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Halfway Down The Stairs

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When Nick goes into labour, it's virtually without fanfare. Harry almost doesn't realise it's happening, which is unexpected, considering Harry's heard nothing from Nick for the last eight months that hasn't been Nick complaining about how labour is going to be the worst thing on earth. All the nation has heard via the radio for the last god-knows-how-long is how much Nick has been dreading going into labour.

As it is, they're on the sofa watching Great British Bake Off when it happens, Harry's feet tucked under Nick's thigh, knees up to his chest and fingertips ghosting around Nick's wrist.

Nick flinches.

"It's not that bad," Harry says. "I mean, for a signature bake it's no top banana, but there's a squirrel inside, an actual cake squirrel—"

"Harold," Nick says softly, and something in his voice makes all the hairs on the back of Harry's neck stand up, and Harry knows, he knows. It's time. "Harry, god."

Harry's breath catches in his throat. "You're supposed to have another six days. Nobody's coming down to stay until the end of the week."

"Yeah, that's going to be too late." Nick says, hands sliding over the curve of his bump. "It's okay, sweetheart. Fuck, baby. We don't care that you're early."

Harry's heart pounds. The baby's coming. Their baby. They're going to be parents. He can't remember a single thing on the list they made especially for this moment in a fit of trying to be grown up adults about this whole about-to-be-parents thing. He sits there and curls his fingers into Nick's, and ducks down so that he can press his mouth to the back of Nick's hand. His heart feels like it might burst.

"Yeah," Nick says, and lets out a long breath. Harry rests his hand on Nick's bump. Their baby.

 

Nick's pregnancy is the result of a one-in-fifteen-thousand gene anomaly, a bottle of Smirnoff Black, a fuck-load of jet lag, and a split condom.

Well, it had mostly been the result of the last one, but Nick liked to make a big thing about the one-in-fifteen-thousand gene anomaly that made him a Fertile Male. He'd only suggested naming the baby Smirnoff once, but Harry had firmly vetoed that on grounds of taste.

"I always knew I was special," Nick says, once they're in the delivery suite at Guy's Hospital. Harry's in a surgical mask and a gown, and there's a little screen up over Nick's stomach as the doctors prepare him for his caesarean. Nick's crying, which Harry doesn't know what to do with, since Nick never cries. He's a robot, and more than that, he's Harry's robot, and Harry can't stop clinging to his hand as he tries not to let on he's more terrified than he's ever been in his whole entire life.

Their baby—their beautiful, adored, so, so wanted baby—is in distress.

"You are special," Harry manages, over the lump in his throat.

"God," Nick says. "God, Harry. What if—"

"Don't," Harry says. "Everything's going to be fine. Smirnoff's going to be fine. You and me and Smirnoff."

Nick's crying again, harder this time. "Don't call it Smirnoff, okay? If anything happens, don't fucking call our baby Smirnoff."

"Fuck," Harry says, and he leans in to press his mouth to Nick's dry, chapped lips. "I love you so much, all right? I love you. You're the best thing that ever happened to me."

"Better than X Factor?"

"Better than everything," Harry tells him, and in this moment it's the absolute truth.

What happens after that is desperately terrifying and horrifyingly traumatic. Their baby isn't breathing, and he's a tiny, tiny blue thing that doesn't cry for the longest seconds of Harry's life. He prays and he prays and he prays, hand in Nick's, and he's so caught up in watching the team work on their baby that he almost doesn't realise that Nick's grip on his hand is slipping.

They shut him out after that. Hysterical on the phone to his mum, alone in the corridor, the please turn off your mobile phone sign hopelessly ignored, he waits, and wishes, and begs, and pleads.

He hides his face in his hands, and sits on the floor in the corridor with his knees up to his chin, and tries to keep himself from falling apart as his family fight for their lives.

 

The first time Harry holds his son, he's an hour and a half old. He's tiny and fragile and so, so beautiful. He's his. He's theirs. He can't quite believe that he's real.

