Chapter 1: Part One
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Harry pushes open the door to Smoky’s Bar, praying that the dilapidated sign with its burnt out letters isn’t a reflection of the interior. The bar sits among a row of stores, two with brightly lit ‘closed’ signs and one that’s just an empty storefront, looking like it hasn’t been touched in the 26 years he’s been alive.
He’s in search of a nightcap, one drink to unwind from the emotions of the evening. The introductory event for work had been a bit of a bore. It was full of soon-to-be medical interns like himself, all of them trying to one-up each other in front of the people who will be their superiors in twelve hours. He’d escaped after only an hour and a half; he’s going to spend the next few years of his life with these people, he doesn’t need to spend his last free evening with them too.
He steps inside to find the bar buzzing and lively, about half full. There’s a group of people playing darts and another gathered around a pool table. In the far corner, a group of women are crowded into a booth, appetizers scattered across the table. The bar doesn’t look as run-down as the outside promised; it looks like the best place to be on a night like this.
He doesn’t need much; he just doesn’t want to feel alone.
He slides onto a corner barstool and looks up at the television. The Mariners are playing the Braves, with the Braves winning by three runs. He’s struck by the realization that he’s the odd man out, probably the only Braves fan in the place.
Better get used to it.
“Whiskey, please. Neat,” he says to the approaching bartender. The bartender nods, pouring the drink immediately.
“You wanna pay for it now, or start a tab?”
Harry hesitates for a moment. “Now’s fine,” he decides. “I’ve got my first day of work tomorrow, don’t want to sabotage myself on day one.”
“Ah, nice,” says the bartender. “Haven’t seen you around here before, you new?”
“Just moved to the area.”
“For the new job, right,” the bartender says with a nod, wiping down the glasses with a patterned dishtowel. “Well, welcome to Seattle. I’m Pete, by the way.”
“Harry, nice to meet you.”
“You too. So where are you from? Accent says… Southern, if I had to guess.”
Harry smiles. “That’s right, Atlanta.” He lifts his chin to gesture at the television screen, where the baseball game is in the fifth inning. “Born and raised on that baseball team right there.”
Pete looks up at the screen in surprise, almost like he’d forgotten the television was on. “Well, isn’t that funny.”
Pete chuckles. “What kind of job brings you to the big, bad Pacific Northwest?”
Harry’s lips are just forming the words when two women from the group at the booth stand and call for Pete to bring them another round. They smile at Harry, whispering to one another as they try to flirt with him from across the bar. Good luck with that, he thinks. Not interested. Try again.
“Think you’re being requested,” Harry says, nodding at the women.
“Ah, thanks. That group — bit of a mess, but they’re good tippers,” Pete says, and Harry chuckles.
As Pete leaves, Harry turns his attention back to the game. He wonders if his mom and stepdad are watching it together, sitting on the screened-in porch and drinking beer. Maybe Gemma came over for dessert with her kids, the twins running around the yard as she tried to keep one eye on them and one on the game, his mom rocking the baby to sleep. He wishes he could be there. It was their thing growing up, watching late night summer baseball games all together.
He pulls out his phone to text Gemma. I miss you guys! Give mom and Robin a hug for me.
Someone slides into the seat next to him but he doesn’t pay much attention, his eyes focused on the game. He only drags his eyes away when Gemma responds with a selfie of her and their parents, Robin cradling baby Kate close. He misses them all already, and it’s only been three days. How is he supposed to survive years away from them?
This is just how it’s going to be from now on.
“So, is this is a good place to hang out?”
He turns to see a guy sitting there, button down shirt rolled up to his elbows and a smile on his lips. His eyes are very, very blue.
“I… I don’t know, actually,” Harry stutters, taken aback. “Never been here before.”
“Me either,” the stranger says, fiddling with the straw in his glass as he gives Harry a blatant once over. “I guess we’ll find out together, yeah?”
“I guess so.”
“I’m Louis,” he says, extending his hand.
“Harry. Nice to meet you.”
“Likewise. Let me guess. Girlfriend broke up with you and you’re here drowning your sorrows?”
It’s a blatant information grab, but when faced with cheekbones like these, Harry is powerless to give him anything other than what he wants.
“No, no girlfriend. Not… no. Big day today, though. I thought I’d try and unwind before going to bed.”
“Let me buy you a drink. What are you drinking?”
One drink, that was the plan. One drink and then go home to his near-empty apartment and get enough sleep for his first day. But he can’t say no to Louis. Minutes later, there’s a fresh glass in front of Harry and he’s turned to face Louis properly, eyes lingering on his face, on his lips as Louis talks. The Braves game is forgotten; he wouldn’t be able to name the score if he tried.
“So I’m guessing you’re not from here,” Louis says a few minutes later, when Harry’s trying to figure out how weird it would be if he just stared at Louis’ pretty, pretty face for the rest of his life.
“What gave you that idea?”
“Oh, I don’t know. The accent, maybe?”
“You sayin’ I don’t fit in?” Harry says, an eyebrow raised. “Because it doesn’t sound like you do either.”
“You’re not wrong,” Louis says, and Harry’s gripped by a sudden urge to dig deeper, to get into his head and figure out what makes him tick. “I’m from Boston.”
Harry whistles. “That’s far.”
“It is. But, you know… work calls, I answer.”
“I do know,” Harry says, and he finally tears his eyes away from Louis’ lips to look him in the eye. “But let’s be honest, do you really want to be talking about work right now?”
“I don’t,” Louis says. He leans forward to speak into Harry’s ear, his voice low. “I’d rather be talking about how I think you’re the best looking guy I’ve seen in ages, and how much I want to kiss you.”
“You usually so forward?” Harry asks when Louis pulls away. He thinks about kissing Louis and his throat goes dry. He’s a drink and a half in and he feels a bit lightheaded; is that from the alcohol or from Louis? Hard to say.
“I am when I meet someone who looks like you,” Louis says, which makes Harry laugh, which in turn makes Louis laugh. “But really, what do you say?”
“I say that I haven’t stopped thinking about it all night,” Harry says honestly, and when Louis leans in, Harry closes his eyes and tries to remember to breathe.
Two drinks turns into three which turns into four, and suddenly the Braves game has been over for hours and Harry is still kissing Louis. It’s probably not the kind of kissing one should be doing in public, but they’ve moved to a secluded booth by now. No one can see them.
Louis’ hand has wound itself into Harry’s hair, tugging lightly against his scalp. His curls tumble to his shoulders now, and there’s few things he likes more than the slight pain of someone pulling against them. Harry’s following the movement, leaning into Louis, their mouths still attached.
Until suddenly Louis is pulling away and Harry’s left bereft of warmth, until Louis leans in to speak into his ear. “So, I’ve never done this before, but… do you wanna get out of here?”
Harry can’t go home without knowing what Louis’ body feels like under his hands, his lips, his tongue. He can’t say goodbye. Not yet.
Harry nods, and Louis leans forward to place a sloppy kiss to his lips. He motions for Harry to exit the booth, and then pulls forty dollars out of his wallet and slaps it on the table. It’s an exorbitant amount of money for their drinks, but he doesn’t seem to want to waste time. He slips his arm around Harry’s waist, and Harry clings to him as they walk out the door.
“Can we go to yours?” Louis asks, and Harry nods. He slips his hand into his jean pockets to search for his keys. Victorious, he holds them up in the air with a cheer, and then turns very solemn.
“I can’t drive,” he says, the realization dawning on him. “I’ve been drinking.”
Louis giggles, and Harry doesn’t know what he’s giggling at, but he laughs anyway.
“We’ll call a cab,” Louis decides.
The cab can’t come for ten minutes, so Louis pushes Harry against the brick wall of the bar, kissing him so well that he’s distracted from the bricks that dig into his back. It’s sloppy, both of them tipsy, but Harry likes it very much.
“You’re so pretty,” Louis says, his words slurred as he trails a delicate finger along Harry’s jawline. “Do people tell you that all the time? How pretty you are? You’re like… a pretty… very pretty Disney princess.”
“Thanks,” Harry says with a giggle. “Like Rapunzel?”
“Exactly like that.”
“You’re actually the first to tell me that, but that makes sense,” he murmurs, his fingers playing with the little hairs at the back of Louis’ neck. “Because, uh… what was I saying?”
“Disney princess,” Louis mutters, following his finger’s path down Harry’s jawline with his lips. Harry tilts his neck so that Louis has more room, and murmurs appreciatively.
“Because you… you look like a prince. From a movie.”
Louis giggles. “Very eloquent.”
“I am — I do try.”
“Can the cab show up already?” Louis groans. “Want to fuck you.”
Harry’s brain goes blank. “Okay,” he says, stammering. “I want… yes please.”
The cab finally shows up and Louis holds the door open for Harry, murmuring something about chivalry that Harry can’t quite make out. Louis crawls in after him and actually falls on top of him. They both giggle and laugh like it’s the funniest thing in the world, until the cab driver orders them to put on their seatbelts and they rush to comply.
“Yes sir,” Louis says, face like that of a guilty child, and then he starts giggling again.
Harry’s back aches.
That’s the first thing he notices when he wakes up, a throbbing pain low in his back. Fuck. The first day of a long shift is no time for a flare up of his recurring backache.
The first shift.
Right, today’s the first day of his medical career. He’s going to be a surgeon, going to save real people’s actual lives. No more medical school classrooms or silly biology flashcards. This is the real deal, the big leagues.
It’s his first day of work and he’s got a guy in his bed, sixty minutes before he’s supposed to leave.
Harry looks over at the guy next to him. His name is… Harry can’t quite remember, actually. It was something French, that he knows for sure. Jacques? No. It started with an L. Laurent? Louis, that’s it. It’s Louis.
The side of Louis’ face is pressed firmly into the pillow on the other side of the bed, and his sleeping face making him look the picture of innocence. Harry nearly snorts at that, because most of the things they’d done last night were the opposite of innocent.
“Hey,” Harry says, poking Louis’ upper arm. “Louis.”
Louis mumbles something unintelligible and then turns over so he’s facing the other way, away from Harry. He’s got a lovely back, well-formed muscles bunching as he turns.
“No, seriously, Louis,” Harry tries again, voice a bit louder this time. “You really need to go. I've got work.”
“Me too, it’s fine,” Louis mumbles. “Promise.”
“It’s not. You’ve gotta go, or I’ll be late. Seriously.”
“Alright, alright,” Louis says, throwing the covers off himself with the grace of a sluggish hippo. “I’m going.”
He’s completely naked, and when Harry watches him stand up and sees his toned body in the daylight, he wants to say ‘fuck you’ to his job and fuck Louis instead. But he can’t.
Harry takes a sheet and wraps it around his own naked body as he climbs out of bed, though it’s a bit late for modesty.
“Thanks for… thanks for last night, I guess,” Louis says, running a hand through his messy hair and squinting as he adjusts to the light.
“You guess?” Harry says, taking a step closer to Louis, meeting him in the middle at the foot of the bed.
“Alright, it was really fucking awesome,” Louis admits, grinning up at Harry. He has to tilt his head up slightly to look at him, and a realization grows hot in Harry’s stomach. It was really awesome, probably the best sex of Harry’s life. He hasn’t felt that way with anyone since… well, maybe ever. “Maybe we can do it again sometime?”
Harry’s about to start a medical internship. Starting today he’ll barely have time to sleep, let alone have wild, mind-blowing sex with a near-stranger. Even if that stranger is Louis, who made him feel worshipped even though they barely knew each other. “Maybe,” he says quietly.
“Yeah,” Louis says softly.
“But for now I need to shower. I guess I’ll… see you at the bar, maybe?”
“I guess you will,” Louis says, and there’s a moment of hesitation plain on his face, and then he leans up to capture Harry’s lips with his own.
Harry whimpers, memorizing the feel of Louis’ hands on his cheek and on his waist, of his own hands tangled in Louis’ hair, of Louis’ lips on his.
“Okay, I’m going. And when I get back, you can’t be here.” He shoots Louis a commiserating look, and finds it reflected back at him. He wishes they could make it work, but there’s just no way.
And then he runs up the stairs.
His memories of last night’s hospital orientation are clouded by a pretty significant experience—his first one night stand—so when he finally gets to the hospital, he can’t remember where he’s supposed to go. The man at the information desk seems to have absolutely no idea, and he makes three different phone calls before he can direct Harry to the right location.
He’s not normally like this. He’s much more prepared, had planned to get here early with a packed lunch and a map. But last night threw him for a loop, must have done something to his neurons and got him out of whack.
“Surgical wing, third floor of the Wang building,” the man at the desk finally says, pointing Harry toward the elevator. Harry doesn’t have time for elevators; he’s supposed to have been there two full minutes ago. Early is on time, on time is late, and to be late is unacceptable, he can hear his mom saying.
He shoulders open the door to the staircase and runs up the three flights, checking the signage when he arrives to make sure he’s in the proper building. Lakewood Medical Center is a massive, sprawling campus with the buildings connected by bridges and tunnels. The idea that he might one day know his way around is hard to believe.
In the end, he’s seven minutes late, chest heaving as he joins in at the back of the group of surgical interns, a handful of whom he recognizes from the event last night. They’ve all got similar expressions of enthusiasm combined with a deer in the headlights look that perfectly depicts how he feels.
A tall Asian woman who Harry remembers as Dr. Amy Bauer is standing at the head of the group, and as he catches his breath he realizes that she’s telling them the plan for the first shift. And of course he’s missed part of it. Fuck.
Dr. Bauer starts to lead the group on a tour of the hospital, and Harry catches sight of a bleach blonde guy from California that he met at the event last night.
“Hey, Niall, right?” Harry asks, tugging at the sleeve of the guy’s crisp white coat. Harry’s wearing one of his own, and he’s never felt as much like a proper doctor as he did on the day that it was handed to him.
“Yeah. Harry, right?”
“Yeah. Listen, I was late, ran into some traffic trouble. Can you fill me in on what I missed?”
NIall’s eyes go wide, like he can’t possibly imagine being late on the first day of work, and Harry says, “I know, I know,” because he can’t quite believe it either. Harry is schedules and color coded notes and study timetables and checking the plans three times. He’s the epitome of planning ahead for everything so that he can relax. But he’s not late.
“You didn’t miss anything, I’m just making fun of you,” Niall says. “Chill out.”
Chill out? One does not chill out on their first day of intern year. This is competitive. It’s a big deal.
“So there’s a few things you absolutely need to know,” Dr. Bauer says, stopping in the middle of the hallway, and Harry has to stand on tiptoes to see her. The group is large, much larger than he remembers from last night, and he can’t see anyone who’s at the front. “First, if your pager goes off, you answer it. Second, you absolutely, under no circumstances, wake up a sleeping attending unless there’s an emergency. Third, there’s no crying. You’ll deal with situations as they come up. I am not here to hold your hand. We’re here to save lives, and if you fuck up, people will die. Any questions?”
The assembled group stares at her, eyes wide, and no one dares to raise their hand.
They’re standing in an open lobby, the tour finished and all of them waiting to see what comes next.
“Let’s divide up into groups. The groups are pre-assigned, and you’re stuck with your group for the whole year. If you don’t like them, too bad.” Harry really hopes that he doesn’t get stuck with Dr. Bauer.
“Tough crowd,” Niall mutters, and Harry flashes him a confused look. Does Niall think this is a fun, feel-good job? This is surgery, literal life and death, and Niall thinks it’s going to be fun and games? “Only joking,” Niall adds, and that earns him a little laugh.
Dr. Bauer starts reading off a long list of names, assigning each person to a group and each group to an attending in the surgery department. Harry zones out, waiting for his name to be called and thinks about how he really needs to use the bathroom. Eventually, he goes. When he returns, Niall informs him their names still haven’t been called. The room has dwindled though, so it seems like it’s only a matter of time.
He looks around the group at the people he’s going to spend the next four years of his life with, and he wonders how he’ll get to know them. Will he only focus on work, saving all his emotional energy for his patients? Or is he actually going to make friends here? It seems like it could go either way right now.
“Horan, Malik, Payne, Styles,” Dr. Bauer finally calls, and the four people remaining in the area snap to attention. “You’re with me.”
“This isn’t what I thought we’d be doing,” Liam grumbles as the four of them sit around a circular table, copying charts and studying them intently for any mistakes. An empty pizza box sits in the trash, the quickest lunch they could manage with their fifteen minute break. “I thought we’d be saving lives, you know? Cutting people open or sewing stitches or helping in an actual surgery. Not this research shit.”
“Dude, chill,” Niall tells him. “This isn’t TV. We just do what we’re told.”
“I know,” Liam says. “But I’m just saying that I thought it’d be different. I’m allowed to say that.”
“Alright, alright, chill out,” Zayn says, holding his hands in the air to silence them. “Let’s not get into fights. It’s literally the first day of our intern year.”
“Yeah, can we at least stay friends for the first day?” Niall asks.
“Okay,” Liam says. “But I really didn’t think it would be like this.”
Everyone groans, and Harry decides now is a great time to change the subject. “Liam, I don’t remember meeting you last night. Where are you from?”
“New York,” he says immediately. “Born and raised on the Upper East Side.”
Zayn wrinkles his nose and grabs another stack of charts. “Oooh, Upper East Side. Isn’t it fancy there?”
Liam frowns. “I guess? A bit. That’s where I grew up, so… it’s not like I was rich or anything. My dad’s a firefighter and my mom’s a nurse. What about the rest of you?”
“I’m from San Diego,” Niall says. “Really fucking different here, isn’t it? Rains every goddamn day.”
“No way! I’m from Ohio,” Zayn says. Also, that’s not what he thought Zayn was going to say. Even in his scrubs, something about Zayn just oozes sophistication. Harry half expected him to say that he grew up walking a catwalk in Rome. “Boring as hell there, though, I left to go to LA for college.”
“Sweet,” Niall says, leaning across the table to high five Zayn. “So we weren’t that far away from each other. And now here we are, coworkers whether we like it or not.”
Harry reaches for another stack of files. He’s not even sure what the real purpose of this charting exercise is; it feels more like busy work than anything else. With his other hand, he leans over to pinch Niall’s cheek. “Oh, you’re gonna like it alright.”
“What about you, Harry?” Zayn asks.
“Georgia,” he says.
“Figured it had to be somewhere down south,” Zayn says.
Liam narrows his eyes. “Are you even old enough to be here? Like, are you sure that you graduated from med school?”
“I’m sure,” Harry says. “Crossed the stage and everything. And yes, I’m old enough to be a doctor, thanks.” Zayn smiles in acknowledgement — or apology? Harry’s not sure. “I skipped second grade.”
“Don’t you all get married really young there? Did you move here with a wife and like, four kids?” Niall’s eyes are wide as he asks, almost like he’s expecting Harry to pull out a wallet full of photos of the aforementioned family.
Harry snorts. “No, definitely not. First of all, I’m gay, so…” he trails off, letting the statement settle in the room. No matter how many times he does it or how comfortable he’s gotten with who he is, it never gets less awkward coming out to new people. It’s never been a secret, exactly, but it’s still weird. He’ll be working with this group for a long time, so it’s important that they know. Whether they judge him for it or not, well, at least he’ll know early on what he’s dealing with.
“Thanks for telling us,” Zayn says, looking impressed.
“My brother’s gay,” Niall says quietly. “Gets a lot of weird comments and shit, even in San Diego. So yeah, thanks for feeling comfortable enough to tell us.”
Harry shrugs one shoulder, but he looks down, training his eyes on the piles in front of him. There’s a reason he left his tiny hometown. Hearing words proclaimed from a pulpit while he squirmed in the narrow church pew, too old to play with little toy cars but not old enough to be with the youth group yet. Words tossed around in the locker room after football practice. Sneers in the hallway to the one kid who was brave enough to come out while they were still in high school. There’s a reason he went to the big city of Atlanta for college, why his parents had moved there shortly after. He shakes his head and tries to rid himself of the thoughts. It’s better now.
Better, better, better.
“Anyway,” Zayn says, laying a hand on Niall’s forearm. “You got a girlfriend?”
Niall shakes his head even as he flushes bright red.
“That means you do,” Harry says happily. “Tell us all the dirty details.”
Niall shakes his head again. “We broke up. No time for a relationship when I’m off becoming a doctor, you know?”
In the comfortable silence that follows, Harry idly wishes he’d given Louis-from-the-bar his phone number this morning. Maybe they could have figured something out.
But then Harry frowns again, because Niall is right. There’s no time for romps in his bed with handsome guys from bars. He’s committed to the hospital now, whether he likes it or not.
"Let’s go, let’s go,” Dr. Bauer says, striding into the room and picking up a stack of files. “We need to bring these upstairs and then I need to scrub in on a surgery. You can all sit in the gallery and observe.”
“A real case?” Liam asks, face lighting up like the sun as he scrambles out of his chair and throws on his white coat. He moves so quickly that he doesn’t even bring any files with him. Zayn pulls him back to go get some, and then they all rush up to catch up with Dr. Bauer.
“Yes, a real case, Payne. Let’s go.”
There’s been a car crash, and Harry knows that’s a terrible thing. It’s awful that this poor woman got into an accident and had to be rushed to the hospital. But right now, sitting in the gallery and peering down at the surgery happening in front of him, it’s the best thing he’s ever seen.
“This is amazing,” he says, voice reverent, and next to him, the others agree.
There’s a little snicker at the back of the gallery, some mention of “clueless interns” but Harry doesn’t even bother looking back. He’s too mesmerized to care.
He’d decided to become a surgeon halfway through getting his undergraduate degree. Ironically, it had been as he was getting wheeled to the emergency room for his own surgery, a ruptured appendix with complications that had, in the end, caused him to miss nearly three full weeks of class. He’d woken up in the recovery room, his mom crying in the corner and the nurse checking his vital levels, his skin throbbing from the pain of the surgery, and he’d known.
In the operating room, Dr Bauer’s describing the procedure to a team of interns who are actually in the room.
“Why isn’t that us?” Niall mutters quietly. “It’s Bauer’s surgery, you’d think we’d get to be down there.”
“Not how it works, kid,” says a voice behind them, and they all turn. It’s a brunette woman, curls down to her shoulders. “Better luck next time.”
Niall frowns but when the woman doesn’t offer any more information, they all turn back to watching the surgery. It’s a smooth procedure, Bauer and the other attending calling out the steps as they perform them, and Harry suddenly realizes why it’s called the operating theater.
He’s watching a performance, a carefully choreographed routine that’s been practiced thousands of times until perfection. It’s a show, and ironically, the person most benefiting from it doesn’t even get to see it, but he’s glad the rest of them get to. Because this is amazing, the very reason he decided to practice medicine. They’re saving her life.
It feels like no time goes by at all before they’re closing up the patient and Dr. Bauer’s gesturing that she’ll meet them outside the OR, but when he looks at the clock he realizes that it’s been nearly two hours.
“That was wicked,” Zayn says quietly as they stand. Harry stretches. There’s a crick in his neck from paying such focused attention for so long.
Dr. Bauer’s waiting for them outside the scrub room, irritation plain on her face. “When I call you, I expect you to be here by the time I’m out. None of this dawdling nonsense. That might have worked in med school, but it’s not going to fly here.”
“Yes ma’am,” Harry says, eyes focused on the swinging door behind her. He can see people cleaning up the OR through the window, and he desperately wishes he had been in there today.
“It’s Dr. Bauer, Styles.”
“Right, yes. Sorry, doctor. Dr. Bauer.” He can feel the others staring at him with pity. Great. He’s already screwed up on the first day.
“Anyway,” she says, already striding away. “Follow me, let’s go.”
“Patient is a 65 year old female who suffered a brain trauma after she fell off her roof,” announces Dr. Grimshaw, the head neurosurgeon. “She’s two days post-op from a craniotomy. Recovering well. Who can tell me what the risks are for her at this point?”
Dr. Bauer’s group of interns are squished into a patient room along with Dr. Corden’s. An eager brunette intern raises her hand into the air. Dr. Grimshaw points to her. “Go ahead. And please introduce yourself.”
“Memory loss, balance issues, and inattention or inability to focus are all common side effects of craniotomies. Also she’s still at a high risk of infection. Patient should be getting up to walk soon.” She says it like she’s reading directly from a textbook. “Oh, and I’m Genevieve Mullins, surgical intern, Columbia Med School.” Harry has to fight to wrinkle his nose from the way she says it. He went to Emory, but no one’s going to hear him bragging about that. They all went to med school.
“That’s right,” Dr. Grimshaw says. “Dr. Mullins, you can stay here and monitor Ms. Espinosa’s vitals. The rest of you, come with me.”
Dr. Mullins, tasked with staying with the patient for the rest of the evening instead of continuing with rounds like the rest of them, looks put out by this. Harry thinks maybe that’s what she deserves for her snooty attitude.
They carry on like this, going from room to room. There’s a strict process: the attending gives the status of the patient, and then the interns are required to show their knowledge of various medical conditions as they go. Some of the patients are post-op and others are having surgery at some point in the week. Everyone wants to get assigned to work with a patient who’s pre-operative; it means a closer look at a surgery.
They stop outside of a room halfway down the hall for Dr. Bauer to speak in hushed tones with another attending.
“Yeah, that’s fine,” he hears her mumble. “I’ve got four, but I can take a fifth.” More murmuring. “Yeah, just send him over.”
When she comes back to the group, she looks a bit flustered. “We’re getting another intern, so we have to hang tight for a minute. You might want to take a seat.”
“Another one?” Liam asks, eyes wide. Harry can nearly see the gears cranking in his head: more interns means less specialized attention, more people to compete with.
“Yeah, they’ve done some reshuffling,” she says, and she looks as confused as Harry feels.
“What about rounds?” Niall asks, biting his fingernail. “We’re missing it.”
“It’s fine, Horan,” she says, waving a hand in the air. “We’ll catch up to them.”
Harry pulls his phone out of his pocket for the first time all day, seeing that he’s got a text from Gemma and another from his mom, both of them wishing him good luck on his first shift. He replies to both, telling them that it’s going well so far and that the people he’s working with all seem great.
“This is Louis Tomlinson,” Dr. Bauer says, as he’s taking advantage of the downtime to check his email. “He’s one of you now.”
Harry looks up from his phone to catch sight of the newcomer, and—
It’s the guy from last night. The one from the bar.
Harry’s phone falls to the ground before he can stop it.
How is he— what is he doing here?
“Hi,” Louis says, extending his hand for Harry to shake. Harry doesn’t — can’t — move, just looks at Louis in confusion. “I’m Louis Tomlinson.”
“Hel—hello,” Harry stutters. His phone is probably shattered, but he can’t look away from Louis. What is happening?
Louis is dressed in pale blue scrubs, just like the rest of them, and Harry’s brain is going a million miles a minute as he tries to work out the situation.
Harry finally rises to his feet, legs shaky from shock, and shakes Louis’ hand. It’s the same hand that was all over his body last night, pulling at his hair and running over his skin and making him feel so good. He feels flushed from the sudden memory: his body fuzzy from alcohol, Louis tearing off his shirt as he pressed him against the hallway leading to Harry’s bedroom, Louis’ lips on his neck.
They’re the same images he’s been trying to suppress all morning in order to focus on work, but they’re flying back at full speed right now.
“Styles,” Louis says quietly, and he releases Harry’s hand.
Dr. Bauer decides that they need to move on, and as Harry blindly follows the group, a haze of heavy confusion clings to his mind. How is Louis here? How is he in his intern group?
They approach a patient room, where Dr. Corden is talking about a heart surgery that’s planned for tomorrow.
“One intern will get to scrub in on the procedure,” Dr. Corden says, and Harry knows that should be his signal to get it together and pay more attention, but. Louis from last night is standing five feet away.
Nearly every hand in the room goes up as if prompted to do so, and Harry knows that his distraction has just screwed his chances of getting in on the surgery.
“Payne,” Dr. Corden says, and as Liam gives a near-perfect answer about triple bypass surgery, all the residents in the room are smiling, Dr. Bauer most of all. Liam gets assigned to the case and told to return after rounds to work with Dr. Corden.
Looks like Liam’s the one to beat, then.
“Let’s go,” Dr. Bauer says. “We have more patients to see.”
“Hey, Louis,” Harry says, tugging on Louis’ elbow as he walks out of the room. Louis lets himself be pulled to the side, away from the crowd. He looks a bit stunned.
“I can’t say I expected to see you here,” Louis says.
“I know. Same. What are the odds?” Harry says. “Anyway, about last night—”
“Styles! Tomlinson! No time for chatter. Let’s go!” Bauer calls, and Louis flashes him an apologetic smile as they both hurry to catch up with her.
Day one and he’s already falling behind.
He doesn’t get a chance to talk to Louis again that night. He’s stuck observing a patient with Zayn, which really means entertaining her toddler while the mother sleeps in her recovery room. It’s the woman who was in the car crash, and as soon as her babysitter heard that the mom was in an accident, she’d driven the daughter, Olivia, to the hospital. And then promptly left.
“I thought we’d be, you know, practicing medicine,” Zayn says quietly to Harry, who’s stretched out on the floor. Olivia is crawling on his back, babbling to herself. She tugs on a lock of his hair, which is fine, and then yanks it, which is not.
“Alright, be nice,” he tells her, reaching up to pull her chubby little fingers away. They immediately go back to his hair the second he drops his arms.
Zayn laughs, and Harry glares at him. Zayn doesn’t have long hair; he doesn’t understand how much it hurts.
“Okay, missy,” he says, reaching behind him to grab her by the waist, turning to sit up in one fluid motion. “Let’s read you a story.”
“What are you, Uncle Harry or something?” Zayn asks with a smile. Thus far, Harry’s done all of the actual baby-entertaining; Zayn’s stayed on the sidelines.
“I am, actually. Got two nephews and a niece. And yeah, I thought we would be too, actually. So far it’s mostly charts and watching surgeries and babies.”
“I guess it’s just the first day though,” Zayn says, and he reaches out to pull Olivia’s pant leg down where it’s ridden up. His voice is softer when he speaks again. “What do you think it’s gonna be like?”
Harry’s spent years wondering what it would be like to become a surgeon, but now that he’s on that path, it feels different somehow. “Insane,” he says after a moment. “I think we’re gonna be tired for years. I think we’re gonna save some lives and make a lot of mistakes and maybe regret some stuff, but I think it’s gonna be worth it.”
“Yeah,” Zayn says quietly. His expression is serious. “I’m just like… a bit scared, you know?”
Olivia, who had sleepily cuddled into his lap, looks up at him with a petulant expression. He scoops her into his arms and stands up, tossing her into the air. Her giggles are loud and happy. “Let’s not think about that right now, huh? We can think about that stuff later.”
After a minute, Zayn nods. “Yeah, alright.”
A few hours pass by while they wait for someone to relieve them of babysitting duties. Niall stops by and says that there must be someone else who could do that for them.
“One of the nurses, maybe?”
Zayn sucks in a breath. “Watch it, man. Don’t cross the nurses. They’re the ones that will save your ass.”
Niall narrows his eyes. “What’d I say?
Harry lays a soft hand on his arm and watches Olivia chew on a cardboard book out of the corner of his eye. They changed her into her pajamas over an hour ago. Is she ever gonna fall asleep? “The nurses aren’t babysitters, Niall.”
Niall rolls his eyes. “I know that,” he says, tone exasperated. “But you’re here to learn to practice medicine, not to be maternal and shit.”
“Watch your language in front of the baby!” Harry exclaims, bending down to cover her ears.
Niall takes one look at Olivia and rolls his eyes. “Oh, she doesn’t know what I’m saying. It’s fine.”
“Still. What are you doing here anyway? Don’t you have things to do? Real medical things?”
“Yeah. Louis and I—he’s hilarious, dude, wait til you meet him for real—have been doing charts.”
Fuck, Louis is his coworker.
“Sounds like fun,” Harry says dryly, wrinkling his nose before bending down to check Olivia. She absolutely needs to be changed.
Harry rifles through the diaper bag to find a clean one for Olivia. Harry debates handing the baby to Niall, but he takes one look at Niall’s pinched face and decides that’s probably not the best idea.
“Hell of a lot better than what you’re doing,” Niall says, covering his nose.
“Yeah, whatever,” Harry says, blowing raspberries on Olivia’s tummy and smiling wide as she squeals in delight.
Eventually, a social worker shows up to take care of Olivia, and they’re told to hang tight while Dr. Bauer assigns them their individual tasks.
“Why didn’t they think of that earlier?” Zayn grumbles, and Harry swats him on the shoulder.
“Not like you did much,” Harry says, taking a granola bar out of his pocket and eating the whole thing in just a few bites. He’s starving.
“You eat weird,” Liam observes. “You stick out your tongue before you chew. It’s weird.”
“Thanks for that, Liam,” Harry says dryly. “Really kind observation.”
He can feel Louis’ eyes on him but tries not to meet them. It’s difficult, because the five of them are squished into a space for three, but he manages. He can’t have their first real conversation — not the first, he corrects himself, thinking of hours spent in conversation last night at the bar — be in front of the other three.
He’s assigned a row of patient rooms in the surgical wing, all post-op patients. There’s ten of them, and he figures it won’t take that long to check up on them and record their vitals.
The first patient is a young man, Jamie Norton, who has just had a finger reattached, an injury inflicted during a soccer game. Harry winces, thinking to himself that this is a prime example of why he never played soccer.
Everything goes well at first. He makes pleasant conversation with Jamie about the weather and baseball, safe topics sure not to bring up any problems. He asks him all the relevant questions, performs all the required checks, and is writing down his blood pressure when Jamie starts to look a bit clammy.
“You okay?” Harry asks, bringing the back of his hand to Jamie’s forehead. Not necessarily the most medically correct technique, but it’s instinctual.
“I don’t… don’t feel so good,” Jamie stutters, and Harry’s looking for a wash basin when Jamie projectile vomits all over him.
Not off to a great start.
He finds a new pair of scrubs, does his best to wash the puke out of his hair, and gets a nurse to sit with Jamie before he heads to his second patient. He prays they’re better than the first.
It’s an old woman with a strong New York accent, and it takes him three tries to understand that she’s asking him to bring her a warmer blanket. Demands one before she’ll allow him to do the exam, actually.
“Mrs. Chipowsky, there’s a call button right here,” he says, pointing it out to her. “You can press that whenever you want something, and the nurses will come right away.”
“They don’t come quickly,” she says with a sullen frown. “It’s much more efficient to ask in person. You know, if the nurses would ever show up, that is.”
He grits his teeth, finds someone to fetch her a blanket, and gets through the rest of the exam without much trouble.
Patient three makes a huge fuss about being woken up from a nap — at nine PM — and takes ten minutes of coaxing before he’ll let Harry see him. Patient four insists on being seen by an attending, not a resident, and he has to use his nice customer service voice and remind her that this a teaching hospital. Patients five through ten all blend together, but he doesn’t get covered in vomit, so it’s a big improvement.
He’s the last one to arrive at the third floor nurses’ station where they’ve arranged to meet. Niall and Louis are laughing at something on the screen of a phone, Liam’s guzzling down coffee with a pained expression on his face, and Zayn’s doodling on his notepad.
“What took you so long?” Zayn asks, his tone teasing. “I think you’ve got something in your hair, there.”
Harry shudders. “Trust me, you do not want to know.”
“Oh, it couldn't have have been worse than what I had to do,” Niall says grimly. “Enemas. Nasty things.”
Liam claps his hands. “Anyway, moving on. Anyone for dinner?”
Dinner comes at ten thirty pm in the form of a chicken salad wrap in the cafeteria. It’s the first solid thing Harry’s had time to eat since this morning, granola bars and bits of string cheese notwithstanding. It’s not healthy for him to go so long without real food. He’ll have to be better about it.
“I’m exhausted,” Harry says, dropping his tray onto the table as he slides into the seat next to Niall. “Aren’t you guys tired?”
“So tired,” Liam says, eyes droopy.
“But are we supposed to be this tired? It’s only the first day.”
“I think we’re gonna be tired for the rest of our lives,” Louis predicts, sliding into the seat next to Harry.
“Where are you from, Louis?” Zayn asks through a mouthful of salad. There’s no time for politeness and to finish chewing before they speak. Pagers could go off at any minute and send them scattered through the hospital.
“Boston,” Louis says.
“Nice,” Niall says. “Always wanted to go there.”
“You should go visit, man. It’s a good time. The winters are brutal, but if you like skiing, you’ll love it.”
“I’ve never even seen snow,” Harry offers, and Louis turns to him, gobsmacked. It’s so like their conversations last night, Louis’ face expressive and open, that Harry’s heart hurts with it a little bit.
“Okay, you have to promise me you’ll go there sometime,” Louis says.
He gets a few hours of sleep in an empty on-call room, Zayn curled up next to him because all the other beds are full. It should probably be weird — he and Zayn met this morning — but instead it just feels comfortable.
The twin sounds of their pagers wake them at five am, and Harry slips on his sneakers as he runs down the hall, rushing to meet Dr. Bauer.
“Congrats, Styles, you’re not the last one today,” she says with a smirk on her face. “Maybe I won’t stick you on scut after all.”
Good. He doesn’t think he could handle another day covered in vomit.
He doesn’t like her snarky tone, though, and he can’t figure out if that’s how she is naturally or if he’s been a terrible intern so far. There were a few questions he missed yesterday because he’d distracted by Louis, but that was such a tiny portion of the day. Yesterday was a practice round, but today is the real thing.
He can do this.
Harry lifts his head just in time to see Louis rounding the corner from the elevator lobby. His hair is slicked back, bangs away from his face, and there’s a pillow crease on his left cheek. He looks beautiful, like some kind of person sent just to torture Harry and make him fail out of his career because of his distraction.
This is the second morning in a row that he’s seen Louis in the morning. He’d like to make that a regular thing, if he could.
“Tomlinson, nice of you to show up. Where’s Horan?”
Louis shrugs. “Disappeared some time in the last four hours, I guess. Wasn’t there when I woke up.”
“Well, he’s on scut whenever he decides to show up. I cannot stress to you all how important it is that you’re here on time. When I page you, you run, you hear me?”
They nod instantly.
“I mean that. There’s no time for tying your shoelaces or wondering if you’re wearing your shirt inside out. These are people’s lives that we’re talking about.”
“Got it,” they all say with a nod, and it’s then that Niall decides to make his grand entrance.
“Sorry, sorry,” he says, running toward them, waving something in his hand. “Dead pager. I’m sorry.”
“Not an excuse, Horan,” Dr. Bauer says, her lips pursed. “After rounds, you’re on scut.”
He gets assigned to work with Dr. Perrie Edwards, on a surgery for one of his patients yesterday. He basks in the glory of getting assigned to his first actual case for a few minutes, until Dr. Bauer smacks him on the shoulder and tells him to pay attention to the rest of the cases too.
It doesn’t affect him - he’s getting to work on a real case.
He has approximately four minutes between the ends of rounds and when he has to meet her in the research library, so he takes advantage of the time to run down to the coffee cart in the library.
“Large coffee with a shot of caramel creamer,” he says. “And a bagel, toasted. Please. Thanks so much.”
“That’s quite the order,” says a voice behind him, and every hair on his body stands, because he knows that voice, has been thinking about that voice endlessly for the last day and a half.
“Well, you know,” he tries, skin feeling hot and itchy from Louis’ gaze. “Long night.”
“Yeah,” Louis agrees, and he steps to the side to let Louis take his turn ordering. It gives him a moment to admire Louis’ profile: prominent cheekbones, a wide grin, a bit of scruff that seems to have sprouted overnight. Harry likes the way it looks on him: he’s always been partial to guys with a bit of facial hair. Come to think of it, that might have something to do with the way that he himself seems impossible of growing any.
Louis grabs his coffee and Danish — it looks so good that Harry’s about ready to order one of his own — from the cart and turns to Harry. “So,” he says, and a beat of silence follows. He gives Harry a proper smile, like he did in the bar that night, and it awakens something in Harry; there’s something about the way they clicked that night that he’s not quite ready to let go of.
The fact that they ran into each other - it has to mean something, right? Fate wouldn’t just hand him a second chance like this for no reason. Sure, they work together, but. Maybe they can figure something out.
It’s not love but it feels like it could bet more than just lust, and something like that is worth exploring.
“So,” Harry repeats, cocking his head toward an empty table just a few feet from the coffee cart. “Do you wanna talk?”
“Yeah,” Louis says quietly, his smile widening. It makes Harry feel like he’s not the only one, that there might be a chance—
And then Louis’ pager goes off.
“Oh shit, I gotta take this,” Louis says, peering at the pager’s tiny screen as he struggles to balance the Danish and the coffee in one hand. Harry’s hands shoot out, ready to catch anything that falls.
Louis drops the pager back into his pocket and sets off at a run, calling back over his shoulder, “I’m sorry. We can talk later?”
“Yeah, sure,” Harry says, trying not to sound disappointed. They are at work, after all.
He sets off back in the direction of the elevator lobby. When he takes a sip of his coffee, it burns his tongue.
By the time Dr. Bauer tells them all to go home and get some sleep, Harry feels dead on his feet. He’s worked thirty-six hours straight, sleeping for only five. He’s consumed six cups of coffee, interacted with forty-something patients, taken nineteen pages of notes, and now he’s ready to crash.
