It’s still early when Ashton knocks on Louis’ door. Michael is standing beside him, sleepily holding his hand as he rubs his eyes. His sweater paw should’ve made it a little awkward, but Ashton is so used to Michael shyly reaching for his hand in an attempt to warm his own or just because he likes it, that it feels more familiar than anything else. His scarf is half wrapped around his mouth, one of the ends thrown lazily on top of his head. A result of Calum trying to help his daddy out.
Calum is jumping up and down the steps that lead to the front door, filled with excitement at the prospect of seeing Louis again. He’s got his arms wrapped around a bag full of their stuff, things like toys and colouring books.
And Luke, well, Luke is crying Ashton’s ears off. His face is nuzzled in Ashton’s neck, staining his coat with his tears. Ashton can already feel the wet patch that is starting to form, but he doesn’t have it in him to stop Luke.
“Please, daddy, don’t go. I wanna stay with you. I’ll be a good boy.”
Ashton should’ve seen it coming really. All he wanted to do was have a write-date with Alex and John, who were not to find out about their relationship. It wasn’t something that hadn’t happened before. Usually it was no problem, the boys could survive by themselves for a day. But if one of them slipped into their headspace, it often resulted in Ashton having to put up with three baby boys.
Which is exactly how Ashton ended up on Louis’ doorstep at eight in the morning.
“I am so sorry, I swear to god,” Ashton says as soon as Louis opens the door. “It’s such a short notice, and oh god, there’s three of them and-“
“Calm down, Ash. You’ll upset your boys,” Louis smiles. He’s leaning against the doorframe, still clad in pyjamas and holding a steaming cup of coffee. His hair is in its usual disarray, a god-like kind of bed hair. “You know they’re more than welcome here.”
Ashton honestly feels like dropping to his knees and thanking him, but it’s freezing and he’s in a hurry. It’s not the first time Louis is taking care of them. In fact, they love him. Louis is by far their favourite babysit, which may or may not have something to do with the fact that he lets them break stuff and takes them for rides in his shiny cars. Ashton is definitely not envious of his little boys.
“Now get going! You don’t wanna be late, do you? ”
Luke only cries harder at those words, and Louis watches him pitifully. It feels like dropping your kid off on the first day of school early in the morning. There’s fear in Luke’s eyes, which doesn’t make sense, because he loves spending the day at Louis’ mansion, running up and down the stairs and throwing stuff from the balconies. Louis hardly ever scolds them, only when he absolutely needs to, and he lets them have all the food Ashton won’t give them.
“Now, I expect you guys to be good boys, okay?”
Michael and Calum nod, and Ashton bends down to give them both a kiss. He passes Michael’s hand to Louis, who ruffles Michael’s hair fondly. The boy leans into the touch, slumping against Louis. Ashton feels sorry for waking him up so early in the morning. He’s just happy that Michael isn’t being grumpy.
“You too, Lukey,” Ashton whispers to no avail. “I won’t be long, alright? Just a couple of hours.”
The younger boy doesn’t react, shows no proof of even hearing his words. Ashton genuinely doubts he did, what with all the screaming and sobbing. There’s a never-ending stream of tears wetting his cheeks, the transparent drops dripping on the granite steps, painting them with dark stains in the faint light of the morning sun.
“Alright, Lukey. It’s time to get inside now,” Louis says, his voice a comfortable mixture of stern and gentle. Even he, with his extensive knowledge about kids and littles, fails to catch the boy’s attention.
It hurts. Too much for a Thursday morning, Ashton thinks, as he tries to pry Luke’s cold fingers off of his arm. Tenderly at first, before having to resort to forceful when he notices it has no effect. Luke only starts crying harder at that. His hair is lying flat on his forehead, Ashton had no time to style for it him, and some of the longer strands are soaked by his tears. Luke reaches out for Ashton, his hand so tiny compared to Ashton’s, but Ashton won’t let him.
Ashton’s body, frozen by the typical morning breeze, thaws a little at the sight of Calum stepping forward, his hand reaching for Luke’s.
“Come on, Luke. Let’s go play! We brought our colouring books and our toy cars. Even the princesses!”
Luke doesn’t reply, but Calum drags him with him anyway. He turns around to wave at Ashton, before disappearing inside Louis’ house, face all smiley and with wrinkles around his eyes. Ashton can’t find it in him to call out to Luke and ask him for one last kiss.
“Don’t worry, he’ll be fine,” Louis says. “Go and write your boys a pretty song, okay?”
Ashton nods meekly, ignoring the way his eyes sting. They keep it short, their goodbyes, both of them having noticed that Michael started shivering. The younger boy is still half-asleep, probably completely unaware of Luke’s behaviour.
“Let’s get inside, shall we?” Louis suggests, as he tugs at Michael’s hand. “I’ll make you some hot chocolate, if you want.”
The promise of hot beverages and warmth in general seems to catch Michael’s attention, and he nods, so Louis leads him inside. The temperature inside paints a blush on his cheeks, innocent and adorable as he plops down on Louis’ couch.
