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In the Here and Now

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Chapter One

“I can't do it El,you know I can’t”
“I don't know anything Louis,how would I when you never bloody speak to me?”
I shoved back the kitchen chair roughly,relishing the look on Eleanor's face as the legs scraped against the wooden floor.I couldn't have this conversation again,not when I was already running late for work.Turning my back on my girlfriend and dumping my cereal bowl in the sink,I set about the process of gathering the papers strewn across the kitchen table and stuffing them in my briefcase.Soft sobs filtered through the heavy silence in the room and I knew if I turned around I would be met with Eleanor's tearful eyes and trembling lips.I couldn't do it.Not again.

For the past six months we had been having arguments constantly,almost daily and it all broiled down to the one problem-why didn't I want to spend time with my girlfriend?Eleanor just couldn't understand why I would rather spend my time with Liam.I knew how much it hurt her,of course I did,how could I not when I had to cradle her while she cried herself to sleep most nights.And yet,I couldn't tell her the real reason.Often,I would dream about how I would tell her-
I'm gay”I would say “I always have been and I always will be.”
But,no matter how many times I said it in my dreams I knew I could never say those words in real life.Just imagining Eleanor's heartbreak and my father’s utter disgust and disapproval sent a shudder up my spine.No.Those words were for me-to be whispered when I felt like the whole world was up against me and I just needed something,anything to comfort me.

Eleanor was desperate to fix what she saw as a temporary speed bump in an otherwise happy relationship.She thought we just needed time to be alone,reignite the spark or some shit like that.Everyday she would try and convince me to go on some mini break with her.This morning,she had found a great deal on a little cottage in Dover-sun,sea and relaxation.It sounded,to my ears,like torture.Alone meant only one thing to me.Sex.I would have to shag her.If we went on this trip I knew there would be no other way around it and so,I found every excuse to get out of it.

“Look Eleanor,I'm sorry.I know I maybe haven't been as….present lately.I’ve just been busy,you know?”

I muttered,turning around and finally facing my girlfriend,wincing when I noticed the expression of pure anger on her face.

“Fuck off Louis!You’re a middle rank exec at your father’s company,don't give me this busy shit.”

Eleanor was standing now,moving closer with every word.Her beautiful face contorted with jealousy and anger.It was a low blow and she knew it.I had always hated working for my father.Growing up,I had tried to work hard at school in an effort to escape the job that had been waiting for me since I was 16 at my father’s PR company.So to end up,at 20,right where I had always sworn I would never be-it was a kick in the teeth.It was my biggest insecurity and she had capitalised on that.I felt annoyance start to bubble to the surface but quickly pushed it back down,she had a reason to be angry,it was me at fault here.I was the bad boyfriend neglecting his girlfriend in favour of clubbing with his best mates.

“Have you been having an affair,is that it? Who is she?Some pretty receptionist with not much brains upstairs,eh?”

Her voice was ice,any trace of the love she claimed to hold for me gone.

“Of course not!”
I rushed,almost laughing at the ridiculousness of the comment.I could hardly handle one woman,let alone two.

“Then what is it?”
The colour drained in my face.There it was-a blunt question.There was no manoeuvring my way around this one.I opened my mouth slowly,formulating my thoughts.Eleanor stood,with her hands on her hips and her face flushed,wearing a look of impatient expectancy mingled with fear.I couldn't do it.I couldn't say those three little words that would change my entire identity forever.And yet,what else was there to say? What other answer could I give that wouldn't result in her packing up her things and leaving me alone in our home.

“Daddy,why you make mummy sad?”

Freddie,my son,rushed into the room,immediately saving me from a dire fate.Relief coursing through my veins,I scooped Freddie up into my arms and planted a huge kiss on his forehead.

“Mummy’s not sad anymore see?”

I twirled Freddie around in the direction of his mother,Eleanor already plastering on a huge grin.To anyone other than a child,the sadness in her eyes was unmistakable,but to Freddie it was enough.I caught Eleanor's eye as I swung our little boy into the air,my heart plummeting as I saw the desperation swirling within them.Before I could let the guilt settle,I put Freddie down and finished packing my briefcase.

Freddie was an accident.An adorable,amazing accident that was now the love of my life,but an accident all the same.El and I had been going out for a couple of months at the time.She was the daughter of a big actor being represented by my father.It was obvious she was nursing a huge crush on me and it just seemed convenient to fall into a relationship with her.My father was adamant that nobody found out his son had less than (in his eyes) wholesome desires and pushed me to commit to Eleanor.In the early days of our relationship,we did have sex.I was struggling with who I was still and managed to convince myself that sex would sort everything out.Of course,it didn't.It absolutely broke me.Imagine doing something that is regarded as one of the best feelings you could ever experience and feeling repulsed,barely able to get your dick hard.It’s horrible.I was close to breaking up with Eleanor,having finally plucked up the courage to tell my father I'm gay and proud, when she showed up on my doorstep with the pregnancy test,essentially shoving me into the closet forever.

Grabbing my briefcase and my car keys,I knelt down in front of Freddie and opened my arms wide.

“Daddy's gotta go to work now Freddie,can I get a hug?”

Freddie ran into my arms,abandoning the lego castle he was building on the rug.Closing my eyes and squeezing my son tight,I breathed in his baby scent,tears beginning to form at the corners of my eyes.

“I love you so much”
I whispered.

“I love you too daddy”

Reluctantly untangling my arms from around my baby,I stood up,brushing the fluff from my suit pants.Eleanor was leaning against the door jamb,watching the embrace with an expression close to clinical.I knew she was jealous of the relationship I had with Freddie.Despite being at home all day,I knew Eleanor struggled to connect with our son.Maybe it was the fact that she spent most of the day getting coffee with her friends,leaving Freddie at the nursery or with the nanny.

“Bye El.”
I mumbled,finally opening the front door and making my way down our rambling driveway to my BMW.The cold,frigid air inside the car was a welcome escape from the tension inside the house and I let myself soak in the silence for a moment before turning on the engine of my car and starting my commute to work- a.k.a hell.

***
Stepping off the elevator on the seventh floor of Tomlinson Corp I knew something was off straight away.Multiple pairs of eyes pierced the back of my head as I made my way through the busy office space,singling out my best mate Liam's desk.Liam,as usual,was folded over a thick stack of contracts,a pen in one hand and his classic black coffee in the other.

“Liam!Why the fuck is everybody acting so odd?”
I hissed,plopping down in the chair across from his desk and in the process,startling Liam.We had known each other for so long that we were beyond greetings at this stage.

Liam and I had grown up together.Hell,we’d practically lived in the same house with the amount of time Liam spent in my home as a kid.Liam’s parents were old money,rich stuffy aristocrats living in a huge house that barely saw a duster.We connected over our shared disdain of our parent’s lifestyles and a mutual need for normality.Maybe it's a little cliche-little rich kids struggling with the thought that money was no object,but,we did struggle-we still do.Liam’s parents were desperate for their son to study medicine so they could boast about it with their dignified friends at dinner parties and art gallery openings but that was never Liam.For as long as I'd known Liam he had dreamed of being a producer.Working in a PR company synonymous for its musically gifted clients was just a stopgap.

“Shit,I meant to text you about that.Your Dad’s on the warpath.He’s been by my desk three times in the last hour looking for you.Last I seen him,he was storming into your office.”

“Fuck,fuck,fuck,fuck,fuck”

Turning around in my chair,I followed Liam's line of vision to the door of my private office.My father only visited my office if there was a problem.Time was too precious to waste on something as trivial as affection,according to him.So that could only mean one thing-he heard about my problems with Eleanor.Groaning loudly,I began to rub my temples trying to rid myself of the dull ache that had been building up all morning.

“Hey.”Liam reached out a hand and patted my shoulder,his face the picture of concern “What’s going on?Is it Eleanor?Freddie?”

Liam didn't know the full story.Of course he didn't-I couldn't risk telling him,I couldn't bear the look of disgust that would surely appear on his face.I didn't need anybody else to tell me how disgusting I am,I already knew myself.As far as Liam was aware,I went through a short period of “self-discovery” in my teen years but once I met Eleanor,that was that.He knew I was having problems with El.Unfortunately,there was no hiding that,especially as I often found myself drunk at three o'clock in the morning and desperate for someone to vent to.

“It's nothing,Liam,honestly.I had a fight with Eleanor again but it's no big deal.”
I tried to play it off,shrugging my shoulders and getting up from the chair.It was about time I faced my father.

“Tommo you can't continue on like this.Break up with the girl-for both of your sakes.”

“I can't Liam,Freddie needs both parents.”

Liam shook his head in earnest,his stack of contracts long since forgotten.I knew Liam didn't like Eleanor.From the first time he'd met her,Liam told me I could do better.It annoyed him that she spent all day shopping and spending my money,barely sparing a thought for our child.From the outside,I knew it looked like she was the selfish one.But,if Liam knew the full story,he wouldn't be so quick to write her off.

“Bullshit Louis.Eleanor never spends time with the kid anyway so it's not like he'd miss her.”

“If she tries for custody though…..we’re not married….I could lose Freddie.”

Liam snorted softly “She won't try for custody Louis.She knows she'd never be able to handle him on her own.”

I brushed off the comment.Even if I wanted to leave Eleanor I knew that wasn't an option.

“Listen Liam,I'd better go and deal with my father,k?”

Waggling my fingers at him,I began to turn away from the desk.I knew I was being abrupt but I couldn't deal with getting my hopes up.Liam thought everything was easy-that all my problems could be easily fixed.When in reality,that was far from the truth.

“Tommo,text me later,right?”
Liam shouted after me.

Giving him a thumbs up in assent,I slowly began to open my office door,my insides shriveling as I noticed the outline of my father's bulky frame.

“Took you long enough,didn't it?”
My father snapped,standing as I came into view.

Sighing,I plopped down in the chair behind my desk,turning my head away from my father's smug face and towards the wall-to-wall views of London behind me.The perk of being the boss’ son was the swanky,entirely undeserved office that came with it.Everything was white,sleek and modern from the matte white desk to the expensive white rug.The office screamed money and privilege-summed me up really didn't it,ha.The only thing in the office that was really mine was the photograph of my mother and I,sitting on my desk.Taken on a weekend trip to Nice,it reminded me of happier times,when my mother was still alive and before my father turned into a callous bastard.Even now looking at my mother’s carefree smile as she laughed at my ice cream covered face brought a grin to my face.I was lucky in that respect.At least I experienced love from one parent, no matter how short lived it was

“Why are you here Dad?”
I said,my voice monotonous and bored.That man did not deserve anything from me.

“Eleanor’s father called me.Got into another little row did you?”
My father’s voice dripped with sarcasm and insecurity.Turning back towards my father with the intent of making some obscene gesture,I just caught him staring at the picture on my desk before he focused his eyes elsewhere,raising an eyebrow at him when he noticed his mistake.So he was capable of feeling real,human emotions.Shocking.

A smirk in my voice,I leaned back in my chair and propped my feet up on the desk,enjoying the wince that flickered across my father's face.

“You don't know shit about my relationship with Eleanor,so don't pretend like you do.”

“I know that she's not happy,” my father breezed, “And I know that she rang her father over half an hour ago in tears because you won't treat her right.”

I shifted in my seat as my father turned the full power of his penetrating gaze on me.

“Why is that,may I ask?Why can't you make a woman happy?”
My father’s voice dripped with malice and I longed to get up and punch him,revel in the feeling of his skin breaking under my fist.

“Get out.”
I ordered,my voice hard.I knew what he was insinuating and I had never hated him more.

“You're a coward,son.A bloody coward.And if you don't fix this thing with Eleanor…..well,you'll never see your son,my heir to the company, ever again and you'll certainly never see your inheritance either.” My father delivered his final blow with a snarl.He knew his shot had hit home.

My inheritance was my only way out.My one chance to take Freddie and move somewhere where nobody knew my name.My father knew I was counting down the days until he kicked the bucket.If that was taken away…… every shrivel of hope I had in my body would be gone.No.He couldn't take my inheritance.

“I'll say it once more,father.Get out before I make a scene.I know how much you love those.”
I got up out of my chair and flung the door open,ignoring the inquisitive glances I received from the people outside.

My father,happy at having affected me,shrugged and moved languidly towards the door.He had the audacity to shoot me a curling smirk of victory before he was gone,closing the door softly behind him.

Sinking to the ground with a shaky breath,I put my head in my hands and let myself break.

***
Twenty minutes later, I was still curled up on the ground,the sleeve of my shirt held up to my mouth to muffle my sobs when my phone buzzed in my pocket.Pulling it out,my heart sank when I saw Eleanor's name on the display screen.

I knew what she wanted,of course.It was the same after every fight.She would run off somewhere,leaving me to take care of our child.Sure enough,when I opened the text,my suspicions were confirmed:

Going away for a few days with my sister.Nanny sick.Pick up Freddie from nursery at 1-El

Sighing,I rubbed my eyes fiercely not caring that they were probably red and got up,brushing the creases out of my designer suit.I had to pull myself together.I was an adult.A grown man with responsibilities.I couldn't just drop everything because I was being trapped into a life I didn't want.

I kept telling myself this as I grabbed my keys from the desk and shot back a curt reply to Eleanor.Freddie was my main priority and he always would be,no matter what shit was going on in my life.My father would be mad if I left work before lunch,especially as I had a meeting with Zayn Malik,one of our most promising artists.But then,I didn't give a shit what my father thought.I was not going to leave my little boy in the nursery.I knew what it felt like to be the last kid picked up,trying to brush off the pitying looks from the teacher whilst trying to convince yourself that your father did actually care.That was not the type of father I wanted to be.

Strolling out into the main office space,I made a detour to my assistant,Rebecca's desk,trying to ignore the looks my red,puffy eyes were attracting.

“Rebecca,can you reschedule my appointment with Mr Malik until tomorrow?Tell him it happened again.He’ll understand what that means.”

My voice cracked as I spoke and I winced,hoping my assistant hadn't noticed.I felt guilty cancelling on Zayn,especially as he was in the middle of a hectic album promo season and needed to figure out what interviews he was lined up for but I knew he would understand.I had met Zayn,on my very first day in school and we had immediately hit it off.With his mysterious charm and wicked sense of humour he was the perfect balance to my antics and Liam's sensibilities.It was the perfect stroke of luck when I,newly ensconced in my role in the Pr company,managed to convince my father to take Zayn,who was just starting to get recognition for his music, on at the firm.He knew,much like Liam,that I was having problems with Eleanor having been privy to many a meltdown over beers and ice cream.However,unlike Liam,I knew he had an inkling of the real reason me and Eleanor could never work.