“I’ll see you all bright and early tomorrow,” she tells them, and he thanks God that it’s only a twenty-four hour shift tomorrow. This internship stuff is not for the faint of heart.
He’d known that, of course, but experiencing it is a whole other matter.
They all trek down to the locker room where they keep their things, and Harry ducks into the bathroom to pee. He eyes the adjacent showers. The thought of taking one right now and crawling into bed the minute he gets home is ridiculously attractive. But no. He can force himself to change his shoes and get in his car. In twenty minutes he can be in his own shower with his own stuff.
“Hey, where’s Louis?” he asks when he sees Niall typing up his laces. Liam stands next to him, and there’s no trace of Zayn, Louis, or any of the other interns.
Niall shrugs. “Think he went home. Dude, I have so much grocery shopping to do, it’s ridiculous.”
“Yeah, why?” Niall furrows his brow. “I didn’t get his number, but I’m sure you can ask one of the nurses if you really need to talk to him.”
Harry shakes his head, distracted as he takes his rain jacket and bag out of his locker. “Nah, nothing, it’s fine.”
It’s just that I thought Louis would wait, is all.
“But hey, can I get yours?” Niall’s face is expectant.
“Your number,” he clarifies, handing over his phone. “Just pop it in here. And then you too, Liam. Never know when it might be useful.”
Sleepy and confused, Harry keys in his number and then hands the phone back. “I’m gonna get going. It’s time for bed.”
“Best of luck, man. I think I’m gonna go for a run and clean my apartment,” Liam says. “Anyone wanna come?”
Harry shakes his head vehemently. The only thing he wants to do right now is take a hot shower and fall asleep the second his head hits the pillow.
He wakes to the light of a setting sun peeking through the window, casting shadows on the wall. On the pillow beside him, his phone is buzzing. His throat feels dry and everything in his whole body hurts.
What time is it? Two days on the job and his sleep schedule is already fucked.
He squints at his phone and sees that he has a text count in the double digits and two missed calls from an unknown number.
Unknown number (5:13 pm): Harry !!!
Unknown number (5:13 pm): It’s Niall.
Unknown number (5:13 pm): Horan. From work.
Unknown number (5:15 pm): I’m prob the only Niall you know, idk what I was thinkin’
Unknown number (5:18 pm): Fuck you’re prob asleep i’m sry
Unknown number (6:22 pm): Harry? Pls wake up I need ur help. Weird timing bc i just got your number but i promise it wasn’t on purpose
There’s more messages, but basically the situation is this: Niall’s apartment has flooded and he wants to stay in Harry’s spare room while they assess and then repair the damage. He thinks it’ll only be for a few days.
Harry falls back against the bed and closes his eyes, thinking about it. He really wants to keep his personal life and his work life separate, but he’d want someone to help him in that situation.
In the end, it’s not much of a decision after all.
Forty five minutes later, he’s drinking decaf coffee and letting Niall into the building. He helps him cart in two suitcases — “just a precaution, I swear I’m not moving in" — and sets himself up in the spare room.
A few minutes later, Niall comes downstairs and meets Harry in the kitchen.
“Nice place you’ve got here. You can really afford this on your intern salary?" Niall asks as he peers around. Harry flashes him a look, and Niall looks apologetic.
Harry doesn’t tell him he’d do anything not to have this money if it meant he could have his dad back.
“I was just waking up when you called, so I’m gonna make breakfast. You want anything?”
“No, that’s okay,” Niall says, putting a six pack of beer into Harry’s fridge, leaving one on the counter. “I had a burger before I came.”
“Okay. Well just make yourself at home, alright?”
“I will,” Niall says, taking a seat at the kitchen island while Harry takes out supplies to make omelettes. He’s going to make one for Niall anyway - it’s better to have leftovers than to leave a guest out in the cold.
“So,” Niall asks a few minutes later when Harry’s taken a seat at the island too, omelette on his plate. “First shift’s over, do you think we’ve made it through the hardest part?”
“No,” Harry says honestly. “But hey, we’re gonna save some lives, yeah?”
The morning comes far too soon and Harry’s banging on Niall’s door, telling him that if he wants a ride, he better be outside and ready to go in seven minutes. He brews some coffee, brushes his teeth, shoves a piece of buttered toast into his mouth, and pours the coffee into two travel mugs.
The ride to work is silent, both of them psyching themselves up for the day ahead. Niall must be nervous. He doesn’t seem like the kind of guy for whom silence is a usual part of his disposition.
The intern locker room is filled with the sounds of sleepy people changing into scrubs, lockers slamming and pagers going off as everyone prepares to start another day of work. Niall had insisted on talking late into the night and Harry’s exhausted, but when he remembers that he might get to watch a surgery today, he thinks maybe he can move past that.
“Better get going,” he tells Niall, who’s chewing on an apple as he sits on the bench between the lockers.
When they get off the elevator on the third floor, Louis is sipping coffee and talking to Zayn. There’s a flicker of jealousy before Harry can stop it, but then Louis’ eyes slide to Harry as he approaches and Harry stamps that down.
“Hi,” he says quietly, fingers gripping his travel mug tightly.
“Hey there,” Louis says, his smile bright. Zayn has moved on to talking to Niall, the two of them immediately picking up the threads of a conversation that had been abandoned yesterday.
“So I was thinking—”
“Let’s go, we’re gonna be late for rounds,” Dr. Bauer says, and Harry jumps. That woman has a gift for popping up out of nowhere at the absolute worst times.
He gets assigned to monitor four patients today, keeping an eye on their vitals and making sure that none of them die, essentially. He gets himself another coffee at the coffee cart and then settles in the room of a sleeping patient to update his notes and read up on their conditions.
He learned about all these illnesses in med school, but learning them and being able to diagnose them in the heat of the moment are two very different things.
A few hours later, Dr. Bauer quizzes them all on their knowledge and Liam still gets picked to scrub in on the surgery later that afternoon.
“This is bullshit,” Louis swears when he’s gone, folding his body into a chair when Liam follows Dr. Grimshaw into the OR. “First he gets to observe that cardio surgery and now he’s in on a craniotomy? This sucks.”
The frown on his face is weirdly attractive. Actually, everything about him right now is weirdly attractive: he’s wearing powder blue scrubs like the rest of them, but he’s wearing sneakers and pale pink socks. There’s a bit of stubble on his chin like he forgot to shave this morning, and a fierce look in his eyes to match. And there’s a rainbow badge stuck to his work badge: there’s something especially sexy about seeing his public show of pride.
Niall sneezes and Harry shakes his head to clear himself of the distraction, turning back to join the conversation.
“I know,” Niall says as he sits down next to Louis, falling into the chair with a thud. “How are the rest of us supposed to get a chance?”
“It’ll be fine,” Harry counters, and he wants to wince at how fake it sounds to his own ears. “It’s only the first week.”
“That’s it, though,” Louis says, and Zayn nods. “If we don’t get ahead now, how are we ever gonna manage?”
“We need to fight tooth and nail for those surgeries,” Zayn says. “We should start a study group.”
“Alright,” Harry agrees, thinking of how little sleep he’s going to get in the future. And then he thinks of how much he wants to succeed, and he suggests they start next week.
An hour later, as they look on longingly as Liam gets to hold a surgical instrument and stand next to Dr. Grimshaw, he thinks that they should probably start later today instead.
Dr. Bauer calls Harry out of observing a central line insertion, and the look on her face suggests that things are not good. Maybe it’s one of his other patients? Maybe someone died. He has to have a first patient death sometime, but he’d rather it be later.
“What’s up?” he asks, craning his neck to see what he’s missing. An intern who he’s pretty sure is named Rachel Goldblum has stepped up to fill in his place. There are no windows in this part of the hospital, so he has absolutely no idea what time it is. He thinks vaguely that it must be past midnight, that strange time when a hospital feels like the most vibrant place in the world.
“What’s up, Dr. Styles,” she echoes, her tone harsh, and a chill runs through him. “What’s up is that you failed to check the sodium levels of a patient earlier, and her levels got too low. She’s experiencing acute hyponatremia.”
Immediately, he knows who the patient is. It’s the woman in room 323, whose exam he’d had to interrupt to deal with a Code Blue crisis, an ‘all hands on deck’ situation. He’d never gotten a chance to go back and finish the exam. And now her sodium levels are too low and her brain’s going to start to swell and they’ll have to rush her to surgery, if they haven’t already.
“Fuck,” he mutters, not caring that he’s swearing in front of a superior.
“Yeah,” Dr. Bauer agrees. “And it gets worse. We’re seeing signs of cerebral edema, so Dr. Grimshaw’s team had to rush her into the OR.”
He feels tears pricking the back of his eyelids, so he stares at his sneakers until the feeling passes. His big toe is starting to poke through the mesh on the right foot. He just bought these, goddamn it.
“Harry, I know it’s only your second shift, but you have to be more careful. You can’t let things fall to the side, not here. Not like this. People’s lives are at stake, and I need you in top form every minute of the day. That patient’s going to be okay, but the next one might not be. There’s no time for slacking off if you want to make it in this career.”
“Yes, Dr. Bauer.”
Once she’s rounded the corner and is out of sight, he feels his body start to quiver with shame. It’s like the fear of failing a med school exam combined with getting yelled at by an authority figure, except this time, someone’s life is at stake. He’s going to break down.
But he can’t. Not here , not like this.
He fumbles in his coat pocket to find his phone so he can text Niall and ask where he is. He manages to keep it together until a response comes through, telling him to head for the tunnels.
He’s not sure how Zayn discovered the tunnels during their first shift, but it’s a deserted area with a few empty cots, some wheelchairs, and a bunch of other junk. It seems like no one ever goes down there, and if there has to be a perfect place for a collapse, it’s there.
He takes the elevator and finds Niall sitting on a cot, Zayn laying next to him, head resting on his crossed arms as he takes a nap. Liam’s sitting in a nearby wheelchair, tossing a tennis ball at the brick wall and catching it as it bounces back. Thwap, thwap, thwap goes the ball against the brick.
Louis is nowhere to be found, and for the first time, Harry’s grateful.
“Thought you’d all be sleeping,” Harry says as he approaches, and he can feel the tears clogging in his throat.
“Nah, too wired,” Niall explains, and Harry can see the moment he realizes something is wrong. “What happened?”
He pushes Zayn over and makes room for Harry on the cot. Harry sits perpendicular to Niall, his back against the cot’s footboard, and tucks his knees into his chest. “I, uh… I fucked up.”
“What’d you do?”
He tells them what happened and before he’s even halfway through, salty tears are streaming down his face. And salt, isn’t that fucking ironic; sodium has been his problem all day long. “Maybe I’m not supposed to be doing this,” he says, and it’s that statement that makes Niall lean forward and hug him tightly.
“That’s not true,” he hears Louis say, and Harry opens his eyes to see him standing a few feet away. He’s holding four sodas, three packets of M&Ms, and two bags of potato chips. Harry hurriedly wipes his eyes with the back of his hands. He doesn’t want Louis to see him like this. “You’re great. Of course you’re supposed to be here.”
“I got your scrubs wet, I’m sorry,” Harry tells Niall, looking at the blotchy wet spot on his shoulder.
“Don’t be. Three hours ago a kid puked on my scrubs, I can handle a few tears.”
Harry blinks. “You… changed, right?”
Niall rolls his eyes. “Yes, I did change out of my puke-infested scrubs , Dr. Styles.”
“You want some M&Ms?” asks Louis, offering a packet as he scoots a wheelchair closer to the cot.
“I don’t want to take your snacks.”
“No, go on, you must be hungry,” Louis says, and Harry tries not to let his massive, extreme embarrassment show on his face.
Harry shakes his head. “It’s fine, I think I’ve got a granola bar.” He makes a show of sifting through his coat pockets, only to find… nothing.
Louis laughs and hands him the bag. “Honestly, take them. Zayn’s asleep, he never has to know.”
“Not asleep,” comes a muffled response from a sleepy Zayn. “But take them anyway, Harry. Sounds like you need them more than I do.”
“I just don’t know if I’m cut out for this,” Harry says, tearing open the bag and tossing a red M&M into his mouth. They’re the best kind.
“You are,” Niall insists. “You wouldn’t have gotten hired if you weren’t.”
“But what if they made a mistake?” he asks quietly, voicing the fear he’s kept buried since he was accepted to the program.
“They didn’t,” Louis says, so forcefully that Harry almost believes it.
“They don’t do that,” Zayn says, slowly sitting up and immediately zeroing in on a bag of chips in the center of the cot. “Trust me.”
“I don’t think I like neuro,” Liam says suddenly. “When I was in on that craniotomy earlier, like… it was cool, yeah, but I don’t think it’s for me.”
“Really?” Niall says. “That’s all I want to do. I don’t want to waste time on anything else, I just want to be able to specialize already.”
“Pediatrics,” Louis says immediately. “That’s all I’ve ever wanted to do.”
“That’s so sad though,” says Zayn. “Little kids getting sick, dying, their parents sobbing—”
“Yeah, but sometimes you get to save them,” Louis interrupts, his voice earnest. “I feel like that’d make it all worth it.”
“I guess so. I still think I want to do cardio.”
“What about you, Harry?” Louis asks.
“I have no clue,” Harry says, and saying it out loud feels like another admission that he doesn’t belong here.
He finishes his twenty-four hour shift early the next morning and he and Niall drive back to his apartment. Harry’s exhausted and would prefer silence, but Niall can’t stop talking about the lung transplant they observed just before they left. His enthusiasm for it is a bit contagious.
“I know I said I only cared about neurosurgery, but when they opened up his chest cavity and you could see the damaged lung, it was fucking amazing.”
“It was,” Harry agrees as he pulls into his condo parking spot. It rained overnight, and the pavement is colored a deep black.
When they get into the house, Harry drops his keys into the little bowl on the table in the front hallway. He hasn’t lived here long and has spent very little time here, but it’s starting to feel like his. It’s a nice feeling after so many years of floundering. This is his home, where he pays the mortgage and has a parking spot and a place for all his things.
“I’m starving,” he tells Niall as he kicks off his shoes. “You want something to eat?”
Niall takes a seat on a stool at the kitchen island. “Yes, please. The trouble is, do we eat breakfast or dinner? This twenty-four hour schedule is really fucking with my sleeping and eating patterns.”
“Three more shifts,” Harry says, already looking forward to the day when he’ll get to work the sixteen hour shift instead.
God, who’d have ever thought he’d be looking forward to only sixteen hours?
“I do really love it, though. I just hope…” Niall trails off.
“What?” Harry asks, turning away from the fridge where he’s gathering ingredients for pasta and meatballs, an executive decision he’s just made for both of them. Yes, it’s early morning, but he’ll want breakfast when he wakes up for work later tonight, so dinner it is.
“I hope you love it too,” Niall says finally. “I know you were stressed earlier, but I just want you to like it as much as I do.”
Harry feels tears welling up in his eyes, and he rounds the island to give Niall a hug. Niall lifts his arms and squeezes. “Thanks, Niall. You’re a really good hugger.”
“So I’ve been told,” Niall jokes when he pulls away. “But really. We’ve all worked so hard. You just gotta push through and it’ll get easier.”
“I hope so. Otherwise… anyway, you want some meatballs?”
At three in the morning a few days later, on the way to the lab to pick up blood results for Dr. Bauer’s patient, the elevator doors open in front of Harry to reveal Louis standing inside. He’s very much alone.
His eyes are trained on the ground, and it’s not until Harry pushes the elevator button and breathes a quiet hello that he looks up. His lashes cast smudged shadows on his cheeks, and Harry can see how tired he looks. He still wants to hold him anyway.
The elevator doors shut and Harry’s consumed by a sudden desire to push Louis against the wall and kiss him senseless. It’s the first time they’ve been alone since that morning in Harry’s house. They could try again and see if it was as good as the first time; no one would even have to know. It’s all he wants: a second chance. Chemistry like that doesn’t come around too often.
“So,” Harry says as they approach the next floor.
They need to talk about this; it can’t just be swept under the rug.
There’s two floors left. It’s now or never.
“So,” Louis repeats, and when he looks up at Harry, his eyes are bright blue, open and ready.
“I want to talk about us,” Harry blurts out. “About, you know… what happened. And if we can. Erm, maybe—”
And that’s when Louis’ pager goes off.
That fucking pager. Harry wants to throw it into the bay. A sink full of water would work too.
“I’m sorry, I need to take this,” Lous says, peering down at the screen with a worried expression on his face.
“But Louis, I just want to talk about—”
“I don’t have time for this,” Louis says, snapping into action as the doors open. “Not right now.”
And then he’s gone.
A petite woman gets on, holding the hand of a toddler, and Harry can’t even manage a smile for them. He slumps back against the elevator wall, feeling the tension drain from his body. He can’t clear his head of the image of Louis running away.
He’s always running away.
“I’m telling you, he wasn’t talking about you guys in general. He meant he couldn’t talk right at that minute,” Gemma says, her voice tinny over the Skype connection. She blames his internet, he blames hers, the situation will clearly never be resolved.
She’s straightening her hair and the heat from the iron is probably getting to her head. “You’re crazy, he didn’t.”
“I just mean that I think it’s a done deal and it’s probably not worth pursuing.”
He finally has more than 24 hours off in a row, and he’s taking advantage of it: he’s done his laundry, gone for a five mile run, and finished his grocery shopping. Now he’s sitting in his living room, knees tucked to his chest as she sips a mug of tea and has a real catch up with his sister for the first time in weeks.
“I think you’re wrong. Listen, you slept with the guy, he left, you didn’t expect to ever see him again. But you did, and I think there’s something to that.”
“Yeah, the ‘something to it’ is that he keeps avoiding me and doesn’t want to talk.”
“Come on,” she says, her tone exasperated.
“Okay, beyond the sex,” she says, wincing. Let the record show that his sister is 28 years old, has three kids, and is wincing at the mention of sex. Though he doesn’t much like to think about her sex life either, so maybe she has a point. “Do you think you could actually like him? Or is it just you being a horny asshole again?”
“That was one time!” he protests. “But yeah, I mean, I think so. He’s really funny, and he’s good at what he does, and I feel like he really cares about his work a lot.”
“So then those are things you have in common,” she says with a smile. “Look, if you think it’s more than just the sex, you owe it to yourself to give it a shot. If you never talk about it, it’ll fester and eat you alive.”
“I can tell from your tone you’re not convinced. Have I ever steered you wrong yet?”
“Where there was the time with the hair dryer and the bathroom sink—”
“That was one time! Anyway, listen up, because the babysitter’s gonna be here in a minute. Fate doesn’t bring two people together unless they’re supposed to be together in some way. Whether you’re supposed to be friends, or lovers—”
“Gross, can you please not use that word?”
“Or soulmates, or whatever,” Gemma continues, voice growing louder as she talks over him. “You need to ask him out. Just tell him that you want to grab dinner. What’s the worst that could happen?”
Harry considers it. He visualizes asking Louis out to dinner, telling him that, against all odds, that night meant something to him.
“He hates me and never speaks to me again.”
“Right!” Gemma says cheerfully, in a tone that suggests she didn’t even hear what he was saying. “Or maybe he says yes and you live happily ever after.”
“I don’t even have time for a relationship.” He groans, dropping his face into his hands. “What am I doing?”
“You’re becoming a kickass surgeon,” she tells him fiercely, and it’s that reminder of her faith in him that gets him to nod his head.
“I can do this.”
“You can,” she says, spraying her whole head with hairspray. He knows exactly how it smells; she’s used the same brand for 15 years, and it smells like Saturday nights and jealousy that she could go out while he had to stay in and study. “But you know as well as anyone that you can’t just be a kickass surgeon. You need some time for yourself too.”
“So what are you gonna do?”
“I’m gonna ask him out. If he turns me down, fine. But I can’t just… leave it as whatever it is.”
“There you go,” she says, giving a little cheer. In the background, he hears her doorbell ring and the dog start barking aggressively.
“Alright, I better let you go,” he says, feeling a bit regretful. He wouldn’t ever admit it to her, but he could easily absorb her sisterly wisdom for at least another hour. “Thanks for the pep talk.”
“Anytime, Hazza. Love you.”
“Love you,” he says, and she blows him a kiss and signs off.
He can totally do this. All he needs to do is ask Louis if he wants to get dinner. Simple.
He gets to work at six AM, leaving a sleeping Niall in the guest room at the condo. He’s started to think of it as Niall’s room, funnily enough. He’s washed his hair, shaved the tiny patch of facial hair he’s managed to grow, and chosen an outfit he knows he’ll look good in. It’s all about confidence, right?
Louis might agree to go on a date with him today, after all.
He’s got this.
He catches sight of Louis leaning against the wall in the corner of the basement hallway that leads to the intern locker room.
He’s not in scrubs yet. Instead, he’s dressed in a Ramones t-shirt and fitted black jeans. He’s got one shoulder against the wall and he’s facing away from Harry, which gives Harry ample opportunity to admire Louis’ ass. Before he can stop himself, images of their night together and running through his head like a movie. It’d be a lot easier if he could just forget about it, but he can’t. He owes it to himself to give it a shot.
“Hey,” he says quietly, but he stops short when he realizes Louis is on the phone. He can read his tone before he can make out the actual words. Louis is unhappy.
Walk away. Leave him to the conversation, you can get up the courage again later.
But something compels him to stay, anchoring him in place.
“He won’t leave me alone,” Louis is saying, his tone bitter. “I know. He keeps trying to make excuses. He’s not getting the hint.”
Harry’s blood runs cold.
“Yeah,” Louis continues. “Already tried that one. Said I was busy with work, that I didn’t have time, the whole thing. I wish I never approached him that night. It wasn’t worth it.”
Wish I never approached him, Harry thinks, remembering how Louis had come up to him in the bar. All the times he’s tried to avoid him since.
Oh, Harry thinks, and his heart drops into his stomach. He can feels tears pricking the back of his eyes.
So this is what it feels like to be shut down.
Of course Louis wouldn’t want him. He was just fun for one night, a good fuck in a new city. He wonders now if Louis had even had any fun at all. But no, he clearly remembers him saying that he wished they could do it again.
But that was when he never expected to see Harry again. The fact that they work together has thrown a wrench into Louis’ plans, and Harry realizes — too late — that he’s been following Louis around like an annoying gnat. He’s a gnat that Louis has been trying to swat away all week without success.
Until now. He’s officially squished him flat.
He doesn’t know how he ends up at rounds ten minutes early, coffee and breakfast sandwich in hand, but the clock on the wall and the one on his phone says the same thing: for the first time ever, he’s the first one at rounds.
“Do I need to get some glasses?” Dr. Bauer asks, her voice light. “Because I think I’m seeing Dr. Styles in front of me, but the Harry Styles I know is always appearing ten seconds before rounds start.”
He swallows over the lump in his throat, hoping it’s not too obvious that he’s been crying in the basement. “Turning over a new leaf.”
She narrows her eyes, distrustful. “On the second week?”
“Better than the third,” he quips, and she harrumphs and turns her attention to a patient chart.
He’s finished the breakfast bagel and half the coffee by the time the rest of his group shows up. He feels a flash of jealousy at seeing them all together, laughing and joking with one another like they’ve known each other for years.
They all belong together, he thinks bitterly, the angry thoughts flying around his head like nasty wasps. They’re so much better without you. You shouldn’t be here. Someone else could’ve done this job better.
Louis doesn’t want him and Dr. Bauer thinks he’s a slacker and he nearly killed a patient the other day. He’s not cut out for this, and he doesn’t have the support system to keep him going. He should quit. He should quit and go home and get a job working in his stepdad’s bookkeeping business. Robin would love to hire him. He’d be a great bookkeeper! He loves numbers.
Well actually, he hates numbers, but he can learn to love them.
But then Niall makes a beeline right for him. “Harry!” he exclaims, handing him his travel mug from home. He’d forgotten it in his haste this morning. “Where were you? The drive to work wasn’t the same without you.”
“Thanks,” he says softly, a bit stunned. The mug is heavy and warm, like it’s just been refilled. “Had to come in early and finish some charts. You know how it is. Sorry I forgot to leave a note.”
Liam and Zayn approach with friendly hellos. They’ve all had the previous day off, and Harry thinks that this might be the most rested he’s ever seen any of them. Their greetings seem genuine, not like they’re saying hi to Harry because they have to.
Maybe he’s overreacting, thinking irrationally. It’s so like the old him, the one that’s grown leaps and bounds when faced with stress, that he feels a bit dizzy.
“Hi, Harry,” Louis says quietly, and Harry gives him a curt nod and then looks away as he drains the rest of his coffee. The other three might be genuine with their friendship, but he doesn’t even want to look at Louis.
He makes the mistake of doing just that, though, when Dr. Bauer is assigning them patients. He’s wearing scrubs, which aren’t the sexiest thing in the universe, but he’s shaved his stubble and he’s wearing glasses. It’s the first time Harry’s ever seen him wear them, and God, he looks good. All week, Harry’s been trying not to focus on Louis’ hands or the cut of his jaw or those perfect lips. It’s impossible.
No, he tells himself, bad. Louis isn’t into him. Nothing can happen. He can’t even think about anything happening. He needs to focus on work and becoming the kickass surgeon Gemma told him he could be.
He can stamp down his stupid, silly crush, throw himself into work, and he’ll become the best surgeon this hospital has ever seen.
For his diligence in showing up to work early, Dr. Bauer allows Harry his choice of patients. There had been a few incoming traumas overnight, and nearly all of them need surgery. There’s a woman who was in a car crash, her ankle nearly severed clean off. There’s a couple fresh in from the emergency room, who got into some kind of weird sex accident, and apparently two piercings got connected somehow - he’s cringing just thinking about it. There’s a young man who shattered all the bones in his leg while trying to hike Mount Rainier and now needs a totally reconstructed leg.
And then there’s the patient Harry chooses: a little girl with a brain tumor. Her name is Grace, and she’s six. She’s had this tumor since she was four, and today’s the day they’re finally going to remove it.
“You know that this might not go as well as we want it to,” Dr. Bauer says when she pulls him to the side, a firm hand on his elbow just before they step into Grace’s room. Her voice is soft. “I know you’ve never done something quite like this, and I know you have all the hope in the world. But sometimes they don’t make it.”
“I know,” he says. She’ll be fine. They’ve gone over all the scans and prepared as much as they can. She’ll be alright.
“Alright,” she says, and the look she gives him feels weighted. “Let’s prepare for the best and expect the worst, alright? That’s how this goes.”
He nods, and she must decide he’s ready because she heads into the room. “Grace, hi! How are you doing today? How’s Mr. Bear?”
“He’s good,” she says, face bright and eager. Her head’s been shaved, and her cheeks are puffy from the medicine she’s been taking. With her happy smile and bright blue eyes, she still looks like the most beautiful girl in the room.
“Who are you?” she asks, shrinking back into her nest of pillows when she catches sight of Harry. “I don’t know you.”
“This is Dr. Harry,” Dr. Bauer says, her tone light. Her whole demeanor has changed, and it’s a bit alarming. She’s actually capable of being friendly. “He’s gonna be helping you today.”
“But he doesn’t know anything—” hiccup “—about my case.”
A blonde woman with pin straight hair bends down to talk to Grace in a low tone. “He does. Dr. Amy told him all about it. He knows just what to do.”
“I did!” says Dr. Bauer.
Grace narrows her eyes, unconvinced. “Have you ever done this before? Cause someone tried to do this before, and the surgery didn’t work. And I nearly died.”
Grace’s parents flinch, and Harry wonders if it’s the memory or the matter-of-fact way in which she said it that bothers them.
“It was really scary,” she continues. “And I’m scared to do it again. But you’ve never done it. So how do I know you can fix me?”
Bizarrely enough, Harry’s first thought is of how mature she sounds for a six year old. Years spent in and out of hospitals will do that to a kid, he supposes. He can feel Dr. Bauer and Grace’s parents watching him carefully as he speaks.
“I haven’t,” he says, choosing his words thoughtfully. “But I’ve learned all about what to do, and we’re gonna make you better. You seem like a smart girl,” he says, catching sight of the second Harry Potter book on the table next to the bed, just beside a pink unicorn stuffed animal. “Have you read that?”
“A little bit. Not that much,” she says. “Sometimes I get too scared reading it, and I have to stop.”
“Yeah, I get that. But sometimes Harry has to face scary things, but he’s really brave even when he’s scared, right?”
“Yeah, he is,” she says, her voice suddenly serious.
“And so you’re gonna be brave today too, right?”
“Yeah, I am.”
“Okay, great. So let’s do this, and we’ll get rid of that icky tumor, and we’ll get you all better so you can go back to school.”
“Alright,” she says, and when he looks up at her parents, they’re smiling.
The surgery is long and grueling; at one point, Dr. Bauer orders Harry to sit down and drink some water before he faints. He’s never stood in one place for quite so long.
Just as he takes a seat on a bench at the back wall of the OR, machines start to beep wildly.
“She’s crashing,” calls Dr. Grimshaw, and Harry leaps to his feet as the room becomes a flurry of activity.
“Stay where you are, Styles. We don’t have time for you to be passing out too,” Dr. Bauer orders. It’s not that he’s essential to the surgery (he’d only been holding an instrument and observing at close range, after all) but he still feels like he should be able to do something .
He feels frozen in place as he watches the surgical team move around the room. The machines are still beeping, louder and louder. Every part of his body feels tense as he hears them shocking her heart.
“Come on, come on,” he whispers to himself. She hasn’t flatlined yet. She can still make it.
He doesn’t know how much time passes before the monitor’s beeping slows. He only knows that his fingernails are bitten down to stubs and there’s a pain in his legs from tensing so much. His forehead is dotted with sweat and his heart is racing as he waits.
“We’ve got her,” Dr. Grimshaw whispers, and he falls back to the bench like his legs can’t hold him up anymore.
“Alright, we’re all done,” Dr. Grimshaw orders. “You can start to close her up, Dr. Bauer.”
“Thanks. Dr. Styles, go scrub out and get something to eat before you pass out,” Dr. Bauer orders immediately.
He takes a last look at Grace, peacefully breathing with the aid of machines, and he says a silent prayer that she’s going to be okay. She’ll have a big scar on her head for the rest of her life, but she’s going to live.
He bolts out of the OR and pushes open the door to the scrub room. He pulls off his mask and gown, throwing them into the trash can, and then turns on the sink to scrub out. He washes his hands and arms for far longer than the required time, trying to stop his brain from thinking. He knows that the minute he leaves this room, he’s going to break down. He’s trying to prolong the inevitable.
Eventually, he can’t put it off anymore. He shuts off the water, dries his hands, and steps outside. Dr. Bauer is right; he needs something to eat.
He pushes open the door to the nearest stairwell, intending to head to the cafeteria. He’s surprised to see the sky is dark; how long were they in the operating room, trying to help Grace fight for her life? She’d barely survived.
All of a sudden, the tears he’s been pushing down all day come spilling out, filling his eyes and streaming down his cheeks in salty rivulets. He makes it down one flight of stairs before he has to stop and take a seat on the stairs, tears making it too blurry for him to see anything.
Grace nearly died and Louis doesn’t want him and this job is so hard and stressful. He wants to go home and get a hug from his mom, he wants to sleep for a hundred years, he wants everyone in the world to be healed forever. Yes, they made Grace better and he was part of doing that, but she nearly died along the way.
Is it always going to affect him this much? Or will he one day get to a point where he sees patients only as problems to fix, devoid of all emotion when he’s treating them? He doesn’t know which would be worse.
He’d known that this job would be difficult. There’s a certain balance he’s had to find between his work and personal life, lest this job eat him alive. For most surgeons, they can throw themselves into the work without a regard for what lays outside the hospital. Harry can’t do that, because he won’t survive. He needs some semblance of perspective, of a life outside of this lifestyle. In college, when he decided this was what he wanted to do, he’d known that was going to be the burden of this way of life.
But it feels like he’s backtracking. There’s been no emotional self-care, and he needs to find that again.
As a kid, he’d been a constant worrier. He worried that people in his life were going to die and he worried that he’d be left alone forever and he worried that he’d never achieve anything in life. His father’s death when he was a little boy certainly hadn’t helped with that. His mom had taken him to see a therapist, and she’d given him a simple but effective coping strategy: name three good things. That’s it. Just name three good things that happened today.
One: he got picked to participate in his first surgery over Liam and Zayn and everyone else he thought was better than him, and he did a really good job at it.
Two: Grace is going to live a long life, partially because of him.
Three (with some reluctance): He finally has an answer about Louis, and now he can move on.
A few hours later, with his eyes dried and a chicken sandwich sitting in his stomach, he goes in to see Grace.
“You fixed me?” she asks groggily.
“Yeah,” he says, tears clogging his throat. “We did.”
Life takes on a regular rhythm: wake up, pour coffee into two travel mugs, bang on Niall’s door until he finally crawls out of bed if he has a shift as well, drive to work with his foot heavy on the accelerator and Niall dozing in the seat next to him. He fights with the others for the best cases. Increasingly, he gets them.
In retrospect, that surgery with Grace revitalized him, even just two weeks into the job. The stress of it forced him to take a step back and realize that not everything’s going to go as he wishes. The act of saying goodbye to Grace when she went home ten days after her surgery gave him hope and reminded him that no matter how many patients live or die, even one person saved is worth it.
They’re only allowed to work a maximum of eighty hours a week, five shifts of 16 hours or less, but he feels like he’s at work all the time. He can’t remember the last time he felt well-rested. Naps on uncomfortable on-call room beds during overnight shifts just don’t cut it, and though his own bed is very comfortable, his alarm always seems to ring too early.
On his fourth week of living with Harry, Niall officially moves in. They have to gut his whole building due to the flood. His landlord gives him a big sum of money in apology for the fact that his apartment has been deemed unlivable, and Niall promptly writes Harry a check for rent.
“You really don’t have to,“ Harry protests, but when he checks his bank account a week later, he has to admit the extra money is nice.
The company is even better. They’re not always on the same shifts, but more often than not, they get up for work together and drive home together. He thought he needed to live alone, but having someone to cook with and talk to is actually really nice. Before long, he can’t remember what it was like before Niall moved in.
“Morning,“ everyone says blearily. Louis is looking into his empty coffee cup like if he stares long enough, more coffee will magically appear. Harry tries not to linger on him for too long. It’s been just over six weeks since Harry overheard him on the phone, and he’s finally starting to get over him. He’s thrown himself into work, and he’s doing a pretty damn good job of it.
“Alright, rounds!“ Dr. Bauer barks. Everyone jumps to attention, suddenly more awake than before.
“How was your day off?“ Liam asks as they follow Dr. Bauer down the hallway.
“Days off,“ Niall grumbles. “He had two days off. Came home last night and he was dancing around the living room! Who’s got the energy for that?“
“You should try it sometime,“ Harry says with a smirk.
“Oh yeah, skipping off work, real impressive,“ Louis says under his breath.
“I didn’t skip off work," Harry retorts, turning on his heel to glare at Louis. “The schedule gave me two days off in a row.“
“Fine, fine, whatever,“ Louis says, his hands raised in defeat.
He doesn’t know when it started, but somehow he and Louis have been extra competitive, more than any other pairing of interns on their team. It’s like they both know they’ll never beat Liam, but if they can fight for second place, they’re gonna do it.
“Stop bickering and pay attention,“ Dr. Bauer orders. “I swear, the two of you act like children sometimes.“
Behind them, Zayn snickers.
It’s not that Harry wants to argue with Louis all the time. It’s just a hell of a lot easier to stop thinking about how attracted to him he is when he’s thinking about how irritating Louis is instead.
Dr. Corden gathers all the interns in one room and assigns them a research project: he’s got a patient with some kind of heart defect, and he needs their help.
“The patient is a thirty-two year old man, and he refuses to consider a heart transplant. I’ve suggested everything I can think of,“ Dr. Corden says, his voice filling the big conference room, “and we’re out of options.“
An intern Harry’s only ever seen in the locker room raises his hand. “How long does he have to live?“
Dr. Corden frowns. “I’m not sure, to be honest. These things are always a bit hard to predict. I’d say a couple weeks at most.“
He crosses the room and switches off the light, engulfing the room in darkness. A moment later, a screen comes down and Dr. Corden puts some scans on the screen.
“Look at this,“ he says, using a laser pointer to point at the x-rays as he talks. “He’s got cardiomyopathy.“
Now that he’s said it, Harry can see it on the screen: his heart muscle is too weak. He’s not going to survive for much longer.
“At the very least, he’ll need a valve replacement soon enough. His wife is pregnant with twins,“ Dr. Corden says, his voice a little shaky. It has to be bad if Dr. Corden, who has nine years of medical experience, is getting emotional about this patient. “I’ve had patients say no to transplants before, whether for religious reasons or other personal ones, but I have absolutely no idea why David won’t consider it. He just won’t. I don’t know how to convince him.“
Dr. Mullins raises her hand. She’s proven herself to be as much of a snotty show-off as Harry had thought that first week. “If he doesn’t want a transplant, shouldn’t we just… give the heart to someone else?“
A titter goes around the room, and Dr. Mullins looks irritated. Dr. Corden, for his part, looks like he’s trying to keep it together. “That’s not really how this works, Dr. Mullins. When a patient’s deemed sick enough for a heart transplant, they go on the list.“
“Right, but what about—“ Dr. Mullins starts, but Dr. Corden talks over her, turning the lights on and flipping the screen back into place.
“So, this is where you guys come in. I know it’s not a lot to go on, but I need you to find some alternatives for this patient. I don’t have the bandwidth to do it right now. But you have full access to the research library, to the online journals, whatever you need.“ He takes a deep breath, and when he speaks again, his tone is pleading.
“Listen, you don’t have to do this, but I’m willing to offer a good bargain here. Whoever can find the solution that gets David to agree to the surgery, you’ll get to scrub in. But not only that.“
A hush falls across the room, and Harry runs a hand through his hair, a stress reaction more than anything.
“You’ll get to assist as well. Doing more than just holding an instrument,“ he continues. He walks back to the front of the room, and a number of interns sit up straighter as he passes.
“I’ve spoken to all your residents about this, and if you want to do it, you’ve got the day free to do research. If you don’t, just go talk to them and they’ll figure out what to do with you. But that’s all I’ve got for you. You’ve got twelve hours to see what we can do about this patient, otherwise he’s signing out of here tomorrow AMA.“
Against medical advice. Yeah, that won’t be good.
“You gonna do it?“ Zayn asks Harry as they stand up and start to shuffle out of the room.
He’s in the library when Liam finds him three hours later. He’s pouring over a cardiology textbook. There’s a stack of four equally large textbooks at his side.
Given that it’s taken him nearly two full hours to read through this one, Harry doesn’t have too much hope that he’s going to make it through the others by the deadline. The answer has to be in this one.
“How are you doing?“ Liam asks, turning a chair backwards and straddling it to face Harry.
“I’ve been better,“ Harry admits. “You find anything yet?“
“Not yet. I can’t believe you’re looking through textbooks. What is this, 1978? We have computers, you know.“
“Well, sometimes the secret is that you have to do what no one else is willing to do, Dr. Payne,“ Harry says with a smile.
Liam rolls his eyes. “Yeah, so I’ve heard. Anyway, I know you and Louis have that whole…“ he waves a hand through the air. “Competitive thing going on. He’s in the cafeteria. I’m not sure he’s trying to participate anymore.“
Not trying to participate, alright. That works for Harry. “Okay? Louis is allowed to do whatever he wants, he’s a big kid.“
“I just figured you’d like to know. Since the two of you are so competitive.“
“Alright, thanks.“ His life goal is to think about Louis as little as possible, so he doesn’t really care what Louis does. Unless it involves him beating Harry in this competition.
“What’s the deal with the two of you anyway? It seems like you’ve been fighting since day one.“
Not quite day one, Harry thinks, with a small amount of bitterness. “I don’t know. We’re just competitive, I guess. Not like a bit of competition ever hurt anyone.“
Liam purses his lips. “I still think it’s something more.“
Harry blinks at him. It’d be great if Liam could either start doing some research or go away, please and thank you.
“Never mind. Anyway, just thought you’d like to know.“
“Well, no matter what, we all know you’re the one to beat,“ Harry says with a smile.
“Why does everyone think that?“ Liam exclaims. Before Harry can shush him with a reminder that they’re in a library, the doctor three tables away does it first. “Look, I was on two surgeries the first week and suddenly everyone thinks I’m top of the class?“
“Seems to be how it works.“
“I have to work hard too, you know. It doesn’t come easy to me.“
“It doesn’t come easy to any of us,“ Harry argues. “Except maybe Niall. The rest of us all have to work really hard.“
“Why is it so easy for him? It’s not fair.“
“I know,“ Harry agrees. “But listen, either get studying or get out of here. I’ve got a surgery to win.“
Liam slowly gets to his feet. “Alright, alright. I’m going. But don’t forget that it can’t hurt to look online too. Those textbooks might be a little outdated.”
“Bye!“ Harry waves him off, and then turns back to his textbook. The answer is in one of these, he can feel it.
Five hours, two bathroom visits, and one lunch break later, he finds the answer.
Artificial hearts can be used to bridge the time until a transplanted heart can be found, or in very rare cases, permanently replace the heart. In some cases, given enough time, the heart will heal itself. The first artificial heart was implanted in a human in 1982...