Nick's still in recovery, and Harry can't give his heart to his son until he knows that Nick's okay, he just can't. He sits in the chair by Nick's empty bed with his tiny, tiny baby wrapped up in his arms, and shakes.

It's another hour before they bring Nick back to the ward. Time stretches out like an endless mile. The nurses keep asking if he needs anything, but there's nothing in the world he wants but Nick. He needs him back here, if only so that Harry doesn't accidentally name their son after the vodka that got them here.

When they'd talked about today, the kind of meandering conversation that had stretched over the last nine months without ever really ending or re-starting, they hadn't talked about this. They hadn't talked about things going wrong, or Harry's endless, desperate terror, or the sudden realisation that Harry could lose him. Lose them. They'd talked about all the drugs, and the epidurals, and the fact that natural childbirth sounded like the worst thing in the world to Nick. They'd talked about baby's first Instagram, and whether they'd recreate the scene from The Lion King when announcing the birth. They'd talked about which members of Harry's band they'd call first, and played their friends off against each other in an endless game of who's the favourite this week when they'd joked about godparents.

They hadn't talked about the bottom falling out of Harry's world when he'd seen the monitors start to beep, or the blood. They hadn't talked about the terror of watching Nick bleed out, or the endless horror of the silence when their baby didn't cry. They hadn't talked about internal bleeding or emergency surgery or Harry being bundled out into the corridor as Nick slipped away.

They hadn't talked about Harry meeting their son terrified, and by himself, or sitting alone and waiting for Nick to come back from surgery.

"Hey, sweetheart," Nick says, once they've got him back in his bed on the ward, his voice rough and barely there. Harry's heart twists.

"Aren't you a sight for sore eyes," Harry manages, which is as close as he can get to what he wants to say right now. His words are trapped in his chest, sliding their way around his heart like they're never letting go. Their baby is a gentle weight in his arms. Nick is pale and grey and trembling, his eyes fixed on the tiny bundle Harry's cradling.

"That was a nan moment," Nick says. It sounds like it's difficult to speak. Harry wants to wrap him up in a blanket and never, ever let him go. "Is that—can I—"

"Yeah," Harry says. He's crying again. He almost lost them both tonight, and it turns out that they're everything to him, and more besides. Their baby is red-faced and tiny, and when Nick touches the crook of his finger to his cheek, Harry loses it, and sobs. "I thought I was going to lose you. Both of you."

"Like you could get rid of me that easily." Nick's struggling to speak. He's greyer than he was even a moment ago, and his hand shakes as he touches their sleeping baby's cheek with his fingertip. "Hey, kiddo." His voice is soft. Harry's never heard him sound like this before. "Hello, sweetheart. Aren't you the best fucking thing in the universe, huh?"

"Best thing in all the universes," Harry says, after a long minute where he tries and fails to look away from this fledgling family that's theirs and theirs alone. He sneaks a picture on Nick's phone, nothing like the posed family pictures they'd ironically planned all these months. His hands shake.

It's just Nick, looking gaunt and sick and exhausted, and their baby, squashed and wrinkled and red-faced.

They're Harry's whole world, and everything's changed.

 

Gemma has spent the last seven months sending Harry mocked up articles that look like they're from Take A Break or Reveal! or somewhere in between, with headlines like, I'm a homeless teenage dad—even though Harry is just between houses right now, and not exactly sleeping on the streets—and hilarious photoshopped pictures of babies with Harry and Nick's faces merged together for their features, with our beautiful darling picked out in glitter writing underneath.

She's in the waiting room when Harry comes out to catch his breath and take a piss and let the nurses make Nick comfortable and take his obs. She stumbles as she runs to him, wrapping her arms around his shoulders and burying her face in his neck. She hugs him tighter than she ever has before, and Harry's breath catches.

"When did you get here?"

