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you overflowed my soul and made all good things grow

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niall doesn’t like early mornings, but there’s something about the quiet of the shop that makes him want to reconsider. the air’s heavy with the smell of dirt and plants and growth. it’s comforting.

he drags in a deep breath, shaking off the unease from the night. the flowers don’t like it when he’s uneasy; they aren’t as bright. he deliberately hums something happy and cheerful as he goes through the motions to open.

the plant closest to him shivers a little, slowly uncurling a leaf. niall brushes his fingers over it and watches it shake a little more. he likes to think it’s laughing.

he takes a minute to say hello to each flower, spritzing them with water even though they’re on an automatic system. they don’t mind.

“it’s self care,” he explains to the daisies, who are most definitely laughing at him. they laugh a bit more, but perk up after their little shower and pep talk. the shop’s soon humming with the tiny consciousness of hundreds of plants. it’s lively in a quiet, warm sort of way.

niall loves it.

he drags a table out front and arranges some pots outside, the ones that are almost drooping, but not quite. he mixes them in with the freshest and loveliest ones. there’s enough to make the table look like it’s cascading blossoms in a spring explosion. never mind that it’s just february.

there’s a tap on the door.

“we’re closed,” he calls, but it’s pushed open anyway. harry grins at him, wrapped up in layers of jogging paraphernalia. “we’re closed,” niall repeats, pretending to frown. “why are you awake? it’s bloody five o’clock in the morning.”

“why are you awake?”

“because i work, dumbass.”

harry shrugs and throws himself down on the sofa niall keeps in the corner. he shakes a plastic bag in niall’s direction.

“went for a jog and brought you breakfast. you can thank me later.”

niall takes the bag and doesn’t ask harry why he likes jogging at five in the morning. there are two pastries in it, one with chocolate and one with cherry. niall halves them and gives the smaller halves to harry.

“did you sleep well last night?” harry asks around a mouthful. the way he’s looking at niall makes him think harry already knows the answer. he shakes his head. “nightmares, or just not at all?”

niall doesn’t reply, just puts down his breakfast to fuss with a calla lily. the edges are a little wilted, but straighten themselves out after niall touches them.

he catches harry nodding to himself and wonders if that’s why harry was up so early.

“what’s today’s flower, petal?” he asks after a moment and listens to harry hum to himself. harry kicks his feet a little, tapping his fingers on the fabric of the sofa.

“apple blossom,” he says finally. “today it’s apple blossom.”

niall snorts. “why that?”

harry lolls his head to grin at him, shrugging as best while lying down.

“felt like it. and you asked, so.”

“there’s no deeper meaning to it?”

“isn’t there deeper meaning to everything in life? everything means something important.”

niall rolls his eyes.

“are you being evasive or your normal annoying self?” he can never quite tell with harry.

“everything means something important,” harry says again, more firmly this time. niall supposes that maybe harry really does operate under that principle. maybe it just means that harry’s craving apples.

“are you going to help me with this, or just laze around on the sofa then?” he motions to the largest potted plant in the shop. it’s too heavy for him to lift comfortably, especially with his knee twingeing like it does in the winter. harry looks at him for a moment and then swings his lanky body off the cushions.

“where are we putting it?”

“outside,” niall huffs. “it doesn’t get enough sunshine in here.”

“like it’s going to get more out on the street,” grumbles harry but they set it out on the pavement anyway. niall pets one of the branches affectionately and blushes a little at harry’s amused smile.

“they like the affection,” he protests and harry holds up his hands.

“i didn’t say anything!”

“you were thinking it.”

harry narrows his eyes at him. “do you read minds now, too?”

niall sticks his tongue out and laughs when harry copies him.

“you’re an idiot,” he says affectionately, reaching out to ruffle harry’s hair. harry frowns at him, not unkindly, and pokes him in the ribs. it makes niall flinch. harry’s face goes from disgruntled to worried in a millisecond.

“i’m sorry, i didn’t mean--”

“nah, i’m good. don’t worry about it, yeah?”

harry smiles at him, gently but not with pity. niall appreciates him for that. he counts to three and smiles back.

“i’m getting a coffee before opening. you coming along?”

“yeah, i’ll come,” harry says, and tucks his hand into niall’s on the walk over to the nearest cafe.

 

harry picks starwort the next day.

“i don’t know that one.” niall says, pulling up a picture on his phone and studies it. it’s a common enough flower, pale pink and nothing noteworthy. “why starwort?”

like the day before, and every day before that, harry shrugs.

“dunno.”

it’s been another bad night, so niall doesn’t push it. just nods to himself and puts in an order for some new soil.

 

the door slams open, startling harry off the sofa. niall jumps too, drags in few calming breaths and tries to will the blood back into his face.

the culprit storms up to the front, eyes sharp enough to slice niall open, and throws twenty quid on the counter.

“how do you say fuck you in flower?” the boy demands fiercely. niall blinks at him.

“erm… what?”

“fuck you. with flowers. i need a bouquet that says fuck you.”

“why?” harry says at the same time niall says “i don’t know how to do that.” it’s harry he chooses to answer.

“me mate’s being a twat.”

“and so you’re sending him a passive aggressive bouquet?” harry asks, eyes twinkling. the boy waves a hand dismissively.

