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Close Your Eyes, Clear Your Heart, Cut The Cord

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“So… that’s it?”

“Essentially, yes. Of course, we’ll have check-ups, starting off weekly, but hopefully getting less frequent fairly quickly. We were very lucky to get it all this time around, but we need to keep an eye out for any recurrences just to be safe.” Louis smiles warmly at Mrs Carson, who still looks vaguely shocked.

“I— I feel like there’s a catch,” she says, her voice dropping to a whisper when it catches on her tears.

“There really isn’t,” he assures her. “Riley is well on her way to being officially in remission.”

Mrs Carson sways forward, like she was going to hug Louis but caught herself at the last moment, so he opens his arms for her and she embraces him firmly. “Thank you,” she cries quietly into his ear.

“It was my pleasure,” he says, genuine and kind, after releasing her from the hug, keeping his hands on her upper arms. “Riley is an incredible kid; I can’t wait to watch her change the world.”

Mrs Carson sniffs quietly, dabbing under her eyes with the knuckles of her index fingers. Louis claps his hands in front of him, smiling widely.

“How about we go collect your superstar? The discharge papers are all set once you sign them and then you both will be free to go.”

When they get into the room, Riley is sat up on her hospital bed, wrapped in fuzzy pyjamas and an even fuzzier dressing gown, building something out of Lego on the table perched over it.

Her pale, round face brightens when she sees Louis enter the room with her mother. “Doctor
Tommo!” she exclaims happily, halting her Lego-building.

“Hey, superstar,” he greets her. “Guess who gets to go home today?”

Her eyes widen, deep brown and still shining with the brightness of childhood. “Me?!”

“You,” he matches her grin, holding his fist up for her to bump with her own as she squeals in delight. She promptly gives him the fist bump before throwing her arms around him and squeezing as hard as her seven-year-old arms will allow her.

“Thank you,” she whispers against where her face is squished into his shoulder.

“Just don't forget me when you're a big shot, yeah?” he whispers back, thumbing towards her half-built Lego rocket.

Her answering smile could power London for the rest of the century.

Several long, exhausting hours later, Louis is standing in front of the kettle in the doctors’ lounge staring down at the mug in his hands as if he's forgotten how to drink it.

“Louis!” a voice behind him exclaims, nearly causing him to spill his tea on himself when he jumps. An arm attached to the voice wraps around his shoulders as he sets his tea down before anything truly disastrous can happen.

“Hi, Pez,” he sighs as he leans his head so it rests atop hers.

“Hello, darling,” she returns, smile evident in her voice. “How are you on this lovely eleventh hour of our twelve-hour shift?”

“Oh, I'm splendid,” Louis replies, matching the overly dramatic tone of Perrie’s voice. “About to fall asleep standing if I don't get this tea in me ASAP, but splendid.”

“Glad to hear it. Rose, bud, thorn me.”

Rose, bud, thorn is a little tradition Perrie apparently learned at Guides when she was younger and has forced on the entire staff hospital for so long that Louis’s grown begrudgingly fond of it. He still sighs long-sufferingly every time Perrie asks it of him, but it’s mostly for show.

“All right, all right, you vixen. Let's see, rose. Oh! Riley went home a few hours ago. Currently cancer-free but we'll obviously keep an eye on her in case anything changes and she needs chemo.” Perrie nods, a bright smile on her face at the happy news. “Thorn…” he thinks a moment. “Oh,” he says, feeling his face fall. “One of the quadruplets isn't looking so good. Noah? The other three seem to be getting stronger every day, but Noah stays the same. He still hasn't opened his eyes.”

Louis sighs heavily, scrubbing a hand down his face as he thinks about Noah’s tiny form, hooked up to so many machines he seems to be more wire than baby.

A long moment passes before Perrie wraps her arms around Louis’ chest from his left, resting her chin on his shoulder. “What about your bud, love?” she prods gently after several quiet minutes have ticked by.

“Oh, definitely going to sleep when I get home,” Louis says, both of them letting out groaned laughter at the thought of their beds, which could be made of steel and their excitement wouldn’t ebb.

“Oh, I can’t wait,” Perrie sighs longingly. “Jesy’s hen do is this weekend, so I plan on sleeping until then.”

“Not as young as you used to be, Per?” Louis teases.

“Shove off,” Perrie responds, a saccharine smile accompanying the words.

Louis rubs his cheek against her forehead before reaching out for his tea and bringing it to his mouth, just as his pager goes off. Figures.

Louis had hoped, when he started as an intern after med school, the bone-deep exhaustion that comes from twelve or more hours at the hospital would stop affecting him the same way.

He sort of figured that his body would grow used to its tiredness, that it would settle into his bones in such a way that he would stop noticing it. He’d hoped that exhaustion would become relevant; he’d be less tired after six hours than after fifteen. No such luck, even when his longest shifts dropped from forty-eight hours to eighteen.

He puts his keys on the ring next to the doorjamb before shuffling into his apartment, flipping through his mail without bothering to turn the foyer light on. It’s slightly less effective than he’d hoped.

He chucks the pile onto a small table in the hallway.

“Rufus?” he calls into the darkness, making his way toward the kitchen where he finally turns a light on. He throws a glance to the windowsill where his venus fly trap sits. He swears Rufus perks up when Louis is around.

Opening the freezer, he pulls out one of the meals his mum forces on him every time he goes home. Looks like he’s having lasagne tonight.

As it’s heating up in the microwave, his phone lights up on the counter, vibrations sending it sliding across the surface. He contemplates ignoring it for all of three seconds before he sees Liam’s face on the screen.

“Guh,” he says into the phone.

“Hello to you too,” Liam’s voice comes through.

“Hey, mate,” Louis responds, scrubbing his hand down his face as the microwave beeps at him.

“Any chance you’re coming out tonight?” Liam asks, not unkindly.

“Nope,” Louis says, quickly following it with, “ah, ah, hot, hot, fuck.”

“Lasagne night?” Liam’s voice is wavering slightly like he’s trying not to laugh at Louis’ pain. Wanker.

“Yep. Then Rufus and I might even manage to watch some footie before I pass out,” Louis informs him.

There’s a beat before Liam answers him.

“Yeah, still weird that you watch telly with a plant.”

“Oi! Rufus is not just a plant,” Louis’ voice is indignant, one hand coming up to cover his heart. “He’s a better mate than you, Payno.”

“Because that’s normal,” he hears Stan’s voice filter through from the background.

“Tosser,” Louis returns.

There’s a heavy silence before Louis sighs.

“I’m sorry, lads. I want to, I do. I miss you arseholes. But I have surgery early tomorrow and I’ve just got home from a twelver. Next time?”

“Yeah. Yeah, Lou, ‘course. Get some rest, yeah?” Liam says, his voice softer than Louis usually hears it.

“Yeah. Thanks. Have fun,” Louis smiles and hopes it comes through in his voice.

“Oh, we will,” Liam laughs before they exchange farewells and end the call.

