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come away with me

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The quiet sound of distant laughter is the first thing Louis hears when he gets home from work. It’s coming from upstairs, he thinks, where the girls are getting ready for bed. Bridget treasures bathtime with her mum, and once they’re done, Louis will head upstairs and read her a storybook while she starts to fall asleep. When the story is over he might play with her hair and sing her a soft tune until her breathing is even and her eyelids are fluttering the way they do when she’s dreaming, and then Louis will meet Amy back down in the kitchen and they’ll have dinner together, because she will have waited for him to get back from work. Bridget is too young to eat with them still; she’ll have had her chicken nuggets or mac and cheese before bathtime. Dinnertime is about the only time Louis and Amy have together anymore, as work and a demanding little five year old seem to have taken up every second of their free time.

Louis kicks his shoes off by the door and hangs his blazer on the coat rack, where Amy will find it later and yell at him for not hanging it up in the closet properly. He heads for the stairs next, walking quietly so he can continue to listen in on bathtime. He can distinctly hear Bridget’s squeal of delight and Amy’s endearing cackle, can picture the way Bridget is splashing about and Amy is wrinkling her nose up while she laughs, even though she should be scolding her daughter. She’s too cute to yell at, they’ve both decided, and that’s probably why she’s such a terror.

“Hi, lovelies,” he hums, leaning against the doorframe of the bathroom. Amy glances over her shoulder to grin at him and Bridget squeals again with laughter, reaching up for him even though she knows he’s too far away.

“Daddy!” She shrieks, sloshing around in the tub and adding to the puddle forming under Amy’s knees. Amy laughs and tries to settle her again, and Louis grins as he walks over to sit on the edge of the tub.

“Hi, Bridge,” he hums, offering her two of his fingers to cling to. “Did you have a good day today?”

“Yes!” Bridget sings, squeezing his fingers while Amy dumps another cupful of water over her head to rinse out the soap. “Mummy took me out and we got our toes painted, see?” She leans back and thrusts one foot out of the water, showing off her sparkly purple nails.

“Oh, beautiful,” Louis comments, holding on to her foot to get a closer look. He smiles as he presses his thumb into the arch of her foot, bringing forth another shrieking round of giggles.

“Daddy, that tickles,” she gasps, tugging her foot away.

“Sorry, love,” Louis grins, leaning forward to press a kiss to her wet forehead. “Alright, you ladies finish up in here while I go change, and I’ll be waiting in your room for story time, yeah?”

“Okay, daddy,” Bridget sighs, leaning her head back against the side of the porcelain tub and gazing up at him. Louis smiles down at her and then leans over, pressing a kiss to the side of Amy’s head in silent greeting. Amy turns and gives him one of her soft, pretty smiles, the ones she reserves just for him.

With that he stands, walking down the short hallway to his and Amy’s bedroom. Their house isn’t huge, just big enough for the three of them and the new addition to their little family that will be here in a few months. They only told Bridget she was going to be a big sister last week, and she’s already thrilled about the arrival of her baby brother.

Louis strips off his black skinny jeans and hums quietly while he undoes the buttons on his baby blue button down, the one Amy claims makes his eyes look best. He pulls on a pair of soft gray joggers and some fresh socks, and an old Uni t-shirt that smells like a mixture of his body wash and Amy. He makes his way into Bridget’s room just as Amy is helping her get her pajamas on, and toweling off her light brown, super curly hair.

“Daddy,” Bridget says, beckoning him over with one finger. “Come here. I’ve already picked out a story for tonight, but I was thinking, you know, because tomorrow you won’t be able to read me a story while I’m at auntie Lottie’s, maybe we could read two stories?”

“That sounds doable,” Louis says, walking over to sit on the edge of her bed while she kneels in front of her bookcase, chattering quietly to herself while she collects the books.

“Good luck with her tonight,” Amy mutters as she turns to go, walking over to ruffle Louis’s hair and kiss his cheek. “I can’t tell if she’s so hyper because she’s tired, or if she’s just never going to sleep.”

