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The snow falls softly outside as Harry slips on his favorite pair of skinnies. He hasn’t taken a look outside the one and only window in his flat, so he remains blissfully unaware of the accumulating snow--aka the ultimate safety hazard for his infamous giraffe legs.  He’s remembered, however, to check the temperature on his weather app before selecting his outfit.  Unfortunately, below freezing warrants a heavier, less stylish coat. At least he can always check the unfortunate thing at the door.

Ordinarily, he wouldn’t mind having to wear a functional coat over his meticulously selected ensemble, but tonight isn’t ordinary. It’s the night. The holiday party of the century, and anyone who’s anyone will be there—including a gentleman by the name of Ryan Harris. One of the most successful talent scouts in this great city.

Harry glances in the mirror, tugging at the ends of his loose button-down. He fiddles with the fourth button, debating. He decides against it, knowing that being professional is always going to serve him better on nights like this. He hears his phone buzz on his duvet and turns to check it.

It seems that he’s received not one, but three text messages from one Nicholas Grimshaw.

Where the fuck are you Styles?

I’m already tipsy and you’re not even here yet :((((

You owe me a dance loser get your ass in here x

Harry chuckles, shaking his head as he types out his reply.

Just about to leave. Remember I have some schmoozing to do tonight first. X

Again, on an ordinary night, Harry would tell Nick not to get much drunker without him. But tonight isn’t about that. At least not right away. First, he just needs to ensure that Ryan Harris walks out of that party with his phone number and a copy of his EP.

 

Harry bundles up and steps out into the unforgiving cold. The wind is blowing insistently behind him, and he can feel snowflakes landing in his hair, but it doesn’t deter him from the mission at hand. It’s only eight, but it feels much later, with the sun long gone and the city lights shining bright all around him. The dead and leafless trees along the sidewalk are wrapped in strings of white light. Even with the snow potentially ruining his carefully groomed curls, Harry smiles in spite of himself.

The city is alive, Harry’s whole life is in front of him, and it seems that maybe all he needs is a little Christmas magic in the form of a good cocktail to make all of his dreams come true. Tonight could really mark the beginning of the rest of his life.

He comes up on the club quickly and walks in, shuddering as he leaves the bitter cold for the heated entryway. He offers his name for the guest list and quickly shrugs his coat off to hand to the attendee.

A young man shows Harry inside, and Harry thanks him kindly before making his official entrance. The pulsating beat feels far away, but Harry can still feel it under his skin. As he turns a corner and steps onto the dance floor, he squints past the flashing green and red lights to spot the tables on the other side. Harry worms his way through masses of people already losing their inhibitions as they dance. He quickly finds Nick—he could spot that quiff from pretty much anywhere—and approaches, awkwardly bumping into one particularly cozy pair along the way. He offers a sincere apology, but is positive they don’t hear him, too consumed with each other. Also, the music is bloody loud.

Nick sees him then and waves enthusiastically, surrounded by their usual crowd. Harry notes his rosy cheeks and laughs fondly. Nick always gets drunk sooner than he means to, and tonight seems to be no different.

“Harry! Sit, chat, be merry!”

Harry laughs as he squeezes onto the booth seat beside him, perched on the very end.         

“Having fun then?”

“As always, Harry darling.” Nick smacks a hard kiss on his cheek, as Harry laughs again. “Get yourself a drink!”

Harry shakes his head, “Can’t just yet, Nick. Have you seen any sign of him yet?”

Nick sighs dramatically and rolls his eyes. “No, Harry, I haven’t. Don’t try to force it. Have a drink. Then maybe you’ll run into him on the dance floor.”

Nick always says Harry’s name like it’s an insult when he’s drunk. He rolls his eyes a lot, and likes to pretend that his age makes him far wiser than Harry. He always speaks trivially about the most important moments of Harry’s life, and tonight is hardly different.

“I don’t want to run into him on the dance floor, though,” Harry shakes his head. “I’ve got to do this right. See him at the bar or something, and catch his eye. Does my hair look alright?”

Unsurprisingly, Nick scoffs. “You look fine, love. Just get yourself a drink, will you? This is a holiday party. Most people here didn’t come to network, they came here to get fucking pissed, and you should do the same. I’m already halfway there and you have a lot of catching up to do.”

Harry sighs and agrees, standing to make his way through the masses on the dance floor to the bar. He looks over his shoulder for just a moment to spot Nick waving his arms animatedly, and wonders which story he’s just launched into. He grins. Good old Nicholas. He can’t help that he was born into this sort of thing. He’s never really had to network at all. He’s had most things handed off to him like the logical next choice, be it his job at Radio 1 or his new gig as an X-Factor judge. Nick works hard, but he didn’t work towards those things in particular. He doesn’t know what it’s like, to know what you need, and to have to really plan ahead to get it.

Harry, on the other hand, has made it in London all on his own, in his shitty shoebox of a flat, living off of his tips at the black tie restaurant where he serves. He’d managed to put aside just enough money to make the EP that remains discreetly in the cheap flash-drive in his back pocket. If and when he meets Ryan Harris, he’s ready.

Harry hasn’t had it all bad. Clearly, he’s at one of the biggest parties the London social elite have to offer. But most of that comes with being Nick Grimshaw’s best friend. It’s not because anyone actually knows who he is. So yeah, it’s a party. But it’s also a prime opportunity to to get his name out there.

Harry leans against the bar, waiting for one of the bartenders to finish up with another customer before requesting his vodka and Sprite. He puts it on Nick’s tab with a smirk, and sits at the bar. The stools sit a little higher, so Harry uses them to survey the crowd. There’s no sign of the man in question yet. He taps his foot as he sneaks a sip of his drink, waiting, hoping, praying that fate will come through, and that maybe Ryan Harris will take the empty barstool beside him.

He’s already through drink one and about to order another when it happens.

He sees his face first and almost doesn’t believe it. But somehow, someway, there he is. There is Ryan Harris in a tailored suit, drink in hand, laughing sophisticatedly at something that Harry desperately wants to be in on.

Harry takes a few deep, cleansing breaths.

You’ve got this, Styles. Play it cool. Just play it cool.

He orders another vodka and Sprite—this time a double—before stepping away from the bar and towards his destiny. He takes one last deep breath before stepping into Harris’ line of vision. Harry wonders how to catch his eye. He hasn’t really thought this part through. His daydreams of how this night would go had mostly begun with them meeting and clicking instantly at the bar, or with Harry tripping into Harris by accident, then exchanging names with him and offering to buy him a drink in recompense. He hadn’t imagined having to step in to interrupt a conversation and start his own. Briefly, he wonders if he could pull off tripping into him accidentally-on-purpose, when he sees Harris look up.

Their eyes meet and Harry stops breathing. Ryan Harris is looking at him and is he… smiling? Smirking? Can he smell Harry and his eager young artist persona from a mile away?

Harry is beside himself. He doesn’t know how he’s earned Harris’s eye contact, but now that it’s here, he’ll do most anything to keep it. He finds himself offering a shy wave and a smile. He watches in disbelief as Ryan seems to excuse himself from the conversation he had been happily involved in. Harry can’t believe it. This is working out even better than he thought it would.

Ryan makes his way through the crowd and Harry stops dead in his tracks, unable to react. He’d close the distance and meet him halfway, but he just can’t believe it. Ryan Harris is heading towards him. Ryan Harris has noticed him in a room full of people.

He stops in front of Harry and extends a hand. Harry accepts it, trying not to seem disappointed when Harris retracts it and introduces himself anyway.

“What’s a charming young man doing here all on your own?”

Harry grins, surprised at the friendly tone. It feels like a dream.

“Oh, I’m never really alone. Just grabbing a drink.”

Ryan smirks, like he’s in on a joke, and Harry’s not sure he gets it.

“Glad to see you’re enjoying yourself,” he says, looking Harry up and down. “Hey, mind if I ask…. What’s your rate?”

Harry furrows his brows, “My rate? How do you mean exactly?”

Ryan rolls his eyes, “Oh please, you know what I mean. I’m not much for subtlety, so let’s cut to the chase. How much for you to come home with me tonight?”

Harry’s jaw drops, frozen in place.

“Oh come on, am I too late? Has someone snagged you already?”

Harry shakes his head, “Oh, I’m not… I’m, um—“ he sighs, collecting himself and trying to wrap his mind around the question he’s just been asked. Harry wishes he could recover quickly and successfully, but instead he stammers out, “I’m a...um, a musician. I have my EP right here—“ he fumbles and nearly drops the flash-drive as he holds it in front of him. “That’s what I do. I don’t—um, well, I’m not…”

Ryan coughs, and shakes his head, “Sorry mate, didn’t realize you were one of those. Definitely got the wrong idea.”

“Oh, it’s…” Harry attempts a reply, dazed, “It’s fine. Just. My EP. Will you, um…”

Ryan rolls his eyes, shaking his head and holding the bridge of his nose between two fingers.

“Sorry, kid. I’m off the clock. Sorry for the mix up as well.”

\And with that, Harry’s destiny is gone. He stands with his flash-drive resting in his fist, and watches all his hopes and dreams walk away in that stupid tailored suit. He’d rolled his eyes at Harry. The man so well known for wanting to give all young talent a fair chance had thought him a sex worker and then rolled his eyes, refusing his life’s work before walking away.

Harry needs a drink. Well, he needs to finish the one in his hand and then grab another. He downs it in one go and asks the bartender to surprise him with a tequila-something.

By the time he makes it back to Nick’s table, it seems Nick’s exceeded halfway drunk. And Harry might not be far behind him at the rate he’s going; he’s just not sure he feels like being a lively drunk tonight. He plops down beside Nick and crosses his arms  on the table before resting his head on top of them.

Nick coos. “What’s wrong, love? Haven’t found him yet?”

“Oh, I found him,” Harry replies. His words are muffled by his arms and directed at the table, so Nick definitely doesn’t hear any of it.

Nick pats his head fondly before tapping the back of his neck with cold fingers. Harry sits up and tries his best to make his pout look mature, but his bottom lip is definitely sticking out, and his arms are crossed over his chest and if he were a hell of a lot drunker, and not surrounded by people, he’d consider kicking and screaming on the floor. His dreams have been crushed, and he’d really like to throw a tantrum. Or at least have a good cry.

]Nick laughs, and pats Harry’s head again. “Don’t worry, Harry. The night is young, I’m sure you’ll find him. What’s this?” he picks up Harry’s drink and sips it, “Ooh, there’s a good lad. Let’s get you through two more of these, yeah?”

Harry shakes his head, “S’my third drink already Nick. Not sure I’m up for more.”

Nick furrows his brow, “What the hell is up with you, then?”

“I found him, Nick. He wasn’t interested. I fucked it up.”

As inebriated as Nick is, he pulls an impressively sympathetic face.

“I’m sure it wasn’t you.”

“He thought I was a prostitute,” Harry admits, horribly embarrassed. He knew the third button was pushing it. He should’ve brought it up to two.

“No, he did not,” Nick says, unable to conceal a chuckle. “There’s no way.”

Harry shakes his head morosely and puts his face back on the sticky table.

“Oh, come on. He’s just one guy, Harry! And a really stupid one at that, you’re not dressed near enough like a whore. Did he just ask you to come home with him or like—“

“He asked for my rate, Nick. Wasn’t interested in my EP. Rolled his eyes at me. I spent so much money on the damn thing but no one important will fucking listen to it.”

“Hey, I resent that!”

Harry sighs. “Sorry. ‘Course you’re important. Just. I need a different kind of important to listen and fall in love with me and like—sign me.”

“Two out of three ain’t bad,” Nick jokes, ruffling the top of Harry’s hair like he knows Harry hates. Harry lowers his head, running his fingers through his hair and tossing it back in his own practiced way. He takes another sip of his drink and leans back against the booth.

“I just can’t believe that’s it, y’know? That was my chance, and I royally fucked it up. I shouldn’t have worn this shirt or something.” Truthfully, Harry isn’t sure what he could have done differently, besides kept his wits about him and said something more intelligent than denying his assumed profession in stammers. But the getting ready and pumping himself up part? Absolutely nothing has kept Harry from that third button before. That third button is who he is, dammit.

“Wow, someone needs to lighten up. Have more tequila—or is it tequila that makes you teary?”

“That was one fucking time, Grimshaw.”

Nick barks a laugh at that and shakes his head. “But honestly. You just can’t take it all so seriously all the time, yeah? There are other Ryan Harrises in this world.”

Harry’s not really sure why that irritates him so much. It’s probably just that Nick doesn’t understand. Nick’s never taken anything truly seriously in his life—when they had asked if he’d wanted to be an X-Factor judge, he hadn’t even batted an eye, and when he had told Harry about it later that week, he’d said it so nonchalantly, like he’d done it for a laugh. A stupid, well-paying laugh.

Harry chases his dreams down. Sometimes it seems as though they’re playing hard to get; other times, his dreams seem to slam their doors in his face. Nick, on the other hand, just flirts a little and has the world at his feet. And maybe that’s it. Maybe Harry needs to flirt more—but in a less prostitute-y way. Which makes zero sense.

“Let’s dance.” Nick says, and Harry shakes his head.