I remember a night out last year when I had gone outside for air and Zayn had joined me.Eleanor and I had been embroiled in a particularly vicious fight over whether Freddie should be allowed to sleep in our bed or not at the time (I was all for it,especially as it gave me an excuse to not have sex with her.) and Zayn,puffing on his cigarette,had just come straight out and asked me “Eleanor's not your type,right mate.” I had denied it of course,mumbling some shit about not having a type but Zayn saw through me.He never brought it up again but sometimes I would catch him looking between Eleanor and I with a furrow in his brow,almost as if he couldn't work out what I was playing at.Join the club mate.

“Of course…..are you alright Mr Tomlinson?”
Rebecca was gazing at me sympathetically,chewing on her bottom lip as she took in my appearance.

Despite being relatively new at the company,Rebecca was one of the people I liked most at the office,after Liam.From the very first day,we had developed a really great working relationship,with her often helping me on projects.I knew she had guessed my home life was strained,how could she not when she had to constantly field calls from Eleanor.And yet,there was still a part of me that was wary of her.She had a crush on me,Liam would insist almost daily,something which made me read into each one of her casual winks and arm squeezes.

“I'm fine Rebecca,really.”
I muttered briefly,offering her a parting smile before moving over to the elevators,taking care to slip past Liam quickly while he had his head buried in a pile of papers.

Only when I was alone in my car,did the sadness start to wash over me again.Turning the key in the ignition and popping Zayn’s new CD into the CD player,I tried to focus on the music flowing through the speakers instead of my building anxiety.I didn't want Freddie to see me upset,especially as I would already have to explain why mummy had gone to her sister’s again.

Driving the short commute it took to Freddie’s nursery,my thoughts swirled back to my father and his threat.No inheritance.It had to be an empty threat,it had to be.If he didn't give his inheritance to me who else would he give it to? My mother was dead,all of his “friends” were only people he thought were beneficial to have around and I was his only child,much to his consternation.He had no one,not even me when it came down to it.It was sad really,this bitter old man who alienated everybody.He had power and money sure but happiness was a foreign concept to him.I decided to abandon any worries about my father's threat,hoping it would never come to fruition.

As soon as I pulled up outside of the nursery,a colourful little building that was situated right next to the primary school,my ears twitched at the sound of a loud bass from inside.Getting out of the car,my curiosity peaked and my worries momentarily forgotten, I rang the little bell next to the lilac door and waited.Admittedly I had never been to Freddie's nursery.Apart from insisting that he went to a normal nursery,not one of those posh private places that tried to foster young geniuses,I hadn't cared what nursery Fred went to.So I had ended up picking the first one I came across in a brochure.In hindsight,probably not the best parenting.

I was peering at the childlike drawings in the windows of the building when the door was flung open revealing a beaming man with a shock of dyed blond hair and a guitar slung across his body.

“Hello mate!”
He bellowed in a thick Irish accent,clapping me on the back as if we were old friends,much to my bewilderment. “You here for the pick up?Bit eager ain't yah?End of day isn't for another hour yet.”

“What?Oh I thought…..fucking Eleanor.” I shuffled my feet on the doorstep,cursing Eleanor and her complete lack of knowledge regarding our son.

“Who's Eleanor?Anyway you may as well come in.Harry’s doing yoga with the kids.I was practising me guitar but I was due a break anyway.Gotta do some work,right?”
The man ushered me into the building,his voice carrying as we walked down the brightly lit corridor.I had never met someone who was so enthusiastic and happy in my entire life.It made me feel like a right old miserable git.

“Are you the owner then?”
I asked,eyeing the art plastered along the wall.All this talk of yoga and guitar was disorienting.I couldn't take anything in.And,who was Harry?I couldn't remember Freddie ever mentioning a man before.I had always assumed his nursery teacher was a woman from the way he talked about picking flowers and playing picnics with teacher.

“Me?No,that's Harry.I’m just his assistant I guess you could say, though I don't do much assisting.” The man chuckled as he said this and then slapped a hand to his forehead. “I forgot to say my name,I'm Niall.”

“Louis Tomlinson.” I said in response taking his proffered hand with a grin.I had taken an instant liking to him,it was almost impossible not to.

“Louis Tomlinson?Ah you're Freddie's Da.Yeah,great kid Freddie.Between you and me,Harry has a bit of a soft spot for him.”
Niall said,oblivious to the fact that I still had no idea who Harry was.

Just as I about to ask,Niall stopped at a door and flung it open,revealing complete and utter chaos.The room was huge, and filled with about twenty children all stretched out on brightly coloured exercise mats in various yoga poses while Fleetwood Mac played loudly through a pair of speakers in the corner of the room.But this was not the oddest sight,for in the middle of the room stretched out on his own exercise mat was the most beautiful man I had ever seen.He was expertly executing the downward dog pose,his ass high in the air and his chocolate brown curls falling across his face,his cherry red lips puckered in concentration when I entered the room.My heart stuttered as I took in his long legs cased in purple Lycra leggings and his toned biceps littered with tattoos.I had never seen someone more perfect in my entire life.

“Daddy?”
I was forced to tear my eyes away from the beautiful man at the sound of my son’s voice across the room.My eyes crinkling in fondness I took in the joy spread across his face.I did that.I thought proudly.

“Fred,baby,I missed you.”
I exclaimed, waiting as he abandoned his exercise mat and flung himself into my arms.From the corner of my eye I could see the beautiful man look up at the commotion but I refused to look over.Hell,I’d probably faint when I caught my first unobstructed glimpse of his face.

“Silly Daddy,it's not home time yet.”
Freddie scolded,his eyes wandering back over to his mat and his teacher.Despite loving me,I could tell he didn't want to go yet.Clearly he loved this place.

“Freddie boy,you don't have to go yet.I’m gonna occupy yer Da for a bit so you can finish up, ‘Kay?”
Niall chipped in,laughing as Freddie simply beamed before hurrying back off to his exercise mat.

“God,he couldn't wait to get rid of me.”
I joked,rolling my eyes to Niall.

“Harry has that effect on people.Everybody loves him,it's hard not to.”

Just as I was about to muster a response,a deep honey voice sounded behind me,turning my knees to jelly.Oh God.Even his voice was perfect.
“What are you saying about me to Mr Tomlinson,Ni?”

Turning around,my breath caught as I took in my first glimpse of the beautiful man-Harry's face.His eyes were the most beautiful shade of green and they glistened with sincerity and mirth.And of course,his jawline looked like it had been sculpted out of marble.Coupling that with his rose bud lips and his beautiful mop of hair which was sculpted into a soft swoop,he looked like an absolute God.I watched,half delirious,as Harry's green eyes widened almost imperceptibly as he stared at me.I probably looked a mess-standing there with my puffy eyes,messy hair and dishevelled suit.If only I'd cleaned myself up a bit.

“Nuthin bad mate.Just telling Louis here how much everybody loves you.”
Niall said,his body already starting to move towards a door at the back of the room which I presumed to be the kitchen.

“Not true.Kids love me,adults….not so much.”
Harry's eyes slid to mine as he spoke,a self deprecating smile forming on his lips,allowing two huge dimples to appear on either side of his face.

Dimples!He had dimples.Groaning internally,I cursed my life.

“Well my Fred loves you.Constantly talking about all of the games you play with him.Though,I must admit,I actually thought you would be a woman.”
The last part slipped out,surprising myself and by the looks of his flushed cheeks,Harry.

“Oi!I’ll have you know I'm extremely manly,just look at these purple leggings.”
Harry squealed in mock indignation,waving a hand at his Lycra leggings with a chuckle.

Letting out a breezy laugh,I let my eyes wander over to the children who were all standing on their exercise mats,watching the exchange as they waited for their teacher.

“What's with the yoga anyway?”
I asked,already gathering in my head that Harry was like no other person I'd ever met in my life.

“It's good for the body and brain.Im trying to teach them all to be zen little humans.”
Harry responded,his eyes taking on a dreamy glaze,no doubt imagining his utopia of happy,yoga doing hippies.

“Hah!Yeah,you should see Freddie just before he goes to bed at night.Like a proper little Buddha,jumping off the walls and screaming blue murder if anyone comes near him with pyjamas.”
I deadpanned sarcastically,beaming up at Harry who was several inches taller.

“Freddie's a wild,creative soul.No one can hamper his happiness.Don't tell anyone but,Freddie's my favourite person.He reminds me a little of myself when I was younger.So creative and happy.”
I followed Harry's gaze over to my child,both of us watching on as he happily tried to recount a story to a little girl whose face was scrunched up in confusion,clearly not understanding a word he was saying.

Smiling,I declared softly, “He's my favourite person too.”

After that,we stood basking in the silence for a couple of moments,my eyes glued to the twinkle in Harry's eyes and the slight colour that danced across his cheeks.The silence was swiftly broken however by the reemergence of Niall,who,sticking his head around the door of the kitchen,bellowed:
“I've made tea mate,come on.”

“You'd better go,Mr Tomlinson.I have to finish yoga with the children or they'll skin me alive.”
Harry said,and was I imagining it or was there a touch of disappointment in his voice?No,there couldn't be.Why would someone like that ever enjoy having a conversation with someone like me.

“It's Louis.”
I said,lingering in front of Harry.

“What?”

“You can just call me Louis.”
I watched as a slow smile spread across Harry's face before he nodded and turned away,already starting to mumble zen like platitudes to the children.

Finally turning away myself,I entered the tiny little kitchen and sat down at the table in front of my cup of tea.

“I wasn't sure how you liked it,one sugar okay?”
Niall asked and I nodded in response,not having the heart to tell him that I had a bit of a sweet tooth and normally indulged in three sugars.

“How long have you been working here anyway mate?”
I wondered,thinking back to the fond smiles Harry and Niall had given each other.They seemed close,definitely more than co-workers.Friends?Boyfriends?Something that felt suspiciously like jealousy twisted in my stomach at the thought of Harry having a partner.I was behaving like a mad man.I’d only met the guy five minutes ago and already I was contemplating what it would feel like to have his lips on mine.Hell,I had a girlfriend.And I was meant to be playing the role of the straightest man in Britain.

“Me?I’ve only been here a couple months.My last job fell through and Harry was kind enough to offer me this job.”

“So you've been friends for a while then?”

“Oh yeah,donkey’s years.We met when I moved here from Ireland when I was just a tiny squirt.You should have seen Harry then-all awkward limbs and frizzy hair.I stood up for him when he was getting mocked one day for wearing nail polish and ever since,we've been best mates.”
Niall told the story with a practised ease,almost as if he was used to telling it.I,on the other hand was utterly endeared at the thought of a baby Harry stumbling around like Bambi.

“What about you then?You must work,right?You’ve never picked little Freddie up before,always a woman who comes.Your girlfriend I'm presuming?”

“The nanny.”I hurried to correct, “Yeah,normally I'm busy during the day.I work for my father's company,Tomlinson Corp?It’s not far from here actually.”

“I know that place.PR company right?I think Harry might’ve mentioned it before.He’s obsessed with music,knows practically everything there is to know about the business.”

“Can he sing?” I asked,surprised.

“Can he sing! Hah!He can do bloody more than that.He’s feckin brilliant.I keep telling him to do one of those open mic things but he refuses.Says he doesn't want to be a singer,loves his job too much.”
Niall said all this as if it was something that constantly baffled him.I could kind of get it.There was no denying that Harry had star power.He had a magnetism that drew you in and kept you there.He would be amazing on stage,I just knew it.But,knowing the business like I did,especially the PR side of things,it was nasty.Harry with his kind heart and open flamboyance would probably get eaten alive.

I'd seen it happen to Zayn.For as long as I could remember,Zayn had liked boys.He’d liked girls too but,it always seemed to be a guy who would end up in his bed at the end of a night out.Liam didn't know,Zayn only too aware of Liam's naive uncomfortableness around homosexuals.Everything was fine at first,when Zayn was just doing little gigs he had freedom to do what he wanted.However,after one of his singles hit number one and teenage girls started paying attention,things changed.All of a sudden I was getting orders from my father to arrange pap walks with girls for Zayn and fake girlfriends.I hated it.Especially as I myself was suffering from closeting at the hands of my father.

“It's a nasty business.Not the glitz and glamour you see on TV.”
I mused to Niall,knocking back the last few dregs of my tea.

“I don't know mate.Money,fame and all the girls you could ever want.Sounds pretty good to me.”
Niall said cheerily,his naivety shocking.

“Trust me,it's not like that.”
I said firmly.

“Guess I'll just have to trust you then.”
Niall said,offering me a toothy grin,which I returned immediately.

We spent the next hour talking about everything from last night’s footie game to what was the best way to eat an Oreo (Niall insisted it was dunking the whole thing in a mug of tea and then eating it like that but I was equally as stubborn that you had to twist the top off the Oreo and eat the cream first.)

I had completely lost track of time and probably would have stayed there for another hour chatting complete shit with Niall if it hadn't been for Harry coming into the kitchen.

He had changed out of his yoga clothes and was now wearing a pair of tight black jeans,boots and a billowing red silk shirt,unbuttoned slightly so I could see the swallows he had tattooed on his chest.He looked even more gorgeous than before,if that was possible.Watching him,I felt something wedge in my throat.What was wrong with me?I had never had this reaction over a guy before.Normally I was pretty good at suppressing my desire.

“Hazza!” Niall grinned,motioning Harry in, “I think you might have to be demoted.Louis’ my new best friend!”

I caught Harry's eye and smiled at him,astonished as I watched a slow flush crawl up his neck.He was probably just uncomfortable with strangers.

“Good,well maybe then next time you're hungry you can go around to Louis’ house and steal his food.”
Harry bit back, “Anyway,Niall I need your help putting the kids coats on and stuff.Unfortunately you are gonna have to do some work today.”

Niall got up from the table and I copied his movements,placing my empty mug in the sink and brushing any biscuit crumbs from my suit.

“I should probably get going anyway.Is Freddie ready?”
I asked Harry,walking out into the main nursery area after he nodded.

