis had expected to hear, but then he can see the flicker of arousal in Harry’s eyes - the way his pupils were already dilating and his cheeks were reddening told Louis wordlessly he hadn’t misheard.

“Uh- god, Harry. That’s … that’s not what I expected you to say.” Louis swallowed, unsure of how to say what he was thinking or feeling. Finally, he was able to form some words. “Truthfully … I’m not sure this is the right time for that, I-”

“Lou, please. I need it. I need to feel something other than sadness and grief … I want to feel you, to know you want me. Please.”

“Harry … it isn’t that I don’t want you, sweetheart. Please, please don’t think that’s what this is, it couldn’t be further from the truth.” Louis was babbling now, he knew it, but his conflicting feelings of wanting to do what was right and wanting to jump on Harry and claim him were making it very hard to concentrate. “But you’re not feeling okay, and I … I don’t want this to be something you might regret.”

Harry looked heartbroken, and Louis continued to fight his internal battle. There was a part of him that was desperate to have sex with Harry. They’d obviously done plenty of other things, but had never quite made it to having sex, either before their break up or after. Now, it was being offered without condition, but Louis felt unsure, like Harry wasn’t entirely sure of what he was asking for, and that it wasn’t for the right reasons.

“Harry… I don’t want this to be for the wrong reasons, love. I want you, I really do, but-”

“Louis, please. Don’t make me beg, because I will. I need you, Lou.”

Louis sighed, taking Harry’s hands and looking deep into his eyes. “If we do this, Harry, I’m not going to fuck you, I can’t- that’s not what this is.” He swallowed, preparing himself for the next words to tumble from his mouth. “This … doing this with you, it means a lot to me, love, and it has to be special, both for you and for me.” Harry nodded, trying to understand. “This isn’t just a one off, Harry. If we do this, I want to make love to you.”

“Oh, Lou,” Harry breathed out, shuffling closer and meeting Louis’ eyes properly now before their lips brushed, Harry resting his forehead against Louis’. Louis could feel the heat radiating from Harry’s body, and he sighed as Harry brought a hand up, resting it gently on his cheek, stroking his thumb over his cheekbone. “I promise, I want this … I just … I really need you. Please make love to me, Lou.”

Louis sighed and nodded, realising that he wanted and needed it as much as Harry did. He stood up and reached out, pulling Harry to his feet. “Let me take you to bed.” Harry nodded and they laced their fingers, walking quietly down the hallway to Louis’ bedroom. Louis felt nervous, knowing this was momentous, and it had to be just right. Harry needed him, needed to be taken care of, and this was a special thing between them, something Louis wanted to remember always.

When they were inside Louis’ room, door shut safely behind them, Louis reached out, slowly unbuttoning Harry’s shirt and feeling his body tremble under his touch. Louis felt his breath hitch as he gently pushed the fabric back from Harry’s broad shoulders, revealing his tattoos and alabaster skin, letting it fall to the floor at his feet. Louis arched onto his tiptoes, pressing his lips gently to Harry’s, trying to push all his love into that kiss as his hands came to rest on the curve of Harry’s waist.

“You’re so beautiful,” Louis whispered, letting his hands drift down to work at Harry’s belt, unfastening it before popping open the button of Harry’s jeans. “Want to make you feel so good, show you how much you mean to me,” he whispered between kisses, and Harry moaned slightly into his mouth.

“Please-” Harry mumbled against Louis’ lips, his hands tugging at the hem of Louis’ t-shirt, wanting it off. Louis moved his hands, raising him arms and letting Harry lift his top off, leaving them bare from the waist up. Louis ran his hands over Harry’s skin, kissing at his neck before he pulled his face down, kissing him deeply and lovingly. He continued undressing Harry bit by bit, kissing and touching Harry’s body as he slipped off his trousers, socks, and finally, his underwear.

Harry stood in front of him, entirely naked and looking more than vulnerable, making Louis feel completely head over heels for him, wanting to spend forever with Harry like this. He allowed Harry to undress him then, Harry’s hands making gentle work of taking off Louis’ bottoms and his underwear until they were both naked.

“Lay down, sweetheart,” Louis mumbled, settling down on the mattress next to Harry, resting a hand on his hip as they started to kiss. It was soft and gentle at first until Harry pressed his tongue forwards, begging Louis wordlessly for more. Louis opened his mouth, letting Harry’s tongue inside, and circled his hips, letting their crotches brush for a moment, both men moaning at the first touch. “Haz… I, um-”

“What, Lou?” Harry murmured, his hand coming round to grasp at Louis’ ass, squeezing for a second as he kissed him again. “I promise you, I won’t regret this-”

“No, it’s not that,” Louis said softly, pulling away for a moment. Harry reached out, keeping his hands on Louis’ waist as he stared deep into Louis’ eyes, and although they were red-rimmed and swollen from all the crying, Louis still thought they were the most beautiful eyes he’d ever seen, and the only ones he wanted to look into like this for the rest of his days. “I… um, I haven’t done this much before … been on top, I mean. Kyle always … well, you know. So I don’t want it to be bad for you-”

He was stopped from talking by Harry’s lips meeting his own, and Harry shook his head into the kiss before he gently moved backwards, bringing one hand up to cup Louis’ cheek, the one offering comfort now. “It won’t be. It couldn’t ever be anything but perfect, Lou, because it’s you, and you’re all I want. Please. Please make love to me ...”

“God, okay,” Louis breathed, and pulled their bodies together once more. “Between the pillows, grab the- yeah, that’s it,” he muttered, as Harry’s hand fumbled around behind his head and located the bottle of lube, wordlessly passing it to him. He bit down hard on his lip as he sat back on his knees as Harry rolled onto his back, letting his legs fall open for Louis to crawl between. It felt so ridiculously intimate, so different from anything and everything else they’d ever done - Harry laying himself bare for Louis to take and to love had Louis’ stomach fluttering with a mixture of nerves and excitement.

Slowly, carefully, Louis slid a finger inside Harry, reaching out and taking the hand Harry was grabbing at Louis with, assuring him he was there. As much as he wanted to comfort Harry, he couldn’t deny how wonderful Harry felt around him, how much he enjoyed the way Harry responded to his every move, how they just seemed to fit like this somehow. Louis released Harry’s hand and started to stroke up the inside of his thigh, his fingers brushing against the soft hairs on Harry’s skin, eyes still locked with Harry’s.

“More, Lou, please-” Harry whispered into the silence of the room, and Louis did so carefully, pushing in a second finger and sighing at how Harry’s body just opened for him. Louis couldn’t hold back anymore, and, leaving his fingers in place, he crawled on top of Harry’s body, bringing their lips together again, kissing him gently, his own eyes fluttering shut as he lost himself in everything that was Harry in that moment.

When Louis felt like Harry might be ready, he gently withdrew his fingers, wiping them down on the sheet next to Harry’s thigh, and stood up for a second, grabbing a condom from the top drawer of his bedside table. He quickly checked the expiration date before ripping open the packet and rolling it down his length. He was well aware of Harry’s eyes on his every move, and he nestled himself back between Harry’s legs, carefully lining himself up.

“Ready, sweetheart?” he asked, reaching out to take Harry’s hand again as he nodded. His own heart was pounding now, not just at the thought of being the one to take Harry, but at the fact that they were here and finally doing this at all. The circumstances weren’t the best, but Louis knew this would be a moment he would never forget, that he would treasure - the moment they fully became each other’s. He took a breath and gently pushed his hips forward, gasping at the sensation of the head of his cock slipping past the tight ring of Harry’s muscle, his boyfriend gripping down hard on his hand.

“Oh god, Lou-” Harry mumbled, his eyes shut as Louis continued to push forwards, carefully watching Harry’s face for any sign of discomfort. At that moment, he didn't know how he’d never done this before. The feeling was like no other - it felt tight and warm around his cock, and knowing he was so deeply inside Harry made him feel so connected to the boy beneath him, laid bare and trusting for him. “You can-you can move, Lou-”

“Shit, okay, yeah,” Louis gasped, slowly starting to move his hips back and forth, the drag of Harry’s body around his cock almost overloading his senses. He leaned over and started kissing Harry as he moved inside him, trying to show Harry much he loved him, that it was only ever him, that it would only ever be him, through his actions and touches and kisses.

His movements got slowly steadier, Harry’s long legs coming up to wrap around Louis’ waist easily, resting his feet on Louis’ lower back. He started to move against Louis, pushing Louis’ cock deeper inside his body and moaning at the sensation of being so full. Louis opened his eyes and propped himself up on his elbows as he kept moving. Harry’s eyes were glassy now, filling with tears, and Louis almost made to stop, scared it was too much or he was doing something wrong, when Harry changed everything with just four little words.

“I love you, Louis.”

Louis’ movements slowed for a moment before capturing Harry’s lips into another kiss before he started to move again. “I love you, too. So fucking much, Harry, you’re- god, you’re just everything to me-” he mumbled against Harry’s lips, trying to speak clearly but not wanting to give up the feeling of Harry’s lips on his. He wanted there to be no room for doubt in Harry’s mind as to Louis’ feelings towards him.

With that, they lost all sense of inhibition, and Harry openly cried as Louis started to thrust into him harder, Harry’s body moving easily along with it. Louis could feel he was close, that familiar bubbling in his lower stomach getting stronger with each drag of his cock in and out of Harry’s body. He leaned in and kissed the tears off Harry’s cheeks.

“You close, love?” Louis whispered, and Harry nodded frantically, one hand coming down to stroke at his cock, eyes still locked on Louis.

“Yeah, god, yeah- want you to make me come, Lou, please-” Louis gently pushed Harry’s hand away and took Harry’s cock in his own fist, stroking with the rhythm of his own thrusts, and it didn't take long for the pair to reach orgasm, Harry hurtling over the edge first before Louis followed swiftly after, both men moaning and uttering words of love and forever and promises only intended for the other as they came down from their highs.

Louis sighed as he pulled out afterwards, already missing the warmth of Harry’s body, and he smiled at Harry as he reached forward to peel the condom off, obviously not wanting to give up touching Louis just yet. Louis tied it off and took it into the bathroom, where he grabbed a warm flannel and came back out to take care of Harry, cleaning him up before doing so to himself and then climbing between the sheets and into Harry’s arms.

They kissed lazily for a few minutes before sleep overcame both of them. Harry was emotionally exhausted, drained from his crying and what he and Louis had just shared, and he rolled onto his side, reaching back with his right arm and grabbing Louis’, curving it over his waist and holding his hand tightly. Louis smiled to himself as he breathed in at the back of Harry’s neck, pressing a kiss to the knobbly bone at the top of his spine, feeling Harry squeeze his hand gently.

“I love you, Harry.” He wanted Harry to know that he meant it, that he hadn’t just said in the heat of the moment during sex, and now that he allowed those words to flow from his lips, he knew there was no one else in the world he ever wanted to say those words to again. It was as if they were meant for Harry, and honestly, he’d never meant them as much as he did right then.

“I love you, too, Louis. Always will.” Harry brought Louis’ hand up to his lips and kissed it softly, Louis smiling slightly to himself at the gesture that was so typically Harry. He shut his eyes, his boy in his arms, and hoped they would both be able to get some much needed rest, ready to face the next day together - the first day of the rest of their lives, and of healing.

*

Louis stirred, turning his head to look at the clock, startled to see it was just past four in the morning, the middle of the night. The room was pitch black, and Louis couldn’t see a thing, but what he couldn’t deny was the shaking of Harry’s body, the way he was blatantly trying to hold in his sobs, his shoulders tense and rigid.

“Oh darling, come here,” Louis rasped into the darkness, and Harry quickly rolled over, clearly having waited for Louis to stir, and he let go, sobbing into Louis’ chest, clutching onto his body as if it were a liferaft and he was in danger of drowning if he dared to let go. Louis said nothing, choosing instead to run his fingers over the skin of Harry’s back, pushing his curls away from his face and letting him cry, knowing there was nothing he could say to make Harry feel any better.

“She’s gone, Lou, and I couldn’t save her,” Harry cried, and Louis genuinely didn't know whether Harry meant Izzy or Maddy, or both girls. His heart broke at the realisation Harry was being forced to live his worst nightmare over again and just held him, comforting him and reassuring him that he was there, that he wasn’t going anywhere, until Harry’s sobs turned into small hiccups and sniffles. Louis’ bare chest was wet with tears, but he didn’t care. He just held Harry there until he fell asleep again. Only then did Louis allow his eyes to close and sleep to come.

He woke up a few hours later to Harry weaving his fingers through his hair, trailing his fingers down over Louis’ cheekbones and across his lips. Louis puckered them, kissing Harry’s fingertips as they passed over and smiled at him, moving closer for a proper kiss, which Harry gave easily.

“How are you feeling, love?” Louis asked, enjoying the feel of his bare legs tangled with Harry’s under the covers. It felt so right somehow, and he rested a hand on the smooth, warm skin of Harry’s hip, keeping them close. “You don’t … you don’t regret what happened do you? That I did what you asked me to?”

“I could never,” Harry said, eyes almost pleading with Louis to believe him. “I needed you last night, Louis, and you made me feel something real. So, no, I don’t regret a thing. I meant when I said I love you, and I’ve wanted to be with you like that for a long time. You- you’re the only person I wanted, the only person I needed last night, Lou. You just don’t see how amazing you are-”

“I love you-” Louis breathed out, kissing Harry again, both men losing themselves in the kiss for a few minutes until Louis pulled back, aware he had to sort out what was going to happen today. He was going to be late for his shift if he didn’t leave soon, but he was hesitant to leave Harry alone here. But he knew that if he were Harry, he wouldn’t want to leave, and Louis knew that at least leaving him in a safe place was better than nothing. “I’ll, um, I’ll sort something out at work for you, don’t worry. I won’t tell them about us just yet, but-”

“What? I’m coming to work, Lou,” Harry said, shuffling back on the sheet slightly, a confused expression on his face. Louis was sure he must have misheard because surely there was no way Harry wanted to return to work so soon, not after losing Maddy like he had. “Shit, is that the time? We need to get up-”

“Haz, no,” Louis said, pushing him back down to the bed and frowning down at him. “Take a couple of days. You can stay here if you want, or go home and I’ll come round after my shift. I think you need to-”

“I know what I need, Louis, and that’s to get back to work to treat my patients,” Harry said, forcefully but not unkindly. “I love how supportive you are and I appreciate it, but let me do this. I need this.” Louis rested a palm on Harry’s chest, feeling the rise and fall as he breathed in and out, and he could feel the low thrum of his heartbeat beneath his touch. It was steady, and Louis knew that no matter whatever Harry ever asked of him, he’d give it to him, and would walk the world to make his boy happy. His boy. That thought made Louis smile again. Harry was his, and he was Harry’s.

“Okay, but let me be there for you, yeah? If you need to leave, you tell me and I’ll make it happen, I promise. I just want to look after you, Haz.”

Harry leaned up and kissed Louis’ lips quickly, dimple popping as Louis saw the first genuine smile on his face since he’d arrived last night on his doorstep, and it filled his heart with joy. “No one else I’d ever want to look after me. I … I love you. So much. Shower?”

Louis nodded, letting Harry get to his feet, and then allowed himself to be tugged in the direction of his small bathroom, flicking the warm water on. Together, they stumbled underneath it, kissing away their pain and nerves over appearing at work again, Louis sure his complete and utter love for Harry would be obviously written all over his face for the world to see.

*

Louis swallowed as they stepped out of the elevator together, wishing he could kiss Harry one more time as they had in the car park, hidden in Louis’ car. He ignored a few stares from his colleagues as they headed to the staff room, Louis using his card to gain entry. They stuffed their jackets and bags into their lockers, making sure they were ready before they stepped out onto the floor, ready for their shift.

Louis left first, heading to the main desk to pick up his files, watching out of the corner of his eye as Harry approached too. A slight hush fell amongst their colleagues as they looked at Harry, whispering amongst themselves. Louis could feel his fists clench by his side, wishing he could tell them to piss off, that Harry returning to work so soon after Maddy’s death was his choice and that he was so strong for doing so, but he couldn’t.

Wordlessly, he looked up and flicked his eyes at Harry, asking him if he was okay, and Harry nodded back, refocusing on the file in front of him. He stood, reading the notes of a new patient who had been brought in just an hour ago when Leo approached, placing a hand on Harry’s forearm.

“Hey, um, just wanted to make sure you were okay after yesterday … with Maddy? I know you weren’t in a good place-”

“I’m fine.” Harry said it in a tone that invited no further conversation, and Leo swiftly removed his hand, nodding before he headed off to another patient. That just seemed to stir up another round of whispers and stares at Harry, people no doubt gossiping about Harry’s breakdown the previous night, and what had happened since. Louis wished he could blurt out to them all that he’d taken care of him, that he loved Harry and was there for him, that they didn't need to worry. But he couldn’t, and it killed him inside, the necessity to hide their relationship a dull ache somewhere deep inside him.

“Look, can you all just go and do your jobs, and stop staring at Harry, please?” A voice boomed out then, and Louis had never been so grateful for his best friend’s lack of volume control.  “He’s not a bloody exhibit, he’s your colleague who’s been through a hard time, so give him some space and let him do his job. Go on, off you all go.”

The crowd soon dispersed after Niall’s words, and Harry walked up to him, grabbing Niall into a quick hug before he walked past Louis, grazing their hands together for a moment, a fleeting yet grounding touch that was everything Louis needed in that moment. He turned and watched as Harry knocked on a door down the corridor and slipped into the room, letting out a big sigh as he disappeared from sight.

“Thank you, Ni,” he said softly, resting a hand on Niall’s shoulder for a moment. “I just … I couldn’t say anything, not then. I felt like if I did, it’d be obvious.”

“What would?” Niall asked, knowing the answer but obviously needing to hear it out loud.

“That I love him,” Louis said without hesitation, and the grin on Niall’s face said it all. “He came home to me when Maddy died, he stayed with me all night. It’s … it’s real between us, Ni. I was stupid enough to let him go once, and I’m not going to do it again. Last night told me everything I needed to know, and I’ve never been more sure of anything. He’s the one for me. And no matter what, I’m not losing him, not again.”

“Well, it’s about bloody time,” Niall joked, nudging Louis’ foot with the toe of his own shoe. “I’m glad you both got there, mate. But seriously… is Haz okay? I heard it wasn’t good last night, that he wouldn’t let her go, even after ...”

“It was pretty brutal,” Louis admitted, shrugging his shoulders, not wanting to give Niall the ins and outs. What happened last night was just between him and Harry, and he wanted it to remain that way. “She’s the first real patient he lost, and it hit him hard. He thought she was getting better, we all did, so to lose her so suddenly was awful. He was insistent on coming in today though - I think he wants to try and work through his grief a bit, you know?”

“I do,” Niall nodded, and Louis knew that Niall knew somewhat what Harry was going through, having experienced the same thing himself years ago when he first arrived and worked at Chambersburg. “I know he’s got you, and that’s great, but if he ever needs someone to talk to, someone who’s been there, that won’t judge, let him know I’m here, yeah?”

“Will do, mate, thanks,” Louis said, hugging Niall quickly. “Right, we’d better get some work done. Just … keep an eye out for him please? I will, but I feel like everyone’s eyes are on us, that they know.”

“You don’t even need to ask,” Niall reassured him, smiling as Louis started walking away, heading off to his first patient. He plastered a smile onto his face as he walked down the corridor and knocked on the door of the new patient’s room, hearing a faint voice before he entered.

“Hi there, I’m Dr. Tomlinson…” 

Chapter Text

As the week went by, Harry started to feel a little better, or maybe it was because he was throwing himself so furiously into his work that he didn’t have the energy to be sad. Either way, the weight on his chest was lifting a little every day, and Louis had noted the other night that he was starting to smile again, which was a plus. After Izzy had died, Harry had lost himself for such a long time. He didn’t ever want to go through that again, even if the pain was pressing down on him from every angle.

Most of the nurses and doctors had stopped staring every time he passed them, but there were still whispers, still conversations that cut off when he entered a room, and it made him feel worse.

“Louis, I don’t want to be pitied,” he had whispered to his boyfriend one night as they cuddled in Harry’s bed. Louis had pulled him close and kissed his hair and told him that everything would be alright and it would return to normal, and as much as Harry wanted to believe him, he wasn’t seeing much of a change. He had been spending a lot of time talking to Niall, though, which was helping.

Niall had told him the story of his first patient that had died while in his care, and how he’d dealt with it, and though Harry knew the situations were vastly different and Niall’s had no previous personal trauma added to it, he thought it was helping. It was nice to have people he could talk to.

At the end of the next week, Harry was finally starting to feel like a human again. He’d gotten up excited to go to work and he’d gotten an amazing make out session with Louis in the car before they’d left for work. It was bound to be a good day, Harry was sure of it.

When they’d arrived - separately, of course - and met up at the desk, the overnight doctor came by with some very good news.

“I’ve been monitoring Joshua, and he seems to be almost at a full recovery with no recurrence of the infection. I think you both could send him home today.”

Harry nodded, smiling widely and looking over at Louis. He felt his whole face light up and tried to keep it toned down as Louis’ blue eyes met his own in a shared glance.

“That’s amazing news! Thank you so much. We’ll head there first and have a discussion with the parents,” Louis said, and Harry nodded. As they headed off down the hall, Louis nudged Harry with his elbow, and Harry shivered. Even after all this time, Louis’ touch still gave Harry goosebumps. “I can’t believe it. He’s been here for so long, he’s gonna be ecstatic.”

Harry nodded. “Yeah. Finally, for once, I’ve done right by one of my patients.”

He hadn’t meant to say it out loud, but it was too late, and he felt his throat tighten at his own words. Louis stopped walking abruptly and came around to face Harry.

“Don’t say that. You … that’s not … fuck, Harry, you are an amazing doctor. You’re so good at your job, and you’ve made so many lives better for it. Please …”

Harry bit his lip and shook his head. They didn’t have time to talk about this. They had work to do, and either way, Harry didn’t think he could have said anything else on the subject without crying, and he was done crying. He’d done too much of that in the last week.

They entered Josh’s room and the little boy nearly exploded out of bed, his cheeks rosy and his eyes bright and a huge smile plastered on his face. The overnight doctor had clearly gotten him all worked up.

“So?” Josh asked, eagerly, and Harry glanced over at Louis. Louis, though still looking a bit tense, gave him a smile and a nod, saying that he could be the one to deliver the news.

“We get to send you home today, love,” Harry said, and he suddenly had an armful of child as Josh whooped with excitement, hanging off Harry like a monkey before dropping from him and making his way to Louis to hug him as well. Harry laughed and Louis looked up, his eyes brighter than before and a smile in place. Harry had to admit, it felt good to laugh.

Harry watched as Louis told Josh that he had to call his mothers and that the paperwork still had to be done, but Josh was still bouncing around the room, smiling even more broadly as he did so. It was amazing to see someone who had once been so sick and quiet and scared now smiling and interacting with people. It was one of the best parts of his job.

“Dr. Harry and I will get started on it right away so that we can get you out of here, yeah?” Harry heard Louis say as he came back from his thoughts, and he added a noise of agreement to Louis’ statement as Louis ushered Josh back to his bed. Harry noticed that his rainbow bear was missing, but he didn’t think anything of it. It was probably just hidden under the covers.

Outside the room, Louis lead the way to the smaller desk and asked for the required paperwork, while Harry made it his job to call Josh’s moms, eager to tell them the good news and hear their happy responses. As it was, Harry had to hold the phone away from his ear as screaming broke out on the other end of the line following his announcement, and he waited patiently, giggling behind his hand, as they assured him that they would be there soon and that they couldn’t wait to get their boy home.

“We did this, Lou. We made them this happy. We helped him,” Harry whispered as they hovered over the desk, filling out a stack of papers, and though Harry could only see the side of Louis’ face, he knew he was smiling.

“We did. You did a lot of good for him, you know? You got him to open up. Remember how terrified he was of you when you first got here? You helped him become the boy I always knew he could be. That helped him get better, Haz, I know it did. I’m so proud of you.”

Harry smiled, wanting nothing more than to take Louis in his arms and kiss him silly, but he held back, instead taking the pen from Louis’ hand and starting on the second half of the paperwork.

 

Only a few hours later, when Harry had been to see their other patients and met some of the new ones, they were back in Josh’s room. His moms were both there, thanking Louis profusely, and Harry watched on as Josh excitedly pulled on real clothes and checked his hair in the mirror. It was like watching him get ready for a fancy dinner, even though he was only going home - it was adorable.

“We owe a lot of it to Dr. Styles over there, though, he really connected with Josh,” he heard Louis say, and he looked up in time to have two tearful mothers descend upon him with hugs and handshakes and thank yous.

Harry and Louis had decided earlier that they would escort the family down to the pick up zone, and they did so, Josh waving goodbye to all the other nurses. They all watched on with pride as Harry and Louis lead the little family to the elevators.

Once they were downstairs, both of Josh’s mothers went to get the car, and Josh turned to Harry. He opened his mouth to say something, but glanced at Louis, as though he only wanted to speak to Harry. Louis clearly got the message, because he walked a little ways away, his arms folded against the nippy October air. Josh then turned back to Harry and tugged at his backpack, producing his tattered rainbow bear.

“I … I want you to have him. Boo, I mean. You made me realize that I don’t need to hide behind him anymore. Take him as a thank you for everything you did for me.”

Harry just stared as Josh forced the stuffed bear into his hands. “Are you absolutely sure, Josh? This bear … he means everything to you. Why give him to a stranger?”

“You’re not a stranger, not anymore. You were my friend here. And I know you’ve been sad lately and I wanted to see you smile. I like making people smile.”

Harry’s smile was so wide and he could feel his eyes filling up with tears, so he just let Josh hug him, his hand tight now around the gift from his now former patient.

A car swung up to the curb and as Harry let Josh go, he noticed that Louis was back, and his hand was resting very gently against the bottom of Harry’s back. Harry knew he should move away, for fear of anyone seeing, but he couldn’t. He felt the need to be grounded right now, and that small touch did the job nicely. They both waved as Josh got in the car and they drove away, and then Louis turned to Harry.

“I see he gave you a present, then. I personally think I deserved one too, since I’ve been his doctor for so long, but you know, the curls always win you extra things.”