"About half an hour ago. Mum and Robin are on their way. Dad's stopped in a hotel now that he knows everyone's okay. He'll be here in the morning. Nick's family are on their way too. There's been an accident on the M25, they're all caught up in the same tailbacks. I'm keeping them posted."

Harry's phone battery had run out just after they brought Nick out of surgery, and he hasn't got his charger with him. All of these people living their lives outside of these four walls makes him feel dazed. He hugs Gemma again.

"Thanks," he says. He hasn't got the brain capacity for keeping everyone up to date right now. He can only think about Nick, and their baby. "I thought they were going to die." He's still terrified; he can feel it stretch across his skin, icy cold.

"I know." Gemma strokes her hand through her hair. "But they're out of danger now. You can stop being scared."

He's not sure he could if he tried. He's a parent. How on earth had that happened? He fumbles Nick's phone out of his pocket. It's still on airline mode, so he doesn't disturb Nick or the baby with texts or messages. He thumbs through to the shaky picture he's just taken of his family.

"Oh my gosh," Gemma say, hand to her mouth. "I'm an auntie. You're a dad."

"Auntie Gem," Harry says, because he still can't get his head around being a dad. There are so, so many people that he has to call, but he can't think. He just wants to go back in and be with Nick and their son. The nurses had said that they'd come and get him when they were finished making Nick comfortable.

He goes for a piss instead, washing his face in the tiny sink afterwards, and drying himself on rough paper towels. It's the middle of the night and he's exhausted. It's like someone drained all the energy out of him, all in one go. He's running on empty. These aren't visiting hours, but maybe the nurses just know that the only way they were getting him out of here tonight was if they had him forcibly removed, and even then he'd still come back. Or maybe they just make allowances for him. He doesn't care, not really. Not now. He just cares that he's here.

 

He sits by Nick's bed with Nick's hand in his, and doesn't sleep. Their baby sleeps in the cot next to Nick's bed, and Harry had always thought it was a joke when people said they kept checking on their children to see if they were breathing. Harry checks over and over, finally giving up and cradling him in the crook of his arm whilst his phone charges in his lap, Gemma's charger plugged in behind Nick's bed.

At seven-thirty am, when he's given their son his bottle under the nurse's careful supervision, he thumbs open a tweet and types one-handed, it's a boy. Nearly lost them both tonight. I've never been so scared. Hug someone you love today.

It's not the announcement they'd planned to make, but it's the one the world gets anyway. The retweets go crazy.

 

Nick doesn't look quite so much like a ghost when he finally wakes up. Visiting hours start in half an hour. They angle the bed up a little so he's not lying flat, and Nick gets to hold their baby for the first time. Harry takes a picture, and another one on Nick's phone, and then he sits back down by the bed and watches Nick watch their son, and feels his heart expand out and out, like it's growing in size just being here, with his new family.

"I know we were thinking of like, William, or something," Harry starts, a little awkwardly. They have a list of names that goes onto three pages, and a shortlist that goes onto two, "but—what do you think of Arthur?" It's not on their list. It's never been on their list.

"Arthur," Nick says, softly. Slowly. "Arthur. Kingly, innit."

"Right?" Harry strokes his finger over the little red robin on Arthur's babygro. "Arthur."

 

Meet the robin, Nick tweets, later on, under an Instagram picture of the three of them together. Arthur Styles-Grimshaw. Never been happier to be alive.

"Sap," Harry says, when it pops up on his timeline. "The robin?"

"Whatever. It's a good nickname. Wait until we tell 'em his middle name's vodka," Nick says, straight-faced.

"Keep saying that and you know I'll accidentally put that on the birth certificate." He bumps his elbow into Nick's. "Quite like the robin, though."

Nick rolls his eyes. "Course you do. I picked it. And you love me."

Harry doesn't dispute that for a second. He makes a face at his wide-eyed baby, who's staring up at them with a furrowed brow. "Welcome to the family, little thing," he says after a bit, and smiles.

 

The Robin sticks, of course. As names go, they could have picked worse.