Louis chuckles slightly and reaches up to hug her for a moment, pulling her down onto his lap to bury his face into her neck. She always smells so clean and good, even after an entire day of running around after Bridget.

“Um, ew,” Bridget says, pulling Louis out of his reverie. Amy throws her head back and laughs her cackling laugh, leaving a gentle kiss to the tip of Louis’s nose and kissing the very top of Bridget’s head before she lets herself out of the room. “You two are so gross sometimes,” Bridget mutters, handing her two favorite books over to Louis and then climbing up onto her bed and under the covers.

“You should be happy me and your mum still love each other so much,” he argues, tucking her under her covers and brushing her hair out of her face.

“Your mum and I,” Bridget corrects him, rolling over onto her side and tucking her hands under her cheek on the pillow, gazing up at him.

Louis’s lips part in surprise, eyebrows furrowing. “Did you just correct my grammar?”

“Mummy taught me,” Bridget grins.

“That mummy of yours,” Louis sighs, smiling and shaking his head. “She’s something else, isn’t she?”

“What does that mean?” Bridget asks, frowning at him curiously.

“It means she’s really special,” Louis explains, smoothing out Bridget’s duvet where it’s crumpled around her face.

“Oh,” Bridget hums, smiling thoughtfully. “Then, yeah, she is something else.”

Louis chuckles fondly at her and leans in to kiss her forehead, unable to help himself. “Alright, let’s get to these stories so you can get to sleep, you’ll be up til midnight at this rate.”

“I wanna stay up til midnight,” Bridget giggles, a mischievous glint in her eyes.

“No, you definitely don’t,” Louis chuckles, shaking his head. “Okay, what’s up first, Grandma Lives in a Perfume Village, or The Grasshopper and the Ants?”

“Grasshopper,” Bridget cheers excitedly, wriggling under the covers. Louis smiles and waits for her to settle down before he begins, reading upside down so she can look at the pictures.

He tries his hardest every night to make story time something special, bringing every story Bridget asks of him to life. He assigns a different voice to every character, and tries to use the same voices for the characters in Bridget’s favorite books. This first book is Bridget’s absolute favorite, about how the ants are trying to get ready for the coming winter, while a friendly grasshopper tries to get them to play with him instead. It’s a great message, teaching kids that hard work should come before play, and Louis adores the look on Bridget’s face when he’s finished.

Bridget doesn’t look very close to sleep yet, so Louis moves on to the next book. This one is about a little boy who goes to visit his grandmother, who died very soon after. The little boy wasn’t very close to his grandmother but his mother was, so the little boy makes up stories about what his grandmother might be doing in heaven to make his mother feel better. The story is sweet and a bit sad, but ultimately very uplifting. Bridget’s eyes are drooping by the time Louis closes the book, and she smiles at him sleepily.

“Daddy,” she hums, reaching out for him. Louis puts the books away and then returns to the bed, running his fingers through Bridget’s silky ringlet curls. “Daddy,” she says again, “will you cuddle me until I fall asleep? And will you sing to me?”

Of all the sides of Bridget that Louis sees throughout the day, this is his favorite. Bridget has quite the repertoire when it comes to attitudes, and as funny as she is, it makes his heart swell when she gets all quiet and soft and asks him to cuddle her, asks him to keep her safe until she’s dreaming. He lays down beside her and lets her tuck her face into his chest, and he strokes her hair and hums her a tune until she’s sleeping soundly, quiet, whistling breaths tickling his neck.

It takes him a full minute to get off the bed, trying to be careful and quiet so he won’t wake her up. She’s a light sleeper, wakes at the slightest of sounds, and Louis keeps his eye on her until he’s safely out in the hall, closing the door quietly. He doesn’t close it all the way, leaving it open just a crack so the light from the hallway will creep in. Bridget’s nightlight broke last weekend, and they’ve yet to replace it, so this works for now.