Harry shoved him away playfully as they made their way to the elevators. As soon as they were headed up, Louis pulled Harry in for a quick kiss, and Harry let his lips linger on Louis’ for a moment before pulling away. It was bittersweet - they’d both sent one of their favorite patients home, but they’d gotten him healthy again, and that was everything they could have ever asked for. And Harry had Louis, which was more than he’d ever dreamed it would be. Everything was finally falling into place again.

They stepped off the elevator and were both immediately hailed by a voice calling their names. “Harry, Louis, over here! You have visitors!”

Harry looked towards the desk, and his eyes landed first on Leo, who had called their names, and then on the two people standing beside him. He felt the color drain from his face and his smile disappear. His heart hammered in his chest and he felt suddenly lightheaded as Mr. and Mrs. Underwood stared back at him. They looked exhausted, and though Harry knew that Louis was making his way to them, greeting them and consoling them, he couldn’t find it in him to move, or to look away. His hand clenched involuntarily around the stuffed animal in his hand. It was only when he head his name being said in a soft, familiar voice, encouraging him to greet their guests, that he moved jerkily towards the counter, trying to pull himself together.

“How may we help you?” Louis asked after Harry had shaken their hands and found himself unable to speak. He was glad Louis had been with him, because he wouldn’t have been able to even stand there otherwise.

Mrs. Underwood cleared her throat, her red rimmed eyes focusing directly on Harry. “We were … just finishing up the plans for the, well, you know. And we were finalizing the guest list, and … and we …” She sniffed and seemed unable to continue, and Harry really wished she wouldn’t cry. It wasn’t helping him keep his composure in the slightest. Her husband took her hand and continued for her.

“We would be honored if both of you would attend. Though you spent only a few months with her, you did everything right and helped as much as you could, and she was happiest here, with you watching over her. We think she would want you both there.”

Harry didn’t know what to say, or even if he could say anything at all. He just stood there, dumbfounded, as the reality of the situation washed over him again. He felt like he was drowning, and all he wanted to do was run away, and keep running until he didn’t feel the pain anymore. Louis was looking at him - he could feel his piercing blue gaze, but he couldn’t meet his eyes.

“Yes, sir, of course we’ll be there. She meant a lot to us as well, even as just her doctors. If you are alright sharing this personal time with us, we would be happy to be of any help.”

Louis’ words sounded far away, and Harry clutched at the counter, seeing his knuckles turning white.

“Thank you for coming, and we will see you then. Dr. Styles and I have some paperwork and patients to attend to, excuse us.”

Harry felt himself being lead away, and it was only when he found himself in the break room with blue eyes gazing into his that he came back to his senses.

“Lou …” he gasped, fisting the material of his pants in his hands to keep himself from losing it. “I … I don’t know if I can …”

Louis looked conflicted, his eyes darting around the room as he reached for Harry’s hand, carefully unfolding his furled fingers and tangling them with his own. “It’s alright, Harry. We don’t have to decide now.”

Harry pressed his lips together tightly. “I thought I … was moving on. Getting better at this. At h-handling it, but I’m not … this is all my-”

His words were cut off by the press of Louis’ warm lips. It was a fleeting kiss, almost over before it had begun, but it was enough to stop Harry’s words in their tracks.

“It is not your fault. You were there with her. You helped her. Of all the people to invite, they chose you and me. They don’t blame us for what happened and neither should you.” Harry shook his head, his lips trembling, and Louis squeezed his hand. “Hey, look at me. Right here, right at me,” he murmured, and Harry finally made eye contact, feeling like his lungs were burning. “We can discuss this later, but right now, we have to see our other patients. We have to do our jobs. I know you want to be a good doctor, and this is how we have to do it. We have to carry on. And you’re strong, I know you are. You can do this. We both can.”

Harry felt the words, he let them penetrate him and sink in, and he found that he felt more calm than he had. Where his mind had been a turmoil of fear and pain and uncertainty, he now felt a sense of cool calm settling over it, suppressing it for a later time. He stood up abruptly, startling Louis, and nodded curtly. “You’re right. Come on.”

Harry made his way to the door, determined to be the doctor he’d always intended to be - cool, collected, and unaffected. He didn't wait for Louis to follow him. One more touch from the man he loved, and he might just fall apart.

~

Harry sat in his room, days later, having woken up very early, despite taking the day off work for the funeral. He still wasn’t sure if he was going, but here he was, sitting on the edge of his bed in a dark suit, his bowtie in his hand. He couldn’t muster the energy to get up, even when there was a knock on his front door. He didn’t have to worry that Louis wouldn’t be able to get in - he and Liam had given him a spare key weeks ago.

As Louis’ footsteps echoed down the small hallway, Harry felt his hands start to shake, and he clutched onto the piece of fabric in his hand, feeling sick. He and Louis had talked about this a few nights ago, and nearly every night since then, and Harry knew he should go. He knew that it’s what Maddy would have wanted and that he owed her this last moment of respect. And yet … he couldn’t breathe thinking about it, standing there and watching the child-sized coffin being lowered into the ground.

“Harry?”

Louis’ soft, musical voice roused him from his terrifying thoughts, and he looked up, surprised to find that his eyes were dry and his vision was clear. Louis really was a sight - the dark of his black jacket made his eyes stand out, and his hair was neatly contained under a black beanie. Harry was glad he’d gone with the wool suit jacket. Judging by Louis’ attire, it was chilly out.

Harry opened his mouth to say something, but nothing came out, and in the next moment, he felt his bed dip next to him as Louis settled beside him. Harry felt his arm around his waist, Louis’ fingers gently rubbing at his hip.

“You alright, love?” Louis whispered in his ear, and Harry shook his head, his lip trembling. His mind was a whirlwind of emotions and thoughts, and when he opened his mouth again, the words that came out were not ones he had intended at all.

“I never went to Izzy’s funeral.”

Harry clamped his hand over his mouth at his own admission, but Louis didn’t seem surprised or worried. Harry dared to look at him, and all he saw was sadness in his eyes.

“Okay …” Louis said slowly, as if trying to formulate his words, and Harry plunged recklessly on, unsure of where this was coming from but knowing that he had to get it off his chest.

“I woke up the day of. I hadn’t left my bed since it happened. And my mom came in and she was dressed in all black and I couldn’t do it. I hid under my blankets until she left without me. But I … I never had to experience that final part of the pain. I never had to see her in the coffin. I never had to see her being entombed under the Earth, but it was so wrong of me. She would have wanted me there and I let her down. One of so many times, but that was the worst of the things I did to her. And I’m …” Harry breathed in shakily, feeling Louis’ hand slip into his. “I’m fucking terrified, Lou. I don’t think I can watch this happen to her.”

Louis was pulling Harry into his arms before Harry could finish, and Harry turned his face and buried it into Louis’ shoulder, biting the inside of his cheek. He was determined not to cry.

“It’s okay to be scared, Hazza. But I won’t leave your side, if that helps you. I will make sure I stay with you. And if at any point you want to leave, we will leave, yeah?”

Harry sniffed and looked up at Louis’ face. The perfect cheekbones. The honest blue eyes. The slightest hint of scruff dusting his jaw and chin. He was so gorgeous, and just the sight of him made Harry feel a little better.

“R-really?” Harry’s voice came out quiet, almost a whisper, and he cleared his throat, feeling embarrassed.

“Yeah, really. Whatever you need, I’ll be right there,” Louis assured him, pressing a kiss to his forehead, and Harry let his eyes close, the sensation of Louis’ lips on his skin washing over him like a warm bath. His eyes opened again and he caught sight of the time. Louis had apparently seen it too, because he stood up and offered his hand to Harry. “Time to go, love. You ready?”

Harry nodded. “Yeah. I think so. Just … I want to grab something real quick.”

~

When they arrived at the funeral home, it was to a small trickle of people in black, all hovering just inside the entrance. Harry didn’t move as Louis pulled into the small parking lot and turned off the car. Harry’s hands fiddled with the ends of his coat as Louis got up and walked around the car to open the door for him. Harry knew he wouldn’t have gotten out of the car otherwise, and apparently, so did Louis.

He took Louis’ hand and stood up, the chill of the air biting at his exposed skin. For October, it was unnaturally cold, or maybe Harry had just gotten used to the heat of summer. Either way, it made him shiver, and he felt Louis’ hand on his back almost instantly.

“C’mon, love.”

They walked towards the doors and entered, and though the funeral home had the decency to have the heat on, Harry still felt cold. He could see Mr. and Mrs. Underwood standing by the next set of doors, and people in black were milling around the entryway and finding their seats inside the main room. Harry and Louis made their way to the small line of people waiting to talk to the family. Harry gripped onto Louis’ hand tightly - he needed to know that Louis was still there, that there was still someone there to hold him together when he inevitably couldn’t anymore.

They reached the front of the line and Mrs. Underwood came forward to hug them both. Harry felt severely detached as he felt her small arms go around his chest, but he patted her back lightly, his hand going to the pocket of his coat. They exchanged greetings and condolences, Louis doing most of the talking, but finally, Harry’s voice seemed that it was going to work, and he leaned in, asking what he and Louis had planned before they’d left the house. Both of them consented, Harry’s request sending Mrs. Underwood into a storm of crying. Mr. Underwood comforted her with a hand on her back, his eyes very clearly full of tears himself. Harry felt like he was struggling to breathe, but Louis’ hand was a steady presence as they entered and took their seats at the very back.

Harry looked around, more for something to do than anything, and his eyes landed on the coffin, open at the front. He couldn’t see inside it, but just the knowledge of knowing that Maddy’s tiny body was in it, probably all made up and fake looking, made his breaths shorter. He closed his eyes and clenched his hand down on Louis’, and though he thought he heard a noise of pain from Louis, he couldn’t help it.

The ceremony itself was very traditional, the priest speaking lines from the bible about life and death, and then members of the family getting up to speak about Maddy. When Mr. Underwood’s voice broke as he was giving his speech, Harry felt his chest tighten. He was in so much pain himself, and he knew what Mr. Underwood was feeling right now. He didn’t want to know, but he knew. Losing someone, losing family so young, it broke you in a very special and destructive way. Harry wished he could do something to ease their pain, but nothing he could say or do would fix this.

The next time Harry surfaced out of his thoughts, people were standing up, filing past the coffin and paying their last respects before the burial. Harry stood abruptly, and he saw Louis stand after him. His hand was still lingering on Harry’s back, and Harry welcomed the touch. They got at the very end of the line, people whispering and wiping tears as they inched closer to the front of the room.

And then they were there, standing in front of the coffin, and Harry could see her, and it was like no one else existed, and it was just him and Louis and Maddy’s body. He was pleased to see that they hadn’t put a lot of makeup on her, just enough to make her look less sickly, and they hadn’t included a wig or a hat. It made it more real - the reality of this tragedy would reach more people this way. And she deserved to be remembered as she had been, not as someone people had wanted her to be. Harry’s hand was visibly shaking as he reached into his jacket and pulled out Boo. He clutched the stuffed animal, breathing deeply and steeling himself for what he’d promised he’d do.

“I … I wanted to say goodbye properly, but I wasn’t sure how to do that. It’s not like I even knew you very well, you were just … just another patient, or you were supposed to be. But you woke in me the need to help you, the need to make sure you survived. You reminded me of Izzy, but you were also you. You were Maddy - strong and brave and beautiful and sweet, even till your l-last breath.” Harry knew he was crying; he could feel the tears leaving tracks on his cheeks, but he didn’t care. He let them fall. “I also wanted to say I’m sorry. I’m sorry for not doing enough, even though you always acted like every small thing I did was the best gift I could ever give you. I’m sorry I couldn’t help you have a real life. I’m sorry … I’m just so sorry.” Harry placed the bear in the coffin, right between her small arm and her body. His sobs were silent, but they were shaking his whole body, and even Louis’ arm around him wasn’t enough to keep them at bay. He looked down at her one more time, remembering her wide eyes, her smile, her wild curls, everything. “You and Izzy will be best friends, I know it. Take care of her for me. Take care of each other.”

Harry let Louis lead him back through the now empty funeral home and out into the parking lot. The last of the cars were leaving, and Louis turned to Harry, his eyes questioning. “Do you want to go to the burial?”

Harry shook his head, hastily wiping at his eyes, and Louis nodded, leading them both back to the car. It wasn’t until they were back on the road, heading home, that Louis spoke again.

“You were so brave back there. What you said to her, it was … so beautiful, so you. I … I love you, Harry. You gave that little girl everything worth living for, and I love you for that.”

“D-don’t discredit yourself, Lou. You helped … you helped her too.”

Louis nodded, a slight flush on his cheeks, and Harry felt his heart lighten at the sight. It was hard to get Louis to blush - every time it happened was a small victory for Harry. “I know, but I didn’t bond with her, not like you. She … she would be proud of how you’re handling this.”

Harry nodded, and they didn’t speak any more. They went to Harry’s apartment in silence, and Harry settled on the couch, not even taking his coat off. He felt numb, and the sounds of Louis moving around the apartment were faint, almost like they were happening next door or downstairs. He felt Louis come into the room, saw the light flicker on, and watched as Louis knelt down in front of him, starting to untie his shoes.

Louis had changed into clothes that looked like Harry’s own, but Harry’s head was too foggy to remember. He just sat there, wanting to move but having no energy, as Louis took off both of his shoes, his socks, and his jacket. Louis’ hands were quick with the buttons on his shirt and the buckle on his belt, and in any other circumstance, this would have been extremely sexy to Harry, but this was different. It was something else entirely, and Harry felt a warmth growing in his chest.

Louis undressed him fully down to his tight boxer shorts and then proceeded to put him in sweatpants, a long-sleeved shirt, and thick socks. Somewhere during that, Harry had started crying, only realizing it when Louis reached up to wipe his tears away with his thumbs.

“You stay here, Hazza. I’m gonna make us some tea and soup and then we can watch a movie, yeah?”

Harry didn’t move, didn’t respond, just watched on as Louis, looking concerned and a little nervous, stood up and headed into the kitchen. Harry was cold, shivering, almost, but he knew it didn’t have anything to do with cold. This had happened after Izzy as well, constantly, and he only wished that he could snap out of it for long enough to tell Louis, to thank him for everything. But all he could do was sit there, feeling the numbness spreading without Louis’ presence to light up the room.

It seemed like hours, but it was probably only 20 minutes, when Harry saw a movement out of the corner of his eye and turned his head slowly to see Louis reentering the room, two steaming bowls and mugs on a tray. He set them down and curled up next to Harry on the couch, pulling a blanket down from the back to wrap around himself.

Harry finally felt the ability to move - he just wanted to be near Louis, feel his touch and smell his unique Louis smell. He reached for the blanket and pulled it up, tucking himself under it and leaning against Louis’ chest. Louis’ hand was in his hair instantly, carding soothingly through his curls, and Harry felt himself begin to relax and come back to himself.

By the time Harry felt like he could breathe properly again, Louis had turned on the TV and was absentmindedly watching a random show. His fingers had stopped moving, and now his hand was just resting on Harry’s head. Harry snuggled closer and pressed a kiss to Louis’ neck.

“Thank you.”

Louis breathed out a sigh of relief and pulled Harry’s face up so that he could kiss him properly. Harry melted at the feeling of his lips, letting out a small noise and letting Louis trail his hands from his hair down his neck and shoulders and all the way to his waist. Harry was just thinking that he’d gladly make out with Louis for hours when Louis’ stomach grumbled, and Harry pulled away carefully.

“Why didn’t you eat?”

Louis shrugged, shifting them both so they were sitting up. “Wanted to wait. Wanted to eat with you.” He leaned forward and took a sip of his soup, making a face. “Soup’s gone cold, fuck.”

Harry felt a giggle escape his mouth, and the muscles of his face pulled tight as he smiled. Louis seemed to cheer up exceptionally, and he stood to reheat the soup and tea. Harry reached for another blanket and the remote, getting to Netflix and searching for his favorite movie of all time.

“Love, Actually? Really, Haz?” Louis said as he came back, the soup and tea steaming again, and Harry felt himself blush.

“It’s my favorite movie,” he said softly, reaching for his tea to warm his hands. Louis smiled and sat down next to Harry again, kissing his cheek. Harry hummed at the contact.

“Alright, then. Let’s watch it.”

They settled back with their soup and tea, cuddled under two blankets and watching a Christmas movie (or what Harry considered one, anyway) in October, and Harry couldn’t think of a better way to spend his time. He couldn’t believe how lucky he was.

~

As October faded into November, Harry felt better with each passing day. He didn’t feel like a truck was constantly sitting on his chest, and there were only minor incidents at work. Most people had stopped talking about him, which he was grateful for. It only made it worse when people looked at him like he was something to pity.

He and Louis had gotten four new patients in that time, and they’d sent home at least two dozen more, which made him feel useful and successful. He would still wake up shaking some nights, sometimes dreaming about Maddy and sometimes about Izzy, but Louis was always right there, holding him and soothing him until he fell asleep once more.

Finally, it was the first of December, and all Harry could think about was Christmas. It was his favorite holiday, always had been. The lights and the trees and the roaring fires and hot chocolate and anything minty - it was quite possibly the best time of year, hands down. He had dragged Louis, Niall, and Liam out on a particularly cold morning after American Thanksgiving and they’d picked out two trees, one for Louis’ apartment and one for Harry’s. Harry had bounced around them all, who were grumbling about the cold and their numb feet, but Harry didn’t feel any of that. All he could feel was the excitement and the anticipation of getting home and decorating.

If Harry was being honest with himself, decorating his and Liam’s apartment with Louis was the first time he’d been truly happy in a long time. Even if Louis made fun of him constantly, it was with love, and he got lots of kisses out of it.

Harry felt complete once the apartment was decorated and he and Louis were laying in bed. Louis fit in perfectly, like the last missing puzzle piece, and he couldn’t imagine what he would have done if Louis wasn’t a part of his life. Everything that was dark in his life, Louis brought light to, even the little things that wouldn’t matter to anyone else. He felt at home, finally.

~

It was only a week after he had decorated for Christmas that Louis came over, dressed in a warm coat and tight skinny jeans with flowers and an order to dress warmly. Harry had nearly ran from the room to put on proper clothes instead of his scrubs. He and Louis had been exclusive for a while, but neither of them had time to actually plan a date for the other, if that’s even what this was. The sparkle in Louis’ eye told him that it just might be.

He didn’t even fret over what to wear, grabbing the nearest sweater and pair of jeans and boots from around his mess of a room and tugging them on, hopping on one foot as he tugged on his boot and headed for the bathroom. He brushed his teeth furiously several times and attempted to tame his curls, which were growing now and getting a little wild, before deciding that he would just wear a hat and deal with it later.

Back in the hallway, he found Liam and Louis having a cheerful conversation. Since Louis had apologized to Harry and made it up to him, Liam had become more welcoming towards him, and that meant a lot to Harry.

“Hey, I’m … ready,” Harry said a little hesitantly, and Liam turned around, grinning in a way that said he clearly knew something Harry didn’t.

“Have fuuunnnn, you two,” Liam sing-songed, and Harry rolled his eyes, kissing Louis gently as Liam disappeared into his room.

“Where are we going?” Harry asked as he followed Louis outside, but Louis just smiled and held out his hand. Harry took it gratefully and they walked a little ways down the street. When Louis passed his car, however, Harry stopped walking. Louis shook his head.

“We’re gonna go on a little walk. Is that okay?”

Harry smiled and nodded, hurrying to catch up with his boyfriend and take his hand again. They hadn’t really done much exploring of Chambersburg, not together, anyway, and Harry had only seen the hospital and his apartment and the bar. He was already shivering as they stopped by a church with a red door, where children were handing out small cups of hot chocolate for free. Louis got two and passed one to Harry, and they kept walking, more slowly this time, as they drank.

“There’s something I wanted to show you. I’ve lived here for almost four years, and I’ve never seen anything more beautiful, and I wanted to share it with you.”

Harry nodded and smiled softly, feeling all warm inside, although that may have just been the hot chocolate. He let Louis lead him around a corner, past another church, and then Louis stopped, stepping in front of Harry.

“Do you trust me?” Louis asked, and Harry looked him in the eye as he nodded.

“Of course I do, Lou. Always.”

Louis’ smile was soft, but there was a mischievous glint in his eye. “Then close your eyes.”

Harry complied easily, and reached blindly for Louis’ hand, which he found ready and waiting for him, and he walked slowly as Louis lead him. Through his eyelids, he could see that the lights were growing brighter. They must be heading downtown, Harry thought. But that didn’t explain why it was so bright.

They stopped suddenly and Harry breathed in the cold winter air, waiting for Louis to say something.

“Alright, Hazza, open your eyes.”

Harry slowly blinked his eyes open and then his mouth dropped. The streets were lined with small trees, every single one of which was wound with twinkling fairy lights. They cast a beautiful golden glow along the sidewalks, and Harry feels like he’s standing in a snowglobe. But that’s not even the best part.

They’re standing on one side of the town center, the fountain in the middle of the street and a few cars driving around, and right in front of them is the tallest Christmas tree Harry has ever seen. It stood almost as tall as the building behind it, surrounded by a small white fence, and beautiful rainbow lights decorated every inch of it from top to bottom.

Harry drew in a breath, completely overwhelmed. “It’s … oh, Lou, it’s beautiful. I … I love it. And you. I love you. A lot.” He surged forward and wrapped Louis in a tight hug, and Louis reciprocated almost immediately, his arms circling Harry and holding him tightly. As Harry released Louis, he thought he saw a speck of white on the sleeve of Louis jacket, and as he looked up, snow began to fall lightly from the sky. Harry laughed, tears springing to his eyes, but for the first time in months, they were happy tears. Louis was smiling widely, as though he had planned for this to happen, and Harry cupped Louis’ face in his gloved hands, kissing him softly. Everything was right, everything was perfect, and he just wanted to stay here under the snow and the lights with the man he loved.

“C’mon, Hazza, it’s cold, and we’ve got reservations,” Louis mumbled against Harry’s lips, and Harry reluctantly pulled away, letting Louis guide him across the street to the restaurant.

Harry thought Bistro 71 sounded like a bit of a posh name, but the inside was homey and warm, almost like a diner feel, but with darker colors and a cleaner counter. They sat and were waited on quickly, and they kept up a light conversation, jumping from subject to subject.

“Thank you for bringing me here, Lou,” Harry said finally, after they’d received their food and started eating.

“It was my pleasure. I wanted our first date to be special, and I knew you would love it,” Louis responded, and he looked out the window with a wistful expression on his face. “It’s one of my favorite things - it reminds me of home.”

Harry swallowed his mouthful of food and took a drink of his water before speaking. “Have you been home much? I mean, since you started this job.”

Louis shook his head. “It’s been almost two years since I’ve gone back to Doncaster.” He must have seen the horrified look on Harry’s face because he was quick to clear it up. “It’s not that I don’t want to go home, I do, but this past summer, I had you to train, and the summer before, things got complicated at the hospital and I couldn’t just leave. But Chambersburg has always reminded me a little of Donny, so it makes it a little better.”

“Do … do you miss your family?”

Louis looked up, his blue eyes glistening. “So much. I have six siblings, so I’m so used to having a full house, and here, even with Niall, it’s been hard being away from them. I’m missing so much of their lives, especially the little ones. They probably don’t even remember their big brother.” Louis’ eyes said a lot more than his words, and Harry reached across the table, taking his hand and rubbing his thumb over the back of it.

“I’m sorry, Lou. I wish there was something I could do.”

Louis waved him away with his free hand. “It’s alright. I’ll see them soon enough. I always FaceTime them on Christmas, so you’ll get to meet them, if you want.”

The thought that Louis wanted him to meet his family made Harry giddy, and after that, they moved on to the next subject and the next, until they had been there a little over two hours and most other customers had emptied out, probably to get home to their families. Louis paid, even after Harry’s many protests, and they left, pulling their coats and hats and scarves tightly around them as they started to walk home. Harry insisted that they get a picture in front of the Christmas tree before they left, though, and a passing man was willing to take it for them. Harry wrapped his arms around Louis and turned to kiss his cheek just as the man took the photo. He would look at it later, maybe even print it and give it to Louis for Christmas.

By the time they reached Harry’s apartment, they were both freezing and shivering more than they should have been. The snow had continued, dusting everything with white crystals that sparkled in the light, and Harry couldn’t stop looking around in awe.

They hurried into the apartment and stamped out their shoes, shrugging off their coats and getting into comfy clothes before settling on the couch and flicking on 25 Days of Christmas. Harry leaned his head on Louis’ chest, humming contentedly and thinking. Whatever he got Louis for Christmas, it had to be something good, something to make up for all the amazing things Louis had done for him. But for now, this, laying with him and making fun of stupid Christmas movies, was all he needed.

Chapter Text

“Thank you, love,” Louis said, handing the stack of files balanced precariously in his arms over to the receptionist behind the long wooden desk. He shook out his arms afterwards, his tired and weary muscles appreciating the rest. He grabbed the next one at the top of the pile and flicked it open, glancing over the notes in front of him before a hard clap to his shoulder made him jump a mile. The receptionist chuckled at the noise that came from him.

“Stupid Irish…” Louis started, muttering under his breath, but he censored himself as he realised where he was. He chose, instead, to kick Niall in the shin, smirking as his friend winced and bent to rub at the bruise probably already blooming under his scrubs. “What do you want, then?”

“Just waiting for Li, we had something to ask you,” Niall said cryptically, and Louis chose not to rise to his friend’s teasing, just nodding as he continued to read through the notes. “Oi, someone’s trying to get your attention.” Niall elbowed Louis gently until he looked up, his face melting into a fond smile as he spotted Harry at the end of the corridor, following one of their new patients, Jasper, as he stumbled on his new plaster cast towards the boy’s bathroom.

He quickly turned his back, sure his colleagues would spot the fond all over his face if he kept staring at Harry, and smiled as Liam stepped out of the elevator, heading towards the pair with a smile on his face, gold tinsel wrapped around his badge. Louis thought it was very festive, and momentarily thought about getting some for himself before dismissing the idea, remembering how Harry had wrapped a long string of red tinsel around his neck when they’d decorated their tree, pulling him close for a kiss.