“M’not up for it,” he mopes, trying and failing to find his straw with his mouth.

“Harry. It’s Christmas. Put that frown on upside down, finish your drink and dance with me!”

“Christmas is still a week out.”

“You think I care? I like my Harrys with Christmas cheer, dammit. Don’t go all scrooge-y on me now.”

Harry snorts at that, shaking his head. Fine. If Nick thinks he takes himself too seriously, it’s fine. He’ll prove him wrong. He’ll just.

“Single Ladies” comes on, and Harry smiles in spite of himself.

“Let’s fucking go, Grimshaw.” He gulps his drink to its bitter end and grabs Nick’s hand, tugging him out on the dance floor.

Nick laughs heartily from behind him as they make their way to the center of people. Harry loses Nick a second later, because he’s not going to take this seriously. He’s going to dance and if Nick wants some fucking Christmas cheer he’s going to prance his way to the center of the room.

What happens next comes as a bit of a surprise, though.

Harry prances, and Nick laughs behind him. Just across the dance floor, a young girl is on her sixth cocktail of the night, grumbling about broken forevers and begrudgingly shaking her hips to “Single Ladies” when someone bumps her just enough for her to drop her drink. Just when she drops her drink, a gentleman happens to be passing by. He slips on the newly wet floor, right into a speaker. The speaker, to everyone’s horror, tips over, bringing with it a string of lights.

Harry can’t find Nick, and his fantastic, carefree moves are going unnoticed, God forbid - so he turns to go find him. A string of lights falls in his path. Unable to simply walk through them,  he trips and falls flat on his face.

Everything goes black.

        

It’s cold. That’s the first thought Harry has—that he’s absolutely bloody freezing and he isn’t sure why. It’s also… wet? His hair feels wet, at least. And he thinks that maybe he’s just touched his own hair and that’s why it feels wet. But that can’t be true because Harry’s hands are by his sides and they’re shaking. So why is there a hand in his hair?

The next thing he registers is a soft, raspy voice, close by.

“Hazza? Please, darling, answer me. This isn’t funny.”

Harry blinks awake, and looks up into a pair of soft blue eyes. He’s got some stubble on his cheeks and chin that he’s sure is not nearly so soft as it looks, especially on a jaw line as sharp as that. And his voice is so gentle, so calming, and also vaguely familiar. Harry knows who this is, he’s sure—he’s just not awake enough to place it.

“Oh, thank god, Hazza.” The man breathes a sigh of deep relief, petting his hair a little faster than he had been before. “Are you alright?”

“What…” Harry starts, trying to regain his voice, “What happened?”

“I was going to ask you the same thing, you dumbass, but then I saw the ladder on the ground and you not far from it and put two and two together,” he rolls his eyes playfully. “I told you I’d help you with the lights tomorrow but you just couldn’t wait another day, could you...”

Harry wants to laugh with him, except he’s so confused. He was just. He was with Nick not a moment before. At a Christmas party, and there was dancing. But now he’s in some… he’s lying in some snow with this stranger that Harry swears he knows from somewhere. If he’s dreaming, this has to be someone in the real world - his subconscious couldn’t make any of this up. How is this dream so vivid? He feels wet from however long he’s been lying in the snow. A dream couldn’t be tricking his senses this well, could it?

Harry’s teeth have started chattering by the time the other man seems to remember where they are.

“Shit, Haz, let’s get you inside. Sorry I didn’t do that sooner,” he shrugs, “I just didn’t want to scare the kids, you know how wild Mal’s imagination is.”

Harry doesn’t know what the hell this guy is on about, but he accepts the warm arm squeezing around his middle as the man guides him to the front door of some house with beautiful brick siding, and a beautiful, big dark mahogany wooden door that Harry has zero recollection of. He doesn’t know when his subconscious started paying such attention to detail, but damn, maybe Harry should consider being an architect if his music career never actually works out.

He walks Harry to what looks like the place’s living room, where a little girl, no older than six, looks up and beams right at him, “Are the lights up, Daddy?”

Daddy? What the fuck?

“No pumpkin, Daddy had a little accident. We’ll put the lights up tomorrow,” the man answers her quickly, like nothing is amiss.

Harry limps to the nearest couch. He can’t help but feel out of place. If this is his dream, shouldn’t it feel like a normal one?

“Did you hurt yourself, Daddy?”

Harry glances at the other man, who is smiling in his direction, expectantly. But Harry’s not quite sure what he’s expecting and why the hell this little girl is calling him Daddy.

“Daddy?”

He looks back at the little girl, her eyes big and blue and worried.

“Um…” he starts, brows furrowed. “I’m fine, promise. Just a little, erm… tired, is all.”

It’s hardly convincing, but the little girl doesn’t seem to realize anything is wrong. She comes closer and kisses Harry on the knee before smiling widely at him and returning to her baby doll across the room.

When he glances at the other man, he looks the way he did when Harry first woke up. And god, Harry wishes he could just place how he knows this guy.

“Mallory? It’s bedtime. Can you go brush your teeth for me?’

Mallory looks like she’s about to say she absolutely cannot brush her teeth, arms crossing and pout coming out in full force.

“Don’t give me that lip, miss. Go brush your teeth for papa.”

She harrumphs a little but does as she’s told, walking to the bathroom.

Instantly, the other man is by Harry’s side and feeling his forehead, “You feel alright?” he asks quietly.

He then takes Harry’s cheeks into his hands, lowering Harry's face to meet his eyes. Harry looks — really looks, for a second — and that’s when it hits him.

Louis?” he asks, incredulous.

“Haz, what’s wrong?” he asks, concerned.

And of course it’s Louis. Harry feels ridiculous, he should have pieced that together ages ago—the moment he’d called him Hazza.

But. Well.

What the hell is going on?

“Harry, you look ill. Do you feel ill?”

Harry bites his bottom lip, feeling less and less secure. He’s confused and frightened and he’s here, which he assumes can only be Holmes Chapel, where he swore to himself he’d never return, and he’s with Louis and there’s this little girl calling him Daddy and suddenly it all becomes a little too much.

Harry stands up and doesn’t know exactly how he knows where to find the bathroom, but he finds it and goes straight to the toilet bowl. He barely makes it, heaving just as his hands meet the stool and throwing up whatever is currently in his stomach. It should be alcohol. It should be whatever the hell he drank that made him black the fuck out, and Harry’s sort of freaking out if he’s honest, because whatever is in the toilet right now didn’t burn the way alcohol does when it comes back up. And he genuinely cannot remember anything past the third drink he’d had. Did he get roofied? Or did he get drunk enough to have hallucinations? Or drunk enough to hop on a train home spur of the moment?

That wouldn’t explain why there’s a young girl under the impression that he’s daddy, and it definitely wouldn’t explain why the hell Louis Tomlinson is looking at him from the doorway like that.

He comes forward and holds Harry’s hair back with one hand, rubbing his back with the other while, Harry throws up whatever is left in his stomach. He’s taking quick, deep breaths and trying to calm down, though he knows the path he’s on is probably taking him closer to hyperventilating.

Louis rubs his back again and tugs at one of his curls. “I’ll be right back, love. I’m going to put Mal to bed, okay? I’ll just see you in our room. Bundle up and I’ll be right in.”

Harry stays where he is a moment, taking deep breaths and glancing around the bathroom. It’s really clean, and even after Harry flushes his vomit down the toilet, it looks like it’s remained unused until this point. There’s a small shower behind him. Harry’s almost sure it’s a dream, but it’s a troubling one if only because it’s so vivid. He’s never paid so much attention to the décor of anything while he’s been dreaming.

And why would his dreams dig up Louis Tomlinson?

Harry was supposed to be done with that. He’d made his choice, and he really thought that Louis was done haunting his dreams over it.

He climbs the nearest flight of stairs. Again, he remembers that he shouldn’t know how to get to the bedroom. Their bedroom, the one he supposedly shares with Louis. Harry takes another really deep breath and lets his feet take him wherever they’re supposed to go. He finds a room with a big bed in it, and things strewn across the dresser that definitely look like products he uses, mixed in with little bits and bobs like drawings, and a watch, and deodorant he remembers Louis using way back when.

It’s weird, seeing their lives intermingled that way. It gives such a clear vibe of comfortable, and settled, and domestic, and it all makes perfect sense when he remembers that Louis’ putting a child that’s apparently his to bed.

But this is never what Harry wanted. Not now. Not while he has dreams to chase. And yeah, a long time ago, Louis was one of those dreams, but this? He’d thought they’d grow into this. Eventually. He’d thought this would be the future, if Louis had agreed to come to London. But Louis had never wanted to do that. They had both made their choices, and so it’s troubling, how well Harry can see their life together, even now. When he’s been so separate and over it. He’d thought he’d gotten all of this out of his system.

Harry sits down on the edge of the bed, elbows on his knees, and releases an incredulous sigh. Whenever this ends, whenever he wakes up, he’s going to have to address the fact that he still dreams about this shit. This isn’t fair.

Louis comes in a moment later, looking frazzled. His hair’s a mess, and the sleeves of his jumper are pushed up to his elbows and he looks really tired. He plops down next to Harry, placing his head on Harry’s shoulder and huffing out a sigh.

Harry is too stunned to move, and luckily Louis lifts his head a moment later.

“Now what the hell is on with you? Did you hit your head or something? Do you need to go to hospital?”

Harry feels sorry. Dream Louis is never this concerned about him. He’s either angry or they’re doing… other things. He’s always this lovely, of course—but never so concerned.

Granted, Harry’s not usually this confused.

Harry almost wonders if they should go to hospital.

“I kind of just want to sleep,” he says. And it sounds a little dumb, but Harry feels a little dumb.

“I want to let you sleep, but I’m worried you have a concussion and I shouldn’t let you.”

That’s a valid concern. His head really does hurt.

Harry doesn’t really say anything, but wonders if he should fight harder for sleep time. Because not only does sleep sound amazing, but if this really is a dream, then Harry will probably wake up on Nick’s couch, and everyone’s better off if that happens. It’s better than putting this beautiful Dream Louis through the stress of taking him to hospital.

Louis suddenly stands up. “Haz, I’ll be right back.” He grabs his phone from the dresser and leaves the room.

Harry flops down on the edge of the bed and hums at how soft the duvet is. He shuts his eyes and waits. Only a second later, Louis comes back and pats his shoulder lightly. “Sit up, love.”

Harry does what he’s told. When he opens his eyes, Louis’ got a hand on his foot. He’s putting his boots on for him.

“What are you—“

“Niall’s on his way, he’ll be here if the girls wake up for whatever reason. I’m taking you to the ER.”

Harry doesn’t bother arguing. He hopes they hit a bump in the road and he wakes up. It’s got to happen somehow.

Niall walks in, looking jovial as ever, though he looks older. It’s in his eyes, Harry thinks. He hopes Niall really looks this happy now and in the future. He sends Harry a cautious-but-sincere smile before Louis thanks him and pulls Harry to the door.

 

The ride to the hospital is short and quiet. Harry can see Louis’ hand resting in the space between their seats, and when he looks up at Louis he looks tense—maybe scared.

“Hey, I’m sure it’s fine,” he says.

Louis doesn’t say anything, though, just keeps driving and pulls into the first parking space he sees. They walk into the hospital and Louis tells the lady at the desk that he thinks his husband has a concussion. Harry tries not to look outwardly shocked at the word.

Husband? Well, Harry sort of knew. He gathered that there was a reason they had a house and a child and now he notices that there is a ring on his and Louis’ fingers. And maybe Harry had always dreamed of it coming to this, but… he’s never actually dreamt it. And even if it had been implied, it was never—well, no one said it.

The doctor calls for Mr. Tomlinson and he’s delayed about three seconds before he realizes the doctor is talking to him. Louis’ already a few steps in front of him.

They’re silent as Harry does everything the nurses ask him to do. He steps on the scale and lets them take his temperature without argument. The silence is fine and welcome, really, until they sit alone in a room waiting for the doctor to arrive.

Harry isn’t quite sure how to break this silence. He wonders absently if this is the part of the dream where everything turns overwhelmingly sour. Louis’ left knee is tapping incessantly and he’s biting at his thumbnail. He wonders why he hasn’t tried talking to Harry yet, and thinks it’s probably for the better, regardless of how uncomfortable they both are.

Eventually the doctor enters and introduces himself. He stands before Harry with a tiny, dim flashlight and points it at his eyes. Harry assumes he’s meant to follow the beam as the doctor moves it back and forth, and the doctor seems pleased with his decision to do so.

“Harry, do you mind telling me what happened?”

Harry goes to answer when he realizes he still isn’t sure.

“He fell off a ladder, Doctor. Was trying to hang some lights on his own.” Louis rolls his eyes, exasperated.

“Thank you, Mr. Tomlinson, but I’m asking your husband at the moment. Harry, do you have any recollection of this incident?”

Timidly, Harry brings his shoulders up and shakes his head.

“Harry, what year is it?”

“2015.”

It’s when he hears a small gasp from Louis that he realizes he’s said something wrong.            

“Interesting,” the doctor hums, taking notes on his clipboard. “Mr. Tomlinson, can you tell me the last thing you remember?”