“yes.”

“fucking amazing,” says harry as he sticks out his hand to shake. “I’m harry styles.”

“louis tomlinson. how do you say fuck you in flower?”

“i don’t--” niall starts but harry talks over him.

“meadowsweet and orange lilies. geraniums too, if you wanted. uselessness, hatred, and stupidity. in that order.”

niall gapes at him for a moment, until harry’s cheeks turn pink. “why do you know that?”

“why don’t you know that?” harry replies. “you’re the florist.”

“then what are you?” louis asks and his expression has gone softer, gentling with amusement.

“his bodyguard, and occasional fortune teller,” harry says in a bored voice and niall narrows his eyes

“you’ve never told my future in your life.”

“that you know of,” grumbles harry, and niall shakes his head as he starts assembling the bouquet. it’s a strange mixture, but since louis is going for meaning over aesthetics, niall supposes it will do. it’s fitting for a fuck you bouquet, really, jarring in a way that’s unpleasant. he ties it off with a green bow, just to make it clash a little more.

“here you go mate,” he says as he hands it over. “i hope it works for you.”

“it’ll be perfect,” louis tells him a little savagely. a crooked sort of evil smile curves his lips as he examines the flowers. niall likes how it looks, likes how the the smile lights up his face despite the fierceness. “how much?”

“free of charge,” harry calls, ignoring niall’s annoyed glance.

“are you sure?”

“yeah, as long as you come back tomorrow and tell us how it went.”

“sick!” he waves his bouquet first at harry and then at niall. “thanks a lot!”

“bring biscuits!” harry yells at louis’ retreating figure as the door swings shut. niall waits a few seconds before bundling up a piece of newspaper and chucking it at him. “hey, what was that for?”

“why are you giving away my flowers?”

“because he was cute and i wanted him to come back. i’ll pay for them, don’t worry.”

“it’s not about the money,” niall says, only a little frustrated.

“so i don’t have to pay for it?”

“i didn’t say that.”

harry laughs as he roots in his pockets for a bill. he gives it to niall without even looking at it.

“that’s too much.”

“too much is never enough,” harry says and dodges the next newspaper ball niall throws at him.

 

louis does come in the next day, and he brings biscuits like harry asked. unfortunately, harry’s not there.

“he’s at work,” niall offers as louis hovers uncertainly by the door. “but you can still come in, if you want.”

“you’re niall, right?”

“yeah.”

“lonely day?”

niall shakes his head. “not many people have come in today.”

but it hadn’t been lonely. the plants had been chatty, happy with the weak sunshine. they’d gotten louder as louis had walked in.

“um, do you want some company, though? i don’t have anything right now, and i’m really quite bored.”

“what kind of biscuits did you bring?”

louis’ mouth quirks up in a smile. “is that the deal-breaker?”

“might be.”

“um… jaffa cakes?” he looks hopeful and it makes niall smother a grin.

“oh. okay then.”

“do you not like them?” louis asks, shooting niall a curious look. niall shrugs.

“no, i do. i just like chocolate digestives more.”

“hmm. i’ll remember that for next time.” he says offhandedly and blushes, stacking two biscuits on the counter in front of niall before throwing himself on the empty sofa.

“if you bring digestives, you can definitely come back,” niall tells him and the pink fades from louis’ cheeks. he beams at niall.

“sick.” louis tucks his feet under a cushion, stuffing another jaffa cake in his mouth. he talks without swallowing. “so, what do you do as a florist?’

niall blinks a little at how comfortable he’s made himself already. it’s… nice. no weirdness. yet.

“i, uh, take care of the flowers and put together arrangements. stuff like that. order soil and pots and whatever. make sure all the plants are happy and healthy.”

“plants like this one?” louis asks, reaching up to pet at a vine that’s curled near his head. niall blinks again. that particular branch had been facing the other way earlier today and it’s suddenly stretched towards louis.

“yeah,” he says, delayed. louis nods and tickles the leaf. the plant likes him, that much is obvious. all the plants do; they’re all brighter and straighter and leaning gently towards the boy on the sofa.

louis glances at him and raises an eyebrow.

“do you have to stand there all the time?”

“no?”

louis moves his feet and sits up, shifting so there’s room on the sofa. niall takes the silent invitation and perches on the edge of the seat. louis isn’t paying any attention, he’s stretched out and smelling the peonies nearby.

niall sneaks another jaffa cake.

“those are me mum’s favourite,” louis says, settling back. “what’s yours?”

“i couldn’t pick just one.” he picks at a loose thread on the upholstery. the sofa’s really quite old. “but maybe a sunflower.”

“i like lavender,”

“does that count as a flower?”

louis gives him a look. “you’re the florist. you tell me.” when niall doesn’t answer, he taps his fingers on his leg. “i like it more for the smell than anything. my grandad smelled like lavender and cigarette smoke, and i just like it, yeah?”

“yeah. i don’t think that counts, though.” niall grins at him so louis knows he’s joking. louis grins back and niall swears the room gets lighter.

“geraniums, though. them ones i hate.”

“why?”

“dunno. they look distrustful. a little bit shifty.”

“hmm,” niall says, tilting his head at the lone geranium he has in the corner of the shop. they did look vaguely devious. “i could see that.”