He coughed into his fist, subtly trying to rearrange himself in his scrub pants as Niall high-fived Liam, the pair standing opposite Louis, looking a little confrontational, if Louis was honest. “Okay, what have I done?” he asked, almost dreading the answer. These two were formidable when they wanted to be, especially when it came to Harry, and Louis straightened himself, trying to look calm despite fear licking at him. Niall burst out laughing then, and rested his head on Liam’s shoulder for a second before returning his gaze to Louis.

“We, um, well, we wondered what your plans were for Christmas,” Liam began, eyes flitting to Niall for a moment before they settled on Louis’ again. “I’m not being nosy, just…”

“Nah, it’s okay, mate,” Louis said, smiling at his friend, glad that he and Liam seemed to have finally put the past behind them. “I was hoping to spend Christmas with Haz, actually. We’ve discussed it, and it’s something we both want. Somehow, we’ve both got the two days off, my birthday and Christmas, so it’d be nice to just have a couple of days with him. I mean, you’re welcome to join us, obviously. I’m sure Haz will cook us a mean turkey…”

“That’s kind of what we wanted to say, actually,” Niall began, Liam nodding next to him. “If you and Haz are staying at our place, I’m gonna go crash at Liam’s, so you can have the place to yourselves for a couple of days.” Louis went to protest, his heart feeling warm at the consideration of his two friends, but Niall held up a hand in front of his face, stopping him in his tracks. “We won’t take no for an answer, Lou. If you want to stay at Harry’s, Li will come to ours. It’s fine, we… we want to do this for you.”

Louis surprised both men by grabbing them in a hug, flinging his arms around their shoulders before pulling back and yanking his scrub top down, the tops of his cheeks red with delight. He really did have the best friends in the world, and he felt incredibly touched by what they were offering.

“Do I have a need to be jealous?” came a low voice in his ear then, and Louis shuddered, Harry’s voice sending a thrill through him. He straightened up again and smiled at Harry as Harry exchanged files with the receptionist. “Did you see Jasper? He’s finally up and walking on that leg - he’s a determined kid, considering he’s only six.”

“Yeah, I did, the one with the nasty break from footie, right?” Harry nodded, and grazed the back of Louis’ hand with his pinky finger as he changed the position of his body, leaning on the desk next to him. “So. What are you chatting about?”

“Christmas,” Liam said with a shrug, not wanting to voice their plans any more loudly than that for fear of being overheard and ruining Louis and Harry’s relationship again. It was a miracle they’d kept it under wraps for so long, quite frankly. “I’m sure Lou will fill you in later. I’m just heading home actually, so I’ll pick up the groceries today, seeing as I’m the only one who’s been eating them anyway.”

Harry had the courtesy to blush at that, knowing full well he’d been staying at Louis and Niall’s apartment more often that not lately, leaving his best friend on his own. “My money is on my bedside cabinet, make sure you take it when you get home,” Harry reminded him, and Louis watched on fondly, desperately trying not to reach out and plonk the Santa hat that had been abandoned on the reception desk on Harry’s head. What made it even more tempting was the fact that Harry probably wouldn’t care, and would probably parade around happily in it for the rest of his shift.

“Damn, I’ve got to get to my next patient,” Louis said, grabbing the folder from the desk again. “But thank you lads, what you said is so kind.  Tell you what, all come over tomorrow night. I know we’re all off for a change, and we’ll get takeout and watch those disgusting made for TV Christmas movies that Haz loves. Okay?” Niall and Liam nodded, all hugging Liam before he left, and Harry and Niall wandered off to see their next patients, Louis trying not to stare too obviously at the swell of Harry’s backside under the thin fabric of his scrub pants, knowing all too well what lay under the material.

“Soon be Christmas, Dr. Tomlinson,” one of the nurses muttered, startling Louis from his reverie as he nodded, smiling when he noticed the colourful flashing Christmas pin on her nurse’s top.

“That it will,” Louis replied, a big smile on his face as he headed off up the corridor, hoping to get another child home in time for the most magical time of year.

*

Louis stirred, feeling the soft press of lips across his collarbones, murmuring and leaning into the touch, sleep still addling his brain enough that he wasn’t quite coherent enough to open his eyes just yet. He sighed as a warm, wet tongue moved downwards towards his nipples, but when he felt teeth graze over the nub of his right one, his eyes flew open and he reached down, grabbing Harry’s hair between his fingers and tugging him up. There was a coy smile on Harry’s face as he met Louis’ gaze, and Louis returned the smile, full of love for the boy who was pressing his body down into the mattress, arms encircling his slender torso and looking at him with complete adoration.

“Happy birthday, my wonderful Lou,” Harry said, voice thick with sleep, just how Louis liked him. He could feel the corners of his mouth turn upwards into a smile, and let Harry kiss him softly, delicately, as if he were trying to press all of his love into Louis through just his lips. “Twenty seven today, my love.”

“Ugh, don’t remind me that I’m getting old, Haz,” Louis groaned, throwing his hands up to cover his face, Harry chuckling softly at him. He felt Harry’s big hands come up and encircle his wrists, tugging gently until Louis let them fall away, blown away by how gorgeous Harry looked in the morning. It wasn’t that Harry was just pretty, because he was. It was just in the way his green eyes seemed to sparkle in the early morning sunlight, it was how his curls seemed that much more untamed, it was how he could see the light dusting of stubble on his chin that Harry moaned never seemed to turn into anything more than just that, and it was how wonderfully deep his voice was. That was Louis’ favourite, and it never failed to send shivers down his spine.

“First of all, you are not old,” Harry said, hopping up off the bed and rummaging around in one of Louis’ drawers he’d claimed as his own a few weeks ago, fed up of living out of a rucksack. “Second of all, it’s your birthday, and that means pressies.” He grinned and handed over a bright blue gift bag. Louis smiled and sat up quickly, grabbing Harry’s chin in one hand and pulled him closer, pressing a closed-mouth kiss to his full lips.

“Love you,” Louis murmured, turning his attention back to the gift bag. He pulled out a large rectangular shaped present, wrapped in garish birthday paper, and straight away, that touched Louis. Usually, his presents were wrapped in whatever leftover Christmas paper people had in their homes, but the fact Harry had gone to the effort of not only buying him a present, but ensuring it would be entirely different to anything Louis would receive tomorrow, meant the world to him.

He shook the bag upside down, grinning when a card tumbled out as well. Harry grabbed the now empty bag and threw it behind him, watching as Louis peeled open the envelope, pulling out a card emblazoned with the words ‘To my Loving Boyfriend’ on the front. Louis could feel a blush creeping up his cheeks, and flicked his eyes upwards, meeting Harry’s for a moment as he took in the words inside.

His lower lip started to wobble at the honest mini-essay Harry had written him, eyes filling with tears at the emotional words and declarations of love. With a shaky voice, he began to read the words aloud, knowing they’d feel more real if he heard them.

“To my boyfriend Louis. I’ve sat wondering what to write for too long, but as always, I know you just want me to write from the heart, so here goes. Thank you. Thank you for loving me, for always being there, and for supporting me through everything we’ve been through lately. You’ve been my anchor when I felt I was drifting away, you’ve been my rock when I’ve needed someone to ground me, and you’ve been my world when I felt like I’d lost everything worth having-”

Louis’ voice cracked at that, and he blinked quickly, taking a quick breath in before continuing.

“I can’t believe I’ve been so lucky as to meet you, and fall in love with you, and have you love me in return. I don’t know what I did to deserve your love, but I’ll be forever grateful for it, and I will forever treasure it. I can only hope to make you feel as loved and cherished as you make me feel every day. Happy birthday, my darling, I love you and wish you only the most happiness. Lots of love, today and always, your Harry.”

Carefully, he closed the card and placed it back on his lap, wrapping his arms around Harry and holding him close. His heart was racing at Harry’s honest words, a sense of love and belonging setting deep inside his bones as he held his boy close to him. It didn't bode well that he was already feeling tearful, and he ended up softly kissing Harry for a moment.

“Thank you. What you wrote… I loved it, sweetheart. I love you so much, and you do make me feel loved, I promise you that.”

“I meant every word,” Harry whispered, picking up the perfectly wrapped parcel, and in that moment, Louis was glad that Harry had offered to wrap up the gifts he’d bought for Liam and Niall, knowing his embarrassingly wrapped parcel for Harry left much to be desired, Still, it was the thought that counts, right? Harry handed it back to Louis, who shook it slightly, pretending to listen for any sign of noise or movement inside. Harry giggled, his whole face lighting up with a big smile, and Louis felt himself blush. Harry was too adorable for his own good. “Come on, open it!”

“Alright, alright,” Louis muttered, sliding his finger under a flap, peeling the layer of sellotape away from the paper below. It came apart, and Louis gently pushed it back, frowning at the sight of a brown piece of cardboard. Harry was biting at a fingernail now, and he looked a bit nervous as his eyes hovered on Louis, following his every move. “You’re making me feel nervous, love..”

“Sorry,” Harry said, sitting back slightly, refolding his legs slightly under, bare thighs catching Louis’ eye. “Go on…”

Louis nodded and pulled the remaining sheet of wrapping out from under whatever the gift was, and put it to the side. Slowly, he took the item in his hands and flipped it over, his breath catching as he caught sight of the cover. There was a picture of him and Harry on the front, a photograph from when they had gone to see the Christmas tree lights just the other day, and Harry had drawn their names on the front, along with a small quote that Louis recognised written on the bottom of the cover.

Louis, A picture is worth a thousand words, but the memories are priceless. We have an infinity to make more. I love you. Harry x

Louis swallowed down the lump in his throat, and reached out, feeling around for Harry’s hand. When his skin made contact with Harry’s, he grasped on tightly, working to lace their fingers together, squeezing tightly.

“Oh my god, Harry… what did you do?” He mumbled, Harry shifting his body until he was pressed up against Louis, his curls tickling the side of Louis’ neck. Louis sighed and cracked open the first page of the scrapbook, eyes immediately welling with tears at the images and words he was confronted with.

There were photos of all kinds, usual ones, polaroid style, and some that filled an entire page. It was full of memories of things that Louis and Harry had done together since they’d first met. There was a blurry iPhone photo that had been taken the first time they’d gone out as a group, silly photos they’d taken of each other in the canteen and staff room at work, cosy selfies in bed or curled up on the sofa, even a few of Louis sound asleep in Harry’s bed.

Around the photographs, Harry had jotted things that had come to mind - how he felt about Louis in that moment, the things he imagined them doing together, the places he imagined they would go. He turned page after page, tears sliding down his cheeks as he was assaulted with image after image of their relationship, the pictures turning more romantic and coupley by the end.

One particularly stunning image was a black and white photo of their laced hands, Louis’ slender fingers wrapped around Harry’s longer ones, resting on Harry’s thigh. Louis couldn’t remember it being taken, but he couldn’t tear his eyes away. Underneath, in Harry’s messy scrawl, he’d written just a few simple words, but they drove Louis to tears again, ugly sobs erupting from his chest.

I want to be the only hand you ever need to hold.

“Oh sweetheart, I didn't mean to make you cry,” Harry said, taking the scrapbook from Louis’ hands, setting it down on the quilt in front of them and wrapping him up in a tight hug. Louis just sobbed, not caring he was soaking the front of Harry’s t-shirt with his tears. He let them fall, his emotions coming out in loud, unflattering bursts as Harry stroked his hair, trying to calm him down with whispered words of love and comfort.

Eventually, Louis’ sobs tapered off and he pulled away from Harry, feeling a little embarrassed at his display of emotional fragility. He reached over and grabbed a tissue from his bedside table, swiping at his sore eyes, mopping up any trace of tears. He grabbed at the book again, and flicked to the last page. Again, it was a photo of them at the Christmas tree from the other day, a selfie Harry had insisted on taking. Their breath was just a puff of steam in front of them, and wide smiles were splitting their faces, cheeks pressed together, squashed into the frame.  He frowned when he saw the next page was blank.

“Um, did you run out of things to stick in?” he asked, genuinely puzzled.

“No,” Harry said quickly, shaking his head, and Louis laughed at how his curls flew around. “I just thought… we could fill those pages together? Of like, all the new memories we’re going to make.” He cleared his throat for a moment, staring back at Louis with glassy eyes. “Photos are so important to me, Lou, and I love looking back at them, seeing the things we’ve done, thinking about how I felt about you in those moments. I… I just want to spend the rest of my life making memories with you, Lou.”

“God, I love you,” Louis said, voice cracking again as he kissed Harry deeply before pulling away, resting their foreheads together for a moment. “This is the best present anyone has ever given me, baby. I can’t-I can’t tell you how much this means to me.”

“Then let me show you what you mean to me,” Harry said, pushing Louis until he fell backwards onto the bed, gently letting the scrapbook drop to the floor as he proved to Louis over and over exactly what it was he meant to him.

*

“Do you want a beer, love?” Louis asked, watching Harry move with ease around his kitchen, preparing him a birthday meal that looked fit to feed more than just the two of them. Harry turned and looked over his shoulder, smiling and nodding at Louis. Once again, Louis was hit with a rush of how much he loved having Harry in his home, being domestic like this. It was probably his favourite thing to do with Harry, and watching him barefoot, with low slung jeans and one of Louis’ baggy hoodies on, made him feel like the luckiest man in the world.

He walked up behind Harry, who was now carefully wrapping up several pieces of salmon to place in the oven, and wrapped his arms around his waist, resting his head on his firm back, feeling Harry’s muscles move as he continued cooking.

“I love you, you know. Thank you… for doing this for me.” He stepped back when he sensed Harry needed room to move, and watched him slide the tray into the oven before coming back and kissing Louis gently, his eyes sparkling with something Louis felt looked like complete happiness.

“You’re welcome, my love.” Harry’s phone beeped, and as Louis reached to hand it over, Harry snatched it away and wandered out of the room. Louis felt a little stunned, but put Harry’s odd behaviour down to stress over wanting the meal to be fine. “Sorry, I’ll be back in a second…” Louis heard the bedroom door close and sighed, deciding to set the table.

As Harry came back into the kitchen, red-cheeked with a somewhat coy smile on his face, the doorbell rang, and Louis frowned.

“We’re not expecting anyone, are we?” Harry just shrugged and grabbed a few more ingredients from the cupboard to his right, letting Louis wander to the door, pulling it open.

“Happy birthday!” came two voices, and Louis grinned at the sight of Niall and Liam on his doorstep, wide smiles on their faces.

“Oh my god, what are you two doing here?” Louis said as he was grabbed in a tight cuddle by Niall, Liam hovering nervously behind him. Louis broke free of Niall’s hug and grabbed Liam, hugging him just as enthusiastically as he had done Niall. “Harry arranged this, didn't he? He’s been weird all day, that explains it…”

“Well, yeah but… oww! What was that for?” Niall moaned, rubbing his upper arm where Liam had just elbowed him, staring at Niall with wide eyes. “Oh. Um, yeah, Harry arranged it. Are you gonna let us in then? I’m starving, and I’m always guaranteed a good feed if Hazza is cooking…”

Louis laughed and stepped aside, watching his friend kick their shoes off before they walked to the kitchen, greeting Harry with hugs and back slaps, Harry giving Louis a bit of an embarrassed grin across the room. “Um… surprise?” He said in a soft voice, and Louis just laughed back, pecking his lips quickly.

They all chatted for a moment until Harry said he had enough time to come and watch Louis open the presents Liam and Niall had bought over. Liam handed him a four pack of Louis’ favourite beer. Louis hugged and thanked him, stating they were perfect to have with dinner. In fact, Louis felt touched that Liam had bothered getting him anything since their friendship had been fraught up until recently, and it meant a lot he’d bothered. Niall had clearly been listening to Louis’ whining, as he’s bought him a new stethoscope to replace the old one he used constantly, forever moaning about how scratched and bashed up it looked.

“Wow… this is amazing, thanks Nialler,” Louis said, grinning at his friend across the room and slinging the stethoscope around his neck. “How does it look?”

“Fits you like a glove,” Niall teased. “So, when do we get to see what Haz got you, then?”

“Um, well… that was a more private gift,” Louis began before his eyes flew open, realising what he’d hinted at. “No, get your mind out of the gutter, Horan. It was personal, something I’d rather keep between me and Harry, if you don’t mind.”

“Course not,” Niall said cheerfully, getting to his feet as Harry hollered that dinner was ready. They each grabbed a dinner plate loaded with a piece of salmon, noodles, and vegetables and sat together around Louis and Niall’s small kitchen table, eating and talking. Louis was sat opposite Harry, their feet linked together out of sight of the other two boys, and Louis couldn’t resist sharing a few secret smiles with his boyfriend, grateful that he’d made this happen.

Harry swallowed his mouthful of food and grabbed his bottle of beer, holding it aloft.

“Um, can I get your attention for a second, please, lads?” They all nodded, setting down their knives and forks and taking their own bottles. Louis blushed as he realised what was coming. “I just wanted to give my lovely boyfriend Louis a birthday toast. Happy birthday Lou, I love you very much, and hope your year of being twenty seven is as amazing as you.”

“Happy birthday Louis!” Niall and Liam joined in, the four men clinking bottles with Louis, grinning at him.

“Thanks guys, and thanks Harry for this amazing dinner. I hope you two will stick around and watch a movie with us afterwards?”

“Are there post-dinner snacks on offer?” Niall enquired, pushing his empty dinner plate away from him slightly.

“Erm, sure?” Harry said, a little hesitantly, Louis trying to stifle his giggle behind his hand.

“Then we’re in,” Niall said with a firm nod, and Louis couldn’t hold back anymore. He burst out laughing and struggled to fetch his phone from his pocket, where it had started vibrating.

“Oh it’s my mum, I just have to take this…”

*

Later that evening, the boys were all spread out over the sofas and armchairs in Louis and Niall’s small living room, The Holiday playing on the large television. Louis and Harry were squished into the armchair together - Louis was curled up on Harry’s lap, carding his fingers through his curls, comforting him as Harry sniffed his way through the movie, too moved by any semblance of an emotional scene.

“God, you are hopeless with anything romantic or remotely sad, Hazza,” Niall said, smiling with fond eyes over at his friend. Louis poked his tongue out at him, and leaned forward, Harry supporting his weight with his forearms as he grabbed him a fresh tissue from the box on the coffee table.

“You’re just a sensitive soul, aren’t you, love?” Louis said, pressing a gentle kiss to Harry’s forehead before he tucked him back in, wriggling his bum back slightly. Liam shushed them, getting annoyed as he couldn’t hear the dialogue but Niall just laughed, spreading out and resting his feet on Liam’s lap, surprised when Liam didn't shove them away.

The credits rolled before they knew it, and Liam stood up, nudging Niall awake where he’d dozed off, mouth open and drooling slightly on one of his cushions. Liam just rolled his eyes and Louis tried to concentrate on saying goodbye to his friends, despite the kisses Harry was now pressing up and down his neck.

“Missed dessert, did we Harry?” Liam teased, grabbing his jacket from the back of the sofa and shrugging it on. Louis couldn’t bring himself to push Harry off, enjoying the slight sting of his neck where Harry was sucking a bruise just below his earlobe, rationalising that it was his birthday, and if he and his gorgeous boyfriend wanted to get amorous on their sofa, that was their right.

“Fuck off, Li,” Louis said good naturedly, and Liam just laughed, kicking Niall’s ankle gently with the toe of his shoe, waking him up again.

“Come on Nialler, let’s leave the lovebirds to it before we get a free show.” Louis felt Harry hum into the kiss then, and reluctantly dragged himself to his feet, Harry following closely behind, pulling their bodies close as they stumbled towards the front door. Louis felt pleasantly buzzed after the few beers he’d downed, and finally, Niall and Liam had gone on their way, wishing Harry and Louis a merry Christmas, a twinkle in both of their eyes that, again, Louis put down to the festive buzz of the beers they’d had earlier.

Despite Harry’s protests, Louis had offered to help Harry clear up the kitchen, washing up the plates and pots before Harry started to get a little handsy with him, smacking his soap bubble clad hands against Louis’ chest, laughing at the big, wet marks he left behind.

“You can take it off now,” Harry murmured in a low voice, one that never failed to provoke a reaction out of Louis. He teased Harry a bit, tugging up the hem enough to show off her lower stomach and Harry groaned, reaching out to touch, Louis hurrying to duck out of reach.

“Lou, come on… I wanna give you your birthday present…”

“You did that this morning, love,” Louis replied, peeling his wet t-shirt off and throwing it in the direction of the washing machine. “And it was the best birthday present anyone’s ever given-”

“No, Lou, I have another one,” Harry said, stumbling over to Louis and resting one of his feet on Louis’, leaning in and licking his lips. “Come with me-” Louis squealed as Harry bent down and hoisted Louis up and over his shoulder, clumsily walking in the direction of the bedroom, a hand holding Louis in place on his ass, the other slamming the door closed behind them before he unceremoniously threw Louis onto the bed.

“What’s made you all caveman like?” Louis asked, feeling ever so slightly aroused as he stood back up and watched Harry yank his clothes from his body, his tattooed skin hovering over Louis in no time at all. Louis sighed and rested his palms on Harry’s bare chest. As much as he loved the fact he’d spent his birthday with his best friends, he felt a sense of relief to finally be alone with Harry, and suddenly felt desperate to touch his boyfriend.

Louis pushed himself up onto his tiptoes and grabbed Harry’s neck, pulling him down into a deep kiss, moaning lowly as Harry pushed his tongue into Louis’ mouth, his big hands slipping into the waistband of Louis’ pants and squeezing his ass for a moment.

“Get naked, Lou,” Harry murmured as his hands slid down and started to work at the waistband of Louis’ jeans, popping the button open and pushing them down his thighs. He kissed down his chest as he dropped to the floor, lifting each of Louis’ legs as he pulled the fabric away from his body. “You’re so fucking beautiful, Lou-”

“What’s- ah, god, yeah- what’s my present then?” Louis panted out as Harry licked and sucked along his inner thighs -  Louis enjoyed Harry marking him up there just a little too much at times. Louis shuddered again when Harry’s hand trailed around his hip, a finger running gently between his cheeks. Louis biting down on his lip hard. “Oh god-”

“Gonna eat you out,” Harry murmured, pressing a kiss to the leaking tip of Louis’ cock, his tongue flitting across for it a moment and collecting a bead of precome that was leaking from the slit. Louis sighed in pleasure and let his hands come to rest in Harry’s curls, trying to guide him back to where he wanted him the most. “Turn around baby… on your hands and knees-”

Louis nodded and turned around, crawling across the mattress, stopping when he reached what he felt was the middle. His head was swimming, his heart was racing, and his limbs already felt like jelly, and Harry had barely touched him. He knew he’d practically lost it the last time Harry had rimmed him. Harry had been begging to do it for weeks but Louis had been reluctant, never having gone down that route with Kyle before. Eventually, Harry promised he’d stop if Louis didn't like it, and Louis laid back and… well. He’d never experienced such pleasure in his life, so much so that it was now a much-wanted part of their sex life, and Louis was twitchy with the anticipation of what was to come.

Harry’s fingertips touched the back of Louis’ knees, and he walked his fingers gently up the back of Louis’ thighs, Louis arching back into the touch, already desperate for more. He could feel Harry’s hot breath tickling his ass cheeks, and pushed back, earning him Harry’s firm hands on his hips, holding him still.

“Wait, baby, don’t be impatient,” Harry mumbled, coming up and around to quickly kiss Louis’ lips, which did nothing to still Louis’ nerves.

“Touch me, Haz…” Louis begged, clutching the fabric of the sheet beneath him into fists. “I want- want you to touch me-”

“Okay, love, okay,” Harry said, bringing his hands down to grab at the flesh of Louis’ ass again, spreading his cheeks slightly. “You’re so fucking beautiful here, baby-”

“Fuck!” Louis put his entire focus on staying upright as Harry leaned in and licked teasingly with the tip of his tongue around Louis’ rim, not yet dipping inside where Louis so badly wanted him. “Oh god, oh my- Harry -” Louis was already whimpering, and Harry’s hands clamped down on his hips, fingers digging in to keep him still. Despite Harry’s hold, Louis was finding it hard to keep still, and tried to push back, the cool air hitting his spit slick skin as Harry quickly pulled away. “No- no don’t stop Harry, please don’t stop- fuck, please baby-”

“Then stay still,” Harry said, his voice low and full of desire, sending more shivers up Louis’ spine as he felt his body wriggle closer again, Harry’s breath tickling against his sensitive skin. “Love you-”

Louis cried out as, once again, Harry circled his rim, kissing and licking, his fingers gently pulling him apart. Louis concentrated hard on not moving, and not coming too soon either. Harry did things with his tongue Louis didn't even realise were possible, and as Harry nudged the tip of his thumb inside Louis’ hole, Louis gave up holding himself up and collapsed onto the bed, Harry changing the position of his hands to haul Louis’ hips up, ensuring his ass stayed in the air.

“Shit, feels so good- oh, god,” Louis mumbled incoherently, shocks of pleasure firing all over his body as Harry continued to lick and kiss everywhere around, Louis’ muscle fluttering at the sensation, at how good Harry was making him feel. Louis moaned loudly as Harry surprised him, pushing his tongue inside next to the tip of his thumb, and Louis bucked up, desperately seeking his cock, wanting to get off.

He gasped when Harry reached forwards, grabbing his wrist in one small movement and pinning it to the bed, not moving away from Louis’ ass at all. Louis understood Harry didn't want him touching himself, and he just rocked his hips back and forth, Harry’s warm and wet mouth not letting up at all. Harry slid his thumb out slowly, quickly replacing it with two slick fingers, scissoring Louis open slightly and allowing his tongue to delve deeper. Louis was really struggling to hold himself together now.

“Holy fucking- Harry, Harry-ohhhhhhhh-”

The conflicting sensation of Louis being stretched open by Harry’s slender fingers and Harry’s tongue trailing in and out of his body was so much, and Louis knew he wasn’t making a jot of sense, letting his body relish in the feeling. His thigh muscles were straining from holding his lower half up, and and he let out a long, high whine as Harry made an obscene slurping noise with his tongue.

"H-harry, Harry, please ," Louis begged. He was shaking now, giving in completely to the pleasure, and Harry's fingers were back in him, just barely brushing his prostate. Louis could almost feel Harry’s smirk behind him, and could feel Harry rutting against the bed, the mattress moving each time he dipped his hips, driving his tongue back inside with each forward motion.