It’s scary, if he’s honest, being peered at from the top of a clipboard, knowing without looking that Louis’ sitting on the edge of his seat, hoping that Harry gives the right answer and knowing full well that it won’t be if he thinks the year is 2015. He wants to be able to remember, but he really doesn’t. They’d know if he was making it up.

“Was at a bar… with my mate, Nick, in London. That’s the last thing I remember.” He sees Louis squirm in his peripherals.

“Harry, do I have your permission to perform a few CT scans? I just want to check a few things.”

“What year is it then?” Harry asks. The doctor ignores him and Harry huffs in protest. “I’ve clearly said something wrong. Can you just… please tell me. What year is it?”

“It’s 2026.”

Harry’s jaw drops and he’s not sure why. There’s something that feels very wrong about all of this. Where he’d been so positive this was all a dream before, he finds his certainty faltering when he takes another look at Louis.

He sees the wrinkles beginning to take shape on his face, the dips under his eyes. It’s really all there, isn’t it? Most everything else hasn’t aged much at all. He imagines that he still has the same extra bit of fluff around his stomach, and firm thighs that fit in those tight black jeans. His jumper still fits loose and his jawline is still sharp, though it’s graced with more stubble than it had been when Harry had seen him last. It’s all in the eyes. The laugh lines and the soft way they sag.

Harry’s never thought himself stupid, but he knows his subconscious couldn’t really piece this together. Could it? He doesn’t feel much older himself. His back hurts, but he’s always had that, and he imagines the fall he took has something to do with the way it’s aching now.

The other thing that makes this feel so real is that, Harry may be questioning everything, but he still feels very much inside himself. This isn’t like those times when he knows he’s dreaming and he’s sort of watching everything from afar. He can feel this body and he feels a certain limitation that only comes with being awake.

Once they’ve taken the CT scan, the doctor has a moment with Harry alone. Louis sits outside, and Harry sees him pacing back and forth through the small rectangular window in the door. He might be on the phone, but he might just be fiddling with his hair. Harry can’t tell.

“Mr. Tomlinson?”

Harry shakes his head, “Sorry, I keep. I forget that’s me. I’m still Styles. Harry Styles.”

The doctor hums again and writes on his clipboard again.

“Yes, Harry Styles-Tomlinson. Sorry, do you prefer that?”

“I just… I don’t remember,” he says, frustrated. He’s tired and confused and his head really does hurt. This can’t be real. Why does it feel so real?

The doctor proceeds to tell him a lot of big words. What he gathers from the conversation is that he’s hit his head and lost the last eleven years of his life. It might come back. It might not. In the meantime, his husband is outside and by now has pieced together that he doesn’t remember their wedding. He doesn’t remember them getting back together at all. And if Harry’s correct, then Louis knows that the last thing Harry remembers is the life he started building without him. The time they stopped being HarryandLouis.

They check out and Louis makes a stop at a 24-hour grocery store for some painkillers. Harry hadn’t even mentioned how much his head hurt. Louis places the bottle in his hand and starts the car. He looks as tired as Harry feels.

When they pull into the driveway, Louis sighs.

“I don’t.” he starts. “I don’t really know… how you’re feeling right now. And I don’t want to overwhelm you but—“

Harry stops him, “Can I be honest?”

“Gently.” Louis says. “Please.”

“It feels like a dream—like a bizarrely real and vivid dream. And I’m half convinced that if I just go to sleep, I’ll wake up again in London in 2015. So if you want to like. Sleep with me, I don’t mind. I won’t kick you out. Because of course I remember you—a very different you, but you nonetheless. And you seem to remember a very different me. So. Let’s just. We can exist like this and go to sleep. Yeah?”

“Yeah,” Louis whispers, “yeah, that’s fine. But if you wake up in the morning? And you’re still here… Just.”

“If somehow that happens, then we’ll talk about what’s next.”

Louis nods. He looks so sad.

Harry gets out of the car and they walk to the door. “You can go on up to bed. I’m just going to talk to Niall for a minute,” Louis says.

And yeah, that’s fine. Great, actually. Harry will just go to sleep without the awkward goodnight and wake up and everything will be back to normal.

          

Harry wakes up the next morning to a finger poking his face. There’s an arm around his waist and a tiny finger prodding his cheek. He opens his eyes and sees bright blue eyes and unruly brown curls and he hears a small giggle.

“Daddy, wake up!”

Harry sits up, quickly, which stirs the arm around his waist that clearly belongs to Louis. He furrows his brows, unsettled and nervous and actually frightened. This definitely was not how this was supposed to go.

“Come here, love,” Louis sighs from the other side of the bed. Mallory hops up from Harry’s side and climbs over his legs and into Louis’ lap. She hugs him tight round his middle and Louis squeezes back.

“Daddy doesn’t feel good today, so we’ve got to be gentle with him, okay?”

Her face looks very serious as she looks up into Louis’ eyes and nods.

“Do you want breakfast, Daddy? I can make it if you don’t feel good,” she says very solemnly.

Harry is still shocked he’s here. He really hadn’t thought this would happen. He tries to smile at her, though he knows it looks probably more like he’s being strangled from the inside and he shakes his head. “You don’t have to do that.”

“But I can! Remember? You showed me!”

Louis ruffles the girls hair before kissing the top of her head. “That’s very sweet, Mal. I’ll help you okay? Go get started without me. I’m going to get your sister, then I’ll be right down.”

She nods, curls bobbing before hopping off the other side and running out the door. He can hear her little steps bounding down the stairs.

“I take it you’re still, um… hazy, then?”

Harry takes a few deep breaths. “I really didn’t think… I just…”

“I know,” Louis says, sadly. “Look, I get it if this freaks you out. I remember the Harry that you think you are and he wasn’t… he wasn’t ready for this. It’s okay if you’re not ready for this, I just. I need you to be honest.”

“I don’t know what to think,” he says. “I don’t know where to begin.”

“Well, let’s start here. Do you want to stay here? Or do you want to stay with Niall while we get this sorted out? I talked to him last night and he’d love to have you if you’d be more comfortable there. The doctors said that we should carry on as normal and it might help you… but I don’t fancy making you uncomfortable. I know it’s a lot to swallow at once. It took us eleven years to get here, after all.”

Harry doesn’t know what he wants. Well, he does. He wants to go to London and sleep on Nick’s couch until he can figure it out. But he doesn’t even know if Nick remembers him. He doesn’t know what’s happened between them in the last eleven years.

He’s also not really sure he’d be more comfortable with Niall. Niall had been furious at him when he left. Maybe for Niall, that was a long time ago, but for Harry, it hasn’t been long enough for the Niall he knows to pick up the phone.  And that’s the thing, isn’t it. He remembers all of these people but he remembers them so differently, and he doesn’t know how he would deserve to be… welcomed like this.

“Two kids?” he starts. He’d seen the signs of a second, had noted Louis’ plural use of the word even though he’s only met Mallory, but hadn’t found the right time to ask yet.

“Yes, two,” Louis says, “Mallory is four. And Ava is six months.”

“We have a baby?”

Louis nods, smiling sadly. “Yeah we do. Mallory was—we had a surrogate. But we have an open adoption with Ava. Her mum was sixteen and couldn’t keep her, but wanted her to go to a loving family that would let her come visit sometimes.”

"And we fit the bill?”

Louis nods again, and Harry doesn’t want to notice the tears but he does.

He is sorry, is the thing. He didn’t mean to break Louis’ heart again. He didn’t ask for this.

“Sorry,” Louis whispers, wiping at his eyes. “I really do need to grab the baby. Um, just. Will you have breakfast? Think it over and let me know what you want to do.”

Harry nods, running a hand through his hair as Louis disappears out the door. He finds he’s not too keen on being alone. It makes it feel more real, somehow. He thought about following Louis, but he’s just not sure he's ready to meet a baby yet. At least the four year old seems oddly self-sufficient.

He walks down the stairs, tripping over his feet a little at the bottom. He takes a deep breath and joins Mallory in the kitchen. She's hoisted herself up on a barstool by an island in the middle of the kitchen with her hands folded on the countertop in front of her.

"I thought you were getting breakfast started?" Harry says, and he can't help but smirk at the way Mallory rolls his eyes at him. This kid definitely has some of Louis’ DNA.

"You and Papa always forget that I'm not tall enough for the stove."

"Could have at least set the table," he says with a chuckle.

"The plates are even higher!" she sighs, exasperated.

Harry finds himself laughing sincerely, relaxing as he leans on the counter across from her. "Fair enough, I suppose. So what are we making?"

"Eggs!" She says, clearly excited. "Can I please, please, please flip them, Daddy?"

"Since you asked nicely," Harry smiles as Mallory beams at him squealing and hopping off her bar stool.

"I'll get the pan!"

Harry grins and grabs it when she lifts it up to him. He asks her to please get some eggs out of the fridge and starts the stovetop.

They're well into egg making when Louis comes down the stairs with the baby. He looks up to see Harry with Mallory resting on his hip as he helps her flip the eggs.

"Look Papa! I'm flipping it, I'm flipping it!"

"Well done, love!" he says. When he meets Harry's eyes, there's a silent thanks in them.

Obviously Harry notices the baby. He just doesn’t know how to really process the baby. If he really thinks about it, which he’s trying not to, he should be more afraid to look at Mallory, seeing as she clearly has some pieces of him inside her. He’d be blind not to see how much she looks like himself as much as she looks like Louis. But the baby is… it’s a baby. It’s entirely dependent and, somewhere along the line, a version of himself he doesn’t remember signed all those papers. Some Harry he doesn’t know was willing, and probably excited, to bring in another baby girl. That’s just… surreal.

They’ve all sat down to eat breakfast, waiting on a few slices of bread in the toaster, Mallory happily crunching on an apple slice when it happens. Louis hands off the baby like it’s no big deal, like he’s forgotten that Harry hasn’t held a baby in years. And Harry’s sat there with this squirming little thing with chubby limbs and bright green eyes just staring up at him. Is he supposed to feed her? Or just… bounce her a little? Babies like that, right?

He doesn’t opt for those things though, just lets her find her footing against his legs and holds her wrists securely, letting her squirm happily as she is. When Louis returns, he apologizes and takes the baby back, fastening her in her high chair before buttering Mallory’s toast.

He realizes then, watching Louis scurry from one end of the kitchen to the other, getting Ava’s food ready and pouring a small glass of milk presumably for Mallory, that Louis didn’t sign up for this on his own. He signed up for this with Harry, regardless of whether or not Harry remembers ever agreeing.

He can’t go stay with Niall. Not really. If only because he can’t leave Louis to take care of two children all on his own. Harry didn’t ask for this, but Louis didn’t ask for Harry to forget it all either.

He doesn’t know when he stopped thinking of this as a dream and started thinking of it  as a responsibility, but he figures the right thing to do is stay, regardless of how uncomfortable and confused he may be. And maybe, just maybe, he’ll wake up from all this after all. All he knows for sure is that he must have really hit his head hard.

“Daddy?”

Louis coughs, reminding Harry that that’s him. Harry shakes his head a little, returning to himself and looks at Mallory.

“Are you feeling better today?”

Harry awkwardly, but sincerely smiles. “Um, well, I’m still feeling funny. I might feel funny for a while. But I’m not feeling quite so ill today.”

Mallory nods, fiddling with her hair. “So does that mean we can still go get our Christmas tree?”

Harry glances at Louis for that one. He’s frowning, but Harry’s not sure if it’s because of Mallory’s question or if it’s because Ava is not taking very kindly to the smashed bananas.

“I’m not sure about that, Mal,” he starts, the guilt clear on his face and when Harry looks back at Mallory, he can see why. He wouldn’t like to tell this little girl no either.

So Harry throws caution to the wind, “No, it’s fine, actually.”

Louis looks up at him, an eyebrow raised. Mallory looks at him, waiting with bated breath before her heart breaks completely.

“I’m feeling a lot better than yesterday. Funny, but not too funny for Christmas trees,” he says. He’s trying to act natural, but he feels silly. It doesn’t seem to matter, judging by the way Mallory giggles and Louis’ eyes soften. He figures he must not have done a bad job.            

“Well then, it looks like we’re getting a Christmas tree today, lovebug.”

Mallory squeals, dropping her fork on her plate when she throws her arms up to celebrate.

“Finish your eggs first, love,” Louis chides gently. He looks relieved.

When the eggs are finished and plates are gathered, Louis sends Mallory to pick out her clothes. She runs up the stairs, and Harry grins at the sound of her little feet padding each one. Louis still looks very focused, bringing each spoon to Ava’s mouth and trying to push each morsel she spits out back in.

It’s sort of comfortable, he thinks. Just sitting here with this little family.

“Ava, please…” Louis huffs.

“Giving you trouble?” Harry asks, casually.

“Yeah, she just—“ Louis sighs, and looks up at Harry with sad eyes, “she’s never fed very well with me. Prefers you.”

Harry’s about to reply. He wants to apologize and he’s not even sure what for because he really can’t help this. Maybe it’s just because Louis looks so bent up inside every time he looks at Harry. But before he can say anything he hears a thump upstairs followed by a cry for Papa dragged out a mile long.

Louis drops the spoon and stands up, “I’m sorry, can you just—“

“I’ll try,” Harry says, and Louis thanks him before bolting up the stairs.