“i like you, nialler,” louis declares and it feels like a declaration of friendship. niall’s not sure you can just decide to be someone’s friend and have it happen, but maybe with louis the rules are different.

 

“you only left me one?” harry complains, frowning at niall until niall gives in and pokes his cheek. “that’s really rude, seeing as i’m the one who asked for biscuits.”

“you also weren’t here.”

“i didn’t expect him to come in when i was at work!”

niall shrugs, no sympathy in his eyes. “you snooze, you lose.”

“wanker,” harry hisses. it’s mostly for show, niall knows. he can tell by the over exaggerated pout. “i’m never leaving the shop.” he slouches down in the seat louis occupied hours before. “everything exciting happens when i’m gone.”

“exciting meaning eating jaffa cakes and talking about footie and flowers.”

“two of your favourite things,” harry says.

“and not two of yours,” replies niall, tugging on a piece of his hair. harry’s expression goes comically sappy.

“but you’re one of my favourite things.”

“aww,” niall coos and hits him in the face with a pillow. “you’re an idiot.”

“an idiot with only one jaffa cake.”

“i know that this is hard for you to believe,” niall tells him solemnly, “but i am actually immune to that stupid charm and will not go out to buy you a package of biscuits when i’m supposed to be working.”

“what if i say please?”

“what if you helped me close up shop?”

“i don’t work here, you shouldn’t be able to boss me around,” harry grumbles but he helps anyway, humming gently to himself as he sweeps the dead leaves, grass, and dirt into a pile. he walks niall home and niall pretends it’s because harry likes the company. no other reason.

 

the next time louis shows up, he brings two friends with him, just after harry’s told him the flower of the day’s wisteria. he’d wandered in with a handful from heaven knows where sometime during niall’s lunch break. niall stuck them in a spare vase and propped them on the counter.

niall knows it’s louis coming in before he sees him. the room brightens again, freshens like a ray of sun’s just peeked out from behind a cloud.

he glances up to a wide smile and two unknown figures.

“these are my friends,” louis says, a bit hesitantly. “they wanted to see the shop.”

“tommo said to bring digestives, get on your good side,” one of them says and he holds up a box. harry perks up.

“toss those over here,” he says. “i’m harry.” the boy does what he asks and harry catches them with a satisfied smile. the other boy smirks a little.

louis is still watching niall carefully, seemingly unaware of the flower beaming behind his elbow.

“i’ve got a kettle in the back,” niall answers finally and the skin by louis’ eyes crinkle, “if you wanted tea.”

“do you have milk?”

“is that a deal-breaker?”

louis outright laughs at that, tipping his head back a little.

“it’s not, but it’d be nice. oh, this is zayn and liam.” he gestures to each of them in turn. harry and niall echo their hello before zayn bends down to nick a biscuit. harry kicks him in the leg and liam asks if he can help making the tea, and it’s simple as anything after that.

they end up all squished on the sofa together, slightly too big to fit comfortably but no one’s willing to sit on the separate chair. niall’s on the end against the arm, louis next to him, and his fingertips tickling harry’s hair. he keeps twitching and it makes louis and niall giggle. eventually, he twitches so hard he elbows liam in the side.

liam catches his elbow and refuses to let harry go until he’s settled.

“were you the one that louis bought a fuck you bouquet for?” harry asks, a little sharply but not meanly. louis frowns for a second before barking out another laugh. zayn’s chuckling too.

“nah, that was for nick,” he says. “he enjoyed it.”

“did he really?” asks niall, skeptical.

zayn answers with an amused “no.”

“he said they were the ugliest flowers he’d ever seen,” liam says with a laugh and reaches out to pat niall’s leg. “not because of your arranging skills, but the colours, i think.”

“also because it was louis who gave them to him,” zayn adds and they both dissolve into laughter.

“he was being a dickhead,” louis says.

“why’d you give him flowers, then?” says harry.

“dunno. seemed like a funny idea at the time. now it’s just kind of stupid. but he was well and truly annoyed, so that’s good.”

liam snorts. “you’re ridiculous.”

“that i am,” louis tells him breezily, trying to pinch at liam’s chest. liam jerks away and falls to the floor, taking louis with him. they start to wrestle and the other three pull up their legs to avoid getting caught in the melee.

“are they always like this?” niall asks zayn, a little unsure. zayn nods with a proud smile on his face, trying to gently prod at liam’s side when they get too close.

“most of the time they’re worse, honestly.”

“and you don’t join in?”

“no, never,” zayn says dryly even as he pushes louis over. louis spares him a second to throw an offended look and then gets distracted by liam putting him in a headlock.

“fuck, okay, i give up! you win.”

satisfied, liam lets him go and they clamber back up onto the sofa a little ruffled. liam slips under zayn’s arm and louis squeezes in between harry and niall again. louis is grinning, even though he lost.

“i went easy on you, payno.” liam rolls his eyes and louis stretches to whisper in niall’s ear. “i did, i swear i did.”

“i believe you,” niall tells him. it’s only a little condescending. louis looks pleased, despite niall’s teasing. niall leans into his warmth a little more.

they fall together like it was meant to be, like it was fate. niall doesn’t believe in fate, but it’s a nice idea nevertheless.