“So good for me, my beautiful Louis,” Harry mumbled, pressing small but insistent kisses down between Louis’ cheeks, Louis keening forwards when Harry’s lips teased across his balls. “Taste so perfect… look so good falling apart on my tongue… want you to come like this, Lou, can you do that for me?”

Louis couldn’t find the words he needed to answer Harry’s question, so he settled for nodding, tears starting to spill from his eyes at how good he felt, how loved and cherished Harry always made him feel, no matter what they were doing. Harry dived back in enthusiastically, twisting his wrist and flicking his fingers inside him as his tongue played between them, teasing Louis as it flitted around. Louis could feel the familiar bubble of orgasm low in his stomach.

“Fuck… Haz, I’m gonna- gonna come, I need- shit!”

Harry's fingers spread wider and then disappeared, leaving the feeling of his tongue all the more prominent, and Louis shuddered, sounds falling from his lips that he didn't know he could make. One more deep press of Harry’s tongue was all it to make Louis come harder than he had in a long time, his body screaming with pleasure. Louis’ hands came back to grip at Harry’s curls, obscenities flying from his mouth as he coated the bed beneath him.

Finally, Harry released him, and Louis couldn’t move. He lay there panting, face first on the bed, aware he looked a debauched mess but not caring at all. Harry’s fingers continued to tickle up and down the backs of Louis’ thighs until eventually, he scooted up the bed, laying on his tummy next to Louis, both of them now facing each other.

“Good?” Harry asked, voice low and cheeks red with a smirk on his face.

“You fucking know it was,” Louis mumbled back, blinking sleepily at his boyfriend. “I fucking love you. Let me…” He reached out to touch Harry and was startled by the feel of a wet patch on the front of Harry’s underwear, and a soft cock where he expected to find Harry’s erection. “Oh my god, Harry. Did you come from... from eating me out?”

“Um, kinda?” Harry said, blushing and trying to turn away, Louis putting a hand on Harry’s cheek, stopping his movement. “I just… you… the sounds you made and how your body reacts to me… I like that. A lot.”

“Wow. Okay, that’s… well. You’re something else, you know that, Harry Styles?”

“All yours though,” Harry said, his dimple popping in his cheek as he grinned at Louis. “Happy birthday, Lou.”

“Best birthday ever,” Louis said, sleep lacing his voice as he curled into Harry’s side, feeling safe and loved in the warmth of Harry’s long arms.

*

Louis blinked wearily in the darkness, reaching across the bed and frowning when he touched cold, empty sheets instead of the warm curves of his boyfriend’s body. Slowly, he sat up and smiled to himself, realising it was Christmas morning, before he reached over and flicked on the bedside lamp, bathing the room in a warm glow. It was then he noticed a piece of folded paper on Harry’s pillow, his name with a heart swirling underneath written on the front.

With a grin, Louis picked it up and unfolded, reading the words lovingly written in Harry’s messy scrawl.

Happy Christmas Lou!

Had to pop out for something, but I’ll be back really soon. You could make a start on breakfast if you like. Love you so much. Xxxx

Louis grinned, refolding the piece of paper before he placed it back in his bedside drawer, swinging his cold legs out of bed. He pulled on a pair of joggers that were languishing on the floor and shoved his feet into slippers, pulling on one of Harry’s cosy jumpers he left lying around the place before he walked out of his room. He flicked on the Christmas tree lights on his way to the kitchen, desperate for a cup of tea.

He ambled into the kitchen and immediately filled the kettle and turned it on, opening the fridge to see what he could make him and Harry for their first shared Christmas breakfast. He laughed at the ridiculously large turkey Harry had bought and reached around it, grabbing a packet of bacon and the box of eggs, setting both things down on the counter. He set his iPhone onto the dock on the windowsill and started his festive playlist that Harry had loaded on for him, singing along merrily to Mariah Carey while he whisked the eggs in a bowl.

Just as he finished belting out what he felt was an impressive high note, he heard Harry’s key in the front door, followed by his heavy footsteps on the wooden floor. Before Harry could say a word, Louis paused the next song, hollering out through the flat.

“About time you’re bloody home, want you naked and back in bed for your Christmas present in a minute!” Instead of Harry reappearing in the kitchen doorway as he’d expected, there was an unusual silence. Louis frowned to himself and moved the frying pan away from the hot burner, walking into the living room. “Harry, everything- oh … shit.”

Louis immediately felt tears burning in the back of his eyes as he took in the sight in front of him. Instead of just Harry waiting for him, he was surrounded by Louis’ family… his mum, step-dad, his sisters and brother, all grinning wildly at him, although his mum was a little red-cheeked, possibly thanks to the inappropriate thing she’d just heard her son yell to his boyfriend.

“Erm… surprise?” Harry said weakly, biting his lip between his teeth. “I… I wanted to do something special for you, love-”

“Oh my god, Mum,” Louis sobbed, dashing into his Mum’s open arms, squeezing her tightly until she laughed and pulled back, holding him at arm’s length. “What the- how? How are you all here?”

“Your wonderful Harry,” was all she said, meeting Harry’s eyes as the pair shared a fond and knowing smile. “He arranged all this - we’ve been speaking about it for weeks. Oh, sweetheart… Merry Christmas, darling.” Louis lost it then, sobbing noisily onto his Mum’s shoulder, clinging on tightly, like if he let go, she might disappear.

He felt himself move after a few moments, his Mum transferring him from her hug to Harry’s waiting arms, Harry running his fingers through Louis’ hair, shushing him quietly as Louis got himself together, using Harry’s top to wipe away his tears. He sniffed for a moment before he pulled away, pressing a hard kiss to Harry’s lips.

“You are fucking perfect… just, god , you’re everything, Harry,” Louis whispered into the kiss. Harry smiled at him, cradling Louis’ face and returning the kiss before his eyes went up, taking in the faces of Louis’ family before him. “Oh shit, I need to introduce you…”

“We kinda met when I got them from the airport, love,” Harry teased, and everyone laughed softly.

“No, I meant… I want to do this properly.” He cleared his throat and stepped over to his mum, Harry’s hand in his. “Mum, I’d love to meet my wonderful boyfriend, Harry. Harry, this is my beautiful mother, Jay, and her husband, Dan.” He carried on, Harry hugging each family member he was introduced to, but the youngest twins were hiding behind Dan’s legs, not coming out despite Louis’ attempts at coaxing them out.

He watched with soft eyes as Harry got to his knees, beckoning them closer with a crooked finger, and curiously, they slipped out, standing, hands held, in front of them. Harry leaned and whispered something to the pair, whose eyes flew open, nodding frantically. Harry stood up to his full height and held out his hands, Ernest and Doris each placing a tiny hand in Harry’s. Together, they headed out of the door, disappearing down the hallway, Harry chatting away.

Louis took the opportunity to bestow more hugs on his sisters, taking their coats and flinging them onto the sofa, still a little dazed.

“I… I still can’t believe you’re here, in Pennsylvania for Christmas. This is just… the best Christmas surprise ever.”

“You deserve it, mate,” Dan said, clapping Louis on the shoulder. “Just so you know, Harry’s booked us a hotel just across the town, so we won’t be clogging up your place tonight. But we’ll stay as late as we can, and we’ll be here tomorrow when you finish work. Niall’s offered to show us round tomorrow since he’s off and you have to work.”

Louis nodded and grinned. It seemed his boyfriend really had thought of everything. The door burst open again then, little footsteps running across the wooden floor, carrier bags dragging behind each of them, stuffed full to the brims.

“And what have we got here, Santa’s little elves?” Louis said, voice full of joy as the twins shook their heads at him, laughing loudly, curls bouncing all around. Harry stopped behind them and crouched between them again.

“No, silly Lou, it’s me, Doris!” she cried, everyone laughing at her.

“Go on then loves, get it to Lou,” Harry encouraged, and they brought the bags to Louis, who eagerly dove in, keen to see what was inside.

“Oh, you did NOT!” Louis shouted, voice full of joy. He pulled each item out one by one, the bags stuffed full of the snacks and food he’d missed so much from home over the past few years. There was tea bags, biscuits, crackers, packet mixes, sweets, chocolate bars, and much more. Louis looked up, meeting Harry’s eyes, the pair sharing a silent moment amidst the chaos. He mouthed thank you to him, Doris waving a bar of Dairy Milk in front of his face while Ernest was hopelessly trying to tear into a packet of digestive biscuits before Jay scolded him, quickly removing it from his hands.

“I’m going to start breakfast,” Harry said, Jay swiftly following him into the kitchen, wanting to help out since cooking for so many was a little foreign to even someone as competent in the kitchen as Harry. Soon, the smell of frying bacon and sizzling eggs filled the apartment, the older girls Lottie and Felicite lounging on the sofas, having discovered the TV remote, watching some Christmas edition of Keeping Up with Kardashians. Phoebe and Daisy sat on their phones, tapping away silently at the screens while Dan wrangled the younger twins.

Louis just sat back on his heels for a moment, taking everything in. This was all he’d dreamed of for years, Christmas with his wonderful family, and it meant absolutely everything to him that Harry had arranged all of this, had spoken to Louis’ family without him knowing, just to put a smile on his face. He pulled himself to his feet, walking to the kitchen, pausing just outside when he heard Harry and Jay talking quietly, piling food into big serving bowls, a pile of white plates sat off to the side. He didn't mean to snoop, but at the same time, he was curious to hear what they were saying.

“... I really never thought he’d take a chance on love again, you know? After… well...”

“Kyle? He told me,” Harry said softly, spinning around and placing the now empty frying pan in the sink, filling it with warm water from the tap. “I hate that he was treated like that, that he had a jaded view of relationships because of that.”

“But you’ve changed that, Harry. You’ve made him realise how wonderful and special love can be. My boy is smiling again, and it’s because of you.” Jay set down the tongs she was using to move bacon from the pan to the dish, and turned to Harry, taking his big hands in hers for a moment. “You have given Louis back his... well, his smile, love. As a little boy, he smiled all the time, and I hate Kyle for robbing me of my smiley, happy boy. But you’ve brought him back to me, and I can never thank you enough.”

“You never have to thank me,” Harry almost whispered, bottom lip trembling as he spoke honestly to Jay. “He makes me so happy, too. I’ve had a hard time lately-” Jay nodded knowingly, Louis having spent hours on the phone to her about things. “-and your son has been there for me without question, mopping up my tears and being my rock. I don’t think I’d have got through it without him, Jay.”

She surged forwards then, wrapping Harry into a tight hug and Louis slipped away, not wanting to intrude anymore. His heart felt full as the words he’d hear sunk in, the two most important people in his life uniting in their love for him. Doris came barrelling down the hall then, and Louis scooped her up into his arms, the little girl shrieking loudly as he held her upside down for a minute.

“Lou I need food, where’s the eggs?” she shrieked between giggles, and Louis righted her, setting her on his hip and kissing her little rosy cheek.

“Shall we go and find if Mummy and Harry are finished cooking?” She nodded and together, they made their way down the hall, arriving in the kitchen, grinning at the pair who had the serving dishes in their hands. Harry’s eyes were a bit more red-rimmed than when Louis had seen him before. “Ooh, I think it’s ready, little love!” Doris clapped eagerly and soon, Louis and his entire family were seated around the table, laughter and chatter filling the air as Christmas music played softly in the background.

Louis was sat next to Harry, and he slid his hand under the table, taking Harry’s for a moment and squeezing softly. “Thank you.. For this. I… I don’t have the words to tell you what this means to me.”

“Are you happy?” Harry asked, a serious expression on his face.

“More than happy,” Louis answered, eyes locked with Harry’s.

“That’s all I wanted,” Harry replied, leaning in to peck Louis’ lips, pulling away when Phoebe and Daisy made disgusted noises from across the table.

“I am trying to eat my bacon, Louis,” one of the twins said stroppily. “Do you mind putting Harry down for a minute so I don’t have to see my food again?” Harry cackled loudly at her cheek and Jay just sat, open-mouthed, shocked at her daughter’s outburst.

“Oh, good god…” she muttered and Louis just grabbed Harry’s face, kissing him fiercely, not giving a damn what his sisters thought about it.

“Happy Christmas, Harry,” he said, pulling away and wiping Harry’s lips with the pad of his thumb. “My very own Santa Claus.”

*

That evening, the turkey had been eaten, crackers were popped, and tummies were full. Jay and Dan had insisted on doing the washing up as Harry and Louis had done most of the cooking, and Harry had taken the twins into his and Louis’ room, letting them have a nap since it had been a long day for the four year olds. They’d woken after a few hours, and Louis had dug out his Christmas movie collection, the twins eagerly picking Arthur Christmas as their choice, both horrified when Harry revealed he hadn’t seen it.

Ernest had grabbed Harry’s hand and pulled him into the living room, yanking him onto the floor where he proceeded to crawl into his lap. Doris was soon vying for attention as well until Harry created enough room, and both twins cuddled into his lap, leaning back against him. Louis had met his eye across the room, filled with love for the boy who had so readily accepted his crazy family. The movie was nearly done, the twins were almost asleep, cuddling teddies Jay had grabbed from their bags earlier on, a blanket draped over the three of them.

Daisy and Phoebe were cuddled up with Dan at one end of the sofa, while Lottie and Felicite were squished together in the armchair, both dozing lightly. Louis was curled up against Jay, his Mum’s arm around his shoulder as they watched the movie still playing on the large television.

“He’s pretty wonderful, isn’t he?” Jay mused, turning her body so she could look at Louis, the pair talking quietly enough they wouldn’t be overheard by anyone else. “He makes you happy?”

“So happy,” Louis confirmed, nodding shyly. “I can’t believe he did all this for me. He’s just... he’s so perfect, Mum. I love him so much.”

“I can see that, love,” she said, a small smile crossing her lips. “He’s completely gone for you too, I reckon. He looks at you like you hung the moon and the stars, Lou.” Louis blushed at that, his gaze on his hands, playing with his own fingers for a moment. “Louis… is he the one, love?”

Louis stilled, a little surprised by the question. He knew the answer to it, without a shadow of a doubt in his mind, but admitting it aloud for the first time was a scary prospect. Instead of words, he flicked his eyes up, meeting his mum’s as he nodded slowly, his gaze quickly moving to Harry, heart full of love.

“Then I’m so, so happy for you,” Jay whispered, hugging Louis again. “That’s all I’ve ever wanted, you know, for you to be happy and find someone who you love, and that loves you back like you deserve.”

“He does, he really does,” Louis said, almost itching to dart off the sofa and grab the wonderful scrapbook Harry had got him the other day, to show her how amazing his boyfriend could be. Harry had already scribbled a small birthday message on one of the clean pages, promising to add a photo that he’d taken of him, Louis, Liam and Niall enjoying Louis’ birthday dinner as soon as he could get one printed.

The movie ended soon after Louis’ chat with his mum, and he watched with reluctant eyes as they all got to their feet, the older kids pulling on coats and boots while Harry waited patiently on the floor as Dan lifted Doris away, leaving Harry to wrestle a sleeping Ernest into his coat. Jay went to pick Ernest up, but Harry shook his head, carefully getting to his feet, the little boy still safely in his arms.

“I’ve got him,” he said to Jay with a smile, and followed Dan out the door, down to the Uber that Harry had arranged for them. Jay turned to Louis and hugged him again.

“Thank you for a wonderful Christmas,” she started, tears filling her eyes at the fact she had to say goodbye to her son. “Honestly, this was the best thing Harry could ever have done for us. I’ve missed you so much, Louis, you’re still my beautiful baby boy, you know.”

“I’m twenty seven now, Mum,” Louis moaned, quickly wiping his own eyes. “I’ve missed you too, though. All of you. I won’t leave it so long next time, I promise.”

“And you bring that amazing boyfriend with you, too,” Jay insisted, Louis laughing and nodding at her easy inclusion of Harry, like they were a unit already. “And you will always be my baby, Louis Tomlinson, no matter what. Now, enjoy the rest of your evening with Harry, darling, and we’ll see you after your shift tomorrow. I think Harry’s made a reservation for us all.”

“Of course he has,” Louis said, slipping on his coat before he helped his mum into hers, walking down the hallway and out into the bitter night air. Harry was stood shivering, fastening Ernest into a car seat the Uber had provided, and Louis was hit with sudden visions of Harry doing that with their own children in a few years time. He grinned to himself and waved at the other girls in the car, calling Merry Christmas before Harry joined him, waving wildly as the car drove away.

He grabbed Harry’s hand and darted back inside the building, shivering despite his coat, as they got back into their flat. Louis didn't wait more than a few seconds before jumping into Harry’s arms, wrapping his legs around his laughing boyfriend’s waist, kissing him eagerly.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you,” he mumbled repeatedly, pleased to finally have him alone. “You are so amazing. I love you so fucking much.”

“I love you, too,” Harry said, red cheeked, his hands supporting under Louis’ ass. “Can we do pressies now?” Louis nodded. “Want to do them on our bed?”

Louis arched back a moment, looking Harry in the eye. “Our bed now, is it?”

“Oh, um, I- I didn't mean-”

“Yes, you did,” Louis teased with a smirk. “And you’re right. Doesn’t feel right without you now. Come on.” Harry turned and walked them through to their bedroom, setting Louis down on top of the unmade sheets. He turned to his drawer and pulled a small box from it, setting it down with a card, a shy smile on his face.

“Um… it’s not much… I spent most of my money flying your family out here and-” he stopped talking as Louis’ pressed his lips roughly against his, his hands clutching at Harry’s cheeks.

“I don’t care. I don’t care if you never get me another Christmas present ever, Harry. This … you bringing my family here is the best thing you could ever have gotten me. I promise.” Harry nodded, picking up the red envelope from the bed, handing it to Louis, who handed Harry back a silver one. They ripped them open, both tearing up at the emotional words they’d each written inside. Louis kissed Harry again, and smiled as Harry pressed the small red box into his hands.

“Merry Christmas, baby.” Louis smiled and pulled off the white ribbon, lifting the lid gently, laughing as he pulled out the gift inside.

“Oh god, I love it,” he said with a big grin. In his hand was a silver snowflake ornament, a photo of Louis and Harry in the circle in the middle, Harry kissing Louis’ cheek. “It’s perfect, I’ll go and hang it on the tree in a minute. Thank you, darling. Right, my turn.” Harry made a silly face and Louis laughed, turning around on the bed and pulled his bedside drawer open, rifling among the condoms and lube until he found the two small presents.

He sat back, cross legged opposite Harry, their knees touching as he handed them over. “Um, that one first,” he said, indicating the golden wrapped box. He watched, nervously tapping his fingers on his knee, as Harry carefully peeled the paper away from it , biting down on his bottom lip when he saw a jewellery box underneath.

Slowly, Harry opened it, and Louis could see his eyes fill with tears instantly. He lifted it from the box, dangling the silver chain from his fingertips, a tiny silver paper plane hanging from it. Louis smiled, feeling extremely lucky that he’d spotted it when he had, just a few days ago.

“Oh, Louis…”

I wanted to get you something you can wear at work. Something from me. I mean, one day, maybe ... I mean I'd like to ... but I just ..." he cleared his throat, determined to get past his near slip of the tongue. He knew they probably both felt the same way, but he wasn’t quite ready to say it out loud yet. "I want people to know that you're mine, even if they don't know you're mine yet. I hope this is enough ... ” He looked up and saw tears falling down Harry’s cheeks, his hands shaking as he hurried to cover his face. “Hey, no… don’t cry darling,” Louis said, getting onto his knees and wrapping his arms around Harry, letting him cry into his shoulder. “I’m sorry…”

“No, it’s just… it’s perfect, Louis, and I love it. Can you put it on me?” Louis nodded and fumbled with the tiny clasp for a minute until it fastened around the back of Harry’s neck, and Louis watched as Harry looked down, the small paper plane between his fingertips. “Thank you so much.”

“There’s more,” Louis said, indicating the silver present on the bed. Harry reached out and picked it up, but stopped opening it when Louis rested his hand on Harry’s wrist, smiling at how the new jewelley around his neck sparkled in the light of the room. “I’m sorry in advance if this makes you cry, too.”

Harry just nodded and opened it, sliding out an upside-down picture frame. He turned it over and gasped, tears already falling as he took in the image of himself and Maddy in the frame, both grinning broadly at the camera. It was one of the shots Louis knew Maddy’s mum had taken of the pair after she’d walked the corridor for the first time with Harry before she died.

“Maddy’s mum gave me that, at the funeral,” Louis explained. “She thought you might like it, and I... I thought so too. I know how important photos are to you, so…”

“Thank you,” was all Harry replied, still openly crying, running his fingertip over Maddy’s face as he stared down at the frame. “I… I wish she could have made it to Christmas, Lou. We could’ve gone to see her, watched her little face light up at the fact Father Christmas had been… she deserved that, you know? She would have loved it so much… Christmas was always Izzy’s favourite as well-” he dissolved into tears, his forehead resting on Louis’ shoulder as he cried, body wracked with sobs.

“She would,” Louis said, not really knowing what else to say. He just held Harry, waiting until his sobs subsided into sniffles, drying his eyes with a tissue and pressing soft kisses to his cheeks. He watched as Harry got up from the bed, sighing as he headed over to Louis’ dresser, standing up their cards for each other before he held his hand out, the frame clutched in his other hand.

Louis silently stood, slotting his hand into Harry’s. They stopped in front of the Christmas tree, and Louis smiled as he stretched onto his tiptoes, hooking the string of the snowflake ornament over a tall branch. Harry reached up easily to straighten it, nodding when he was happy.

“Perfect.”

Harry stepped back a moment, and Louis watched him looking around the room until he stilled, eyes set on Louis’ windowsill where his frames stuffed full of family photos stood. Harry stepped over and stared down at the frame in his hand for a moment before he set it down in a free space, swallowing as he turned around to look at Louis.

“Is this okay?” he asked, fiddling nervously with the paper plane hanging around his neck.

“Of course, more than okay,” Louis reassured him, standing next to Harry now, an arm looped around his waist. “This… this is your home too, you know. I want you to always feel at home with me.”

“I do, I really do,” Harry said, turning until they were pressed chest to chest. Louis looked up into Harry’s sparkling green eyes, completely and utterly gone for him. “I love you.”

“I love you, too,” Louis said, and shut his eyes as Harry kissed him again. Louis felt his whole body relax in Harry’s arms, and realised that he had everything he ever wanted right here. Harry… his home.

Chapter Text

The days between Christmas and New Years were always limbo days for Harry. He didn’t want Christmas to be over, so he refused to take down his decorations, and instead threw himself into work at the hospital.

He had made sure Louis had a few extra days off to spend with his family, having snuck into the computer system to get them off under his name, and while Harry ran from room to room, tending to all of their new patients, he knew Louis was out exploring the few amazing things Chambersburg had to offer. He loved knowing that Louis was out there smiling brightly and spending time with his family. The only sad part was that he didn’t see Louis much on those days. Because they were one staff member short at the hospital, Harry had been working overtime every night, getting home late and deciding to just go back to his actual apartment and sleep instead of waking Louis up.

Needless to say, he was horny. He missed his boyfriend and every brush of clothing or air against his crotch had him practically vibrating out of his clothes. It’s not that he couldn’t fix the situation himself - he was more than capable, but he really wanted Louis. It wasn’t the same without Louis whispering filthy things in his ear as they grinded their bodies together.

Harry thought about all of this as he busied himself in the kitchen, cooking up food and preparing punch. All of the boys had managed to get off for New Year’s, and Harry was throwing a party. He wasn’t quite sure how many people would show up, but he’d invited his neighbors and Louis’ neighbors and people from the hospital, and basically anyone he could think of. It made him realize how tight knit and cut off from everyone else he and his friends were, but that was ok. As long as the party was a success and he had Louis there to kiss at midnight, he would be fine.

“Knock knock, Haz,” called a voice from the hallway, and Harry looked up to see Niall and Liam coming in, snow dusting their shoulders.

“Hey … sorry, it’s a bit crazy in here. Louis was gonna help me, but he took his family back to the airport,” Harry said, wiping his forehead and consequently painting flour over it. He sighed and grabbed a towel to wipe it off as Niall and Liam laughed, taking off their coats and making themselves at home. “What did you bring?”

“We were supposed to bring stuff? I thought it was just you cooking for a fuckton of people,” Niall said with a laugh, and Harry threw the towel at him, but he was smiling. Liam gestured at the counter.

“We bought desserts, of course. And some beer. Lots of beer.”

Harry nodded and whirled around as something splashed on the stove. He felt a little crazy, and the fact that he wanted nothing more than to go into the bathroom, take a hot shower, and rub one off wasn’t helping at all. He took a deep breath and tried to focus on other things - his patients were doing well, and so far, they were actually just his, because Louis hadn’t met them yet. That thought gave him a bit of a confidence boost, because everyone treated him like he knew what he was doing, and it felt good to be helping people again.

The oven timer beeped loudly, bringing him out of his thoughts, and he rushed to open it, hoping that his cake wasn’t burned. He still had to put icing on it and do the writing and everything, and they only had about an hour before everyone was due to arrive.

“Harry … hey, Harry, breathe, yeah? Let us help you. What can we do?” Liam asked, coming back into the room from where he’d deposited his boots by the door. Harry had a strong urge to kick them out of his kitchen - he hated having people help him cook. They didn’t know his system. But there was no way he was getting all this done on time.

“Umm … yeah, maybe you guys can get all the food out of the fridge? Just set it up on the tables I have out there. Organize it by the signs I put up. Please.”

Liam rolled his eyes but smirked. Harry knew Liam wanted to make fun of his careful planning, but he didn’t, instead dragging a slightly confused Niall along with him. Harry sighed and poured the pasta into the strainer in the sink before sliding the cake into the freezer. The faster it cooled down, the faster he could get it ready. He huffed out a laugh and smiled as his phone buzzed, Louis’ name lighting up the screen.

“Hiya, Lou. You on your way home?”

There was a lot of crackling from the other side, and then Louis’ voice, sounding annoyed, came through the earpiece. “Stupid traffic. I’ve been stuck on the same mile for ages. I don’t know if I’ll make it home in time, love.”

Harry felt the smile slide slightly from his face, but he knew he couldn’t blame Louis for this. Besides, his friends were here.

“That’s alright. Take your time, please, and I’ll see you when I see you. Love you.”

“Love you too, Harry. Just you and me later, yeah? I miss you.”