He hates not being able to see his friends as frequently as he used to, but his job requires different things of him than theirs do of them. They don’t blame him for that, he knows, but he’s still excited for the future when he can have a more consistent schedule. The near future, he hopes. Before his friends move on without him.

Louis looks down at his mostly-cooled down lasagne with a heavy sigh before grabbing it and Rufus and heading to the living room to mindlessly watch whatever footie match he’s most recently missed.

For now, this is his life.

Louis has known his sister was a menace since the day she was born. Her big blue eyes and sweet smile don’t fool him anymore—she did, after all, learn from the best (him)—but somehow he’s still managed to fall into her trap and is now sitting next to her on a bench outside for a very last-minute, very rushed lunch between his last surgery of the day and his afternoon rounds.

He’s working his way through the last of the chips set between them while Lottie is picking off handfuls of their shared grapes and sipping her water, salad long gone.

“Are you going to go up for the girls’ birthday next weekend?” she asks him between bites.

He inhales sharply between his teeth. “I hope so,” he replies honestly.

“Lou…” her eyes go soft and her mouth pinches a bit in the corners.

“I know. I know, I’m the worst,” Louis feels a familiar, heavy sadness in his chest. “You’re going up?” Lottie nods. “Well, if I can’t make it, I’ll send their gifts up with you, at least. And I’ll make sure to FaceTime them. I’m trying my best, Lotts. I really am.”

His voice has dropped to a whisper and Lottie reaches out with one hand to grasp his comfortingly.

“I know. And so do they. We’re all so proud of you. You work harder than anyone I’ve ever met and I remember how bloody excited you were when the Chief put her trust in you. I just… I don’t want you to miss the rest of your life because you’re so busy being a hotshot surgeon. Don’t you get lonely sometimes?”

Louis shoots a tight smile her way before tugging on their joined hands so she’s leaning against him. “How, daresay, could anyone be lonely with you lot around, hm? Me own built-in social network, you are.”

His smile feels more genuine when he aims it at Lottie whose own is undermining how she’s rolling her eyes.

Eventually, they make their way back toward the hospital entrance, dropping their rubbish into a bin on the way.

“Hey, Lou?” Lottie says as they cross the threshold.

“Yeah, love,” Louis answers, glancing at her.

“If I tell you something, can you promise not to tell Mum before I’m ready to?” she asks, her voice quiet but straining with something that sounds a lot like excitement.

“Nothing bad?” he checks.

“Nothing bad,” Lottie agrees. He studies her for a moment before raising a shoulder slightly.

“Okay, sure.”

“Do you know who Harry Styles is?” Lottie asks, causing Louis’ eyebrows to shoot up to his hairline. This wasn’t exactly where he was expecting this to go.

“Er. No? Should I?”

His sister purses her lips and gives him an unimpressed look. “Should you? Probably. Am I surprised you don’t? No.”

He fixes her with a look before she hands him her phone so he can scroll through his Wiki page—Harry Styles, 24, born and raised in Holmes Chapel, Cheshire, singer/songwriter, affiliated acts include Ed Sheeran and Ariana Grande; Louis is still not sure what any of this has to do with anything, but maybe now he’ll be slightly less clueless to who’s on the radio.

He turns back to where Lottie is crossing her arms and giving him a look and hands her the phone back.

“Okay?” he asks, still far more confused than he’s used to being.

“He’s going on tour in a couple months and I applied to work on his hair and make-up team?” she tells him, the shyness he watched her abolish in her later teen years shining through again.

“That’s amazing, Lotts!” he exclaims earnestly, his pride swelling in his chest. “I’m so proud of you for getting out there, love. I really am.” He hugs her tight and feels her arms squeezing his waist as her smile presses against his chest.

“So proud of you,” he reiterates for good measure, his whisper breezing through her silver hair.

After one final squeeze, blue eyes meet blue and they part ways, Louis’ smile just a little brighter for the rest of the afternoon.

A familiar call of “Dr Tomlinson!” stops Louis in his tracks as he’s heading towards the nurses’ station, turning instead to face Dr Moore, the Chief of Surgery.

“Hey,” he lets out on a rushed breath, a little winded from the power walking. Dr Moore smiles kindly at him, her light blue eyes warm and sparkling. She’s a petite woman, barely coming up to his chest. Louis always pities people who underestimate her because she’s a force to be reckoned with.

“How’s your day, Doctor?” she inquires, smile still on her lips.

“Fairly calm, but I have back-to-back surgeries tomorrow.”

“The neuroblastoma kid and the C-section?” she confirms as Louis nods. “Well, you’re the best there is. I’m sure it’ll go off without a hitch.”

“Thank you, Chief,” he smiles.

“I just wanted to make you aware of something,” she starts again after a beat. Louis nods again, trying not to make it obvious how much he’s itching to go check his patients’ post-op charts.

“Next week, there will be a celebrity visit to the paediatric oncology ward, which I know you have strong feelings about. I wanted to warn you, so you can avoid the situation or at least be prepared not to express those feelings to our guest.” Her face remains kind, but her tone is pointed.

Louis grimaces. He really hates when celebrities use sick kids for press. Really hates it.

“Okay,” he says eventually, sure his face looks like he just ate a lemon. “Thanks for the warning.”

Chief Moore nods and smiles warmly again before turning on her heel and heading back down the hall. Heaving one last sigh, Louis finishes his journey to the nurses’ station, nodding his thanks at the young blonde who hands him the chart.

It’s not that Louis forgot about the whole celebrity visit, per se. He just, well…forgot about it. Until he was brutally reminded.

He’s walking down the hallway toward the oncology ward to visit his cancer kids who are no longer surgical patients but still near and dear to his heart, as he does daily, when he hears a guitar accompanying the kids’ excited—albeit slightly off-key—voices. He pauses and listens more carefully, able to pick out two musically stronger voices, one low and full that seems to match the melody the kids are aiming for and one that’s higher and less frequent, only adding small bits into the song.

Bracing himself with a deep breath, he rounds the corner into the common room where the kids normally have play time. He finds them sitting around the edges of the circular rug in the centre of the room, two men sat on it. The guitarist has a smile as bright and sunny as the mop of hair on his head, bright blue eyes sparkling and entire posture speaking of ease and confidence. He turns his head to share a smile with the other lad, whose green eyes sparkle just as much, full and rosy lips curved into a playful smile in response. His wavy hair hits just past his shoulders, the top bit pulled into a bun.

It takes Louis a moment to place why he looks familiar, before he realises this is the singer Lottie told him about. Harry Styles, he thinks. He steps further into the room to lean against the wall. He’s glad to see there aren’t many cameras, mostly just phones the kids or their parents are using.

If Louis were willing to overlook the fact that Harry Styles and Blondie are using the kids for publicity or press or whatever it is rock stars do, he might be able to admit that he’s enjoying the song they’re singing. It’s got a mellow sound and the lyrics seem nice enough, not that Louis is paying too much attention to them. But he’s not willing to overlook that fact. Nope, he’s not. Not even for a boy as beautiful as Harry.