And again he finds himself with the baby. Twice now in the last hour, but this time he’s on his own. Harry shakes his shoulders and head a little and coaches himself. “Get it together, Styles. It’s just a baby. You’re fine.”

It’s a pretty quiet baby, as far as Harry can tell. She’s staring out into the living room with this look on her face that Harry almost laughs at.

“Alright, baby, let’s eat some bananas.”

He picks up the spoon, grimacing at the cold goo all over it, but trudges on, dipping it and bringing it to Ava’s mouth. She’s resistant, but with a little nudging, Harry gets it in her mouth, catching the bits that drip down her chin. She only spits out a little but does swallow with a look of clear disgust.

Harry chuckles, “You really don’t like bananas, do you. Are you crazy?”

He dips the spoon back into the food as she pats at the table enthusiastically, some of the mess from her small fist splattering up into Harry’s face. She’s frowning and Harry frowns back at her.

When Harry tries to feed her again, she whines a little.

“Are they that bad?” he asks, and of course she doesn’t answer. She just exists in that soft baby way and makes it clear whenever she can that she does not want to eat the bananas.

Harry dips his finger in the little bowl then, determined to see what the fuss is about. “See, Ava, look, I’ll try it, and you’ll see it’s not so bad.”

He wonders if she’s actually turning to look at him, or if she just happened to move her head then. She watches with big eyes as Harry brings it to his mouth. He wants to cover her eyes once he’s tasted it, knowing he can’t hide his own disgust fast enough.

“Okay, I get it. I wouldn’t want to eat this either. It’s a disgrace to the banana name.”

She continues staring, but a small giggle comes out. Harry looks up and she reaches her hands out.

Harry reaches back and lets Ava take a strong hold of his finger. She’s got quite the grip, and he tugs slightly before taking her little fist with his finger to touch her face. He pokes her cheek and her nose and she giggles and giggles and when Louis comes back, with a soothed and dressed Mallory, they find him giggling back at Ava with little to no difference in her food intake.

“Alright then?” Louis asks, amused.

Harry catches his breath before nodding.

“Did she eat?”

Harry chuckles again and shakes his head. “Sorry, but bananas are a no from us.”

 

Harry should have known that Mallory was talking about a real Christmas tree. There would be no reason to pick one out if it were artificial, since those last for years on end. But still, Harry is surprised when they pull into a gravel lot, with a large field of evergreens in front of them. There are other families wandering around pink cheeked and smiling. There’s a huge machine to help with netting the trees.

Louis hops out of the car first, making doubly sure that the baby is bundled tight enough for the cold. He throws a blanket over the top of her carrier and lifts it just before setting it on the ground on the other side of the car, beside Mallory. He crouches down and points some direction.

“Alright, Mallory, do you see over there?”

She nods.

“Those are the trees we’re looking at today okay? The ones that are already cut off the ground.”

“But Daddy said he was going to cut one,” she says, just short of a pout.

“I know what Daddy said, love, but Daddy fell and hurt himself yesterday. I really don’t want him to get hurt again, alright? It’s still a real tree. Someone else just took it off the ground for us so Daddy didn’t have to be hurt.”

Mallory nods very seriously. “That was nice of them.”

Louis smiles warmly, taking a gloved hand to her cheek. “Yes, it was. Now let’s go take a look, shall we?”

She hops out of the car gleefully and reaches for Harry’s hand, “Let’s go, Daddy!”

Harry doesn’t have the time to be surprised as he follows, trying to maintain her speed. Louis trails behind them with the carrier and Harry feels awfully sorry for the millionth time today.

It’s just that, he’s reminded again, what a horrible situation he’s put his own family in. And he’s trying his best to act like nothing is wrong, but it’s only because he hasn’t let himself really think about it. He doesn’t know anything about the little girl holding his hand. He doesn’t remember how he ended up with Louis. And really, Louis’ the one feeling the brunt of the awful situation.

And Harry’s really sorry, but there’s still this small part of him that’s disappointed in himself for not making his dreams come true. If this isn’t a dream, then it has to be the future or some alternate universe and either way, he selfishly wonders what made him give up on his music. Why was this suddenly better than everything Harry’s ever wanted? Unless… well, unless Harry just wasn’t good enough for all that. Then he’s sad that he ended up with the next thing down his list without attaining the first.

“Ouch!”

He glances down at Mallory, who’s stuck her finger on something and looks near tears.

Harry crouches down and reaches out for her hand. “Did the tree stick you?”

Mallory nods, bottom lip out. “Kiss it?”

Harry smiles despite himself and nods, pulling her tiny glove off so he can kiss her finger.

“Better?”

“Better. Thank you, Daddy,” she says, pulling her glove on. Harry helps her fingers find their rightful places before they move on.

“Have we found one yet?” Louis asks, approaching them from behind.

“We’ve found one we don’t want,” Harry shrugs.

And Mallory nods enthusiastically. “That tree wasn’t nice.”

“She touched a sharp one,” Harry says with a chuckle and Louis smiles down at her.

“Mean trees don’t belong in our house, do they?”

Mallory shakes her hand and stamps her foot indignantly before turning around and trudging on looking at all the other trees.

Louis laughs and follows. Harry comes up beside Louis, “Do you want me to help with that?”

He glances at the baby carrier and Louis shakes his head, “No, it’s fine. Would be bad for your back anyway.”

“Can’t be good for yours, either,” Harry shrugs.

“Nah, Mal’s been talking about picking a tree with you all week. I’ll stick with the carrier.” He pauses, “Unless it’s too much, you don’t have—“

“It’s fine, Lou,” Harry says quickly. “I don’t mind either way. I just feel bad that you have to lug that thing around.”

Louis seems pleased enough, smiling and shrugging, “You don’t need to feel bad, really. You’ve done more than I expected you to.”

“I’m not that—“ Harry starts. He’s interrupted by a small voice from across the tent.

“Daddy! Come look at this one!”

“I’m being beckoned,” he says.

Louis nods, smiling brightly, “That you are.”

“I’ll be back.”

Louis rolls his eyes but he’s smiling as Harry runs towards Mallory.

“What have we got here, then?”

“I like this one,” she says happily. “It’s big and it’s green and, when I touched it, it wasn’t mean!”

“All very good qualities for a tree to have.”

Harry inspects it, though he realizes that he’s not entirely sure what he’s looking for. He used to get a real tree with his mum and Gemma, but his mum had always been the one actually handling the decision. It looks sturdy enough, he thinks. Not too big, but fluffy and nice. He doesn’t even know what decorations they’re working with, but he doesn’t see why this tree wouldn’t work just fine.

Louis catches up to them and nods at their selection. “I think it’s perfect.”

Mallory jumps excitedly, making her way to the carrier. “Can I show Ava? I want her to see it too.”

Louis nods, “Yes, but be quick about it okay? Ava can’t be in the cold too much longer.”

Mallory lifts the blanket back, and as Harry watches, he finds himself completely enraptured by the sweet scene. She asks Ava questions, and giggles at the faces Ava makes and, just as Louis is about to ask her to pull the blanket back over the top, Mallory reaches for it without being asked.

“Ava really likes it, Papa, I think we should get this tree.”

“I think you’re right, Mal. Good work!”

She smiles and Louis looks up at Harry.

“Do you want to get the tree or do you want to take the kids to the car?”

Harry has absolutely no idea what to do with the tree, and he must look lost because Louis just laughs, “Go ahead and take the carrier and take the kids back to the car. Just be careful with your back, okay?”

Harry nods and takes the car keys.

As they walk back to the car, Mallory skips, and tells Harry all about the decorations she made at school and how she can’t wait to put them on the tree. Harry wonders if, under ordinary circumstances, he’d know what decorations Mallory is talking about. For now, he supposes it’s easier to indulge her without the previous knowledge.

          

The tree decorating had been a wild success. Ava sat and watched happily as Mallory showed her every single decoration she was putting on the tree. He watched as Louis pretended to be a lift whenever Mallory tried to place a decoration out of her own reach. They both would giggle, and Harry was sort of in awe of it all.

The only piece left is the star on top, and Harry doesn’t suppress the shock when Louis asks him to do it. He tries to shake it off by asking Mallory if she’ll help him, and he lifts her up while she excitedly does the honors. He puts her down and the turn on the lights. Mallory squeals at the sight to behold, Ava whines from her seat and when Louis goes to pick her up, they create this perfect little picture. And if Harry was in awe before, he’s absolutely beside himself now.

This family is his, somehow. And he can feel that, even if he doesn’t remember. They want him here and they wanted him to help with the tree. He feels honored in a way, that Louis would still accept him in his life like this. He knows the kids don’t know any differently, but Louis could very easily just… kick him out. He’s beginning to wonder if this is some universe where Harry never left. Where he didn’t break Louis’ heart all those years ago and that’s why Louis can stand to look at him.

But then he remembers how hurt Louis looked in the hospital, how unsettled he was when Harry confessed the last thing he remembered.

That’s not true anymore, though, is it? He’s not even been here a day and he’s got a completely different life’s worth of memories with people that call him their own.

Mallory grows bored of the tree after a few minutes and asks if they can turn on a movie. Louis glances at the clock and says yes if she’ll have a bit for lunch first.

Then, tummies full, they pile onto the couch, Louis cradling Ava on the end with Mallory sitting between them. They turn on an old Christmas movie, and to Louis’ surprise, Mallory doesn’t even complain.

“She’s usually insistent about Rudolph,” Louis whispers, “Hasn’t let us watch anything else for the last week.”

When Mallory takes her seat between them, Harry can see why. She looks too sleepy to care. Harry used to work with kids, so he’s sure naptime is in order sometime soon. Especially if he’s expected to believe this child is his. He almost laughs as she slowly leans into Harry, closer and closer, until her little head rests right in his lap. He rubs her back softly, like he knows somehow that this will lull her right to sleep.

He catches Louis’ eye then, as he looks down fondly. Unabashed love is clear on his face.

“You sure you don’t remember anything?” Louis asks him. It’s almost teasing, which Harry wasn’t expecting.

“Not a thing,” Harry sighs, frustrated. He’s beginning to wish he did.

“Weird,” Louis says, mostly to himself.

They sit in silence for a while, the movie playing softly in the background. Harry doesn’t want to move for fear of waking the child in his lap. It seems Ava’s finished a bottle and is snoozing as well when Louis gets up. Wordlessly, he goes up the stairs with the baby and comes back a few minutes later empty-handed.

He stands above Harry then and gestures to Mallory. “Want me to take her upstairs?”

“You don’t have to if you—“

“She won’t wake up, I swear,” Louis smiles, “let me take her.”

Harry nods, “if you’re sure…”

Louis reaches down and pulls Mallory into his arms. She stirs a little, nuzzling her face into the crook of Louis’ neck, but doesn’t wake as Louis carries her away.

He sits alone for the second time today and for the first time begins to believe he must have done something right for all of this to be his. He wonders if he did make it as a musician and it wasn’t what he thought it was. Or if maybe his dream just… changed. That happens, right? There’s got to be a reason he’s here sometime in the future, and though he hasn’t admitted it to himself just yet, he’s almost positive it has something to do with the soft blue eyes, and even softer man attached to them coming down the stairs.

Their eyes meet and Louis smiles, eyes crinkling, as he makes his way to the couch.

“You mind if I turn this off?” he asks, and Harry shakes his head.

Once the TV is off, the only light in the room is a bit of sunlight streaming in from the front door. It feels late, even though it’s still only about three in the afternoon.

“Want some tea?”

Harry nods, “Love some.”

They make their way to the kitchen and Louis puts the kettle on. They’re still mostly silent when it starts steaming. Louis shuts it off quickly and pours the water over the tea bags. He takes a seat next to Harry at the table while the tea steeps in their mugs.

“How are you?” Louis asks.

Harry’s not sure what he means, and Louis might not know either, judging by the grimace he makes after he says it.

“I mean, erm… how are you feeling, I guess?”

Harry shrugs, “I’m actually… pretty alright. All things considered.”

Louis nods seriously, “You’ve been,” he pauses, “Well, you’ve been lovely. Thank you for… not running away.”

He looks nervous. Harry nods his head, unsure of what he’s supposed to say next.

“Can I ask… um. Well, if you’ve made any decisions?”

“What decisions?” Harry asks.

“About where you want to, erm, stay?”

Oh. Is that why Louis seems nervous? Because he thinks Harry is just going to… do what he did before?

“I think I’m alright here if you, uh, don’t mind having me?”

Louis lets out an audible sigh of relief and shakes his head. “I don’t mind having you at all. Was scared shitless you were gonna run out on me, to be honest. Just. Don’t… like, if you need space, I’ll give you space. Please don’t—“

“I’ll let you know if it’s too much, yeah? Really, I will.”

“Are you sure you’re okay? You’ve just… you’re adapting really quickly and considering the last thing you remember, I thought all this would be so much harder for you to swallow.”

“I’m a little confused. Well, a lot confused,” Harry admits. “But not… I don’t know, it sort of makes sense? I’m just missing the really big piece that tells me why you changed your mind.”

“What do you mean?” Louis asks, brows furrowed.