“how can you not believe in fate after that day we’ve just had?” harry asks, arm wrapped around niall to keep him close in the frosty air. “zayn and liam and louis were meant to be our mates.”

“we did click,” niall muses.

“pieces of a jigsaw,” agrees harry. “click!” he might be a little tipsy still. they’d found some old whiskey on a dusty shelf and polished it off, taking swigs out of the bottle because they couldn’t be bothered to pour it out. niall thinks he stored it there for a bad day, ages and ages ago. it wasn’t a bad day, but they’d opened it anyway.

“in celebration of friendship,” louis had toasted, eyes sparkling and a grin playing on his lips. he’d taken a big swallow and thrust the bottle into liam’s arms. and round and round they went until it was all gone.

harry trips and nearly pulls niall down, pulling him back into the present in the meanwhile. niall helps steady him and then shoulders open his front door. he locks up before pushing harry in the general direction of the bedroom.

“i’m staying with you tonight?”

“yeah,” niall says. “if you don’t mind.”

harry makes a face, wrinkling his nose a bit and shaking his head. “nah, don’t want to sleep alone.”

“i don’t think sleeping with me will be much better,” niall tells him. he tugs an old, soft t-shirt over his head and throws one at harry’s head. harry’s already stripped down to his pants and crawling into bed. niall sighs. he tried, at least.

the bed’s small, but big enough for them both to have a little bit of room. harry kisses the tip of niall’s nose sleepily, eyes barely open.

“sweet dreams,” he mumbles and niall pats his side.

“you too, h.”

 

louis and zayn and liam drop by often, but louis the most. he comes more than harry, almost. there’s barely an afternoon where he doesn’t come in to rearrange the flowers on display into more interesting patterns.

“this is a family friendly establishment,” niall says crossly. “you can’t keep making dicks out of flowers. the old ladies will have a heart attack.”

louis grins, and it’s like he’s glowing in the middle of the dim shop. the plants are laughing, even the ones that make up the outline of the admittedly impressive penis. they love louis, almost as much as niall does.

maybe more right now.

“variety is the spice of life, young nialler. they could do with a little shock to their system.”

“besides, they’ve probably seen it before,” zayn adds from the sofa. louis laughs and gives him a high five as niall throws his own hands in the air. but he’s laughing too.

“you two are going to run off all my business,” he grumbles, but he doesn’t really mean it. louis snaps a picture and admires his creation before dismantling it. he’s quiet for a few minutes, the crease between his eyebrows deepening as he concentrates.

“look, i’ve made you!” he announces and niall steps out from behind the counter to look at it.

it’s a smiley face, with pink roses for a mouth, cornflowers for eyes, and marigolds for hair. it looks nothing like niall, but it does.

“you didn’t have sunflowers,” louis says after a moment and it sounds like he’s a bit nervous, “or i would’ve done those for your hair cos they’re your favourite.”

“it’s beautiful,” niall tells him. louis looks relieved and toys with a fallen-off petal. he glances up again, a mischievous expression fixed on his face.

“i should make a career out of it. flower artist.”

“niall’s the real flower artist,” zayn says and louis frowns at him.

“excuse you, did you not just see those two masterpieces i just made? masterpieces, i tell you.”

“beg to differ.”

louis throws himself across the shop to collapse on top of zayn, ferociously mussing up his hair. niall sighs at the childishness and sprinkles dirt onto zayn’s scalp as he walks by. he shouts in outrage but louis is smiling like niall’s the best person in the world.

zayn pushes louis off and fixes his hair.

“i’m going to get a coffee. do either of you want one?”

niall shakes his head as louis asks for some tea. zayn nods, letting in a rush of cool air as he leaves.

“so, nialler,” louis says, slouching on the sofa and watching niall with keen eyes. “do you have a girlfriend.”

niall nearly swallows his gum.

“no?”

“boyfriend?”

“not one of those either.”

“but which one would you rather, if you have to choose.”

“is this your way of asking me if i’m gay?”

louis pauses and then shrugs. “king of subtlety, i am.”

“whatever you say,” niall tells him, unconvinced. “but yeah, i am.”

“but no boyfriend currently.”

“you asked me that already. but no, i don’t.”

“neither do i,” louis says, as casually as can be. niall rolls his eyes and ties a stalk of stems with a neat bow. he sets them in a vase and stands back to critisise them. one of the petals is wilted. he runs a finger over it and hopes it isn’t too noticeable. the plant sighs at his touch, only grumbling a little bit about being cut off from its roots.

he starts at the front of the shop and goes through the plants, looking for ones that are dead or on their way to dying. there aren’t too many, because he does this every day, but there’s always a couple. he gathers the ones that are still decent and starts twisting them together.

“what are you doing?” louis asks quietly. niall glances at him, sitting on the sofa and framed by leafy green vines. they’re all reaching towards louis, drawn to his light.

niall can relate. he can feel louis’ pull from here, like he’s got a gravity all to himself. it’s dangerous and this might not work out so well in the end. but for now, it’s like wrapping himself in a blanket. warm and safe.

he could do with a little bit of warm and safe.

“niall?” louis asks again and it doesn’t sound like the first time.

“sorry?”

“what are you doing with the flowers you’ve got?”