(He didn’t say that.)

He slips back out before he can get sucked in by Harry’s charm because he refuses to lose sight of his morals. Refuses.

When he spots Jade at the nurses’ station, he smiles kindly at her and picks up a conversation about her weekend and the puppy she and her flatmate adopted recently. He doesn’t even glance towards the common room door again until he hears the kids clapping wildly as their voices start to overlap excitedly. The only words he can really pick out are “selfie” and “oh my gosh” over and over again.

Even his cynicism can’t beat out the smile that grows over his face to hear the kids so happy. They deserve it, they really do, even if Louis is still sceptical towards Harry on principle.

When the common room seems to have quieted down, Louis assumes that means Harry is on his way out and bids farewell to Jade before turning around to finally visit the kids. He gets two steps before he actually, literally runs into his scepticism.

Or, well. Harry.

Same difference.

“Oh, sorry, mate,” comes his low voice, the genuineness in it matching the concern on his face. “Should’ve been paying more attention.” He smiles a slow, small smile and Louis barely refrains from rolling his eyes.

“Mm,” he agrees, his bitterness not very well contained despite not having technically opened his mouth.

“Er, right, okay…” Harry looks bewildered for a second before extending his hand warily. “I’m Harry. Styles.”

Louis looks at his hand then back at his face before reluctantly shaking it. “Is that your real name?” he asks dubiously.

Harry barks out a short laugh. “Yep,” he says, popping the p. “But I get that a lot.”

“Oh, I’m sure you do.”

“You still haven’t told me yours,” Harry reminds Louis, who is definitely paying attention to what Harry is saying and totally not getting lost in his eyes.

“Look at that, I haven’t,” Louis agrees, finally letting go of Harry’s hand before offering a strained smile and marching past him.

He can feel Harry’s stare on him the entire way to the door.

Louis can feel the beer warming his cheeks and loudening his voice very early in the night and continues to throw them back for the remainder of it. He’s missed his boys and it’s the first time in a long time he hasn’t had any responsibilities to worry about at the hospital for at least twelve hours. He’s not on call and he’s not needed until the next afternoon to do secondary post-op rounds on his kids. His surgeries today went off without a hitch and he feels like celebrating.

“Louis, lad!” Stan exclaims for the third time in half as many hours. “So good you’re here!” he yells excitedly, wrapping Louis in a hug and clapping him on the back.

“As good as the last time you said that?” Louis asks, half teasing, but his smile is too bright and his heart too happy to be able to put any bite behind it.

“Better!” Stan promises, an equally bright grin on his face. Stan puts his arm up for Louis to duck under and they walk over to the bar together, arms on each other’s shoulders.

“Another, good barkeep,” Louis demands in a faux-dramatic voice, puffing his chest in some attempt at matching the stance of a stereotypical Arthurian knight. The bartender, Alec, gives him a look but can’t quite hide the small upturn of his lips before he turns away to serve them each a fresh pint.

Louis sighs contentedly as he turns back from the bar with Stan to see Liam. He grins sloppily, happy to see him after so long apart. He’s even willing to forgive his digs at Rufus. He’s a good friend like that.

"I love you, man," he grins into his cheek when he gets close enough to lean into Liam's solid, significantly less plastered, form.

"Yeah, yeah, love you, too," Liam waves him off.

The three of them settle at a booth together, sipping their pints and passing conversations around like a lazy card game.

Eventually, Stan turns to Louis and asks him about work.

"Anything exciting happening over there?" he asks, looking as genuinely interested as he can manage in his current state.

"'S always something interesting happening there, Stan," Louis explains forcefully. "It's a hospital."

He slides down into the booth, giggling into Liam's shoulder before immediately perking up again.

"But actually!" he says—more yells, probably—holding up a finger. "Something annoying happened the other day."

"What?" Liam asks, settling his forearms onto the table.

"D'you guys know who Harry Styles is?" Louis asks.

"We don't live under rocks, so I think it's safe to say we do," Stan replies. Louis serves him a look to remind him that Louis can't keep up with pop culture when he's busy saving the lives of sick babies. Stan clearly doesn't receive the message because he doesn't look even remotely remorseful. Honestly, some people.

"Anyway," he begins again, more forcefully. "He came to the hospital to do one of those publicity visits the other day. And I hate him. Him and his stupid curly hair and pretty mouth and sparkly eyes."

"Lou, I think you need a dictionary because you've forgotten what hatred is," Stan giggles, sharing a look with Liam who is shaking with the effort of holding his own laughter in. Louis glares at both of them.

"Just because he's pretty—“ he starts only to be interrupted again.

"Oh, so you do think he's pretty," Liam points out.

"Just because he's pretty," Louis begins again, "doesn't mean I don't hate him for using kids who happen to be sick to help his image while obliterating their identities beyond anything other than their illnesses." He sniffs, crossing his arms.

"Wow, Tommo, that was the most eloquent speech I've ever heard you give. And you're blasted. I'm impressed."

"I don't appreciate being mocked, Liam," Louis responds sharply. "I'm serious. Being pretty doesn't excuse being shitty and I won't have it in my hospital."

"Well, he's done the visit, so surely he's done, right?" Stan pipes up after a tense few seconds.

"One can only hope," Louis sighs, finishing off his pint.

It's not until almost a month later, at least a week after he's finished living down the pub rant about Harry Styles, that he runs into him again. This time, he catches more than just the tail end of his performance with the kids, watching him sing while that same blond guitarist jams pretty hard for a guy surrounded by kids who are mostly still in the single digits. Louis can admire him for that.

He ends up watching almost ten minutes of Harry’s performance and begrudging as he is to admit it, the guy’s good. He's got a deep voice with a timbre that's simultaneously classic and unique. He clearly feels the music somewhere in his soul or…wherever, because it resonates with the kids (and maybe, maybe, a bit with Louis, too) in a way that only genuine music could. He always closes his eyes, eyebrows furrowed, during the slower, more soulful ballads and can't seem to help grinning while he sings the upbeat, fun songs as his eyes radiate his joy.

He naturally captivates the audience, not just with his beauty or his voice. Simply with his love of music and how much fun he's obviously having as he performs for the group, small as it may be.

Louis isn't quite sure why he's back, though. Publicity visits tend to be a one-off. Or at the most, few and far between.

He can admit this to himself, though: despite his issues with Harry Styles and everything his visits stand for, he loves seeing his kids so happy.

He means to sneak out before the kids really take notice of him and then return when he's sure Harry and company are gone, but somehow he finds himself there until Blondie is packing up his guitar and Harry is handing out hugs and high-fives to the kids as he says his goodbyes. He wishes luck to the kids who will be sent home soon and promises he will play again for the kids who can’t go home yet. Louis finds himself endeared despite himself as he watches the interactions.

As he pushes off the wall where he's leaning to find a way out without being spotted, Lucy, an adorable four-year-old with a pink butterfly beanie on, runs up to him and hugs his leg.