It’s only been attempted a few times, and it’s not particularly innovative; for all Harry knows, Dr. Corden’s already run the idea by the patient and been rejected. But it’s the best idea he’s found. It’ll have to do.
He packs up his books and carefully places them back where they belong — a work study job at his college library taught him the importance of putting the books back in the right place or not at all — and he scurries off to the third floor, where he knows he’ll find Dr. Corden.
Once there, he runs into Sophie. She’s one of his favorite nurses, witty and smart and damn good at her job.
“Hey, have you seen Dr. Corden around?“ he asks, trying to maintain his composure while his eyes dart around, trying to catch sight of the man. A code rings out over the speaker and he ignores it, in tune with the beeping and buzzing of the machines by now.
“Oh, are you in on that competition thing he’s doing?“
“Yeah,“ Harry says distractedly. “Do you know where he is?“
“No clue,“ she says, closing a chart and opening another. “Check the lounge, maybe? Or the conference room in the corner. He could be in there.“
“Yeah, alright,“ he mutters. “Thanks.“
“Hey, what’s your idea anyway?“
“Huh? Oh. Artificial heart. Worth a shot, yeah?“
She smiles. “Oh, that’s a good one.“
“Yeah, so I’m hoping. Thanks.“
When he turns away, he can see Louis standing there, flicking through some patient charts and trying to act like he hasn’t been listening. Harry can tell that he was, though. He’s got a glint in his eye.
When Harry gets closer to him, he drops the charts and breaks into a fast walk, heading straight for the corner conference room.
“You better be kidding me, Tomlinson,“ Harry says, picking up his pace so that he’s practically running. The only time he’s supposed to run through the halls is when there’s a real emergency. Does a fellow intern plotting to steal his treatment plan count as an emergency? It feels like it. “Don’t you dare.“
Harry’s out of breath when he gets to the conference room, propping one hand on the doorjamb to stop himself from crashing into it. He sees Louis standing at the edge of the table, his back to Harry.
“Don’t listen to him!“ he calls to Dr. Corden. “I don’t care what he says, it was my idea first.“
“I don’t know what you two are doing,“ Dr. Corden says. “Someone already got here before both of you.“
It’s then that Harry sees the fourth person in the room. Dr. Mullins.
“Thanks so much,“ she says, standing up and shaking Dr. Corden’s hand. “Very excited to work with you.“
“Likewise,“ he says. “Be ready to scrub in in two hours.“
“You’re joking,“ Louis says. “That’s it? You don’t even want to listen to any other ideas?“
“I am very much not joking, Dr. Tomlinson. Dr. Mullins had the best idea, and she was smart enough to clear it with the patient’s family ahead of time to ensure that none of us were wasting our time.“ Dr. Corden gathers a set of papers on the table and gets to his feet.
“And what… what was her idea?“ Harry asks, looking at Louis, who closes his mouth, like he was about to say the same thing. For a moment, they’re both on the same team.
“Bovine valve,“ Dr. Corden says, walking toward the door. Harry steps into the room, removing himself from Dr. Corden's path.
“A cow valve? Are you serious?“ Louis exclaims.
“That's it?“ Harry adds. “A cow valve? That won't last long enough to—“
“It is what the patient agreed to,“ Dr. Corden interrupts, looking between the two of them. “And in this hospital, we save patient lives, but we do it on their terms. Our long-term goal here is that the bovine valve will last long enough for him to see his children born, and then hopefully he'll decide if he wants to proceed with a full transplant. Until then, all we can do is comply with his wishes. Thanks, gentlemen. Have a good day.“
They watch him walk away, and then Harry's anger at Louis rears its head again.
“Fucking bullshit,“ Louis says, balling his hands into fists and taking a seat on a rolling chair by the conference table.
“You think it's fucking bullshit?“ Harry asks, raising his voice. “You tried to steal my idea!“
“What are you talking about?“
“You were listening to me talk to Sophie about my artificial heart idea, and you were coming to tell Corden that it was yours! I know you were!“
Louis laughs, actually laughs aloud, and Harry wants to smack him. “I don't know what you're talking about.“
“I don't,“ Louis says, and he gets to his feet. “But if you're going to continue to be a crazy person, that's fine. We'll see who gets put on more surgeries.“
“Oh, you're on, Tomlinson,“ Harry says. “You're going to regret that you ever came up with this idea.“
Louis laughs and heads for the doorway. “I doubt it. But yeah, we’ll see. Have a nice day!“
Harry tries not to look at his ass as he walks away. It's just so — no . He can control himself. He can. Louis just makes him so mad .
Well, he can prove himself to be the better doctor. He can. He will .
Harry’s sitting on his couch a few evenings later, drinking a beer and watching a playoff baseball game - the Red Sox and the Yankees - and enjoying a few minutes of time to think about nothing but sports. He absolutely despises the Yankees but Louis is a Red Sox fan, so he doesn’t know which team to root for. He doesn’t want either of them to win.
A while later, Niall comes home, and Harry sits up in surprise. He’d said he was going out after work, and he’s home a lot earlier than Harry was expecting. What Harry really doesn’t expect, though, is for Niall to walk into the living room with Liam, of all people, following close behind.
“Hi,“ says Harry. He sets down his beer on a coaster on the coffee table. “Hi Liam.“
“Hi,“ Liam says, giving a little wave. “I, uh…"
“Liam’s in need of a good dance party,“ Niall announces, shucking off his raincoat and untying his sneakers. “And so I figured, who’s better at dance parties than Harry Styles? So I invited him here.“
“I hope that’s alright,“ Liam says shyly. He’s still standing in the doorway that bridges the entryway and the living room, like he’s actually afraid Harry might turn him away. Harry’s eyes flick to Niall, and they’re pleading. Something more is going on.
Harry stands and crosses the room to give Liam a hug. They’re at that stage in their relationship, right? Liam sinks into the hug, burying his face into Harry's neck, and Harry's shirt is getting wet from the water droplets on Liam's rain jacket but it doesn't matter.
“You're welcome here whenever you want, okay? I mean it. Kick off your shoes, leave your coat in the closet, and I'll get you both a beer, yeah?"
“That'd be good,“ Niall says gratefully.
Harry passes through the living room into the kitchen, and he's opening the second of three beers when he hears Niall approach behind him.
“He's on the phone out on the porch,“ he says in response to Harry's questioning look. “Listen, his girlfriend broke up with him tonight. The two of them moved here together from New York, they've got a place together, and she called him tonight to say it was over. And she wouldn't even let him come home to get his things.“
“What the fuck?“
Niall frowns. “Yeah. That's what I said. The two of us went out to that bar, you know the one across the street from the hospital?“
Harry tries not to think about that bar too much, not after what happened the one and only time he ever went there. “Smoky’s Bar,“ he says quietly. “I think everyone just calls it Pete’s though, yeah?“
“Yeah, that place. So the two of us were there playing darts - you should come sometime, it's fun - and his phone starts ringing. He thinks that she's just calling to ask when he'll be home or whatever.“ He takes a sip of his beer and grimaces at the memory. “But no, she was calling to break up with him. Said she can't do it anymore, said she met someone else.“
“Yeah, can't imagine. What kind of person does that? Anyway, is it okay if he stays over tonight?“
“He can stay as long as he wants,“ Harry says, and then he hears footsteps behind him.
Liam's eyes are rimmed red, and he wipes them like he doesn't want anyone to know he's been crying. Harry brings him a beer and gives him another hug, tighter this time. “You can stay as long as you need. If you don't mind a tight squeeze, we might even be able to make you a little bed in the office. Not very roomy, but the company's good.“
Liam takes the beer and gives Harry a sad smile. “So Niall told you what happened?“
“He did,“ Harry says, one hand on Liam's back to guide him to the living room. “And I can't imagine why anyone would ever treat you like that. You’ve got to be a real idiot to break up with Liam Payne.“
They take a seat on the living room couch, because Harry can sense that Liam's just looking for people to talk to. “She doesn't think so. She thinks anyone who would date me for this long would be an idiot. She thinks she’s an idiot. Did you know that we dated for six—" sniffle “—six years? Six long years, half of college and all of med school, and then we move here and three months later she decides she's done with me.“
“She's an idiot,“ Niall says, bitterness lacing his tone.
“She's not, though! That's the thing. It'd be a lot easier if she was. But she just said that she couldn't do it anymore. She got sick of not seeing me all the time and she met someone else at the library where she works, and he has a real schedule, and she was done with me.“ Harry rubs his back and tries not to feel his own heart breaking as he watches Liam cry. “Six years. Six years, and she throws it away just like that.“
“I’m so sorry,“ Harry says. Niall wraps a hand around Liam's back and soon he's curled between both of them, the beers left forgotten on the coffee table. “She didn't deserve you."
“She just said it was too hard to be with someone like me right now. How am I ever going to find anyone ever again? I'm too busy for a relationship.“
Harry’s mind goes elsewhere, thinking about how he had the same thoughts when he first started work, how he knew that he was too busy to date Louis but he still wanted to try. He'd been convinced that dating someone who understood his work and what he did would make it all worth it. Fat lot of good that had done him.
Since then, he's acknowledged that he's too busy with work to find anyone, but it doesn't remove the wanting. He wants to be with someone, wants to feel loved and cherished and adored and to pass that back onto someone else, but he can't imagine it happening anytime soon.
Except for Louis, but that train has passed.
“You know? Niall was right.“ Harry asks suddenly, interrupting the conversation between Niall and Liam. They turn to look at him expectantly. “We need a dance party. A good, shake it out, dance it off, eat your heart out dance party. That's what Niall promised you, right?“
Liam smiles. “He did.“
“Well then, we better deliver. We here at the Styles-Horan household keep our promises. And if it's gonna become the Styles-Horan-Payne household, well then we definitely need to keep our promises. What's your favorite dancing song?“
He releases his hold on Liam and heads for the radio console in the corner of the room. He'd set up a pair of surround sound speakers when he first moved in, and though he has rare occasion to use them, this is a perfect one.
“I, uh... I don't know,“ Liam hedges.
“Oh, come on,“ Niall says. “There's got to be a song you love.“
“What d’you like?“ Harry asks with a broad smile. “Stayin’ Alive? Dancing Queen? Uptown Funk?“
“What about Beyoncé?“ Niall asks. “Partition? Single Ladies?“ He winces. “Scratch that, not that one.“
“What about Shut Up and Dance?“ Liam asks, finally smiling a little bit.
“Not sure if that’s an order or a suggestion, but I’m going with the latter. Shut Up and Dance, coming right up.“
Harry switches on the music and shuffles over to Liam with a dorky smile on his face, pulling him to his feet and holding his hands while they dance. It takes a minute, but finally Liam starts dancing too.
“Oh don't you dare look back, just keep your eyes on me!“ Harry cries in time with the music. He’s terribly out of tune, would never call himself a singer, but it’s also the most fun he’s had in months.
Two hours later, they’ve each had a second beer, Liam’s set up on an air mattress in the office, and Niall and Harry are back on the couch.
“Is it really okay?“ Niall asks. “Liam staying, I mean.“
“I’m not just gonna kick him out,“ Harry says. “My mama taught me better than that. It’s important to show people they’re wanted.“
“You know the only time you really sound southern is when you talk about your mama?“ Niall says the last two words with an exaggerated southern accent.
“My mama’s a wonderful lady, you be nice about her.“
“I’m sure she is. But really, you don’t mind? I know I kind of sprung this on you. I should’ve called first.“
“Nah, it’s fine,“ Harry says with a flick of his hand. “Don’t worry about it. He can stay as long as he needs. Not like I’m ever here, right?“
“Fair enough,“ Niall says. “So does that mean that I can pay less rent?“
Harry flicks him on the ear. “Shut up and drink your beer.“
Harry considers himself friends with his whole intern group — Zayn is lovely, a really great guy with lots of insight and wisdom on lots of topics, and whatever his feelings on Louis are, they're quite strong — so it's weird to suddenly feel like it's shifted from being the five of them to being Louis and Zayn versus the others.
“It's not that we mean to do it,“ Zayn says one day when Niall calls him out on it at lunch. “It's just that the three of you already live together, so you're naturally going to be closer. So it makes sense that Lou and I would find stuff in common as well.“
“I know,“ Niall says with a pout, “and I'm not saying you shouldn't. I'm just saying that at the start it felt like we were all in this together.“
“What's this, a rendition of High School Musical: Intern Edition?“ Louis asks when he sits down at the table with his tray of food.
“We're talking about how the five of us never hang out. We should do something,“ Niall says. Harry watches as Louis' eyes do a careful circle of the other three before landing on Harry. Harry just quirks his lip slightly. He can hang out with Louis in a group, that's fine. He can't promise that they won't fight the whole time.
“Fine,“ Louis says. “We'll go to Pete's tonight. Everyone's off, right? We can shoot darts, or play pool, or whatever kind of bonding activity you want us to do.“
“Pete's?“ Harry asks, trying to keep his voice from getting too high- pitched.
“You ever been there?“ Liam asks.
“Uh, once. The day I moved here, before we started working here,“ Harry says. He meets Louis' eyes when he speaks again. “Feels like a long, long time ago. Anyway. I’ll see you all there after work.“
It’s Louis who looks away first.
“This is fun, right?“ Niall yells, sloshing some of his beer onto the ground as he stands on his tiptoes to speak into Harry’s ear. Luckily, Harry has the foresight to move his feet out of the way just in time.
“Yeah, it is,“ Harry admits. “Even if I suck at darts.“
“You don’t suck! You just need some practice.“
Harry raises his eyebrows.
“Alright, you need a lot of practice.“
“You’re too good to me,“ Harry says, sticking out his tongue.
“Anyway, this is good. The others aren’t here yet, so we have enough time to get you in good darts shape before they come and beat us.“
“They’re that good?“
“Why do you think I wanted you to come?“ Niall asks with a grin. “I needed someone who was finally worse than me.“
“I cannot stand you,“ Harry retorts.
“You’re a filthy liar.“
Luckily, the argument doesn’t get a chance to devolve even further because Zayn, Liam, and Louis show up. Niall bounds over to them with the energy of a golden retriever puppy. Louis has his arm slung around Liam’s neck as they enter the bar, and he looks infuriatingly attractive. He’s wearing a backwards baseball cap. Who even does that once they pass the age of 22? Assholes, that’s who.
After a moment of seething admiration, Harry heads to the front of the bar where they’re all gathered. The ice cubes in his drink have turned watery; he’s due a new one soon anyway.
“You ready to get your ass kicked?“ Zayn says, giving Harry a hug.
“Niall was just showing me the ropes. You guys might have some competition.“
“Doubtful,“ Liam says, and he winds his way out of Louis’ embrace to greet Harry. “But we’ll see.“
“Hi,“ he says to Louis after a moment’s hesitation. Louis murmurs a quiet hello back and he can feel Niall staring at him.
As far as Niall’s concerned, they can’t stand each other and there’s no good reason why. Harry’s not interested in him digging any deeper. At the same time, he doesn’t feel the need to bicker about everything . Maybe tonight they can just be two guys in the same group of friends who get along.
That resolution lasts about ten minutes before it swiftly dissolves. Harry, Louis and Niall are on one team with Liam and Zayn opposing. One would think everything would be fine, but no. Louis needs to argue about every little thing.
“It was my turn!“
“You were too busy fiddling with your drink, so I went for you,“ Harry says with a shrug.
“You can’t just take my turn!“
“Louis, this is a team sport. I’m trying to get the most points for all of us.“
“Yeah?“ Louis demands. “Then how many did you get when you threw for me?“ Harry stays silent. He hardly got any. “Exactly.“
“Listen, it’s not my fault I’m not good at this! Not all of us spent college wearing our stupid backward baseball hats and learning how to play darts to impress people.“
“No, you were probably too busy with the marching band,“ Louis says bitterly.
“Enough!“ Zayn says, stepping in between them, placing a hand on each of their chests. “I don’t care if the two of you are best friends or never talk again, but you both need to stop. You’re acting like children.“
“Sorry,“ Louis says, and the apology looks legitimate. All the same, Harry doesn’t know if he should believe it. Louis loves to provoke Harry, get under his skin and push all his buttons.
After that, they really do focus on darts, but Harry’s awful. He can’t understand the scoring system (why do you subtract instead of add?) and his aim is awful.
“Harry, my friend,“ Niall says, once he’s gotten him another cocktail. “Let me guess. You weren’t into sports much as a kid."
“Not in particular, no,“ Harry says, accepting the proffered drink gratefully. “What gave you that idea?"
“Your hand- eye coordination needs some work,“ Zayn says. For a moment, Harry’s thankful; that’s phrased much better than any of the others would have put it.
“Dude, you’re awful," Louis says, his tone blunt.
“Thank you so very much, Louis,“ Harry mutters.
Harry rolls his eyes and steps forward, and the game continues.
He’s stitching up a patient in the ER a few days later when Louis bursts through the door.
“You stole my case!“
Harry jumps at the intrusion, thankful that he wasn’t currently making any sutures. He looks up at Louis briefly, and he’s not proud to admit he gets a sick sort of satisfaction from the angry look on his face.
“Hi, I’m working right now, can we talk about this later?“
“We can’t!“ Louis strides across the exam room and leans against the counter, his arms crossed. Harry continues to stitch up the patient’s arm. “You stole my peds case, and you know that’s the specialty I want."
“Lou - Dr. Tomlinson,“ Harry says calmly, eyes focused on the nine year old in front of him. “I’m working on Josiah right now, but when his sutures are done and I can discharge him to go sit in the ER with his mom, who was in a car accident, I’d be happy to talk about this with you.“
He can feel Louis staring at him. After a minute, he huffs angrily. “Fine,“ he says, throwing the door open again, “but you’re not getting rid of me this easily. I’ll be waiting.“
“Alright,“ Harry says, but Louis is already gone.
“What was that about?“ Josiah asks, biting his lip nervously. He’s been very quiet up until now.
Harry keeps his eyes on the sutures while he talks. He’d rather not do something to fuck up Josiah’s arm and leave him with a nasty scar. “That was Dr. Tomlinson. He thinks that I stole one of his cases, but you see, that’s not really how it works.“
“How does it work?“ he asks curiously.
“Well, every shift we get assigned to a service. So today I’m on pediatrics with the doctor who’s in charge of that. So I’m helping with a few different cases with kids. But then tomorrow I might be trying to fix someone’s heart. And Dr. Tomlinson thinks that I took his spot on pediatrics."
“No!“ Harry protests, realizing a moment too late that it’s a bit forceful for a child. “I mean, no, I didn’t. I got assigned to it. You know like how at school, your teacher can assign you a project?"
Josiah nods. “Yeah, but sometimes I get stuck with crappy projects.“ He winces, and Harry pulls back, ready to apologize for hurting him. He knew his technique needed some work. “No, my arm is fine. I’m not supposed to say crappy.“
“Oh. Yeah, okay, don’t do that. But yeah, sometimes I get stuck with… bad assignments here too. And sometimes other people do. And today Dr. Tomlinson did and he’s mad at me.“
“That’s not very mature,“ Josiah says matter-of-factly, and Harry bites back a laugh.
“No, it’s not.“ He sets his tools down on the equipment table and then holds Josiah’s arm out so he can get a better look. “Alright, buddy, looks like you’re all fixed up. Should be all healed in ten days, okay?“
Josiah nods and hops off the table. “Can we go see my mommy?“
“Yeah,“ Harry says, ruffling his hair. “We can go see your mommy.“
Louis finds him ten minutes later, when he’s getting Josiah and his mom set up with their discharge paperwork. “Can we talk now?“
“You should be nicer to him,“ Josiah says immediately.
“What?“ Louis sputters.
Josiah repeats himself.
“What is this about?“ Louis asks Harry.
“Are you talking to your patients about me?“ Louis demands.
“You’re the one who came into the room when I was giving him sutures,“ Harry says, handing the clipboard back to the nurse at the desk.
“Yeah, because you stole my patient!"
Harry rolls his eyes. “For the third time, I did not steal your patient. Bauer assigned me to peds service today."
“Whatever,“ Louis says. “I’ll talk to you later."
From her wheelchair, Josiah’s mom chuckles. “Not easy, is it?"
“I used to work with my boyfriend too. It was always an interesting time."
“What?“ Harry asks, startled.
“That doctor. He's your boyfriend, right?“
“No, no, no,“ Harry sputters. “He's definitely not my boyfriend.“
“Oh,“ she says, and there's something thoughtful about her tone. “The way you guys were together, I just assumed, the way he looked at...“
“We're not dating,“ Harry assures her.
He sends Josiah and his mom on their way and goes back to work, but he can't stop thinking about that short conversation for the rest of the day.
“Harry, honestly, you need to take things more seriously. If you want to mess around, you can get a job elsewhere.“
Louis’ voice is stern, and Harry rolls his eyes. They come to a stop a few feet away from the patient room they’ve just left, and Louis tugs at his arm.
“Take off that stupid mask, please. Also the eye slits might be small, but I can still see you rolling your eyes."
Harry takes off the minion face mask with a sigh. “I’m making the kids more comfortable. That’s part of the job."
“Why can’t you just do the job like the rest of us?“
“Why do you have to fight me on every little thing? The girl’s scared for her surgery, she likes minions, I’m trying to make her laugh. What’s wrong with that?“
“Nothing. It’s just…" Louis trails off, his hands clenched into fists. “Nothing. Forget about it. I’ll see you in an hour in the OR.“
“Bye, Louis!“ Harry calls, waving happily. He thinks that if it were allowed, Louis would be giving him the finger right now.
“Why are you and Louis like this?“ Zayn asks a few days later, as they sit in the viewing room while their patient gets a CAT scan.
Since the encounter with Josiah’s mom a few weeks ago, Harry’s been very careful not to discuss his personal life in front of patients or in any work areas. It’s not very professional. But more than that, he doesn’t want to invite any outside comment. He’s still thinking about how she hinted that Louis looked at Harry like he was his boyfriend.
He doesn’t want him to be. He’s totally over Louis, content to let the bickering continue. 100% cool with that.
“Why are you always fighting? Why can’t you two just get along?“
“He just gets on my nerves, man! I don’t know. He’s always trying to start fights."
“I wish the two of you would just kiss and make up,“ Zayn says wistfully. “It’d make it a lot easier for the rest of us."
“I’m sorry,“ Harry says, and he finds that he means it. He does feel bad that this… thing between him and Louis has spilled out onto the rest of them. “I’ll try to keep the bickering to a minimum."
Maybe Zayn talked to Louis too, because for a few days, their arguments seem to stop. Louis manages to contain his sharp comments and Harry finds a way to conceal his constant irritation with Louis.
Everything he does gets under Harry’s skin. He’s too brash with patients, too serious with them when he should be sweet and accommodating. He doesn’t spend enough time talking to them one-on-one, he thinks he knows absolutely everything there is to know, and of course he always thinks that his way is the best way.
It’s not good to hold in this type of irritation for too long, Harry knows, because it festers. He really has been trying, for Liam and Zayn and Niall and for the sake of professionalism. But he can’t keep it in any longer, and one day, the two of them are treating an unconscious patient when Harry breaks.
“You need to change your attitude. You’re acting like you’re the chief surgeon and you run this place.”
“What the— no,” Louis retorts. “It’s you that needs an attitude adjustment. You treat them like babies, when in reality some of them have been through more than you could ever imagine."
Harry frowns. “You have no idea what I’ve been through,“ he says, pushing the patient chart to Louis’ chest. “Here, you can deal with this by yourself then, if you think your way is the best.“
“Harry, wait—” Louis says, but Harry walks away without looking back.
He goes for a run one warm fall morning, a day when he thankfully doesn’t have to go into work until lunchtime. Niall and Liam are already gone to work when he wakes up, so for a moment he gets a glimpse of what it would be like if he’d said no to Niall’s request and stayed living alone.
It would’ve made this whole experience very different, he knows that with certainty. Niall and Liam are great roommates — they always take out the trash, they do their dishes, and they’re around whenever he wants to watch TV or talk to someone — but they’re also great people too.
They all care about what they do (they wouldn’t be working 80 hour work weeks if they didn’t) but he can tell that they care about it more than most. And getting to talk to them about that outside of the walls of the hospital, it’s shown him that he can trust them not just as doctors, but as friends, too.
He sees an ambulance speeding away from the wreckage of a car crash, siren blaring and lights flashing, and he wonders if it’s on its way to Lakewood, if he’ll be treating the passengers when he gets into work.
It’s not that he enjoys when people get hurt, he rationalizes as he takes the last turn for home, but it’s that he loves the possibility of fixing them so much. Being a surgeon is like putting people back together, taking the broken bits of pottery and making them whole once again. Or as whole as can be.
He showers and dresses quickly before taking a seat at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee and the newspaper. He gets to read it so infrequently these days. His mom sends him the relevant news headlines from home and he catches glimpses of the headlines on the TVs at work, but the reality is that he has so little time to be properly plugged into things these days. Occupational hazard, he supposes. Focus on making people better and they can be the ones that go on to change the world.
He folds the leftover laundry, sorting through the clothes to determine what belongs to him and what belongs to Niall and Liam. He can’t distinguish between all of their clothes — he’s not in the habit of seeing their boxers, for example — but he puts what he can identify into each of their rooms. He still feels a bit bad that Liam’s room is the size of a very tiny closet, holding a bed and Harry’s desk and nothing else, but Liam says that Harry’s doing him a favor and shouldn’t apologize again.
He’s so rarely there anyway, between work and whatever else he does and meeting all the people he’s been seeing since he threw himself into the difficult business of getting over his girlfriend.
“I won’t be home tonight, I’ve got a date, and then we’ll probably go to her place after," he’ll tell them when they get to work before a shift. Niall and Harry will surreptitiously lock eyes, giving imperceptible shakes of their heads.
“I know they were together for a long time and I know he’s just trying to move on,“ Niall told him privately one day last week. “But I don’t think sleeping with a different girl every week is helping.“
“Yeah,“ Harry had said. “He’s definitely hurting and trying to find a way to numb the pain. Better than alcoholism, I guess?"
“Definitely. And I guess one factor of his tiny room is that he’s not likely to bring them back home with him, hmm?“
“You told me the tiny room was fine!“
“It is!“ Niall said. “I’m just joking.“
“No more jokes, Niall, get to work.“
He’s not particularly concerned about Liam’s sex life, but it does hurt to see his friend in so much obvious pain, and it’s even worse because he clearly thinks he’s doing a good job of hiding it. Harry’s been trying to think of something they can do to make it better. Living room dance parties and beer nights can only do so much. There has to be something.
He’ll think of it, he knows he will.
When he gets to work that afternoon, the place is a madhouse. He gets paged to the emergency room immediately, before he’s even had time to take off his coat. There’s ambulances screeching into the ER bay and the sound of crying - children and adults alike - fills the space.
“Bed 4,“ says a nurse, passing him a chart. He blinks at her. He’s not really supposed to treat patients without one of his supervising doctors, but. This seems to be some kind of crisis.
He walks over to bed 4 in the far corner of the room, and sees a woman sitting there, her focus on the phone in her hand. The shoulder of her shirt is torn, revealing the bloody scrapes underneath, and her legs are stretched out. When she moves one of them slightly to the left, she winces as if the movement pains her.
“Hi,“ he says, grabbing a nearby rolling stool and sitting down on it. “I'm Dr. Styles. What's your name?“
“Chloe Tompkins,“ she says, and the name matches the one on the chart in his hand. He cross references her date of birth and it's a match too. All systems go.
“Alright, Ms. Tompkins. What's wrong with you today?“ The wailing around them seems to grow louder.
“What's wrong?“ she asks, looking up and frowning at him. “What isn't wrong? I can't locate my kids, I was supposed to pick up my dog from daycare tonight, and my boss is driving me crazy. And then to top it all off, I was in a train accident.“
“A train accident?“
“Yes, a train accident. Don't you know what happened?“ She sounds disbelieving.
“Ma'am, I don't. I actually just arrived for my shift, so..."
“Right, okay.“ She circles a wrist in the air. “Well, a car collided with the train, and then another car hit that one. And a few people died. I think I'm fine, but they insisted on taking me here even though I told them that I need to get back to work. I'm giving a presentation today, I just left work for a few hours because I had to go to my daughter's school concert. She's nine.“
“Alright,“ he says, pulling the blue curtain around the bed to give her some semblance of privacy. They can still hear the crying, but at least they don't have to see it. “Let's get you checked out so you can get back to work and take care of your kids.“
“Please,“ she says, setting down the phone so he can examine her. Eyes, nose, throat all look fine. She's got some broken glass in her shoulder, which explains the scrapes. She's going to need to get those taken out. She winces when he says as much.
“Does anything hurt? Besides the shoulder, I mean.“
“Ribs feel a bit sore,“ she admits. “When the car collided with the train, I got shoved into the seat in front of me. It was a quick impact.“
“Okay. Let me take a look.“ He lifts up her shirt, feeling her abdomen. She winces again. “Might just be bruised,“ he says. “You can take some ibuprofen for that when you get out of here.“
He has her lay on her side, her back facing him, and has her take off her shirt while he works on taking the pieces of glass out, one by one. He fishes each piece out and deposits it in a metal tray at his side. “I'm sorry, I'm sorry,“ he says.
Dr. Bauer pokes her head through the curtain before the patient can say another word. “How's it going in here?“
“Good,“ he says. “Taking out some glass. I'm gonna stitch her up and then I think she should be good to go.“
“Alright, good work, Styles. When you're done here, head up to the surgical floor, need you to check on some patients up there.“
The idea of her removing him from the scene where he seems needed doesn't thrill him.
“Are you sure that's—“
“I know what I said, Styles," she interrupts. “Third floor."
“She seems tough,“ Chloe says once Dr. Bauer's gone.
“Oh, she's all right. Just wants us to get better, I suppose. Which is what I want for you, too. So turn back and face the curtain, please."
She does as she's told, and even with the break from the poking and prodding in her shoulder, she's still wincing every time he touches her.
“Tell me about your kids,“ he says, trying to distract her. Parents always love talking about their kids, no matter how old they are. That's what his mom told him.
“Well, Annabelle is thirteen. She's a really feisty one, she loves dogs and horses and she wants to be a professional gymnast. She's tougher than anyone I've ever met. If it were her on this bed, she'd probably be — ouch — laughing while you did this to her.“
"Oh, I don't know if anyone would ever be laughing while I did this."
"Annabelle would," she declares. And then Emily is nine, she's the one who had the concert today. The best little singer you’ve ever heard in your life, I swear it. And then Clara is six, she just started first grade. She's my little baby. She's the one who begged me to get the dog. I thought, hell, I'm a single mom with three kids, I barely have time to sleep, why not get a dog to add to the mix?"
"They sound great," Harry says genuinely. "I'm sure you're a great mom."
"I like to think so. But you always wonder, you know? You never feel like you're doing everything you could for them. Especially since their dad left."
"That must be hard."
"Hardest thing I've ever done. But it's better for them. The four of us, we're stronger together."
She keeps talking, telling him about her kids and the trip they went on to Los Angeles over the summer and how they weren't absolutely certain but they're pretty sure they saw Angelina Jolie.
"There's celebrities all over the place there, you know."
"So I've heard," Harry says, dropping another piece of glass into the tray. There's so many shards. The windows of the train must have absolutely shattered.
"You're not from here, though, are you?"
"No, ma'am. Grew up in Georgia."
"Long way from home."
"Yeah. My mama, she doesn't like it too much."
"No mother does. We want to keep our kids with us forever, even if we know that's not the best thing for them. Even if we know they'd be better to spread their wings and fly. We want to keep them."
"I think I broke my mama's heart the day that I told her I got matched to a hospital in Seattle. Seattle, she said, was too far and too rainy. She tried to convince me not to go."
"But you're here anyway."
"Yeah. Because I knew at the end of the day that I needed to do do what was best for me too. Doesn't mean I'm not a bit sad about it."
"She knows that too," she says, her tone suddenly fierce. "I'm sure she knows that."
"I hope so. Alright, I think I've got all the glass out. Just let me bandage it and then we can send you home to your kids. Sounds like you could give them a hug right about now."
"Yeah," she says, sitting up slowly at his command. "I might go take them out of school and take them for ice cream."
"That sounds lovely."
When he hands her paperwork to the discharge nurse twenty minutes later, Chloe fixes him with a stern look. "You call that mom of yours, alright? I'm sure she misses you."
He laughs. "Yes ma'am, I will."
The ER is still full, but for the most part, the crying has stopped by now. There's no pressing need for him to be there, no consults for him to give. He no longer has any excuse to be there, so he heads upstairs to the surgical floor.
Olivia, his favorite nurse, is standing at the nurse's station when he gets off the elevator. "Hey Dr. Styles, I think Bauer's looking for you. Room 304."
He nods, giving her a grateful smile, and heads to the room. He's pretty sure that it's the patient from yesterday, the one who was in a fire and needed part of her skin recovered. He'd been on the plastic surgery service yesterday - not his favorite, but definitely something new. The patient had been a difficult case, more than most, because she'd suffered internal bleeding and needed a kidney removed, too. Her skin had been so burned that they'd had trouble finding a place to make the initial incision.
When he gets to the room, Dr. Bauer and Dr. Aoki are standing there, Louis at Dr. Aoki's side, the three of them peering at a chart.
"Hi," Harry says. The three of them look up, and only Dr. Bauer and Dr. Aoki smile. Louis must be on Aoki’s service today.
"Styles, hi. Come take a look at this." Dr. Aoki passes him the chart.
"What do you see?" Dr. Bauer asks.
He scrutinizes the scan. It doesn't look good.
"She needs surgery again," Harry says. "At least, that's what it looks like. The bleeding hasn't stopped."
"Right," Dr. Aoki says, his tone grave. "But what happens if we put her under again?"
Harry takes a glance at the patient. She's middle-aged, and that's all he knows about her, other than her name. Irene. He's pretty sure that she'd muttered something about her cats yesterday when they were administering anesthetic. He wonders if her cats survived the fire.
"She might not survive," he says, and his voice sounds distant, like it's someone else saying it. "So she needs a surgery to fix her internal bleeding or she'll die, but if she gets the surgery, she might die because her body can't handle the stress."
“Exactly,” Louis says, and when he meets Harry's eyes, it's with a serious expression on his face.
“So what do we do?”
They both turn to look at Dr. Aoki and Dr. Bauer, expecting them to have the answers, but they look equally lost.
“I think we need to keep an eye on it and let her heal as long as we can,” Dr. Aoki finally says. “And then when we reach that middle point, we’ll take her back in.”
“All right,” Dr. Bauer says, closing the patient’s chart and slipping it into the holder on the wall.
“So that’s it?” Harry asks, staring helplessly at Louis. “We just hope for the best?”
“That’s all we can do, Styles. That’s how this works,” Dr. Aoki says. “Alright, I need to go check on another patient before I scrub in for surgery. Page me if you need me, Tomlinson.”
Harry watches as one by one, they all leave the room. He turns to follow, stopping at the door to look back at Irene. Bandages cover her arms and face, and she looks so helpless. He wishes there were something more they could do.
“Harry,” Louis mutters from the hallway. “Let it go. You have other people to focus on.”
“Yeah,” Harry says sadly. “Okay.”
Harry’s eating a salad in the cafeteria with Niall and watching the evening news coverage of the train accident when his pager goes off.
He stabs his lettuce with his fork and puts it in his mouth as he looks at the pager, and then back up at Niall in confusion.
“It says they need me in the ER.”
He never gets paged to the emergency room, not unless there’s a hospital-wide emergency like there was this morning. It turns out that he’d actually caught the last wind of the train accident; it had happened that morning during rush hour, and most of the patients had already been treated by the time he’d gotten there. But there’s obviously no hospital emergency now, because Niall didn’t get paged.
“Weird,” Niall says through a mouth full of food. “Better get going then.”
“Yeah. Alright, bye.” He takes his tray and deposits it in the trash area before clipping it back into place on his waistband and rushing for the emergency room.
It seems relatively calm when he arrives, so he can’t quite understand why they need him of all people.
“Dr. Styles!” calls one of the nurses, and he heads in her direction. “You saw a Chloe Tompkins this morning, right?”
“Yeah,” he says with a nod. “She came in with glass in her shoulder. Discharged her this afternoon.”
“Yeah, well, she’s back,” the nurse says, and she cocks her head toward one of the exam rooms.
“She’s back? What’s wrong with her?”
“Not sure, but she’s got massive bruising all along her ribs, and she passed out from the pain at home. I think there’s something more going on.”
“Shit,” Harry says, setting off for the exam room.
Chloe is crying out in pain, clutching her stomach as she writhes in agony on the exam table. There’s an ER nurse administering medication, and two little girls sit on the bench in the far corner of the room, worried expressions on their faces. Her daughters, Harry guesses.
“Well, Chloe, I didn’t think I’d ever see you again,” Harry says, trying to remain calm. “What’s going on?”
“She fainted in the kitchen,” one of the girls says.
“She has a boo boo on her tummy,” the younger one says. “She got into an accident, you know.”
“She won’t stop crying,” the older one says. “And it looks like it hurts.”
“It hurts a lot,” Chloe says, and he can’t tell if she’s talking to him or to the girls.
“Alright, we’re gonna get you sorted. Let me take a look,” Harry says, and the nurse slips out of the room with a quick nod at him. “Can I lift up your shirt a bit?”
Harry has to physically restrain himself from gasping at what he sees there. Her entire stomach, pale white earlier this afternoon when he treated her, is now a dark blue-ish purple, spanning from her belly button up to her ribs. It could just be bruising, but this looks like it’s something more. Something much more serious.
“Okay,” he says, getting to his feet. “I’m gonna order a CT for you, and we can take a look and see what’s going on in there.”
She nods, but the two girls look worried. “You’re gonna look inside of her tummy?”
“With a machine,” he says, lifting the phone to call the CT operators. “I promise it won’t hurt her.”
Chloe lets out a groan of pain, and Harry starts running through the possibilities in his head. Her internal organs could be injured, or she could be bleeding, or it could be something with her stomach. An ulcer? No, probably not from an injury like this. Whatever it is, it had to have been developing this morning. Why didn’t he catch it?
Because she presented as fine, Harry tells himself. You couldn’t have known.
He gets the order to wheel her to CT immediately, and then he’s caught, not sure what to do with the girls while their mom is at her scan.
“Hey, I’m just gonna see if one of the nurses can hang out with you for a little bit,” Harry says. “I’ll be right back.
He arranges with the nurse to get a social worker to come down and hang out with them. If the worst happens — well, he can’t think about that right now.
“Is she gonna be okay?” the older girl asks when he tells them the plan. He squats down to their level and racks his brains trying to remember her name. She looks about 9 or 10. That would make her the middle one, the one who likes singing.
“You’re Emily, right?” he asks, and she nods, her pigtails shaking with the motion. “I heard from your mom that you gave a fabulous concert today. And you, what’s your name?”
“Clara,” the girl says, sucking on her thumb. That’s right.
“And we have a sister Annabelle. But she’s at dance class right now,” Emily pipes up. They’re still sitting on the little bench, clutching their stuffed animals like their lives depend on it.
“Well, Emily and Clara, a nice lady is gonna come and play with you while we get your mom checked out. We’re going to figure out how we can make her better.”
Chloe lets out a little groan over on the examination table, and Harry knows they’re running out of time. He needs to get her into the CT now, so that if she needs surgery they can get her in before it’s too late.
“You promise you’re gonna make her better?” Emily asks, her face very serious. It’s completely the wrong time, but Harry suddenly has a flashback to himself as a little boy, not much older than Emily is right now, finding out that his dad had died. It’s not good to make promises when no one can control how this stuff turns out.
“We’re gonna do everything we can,” he says, a little helplessly.
“But do you promise?”
“Emily,” he says, hesitating, and then it just comes out. “I promise,” he says quietly, and then immediately regrets it. But he can’t exactly say oh no, I take it back because your mom might die, so he just has to watch helplessly as she smiles wide and clearly believes him.
Harry pages Dr. Bauer as they’re getting Chloe into the CT so that she can come read the scans as they come up on the screen.
“Oh no, this is not good,” she says, pointing to Chloe’s abdomen. “Look, she’s bleeding all along here. We need to get her into the OR immediately.”
Harry sinks back into his chair, frustrated. He slaps the side of the chair. “Damnit!”
“Yeah,” Dr. Bauer says. “This doesn’t look good. I’m gonna call the OR and tell them we’re coming. We don’t have any time to waste.”
Harry gets to scrub in, but this time he doesn’t feel any sort of victory about it. Normally, he’s thrilled about operating on patients and making them better. He likes when the operating doctors will talk about sports teams and last week’s Game of Thrones, because it means that all things in the surgery are going as planned.
Tonight, there’s none of that. Things are tense. When she made the initial incision in Chloe’s abdomen, Dr. Bauer had cursed at the extent of the damage. It’s been an hour, and she’s already said twice that she doesn’t know how far they’re going to get, if Chloe can be saved.
She was walking and talking six hours ago! Harry wants to cry.
“You saw this patient earlier today, right?”
“Yeah,” Harry says, regret lacing his tone. “She seemed fine! She didn’t have any complaints about this.”