“oh,” he says, looking down at his hands. they’ve stilled but there’s a vague outline of a circle there. “making a wreath? these flowers won’t sell cos they’re too old, but i can dry them and maybe sell them as decorations.”

“do people buy them?”

“sometimes. but i don’t like throwing out them because they’re not as pretty as other flowers. it’s not nice. this is better, i think.”

he waits for the teasing. harry would’ve teased him about it, gently, but still teasing. louis just tilts his head to the side and nods thoughtfully.

“that makes sense.” his hair gets caught on a twig. it hadn’t been there when louis sat down. “like new life.”

“yeah, i guess.” niall pulls out a few flowers that don’t match the wreath, but look half decent together and wraps a white ribbon around them. wordlessly, he holds them out to louis. louis startles.

“for me?”

niall nods and louis takes the bunch gingerly, carefully. the flowers are a deep blue and there are a few sprigs of lavender mixed in.

“thank you.”

“any time,” niall says, a little embarrassed. zayn saves him the trouble of answering by coming in with two cups in his hand. he gives one to louis and sips at the other.

“did i miss something?”

 

a stranger comes in just as harry’s repeating the word “geranium” over and over again. it’s his flower for the day, chosen, niall thinks, because harry likes to string out the vowels.

“geraaaaaaniuuuuuuuuum,” harry sings, kicking his feet and grinning at the ceiling. “geraaaaaniiiiiium.”

“you’re an iiiiiiiiidiot,” niall sings back and laughs to himself. harry sits up to get all annoyed when a person steps in the door. niall shoots harry a warning look and puts on his best customer service smile.

“hello, how can i help you.”

“this is a strange question,” the stranger says with a nervous laugh. he ruffles at his hair. “but did a mate of mine come in and ask you to make a ‘fuck you’ bouquet?”

niall’s eyebrows shoot up.

“yeah, that was us.”

the stranger brightens and he takes a few steps forward. “brill! i’d like to ask for one as well.”

“are you nick, then?” niall says critically and watches as the man pinks.

“er… yeah.”

“what kind of bouquet do you want?”

“well, um.” he looks even more embarrassed, and niall’s stomach goes a little tight. “can you say ‘you’re an asshole’ in flowers?”

“yes,” harry interrupts. he’s sitting straight up in his chair and he’s got a weird gleam in his eyes.

“you can?”

“we can?”

niall recognizes the smile that slides across harry’s face two seconds before he starts to talk.

“we can, but only if you’ll give me your number.”

nick blinks, taken aback, as niall drops his head onto the counter.

“harry, you can’t hit on the customers,” he groans. harry shrugs, unbothered.

“why? he’s cute.”

“cheeky,” nick says with a snort, but he’s grinning. “if i say yes, will you make a bouquet?”

“teasel, buttercups, orange lily, and geraniums,” harry rattles off, snapping his fingers at niall. “meadowsweet too, or you can just give him a big basket of nuts.”

“and will that get my point across?”

“we can put in a slip of paper that definitely gets your point across.”

“hmm,” nick muses, still grinning. “yeah, that sounds good.”

niall gathers everything harry’s told him as nick programs his number into harry’s phone. he’s not got teasel, but he does add a few cattails as a substitute. it’s another splendidly awful bouquet.

louis is going to love it. niall sneaks in some lavender to make sure he does.

“brilliant,” nick says delightedly.

niall wonders how he became the middle of a bizarre flower war. he rings nick’s purchase up anyway, handing over a receipt for him to sign. harry blows him a kiss as he leaves.

“harry,” niall says, squinting at the signature. “was that nick grimshaw?”

“maybe?”

“did you just bully radio dj nick grimshaw into giving you his number?”

“bully is the wrong word,” harry tells him loftily and flops back onto the sofa. “but i reckon i just did.”

“huh,” niall says. “i wonder why he knows louis.”

harry is too busy texting to answer.

 

“shots, nialler,” louis says with a wicked grin. “let’s do shots.”

niall laughs, curling his hand around his drink. “i’m perfectly fine with my pint.”

“what if we did shots off my body?” he offers and shimmies a little. niall raises an eyebrow.

“tempting, but no.”

“what if we did shots off of zayn’s body.”

niall cranes his head to where zayn’s sitting, looking far too beautiful for someone who’s been steadily getting wasted. he pretends to look him over and doesn’t bother hiding a smile.

“oh, then. if it’s zayn, we might as well.”

“fuck you,” louis says easily, laughing. he’s flushed and drunk and his lips are pink enough to catch niall’s attention. “one shot?”

“okay,” he relents because it means louis will light up like a bloody christmas tree. “one shot.”

louis lets out a crow and slides a glass to niall, crowding up beside him so their elbows knock together. they swallow it down and louis stays pressed to his side, a warm weight against niall’s body.

harry’s giggling on the other side of the table and nick’s rolling his eyes, fond already. they’re the worst and entirely too tall, in niall’s opinion. but also harry’s been bouncing around like he’s lighter than air since he’s met nick, so niall can’t be upset.

liam’s sat on niall’s right, a girl holding his hand next to him. her name’s sophia and niall had just met her the other day. she’s good for liam, quiet and tolerant, and she accepts louis’ antics with a roll of her eyes.

zayn comes back and drops by louis. he’s only swaying a little; maybe he’s less wasted than niall thought.

louis presses closer, and niall’s heart is so full, he thinks he’s going to burst. there’s talk about some musician that they all like, by some incredible touch of fate, and the comfortable conversation settles on him like a heavy blanket.

louis gets up to go to the loo, tripping over everyone’s legs. niall steadies him with a hand on the waist and gets a kiss on the top of his head for the help. zayn slides over to take his spot.