"Dr Tommo! Dr Tommo!" she exclaims excitedly around the thumb in her mouth. Soon, there are other kids crowding around him and giving him hugs. Louis smiles broadly at them, squeezing their shoulders, wherever he can reach, really, to show his affection. He looks up to smile at the kids who aren't mobile at the moment, even knowing he's doing his rounds in mere moments and can connect with them then, and instead finds himself smiling at Harry Styles. Who is grinning widely at the scene, causing Louis' own smile to immediately drop into a scowl. Harry notices and has the decency to look sheepish, waving his fingers at Louis quickly before ducking out of the room with one last round of goodbyes between him and the kids.

Louis is just changing out of his scrubs when the shrill sound of the song Lottie had set as his ringtone for her comes from his bag.

"Hey Lotts," he answers after thumbing his phone open. He tucks it between his cheek and his bare shoulder as he resumes putting his jeans on. "What's going on?"

"Louis, oh my god oh my god!" Lottie practically shrieks into his ear as he shifts his phone off of his shoulder and promptly away from his ear. "You'll never believe what just happened!"

"Mum got Doris to eat her veg?" Louis guesses, a smile colouring his voice at the sound of his sister so happy and excited.

"No," Lottie tsks and Louis can almost literally hear her eyes rolling. "Though that will be a miracle if it ever happens."

"I'm saying," he replies and puts his phone down for a quick moment to slip a t-shirt over his head. "Okay, what is it really?" he asks once he's dressed, using one hand to rifle through his bag and make sure he's got everything he needs.

"Remember what I told you about applying to go on tour with Harry Styles?" she asks, her voice slightly higher than normal.

Louis barely manages to hold in his scoff as he gives her an affirmative noise, attention still on the contents of his bag.

"I got the job!" Lottie screeches into the phone, promptly bringing his full attention back to her.

"Oh my god, Lottie! That's amazing, I'm so proud of you!" Louis grins, his issues with Harry evaporating in the face of his pride and his love for his sister. "I knew you'd get it!" he claims and wishes he could hug her.

"I don't think I've ever been more excited for anything in my life," Lottie confesses. "I'm going to be working on Harry Styles' Cutie Beauty Crew! Isn't that so cute, Lou? He calls it his Cutie Beauty Crew. I'm so chuffed."

Louis might kind of gag at the name, but Lottie loves it so he lets it slide. He's glad his sister can see her hard work paying off; he hopes it inspires her to keep working her arse off.

They chat for a bit before hanging up as Louis exits the hospital and heads home. He makes a mental note to meet up with her soon; he hasn’t actually seen her in person in a few weeks and now, it seems, she’ll be leaving him soon.

Not particularly surprising to him, his mum calls him while he's on the tube, so he calls her back as soon as he gets home. Jay asks him about work and he asks her about the younger kids before the conversation naturally turns to Lottie's news.

"I'm going to miss her," his mum says and he gets the feeling if he could see her, her eyes would be misty.

"I know, Mum," he sighs in agreement, graciously not pointing out the fact that Lottie moved out several years ago. Something about her children leaving the country without her has always left their mother in a tizzy.

There’s a short pause as Louis puts some water on Rufus’s soil and he hears his mum rustling around on the other line.

“I’ve, uh,” Louis begins only to immediately regret it.

“What’s that, boo?” his mum asks when he goes quiet.

He clears his throat and starts again. “I’ve actually met the bloke she’s working for. Harry Styles?” He’s not sure why he sounds like he’s asking.

“Oh?” Jay says, giving him the space to say what he needs to say.

“Yeah, he does charity visits,” he explains.

“Oh,” his mum says again, her tone noticeably icier. He supposes he got his disdain for them somewhere.

“He comes to visit the kids, like…weirdly often,” Louis adds, almost feeling like he’s telling her a secret. “I’ve seen him three times in as many months. And the kids love him. So I’m trying not to hate him for their sakes.”

“And now Lottie’s,” Jay concludes.

“Exactly. I’m never gonna love the bloke, but I suppose he’s palatable for now.” Louis turns his attention towards sorting the untouched pile of mail from the past week as a quiet moment passes between them.


“Do you have something to share, Mother?” Louis asks, his eyebrow raising at her tone.

“Just how cute is this boy?” she inquires.

“This is not about him being cute!” Louis exclaims, dropping the mail in his hands forcefully back into the pile. Honestly, he’s an adult. His judgment isn’t impaired by cute boys. Usually.

“So really cute?” his mother confirms.

Louis sniffs, “He’s gorgeous, okay? But that’s not the point.”


“No! He’s still not a good person, exploiting kids for public sympathy points. It’s not like I’ve forgotten that. But I’m also not going to, like, fight him when he makes the kids happy and Lottie’s just landed a job on his team that makes her happier than I remember ever seeing her!” He’s a bit out of breath at the end of his rant and, to make matters worse, he feels the heat of a blush creeping up his neck as mortification at his explosion registers in his mind.

“Okay, boo,” his mother acquiesces, sounding both taken aback and slightly impressed at his outburst. “I didn’t mean to imply anything.”

“I know,” he nods, words coming out in an embarrassed mumble. “Sorry. Li and Stan already gave me sh—crap for it a couple months ago. I guess I’m just defensive.”

He hears Jay hum thoughtfully on the other end of the line. He’s not sure he wants to know what she’s thinking, if he’s honest. But he also knows he’ll hear it eventually.

“Well, I’ve got to go feed and bath the twins,” she says after a moment.

“Not gonna share your thoughts, then?” he inquires lightly.

Jay gives a small chuckle. “No thoughts to share, darling.”

He narrows his eyes, but lets it slide. He asks her to send his love to his siblings before wishing her goodnight and hanging up.

“Well, Rufus, what d’you think? Pizza tonight?”

Louis’s been having a really good week. His kids have been doing well, overall, and the overwhelming majority of his surgeries have been perfect successes. He had lunch with Lottie at the beginning of the week and even managed to fit in a lads’ night with Liam, Stan, and some of their friends from work a few nights later. He feels rather content with his life, currently.

So, naturally, that’s when everything goes to shit.

He overheard Olivia at the nurses’ station telling Leigh-Anne that Harry Styles was back in the paediatric oncology ward and didn’t make the clearly better, in retrospect, decision to avoid the area at all costs for the next hour. In his defence, it’s not like he realised he’d been saving all his anger for an opportunity to go off on Harry. He really thought he was aiming for keeping the peace between them.

Instead, he’s now rolling his eyes as he watches the bloke pose for selfies with all the kids. As Harry gets to the kids closest to Louis, he overhears him mentioning his upcoming tour. He immediately tunes in to hear, “So I won’t be around as much for awhile, even though I really want to be.”

“Good riddance,” Louis scoffs to himself.

“Good riddance?” Harry repeats, suddenly much closer to Louis than before. So maybe he was louder than he thought. He’s really gotta work on that.