All of the children were lined up by the door,coats and lunch boxes in hand and I made a beeline to Freddie when I spotted his thatch of brown hair from the front of the line.Everybody said he was my mini me with his crystal blue eyes and brown soft hair which he insisted on styling to the side “just like Daddy.” I could see Harry now looking between us,calculating our similarities.

“He looks just like you.” Harry whispered as we stood off to the side of the queue watching Niall try to wrangle twenty kids into their coats with great difficulty.

“I know.Eleanor’s been bitter about it for years.”
I muttered,visibly wincing when I realised I'd said her name out loud.

“Eleanor?”
Harry asked hesitantly,his face falling.

“My girlfriend.”
I clarified.As soon as the word was out of my mouth,it was like Harry built a wall around himself.His eyes turned to stone and his mouth pulled downwards.I thought I heard him mumble “of course” under his breath but I couldn't be sure.

“I didn't uh….know Freddie's mum was around,he never mentions her.All he ever talks about is you,he adores you.”
Harry's voice was lead and something in it made my own heart drop too.Was Harry gay?Did he think I was?Oh God,was I that obvious?

“Yeah well.Her priorities aren't always right.”
I mumbled,fixing my eyes on a scuff at the edge of my Italian leather shoe.

“Louis,” Harry's voice was soft again,a soft plea for me to look up, “I didn't mean to pry,I'm sorry.That wasn't my place.”

I lifted my head slowly and matched his hesitant smile,saying with a shrug, “I don't mind,honestly.”

At that moment,Freddie and Niall hurried over,Freddie bundled up in his big grey duffle coat which I had insisted on buying for him for the colder months.

“Come on then buddy.Let’s get you home,yeah?There’s an invitation to a teddy bear tea party waiting at home with your name on it.”
I said,fondly,taking Freddie's tiny hand in my own.

“Really?Will Mr Yellow be there?”
Mr Yellow was Freddie's beloved teddy which he had been given when he was just a baby by Zayn.His yellow fur was now beyond grubby and one of his legs was hanging off but he refused to throw it out,instead citing that he would love it forever.

“Well I dunno Fred,I did hear he may have prior engagements but I guess we’ll see when we get home.Who can resist tea and cake right?”
Freddie nodded happily,his mind already imagining all of the food he would serve to his bear friends.

“Will you be back Monday mate?”
Niall asked suddenly,hope filling his,and when I looked to my side,Harry's face as well.It was odd but I felt like I'd known them forever.

“I'm not sure….I have work and I was only here today because the nanny was sick.”
I said,a touch of sadness to my tone.I realised I did want to come back.Not just because I was hopelessly attracted to Harry but also because it would be a damn shame never to see Niall again.

“I'll try.”
I promised,earning a nod from the two men.

“Come on Daddy,the bears will be hungry.”
Freddie said,impatiently tugging on my hand.

“Okay,okay.Bye guys,see you yeah?Say bye to Harry and Niall Freddie.”
To my surprise,Freddie high fived Niall and then launched himself into Harry's arms,wrapping his arms around his neck in a vice like grip.

“Love you Hazzy.” Freddie mumbled,much to my surprise.I knew Niall had said they were close but I didn't realise how much Freddie liked him.

“Love you too Freddo.” Harry laughed,placing him back on the ground.

Meeting my wide eyed stare,Harry laughed and waggled his fingers in a sort of wave. “Bye Louis.”

“Yeah,don't be a stranger mate.”
Niall chimed in.

More parents were starting to pull up outside the nursery and while Niall bustled off after his parting word to greet the various parents and make sure the kids had everything,Harry stayed rooted to the spot.

I watched him as I put the key in the ignition of my BMW,Freddie safely strapped into his car seat and singing along happily to a song on the radio.He was beaming,a diamond in a crowd of rough.My lips itched with the need to kiss him right then as I watched his gangly figure,leaning against the lilac door,his eyes fixed to mine with an intensity that scared me.With one final smile,I reversed the car and pulled away from the little nursery,watching Harry's lone figure in my rear view mirror.

On the drive back home,Freddie,oblivious,prattled on about tea party dress codes and finger food but all I could think about was a certain curly haired prince who,in less than two hours had managed to wriggle himself into my heart.

Chapter Text

Chapter Two

The next day was Saturday and Eleanor still hadn't come home.I didn't care personally,in fact,I was quite relieved to prolong the inevitable heart to heart that would ensue upon her arrival,but Freddie hadn't stopped asking questions when she hadn't shown up to kiss him goodnight and I knew he thought it was his fault.Somehow Fred had gotten it into his head that Eleanor hated him.That her drawn out moods and general flakiness was because of a long established resentment of him.Naturally,this made me feel like the shittiest person on Earth.

So with a resolve to placate my son’s insecurities,I rang Eleanor while we were sat on the couch munching through huge bowls of Rice Krispies.

“Louis”
She said,after picking up on the third ring.I could hear the resignation in her voice and could just picture her rolling her eyes at her sister,Jessica while mouthing my name.

“Eleanor,look,I know you probably don't want to speak to me right now but I'm with Freddie and he's wondering when you're coming home.You missed his bedtime.”
I kept my voice polite,as if I was speaking to a stranger and not the mother of my child.

“And whose fault is that?”
Eleanor hissed,revealing the very obvious bitterness she still held.

“I didn't ask you to run away,Eleanor.”

“You pushed me to it.You and your infidelities.”

“Oh for fuck sake,can you just tell me when you're coming home?”
I snapped,exasperated.Freddie's head swivelled towards me,his mouth turning downwards at hearing me curse.

“How about never?You’d like that wouldn't you.You can move in your dirty little mistress-”
Before Eleanor could finish I pressed end on the call and put my phone on silent,tossing it onto the sofa.I couldn't listen to anymore of her childish drivel.A mistress.Hah.How could she possibly believe that I was having an affair?It was laughable.

“She's not coming back,is she?”
Freddie asked after a few moments of silence,his voice small and on the edge of tears.Despite not having much of a bond with her,Eleanor was still Freddie's mother and I knew he loved her.

“Of course she will,baby.Who could stay away from you,you're the best person in the whole wide world-oh c’mere don't cry.” Pulling a heaving Freddie to my chest,I enclosed him in my arms,shushing him gently.

It broke my heart seeing him upset like this.It was all my fault.I’d done this with my stupid stubbornness.My father was right I should have just been a man and gone on the bloody weekend trip.

“Harreh said that you can tell when someone loves you because they smile real big and always want to hug you but all mummy ever does when I'm around is frown.She hates me.” Freddie choked out,huge sobs wracking his frame.

My mouth went dry at the mention of Harry.The same Harry who I had dreamed about all night.The same Harry who had given me raging morning wood.The same Harry who had caused me to spurt my load against the wall of the shower,my mind on caressing touches and rosebud lips.Stop.I was a disgrace.

Gulping loudly,I lifted Freddie up into my arms,much to his sobs of protest and carried him like a baby into the hall where all of his little trainers were lined up.

“Freddie,listen to me,your mum does love you.Of course she does.She’s just angry at me at the moment because I'm being very mean.Do you understand?” I waited for Freddie's small nod of confirmation before I continued, “Now,when I'm sad I always eat ice cream and it makes me feel loads better.How about we go to the shops and get ourselves huge ice lollies and maybe then we could go have a kick around in the park?”

Freddie's sobs were starting to cease now and I watched as he shakily nodded his head,shoving his thumb into his mouth, something which I hadn't seen him do since he was a baby.

“Alright then,that sounds like a plan.”
Reaching for a pair of white converse that were lying by the door I carefully helped him put his little feet into them and then bundled him into a khaki parka,finally pulling a Spider-Man hat down over his hair.

“Can Harry come to the park too?”
Freddie asked while I was roughly dragging my own arms through a jacket.

Now that Harry and I had finally met,Freddie talked about him incessantly.Somehow he had gotten it into his head that Harry and I were now best friends and as best friends do would be spending all of our time together.Already that morning I had had to endure an hour long conversation about when Harry was going to be invited to dinner and whenever that was-what I would cook for him.I didn't want to be reminded of Harry every five minutes by my four year old son,especially as my own brain seemed in the middle of a full on Harry Styles siege.

“Not today pal,but I'm sure Zayn would love to join us.”
Freddie shrugged,not impressed with the Harry substitute.

Biting my lip to stop from laughing,I locked the front door and we set off.

****

An hour later I was sat on a bench in the park with Zayn holding two soggy ice cream messes in my hands,trying desperately to lick up the mess before I ruined my new t-shirt.My tongue had never had to work so hard in its life.

A couple of feet away,Freddie was attempting to kick the football we’d brought, around on the grass.Unfortunately for him,the poor mite hadn't inherited any of his father's football skills and kept ending up sprawled on the grass each time he tried to kick the ball into his makeshift goals.

“So what's up Lou?”
Zayn asked,eyes sparkling with laughter as he watched Freddie take a particularly ambitious running kick.

“What do you mean?”
I tried to feign innocence,training my eyes on the sloppy ice cream cones instead of his face.

“Don't give me that Louis.You cancel our appointment yesterday and now today you ring me asking me to join you in the park at barely any notice so I can watch you eat an ice cream.Something’s wrong,now spill.”
Zayn’s voice was as usual,blunt but sincere.He never did fully grasp the idea of tact.

“Eleanor's gone again Z.She’s refusing to come back because she thinks I'm having an affair.”
I muttered,glaring at Zayn as he let out a loud burst of laughter.

“Sorry,sorry.It’s just,that's ridiculous.”

“Tell me about it.”I grumbled, “The problem is that Freddie thinks she's gone because of him.He’s really upset.I need to get her back now,if only to calm poor Fred down.”

Zayn pondered over my dilemma for a second before replying: “Did it ever cross your mind that maybe Freddie would be better off if you guys did just break up for good and she never came back?”

I opened my mouth to voice my opinion but Zayn held up a gloved hand,stopping me.

“Just think about it.Maybe he's just upset because of the whole uncertainty.His home life is hardly stable.If you guys ended it,Freddie could get used to the idea of Eleanor never being around and it would just become the norm.”

Zayn had a point,of course he did.I had wanted to break up with Eleanor for years.Unfortunately,there was just one small flaw to this plan-my father.There was no way he would allow me to dump Eleanor and still remain in my job.Especially as El’s father would probably leave the firm,bringing with him the company's biggest paycheck.

“That won't work Zayn.There’s just things you don't know….”

“Well I wish you would tell me.God,I'm meant to be one of your best mates.If you can't tell me,who can you tell?”

“No one,that's the point.”
I spat out the words with an anger that surprised both me and Zayn,who immediately wrapped an arm around my shoulder.

“It's okay Lou.I know it's not your fault.This isn't forever,alright?One day whatever shit is going on will be over and you and Fred can be happy again.I know it,alright?”

It was the kindest thing I had ever heard Zayn say and while I wished I could believe it,there was something niggling at the corner of my mind: if he knew the whole story he wouldn't be saying that.In that moment,I longed to just let everything go,let the truth come flooding out of me like a burst dam.It's not as if Zayn would be disgusted or shocked,for that matter.He would be disappointed,sure and would probably struggle to come up with the same platitudes he was spouting now but he wouldn't judge me.Zayn never judged anyone.He talked to the guy behind the desk at the bank the same way he talked to the guy slumped over in the street begging for change.That was just who Zayn was.But, what if he told someone?Zayn was notorious for having a loose tongue when he was drunk and had been known to spill people's darkest secrets after a few too many shots of tequila.I knew he wouldn't intentionally tell anyone but,when he was drunk….what would be stopping him from just casually mentioning to someone: Did you know Lou’s gay?No,it was better if he didn't know.

****
The rest of the weekend went much the same.Everything I did was a conscious effort to distract Freddie from the fact that Eleanor wasn't home yet.I took him to the cinema and let him pick out every and any sweets he wanted,we took the tube into central London and went into Harrods where I bought him a huge bambi teddy which he claimed reminded him of Harry.Hell,I even brought him to an all-vegan restaurant and suffered through a plate of soggy vegetables, seeing as thanks to Harry,Freddie refused to eat meat despite not having the faintest clue what being vegan even meant.

The weekend was so jam packed ,that I had completely forgotten about the nanny and the problem of work until Monday morning when I was trying to tie my tie in the kitchen whilst simultaneously attempting to flatten the tuft of hair sticking up at the back of Freddie's head.I wanted to bring Freddie to nursery,of course I did.After thinking about him all weekend,I was dying to see Harry again,even if it was only for a moment.

I was silently praying the nanny was still sick and I would be forced to take the day off so I was bitterly disappointed when I heard a key scrape in the lock of our front door and Connie,Freddie's nanny bustled in,her arms laden down with bags.

“I'm so sorry about last week,Mr Tomlinson.” She said immediately,her voice clearly still scratchy and sore.

Looking at her,I could see the poor woman was still ill.She had huge purple bags under her eyes and her normally immaculate hair was scraped into a messy bun at the top of her head.I was tempted to send her home,after all she could pass whatever she had on to Freddie.But then I remembered the photo she’d shown me once of her children-she had six,all under the age of ten and utterly dependant on her alone as she was their only parent.I knew it must be tough being a young single mother and desperately trying to support the family.It was obvious she couldn't afford to take the day off.So,ignoring her obvious ailment,I smiled brightly at her and waved my hand.

“Don't worry about Friday Connie,happens to the best of us.I’m still going to pay you for the day anyway.”

“Oh Mr Tomlinson that's really not-”

“Please,I want to give it to you.Think of it as a bonus.I know you're cleaning Eleanor's messes when she's home too.”
I insisted,enjoying the relief that erupted onto Connie’s face as she realised she would still be getting her usual weekly wage.

“You'll still drop me to nursery,right Daddy?”

Freddie asked.He looked just as disappointed as I was to see the nanny.I knew he wanted me to see Harry again,desperate to make whatever fantasy he had inside his head come true.But,it just wasn't possible.I couldn't miss another day of work anyway,I was already teetering on a thin line.

“Sorry baby,another time k?”
I tried to kiss him goodbye but he wriggled out of my grasp and stomped off to his room,scowling fiercely.

“Have I missed something?”
Connie asked,her eyebrows raised.

“Nope,just make sure you don't put anything meat related in his lunchbox.I’ll see you later.”
Nodding in Connie’s general direction,I picked up my briefcase and flung open the front door,my brain immediately switching to work-mode.