“you’re happy,” he says simply and niall jumps a little.

“yeah.”

zayn grins, eyes crinkling at the edges and his tongue pressed to his teeth.

“you love us.” it’s not a question. niall bites at his lip a little, worrying it.

“yeah,” he says finally. it’s a physical thing in his chest, this love. like a blooming flower nestled right next to his heart. a love flower but like, more durable. a love cactus. he grins at himself and makes a mental note to tell harry about that later. zayn hums, chuckling to himself and maybe at niall. niall squints at him suspiciously. “can you read my mind?”

“no,” zayn answers. “i’m just good with feelings. like how you’re good with plants.”

“or how louis is warm.”

“liam’s eerily good at finding people. if you get lost, he’ll find you eventually if he wants to. if you want him to.”

“i think harry can tell the future.”

they pause and glance across the table. harry’s mouth is pulled up in a wide smile, dimples on show, as he listens to something nick’s saying.

“maybe,” zayn says thoughtfully as he plays with a bit of napkin. “i wouldn’t be surprised.”

there’s little that would surprise niall at this point.

louis comes back and only pouts a little at zayn taking his spot. he collapses on liam’s lap instead and props his feet up by niall.

“you look lovely this evening, sophia darling,” he says, tipping his head back to smile at her. she smiles back and flicks him on his nose.

“you’re stealing my boyfriend. again.”

louis heaves a long-suffering sigh. liam is laughing like it’s an old argument. “when will you accept the fact that he loves me best?”

“when it becomes true,” she says, cocking an eyebrow at him as liam kisses her cheek. louis makes an offended sound and tries to scramble up to plant a peck on liam’s cheek too and is distracted by a song starting to play.

“i love this song,” he says, nearly tumbling off liam’s lap in an effort to stand up. “i want to dance. nialler, dance with me.”

there’s no one dancing but niall stands up anyway and lets louis drag him to an abandoned corner. it’s ridiculous and silly and niall can’t stop grinning like a bloody buffoon. they’re soon joined by harry and nick and liam and sophia and zayn, twirling together and making fools of themselves.

niall lets louis spin him over and over until he’s dizzy and laughs until he can’t breathe.

 

the morning is not so fun. they’d ended up at niall’s flat, closest to the pub they’d left last last night.

niall’s face is shoved into liam’s armpit, and harry’s bony knees are pressing into his back. there’s a bird chirping somewhere outside and it’s not doing anything for his aching head. he shifts out of liam’s armpit and his stomach heaves in protest. he barely makes it to the toilet in time.

“disgusting,” he mutters, rooting around for some paracetamol. he swallows them dry and debates whether or not to climb back into bed until it takes effect.

his thirst wins out in the end, and the bloody bird with it’s fucking annoying song drives him to the kitchen. he puts on some tea and the coffee pot as well. he bungs some hash browns he’s found in the freezer into the oven and pulls out the bacon too.

he loses motivation halfway through, so he just sits at the table to drink his tea. the daffodils in the centre wave cheerily at him.

“i’m in a state, i know,” he tells them as they giggle. he’d caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror and his hair’s a mess, dark circles under his eyes.

“talking to yourself, horan,” liam mumbles as he stumbles into the room. “first sign of madness.”

niall smiles and doesn’t bother explaining that he’s talking to the flowers. he suspects it would be just as mental.

“there’s tea and coffee,” he says instead and liam grunts appreciatively. they’re quiet until liam settles across the table with his own mug. “i woke up with my face in your armpit.”

“you hugged the shit out of me last night. could barely move.”

niall winces. “i’m a bloody octopus at night, sorry.”

liam pulls a face over at him and drags at his tea. niall makes a face back as he stands to check that the hash browns aren’t burning.

“why’d you become a florist, niall?” liam asks suddenly, eyeing the daffodils. there’s a little tree in the corner, and succulents lined up on the windowsill. his flat’s overflowing with plants.

“always liked them, even as a kid. i studied biology and loved the idea of having a little shop. i got a loan and… here we are.”

“do you love it?”

niall focuses on watering the pot in the middle of the table, listening to the little sigh the flowers give when the water starts to soak into the soil.

“i do. it’ s very… healing,” he answers quietly. it’s enough for liam.

“d’you want me to fry up the bacon?”

pretty soon, everyone starts stirring at the smell. it’s just the boys, sophia bowing out earlier to go home to her own flat and nick needing to go feed his dog. niall’s table is crowded enough with the five of them, knocking knees and elbows as they grab for the food.

“I’m never drinking again,” louis announces, still looking a little green. zayn snorts and slides him another piece of bacon. “i mean it. never ever ever again.”

“he’ll be changing his tune at the end of the week,” liam says conspiratorially and louis glares at him.