“That’s how the worst cases are,” Dr. Bauer says gravely. “It was definitely growing even then.”
Harry wants to hit something.
Normally, surgery is a perfect blur: when he thinks about it later, he can remember everything that happened with the patient but nothing around him. This time, it seems to be the opposite. When Chloe starts crashing, he remembers the chatter of the OR team dying down to a near-silent whisper, remembers that they’d shut off the music Dr. Bauer likes to listen to “to lift the mood,” remembers that the clock on the wall had kept ticking.
But this time, it all feels like a hazy fog, like a bad dream that he can recall only in flashes and moving pictures. First, the alarms start to beep, indicating that Chloe’s heart rate isn’t right. Then Dr. Bauer starts shouting that she’s crashing and they need to shock her. He watches as Dr. Bauer calls for more. It takes him a minute to realize that it’s his voice chanting “come on, you have to be okay, come on, come on.” The rest of it feels fuzzy and indistinct, even though he’s living it. He just knows that it feels like mere seconds before her heartbeat flatlines and Dr. Bauer is taking a step back, looking mournfully at Chloe’s body.
“No,” Harry says, and he’s surprised to find that he can talk. “No, there has to be something you can do.”
“There isn’t, Harry, I’m sorry. Have you ever called one?” Dr. Bauer asks, stripping off her gloves.
“Have you ever called time of death?”
“No,” he says, and it’s an answer to the question but more than that it’s a plea, a decisive statement that this cannot be the end.
“Call it,” she orders. He balks, and when he blinks he realizes tears are staining his face. “Dr. Styles, call time of death.”
His throat feels dry, his face is wet, his heart hurts. He doesn’t want to do this. “Time of death: 9:14 pm.”
Dr. Bauer nods and strips off her blue surgical coat. Harry stands, frozen in place, and watches her go.
“You’ve gotta go, Dr. Styles,” says one of the scrub nurses quietly. He can feel her staring at him, but he doesn’t think he can move. “We need to get the patient closed and the room cleaned up.”
She all but pushes him toward the scrub room, and he strips off his gloves and surgery clothes robotically, dumping them in the trash bin before washing his hands for much longer than necessary.
“It’s never easy,” Dr. Bauer says, and he jumps; he’d been so out of it that he hadn’t even noticed her standing there. “I’m sorry, Harry.”
“Yeah,” he says, trying not to cry. “Me too.”
“We should go tell the family,” she says, and he nods, feeling numb.
It’s not that Chloe is his first patient to die. But she’s the first that makes him feel like he could have done something else for her, something more.
“I never should have discharged her,” Harry says under his breath when they push open the door and step into the hallway. He pushes the button for the elevator. The social worker had said that she’d be entertaining the kids in one of the fourth floor conference rooms, so they’ll have to go up a few floors.
“What’d you say?” Dr. Bauer asks.
“I never should have discharged her,” Harry repeats when they step onto the elevator. “If I hadn’t let her go so early, we could’ve caught it earlier.”
“Do not blame yourself,” Dr. Bauer orders, pointing one finger at him like he’s a kid in trouble. “From what you told me, you did everything you could. This is not your fault, you hear me?”
“It feels like it,” he says helplessly. “She has… she has three kids, did you know that? And she’s a single mom. Oh god,” he says, tears filling his eyes. “Those kids have no parents. Not anymore. Because their mom died on our watch.”
“It is not your fault,” Dr. Bauer repeats, sterner this time. “If you go around thinking every patient that dies is your fault, you’ll never survive this job. Sometimes they live and sometimes they die, and you’ve gotta focus on the ones that live. Okay?”
He nods. What else can he do? She’s already dead.
Still, it breaks his heart to tell the social worker the news. She tells them that Chloe’s sister drove from Portland the minute she heard that Chloe was going into surgery, and she arrived fifteen minutes ago. Together, they decide that she should be the one to tell the kids.
He feels guilty for it, but Harry’s relieved. It means he doesn’t have to be the one to deliver the worst news of their lives, that he doesn’t have to play that role in their story.
Just after Dr. Bauer sends him on his way with a final reminder that it wasn’t his fault, his pager goes off. He rushes to room 304 to check on Irene. The code team is just coming out as he gets to the doorway, their faces forlorn. Inside, Louis has a sad expression on his face.
“What happened?” Harry asks, feeling his voice crack.
“She didn’t make it,” Louis explains, and yeah, that’s pretty obvious. “Too much stress on her body.”
“Like, three minutes ago.”
“Fuck,” Harry swears, and all of a sudden it hits him. The death and the lost lives and the families left behind. He stamps his foot on the ground and squeezes his eyes tight to contain the tears. “Fuck.”
“Harry,” Louis says. Harry can’t tell if it’s supposed to be a warning or a comfort.
“Harry, it’s alright, she—”
“It’s not alright, Louis! It is not alright.” A look of surprise crosses Louis’ face, and Harry turns on his heel and strides down the hallway, needing a place to hide before he breaks down completely.
The first on-call room he tries is full. The second contains a couple undressing each other hurriedly. The third is locked.
The next empty room he stumbles upon is a tiny conference room. He shuts the door and falls back against the glass of the window, pressing his palms to his eyes to try to stave off the inevitable tears. He manages for a few minutes, but when the motion sensor lights turn off, engulfing the room in darkness, he can’t do it anymore.
He breaks down.
Chloe had trusted him to save her life. Had told him all about her beautiful little girls and her dog and opened up about her struggles because she thought that he was healing her. And he failed her.
He should have known. There should have been some clue that he overlooked, something that, if found, would have reversed the events of tonight. But no, her body’s growing cold in the basement of the hospital and three kids are left without their mother.
And then Irene, so brave in the face of fire and the months of skin grafts ahead of her, she’d died too. Because of some bleeding. Another thing that should have been prevented.
He opens his mouth on a hitching breath and tastes salty tears. His shoulders shake with sobs. He can’t stop playing the moment of Chloe’s death on a loop, seeing the faces of her daughters. Oh God, he’d promised them that he would make her better, even though he knew he shouldn’t have done that.
Doctors don’t make promises , he can recall Dr. Bauer saying on the first day of his internship. You tell them you’ll do absolutely everything you can, you tell them what the odds are, but you never, ever promise a loved one that the patient is going to live. Because you just don’t know.
Dry sobs wrack his body now, and he pulls his knees to his chest, hugging himself close. He doesn’t know how long he sits there, only that there are no more tears. He feels drained, like a towel whose last water droplets have been wrung out.
He can’t get his mind off of Chloe, keeps replaying that last interaction when she’d been discharged.
You call that mom of yours, alright? I’m sure she misses you.
Yes ma’am, I will.
His white coat is sitting on the ground next to him, discarded since the moment he collapsed on the floor. He fumbles in the pocket for his cell phone and dials his mother’s number through blurry eyes.
It takes her a few rings to pick up, and he’s just wondering if he’s going to have to leave a message when he hears her voice.
“Hello? Harry? What’s wrong?”
His head falls back against the glass in relief at the sound of her voice. “Mama, hi,” he breathes.
“What’s wrong? It’s two in the morning, baby.”
Oh fuck. Of course it’s way too late to be calling her. Even if she were in his same time zone, eleven at night is not an appropriate time for calls. Another fuck up.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” he rushes to say, and his throat feels clogged with tears. “Of course. I’ll - I’ll call you back tomorrow?”
“Baby, what’s going on?” she asks, softer this time, and she sounds more alert. He hears the soft sound of a door closing, like she’s stepped into the hallway, and her voice is louder when she speaks again. “Harry? You’re scaring me.”
“I - I had a patient,” he starts, and then corrects himself. “Well, two patients. And they both died. I should have - I should have known. There must have been something I could have done.”
“Sweetheart, no. I’m sure you did everything you could.”
“That’s what I thought, but…” His body shakes with tears again. “They still died.”
“Haven’t you had patients die before?” she asks, and it’s at that moment that he recognizes the chasm between them. Their experiences are just so different now. “Not that it’s not hard, but… this isn’t the first time, right?”
“Yeah,” he acknowledges. “It’s happened before. But this was different. Chloe, she… she talked about her kids, Mama. She reminded me of you, actually, wouldn’t shut up about them. She’s a single mom.” He realizes a second too late that he’s used the present tense, and then he has to scrub a hand over his face in angry frustration. “And she asked me about you and told me to promise to call you, that you probably missed me.”
“I do miss you,” she acknowledges.. He can picture her standing in the kitchen, probably wearing that threadbare pink dressing gown and her favorite slippers, making tea in one of her favorite green mugs. “I miss you so much, but I’m so proud of you. You’re so hard on yourself, Harry. And that worries me.”
“There should have been something I could do for her,” Harry cries. “It’s my fault she died.”
“It is not your fault,” she says sternly. “It is not your fault.”
“And then the patient I had yesterday, Irene, she died too! What if I’m a black plague on all my patients? What if they just keep dying?” He knows that he’s panicking, but he can’t control it.
“Harry, baby, calm down. Take a deep breath for me, okay? Breathe in until I tell you to stop, and then slowly let it out.”
He knows what she’s doing, that same breathing exercise she’d use to help him calm his anxiety before exams. He does as he’s told.
She talks him down, distracting him with stories from home. Gemma’s kids started first grade and while one of them loves it, the other cries for a half hour every morning. Baby Kate’s teeth are just starting to come through. The Braves didn’t make the playoffs, but everyone went to a parade for them anyway. The granddaughter of the old woman on the corner got married last weekend, and everyone went over to their house to congratulate her, but really to get a peek at her dress.
She talks until his phone is hot against his ear and the tears on his cheeks have dried, until he finds that he can breathe better and doesn’t feel quite so hopeless.
“Harry, sweetie, I think my phone’s about to die,” she says apologetically.
“That’s okay, mama, I’ve kept you up way too late as it is. I know how you get when you don’t get enough sleep. I’ll have to call Robin tomorrow to apologize.”
She chuckles. “No need. As much as I’m sad that these were the circumstances under which you had to call me, I’m so glad I got to catch up with you.”
“I’m so proud of you. And I love you so much. And I’m so proud of you.”
He laughs. “You said that already.”
“I’m so proud that I needed to say it twice.”
“So does that count as three?”
“Goodnight, baby. You’re doing everything you can. Plus you’ve got a whole team of cheerleaders back home, and don’t you forget it.”
“Love you, Mama.”
“Love you too, baby,” she says, blowing an air kiss over the line, and when he closes his eyes, he can almost imagine that she’s tucking him into bed like he’s nine years old again.
“Styles, Tomlinson, you’re with Tobin this week.”
Louis groans. “Can’t I be on peds?”
Dr. Bauer glares at him. “Do you have a problem with Dr. Styles? Or do you have a problem with being on OB/GYN today? Either way, too bad.”
There’s a comment there, some kind of joke about vaginas that Harry can’t quite come up with right now and one that he’s pretty sure isn’t quite appropriate.
Louis shakes his head. “No, Dr. Bauer, I do not. No problems.”
“Good,” she says, turning back to her clipboard. “So Styles and Tomlinson are on gynecology, Payne is with Corden, Malik is with me, and Horan, you’re with Dr. Winston.”
Four sets of sympathetic eyes shoot to Niall, who’s currently attempting to keep his face from falling into a frown. Dr. Ben Winston is generally known for being the worst, and the week that Harry had spent on his service had been one of the most irritating work weeks of his life thus far.
“Not a word,” Dr. Bauer says, handing each of them a patient chart. “Off you go,” she says, dismissing them.
Harry and Louis set off down the hall to the OB/GYN wing in silence. Harry’s not quite sure why he and Louis are paired together, especially when the two of them are known for bickering at every turn.
Louis reaches over to take the chart from Harry’s hands. Harry holds on tight.
“Styles, let me see it,” Louis mutters, but he twists out of the way to avoid a passing orderly and a patient in a wheelchair, so he loses his grip. “Dr. Styles, please may I see the chart?”
A shudder runs through Harry at the question. He’s heard Louis call him Dr. Styles before, of course, but there’s something so obedient about the statement, so proper and polite and whatever you need from me about it that Harry can’t help but think about what it would be like to have Louis spread under him, begging him for permission to — okay, enough.
So Harry likes to be in control. Sue him.
“She gave it to me,” he protests, not meeting Louis’ eyes as they step onto the waiting elevator. There’s one other occupant, so now is not the time for thinking about what he wants to do to Louis. No, he saves that for home.
“Yeah, because she went in alphabetical order,” Louis says, trying and failing to wrestle the chart out of Harry’s grip.
“What are you — that makes no sense,” Harry says. “Anyway, can you just be patient? Let it go.”
“Please don’t quote Frozen to me, Harold. I heard enough of that this summer when I was living with my little sisters.”
“Yeah, five of them,” Louis says. “The younger three are obsessed.”
“The younger three — wait, did you say you have five sisters?” Harry asks as they get to their floor and step off the elevator.
“Yeah, it’s… it’s a long story.”
Dr. Beatrice Tobin’s waiting for them inside the patient’s room, standing at the foot of the bed with a smile on her face as she chats to the patient. The woman is ferociously pregnant.
“Ah, here they are. The interns I was telling you about,” Dr. Tobin says to the patient. There’s a man standing next to her bed, probably her husband. “This is Leslie and her husband Alexander.”
“Hi,” Harry says. “I’m Dr. Styles.”
“You’re in very good hands with both of them,” Dr. Tobin says, and Harry feels a flutter of excitement run through him at the praise. He’s only spent a few days on Dr. Tobin’s service, and while he knows that OB/GYN isn’t for him, he appreciates the compliment all the same.
Dr. Tobin tells them that Leslie is pregnant with quadruplets.
“Four babies,” Harry says, dumbfounded.
“Yes, that’s usually what quadruplets means,” Louis mutters. Harry ignores him.
“She’s 30 weeks,” Dr. Tobin says. “We’re monitoring her to see how she’s doing, but we’ll probably induce the day after tomorrow if she doesn’t go into labor naturally.”
“But that’s so early,” Harry says, and he sees Leslie place a protective hand on her stomach. “I just mean…”
“Well, yeah, it’s early,” Leslie says. “But as much as I want to keep them inside, they need to come out so we can fix them.”
Dr. Tobin takes a seat on the stool next to Leslie’s bed. “Right. That’s the thing. Four babies comes with a higher risk than a normal pregnancy, as I’m sure you can imagine. Only one of them seems to be totally fine, Baby C. The other three all have conditions that we’ll need to assess right when they’re born.”
He listens intently as she talks about possible heart defects, about kidney problems and vision problems and low birth weight and possible mental issues. He wants to ask why they didn’t reduce the number of embryos. The questions must show on his face.
“We know it’s risky,” Alexander says. It’s the first time he’s spoken since Harry and Louis entered the room.
“We tried for a long time to have kids,” Leslie says, giving a half-hearted shrug by way of explanation.
Harry’s first thought is that they’re putting all the babies at risk by making such a decision. And then he thinks about the desperation this couple must have felt to have a child, the stress clawing at them, and he nods.
That said, he doesn’t know how he’ll handle it if one of these babies doesn’t make it. In the weeks since Chloe and Irene’s deaths, he’s been forced to compartmentalize, to not feel quite so much whenever someone doesn’t make it. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt.
“Do you have names for them?” Harry asks, leaning forward to look at the 3-D ultrasound printouts Leslie shows them. He doesn’t tell her that they don’t need the printouts, they’re in her chart, after all, but he remembers Dr. Tobin telling him last time that half the work of gynecology service is making sure that the mothers feel heard.
She nods. “We’re naming Baby A — it’s a boy — Michael John. Baby B is Cecilia Grace, Baby C is Avery Jane, and Baby D is Finnegan Nicholas.”
“That’s really lovely,” Harry says. “Two boys and two girls, how perfect.”
Leslie beams. “The names, I know they’re a bit classic, but we’re not really trendy people. We just like we what we like. And we’ve named them after our grandparents, you see, Cecilia is—”
Alexander places a hand on her shoulder. “Alright, love, that’s enough. They’ve got things to do, they don’t need to hear about this all day.”
She blushes. “Sorry, I just can’t help it sometimes. I’m so excited.”
“As you should be,” Harry says.
“Right. Well, I just wanted to introduce them to you before the surgery on Tuesday. We’re expecting that she won’t go into labor before then, and we have more control this way anyway,” Dr. Tobin says, and it’s a clear dismissal.
“Scary stuff,” Harry murmurs to Louis when they leave the patient’s room after saying goodbye to Leslie and Alexander. The next time they see her, she’ll be having a c-section. “To think that one of them might not make it, I mean.”
Louis doesn’t respond.
“Are you okay?” Harry asks, suddenly concerned. Louis is a lot of things: a fighter, a fierce surgeon, an advocate for his patients. What he is not is silent. He barely spoke back in that hospital room. He’s never this quiet, not in all the months Harry’s known him.
“What does it matter to you?” Louis asks, pulling his arm away from where Harry’s reached out to touch him gently. “I don’t have to tell you what’s in my head. You’re not in charge of me. We don’t even like each other.”
“Right,” Harry says, narrowing his eyes in confusion. “But what’s going on?”
“Nothing,” Louis says, his tone bitter. “I have patients to check on.”
And then he’s gone, leaving a confused Harry standing in the hallway.
“I have a date tonight!” Liam announces, pushing open the swinging kitchen door with a flourish.
Niall and Harry look up from their board game in surprise.
“A… a date?” Niall asks, glancing at Harry in confusion.
“I thought you were dating already,” Harry says cautiously. That’s how he and Niall have decided to refer to Liam’s sleeping around, in the interest of decorum. Now that he thinks about it though, the stream of one night stands seems to have turned into a trickle.
Not that he has room to judge, after all. He developed a massive crush on his one night stand, and look where that got him.
Pining and angry, that’s where.
“No, that was just sleeping around,” Liam says, taking a seat at the kitchen table. It’s big enough to fit four, and the part of Harry that’s still hooked on Louis (a much larger part than he would ever admit) can’t help but wonder what it would be like if Louis was here eating dinner and playing Scrabble with them. “This is like, a real date.”
“Who is it?” Niall asks, setting his half-eaten grilled cheese to the side.
“Her name’s Sophia, she’s one of the interns.”
“You’re dating an intern?” Niall asks, shock plain on his face. “Dude, do you really think that’s a good idea? What if it goes wrong?”
“What if it doesn’t?” Liam shoots back. “And besides, it’s just one date, it’s not like I’m asking her to move in with me.”
“You’d better not, I don’t think we have enough room in this house for her,” Harry says with a smile. “I’m happy for you.”
“Thanks, man. We’re going out tonight, so I better run upstairs and finish getting ready before I have to go pick her up.” He jumps to his feet, knocking the kitchen chair to the ground. He mutters something as he rights it and runs out of the kitchen.
Silence falls in the kitchen while Niall and Harry both figure out what to say.
“He seems happy,” Harry finally says, folding his paper towel in half and setting it on his empty plate.
“He does. But what the fuck is he thinking, dating an intern? Everyone knows that doesn’t work out.”
“It might, though,” Harry protests weakly.
“No, dude, listen to me. Those things never, ever work out. He’ll break her heart, or she’ll break his, or they’ll have the worst sex ever. And then it’ll be all we’ll hear about at work for the rest of time.”
“You never know.”
“No, I do,” Niall says, and Harry’s surprised by the force behind his words. “I’ve heard horror stories. Hospital relationships never work out.”
“All right,” Harry says, because it’s not like he can really argue. The one time he tried to make it work, he got rejected.
“He’d be better just hooking up with people in the on-call rooms like the rest of us, anyway. You get laid without having to deal with any of the emotional consequences,” Niall says, and this is news to Harry. “Save the emotional stuff for women you meet outside of work. Or men, whatever,” he adds, with a quick nod at Harry.
He tries for casual when he speaks, like it’s something he already knew but is confirming. “You mean… you hook up with people at work?”
“Oh yeah, all the time. You know that nurse Sophie that you’re always talking to?” Harry nods. “We’ve hooked up like… a bunch of times. Same with me and a couple of the other interns. I mean, not at the same time,” he adds with a wiggle of his eyebrows. “Everyone’s horny, we might as well.”
“Right,” Harry says, feeling a bit like his world view’s been shattered. He had no clue. Is everyone getting laid except for him?
The morning of Leslie’s scheduled surgery dawns without any sign of the babies wanting to come out, so at six AM, Harry finds himself in her patient room, a scalding cup of coffee in his hand, and no sign of Louis anywhere.
“Styles, where is he?” Dr. Tobin asks. “We need all hands on deck. If he doesn’t show up, it’s a strike against both of you.”
He gets one of the nurses - it’s Sophie, and after Niall’s confession he finds he can’t quite meet her eyes - to page Louis, but she reports back a few minutes later that there’s no response.
“Fuck,” he mutters, fighting the urge to stamp his feet on the ground. He goes back to Leslie’s room and tells Dr. Tobin that there’s been no response. He can see that she’s angry.
“We’ll just have to proceed without him,” she says, her eyes stormy.
The orderlies are wheeling Leslie into the operating room, her husband at her side, when Louis appears in the scrub room next to Harry. He’s out of breath, hands clutching at his ribs like there’s a stitch in his side.
“You can’t be late for a surgery like this, Tomlinson,” Dr. Tobin says, tying her blonde hair into a bun and fitting her scrub cap on top of it. She washes her hands and arms and pushes the door to the OR open without another word.
“What the fuck?” Harry asks, drying his hands. “Where the fuck were you?”
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” Louis says, and Harry can see that his eyes are rimmed red. He’s been crying. “Something came up.”
“You can’t be late for this kind of thing,” Harry mutters, and then he leaves Louis standing in his wake.
From his place on the OR floor, he can see Louis going through the motions of scrubbing in: washing, rinsing, drying, putting on his surgical mask. He nearly cost them this surgery, and that’s unforgivable.
The surgery itself is relatively routine, except for the part where they deliver four tiny babies in thirty minutes. That part is the miracle.
All of them are born crying, which is the biggest sign that each of them is viable. Leslie is pretty out of it from the drugs, but each time Dr. Tobin pronounces that the baby is healthy, Alexander cries enough tears for the both of them. It’s pretty amazing, as far as surgical experiences go. New life coming into the world, rather than watching it disappear.
Dr. Tobin assigns him to Baby C, the one they’ve named Avery Jane. Louis is assigned to Baby D, Finnegan Nicholas. Two other interns he doesn’t recognize come in and supervise babies A and B. The babies get sent to the NICU, so they all follow, leaving Leslie and Alexander behind.
They’re all business when they get to the NICU, getting the babies — God, they’re so tiny — set up in their respective places in the nursery.
Once they’re set up, all they can do is wait, really. Wait to hear how Leslie does, wait to see what happens with the babies, wait until they’re told what to do next.
“Those babies are your number one priority right now,” Dr. Tobin told them when she sent them away from the OR. “You do not do anything unless it’s in the service of their health.”
He finds out that the other two interns with them are named Leigh-Anne Pinnock and Jade Thirlwall. Leigh-Anne is from Kansas and Jade’s from Florida. They claim to have met him at the intern mixer, and he feels bad that he can’t remember. Though to be fair, everything that night is overshadowed by meeting Louis at the bar.
They both have Dr. Sheeran as their resident. He’s in charge of Pediatrics, and Louis has been trying to get on his good side since the beginning of the internship. Harry can’t quite tell how it’s going.
Harry watches Avery’s breathing, in and out, in and out. She’s so tiny. He’d thought Gemma’s twin boys were small, but they were both at least twice as big as Avery is. “You’re a little fighter, aren’t you?” Harry asks her, reaching one hand into the bassinet to adjust a wire keeping track of her vital signs.
Predictably, she doesn’t respond.
Her skin is nearly translucent; he can see bright blue veins just underneath. She’s covered in wires and monitors and wearing a face mask. She’s so vulnerable.
Vulnerable and perfect. No one’s hurt her yet. No one’s had the opportunity to disappoint her or break her heart. She’s a completely fresh canvas, and he feels a strong sense of responsibility to make sure that people make all the right choices about her life.
Despite his fears, he has an overpowering sense that she’s going to be okay.
After a while, Louis starts singing to his quadruplet under his breath. It takes a minute for Harry to realize the song is You Are My Sunshine . Harry can’t stand that song, for reasons that may or may not have to do with a singing stuffed animal he left at the park when he was four.
Harry glares at him. It doesn’t do anything; Louis keeps singing.
“You wanna stop?” Harry asks, scowling. “You’re bothering everyone.”
“No,” Louis says, continuing to sing. “I think everyone’s good.”
Leigh-Anne and Jade don’t seem bothered by it. Truthfully, he’s singing quite softly, and it’s mostly drowned out by the beeping of machines. There’s no indication that it’s irritating anyone else. But it’s annoying the fuck out of Harry.
Two neonatal nurses come to check on the babies, and Leigh-Anne takes that moment to ask if she’s allowed to go grab a cup of coffee.
“You guys can do whatever you need,” the head nurse says. “We’re good until the surgical team gets here. Should be an hour or so.”
Food, he could go get some food.
Harry stares at Avery for a minute, at her paper-thin eyelids and the softest strands of blonde fuzz atop her head. “I’ll be right back,” he whispers. “Just give me a few minutes.”
He stands up and lets the head nurse know that he’s going to get some food. There’s soft voices echoing in the nursery as he exits, but he pays them no mind. A break without anything to do is rare. He’s going to take advantage of it.
“Why are you so mad at me?”
He looks over his shoulder to see Louis following him down the hall.
“I’m going to get food, I’ll talk to you later,” Harry says, turning back and heading in the direction of the cafeteria. Maybe they’ll still have breakfast bagels at this hour.
“No, Harry, wait,” Louis says, and Harry can hear him jogging to catch up to him. He puts a hand on Harry’s shoulder, which makes him stop in the middle of the hallway. “I want to know,” he says, his voice stern. “Why you’re always so mad at me.”
“Louis, do we have to do this now?”
“Yes!” Louis exclaims. “We do. Because you’re constantly judging me, nothing I can do is ever the right thing, and you fight with me like I killed your mom’s dog.”
Harry rolls his eyes. “Oh, fuck off, Louis. You’re the one who gets mad at me, who starts all the fights, who looks at me like you want to light me on fire.”
“I look at you like—” Louis cuts himself off with a noise that’s a combination between a laugh and a huff. “Oh, that’s really rich coming from you.”
“Fine,” Harry says, pulling Louis by the wrist into the nearest empty on-call room. They stand between the bunk beds, hands on hips. “You want to know why I get so mad at you? Because you treat me like you’re so much better than me, like you don’t care about my opinions, like you know automatically you’re better than me. You fucked me, and then the next day you act like you want nothing to do with me.”
“You argue with me over everything. And then today, you show up late for work, when you know that we had to be early so we could take care of that patient. And you have the nerve to tell me that I don’t care about my job! What the fuck?”
“I was late,” Louis interrupts, his voice rising in tone, “because I was on the phone with my mom. Because I was telling her about this patient and how it was giving me terrible flashbacks to her twin pregnancy, and how—”
“You were late because you were talking to your mom?” Harry says, throwing his hands in the air. “Oh, great. That’s just great. Way to take the job seriously.”
Louis scoffs, and just the sound of it makes Harry’s blood boil. “Oh, let’s talk about taking the job seriously, shall we? You’re the one wearing stupid masks and pulling out kids toys and trying to steal my surgeries.”
“I do not steal your surgeries!”
“You do! And you treat kids like they’re on a playground! This is all a game to you, isn’t it? Well, it’s not for me. This is a real, life or death situation,” Louis says, spitting the words at him. “And I just don’t think you’re cut out for it.”
For a moment, they stare at each other in complete silence. Harry can feel his blood thrumming between his ears, can see Louis glaring at him, feels red-hot anger. And then all he feels, oppressively and desperately, is lust.
He doesn’t know who moves first, but suddenly Louis is surging up to him to press his lips against Harry’s. Harry walks the two of them backwards, pressing Louis back against the door. Louis oomphs in surprise and brings his hands under Harry’s scrub top, scratching at his lower back.
“Lock — oh — lock the… fucking door,” Louis mutters between kisses. Harry nods, flipping the lock shut and then bringing his hands under Louis’ ass, gripping tightly so he can lift Louis up. Louis wraps his arms around Harry’s neck and winds his legs around his waist, clutching tight as he kisses Harry.
Louis kisses like he fights: entirely engaged in it, full of emotion, a little messy. His tongue curls against Harry’s and Harry sees stars. Harry loses himself in it for few a minutes, making these little whimpering noises against Louis’ mouth, until the strain of holding Louis up becomes too much for his arms.
“Can I—” Harry mumbles, distracted by the way Louis’ tongue is running down his neck.
“Yeah,” Louis says, and he seems to know just what Harry needs because he unwinds his legs and gets to the floor. He pulls off his own shirt and yanks his pants down, kicking off his shoes as he crawls onto one of the bunk beds. He turns to face Harry, looking at him expectantly.
“You coming?” he asks Harry, whose mouth has gone dry at the sight of Louis’ boxer-clad ass.
“I’d like to be,” Harry says, stripping off his clothes in record time. His cock is half-hard against his hip, bobbing as he walks. He wastes no time crawling in with Louis, rolling on top of him so that Louis can feel just how hard he is. He isn't expecting it when Louis grinds up against him, the press of his hard cock against Harry’s own causing him to hiss.
“God, you're so—” Harry mutters through a kiss. “So fucking hot.”
Louis rolls his eyes. “Shut the fuck up and get on with it.”
The sweat has just begun to cool on Harry’s body when Louis sits up abruptly, feeling around for his clothes. “This one’s yours,” he says, examining a light blue scrub top and then dropping it on top of Harry.
Louis gets to his feet and pulls on a pair of boxer shorts and then his pants. He pulls the drawstring tight and Harry can’t help but watch the way the muscles of his stomach move with the motion. He wishes he’d gotten more of a chance to trace them with his tongue. Maybe, now that they’ve… maybe there’s a chance they can do this again, the right way this time.
He’s about to suggest that they go for coffee when Louis speaks.
“Why did we do that?” Louis mutters, pulling on a shirt. “What a monumentally dumb idea.” He glares at Harry like he can’t wait to be rid of him. All right, so that’s all this was. Just a quick fuck. After all, it doesn’t count if you’ve done it before, right? Harry sees how it is.
Harry should probably get up and get dressed. He stays where he is, trying to make sense of the situation. “I don’t know,” he says, not meeting Louis’ eyes.
“It was a mistake,” Louis complains, combing his fingers through his hair. Everything in Harry’s body is pleading that this doesn’t feel right. This isn’t how this is supposed to go.
“Whatever,” Louis says, clipping his pager into his waistband. “I need to go.”
“Okay,” Harry says quietly, and the door slams shut as Louis leaves the room. He sits on the bed, naked, staring at the closed door for far longer than he should.
Harry stops by the coffee cart before heading back to the NICU. It won’t calm the thrumming in his veins, but it gives him a good excuse for where he’s been all this time.
He catches sight of himself in the stainless steel of the elevator door on his way back up to the floor, and he’s a mess. His badge is askew, his face is flushed, and someone’s obviously been running their fingers through his hair. In short, he looks ridiculously inappropriate.
Did they break the rules? He remembers Niall telling him that “everyone” hooks up in the on-call rooms, but surely it’s a breach of protocol. There have to be rules against it.
He’s certain everyone can hear his racing heartbeat when he gets back to the NICU. Leigh-Anne and Jade are right where he’d left them. Surprisingly, Louis is nowhere to be seen. Harry had been expecting him to be in the middle of the action, elbowing his way to the front of the group.
The same nurse as earlier is standing at the nurses’ station, writing something on a chart.
“How are the babies?” he asks her, catching sight of Leigh-Anne reaching a hand into her baby’s bassinet.
“They’re good,” the nurse says. Her name tag identifies her as Mary Ellen. “The specialists should be up in a bit to see about running some tests, but so far, so good. Things are looking better than expected.”
“Good,” Harry breathes, letting himself relax fully for the first time all day. The babies need to be all right. He needs them to be okay.
Ten minutes later, Mary Ellen is suggesting that Harry take Avery out of the crib for some skin to skin contact when Louis strolls in.
Harry can’t tear his eyes away as Louis takes his place again, nodding a hello to Mary Ellen. His face is neutral and he looks ten times more put together than Harry does. In short, he looks like nothing’s happened in the last hour.
When he finally meets Harry’s eyes, he frowns.
Chapter 2: Part Two
Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Harry tells himself that it was just a one time thing. Or really, a two time thing, if one were to count the night they met.
The trouble is that now he can't stop thinking about it. Before, he could convince himself that his memories were exaggerated, inflated recollections of how good Louis' mouth felt on his cock, of how skilled he is with his fingers, of how excellent a kisser he is. But now, he has proof that those weren't made up.
He's scratched his Louis itch, and now he wants to scratch it again. And again. And probably another time after that too.
But he can't. Twice is enough for that kind of a mistake. It can't happen again.
The bickering doesn’t stop. Currently, Louis is fighting with Harry over a peds case that Harry's been assigned to, one that Louis thinks he deserves more.
"Come on, please, I'll do your charts for two weeks if you take plastics for me."
"I thought you loved Dr. Aoki," Harry mutters.
"I do, but this is pediatrics we're talking about. You know that that's the specialty I want. I should be spending as much time working in it as I can."
"Actually," Harry says, uncapping his pen with his teeth, "you should be getting a broad exposure to the different specialties, so you can become a more well-rounded doctor."
Louis rolls his eyes. "Shut the fuck up, honestly, you're insufferable."
"Oh yeah?" Harry asks, raising one eyebrow. "Well, too bad. Dr. Bauer assigned me to peds. And if you think I'm not cut out for it, that's your problem." He can tell that Louis recognizes his own words being thrown back at him.
Ten minutes later, they're naked in an on-call room, Louis’ hand on Harry’s cock.
"This isn't like, a thing," Louis says the third — or is it the fourth? Harry's starting to lose count — time it happens. "We're not becoming a thing."
"Right," Harry agrees, pulling on his shirt. As Louis reaches for his own, Harry notices a thumb-shaped bruise on Louis' collarbone. Oops.
He decides not to mention it.
"I mean it, Styles. You're an insufferable asshole and I'm horny, that's it."
"Whatever you say."
He doesn't mean for it to keep happening, but then it does, with alarming regularity. Initially, it happens only when they’ve fought. Then one day, sitting in the cafeteria and eating soup, Harry gets a page. The message reads Fourth floor on-call room. 5 minutes.
Alright then. He's been well and truly booty called at seven PM. While at work. Eating soup.
Louis is already in the bed when he gets there, tucked under the blankets. "Oh good, it's just you," he says, throwing the blankets back and revealing that he's entirely naked underneath them. His dick is already fully hard, resting against his stomach.
"Holy shit," Harry says, feeling a bit awed. No matter how much he hates Louis, he can’t deny he’s really good in bed.
"Hurry up, I haven't got all day, you know."
"Right, right," Harry says, striding toward Louis.
“You shouldn’t be late to these things. There’s plenty of guys lining up to take your place,” Louis says as Harry strips off all his clothes.
“Oh yeah?” Harry asks, an eyebrow raised as he looks around the room. “Where?”
Louis pinches one of Harry’s nipples. “Wouldn’t you like to know. Shut up and get to the sex already.”
He knows it’s foolish to think they can get away with this forever. Some day soon, someone’s going to put it together: they always seem to go missing at the same times, they’re both a little too pleased during work, and Harry has a mark on his neck that looks suspiciously like Louis’ teeth.
Plus, they’re still fighting. A lot.
“What am I supposed to do about this?” he asks Louis, pointing to the bruise he left.
Louis, infuriatingly, shrugs. “I don’t know. Wear a turtleneck?”
“You’re an asshole,” Harry says, slamming the door shut behind him as he goes. The sex is good, brilliant, even, but he's not entirely sure it’s worth the irritation.
Niall’s waiting for him at the nurses’ station, holding Harry’s favorite travel mug. Zayn and Liam are chatting a few feet away.
“Morning,” Harry says, plastering a smile on his face to hide his frustration. Louis gets under his skin and makes him so annoyed, and he hates it. He hates the way he feels when they part ways, like he’s thinking with his dick. It needs to stop.
“Hey,” Niall says, a funny look on his face. Out of the corner of his eye, Harry can see Louis coming from the other direction to slide in behind Liam, looking for all intents and purposes like he’s always been there. “This is for you,” he says, pushing the mug toward Harry.
“Thanks. That’s really nice of you, Niall.”
"No problem, man. Hey, where were you this morning?"
Harry chokes on a sip of coffee, shuddering as he swallows. "Where was I?"
"Yeah, this morning," Niall explains. "I came downstairs and I couldn't find you anywhere. Did you have to stay overnight? Because I could've sworn you were home last night."
Harry knows Louis is listening, can feel the heat of his eyes on the two of them like sunbeams. "No, I uh... I had a thing to do this morning."
"A thing?" Niall narrows his eyes.
"Yeah, just like, a thing. Had to be here. Early, I mean," Harry stammers. He's well aware that he's doing a terrible job of this whole secrecy thing. "So, yeah. How are you?"
He takes a sip of coffee, eagerly awaiting Niall's answer, and then makes the mistake of looking up at Louis. Louis is trying to suppress a smirk over Niall's shoulder. Harry wants nothing more right now than to flip him off.
"I'm good. I just miss you, man. We always used to drive together and I feel like I never see you anymore."
The sincerity in his words gets to Harry. Here he is, sneaking around Niall's back. Niall's probably his best friend in all of Seattle, and here Harry is, secretly hooking up with one of Niall’s other best friends. It's gotta end, he tells himself for the hundredth time.
"I'm sorry," Harry says. "Do you want to do something tomorrow night? We can get pizza, play video games, plot world domination. Whatever you want."
Most of his trysts with Louis have taken place during work hours, but occasionally Louis will page him and tell him to come in early or leave a bit later. He really does feel bad that Niall feels abandoned — with Harry out of the house a lot and Liam spending more time with Sophia, there's not much happening at the house.
“Can’t,” Niall says, shaking his head. “I’m working.”
“I thought you were off?” Liam looks up with a distressed expression on his face. Liam has a color coded calendar hanging in their apartment’s kitchen, each of their work schedules and other obligations written in a different color. Harry’s is green, Liam’s is red, and Niall insists on writing his in a combination of green, white, and orange, claiming it’s a nod to his Irish heritage. This change of schedule is clearly messing with Liam’s system.
“Switched with Genevieve, she’s going on vacation or something,” Niall says with a shrug. “I don’t know. Anyway, the point is I won’t be around.”
“Me either, I’m going out with Sophia,” says Liam.
“So you’re complaining that I never see you and now you’re saying you’re both leaving me home alone?” Harry says with a pout. “I see how it is.”
“Oh, are you gonna be lonely?” Zayn asks, reaching over to pinch his cheek. “I can come over and cuddle if you want.”
Harry swats him away. “I think I might just enjoy an evening to myself with a glass of wine and a movie, thanks.”
He’ll probably end up organizing his closet and going to a yoga class and skyping his mom, but they don’t need to know that.
That’s tomorrow, though. For now he has a few hours left in his shift and patients to see.
What was supposed to be a routine surgery turns into an emergency, and his patient crashes on the table twice. They manage to save her, but she gets put in a medically-induced coma and sent to a recovery room while the surgical team decides what their next steps should be. After that nightmare, Harry still has to round on all his patients and make notes in their charts. All in all, he gets out of work two hours later than planned. So much for the afternoon nap he was hoping to have.
It’s not a big deal, just… fuck. He’s so tired, weighed down by the responsibilities of learning how to save people’s lives and actually doing the saving and trying to take care of himself and navigating so many new experiences. He thought that by now it’d all come easy to him, but instead it seems to be getting harder.
The thought of things being harder makes him think of Louis, and he can’t help but laugh at himself as he grabs his umbrella and slams the locker door shut. Louis definitely does make things harder. Logically, Harry knows they can’t sneak around forever. It has to end sometime. For now it’s his only form of stress relief. Orgasms are healthy, right?
On his way out of the hospital, rain pouring down in sheets, he catches sight of a woman in the waiting room, talking on her phone with a pained expression on her face. Belatedly, he recognizes her as the wife of the patient in the coma, and then the sadness hits him all over again.
Why can't they save everyone? He got into this field so that he could save lives, and it's not that he hasn’t done that. He just thought that there would be more he could do. Instead, he’s waiting to see what course nature chooses for a patient. It hurts.
He's soaked by the time he gets to his car, his neon Nike sneakers sopping wet and his curls stuck to the sides of his head. He shivers. He absolutely won't be going for a run this afternoon then, not if the weather stays this bad.
His phone rings with a text just as he starts the car and turns on the heat, wipers swiping erratically as they work to clear the rain from the windshield. It's his mom, telling him that Gemma's twins are having their birthday party this weekend and they're all going to miss him.
He's already sent their presents, had picked them out weeks ago and wrapped them carefully. Without a doubt, Gemma will send photos and videos of the moment they tear open the paper to reveal the gifts underneath. He still wishes he could be there to see their faces in person.
He'd known it'd be hard to be away from home. He just didn't expect it to hurt quite this much.