****
“....So then I said to him “Get the fuck out of my way you pap scum.” and maybe I gave him a little shove,but it was nothing really.”

I sighed audibly and ran a hand through my hair which,after two hours of meetings was hanging limply across my face.I was sat next to my visibly irritated father and several other colleagues as we listened to Danny Somers, teenage pop superstar regale us with another one of his fabrications.Welcome to another chapter of “Why I'm not a dick.”

“The problem,Danny,” My father said,fixing Danny with his famous stare, “Is that you broke two cameras and several fans have pictures of you kicking him when he was on the ground.”

“Like I've already told you-I wasn't kicking him,I was just checking if he was okay!”
Danny said incredulously,like he couldn't believe we weren't buying his story.

We had been going around in circles over the same story for hours now and I was beyond sick of it.This was the third time Danny had attacked a paparazzo and the third time he had claimed it had been everybody's fault but his own.Watching him,sprawled out on the chair in his low rider jeans and his gun tattoos I felt sad for the boy we'd lost.I could remember Danny when he had first joined the agency-young and fresh with impeccable manners and a genuine passion for making music.Fame had killed that young boy and left this chain smoking,pap beating idiot in his place.

“Whether you did or didn't do it,isn't the problem.No,the problem is what it looks like.” My father shook his head in annoyance and slid his iPad across the table to Danny,several tabloid stories recounting the event already loaded onto it.

“This is bad.We can't go with the clean cut image anymore… we've got to go in another direction.” My father mused,his brow furrowing.

“It's too late to salvage the church boy but what if we just ran with the whole bad boy act,exaggerated it?”
I said,my father's head snapping in my direction.I never spoke in meetings.This was a first.

“I'm listening.”

“Well,we could circulate a few stories about Danny inviting young fans back to his hotel room and sleeping with them.If anything,that'll keep young fans interested,in the hopes that they will be next.Maybe over time we could even extend the image so that Danny is the troubled bad boy who just needs the right girl to come into his life and save him.”
Once I had finished talking,I chanced a glance over at Danny.He looked affronted,like I had been the one just caught attacking a paparazzo.

“Would that work?Neil what do you think?” My father turned to Neil,one of the more senior managers in the company who was busying scribbling a plan down onto his notepad

Tugging at his lip hesitantly,Neil began to nod, “It couldn't hurt,that's for sure.I say we test it first and gauge reactions and if they're positive… I reckon we follow Louis’ plan.”

“Hold on a sec’ man!Do I get no say in this? I don't want my mom and sisters reading about all of the underage girls I'm shagging!”
Danny shot up from the table,his eyes frantic.Actually,taking a closer look,I suspected he had taken something in his obnoxious Range Rover before coming in here.

“Well Danny,you have two options.You can either say goodbye to your career or you can follow the plan,you choose.”
My father said,the glee evident in his voice.He knew he had Danny trapped.

I shifted in my seat uncomfortably as I watched the scene play out.I had done this,I had helped my father trap Danny.Why hadn't I just kept my mouth shut?

“All of you can just fuck off!” Danny shouted,flinging open the meeting room door and storming out.

I lurched out of my seat and started to hurry after him,bile rising in my throat, “Danny!Please,wait just a second!”

Danny whirled around at the sound of my voice and practically snarled.We were standing right outside the elevators in the reception area,completely exposed to gossips but I didn't care.

“I want to explain.”
I muttered pathetically.

“There is no explanation,Louis.You sold me out just to impress your father.” Danny raged,thumping a finger into the middle of my chest, “I know you think I'm a dick like almost everybody else on this planet but I actually respected you.I thought you weren't like the others.”

“I'm not.”

“No you're not,you're worse.At least they know they're vultures,you actually have the gall to claim you're a nice guy.”

The words hurt,I felt each of them like blows to my chest but I pushed them aside because I couldn't let Danny leave upset like this.I had read too many articles about what happens when celebrities are left to their own devices,alone and angry.

“Listen,I'm going to fix this.Can we go and get a coffee or something,I'll buy? I want to help you.”

“And why the fuck would I trust you?”
Danny snarled,his voice rising.

I could see my father from the corner of my eye watching the exchange.He wouldn't be happy that his precious son was causing a scene again.

“I'm not asking you to trust me,I'm just asking you to listen.”
I pleaded,almost sagging with relief when Danny gave a short nod of his head.

“Fine but lunch not coffee and you're buying.”

“Sure,just give me a second will you?I’ll meet you outside.”
Turning away from Danny,I hurried over to my father who having heard the exchange looked practically murderous.Shit.

“What the fuck do you think you're doing son?And to think I was actually coming out here to congratulate you on a job well done.”
My father growled the minute I was in earshot.

“I'm doing you a favour,that's what I'm doing.Danny and I are going to go and get lunch and I'm going to calm him down,get him to agree to the deal.If we leave him storm off now….he's erratic,who knows what he'll do?”
I tried to keep my voice reasonable,trying not to betray the fact that I was lying through my teeth.I had no intention of screwing Danny over again.Sure he was a bit of a dick but,there was some part of him that was still that young kid,almost incoherent after being asked to sign his first autograph.I was now determined to find the old Danny again even if it meant dredging him up from the dead.

“Well,I suppose I got the situation wrong then.Don’t bother coming back after lunch,visit Zayn,convince him to sign the new contracts.”
My father said suspiciously,his eyes roving my face for any signs of dishonesty.

Luckily,I was a fucking brilliant liar and three minutes later I was walking across the road with Danny to a little cafe,my mind already planning what I would do with the rest of my day off.(I wanted to say that my mind didn't go straight to seeing Harry but,I'd be lying.)There was no point in seeing Zayn especially as I knew there was no way in hell he was signing the latest closeting contract so,I decided I deserved to take a day off.I probably didn't but….. I couldn't wait any longer,I had to see Harry again.

“Thanks for agreeing to this Danny.”
I said once we were settled in a booth at the back of the cafe.It was a simple greasy spoon,one which I frequented regularly, that specialised in heart attack inducing burgers and fries dripping with grease,my favourite.My father would be incandescent that I had dragged one of our clients to a “fucking shit excuse for a caf.” But,watching Danny,he actually seemed to be happy enough with my choice.Michelin star restaurants and wait staff who practically licked your arse probably got boring after a while.I know I wouldn't be able to hack it.

“Didn't have much of a choice,did I?Not when you were standing there begging.I was afraid you'd get down on your knees and promise to suck me off next so I had to agree.”
Danny muttered wryly,his eyes on something over my shoulder.

“Oi!No one would turn down a blowjob from me!It’d be the best one you've ever had in your life,I can promise you that.”
I joked,Danny's answering chuckle warming my heart.

“I am sorry,Danny.I know we don't really talk,not recently anyway,” I watched Danny shift uncomfortably in his seat,clearly I wasn't the only one who remembered when we were close,when he practically hero worshipped me, “But,that's no excuse for what I did.I was trying to impress my fucking prick of a father and you were just collateral damage.”

“It's fine,I didn't mean any of that shit I said back there.I don't know what's wrong with me Louis,I'm so fucked.”
Danny's voice cracked as he spoke,his eyes still following something (or someone more like) behind me.

“I get it okay.Fame fucks you up,trust me,you're not the first person to fall victim to it.I want to help you…….I know you maybe don't have anyone around that you can really talk to but,I'm here k?If ever you find yourself wanting to vent just give me a ring.Also,I'm going to find a way to get you out of that bad boy crap I pushed you into.”

“Thank you.”
Danny said simply,a faint colour rising in his cheeks.He struck me as someone who didn't accept help too often.

“Well now that that's over,what the fuck are you looking at?There a hot waitress or something?”
I asked,shifting in my seat so I could discreetly look behind me.

“No,uh,nothing.You don't need to look Louis.”

Ignoring Danny's flustered pleas,I turned around,fully expecting to be met with a young waitress in a tight outfit and tits the size of melons.I even had a joke already prepared.So,you can imagine my surprise when I looked behind me and saw no waitress,no fit customers either.In fact the whole place was empty except for a young male waiter who was bent over washing the table right behind us.

“Louis…”
I turned away from the waiter and met Danny's eyes.He looked as though he was about to burst.His face was a mottled shade of purple and his fists were clenched on either side of the table.So Danny was gay.That explained the erratic behaviour and the image overhaul.

“It's okay Danny.Calm down.”
I murmured,trying to reach across and uncurl his fists.He lurched away from me instantly,tears beginning to appear in the corner of his eyes.

“It's not what it looks like,I swear.I’m not…..I'm not…”
Danny couldn't even say the word.Clearly my father had gotten to him,conditioned into him that being gay was some sick perversion.God,is this what Zayn saw when he looked at me.

“It doesn't matter,Danny.”
I whispered but,Danny was still shaking his head frantically.I could tell he was three seconds away from bolting.So I said the only thing I knew would make him stay.

“It doesn't matter because….I'm gay too.”
I said the words softly,the word gay feeling strange as it came out of my mouth.I expected to panic,I expected to feel self loathing but,what I was not expecting was to feel an overwhelming amount of relief and acceptance.There it was,my biggest secret.I had released it from my body,it was out there in the world now.

Danny was staring at me,slack jawed and wide eyed. “You're gay but….don't you have a girlfriend?Fuck,you have a son!”

“Yeah well,you're not the only one who has a fucked up life.”
I chuckled darkly.

“I've never known someone who was gay before…...I thought I was alone.A freak.” I could see the cogs working in Danny's head as he turned over my revelation.

“Listen,I've never told anyone this before so you've got to promise me,promise you won't tell anyone?I can't ruin my son’s life.”

Danny nodded fervently, “God of course man,just like don't tell anyone about me either k?I’m even sure if I am gay….I'm still figuring things out.”

“I wouldn't dream of it.”

“Hey,now that you guys have finished your heart to heart,can I take your orders?”
The fit waiter shouted,dumping his cloth and whipping out a notepad.

Meeting Danny's eye,I let out a small chuckle,which then progressed into the two of us bent over the table clutching our tummies,our laughter echoing in the empty cafe. It felt damn good to be myself around someone for a change.

****
After enjoying a predictably delicious lunch with Danny (Danny may or may not have plucked up the courage to ask the waiter for his number.),I dropped him off at his luxury apartment.Before he got out,he insisted on exchanging numbers and we promised to meet up again to talk about what we were going to do.

Sitting in the thick Central London traffic on my way home I checked the time on my watch,1pm.Should I go to the nursery?Connie was supposed to be picking Freddie up but,I knew if I hurried I could make it to the nursery just before half.If anything,she would probably be delighted with the half day.With my mind made up,I sent her a quick text,assuring her that while I was giving her a half day she would be paid the same.

I knew Freddie would be delighted to see me and I him,of course.But there was also a little flutter in my stomach at the thought of seeing Harry again.I remembered the last time I had seen him-him standing there maintaining unwavering eye contact even while I was reversing my car.Oh God,I knew it would take a lot to suppress my constant desire to kiss him.Especially as I had been having explicit dreams about him for the past couple of days.

With my thoughts on Harry,I made it to the nursery in record time-15 minutes.I may or may not have broken a couple of speeding limits on the way but,at least I just about refrained myself from running a particularly pesky red light.

This time I didn't hesitate in my car,instead killing the engine and bounding across to the building.My hand had barely left the buzzer when the door was being flung open and I was being enveloped in a bear hug by Niall.

“Louis mate!I missed you!Harry’s been driving me crazy.”
Niall bellowed,clinging on to me like a baby koala.

Laughing,I clapped him on the back and carefully extricated myself from his arms.Despite only meeting him a couple of days ago I was surprised at how much I had missed Niall too.

“I told you I'd come back soon,didn't I?I couldn't stay away.”

“Missed Harry eh?I did tell him you would but he didn't believe me.”
Niall said coyly,catching me off guard.

“What...no I ...uhh”
My face I'm sure was bright red now.Was my attraction to Harry so obvious that even oblivious Niall picked up on it?

“It's okay lad.I won't say a word.”
Niall said miming a closed mouth.

Feeling slightly dazed and not knowing what else to say,I allowed Niall to bundle me down the corridor to the door which once again,he flung open.Fully prepared to see Harry lying on the floor teaching the kids some ridiculous yoga pose I was slightly disappointed when I instead saw him sat at a little table with all of the kids,reading aloud.

“I will remember the kisses
our lips raw with love
and how you gave me
everything you had
and how I
offered you what was left of me”

Any disappointment left me however when I realised what he was reading,poetry.I had never been one for literature,always mocking Zayn when he would try and read me a quote but,hearing Harry's warm,almost burnished voice reading a poem,I understood it.I understood the emotions that people gleaned from poetry.

“Bukowski again!Harry,how many times do I have to tell you,the kids are too young for feckin poetry.Jesus,I'm too young for poetry.”
Niall guffawed,drawing attention to our presence in the room.

“No one’s too young to learn about love,”Harry proclaimed,getting up from his seat and moving towards us.I wasn't proud to admit that I let out a small gasp to myself at his words.

He was just as handsome as I remembered,if not more so.He was wearing a similar pair of skintight black jeans and boots but this time on his torso,was a huge disgustingly ugly jumper.The colours in it were so clashing and garish that I knew on anybody else it would have looked shit.Yet,on Harry it looked perfect,like he'd just stepped off a shoot for GQ.Damn him and his ridiculously good genetics.

“Louis,I thought you were working.”
Harry breathed,standing directly in front of me.

Behind him,sat at the table with the rest of the children I could see Freddie.Curiously he hadn't let out one of his characteristic yelps when he saw me.Instead he was sitting quietly,glancing between Harry and I with an ear splitting grin on his face.What an odd little bean.

“Lucky for you Harold,my father sent me home.”
The nickname slipped out before I could stop it and my eyes immediately slid to Harry's face to gauge his reaction.He was looking down,a small smile playing on his lips and a noticeable flush of pleasure creeping up his neck.So he liked pet names then.Good to know.

“Wow that is lucky Haz, eh?”
Niall intoned,his voice light and mocking.

Harry shot him a dark look before turning to me: “Come see what Freddie painted.” He said simply,already moving towards a wall covered in drawings at the back of the room.

“Freddie,let’s show your Dad the painting you did earlier.”
Harry called to Freddie as he passed,waving a hand in excitement.