“i will not, liam james payne. i am going to be the very paragon of sobriety.”

harry mouths paragon with an amused expression and it sets zayn into a fit of giggles. liam and louis bicker about the definition of paragon and niall rescues louis’ cup from being shattered by an errant wave of the hand. he refills it and gets a grateful smile in return.

niall tips his head onto harry’s shoulder and lets the conversation flow around him, feet tangling with zayn’s under the table.

 

it’s a bad day. it’s a really, really, really bad day.

niall locks all the locks on the doors and tries to remember what breathing deeply feels like. his chest is tight and the flat seems too big and too small all at once. he huddles down in the bathtub with a duvet and a pillow.

he feels like he could scratch his skin off. he rubs at his arms instead and stumbles from the bathroom when it abruptly gets too small.

the cold air from the freezer feels good, centres him a little, but he still can’t breathe right. the cactus on the counter is worried.

“i’m okay,” he says to himself, or maybe the cactus. no one is convinced. “i’ll be okay,” he amends.

he’s had bad days before. he’s had worse days before, and he’s still here. he just can’t remember right now exactly how he got through the worst of it.

there’s a taptaptap on his door and it terrifies him. it’s not harry, can’t be harry because harry knows what it means when niall doesn’t show up to work. and if it’s not harry, then niall doesn’t know who it could be.

so he stays in front of the freezer, head pressed against the fridge, and eventually the tapping goes away. his terror doesn’t, and he moves back into the bathroom. it’s far away from the front door.

it works until the sound of footsteps seep into the room. niall tugs the blanket tighter around his shoulders.

“niall?”

he shudders.

“niall, are you alright?” it takes a moment for him to recognize louis’ voice, soft and uncertain, from out in the hall. niall had locked the bathroom door too. “harry said… he’s worried. we’re all worried. niall?”

it takes him three tries to be able to make enough noise.

“yeah. i’m alright.”

“are you really?”

he doesn’t want to answer that question but he also doesn’t want to be alone. he drags himself from the tub and unlocks the door.

louis looks surprised when it swings open. he’s sitting on the floor like he’s just trying to get comfortable. niall evaluates him for a second and then crawls back into the bathtub.

“you can join, if you want,” he says.

louis nods slowly and gets to his feet, carefully like he’s worried niall will startle. he locks the door behind him.

“what’s wrong, love?” louis asks, moving like he wants to hug niall but pulls back at the last second. niall’s grateful, doesn’t feel like being touched right now. he doesn’t really feel like talking either. he shakes his head and louis nods again.

they sit in silence for god knows how long. niall’s legs start to go a little numb, as well as his hip where it’s pressing into the ceramic. louis must be aching as well, but he hasn’t moved once since getting in. just tapped his fingers absently on his thigh and stared into space while niall puts himself back together.

eventually, niall can’t handle the quiet any more. his voice echoes like a gunshot in the room, and he cringes a little before trying again.

“i, uh. i dated this guy for a while.”

“okay.”

“he wasn’t very nice.” louis stills, even stiller than he was before. his head’s tilted to the side but he’s not looking at niall. niall’s glad; he couldn’t get through this with louis’ pitiful gaze. “sometimes he left bruises.”

“okay.”

“a lot of times he left bruises. he liked to be… scary.”

a muscle works in louis’ jaw. “niall…”

“i’m alright now,” he interrupts. “but i wasn’t for a while.”

“it’s okay if you’re not,” louis tells him. his fingers sneak forward to brush against niall’s.

“i’m trying to be.”

“that’s good too,” louis says decisively and he finally turns to look all the way at him. there’s no pity written on his face, just softness. “that’s really, really good.”

“today’s been a bad day.”

“harry told me it might be. how can i help?”

niall thinks for a minute, testing out his body and feeling his skin. “um. hug me?”

“i can do that,” louis breathes, carefully winding his arms around niall. niall holds himself still for a moment and then pushes his face into louis’ neck, clinging to his chest like he’s drowning. louis’ grip tightens.

it feels like niall’s been in the dark for hours and is just finally coming out into the light. it feels like he’s been frozen for weeks and is just starting to thaw. it feels like he’s been in the winter for too fucking long, but now comes the first warmth of summer.

louis feels like the sunshine that’s chasing all of niall’s cobwebs away.

it could be hours later, it could be minutes later, but niall finally untangles himself from the hug. louis’ skin is a little damp where his neck meets his shoulder but louis doesn’t seem to mind.

“all better?” louis asks. niall gives him a halfhearted shrug. “better enough for some tea?”

it doesn’t make niall laugh like it would normally, but he manages to crack a smile. louis thinks nearly everything can be solved by tea. niall suspects he might be partially right.

“yeah, i think so.”

“alright,” says louis and he swings a leg over the edge of the bathtub. his foot catches on a potted plant. it crashes to the floor and shatters on the tile. “why do you have so many flowers?” louis sighs, sweeping together the dirt with his hand as best he can.

“i’m a florist,” niall mumbles back, a little bit rebelliously. “plus harry told me that one meant, like, inner strength.”

“so you kept it in your bathroom?” niall doesn’t answer that one, doesn’t explain how he retreats to the bathroom most often when things become too much. louis rubs his hands on his trousers. “harry’s proper obsessed with flower meanings, mate.”