He hits the call button before he can think about it any further, putting the phone on speaker and pulling out of the parking lot as the ringing begins. He thinks he's going to miss her and have to leave a message just as the ringing stops and a familiar voice answers.
"Hi, Harry!" his mom says cheerfully. "How's it going?"
"It's..." he pauses for a moment to think about it, taking a right turn away from the hospital and heading in the direction of his house. "It's alright."
She's always been able to see through his lies, even when he's certain that he's being subtle. "Yeah, it's alright. I’m leaving work now. Not the best week, but... you know."
His throat feels clogged with unshed tears as he starts to tell her about the patients he saw this week, about how he's not sleeping well, waking up in the middle of the night concerned that something terrible is going to happen to one of them.
"Harry, love, you've got to take care of yourself."
He nods before he remembers that she can’t see him. "I know," he says. He'd probably be crying except for the fact that he needs to be able to see to drive.
"You've never been very good at that," she reminds him, and it's not an accusation. It's the truth. He has the tendency to take on too many things and forget to put himself first. They’d talked about it at length when he was in medical school: being a surgeon was not a profession where one could easily compartmentalize. If he wanted to pursue surgery as a career, he was going to have to find ways to practice self-care.
“It’s harder than I expected,” he admits. “There’s so much going on. I feel like I’m on a hamster wheel, and every day the wheel gets faster.”
“Did you ever go back to that yoga studio you tried out a few weeks ago? I know you said that helped calm you down a bit.”
“I haven’t had time. My schedule’s a mess.”
“Alright,” she says, her tone patient. “What other ideas do you have? What can you do to feel a bit better?” They’ve had this conversation a hundred times. Logically, he knows what he needs to do, but sometimes it’s hard to be logical.
“More sleep, definitely. Just not sure that’s an option right now.”
“What about getting some sunshine? Can you get outside for a bit today?”
He drives straight through a puddle, the windshield wipers beating frantically from side to side, and actually laughs out loud. “I’m driving through a rainstorm right now, Mom. I don’t think so.”
“What about food? Have you been eating alright?”
He considers it for a minute, sitting at a light and waiting for it to turn green. He’s been eating a few too many grilled cheeses and not enough salads. Definitely not enough protein. “Not particularly.”
“Harry,” she says on a sigh, her tone slightly disapproving.
“I know, I know. When I’m stressed, that’s the first thing to go.”
“I know,” she says, her tone indulgent. And right, she’s his mom, she knows him as well as he knows himself. “Sometimes the self care things we need to do aren’t the ones that we want to do. But you need to do them anyway.”
“Yeah,” he says, thinking of all the coffee he’s been drinking. That’s probably not helping with the sleeping issues, actually.
"Do you have any plans for later? Why don't you go to the grocery store and get some food to cook? I sent you the recipe for the chicken soup, right?"
"The one with the veggies?" he asks, turning onto the road that leads to his street.
"Yeah. Do you need me to send it to you again? I could email it."
He shakes his head. "No, no, that's okay. I stuck it in the cookbook that Gemma got me, I think."
"Alright, so why don't you cook up a big batch of that? Then you could have it for lunches the next few days, or whenever you get too busy, you can heat some of it up."
"Yeah," he says quietly. "That's a good idea."
"And then maybe take a nap, hmm? What time is it there?"
"Just after two."
"Okay, yeah, maybe do that. Or take a break to read a book or go shoot some photos or something. Have you been using your camera at all?"
"I haven’t had any time," he says, pulling into the space outside his house. He’ll grab the recipe and the reusable shopping bags and head out before he has even a moment to consider flopping down on his couch and not waking up until he needs to be at work tomorrow.
"Make some," she says. "It doesn’t have to be that, but you need to do something for yourself. It's important that you don't lose yourself in this job."
"Yeah, okay," he acknowledges, and when they hang up a few minutes later, he feels a bit better. He can do this.
The lights of the grocery store are bright, illuminating the produce in the bins and crates at the front of the store. He picks up a basket before putting it back and deciding that he'll be better if he gets a cart. Too often he tells himself he's only getting three things, only to head for the checkout aisle with his arms full of unexpected purchases.
When he moved, he hadn’t factored in the fact that every aspect of his life would be changing, not just the career part. New job, new friends, new house, new everything. He also hadn’t considered how jarring it’d be to shop in a new grocery store. He wouldn't call himself an expert at locating things in his new grocery store yet, but he can find his way around with a little help from the employees. He starts with the produce, because that's the easiest to find.
Onions, zucchini, and carrots are the first three things on his list. He takes his time picking out the zucchini, feeling each to make sure they’re the right texture before selecting the right one. On a whim, he picks up a second that he plans to use to make zucchini bread, his mum's words about making time for himself ringing in his ears.
It's a bit soothing, walking around a grocery store in the middle of a weekday afternoon. The music coming from the speakers is pleasant and the store is nearly empty. That's one advantage of a wacky work schedule. He loses himself in the monotony of it: choosing vegetables, ordering cheese at the deli counter, picking out a package of chicken thighs. The soup recipe calls for mushrooms, but he hasn’t been able to so much as look at mushrooms since he was nine years old and got sick on a car journey, so he leaves that ingredient out.
He picks up the rest of his groceries while he’s there, the cereal and the coffee capsules for his single serve machine and the meat he’ll cook for dinner this week. He doesn’t exactly want to do all that meal prep stuff his mom was talking about, but it’ll be worth it when it’s done. Hopefully.
By the time he gets back home and unloads the groceries, his exhaustion has passed. He starts his upbeat playlist on the sound system in the living room and turns his attention to the food. There’s something methodical about cooking. It’s all a big process that requires you to pay attention lest you screw up. He has no choice but to focus on exactly what he’s doing.
Maybe his mom was right. Maybe he does need to be better about concentrating on the moment.
The next afternoon at work, he heats up a Tupperware container of chicken soup and while he watches the plate spin around and around, thinks about how he feels well-rested for the first time in days. After cooking last night, he’d done laundry, planned out his meals for the next few days, and drank a glass of wine on the couch before going to bed early. He’d blocked out any thoughts of work from entering his mind. It had been really, really nice.
“Hey,” he says to Liam and Louis when he reaches them at the table. “What’s up?”
“Not much,” Liam says, biting into his sandwich. “Where are the other two?”
“Niall’s in surgery and I think Zayn’s doing charts,” Harry says. “I’m supposed to scrub in in a bit, so I don’t have a ton of time. You know how Corden is, can’t handle anyone being anything less than ten minutes early.”
“Is that the one he was talking about last week? The really complicated surgery?”
Harry shakes his head. “No, I think that’s tomorrow, I’m not working. It’s just an aortic valve transplant. Should be interesting though.”
He’s learned by now that while he finds the heart fascinating, he’s not particularly interested in learning more about it than he has to. “It’s been ages since I was on a peds surgery,” he says, dipping a piece of bread into the soup and letting it soak for a minute.
“Is that chicken soup?” Louis asks abruptly, peering into the container.
“Yeah, I made it last night,” Harry says.
“Wow. Who knew that you could cook?” Louis asks, looking amazed. Liam mostly just looks confused.
“Well, I’m no gourmet chef. But I can get by with a recipe.”
“Right,” Louis says. “Well, it smells good.” His voice is uncharacteristically soft. Harry doesn’t entirely trust him.
“Bring us some,” Liam says. “I’m sick of buying lunch every day.”
“Liam, we literally live together. If you want me to teach you to make the soup, I can.”
“No thanks,” Liam says. “Can’t be bothered. I’m too lazy.”
“Well, it’s clearly working for him, isn’t it?” Louis asks, tilting his head toward Harry, and he says it so quietly that Harry’s not sure he meant to say it at all.
“What’s that?” Liam asks, and Louis’ face turns pale pink and he doesn’t look up for the rest of the meal.
Harry’s tying his sneakers after their latest tryst in the on-call room when Louis actually gives him a compliment, and Harry has to ask him to repeat it because he’s sure that he’s misheard him.
“I said you did a really good job with that surgery this morning,” Louis says quickly. “That’s all. It doesn’t mean anything.”
Harry bites his lip to hide his smile. “Right. No, of course not. Thanks.”
“Don’t mention it,” Louis says, rolling out of bed and pulling on his shirt. “But no, seriously, don’t. If you tell anyone I was nice to you for half a second, I’ll cut off your balls.”
“Right, okay,” Harry says, not bothering to mention that doing so would put Harry out of commission for sex for a long while.
“I mean it!” Louis calls as Harry opens the door to leave.
Maybe Louis doesn’t hate him quite as much as he thought after all.
Harry would never use this word to his face, but slowly, Louis seems to have become softer with Harry. He’ll share tiny bits of his day with him or talk about the different cases they’re on. They’re still not friends, but they might not be such strong enemies anymore. It’s progress.
One afternoon, Harry is zipping up his warm gray fleece jacket when he sees Louis closing his locker. They’re the only two left.
“You heading out?”
“Yeah,” Louis says with a nod. “You gonna bring any of that soup next time? You keep making it and promising, but we never see any results, Styles.”
Harry looks down at the empty container in his hand for a moment before placing it in his bag and closing it. “Yeah, maybe. If you’re lucky.”
They leave the locker room at the same time and Louis holds the door open for Harry to walk through first.
They make their way to the parking lot, walking side by side in silence, when it occurs to him. For the first time in days, it’s not raining, and though the wind whips through his jacket, causing him to shiver, he still feels hopeful about the afternoon ahead. That’s probably what causes the spur of the moment decision.
“You wanna come over?” he asks suddenly, and Louis lifts his head in surprise. They’re only a few hundred feet from Harry’s car.
Louis has a sneaky sort of grin that Harry hasn’t seen in a few days, and he nods immediately. “You sure your roommates won’t care?”
“Nah,” Harry says, heart racing just that little bit faster at the thought of Louis in his house, Louis naked in his bed. Not for the first time, he reminds himself, but maybe it’s a little more serious this time. Hate sex, he reminds himself, it’s just hate sex. “House to myself, remember? The others are working.”
Louis makes a little noise of assent. “Meet you there in fifteen?”
“You know the way?” Harry asks.
“Yeah, I remember where you live,” Louis says. “See you soon.”
“Please,” Harry says. He keeps his voice low lest anyone around them hear the conversation, though it’s probably too late for that now.
He breaks about seven speeding laws on the way home, blood thrumming in his veins. Louis will be in his bed soon, spread out against Harry’s soft white cotton sheets, his lips bitten red and his cheeks flushed pink. This is probably a monumentally fucking dumb idea, but he doesn’t care.
Louis is already standing on his front porch when Harry pulls into the driveway. “Know a shortcut,” Louis says with a shrug. “Oh, and I parked around the corner. Didn’t think you’d want to risk Niall or Liam coming home unexpectedly.”
“You’re a smart man,” Harry grins.
“Well, I’m no brain surgeon,” Louis says with a smile as Harry unlocks the door and lets them both in.
“This can’t be like last time,” Harry feels compelled to say as he unzips his coat and hangs it on a peg in the hall. He kicks off his shoes and watches Louis do the same. “You can’t… you can’t stay over.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it, Styles.” He smirks in a way that makes Harry’s face feel hot.
He averts his eyes from Louis’ gaze and turns his attention to the bag in his hand, knowing that the tupperware container will get stained from the soup if he doesn’t clean it out first. He’s not quite sure how to handle this. Louis is not exactly a typical one night stand — he’s not a one night anything at this point — but he did come here with the express purpose of fucking Harry. Or for Harry to fuck him, they aren’t picky.
“Let me just put this stuff in the kitchen and then we can... go upstairs, or whatever,” Harry says, tripping over the words.
“Alright,” Louis says, following Harry down the hall and into the kitchen. He gives a low whistle when they step into the room. "Nice place you've got here, Styles. Didn’t get to see all this last time,” he says with a cheeky smile.
"Er, thanks," Harry says, scratching the side of his face, which has suddenly developed an itch. He’s not wrong, and it is a nice place, the nicest he's ever lived in, but the money came from his family. He's still a bit self conscious about the whole thing.
Louis takes a seat on one of the stools at the island. "If I'd known it was so nice, I might never have left."
"Don't push your luck," Harry says, one finger wagging at Louis. He's suddenly struck by the fact that they're joking together, making each other laugh. It's a little weird.
He washes out the tupperware container and takes advantage of the soapy water to wash his dishes from this morning's breakfast. He wonders absently what he should eat for dinner later tonight, after Louis goes home. Maybe more soup.
"You wanna head upstairs?" Harry asks once he's dried his hands with a dishtowel. Louis raises his eyebrows twice in quick succession and nods.
"I'll race you up there," he says, leaping off the stool and pulling off his shirt as he goes.
"You are... evil," Louis pants an hour and a half later, brushing a stray lock of hair out of Harry's eyes. Harry should probably be offended by the comment, but the look in Louis' eyes suggests that he thinks the exact opposite. Harry’s evil because he brought Louis to the edge again and again, only to pull back once Louis was right there? Yeah right.
"Shut up," Harry retorts easily, slowly pulling out of Louis. Louis hisses at the movement, the emptiness probably sharp and sudden. Harry ties off the condom and drops it off the side of the bed. He'll have to remember to pick that up when Louis goes.
"You're not gonna go get us a towel to clean up?" Louis asks, his tone mock angry.
"I think that since you're the one who got the pleasure of being fucked, you can get it," Harry replies.
"Please," Louis says with a snort. "I think we both know who had more pleasure, if those noises you were making are any indication. God, I forgot how fucking loud you can be when you know nobody's listening."
"Shut up." Louis' statement suggests that he’s remembering that fateful night they first slept together, the only other time they've fucked without being concerned about noise. Harry doesn’t want to remember; doesn't want him to remember either.
All the same, he gets up and dampens a small towel in the bathroom. He cleans himself, drops the towel in the hamper, and then prepares another towel, striding back to the bedroom completely naked.
"Here," he says, standing in the doorway. "Catch."
The towel lands on Louis' stomach with a wet plop, and he blinks repeatedly up at Harry.
"That is not the way you treat a lady, Harold," Louis says, and as he sits up, his stomach contracts in this beautiful way that Harry wants to study for a long time. Louis' hair is sweaty and his face is flushed; it takes a Herculean effort for Harry to pull himself off the doorframe and grab a pair of new boxers from his drawer.
He hears Louis make a little noise of disappointment when he pulls the boxers on over his ass, but he needs to get Louis moving. If he doesn’t spring to action, he might end up asking Louis to stay, and he can’t have that. Is there a polite way to kick your friend with benefits out of your bed? Shouldn’t Louis just know?
When Harry puts on a pair of jeans and a white t-shirt, Louis finally towels off his stomach and stands, picking up his wrinkled clothes from the floor and dressing himself. Each bit of clothing pushes him a bit farther away from Harry and closer to normalcy. Harry is totally fine with that. Totally fine.
So, of course, his next words come out without his permission. “Before you go, do you want some soup?”
Louis looks at him, blinking dazedly. His cheeks are still flushed pink and Harry really wants to push him back into the bed. “Soup?”
“Yeah, soup. You have to eat dinner sometime, right?” The sky outside is dark. Harry’s not sure what time it is, but it’s absolutely past dinner time for both of them.
"Right," Louis says. “Yeah, soup could be good.”
"This is the best fucking soup in the world," Louis says, moaning around the spoon. "You're a genius. How do you do it?"
"Well, you see it's actually pretty simple," Harry says, hugging his knees to his chest. It'd be great if Louis could stop moaning; it's happened a few times and his cock is half-hard at the sound. "I can send you the ingredient list if you want—”
Louis shakes his head. "No, I don't know how to cook. I can do eggs and cereal and toast and sandwiches. Oh, and frozen pizza. But that’s it.”
"That's not very healthy," Harry says.
"No, it's not. Which is why I think that you should make me your kept man and feed me soup for the rest of my life," Louis says, and Harry watches as he sets down his spoon and drinks the rest of the soup straight from the bowl.
"What, like chain you to my bed or something?"
"Something like that," Louis says, and a shadow crosses his face. "I should get going."
Harry wants to stop him, but all he says is, "Yeah, it's getting late."
"Yeah, I have to get home. Thanks for the sex."
"Anytime," Harry says.
"You still gonna say it's not gonna happen again?" Louis says, and with a wink at Harry, he walks out the door. Harry’s so dumbstruck that he doesn’t think to retort that it’s always Louis saying it’s never gonna happen again until it’s too late.
Harry sits on the staircase that leads upstairs, buries his face in his hands, and wonders what the fuck just happened.
He doesn't understand how Louis can be so angry with him, and then so sweet and sensitive the next minute, and then revert right back to rage. It makes no sense. He sighs as he watches the car start up outside, and stays there until the tail lights have disappeared.
He crosses paths with Niall the next morning in the locker room: Harry’s going in, and Niall’s going out, heading home for a long sleep, by the looks of him.
“How’d it go?” Harry asks, a spring in his step, even this early in the morning. He feels good, despite last night’s confusion about whatever’s going on with Louis. It was just sex like all the other times, only in a different location this time. It hasn’t changed anything now that Louis has been in his bed again, now that he gave Louis soup. The arrangement—unspoken as it is—is still the same.
He doesn’t even really want anything to change. Regular sex is good and healthy and getting off with Louis is a lot more convenient than going to the bar, trying to pick someone up, figure out what they like, and hook up with them. He knows Louis, knows what makes him tick and how to make him come quickly and how to draw out an orgasm. And whether he likes it or not, Louis knows the same about him. It’s better sex, there’s less work involved, and they’re both on the same page. This is fine.
“Don’t want to talk about it,” Niall mumbles, eyes half closed as he ties his sneakers. “Too tired. I’ll text you when I wake up.”
“Okay,” Harry says, amused. “Drive safe, please.”
He gets a text a few hours later, when he’s sitting in the CT viewing room waiting for the images to come up on the screen, Zayn in the seat next to him.
One of my towels is in your laundry hamper and there’s a condom in the trash…
Harry clutches the phone to his chest, hiding it from Zayn’s view. Fuck. He thought he’d removed all the evidence, including the towel he’d let Louis borrow. Apparently not.
Happy for you man! About time!!
Just someone I met at the bar, sorry about that.
It’s not technically a lie, at least not the important part. He looks up at Zayn, who’s twirling a pen around his finger and glancing up at their patient in the CT machine, and remembers that Zayn doesn’t know. None of them do.
He’s slept with Louis multiple times and none of them have a clue.
Good for you dude. Also you’re buying me a new towel
Harry laughs a little and shakes his head, telling Niall that he’ll stop for one on his way home later tonight.
“Styles, Tomlinson, you’re both with me,” Dr. Bauer says a few weeks later. “Don’t give me that, I don’t need any of your sass.”
“I didn’t say anything,” Harry says, hands raised in surrender.
“Neither did I,” Louis adds.
“Oh,” she says, looking confused. “I guess… are the two of you alright? No fevers? You’re usually biting each other’s heads off by now.”
“We can... if you... want,” Harry says, realizing a minute too late that she’s right.
“Please don’t. I want to enjoy this moment for as long as it lasts.”
“What’s the deal between you and Louis?” Liam asks one night when they’re all at the bar. He and Harry have been sent to get drinks for everyone.
“What do you mean?” Harry asks, trying to get the bartender’s attention. His fingers drift to his hip, rubbing the spot over his t-shirt where Louis had left a mark earlier that day.
“You haven’t been fighting as much.”
A beat passes while Harry thinks about it. Objectively, they have become nicer to each other. He hadn’t meant for it to happen, but when Louis is quite literally fucking all of his anger out on Harry, it’s hard to be as angry with him later in the day.
He thinks back to something he’d heard in Sunday school as a young boy during the abstinence education that hasn’t worked for hardly any of them. He can’t remember all the details, but he remembers that they said you leave a piece of your heart with everyone you have sex with. Having had sex with a few people he definitely never thought about after, he’s not sure he agrees, but he can see the point. Having so much sex with Louis is drawing them closer together, is softening Harry’s heart toward him in some small ways.
It’s probably going to get him in trouble.
“I guess we just got over it,” he says with a shrug. “Seems immature to be fighting all the time. We’re adults. Time to act like it.”
“You called him Lou earlier. And you shared your french fries.”
“So what? I can dislike someone and still give them food. Or a nickname.”
“Yeah, but I saw you two laughing at a YouTube video last week.”
“Okayyy,” Harry says, spotting a few of the nurses from the surgical ICU sitting at a table in the corner. They wave to him, and he waves back. This place is way too busy, filled with coworkers and visitors and who knows who else. They should find a new bar, one where they won’t see people from work. “That doesn’t mean anything.”
“I’m just saying,” Liam says, his voice a little gleeful, and Harry wishes he would just get to the fucking point already. “You two are friends now.”
Huh. Are they friends? They talk every so often, and it’s not always about scheduling their next sex date. But Harry doesn’t think to fill Louis in on his life’s problems, doesn’t come crying to him when something goes wrong at work. He has other people for that.
So if they’re friends, they’re friends with benefits. Friends who have sex and then sometimes share funny cat videos and maybe some soup. That’s it.
When they get back to the table, the bartender following with a tray of drinks, Harry slides in next to Louis. Their arms brush, and Harry pulls back as if he’s been burned. Louis’ head jerks up and he flashes Harry a funny look, but Harry doesn’t look up.
What if Liam finds out? What if any of them find out that not only do Harry and Louis not hate each other, but they’ve been having secret sex for weeks?
He can’t think about it anymore.
“You avoided me last night,” Louis says the next morning. Direct, straight to the point. Normally Harry would like it, but now, with his stomach twisted up in knots and Louis' hair wonderfully messy, crying out for Harry to run his fingers through it, he just wants to run away.
"I was sitting right next to to you," Harry says, not meeting Louis' eyes. He checks his pager reflexively for something to do, and then looks down at the patient charts on the cart by the nurses' station, making sure they're all in alphabetical order.
"You were. But you didn't talk to me all night."
"I don't want the others to find out," Harry hisses, looking around to make sure that no one's around. The surgical floor is busy, but he's still nervous someone will notice something's up. It’s been twelve hours and Liam’s words are still getting to him.
"They're not gonna find out," Louis retorts.
“Liam noticed that we’re being nicer to each other.”
“Nice?” Louis says, affronted. “He thinks this is nice? Styles, you’d know if I was being nice to you. It’d be a hell of a lot more than sex in on-call rooms and not bitching you out during rounds.”
“Keep your voice down!” Harry hisses. “And he’d better not know about the orgasms.”
“God, would you chill out? He doesn’t.”
“But how do you know?”
“You’re being insufferable, I can’t deal with you right now,” Louis says, his voice louder, and that’s the moment Dr. Bauer chooses to walk by with Liam.
“Not that I want the two of you arguing, but at least I know neither of you are sick now that I’ve seen it for myself once again,” she says.
Louis rolls his eyes and storms away.
“Fuck,” Harry mutters, pressing the words against the palm he’s pressed to his mouth to stop himself from yelling. “Fuck, shit, Louis, feels so fucking good.”
He opens his eyes against the spray of the shower to see Louis down on his knees on the tiled floor, Harry’s cock in his mouth. One hand is fondling with Harry’s balls and the other is gently caressing the base of Harry’s cock.
“You like that?” Louis asks, pulling off with a wet pop. Harry wants to scream; surely Louis won’t leave him hanging, won’t leave him so close to the edge and then just abandon him. Right? He’d never.
“Feels so… so fucking good,” Harry repeats, removing his hand from his mouth and throwing his arm over his eyes. He can’t look at Louis, can’t see him down on his knees, hair plastered to his forehead and a grin on his lips like he magically knows that he’s giving the best blowjob Harry has had in a long time.
His body is screaming out for Louis’ mouth to get back on his cock, and he’s three seconds from tugging at Louis’ hair until he gets the hint, but then Louis runs his wet palm down the shaft and presses a kiss to the tip of Harry’s dick, letting his tongue run up and down the slit.
“Oh shit,” Harry groans, the noises bouncing off the shower wall. There’s no one home, he shouldn’t bother trying to hold it in anymore. “Louis, please, please,” he mumbles, not even sure what he’s asking for. He just wants the suction of Louis’ warm, wet mouth on his cock, wants Louis to make him feel good, wants to keep Louis on his knees in front of him forever and ever.
That’s not realistic, he knows, but goddamn if he doesn’t wish it could happen.
Louis’ hand comes up to grab at one of Harry’s and he as he guides Harry’s hand to the top of his head, Harry gasps a bit as he catches on. Louis wants him to pull his hair. Louis wants Harry to pull his hair as he sucks him off. Fuck, Harry is really going to die tonight.
“Good boy,” Louis says when Harry tugs at the strands of Louis’ hair, and Harry’s head falls back against the wall with a thud.
Heat flares in Harry’s stomach as the water washes down on top of them and Louis’ mouth works over his cock. The water is still warm, and Harry thinks that it must be getting in Louis’ eyes, but he hasn’t complained.
Louis is making these little moaning sounds that are echoing off the tiles and Harry brings up a hand to pinch at his nipple as the heat builds, builds, builds. “Fuck, Louis, stop, stop,” he says, scrambling to push Louis off him. Louis lets himself be pulled. He looks up at Harry with a confused expression, wiping a dribble of precome from the corner of his mouth with the back of his hand as he does so.
Harry has to inhale sharply and remember to breathe.
“Want you to fuck me,” Harry says when he’s caught his breath for the moment. His cock is still hard, bobbing in the air just inches from Louis’ face. “Can you? Please?”
The way he’s begging is a little embarrassing, but Louis nods immediately.
“Where’s the condom?” Louis asks, scrambling to his feet. He pushes his hair back with a shaky hand, and Harry can’t wait to get his hands on his cock.
“On the counter,” Harry says, pointing to the sink, where he’d left the condom and lube. His legs feel like jelly. “Can you grab it? I don’t think my legs are working.”
There is nothing quite so sexy as the way Louis rushes to obey.
“Holy… fuck,” Harry says, chest heaving as his forehead drops against the wall. Louis is trapped between Harry’s body and the wall, pinned by Harry’s shoulder. “You’re so goddamn good at that, you know?” The words are soft, a whispered expression shared between just the two of them.
“So you’ve said a few times,” Louis retorts, and he presses his face against Harry’s shoulder for just a moment.
The air is quiet between them as they find themselves again, the only sound that of the shower head dripping water onto the tile floor. This shower is pretty good for two people, Harry thinks absently, a reminder of what he’d thought the first time he ever toured the place. Then again, the difference between now and then is that he’s had occasion to test it out with someone else.
He reluctantly pulls away from the wall - and by extension, Louis’ wet, warm body - and is about to suggest that they get out of the shower when he hears a voice downstairs.
“Harry? Where are you?”
Louis’ eyes go wide. “Is that—”
“Niall,” Harry says, voice high pitched and panicked. “Yeah. Come on, we need to get out.”
“Are you sure—”
“Yes,” Harry says frantically, pushing him toward the door. “Let’s go, out out out.”
He passes Louis a towel and Louis pushes open the bathroom door, peeking outside before wrapping the towel around his waist and making a beeline for Harry’s bedroom. Harry should probably be more concerned that Louis seems to feel this comfortable in his house, but right now he’s wet and naked and he’s got a similarly wet and naked boy who should definitely not be here and a curious roommate right downstairs.
“I thought you said he was out,” Louis hisses, hesitating before Harry’s bedroom door and turning back to look at him. “What happened to ‘empty house, come over?’”
“Would you—fucking move—get inside?” Harry whispers. “Go on!”
He all but pushes Louis inside his bedroom, and moments later he hears Niall’s heavy football on the stairs. Niall’s room is separated from Harry’s only by the small linen closet; Harry needs Louis to stay absolutely silent.
“Harry?” Niall says, his voice loud outside the closed bedroom door. “Who’s in there with you?”
Louis’ eyes go wide again.
Harry presses one finger to Louis’ lips, willing him to stay silent. Please just stay fucking quiet, he begs with his eyes before opening the door just a crack and poking his head out.
“Hi, I’m a little busy right now,” Harry says, hoping Niall will accept the answer and move on.
“Who’s in there?” Niall asks, his voice loud.
“No one,” Harry says, and Louis pinches his stomach. He has to fight not to squirm in response. Any visible reaction would only make Niall more curious. “Just someone from the bar.”
“You’re going there a lot,” Niall says. “Good for you though. Was about time you got laid. You were starting to get annoying.”
Harry tries not to roll his eyes. “I thought you were going out with your golf friends.”
“I did, but they all bailed out early. You wanna watch a movie?”
Harry nearly laughs out loud, because the alternative is to panic. Niall needs to go away now. “I’m uh, a little busy right now, Ni.”
“He can come too, if he wants.”
Harry shakes his head. “Think I’ll pass. Bye, Niall!”
He slams the door shut again and falls back against it, wondering how he got himself into this mess.
“So Niall’s here for the night,” he says, peeling himself off the door and taking a seat on the bed. Louis takes his place by the door, sliding down against it until he’s sitting on the floor. His towel has come askew, revealing the curve of one of Louis’ toned thighs, and it takes a minute for Harry to refocus his attention on Louis’ face.
“So I heard,” Louis says. “I don’t suppose you’ll be able to sneak me out the front door?”
Harry shakes his head and then sighs. “Can’t get anything past that kid. He’s got ears like a bat. Or sense like a lion. Or something that moves fast, I don’t know.”
“Excellent analogy there, Dr. Styles.”
Louis’ hair has dried, his bangs curling around his forehead, and Harry’s caught by a sudden urge to run his fingers through it and smooth it back into place. “Shut up,” Harry says, and he sets his hands on his upper thighs before standing up.
“So the way I see it, we have two options. One, we can stay up and wait for Niall to go to bed and then sneak you out. Two, you stay over, get some sleep, and you sneak out in the morning.”
“Sounds like I’m your dirty little secret.”
“Aren’t you?” Harry asks, turning to his dresser to find something to wear. He pulls out a pair of sweatpants he’s had since college and grabs a t-shirt. With a glance back at Louis, he sheds his towel.
"Maybe I am," Louis says.
"Maybe." Harry can't quite tell how Louis feels about the whole thing. They haven't discussed anything as trivial as feelings - this arrangement is purely based on sex. But he can't help but wonder if Louis feels them growing closer like Harry does. "Anyway, what do you want to do?"
"I suppose I could spend a night at Hotel Styles. That is, assuming you've got some clothes for me to wear."
"I do, yeah," Harry says, balling up his towel and tossing it into a corner of the room. "Let me find something."
He does, giving Louis his second favorite pair of sweatpants and an old t-shirt. The clothes are a little long on Louis, but there's something so cute about Louis' body drowning in the big t-shirt.
He considers offering to sleep on the floor and letting Louis have the bed, but if he sleeps on the floor his back will hurt the next morning, so he doesn't. The two of them can handle it, right? It'll probably only be a little weird.
"Not the first time we've done this," Louis says as Harry slides into his own side and Louis pulls back the covers on the other so he can climb in.
They've never talked about that night, and Harry doesn't want to start now. "No, it's not."
"So I guess I'll just sneak out in the morning?"
Harry looks over at him. Louis has his head propped up on the pillow by his elbow, and this close to him, Harry can make out every eyelash. He's gripped by the strangest urge to run one finger across the bridge of his nose, across his eyelids, down the shape of his jaw.
"Did you know," Harry says quietly, one hand suspended in midair as he tries to stop himself from doing just that, "that you've got the best cheekbones I've ever seen?"
"So I've heard," Louis says, and then he turns onto his back. "But I thought we didn't compliment each other. I thought we hated each other."
"Do we, though?"
"I don't know," Louis says after a moment, and then he turns over. "Goodnight. I'll see you in the morning at work."
Harry's about to offer to drive Louis to work before he realizes that that won't do well for the whole sneaking out thing. "Alright. Goodnight."
Harry turns over too, facing the opposite way of how he normally sleeps. Louis feels miles away on the other side of the bed, and it takes Harry a very long time to fall asleep.
He wakes to an empty bed, the other side cold, and there's a text on his phone from Louis.
Thanks for a great night, your bed is really comfy. No sign of Niall, think we’re safe. See you at work.
Harry's stomach feels oddly like it's dropped out of his body. He falls back onto the bed and sighs, wondering how he's gotten so mixed up in something that confuses him so much.
A week later, Louis is laying in a small on-call room bed and watching Harry dress. He seems in absolutely no hurry to do the same himself, which is only causing problems for Harry's poor, fragile brain. Louis has exquisite collarbones. Harry never even knew that was a thing for him, but apparently it is. He had to stop himself from admitting to Louis that he wants to slurp wine out of them. Something like that probably goes against the whole friends with benefits thing.
"You know," Louis says, throwing the blankets back and standing up, fully naked. "I haven't slept with anyone else in weeks?"
"Oh yeah?" Harry asks, trying to will down the heat in his groin.
"Yeah," Louis says, and then he pushes Harry back against the door and kisses him hard.
For a moment, Harry's disoriented, trying to figure out what the hell is going on. What was the line of conversation? What day is it? What does Louis mean by that anyway?
“Get going, you’re gonna be late for your surgery,” Louis orders.
Oh right. The big surgery that Harry’s spent hours preparing for. It’s the reason Louis had pulled him into the on-call room in the first place, saying Harry’s pacing was irritating as fuck and promising a good luck blow job if it would make Harry less nervous.
“It’s gonna be fine, you’ll do great,” Louis insists, reaching up on his tiptoes to give Harry a quick kiss. Harry can feel just the hint of Louis’ cock brushing against his leg, and he wants nothing more than to throw Louis back onto the bed and pass the rest of the day like that.
But. Surgery, right.
“I mean it, Harry. I’m jealous as fuck and I still think it should have been me that got picked, but you’re good enough to do this. You can do it.”
It’s a rare moment of sweetness, and Harry’s so taken aback by it that all he can do is nod dumbly and follow as Louis pushes him out the door.
“Harry, I was just telling everyone about the sick new tv you bought,” Niall says one afternoon when Harry gets to the table, lunch in hand. “The cinema set-up is so cool.”
"Maybe we can have a movie night," Liam suggests. "You know, the five of us. Would that be okay, Harry?"
Harry's eyes slide to Louis involuntarily. Louis' lips quirk as he gives the very tiniest of shrugs.
Harry swallows. It feels a bit like he’s been ambushed with a plan they already made, but he’s too tired to say now. “Yeah, sure. Is everyone off tomorrow night?”
There's a mumble of assent. "So it's decided then," Liam announces. "Movie night at our place."
Dr. Bauer shows up for rounds just then, so the conversation ends, but Harry's still thinking about it for the rest of the morning. What the hell is he going to do when Louis comes over and they have to act normal? He can’t do it.
Harry rushes home from work the following night, but even though he went as quickly as he could, two cars are already parked outside the house when he arrives. Louis and Zayn are already at his house. Louis, in his house.
"Damnit," he curses under his breath, holding his car keys between his teeth and he fishes through his rain jacket for his house keys. It's raining again - it's always raining - and his hair is dripping tiny droplets onto the porch. His sneakers are soaked through. When is he going to get used to the weather here?
Through the window panes on the front door, he can see Niall, Liam, Louis and Zayn lounging in the living room, bottles of beer scattered on the table in front of them. Goddamn, he thought he'd have enough time to shower or at the very least change his clothes before he got there. Not that that has anything to do with Louis, not at all. Louis gets to see him in scrubs or under cover of darkness in an on-call room. That's it. Harry devotes no time to wondering what Louis finds attractive about him, if anything. But goddamn if it isn't something he has to stop himself from thinking about.
Finally, he manages to find his keys and lets himself in. The conversation immediately stops as everyone turns to look at him.
"Hey, guys," he says, kicking off his shoes and dropping his bag on the hall. He's making a puddle on the carpet, and not for the first time, reminds himself that he needs to buy one of those shoe trays. "How's it going?"
"Hey, you made it," Niall says, and the other three wave and call their hellos. He can't help but let his eyes linger on Louis' face, on how he's smiling but not too much, on how he's shaved and looks about ten years younger, on how Harry always, always wants to kiss him. As predicted, he’s fucked.
"Yeah, sorry I'm late," he says, stripping off his coat. "Patient crashed just before she was going into surgery, and then... well, the whole thing was a mess. But no one really wants to hear about work right now."
"Not particularly," Liam quips.
"So what's the plan?" Harry asks, walking into the living room in his socked feet. There's a movie paused on the tv, the screen dark, and he can't quite figure out what film it is. He curls up on the couch next to Niall, tucking his legs underneath him, and looking at them all for a response.
"Just ordered a pizza," Zayn says. "Nice place you've got here."
"Yeah, they loved the upstairs shower," Niall says, and Harry looks at him in disbelief.
"You showed them the shower?"
"Yeah, of course I did! All those settings are sick. Besides, it's so big in there, dude. Could fit another person in there if you wanted to."
Harry really doesn't mean for his eyes to slide to Louis, but they do anyway. He finds Louis looking back, and he feels his cheeks get hot.
"Niall," he says, still looking at Louis. "If you bring anyone else into my shower, I swear to God—"
"Alright, alright. It was more a compliment toward your shower, if anything."
Niall takes advantage of the momentary silence to get another beer, and he brings one for Harry to make up for his minor indiscretion.
They restart the movie — it's a war movie that Harry's never seen before, something very dark and incredibly depressing — and Harry finds himself unable to stop looking at Louis.
He's sitting on the armchair that's closest to the TV, is the thing, and it's so easy for Harry's eyes to drift from the screen to Louis' face, eyes tracing the shape of his profile, cataloguing the way he's sitting with his knees tucked up to his chest, muscled arms hugging his shins. He's not wearing socks, weirdly enough; Harry can't help but wonder if his feet are cold.
The pizza shows up and Niall distributes it out to everyone, and then they all focus on the movie again. At a particularly violent scene, Louis looks over at Harry and catches him staring. Harry flushes and looks away. A minute later, despite all his best intentions, his brain forces him to look at Louis again. He's still staring. Harry watches as Louis' eyes trace his face, searching for... well, Harry's not sure what he's looking for. He thinks maybe Louis has found it when Louis bites his lip in that way he uses when he's particularly intent on teasing him. Harry feels himself go hot.
"I'm gonna - water," Harry says, scrambling off the couch. He jostles Niall out of place in the process, having forgotten that Niall's head was resting on his upper arm. Ah well, too late to think about that now.
He rushes into the kitchen on his socked feet, grabbing a glass from the cupboard and then leaning forward to rest his forehead against the closed cabinet door. He's tempted to bang his head against it a few times, but he'd rather avoid having to go back to work tonight, especially as a patient. What the fuck is Louis playing at? Harry knew this night was a mistake. He can't even handle two hours in Louis' presence before he's mentally undressing him. He knows exactly what lays under that pale gray sweater and the jeans that fit him so well. He knows about the dip in Louis' spine, about the dimples just above his ass, about the way that Louis always goes staggeringly silent in the moment just before he comes. He knows things about Louis, and he's having trouble forgetting them.
They should stop hooking up. They really should. He needs to start thinking with his brain instead of his dick.
"You're an idiot, Styles. You need to get over him," he curses under his breath. "Man up and stop sleeping with him already."
"You sure you mean that?"
Harry jumps, causing the water glass to hit against the counter with alarming force. It's Louis, because of course it is. He’s standing at the kitchen door, which is shut behind him. How did Harry not hear it close?
"Oh god, you scared me," Harry manages, holding a hand over his heart. "I didn't think—”
"You didn't what?" Louis asks, crossing the kitchen until he's just feet away from Harry. His eyes are a dark navy, his expression deadly. "Did you mean that, that we should stop hooking up?"
Harry swallows. His throat feels dry. “I…I just meant—”
“Actually, you know what, turns out I don’t need an answer to that,” Louis interrupts. Harry blinks and Louis is surging forward, his lips on Harry’s before he has time to take a breath.
His chest burns hot and his lips feel like fire, blazing as Louis touches him. His lower back digs into the counter and he spares a momentary thought for the empty water glass just behind him, and then Louis’ tongue brushes his and he loses anything that isn’t Louis, Louis, Louis.
It’s slow slides of warm lips and irregular hitches of breath and little moans. It’s Louis’ hips aligning with his, shooting sparks through his veins. It’s the kind of white hot pleasure he hasn’t felt in months, not since that very first night he slept with Louis, and this is just from some kissing.
Eventually, Louis pulls away, his breath hitching as he rests a soft hand on Harry’s heaving chest. His face is flushed and his hair looks like Harry’s been running his fingers through it, which is exactly what’s happened. Harry brings his hands to his own cheeks and his fingers burn; he’s sure he doesn’t look much better.
“Just thought I’d remind you what you’d be missing if we stopped this,” Louis says, his face a filthy smirk, and he leaves Harry alone in the kitchen to catch his breath.
Harry scrubs a hand over his face and runs his fingers through his hair, trying to comb the strands back into submission. “Holy shit,” he mutters to himself, blinking three times in quick succession to confirm that really just happened. He’s not making things up. Louis really did just come into the kitchen and kiss him until he was spacey.
He takes another minute or two to pace the kitchen before he goes back to the living room, trying to look as normal as possible. The others barely look up, too focused on the movie still playing on the screen.
“Where’s Louis?” Harry asks, nudging Niall with his foot and trying to seem as casual as possible.
“Think he’s in the bathroom,” Niall says, not taking his eyes off the screen. “You okay?”