Calum is already sitting on the carpet, Luke an ever-crying mess sitting beside him. In front of them, Calum is emptying the large bag he was carrying, covering the floor with coloring books and toys while he chatters away, clearly excited to be spending the day at Louis’.
“Guys, you want some hot chocolate?” Louis asks, poking his head around the corner. Calum giggles at that, ever the giddy one, and vigorously nods his head. Luke doesn’t react, which was to be expected.
Louis gets him a cup anyway.
By the time he gets back, Michael is curled up on the couch, his coat exchanged for a blanket he found somewhere. He smiles when Louis hands him his mug, even though he can barely keep his eyes open. It takes no more than ten minutes for him to fall asleep.
Meanwhile, Calum is sipping his hot chocolate while he colours some cars. There are some black ones, and a blue one, and all of them with a name written above them. Louis smiles when he recognises his own. As it turns out, Calum even drew a pink one with Princess Luke on it. Luke didn’t notice though.
“Hey, Lukey. Why don’t you come sit with me? We’ll watch some telly, alright?”
Louis waits for a few seconds, and when no response comes, he lifts Luke up and pulls him on his lap. He expects him to scream, trash around like his sisters did sometimes, but Luke goes limp in his grip. Though it makes him a lot easier to deal with, Louis can’t help but worry.
“Wanna watch some footie with me?”
He turns on the television, flipping through some channels until he finds what he’s looking for. Seeing as Luke’s not watching the screen anyway, he doesn’t bother with kid’s shows, instead hoping that the sound of his voice will calm Luke down as he softly commentates what happens.
It works, sort of. The sobbing stops, but Luke’s still crying.
He lets it slide for a while, focussing on the game while watching Michael and Calum from the corner of his eye. It’s when Calum finally gives up on colouring and starts messing around with his toys instead, that Louis decides it’s been enough. He’s worried the boy might start getting dehydrated.
“Luke, how about you take a nap?”
Louis asks, running his fingers through Luke’s hair as he speaks.
“No,” the younger boy whispers, and the word and the hot breath that comes with it send shivers down Louis’ spine. Luke’s lips are glued to his collarbone, and he’s kind of sucking on it a little bit. Louis is just glad he replied.
“You sure?” He asks. “How about a glass of water, then? Will you drink that for me?”
Luke is silent for a while, save for his shaky breaths, and Louis pities him. He must have a pounding headache right now, his head heavy with fatigue and tears still streaming down his face.
It’s silent, almost inaudible, but Louis catches it anyway. He gently helps Luke off his lap and makes his way to the kitchen.
When he comes back, tissues in one hand and a glass of water in the other, he sees Luke and Michael are lying on opposite sides of the couch, their legs entwined. He lifts Luke’s head up and hands him his drink, supporting him as he takes small sips.
“There’s a good boy.”
And when he sees Michael absentmindedly rubbing his foot against Luke’s calve, he smiles so hard his cheeks start to hurt. Ashton has got himself a nice little family.
It’s almost dark outside when Ashton appears on his doorstep. His face distorted with worry, as he paces up and down the steps.
Louis ignores his questions (how are they? are they okay?) and leads him straight to the living room.
Calum and Michael pause their game of tag and run into Ashton’s arms, almost knocking him over with their strength. They immediately start talking his ears off, overwhelming him with stories about their day, and Ashton listens patiently, before searching for his third boy.
Luke meets his eyes, and Ashton winces when he sees the fresh tear tracks and the bags that are starting to form. Ashton expects him to ask for a hug or a kiss, but Luke bursts out in tears again, sobs shaking his thin frame.
“Lukey, what’s wrong? Why are you crying?”
He envelops Luke in his arms, trying his hardest to pour all the love Luke missed out on today into the hug. Luke’s body feels small in his embrace, even though the boy has a couple of inches on him. It’s hard to think of him as an 18 year old when he's whimpering in Ashton’s ear.
“I wasn’t a good boy, today. I cried the whole time.”
The confession sets off a fresh wave of tears, and Ashton has to breathe for a second to keep himself from crying as well. He can feel Luke trembling in his grip, can almost hear him panick about spankings and time-outs and punishments in general when all he wants is to please his daddy.
“Louis told me you were a very good boy, Lukey. It’s okay to cry if you’re sad, you know that sweetheart.”
Luke nods weakly, allowing Ashton to dry his tears. He finally gives in to his tiredness when Ashton lifts him up and wraps Luke’s legs around his waist.
And that’s how they end up at the dinner table with a steaming hot pizza in front of them. Calum and Michael are bouncing in their seats, and Ashton and Louis have trouble keeping them under control. Michael has a blue stain on his face, remnants from their paint fight, and Calum’s hands are covered in marks left by his markers. Luke is asleep in Ashton’s lap, Calum’s drawing clutched tightly in his right hand, the other gripping Ashton’s shirt. His cheeks aren’t quite dry yet, and Ashton’s holding a cool glass against his forehead to try and soothe his headache.
Ashton smiles as he agrees with Louis. He has found himself a nice little family.