Freddie scrambled up from his place at the table and put his hand in mind,beaming up at me.
“I knew you'd come.” He insisted.

“I can't stay away from you pal,love you too damn much.”
I laughed,picking him up and enclosing him in the warmth of my chest.

“This is it,this one here.Isn’t it just brilliant.”
Harry exclaimed,pointing to the picture stuck in pride of place in the centre of all the other paintings.The minute I laid eyes on it I had to bite my cheeks in an attempt to control my laughter.It was a mess,that was the only word for it.The painting consisted of one huge blob in the middle of the page with lots of messy paint strokes.Far from brilliant,I hadn't the foggiest idea what it even fucking was.

“Oooo,my little Picasso!” I sing singed,in my best sugary sweet teacher voice eliciting a giggle from Freddie.Harry,on the other hand was pouting.

“Don't play around Louis.It is good.It’s you,see?That’s you there in...amirite Fred?a superhero costume?”
Harry was tracing the unidentifiable lines with his finger,somehow managing to make out an image when all I saw was a bunch of scribbles.

“Actually it's a potato.”
Freddie said matter of factly.

I immediately started laughing,cackling even harder when I saw Harry's unamused face. “Oh God,it’s the best painting of a potato I've ever seen.”

Soon,Harry's facade was crumbling and he too was joining me in laughter,his high-pitched hyena cackle making me laugh even harder.

“You have a bloody brilliant laugh,Harry.”

“Do I?”

“You do.” I said,enjoying the way Harry's eyes lit up at my compliment.

“Daddy,” Freddie asked suddenly,tugging on the sleeve of my suit to get my attention, “Can Harry and Niall come over for dinner?”

Shit.Harry was staring at my face,waiting for my reaction.He was too polite to say yes before he figured out if I even wanted him there.After a few seconds when no reply came,Harry shook his head.

“Sorry Fred,I'm your teacher it probably wouldn't be appropriate.”

“But,you're not my teacher,you're my best friend.” Freddie said sadly,unaware that he was pulling at my heartstrings.

“Come,”I heard myself saying, “You and Niall should come to dinner.I don't actually cook so I was just going or order a pizza or something but you're both welcome to join us.”

“Harry can cook.” Niall shouted from across the room where he was sat colouring in pictures with the other kids.Clearly he had been eavesdropping on our whole conversation.

Abandoning his drawing,Niall bounded over to us,smiling almost as widely as Freddie was.
“If you stop off at that market on Darwin Street Harry can get whatever vegetable shit he needs and then he can cook.”

“I couldn't ask someone else to cook my child and I dinner.”
I said,glancing over at Harry who was fiddling with the hem on his jumper.

“I'd be happy to.You’re probably going to have to give us a lift to your house though because neither of us has a car.”
Harry muttered,followed by a chorus of cheers from Freddie and Niall.

“Well that's settled then.Now Louis,what say we go and stuff our face with biscuits and tea in the kitchen and leave Harry to finish reading his poetry shit.”
Niall said,oblivious to the fact that he probably shouldn't be swearing in front of children.

Arching an eyebrow and shrugging helplessly at Harry,I followed Niall into the kitchen and sat down where I had sat just a day before.

“So,do you and Harry live together then?”
I asked Niall after a while,reaching for the mug of tea that he plonked down on the table.

“Yup,although I'm sure he wishes he had his own place.It must be tough having to listen to me hooking up with girls every night.”
Niall said nonchalantly,clearly hoping I'd be impressed with his womanising ways.My assumption was confirmed when I ignored his obvious prod and his face fell.

“Does….does Harry not have girls over too?”
I said,voicing the question that had been on my mind instead.

“Harry's gay,Louis.Although,you're not, so I don't know why you would care?” Niall's cocked eyebrows and knowing smile as he spoke immediately made me regret ever betraying my curiosity.

I gulped down a large mouthful of tea to avoid answering Niall's blatant question.I knew it must be confusing for others.There I was clearly fawning over a 23 year old nursery school teacher when I had a girlfriend at home.Niall knew I had a crush on Harry,that much was certain but I wasn't sure what he thought about the rest of it.Maybe he thought I was bisexual.

“I don't care.Im just making conversation.”

“Sure Louis.”

After that,we lapsed into silence for a few minutes.Niall picking up the acoustic guitar,that had been abandoned in the corner of the room and strumming a few chords.

My thoughts were consumed by Harry as I listened to Niall play.I had never met someone who was so comfortable in his own sexuality.The clothes,the way he spoke,his hobbies-everything.He could be feminine and soft one minute and insanely sexy the next.It was infuriating but also,intoxicating.Harry made me want to be myself.He made me want to be able to go to parties and say to people “This is my boyfriend,Harry.” For the first time in my life the prospect of being openly gay didn't seem so impossible,not now that I'd met Harry.I’d only known the curly headed lad a couple of days and already I would do anything for him.I was beginning to go crazy with lust.

“I should probably go and help Harry mate.”
Niall said,breaking the silence and putting his guitar down.I wanted to make a comment about the reverence with which he held his guitar but bit my tongue.

“Yeah Fred and I should be going too.What time do you guys finish up here?”
I asked,getting up slowly.

“Well we have to clean up and normally Harry likes to pre-cook some snacks for the next day sooo around 4 maybe?”
Niall questioned.

“That's fine,we can go to the market after that.”

I made a move to open the door and find Freddie but Niall stopped me,placing a hand on my arm.
“Listen,I don't know what's going on with you and your girlfriend but I don't want Harry getting hurt.He’s not as confident as you think.”

I shook my head firmly, “I promise you Niall,that's the last thing I want to do.”

Satisfied,Niall swung open the door and we walked out into the nursery.Freddie was the last child there,sat on the ground with Harry doing some kind of puzzle.When we emerged from the kitchen,they both looked up mirroring beams of joy on their faces.It bemused me to see how comfortable Freddie was around Harry.He was friendly around Zayn and Liam sure and he did love them but,with Harry it was different.When Fred was around Harry he seemed to radiate joy and happiness.It made my stomach leap to think that Freddie was clearly just as enamoured with Harry as I was.

“Harold,why didn't you tell us everybody was gone?I’ve been holding you up!”
I scolded,mortified.I must look like a right keeno.

“Yeah,and you didn't call me to help.”
Niall piped in.

Harry simply looked between us and giggled, “Freddie helped me.Isn’t that right?And he did a much better job than you Niall.”

Freddie smirked, “Yup,I actually managed to zip the coats up properly.”

Niall let out a protest of indignation and I snorted.I forgot how sassy my son could be sometimes.

I moved to sit down on the floor with Fred so I could get a closer look at the puzzle and as I did so I noticed Freddie's nails.Each one was painted a glittery hot pink.

“Do you like them Daddy?Harry did them for me!”
Freddie asked,holding out his hands so I could get a better look.

“I hope you don't mind.He seen some of the other girls with theirs painted and asked me to paint his too.I have remover in my bag if you want me to take it off..
Harry mumbled anxiously.

I knew some parents would be uncomfortable at their little boy wearing nail polish but,I didn't care.All my life I had been forced to do things that would be seen as masculine by my father.I would never have been allowed to wear nail polish.In fact,I'm pretty sure I'd have been kicked out of the house if I had arrived home with my little fingernails covered in glittery polish.So to see Freddie,in his innocence,being able to do what he wants.To be able to wear what he wants and say what he wants.It warmed my heart.

“They're beautiful.Never change baby.” I said passionately,picking up Freddie's tiny hand in mine and kissing each finger individually.

When I was done,I looked up to see Harry smiling in what looked suspiciously like fondness.
“You have the best dad,Fred.”

“He's the bestest dad in the whole world.”
Freddie confirmed,clambering onto my lap.

“As much as I hate to break up this heart warming moment,it's three o’clock and Harry and I need to clean up.”
Niall said from the corner,smiling in amusement when I turned my head and met his eye.

“Come on then Freddo,baby.Let’s get you home.”
I said,getting up with Freddie still in my arms and ignoring his soft whines of protest.For God sakes,he'd be seeing the two men in a matter of hours anyway.

“Harry you had better give Louis your number.”
Niall said casually,both of them trailing behind as I walked to the door.

“What?”
Harry's voice came out high-pitched and slightly squeaky.Nice to know the idea of giving me his number is so repugnant.

“Yeah,just in case Louis can't find our apartment when he's picking us up later.It’s in Shoreditch,above a florists but,it can be a bitch to find if you've never been.”
Niall gestured at Harry impatiently and with a flush in his cheeks,Harry tapped his phone number into my proffered iPhone.When he was finished our hands brushed slightly as he passed me the phone and I jolted.When people talked about sparks and electricity I used to scoff and claim it was all bullshit but honestly,that one touch,a simple brushing of fingers almost left my arm paralysed.A surge of adrenaline rushed to my brain and I let out a short gasp for air.I had felt it.There was an undeniable connection between Harry and I.With fear in my heart,I looked up at Harry wide-eyed to see he was giving me much the same look-so he'd felt it too.

“Well that's that then.See you,Niall.Bye….curly.”
I said abruptly,I had to get out of there before Niall realised what had happened.I would never live down the merciless mocking if he realised that I had been left shaken by a touch from Harry's finger.Pathetic.

“Bye bestest Harry!Bye Niall!”
Freddie yelled happily,unable to resist tangling himself out of my arms and into Harry's.

“I'll see you later,Freddo Frog.”
Harry said,kissing Freddie on the cheek and passing him into my arms,this time studiously avoiding physical contact.

With one last panicked look at Harry and a murmured “bye” I was gone,groaning internally.How on earth was I going to survive an entire dinner with Harry when I couldn't even bear to be in his vicinity and not snog his face off? I was fucked.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Three

"Holy shit!”
I drove up to the gates of my house and typed in the code,laughing as I watched Niall and Harry's mouths drop open.I always forgot how extravagant my home looked to other people.

I had picked Harry and Niall up from their apartment just one hour earlier,leaving Freddie with the neighbours and their kids.I had been expecting to see the apartment and was already imagining how quirky and beautiful it would be ,so I was a little disappointed when I pulled up and Harry was sitting on the kerb outside the florists.

He had changed out of his jumper from earlier.This time,wearing an obnoxiously loud Hawaiian shirt,partially covered by a huge brown fur coat which was clearly too big.As if that wasn't bizarre enough,he had a pair of Kurt Cobain style sunglasses perched on top of his head.Didn’t the kid know it was winter?Despite how bloody bonkers the look sounds,he had managed to pull it off.He looked gorgeous and yet again I had to restrain myself from going over there and pouncing on him.At this point I was wondering if there was anything he couldn't wear.

“Niall's running a little late,” Harry apologised,opening the door of my car and sliding in next to me, “I told him not to take a nap when we got back but he never listens so…”

“It's fine,it's not like I can complain,this is the first time I've ever been early.”

Harry smiled softly “And why is that?”

“I think you know.”
I said,the implication clear.Harry turned his head away,trying to hide the expression on his face,but just before he did I thought I caught a glimpse of a smile.

After that,we descended into a comfortable silence, listening to the soft Christmas tunes coming from the radio,both of us exceedingly aware that this was the first time we had been properly alone together.

“I love this one.”
Harry said when Last Christmas came on,reaching out and turning up the volume.Softly,he started to sing along with Wham,his voice husky and surprisingly,good.I could have sat there for an eternity listening to his voice.It was the best thing I'd ever heard.

“Niall was right,you can sing.”
I commented when the song had finished.

“Niall told you I could sing?”

“Niall told me a lot of things.”

“Like what?”

“You'd have to ask him.None of it was nearly enough though.I want to know everything about you.”
The words were out of my mouth before I could stop them.

Harry shook his head, “I think you'd be disappointed,I'm pretty boring.”

“Harold,you get into my car wearing an outfit like that,wearing sunglasses in bloody Winter and have the gall to call yourself boring!Have you forgotten the first time we met? For fucks sake you had your arse in the air doing yoga to Fleetwood Mac,who on earth does yoga to Fleetwood Mac?!”
I laughed incredulously,astonished that Harry could call himself boring.

“My ass wasn't in the air,I was doing an incredibly effective yoga pose,one which I am quite good at if I do say so myself.”
Harry giggled,playfully flipping his imaginary hair over his shoulder.

“That's all you got from that?That I had incorrectly said your arse was in the air?Bloody hell curly!”
I laughed.

As I laughed Harry turned his beautiful face towards me and our eyes met.Shit.His green eyes seemed bigger than ever in the hazy light and were blazing with something that I hadn't seen before.Want.Suddenly,all laughter died in my throat and all I could do was stare back,powerless.My own eyes reflecting his.Slowly,almost subconsciously I began to lean forward, the air frizzling with desire.I could hear Harry's breath stutter when he realised,his lips parting,waiting.I needed this.I had to know what his mouth tasted like against mine.How he would look with raw,bitten lips,his hair tossed and his pupils dilated.I could feel my dick growing in my pants at the thought.

There was only a centimetre between us.I could almost feel his shallow breathing as it mingled with mine in the confined space.I was leaning forward again,intent on closing the distance when,Harry jolted back,almost as if he'd been shocked.Just like that,the spell was broken.

“Shit….shit...uhhhh I'm going to check on Niall,he's taking ages.”
Harry spluttered,opening the car door and dashing out into the brisk,early evening air.

What had just happened?Did I do something?One minute he'd been panting,clearly needing me just as much as I needed him and the next,gone.I felt like a fucking fool,sitting alone in my car my dick still pressing uncomfortably against the seam of my trousers.Sighing shakily I raked my hand through my hair and forced myself to calm down.I could not have a boner when Niall got into the car.The Irish fucker was so perceptive that he'd probably spot it immediately.

It was another ten minutes before Niall came into view,appearing from an inconspicuous door next to the florists.Harry was a few paces behind,his head down and his hands stuffed purposely in the pockets of his ridiculous fur coat.He looked shaken.Had I done that?Had I reduced him to this nervous,sad mess?Maybe he didn't even like me that way.Maybe he was just going to go through with the kiss so he wouldn't hurt my feelings and then chickened out at the last minute.I should never have tried anything.Hell,I had a bloody girlfriend,albeit a girlfriend that I had never been attracted to,not like I was attracted to Harry.

“Louis!Sorry I kept you waiting,I had to take a shower and then the hairdryer was broken-” Niall continued to ramble on,plonking himself down in the seat that Harry had vacated but I wasn't listening.