Harry nodded vigorously before realizing Louis couldn’t see him. “Yeah, definitely. Bye!”

Harry pocketed his phone and hurried around the kitchen for a few more minutes before pulling the cake out of the freezer and touching it lightly. It was cool enough - ready for decorating. He let himself relax for a moment, leaning against the counter. This was going to be a good night. He had it all worked out.

*

Just a few hours later, the party was in full swing. There were about 50 people there, which, for Harry and Liam’s small apartment, was a lot of people. Harry wasn’t even sure he knew half of them, but everyone was being respectful and nothing had broken yet. Most people milled around, talking amongst themselves, and a few were in the kitchen, pouring themselves more drinks. Everyone else was crowded around the small TV in the main room, where New Year’s Rockin’ Eve was playing. Harry thought he recognized the performer that was on, but he couldn’t be quite sure, because at that moment, someone covered his eyes and a body pressed up against his back.

“Hi, Hazza,” said a voice in his ear, and Harry very nearly collapsed into Louis’ arms. He’d missed him so much, missed his voice and his touch and his smell. He turned around and pulled Louis close to him, planting several kisses all over his face before connecting their lips. He felt Louis’ lips part immediately and he let his tongue tangle with Louis’, moaning a little into it. He had almost forgotten how much Louis could turn him on.

“Lou … god, I missed you,” Harry mumbled against Louis’ lips before pulling him into a tight hug and burying his head in Louis’ neck.

“Missed you too, love. So much.” Louis pulled away from the hug and looked around. “Nice party! Looks like you’ve got half of Chambersburg in here.”

Harry nodded, smiling wide. “I don’t know about that, but people seem to be enjoying themselves. How was the drive?”

Louis groaned. “It was fucking terrible … but now I’m here. You look so beautiful.”

Harry blushed furiously. He hadn’t really tried to look good, he’d just thrown on something from his closet, but Louis praising him always made him feel giddy. Harry took that moment to admire Louis, because even with the amount of time they’d spend together recently, he was used to seeing Louis in scrubs or naked, so seeing him in tight jeans and a knit sweater was almost overwhelming.

“You … you too, Lou. I love this sweater on you.” Harry reached to pull Louis closer, his hands sliding down Louis’ waist and resting on his ass. “And you look fantastic in these jeans … wanna take them off you with my teeth.”

Harry wasn’t quite sure where his dirty talk was coming from, especially since they were in a room where people were continuously walking in and out, but he found that it turned him on more. Louis looked up at Harry, and Harry could only see a thin ring of blue around the darkness of his pupil. Harry shivered at the look Louis was giving him, and without another word, Harry grabbed his hand and dragged him off down the hallway and to his bedroom, locking the door behind them.

“Lou …” Harry whispered, pushing Louis up against his closed door and attacking his neck with his lips, grazing his teeth over Louis’ pulse point.

“Harry, we … there’s a party … fuck ,” Louis’ moans only made Harry more eager to get close to Louis. He couldn’t get enough. He parted from Louis’ neck and pressed their lips together, craving the feeling of Louis’ tongue.

“Need you, Lou,” Harry gasped, cupping the back of Louis’ neck to get better access to his lips. He wasn’t sure what he was doing or even thinking, but his body knew what it wanted, and he shoved his leg between Louis’, grinding helplessly against his thigh.

“I see that, Haz,” Louis chuckled, looping his hands around Harry’s neck. Harry could feel Louis’ fingers playing with the small curls at the base of his neck, and he preened, leaning into the touch.

They pulled themselves away from the door and collapsed onto the bed, Harry rolling over until he was on top of Louis. He panted, staring down at his boyfriend, who was looking up at him with such a gaze that Harry whined, dipping back down for another kiss.

“Off, off,” Louis mumbled, pulling at Harry’s shirt, and Harry whipped it off over his head while Louis’ fingers were busy at the button of his jeans. Harry could hear the faint murmur of voices out in his apartment, and the even fainter sound of someone singing a ridiculously high note, and he felt his cock twitch. Louis smirked at him. “Gets you going, huh, Haz? Having people out there. People who might hear how good I make you feel?”

“Oh, god,” Harry moaned as Louis slipped a hand into his jeans. He was already extremely hard, and he knew it was going to be a job trying not to come right away. He moved his hips against Louis’, pulling Louis’ sweater off and pressing their chests together. “Lou … Louis , god, I-”

“Wanna ride you, Harry. Wanna feel you inside me, want you to come in me,” Louis mumbled, and Harry froze. It wasn’t that he didn’t want that - he did, more than anything, but …”

“Louis, are you sure? I don’t … I mean, I thought maybe you wouldn’t … after K-”

“I don't care about him. It’s you, only you. Want it with you.”

Harry sighed and kissed Louis again, their lips sliding together as Harry rolled them over so he was on his back, Louis settling himself right on Harry’s cock, still encased in his unzipped jeans and boxers.

“Need you naked… we need stuff …”

Louis was babbling now, and Harry was slightly in awe - he was making Louis feel this way. He was the one Louis wanted to be with, right here and right now, with tens of people out in the apartment. It was everything he’d ever dreamed of having.

Harry scrambled to get out of his pants as he reached for his bedside cabinet, pulling out lube and a string of condoms. He heard Louis laugh as Harry attempted to tear one off with shaking hands, and Harry threw the lube at him in retaliation.

“Want you to open yourself up for me, Lou. Wanna watch you.”

Louis nodded, having already discarded his own pants, and Harry pulled himself up against the headboard, gently tugging at himself as he watched. Louis had turned around so that his ass was in Harry’s face, almost like he was presenting himself to Harry, and Harry watched, teeth sunk into his bottom lip, as Louis slipped a slick finger into himself.

Louis’ whole body jerked forward, but he didn’t stop, instead speeding up and pushing himself back onto his own fingers. He was whimpering, a high pitched noise Harry had only ever heard him use when he was being rimmed, and he forced himself to take his hand away from his cock, which was leaking all over his stomach.

“God, Louis, you’re so … fuck, so beautiful for me,” Harry whispered, reaching out and touching Louis’ bum with his fingertips. Louis moaned loudly as he slipped a second finger in, scissoring them apart. Harry longed to touch, and as it was, his hand slid closer and closer to Louis’ stretched hole, just barely touching him.

“H- Harry , I’m … fuck, if you keep doing that, I’m going to come before you’ve even done anything,” Louis gasped, pulling away slightly as Harry’s fingers grazed over his hole. Harry hummed, but pulled his hand away. He wanted to see Louis lose it, he wanted to watch Louis come all over both of them.

Louis was now putting in a third finger, working himself back onto them, and Harry was grabbing onto the duvet. It was taking everything in him not to pull Louis to him. He needed him so badly.

Louis suddenly pulled his fingers out, turning around to face Harry, and Harry loved seeing the color high in his cheeks and his blown out pupils.

“I love you,” Harry said softly, not even realizing he was saying it until it was said. Louis’ face softened and he leaned down to kiss Harry’s cheeks gently.

“I love you too, Hazza.”

Harry put his arms around Louis and tugged him down on top of him, a choked off moan escaping him as their cocks rubbed against each other.

“Need … fuck, I need …” Harry whispered, and he could feel himself coming closer and closer to his release, and he wasn’t even inside Louis yet. “Lou, gonna come, I can’t-”

Louis’ hand was suddenly at the base of Harry’s cock, squeezing firmly. “No, you’re not.”

Harry whined and bucked his hips up. He needed it so badly. “Lou, please ... “

Louis nodded and pulled the condom towards him, tearing it open with his teeth instead of his lube slick fingers. He rolled it onto Harry gently, and Harry had to exercise all of the self control he had not to come.

“You ready, Haz?” Louis asked, and Harry let out a huffy laugh.

“Shouldn’t I be asking you that?”

“Figured I’d make sure,” Louis said with a smile, lining himself up carefully. Harry held his breath as the head of his cock touched Louis’ hole, and then he was sliding slowly inside, Louis sinking down with his eyes screwed shut in pleasure, or so Harry hoped.

“Oh .. oh, Harry … you’re so fucking big,” Louis moaned as he paused for a moment, his hand splayed on Harry’s chest, just covering his tattoos. Harry felt like he was floating.

“Lou, you’re so tight …” Harry started to say, but his words were cut off as Louis continued to take him down, a little at a time, until he was fully seated. They both groaned in unison, and Louis started moving his hips, just doing small circles to get the right angle.

“Harry … Harry,” Louis whined as he started bouncing up and down, and all Harry could do was lay there. His hands found their way to Louis’ hips and guided him up and down for a bit, coming closer and closer to coming.

“Lou, m’so close, need to …” Harry was gasping now, words coming out of him in breathy pants, and Louis nodded, his breathing just as irregular.

“Me too. I … god, you’re so-”

Harry didn’t let him finish. He snapped his hips up, desperate to come, and Louis sank deeper onto him than before, having slammed himself down onto Harry at the exact same moment. It only took another few seconds before Harry was coming, unable to make any noise, his mouth wide open and Louis’ name on his lips. Louis followed, painting both of their chests with white ropes of come, and they collapsed, exhausted, onto the bed, Louis pulling himself off Harry.

“Fuck … that was …” Louis began, and Harry nodded.

“Perfect.”

“Yeah, definitely.”

There was a sudden pounding on the door, and both of them jumped. They had forgotten that they were still in an apartment surrounded by people.

“Oi, you two better stop fucking in there, we’ve only got a few minutes!” Niall’s voice said through the closed door, and Harry thought he heard Liam’s laugh. He looked over at Louis, who was blushing but smiling, and both of them scrambled back into their clothes, trying to look presentable.

Out in the main room, everyone was on their feet with their drinks in their hands, counting down. Harry and Louis joined the back of the crowd, their hands intertwined.

“Five … four … three … two … one … Happy New Year!”

Everyone was shouting and hugging and kissing, and Harry felt like he turned to Louis in slow motion, the noise dying down around them until it was just them.

Harry couldn’t believe it. He had never had someone to do this with, to spend a holiday with, and now he’d spent many of them with the same person, the one who was looking at him now with so much love. He felt like this was huge, that this moment would lead them to so many more, and he wanted to say something profound, but the words wouldn’t come to him.

“Happy New Year, Lou,” Harry said finally, hoping that Louis knew what he was saying without saying it, and Louis’ smile, to Harry’s relief, was blinding.

“Happy New Year, Harry.”

*

“Louis!”

Harry and Louis both looked up from the file they were examining at the desk. One of their newest patients had an infection in her lung, and they were about to advise treatment to her parents to see if it was okay. Leo’s voice startled them both.

“Hi, Leo, what’s up?” Louis asked. Harry wondered vaguely how Louis could say things so nonchalantly and sound so professional at the same time. It was a gift, he guessed. Or maybe it was just part of the magic that was his boyfriend.

“Dr. Anderson sent me to get you and Niall. She said she needed both of you to do your paperwork for the end of your internship, and she wanted to talk to you about the procedures involving both of you leaving.”

Harry, who had gone back to reading the file, snapped his head up on the last word of Leo’s pronouncement. He had forgotten that this was the last year of Louis’ internship and that he would be returning to England in May. Louis had become such a steady part of his life that it had completely slipped his mind, and now he felt slightly sick.

Neither of them had talked much about the future of their relationship, at least, not in extreme detail. Harry had the feeling that Louis was in it for the long haul, as was he himself, but both of them had failed to consider what might happen when Louis left and Harry was still here in the States for another three years.

He felt Louis’ hand on his wrist and saw him walk away with Leo, but he had completely missed the rest of the conversation, having been stuck in his own head with those terrifying thoughts. He bit down hard on the inside of his cheek, nearly drawing blood, and then cleared his throat, focusing on the file as he headed towards the patient’s room. It did nothing to refocus his mind on his work. All he could think about was Louis.

*

Harry didn’t say a word about it all week. He wasn’t sure what to say or how to say it, especially when Louis didn’t seem at all bothered. He and Niall had done their paperwork and gone back to work like nothing had changed, and here Harry was freaking the fuck out because he was going to lose Louis. He was going to lose someone else he loved, again , and he wasn’t sure he’d survive it this time.

Deep down, he knew he was being overdramatic, but he couldn’t help it. He couldn’t stop thinking about Louis saying goodbye. He couldn’t stop thinking that Louis might not want to do long distance, that maybe this was just a fling for him, something to keep him going till he got back home to his secret lover.

Even Liam had told him he was being stupid.

“Harry … seriously? Louis does not have a secret lover in England,” Liam said in exasperation as Harry sat on their couch, fraying the sleeve of his favorite sweater. Harry nodded, but he had barely heard him. His brain was full of nothing but different scenarios in which Louis would tell him that they were over.

“If it bothers you so much, just go over to his place and ask him. I’m pretty sure he’s going to tell you exactly what I’m saying right now.”

“But Niall’s leaving. Why wouldn’t Louis leave?”

“Because he has you now, you complete idiot. Now go over there and stop ruining your sweater.”

So Harry had pulled on his coat and boots and a hat and driven to Louis and Niall’s apartment. He stood at the door for what felt like ages, sure that the end of the happiest time of his life was going to end right behind it, but he finally got up the nerve to knock.

Louis opened it, his face brightening when he saw it was Harry. “Hazza! Come on in, it’s freezing out there. You know you can always just come in, right?” he asked as Harry shuffled through the door, and Harry nodded, looking away from Louis.

“Hey … everything alright?” Louis asked, his tone softening, but Harry couldn’t look at him. He stepped out of his boots and let Louis take his coat off, and then he just stood there awkwardly in the middle of their little hallway. He felt like he was choking on his own words, even as Louis’ concerned face appeared in his line of vision. “Harry … what’s wrong?”

“If … if you’re gonna leave me, you should probably do it now,” Harry said finally, hating how flat his own voice sounded. He was shaking now, wanting nothing more than to lay his head on Louis’ shoulder and cry, but he had to be strong.

Louis looked extremely confused, and his hand felt warm on Harry’s arm. “Leave … you? What are you on about?”

Harry could feel tears burning in his eyes. “I … you’re leaving the hospital. The States too. And I just thought that meant you’d be leaving everything behind … which means me.”

“Harry, I-” Louis began, but Harry pulled back from Louis, interrupting him.

“I get it, I do. It makes sense. There’s more people back home that you probably want to see and b-be with …” Harry felt tears on his cheeks, and he hated himself for getting emotional.

“Harry ... Harry, stop.”

Harry felt Louis’ hands on him, holding on to his arms, but Harry couldn’t look at him. He didn’t want to see it when Louis let him go.

“Harry, look at me. Please.”

He bit his lip, forcing himself to look up blearily at Louis. Even in the dim light of the hallway, his eyes were piercing. Louis cupped Harry’s cheeks and kissed him, and Harry, despite the breaking feeling in his chest, felt himself give in to Louis’ lips. Louis pulled away, keeping his hands on Harry’s cheeks. Harry felt him wiping tears away with his thumbs.

“Harry, I’m not leaving you. Never. That’s the last thing I want. I need you to understand that. I would never …” Harry could see tears in Louis’ eyes now, and it made him feel worse. He hadn’t meant to make Louis cry, not at all, and it was becoming clear to him now that he had let his fears get him all worked up for nothing. He felt stupid.

“Louis, I … I’m sorry, I-” Harry gasped out his words, now crying twice as hard, and was grateful when Louis reached for him, pulling him into a painfully tight hug. Harry held onto Louis, both of them crying into each other’s shoulders for what seemed like ages.

“Harry … please, come in and sit down. I’ll make tea. I just … we need to talk about this, okay?”

Harry nodded, wiping at his eyes and following Louis into the kitchen, where he took a seat at the table. He felt drained. And stupid. Very, very stupid. He hated himself for overreacting like that. He was beyond embarrassed.

“Louis, I’m sorry for … for how I reacted, I should have thought-”

Louis set their tea down and shook his head, sitting across from Harry and reaching for his hand. Harry took it easily, needing his touch now more than ever.

“Don’t be sorry. We’ve never talked about it, about the internship ending. I just thought it was obvious we’d stay together.”

“I thought so too, but you seemed so … calm about leaving, and long distance is hard. I thought maybe you wanted to leave everything behind, and I guess I thought that included … me.” Harry looked away from Louis, his cheeks burning. He knew Louis better than that, he should have known.

“Harry, I don’t have any wish to leave you, in any way. And I don’t plan to, if I can help it.”

Harry nodded, then looked up, puzzled as Louis’ words sunk in. “Wait, what do you mean? You’re not going home?”

Louis pressed his lips together. “Well, when Dr. Anderson called us into the office, she said that she was sad to see us both go, and that there were jobs open in higher positions if we wanted them. Niall didn’t. I think he’s eager to get back home to Ireland and help out his local hospital. But I … I have you, and I love you, and I thought maybe I might go for it? Working here, it’s been the best time of my life, and meeting you - it’s everything I could ever ask for. I want to stay, if you’ll have me.”

Harry sat there, dumbfounded. Here he was being ridiculous this entire week, and Louis was planning out their life here together. He felt like the weight of the world had just been lifted off his chest.

“Are you … really? You’re staying?”

Louis smiled and let out a small laugh, his thumb caressing the top of Harry’s hand. “If I get the job, then yes, I’m staying. And even if I don’t-”

Harry didn’t let him finish. He stood up and rounded the table, pulling Louis up into a passionate kiss. Louis made a noise of surprise and then melted into it, and Harry felt lighter than he had all week.

“Lou, Louis , I … I can’t believe it, I … I’m so grateful, I love you so much,” Harry mumbled, kissing Louis with every word he spoke.

“Love you too, Haz. So fucking much. I’d never leave you. You’ll never, ever be alone. You’ll always have me.”

Harry sobbed, tears falling freely down his cheeks again, but this time, they were happy tears. “Always.”

They sat and drank their tea in relative silence, but it was a comfortable one. Harry was just relieved that he was here, in Louis’ presence, instead of at home, sobbing on the couch with a tub of ice cream, which never tasted quite like the stuff he got at home. And then he realized something, and his heart sank right back down to his stomach.

“Louis … if you’re staying, that means .. we have to, umm …” He trailed off hopelessly, and Louis looked up.

“I know. We have to come clean to Dr. Anderson.”

Harry bit his lip in worry. “But what if us … what if me being with you prevents you from getting the job?”

Louis looked a little worried at that, and Harry wasn’t quite sure if he felt relieved that he wasn’t the only one scared of that possibility, or nervous because Louis was scared too. He drained the rest of his tea as Louis sat there in thought for a bit.

“Well … if she is going to refuse me a job at a place I’ve given so much of myself to over the last four years over the small matter of me dating another employee? Then I don’t want that job.” Harry gaped at him, and Louis was quick to continue. “I’d rather be with you openly than have to hide you for the sake of my career.”

“But … but Louis, this is your job. I can’t … I won’t be the reason you give up on your dream.”

Louis shook his head. “You’re worth more to me than this job. I can get another job at another hospital. There’s only one Harry Styles, and he’s mine.”

Harry blushed. “Well, umm … I, wow, Lou, that’s … yeah.” He cleared his throat, trying to get his bearings back after such a pronouncement. “How are we going to do it, then?”

“I think we just have to tell her. Both of us go in together and explain our situation. I don’t want to do it without you there.”

“Neither do I,” Harry agreed. “So … soon, then?”

Louis nodded again. “Yeah, Hazza. Soon. Definitely soon.”

Chapter Text

Louis smiled back at Harry as he walked off down the corridor, swaying his hips slightly enough that he knew Harry would pick up on it. He read the notes in front of him, brow furrowing in concentration. They had had a few new patients on the ward and Louis was enjoying getting to know the new children and their families, as well as tackling the children’s problems and getting them better before sending them home. He stopped outside the room of the new patient and knocked gently on the door before he headed in.

“Oh hi, hope I’m not interrupting?” Louis asked, stepping inside the room and closing the door behind him. The adults standing at the teenager’s bedside looked over and shook their heads, Louis taking that as a sign he could step over. He was used to dealing with much younger patients, but he always found the older children to be interesting cases. He flicked his eyes down, quickly checking something before he began to speak. “Ethan, nice to meet you. I’m Dr. Tomlinson, I’m going to be in charge of your care while you’re here with us.”

“Nice to meet you,” the boy muttered, only a slight trace of a smile on his face as his eyes flickered up to Louis. He continued to stare down at the blanket over his legs as Louis quickly introduced himself to Ethan’s parents. Louis turned and put the notes down on the table next to Ethan’s bed, and clasped his hands together. He tried not to react to the litany of bruises covering the boys face and neck, stepping closer and talking quietly.

“First of all Ethan, I just want to check how you’re feeling. Obviously you’re going to be quite sore, but do you need any more pain relief?” The boy shook his head, still not looking up at Louis. “Okay, but please just tell me or one of the nurses if you do, and we can sort that, no problem. I understand you’ve been down in the E.R. most of the morning, so it’s been a pretty rough time for you, and I’m really sorry about that, but hopefully we can start to get you better.”

“He’s just… this isn’t fair, I don’t understand,” Ethan’s mother said quietly, holding her son’s hand where she sat at her bedside. Louis didn't know much about the circumstances of what had happened to Ethan, but he schooled his face into a sympathetic expression.

“Well, hopefully we can make Ethan more comfortable and get him home to you. Ethan, I’m just going to need to do a quick examination of your torso, as well as the chest tube, to make sure things are okay there before we send you for your scans. Is that okay?”

The boy looked scared but nodded, slipping his hand out of his Mum’s. “Can...um, can they leave the room? I don’t want…” Ethan trailed off, tears gathering in his eyes. His parents must have understood what he was asking for as they stood, holding hands as they stepped into the corridor, leaving Louis alone with the boy.

Louis reached up and grabbed some gloves from the box above Ethan’s bed and put them on, the silence hanging heavily between them. With gentle and caring fingers, Louis loosened the ties at the back of Ethan’s gown and allowed the boy to wriggle out of it, wincing at how stiffly he moved, and at the black and blue bruises littering his back and torso. Louis assisted him in laying back before he began to touch the affected areas gently, checking for anything immediately concerning.

“If you could just lift your arm for me, just so I can see the incision and tube… that’s great, don’t push yourself, well done,” Louis said, dabbing at some light spotting with some gauze. “Ethan… can I ask what happened? I assure you that nothing you say to me will go any further unless I feel it will put you or anyone else in immediate danger.”

Ethan sighed and lowered his arm, hissing in pain at the stretch of his skin. Louis quickly apologised and helped him lift the gown back up, covering the marks. “I… it happened at school, just after recess.” Louis nodded, hoping the boy would continue if he didn't interrupt him. “They, um, they found out something about me they didn't like, and took it out on me, I guess.”

Louis swallowed, hoping Ethan wasn’t going to say what he felt was coming. “What was that?” Louis turned back to his notes then, picking up the board and starting to jot a few things down as Ethan continued to speak.

“God... it’s not something I’ve said out loud before. I mean, I’ve only just really admitted it to myself.” He stopped for a second and Louis put his board down, sensing this was an important moment. He sat on the edge of the bed, hoping the boy would trust him with whatever secret he’d been hiding. “I… ummm, I’m gay...” he almost whispered, as if he were afraid of the words, and Louis felt a twinge of recognition, a feeling he’d felt before, many years ago. “I’m not out, not to my parents or my friends, or anyone, but somehow someone at school found out, and he and his friends, they ... they...” He covered his face with his hands as he started to cry, and Louis’ heart broke.

Louis laid a hand on the boys leg, rubbing gently as he got himself together. “You know there’s absolutely nothing wrong with liking boys, yeah? Nothing at all. It’s up to you who you fall in love with, Ethan. Those guys… people who react like that, they just don’t understand. They’re ignorant, and closed-minded. But most importantly, I don’t want you to think that being gay is a bad thing. It isn’t, and I’m so very sorry this happened to you.”

“I just want to be accepted, you know? I’ve got great friends, but I’m worried that if I come out to them, they won’t want to be my friends anymore. I don’t really have anyone else to talk about this, and it sucks, keeping it all inside. I wish I had someone that understood.”

“Perhaps consider talking to your parents? You may be surprised at how well they take the news. They need to know why this happened, and the people responsible need to be punished for attacking you. Ethan, they attacked you so severely that your ribs were broken and gave you a tension pneumothorax. That means your lung collapsed, and the tube in your side had to be placed to reinflate it. This wasn’t just a few hits.”

“I know. It’s just frightening, saying things like this to people. But… thank you, for not judging me or whatever,” Ethan whispered back, pulling a tissue from the box next to his bed. “Um, when will they take the tube out of my side? It’s really sore.”

Louis understood immediately the boy was trying to change the subject, and allowed it to happen. The fact Ethan had confided in him at all made Louis feel proud, but also filled him with hatred for the people who attacked him simply for the fact he was gay. Louis was sure it wasn’t his place to admit to Ethan that he was gay too, and in a relationship with a man, but he wanted to support the boy in whatever way he could, and if that meant listening to him for a while, that’s what he would do.

“Okay, we’re going to take you upstairs for a couple of scans to make sure that lung has reinflated, and if we’re happy with it, we can look at taking the tube out. But in the meantime, don’t be a hero and tell us if you’re in pain and need more meds. If I was in your position, I’d be taking all the drugs I could get.” Louis felt proud when that made the boy smile, and he stood up, resting a hand on his shoulder. “I’ll be back later on when your scans are back.”

Ethan nodded and Louis left the room, quickly filling in Ethan’s parents. He then took a second to stand in the corridor, jotting down a couple more notes before he made to head off. He whirled around and slammed full on into another body, a little shocked at the sudden contact. “Oh gosh, I’m so- oh, it’s you.” He couldn’t help the fond smile that crossed his lips as he stared up at his boyfriend, quickly taking a small step back. “In my own world, sorry.”

“No apologies necessary,” Harry said, running a hand through his curls and smiling down at Louis. “Everything okay? You looked a bit stressed out.”

“Tough patient. Young kid, only fourteen. He was beaten up badly at school this morning, broke 4 ribs, and he had a tension pneumo. He’s a mess, Haz. And you know why they did it?”

“Oh no…” Louis hated that Harry knew where this was going, and he nodded reluctantly, feeling his own eyes fill with tears.