“Like, we’re here. So I came home. And that’s either because I got what I wanted or I gave up. But you were so angry with me. When I left. Like, last I remember, we haven’t spoken in at least a year so. I don’t know what happened that made you think you could love me again. Or like. Have kids with me or… any of it.”

Louis smiles, but he looks sad.

“Could you maybe… fill in the blanks?”

Louis shakes his head. “I can’t… you need to remember it yourself. If you don’t ever, I’ll tell you. But I can’t really, not right now. I can’t talk about that.”

That’s fair.

“Can you tell me… other things? Like. How we ended up with Mallory? Or like… when we got married? Do I have a job?”

Louis nods. “Yeah, that’s. We can talk about things if you want. I don’t want to overwhelm you, though.”

“I just need a brief history. Maybe it’ll jog my memory or something.”

“Well, you’re a music teacher at the elementary school.  We got married six years ago. Decided on kids a year later, and asked El to be our surrogate.”

“Eleanor?!” Harry asks, “Really?”

Louis nods, “Yeah, you were the one who suggested it, actually.”

“That’s… surprising.”

Louis laughs. “Yeah, I was surprised, too. It made sense later, though.”

“Do we hang out with her?”

“Yeah, she and her husband come over for dinner sometimes. He’s nice, you like him.”

Harry rolls his eyes, “I bet I do.”

Louis laughs, “You like Eleanor, too. Promise. You both worked things out pretty early on when you… came back. I never really knew what prompted it. That was all you.”

Harry has no idea how that could be possible. Eleanor had been attached to Louis for as long as Harry knew him. And even though he knew that Louis cared for him and was interested in him, Eleanor had a hard time adapting. She’d been Louis’ best friend for ages, so when Louis was ready to ask Harry to make things official, it had been Eleanor that tried to talk him out of it. Saying Harry didn’t like her and that she thought they were always supposed to put each other first.

Harry did not like Eleanor. But he didn’t like her for more than just that.

The reason he didn’t like Eleanor was selfish, really—she had known Louis when he hadn’t. He felt she had some weird advantage, even though Louis really wasn’t interested in her that way. He was jealous. It was really quite petty, but he always tried his best to be nice to her and she still tried to talk Louis out of seeing him.

“Well then,” Harry scrunches his nose up in distaste.

Louis laughs.

“What about Ava then?”

Louis smiles, “That was a happy accident, really. I mean, you can’t adopt on accident, but we had originally been looking for a boy. We wanted a boy that was somewhere around Mallory’s age, we didn’t care if he was older or younger, but we just thought it was time for a second. And when we went to the adopting agency, the woman asked us if we might consider an open adoption with someone else.

“You were pretty adamant about adopting an orphan, so at first we said no. But I asked if we could just meet her because she seemed nice and you said that was fine. And when we met her, both of us were sold. Chelsea is just wonderful. We both adore her. She’s not graduated yet, and has only come by a couple times since the baby was born, but with Christmas hols, I’m guessing we’ll hear from her very soon.”

Harry sits and tries to soak it all in. This is just within the last six years, this isn’t including however long before this that Harry came home and mended things. And that’s just… wow. He can’t remember how he managed to fix it but he knows that this Harry is very, very much in love with Louis. And Louis clearly feels the exact same way. It’s almost an out of body experience, knowing his mind that belongs to a time when he thought he could live without him, is living in a body that doesn’t want to.

It’s remarkable, is what it is.

“Sorry, did I say too much?”

"What?”

“You look… overwhelmed. Did I share too much?”

Harry shakes his head, “No. It’s a lot, but I’m… I’m fine.”

“Is there anything else you want to know?”

“Do we always have tea and chat during nap time?” Harry asks, amusement in his voice.

Louis’ face twists into something unfamiliar. “Um, sometimes.”

Harry furrows his brows. “What? Did I say something wrong?”

Louis chuckles. “No, we just. Usually, um…”

Harry doesn’t need him to continue that sentence before he catches on, his eyes widen with the realization.

“Right, of course, ‘cause we’re…”

“Yeah,” Louis shrugs, “But obviously we don’t need to—“

“Don’t know if I could…”

“Right. Of course not,” Louis says quickly, standing up and taking his empty mug to the sink.

He seems upset. And Harry knows that it runs deeper than the fact that Harry won’t have sex with him. It probably has more to do with the fact that his husband doesn’t remember how.

“How long does naptime usually last?”

Louis sighs and turns around, leaning his back against the counter. “A couple hours, usually.”

Oh wow. That’s a um… healthy marriage then.

“Do you think I could maybe…”

Louis smiles again. “You wanna take a nap?”

“Yeah.”

“Go for it,” Louis laughs, “I’m gonna do some cleaning up down here, but help yourself to whatever upstairs. Don’t be surprised if Mallory comes in without warning.”

Harry laughs like he’s in on the joke, and makes his way upstairs.

He doesn’t like being alone, really. But he thinks he needs to be.

He lies very still. It’s quiet. And he should be able to take a nice long nap, but every time he closes his eyes his brain lights up with images of Louis from a long time ago. He keeps his eyes closed for a long time and remembers the last time he actually saw Louis. It was the biggest fight they ever had.

“Louis, you just don’t understand. I can do all that someday, but this opportunity, this chance is only now. I have to take it while I can.”

“Is it worth it?”

“Is it worth what?”

“Look, Harry, you know where I stand. It’s that or it’s me. It’s us.”

Harry stops, he meets Louis’ indignant eyes and searches for any sign of a break. Is there any way he can change his mind? Or is Louis really that unsupportive? Is the person who’s always made him feel his best telling him to turn down his chance?

“I thought we were worth more than that.”

“So did I.”

Harry opens his eyes. He shudders a little at the memory.

He just doesn’t understand. He doesn’t know how he could have gone from that to this happy family… it just doesn’t add up. Something isn’t clicking, and until it does, Harry thinks that he might be stuck here.

He falls asleep eventually, tossing and turning, because his dreams are made of memories, but they’re not the right ones.

 

After a few days, there’s a sort of routine that begins to set in. It seems Louis communicated a family crisis to his employer, and is home for the week. Harry feels bad that he’s considered a crisis and that he can’t take care of the girls on his own, but he was relieved all the same when Louis said he’d be home all week.

Being a teacher, it made sense why Harry didn’t have to work. It’s only a week and half ‘til Christmas, so they’ve just started their holiday. He hopes this all gets resolved before the holiday is over. Teaching children is a skill he did not carry with him from 2015, though Louis claims he’s a natural.

Things with Louis are… strange. They’ve been sharing a bed. Louis offered to take the couch, but Harry couldn’t ask him to do that, and he really didn’t mind the company. He’s woken each morning the same way as the first, with Louis’ chest to his back and a four year old poking his face, or a baby’s cry in the monitor.

He’s not uncomfortable, though. He finds himself sort of gravitating toward Louis when he doesn’t have to, apt to follow him around, and reach out and touch. Harry’s never been shy, is the thing. He likes touching and being close and he doesn’t really feel like Louis’ husband, but he does feel like he and Louis are partners in this. They’re working together so that the kids don’t know the difference. And if it makes it that much easier for Harry to adapt to wrapping an arm around Louis’ waist, or finding the seat closest to him, always… well, at least Louis doesn’t seem to mind.

Mallory’s in the living room having a lively conversation with someone on her toy cell-phone—it’s an old flip phone, bright pink and slim. Ava sits in her buggy, playing with a small plush toy and whining softly every time she drops it. The tv is on and muted, but it still holds most of Harry’s attention until there’s a knock on the door. He offers to take it, but Louis stands up and shakes his head.

When Louis returns, it’s with Zayn and Liam.

Mallory jumps up and squeals before running at Zayn and Liam’s legs. She latches onto Liam’s first and squeezes tight, before lifting her arms for Zayn to pick her up. Harry watches the exchange and feels almost far away. It was weird enough being around a Louis that isn’t horribly angry with him. Watching Zayn and Liam interact with his family like they’re part of it is. It just feels. It’s weird. Really weird.

“Hey mate,” Zayn says awkwardly from the couch.

“Uh, Mal,” Liam says quickly, “Wanna go grab your coat? Zayn and I are going to take you on and adventure.”

“An adventure?” She asks. Harry can’t see her face, but he can tell her eyes are wide and sparkling.

Liam smiles, “Yep. Ava’s coming too, but we have to be quick about it. Do you need help grabbing your coat?”

Mallory shakes her head of curls quickly. “I’ll be right back,” she exclaims, darting up the stairs.

“They’re taking the kids?”

Louis nods his head. He’s smiling but it looks forced and uncomfortable.

“I forgot I promised them they could steal the girls today,” he admits, “They’ll be back later.”

Harry shrugs. He’s not sure why Louis is acting like this is a bad thing. He can already tell that he and Louis are not like those parents, dying to get away from their kids the next possible minute. But he also knows Louis can’t be above wanting a little me-time.

Mallory comes back down the stairs with a backpack on and Zayn laughs, “You’re not spending the night, Mal. We’re just going on a quick adventure.”

“But I have lots of things I want to show you.”

“You can show us when we get back, go grab your coat,” he says.

Mallory huffs, “Will you please let me bring it?”

Zayn glances at Liam who glances at Louis. Louis shrugs.

“That’s fine, Mal. Just go grab your coat.”

She jumps up in celebration before running to the closet for her coat on one of the lower hooks. Louis grabs the baby coat for Ava and lifts her out of the buggy so he can put it on her.

“Lads, when you take her outside, please remember to put an extra blanket over her carrier—“

“She’s sensitive to cold, we know, we know,” Zayn says.

Louis huffs and Harry smiles when he thinks of how Mallory had done the same a moment ago. “If my child catches pneumonia, it will be your fault and I will make your life hell.”

Zayn shakes his head. “Jesus, didn’t say I wouldn’t do it.”

Harry finds himself watching the exchange fondly. He appreciates Louis as a dad. He’s as fiercely protective as Harry remembers him, but also the best kind of laid back. Spectacular at soothing baby cries, and better at taming Mallory’s curly hair than Harry’s ever been at managing his own. He’s taken out of his thoughts by a small tug at his hand.

He sees Mallory looking at him with a wide smile and he can’t help but match it.

“You going on an adventure, then?”

She nods her head. “Need my goodbye kiss first.”

Harry nearly sighs audibly at how precious that is. He lifts her into his lap and squeezes her tight, kissing the top of her head repeatedly. Mallory’s giggles turn to squeals as she tries to wriggle free. Harry finally loosens his hold and takes one last look at her rosy cheeks as she huffs and puffs, catching her breath and wipes her hair out of her face. He kisses her cheek sweetly and leans forward so she can kiss his cheek. She does so happily and hops off his lap, running toward Louis for a similar exchange. Once Louis puts her down, she darts for Zayn and Liam. She pulls Zayn’s hand first toward the door and calls out, “Love you, Daddy! Love you, Papa!” and next thing Harry knows, Liam’s trailing behind them with the carrier and Louis’ waving them off at the door.

It’s awkward for a moment. When the girls aren’t around, there’s no reason to pretend everything’s fine and normal. And now that he realizes as much, he wonders if those bags have been under Louis’ eyes all day. Louis makes his way to the couch, and sits on the side opposite Harry.

“So… what’s that about then?”

“Zayn and Liam?”

Harry nods as he watches as Louis seems to curl in on himself. He lifts his knees to his chest as he turns to face Harry, resting against the back of the couch on his side.

“They said you asked them to,” Louis sighs out, “I told them you probably didn’t remember making those plans, but they wanted an excuse to the take the girls anyway.”

Harry winces when he realizes: it is almost Louis’ birthday. He can imagine this version of himself creating an opportunity for a free afternoon with his husband on their holiday. He doesn’t know anything about dinner reservations or any fancy plans he may have made and even spent money on. He doesn’t remember anything.

“Don’t feel bad,” Louis says, “Honestly, it’s not your fault.”

Harry shakes his head. “I know it’s not, but like… it can’t be easy. I do feel bad.”

“I appreciate it, but you really don’t need to. And hey, we’re kids free for the afternoon, so. You can do whatever you please.”

Louis waves him off, and Harry’s not sure if he’s asking to be alone or if he’s just giving Harry a dramatic send off in case he needs one. And of course, Harry would rather not. Maybe he hasn’t made it quite clear to Louis that being alone isn’t his favorite thing.

"Do you want to be alone?” Harry asks, because why the hell not. Better than guessing wrong.

“Not really,” Louis mutters, “Do you?”

“Not at all.”

Louis smiles, but little else is said and it’s nice. It’s nice to just be with Louis for a minute, without the sounds of the kids and without feeling like they have to say anything.

Harry does break the silence after a minute. “Hey. I just want you to know. You’re a really great dad.”

Louis smiles, caught off guard. “Well. Thank you. You are too. Honestly.”

Harry smiles back, “Thanks. Just started this week.”

They laugh, but Harry can tell it’s half-hearted.

“Hey. If you ever need to talk… like about all of this. I really don’t mind. I don’t mind being here and to be honest… I really missed you. So. I don’t mind being here for you either.”

Louis sighs and blinks a lot before a few tears fall down his face against his own will.