Instead,my attention was on Harry who had quietly climbed into the backseat and was now scrolling through his phone,definitely avoiding eye contact.Crap.

“So anyway,I'm here now.” Niall finished his story,unaware that I hadn't caught a word of it.

“Good to see you Nialler.” I said,faux cheerily,turning the key in the engine and driving away from the boys’ apartment.

The whole drive had consisted of Niall,god love him trying to engage Harry and I in conversation with minimal results.I thanked my lucky stars the whole way home that I had decided to go to the market myself before picking them up,buying as much vegetables as I could get my hands on.I don't think I could have suffered through another half hour of awkward silences and tension.

Now,my BMW rolling up the gravel drive to my house,even Harry couldn't help but gasp.It was,in my eyes,a monstrosity.Eleanor and I had moved into the house,on my father's command,after she fell pregnant.At the time,I was freaking out about being a dad and didn't even bat an eyelid when my father handed me the keys and informed me he had bought us a house.However,it had been bothering me for the last year or two that it wasn't actually mine.Daddy paying his spoilt bratty son's way out of trouble,yet again.

“I knew you were rich but I didn't know ye were this rich!”
Niall exclaimed,staring up at the three story,minimalist block in front of him.

“It's not me that's rich.Its my dad.”
I said offhandedly,killing the engine and getting out of the car,grabbing the bags of vegetables from the boot.

“Yours,your dads,who gives a fuck?This is mental!”
Niall hopped out of the car,followed by Harry who was eyeing the house with astonishment mixed with...reproach,disappointment?

“Don't like it Harold?”
I asked,addressing Harry for the first time since he ran away from me.

“I do, its huge,” Harry mumbled as I opened the door and ushered them inside where more white and minimalism greeted them, “It's just a bit impersonal,isn't it?”

Harry's tone was apologetic.I could tell he wasn't trying to offend me.He was right though,it was depressing.Everywhere I looked I was met with sleek lines and pretentious feature walls.There was no colour,no ornaments,no life.

I shrugged, “This is my father's design,not mine.”

“Ignore Harry,he just doesn't like it because he's a hipster.All he likes is old vintage shit.”
Niall scoffed,wandering around the expansive hall with wonder.

“Not true.” Harry mumbled gruffly.

Turning away I moved into the open plan industrial style kitchen,plopping the bags down on the steel counter.
“I feel bad,you cooking for us.”
I said as Harry came up behind me and began inspecting my purchases.

“I like cooking,veggie lasagne okay?”

“Sounds perfect.Niall,there's beers in the fridge if you want one?I just have to pop next door and grab Fred.”

At the mention of alcohol,Niall dropped the paperweight he was examining and hurried over to the fridge,ignoring mine and Harry's laughter.Clearly Niall was not interested in fending off Irish stereotypes.

Glancing at Harry one last time as he pored over a recipe he'd found online,I exited the kitchen wishing things could be different.

*****
Forty minutes later,I was sat on the couch with Niall and Freddie watching Spider-Man when Harry popped his head around the door of the living room.His face was flushed from the heat of the oven and wayward curls were plastered to his forehead,the rest messily pushed back with a pink bandana.He looked like he'd just finished a pretty heavy sex session not a half hour spent in a warm kitchen.A mental image that I did not need.

“Dinners ready.”

“Thank fuck for that,I'm starving.”
Niall jumped up from the couch eagerly and disappeared into the kitchen,leaving Freddie and I alone.I knew I should scold Niall for swearing in front of Fred but,what was the point?It's not like he hasn't heard me swearing a thousand times during one of my pretty regular bouts of road rage.

Grabbing my baby's hand I led him to the kitchen,my heart constricting at the huge beam on his face.
Smiling down at him,I wondered quietly,“What do you reckon?Do you think Harry's any good at cooking?”

“Harreh’s good at everything.”
Freddie replied,his tone giving away a sense of finality as if he wouldn't listen to any arguments on the matter.

As it turned out,he was not wrong.Harry had cooked a huge vegetable lasagne,bursting with colourful veg,covered in a creamy sauce and topped with a thick pasta layer.Even to me,someone who normally could only stomach nuggets and burgers,the food looked good.It tasted bloody good too.From the first mouthful,it was a conscious effort not to moan around my fork.

Niall didn't feel the need to hold back his moans however,lamenting over and over how good the lasagna was, “Ugh,I think this is the best thing I've ever tasted,remind me again why you never cook for me?”

“Maybe because whenever I've offered you have snapped at me that you don't want any of my “hippy fuel””
Harry pointed out,delicately placing a mouthful of lasagna into his mouth as he did so.

“Vegetables are good for you Ni Ni.They make you smart.”
Freddie contributed to the conversation,shooting a gaze of disbelief at Niall before rolling his eyes conspiratorially at Harry.

“I think you're corrupting my son,Curly.”

“You've foiled my master plan.I guess I'll have to kill you now.”

I snorted in amusement,happy that all previous awkwardness had dissolved between the two of us.It was so easy with Harry,in a way,I suppose that was the problem.

The rest of the dinner was spent in much the same way-the four of us talking and laughing like we'd known each other forever.There was no awkward silences,no tension-it was brilliant.It made me think- this is what my life should be like.I learnt about Niall's struggles at school and later,in the workplace: “I have no bloody concentration,I can't sit down for more than half an hour.Imagine trying to explain that to a future employer.” I thought maybe Niall had ADHD or something but I didn't want to mention it.I also learnt about Harry's family-his mum and his sister who he loved more than anything in the world.I saw the dejection in his eyes when he talked about having to leave his home,Holmes Chapel when he was eighteen.

“I didn't have the best time at school so,Mum and Gemma have always coddled me,worried about me.I kinda miss it.Not that I don't love living in London….what I do...it's just different.”
Harry kept his eyes trained on his plate as he spoke,not daring to look up.He looked so young.Sometimes I forgot that he was younger than me. Barely out of college.And here I was with a child and a fully fledged career expecting him to jump into something with me.I could be a right idiot sometimes.

“I'll look after you,Hazzy.”
Freddie announced,completely unaware that it was him who actually needed looking after.

Harry beamed at Freddie, “You're the best,Freddo Frog.”

Niall groaned audibly,“God,this is way too cute for me to stomach.I’m trying to eat me dinner over here.”

I was just opening my mouth to add to Niall's complaints when I heard the front door swing open and the familiar clack of heels on the marble flooring in the hall.

“Shit shit shit.”

“Freddie,Louis,where are you?”
Eleanor.She was back.I glanced over at Harry and winced as I spotted his ramrod straight back.He looked like he was going to spew up all of his lasagna at any moment.Niall on the other hand was just looking between Harry and I with interest,calculating something in his brain.

“Louis?Oh...there you are.”
Eleanor rounded the corner and stopped immediately.I could see her taking in the scene.The four of us,sat eating dinner,something which I never did with her.

“Eleanor,I didn't know you were going to be back tonight.”
I said,placing a careful hand on Freddie's arm.He was still sitting down,his entire little body trembling.

“I didn't know I had to give notice to come back to my own house.”
Eleanor's eyes zoned in on Niall and Harry and her red lips pursed into a thin line.

Ignoring her jibe,I gestured to the men, “This is Niall and Harry,they work at Freddie's nursery.”

At the sound of his name,Harry flinched.Shit.Clearly he couldn't handle this.Noticing Harry's discomfort,Niall rushed over to Eleanor with a huge grin plastered on his face and his arm extended.

“Great to meet yer. Freddie's a little gem.”
Niall shook Eleanor's limp hand heartily.God help him,he was obviously trying to dissipate the sour,broken atmosphere that Eleanor had brought with her into the room.

Eleanor however had no qualms in showing her utter disinterest in the Irish man and quickly disengaged from the handshake,moving over to where I was sat with Freddie “Freddie,my baby,don't I get a hug?”
Her voice was soft,pleading.

Freddie visibly jolted at the sound of her voice and then shook his head, “You left me.” He croaked.

“God Louis,first you run me out of my own house and then you poison our son against me.”
Eleanor snapped, turning on me,her voice hysterical.

I was worried.Sure Eleanor had snapped at me plenty of times before but,this felt different.There was something unstable about her,like she was teetering on a thin line and was seconds from falling off.Watching her,I could tell she had made an effort to cover her distress but,beneath the perfect foundation and cherry red lips I could see the bags under her eyes,the way her pupils darted across the room at the slightest sound.Even her hair was frazzled as if she'd spent days trying to pull it out.I had broken her.

“Harry,Niall,would you mind taking Freddie into the other room?”
I asked quietly,sagging in relief when Harry composed himself enough to grab Freddie's hand and lead him out of the room,Niall grabbing his plate of lasagna and following behind them.

“Are you okay,El?”
My voice was hesitant and tentative.I wanted her so badly to be okay.I did care about her,it wasn't her fault that my father had a deep rooted prejudice against homosexuality.She was as much a victim in all of this as I was.

“Of course I'm not bloody okay,my life's falling apart.”

Eleanor slumped down in a chair at the kitchen table and poured herself a glass of water from the pitcher Harry had left out.

“What are you even doing Louis?You won't have dinner with me but all of a sudden here you are sat down with two guys you barely know chatting away and looking happier than ever.”

“Freddie wanted them to come and Harry can cook so….he offered to make us dinner.”
I gulped,waiting for the onslaught that this news would bring.

“Harry can cook?How domestic.Maybe he does marriage counselling too eh,because we could really do with that right about now.”

“Eleanor.” I sighed, “I don't want to go round in circles.You came back for Fred right?So be there for him,he thinks you hate him.”

“God,everything is such a bloody mess.”

“Maybe don't run away next time El.” I suggested softly.

“I don't need advice from you of all people.”
Her tone was harsh.I knew she was angry and she had every right to be but,I couldn't sit here all night rehashing old resentments.Not when Harry and Freddie were probably in the other room.

“I'm done,Eleanor.We can talk tomorrow.”
Ignoring her violent shouts of anger I walked out of the kitchen and was just about to head back into the living room when a flash of colour caught my eye from the wall to wall windows.Walking over to the windows,I spotted Harry,slumped down on my front porch,shivering in just his blue Hawaiian shirt.Where had his coat gone?

Grabbing a thick throw from the closet under the stairs,I opened the front door and stepped out onto the porch.Harry didn't even look up at the sound of my footsteps,just continued to swirl his boot dejectedly in the gravel.

“Curly,you must be freezing.Where’s your coat?” I murmured,gently wrapping the blanket around his shivering body.

“Freddie wanted to try it on.”

I couldn't help but laugh at the ridiculousness of it all, “He's a child,not a king.You don't have to give him everything he asks for you know.”

Harry sighed, “I'm incapable of saying no to him.I think I might be too fond of him.”

“That's not a bad thing.Freddie has had a tough time of it lately,I think he could use all the love he can get.”

“I just don't want to get too attached,not when this is never going to happen.”

My breath faltered and for the first time since I came outside I took in Harry's face.He had been crying.His eyes were puffy and I could still see stubborn little teardrops clinging to his thick lashes.

“What will never happen Haz?”

“Your girlfriends gorgeous.”
Harry said,surprising me with the sudden change in conversation.

Boldly I shrugged, “She is but so are you.”

Harry's head lifted so fast I was sure he must have whiplash.His eyes were wide with something indefinable and his mouth was open,formed into a perfect little O.

“I don't want to be anybody's bit on the side.”
Harry whispered slowly,his voice cracking on the last few words.

“I don't want that for you either.” I whispered back, “I know this must be confusing for you.I shouldn't have just tried it on with you like that but,I just want you to know something.”

I was going to tell him.Harry deserved to know who I really was.He deserved the truth.

“I'm gay,Harry.”
I said,my voice surprisingly strong.I guess it did get easier after the first time.

I expected shock,comfort,disgust even but,what I was not expecting was for Harry to do nothing.Absolutely nothing.For five minutes,we sat,side by side,the anticipation pooling in my gut.Finally Harry nodded.

“I know.”He said, “I've known since the day you walked in and our eyes met.”

I was incredulous, “Why did you run away when I tried to kiss you then?Am I that repulsive?”

Harry shook his head earnestly,a strand of wispy hair falling across his forehead, “You're wonderful,you're hot and you're funny and you're all of these things that are fucking incredible.It’s just- you have a girlfriend Louis.I’m not really sure why you're with her but,while you are I can't do anything with you…..no matter how much I want to.”

Harry was good.Too fucking good for me.If Harry had suggested we hide in my car and shag right now,I would have done it without a second thought.I was the one with the girlfriend and the child and yet,it was Harry who was looking out for them,not me.

“It's complicated,the whole girlfriend thing.”
I explained,hoping Harry wouldn't push it further but instead he nudged my shoulder and tilted his head to one side as if to say-go on,so I did.

“My father...he's not like most dads,he's cold and distant,obsessed with image.You have to understand,the people I grew up around,my father,to them having a gay son is a huge fucking shame.They think it means the child hasn't been brought up right.My mom,if she was around,she would have understood but my father…. he knows I'm not straight,I know he knows but,he's never given me the opportunity to say it.All my teenage years it was drilled into me that I had to find a steady girlfriend,someone respectable who would look good at company dinners.I started dating Eleanor as a way of getting my father off my back.I didn't even know who I was at the time and I'll admit,I did have sex with her for a while.I hated it but I still did it.Most parents would be horrified if their twenty year old son came home and told them his girlfriend was having a baby but….Dad was ecstatic.I think it reassured him for a while that I was straight.Things were easier when he thought that.For the last month or so, he's been getting suspicious,he knows we fight all the bloody time and he's been making these threats.Haz,if I break up with Eleanor my dad will take away everything-my job,my inheritance,this stupid fucking house.I can't do it.I have to stay with Eleanor so Freddie gets the best life possible.”


“I had no idea about any of that.”
Harry said,whistling lowly once I'd finished,his voice tinged with shock.I didn't blame him.He’d grown up in a normal middle class family where being gay wasn't a sin.Hell,Harry hadn't even had to come out to his mom and sister,they just knew and were okay with it from the get go.

“You probably want nothing to do with me now right?”
I said,fully expecting the rejection.I wasn't worth the effort.Harry could have any man he wanted-gay or straight,so why would he settle for a loser with a serious amount of baggage.