“Yep. Because the other lads found out he’s gay. I mean… what kind of world are we living in where boys are beaten up because they like other boys? I hate it, so much.” Louis wished he could escape into Harry’s arms in that moment, and he shivered when Harry gently reached forward, brushing the tips of his fingers against Louis’ forearm, a gesture so small, no one would notice.

“It’s shit, it really is. I’m sorry that happened to him. Was that him in there?” Louis nodded and sighed, beginning to walk off with Harry down the corridor. “Um, I hate to change the subject but I wondered if you could come with me and check on the stitches I did on my patient? Annabelle’s five and she fell off a climbing frame, split her chin, poor love. I think they’re okay, but would you just double check?”

“Of course, Haz. Lead the way.” He tried to plaster a smile on his face as he and Harry rounded the corner, going into the little girl’s room together. However, he knew Ethan’s story was one that would stay with him for a long while, no matter how many other patients he dealt with that day.

*

The following evening, Louis was curled up on a chair in Harry’s kitchen, watching his boyfriend skillfully prepare the dinner they’d arranged a few nights ago. They’d been busy, and their shift patterns hadn’t matched up enough to allow them much time together, so Louis was more than craving a bit of alone time with Harry. He chuckled to himself as Harry hung the tea towel from his shoulder, looking all the more like the chef Harry genuinely believed himself to be when he cooked for Louis.

“How much longer? I’m starving,” Louis whined from where he was sat, ignoring the eye roll Harry sent him.

“Be patient, Lou, honestly. It’s coming, and it’ll be worth the wait.”

“Always is,” Louis said with a smirk, and Harry cackled loudly, quickly slapping his hands over his mouth as if to contain the sound. “Hey, don’t do that. I love your laugh, crazy as it is.” Harry smiled back as he started to plate up the pasta bake, sprinkling copious amounts of cheese over Louis’, just how he knew his boyfriend liked it. He crossed the kitchen and laid the plate in front of Louis, putting his own down opposite it and turned once more, grabbing the bottle of white wine from the fridge.

Louis snatched it and poured out two glasses, mouth-watering at the sight of the meal in front of him. “God, you’re amazing, you know that?” He stuck a fork into the meal, stabbing as much pasta and meatball as he could and blew on it before putting it into his mouth, moaning ridiculously as his taste buds exploded. “Fuck me-”

“Maybe later,” Harry quipped, almost making Louis’ choke on his mouthful. “Sorry, love, need some water?” Louis shook his head and swallowed his food, taking a big gulp of wine afterwards. “You okay?”

“Yeah, if you’d let me finish, I was going to compliment you on your food, but I don’t think I’ll bother now.” Harry laughed, and they continued to eat as they talked about their days, and how things had been at work. Harry’s foot wrapped itself around Louis’ bare ankle, remaining there while they ate, and Louis loved how Harry always tried to keep a point of contact between them, even when they were doing something as mundane as sharing a meal together.

Liam had left shortly after Louis had arrived, heading out to drinks with his colleagues, and Louis and Harry were grateful to have the place to themselves, not because they particularly wanted to go and have loud and raucous sex with each other, but because they’d genuinely missed each other, and wanted time just to be together. It was hard, what with the fact they each had a roommate, and had to be respectful of that whenever they were together.

After Louis had cleaned the plates and dishes away, forcing Harry to sit as he did so because he’d cooked the meal, they curled up on Harry’s squishy sofa together, a blanket thrown over their laps as the television played the last thing Liam had been watching on Netflix, neither of them paying much attention to it.

“It’s so nice to sit in a room and not be surrounded by boxes,” Louis mused, loving how homey Harry’s living room always was. He’d lit one of his favourite vanilla candles, and it was the only light, bar the television, making Louis feel warm and cosy despite the cold chilly weather outside. “I stubbed my toe this morning and I shouted so loud, I think my entire building heard me.”

“Poor baby, want me to kiss it better?” Louis wrinkled his nose at that, quickly shaking his head. “Niall really ready to move out, then?”

“Yeah. It’s weird, not seeing his things around the place. Silly things really, like that hideous little leprechaun ornament on our shelf unit, and his Ireland flag above his bed. Just… gonna be a bit shit without him at first. He’s been here with me the whole time, it’s going to be so hard to say goodbye.”

Harry pulled him closer at that, opening his legs so Louis could sit between them, his head resting back against Harry’s chest. “I’m sorry he’s leaving Lou, but I’m so happy you’re staying, you know that? And you won’t be lonely when he’s gone. You’ve got me, and Li.”

“I know. And I love you,” Louis said, tilting his head back for a quick kiss. “Actually, there was something I wanted to talk to you about. No, two things, sorry.”

“Uh oh, sounds ominous,” Harry joked, not removing his arms from where they were looped around Louis’ waist. “Nothing serious, I hope?”

“It is, but in a good way. Well, I think so, anyway. First of all, um, I managed to get us half an hour tomorrow morning with Dr Andersen to talk to both of us, about our relationship. Talking to Ethan made me realise we don’t need to hide what we have, and I think the sooner we deal with it and whatever the consequences of it are, the better. We both want this, so I just want to get it over with. Is that okay with you?”

“Sure. I mean, I won’t lie, I’m fucking petrified Lou, but we need to do this. I don’t want to have to not hug you, or whatever. The other day, after I saw you with Ethan, you looked so down and all I wanted to do was hold you and make you feel better. I hated that I couldn’t.”

“Well, fingers crossed it’ll go positively. But if not, nothing changes with us, okay? I’ve already told you I’m happy to look for another job as long as we get to be together, so don’t get too down if it doesn’t go to plan.”

Harry nodded, kissing Louis again for a few moments. “Okay, and what was the second?”

Louis pulled away from Harry for a moment and turned so he was on his knees between Harry’s legs. He reached forward and took his hands, stroking the back of the soft skin with his thumbs. He saw the necklace he’d bought Harry for Christmas catching in the candlelight where it rested just below his collarbones, a symbol of Louis’ love for him displayed so openly. Louis felt nervous about what he was about to ask, yet at the same time, he wasn’t at all scared to hear Harry’s answer.

“Okay, um… I want you to move in with me, Harry. After Niall’s gone, I mean. I want to live with you, and I, um, I hope you want to live me too.” He felt like he was holding his breath but soon released it upon seeing the huge smile quickly spread across Harry’s face, dimple popping perfectly in his round cheek. “Is that a yes, then?”

“Of course it’s a fucking yes!” Harry surged forwards and pressed their lips together, deepening the kiss for a few seconds before he pulled away, hands still cupping Louis’ cheeks. “I’ve been hoping you were going to ask me that. I would love to live with you, Lou.”

“I would love to live you with you, Harry. And, um, once things are settled with our jobs and whatnot, we can maybe look at getting somewhere new, just for us? Somewhere we can make our own, that we can create new memories in.”

“I love you so much,” was all Harry said in reply. They kissed again for a moment before Harry pulled back, a strange expression on his face. “So… I don’t mean to be rude or anything but… how long till Niall leaves again?”

Louis’ loud laugh echoed around the empty apartment as he pushed Harry back, straddling his hips as he dipped his head into another deep kiss, the promise of their future burning as brightly as the candle across the room.

*

“Ethan, how are you doing?” Louis asked as he stepped into the boy’s room the following day. The boy’s bruises hadn’t yet begun to fade, but he seemed more comfortable now that the chest tube had been removed last night by Louis’ colleagues. He was still on a high dose of painkillers thanks to the amount of bruising and broken ribs, but he seemed happier in himself, which pleased Louis. “Are you parents not here?”

“No, they’re at work. They’re in tonight, though. I… um, I told them. About why I got hurt.” Louis’ eyes widened as he turned to the scared boy, smiling proudly at him. “You… you were right. They said they didn't care, that I’m their son no matter what. It felt really… I don’t know, good, I guess? To get it out, I mean, and tell someone. So, um, thank you.”

“Hey, you did that, not me. You found the courage to admit that. You’re a braver person than I am, Ethan. I’m really proud of you, though, well done.” They shared a small smile for a moment. “Okay, let’s get this bit out of the way shall we? Let me just shut the door…” Louis stepped away closed the door, rolling down the blind before Ethan began to remove his gown, Louis looking carefully over his bruises and incision sight.

“Am I going to have any scars?” Ethan asked, his voice low and nervous sounding.

“From the bruises and broken ribs, no. The incision site will scar, but whoever did your stitches last night did a great job, so hopefully, it’ll only be small. I’m confident that in a few months time, the redness will have started to fade, and you’re still growing so as the skin stretches and grows around the area, hopefully it’ll become less noticeable for you.”

“Okay,” Ethan said, pushing his arms back into the gown and onto his shoulders, Louis fastening the ties before he removed his gloves, throwing in them the nearby trash can. “Um… can I ask you a personal question?”

Louis’ brow arched as he considered the boy’s statement, wondering if this was going to be appropriate or not. He finished jotting down his notes and turned around, arms folded as he nodded. “You can, but depending on what it is, I may not be able to answer. Is that okay?”

“Yeah… just, um… when you left my room last week, you were outside with a guy, another doctor, I think. He was in purple scrubs, a bit like yours.” Louis nodded, realising the boy meant Harry. “The way he was looking at you… are you guys, like, together? A couple?” A blush spread across his cheeks at the question, and Louis exhaled, wondering how to answer before it dawned on him that for this boy, there was only one approach - honesty.

“If you’re asking if I’m gay, Ethan, the answer is yes. And while it isn’t public knowledge at the hospital, yes, I am in a relationship with the other doctor you saw me with-”

“I won’t say anything, I swear. I just… I’ve never seen two… um, gay people before, like, looking like they’re in love, you know? It kinda made me hope that maybe I could find someone too, that makes me smile like that guy smiled at you.”

“You will,” Louis reassured him. “He’s… he’s amazing, honestly. He’s never been afraid to be who he is, and you’ll find that inside you, too, trust me. We have amazing friends and family who support us, and, yeah, I guess, it all comes right in the end, when you find who you’re meant to be with.”

“Thank you for trusting me. I’m glad you have someone who makes you happy.” Louis nodded and turned around again, getting ready to leave, feeling a little emotional over the shared conversation with Ethan. “Um, Dr. Tomlinson?”

“Yes?”

“Can I go home soon? Now that I’m healing, I mean. I just want to be at home with my parents, I kinda want to talk to them more, try and be a bit more honest with them.”

“I think that can be arranged,” Louis replied with a smile. “If tomorrow the incision site is still sealed and healing nicely, I’ll look to discharge. There’s not much more we can do now that your mum can’t do for you at home.” He finished up his conversation with Ethan, promising to get one of the nurses to drop in some snacks as the boy was a typical teenager and always hungry, and dropped off his notes at the front desk.

He swore under his breath when he looked down at his watch, noticing the meeting with Harry and Dr Anderson was just ten minutes away. He’d promised to meet Harry in one of the stairwells beforehand and hurried off, telling Niall he was heading on a break as he passed him, the Irish man just putting his thumb up in reply. Louis had chatted to Niall over breakfast about his feelings regarding the meeting but his friend had been nothing but supportive, reassuring Louis that whatever happened, he would always have Harry.

Panting, Louis pushed open the door to the stairwell and saw his boyfriend leaning against the wall, playing nervously with the airplane on his necklace. Their eyes met for a second and Louis hurried over into Harry’s arms, holding him tightly for a moment, resting his head on Harry’s chest.

“You ready for this, love?” Louis asked, pulling back to look at Harry, seeing the fear and nerves in his eyes. “Hey, it’s going to be okay, yeah? Whatever happens in there, you’re not losing me, and I’m not losing you. This is....we’re forever, yeah? Nothing she can say will change that.”

Harry still didn't speak, nodding as he pulled Louis into a final hug before he stood up straight, letting out a big breath. Louis took his hand for a moment, squeezing gently. Wordlessly, they stepped out into the corridor and walked side by side to Dr Anderson’s office, pausing outside the familiar door.

Louis raised his hand and knocked, glancing across at Harry as they heard a voice calling them in. he pushed down the handle and stepped inside. Dr Anderson rose up from her seat behind her desk, pointing at the two chairs opposite her which Louis and Harry slid into, Louis quickly shuffling his over slightly so he was closer to his boyfriend.

“Gentlemen, how can I help you both today? Is there a problem with a patient?”

Louis shook his head quickly. “No. Actually, this is, um, a more personal matter.”

“Very well. Please go ahead.”

Louis’ eyes flicked over to Harry again, who he noticed nodded slightly. Louis wiped his sweaty palms on the legs of his scrubs before he began to speak, knowing it was important for this to go well, and that he took charge of the situation, given that he was a more senior member of staff than Harry was.

“We spoke recently about the possibility of me taking up a more senior position within the hospital, and you know I am very interested in accepting your generous offer.”

“Yes, I recall our conversation, Dr. Tomlinson. That, however, doesn’t explain why you felt the need to bring Dr. Styles in here with you.” Louis nodded and took a deep breath before he continued.

“I’m just getting to that. Before I can accept your offer, I feel there is something I need to disclose to you that I believe may affect your willingness for me to remain on here at Chambersburg Hospital.” Her expression remained neutral, and Louis knew it was now or never.

“Dr Styles… Harry and I are in a relationship. We have been dating for the past few months, and we very much intend on staying together. While I am very sorry for the both of us breaking a fundamental rule of the hospital, and going against your previous warning… when it comes to this, to my relationship with Harry, my love for him takes precedence over anything else. I want to remain here at Chambersburg, very much so, but I also understand if that can no longer be possible, given I will not be ending my relationship with Harry.”

He exhaled and looked over to Harry, who still looked petrified in his seat, his eyes firmly on his feet on the floor. He then dared to look up to Dr Andersen, unable to read the expression on the older woman’s face. She took her glasses off and laid them down on the table, an audible sigh leaving her lips. Louis braced himself, sure the next words were going to determine the direction of his and Harry’s lives for the near future.

“Well, Dr. Tomlinson…”

Chapter Text

The silence in the room was deafening, pressing down on Harry. He refused to look up, sure that Dr. Anderson was about to fire Louis and kick him out of the internship program. He felt sick, his clenched hands shaking violently in his lap.

“Well, Dr. Tomlinson, I’m afraid I don’t have much I can say to you at this time.”

Harry felt the lump in his throat grow, constricting his ability to swallow, but he refused to look up. He couldn’t bear to see the look on Louis’ face.

“Umm … alright,” Louis said slowly, sounding terrified, and Harry wanted to comfort him, to say something helpful, to do something, but he couldn’t. There was nothing he could do.

“I’m afraid I’m going to have to call you back in at a later time to discuss this. I have some important business to take care of. I’ll see you both in a few hours.”

Harry raised his head then, shocked. She was dismissing them? With no answer or even a hint to what was to become of them? He had never felt more sick.

They both mumbled their thank yous and goodbyes and hurried out of the office and down the hallway, not speaking to each other. Harry didn’t think he could have formed words if he’d wanted to.

“Harry, I-” Louis began, his voice cracking, but Harry shook his head.

“Don’t. We’ll wait, like she said. We have to.”

He couldn’t say anything else, but he knew Louis had heard him, because he cleared his throat and sped up to reach the desk ahead of him. He reached for the files, concentrating so hard on the paper in front of him that his hands started to shake. Harry reached out and touched his fingertips to Louis’ forearm. He was terrified, but Louis needed him right now. He needed to know that Harry wasn’t going anywhere, and Harry hoped and prayed that his touch would be enough.

*

Harry had eventually left Louis’ side to attend to a few new patients, but he couldn’t concentrate. He couldn’t really engage with his new patients. He couldn’t keep his voice from coming out monotone, like he was a robot just going through the motions of normal human functioning. He was on his seventh room when there was a knock on the door and Louis’ face popped around it.

“Hello. I was just wondering if I could borrow Dr. Styles for a moment? Our supervisor wants to see us.”

Louis’ voice was casual, but his eyes were wide, terrified, and the fear that Harry had been holding back for the last few hours came back full force as he registered Louis’ words. He wordlessly followed Louis out into the hallway and down towards Dr. Anderson’s office.

Harry knew he shouldn’t be this terrified. It wasn’t like Dr. Anderson’s answer was going to change how they felt about one another. It wasn’t going to ruin their relationship, not this time. But for some reason, the thought of not seeing Louis every day at work, of having to spend most of his days away from him at a place where Louis was no longer welcome? Or to possibly be thrown out of the one thing he’d done right in his life since Izzy’s death because of his and Louis’ insistence that love trumped everything else? He didn’t know what he was going to do with himself, and he was sure that Louis was just as scared.

They entered Dr. Anderson’s office once again and took their seats. Harry kept his eyes up this time, determined to look her in the face when she told them that they were being let go. He was going to stand up and take it, because he and Louis had made a decision, one that Harry stood by completely, and if this was their consequence, then so be it.

“Hello, boys. I’m sorry it took me so long to get back to you on this matter. I needed to have a discussion with some higher ups before I came to you with news.”

Louis nodded stiffly, and Harry didn’t move. He didn’t even breathe. This was it.

“Well, Dr. Tomlinson, Dr. Styles, I don’t see why your relationship should at all affect your status at this hospital, or, in Dr. Tomlinson’s case, the running for the new position.”

Harry felt the blood rush to his face and his eyes landed on Louis. Louis’ mouth was open in a perfect ‘o’, obviously just as shocked as Harry was.

“Wh-what?” Louis finally said, his voice squeaking slightly, and Harry’s eyes moved quickly to Dr. Anderson, who was looking between them with a smirk on her face. She leaned forward and folded her hands on top of her desk.

“Honestly, Louis, if you think I didn’t know about you and Harry, you clearly don’t know how obvious you are.” Harry very nearly choked at that, shocked at the change in dynamic as Dr. Anderson used their first names. He wasn’t sure what to say or how to respond to this, but it didn’t seem like she kicking them out. Quite the opposite, in fact. “As far as I can see, your romantic and personal relationship has not affected your work in the slightest. If anything, it’s helped you in working as a team with your patients. And I’m aware of the rule that I imposed on you at our last meeting, but … I have to say that it’s a stupid rule. A pointless rule.”

Harry let out a breath, hardly believing what he was hearing. This wasn’t possible. Someone must have switched places with Dr. Anderson, because this was not matching up to anything she had done in the past. Harry felt relieved and confused and still a little scared, and he wanted to reach out and grab Louis’ hand for reassurance, but he couldn’t, not yet.

“Dr. Anderson, I … I’m not sure I understand. You were very adamant about the rule being above any sort of relationship we might have. Why the sudden change?”

Harry had to admit that it was important that Louis asked this, but he was terrified of the answer. He didn’t want her to change her mind again. He didn’t want Louis to lose his job.

Dr. Anderson shook her head, almost as if she couldn’t believe what she was saying. “In all my time as a doctor, as a person, I have never seen two people more in love. It’s the way you look at each other. And despite all of the rules and regulations that I’m required to uphold in my position, you two have touched my heart. I would hate to see something as small as an employee rule ruin something this special.”

“Ma’am, I’m very grateful that you’ve taken this approach, but I still don’t understand. The rule is still in place, and I wouldn’t want you to put your own job at risk for an employee and an intern,” Harry said slowly, and it hurt him to speak those words aloud, but he had to be sure. He just had to.

“That is actually why it took me so long to get back to the both of you. I was speaking with my bosses and their bosses, and I have since then had that particular rule abolished from the system. Seemed there was no need for it, after all.”

Harry felt his eyes brim with tears, and as he went to prematurely wipe them away, he felt a small hand slide into his. He felt his cheeks burn red, but he squeezed Louis’ fingers and held on tight. He never wanted to let go.

“So … we’re alright?” Louis’ voice quavered slightly, and Harry waited for their verdict to fall.

“Yes, Dr. Tomlinson, you’re alright. You will not lose your job, and you will remain in the running for the new position, and Dr. Styles will not lose his place in the internship program. As long as you remain professional here on the floor, I see no reason that your relationship cannot be public knowledge.”

Harry hardly dared believe what he was hearing. He felt Louis relax, his hand going slightly limp where it was entwined with Harry’s, and Harry finally felt free. Free of the lies and the hiding and the longing to just touch Louis, even in the smallest way, when they were at work. It was all gone, and now he just had Louis, here and everywhere. He stood up, his hand sliding out of Louis’ grip, walked around the desk, and pulled Dr. Anderson into a hug. Realizing that it was probably inappropriate, he pulled back rather quickly, but she was still smiling, her hand resting on his shoulder.

“You’ll make a great doctor one day, Harry. Of that, I’m sure. I look forward to having you here for the next few years.”

“Thank you. For everything, just … thank you very much,” Harry stuttered, smiling widely as Louis rounded the desk to thank Dr. Anderson as well. Harry could just see Louis’ eyes peeking through his fringe at him - they were bright with unshed tears.

Dr. Anderson held the door open for them, ushering them back to work, and they waited until her door was closed before practically jumping into each other’s arms. Harry felt Louis’ arms wrap around him, felt him bury his head into his neck, and he breathed in the smell of Louis’ shampoo and aftershave. Louis pulled back slightly and Harry just took him in, all sparkling blue eyes and rosy cheeks and huge smile.

“I’m the luckiest man in this hospital right now, Lou,” Harry said softly, and then Louis’ lips were on his. It was a chaste kiss, short enough that it would attract attention, but long enough to leave Harry feeling a little dizzy after Louis had pulled away.

“God, I love you,” Louis said, loud enough that a few passing nurses giggled, and Harry felt himself blush, still a bit dazed from everything. Louis grabbed his hand then, tugging him down the hall. “Come on. There’s someone I want you to meet.”

Harry followed Louis down the hallway, their hands still held between them, and though a few people watched as they passed, most of them went on with their work like nothing was different. It made Harry feel relieved - he hadn’t wanted their relationship to become hospital gossip.

They reached a room and Louis pulled Harry inside. Harry closed the door behind them and turned to face a teenage boy sitting up in bed, reading a worn copy of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban . He looked up and smiled at Louis, but when his eyes fell on Harry, his smile slipped off his face and he looked worried, even scared.

“Ethan … I want you to meet Harry - well, Dr. Styles, but Harry - my boyfriend,” Louis said proudly, and Ethan’s grin returned, even brighter than before. Harry stepped forward and shook the boy’s hand, greeting him kindly. Louis turned to him then. “This is Ethan, the patient I was telling you about the other day, remember?”

Harry did. It wasn’t every day that you heard about gay bashings, but they still happened, and Harry wasn’t likely to forget about the poor boy who got beat up just for being who he was made to be. But Harry also knew that a strong boy like Ethan wouldn’t want pity. He would want something a little better than that, and Harry was determined to give that to him.

“Ethan, I am so proud of you.”

Both Ethan and Louis looked at him, shocked, but Harry knew that Ethan was smart enough to figure out what he was talking about - as it was, Ethan looked from Louis to Harry and then turned red, but he didn’t seem to be mad at Louis for sharing his secret.

“Umm … thank you, Dr. Styles,” he mumbled, and Harry shook his head.

“Just Harry, please. You just … you make me, us, want to be proud of ourselves. And now we can. And I want to thank you for that, for giving us both the push we needed to make this happen for us.”

Ethan smiled but didn’t say anything else, and Harry’s eyes moved over to Louis, who was staring up at him with fresh tears already sliding down his cheeks. Harry leaned down and kissed them away gently.

“I, umm, have to get back to work, but it was so lovely to meet you, Ethan. You’re in good hands with Louis here.”

“Jesus, H, gonna leave me a bloody mess here,” Louis said, and Harry let out a small laugh. He had always liked it when Louis’ accent got thick like that. Louis reached out and Harry pulled him into a quick hug, dropping a kiss onto his forehead before heading out to check on his new patients. He didn’t stop smiling for the rest of the day.

*

The next few days at work were some of the best Harry had experienced. He and Louis, while still being the professional doctors they knew they were, were able to touch each other in the hallway. They were able to smile at each other and graze hands as they walked by, and even sneak in a few cheek kisses as they checked their paperwork at the desk. It felt like his coming out all over again - liberating and amazing and a little scary all at once.

No one at the hospital questioned a thing. Either Dr. Anderson had been right in their obvious love for each other, or it just wasn’t a huge concern. Some people even congratulated them, and Harry blushed every time someone referred to Louis as “his boyfriend”. He loved that he could use that word freely now.

They opted out of drinks at Relax that Friday night, instead wanting to spend a night together at Harry’s. They ordered takeout and cuddled on the couch for a while before settling into Harry’s bed, kissing softly as they shared each other’s warmth. Harry was just getting sleepy, his head resting on Louis’ chest, when there was a loud ringing, and Louis, apologizing profusely, reached over to the bedside table to pick up his phone. Harry sat up and smoothed his hair out of his face, listening to Louis’ side of the conversation.

“Hello? Yes, speaking. Yes, I do still have an interest … wow, yeah, I’d be honored! Is tomorrow good for that? I can just come in early so we can work everything out. Wow, thank you so much, I really appreciate it. Yes, tomorrow! Goodbye!”

Harry could already feel a smile spreading across his face as Louis hung up, his eyes sparkling and his face a mask of shock, relief, and unbelievable happiness all at once.

“Hazza, I … they offered me the job.”

Harry whooped and threw his arms around Louis, not caring that he probably looked and sounded like an idiot right now. “I knew you’d get it, Lou, I fucking knew it! God, I’m so proud of you!” Harry pulled back, cupped Louis’ face in his hands, and kissed him hard on the mouth. Louis’ lips opened at once and Harry slipped his tongue inside, just wanting to taste his excitement. Their kiss turned deep and dirty all at once, and suddenly, Harry felt a swoop of arousal that completely contrasted with his fatigue of a few minutes before.

“H, fuck, I … get those clothes off, I want you,” Louis huffed into his mouth, and Harry wasted no time, getting not only himself, but Louis as well, out of their boxers, their bodies lining up almost immediately as they pulled each other close.

“Lou, god, touch me, please, ” Harry begged, kissing down Louis’ neck and sucking harshly on his pulse point. Louis groaned out a string of obscenities and reached blindly for the drawer in the bedside table, finally coming up with a half full bottle of lube without losing Harry’s touch. Harry would have been impressed if he wasn’t so turned on and drowning in LouisLouisLouis .

“Want me to open you up, baby? Want me to make you ride my fingers till you’re begging for it?” Louis’ words went straight to Harry’s cock, which was hard and leaking against Louis’ thigh.