He looks up to Harry’s face to see him looking genuinely confused. Who even is this guy. “Did I…did I do something wrong? Do I interfere?” he sounds concerned.

Louis huffs a sigh. “Not exactly,” he replies wryly.

“So, you just don’t like me?” Harry concludes, an incredulous look on his face. “For no reason.”

“No,” Louis counters decisively. He glances around to see the children are otherwise occupied before continuing, “What I don’t like, Mr Styles, is people who visit the poor, sick children in the hospital for publicity. They’re not your charity case, okay? They’re people. Tiny, maybe, but complex and real and when you visit here, The Sun or Daily Fail or whoever-the-hell is just going to reduce them to their illness—to props that make you look good for being willing to hang out with them every so often when it strikes your fancy.”

Harry’s mouth had been quirked into a small smile for most of Louis’ rant, but Louis can see his lips drop into an almost-imperceptible frown and a new tightness around his eyes that gives away his—anger? Frustration? Louis doesn’t care; people never like being called on their shit and he’s not surprised that Flower Child Harry Styles isn’t an exception.

Louis is almost prepared to be hit, really, but instead Harry simply leans into his space and whispers fiercely in his face, “You don’t know a single thing about me.”

And then he’s walking away, out the door, waving and blowing kisses to the kids the whole way out.

Louis stalks out as soon as the kids have all had a bit of his attention, immediately finding Perrie to relay the whole situation to. He’s so frustrated with Harry, but he also feels like a massive idiot for losing his temper like that. Especially knowing how much he means to Lottie now. She’d be so hurt if she knew. Or maybe pissed at Louis. Probably both.

He drops his head heavily onto Perrie’s shoulder, the pair of them squished together into one armchair in the doctors’ lounge, and exhales heavily as the silence swallows the last of his rant.

“Lou…” she starts.

“I know. I shouldn’t have lost my cool like that,” he agrees.

“No. Well, yeah, that too. But that’s not what I was gonna say,” she tells him.

“Oh. Then what?”

“He doesn’t come ‘when it strikes his fancy,’” Perrie says, the words somehow gentle and exasperated simultaneously.

“How d’you mean?” Louis asks, his head coming off her shoulder to share a look.

“I mean he comes every Thursday afternoon. Without fail. Ever since that first time.”

Well. That’s news to him, innit.

“Every Thursday? How much publicity does this kid need?” Louis wonders aloud, not quite willing to believe the information yet.

Perrie nudges him gently with her elbow before crossing her ankles so she can tuck her hands between her knees. “That’s what I’m saying, love. Maybe this isn’t just about publicity. ’S not like I’ve discussed it with him, but. Something seems different about him.”

“Yeah,” Louis sighs and replaces his head on her shoulder. “Something does.”

Louis is still thinking about his confrontation with Harry when he gets home that night, Perrie’s supplied information running a loop in his thoughts. There’s a dense pit in his stomach, a feeling he can’t quite define.

It isn’t until he’s tossing and turning at three in the morning that he realises what it is. Guilt. He forces himself to push back the anger that floods him at the realisation; he logically knows that it’s not Harry’s fault that Louis judged him too quickly, and it’s certainly not his fault that Louis took his frustration out on him.

Louis finally falls asleep with one thought in his head: he still doesn’t know Harry Styles’ deal, but he’s got to make up for being such a tit.

London is experiencing one of its unusual heat waves when Louis wakes up. He can feel the perspiration beading on his forehead and his lower back, just above the waistband of his pants. He checks his phone before he gets out of bed, rolling onto his stomach to expose his back to the cool air being blown in by the fan in his window.

He has several Snapchat notifications from his sister, as well as a few texts. He goes through them, as has become his habit for the month and a half since Lottie left to tour with Harry Styles. He smiles at her ridiculous selfies with other members of the crew, Amber and Yaz pulling ridiculous faces behind Lottie as she tells him little tidbits about the show that night.

He loves getting updates from Lottie on her adventures, even if he still feels a little pang of guilt in his heart at the mention of Harry. He misses his eldest sister dearly and it makes it tolerable to know that she’s so happy in her absence.

He’s not scheduled to work today, but he wants to go in and say hi to the kids who are recently post-op and hopefully soothe the constantly-worried minds of their parents. He rolls out of bed slowly, not stressed about meeting a certain schedule, eventually making it to the shower.

He showers long enough to feel clean and cool before he steps out, drying off on the way back to his bedroom and pulling on a pair of black skinnies and a light blue button-down with short sleeves. He forces his hair into something presentable before pocketing his wallet, keys, and phone and heading out of the flat. He can theoretically walk to the hospital, but the heat wave doesn’t make him want to do much of anything, so he opts for a cab instead.

When he gets to the hospital, he quickly makes his way up to the kids’ ward, throwing smiles and greetings at the nurses and interns he passes in the hallway. He’s just finished checking up on Ryan, whose ability to perfectly walk the line between optimism and realism will forever leave Louis in awe of him, and is walking toward Becca’s room when he hears a voice that stops him cold.

“I’m very happy to be back!” Harry’s laughing voice comes from inside the room. “I’m going to leave you to rest, yeah? Kick cancer’s butt.”

“Okay, Harry,” Becca says and Louis can hear the pleased smile in her voice. He backs away from the door just in time to avoid seeming like a creep as Harry makes his way out. He’s not sure how to appear natural, so he just shoves his hands into his pockets and stares awkwardly at his feet and waits for Harry to inevitably walk away without acknowledging him.

“Er, hi.”

Louis looks up sharply at Harry’s greeting. Clearing his throat, he returns it. “Hi.”

They stand there as an uncomfortable silence passes between them. “So,” Louis finally says. “Your tour looks like it’s going well.”

“Oh.” Harry looks slightly taken aback. “Yeah, it’s, uhm. Yeah. I’m enjoying it. Hopefully the fans are, too.” Louis nods in agreement, his shoulders coming up to his ears as he looks anywhere but directly at Harry. “Are you…are you following my tour?” Harry asks tentatively.

“Kind of,” Louis says. “I mean, just, like…because of Lottie.”

“Lottie?” Harry says, his brow furrowed.

“Uh, she works on your hair and make-up team?” Louis responds, sarcasm coming out at the suggestion that Harry doesn’t even know who works for him.

“No, I know who Lottie is,” Harry says, rolling his eyes a little. “I just don’t know how the hell you know her.” Louis’ eyebrows shoot up as he struggles to stifle a laugh.

“She’s…she’s my sister.”

“No fuckin’ way,” Harry breathes, his eyes wide and searching Louis’ face.

“Pinky swear,” Louis huffs out on a laugh. He tamps down the blush threatening to creep up his face as Harry continues to look at him intently.

“I can totally see it,” Harry concludes finally. “You guys look so similar, I totally see it.”

“Yeah, we both take after our mum, I reckon. I think most of us do, really.”

“Most?” Harry repeats. Louis nods. “How many of you are there?” he asks, sounding slightly incredulous.

“My mum’s got seven.”

“Seven children?!” Harry’s eyes are wide for a new reason.