“It’s really okay,” Harry says, “I know you’re all worried about me. But this is all so surreal that it’s past scary and into like… I don’t even know I just know I’m here and I can’t even entertain the idea of going away without feeling sick. So. I really don’t want to.”

Louis smiles. “I feel horribly selfish for feeling relieved at that.”

“You don’t need to. I wouldn’t want you to leave either, if our positions were switched.”

Louis lets out a small cry, and wipes at the bottom of his eyes. Harry doesn’t like seeing him like this and he wonders if this is the first proper cry Louis’ had about it. He did in a lot of ways lose his husband. It’s not like Harry’s dead, but he doesn’t remember a vital part of their shared history.

Louis sighs. “Sorry, I just—“ he interrupts himself, head down, and breaths heaving, like he just can’t help it and Harry can’t sit back and watch anymore. He scoots forward and places a hand on Louis’ shoulder, and tries to move to his back to rub softly. He ends up awkwardly dangling a hand over Louis’ shoulder, and gives up, moving to hold his hand.

Louis looks up and sniffles and sighs, “I really don’t want to cry right now, I’m sorry.”

“I get it. Really, it’s fine,” Harry says, sincerely.

“It’s just so much harder than I—“ Louis heaves, gaining his bearings, “I thought if you didn’t leave, I’d be fine. But it’s just… it’s not the same.”

“Do you want me to go?”

No, not at all,” he says quickly, “You’re just…”

“Different?”

Louis sighs again, defeated. “Yeah. And like… I still love you. But this you isn’t there yet.”

Harry nods, understanding. “I always loved you, though. Like, even now. Before all this… what I last remember. I mean, I didn’t want to, but I did. Never really stopped.” He pauses, taking in Louis’ countenance. He looks small, and maybe not shocked, but a little surprised, “if that helps.”

“You’re not just saying that, right? Because you don’t have to, I’d rather you didn’t lie.”

“M’not lying. Promise.”

Louis smiles. “Thanks. For sharing that.”

Harry nods. “Of course. I don’t… I don’t think there’s ever been a time in my life when I liked seeing you sad.”

Louis makes an odd face at that, though Harry can’t understand why.

“Made me sad when you left, you know. All that time ago.”

Harry frowns a little. “Made me sad, too.”

“Can I ask then… why?”

“Have future me and you never really talked about this?”

Louis shrugs, “We have but. That was a different Harry. Not the one that left. Well… at least. When you and I talked about it, you were really removed from the situation. Couldn’t really remember your motives anymore.”

“I thought you would go with me,” Harry says, simply.

Louis lets out a breath and shakes his head, “You knew that’s not what I wanted though. You knew I wanted to have a family here.”

“Yeah, but I didn’t think that us going away for a while would change that,” Harry shrugs, “maybe it was stupid to assume that. But I thought we’d go for a while and if it worked out, it worked out, and if it didn’t, it didn’t. Neither outcome was going to keep me from moving back home with you to have a family.”

“But you didn’t…” Louis starts, puzzled, “You never said that. You made it sound so ride or die.”

“Because at the time, it was. I wanted all this with you, but I wanted us to try something else first. Just to try it.”

“I never knew that…” Louis trails off, he looks away from Harry, and they’re silent for a moment.

Harry remembers how awful that night was. He knew Louis was mad at him, but he hadn’t thought he’d be so mad as to refuse what they’d planned on. He hadn’t imagined Louis would throw the train ticket to the ground and bid Harry good riddance.

“Did you really not know that I wanted you to come with me? I thought that we’d like. Arranged it. When we talked about it, you seemed hesitant, sure, but I thought when the time came you’d know that you had to go with me. That we couldn’t…”

Louis shakes his head. “I really didn’t. I thought you were picking that over me. I thought you came to give me one last chance, but I knew you’d made up your mind. Was devastating.”

“For me too. That train ticket was for you.”

“Oh - and I…” Louis realizes, “Oh my god, I’m sorry.”

Harry shakes his head, “S’fine. Now I know you didn’t realize.”

They’re quiet again for a long moment.

“S’weird that we both thought that the other had just moved on. We didn’t have a lot of faith in us then, did we?”

Louis shakes his head, “We were young. We were scared. You and I were always really… intense. I don’t think we knew how to deal with it. I know how scared I was of you disappearing. Even after you came back.”

“And I hadn’t even thought of a world where I’d have to be without you. But then it seemed like you wanted me to go, but you didn’t want to come with me.”

“I just felt like you didn’t think I was good enough. And if you wanted to chase some grand adventure, then that was fine, but I definitely didn’t feel myself grand enough to fit in with it. You talked about it like you had no real choice, you know? Like that was a no-brainer, and I was just gonna be left high and dry.”

Harry shakes his head emphatically, “I talked about it like it was a no brainer, because I genuinely thought you were on board with it. I thought you’d go.”

“You never really asked though,” Louis says on a laugh.

“Because I was ridiculously stupid and thought it was implied,” Harry laughs with him.

Harry squeezes Louis’ hand before saying, “I know you won’t tell me how I came back. I get that. You want me to remember on my own, it’s fine. But… can I ask a few questions? About me?”

Louis nods, interlacing their fingers.

“What about… this me… future me… do you miss?”

Louis furrows his brows and thinks about it a moment, “You know... you haven’t changed much, if that’s what you’re really asking. You’re still the same goofy, lovable, ridiculous you. But I think what I miss is just,” Louis pauses, trying to from the right words, “You used to have this smile. And it just looked like… like you knew something I didn’t. And every time I’ve ever been afraid of just about anything, especially concerning us, you’d just smile like you were in on a big secret.”

“Did I ever say the secret?”

“That we’ll always be okay. I always asked how you knew, but you’d just smile that same stupid smile and kiss me and I didn’t really feel like I needed to know anymore. I just believed you.”

Harry frowns and looks at the floor. “Sorry.”

“Why are you sorry?”

“Wish I knew the secret.”

Louis shrugs. “Don’t think there ever really was one, love. I think you just loved me. It’s always been enough.”

“Do you think…” Harry hesitates, afraid to ask. “As I am right now… do you think we could be enough?”

“Maybe,” Louis says, “I’m definitely willing to try if you are.”

Harry nods.

          

It’s a peaceful afternoon when Harry finds himself alone with the baby. Louis had promised Mallory he’d take her grocery shopping and neither of them felt like making it a whole family affair, so Harry offered to stay behind with Ava. Louis made sure to check in before leaving, unsure if Harry was comfortable and Harry sent him on his way. It will be fine.

Ava sits now in this seat buggy thing, with a colorful mobile above her. She’s content now to bat at it, so Harry walks away a moment to fix himself a glass of water. When he returns, he’s unsurprised, but still relieved, to find Ava breathing and patting away at her mobile as he debates whether to join her on the floor or watch some telly from the couch.

He turns on the TV but opts for the floor anyway. He reaches out to touch one of Ava’s small fingers and is pleasantly surprised when she reaches back, gripping his pointer finger tightly.

He grins, and when he gets his finger back, Ava reaches her arms out and whines so he picks her up. Louis’ told him not to do that, to help Ava learn she’s fine on her own a while, but he really likes holding her. Likes feeling less like a crisis and more like he’s needed.

She’s soothed as soon as he’s got her though, making happy noises, and completely entranced by the open end of Harry’s shirt. He leans back, so he’s against the couch from the floor and cradles her against his bent legs, so he can see her face. She whines a little at being separated from Harry’s shirt, but is happy again when she sees and registers some of Harry’s silly faces.

It’s funny that these moments are the ones he’s always sort of scared of initially, but they’ve also become his favorites. He’s never thought himself good with babies. That was always Louis. Harry’s always felt more comfortable with kids Mallory’s age. So maybe that’s why each time alone with Ava is so well-loved in his new memories.

“You fancy me an okay dad, right?”

Ava smiles, drool falling down her chin, and she giggles as Harry wipes it with a spare cloth.

“I’m not so bad, right?” he beams at her as she continues to giggle for no reason at all.

Sometimes he wonders if she can understand him. In a world where Harry could magically turn up in a life he doesn’t remember, it doesn’t seem so impossible.

What he does know, at least, is that she knows when he’s talking to her and it makes him feel so warm sometimes he can barely deal with it. She can see him when he walks into her room in the morning, and she reaches out and cries when he won’t hold her first thing, and it’s just the weirdest and most wonderful feeling that Ava hasn’t a clue what’s going on in Harry’s mind but she loves him the only way she knows how. And he thinks she knew before he did just how much he loves her too.

Harry lays her down on a blanket on the floor. She’s trying her best to be mobile, having succeeded in rolling over once this week. Mallory had squealed in delight, and Louis had pulled up the camera on his phone, hoping she might roll over one more time for him to film it.

He leaves her on her tummy and hopes for the best as he stands up to go get a bottle ready.

Once she’s fed, Harry takes her upstairs, figuring she’ll need a nap soon. Ava holds tightly again to the end of Harry’s shirt as they walk, and doesn’t loosen her hold as he settles into the rocking chair.   

He’s got the lamp off, so the only light is streaming in from the half closed blinds on the window. He starts rocking back and forth and watches as Ava squints, but avoids shutting her eyes. He smiles.

“I know you like sleep much more than you let on, missy.” He grins, rubbing her cheek softly with his thumb.

She snuffles at that, and Harry sighs.

“It’s nice that we can talk, you know?” he says it mostly as a joke to himself, but he means it too. “You’re a very good listener.”

She lies there in his arms, quiet, listening, still fighting a losing battle.

“Can I be honest with you?”

She’s more than half asleep, but Harry continues.

“I like this a lot more than I thought I would. I like being your daddy, and Mallory’s daddy, and your Papa is…” he sighs, “I like him too.”

She’s asleep, and Harry could very easily set her down in her crib and leave, but he’s just not sure he’s ready to part ways with her yet.

Suddenly there’s a small motion in the corner of Harry’s eye, and he sees the door open just a crack. And there’s Louis, watching from the doorframe. He smiles, maybe a little embarrassed at being caught. Harry wonders how much he heard, but finds he doesn’t actually mind if Louis heard it all.

“Was just about to put her down,” Harry says, just above a whisper.

“You don’t have to,” he says softly.

Harry’s not sure if it’s the lighting or what but Louis looks stunning in the doorway. He’s always been beautiful, and looking now, it’s like… he looks like the Louis he knew back then. Young and small and shy behind the loud and shameless exterior he held with so many others at the time.

Harry smiles, but he stands up slowly, carefully walking to the crib and lowering her into it ever so softly.

“Do you do that a lot?” Louis asks, approaching the crib.

“What?”

“Talk to her… like that?”

Harry’s cheeks grow pink. So maybe he minds a little that Louis heard some of it… especially the last bit.

“Sometimes,” Harry shrugs.

Louis just barely leans on the crib. “It was really sweet…”

Harry looks down at Ava a moment and he can feel Louis’ gaze focused in on him. It’s overwhelming, the love in his eyes. It makes Harry want to reach out and touch.

“Do I usually… do that?” he asks, instead.

Louis nods, “Yeah, you do that a lot.” His voice barely above a whisper, he continues, “Wondered if maybe you remembered.”

Harry shakes his head, but takes a step closer. They both lean gently on the same corner, almost shoulder to shoulder.

“Sorry I don’t,” Harry admits, softly.

Louis shrugs like it’s not a big deal, and smiles like he has a secret.

“What?”

“I’m just glad you’re here to do it at all,” Louis admits, eyes and smile soft in the barely there light.

Harry can’t help it then, he just… he wants…

Louis is all in at first, like it’s second nature to melt into Harry this way, and Harry could see how all of this works if each kiss goes a little like this. Harry finds himself not thinking much of it either, overcome by this need to have Louis closer.

Harry can feel Louis start to think about it when a small voice is heard from the doorway.

“Ew.”

Louis straightens quickly, turning around to see Mallory with her arms crossed and a pout on her face.

“You said you’d come read me a book,” she pouts.

Louis sighs, and sends Harry a silent apology before completely turning and crouching beside her. “Sorry, love. Let’s go pick one out.”

She nods, appeased, and Louis turns his head again to see Harry, watching from the same place he had been before, leaning against the crib.

He waves shyly, “Sorry Mal, he’s all yours.”

Louis’ eyes crinkle a bit at him before he lets her guide him with her small hand in his. And Harry wonders absently if he should be afraid, but instead, he can’t stop smiling.

The rest of the day is business as usual, though Harry isn’t sure when it all began to seem like that. He does wonder if there are parts of him that involuntarily remember this life—like muscle memory. He has trouble sometimes remembering where all the dishes are, but he doesn’t think twice about his place at the table. He forgets that Mallory doesn’t like her food to touch, and that she needs his help cutting some of it up, but he doesn’t find it odd when his hand reaches for Louis’ under the table without thought.

 

They don’t talk about the kiss until much later. The fireplace is lit and the two of them sit on the floor in front of it with a blanket over their legs and a bottle of wine sitting between them. They’ve foregone glasses and are drinking straight from the bottle. It reminds Harry of when they were younger, when they sat much like this and he couldn’t tell if Louis’ lips were stained from the wine they stole from his mum’s cellar, or just well-kissed.  

It’s nice. Comfortable. Familiar, even.

“Sorry about earlier,” Louis mumbles, voice low and gaze lower.