“I couldn't leave you even if I wanted to.”
Harry said,reaching out and giving my hand a quick squeeze.

My heart skipped in my chest, “I like you a lot,Curly.And I promise I'm going to sort this whole mess out….just not right now.”

“I'll wait for you.” Harry promised,his eyes glimmering with promise and hope.I could tell he was thinking about the future just as much as I had been doing.

It was surreal.I’d known Harry only a few days and already I could see us living together,the three of us-me,him and little Freddie.I had never believed a connection could be this strong with someone.It was almost like we were soulmates,always drawn to each other no matter who we are or whom we are with.

“I should probably go back inside.Do you mind if I drop you and Niall home it's just Freddie's probably tired and I want to be there to kiss him goodnight-”

“Lou,you don't have to explain.”
Harry cut me off softly and proceeded to get up from the porch,handing me the blanket back with a smile of gratitude.

Back inside the house,I could immediately place where my son was by Niall's booming cackle and Freddie's squeals.Stepping into the living room,I immediately starting laughing at the sight in front of me.Freddie had clearly been playing hairdressers.Niall's hair had been tied off into little bunches with multi colored hair ties and Freddie was currently in the process of dusting glitter through his dyed blond strands when I walked in.

“I think this is the prettiest I've ever seen you.” Harry giggled,coming in beside me.

“Shut up alright?You guys were gone for ages and I had to keep this little terror occupied somehow.”

Niall's face scrunched up into a grimace as Harry and I continued to laugh at his expense,only stopping when Freddie dropped the glitter pot and called me over.

“Is mummy mad?”
He asked hesitantly.

“She is but not at you.”
I said truthfully.I didn't want to lie anymore,not to Freddie.He wasn't a fool,he could probably hear El and I fighting through the walls.

“I want her to go away,it's better when she's not here.” Freddie announced,his lower lip wobbling with the effort to hold in his tears.

“You don't mean that,Freddo boy.”
Niall supplied cheerfully,reaching behind him to run a comforting hand through Freddie's hair.

“Baby,she's your mum and you love her,right?Yeah,I know you do.I don't want you to feel like you have to take sides in this k?Mummy and I will be fine-everything will be fine.”
I wrapped my arms around Freddie and gave him a squeeze,revelling in the way he nuzzled his head into my stomach.

While I was hugging Freddie,Eleanor silently entered the room,standing in the doorway next to Harry.She had taken her heels off and was now wearing a pair of huge fuzzy slippers that I had gotten her when she was pregnant with Fred.It reminded me of the old Eleanor,seeing her like that.

“Freddie,can mummy put you to bed?I'll read you the gruffalo?”
Eleanor asked hesitantly,wringing her hands as if she was already preparing for a refusal.

“Um…” Freddie lifted his head to look at me and I nodded encouragingly,slowly releasing him from my grip, “Okay but only if you read me Harry Potter.”

Eleanor's face broke out into a huge grin and she extended her arm to lead him up the stairs.

“Goodnight Freddie.”
I said,secretly bursting with pride for my little boy.

“Night”
He said,waving a chubby little hand at the three of us before he left the room.

Once Freddie was gone Harry turned to Niall and grinned, “Are you going to take that stuff out of your hair and were you planning on leaving like that?”

“Oh fuck off the pair of you!” Niall scolded,reaching up to try and tug the little ties out of his hair.

Laughing,I bent down and began tidying up Freddie's mess,collecting his little glitter pots and putting them into his arts and crafts pots.It was a nightly ritual of mine to tidy my son's mess and I didn't feel the need to postpone it just because I had company.I wasn't surprised when I felt a familiar presence kneel down beside me.

“Curly,you're not at work,you don't have to help tidy my child's mess.”
I said,eyeing the way Harry was rounding up Freddie's “hairdresser” kit,his huge silver rings glinting under the overhead light.

“I want to.”
Harry said simply,his face soft.

“You two are disgusting!”
Niall groaned from where he was plonked on the couch,his face screwed up in concentration as he tugged out the last hair tie and handed it to Harry.

“I don't know what you're talking about mate.”
I retorted faux innocently,enjoying the way Harry's face burned beside me.He would be a terrible spy.

“We should go out!”Niall declared suddenly, “After spending all evening with you losers I need a bloody pint.”

“I can't,I kinda have my hands full with Eleanor.”
I said,genuinely upset that I couldn't carry on the night with them.Already I was imagining Harry drunk and vulnerable in some club being preyed on.A spike of jealousy shot through me at the images my brain conjured.

“You could,it's not as if she won't still be here in the morning.She won't leave Freddie again,not now.”
Harry pointed out gently,his face hopeful.

“Yeah,” Niall added, “You could invite yer mates what were their names again-Zayn and Liam right? I’d love to meet the lads.”

I took one last glance at Harry's open,encouraging face before nodding my head slowly, “Fine.” I was so whipped.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Four


And so I found myself at half eight in the evening squished into a taxi with Harry on one side and Niall on the other,moving through the traffic clogged streets of central London.To take my mind off the fact that Harry's thigh was pressed firmly against my own I fixed my attention on the London blurring past outside the taxi.

Outside,groups of girls in high heels and short dresses tottered past,their arms linked in easy camaraderie and groups of men in carefully ironed shirts loitered around the entrances to pubs,their shirt sleeves pushed up to reveal their expensive watches.I loved going out in London-loved the crush of strangers,the feeling that anything could happen.It was thrilling and a much appreciated escape from ordinary life.

Now however,thinking about the night ahead I didn't feel the normal fizzing of excitement in my stomach.Instead,in its place,was a sort of premeditated guilt.I knew that once I had a drink in me,I wouldn't be able to hold back.Now that everything was out in the open I was well aware drunk me would not be able to stop himself from laying it on thick with Harry.I sent out a silent prayer to the Gods that Zayn would save me from any embarrassment.

“You can drop us here mate,” Niall said to the burly taxi driver and then,turning to us, “I've heard this is where all the celebs go.My friend Shawn saw David Beckham here the other night.”

I rolled my eyes in fondness, “If I don't meet at least one celeb then,I'm holding you accountable.”

“Yeah and Louis’ musician friend doesn't count.”
Harry added,rooting in the pockets of his impossibly tight black jeans for money to pay the taxi driver.

I beat him to it,whipping out my Italian leather wallet and handing the driver a handful of notes. “Let me please.”

“You didn't have to do that,I had the money.”
Harry murmured,furrowing his brows.

Sliding out of the taxi and holding the door open for a blushing Harry,I shrugged, “You can buy me a drink inside if you want.”

Harry nodded,immediately placated and together we followed Niall to the door of the club,bypassing the long line of clubgoers outside.

“Niall,we can't just walk in.”
I hissed,pulling him back by his shirt.

“Sure we can,I know the bouncer.Matty,me pal!Alright?”
Niall sauntered up to the frankly huge bouncer manning the door and held out his hand,smirking in satisfaction when the bouncer reluctantly shook his hand.

“Niall,back so soon?I thought ye would have had enough o’ the place after last time.”
Matty said,his accent distinctly Irish.Fucks sake Niall probably knew every Irish person in London.

“Oh that!Sure I was just helping that girl out!”
Niall boomed,his smile faltering slightly.

I looked over at Harry questioningly and he shrugged,clearly he had no idea what Niall was on about either.

“You broke the fellers nose.You know I can't let you back in after that.”

“You broke someone's nose?!” Harry squawked,causing Niall to let out a low groan.

“Fuck Matty,look what you've done now!Listen I knew you would react like this,that's why I didn't tell you.I was copping off with this girl,real babe she was.She had this long dark hair and oh her eyes!And her tits-”

“Get on with it.” I interjected,gesturing to Matty who was growing more and more impatient by the second.

Niall nodded, “Right,right.Anyway,I was snogging this girl when suddenly I really needed a piss so I left her there for a second and went to the men's.When I came back,there she was at the bar getting harassed by some scumbag.So,of course I did what any proper fella would do,I told him to fuck off.Course he didn't like that and he gave me a shove.I’d had a few drinks and I was angry so….I punched him in the nose.”

“Fuck Nialler.”
Harry whistled,infinitely more calm.

“He was just defending the girl.”
I pointed out to Matty.

“Doesn't matter,how do you think it made me look?A mate of mine causing a right commotion at the bar.I can't lose this job.You’ll have to go somewhere else.”

Resigned,Harry and I began to turn away when a black Mercedes pulled up to the curb and Zayn and Liam climbed out.Zayn looked as cool as he always does-leather jacket,artfully distressed black jeans and perfectly styled hair.Even though he was my best mate sometimes I felt my breath catch looking at his godlike features.Of course,I've never had any actual feelings for him,not like I felt for Harry.Behind him,Liam bless him,looked like a little boy playing at being a rapper with his baggy tracksuit and gold chains.He was going through a bit of a phase after discovering his boundless love for grime and rap music.Neither Zayn nor I had the heart to tell him he looked ridiculous.

“What are you doing out here.”
Zayn said as he got closer to us,ignoring the slight commotion his appearance was causing in the line behind us.Zayn wasn't a huge celebrity,certainly not as big as Justin Bieber or Ed Sheeran but he still had a big fan base and would be recognised wherever he went.

“We can't get into the club.”
I explained motioning to Niall and Harry,both of whom were staring at Zayn in open mouthed astonishment.Clearly they had been hit full force with the Zayn Malik effect.

Gathering himself,Harry held out his hand, “I'm Harry,nice to meet you.”

Zayn’s liquid brown eyes slid to Harry for the first time and I watched as they widened almost imperceptibly.Even Zayn was not immune to Harry's good looks.

“So you're the guy who Freddie doesn't stop harping on about.”
Zayn purred,raising an eyebrow at me in amusement.

“Good to meet you both.”
Liam chipped in,extending his own hand to Harry while Niall shook Zayns.

“So listen,you're a celeb right? Do ya think you could us into this club?”
Niall asked Zayn bluntly,cutting straight to the chase.

“Of course I can.” Zayn said honestly,slinking over to Matty and murmuring something to him in a low voice.I couldn't make out what Zayn was saying to him but judging by Mattys reddening cheeks,I was glad I couldn't.

“Go on in but,if I hear about any fights you'll be in trouble,right?”
Matty warned finally,reluctantly ushering our group into the dark confines of London’s hottest night spot.

Inside,a long awaited thrum of excitement shot through me as my eyes absorbed the uber-trendy interior and the slew of lithe,attractive bodies mashed together on the dance floor,heads thrown back in ecstasy.The identifiable heady stench of sweat,perfume and sex filled my nostrils and I breathed it in.I was home.

“This is sick lads!”
I exclaimed,clapping Niall on the back as we made our way to a discreet booth in the corner,the only empty booth in the club.

“Let's get fucking pissed!”
Niall roared in response,throwing himself down in the booth and pulling a laughing Harry up against him.

“I'll get the first round,right Louis?”
Harry declared,wrangling out of Niall's grasp.

“If you want curly,I'll have a beer.”

I watched Harry take note of all our drink orders before he disappeared among the clubgoers,fighting his way to the bar.I didn't realise my eyes were still sweeping the club for a flash of that garish Hawaiian shirt until I felt Zayn’s leg nudge against mine under the table.

Flushing,I turned towards him to meet his expectant gaze, “Later.” I mouthed.Now that Harry knew I was gay,I knew I would have to tell Zayn.I couldn't worry about him telling other people anymore,he pretty much had figured it out on his own anyway.

Across from Zayn and I in the booth,Niall and Liam were engaged in a fervent conversation about who could pull the first girl.

“No offence and all but,Irish men are known for their charm for a reason.”
Niall said,puffing out his chest in mock-arrogance.

“Are they also known for their badly dyed hair and lack of tact?”
Liam asked,his eyes sparkling.

“Badly dyed?!At least I don't look like a Snoop Dogg impersonator!”

“I don't look like that...what are you on about?!Zayn said I look good,didn't you Z?”
Liam was flustered now and needed to regain his advantage.Unfortunately for him,Zayn was not the person to call on.

Shrugging he said in his kindest voice, “If I ever needed a Snoop Dogg impersonator,I would hire you in an instant.”

Guffawing,I patted Liam on the shoulder, “Sorry lad.”

“Oh fuck off,I like my clothes okay?”
Liam snapped petulantly.He never swore,a bad habit left over from his days as an overeager prep school kid so to hear him swear now,I knew he was royally fucked off.

Luckily at that moment Harry came back with a tray full of drinks,his hair a little disheveled from his encounter with the crowds.

“Get this down you lad.”
I said,grabbing Liam's drink and putting it down in front of him.

“Yeah,hurry up and all because I want to go and pull.If you're nice I might even let you chat up the first girl.”
Niall said,reaching out and ruffling Liam's close cropped hair.

“Ni,you're not bringing another girl back to our flat!”
Harry protested,taking a swig from his own bottle of beer, “I haven't slept in days.”

“Well it's either that or you let me fuck you.”
Niall retorted,grinning maniacally as he watched me splutter my drink in horror.

“Don't worry Louis,it was a joke.Harry’s all yours.”
Niall said,his tone light and mocking.Beside him Liam frowned,clearly trying to decipher what Niall meant by the comment.Poor Liam was the only one at the table who had no clue about my sexuality and he would never know.If Zayn and I revealed our true selves to him I was almost 100% certain that our friendship would suffer.It didn't make him a bad person,he was just sheltered,preconditioned to think a certain way.

“Lets go Payne.”
Niall said,obviously sensing the change in Liam and wanting to distract him.Liam slid out of the booth without resistance,sauntering off in his tracksuit pants,his gold chains glinting under the harsh lights on the dance floor.

Once they were gone Zayn turned to Harry and I and cocked his head.
“I'm dying for a smoke.You wanna come?”

I knew this was Zayns way of saying let's talk so I nodded immediately, “Sure,you coming H?”

Harry shook his head, “I don't smoke.I think I'm gonna stay here for a bit.I spotted a few friends of mine up at the bar so I might go and have a chat with them.”

I was disappointed but didn't push it,instead sliding out of the booth and following Zayn to the smoking area around the back of the club.

“God it's freezing.”
I hissed as soon as I stepped outside,suddenly regretful that I didn't bring a jacket.

Zayn leant back against the cement wall of the club and lit up a cigarette,sighing in relief as he took his first drag.He waited for me to get my own cigarette lit before he spoke, “You're gay aren't you,Lou?”