I just got kissed better than I’ve ever been kissed before and I think I might die. “I’m perfect,” Harry says. “All good.”
When Louis comes back a few minutes later, he grins at Harry. For his part, all Harry can do is try not to disappear into the couch.
Louis has three days off after their impromptu movie night, and it’s the longest Harry’s gone without seeing him since they met. He enjoys the peace immensely, and he can tell that Dr. Bauer enjoys not having to listen to any bickering on their morning rounds. But by the third morning, he’s starting to miss Louis’ teasing. Their petty arguments are something that he’s unitentionally grown to look forward to, it seems. He also misses getting texts from Louis to meet him in an on-call room or storage closet, but that’s another story entirely.
The next morning, he’s inordinately pleased to see Louis standing by the nurses’ station, sipping something from a paper cup from Starbucks and examining a chart. He’s not supposed to be excited to see Louis. They hate each other. Maybe it’s just that now that Louis is back, there’s a good chance he’s going to get laid today.
“Dr. Tomlinson,” he says politely, giving him a nod as he walks by to check on one of his patients in a nearby room. He’s halfway through a twenty-four hour shift, and very much looking forward to discharging this patient so he can finally get a bit of a break. At least until the next crisis comes in, that is.
“Dr. Styles,” Louis says, grinning when he sees him. “Hi.”
“How was your time off?” Weirdly, Harry finds that he means it. The others were bitching that Louis getting three days off in a row was unfair and he must have promised sexual favors to the guy who makes the schedules, but Harry thinks that maybe Louis is just lucky.
“Relaxing,” Louis says. “You forget how little sleep we really get until you sleep eight hours straight through.”
“Seriously,” Harry says, and his pager goes off. He peers at it from its place on his waistband. It’s the patient in 4202 again.
“Missed you, though,” Louis says, and something about the way he says it makes Harry’s stomach clench. “Missed your—” he looks around to make sure there’s no one around, and then very quietly, his eyes dark, he forms the next words “—your cock. Missed that too.”
Harry lets out a noise that’s a cross between a bark and a laugh, his eyes wide in surprise. “Oh yeah.”
“Yeah,” Louis says. “Get out of here, I have patients to see.”
Harry’s about to open his mouth to protest, but then 4202 pages him again and he can’t ignore them this time.
“So I’ll see you later?” Louis asks, and Harry nods.
“I’m sure you will.”
Meet me by the cafeteria doors in 10?
Harry looks at his phone again, trying to make sense of the words. It’s fairly straightforward, of course. He’s just confused.
All of his and Louis’ trysts have happened in rooms with locked doors: storage closets, on-call rooms, once the handicapped bathroom at three in the morning. They’ve never met on the first floor of the hospital.
Maybe Louis has found a new spot for them to try.
He shrugs and hands over the chart he’s been looking at to the nurse on duty. His patients are all stable, there’s no new expected admissions, the ship seems to be sailing smoothly. He can afford to sneak off for twenty minutes with Louis.
He scuttles downstairs, already eager to get his hands on Louis again. There’s nothing like his warm skin and his naked body. He takes the stairs, trusting his legs to be quicker than the unreliable elevator.
He's walking a little too fast for someone about to have an illegal sexual tryst in his place of work, but he's a doctor. He figures he's allowed to look like he's in a hurry.
He skids to a stop outside the cafeteria, where Louis is standing with his back to Harry. Harry takes an obligatory moment to ogle his butt, thinking of how he should really spend some time worshipping it today. They can probably spare some time away from work, right?
"Hey," he says in a quiet voice, walking past Louis and then turning around like he's just seen him. "Where are we headed?"
"Hi," Louis says, a big grin on his face, and it's then that Harry notices he's holding two cups of coffee. "We are headed to that table over there," he says, pointing to a circular table in the far corner of the atrium.
Harry blinks. Are they not— what about the on call room?
"What's with the coffee? Are we not going to—"
"Not everything's about sex, Harold. I figured you owe me a bit of your time, too."
Harry blinks again. So it wasn't a booty call. Alright.
"I've got a croissant in my pocket. If you're good to me, we can share it."
Harry cackles. "Always one with the sexual references, Dr. Tomlinson. But coffee's good. I can do coffee."
He follows Louis to the table and immediately takes a sip from the cup Louis hands him. The warm liquid slides down his throat, and it's probably not healthy how he immediately feels more settled because of it.
He sets the cup back on the table and fiddles with the cardboard sleeve, pushing it up and down the cup as he waits for Louis to speak. This is new. But he meant it. He can do coffee.
“This coffee is shit,” Louis says after he takes a sip. He shudders as he swallows, his face pinched.
“Yet we always come here,” Harry says dryly. “All the interns.”
“Well, it’s the closest coffee place, what are we supposed to do?”
“Drink it or die, I guess,” Harry says, his lips quirked up in a smile.
“I guess so.”
Louis starts talking about a case he saw last week and how they think that they might be starting a new research trial, and Harry finds himself fully engaged in the conversation. This is Louis without the sexual references or the argumentative banter. It feels a bit like the real Louis, some of the walls coming down, and Harry’s just happy to get to witness it.
When the sound of Harry’s pager pulls him away twenty minutes later, it feels like a puzzle piece has slid into place.
Louis’ breath is hot against his neck in the locker room one afternoon.
“Can I come over tonight?”
Harry jumps, slamming his locker door in surprise. “Louis,” he mutters, heart racing. He peers around the corner to see if anyone’s spotted them. There’s no one there. “You scared the shit out of me.”
Louis laughs. “Sorry. Can I, though? Do you have any plans?”
Harry pretends to think about it. “I don’t know, I think I might have laundry to do.”
“Harry,” Louis says, pouting. “Please.”
“You act like you didn’t sneak out of my house yesterday morning,” Harry says, and there’s a thrill that runs through him at the statement: Louis has been sneaking out of his house more and more lately, and Harry’s not sure what they’re doing anymore but he likes it. He opens his locker door to take out an apple and bites into it, pretending to consider his options. “I don’t know.”
“I’ll take you to dinner first,” Louis says immediately, his tone pleading. Harry waits a moment, enjoying the way Louis is twitchy in front of him, and then grins.
He expects Louis to take him to a shitty pizza place, somewhere where they can grab the food and head for the bedroom. He’s pleasantly surprised when Louis pulls into an Thai restaurant about twenty minutes away from the hospital — this… thing between them is still secret, after all — and turns to Harry with a smile.
“Hope you like Thai food.”
“I… I do,” Harry says slowly.
It feels like a proper date, the two of them drinking wine and Louis’ foot rubbing against his ankle under the table and taking bites of each other’s dishes. For a few minutes, Harry can pretend that they’re an actual couple. He doesn’t know what that says about him.
“Sir,” the waiter says, looking at Louis with a happy grin. There’s something more to it, though, and Harry can’t quite put his finger on it. “The bill.”
Louis takes it from him and turns back to Harry, but the waiter is still lingering, as if waiting for something from them. He’s hovering. It’s uncomfortable.
“Can I help you?” Harry says, a bitter edge to his voice.
The waiter, who can’t be much younger than he and Louis are, looks panicked. “Oh no, nothing,” he says, face flushing red. “I just thought I’d take the card from him now.”
“Right,” Harry says. It’s a bit rude of him to assume Louis would be paying. “Well, we’ll be splitting the bill anyway, so it’s not just on him.”
The waiter coughs. “Er, alright.”
Louis flashes him a strange look as they both take out their credit cards and hand them to the waiter, who walks away after smiling at Louis again.
“Why are you acting so strange?” he hisses.
“I’m not,” Harry says, shaking his head. “The waiter is just… why is he being so weird?”
“He’s not being weird!” Louis exclaims, probably a bit too loud. “He’s doing his job, didn’t you notice?”
The waiter—Mark, Harry remembers his name now— returns with the cards for them to sign. He gives one booklet to Harry and hesitates before he gives the one to Louis with a wink. “There’s, er… I put my number in there, if you ever wanted to go out sometime.”
He disappears, leaving Harry staring at him, mouth wide open.
“What the fuck?” Harry exclaims, quickly signing the form and getting up to leave. “What if you were on a date?”
“Well, I wasn’t, was I?” Louis asks, following Harry out the door. “Why were you so bitchy back there?”
“He was making me uncomfortable,” Harry says.
“He was doing his job, I already told you.”
“Whatever. If we’re gonna argue, can we at least do it in your bedroom? I have to go to sleep early tonight.”
“Yeah, alright,” Harry says.
He doesn’t fall asleep in Louis’ arms that night, but he wishes that he could, and he stays up far too late trying to figure out what that means.
They’re sitting in Harry’s kitchen one morning, Harry drinking coffee and Louis perched on the counter, his legs kicking against the cabinets below, when it hits him. Louis is eating the last slice of the pizza they picked up a few nights ago on the way home and telling a story about something crazy that happened with a patient last night when he was working and Harry wasn’t. The sun is streaming in, bouncing off the side of Louis’ face and making him glow. Harry’s struck by a sudden urge to lightly brush his hair away from his face, to press a kiss to each cheekbone and to his forehead, to tell him that he loves him.
Harry is in love with him.
Oh no. It feels like a punch to a gut, everything smashing into a million pieces and rearranging into a different puzzle entirely.
“What’s wrong?” Louis asks, his eyebrows furrowed as his hand pauses in the air, mid-gesture, and oh no.
There’s clearly something on his face and Louis can read it and oh god, Harry is in love with Louis and they’re just friends with benefits—barely friends, even—and this was not supposed to happen.
“No, no, nothing,” Harry says, voice raspy over the words. “Just thought of something I forgot to do. Continue.”
Louis’ face smooths back out as he keeps talking, but Harry can’t hear a word, mind moving a thousand miles a minute as he tries to figure out how the hell he missed this.
Harry tosses a stone into the lake, watching it skip across the surface. One, two, three bounces before it falls. One, two, three seconds before Harry groans, lamenting what an idiot he is.
The signs were all there. What was he thinking? Feeding Louis soup. Lending him his clothes. Inviting him into his bed. He’s been in love with Louis for weeks, and his brain is just now catching up.
He skips his last stone, a smooth, polished thing he found on the edge of the lake, and then turns from the water and starts the mile walk back to his house.
After the realization that hit him like a ton of bricks, he’d feigned illness and told Louis that he wasn’t feeling up to having sex, that Louis should probably just go home and go to bed. Louis had offered to take care of him—they were doctors, after all—but Harry had refused, had all but pushed Louis out the door.
“You just worked a long shift, go home and sleep,” Harry said. “Doctor’s orders.”
Louis had grinned and blew him a kiss, and Harry had gone to the bathroom and fought the urge to vomit.
So he’s in love with Louis. This isn’t anything like he’d felt at the beginning of their intern year. No. That was infatuation, an all-consuming crush that burned bright and fast. This is something entirely different.
This is the kind where he wants to hang out with Louis no matter what they’re doing, wants to make sure he’s always safe and protected, wants to make him laugh like no one else can. He doesn’t want anyone else to have a claim over Louis. He cringes even as he thinks about it, but it’s true.
The guy at the restaurant a few weeks back. Oh god.
Harry wants to lay down face down in the road when he thinks about how he’d acted that night, the misunderstanding of the anger that had filled his body when that guy gave Louis his number.
The realization is overwhelming, exhausting. He only woke up a few hours ago, just before Louis came over, and he already feels like he needs a nap.
Maybe this isn’t the worst thing in the world, he thinks the next morning when he gets ready for work. He did say that he hadn’t slept with anyone else since they met. Was that Louis trying to tell him that he was interested? At the time, Harry had just thought it was Louis trying to make a weird joke about their arrangement, trying to point out that he was sexually satisfied.
But what if he was trying to make a bigger point?
Harry has no clue. He’s been completely oblivious about his feelings this whole time, is it possible he could have missed Louis’ too?
Maybe this isn’t the worst thing in the world.
“Time to go, Styles!” Niall calls, banging on his bedroom door, and Harry finishes tying his shoes and runs out the door.
He spends the next few days in a haze, trying to control himself anytime he’s around Louis, trying to read the signs and not give himself away. Louis is as cheerful as ever in public, only bickering for the sake of it, with no real heat behind it, and the few times they have sex, he’s attentive, careful, engaged. He touches Harry the way he’s learned that he likes to be touched after the dozens of times they’ve done this, he compliments him, he makes Harry feel important. Thinking about it now, it’s a big contrast to the first few times they did this, when everything was heat and anger and frustration.
So maybe. Maybe there’s a chance Louis likes him too.
The message comes through when Harry’s drinking bad coffee from the floor kitchen, too busy to go downstairs to get any of the good stuff.
You wanna meet in the on-call room on the third floor in fifteen?
Harry sighs as he reads the message, because there is hardly anything he wants more than Louis’ skin warm against his, Louis’ fingers working inside of him, Louis’ mouth on his.
Sorry, can’t. Scrubbing in with Aoki in 20.
The case is complicated, something he’s been studying for ages: a facial reconstruction for a woman burned in a house fire three years earlier. He'd initially been dismissive of plastics, thinking that it was a way for people who didn't like their bodies to fix them, to make themselves artificially better. He sees how wrong he was now. Dr. Aoki has given people the confidence to live like they did before they had traumatic accidents, helping them feel at home in their own bodies once again. Everyone in the hospital knows the story of the woman in the ferryboat accident whose entire face was ruined. Dr. Aoki fixed her, and she went on to start a nonprofit to help fellow accident victims.
So no, plastics isn't all boob jobs and new noses like he once thought.
Good luck!! reads Louis' response, and Harry smiles when he reads it. Louis knows all about his nerves over this surgery, about how they're going to repair the patient's face using donor skin. It's a really risky surgery, and though Harry's main interest doesn't lie in plastics, he'd been really honored to be chosen.
Thanks, wish you could be here for some stress relief but I'll make do with the shitty coffee on the surgical floor!
He leaves the kitchen, swallowing the last few drops of the hot liquid as it goes down his throat, and tosses the styrofoam cup into the trash can. He flexes his arms into the air and stretches: he's going to be standing for a long time for the surgery, and his body still aches a bit from the yoga class yesterday morning.
His mom had emailed him a link last week to a gifted package of yoga classes at the studio near his house. He'd called her immediately, saying it was way too kind of her but there was no way he could accept a gift like that. "I'm an adult, I have my own money. I don't need you to pay for things for me anymore."
"I know," she said. "But you're not making a lot and I know you're not gonna make this a priority. Please don't fight me on it."
"Thanks, Mama," he'd said, fighting back tears at such a simple gesture.
So he'd gone to yoga courtesy of his mom, and now his back aches a little bit in the best way, and he's about to go transform someone's life in surgery.
He looks at the surgical board, making sure that it's still in the room he thinks it is, and notices that Liam, Niall and Zayn are all in different surgeries.
That also explains why Louis would see what he was up to. It's a hell of a lot easier for them to get away with secret trysts when the only interns around are the ones who don't care much about them.
"Can I see the chart for Lillian O'Day, please?" he asks one of the nurses, just for something to do while he waits to go to the patient's room. He hates himself for not being able to remember her name. When he first started, he knew the names of all the nurses on the floor, made it a priority to introduce himself to new ones when they started. But now there’s so much else going on, so much to learn and focus on.
Plus now there's the whole issue of him realizing that he's in love with Louis. That's eating up a fair amount of his time.
"Hey," says a voice behind him, and a paper cup of coffee slides onto the counter next to him. He whirls around to see Louis standing there, a sly grin on his face.
"That's for you. Thought you could use a pick me up." He looks suddenly shy, fiddling with his fingernails like they're the most interesting thing in the world.
"Thank you so much," Harry says, his voice a little awed. "That's... that's really nice. Thanks, Louis."
"It's just coffee," Louis says with an offhand shrug. "No need to make a big deal out of it."
"Right," Harry says, and he looks down at the floor as his cheeks flush pink.
The surgery is long and grueling, and it's late at night by the time he gets out of the hospital, Louis nowhere to be seen. Harry texts him to find out where he is, and unfortunately, he’s not at the hospital.
You're a rockstar, wish I was there to give you a reward!! Sadly (for you, not me) i am home warm in my bed.
Probably would be warmer with me there, Harry replies, and what is this? Are they flirting? They've never really done this before.
Definitely would be, but we can't all have our space heaters with us every night.
No, sometimes the space heaters have to save lives. Speaking of, I need to go see if she’s woken up yet. Thanks again for the coffee.
Anytime, H. Proud of you.
Harry has known he's in love with Louis for three weeks when he decides that he needs to tell him.
This isn't like before when he was infatuated and thought that maybe he and Louis had a chance. This is different. They know each other. They know what makes the other tick and they know how to make each other laugh and how to piss each other off. Harry's never felt like he does around Louis, his skin buzzing and nervous at the prospect of rejection and elated any time Louis pays him even the slightest bit of attention.
He doesn't know if Louis feels the same, but if it took Harry this long to catch onto his feelings, maybe there's a chance that Louis is the same way. Maybe they're both slow to catch up. Maybe they're perfect for each other.
Hey, wanna meet in the usual spot?
Sure, I can be there in fifteen if that works?
Harry's in the CT room with Niall, waiting for their patient to finish up, but he knows Niall won't care if he leaves him here. Niall lives for this shit, for the images coming through and trying to makes sense of what they're saying, even though one isn't really supposed to make any official diagnosis without a radiologist or an attending doctor.
“Hey, Ni?” Harry asks, looking up at Niall, who is hyper focused on the images on the screen. “I have something I’ve gotta do, I’ll be back in a bit. That okay?”
It’s ten in the evening and they’ve both worked a long shift, so Niall just shrugs. “Go for it, dude.”
Seven minutes later, he’s undressing Louis, moaning obscenely while Louis presses kisses down his jaw.
After, with Louis’ body warm against his and his breath finally returning to normal, Harry presses a kiss to the crown of Louis’ head. It’s pure instinct, nothing intentional about it. For a moment, Louis stiffens against him and Harry freezes too, and then Louis relaxes, his body sinking back against Harry’s. The blanket resting over them shifts.
His bum brushes against Harry’s cock, and Harry leans into the contact, lightly moving against him. He rocks gently for about thirty seconds, all too aware that they’re on a path to destruction. He’s not fifteen years old anymore but he’ll still be hard again in a few minutes if they carry on like this.
“I should go,” Harry says abruptly, untangling his limbs from Louis’ and getting to his feet.
“No, stay,” Louis says sleepily, reaching out a hand, eyes already drifting shut. He tugs at Harry’s arm, looping two fingers around his wrist and pulling him back. “Please.”
It’s the please that does it in the end, Louis’ sleepy tone tugging at Harry’s heartstrings.
Not that it takes much convincing, really.
Harry climbs back into the bed, lets Louis spoon him and hold him close. Harry forgets about anything that has to do with patients and healthcare and focuses on the sound of Louis’ breaths against the back of his neck, and then he sleeps.
He wakes to the sound of a pager beeping aggressively. It’s his own, four unread messages. They all say different versions of them same thing, getting more urgent each time.
They're needed in room 5416, and they were needed twenty minutes ago.
"Louis," Harry says, shaking his shoulder. "Wake up."
Harry springs into action, throwing off the blankets and pulling on clothes without checking to see which of them they belong to. The pants are a bit short, actually, and now that he thinks about it, they may belong to Louis. He doesn't bother to change, just pulls on a shirt and shakes Louis awake.
"'s goin’—what's going on?"
"They need us in 5416. Emergency," Harry says, lacing up one sneaker. "Seems like they've needed us for a while, based on the number of messages I got."
"Fuck," Louis swears, looking at his pager. "My fucking pager died. Fucking shit.”
Harry’s never heard him as angry as Louis is now, swearing loudly even as he gets dressed and combs his fingers through his hair.
“I’m gonna go cause I’m ready,” Harry says. “I’ll meet you up there.”
“Okay,” Louis says distractedly, and as Harry races up the stairs to the patient’s room, he can’t help but think about an hour ago, when the two of them were falling asleep tangled together, how he’d never felt so safe. He’d never felt so at home.
He’ll tell Louis in the morning. He’ll ask him to get breakfast and he’ll tell him then.
And maybe this will all work out.
Louis appears in the patient’s room about forty five seconds after Harry does.
“Where were you, Tomlinson?” Dr. Bauer roars, not bothering to look up at Louis, who stands in the doorway, chest heaving as he surveys the scene. “This is your patient!”
Harry tries not to look at him for too long.
“I’m sorry, I was—”
“I don’t care what the fuck you were doing,” she says, instructing Niall to cut open the patient’s airway. Zayn and Liam look on, faces nervous as they watch Niall wielding a scalpel.
“Horan. You have to do it,” Dr. Bauer says sternly. “And you have to do it soon. If you don’t do this, she will die. I don’t mean that as an empty threat. Get on it.”
“She could die anyway,” Niall retorts. “If I cut it wrong or go too deep or—”
“Horan,” Dr. Bauer says. “This is a nine year old girl. If you don’t do this in the next ten seconds, I’m giving it to Payne.”
“I’ll do it,” Louis says, and it’s then that Harry puts it together: this is the patient he’d been talking about earlier, the one who was in a car accident with her parents. Her parents hadn’t survived, and Harry knew that Louis felt a special connection to the girl.
“No, Tomlinson, you’re off the case,” Dr. Bauer snaps, watching as Niall makes the cut. Harry wants to cheer him on, tell him that he’s proud of him for doing it even when he was scared, but Louis is nearly crumpled in the doorway.
“I’m sorry, my pager died,” he says, and his voice sounds teary.
“I don’t care, that can’t happen. You’re a professional. Go do charts, and I’ll deal with you later.”
“Yes, Dr. Bauer,” Louis says, and then he’s gone, Liam and Zayn watching on in shock.
“You too, Styles,” Dr. Bauer continues. “Don’t care where you were or what your excuse is. When you get paged, you show up, whether it’s your patient or not.”
“Yes ma’am,” he says, and then he turns on his heel, trying not to cry himself.
He plans to seek out Louis, to give him a hug and brush back his hair and promise that it’s all going to be fine, but there is absolutely no sign of him. Harry doesn’t see him for the rest of the night.
They meet again in the hospital lobby.
Harry’s been calling Louis for the better part of an hour, reluctant to go home until he knows at the very least that Louis is okay. There’s a part of him that’s hoping Louis will come home with him, maybe they can still go out to breakfast like he hoped. That bit’s less important right now.
“Louis,” Harry says, voice breaking in relief as he rushes toward him. “Are you—where have you—are you alright?”
Louis gives him a broken smile.
“I’m not being punished too bad. Just a warning and I’m on scut for two weeks.”
Harry’s face brightens. “Well that’s not the worst thing in the world.”
“Right. Look, can we go outside?”
“Sure,” Harry says, his voice going low as they exit the hospital. Outside, the morning air is crisp and cool, sun shining down on them. It’s a day to make some life changes, to be brave and go after what he wants. What he wants is Louis. “I was thinking that we could go to breakfast, maybe? There’s some stuff I wanna talk about.”
“Harry,” Louis’ expression tightens. “Look, take a seat on this bench, will you?”
Harry’s heart has never felt so caught in his throat as it does right now, waiting for Louis to continue. He wants to say something, but he feels frozen.
Louis takes a seat next to him and looks at his hands, his fingers twitching as he takes a deep breath. “I... I can’t do this anymore.”
Harry looks up at him in alarm. He wants to quit the internship? Louis doesn’t do things without thinking them through. He doesn’t do reckless.
“But you’re so good at it,” Harry says, laying a hand on Louis’ forearm. “I don’t want you to give up.”
“What?” The skin around his eyebrows is pinched, and then realization crosses his face, smoothing the lines. His voice is softer when he speaks again. “No, Harry, not the internship. This… this whole… thing between me and you.”
Harry blinks, certain he’s misheard, and Louis must read that as an invitation to continue.
“I can’t do this anymore. I can’t afford to be distracted. She could have died and it’s all because I wasn’t paying attention.”
Harry’s throat feels dry and he swallows over it. The sky has suddenly turned dark, the sun disappearing and taking his hopes away with it. “But that was a one time thing, you know that wouldn’t happen again.”
“But it could.”
“It’s not a reason for us to stop hooking up,” Harry tries again. “This is so…” He wants to say that the two of them are so good together, aren’t they? But he can’t find the words in time.
“I can’t jeopardize people’s lives over this, over you,” Louis says, zipping up his jacket and pulling his hood over his head. “I’m sorry, for what it’s worth.”
He gets to his feet and Harry’s head feels fuzzy, the edges of his vision blurring. “But I-”
“Harry. It’s for the best, yeah? Before either of us gets hurt.”
I’m already hurt, he wants to say as he watches Louis walk away. He stares at him until he becomes a speck in the distance, and then he can’t see anything because his eyes have filled with tears.
The elevator pings as the carriage pulls to a stop, and Harry waits patiently for the doors to open. The elderly woman at the front exits immediately, and then there’s a beat of hesitation as the passengers in the lobby wait to see if anyone else is getting off.
“Excuse me,” Harry says, pushing through from the back of the elevator. “Sorry, coming through.”
The crowds part for him, and he thinks, not for the first time, that the power to force people into action is one of the weirder parts of his profession. He never anticipated that a white coat and powder blue scrubs would have such an effect on people. He’s just himself. Just Harry. He doesn’t need people thanking him for doing his job.
He makes his way to the surgical wing, saying hi to a few doctors as he goes. He sees his intern group at the end of the hall, all of them gathered in a huddle. He’s the last one. For once, he’s alright with it.
“Hey, sorry I’m late,” he says, but his approach gets drowned out by Dr. Bauer’s call to attention.
“Alright, now that you’re all here, we can finally get - wait, where’s Styles?” she asks with a frown.
“I’m right here,” he says, and when he looks up, the five of them are gaping at him.
“But your—” Niall starts.
“What happened to—” Liam says.
“Your hair,” Zayn finishes. “Where did all your hair go?”
Dr. Bauer gives a low whistle. “Looking good, Dr. Styles.”
Harry shrugs one shoulder and runs his hands through his hair, which has been chopped off, shorn close to his head. The curls he spent so long growing are now sitting in a back room of a hair salon, ready to be shipped to a charity that makes wigs for kids. It was the least he could do.
“I just needed a change.”
He can feel Louis’ eyes on him, and when he looks up, Louis’ eyes dart away. Good. He doesn’t deserve to look at Harry anymore.
It’s been three weeks since the breakup, as Harry has come to refer to it, despite the lack of any stated romantic relationship. He’s spent the past twenty days trying to figure out what went wrong and how Louis could dispose of him so easily, before finally deciding that he’d massively misread Louis’ feelings altogether.
One can only eat so much ice cream and bury themselves in blankets while watching Netflix before feeling the need to make a change. When he’d left work the evening before, he’d decided that there was no time like the present and stopped by the salon on his way home.
There had been a few tears when he got home and looked at it in the mirror, but it feels entirely worth it now that he’s seen Louis’ reaction.
After three weeks of mutual avoidance and a pang in his heart every time he did catch sight of Louis, it feels good to have the upper hand.
“Well, it looks good,” Niall says.
“Thanks, Niall,” he says with a smile, and then Dr. Bauer says that there’s been enough discussion of Harry’s haircut, he’s not a rockstar, and they need to start rounds five minutes ago.
Blessedly, she doesn’t assign him to a service alongside Louis. He may be convincing himself that he’s over him, but it’s still gonna take some time.
That’s all he needs. Time.
Work has never felt so big and so monumental as it does in the few weeks after Louis ends the... thing between them. With more time on his hands, Harry throws himself into work. He can’t get distracted by Louis at his side, so he focuses three times as hard on what the doctors are saying, reads the notes in all the charts during his downtime, and checks in with the nurses on the status of patients twice as often as he needs to.
The result of all of this distraction is that he’s sharper than ever, more knowledgeable about each specific patient and very aware of what’s going on. He spends more time in the observation room of the OR, so focused on surgeries that more than once, he looks up at the clock to see that three hours have gone by in what feels like mere seconds.
“Did you get in early today, Dr. Styles?” asks Dr. Sheeran, and Harry nods. “I thought I spotted you in the gallery. You’ll be with me today.”
He feels Louis’ irritation more than he sees it, and a tiny piece of him wants to gloat. Look, he would say. Look how much better I'm doing without you.
He settles for following Dr. Sheeran down the hall instead.
He’s sitting in the cafeteria with Niall, the two of them eating lunch and talking about last night’s football game, when out of the corner of his eye, he sees Louis come through the door. He watches as Louis scans the room, no doubt looking for someone, and because he’s looking at him, he catches Louis’ expression the exact moment that his eyes land on Harry. His eyes fall to his shoes, and Harry turns away abruptly, his heart sinking to his stomach. A minute later, he looks up, and Louis is gone.
“Hey, you okay?” Niall lays a hand on his shoulder. “You seemed to get really sad just then.”
“What? Oh, yeah, I’ll be fine. Things are… it’s gonna be fine.” He doesn’t think Niall believes him, but he doesn’t want to ask.
Niall’s sad smile is an answer in itself. Harry tries not to think about it, tries to focus on the taste of his sandwich instead. It’s good today, a sharp contrast to the dry and tasteless mess that they usually serve. “Anyway, I thought I should tell you that I met someone.”
“You met someone?” Harry hates that his first thought is jealousy. He tries to stamp down the tiny embers of it that flame in his lower stomach. “Who is it?”
Niall’s face breaks into a big smile, and as he tells Harry all about the woman, Barbara, he met in the grocery store, both of them reaching for the last box of blueberries—“Real romance novel stuff, I’m telling you”—Harry can’t help but think of Louis.
“I like her a lot,” Niall admits, almost giddy as he says it, and Harry thinks that he and Louis could’ve had that initial giddiness. They could’ve gone on real dates, holding hands and dancing around the “I like you” conversation and wondering who would make the first move. There should have been butterflies in their stomachs and whispered confessions that led to sleepovers and eventually, talking about the future.
And instead, they didn’t have any of it.
“That’s awesome,” he says instead. “She sounds really great. Really.”
“She wants to meet you,” Niall says. “You and Liam. I thought maybe she’d come over for dinner some night this week? It doesn’t need to be a whole fancy thing, we can just hang out.”
“Yeah,” Niall confirms with a nod. “I don’t know. I just think… I think she’s gonna be around for a long time. I want you guys to meet.”
Later, as he heads back up to the floor to round on his patients, he realizes that he misses Louis. It’s lonely, having no one to talk to about his heartbreak, and sleeping alone is no fun. But it’s time to get over it.
He’ll find someone else one day. He really will. Liam’s girlfriend broke his heart and he found someone he likes even more, so Harry can do it too. He’ll find someone just as good - no, better - in bed than Louis was.
A quiet voice in his head tells him that it was about more than just the sex, but he tells that voice to shut up.
Harry gets assigned to work on Thanksgiving, and though the staff try to make it fun, his heart is at home. He can’t appreciate the catered breakfast when at home, his family’s preparing to run their neighborhood Turkey Trot. He can’t be happy about the fact that it’s a slower day without any scheduled surgeries when he knows that his stepdad’s cooking the turkey while the rest of the family watches the parade.
They mean well, but it’s a sharp hit to the ribs when he gets a video from Gemma of her husband David tossing a football to their three kids. The baby’s running now, chasing after the older twins in the backyard. He can’t stop the tears that well up as he hears his mom cheering them on in the background.
“You alright?” Zayn asks, bumping Harry’s shoulder with his own.
Harry’s head jerks up in alarm, tearing his eyes away from the video on the screen to see Zayn looking at him. He looks concerned. They’re standing in the hallway, which is quiet around them, and Harry’s surprised he didn’t hear him approach.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” Harry says.
“You don’t look fine.” The thing that Harry loves most about Zayn is also the thing that he loathes: he has a strong power of perception that often serves him well.
Harry sighs and tilts his head back against the glass window that looks into the conference room. He closes his eyes and breathes in, filling his lungs, and then lets the breath back out. When he looks back at Zayn, he sees that his face is patient, still a bit concerned.
“I will be fine. Just missing home.” He’s lost track of how many times he’s said that over the last few weeks. He doesn’t like lying if he can help it, and it’s more of a hope: one day, he will be fine. He will be.
“It’s hard to work holidays, isn’t it?” Harry nods, wanting to breathe a sigh of relief. Zayn gets it, Zayn’s feeling it too. “What do you guys normally do?”
“My stepdad makes us run a 5k every year, and my mom bakes all kind of breakfast foods for us to eat when we get back.” He’d really missed them this morning; the muffins and dry croissants provided by the executive staff didn’t compare. “And we watch the parade, and play football, and then all my cousins come over and we eat food, and then we watch lots of movies and everyone takes naps.”
Zayn grins. “That sounds awesome, man. My family just gets really drunk.”
“Nah, we eat turkey and shit. And my mom makes the best fucking desserts in the world. There’s this chocolate pie that she puts, like, three pounds of sugar into.” A shadow crosses his face, and he cuts himself off. “Okay, yeah, now I’m sad.”
Harry laughs and leans his head down to rest on Zayn’s shoulder. “We’re gonna be okay, yeah?”
“We’ve really got no choice, do we? Anyway, I guess this is a different kind of family.” There’s a few minutes of silence as Harry considers his words. There’s Niall, who’s become like Harry’s brother, the one he would do anything for. There’s Liam, who’s always making sure they’re all alive and getting their vitamins and keeping them in line. There’s Zayn, who’s sweet and perceptive and sensitive, the best person for Harry to go to in a crisis. And of course there’s Louis, but Harry doesn’t want to think about him.
He focuses on trying to find an adventure instead. “You wanna go see if they’ve got anything good in the cafeteria?”
Zayn nods, his hair brushing across Harry’s forehead. Harry inhales at just the right moment, and he realizes that Zayn smells really good. For a split second, just a flash in his brain, he wonders how different things would be if it had been Zayn’s bed that he’d fallen into that first night. But no, absolutely not. Zayn is ridiculously good looking and wildly attractive, always has been, but Louis is like the sun, an explosion of light and color that Harry’s never been truly able to look away from. His light casts only tiny shadows on Harry these days, but he’s still the sun.
“Yeah, let’s go.”
By mid-December, Harry finds himself striding around the hospital with a spring in his step. There’s an easy self-confidence he hadn’t possessed six months ago, a knowledge that he is making this work while not giving his entire life over to it. While some of the interns are known for being ruthless, for treating their patients like slabs of meat and sleeping at the hospital every night, Harry refuses to be like that. He cares deeply about his patients and he’s now the first to jump at an emergency page, but he rejects the idea that he needs to hand over the keys for his whole life to be good at his job. To be the best doctor and the best Harry Styles, he needs to be the one driving the car.
It seems to be working well; last week, he heard Dr. Sheeran telling Dr. Bauer that he wanted “that Styles kid” on more of his cases. Harry’s had to cover his smile with his fist and pretend he’d seen a photo of a cute puppy on the internet.
He’s not going home for Christmas, but neither are Niall or Liam, so they’ve made plans with a few other friends to have a dinner at Harry’s condo. Harry’s never brought it up and neither have Niall or Liam, but he wonders how long they’re planning to live there. He loves having them there, would happily let them live with him forever, but he can’t imagine that Liam likes sleeping in a room that is essentially a storage closet all that much. He decides not to mention it, hoping they’ll all just carry on with this arrangement for a long time.
He’s checking his email on a workstation computer during some downtime when one of the nurses approaches. If Harry remembers correctly, the guy is named Cory and he started working at the hospital just before Harry did.
“Hey, Dr. Styles,” Cory says, and Harry looks up.
“You know you can just call me Harry,” he says with a smile. He feels a bit awkward about people calling him doctor. Sure, it’s his title, and he worked damn hard for it, but it sounds pretentious when people his age use it as a means of address.
“Right. Harry. But only if you call me Cory.”
“I already do,” Harry says with a laugh. “I have since the beginning, when you told me that I couldn’t keep calling you Mr. Townsend.”
“Well, that’s true. But hey, I was, uh…” He tilts his head and scratches the side of his neck. His entire countenance suddenly radiates uncertainty, and Harry has the sudden realization that this isn’t a work conversation. “I was wondering if you… Would you like to go out to dinner with me?”
Harry stills, forcing his face into a smile as Cory waits anxiously for his answer. He’s never thought about Cory in the romantic sense before, but he’s been so focused on Louis to even think about anyone else. Maybe this is the time to start. He and Cory have had a few cursory conversations, mostly about work but once about baseball, and he seems to be a nice guy. What can it hurt?
“Sure,” Harry says, and it’s impossible to miss the way Cory’s face bursts into a smile. “I’m off tomorrow night, if that works for you.”
“That’s perfect. What’s your address? I can pick you up around eight. There’s this great little Italian place I know,” Cory says. Italian for a first date, what a cliche, says the Louis-voice in Harry’s head, and he stomps on it.
Harry gives him the address and they make a plan. He watches Cory walk away, and he doesn’t miss the way that just before he rounds the corner, Cory turns back to look at him, a grin on his face.
When Harry decided that he would get into the Seattle dating scene, he wasn’t thinking it would be quite so soon. He also wasn’t planning it would be someone from work. But when opportunity knocks, Harry opens the door.
If it goes well, maybe he can bring Cory to his roommate Christmas dinner. Maybe he’ll feel a little less alone.
Because Harry’s life is a trainwreck, a surgery that’s supposed to take an hour spirals to three, and he has to have a scrub nurse page Cory to tell him that he’ll be late for his date. It’s a bit embarrassing, having someone else be the intermediary, but such is the life of a surgical intern.
Cory meets him in the hospital lobby, dressed in a crisp navy blazer and jeans. He’s holding a bouquet of flowers at his side. He smiles when Harry catches his eye, and that’s a nice feeling, to make someone else smile.
“Hey,” Cory says, placing a hand on Harry’s waist as he leans in to press a soft kiss to his cheek. “I’m glad you made it.”
“I’m so sorry,” Harry says immediately, even though he knows Cory isn’t being passive aggressive. He means it genuinely. “The surgery ran late.”
“It’s okay, I get it. You ready to go?”
“Yeah, I’m starving.”
“Great,” Cory says, and he leads them out of the hospital. “These are for you, by the way,” he says, handing over the flowers.
The blue of the ribbon wrapping around the steps is the exact same color as Louis’ eyes. “They’re gorgeous, thank you so much. No one’s ever brought me flowers on a date before, you know.”
“Really?” Cory looks over in surprise. “I’m that red volvo just over there, by the way.”
“Well, I’m glad I could be the first.”
Before he starts the car, Cory asks Harry what type of music he likes to listen to and then produces a cassette tape of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours from the glove compartment.
“A man after my own heart,” Harry says, the comment offhand, and he realizes a beat too late that yeah, maybe Cory is. Oops.
The restaurant is dark and intimate, and Cory pulls out Harry’s chair for him and asks him all about his favorite types of foods. He doesn’t do any of the douchey things Harry’s past dates were fond of: ordering his food for him, insisting that he get a different type of wine than the one he wanted, talking over him.
Cory’s the opposite of all that. He asks Harry how he likes living in Seattle, tells him about the cool art exhibits he should visit, and asks about his family. Cory grew up in Seattle, went to film school in Manhattan, and then came back home when he decided he wanted to do a second bachelor’s in nursing. He has two brothers and a sister, is obsessed with his dog, and he loves art museums.
And he’s perfectly fine.
He makes Harry laugh and he pays attention to everything he says and Harry feels positively wooed, but there’s something missing. Even as they share a dessert and Cory lets him have all the chocolate fudge in the brownie, he still doesn’t feel that spark.
He’s certainly physically attracted. It’s been two months since he’s been with anyone and the sleeves of Cory’s shirt are rolled up to his elbows in just the precise way that turns Harry on. He won’t be going home with Cory though, he knows that already.
When the check comes, Harry wages a mental battle over accepting Cory’s offer to pay for; in the end, they decide to split it. Cory insists on covering it the next time.
Harry wonders if there will indeed be a next time.
Cory’s hand is warm on the small of his back as he leads Harry out of the restaurant. It’s raining heavily, and Cory whips an umbrella out of his jacket pocket.
“Of course you have that,” Harry says, laughing as Cory shields him from the rain, the two of them running for the car in tandem.
“What does that mean?”
“You just seem very prepared! You’re a prepared guy. That’s all.”
Cory laughs and opens the car door for Harry, making sure he’s safely inside before sprinting around to the driver’s side. Once he’s settled in the seat, they lock eyes, and the two of them burst into laughter: Harry’s hair is dripping onto his jacket and the collar of Cory’s coat is soaking wet, his hair plastered to his forehead. He shakes his head from side to side, sending droplets flying across the dashboard, and he sighs heavily.
“Yeah,” Cory says, flashing him a smile. “I’m great.”
“Good,” Harry says softly.
Once the car is warm, Cory pulls out of the lot and heads in the direction of Harry’s house. He’s grateful that he mentioned that he has to work tomorrow; he likes Cory, would maybe go out with him again, but he doesn’t want to go home with him.
They talk about their favorite movies during the drive, and Harry’s happy to hear that Cory loves Broadway adaptations and sports movies alike. Cory’s unapologetically himself, not seeming to care whether Harry finds his interests contrasting or weird. Harry likes that a lot.