“Mmmm wanna make you feel good please Louis, please,” Harry babbled, not even taking a breath as the words spilled from his mouth into the warm skin of Louis’ neck.

“This is what I want, love. I want this. Want to fuck you. Is that okay?” Louis asked, even though he knew he didn’t have to, and Harry could have cried.

“Fucking love you, Lou. Yeah … fuck me,” Harry whimpered as Louis slid his first finger in easily, just getting the feel of things before drizzling a little more lube over his fingers and adding a second.

Harry groaned, taking it all in - the sounds the bed made as it nudged the wall just barely, the whines coming from his own lips, the soft squelching noise of Louis’ lube-wet fingers sliding in and out of him, and Louis. Louis and his beautiful ocean blue eyes, which were now swallowed up by his pupils, Louis and his amazing mouth, which was parted slightly in concentration, Louis and his smell, like vanilla and strawberries and something musky that Harry couldn’t place. He loved it.

“Open your eyes, baby. Wanna see your beautiful eyes, Harry,” Louis whispered, and Harry opened them, not even realizing that he’d closed them in the first place. His back arched as Louis added a third finger, spreading them out slowly as he probed around for the spot that would drive Harry insane. Harry let out a choked moan when Louis’ fingertips just barely grazed it, and he nodded furiously, trying to form words.

“L-Lou, god, fuck, I need … fuck me, please fuck me, shit …”

Harry knew he probably wasn’t making any sense, but Louis knew him, and even as he pulled his fingers out, his hand was reaching to steady both of them on Harry’s shoulder. Louis reached over again for the condoms, but Harry, to his own surprise as much as Louis’, stopped him, grabbing his wrist.

“I … I don’t want to use …” Harry gasped, and Louis looked a bit nervous. Harry elaborated quickly. “I got tested, I’m clean. Want it bare …”

Louis groaned and Harry saw his cock twitch. “Yeah, yeah, m’clean too, fuck Harry, you’re so hot.” Harry took a deep breath, watching as Louis swept his fringe out of his eyes. “Wanna do it from behind, laying down. You alright with that?”

Harry reached for him, pulling him in for a kiss before turning on his side, his back to Louis. “Fuck me, Lou.”

Louis shuffled around a bit, and then Harry felt the wet tip of his cock on his hole, and his legs started to shake. He had never done it bare before, not with anyone, and the sensation of Louis’ bare cock even just on the outside of him made him want to come right there.

“H-arry, god ,” Louis whined as he pushed past Harry’s hole, and Harry’s whole body felt like it was on fire. Louis’ cock was warm, a lot warmer than it usually felt with a condom on, and he slid in easily, the lube and precome making it smoother. Louis bottomed out and Harry pressed his face into the pillow, moaning loud enough to hear it echo in the springs of the mattress. He felt Louis’ hand tug at his hair and he got louder. He loved having his hair pulled. “Don’t hide your face, love. Wanna hear you,” Louis whispered in his ear, nipping at his earlobe before moving his hips out and slamming back in.

Harry had never felt like this before. Every muscle in his body was screaming, melting as the fire that was Louis engulfed him and took him over. He grabbed at the sheets, looking for something to hold onto as Louis pounded into him, but there was nothing. So he just laid there and took it, noises of pleasure being forced out of him with every movement of Louis’ hips. He could hear Louis panting above him, and Harry turned his head as far as it would go, desperate to see Louis.

“Kiss me, Lou,” he said, his voice strained, and Louis obliged, smashing his lips onto Harry’s and biting down on his bottom lip. Their tongues battled for dominance as Louis’ hips kept up their punishing pace, and Harry felt his orgasm rapidly approaching. “Lou, Louis , I’m gonna come, fuck, make me come.”

“Let me come first, darling, I … almost … fuck, fuck, fuck, Harry!” Louis very nearly screamed his name, and Harry felt a hot sensation as Louis’ come spilled into him. Louis didn’t stop moving his hips, and soon after, Harry came without warning, shooting all over the sheets and clenching hard around Louis. Harry gasped at the sensitivity, and Louis carefully pulled out, both of them panting and sweaty. Harry could feel something warm and sticky trickling down his inner thigh and knew at once what it was. If anything, it almost made him hard again, knowing that Louis had marked him in that way, and had been the first and only one to do it.

Harry felt the bed dip behind him and turned his head, whining for Louis to come back. He was back in an instant, a dirty shirt from the floor in his hand. He began wiping Harry off, and Harry closed his eyes, feeling Louis everywhere and never wanting him to stop. It was only when he felt Louis’ strong arms around him that he opened his eyes again.

“That was … wow, Haz, I’ve never come in someone before, not like that,” Louis admitted, pressing kisses all over Harry’s face, and Harry giggled, enjoying the feather light touches of Louis’ lips.

“If I wasn’t so tired, I’d want you to do it again,” Harry mumbled, burying his face into Louis’ chest, and he felt a rumble which was surely Louis trying to hold back his laughter. Louis’ hand was in his hair, stroking at his sweat damp curls. “M’so proud of you, Lou. So proud,” Harry said softly, and he felt Louis’ lips on the top of his head, a wordless thanks that Harry nevertheless appreciated. He hummed and let his eyes slip closed, and soon enough, he was lulled to sleep by the rhythmic thump of Louis’ heart.

*

As the next few weeks passed, Harry could see obvious signs that the hospital, particularly their floor, was preparing for the loss of two of their doctors. Though Louis was going to be staying on in a higher position, he wouldn’t have as much contact with the patients, and he would be sent around to other floors on certain days. The entire pediatric staff was feeling the impending loss of both Louis and Niall.

Harry tried not to think about it too much. EVen though Niall would be going home to Ireland, he still planned to visit, and Harry really wanted to focus on important things, like himself and Louis eventually moving in together. Niall was staying until the lease was up, and Harry planned to move in soon after, but he still wanted to talk to Liam properly about it, and it was only when Niall nearly shoved him through his own front door that Harry got up the courage.

“Li? You here?” he called, and he heard a muffled shout that came from somewhere down the hallway. Moments later, Liam appeared, half dressed and his hair a mess. He had obviously just woken up.

“Hey, H. Seems like it’s been forever since I saw you,” Liam joked, and though Harry laughed, he still felt bad. He’d been neglecting his best friend and now he was going to distance them even further. He almost gave up, but he could never lie to Liam and his brown puppy dog eyes.

“Yeah, I know … sorry about that. I just …”

“Yes, you’re in love. It’s an acceptable excuse, I promise.” Liam grabbed a water bottle from the fridge and Harry followed him into the main room, where they both took a seat on the couch. “Was there something you wanted to talk about, or …?” Liam’s words trailed off as he took a swig of his water, and Harry braced himself, hoping he wouldn’t come off as some ungrateful prick.

“Well, Louis and I … I mean, I - fuck, sorry, I just … I’ve been thinking of moving in with him, you know … after Niall leaves.” Liam was silent, just looking at him over the top of his water bottle, and Harry plowed on recklessly, convinced that what he’d said wasn’t enough. “I know that when we came here, we decided to do it together, and living together was a no-brainer, but Louis is staying here partially for me, and we spend every night together anyway, it just seemed more … convenient. But I … I don’t want you to think I’m abandoning you, cause I’m not. I would never … I don’t want to lose you as a friend, and I know distance can do that, and I just want you to know that I-”

“Harry, Harry, please stop babbling before you run out of air,” Liam said, his voice kind and collected as always. Harry bit down on his lip hard to keep him quiet and waited. Liam set his water on the table and ran a hand through his hair. “I would be lying if I didn’t say living without you is going to be easy. We’ve been friends for so long, I never thought I’d have to spend much time away from you. But I love Louis, and he’s the first guy, the only guy, to ever make you this happy. I never thought I’d see this kind of love in your eyes. And that’s so much more important to me than who lives with who. I’ll love you no matter what, Haz.”

Harry felt his lip trembling as his eyes filled with tears of gratitude for Liam, and he threw himself on the other lad in a hug that nearly knocked them both to the floor. Liam’s laugh rumbled through his chest, and Harry felt a bit silly, but he couldn’t help it. He couldn’t have asked for a better friend.

“Thank you for everything, for supporting me in this. I just … I hope you’ll be alright without me?”

Liam smiled. “I’m sure I’ll manage. Maybe I’ll find a hot American man to come live with me and I can pine over him and complain to you about it.”

Harry cackled and threw an arm around Liam’s shoulders. “How bout a movie tonight?”

“Sounds like a plan to me.”

*

It was later that night, after Liam had fallen asleep and Harry had tucked him into bed, and after Harry had driven over to Louis’ and crawled into bed with his shower damp boyfriend, that he voiced something else that had been on his mind lately.

“Lou, I wanna go back home to England. You know, to visit my family. It’s been so long and I’ve been missing them terribly.” Louis nodded at him, brushing a hand against his cheek just because he could, and Harry nearly yelled out the next few words. “I want you to come with me.”

“Really? You want me to, like, meet your family, and everything?” Louis asked, eyes wide, and Harry huffed out a small laugh.

“Of course I want you to meet my family. I love you and I want them to love you just as much as I do.”

“Hopefully not that much, love,” Louis teased, nipping at Harry’s neck lightly, and Harry squeaked before burying his face in Louis’ chest.

“Oh, shut up, you know what I mean,” Harry mumbled, and he felt Louis’ hum against his cheek. There was one more thing he had to say, however, and this one was the hardest. “Umm, also, I … I’m thinking about going back to school, maybe.”

He said it so quietly that he could almost have thought Louis hadn’t heard him, but the way Louis shifted so they were looking at each other again told him otherwise.

“What’s brought this on, Haz?” Louis asked, and Harry knew his face must have fallen, because Louis was quick to continue. “I think it’s a great idea, don’t get me wrong. There’s always room for more education, but I thought being a pediatric doctor was all you ever wanted?”

Harry pressed his lips together. “You’re right, and it has been my goal for a long time, but I want to do something more. After Izzy, and Maddy, I just feel like I have to do better.”

“Harry …” Louis began, his voice sounding sad, but Harry shook his head.

“Please, Lou, hear me out.” Harry reached for Louis hand and started playing with his fingers, his chest feeling a little tighter than before. “I want to take specialized classes in childhood cancer. I want to learn how it works, how it spreads, how to destroy it. I want to help kids, more than what I’m doing now. There have been two special little girls in my life that I’ve lost because I didn’t have the resources or the knowledge to help them. And I need to fix that, for me and for them.”

Harry finally looked up at Louis, and was surprised to find his blue eyes full of tears. He started to speak, but Louis just pulled him into a tight hug, dropping kisses into his hair. Harry closed his eyes and relaxed into Louis’ arms.

“Harry, that’s … wow. That’s such a brave thing to want to do, especially after everything you’ve been through. I think it’s a great idea. And I think Izzy and Maddy would both want you to do it.”

Harry felt the tears coming rapidly to his eyes and he swallowed, determined not to cry this time. This was a good thing he was doing, not a sad thing. He was going to save lives in their memory. That’s exactly what they deserved.

“I love you, Lou. So much. You know that, right?”

Louis looked down at him and leaned in, his soft lips pressing lightly against Harry’s. Harry gazed back up at him, his own love and adoration reflected right back at him in those beautiful blue eyes that he loved so much.

“How could I not?”

Harry blushed and burrowed under the covers, tugging Louis close to him. They kissed for a bit more, just gentle kisses, mere brushes of their lips, before Louis leaned over and snapped the light off. Harry lay on his side as Louis curled up against his back, one arm slung over his waist and the other playing gently with his hair.

“Goodnight, love,” Louis said softly, kissing Harry’s cheek, and Harry mumbled a reply, already half asleep. As he drifted off, he felt Louis’ breath against his ear, and his lips lifted in a smile even as he fell into his dreams.

“I love you, every part of you, Harry Styles. You have the biggest heart and it’s always in the right place. One day, I’ll make it mine forever, but until then, we have this. We have us. We have love. And that’s everything I’ve ever wanted.”

Chapter Text

“Cheers mate,” Louis said as he climbed out of the taxi that had brought him and Harry to the airport, followed by Niall and Liam in their own car. They were all taking advantage of the end of Niall and Louis’ residencies, and were all heading back home to visit their families. The hospital had been great in granting them all time off before Louis took up his new position in just two weeks time. They all headed into the terminal together and checked in their suitcases, heading through security together. Niall’s flight back to Ireland was taking off before Louis, Harry, and Liam’s to London, so they headed for that gate first.

All three men were emotional, and Louis was dreading the moment he’d have to say goodbye to Niall. He knew it wouldn’t be for good - they were best friends, and Niall had promised to come back to Chambersburg to visit, and there was always FaceTime as well. Still, the thought of not seeing Niall everyday, confiding in him or having a laugh with him, sat heavily on Louis’ shoulders. Niall had been his rock, the person that was there for him through everything over the past few years, and Louis was going to miss him desperately.

The announcement soon came over the loudspeaker that Niall’s flight was boarding, and Liam and Harry said their goodbyes to him, Harry shedding a few tears before they parted, Niall promising to stay in touch and visit soon. Harry kissed his cheek and walked over to Louis, hugging him for a moment before he wandered off with Liam, knowing Louis needed to say his goodbyes to Niall in private. Louis loved him even more for that, and quietly walked over to Niall, who just grinned at him.

“Hey, come on Tommo, this isn’t goodbye and you know it,” he said, yanking the other man into a tight hug. Louis clasped his hands together behind Niall’s back, holding both close together. He closed his eyes, praying that the tears burning behind his eyelid’s wouldn’t fall, but it was in vein. Niall was slapping his back gently, and Louis just sniffed, inhaling the familiar scent of his best friend for the last time in a while. He sniffed and stood back up, holding Niall’s face between his palms and kissing his cheek.

“Fuck, I’m gonna miss you so much,” he mumbled, voice low with emotion. “You better text me and keep me updated on your job and stuff.” Niall nodded and cleared his throat, emotional himself by now. He raised a hand and waved to Liam and Harry, who were stood together, Harry’s head leaned against Liam’s broad shoulder as they watched from a distance. “And Niall…”

“Yeah, Lou?”

“Thank you. For everything. You’re the best friend a guy could ever ask for.” They hugged quickly again and Niall bent down to pick up his rucksack, hoisting it onto his shoulder. “Take care mate, see you soon, yeah?”

“Sure. And take care of Harry. I’ve never seen you as happy as you are when you’re with him… I always want to see that smile on your face, okay? Don’t let him go.”

“Trust me, he’s going nowhere,” Louis said, laughing lightly. “Right, you’d better go before you miss your flight. Love ya, mate.” Niall squeezed Louis’ arm before he wandered away, turning around once more before he walked down the tunnel towards the plane, and away from his friends. Louis exhaled, and the next thing he knew, strong arms were wrapped around him from behind, a chin hooked over his shoulder.

“You okay, love?” Harry asked, and Louis just nodded, knowing he couldn’t speak just yet. He just let Harry hold him, Liam now sat down in some chairs waiting for the pair to rejoin him, not rushing them as they had a little while before their flight boarded. Louis carefully turned in Harry’s hold, resting his head on his boyfriend’s chest, letting Harry’s long arms encompass him.

“I’m gonna miss him so much, Haz,” he muttered, his voice muffled by Harry’s thick jumper.

“I know, Lou, I know,” Harry said, still caressing Louis’ hair, holding him close. Louis shut his eyes and just let his feelings wash over him, not ashamed to feel sad around Harry. He forced his mind to think of seeing his family again in just a few hours time, and then meeting Harry’s family in a couple of days. He was nervous, but in the best way, Louis knew he was going home, and he couldn’t wait.

*

Louis held Harry’s hand after they had cleared immigration and collected their bags, all three of them utterly exhausted after the transatlantic flight. Louis didn't mind flying so much, but Harry, with his long limbs, had struggled in the confined space and hadn’t got much rest, which in turn meant Louis hadn’t either, feeling the need to stay awake with Harry and keep him entertained. Now Harry was moaning about his bad back, and Louis wished there was something he could do to make it easier for Harry.

“Don’t worry Lou, he’s not a good traveller,” Liam said, nudging Louis with his elbow and a small laugh. “He never has been. His fault for having giraffe legs, I guess.” Louis laughed but promptly stopped when he caught sight of the glare Harry was sending him. They’d each booked taxis, one to take Liam back to Wolverhampton, and one for Louis and Harry to Doncaster. Neither of them wanted to burden parents with having to hang around the airport, and Louis needed a little while after flying to collect his thoughts, already buzzing with the excitement of seeing his parents and siblings again.

They headed out to the main concourse and spotted their drivers waiting for them, Payne on one piece of paper, and Tomlinson-Styles on the other. Louis grinned to himself at how good his and Harry’s names looked together, and he hugged Liam quickly.

“So we’ll see you in ten days by the check in desk,” he confirmed, Liam nodding before he hugged Harry goodbye. “Have a great time with your parents, mate. Enjoy the downtime!”

“Will do!” Liam called, not even looking as he dragged his suitcase behind him and out to his waiting taxi. Harry and Louis followed, their taxi driver chatting amiably to them as they lifted their suitcases into the boot, getting into the back seat, Louis holding Harry’s hand between the seats. The driver already had the address for Louis’ home, and both of them allowed their eyes to shut as they zoomed off down the motorway.

Louis stirred awake a few hours later, Harry shaking his shoulder, muttering his name quietly. Louis stretched as best he could in the confined space, grinning when he looked out of the window to see the familiar town whizzing past. He knew it would only be around ten minutes before they got to his parents house, so he woke himself up and had a sip of water from the bottle he’d taken with him from the plane.

“You excited to see your family, Lou?” Harry asked, his own eyes eager, a small smile on his face. “I can’t wait to see Ernest and Doris again, they’ve probably grown already since I last saw them.”

“Yeah, I am, I miss them a lot when I’m in Chambersburg. Feels like so long since I’ve been home.” There was a wistful hint to his tone, and Harry squeezed his hand gently. Before they knew it, the taxi was pulling up outside Louis’ home, and he was pleased to see that not much had changed. There were more cars out the front now Lottie could drive, and Dan and Jay had upgraded since Louis left, but otherwise, it all felt right. The fare had been prepaid, so all that was left was for Louis and Harry to take their cases out, and they shook hands with the driver, heading up the path together. “Ready?” Louis asked, and Harry nodded.

Louis rang the bell, and seconds later, the door flew open and Louis was enveloped in a huge hug from his mum. He hugged her back, but she soon broke away, doing exactly the same to a bemused Harry, who hugged her back tightly. Louis silently hoped that his relationship with Anne would be like Harry’s with his mum. They were dragged into the house, and were soon set upon by Louis’ other siblings, Doris screeching as she ran up to “my Harry!”. Louis’ heart practically exploded as he watched Harry scoop her up and hold her close.

“It’s so lovely to have you home, sweetheart,” Jay said, fussing over Louis as she always did. Louis could see Dan out of the corner of his eye picking up their suitcases and heading upstairs, and in that moment, Louis was very grateful for his step-father. He caught Harry’s eye across the room and sat down on the sofa, soon joined by his boyfriend. “How was the flight?”

“Awful,” Harry moaned quickly while Louis rolled his eyes. “I hate flying, it’s so cramped and long.”

“Yeah, and don’t I know it,” Louis teased back, Harry pouting and making the older twins laugh. Doris was still curled on Harry’s lap, and Louis felt oddly jealous of his baby sister. “Sorry it’s only a flying visit though, Mum.”

“Oh, don’t worry about it,” she said, waving away Louis’ concern. “I’m just so grateful you boys came here at all. Oh, I almost forgot!” She sprang to her feet and Ernest chased after her, his little bare feet hitting the floorboards with little slapping sounds that made Louis smile. “Careful Ernie, give it to Loulou!”

Harry and Louis watched fondly as Ernie trotted in with a wrapped rectangular box in his hands, Jay following behind with a rather large looking cake.

“You think I couldn’t not celebrate my baby boy’s promotion?! I’m so proud of you!” she cried, setting the cake on the table while Louis got to his feet, hugging her tightly. “And Lou, I’m so glad you spoke to your boss about you and Harry. You both deserve to be so happy together, you really do. He’s such a wonderful boy.”

“He is, I’m very lucky,” Louis said, his eyes full of love for both his mum and his boyfriend. “Now, what’s this?” He crouched down next to Ernest, taking the present from his little brother. “You gonna help me open it, Ern?” The little nodded, blonde curls flopping about, much like Harry’s, who was watching on, eager to see what was inside.

Louis pretty much let the little rip off all the paper, and he took the item out, knowing immediately it was a picture frame. Slowly, he turned it over and gasped when he saw the photo inside. It was a big group photo they’d taken when the Tomlinsons had flown over to see Louis for Christmas, and there was something so perfect about it. Louis and Harry were sat in the middle, a twin on each of their laps, another twin sat next to them. Lottie and Fizzy were sat cross legged in front of them, holding hands, and Jay and Dan were stood behind them, hands on both Louis and Harry’s shoulders. Louis teared up at the sight of it, a lump in his throat at how much of a part of his family Harry looked.

“Mum, I-” she just hugged him quietly, rubbing his back, Harry staring down at the photo now. Louis felt entirely overwhelmed, unable to believe he could be quite so lucky as to have such a wonderful and accepting family, one that had taken Harry as if he’d always been part of them. The thought sent a pleasant shiver down his spine, and he broke away, shaking Dan’s hand now that he had come back into the room. “Thank you, all of you. Now, are we gonna eat that cake or just stare at it all night?”

Everyone laughed, and Harry stood next to Louis, pulling him into a gentle kiss as the noise of the Tomlinson clan filled the room, children arguing over which plate they wanted, and Doris tugging at Harry’s trouser leg, trying to get his attention again. Despite the complete and utter chaos, there was nowhere in the world Louis would rather be.

*

The next few days in Doncaster passed by ridiculously quickly. Louis spent the first day dragging Harry around all the important places in the town; his school, the Toys R Us where he got his first job, the place he’d had his first kiss, and his beloved Grandparent’s home. Harry seemed genuinely interested in everything Louis had to show him, and asked lots of questions, obviously keen to know more about Louis’ life than he already knew. Louis found himself unable to stop smiling as he held Harry’s hand, walking around his hometown, and he knew then and there that this definitely wouldn’t be the last time he bought Harry with him.

It was the last day they’d spend in Doncaster. They were due to head to Holmes Chapel the next morning to see Harry’s family, and the nerves were setting in now. Louis had popped in a few times when Harry had FaceTimed his mum, but the idea of meeting her, and Gemma, Harry’s sister, face to face was quite a scary prospect. He so badly wanted to make a good impression, and he could only hope that Anne would take to him as easily as Jay had to Harry.

Jay had gone all out for the their final meal together. It was an unseasonably warm day, so she had instructed Dan to fire up the barbecue, and Harry was out there now, a chatty Doris on his hip as he made easy conversation with Dan. Louis watched through the window as he helped Jay prepare a salad.

“So, how are you feeling about meeting Harry’s family?” she asked, chucking handfuls of lettuce into a large ceramic bowl. Louis was carefully chopping up tomatoes next to her, and Phoebe and Daisy were getting plates and cutlery ready as Jay had instructed.

“I’m nervous,” he admitted. “I just… I want them to like me, you know? It’s really important, I mean, Harry’s going to be in my life for a really long time, so I need to make a good impression.”

“You will, darling,” she assured him, resting a caring hand on his shoulder. “You’ve spoken to Anne before, haven’t you? Good, so don’t worry too much. Just be yourself. As a mother, all you want in your child’s partner is someone who loves them and takes care of them. That’s what you do for Harry, so she’ll love you, just as I love him. I promise.”

“Thanks Mum.” He headed to sink and rinsed off his hands, grabbing some carrot from the fridge and grating it into another bowl. “Jesus, how much meat have you got for this barbecue?”

“Well, I don’t like anyone to go hungry, you know that,” she said through a laugh, ignoring the strange look Louis was giving her. “He looks so happy with Doris, you know. He’s going to make a great dad someday.”

“He is. I… I want that Mum, with him, I mean. Marriage, babies, everything. My future’s with him, there’s no doubt in my mind.”

“Oh baby-” Jay wrapped him up in a tight hug then, and the pair stood silently as they embraced, both a little overcome with emotion. “I’m so happy for you, that you’ve found Harry. It makes it easier knowing you’re so far away but that you have someone you love and that loves you so much in return.”

“I love him more than anything,” came Harry’s voice, filling the room with its depth and rich tone. He walked around and kissed Louis gently before sliding his hand into the back pocket of Louis’ jeans. “Your son… he makes me smile, even when there are days I don’t feel like smiling. I’ve had some tough times, but Lou is always there for me, and I know he always will be.” Harry nuzzled into the side of Louis’ neck then, and Jay watched fondly as the boys expressed their love for each other with the small little touches that came so easily to the both of them.

Louis dragged Harry outside and sat on a bench in the sunshine, pulling his sunglasses onto his face. Phoebe and Daisy soon joined them, begging both Louis and Harry to paint their fingernails, which both men did with the steady hands of doctors, so used to performing delicate procedures and stitches on young, squirming children.

“Wow, thanks Harry!” Daisy cried as she looked over the bright purple polish Harry had applied to her little fingers, the colour sparkling in the May sunshine. “Love you! Come on Pheebs, let’s go and annoy Dad.”

Harry sat a little stunned at what Daisy had just said, but Louis just grinned, running his hand up and down Harry’s thigh. “She’d have loved your sisters,” Harry said in a quiet voice, a faraway look on his face. “I think… she’d have fitted in. And having your sisters around, it’s like… a little bit of her, you know? Your family is so wonderful, Lou. I’m so happy I get to be part of it now.”

“I love you being part of it, Haz. I… want you to always be part of it, I really do. I love you so much.” He shuffled closer to Harry, cuddling up to his body, ignoring the soppy looks Lottie and Fizzy were sending him across the garden. Dan soon hollered out that the first round of burgers were done, and Harry hopped up, telling Louis to stay put while he fetched them some food, returning with Doris hot on his heels. Ever since they’d arrived days ago, Doris had been Harry’s shadow, and had frightened them both to death one morning when Harry had woken to her staring at him, stood on the floor next to the bed.