“Yes, Maria von Trapp. There’s seven of us.”

“Where do you fall?” Harry asks curiously.

“I’m the oldest. Lottie’s next, then Fiz—if you think we look similar, you should see the pair of them. Then twins, times two.”

“Two sets of twins? That sounds intense.”

Louis chuckles, scratching lightly at his clavicle. “Yeah. The babies are fraternal, but the girls are identical. In looks, at least. Their personalities are certainly distinguishable.”

“Wow. Seven kids. That sounds…”

“Overwhelming?” Louis guesses.

“Lovely,” Harry disagrees. Louis studies him for a moment before nodding, his arms swinging loosely at his sides.

“I actually, ah. Wanted to apologise,” he says as he tucks his hands back into his pockets. “I was rude last time you were here and that was unprofessional and…unkind. You didn’t deserve it. So I’m sorry.”

Harry smiles at him, so brilliant and dimpled it feels like the wind’s been knocked out of his lungs. He’s never had that smile directed at him and it’s rather overwhelming.

“To be honest, it was kinda hot,” Harry says with a cheeky smirk on his face. Louis snorts and rolls his eyes. “No, really, I’m glad I got to see that side of you. These kids need everyone they can get on their side. It means a lot that you’re so fiercely protective of them, trust me.”

“That’s very forgiving of you. But I crossed a line,” Louis insists.

“I agree, but if I had been the type of person you made me out to be, I’d have deserved it.”

They exchange small smiles.

“For the record, I hate publicity visits, too. Kids are smart; they see right through them,” Harry comments.

“But—“ Louis starts to argue.

“I know you think my visits are for publicity, but I promise they’re not. I just want to make the kids happy. This is a great hospital, but it’s still a hospital, y’know? I want them to forget where they are for a while, if I can.”

Louis nods solemnly. “That’s very noble.”

Harry laughs brightly. “Don’t be a dick! I’m serious.”

“Oi! Watch the language, Harold. There are young, innocent ears around.” Louis widens his eyes dramatically.

“I apologise. Next time I’ll be sure to give you earplugs beforehand.”

“Watch yourself, Harold. Tomlinsons know how to hold a grudge,” he warns.

“M’name’s not Harold,” is all he gets in response.

“Sure it is, Harold. Harold Popstar Styles. Full name. I’ve seen your birth certificate.” He smirks at Harry and Harry giggles—giggles—as their eyes meet.

“Sure you have,” he agrees placatingly. “Haven’t even proper told me your name yet, but you’ve gone snooping for my birth certificate. I’m learning so much about you today, Louis Tomlinson.”

“I thought you said you didn’t know my name?” Louis challenges, one brow quirking.

“No, I said you didn’t proper tell it to me. But I have extraordinary powers of observation through which I obtained your name.”

“Oh, god, you are posh, aren’t you?”

“I resent that. Being rich and good-looking does not a posh boy make,” Harry says with a shit-eating grin.

“Kindly fuck off,” Louis returns easily. Harry gasps dramatically and frantically covers Louis’ ears with the palms of his hands. Louis tries not to notice how big and warm they are against his head before he shoves Harry off of him.

“Are you always this insufferable?”

“If, by insufferable, you mean cute, then yes. I am.”

Louis tries not to let his eye roll show how much he agrees, but he can admit it to himself. Harry is charming and kind and easy on the eyes. Louis might be a bit of a goner. No one can prove a thing.

“Okay, rockstar. Whatever you say,” Louis acquiesces.

When they part ways after several long, shared moments, Louis has a begrudging grin on his face and the number of a certain famous singer in his mobile.

Louis Tomlinson: hey mate ! it’s Louis

Louis lets out a sigh as he releases his bottom lip from between his teeth. He hates waiting, hates when things are out of control—he’s a surgeon—but something about putting the ball in Harry’s court is oddly calming.

He doesn’t hear back from Harry until late that evening, when he’s already returned Rufus to his windowsill and is standing in his en suite brushing his teeth. He ambles back toward his bed to grab his phone and opens the text before returning to the sink to spit.

Harry Styles: well well well, look who finally showed up ;)
Louis Tomlinson: yeah, work got crazy busy. saving babies and all that, i’m sure you can understand

He manages to get into bed and turn the light off before his phone buzzes again.

Harry Styles: Oh, I understand. Just wish you’d been busy a bit longer, could’ve made me 50 quid.
Louis Tomlinson: … you made a bet with Lotts, didn’t you ?
Harry Styles: Don’t judge me, she’s very persuasive.
Louis Tomlinson: never bet with a tommo, mate. even the innocent looking blondes will get ya !
Harry Styles: Well I know that NOW.

Louis can’t quite manage to keep his stupid grin off his face as he and Harry exchange texts over the next few days. Their schedules don’t quite match up (or even remotely match up, really), so he often will wake up to find a text waiting or he’ll reply to one at lunch and his phone will remain silent until well after dinner.

He doesn’t mind much. He’ll never admit it to anyone, but the texts waiting for him at various points throughout the day feel a bit like little presents. They don’t go a day of the next couple weeks without talking at least once or twice.

Popstar Styles: Swiss chocolate is overrated.
Louis Tomlinson: paragraph from lottie tells me you’re wrong
Popstar Styles: It’s unfair that you’ve got someone on my end to spy.
Popstar Styles: I need a double agent.
Popstar Styles: Maybe Perrie.

Louis Tomlinson: Becca was discharged today ! no longer critical !
Popstar Styles: That’s the best news I’ve heard all day :)

Popstar Styles: I think I’ve gone deaf.
Louis Tomlinson: good show ?
Popstar Styles: Yeah, great. But I need my ears.
Popstar Styles: Come fix them, you’re a doctor.
Louis Tomlinson: not how it works Harold
Popstar Styles: Not my name, Louis.
Louis Tomlinson: sure it isn’t Harold
Harold: You’re changing my name right now, aren’t you?
Louis Tomlinson: you’ll never know !

Harold: Can’t wait to see you tomorrow. x
Louis Tomlinson: can’t wait for the food you’re gonna provide tomorrow x
Harold: You’re full of lies. You’re excited to see me too.
Louis Tomlinson: You can’t prove anything.
Louis Tomlinson: x

If someone had asked Louis for his opinion on Harry Styles six months ago—well, he wouldn’t have had one because he didn’t know the guy existed. If someone had asked him three months ago, he’d have complained a lot, partially about Harry’s presumed charity visits, but mostly about how no one should be allowed to be that pretty (if he had a couple drinks in him, at least). Which leads them to now, three weeks into their textationship (Harry’s word, not Louis’) while Harry’s been finishing off the European leg of his tour. He’s supposed to be landing in Heathrow in ten minutes, which means Louis has two hours and ten minutes to get ready for their date.

At least, he thinks it’s a date. They didn’t actually specify what their meeting was, but he thinks it is.

“Oh god, what if it’s not a date?” he moans into the phone, dressed only in his favourite black skinnies—a title they earned by accentuating his arse the most appealingly—as he runs a hand through his unstyled hair.