“i know.”

“c’mon, let’s talk about it while we put the kettle on.”

he holds out his hand to take and niall only stares at it for a second before sliding his fingers in. the dragonlily protests a little at being left alone in such a state, but niall’s too busy cataloging the feeling of louis’ hands.

they’re rough, with calluses in places that match niall’s. a guitarist, then. louis hadn’t mentioned playing the guitar before. niall resolves to ask him about it later, when he can properly give it a good amount of attention.

“speaking of flower meanings,” niall says slowly as louis pours water into mugs. he feels better, he’s breathing a little easier. “why’d nick grimshaw come into my shop earlier asking about a fuck you bouquet?”

“he did? jesus.”

“he had harry make one up for you, and then harry gave him his number.”

that’s why he was at the bar the other night.”

“harry’s, like, proper obsessed.”

“i should’ve known they’d get together,” louis says disgustedly. “harry’s exactly nick’s type and charming enough to make harry fall in love with him.”

“they’ve barely been on a date yet.”

“just wait,” he warns. “nick’s my boss. i work at the radio station, and fucked up horribly one day. nick talked about it on the radio and i got stroppy about it.”

“and you told him off in flower.”

“that i did.”

“please don’t do that again. i’m tired of making strange bouquets.”

louis looks at him, all soft again. he takes a sip of his tea after blowing over the top.

“i won’t, i promise. plus i’ll need to think of something original now. flowers are so yesterday.”

niall hums a bit of the song absently as he fiddles with the teabag. he still feels shaky inside, off-balanced like he’d come home to find everything in the wrong place, but also louis is smiling, perched on the counter and swinging his legs.

“can you kiss me?” he blurts out and he knows he’s gone scarlet. louis’ legs stop with a thump.

“what?”

“do you not want to kiss me?”

“no,” says louis eventually. “i do, but i don’t know why you want me to right now.”

“i always want to kiss you.”

“niall.”

“and i need…” he draws in a breath. he needs warm and safe, but he doesn’t know how to tell him that. “i want to kiss you.”

“are you sure?”

niall nods and louis leans forward, fingers sliding over niall’s wrist to gently pull him closer. louis moves slowly, giving niall time to get away if he wants to. it’s too slow and niall closes the gap between them. louis makes a small noise as niall’s lips find his, and niall’s hands hold onto his shoulders.

it’s sweet and sharp, it’s warm and safe.

 

it’s raining outside, but the shop is heavy with a growing sort of warmth, sleepy plants shivering in the draft that comes in with the door. it’s warmer with louis at his side.

“christ, niall,” louis sighs, clutching at his tea like it’s his lifeline. “this is too fucking early.”

niall just hums, still not up for talking just yet. he flips the switch and lets the shop fill with light. it still brighter around louis.

“say hi to the plants, tommo,” he tells him wearily. louis gives him an odd look but goes around quietly greeting everyone. the plants say hello back, and the roses even blush a little. niall rolls his eyes.

“they like you.”

louis smiles at that, still murmuring to the daisies.

“i like them,” he replies, straightening and catching niall’s eye. “I like you better, though.”

now it’s his turn to blush. he busies himself with straightening up the counter, putting everything in its place. louis leans over the counter to kiss his forehead and then his lips, and whirls away almost before niall can understand what’s happening.

“tease.”

louis’ laugh echoes through the shop, filling the space until niall can’t help but smile.

harry’s sent him a text with only one word. cowslip. on a whim, he looks up the meaning behind it.

“healing,” he reads as louis’ voice murmurs in the background. he’s arms-deep in potting soil and has taken to talking to the flowers, like niall does.

“healing,” niall repeats, trying the word out in his mouth to see how it fits. he likes it.

his phone rings with another text from harry. it’s a red rose and a clover.

“do you know,” he says and louis’ chatter quiets down, “that a red rose means love and a four leaf clover means think of me?”

“i didn’t,” louis says carefully. “is this you trying to tell me something?”

niall looks back at his phone and then back at louis. he’s got dirt streaked across his cheekbone and smudged on his forehead. niall’s heart aches a bit, in a good way.

“maybe. or maybe it’s harry trying to tell us he approves.”

“hmm,” louis mulls and runs soil through his fingers. he’s enjoying it entirely too much. niall ignores the preening emanating from the rose section and sticks his hand in the pot as well. louis’ fingers find his and niall twines them together.

“the plants like you,” he tells him again, “and i do too.”

“they’re a good judge of character.”

“all but the geraniums.”

“all but the geraniums,” louis agrees.

 

niall’s always loved how the sunflowers turn to follow the sun, chasing its warmth. he can understand how they feel as he watches louis flit around the shop, touching plants and glowing with light. they mean adoration, and it’s fitting.

louis throws himself down on the sofa and pats the spot next to him. niall goes without thinking, sitting down and letting louis cuddle into his side. it’s warm, and it’s safe.

it’s like he’s a sunflower and louis is his sun.

 


 

flower meanings:

apple blossom: better things to come

starwort: welcome to a stranger

lavender: love, devotion

sunflower: adoration, loyalty

wisteria: welcome

geranium: stupidity, folly

meadowsweet: uselessness

teasel: misanthropy

buttercups: childishness

orange lily: hatred