“Why?”

Louis lifts his face and turns to meet Harry’s eyes.

“Because… I kissed you?”

Harry’s eyes widen when he realizes, “Oh, that.”

“Yeah… that. I, um… I hope I didn’t—“

“You didn’t, you really didn’t.” Harry shakes his head quickly.

“I didn’t what, though?”

“What?”

Louis laughs gruffly, “You don’t even know what I was going to say.”

“Probably something to the effect of not wanting to make me uncomfortable.”

Louis shrugs, “Well, you’d be right, I suppose. But also just… you don’t have to indulge me, you know. I hope you don’t think I’m forcing you into anything...”

He trails off. Harry shakes his head again and places a hand on Louis’ knee.

Louis smiles sadly at him and Harry really wishes that he could make that particular smile disappear forever.

“Just because I’ve been playing pretend… acting like I know what I’m doing as a dad and all that. That’s because the kids couldn’t—“ he pauses, “I don’t want them to miss their dad, sure, but I also genuinely don’t mind their company, Lou. I actually have come to really… love them.” He swallows, choosing not to meet Louis’ eyes then. “I know it sounds crazy, but I can’t really help it.”

“We never stood a chance, you and me.” Louis says on a laugh, “Suckers for those girls the moment we met them, amnesia or no.”

Harry laughs with him and then pauses, “You too though.”

“What?”

“I um… I love you too. Always have. Didn’t want to for a bit, but um. I just do.” Harry bites his lower lip and tries his best to be brave and meet Louis eyes when he says, “Sounds crazy… but I can’t really help it.”

Louis smiles. It’s the one where his mouth is closed, but there might as well be a beam of light coming out of his squinted, crinkly eyes it’s so bright. He lets out a watery laugh, and shakes his head. “You’re still the same stupid charming twat you’ve always been, you know that?”

“Even in the future?”

Louis laughs again, “Yes, even in the future.”

He leans in then and Harry meets him more than halfway, bringing their lips together. It’s as overwhelming and perfect as the first, made even sweeter when Harry remembers this is Louis’ millionth. He hopes he always kisses Louis like this and he hopes Louis always puts his hand on Harry’s waist, and he hopes it feels as right, and familiar for Louis when Harry places one hand on the nape of his neck and pulls him closer with the other.

It probably does. Because somehow, Louis still looks at Harry like he’s home. And as they make their way to bed, finding it harder and harder not to place their lips on each other’s head and neck and shoulders and elbows and anywhere at all really to keep from not kissing at all, Harry knows this is right. This could never be a dream, this is home.

Maybe he’ll never know what he did to deserve that loving gaze from Louis Tomlinson, but he knows how much Louis Tomlinson deserves his.

 

When Harry wakes up, it’s in a white room. The air smells sterile, and it feels cold on his skin. He reaches out to his left side, for Louis, but instead he finds empty space and air where a bed should be. He tries to lift his head, but finds his head feels heavier than usual. And hot. He touches it and finds a bandage wrapped there. When he wakes up enough to adjust to the weight he turns his head, and sits up to find the white room he’s in is definitely in a hospital, and he is definitely alone.

He looks around the windows for a sign of anything or anyone, and he feels this urgency bubbling in him that he needs to get out of here now. He’s not tied up to anything, not IVs or crazy medical contraptions, so Harry decides to stand up. The room spins a little, and he’s about to step to the door when it opens. A petite woman with dark skin and a warm smile greets him, “Good evening, Mr. Styles. Happy to see you well enough to stand.”

“What the fuck happened?”

This lovely woman probably didn’t deserve that kind of greeting.

“Your friend Nick is outside, he’s been very worried about you. Will you sit down for me please?”

Harry shakes his head, “I want to go home.”

“You’ll be able to shortly, Mr. Styles. First, I need to ask you a few questions.”

“Where’s Louis?”

The woman pauses and raises an eyebrow in question. She sets a clipboard down on the table by the bed.

“Mr. Styles, there’s no one named Louis waiting to see you. It’s Nick. Do you remember Nick?”

“Of course I remember Nick, but that’s not—“ Harry stops, frustrated. “Look, what year is it?”

The woman doesn’t disguise her concern well. “Why don’t you tell me, Mr. Styles?”

“It’s supposed to be 2026 but I’m guessing I went and landed myself back in 2015?” He wishes she wouldn’t keep looking at him like that. He knows he sounds crazy, but he’s not. He remembers everything this time and this just isn’t fair. He was just getting comfortable, was finally in a place he could call home and it’s just… it’s been pulled from under his feet.

“Mr. Styles, stay calm.”

He hadn’t realized he’d been breathing so loudly.

“Sorry,” he says harshly, “I’m sorry,” he says again, softer. She really doesn’t deserve his outburst. “It’s 2015. I’m in London. My mate Nick is waiting outside. And I’d really just like to go home.”

The woman apologizes, asks Harry a few more questions. She lets him know he hit his head pretty hard, and that he might have had some troubling dreams. Harry wants to scoff, because he just knows it was real. He knows that. No matter how hard he hit his head, he just couldn’t have made all that up. He keeps his mouth shut, knowing that if he can just stay calm he can get out of here.

When they do finally release him, they give him some meds for the pain, and send him on his way. Nick is still in the waiting room and he audibly sighs in relief before running towards Harry and pulling him into a tight hug.

“You gave me a proper scare there, Haz.”

Harry winces when Nick bumps their heads together just so, but he doesn’t say anything.

“Yeah, suppose I went too hard or something.”

Nick chuckles, “You weren’t even that drunk, bozo. Just clumsy as fuck. What am I going to do with you?”

Harry laughs with him, humorless.

As they walk to Nick’s car, he knows Nick can tell there’s something wrong.

“So do you wanna just stay at mine tonight?” he asks, cautious.

Harry shakes his head, “Just wanna go home.”

He hopes in vain that Nick will just know what home means. So he can stop feeling crazy, so he can admit to someone else what’s happened inside him, and so he can just fix it. But he knows that even if he did get on a train tonight, even if he did show up at Louis’ door—this Louis would still be furious with him and this Louis wouldn’t remember anything that Harry does. He feels hopeless and stuck, and as Nick drives straight to Harry’s flat building and asks if he can come inside, Harry wants to scream.

He just doesn’t want this life. He loves Nick and he loves his flat and he loves making music, but this flat is where his own self doubt swallows him whole and Nick is his only real friend in this shithole of a city where his only fucking chance of making it mistook him for a prostitute. Everything is shit and nothing feels right and Harry just wants to hit his head again, if that’ll take him back.

“Haz, you okay?”

“No, I’m not fucking okay,” Harry says, biting.

“Look, are you mad because I told you to loosen up? Cause, like, I’ve been beating myself up for saying it all night, because then maybe you wouldn’t have fucking hit your head and you wouldn’t be acting like a right twat even though I’ve been waiting for you to wake up for the last, like, seven hours in that waiting room.”

Harry sighs.

Nick sighs too, both hands still on his steering wheel. The car has been parked along the side of the street for a minute now, but Harry’s not convinced that Nick won’t just drive him off to his place. The worst part is that Harry really doesn’t want to be alone right now, but Nick just wouldn’t understand. He’d call him a nutter and tease him relentlessly for being so bent up about a dream and that’s just not what Harry needs right now.

“You can come inside,” Harry says, quietly.

“You gonna be a little bitch all night if I do?”

“I mean, it’s really late, so I was hoping we could just sleep…” he says. “Can’t be a little bitch if we’re sleeping.”

“So you admit you’re being a little bitch.”

“Yeah, Nick, fine, I’m being a little bitch, I’m sorry. My head just hurts and I’m tired and I want to go home.”

“You are home,” Nick says just to be annoying.

Harry rolls his eyes and opens the passenger door and mutters, “Come in if you want.”

He does. They climb all six flights of stairs and Harry shivers a little because the heat never quite reaches the stairwell, and then he sighs as he walks into the tiny one room flat that he used to call home a mere… seven hours ago? God, that just can’t be right.

There’s a double mattress on the floor and he falls onto it, relieved, pulling his blanket around his shoulder and folding his knees to his chest. Nick pulls his coat off from the door and watches Harry with questions.

“Will you just tell me why you’re mad?”

“I’m not mad. Just hit my head really hard and it hurts.”

“Want some of your pain meds?”

“Will they knock me out?”

“Probably.”

Harry nods, and Nick laughs even though nothing’s particularly funny.

He grabs Harry a pill and a glass of water anyway, and Harry thanks him for it.

Nick climbs into bed with him and Harry lies down. He and Nick don’t usually intend to cuddle, as it’s not the nature of their relationship. But they are close. It happens. Harry hopes Nick’s not asking for it tonight. It’s weird enough with the wrong person in the wrong bed.

“Let me know if you need anything, alright?” Nick asks like he’s annoyed, but Harry knows he means it. He nods and thanks him and turns to lie on his side facing the wall.

He hopes that maybe if he falls asleep… maybe he’ll wake up at home. He wants to laugh, because he’d had this exact thought not too long ago but eleven years away. He wants to cry, because this time he knows he probably won’t wake up to Mallory poking his face, or Louis playing with his hair and this life just isn’t fair. It’s not fair. He closes his eyes tight and hopes in vain for at least a dream. Something serene.

The pills kick in a moment later, but Harry doesn’t dream a thing.

He tries. He really does try to give this life his all.  When he wakes up, he realizes he can’t bring that life back. He knows it’s over and he knows that he loved it, but this is the one he actually chose. This is real and this is his whether he likes it or not. For the next week, he stays on the painkillers because his head hurts if he doesn’t. Apparently he hit his head twice, and that’s why it’s been such a bother. He tries going to half doses, because if he takes a full dose he can’t stay awake. But half doses just make him feel lethargic without any of the relief.

He goes to work, but he can’t process anything going on around him he’s so tired. He gets sent home twice in the same week because it’s busy and he just can’t keep up. He tries to work on his music but when he closes his eyes, all he can see is Louis and Mallory and Ava and their little home. He thinks of his own mum and his sister and how long it’s been since he’s seen them. He entertains the idea of going home for Christmas. He wonders if he could run into Louis and what he’d say. If he’d want to say hello or if he’d find the first chance to get away. Harry’s not sure his heart could take it… but it’s almost worth a try.

Then one night, after way too much takeout and a long shower before he takes his last painkiller before bed, it hits him.

He lies down and sighs and doesn’t even fight himself when his thoughts wander to Louis. He thinks of that night, that night when Harry realized how horribly wrong he’d been. He remembers the way Louis looked at him—like he was stupid to believe that he had ever not wanted Harry. And he wonders whether that might still be true.

He might’ve made it up. It’s just… hard to believe that when Harry knows all about his past and future with Louis. It all fits together so perfectly, there’s no way he could’ve crafted it himself. The only piece he’s missing is…

He just doesn’t remember coming back.

Harry’s eyes fly open as he sits straight up and walks to the other side of his flat, where his laptop sits at the desk.

If all he can’t remember is how he came back, then maybe that’s all he needs to do. What if that were to bridge the gap between this shithole and his bright and warm and happy future? What if he just swallowed his pride and went home?

The thought makes his stomach dip a little, but he knows it would be worth it. If it’s the one thing standing between himself and his home then Harry’s ready to throw his pride out the window and let someone stomp all over it.

He’s not sure why all these train tickets are already booked. The first one he can find leaves in two hours and gets in at Holmes Chapel by three in the morning. He curses himself for taking that last pill, because now he’s not sure how he’s going to get to the train station in time. It’s not that it’s far, it’s that in an hour and half’s time he’ll be too tired to walk.

He glances at his phone a moment and sighs, picking it up and ringing Nick.

“Hello?”

“Nick, I need you to do me a favor.”

Nick doesn’t reply and Harry can hear something rustling in the background. Maybe he’s already in bed, he does work really weird hours after all.

“What’s so important then?”

“I need you to give me a lift to the train station in two hours.”

“Where you going?”

“Home,” he answers, simply. He knows Nick will have questions and he’s not sure he can answer them but this is his only hope.

“Harry, why are you leaving for an overnight train to your hometown? Are you mental? Tomorrow’s Christmas Eve, the station will be packed, have you even bought a ticket?”

“Just did. My train leaves in two hours,” Harry says.

“Well how long you want to be there then?”

“Didn’t buy a roundtrip ticket.”

Nick sighs. “Harry, what’s this about then? Are you okay? You’ve said yourself you never want to go back to that godforsaken town again, why the hell is this so important now? Tonight of all nights?”

“I just. I really need to do this Nick. And I might be back and I might not, but I can’t keep living this life until I know it’s the one I’m supposed to have. And I know it sounds crazy and I know what I’ve said about that place before, but I’m asking you this favor and… I really need your support here. Please.”

“Why can’t you walk?”

“Just took my last pill. I’ll probably sleep the whole train ride.”

Nick sighs and after a long moment, “Fine.”

“Thank you, thank you, thank you,” Harry says quietly into the receiver, “Thank you, Nick. I’ll see you in like an hour and a half, yeah?”

“Yeah,” Nick grumbles, “See you in a bit.”