“It’s a date,” Perrie huffs into the phone. “You didn’t put your phone down once during the three weeks he was away.”

“That’s patently untrue. I didn’t text him until five days in,” Louis argues.

“Yes, and we’re all very impressed by your ability to hold out,” Perrie placates sarcastically. Louis makes a face in the mirror, unimpressed by her inability to take this seriously.

“What if I’m wrong?” he asks, voice dropping suddenly to an almost-whisper. “What if it’s all in my head?”

“Oh, Lou,” Perrie sighs sympathetically. “It isn’t.”

“You can’t know that,” he disagrees immediately, shaking his head and walking over to drop heavily onto his bed.

“I’ve seen how he looks at you, babe. Even in the beginning, he was always so fond of you.”

“But I was an asshole to him,” Louis retorts.

“Yeah, but I don’t think that’s what he noticed first. Whenever I saw him watching you with the kids, his whole face was soft. Look,” she presses on when Louis makes to protest, “I could be wrong. But I really don’t think I am. I think that boy is as gone for you as you are for him. It just took you longer to catch up.”

Taking a deep, steadying breath, he acquiesces. “I hope you’re right.”

Perrie gives a small hum of agreement. “Oh, and Louis? The red scoop-neck.”

He rolls his eyes, smiling unwittingly, before hanging up on her.

He does, however, heed her advice. His deep red scoop-neck tee is actually perfect for the situation; it makes him feel and look great, but also keeps his outfit in that ambiguous area that doesn’t explicitly indicate if their plans are a date or not.

He has enough time to style his hair into a slightly more intentional fringe and have one final freak-out before his doorbell is being rung and he’s opening the door to none other than Harry himself.

“Hey,” he greets breathlessly upon opening the door.

“Hey,” Harry returns, smiling widely at him and crossing the threshold as the door closes behind him. A moment passes between them as they take each other in; Louis’s eyes wander the length of Harry’s body—his hair is down and seems extra curly, the tips hitting the dips above his clavicles, and he’s wearing a black and pink button-down shirt that’s almost half-open and reveals a cross necklace settled on his sternum. His legs seem to have his black jeans painted onto them. Harry’s wearing his familiar tan chelsea boots and Louis smiles at the sight. Their eyes meet again and Louis feels his face shift into a shy smile.

Despite his earlier doubts, this certainly feels like the beginning of a date.

“So, uh…welcome back,” he manages to say eventually. Talking is a normal part of dates, he reminds himself. Bit weird to stand there and stare at each other.

“Thank you,” Harry smiles, his dimple pressing into his cheek.

Louis tries his best not to get distracted by it, instead asking, “How was your trip?”

Harry hums thoughtfully, his eyes still locked on Louis’ and a small smile ever-present on his lips. “Long.”

“Have you forgotten how to use multisyllabic words?” Louis teases, though none of the malice from before is present.

“Oh, big fancy word from the big-shot doctor,” Harry shoots back, his smile transformed into a smirk.

“Don’t be a dick, Harold. I was just worried you’d forgotten how to use your voice. Which would be an issue, you see, considering your profession.”

“Oh, so you were just looking out for my career, were you?” Harry challenges as he steps closer to Louis, their toes meeting in the middle.

“Only worthwhile thing looking out for,” Louis says defiantly, mostly in reaction to how he’s forced to look up at Harry’s closeness.

“Maybe for you,” Harry argues. “I was rather enjoying my view.” He grins at the flush that blossoms in Louis’ cheeks and their eyes meet for another moment, noses almost touching, before Louis grins back and spins away.

“Well, we’d better get going,” he says lightly, as if the tension hadn’t been thick enough to cut with a knife the moment before. He bites his lips to stifle the giggle that builds in his chest at the sight of Harry’s vaguely shellshocked expression.

Once he’s gathered his wallet and keys, they head out of Louis’ building, nodding in greeting to Jarno, Louis’ favourite door attendant.

"Where are we going?” Louis asks for the hundredth time, twenty minutes into their car ride.

“You know, you really should learn to be patient,” Harry says instead of answering him.

Louis scoffs. “Who has time for that?” He grins cheekily at the look Harry levels him with.

Louis is staring out the window of the car, thoughts wrapped around Harry and how easy it feels to be with him, when it comes to a stop. He turns to look at Harry who smiles at him and jerks his head to indicate they’re getting out.

Once Harry’s cut the engine and they’ve both climbed out, Louis looks around to see—well, not much, really. It’s fairly dark and there’s not really any light source nearby. Louis turns back toward Harry as he reappears from getting something from the boot and gives him a look.

“You know it’s bad manners to murder someone on the first date?” he deadpans, even as his heart stutters at the accidental use of the word date, but Harry just smiles at him.

“Of course I know that. I’ll leave it for our next date,” he winks. Louis thinks he winks, anyway. There’s not really enough light to be certain.

“What makes you so sure there will be a second date?” he demands, an eyebrow arching high.

“This one’s going so well!” Harry laughs. “I haven’t murdered you or anything.”

“You can’t murder me, Hazza. Think of the children,” Louis replies and Harry bursts into giggles. It might be the honest-to-god cutest thing Louis has ever heard. Or seen, really, the way Harry’s eyes light up even in the darkness. Louis can’t help but let out a few chuckles of his own, too, until they’re just looking at each other as they giggle.

“So, erm. Where are we?” Louis whispers dramatically. Harry shakes his head fondly and rolls his eyes.

“Follow me.”

The walk is only a few minutes long, guided by the torch from Harry’s phone, and they spend it in silence. As Louis’ senses adjust to their surroundings, he realises they must be near a lake, despite being currently surrounded by trees. He can hear the gentle lapping of tiny waves hitting the shore—far too small to belong to an ocean—and he smells the clearness in the air that only seems to happen around lakes.

He follows Harry’s lead down the narrow path until it opens up into a clearing. Louis’ breath catches in his throat. The clearing is surrounded by trees on all sides but one, where it meets the shore of the lake. It’s reflecting the lights of the houses on its opposite shore and stars peek through the spaces between the treetops. In the centre of the clearing is a small picnic table. There are tea lights spotted on its surface, interspersed with what look to be plates of finger sandwiches and fruits, as well as a couple of bottles of wine.

“Harry, you—“ he starts before pausing, unable to find words.

“D’you like it?” Harry asks in a soft, shy voice.

“I…of course I do,” Louis breathes in response. “It’s beautiful.”

“I wanted it to be special, our first date. It’s been a long time coming. At least, it feels that way to me…” he trails off, uncertain again, worrying his bottom lip between his teeth.

There’s something about Harry’s complete honesty, complete vulnerability, that makes Louis’ heart burst. He steps into Harry’s space, toe-to-toe, and places his hands on either side of Harry’s face.

“It’s perfect,” he whispers before he leans in and captures Harry’s lips with his own.