After that, Louis had started to lock their door at night, making sure Harry stayed quiet while they made love quietly in the small hours of the day, when the rest of the house slept. Louis, though, was happy to kiss and cuddle Harry in front of his family, keen to show his affection as often as possible, and his family seemed as enamoured by Harry as he was. Everything had gone perfectly, and Louis wished they didn't have to leave so soon.

“Hazzy, do you have a sister like me?” Doris asked, sitting next to Harry, her little legs out in front of her, a paper plate with a burger balanced on her lap. “Please pass my juice, Hazzy.”

Harry smiled and obliged, handing the little girl her Little Mermaid cup, putting it back on the floor before he turned to her again, ready to answer. “Yeah, love. I, um, I have two sisters, Gemma and Isabelle, but I call her Izzy.”

“Can I see them please?” Louis looked at Harry, a little worried at where this was going but Harry seemed calm as he took his phone from his pocket, opening up the photos app and showing Doris some pictures.

“That’s Gemma, she’s a couple of years older than me. She has blonde hair now, but she’s the best. And… this is Izzy. She was four in this picture, just like you.”

“Is she four now?” Harry’s eyes flicked up to Louis, asking silently for permission for what he was about to say. Louis nodded, and reached out, holding Harry’s hand as he started to explain.

“She’ll always be four, love. Izzy was very poorly, and now she’s an angel in heaven. I miss her very much, but she lives on in my memories.”

“And in here, Hazzy, that’s what Mummy says about Grandma,” Doris said, placing her little hand on Harry’s chest above his heart. Harry’s eyes filled with tears at the innocent comment, and kissed Doris’ forehead before she ran off, leaving a half eaten burger on the bench next to them. Louis leaned forwards, wrapping his arms around Harry’s shoulder as the boy cried quietly.

“I’m sorry, love, they’re just kids, they don’t-”

Harry sniffed and pulled back, wiping his eyes on the back of his hand. “No, they’re fine. I love talking about her, you know that. It’s just… what Dotty said about her living on in me. She’s right, and that’s such a wonderful thing to think about. God, it’s nearly seven years she’s been gone, Lou. Doesn’t feel real, somehow.”

“I know, babe,” Louis said, stroking Harry’s hand gently.

“Lou, Harry, come and get some food!” Jay called, interrupting the moment, not seeing that Harry was upset. Harry took a breath, and Louis held his hand, holding him in place for a moment.

“You can stay here, take a minute-”

“No, I’m good. Let’s go. Thank you, Lou.” Harry leaned in and kissed Louis’ cheek for a minute, and he gave him a watery smile. As they made their way over, Jay frowned and Louis shook his head ever so slightly, and she understood, plastering a wide smile on her face. She hugged Harry, and the taller man nestled into the embrace for a moment, needing the comfort only a mother could give.

Louis just watched on with fond eyes, and his heart felt full. It didn't matter how many miles or how much ocean was between him and his family. They would always be one, and now their family was growing with the inclusion of Harry. Louis’ mind drifted to the gatherings in years to come, to how Louis and Harry might have someone else to bring along with them, completing their own little family. He smiled to himself at the thought, and when both his Mum and Harry returned the smile, he couldn’t help but wonder if they were thinking the same thing too.

*

Louis sat nervously fiddling with the sleeve of  his hoodie as Harry drove the car towards Holmes Chapel. They had borrowed Jay’s car, which Anne promised to return after the boys returned to America. Louis had driven most of the way but they’d switched at a service station, Louis thinking Harry would be better off driving now as he knew the town.

“Babe, it’s gonna be fine,” Harry said softly over the radio playing in the background. “She’s going to love you. Please stop fretting.” Louis nodded, although both of them knew it wasn’t that easy. Harry took his hand as he entered some residential streets, the houses looking much grander than Louis’ family Home. ‘Nearly there, Lou.”

Louis sighed as Harry pulled up onto a driveway, yanking on the handbrake and turning the engine off. He looked up at the lovely home and then to Harry who had gone a little pale, nervous green eyes locking on Louis’.

“Um, Lou,” Harry began, nerves apparent in his voice. “I’ve never done this before. Took a boyfriend home, I mean.” Louis was a little surprised but tried not to show it. Harry decided to fill the silence. “No one ever meant enough. But you do. I want to take you home. I want you to meet my mum. I need her to see how special you are to me.”

Everything had flipped on its head. Louis now felt he was the strong one, and gripped Harry’s hand, offering him much needed support. He leaned in and kissed Harry gently, settling both of their nerves slightly. “Come on then, love. Let’s not keep her waiting.” Louis got out of the car and waited for Harry to join him, his boyfriend exhaling as they walked towards the house. It was the complete antithesis of arriving at Louis’ chaotic family home. It was silent as they walked in, and it was only when Harry led the way into the kitchen that they saw a sign of anybody.

Both Anne and Robin were sat in the conservatory, but as Anne caught sight of them, she gasped and got to her feet, dashing towards her son and hugging him tightly.

“Oh, Harry, you’re home, my love,” she said, over and over as Robin got his feet, shaking Louis’ hand heartily as he introduced himself. Louis grinned at the peace and quiet, and eventually, Anne let go of Harry and turned to Louis. “You must be the boy who has stolen my son’s heart.” He nodded at that and waited to see where she was going with it. “Welcome to the family, sweetheart.” With those words, she hugged Louis too and he could see Harry smiling in the background as he greeted Robin.

They all sat before Anne hopped up again, intent on making tea for her guests, and Louis ended up sat with Robin for a moment, staring out over the expanse of lawn behind the house. The day was now overcast, but Louis felt in every way it was perfect.

“So, Harry’s told us you’ve recently got a promotion at the hospital where you both work?” Robin said, already showing an interest in Louis and his career.

“Yes, um, I’ve accepted the position as Senior Resident, which will start when Harry and I return home. I’m really excited to get my teeth into something new, and I’m excited Harry and I will still be working together, even if it isn’t as closely as we do now. He’s amazing though, Harry, I mean. I’m in awe when I watch him work, he just has this natural way with people I wish I had.”

“As much as Anne and I miss him, I know working overseas has done wonders for Harry. He’s been able to leave, um, things, behind him a little, although I understand recently he’s lost a patient similar to, um-”

“Izzy?” Louis broke the tension, wanting Robin to know he was fully aware of Izzy’s presence in Harry’s life, and supported Harry through everything. “We lost a young female patient, Madison. She was very sick, like Izzy, and Harry did find it hard. But watching him find his inner strength to support her and her family… I think that’s when I realised I was in love with him.” Louis jumped when he felt a kiss on top of his head, and looked up to see Harry smiling down at him.

“Stop gushing about me,” he teased as he handed Louis a cup of tea which he accepted gratefully. Louis’ nerves melted away as the family all sat and began to talk, discussing everything from Louis and Harry’s careers, to what Anne had been up to at her book club that week. It certainly didn't feel like the first time Louis had met Harry’s parents, and he loved how Harry stayed close to him the whole time, always touching in some small way, Anne watching on with fond eyes from across the room.

They ate dinner together that night, with Anne promising Harry’s older sister would be popping in tomorrow, busy at a work function that night, but Louis wasn’t too worried. He was tired after the drive, and honestly just wanted a peaceful sleep where he knew he wouldn’t be woken up by curious toddlers staring over him.

“Robin put your things in Harry’s room, love,” Anne said, hugging Louis goodnight, Louis feeling relieved that he wasn’t going to be forced into sleeping in a different bedroom from his boyfriend, although he would have if Anne had asked it of him. “Sleep well, we’ll talk more tomorrow I hope.” She kissed his cheek and Louis nodded, following Harry up the stairs. They brushed their teeth and used the loo before Harry closed the bedroom behind them, the pair quickly stripping to their boxers and climbing into Harry’s bed.

“I’ve never had a boy in my bed here before,” Harry whispered conspiratorially, waggling his eyebrows at an amused Louis, faces lit up by his bedside lamp. “I’m glad you’re the first.”

“Harry, we’re not having sex in this bed, at least, not tonight. Your parents are literally next door, and we both know you can’t be quiet at the best of times.” Harry blushed and kicked Louis under the cover, tucking himself under his arm. “But seriously, babe. Your parents are lovely. No wonder you turned out so brilliantly, your Mum is amazing.”

“It means the world to me you’re here, you know, Lou,” Harry said softly, leaning in to kiss Louis gently. “She loves you, she really does. Said she’s never seen me so happy since, well, since Izzy died. And I think she likes I’ve found my own version of happy. I love you so much. Thank you for being here.”

“Thank you for letting me be part of your family,” Louis whispered back, letting Harry deepen the kiss, hands starting to roam despite his protests a minute ago that nothing could happen. “Oh god, Harry…”

*

Louis stretched out the next morning, Harry still deep in sleep next to him in bed. Louis smiled softly, leaning over to graze his lips against Harry’s stubbly cheek, his boyfriend not even stirring at the touch. Louis decided to let him rest, swinging his legs out of bed and grabbing some comfy clothes to pull on before he went downstairs. He couldn’t hear anyone else up, so padded quietly down to the bathroom, using the toilet before he crept downstairs, avoiding the creaky step Harry had warned him about last night when they’d gone to bed.

Louis went into the kitchen and prepared himself a cup of tea, sure that nobody would mind that before he went back into the sitting room. He set his cup down, letting the hot liquid cool as he wandered around, taking a closer look at the family photos littered around the room. Anne was clearly proud of her children - their pictures were everywhere Louis looked, and he laughed softly as he walked over to a photo of a very young Harry.

He was blonde, completely opposite to now but he looked so adorable, his cheeky green eyes and smile instantly recognisable to Louis. He picked up the small wooden frame, running his finger over the glass before another photo caught his eye. This one was on a toddler Harry, a large furry hat atop his head despite the obviously warm weather, given toddler Harry was wearing a baggy t-shirt, trainers and a nappy, much to Louis’ amusement. He had a pair of black winter gloves on his tiny hands, and Louis laughed in spite of himself, loving seeing this side of his boyfriend.

“Such a beautiful baby, he was,” Anne said quietly behind Louis, making him jump slightly, shoving the frame guiltily back into place where he’d taken it from. “Hey, you can look, love. Help yourself. God knows Harry won’t show you, so feel free to take a look.”

“I can’t believe how blonde he was,” Louis laughed, eyes flitting over to the picture of his tiny boyfriend again. “I mean, I know Izzy was really blonde, Harry’s showed me so many pictures of her but I didn't know Haz was as well.” Anne grabbed a large photo album then and pulled out a couple of photos, handing both to Louis.

“That one,” she said, pointing to the photo in her left hand, “That’s Harry when he was about nine months old, and the other one is Izzy. They were so alike, it was uncanny, especially when she was tiny. Obviously, Harry was a big boy when she was born but still, I found it odd how alike they were. They always such a special bond, more so than Harry and Gemma did, actually. I think that’s why Harry found it so hard when she died.”

“I can imagine,” Louis said seriously, nodding as he handed the photos back. “She was a wonderful little girl, judging by everything Harry’s told me about her.”

“You know, I love that he has opened up to you about her, Louis.” Anne led Louis back to the sofa, sitting down opposite him. “He struggled to talk about her, after everything. He shut down, left home, and that was it. He opened up sometimes, on the anniversary of her death and things, but generally he blocked it all out. It seems you’ve encouraged him to talk more openly, though, and that’s a wonderful thing. Thank you.”

“Well, I’m glad he feels he can talk to me. I love hearing her come to life through his pictures and his words, it’s obvious how much he loved her when he talks about her. I’m so sorry you had to go through that, Anne, I really am. I wish I could have met her.”

“What are you two chatting about?” came a sleep Harry’s voice from the doorway, his hair pulled back from his face, in need of a cut. He walked over and plopped himself down in Louis’ lap, not caring he was really too big to be anything like that, making Anne giggle at the sight of them. “Oh god, please tell she didn't get the embarrassing baby pictures out.” Harry moaned, covering his face with his hands as Louis nodded, everyone chuckling by now. “Oh god.”

“Don’t be embarrassed, love! You were such a cute toddler, and I have to say the furry hat, gloves, and nappy look is pretty, uh, special,” Louis laughed, Harry shaking his head and climbing off Louis’ lap, heading for the kitchen before he stopped and whirled around, facing Louis with a stern expression, hands on his hips.

“And to think I was going to treat you to a nice day out today.” He turned around dramatically and flounced into the kitchen, leaving Louis and Anne in a fit of giggles on the sofa.

*

Louis held the large bag stuffed full of blankets, flasks, and goodness knows what else as Harry strode ahead of him, wicker picnic basket hanging from his arm as he walked, looking for the perfect spot to settle down on. He must have found it, as he came to a halt and beckoned Louis over, grabbing the checkered blanket from the bag and laying it out, inviting Louis to sit down. Louis went to help dish out the other items from the bag, but Harry waved him off.

“Hey, let me. I’m treating you, remember?”

“But I can help,” Louis moaned, watching as Harry started grabbing things from the basket, putting down little boxes of food, napkins, drinks, and utensils between the pair of them. “Harry - wow. When did you do all this? It’s amazing, but you didn't have to go to so much trouble for me-”

“Yes, I did,” Harry said, leaning in to kiss Louis quickly. “I just wanted to do something nice for you, babe. Also, it’s, um…” He trailed off, leaving Louis to wonder what he meant, encouraging his boyfriend to reveal more.

“It’s what? Am I missing something?”

“No, it’s, well, it’s kind of our six month anniversary this week? I just wanted to do something nice, something just for us. You’ve made me so happy these past six months, Lou. I know we say it every day but I really do love you, and I can’t wait for forever with you. I’m grateful to have found you.”

“I… I had no idea,” Louis admitted, feeling bad he’d missed out on that bit of information. “But wow, six months. Best six months of my life, I promise. I love you so much, Harry.” Harry handed him a plastic champagne flute then, a few centimetres of liquid in the bottom holding his own in the air slightly. “To us, Harry.”

“To us. I love you.” They clinked glasses and took a sip before Harry started popping the lids of his numerous tubs, revealing a plethora of sandwiches, salads, snack foods, and more. Louis’ tummy rumbled at the sight and he accepted a paper plate from Harry, grabbing a few of each item and putting them down in front of him. “Hungry, are you?” Harry teased, raising an eyebrow at the amount of food on Louis’ plate.

“Well, if you went to the effort to do all this, the least I can do is eat it all.” He took a big bite out of a cheese sandwich then, Harry cackling loudly as a blob of mayonnaise seeped out of the side and landed on the leg of Louis’ shorts. “Oh shit.”

“Honestly, I can’t take you anywhere, can I?” Harry teased, wiping at the stain with a napkin, Louis just looking on fondly. They ate quietly for a little while, making small talk as the world past by around them, the sun beaming down, a light breeze enough to make them keep on their hoodies. It made a nice change to be out in the fresh air. Louis felt he spent so much time at the hospital, it was like his second home, so this extended break was much needed for both himself and Harry.

“So are you nervous about getting back to work and the new job?” Harry asked, handing Louis a sausage roll as he spoke, Louis taking it with a grateful smile. “I mean, I know you’re going to be great, but I just want to make sure you’re okay?”

“And that’s why I love you,” Louis grinned back, reaching across the blanket and kissing Harry quickly. “But yeah, it’s all good. I’m nervous, of course, it’s more responsibility and paperwork, but it’s what I’ve always wanted. Plus, I get to stay with you, which is the best thing. It just… it feels like everything is going right at last, for the both of us, you know what I mean? It’s been a rough few months, but we’ve come through this, together. You gave me the courage to go for this job, and I just want to make you proud.”

“I already am,” Harry reassured him, scooting across to lean against Louis, their bodies fitting together as they sat on the blanket. “I can’t believe we’ve only got three days left here before we go back ... it’s flown by, hasn’t it?”

“Always does,” Louis said, nodding. He shut his eyes and tilted his head back, letting the sun rays warm his face for a moment, already missing the English weather and countryside. He loved living in Chambersburg, but there was nothing quite like coming home to familiar sights, smells, and their families. “We have to come back more often, both of us. I know our mums would appreciate it, especially now we can afford to splurge on flights a bit more often.”

“I’d love that,” Harry grinned back. “I miss my Mum already, and we haven’t even left yet. Is that daft?” Louis shook his head, mouth full of sandwiches again. “Um, Lou… I know we’re going out tomorrow with Mum and Gemma, but on Friday, I, uh… there’s somewhere I want to take you, somewhere special. Is that alright?”

“Whatever you want, darling.” Louis could see Harry was already nervous to ask, and wanted him to know that he only wanted whatever Harry wanted, he wanted him to always be happy. It was clearly important to Harry, and that meant it was important to Louis as well. “Anyone else or just us?”

“Just us.” Louis nodded, reaching for Harry’s hand. “Always just us.”

*

“Louis? Can you give me a hand, love?” Anne called, and Louis jumped up from the sofa, hurrying into the kitchen. The smell of food filled the air and Louis walked up behind Harry’s mum, waiting to see what needed to be done. “Oh thank you, sweetheart. Could you just stir this for me? I can’t do that and everything else. Normally Harry helps me, but of course Robin had to take him off shopping…“

“It’s not a problem,” Louis assured her, taking the wooden spoon from her and moving it in small circles. “I might not be as good a cook as Haz, but I do try.” She laughed at that, nodding at his enthusiasm.

“Does he cook for you at home a lot, then?”

“Yeah, he stays over most of the time, I think he likes cooking, especially after a rough shift at the hospital. He says it helps him to unwind.”

Anne stopped chopping and turned around, facing Louis now, a pensive expression on her face. “When Izzy was really sick, Harry baked a lot. Endless cakes and cookies, too much for all of us, we ended up taking it into the hospital for the staff. But it was his way of coping. He could lose himself in it, weighing things, creating something he thought was useful. I’m pleased he’s cooking again.”

“Oh, uh, I didn't know that,” Louis confessed, waiting for Anne to continue. “He’s told me a bit about the time when Izzy was sick and her treatment, but I don’t force him to talk. He just comes out with little things sometimes, like they just pop into his head. I’m glad he talks to me, though. It’s not been easy, especially with Maddy, the patient we lost. But he’s getting there.”

“In no small part thanks to you,” Anne said, coming over to hug Louis then. Louis hugged her back, sensing Anne needed the comfort as much as he did. “You’ve done wonders for my boy, Louis. I’m so happy he has someone over there who loves him as much as I do. I hear you’re going to be living together soon?”

“Oh, uh, yeah. When we get back, Harry’s moving in to my place now Niall has gone. He was there most of the time anyway, but we thought we would make it official. I, um, I’m really looking forward to just sharing my life with him, you know?”

Anne nodded, holding Louis’ hand for a second. “I do, love. Just… look after him, please? I know he’s a man now, and a doctor, but he’s still my boy, and he’s had a rough go of things so far. But I trust you with his heart, I can see how close the two of you are. I just hope you’re in this as much as Harry is…” she trailed off, wandering away, leaving Louis to ponder how much he wanted to give away.

“Um… I am, I promise. I… he’s my everything, Anne. We’re both in this for the long run. I don’t… I don’t want anyone else. It begins and ends with Harry for me.” Anne rushed over and hugged Louis again, whispering words of thanks into his ear, Louis getting a little emotional himself now at the poignancy of the moment. They broke apart as they heard the front door open, bags being dropped onto the floor and shoes being kicked off in the hall.

“We’re home!” Harry called, lumbering into the kitchen, many carrier bags hanging from his arms. “”Hope you two haven’t been gossiping about me…” He pecked Louis’ lips in full view of his parents, a big smile on his face, dimple popping in his cheeks.

“Only good things, my love,” Louis reassured. “Only ever good things.”

*

Two days later, Louis sat in the passenger seat of the car while Harry drove down the main high street of Holmes Chapel town, eventually indicating and pulling in to a small parking space outside a florists.

“Um, can you wait here a sec? I won’t be a minute, Lou.” Louis nodded and Harry kissed him quickly before getting out of the car and jogging into the little shop. Louis watched shoppers bustle by the car, bags in hands, laughing and joking as they held hands, children jumping over cracks in the pavements as they skipped in front of their parents. Soon enough,  Harry emerged, a wrapped up bouquet in his hand which he laid on the backseat before getting in behind the wheel. “I’ll explain when we get there.”

Harry started the car and began driving again, weaving the car easily through the streets, clearly driving out of town. Louis watched eagerly out of the window as shops turned to fields, people turned to animals, and Harry began to slow down, indicating while he waited in the middle of the road to turn through the tall set of iron gates over to the side.

“Harry, where are- oh.” Louis fell silent as Harry turned the car and pulled into a small car parking area. Harry climbed out of the car first, coming round to Louis’ side of the car and opening the door for him, a nervous expression on his face. “Oh, darling.”

“Is… is this okay?” Harry asked, his voice quiet, and Louis nodded and hugged Harry quickly. “Thank you. I just… I so badly want you to meet her, Lou.” He left Louis for a second while he grabbed the flowers from the back seat, and stood next to Louis for a second. He took a deep breath, steeling himself before he turned to Louis agai, clutching his hand tightly. “This way, babe. Come and meet my sister.”

They headed through the cemetery together, Harry weaving his way down the small gravel pathways, not speaking, no words needing to be said. Louis’ eyes took in the vast expanse of gravestones in front of him, some old and crumbling, abandoned long ago by relatives who had probably moved on, others littered with bunches of flowers, windmills and other token of loves left by loved ones.

They turned into a section of graves dedicated to children. Louis’ heart broke at the sight of the colourful area, a beacon of hope in amongst the sadness. Harry slowed down, and Louis could feel his hands start to shake as they stopped in front of a small white stone. Etched into the stone were the words Isabelle Olivia Styles, beloved daughter and sister. 17.4.2008 - 22.4.2012. Louis could feel a lump in his throat as he read the words over and over before his eyes flickered over to Harry’s, wondering how to approach his boyfriend now.

“She’s… she’s just there, Lou, but at the same time, she’s not. I find it strange coming here.” He exhaled deeply, fingers tightening around Louis’. “Want to come and meet her?” Louis nodded and they stepped over, standing together on the patch of lush green grave in front of the stone. There was a colourful plastic windmill stuck into the ground, fluttering in the light breeze, and Harry got to his knees. “You can, um, you can sit with me?” Louis did so, watching as Harry fumbled with the cellophane around the flowers, untying the ribbon holding the green stems together.

Louis reached over, resting his hands on top of Harry’s shaking ones, wordlessly telling his boyfriend he was there, and ready to help. Together, they separated the stems, Louis smiling at the colourful blooms laid out in front of them. “These are beautiful, love. Any particular reason you bought these?”

“Oh. Um, I always get these flowers whenever I come to see Iz. Her favourite colours were yellow, pink and white. We got everyone to wear pink and white at her funeral, and we all released yellow balloons in her memory. So now, I like to cheer up her grave with these - they’re bright and sunny like she was.” Louis smiled at the lovely words, and reached for a few pink roses, pushing them into the metal plant holder while Harry fussed with the white daisies and yellow sunflowers. When they were done, the blooms stood tall in the sun, Harry smiling down at them.

He cleared his throat, and began to speak. “Louis, I’d love for you to meet my sister, Isabelle. Isabelle, this is my lovely boyfriend, Louis. I… wish you could have met each other properly, I know you’d have loved him, Iz. He gives the best hugs. You could have come to stay with us, we’d have such fun.”

“So lovely to meet you, Izzy,” Louis said, taking Harry’s hand again. Both men were sat cross-legged on the grass now, surrounded by silence. “Thank you for bringing me here, Harry. I… I feel honoured you wanted me to meet her, to come here with you.” Harry stroked the back of Louis’ hand with his thumb, getting comfortable before he started to talk.

Harry told Izzy all about Louis, their relationship, how long they’d been together and the wonderful few months they’d spent together. He told her all about Louis’ family, the pair jumping in with funny stories, making each other laugh despite their surroundings. Harry told he proudly about Louis’ promotion, how much he loved to watch Louis work, how good he was with his patients. Louis blushed heavily at Harry’s gushing compliments, but he let the kind words sink in.

“Actually, Iz, there’s something I’ve been meaning to tell you… you too, Lou. I, um, I guess I wanted to tell you both together?”

“Is everything okay, Harry?” Louis felt concerned now at the fact he could see tears brimming in Harry’s eyes, the boy opposite him clearly overcome with emotion.

“Yeah, yeah, more than,” Harry mumbled, wiping roughly at his eyes. “It’s just… shit, I can’t believe this is real, that you’re here, meeting my sister and my family, after everything we’ve been through. And I… I got into school, Lou. I’m going back to school to study Cancer Studies specialising in Childhood Cancer.”

Louis’ jaw dropped, and he surged forwards on his knees to wrap Harry in a quick hug before he pulled away again, staring into Harry’s eyes. “I don’t - what are you - really?! You got in?”

“Yeah, I, uh, I did. I know I was late with my application, but Dr. Anderson helped me out, gave me an amazing recommendation, and the program accepted me. I’m mainly doing night classes but Dr. Anderson is sorting out a way for me to be released from some of my day shifts too so I can go the relevant classes. I’m, um, I’m a bit scared, Lou, but I want this so much, for me and for Izzy and Maddy.”

“Oh Harry, you’re going to be so amazing, babe. I am so proud of you right now, and I know Izzy and Maddy would be too. And… I love that you told of us, both of us, together. I love you, so so much. Thank you, for trusting me enough to bring me here, for sharing this with me.”

“I’ve wanted you to meet her for so long,” Harry confessed, sniffing as his tears fell, no matter how hard he tried to keep them inside. Louis knew it was an emotional situation, so he shuffled closer, pulling Harry into his body for a moment. “You’re… you’re part of my family now, Lou. And so is Izzy. I feel like, everything’s right now that you’ve been here, you’ve met here. She’d have loved you, you know.”

“I’d have loved her as well,” Louis said softly, pulling away as Harry stood up, collecting the few bits of rubbish strewn behind them on the grass and shoving it into a small bag he brought out of his pocket. “You ready to go already?”

“Yeah. She knows I was here ... you too. That’s enough.” He turned and kissed Louis then, in full view of the grave, almost as if he wanted his sister to see he’d found happiness.

“Home?” Louis asked, his blue eyes sparkling in the bright English spring sunshine.

“Home,” Harry nodded, taking Louis’ hand and blowing his sister a kiss before they walked away, hand in hand, into their future.