Harry gives Nick the tightest hug he can muster at the station, and thanks him for everything like a proper goodbye. Nick seems sad, and Harry understands why, but even if it is goodbye for a while… it can’t be forever. Harry won’t let that happen. Besides, he’s not totally convinced he’s lucky enough for this all to work out. Harry could be on the next train to London as early as tomorrow.

The train pulls away from the station, and Harry can barely keep his eyes open once he’s sat down, so he settles in with his bag under his head and lets himself drift off the ride.

When he wakes up, the train has pulled to a stop. He wonders for a moment if it’s his, but remembers there was one on the way, and it’s only been an hour that he’s slept. He’s about to settle back into his seat when he hears a familiar voice a few seats away.

“Harry?”

He looks toward the sound of his name and finds the one and only Eleanor Calder sitting in a two-seat space with a gentleman he’s never seen before.

“Eleanor?”

“What the hell are you doing here?” she asks. Harry’s not even sure why she’s bothering to ask him, like she’s run into an old friend. He feels easy when he notes that she doesn’t look exactly fond.

“I’m taking this train home,” he admits, “Thought it was well time for a visit.”

“Does anyone have any idea you’re coming?”

Harry shakes his head, “Not really. Didn’t plan too far ahead, to be honest.”

“Your mum’s gonna flip, you know.”

“Have you seen her recently?”

“Oh, yeah, I’m heading home too, but not for a visit. Max, my fiancé,” he motions to the gentleman beside her, “and I are coming back home from Christmas at his parents. If your mum had any idea you were coming home, the whole town would know.”

Harry sighs, “That’s why I haven’t really told anyone.”

“You’re getting in late… is anyone going to pick you up?”

“Was probably just gonna sleep in the station…” Harry admits, though he hadn’t actually thought that bit through. It’s not like he could wake anyone to pick him up.  

“Nonsense, stay at ours.”

Harry’s eyes widen in surprise and Eleanor laughs, “Really, it’s fine. Max, do you mind?”

Max shakes his head and shrugs.

“Are you sure? I thought you hated me.”

“I’ve never hated you,” Eleanor rolls her eyes, “I think you’re a bloody idiot, but I’ve never hated you.”

Harry laughs in surprise. “You think I’m an idiot?”

“Course I do. You thought I wanted to steal your twink of a boyfriend for the better half of sixth form, as if I had no idea that he wasn’t remotely interested in me. Still can’t believe you thought I stood a chance against you, and that I even wanted to.”

Harry shakes his head. “I thought a lot of things at the time.”

“Stupid things. Truly stupid things.”

“Yeah,” Harry says. He doesn’t bother arguing. “I’m sorry about that. Really, I am.”

“Yeah well,” Eleanor shrugs, “It’s all in the past now. Can’t say I feel like I’m the one you owe an apology.”

Harry nods solemnly. “That’s why I’m going home, actually.”

Eleanor gives him a questioning glance. She looks him up and down like she’s sizing him up, “Really?”

Harry nods.

“Things just didn’t work out for you in London then? Hoping you can pick up where you left off? You know how royally you fucked up, right?”

 Harry nods again, swallowing hard. “Believe me… I know.  I can hardly believe you’re speaking with me civilly, I can only imagine what awaits me at home.”

To Harry’s great surprise, Eleanor smiles, “Good. I’m just glad you’re prepared for the worst.”

The pit in Harry’s stomach grows exponentially now that someone else has really prepared him for what’s to come. He begins to question whether this is a good idea. In the back of his mind he’d been imagining this warm welcome, this sincere apology and a kiss to mark the beginning of a lifetime’s worth of kisses and Harry remembers now the gravity of what he’s done. He’ll be lucky if Louis doesn’t slam the door in his face.

Hours later, when they pull into the station, Eleanor grips Harry’s arm and he lets her guide him out the station and into a little car that must belong to her or to Max. He’s astounded by her kindness and says as much once they’ve pulled into a little home in an area far too familiar for Harry’s liking.

“Yeah, well. Just don’t fuck it up again, Harry.”

She ruffles his hair and shows him the couch and bids him goodnight.

          

Harry spent most of the next day worrying. He wonders if this is a mistake, or if he really has lost his marbles. He doesn’t know what Louis will say if he sees him, or if he’ll say anything at all.

By late afternoon, Harry’s nearly convinced himself to buy that train ticket home. However, Eleanor will not stand for this. She does not invite, but instead informs Harry that they will be attending Louis’ birthday dinner this evening.

“We’re going.”

Harry shakes his head. He knows now that this was the stupidest decision of his life and that if he does follow through, the only probable outcome is that he’ll fuck it all up.

“Harold Styles, we’re going whether you like it or not.”

“My name’s not actually Harold, you know.”

“Do you think I give a flying fuck? If you won’t go, why the fuck are you here?”

Harry doesn’t remember Eleanor being so aggressive this long ago. He’d always felt a little threatened by her, but that was inspired by stupidity, not because Eleanor herself had ever seemed intimidating.

“I don’t know, El, I just want to fix it.”

“Then let’s fucking go.”

“I can’t. It’s Christmas Eve and his fucking birthday and I really don’t want to ruin it for him.”

Eleanor rolls her eyes, “You won’t ruin it. Trust me on this. Louis is my best friend and if he found out I let you run off, he’d never ever forgive me, alright? You don’t have a choice, let’s go do what you came here to do.”

Harry shakes his head, insistent. “He won’t give a shit, El, that’s the problem. He probably hasn’t missed me at all, just remembers the time the person who was supposed to always love him up and left, and I can’t just show up on his doorstep on his birthday.”

“You’re not just showing up. You’ve got some grand speech or something, don’t you?”

“What do you think this is, El? Love, Actually?”

“Might as well be. You’ve got the whole fucking ride to come up with something grandiose to say and I can’t promise you he won’t be mad, but I can promise you it won’t last alright?”

“You think he’s missed me?”

“Even when you wise up, you’re a bloody idiot, you know that?”

“Does that mean yes?”

“Let’s fucking go, alright?”

They pack up and drive from one small town to the next, stopping once at a shop for a bottle of wine, before they arrive at the now Tomlinson-Deakin household. Harry’s stomach grumbles. He feels ill with nerves.

“Here’s what’s going to happen, Haz.” Eleanor turns to face him from the passenger seat. “Max and I are going inside. You stay out here until you’re ready, but if you even think about changing your mind you can find another couch to crash on, got it?”

Harry nods. He won’t be changing his mind. Not when he knows that Louis is right inside, just barely out of his reach.

“Good. I’ll see you in there, then?” she asks.

Harry nods. “I won’t be long. Promise.”

And for the first time all afternoon, Eleanor smiles. “Hoped you’d say that.”

Harry returns her smile. She reaches for his hand and holds it for just a moment, squeezes it quickly and lets it go. “Let’s go inside, Max.”

Wordlessly, he opens his door and walks to the other side and helps Eleanor out. They walk hand in hand to the front door as Harry watches from the back seat.

The door opens, and he sees him. At least, he thinks he sees him. Whoever opens the door immediately pulls Eleanor in for a hug and shows her inside. He wonders if this is a party. Eleanor never really said anything about a huge party, she’d only said it was dinner. There aren’t many cars around or anything so it’s probably not a huge gathering.

What if it is, though? What if Harry rings that doorbell and some stranger answers? What if he asks for Louis and the stranger leads him straight there only to be greeted with a drink in the face? Or worse, what if someone he knows answers? What if it’s Jay? Would he be able to face Jay?

Harry shakes his head quickly and does away with the what ifs. He won’t know until he does it. And regardless of Eleanor’s threats, he knows that changing his mind would be the biggest regret of his life. It would easily top his first regret of leaving Louis at all.

Before he can change his mind, he opens the back door of the car and steps outside. He tries to focus on anything but what he’s about to do. The sound of his feet crunching in the snow, and the freezing cold air against his exposed collarbones—he probably should have brought a scarf. He sees the Christmas lights he remembers admiring even as a child, and feels warm when he sees how little it’s all changed.

He reaches the door and knocks first. He stands a few moments, and remembers that they’re likely in the dining room—too far from the door to hear a soft knock. So Harry takes in a deep breath and holds it before ringing the doorbell.

He releases it only when the doorknob begins to twist, and he follows the motion of the door only to see the one person he’s been longing to see for weeks. Only then it hits him… dream or no dream… he hasn’t seen Louis in about a year. And the way Louis’ looking at him—eyes wide, still, and in shock—anyone would think he’d seen a ghost.

“Hi,” Harry says, quietly.

Louis doesn’t say a word. He stares openly, like Harry might disappear if he so much as blinks.

“Happy birthday,” he says, stupidly. When Louis still doesn’t reply, he continues, “I know this might come as a surprise. And… I know you might not want to see me. I really fucked up. And it was a while ago so like, I’m sure you’ve moved on and you don’t want to see me at all. Or maybe you’re over it and you just don’t care anymore. But—um.” He really should’ve spent more time imagining what he’d say. All he could imagine was some apology and…

“What are you doing here?” Louis asks, softly. He swallows, and looks Harry dead in the eye, “Because if this is just to clear your conscience or whatever, just don’t even bother—“

“It’s really not that,” Harry says. “If you want me to leave, just say the word. The last thing I want is to freak you out, or make you feel, like… I don’t know, uncomfortable or anything.”

He waits for Louis to tell him to go, but is met with silence and a pair of expectant eyes.

“I’m really sorry, Louis. I’m sorry for so many reasons, reasons you probably don’t even expect and I’ve been driving myself batty because I just. I needed to see you.”

“You needed to see me?”

Harry nods, “I know. It took me long enough, but I did. I do. I need to see you. I miss you. And I’m sorry.”

Louis’ got his arms crossed, but one hand lifted to his mouth. He goes to wipe his eyes, but Harry reaches out and beats him there.

“Sorry, I don’t—“ Harry pulls back, slowly, “Please don’t cry. I’m so sorry.”

Louis lets out a watery sigh and reaches out with both arms. And maybe Harry had been hoping for a kiss, but what he gets instead is a hug. Louis grips his waist and pulls him close and Harry crashes into him at full force, pulling Louis even tighter.

“I’m so sorry, Lou,” he says, a few tears of his own slipping through. “Please forgive me.”

After a long moment, Louis takes in a deep breath and loosens his hold.

“I missed you. So much,” he admits and Harry rubs his shoulders gently before taking another step closer.

“I missed you too,” he says, leaning in. He wonders at first, if Louis knows his intent, because Louis barely reacts at all, just shudders from the cold and looks as dumbstruck as he did the moment he first opened the door. But when Louis’ eyes fall shut, Harry knows it’s okay. He brings their lips together, and it’s everything he hoped.

It’s soft, and it’s warm, and even though they’re both out of practice, they still melt into each other like it’s easy and habit and home.

“I still love you, you know,” Harry says softly. He remembers what Louis told him… maybe will tell him someday—that he hadn’t any idea that Harry never stopped loving him. And Harry’s not sure how that could be true, but he knows he never wants it to be true again. “I never stopped. And I’m so sorry I didn’t tell you sooner.”

Louis looks like a fresh wave of tears might come, and Harry rubs his cheek softly, before Louis opens his mouth to speak. “I wished for you, you know. Blew out my candles and found myself wishing you were here.”

“I am,” Harry says, a giddy laugh escapes him, “I am home. I’m here.”

“Is it enough?” Louis asks. “I know we should talk, I know I’m asking a big question straight away but I just. I need to know before I do or say anything else that you’re not going to decide this isn’t good enough for you and run off. Could this be enough for you?”

Harry nods, and he can’t help the smallest smirk on his face, ”We could definitely be enough.”

Louis looks hesitant, but Harry can’t stop grinning like an idiot. He laughs, “I know it sounds crazy, but… you just wouldn’t believe the week I’ve had, and after all of that, I just know. I can’t lose you again, alright?”

He knows he’s got a ways to go to earn Louis’ complete trust, but he knows he’s got his foot in the door when Louis leans in for another perfect kiss.

As happy endings go, Harry knows that, somehow, he’s managed the best. Louis doesn’t understand yet, but he will. For now, Louis knows that each date is sweeter than the last, and each kiss is deeper and means more, and maybe Harry knows he can’t wait for their future, but he’s got a lot to treasure in his present.

It’s funny, because knowing just a snapshot of their future doesn’t make holding Louis’ hand any less wonderful. It doesn’t make falling and falling and falling again any less terrifying or riveting.

Maybe Harry has some vague outline of their future, but Louis had forgotten to tell him all the magical moments in between. He didn’t detail each kiss, or their first time sleeping together. He didn’t tell Harry that Louis would say no the first time Harry asked him to move in, or that Louis will be  ready for kids before Harry can afford a ring. Louis didn’t tell him what they fought about and who said they were sorry first, or how many times Eleanor was going to call him a bloody idiot.

Harry didn’t know any of that, but he at least knew that they’d be together.

And maybe one day, when Harry goes to hang a few Christmas lights, he’ll fall off a ladder. And maybe for a while, he’ll forget himself. But he knows it’s for the better. He only hopes that he’ll remember it all eventually. There’s just so much that Harry never wants to forget.

          

He doesn’t. Christmas morning, after a week of missing pieces of himself, a pair of little hands pokes at his face, and Harry remembers it all.