It’s short and sweet, Harry’s mouth soft and plush beneath his, and he feels the shaky breath Harry releases through his nose rush over his cheekbone. Louis’ hands drop slightly to rest over Harry’s heart as they separate.

He feels the overwhelming urge to hide his face away, but resists it and instead meets Harry’s gaze again.

“I know that’s supposed to wait until the end of the date, but…” he smiles as he sees his green eyes sparkle in response.

“I have absolutely zero complaints,” Harry promises.

Harry clasps one of Louis’ hands where they still rest on his chest and uses their linked fingers to lead Louis to the table.

They stay there for hours, sipping the (rather fancy) champagne and munching on the finger sandwiches, trading strawberries from their fingers to the other’s mouth. They talk quietly, conversation flowing nicely, but there’s something about the atmosphere that makes both of them want to keep their voices low, as if speaking above a certain volume would shatter it.

It feels like they’re in a film, a bit. A fairy tale, maybe. The lights and the lovely food, champagne bubbles making his head feel as fizzy as his heart has for weeks, Harry’s beautiful voice and addictive laugh in his ear. He’s hard-pressed to think of something more perfect.

Eventually, the candles burn out and the lights on the lake are turned off, signaling that it’s time for their departure. They gather everything into the bag that’s been sitting under the table before linking hands and returning to the path toward Harry’s car.

They’ve barely closed their respective doors before Harry turns to look at Louis and he responds by weaving his fingers through Harry’s hair and crashing their lips together. They both inhale sharply through their noses before Harry’s tongue is swiping its way across the seam of Louis’ mouth and Louis is parting his lips to grant access.

Harry’s hands find their way to Louis’ waist, gripping him tight and pulling him so close that his hip knocks into the centre console. Normally, he might be annoyed, but he doesn’t have much room for anything that isn’t the way Harry’s tongue is meeting his in hot, slick movements or the firm, wet pressure of their mouths together.

He’s not sure how much time is spent like that: their mouths meeting for hard, passionate kisses that give way to softer presses of their lips. Their hands trail softly across shoulders, down necks, settling on jaws for brief moments. There’s something about the gentleness of it all that makes Louis feel like he’s on the verge of tears.

He’s used to rushed hook-ups lacking in any real feeling. He hasn’t met someone he wants to be with since uni and his job didn’t leave him feeling like he could pursue anything until more recently. Harry’s the first person he’s met that he’s wanted to pursue, despite their obvious getting off on the wrong foot.

It’s not until later, lying in his bed with Harry—fully clothed, but they’d both been reluctant to leave each other’s space after so long apart—that he realises the time he spends with Harry is the most content he’s felt in ages. The comfort they already share makes his whole body feel warm and pleasant.

He turns his head to look at Harry, whose eyes are closed, but his breathing isn’t quite evened out into sleep yet. He nudges Harry’s chest with the back of his hand.

“Haz?” he half-whispers, voice rough and thick. “Harry, wake up.”

“Wha’s’it?” Harry says, jerking a bit as his eyes open.

“Why did you start visiting the kids?” he asks.

“Hm?” Harry says on a semi-grunt, bringing one hand up to press his thumb and middle finger to his eyes, his elbow angled dramatically out from his face.

“If it wasn’t, like… PR. Then why?” Louis clarifies.

Harry squints one eye open, the hand previously pressed against them moving to flop somewhere overhead. He smacks his lips once before letting out a sigh as his eye falls shut again.

“I was a cancer kid.”

Louis can feel his eyes go wide at the admission. He’s not sure if he should say something, but Harry’s inhaling deeply, albeit slowly, like he has more to say.

“‘Ve been NEC since I was nine. All my yearly scans are clean. ‘M very lucky.” Louis makes a small hum of agreement somewhere in the back of his throat.

“But I had a best mate who wasn’t,” he continues. He’s speaking even more slowly than he usually does, his voice the aural equivalent of honey. “He died two months after I found out I was in remission.”

“Oh, love,” Louis murmurs, hooking his hand around the back of Harry’s neck and bringing their foreheads together. “That must’ve been so difficult.”

“It was,” Harry agrees, voice thick. He opens his eyes and turns his head on the pillow to look at Louis. “But, uh. I remember visits like that. And even when they were for publicity, they were still the best thing. It’s not like we didn’t know. But what did we care? We lived in a hospital, our mums were always worried, we couldn’t play like normal kids. I mean, most of us didn’t even have hair. Anything good, even if it had a little bad mixed in, was something we loved.”

“So now you’re giving that to these kids. Without the bad,” Louis concludes.

“Mm,” Harry agrees. “I hope so. I’ve wanted to be a singer for as long as I can remember, but when I realised I could help kids like me… Gave me that extra push, I guess.”

“That’s. That’s really special, H.” Harry gives him a small, sleepy smile before he rolls over and covers half of Louis’ body with his own, burying his face in Louis’ neck.

Louis is up for almost an hour after Harry falls asleep, appreciating the warm weight of him along his front from a new perspective. Harry is a genuine, loving person and Louis still feels guilty for judging him before he knew anything about him. He falls asleep thanking any deity that will listen that he got a second chance.

“Dr Tommo?” Louis is pulled from his thoughts as little hands tug on his trousers. He glances down at Parker, his gap-toothed smile peering up at him. Louis thinks he loves kids’ smiles the best when they’re missing a tooth or two.

“Yeah, bud?” Louis answers, crouching down to be on the same level.

“Are you and Mr Harry boyfriends?” Parker asks, which might actually be the last thing in the entire world that Louis expected. And worse, he doesn’t have an answer.

They might be boyfriends. Louis would like them to be boyfriends. But in the month since their first date, it’s never come up. (Okay, maybe Louis’s avoiding it. Whatever.) Now that Harry’s home for a longer stay between two legs of his tour, he’s been meaning to ask, but—well, he’s a little terrified is all.

He’s about to open his mouth to fabricate some sort of non-answer when he feels a hand settle on his shoulder. He turns to look at it and his eyes trace up the arm and into Harry’s smiling face.

“I reckon we are,” he says, crouching too and addressing Parker, but there’s a devilish glint in his eye that Louis knows is intended for him.

“Oh, you reckon, do you?” he challenges, one eyebrow raised. “I’m a lady, Styles. You’ve gotta ask me proper.”

Harry grins at him, dimples popping. His hand slides down his arm to clasp one of Louis’ in both of his.

“Louis Tomlinson,” he begins.

“What? Get on with it,” Louis teases, trying to keep a straight face and most likely failing miserably.

“Will you be my boyfriend?” Harry asks, smile still firmly in place.

Louis makes a show of thinking about it until Parker, and the other kids who apparently gathered around when Louis was distracted by Harry’s adorable front teeth or summat, start giggling and beg him to say yes.

He sighs, the very picture of put-upon, one last time for show. Then he grins and throws his arms around Harry’s neck.

“Only if you’ll be mine,” he says, low enough that only Harry will hear it. He can feel Harry’s smile against his hair.

“Yes, of course. Always.”