When they pull up to the house, Harry fidgets in his seat, trying to figure out what to do. He should invite Cory in for a coffee or a glass of wine. He should want to spend more time with him. He’s spent the whole night trying to woo Harry, and Harry certainly feels it. He just doesn’t think that’s enough.
“Thanks for a great night,” he says, unbuckling his seatbelt. “I had a lot of fun.”
“Me too. It was great.”
“I’d invite you in, but my roommates are home, and… you know,” Harry says awkwardly. The air in the car feels stifled, the radio turned down low. Suddenly, he just wants to crawl into bed and sleep.
“Right!” Cory says. “Right, of course.”
Harry doesn’t actually know if his roommates are home. Niall might be, but he’s pretty sure Liam mentioned something about working overnight.
“Let me walk you to the door,” Cory says, unbuckling his seatbelt. “It’s raining pretty heavily still, so…”
“Yeah, don’t forget that umbrella,” Harry jokes.
He opens his own door this time, and Cory meets him on the sidewalk, the bright red umbrella already open. The steps to the porch are wet, scattered with leftover remnants of the salt he put down in preparation for last week’s snow storm. His pinky accidentally brushes against Cory’s as they ascend, and he wants to pull his hand back.
Cory closes up the umbrella and rests it on the ground when they get to Harry’s door. “Thanks for coming out with me.”
“I had a great night,” Harry says. “Really.”
“Me too,” Cory says, and he looks down at the ground almost shyly. “Loved hearing all about the farm you grew up on.”
“It was not a farm!” Harry exclaims, swatting his upper arm.
“You told me you had chickens in the backyard.”
“My neighbors had chickens.”
“Sure, sure. There’s nothing wrong with being a farm boy, you know.”
“I’m leaving, goodnight,” Harry says, rolling his eyes and moving toward the door. Cory reaches out to tug him back by the sleeve and Harry comes easily.
“I’m sorry,” Cory says through a laugh.
“I guess I can forgive you this one time,” Harry says, huffing like it’s a problem. He suddenly feels more at ease. There are few things he loves more than gentle mocking.
A silence falls between them, more comfortable this time, and then Cory steps forward until the tips of their toes are touching. “I had a lot of fun, Harry, thanks.”
“Me too,” Harry says quietly, and he can sense Cory angling for a kiss. Might as well, Harry thinks. At least then you’ll know.
He and Cory are nearly the same height, so different than he and Louis, so all he has to do is close his eyes and learn forward.
Cory meets him halfway, pressing their lips together in a chaste kiss. He brings his hand to cup the side of Harry’s neck, and Harry leans into it, his mouth moving against Cory’s.
As far as first date kisses go, it’s alright. And that’s… that’s kind of an answer right there, actually.
“I’ll see you at work?” Cory asks when he pulls away, and Harry nods.
“Yeah. See you.”
Cory waits for him to get inside and then leaves with an awkward wave.
The house is dark and empty, the silence oppressive. There are no roommates home. He wonders if Cory knew he was lying.
Niall gets home an hour later. Harry hears his old clunky car shudder to a stop outside, listens to him fumble with his key to open the door, waits as Niall climbs the stairs. All the while, rain pounds on the roof above his head. He lays in bed and stares at the ceiling. Tiredness weighs on his bones, but he can’t manage to fall asleep.
He’s been thinking about the date with Cory, and how it was nice and civilized and fine. Cory’s lovely, he’s perfect, he’s everything Harry should want in someone he’s going to go out with. He isn’t Louis though, and that’s the problem.
There’s a cursory knock on Harry’s door and then Niall’s barging in, his wet shoes held in one hand. “Harry. Haz.”
“Yeah,” Harry says quietly. “Yeah, I’m awake.”
It’s all the permission Niall needs to set his shoes down on the floor and crawl onto the bed. He squishes in next to Harry on top of the covers. It’s a thing they do sometimes, when one of them can’t sleep or needs comforting. It’s probably a bit childish, or maybe codependent. Harry likes it anyway.
“You okay?” Niall asks.
“How’d you know I was awake?” Harry asks, dodging the question.
“Just had a feeling. But really, Haz, you okay?”
It’s not the first time they’ve done this and it won’t be the last, but it feels different this time. It’s been Niall’s secrets shared in the dark with Harry contributing a few of his own, enough to get by without giving away too much. This time, it’s Niall reaching out, and Harry’s just desperate enough to take his hand.
“Heard you went on a date tonight,” Niall says after a minute, turning on his side so that he’s facing Harry. “How’d that go?”
“It was… it was good. Cory Townsend, the nurse on four, do you know him?” Niall nods. “We went to the Italian place on Broadway. Was nice.”
“Yeah?” Niall asks, dropping his hand to Harry’s head and scratching at his scalp. Harry leans into the touch like a kitten.
“He’s a nice guy.”
“Haz…” He searches Niall’s face, so close to his own, and there’s a moment where the air fizzles and Harry has the sense that he needs to get out of this conversation immediately. His brain and his body aren’t working in sync though, and he’s frozen when Niall speaks again. “Did you and Louis have a thing?”
His mouth goes dry. “A...a thing?”
“Were you guys like… involved?”
He’s standing at a crossroads, he realizes. He can deny it and move on, or he can force a crack in the wall. He needs to let it out.
He nods, not trusting his voice to explain properly. What even is there to say? We had secret sex for a few months and spent a lot of time together and I fell in love with him, and he didn’t want me anymore. It would hurt too much.
“Harry.” Niall’s voice is careful, surprised, almost a bit reverent.
“You can’t tell anyone. You really can’t.”
“How did you figure it out?”
“Well, I didn’t, not really. I only suspected after tonight, when… shit.”
“What?” Harry’s body feels clammy.
“Zayn was telling me that you went on a date with one of the nurses, and Louis just got all, like… standoffish, I guess? Asking weird questions and wondering who it was with. And I just thought, you don’t really get that way about a friend. ”
So Louis still cares about him then. Or more likely, Louis doesn’t want Harry, but he doesn’t want anyone else to have him either. Right, that sounds like Louis.
Harry opens his mouth to speak and out spills the whole story, from beginning to end. Niall stays silent throughout, only pausing to sigh or scratch at Harry’s scalp again. It’s not as hard as Harry thought it would be to get it out, probably because he’s been waiting for so long to just tell someone, anyone. He’s glad that it’s Niall.
“And now you know everything.”
Niall closes his eyes and sighs heavily. “That is… a lot worse than I thought. More involved, too.”
“You can’t tell anyone. Please.”
“Shit.” Niall curses. “You’re protecting him. You still care about him.”
“The most,” Harry admits. “And I wish I didn’t.”
“You’re still protecting him.”
“I know I shouldn’t be. He’s the one that wanted to end things. It’s fine. Cory was nice, maybe I’ll go out with him again.” Harry’s spent the past hour thinking about how he shouldn’t go out with Cory again, but he’s suddenly convinced it’s a great idea.
“Nice isn’t the type of guy you like,” Niall scoffs. “Nice is boring. You don’t do boring.”
Harry doesn’t know what to say, just rolls over onto his back and stares at the ceiling. He suddenly feels drained, like someone’s poked a hole in him and all the water’s come out.
“I’ll talk to him,” Niall says. “He’s probably just being an idiot. I’ll get it sorted out,” he says, and Harry shakes his head.
“Harry, why? You’re… the two of you are… you fit.”
“He doesn’t think so.”
“He’s an idiot.”
“Niall, do not talk to him. You can’t.”
Something changes in Niall’s face. It might be resignation. “Alright,” he says quietly. “Alright.”
“Thanks,” Harry whispers, and then he rolls over and buries his face in Niall’s neck.
January arrives and with it, a fresh start. Harry’s always been a bit skeptical of those who claim they can turn their lives around as soon as the calendar flips to January 1st, but this year he knows he can do it too. It’s what he needs.
His date with Cory forced him to realize that as nice as the idea of being with someone is, he can’t have that right now. His brain is too muddled with lingering feelings for Louis, and he needs to let that go before he does anything else. He’s figured out how to manage things at work; now it’s time that he does the same for himself.
His pediatric rotation falls at the beginning of the new year, which feels like it has to be some kind of sign. After months of rotating through surgical specialities, discovering one by one what he’s not meant to do, he’s thrilled to have the chance to do something he knows he loves.
It helps that Dr. Sheeran seems to think he has a knack for it.
“Have you thought about your specialty yet?” he asks one evening in mid-January when they’re walking to do evening rounds. “Dr. Tobin mentioned that you were great in OB/GYN. But then again, being great at something doesn’t always mean that it’s the specialty for you.”
“I mostly just love babies,” Harry says quickly, and then backtracks. “I mean. The specialty was great, yeah. But it was the kids I was most interested in. So I think, um…” He pulls at the sleeves of his white coat, feeling suddenly warm in the cool hospital lobby. “I’m leaning toward pediatrics.”
He can only see Dr. Sheeran’s face in profile, but he doesn’t miss the way he bursts into a broad smile. “That’s great. That’s what I was hoping.”
“Yeah, definitely. You’re really skilled, Harry. I think if you can keep pushing through, you’ve really got what it takes.”
Harry beams. “Thanks so much, Dr. Sheeran. Really.”
“Don’t bother thanking me,” he says. “Just keep doing the work and put in the time and it’ll come to you.”
“Yeah?” Harry asks, long legs keeping pace with Dr. Sheeran’s stride. He’s certain the pediatric surgeon is about to invite him to scrub in on a really cool case, maybe the conjoined twins surgery that’s coming next week, but instead, he asks Harry to get him a bagel.
“A bagel?” Harry asks, coming to a halt in the corridor in surprise.
Dr. Sheeran keeps walking. “Yeah, one from the coffee cart in the lobby. Sesame seed, toasted with extra butter. And a coffee, two creams, no sugar. See you at rounds!”
So yeah. Sometimes Harry gets to learn about amazing surgeries from world-renowned surgeons, and other times he has to run labs and get coffee for people. It’s a balancing act.
It must be the exhaustion that does it one morning a few weeks later. He’s just worked three long, grueling shifts in a row, and he’s starting on the fourth when it happens.
There’s a steaming cup of coffee in his hand, the warmth bleeding through the paper cup but not doing much to aid his fuzzy brain, and a thought runs through his head without permission.
Louis jerks his head up in alarm. “Me?” he says quietly, looking around to make sure he’s heard properly.
For his part, Harry himself is caught off guard. He hadn’t meant to say it, had meant to file away a mental note and move on. But no. Stupid, traitorous brain, stupid neon sneakers, stupid Louis looking completely well-rested and functional and handsome as ever.
“Yeah,” Harry says, taking a sip of coffee and shuddering as the hot liquid makes its way down his throat. “Like the color, that’s all.”
They’re standing in the hallway outside the auditorium, the whole group of interns gathered as they wait for the monthly patient review meeting, and so the conversation goes unnoticed in the low din of the other discussions.
“Right,” Louis says, and Harry has to turn away because just the sight of his tiny, crooked grin makes his heart hurt.
The chill of the freezer aisle makes Harry shiver under his thin hoodie as he selects a bag of frozen strawberries and blueberries to put in his morning smoothies. It probably doesn’t help that his hair is still damp from his shower after his hot yoga class. He can't believe how much better his back feels after 90 minutes of movement and stretching; going to a weekly class is absolutely helping, and he has his mom to thank for that.
He tosses two bags of frozen fruit into the cart and keeps moving. The store isn’t busy this morning, so he wants to take advantage of that and get home as quickly as possible. It’s raining as always, the perfect day to cook meals for the week and then maybe settle in to watch some television.
It’s this few hours of calm ahead that he’s thinking of when he pushes his grocery cart forward, too focused on getting out of the store to notice the familiar figure ahead. He doesn’t see the faded Vans and backwards baseball hat until it’s too late.
There’s a moment, just as Louis’ hand is hovering in the air between the Ben and Jerry’s and the Häagen-Dazs, when it’s not too late. Harry could turn away, could leave his cart in the middle of the aisle and go to another grocery store, could still escape without being noticed. But his legs won’t move.
Something must catch Louis’ attention, maybe it’s the wild beating of Harry’s heart. He turns his head and they lock eyes, and Harry wants to curse himself for staying frozen, for looking like an absolute stalker when all he came here for was some blueberries.
“Hey,” Louis says after an extended pause.
“Hi,” Harry says, pushing the cart forward, closer to Louis. There’s no way out but through. Just get past this and then he can go home and rest. Just get through it and he can work on moving on.
You’re always trying to move on, he chastises himself. Why can’t you actually do it?
“You making one of your famous Styles smoothies with all that?” Louis asks, gesturing to the fruit in the shopping cart. People at work like to give him shit for keeping his smoothie blender in the work kitchen; he’s used to it by now. The teasing feels different coming from Louis.
“Um, yeah,” he says, twisting the ring on his middle finger around and around. “I am.”
“Right,” Louis says, turning back to the freezer. He wraps his palm around a pint of Ben & Jerry’s. It’s chocolate fudge brownie. He’s hit by a sudden memory of eating that same flavor with Louis in the middle of the night, both of them sitting on the kitchen counter in only their boxers, Louis’ hair sex-rumpled and lovely, passing the spoon back and forth in the dark.
It doesn’t help that he can remember, in exquisite detail, Louis setting the ice cream on the counter and dropping to his knees in front of Harry, his fingers cold from the ice cream but his mouth warm and wet around Harry’s cock.
“I thought you were working today,” Harry blurts out as Louis shuts the freezer door. A blast of cold air fans out against Harry’s face, waking him up to the fact that he just as good as admitted to Louis that he knows his schedule.
It's not that he has it memorized. It's just that Tomlinson is just below Styles on their monthly schedules, and it's easy for his eyes to slide from one to the other.
“Switched with Liam,” Louis says, giving Harry a funny look.
“Right,” Harry says, and his skin feels tight, his face hot from Louis’ eyes on it for so long. He wants to be home, not feeling under scrutiny or thinking about how much he misses Louis. He really misses sex with Louis too. But mostly just Louis.
“You okay?” Louis asks, his voice softer than Harry’s heard it in a long time.
“Yeah,” Harry says, feeling far too alarmed for someone who bumped into a colleague in the grocery store. “Yeah, I'll be fine.”
“Good,” Louis says after a minute. Surely he can hear Harry’s heart thumping in his chest, sense his clammy palms. “Right, well...”
“Yeah, yeah, I better go,” Harry says. “Smoothies to make, and all that.”
“Yeah, of course. I guess… see you at work, yeah?” Harry doesn’t want to think about how Louis’ voice is hesitant. If he does, he’ll convince himself that Louis doesn’t want him to go either.
Harry pulls the cart back and directs it down the aisle. “Bye, Lo—goodbye, Louis,” he says.
Harry doesn’t look back when he heads for the register, doesn’t allow himself to be tempted by a last glimpse. It would hurt too much.
The day starts out like any other: rounds with Dr. Bauer, making notes on patient charts, running labs. Standard, everyday intern stuff. He’s assigned to general surgery for the month of February, and the switch from pediatrics landed on his birthday. It wasn’t his favorite birthday gift.
He feels more than ever that pediatrics is where he’s supposed to be. In the seven months he’s been working at the hospital, nothing has ever come as close to the feeling he’s gotten from saving a kid’s life, no matter how small a part he’s played.
But he can’t think about that right now, not when he’s only in his second week of general surgery. It feels like a slog, like so much has gone by already but there’s still so far to go. He tries to make it interesting, the gallbladder issues and colectomies and liver resections, but it’s difficult.
The ninth day of the rotation dawns and he reassures himself that he’s already a third of the way through.
“You can do it two more times,” he mutters under his breath as he exits the locker room to go upstairs. “Just gotta do all that again and then you’ll be two thirds of the way done. You got this.”
“Talking to yourself again? Do we need to send you to psych?” Louis asks from behind him. Harry decidedly does not turn his head. He keeps his strides the same length and lets Louis fight to catch up, his shorter legs working harder than usually. Five nine, yeah right.
A quip is on the tip of Harry’s tongue, but he bites it back. His interactions with Louis, rare as they are now, are colored by the pain of Harry’s heartbreak. He’s fighting so hard to get over him, making progress day by day. It just isn’t going as quickly as he’d like.
“I’m good,” he mutters. “General’s kicking my ass, that’s all.”
“Right,” Louis says as they step onto the elevator. It’s the same elevator they kissed in once upon a time. Harry wonders if Louis remembers that. Probably not.
It’s hard, being heartbroken and having to work with Louis and wanting to hate him but not being able to. Even when they were pretending to hate each other, it was more about lingering sexual tension than anything else. At least for Harry. It seems that wasn’t the case for Louis.
So his brief interactions with Louis are sad these days. He’s trying his best anyway.
“Have a nice day,” Louis says quietly before he gently pushes through the crowd to exit at his floor.
“You too,” Harry says a moment too late. Louis is already gone.
After a morning assault like that, Harry’s certain that the rest of the day is going to be smooth sailing. It’s what he deserves, after all.
“Bauer got pulled into emergency surgery,” Annie, the head nurse and possibly the sweetest woman he’s ever met—apart from his own mother, of course—tells him when he gets to the floor, handing his a stack of charts with a grimace. “Said you’re in charge of checking on the post-ops.”
“But I’m the only intern on the service today,” he says. The workload is maddening even with two interns working. He’ll never get it all done alone.
“Guess you better get going.” She says it sympathetically, but all the same, he can’t help but wanting to shove the charts at her and drive home to bury himself under his blankets.
The first three patients are fine. A bit frustrated at being woken up at seven in the morning, but unproblematic. It’s the fourth one that makes Harry realize his entire day is cursed.
It starts off fine, with Harry checking his vital signs and making note of any visible changes in temperament or appearance, just like the rest of them. The patient, a 54 year old man who suffered a car accident and needed emergency liver surgery, is mainly focused on the news that plays lowly in the background, not paying too much attention to Harry.
The man’s recovery is progressing as it should, and Harry knows that Dr. Bauer will be thrilled. It’s when the news switches to a story about a new LGBT youth center that’s just opened in town that the man’s demeanor changes.
“Fucking faggots,” he mutters, rolling over as Harry’s just instructed him to do. Harry flinches, certain he’s misheard the man. “Belong in jail, the lot of them.”
Harry’s hands still on the man’s shoulder. He feels frozen, caught between being angry with rage and wanting to burst into tears.
“Don’t you think so?” the man says, looking over his shoulder to catch Harry’s eye.
Tears feel caught in his throat, and he fights the urge to cover up the ‘Safe Space Here’ pin he’s taken to wearing. He’s just a patient. An asshole patient, but someone you’ve promised to take care of anyway.
“Bunch of emasculated pussies, angry that girls never liked them, starting this disgusting community center so that they can spread their fucking bullshit. Makes me sick.”
Harry’s hands are shaking as he finishes checking the man’s vitals. The chart is muddled in front of him, letters swimming through his cloudy vision.
The news program continues, talking about all the great work the center is doing - a center that Harry desperately could have used as a teenager - all while the man rants about how they’re all going to hell and everyone involved is a disgusting pervert.
He doesn’t know how long it takes him to finish the routine check, but he goes through the motions mindlessly. When he’s done, he closes the man’s chart and walks away without another word.
The rage hits him when he slips the chart into place on the shelf outside the door. He feels shaky with it, breaths coming heavy as he rounds the corner and seeks a safe space to break down.
He ends up sinking to the ground a few feet away, nestled next to an empty hospital bed and a metal cart filled with boxes of rubber gloves. He hugs his knees close, and he cries and cries and cries.
It’s not the first time someone’s said things like that around him. For God’s sake, he grew up in conservative Georgia. He’s learned to let the barbs roll off his back, to develop a tough skin in order to focus on who he is and what he really knows about himself. Other people’s words don’t have power over him. It’s taken years to realize that, but he knows it fully.
But it’s the first time those words have ever come from a patient. It’s made worse by the fact that he wasn’t trying to get a rise out of Harry: he truly believes the things he’s saying, thinks he’s saying them in confidence to someone who agrees with him.
Long-repressed memories come flooding back, harsh words and phrases he’s done his best to forget. The feeling of a dozen pairs of eyes staring at him as he held his first boyfriend’s hand in line at the movies. Cutting remarks about his clothes, his hair, his entire person. Shame and guilt and fear making him wonder if everyone else was right. Late nights under the covers, trying to calm his racing brain and reassure himself it was all going to be okay.
“Harry?” It’s Niall, and Harry looks up to see him standing in front of him, watches him sink to his knees through blurry eyes. “Harry, Harry, what’s wrong?”
Harry doesn’t speak.
“Dude, you’re scaring me,” Niall says, one hand on Harry’s shoulder and the other under his chin, forcing him to look at Niall. “Are you alright?”
“I don’t know,” Harry says after a minute, tears caught in his throat.
“Do you want to talk about it?”
Harry shakes his head and wipes his eyes. He doesn’t… He can’t find the words to make Niall understand what this feels like. It can’t be explained. It can only be felt. And there’s only one person who would, implicitly and without description, know what he’s feeling right now.
“Louis,” he says quietly. “Can you get Louis?”
Niall blanches. “Are you—you’re sure? Is that really a good idea?”
Harry nods, determined. “Yeah, he’s the only… can you just get him? Please.”
Something must show in Harry’s countenance, maybe it’s pure desperation in his eyes or the way his voice breaks halfway through the question. Whatever it is, it gets Niall to rise to his feet and promise to be right back.
He can’t stop the tears that spring to his eyes as he remembers curling up in his mom’s bed, sobbing night after night as he wondered if everyone was right, if he really was gross and damaged. She’d been nothing but supportive, pushing his hair back and gently reminding him that she loved him exactly as he was.
There’s a reason why he doesn’t think about those days anymore.
Gray Adidas sneakers appear in his vision and then Louis is wedging himself into the narrow space between Harry and the supplies cart, wrapping an arm around his shoulder and rubbing his upper arm.
“Harry,” Louis says, the name a broken exhalation, and it’s Louis’ proximity and the awful fucking patient and this whole painful situation that causes Harry to have a breakdown in his arms.
“It’s gonna be alright,” Louis says, rubbing the back of his head. “You’re gonna be alright.”
“Louis, I...” Harry trails off as he drops a fresh wave of tears onto Louis’ shoulder.
“You wanna talk about it?” Louis’ voice is soft and he smells comforting and familiar . Harry misses him so much that his heart aches with it. He just wants a few moments of comfort from the one person who’d understand.
“Went into a patient’s room and he was ranting about that LGBT center they’re building on Spring Street.” He swallows hard, trying to find the right thing to say. “Wouldn’t stop talking about how, well—you know how it is.”
Louis’ sharp intake of breath is all Harry needs to know that he’s understood. Louis pulls him close and squeezes him tight, whispering in his ear that it’s alright, that he’s okay, that he’s wonderful just the way he is.
It’s so like those nights with his mom that his chest feels tight with it.
It can’t be comfortable for Louis, squeezed in against the wall like that, but he hugs Harry until all his tears are dried up. Harry clings for a little longer afterwards, just because he can. It’s been so long without any kind of physical affection and he just wants a moment longer, selfish as that may be.
“Thanks,” Harry says, pulling back and wiping his eyes. He doesn’t want to let him go. He wants nothing more than to sit here all day, cramped in this space with Louis giving him his full attention.
“Anytime,” Louis says softly, and Harry feels such a rush of affection that it takes all he has not to lean in and kiss him just then.
“I better go,” he says after an extended moment, giving him a sad smile.
“Yeah,” Louis says, reaching out a hand as he helps them both get to their feet. There’s a reluctance in Louis’ voice that Harry is very possibly imagining.
“Right, well.” He needs to let Louis go but he can’t. “Thank you, Lou.”
“You’re welcome,” Louis says, stepping forward to press a kiss to Harry’s cheeks. Harry’s eyelids flutter closed with the movement, and when he opens them a moment later, Louis is gone.
Spring arrives and Gemma arrives with it, leaving the kids at home to visit Harry for an extended weekend. He picks her up at the airport with a massive sign, takes her to his favorite restaurant and the Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum and to an outdoor cafe, shows her around the city he’s learning to call home more with each passing day.
There’s a comfort he hadn’t known he was missing until she visited, the feeling of being known, understood. Loved.
Gemma had wasted absolutely no time interrogating him on his new life, claiming that all her questions were passed directly from their mother. He knows better. Gemma is a nosy sister like none other.
“So what’s the deal with Louis?” she asked softly, two glasses of wine deep at Harry’s favorite restaurant in the heart of the city on her first night there.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” He reached for the last piece of bruschetta, offering it to her and then taking a bite after she shook her head.
“Harry,” she said softly, her tone switching to that of a concerned older sister. He didn’t want to talk about this, not now.
“I’ll tell you later, alright?”
Later came the next morning, the two of them sitting on a bench at the edge of the harbor, clutching warm coffees and breakfast bagels.
“Louis is…” Harry took a deep breath, trying to make sense of his muddled thoughts. “It’s a bit better now.”
Gemma raised an eyebrow, setting down her coffee on the ground. “Yeah?”
He thought about it, realized that it wasn’t even a lie. Things have improved. “I wouldn’t say we’re exactly friends. But I can look at him without wanting to cry or wring his neck for hurting me. I can approach him if I have a question at work. It’s not as bad as it was before.”
“I was worried about you,” she says. He can tell that she’s remembering the night he’d called her, sobbing, explaining everything to her. But that was months ago. He’s better now. He really is.
He cries a bit when she leaves and then gets up, ties his sneakers, and gets ready for work. This is his life now, no use wishing it was anything different. Besides, he hadn’t realized how much he loved it in Seattle until he got to show it to one of his favorite people.
Somehow he gets assigned to another rotation in pediatrics, and after a month working with Dr. Winston every day, it’s like the spring gift he didn’t know he needed.
“How are you feeling, little buddy?”
Five year old Connor looks up at him, eyes big and wide as Harry tucks the blankets around him at his request. With a precious face like that, the boy could’ve asked him for a rainbow unicorn and Harry would’ve found a way to make it happen.
“I wish my mommy was here,” Connor says, lower lip going wobbly.
“I know, bud, I know.” Harry brushes his bangs away from his face, and Connor leans into the touch. Harry notices that his forehead is hot, makes a mental note to ask the nurses to bring him more medicine for the fever in the morning. Connor’s three days post-op, his single mom had to go home to spend the night with her one year old, he’s got a low-grade fever. But he’s going to be okay. “You’re in good hands, I promise. The nurses are really nice, aren’t they?”
“The nurses let me—” Connor says, flopping back against the pillows and not bothering to cover his mouth when he yawns, “Let me watch tv for as long—as long as I wanted today.”
“Yeah,” Connor says happily. “Will you read me a book? My mommy usually does. I can’t fall asleep without one.” The grin he flashes Harry is blinding, and how can Harry say no to a request like that?
“Sure.” He pulls up a chair next to the side of the bed, watching with amusement as Connor rifles through a selection of picture books scattered on the table next to his bed. Periodically, he’ll select one and then shake his head, setting it down in favor of another.
Six months ago, Harry would’ve gently told Connor to hurry up and pick a book. This isn’t really part of the job description: he’s there to check on Connor’s medical care and his medical care only.
But now, he’s softer, been broken and pieced the cracks back together. The thought reminds him of a pottery class he took in college, but then Connor finally emerges with a book for him to read and that line of thinking gets derailed. The point is that Harry can make time for this, to make sure that his patients are doing okay mentally too.
The book he’s chosen is The Giving Tree, which incidentally was Gemma’s favorite book when they were kids. Connor’s eyes start to droop about three pages in, and when Harry looks up a few minutes after that, he notices that he’s fast asleep, snoozing like he hasn’t got a care in the world.
Harry finishes the book in silence, feeling melancholy when he gets to the last page. It’s been at least fifteen years since he last read it, and while the book carries warm memories, he’s not sure it’s such a happy book after all.
He closes it and hugs the book tight to his chest, yawning himself. It’s got to be after nine o’clock, but with waking up early to bring Gemma back to the airport, he’s been up for far longer than he’d like to admit. He’ll just close his eyes, only for three minutes. And then he’ll get up and find an empty bed. Just three minutes.
A gentle breath on his face shakes Harry awake, and as he opens his eyes blearily, he notices two things. One, there’s a blanket on top of him, keeping him warm, one that hadn’t been there when he fell asleep. And two, Louis is standing six inches away, looking slightly alarmed.
“Louis?” he says, his voice rough and raspy from sleep. He tilts his neck from side to side, trying to stretch a bit. He doesn’t know what time it is, just that his lower back is twinging a bit from where he’s curled up in the chair in Connor’s room. “What time is it?”
Louis’ lips are curved into a small smile, his hair fluffy and swooped to one side. The dark light from the hallway casts smudged shadows of his lashes on his cheeks. Despite his obvious fatigue, he looks so good , and Harry has to look away. “Time for you to get to bed.”
It’s obvious that he’s the one that put the blanket there, and Harry can’t help but wonder what Louis expected would happen. Did he think he’d deposit the blanket and vanish, leaving Harry a mystery to ponder for the rest of his life? How had he found Harry sleeping there in the first place?
“Yeah, alright,” Harry says after a minute, bending down to pick up The Giving Tree from where it must have dropped to the floor. He sets it on the table next to the bed, where it joins the other books.
“Can’t be good for your back sleeping like that,” Louis comments, stepping back as Harry gets to his feet. He picks up the blanket and folds it into halves, into quarters, the material thick and soft under his hands.
“Yeah,” Harry says, muscles wincing as they appreciate no longer being confined to the uncomfortable chair. “No, it wasn’t on purpose. I just—fell asleep reading to Connor, that’s all.”
The two of them start to walk out of the room, and Harry turns back to take a last look at Connor, his face peaceful in sleep, his lips slightly parted. Harry would read him a thousand more stories if it made him smile.
“Y’alright?” Louis asks when they step into the hall.
Since the crying incident with his homophobic patient, which Harry avoids thinking about at all costs, they’ve had a few cursory chats: Louis’ beloved Red Sox are ahead for the first time in years (though they’re three games in, so Harry’s certain they’ll fall behind again), Dr. Bauer announced that she’s pregnant and everyone is thrilled for her, they’ve changed coffee suppliers in the cafeteria and the new stuff is awful.
They keep it very shallow and meaningless, nothing that could give way to any kind of real emotion. They’re not ready for that. But maybe Harry just needs to take a step. One tiny step.
“Yeah, just exhausted. Feels like things just never really get easier, you know? Every day there’s more to learn, more to stress about.”
“You’re doing such a great job though, really. I hear the attendings talking about you all the time. You’re the one to watch.”
Harry’s first instinct is to shoot him down, force Louis to deny it, to take it back. But this - this is Louis , and he’s hurt Harry, sure, but he’s never lied to him. Not about this. He decides to accept the compliment.
“Thanks,” he says, warmth coloring his tone. “For that, and for the—the blanket.” He passes it over to Louis, who drapes it over his arm and gives a little nod.
“You’re welcome, it was no trouble,” Louis says quietly, brushing his hair out of his eyes with the flick of a wrist, and it might be the low light that’s making it look like Louis is blushing, but Harry doesn’t think so.
“I’m gonna head off and find a real bed,” Harry says, tilting his head in the direction of the nearest on-call room. He still has no idea what time it is, has no idea how long he’s been standing here looking at Louis.
“Good idea,” Louis says, stepping forward, and yes, his cheeks are definitely pink. Harry doesn’t quite know what to make of that. “Goodnight, Harry.”
“Night,” Harry says, and he walks down the hallway without looking back.
He finds the closest on-call room blessedly empty and lays down, hoping sleep will find him quickly. Of course it doesn’t, brain too full of the interaction to think about anything else. But it’s not unwelcome. For the first time in a while, he feels lighter after talking to Louis, rather than the opposite.
When Harry was in college, he’d taken a pottery course for a required art elective. He hadn’t been able to get out of it, and when he’d protested that he was a pre-med student, the registrar had told him that it would be wise for him to have some arts education. A fancy way of saying that he had no choice.
The class had turned out to be one of the best classes he’d ever taken. He’d learned about kintsugi, the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with gold to fill the spaces. Rather than being seen as a mistake, the wreckage was treated as part of the history of the item. It’s a little overly poetic, sure, but thinking about it now for the first time in so many years, Harry loves the idea. Things between him and Louis may never be repaired, not in the way he’d initially dreamt of, but he can take these small interactions and the steps he’s taken to make himself better, and see those as the gold that put his broken self back together.
It’s a nice idea, he thinks, impressed that he’s remembered it, and that’s the last thing he thinks before he falls asleep.
A string of night shifts has him mixing up his days and nights like a newborn baby and, “What a weird metaphor, Styles, do you ever not think about weird shit?” Niall asks when Harry gets home and is asked to provide a defense for the Chipotle burrito he’s eating at 8 am. It’s not the burrito that Niall takes offense at—that’s Liam—but rather the constant baby references.
“If you had your way you’d probably have like four kids by now,” Niall says, settling his cereal bowl into the dishwasher.
Harry’s perched on the counter, burrito halfway to his mouth, brain moving a million miles a minute as he tries to stitch together the words for a denial. It’s pretty impossible though. Niall’s spot on.
“Don’t even bother lying, dude,” Niall adds, and from the kitchen table, poring over the newspaper, Liam laughs. “I’ve seen you with kids. Bet you’ve been dreaming of being married with babies since you were fifteen years old.”
“You were probably one of those weird kids who spent time dreaming about their future babies’ names instead of who their wives would be. Or husbands, whatever,” Liam adds, finally looking up from the newspaper to grin at Harry. He looks happy, like his new relationship is a million times healthier than the last, and though Harry sees less of him, he’s thrilled for him.
The thought reminds him of a late night conversation with Louis in this very kitchen, the two of them talking about fleeting high school relationships over beers. It’s amazing to think that Harry had fooled himself into thinking things were casual for so long. Harry’s pretty sure they hadn’t even had sex that time, just fallen asleep in Harry’s bed until Louis had to sneak out the next morning.
He waits for the ache that will no doubt accompany the memory, but it never comes. All he feels is warm, and — hm. That’s weird.
Maybe this is what getting better, finally getting over him, feels like.
It’s not altogether an uncomfortable feeling.
“You’re not wrong,” Harry says, cutting into the thread of the conversation Niall and Liam have taken up in Harry’s mental absence. “I was going to have four: Leo, Landon, Layla and Leonore.”
Niall coughs. “You didn’t think that would, uh, be a bit confusing?”
“Are you insulting my future children?”
“Not gonna be their godfather if that’s what you name them.”
“Who said I was gonna ask you to be godfather?”
“After all I’ve done for you, this is how you disrespect—”
“Guys,” Liam says. “Niall, don’t you have somewhere to be?”
“I told you not to even mention the dentist. I’m gonna go, freak the fuck out, and leave, and none of us are ever going to talk about it.”
“Yes sir,” Harry says, burrito muffling the words.
“Thank you,” Niall says, and then a moment later, he’s gone.
“Sometimes I swear it’s like living with two teenagers,” Liam says, shaking his head. “I’m not your dad.”
“Aw, but you love us,” Harry coos, and if he wasn’t too tired to leave his spot he’d cross the kitchen and pinch Liam’s cheek. Luckily for Liam, he’ll escape such treatment today.
“Somehow, regrettably, I do,” Liam grumbles, but Harry can see the smile he’s fighting all the same.
Harry’s fighting against the tempting pull of sleep one morning, elbows resting on the counter of the nurses’ station has he relies on his hands to hold up his head. It’s just that he’s so tired, having had to work late last night and then come in early this morning to check on patients before surgery. He’s ready for a day off, for a break, for a chance to turn off his brain and think about absolutely nothing for a day. Yoga can only do so much. He needs a vacation.
“I need a vacation,” he mumbles to the empty air.
“How about a coffee instead?” Louis says from his side, and before Harry can blink there’s a white Starbucks cup being slid across the counter.
“Are you taunting me?”
“Not taunting you,” Louis says very quietly, sticking his hands in the pockets of his white coat like he’s—like he’s nervous or something.
“Thank you so much,” Harry says, and he doesn’t think about it for another second before he takes a large sip. “Oh, that’s so good,” he says, voice a little awed. “Louis, thank you. Thank you so much.”
“It’s nothing,” Louis says, drawing the heel of one sneaker over the top of the other. “They gave me an extra by accident, figured I’d give it to the person who was most deserving. And you, Styles, talking to yourself and looking like you could use ten hours of sleep? That makes you the most deserving.”
Harry’s not quite sure he believes him. He doesn’t care. As far as he’s concerned, Louis is a god today.
“Right, I get it. I’m not special,” Harry says, giving Louis a little smirk.
Louis just looks back down at the floor and doesn’t say another word until rounds begin.
He doesn’t know how it happens, but one day he and Louis end up pressed next to each other on a gurney in the basement, the five of them deciding to eat their lunches down there just like old times.
It’s not like they’re alone. Harry’s got Liam on his other side and Niall and Zayn are on the other side of Louis. If he closes his eyes, it really does feel like the beginning of intern year, when all of them were terrified and uncertain and feeling like they were going to screw up at any moment.
It still feels a bit like that, actually.
So he doesn’t know how it happens, but Niall reaches into his pocket to get his phone, jostling Louis in the process, and Louis gets pushed closer into Harry’s side. Their upper bodies are flush, shoulder to waist to hip, and Louis is warm at his side.
“Sorry,” Louis mutters, no doubt feeling awkward, and Harry shakes his head, telling him not to worry about it. It’s not like Louis did it on purpose, after all. When Niall shifts back into place, Louis doesn’t move, stays like that for the next twenty minutes as they eat their salads and sandwiches and poke fun at themselves and the other interns.
Louis is the first to break apart from the group when he gets paged to the OR, and when Niall shifts over to fill the empty space he’s left, he doesn’t feel nearly as warm as Louis did.
They're sitting in Grand Rounds on Wednesday morning, listening to the chief of surgery drone on and on about a case that went sour last month and what they could all do as medical professionals to fix it the next time. It was a serious case, very sad and heartbreaking, and Harry doesn't mean to make light of that, but he's also so exhausted and so bored and he already knows all of this stuff. The interns had been forced to go through their own additional round of training immediately after the incident to prevent any needless deaths ever again.
So he's bored. It would be an immense breach of protocol for him to take out his phone right now, so he's stuck with only his mind for company. His eyes scan the room, counting the number of balding old men just for something to do. He makes a game of it: which are fully bald, which still have some hair, which are just beginning to get a circular patch at the top of their heads. In the last category, he counts a few of his fellow interns and suppresses a shudder. He hopes he doesn't go bald for years; he doesn't think he'd like the way his ears would look without something to cover them.
He looks over to his left and there's Liam, eyes closed and mouth parted slightly as he breathes through his nose. He's asleep. Dr. Liam Payne, the one who claimed to be the one to watch, is actually sleeping during Grand Rounds right now. Harry can't believe it.
He looks around to see if anyone else has noticed and catches Louis' eye, just on the other side of Niall, down to his left. Louis nods to Liam and laughs, and Harry can't help but smile back.
"I should take a picture," Louis mouths from four seats away.
Harry smiles, nods, mouths back to him. "Do it."
Liam makes Louis delete the photo the minute he sees it an hour later, but Harry can't stop smiling at the memory of sleepy Liam for the rest of the day.
"Mind if I sit here?"
Harry looks up from his burger to see Louis standing a foot away from his table, holding one of the horrendously ugly cafeteria trays. Harry shakes his head. "Go for it."
It’s the first time they’ve been alone since that night in Connor’s room. Harry wonders if Louis is aware of this, or if it’s just him that’s the statistics keeper, the weird almost-but-not-quite ex who keeps track of all their interactions.
"Thanks," Louis says, dragging the chair away from the table with his foot. A squeaking noise on the linoleum floor makes Harry shudder. "Sorry."
"No, that's okay. Not your fault they've only got shitty furniture here."
Louis laughs. He sets his salad and banana on the table and deposits the tray on an empty chair. "You'd think they could splurge for something a bit fancier, wouldn't you?"
"Don't think they can be bothered," Harry says honestly. "What's in it for them?"
"You're right. I guess I think that they'd be more likely to make people feel comfortable, but-"
"Well, you've always been a bit of an optimist, Lou."
The nickname slips out without his permission, a relic of a long ago time he's worked hard to bury deep below the surface.
Louis doesn't acknowledge it, but the way that his upper lip twitches suggests that he noticed.
“That I have, Harry Styles. That I have.”
Louis comes running into the intern locker room one evening, chest heaving and face flushed. He looks like he’s just run a marathon.
“Hey, is Niall—he’s not here, is he?” Louis says, looking around wildly before turning back to Harry. He looks a bit surprised that it’s just the two of them, and Harry’s thrown back to autumn evenings, the two of them exchanging eye contact to arrange secret rendezvous in the on-call rooms.
“Haven’t seen him in ages, sorry. Maybe he’s in surgery?”
“No, no, I think he’s hiding from me. Fucker.”
“Yeah, hiding,” Louis says, taking a seat on the bench and brushing his hair back with one hand. Harry’s eyes follow the movement. “He owes me twenty bucks. We went out for drinks last night and he ‘forgot’ his wallet. Which meant I had to pay for him.”