The question wasn't a surprise,if anything I was surprised it had taken him so long to ask it.I couldn't meet his gaze,my eyes firmly trained on the ground in front of me as I spoke, “I know I should have told you sooner.”

“Why didn't you?”

“Because I was scared,Z.You know what will happen if my father finds out….hell you've had to deal with it yourself.And what about Liam?Liam doesn't understand,he'd never get it.”
My voice was panicked and choked,echoing back to me in the deserted alleyway.

“Does Eleanor know?”
Zayn asked,not a hint of judgement in his voice.

Shaking my head I responded, “No,of course not.She thinks I have a mistress.”

Zayn snorted at that,clearly he found the notion of me having two women on the go just as ridiculous as I had.
“What about Harry?He knows?”

“I told him tonight.He's gay too.”

“Has anything happened-with the two of you?”

I lifted my head slowly and met Zayn’s steadying gaze with a sigh, “I kissed him.”

“Shit Lou.” Zayn swore, “You can't go on like this.You need to leave Eleanor.It’s not fair on either of you-this carry on.”

“But Freddie…..he needs two parents.And what about the house and my job?My father won't still bankroll me once I'm out.”

“So bloody what?So you won't have all the perks that comes with staying on the right side of that man.But,at least you'll still have Fred and you'll be able to finally be happy.Freddie can still have his two parents even if they're not together.If anything it might be better for him to not have to hear his parents arguing all the time.”
Zayn stubbed out his cigarette with the heel of his boot and then whirled on me,his eyes impassioned.

“I need to make money somehow.Freddie deserves the world.”I said,my voice defensive.I knew Zayn didn't really understand my relationship with money.He had grown up in a normal working class family and even now that he was minted,still kept the values from that background.If he had to choose love or money he would choose love a hundred times over.

“Well,what about setting up on your own?”
Zayn suggested,catching me off guard.

“What like my own PR company?”

“Yeah,I know of at least twenty clients in that company,myself included, who hate your dad's guts and would happily leave if they could.Set up your own company,stop all the stupid gay coverups.You could do it Lou.”

“But I would need money to get myself started…..”
I said skeptically,my mind already racing through my father's clients.Zayn would definitely move over and so would Danny but,who else?

“I could loan it to you.God knows I have enough of it.”
Zayn said,without a second's thought.

“Shit no way Z,I can't take your money.That’s-”

Zayn held up his hand, “Just think about it,okay?If you don't feel comfortable taking my money,you can get a loan or something.It was just an idea.”

I nodded slowly.The idea wasn't perfect but at least it was something.For the first time in years I had hope.We spent another 20 minutes outside,puffing on cigarettes,both of us lost in thought before I motioned to Zayn that I was going to head back inside.

The club had seemed to fill up even more (if that was possible) in the half an hour we'd been gone and it was a struggle to spot any of the other boys.Our booth was vacated-a group of spaced out girls lounging there instead.Pushing through the dancing bodies around me,I eventually spotted Niall and Liam hanging over the bar.

“I take it the pulling girls thing didn't go too well?”
I said,laughing as Zayn and I joined the two boys at the bar.

“It was a disaster.”
Liam whined miserably,eying the closest couple to us-a man and woman-gyrating against each other.

“Nights still young yet.”
Niall said,ever the optimist.You had to admire his sunny disposition.

“Where's Harry?”
I asked Niall.I could remember him saying something about other friends being here but I couldn't spot him anywhere.

Niall coughed,as if to prolong his answer and then pointed reluctantly to one corner of the club, “He's over there mate.I think he's pretty plastered.Harry’s a lightweight.”

Following Niall's directions,my throat dried up as my eyes took in Harry-my Harry-dancing up against some guy.Some ponce with a badly styled quiff and a stupid jumper.I could see that Harry was drunk,his face red and his movements loose but I could also see how happy he looked,his head thrown back in laughter as the guy pulled Harry back against his crotch.

“Who is he?” My voice came out harsher than I expected.

“He's nothing Louis.Thats Nick,Harry's friend.”

Zayn squeezed my arm in solidarity and promptly ordered the barman to get us a couple of shots.I turned away from Harry,couldn't bare to look at him.Jealousy raged in my soul and wrecked havoc with my head.I had no right to be jealous,of course I didn't.Harry was single and I-well,I wasn't.

“You okay Lou?”
Liam asked,his eyes flickering over to the corner of the club and back to me again.

“I'm fine,really.” I gritted out,forcing a smile to reassure Liam, “Now,are we going to get drunk or what?Because I am feeling pretty fucking sober right now.”

I knocked back the shot Zayn had put in front of me,relishing the burn as the liquid made its way down my throat.I gestured to the barman for more of the same….and so it begins.

*****

A couple of hours later,I was slumped on a bar stool knocking back what felt like the hundredth drink I'd had that night.I had no concept of what time it was but I knew it had to be past 2am,Eleanor was going to fucking kill me.On the other side of the bar Zayn was chatting up some beefcake while Niall attempted to chat up the beefcake’s female friend with not much success.In the closest booth to us,Liam was drunkenly explaining his favourite Harry Potter film with mind numbing detail to a bored looking goth girl.Luckily for Zayn,Liam was much too drunk and hyped up about Harry Potter to notice that Zayn was participating in less than heterosexual behaviour.

Lost in a fog of self-pity,I stumbled off the stool and staggered to the bathrooms on the other side of the club,hit with the sudden urge to empty my bowels.I was so drunk and desperate to pee that when I pushed open the door to the men's it took a moment for my mind to register Harry's presence.He was bent down at the sinks,snorting coke up his nose when I stumbled in.Shocked,I didn't even call out,I just watched him snort the coke and then straighten up,wiping his nose with the back of his hand,like a pro.

It was a minute or so before Harry noticed me, “Shit Louis,where'd you come from?”
His words were slurred,frantic and his pupils were dilated.Obviously he'd been snorting this shit all night.

“What the fuck are you doing?”
I hissed,my voice surprisingly clear despite all the alcohol I'd consumed.I guess seeing the guy you care about snort drugs up his nose was a pretty good soberer.

Harry rubbed at his red eyes and blinked rapidly,he looked fucking terrified, “Nick gave it to me and….I…..I promise this is just a one time thing.I was feeling weird all night and I needed something to take the edge off.I don't know what….I'm doing.”

“Haz,do you even know what's in that?That shit could kill you.”
I shouted,my mind racing.If Harry got hurt or...died,I didn't know what I would do.

“I'm sorry Louis.”
I watched as Harry’s face crumbled under my scrutiny and he burst into tears,huge achy sobs reverberating off the walls of the empty bathroom.

My heart constricting,I rushed to Harry and pulled him into my arms.It was impossible to stay mad at him.He had to bend down so I could wrap his arms around me but he didn't seem to mind,immediately burrowing his head against my shoulder,sobs wracking his frame.We stayed like that for a couple of minutes,the two of us swaying silently until Harry had calmed down a bit.

“Shh...Curly.I didn't mean to shout.I was just scared.I don't want to lose you.”

“I'm such a fucking idiot.”
Harry groaned,his words coming out as a mangled mess.

“Everyone's an idiot sometimes,even you're not immune H.Listen,do you want me to take you home?We can get a taxi?”

Harry's head lifted from my chest leaving behind a sopping mess where his face had been, “I've ruined your night.”

“My night was ruined long before I walked in here and saw you doing coke.”
I said,smiling wryly.

“Why?”
Harry sniffed,clearly completely oblivious to the effect he had on me.

“I had to watch you practically shagging that Nick guy all night.”
My tone was soft but Harry still flinched.

“You have a girlfriend.”
Harry responded,his words still running together.How long did it take for coke to kick in?

“It doesn't matter,we can talk about it some other time.Right now I'm gonna call a taxi and get you home.”

I reached into my pocket to get my iPhone,done with talking about Nick and that whole situation but Harry stopped me,grabbing my wrist.
“I don't wanna go home yet.I’m gonna stay with Nick.”

A surge of annoyance washed over me.I knew Harry was high but was he actually serious? He actually wanted to stay with the guy who had plied him with drugs and drink just so he could get his leg over.

“No.”
I said,my voice steely.

“I'm not a child Louis.You can't treat me like Freddie.”
Harry snapped,his eyes flashing.

How had we gone from him crying on my shoulder five minutes ago to this?
“Look Harry….you're not thinking straight.Just let me get you home and you can see Nick some other time.I can't leave you here with that mess.”

“Nick didn't force me to take drugs.That was all me.Maybe it's a good thing that you finally know what a mess I am.”
Harry's eyes flashed with something unrecognisable as he spoke-self-disgust or spite?

“Harry,you're not thinking straight right now-”
I made sure to keep my voice measured,masking the shock I felt at being introduced to this new side of Harry.It felt like I was witnessing a completely different person and not the man that had sat on the floor,diligently painting my baby boy's nails.

“Go Louis,just fuck off home to your wife and child.”
Harry screeched,not even waiting for a response before he crashed out of the bathroom,the door slamming back on its hinges.

I should have followed him-I should have run after him and insisted that I take him home.But,secretly,a tiny part of me standing there in that bathroom wondered whether I really knew Harry at all?Was it worth the risk involving myself in Harry's life,exposing Freddie to what could potentially end up being something toxic.Those thoughts only lasted a couple of seconds though before my heart swelled in my chest and my mind filled with images from the past couple of days.I couldn't abandon Harry,not now.So,taking a shaky breath,I did my piss and then left the bathroom,determined to find Harry and calm him down.

But,I was,of course,too late.By the time I had determined Harry's whereabouts he was tugging on his fur coat and leaving the club,Nick’s arm hung possessively around his shoulder.Harry was whispering rapidly into Nicks ear,telling him about our bathroom encounter? He still looked erratic,wild,vulnerable and I couldn't help but think about all of the ways Nick could take advantage of Harry.Friend or not,to me,Nick looked like a slimy prick.My anger spiked,I began moving through the club,hurriedly bumping against people as I went.Outside,the air was frigid and immediately the hairs on my arms stood to attention.Scanning the street outside the club and the few metres on either side,I couldn't see Harry and Nick anywhere.Shit.I had missed them.

Matty was still positioned outside the front entrance of the club and in a last ditch attempt to help Harry,I approached him.
“Mate,you wouldn't happen to know where my friend went did you?Guy with the fur coat?”

Matty eyed me for a moment as if trying to place me (if I hadn't been in such a hurry I would have been offended.I always thought my face was unforgettable) before he snapped his fingers and nodded, “I remember. You jus’ missed him.Him and some other guy came out here bout two minutes ago and got in a car.The smooth geyser had one waiting.”

Swallowing the urge to curse,I persisted with my questioning, “Did you see what direction they went in?”

“Sorry,no.I turned away after they got into the car.Is everything alright?”

“Yeah,course.I just wanted to tell him something.”
I didn't want Matty to know what was really going on so I shot him a small smile and headed back inside the club.Maybe Niall would know where Nick lives.

*****
Turns out,Niall was bloody useless.He claimed he didn't know a whole lot about Harry's other friends,citing Harry's secretism as the blame.

“He doesn't talk to me about anyone else.All I know is that Nick’s a morning radio dj.That’s it.”
Niall told me,his voice was sulky and gruff because I had forced him to abandon the girl he was trying to hit on so we could talk.

“So you don't even know where this guy lives?”

Niall shrugged, “Somewhere posh I reckon.What's with the sudden interest anyway?”

I wasn't sure whether this was a one-off occurrence or if Niall too had come upon Harry doing drugs but,either way,I didn't want to tell Niall the whole truth.There was no need for two of us to be worried.
“It's nothing,Niall.We just got into a bit of a fight and Harry stormed off with Nick.”

“So now you're jealous?What are you planning on doing,riding in there on your white horse and claiming princess Harry?”
Niall laughed,his eyebrows raised in astonishment.

“I'm not jealous,just worried.Harrys not….eh..himself tonight.”
I said,my voice resigned as I realised I probably would not find Harry.

“Harry's not as fragile as he looks,he's well able to take care of himself.” Niall said,his tone sympathetic, “Maybe leave him alone for tonight.You can call him tomorrow when you're both sober.”

My heart dropped.I felt bloody awful.If I had just run after Harry straight away I could have stopped him from leaving with that sleaze.Now,I would have to spend a sleepless night worrying about him before I could call him in the morning.

“I think I'll just go home then Nialler.”
I sighed,patting Niall on the back and leaving him to resume his flirting.


Zayn and Liam were propped up at the bar,chatting animatedly and barely noticed when I approached and said my goodbyes.It always surprised me seeing how well my two best friends got on.Despite the fact that it had been me who had introduced the two,I was often the third wheel when we were all together.They couldn't be more different and yet,they never ran out of things to talk about.If I didn't know any better I would say Zayn fancied Liam but,Zayn wasn't stupid.He was well aware that nothing would ever happen between them.

Leaving my friends,I made my way back outside and hailed a taxi with minimal effort.I've learnt over the years that it’s pretty easy to get a cab when you're wearing Dolce and Gabbana.The cab ride was a blur,my mind racing with thoughts of Harry.I thought it would be easy to detach myself from Harry,hell,I'd only known the guy for a few days.But,now I knew there was no way I couldn't not have him in my life.Even if it was just as friends,I wanted to be there for Harry.

The house was eerily quiet when I finally turned the key in the lock after paying the taxi driver a hefty tip.Toeing off my designer shoes at the front door I padded up the stairs,carefully opening the door to Freddie's bedroom and peering inside.Even though I did trust Eleanor with our child,it was still a relief to see him myself,curled around his duvet and sleeping peacefully.How was any part of me present in that beautiful beautiful baby?It didn't make sense.

Satisfied that my child was okay,I edged open the door to my own bedroom and slipped inside.Eleanor was asleep on her side of the bed.Did she even want me in the same bedroom as hers?I had left before we had a chance to talk about boundaries.But,we were still married,at least in the legal sense and I was tired and drunk,I wasn't about to go make the bed in the spare room.So,I kicked off my pants and climbed into the bed,making sure to stick firmly to my side.I did hope it wouldn't give Eleanor any false ideas when she woke up because as far as I was concerned,my heart had been captured by someone else.Someone who was right now with another man in some apartment somewhere in the city.There was no way I was getting any sleep.