Harry knows all about this, having been on the receiving end of a frantic call from Niall about said missing wallet, and had confirmed that it was indeed laying on Niall’s bed where he’d left it.
“So now he owes me the money.” There’s a panicked look in his eyes. It takes a moment for it to click, and then Harry realizes: this isn’t about the money.
He looks at his watch: he’s supposed to be heading to a yoga class and should really leave right now if he wants to get a good spot. He takes a seat on the bench across from Louis.
“Hey, are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine,” Louis says. “It’s just—the money.”
“Weren’t you supposed to be scrubbing in with Aoki later? For that emergency thing?”
“Louis scrubs his hands over his face. “Yeah, and I’m fucking stressed about it.”
“What if I fuck it all up? The guy’ll be cursing me for the rest of his life. If he even survives, that is.”
Harry furrows his eyebrows. “You don’t really think that.”
“What, that he’d be mad? Of course I do.”
“That’ll you’ll fuck it up,” Harry clarifies, and he knows Louis well enough to know that he understood Harry perfectly the first time.
Louis doesn’t answer, just looks at his green sneakers on the bright white floor. So that’s what Louis needs: not his twenty dollars, but a pep talk. Harry might not be his first choice, but he’s the only one around. Louis hasn’t run yet, so he must be doing alright.
“You can do this, Louis. They didn’t pick you for this program based on looks alone.”
Louis cracks a smile, so Harry keeps going.
“You’ve got the skills to do this. Just go in there and think about how many thousands of hours you’ve put into this, how much you want it, how you’re going to change somebody’s life today. Think about that.”
Louis gives him a real smile this time, slightly hesitant but still bright. “Thanks, Harry.”
Harry’s reading through the newspaper one afternoon when he spots an article about how to spend a weekend in Boston. He doesn't even think about it before he's jumping out of his chair to grab scissors from the kitchen drawer. He cuts the article out and slips it into a manilla folder that he finds in the bookshelf on the side of the kitchen island.
The next day, he catches Louis coming out of a patient's room, a proud grin on his face. It suits him. No matter what Louis says, Harry knows that this is the work Louis is most suited to. After all their fights and disagreements over who was going to be the best pediatric surgeon, Harry knows that it's going to be Louis.
He's cool with taking second place though, if it comes down to it. He's not going to give up on his dream just because someone might be slightly better at it.
"Hi, good morning." There's no trace of surprise in Louis' tone like there might have been six weeks ago. He and Harry have come to an unspoken understanding of sorts. They're closer to friends than they've ever been: they now engage in conversation that goes beyond small talk, trading stories from their weekends and once, the recipe for this really good casserole Louis had brought to work.
"How's it going?"
"Good. I Have something for you."
Louis' face lights up. "Oh yeah?"
"Yeah." Harry pulls the paper from his bag and hands it to Louis, feeling suddenly bashful. What if he hates it? "It's nothing special, I just thought you might—"
"Harry, this is amazing. Oh look, the Copley Plaza Hotel! I had my prom there. And Fenway, oh I miss it so much, this is the best time of year to go to a game."
"The Red Sox still suck though," Harry says, and any concern he had that Louis would think his present was dorky fly out the window when he rolls his eyes in return.
"Thanks for this. I love it."
"Still. Thank you."
There's a brief moment of hesitation, and then Louis raises his arms for a hug, lifting the paper carefully so as not to squish it between them. It's the briefest of hugs, barely even a squeeze, but it still feels good to have Louis wrapped around him.
It feels like maybe they're finding their way back to...whatever they're going to be to each other from now on. Friends sounds pretty good.
Harry has never felt so glad that he answered his phone during work hours as he does on a Tuesday morning in late April.
He ends the call and presses his hands to his cheeks, unable to displace the smile that's been there for the past fifteen minutes.
Gemma's pregnant. He's going to be an uncle. Again.
For all that Liam and Niall had teased him weeks ago about his baby obsession, he really hasn't spent that much time thinking about what his future kids would be like. But Gemma's kids - they're the best kids on the planet, smart and funny and adorable to boot, and it's the best news in the whole world that there's going to be another one of them.
He feels himself suddenly full of energy, restless like he's the one who found out that he's pregnant, and he needs to find someone, needs to share the good news.
He's running down the hall before he even realizes where he's headed.
He barrels through the double doors that lead to the pediatric ward, and finds Louis in a patient's room, listening to a little girl's heartbeat. Harry waits in the doorway, watching as Louis speaks to her in low, comforting tones, asking her how she slept overnight and what she's planning to do when she leaves the hospital. He's so good with them.
A tiny piece of him wants to to beg Louis to leave the room, he has news, but the rational part shushes the rest of him, tells him to keep watching, observing medicine in action.
It takes a few minutes for Louis to notice him, minutes that Harry spends admiring more than just Louis' bedside manner. He's over him, sure, but that doesn't mean he's lost his eyesight. Louis is hot, now and forever and always.
"Dr. Styles?" Louis takes the stethoscope out of his ears and hangs it around his neck. "This is a surprise. What can I do for you?"
"I...er—just wanted to tell you something."
Louis grins. "Yeah?"
"Yeah. But it's not—not work related, I can come back later.”
“No, that’s fine, I’m done here. Alex, you be good, alright? Tell Nurse Olivia if you need anything.”
“Yes, Louis.” She has a bit of a lisp, and when she says his name it comes out like Loo-eh, like he’s British or something. Harry quite possibly finds it more adorable than he has a right to.
Louis gestures for him to lead the way out to the hall. When Louis stands in front of him, hands on his hips in expectation, Harry can’t stop the grin that spreads over his face.
“My sister’s having a baby. Another baby, Louis. She just called me, and like—I just had to tell someone, I don’t know. I can’t believe it.” He runs his hands through his hair, digs his fingernails into his palms. He feels like he could run ten miles right now.
“That’s amazing! When is she due?”
“Around Thanksgiving. I can’t believe it. Actually, that explains why she didn’t drink when she was here. She kept saying she was trying to take a month off from alcohol, but actually—that little sneak.”
“God, you’d think it was like my own kid or something,” Harry says, still processing that he’s going to be an uncle again. “This is the best.”
Louis steps forward and before Harry has time to process it, Louis has his arms wrapped around Harry’s waist and they’re hugging in the middle of the hallway, Louis squeezing him tightly as he murmurs another congratulations in his ear.
When Louis walks away a few moments later, waving goodbye as he goes, there’s a smile on Harry’s face and he’s not entirely sure that it’s just because of the new baby.
There’s a moment, in every surgery Harry’s ever been part of, when he can anticipate the moment of crisis: that turn when the patient is going to get better, make it through the surgery alright, or they’re going to crash. He never knows when that moment will come, but once it does, it feels it sharp and sudden in his chest, a refrain of do something do something do something.
For seven year old Jack, that moment comes six hours into the surgery. Harry’s been holding the same instrument since the surgery began, assisting with the complicated tumor resection, and his back hurts and his feet hurt and he’s starting to feel like he needs to pee but he’s not going to leave when he’s finally getting to be in surgery again. He could count the number of times he’s gotten to assist in surgery on one hand. He’s going to make the most of it, his bladder be damned.
Jack is having a tumor the size of an orange resected from his lung. He’d been diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma at age four, and his doctors had managed to remove the tumor from his upper arm fairly quickly. After a course of chemotherapy, he’d been told that he was out of the woods: not healed, but healing. Unfortunately, the cancer had come back, this time with a vengeance. It’s a dangerous surgery, this tumor resection, but there truly is no other option.
The machines start beeping wildly, announcing that Jack is crashing, and while Dr. Sheeran and the residents jump into action, Harry’s mind goes momentarily blank. There’s a group of interns sitting in the gallery, and he spots Louis in the back row, worried expression visible from the operating room. He doesn’t hear Dr. Sheeran yelling at him until a nurse is shaking his shoulder.
“Styles! I said snap out of it. Either you’re here for this, or you can leave. But you don’t get to panic and freeze up. He’s still got a shot.”
“I’m here,” Harry says, focusing his attention on Dr. Sheeran’s voice. He follows what he says exactly as he says it, watching as he clips and suctions and works to get Jack’s body back to stability.
He never manages to do so. One minute Harry is holding the surgical clamp, and the next he’s calling time of death. He’s numb as he does it, going through the motions as the surgical team starts to clean up around him.
It’s then that he makes the mistake of looking at Jack’s face, peaceful as if in sleep, and he finds that he can’t breathe.
“I’ve got to—I have to—” he tries, chest heaving as he stares at Dr. Sheeran, begging him with his mind to understand.
“Go,” he orders, and that’s all the permission Harry needs to burst through the door into the scrub room. He focuses on his breaths— inhale one, two, three, four, exhale , five, six, seven, eight—and scrubs out, washing his hands and arms with shaky limbs. He scrubs for longer than he needs to, scrubs his skin until he can no longer take the pain of the hot water, and then he pulls off his surgical mask.
Jack, the little boy who greeted Harry yesterday with a toy truck and a bright smile, is dead. The boy who told Harry that he wasn’t scared because he’d had surgery before and was bigger and braver, he’s dead. They’ve killed him.
He’s crying before he even makes it out of the scrub room, and the lights in the hallway are bright and he has no idea what time it is and his vision is blurry, and then two arms wrap around his shoulder and pull him close.
“Hey, hey, you’re alright,” Louis says, and of course it’s Louis because who else would it be at a time like this? “You guys did everything you could, alright? You’re gonna be okay.”
Harry shakes his head and clings, tears falling as Louis rubs is back in slow circles.
“Breathe, Harry,” Louis says quietly, mimicking how he wants Harry to inhale and exhale. “Breathe.”
Harry’s face is still pressed in Louis’ shoulder, but he does as he’s told anyway, his body shaking like a leaf in the wind.
“It’s not,” Harry says, throat clogged with tears. “We didn’t save him.” He feels weak, drained from six hours of standing in one place. He’s not sure his legs can hold him up anymore. “I need—I need to sit down.”
“Alright, you’re okay,” Louis says, and he guides him to the wall, where he supports him as he slides down and collapses on the ground. Harry immediately buries his face into Louis’ shoulder again.
“He—he was so brave. And he loved Spiderman and he told me two days ago that he was going as Spiderman for Halloween this year. And he has a mom and a dad and a sister and his favorite tv show—” his breath hitches as a fresh wave of tears appears again. “His favorite tv show was that awful one with the talking animals and he’s dead. He died, Louis. We didn’t save him.”
“You can’t save everybody, Harry. You can’t. It’s the worst thing in the world, but you can’t save all of them, whether they’re seven or seventy. Sometimes you just have to let them go.”
Harry looks Louis in the eye for the first time since he appeared in the hallway, and his breath hitches on a sharp inhale at the expression in Louis’ eyes. He looks concerned, but also present. Like there’s nowhere else he’d rather be in this moment. It’s the kind of look that suggests he knows Harry, and no matter what’s transpired between them, there’s no one else Harry needs more than Louis right now.
He opens his mouth to tell him this, and what comes out instead is: “I miss you so much, Louis.”
There’s another round of tears when he says it, a sharp realization in his chest that what they have is still not how it was, both of them dancing around the awkwardness of the whole thing.
Louis inhales on a sudden gasp, features softening as he smiles sadly at Harry. “I know. I miss you too.” he says.
“It hurts,” Harry confesses.
“I know,” Louis says, then he holds Harry close until they’re both out of tears.
He doesn’t know how it gets this way or why, but after that terrible day when Harry cried so much that he gave himself a headache and Louis confessed that he’d been missing him just as much, things feel well and truly solid between them. Louis is still the most beautiful person he’s ever seen, but more than that, he’s his friend.
They start to hang out more outside of work: Louis invites him to play soccer in the park on a Saturday morning, they grab a friendly drink at Smoky’s Bar across the street from the hospital with the rest of the gang, they run into each other in the grocery store parking lot and go for brunch.
Niall doesn’t mention it when he comes home one night and Louis and Harry are sitting on opposite ends of the couch, drinking beers and loudly dissecting every play of the baseball game, just raises his eyebrows and takes a seat in the armchair in the corner.
They talk about everything now, from that weird thing that happened to Harry on the way to work to Louis’ embarrassing blunder in the grocery store. They talk about their families and they compete with each other for the best surgeries and above all, they make each other laugh and laugh and laugh.
That’s what Harry’s missed the most: having someone to make him laugh as much as Louis does. He feels like now he has everything he’s ever wanted. Almost.
He knows he’s always going to want Louis, but he’s going to be okay all the same.
The thrill of a successful surgery still isn’t lost on Harry all these months later, and he hopes it will always be like this, hopes that it never fades. Playing a part in saving someone’s life is the greatest high he’s ever known. If everyone had the chance to try it, he’s convinced no one would ever take drugs again.
It’s two in the morning on a warm night in mid June, and he and Louis have just finished a complicated cranial procedure with Dr. Grimshaw, who specifically requested the two of them for how he’d seen them work together as a team. They’d both gotten to assist, and they’d saved the woman’s life with very little trouble.
He can tell that Louis is feeling the same high, a beaming smile on his face as they scrub out and throw their masks and gowns into the trash.
“Great job in there,” Harry says. “I’m gonna go write the notes, is that okay? And you can go with Grimmy to inform the family?”
“Yeah, that works.”
It’s about twenty minutes later when Louis approaches him, striding right up to him and cupping his palm around Harry’s left elbow.
“I need to talk to you.”
Harry blinks, surprised, and sets down the pen. “I mean, I’ve got charts, but if you wanna wait—”
“Charts for the patient we just saw, or leftovers?”
“Leftovers. I already did hers.”
“Right, okay, come with me. I need to do this before I chicken out.”
His request is so specific, so uncharacteristic, that Harry can’t fathom doing anything else but close the chart, slip it in its place, and follow Louis around the corner to an empty hallway.
“What’s wrong? Are you okay? What happened?”
Louis halts his steps in the hallway and peers into the nearby office, making sure that it’s empty. When he sees that it is, he nods to himself and then looks up at Harry with a bright smile. Harry appreciates that Louis is smiling, but he can’t figure out what the hell is going on.
“Look, Harry, I need to apologize. There’s a lot of things I need to say sorry for.”
“What are you—”
“No, please let me finish. I practiced this the whole surgery, I don’t want to lose it now.” A little bit of a grin comes through and all Harry can think is you’re such an idiot and I am so fond of you.
“I liked you so much right from the start and I fucked it all up and I’ve never forgiven myself for that.”
Harry feels something inside him drop to the floor. It might be his stomach.
Louis takes a deep breath and then continues. “I got scared, Harry. I could tell that I was in—that I liked you a lot more than I was letting on, and I was terrified you didn’t feel the same, and I panicked. It wasn’t rational, I know it makes no sense.”
He sweeps his hair out of his eyes with a flick of his wrist, and this whole conversation is starting to register with Harry as something that is actually happening and he doesn’t quite know how to react.
“And it’s been eating away at me for ages, ever since you invited me over and made me that banana bread a few weeks ago, and…” he takes a deep breath, a shaky inhale him that makes him look as worried as Harry’s ever seen him. “I was a huge dick to you. And it’s taken me a long time to get up the courage to say I’m sorry for that. I’m sorry for the way I treated you, it wasn’t right. And I didn’t want us to keep being friends without me saying that to you.”
Harry stares at him blankly. He doesn’t ever remember making Louis banana bread. It seems to have made an impact.
“Anyway, I’m sorry for how I acted. This whole time, I’ve just been a jerk, really.”
“Thanks for apologizing,” Harry says. He’s still processing this whole thing, but it’s a decent thing for Louis to do. The right thing.
“I’ve needed to for a very long time.”
“I’m glad you finally did.”
“Me too,” Louis says, and then he steps forward and presses his lips to Harry’s cheek. His cheek is stubbly against Harry’s. “Goodnight, Harry.”
Louis is just walking away when Harry speaks again, forcing him to turn around. “Hey, Louis?”
“I felt the same, you know. Before...during everything, and then after.” He’s not sure how much he should admit.
Louis inhales sharply, lets it out on a shaky exhale that Harry can hear from a few feet away. When he speaks, his tone is regretful. “Well then, I’m sorry that I fucked it all up.”
“You didn’t,” Harry says immediately. “Well, you did, but I let it happen. I could’ve said something, that day you tried to end it.”
“I wouldn’t have listened,” Louis says, and silence hangs between them.
“Anyway, I… I still feel it,” he admits quietly. If Louis is going to put himself out there, he can too. “If you—”
“I do,” Louis says, lips quirked up in something resembling a smile. “I still do.”
Harry can feel his heart beating loud in his chest. He doesn’t know if this is… well, nothing’s quite happened, but Louis has said he’s sorry, has actually said that he liked Harry a lot more than he wanted to admit. That he still likes him. Something in all of the knots tied up in his chest makes him think that they might have a chance.
When Louis leaves, Harry falls back against the wall, and he’s dead tired, but he hasn’t felt so happy in a long, long time.
He and Louis don’t see each other again that night until just before rounds, when Louis approaches him with a coffee—from the good cafe down the street, because the cafeteria coffee sucks—and hands it to Harry with a kiss on the cheek. Harry leans into it without thinking.
It’s not until Louis pulls away that he realizes they’re in the middle of the hallway and people can see them. He grins at Louis, who shrugs one shoulder as if to say who cares? All the same, he guides them to a quieter part of the corridor.
“Good morning,” he says. “This is a surprise.”
“Thought you deserved something nice after last night.” With the way he’s looking at Harry, smile happily and his face fond, Harry doesn’t doubt that Louis is feeling it too.
“Thank you. Did you get any sleep after that?”
“A bit,” Louis says with a smile, and already, Harry wants to be wrapped in his arms, to feel Louis’ breaths lull him to sleep.
“So, listen,” Louis continues, taking a deep breath. “I know we never did this right the first time. But I really want to. Can we go out for dinner? Somewhere nice where we can drink lots of wine and eat bread and really good pasta and I’ll pay for it all? I think we need to have a talk. I need to apologize.”
“You did, last night.”
“No, that was just to get you to talk to me again. I need to really apologize for all of it, to clear the air, so that if you decide… if you want to…” He scratches his chin and looks up at the ceiling before steeling himself and making direct eye contact with Harry. “I really owe it to you.”
Harry thinks about the long months that have passed by, Louis breaking his heart and hurting him and still making him want him all this time later.
“Yeah,” he says with a nod. If they’re going to do...whatever this is, give it a proper shot, Louis does need to apologize and Harry needs to get his feelings off his chest. There’s a conversation they need to have if they’re ever going to be anything more.
“How’s seven thirty?” Louis asks. “I’ll pick you up.”
“Okay,” Harry says tentatively. “My house is—”
“Harry,” Louis interrupts, his expression fond. “I remember where you live. Been there a few times.”
Louis picks him up at seven twenty five, and Harry’s ready to call him out on it until he opens the door and sees Louis standing there in a pressed suit jacket and bright blue shirt.
He has to swallow before he can speak. “Hi.”
“Hi yourself. God, you look so good.”
Harry beams. He’s wearing his favorite dress pants and a fancy blouse that Gemma got him for Christmas last year, and he knows that he looks damn good. But Louis—Louis looks a million times better.
“Have you seen yourself?”
Louis laughs almost uncomfortably, and for a moment they and there and appraise each other.
“So you ready to go?” Louis asks, tilting his head toward the road, where Harry can see his car parked across the street. “I know I’m a couple minutes early, so if you need a few more minutes that’s fine. Take all the time you need.”
“Just couldn’t wait, could you?” Harry says cheekily, fully expecting Louis to break into a pretty blush. Instead, he surprises him.
“Basically, yeah,” he admits, no sense of nervousness in his tone. “Figured there was no time like the present.”
“I do like a man who knows what he wants,” Harry jokes. “Yeah, I’m ready to go. Let me just say bye to Niall and Liam and then we can go.”
He calls goodbyes to them, and their immediate responses suggest that they’ve been eavesdropping. Fucking idiots, both of them. But also really, really good friends, and if this turns out the way he thinks it’s going to he owes them both a fruit basket. He grabs his coat, shuts the door behind them, and turns to Louis.
“Lead the way, Mr. Tomlinson.”
“So,” Louis says when they’ve ordered their food and it’s them and their wine and a basket of bread rolls. “I want to lay it all out, starting at the beginning, and then you can decide where you want to go from here.”
“I already know,” Harry says immediately, eagerly, and Louis stops him.
“You might not, though. So let me just explain.”
“Okay,” Harry says softly, nodding.
Louis takes a sip of his wine as he tries to figure out where to start. “You know I thought you were the most handsome guy I’d ever seen?”
“That night in the bar. When I sat next to you, I just… you were stunning, you know that? Your sleeves were rolled up to your elbows and you had long hair and I just had to go over and talk to you. Even if I’d wanted to leave, I couldn’t. Couldn’t tear myself away.”
Harry can tell they’re both thinking about it now: Louis sliding into the seat next to him, asking him if he’d been there before, if the bar was a good place to hang out.
“And the next morning, I couldn’t believe I’d never see you again. It felt like everything was meant to be and it was getting ripped away from me just as I’d found you. And then I saw you at work and it was like...” His face softens, the candle from the table casting dancing shadows on his cheekbones, and Harry wants to listen to him talk for the rest of his life. “It was like fate, or something. Like it really was meant to be.”
“Yeah,” Harry says softly, not quite sure where this is going. If that’s how Louis felt, why didn’t he say something all those months ago?
“But then we didn’t talk that first day and everything got so busy at work and I had all these family issues with my parents’ divorce and then when I finally got a chance to breathe it was like… you suddenly hated me or something. You’d argue with me about everything. And then I realized well, maybe it was all in my head.”
“What do you mean hated you?” Harry asks. He never hated Louis. Not until he realized that Louis didn’t want him anymore. And even then, he was really just mad at himself for assuming Louis might be interested.
“I don’t know,” Louis says, waving a hand in the air. “I just remember one morning I had this wicked stressful phone call with my mom about my stepdad, and I was excited to go see you because I hoped one dumb joke from you would make it better.” He blushes at the memory, and Harry can’t help but smile. “And then you just seemed… pissed at me, or something. And then it never got better. And then, you know… everything else happened.”
“Stressful phone call,” Harry repeats, because something in that phrase dredges up a memory he doesn’t like to think about. “Were you in the basement? Near the locker room? Wearing your street clothes?”
“Was I… yes,” Louis says, looking puzzled. “What are you talking about?”
“I remember that,” Harry says, and he wants to laugh at himself, horrified that that moment, his stupid assumptions is what fucked it all up. “That was, er… wow, I feel like an idiot now. That was the morning I wanted to tell you I really liked you and that I wanted to ask you out. And then I heard you on the phone, talking about how you regretted talking to someone—a guy, clearly—and how they wouldn’t leave you alone and you wish you’d never talked to them at all.”
“Yeah,” Louis says, still looking confused. “My stepdad. He was being an asshole, wouldn’t stop calling me at all hours—”
“I thought you were talking about me.”
“What? Why would you ever…”
“Because it felt like you kept trying to make up excuses to get rid of me,” Harry says, heart twisting a bit at the memory. “Any time I tried to get you alone, tell you how I felt, there was a phone or a pager or a patient. And I’d just gotten up the courage to ask you anyway, and when I heard you on the phone, I guess I just assumed it was me you were talking about. I figured you were sick of me following you around.”
“That is...ridiculous,” Louis says. “Absolutely ridiculous.”
“And then I assumed you weren’t interested and it was just easier to get mad at you, I guess, so that I could pretend I didn’t like you so much.” Harry chuckles quickly, but the memories are painful.
“The only reason I bickered with you so much is because I figured fighting with you was better than not getting to have you at all. And then we started sleeping together, and it was like, same thing. Better to get you sometimes than not at all. But I never stopped liking you,” Louis says fiercely. “Never. Was pretty sure I did a shitty job of hiding my feelings the whole time, but maybe not.”
“We’re idiots,” Harry says, and when Louis kicks his foot under the table in agreement, he bursts into laughter.
They talk about all of it: how Harry never bucked up and talked to Louis, how they were falling in love with each other without meaning to, how Louis panicked the day that he realized, weeks before Harry did. They lay it all on the table, the cards and the feelings and the things that hurt, and as they both dig into the remaining bit of the brownie dessert, Louis asks him what he’s thinking.
“I want to give it a shot,” Harry says confidently. “I don’t… you hurt me, Lou, but I hurt you back. And we’ll probably do it again. But that’s better than the alternative.”
“Yeah?” Louis asks, dropping the fork in excitement. It clatters to the china plate and he looks embarrassed, but Harry only pats his hand. No point in them hiding the way they feel anymore, for better or for worse. “God, Harry, I just…”
“I know,” Harry says. “Me too.”
Harry was an idiot if he ever thought he could be just friends with Louis. He doesn’t know how he convinced himself all those months, especially now that he’s got Louis sitting in front of him, looking like sin and Harry’s best daydream. How did he sit on the same couch as Louis and keep his distance? How did he stop himself from leaning over and kissing the life out of him?
He clearly possessed some kind of self-discipline that’s gone now, because all he wants to do is lean across the table and kiss Louis until he can’t breathe anymore, other restaurant patrons be damned. Louis’ eyes are a bright, happy blue and his grin is broad and he spends the entire night smiling.
Harry does too.
In the car in the way home, they listen to Fleetwood Mac at top volume and scream-sing along, and when they lock eyes during the chorus of Everywhere Harry feels the biggest wave of affection roll over him and he thinks, I am so in love with you. He doesn’t care if it’s smart or if he’s going to get his heart broken anymore. It doesn’t matter.
He just wants Louis.
They’re both a bit reluctant for things to end when Louis pulls up outside Harry’s house. He parks the car and the engine goes silent.
“You wanna come in?” Harry asks. “I promise Niall and Liam won’t be annoying. We can murder them if they are.”
Louis laughs. “I shouldn’t. But I’ll walk you to the door, how’s that?”
Louis immediately threads his fingers through Harry’s on the path to the door, and Harry can’t help but squeeze it tight. He hopes he never has to let go.
“Please come in,” Harry says, voice a little desperate. “Even for just a drink or something. Coffee?”
Louis laughs, and the sounds is the most beautiful thing Harry’s ever heard. “I really, really shouldn’t.”
“Stop pouting!” Louis removes his fingers from Harry’s and bops Harry on the nose. In retaliation, Harry does it right back to him. “I’m not coming in because if I do, I’ll probably never leave. And I want to do this right.”
Harry starts to sigh, and Louis captures the sound with his mouth, surging upward to press his lips against Harry’s.
It takes another ten minutes for him to leave after that.
They part ways only when the heavens open and it starts to rain, and Harry makes Louis promise to text him when he gets home so he knows he’s safe. Louis rolls his eyes but Harry can tell that he loves it.
“Good night?” asks Niall when Harry lets himself in.
“The best,” Harry says, falling down on the couch between Liam and Niall, and as he lets himself be cuddled, he wonders if now is too soon to text Louis.
It’s probably not, right?
It’s definitely not.
They go for another date two nights later, and Harry has absolutely no shame when he asks Louis to come home with him afterwards.
“My roommates aren’t even home,” he says, his voice pleading. “Please, Lou. I really, really want to.”
“Next time,” Louis says, his tone determined. “Next time, I promise.”
He’s resolute, immune to Harry’s begging, but from the way that he shifts against Harry’s body on the porch a few minutes later, Harry can tell it would just take a few more minutes of pleading to get him to break down.
Harry doesn’t want that. He gives him one more kiss and tells him he’ll see him at work tomorrow.
“Love you,” Louis says as he pulls away, so casual like they’ve said it hundreds of times, and Harry’s returned the sentiment before it hits them.
“Oh my god,” Louis says with a laugh, pressing his forehead against Harry’s and breathing him in. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean—”
“I did,” Harry interrupts. “I do. Love you, I mean. I love you so much.”
“Me too,” Louis says, a quiet confession, and he kisses him again.
It takes another fifteen minutes for Louis to get going after that.
They make it an entire hour at work the next morning before Louis grabs Harry by the wrist and pushes him into a supply closet.
When they emerge twenty minutes later, Harry’s got a flushed face and a burning desire to get Louis in his bed immediately.
The next night, they’re standing in front of Louis’ front door, soaked to the bone from the downpour outside as Louis searches through his pockets for his keys.
“I can’t find it,” Louis mutters. “I must have left it at work earlier. Shit.”
“That’s alright, we can go to my house,” Harry says.
“You’re not being very helpful,” Louis protests.
“Sorry.” Harry’s completely unapologetic as he works his tongue over a particularly sensitive spot behind Louis’ ear. It’s been months since they were together, but Harry’s mental map of all the places on Louis’ body that drive him wild hasn’t faded. It has the added advantage of forcing Louis to drive his ass backwards, rubbing against Harry’s crotch, and they might be in public but Harry would still take him right here on the front porch.
“I don’t—” Louis lets out a groan when Harry digs his teeth into the side of Louis’ neck “—want to go to your house. Roommates, and girlfriend, and…”
“And I kind of want to fuck you tonight,” Louis admits, and Harry inhales sharply and drops his forehead against Louis’ shoulder.
“Louis,” he groans. “You can’t just say shit like that.”
He doesn’t need to see Louis’ face to know that he’s grinning. “I can and I will. But I really do want to, if that’s alright with you.”
“Very alright,” Harry says, trying to recover his sensibilities. It’s just been a long time since he had sex, alright? It feels like it’s been forever.
“Good,” Louis says, and when he steps out of Harry’s grip, Harry probably shouldn’t feel as empty and cold as he does. Jesus, he’s so very gone for Louis already, even when he’s standing three feet away, rooting through the dirt in the planter for—
“Found it!” Louis proclaims victoriously. He holds up a silver key, glinting in the moonlight, and before Harry knows it the door is open and he’s inside of Louis’ apartment for the first time.
“I’ve never been here before.”
“I know,” Louis says. “I thought—well, I think I was convinced that if you never came over here, then I wasn’t feeling as much as I really was for you. Like I said, I was a bit of an idiot.” Harry wants to kiss the sad look off his face, so he does.
“We have time. I mean—” They haven’t talked about it yet, but he’s pretty sure that they’re both in this forever. “We’re both in it for the long run, right?”
Louis nods so enthusiastically that Harry wonders how he ever doubted him at all.
“Right, okay. So we have plenty of time to talk about this. For now, not to sound like a line from a movie, but d’you think I could get out of these wet clothes?”
Louis laughs and kisses him. “You’re such an idiot.”
“Yeah, but I’m your idiot,” Harry says through a pout, and considering that Louis is grinning, his face fond, he’s not sure how effective it is.
“My idiot and my boyfriend and my favorite person,” Louis confirms.
“It’s not gonna be easy, you know,” Harry says, and he wants to smack himself for interrupting such a good moment.
“No, it’s not,” Louis agrees. “But it’ll be worth it.”
Harry grins. “Can you let me in your house now?”
“Yeah, yeah, sorry. Let’s go.”
He fumbles with the key in the lock and then they’re tumbling inside of the apartment, shoes squelching on the carpet in the entryway.
Louis kicks off his shoes and gestures for Harry to do the same, and then tugs him along. “Living room, kitchen, bathroom,” Louis says quickly, nodding to each darkened room as they go. Harry can’t see anything.
“This better be the bedroom,” he quips as Louis opens a door and gives Harry a little shove inside.
“And the bedroom,” Louis says, flicking on the light and illuminating the bedroom. It’s nice - bigger than Harry’s, with wood floors and a high ceiling, but Harry’s not thinking about that now. “Sorry about the mess.”
“Sorry about the mess,” Harry repeats slowly, amused. “You are something else, you know that, Louis Tomlinson?”
“I’ve been told,” Louis says. He draws close to Harry, wrapping his arm around his waist and squeezing tight. Harry hugs him back, takes a moment to breathe him in and hold him in his arms, and they fit, they do. He kisses the top of Louis’ head, and Louis draws back, slipping his hands under Harry’s shirt to rest against the bare skin of his hips.
“Hey,” Louis says softly, voice quiet in the silent room. “Thank you.”
He doesn’t need to say for what; Harry feels it too. “You’re welcome. Thank you.”
“Welcome,” Louis says, and then he leans in for a kiss. When he pulls away, Harry watches the rise and fall of his chest as Louis tries to catch his breath.
“Bed,” Harry says, leaning back in for a kiss. “I want to kiss you some more and I don’t think my legs are going to hold me up much longer.”
“Yes,” Louis says immediately, and he releases Harry and scrambles onto the bed, where he sprawls like a starfish. “You gonna join me?”
“I might,” Harry says, undoing his rain-damp jeans and shoving them to the ground. He feels ridiculous in his floral blouse and boxers, but Louis is looking him up and down with intent, and suddenly Harry can’t spend another minute without a portion of his skin touching Louis’.
“What do you want?” Louis asks when Harry’s joined him on the bed and is hovering just above him. One of Harry’s hand traces the line of Louis’ jaw, feather light, and the way Louis shivers at the touch is intoxicating.
“I want… God, you’re stunning,” Harry says, feeling like he can’t keep it in any longer. They never got to do this the first time; he’d had to keep all his compliments locked away. “The most handsome thing I’ve seen.”
“Shut up,” Louis says, his cheeks turning pink.
“You are, though,” Harry says, his whole body feeling happy and content. “You drive me crazy. You have, since that very first day, since everything.”
Louis just shakes his head and surges up to kiss him. At some point he flips them so that Harry is on his back, Louis hovering above him, fingers on the buttons of Harry’s shirt. “Can I—”
“Yes, yes please,” Harry says. His cock is half hard and there’s no way Louis can’t feel it, no way he doesn’t know how much Harry wants him. He tries to strip off Louis’ pants as Louis works on his shirt, but it’s impossible to do both at the same time and they end up laughing and stripping off their own clothes before meeting back in the center of the bed, entirely naked. It’s not particularly sexy but it makes him feel warm all over.
“What do you want?” Louis repeats.
“Want you to fuck me, please,” Harry says, breath hitching as Louis angles his hips down and brushes their cocks together. Harry shudders through the feeling, riding it out, and then he leans down to stroke Louis’ shaft.
This time it’s Louis who cries out and Harry grins into the kiss. Two can play this game. Now that he’s got Louis for good, he’s going to take full advantage of it. His brain is already going crazy from all the different things he wants to do to him.
They kiss and touch some more, until Harry’s riding Louis’ fingers and begging for him to fuck him already, so worked up by the time Louis finally presses into him that he might cry from the relief of it all. His sweaty hair is plastered to his forehead and Louis tenderly brushes it away with lube-sticky fingers, the gesture so intimate it makes Harry choke out a sob.
“You alright? Need me to stop?” Louis asks immediately.
Harry shakes his head. “No, no, it’s so good. I just…”
“Yeah,” Louis says, leaning down for a kiss. “Me too.”
Louis’ hands come up to rest palm-to-palm with Harry’s. He thrusts in and out, hips angled just the right way, and it’s all Harry can do to focus his gaze on Louis’ face and how fucking good this feels. He can’t help himself from whispering praises over and over again, how good Louis is, how perfect he is for Harry, how much he loves him.
All these months, those lonely nights when he thought that he should pick up someone at the bar and move on, this is what he was missing. This was why he couldn’t do it, because even when he was fighting with him, there was something about the way that Louis touched him that he’d never be able to replace. He knows now that it was love.
“God, you feel so good. You always do, there’s nothing like this,” Harry says, getting choked up. He feels like an idiot for crying but there’s something so different about it, the way Louis is smiling down at him, his expression honest and open. This is what he’s been missing all this time.
“Baby,” Louis says, and it’s that one little word that sends Harry over the edge, crying out as he comes.
Louis groans and mutters that he’s close, and Harry kisses him through it until Louis comes, burying his face in Harry’s sweaty neck as he tries to catch his breath. Harry pats the side of his head and presses kisses to as much of Louis’ face as he can reach, trying to tell him without words just how much he loves him.
He doesn’t pull out for a few minutes and there’s a heartbeat of sadness Harry feels when he does, his body going cold but then he remembers that he’s got Louis for good now, that they can do that whenever he wants, and he feels warm once again.
They fall asleep tangled together, and Harry’s last thought before he drifts off is that he can’t wait to do this for the rest of his life.
“D’you think anyone’s gonna notice I’m wearing your shirt?” Harry asks, looking at his reflection in the window of Louis’ car in the parking lot at work the next morning.
“You mean will they notice that your shirt is too small and says Boston across the front?” Louis asks, grinning at him happily. “Yeah, they probably will. You wanna make sure they do, though?”
He extends his hand for Harry to hold, and together they walk into the hospital, hand in hand.
Harry pulls his head out of the fridge and turns to see Louis leaning against the doorframe of the break room. He’s wearing his white coat and he looks fresh-faced and happy, like someone who slept for more than four hours last night. He’s as lovely as ever, the absolute love of Harry’s life, all his hopes and dreams, sure, but Harry’s eyes zero in on the coffee he’s holding.
Louis laughs and holds it out to him. The fridge door slams as Harry crosses the room. As he reaches for it, he half expects Louis to playfully pull it away. He must see that Harry isn’t in the mood, because he freely hands it over and watches with a smile as Harry takes a long, long gulp.
“Hi,” Harry says when he’s had his fill for the moment and wants his fill of something else. “Good morning.”
“Hi.” Louis leans in to kiss him despite Harry’s inevitable coffee breath, and Harry sinks into it. It’s only been a few hours since he kissed Louis goodbye, but it feels like days. It's been months with Louis, and he still isn't tired of him. He hopes he never is.
“Thank you,” Harry says when Louis offers him the coffee again. He takes another long sip and prays the caffeine starts to do its job soon. “God, I’m exhausted.”
“How bad was it last night?” Louis asks, resting his hands on Harry’s shoulders and rubbing them slowly up and down his arms. “You look dead on your feet.”
“It was pretty rough,” Harry confesses. “I think I slept like...three hours?”
Louis winces, takes one more look at him, and pulls him by the wrist so they can collapse on the small couch in the corner. He shuffles them so that he’s holding Harry close, arms wrapped around his waist, and Harry takes a deep breath and tries to relax.
“No one died, at least, so I guess that’s good?” Harry chuckles. It’s a morbid joke, but what else can he say? He and Louis haven’t spent more than an hour in the same bed in a week, he’s working the next three days in a row, and his vision is starting to go fuzzy from all the caffeine. All his patients surviving the night is actually the only high point of the week.
“I miss you,” Louis confesses. “I don’t sleep the same without you.”
“Same,” Harry says, and he buries his face in Louis’ neck, breathing in the comfort.
“I mean, I feel shitty complaining about that because you’re actually not sleeping at all, but I still miss you.”
“No, it’s okay, you let me complain about it when it was my turn. Sometimes the schedules just suck. Not anyone’s fault.”
Louis quirks his lip, and Harry knows there’s a dumb comment coming. “Well, technically it’s the scheduler’s fault…”
Harry’s too tired to do anything but roll his eyes. “I do appreciate knowing that you miss me though.”
“Of course,” Louis says softly. “Always.”
“Same,” Harry admits, and if anyone else were around he’d be so embarrassed at how sappy he sounds. It still wouldn’t stop him from saying it.
“Why don’t you close your eyes?” Louis says. “I have like a half hour before I need to head to the floor. Close your eyes and rest for a few minutes, and if you get paged before that I’ll wake you up.”
As Harry does just that, he thinks how lucky he is that he has someone who would come to work an hour early just to help him sleep.
Before Harry realizes it, they’re almost done with their intern year. In a few weeks others will come in to take their place and they’ll move up in the food chain. He’s a little nostalgic about those days when they started, knowing almost nothing and yet thinking they knew it all. How wrong he’d been.
So much has happened since then, falling in love and getting his heart broken and repairing it. Figuring out that he wants to work in pediatric surgery. Learning to make the space for his patients and for himself. Learning to let friends into his life; he can’t remember who he was before he knew Niall, Zayn, and Liam, before two of them lived with him, and the other was over so much that he might as well live there.
He’s learned that it’s okay to be vulnerable, it’s okay to be scared, and it’s okay to ask for help.
And then of course, there’s Louis. Louis who came crashing into his world in the most unlikely place, who’s messed up but apologized, who loves Harry not in spite of who he is but because of it.
Louis, who brings him coffee from the good place down the street, who’s always available for a kiss and a pep talk when he needs it, who has Harry’s whole heart and has had it for longer than either of them had even realized.
Harry’s pretty sure it’s the same for Louis too.
They don’t always work together and sometimes they only get to see each other for twenty minutes when Harry’s waking up just as Louis is coming home, and other times they get to squeeze in a quick cuddle in bed before one of them starts work, but it’s still so good.
“I love you,” he tells Louis when he catches him on the floor one afternoon, the two of them crossing paths as they often do.
“I love you too,” Louis returns immediately, and he leans in for a quick kiss, even though he shouldn’t. Everyone at work knows about them, but there’s still an element of professional decorum that they should be following. They do their best to adhere to it. They don’t always succeed.
“I just wanted to tell you that you’re worth it. This whole thing is totally worth it.”
Louis’ brow furrows in confusion for a minute, and then he must flash back to that conversation of a few weeks ago, and he grins.
“We’re both worth it.”
When they kiss, they meet in the middle.