Once Louis is home free, he pads down the stairs and into the kitchen, where Amy is just taking the pasta off the stove. She tosses him a soft smile over her shoulder and then drains the spaghetti in the sink, while Louis sets about setting the table. Their time together is so limited, too limited, and they stop to peck each other’s lips every time they cross paths.

Louis is so happy to have found her. He spent a lot of time back in school dating every girl that was interested in him, but he had a hard time finding any that he returned the feelings for. He also spent a lot of time pretending he wasn’t stealing glances at the other boys in the locker room before and after football practice, but once he met Amy in University, he was finally able to put all of those scary thoughts behind him and focus on a girl that he finally thought he could make a life with.

He takes her by the hips once she’s set dinner down on the table, pulling her close and kissing her lips gently. It’s not exciting or different, it doesn’t set off fireworks in his stomach, but it’s warm and familiar and he knows this, he can do this. He doesn’t dream of it all day like in the movies, but it’s nice, and he loves his wife, loves her more than almost anything, save for maybe their child.

“Hi,” she breathes when he pulls away. Louis grins at her and then lets her go, both of them taking their seats on opposite sides of the table.

“So Lottie called me this morning,” Amy says, spooning some spaghetti onto Louis’s plate and then her own. “She says she’ll be by at about two tomorrow afternoon to get Bridget. Nicky is apparently just as excited to see Bridget as Bridget is to see him.”

Louis smiles at the thought, twirling some spaghetti around his fork. Lottie’s three year old is quiet and complacent, but Bridget brings out the wild side in him every time they’re together. They’re each other’s only cousins at the moment, but Amy is due with their son in a few months and Lottie and her husband are supposedly trying for another as well. Louis hopes to have a family as big as theirs was growing up, but if this second kid ends up being as much work as Bridget, Louis thinks they might have to stop there.

“Good,” he hums, in response to Amy’s statement. “As much as I love Bridget, I kinda can’t wait to have the house all to ourselves for a night.”

“Me too,” Amy smiles, reaching over to take his hand. “We’re meeting my friend and her boyfriend at the restaurant at seven, so try to be home early enough to get ready.”

Louis typically works late on Fridays, but this is a special occasion. Well, it’s not terribly special, but it’s an opportunity for Louis to go out and get drunk and not have to deal with any responsibilities for a night, so it’s special enough for him to skip the overtime. Lottie isn’t bringing Bridget home until Saturday afternoon, which is plenty of time for Louis to get himself together and get back into dad mode.

Before dinner is over, the phone rings and Amy excuses herself to go and get it. She tells Louis over her shoulder that she’s done eating and walks to the living room to talk to whoever is calling, and Louis finishes up the last bit of his food before clearing the table and getting the dishes in order.

Amy is still occupying the living room once the dishwasher is loaded and the table is clean, so Louis heads up to their bedroom to turn on the telly while he waits for her to come to bed. He thinks she’s probably speaking with her mum, but he doesn’t much care, flicking through the channels for a bit until finally she comes upstairs to join him.

“Sorry, mum called,” Amy hums, cuddling into his side. She’s wearing one of his old band shirts, and a pair of loose yoga pants.

“That’s okay,” Louis yawns, wrapping an arm around her and holding her close. “Did she have any good goss?”

“I hate when you say goss,” Amy laughs, batting at his chest. “But no, not really. Aunt Marie left her third boyfriend this month, and dad finally passed his kidney stone.”

“Oi, good for your dad,” Louis cheers quietly. Amy hums in agreement and that seems to be the end of that, a comfortable silence falling over the room.

Amy is asleep within half an hour, snoring delicately into Louis’s chest. Louis kisses her head and reaches for the remote, switching the telly off and then reaching up to turn the light off. It takes him a bit longer to fall asleep, probably because Amy keeps wriggling and kicking him, but eventually he drifts off as well, even with a mouthful of Amy’s wild, curly brown hair and her foot dangerously close to his crotch.

-

When Louis gets home from work on Friday it’s to an uncharacteristically quiet house. It’s nearly six in the evening, which means Lottie has already come for Bridget, and Amy is probably in the process of getting ready to go out. Louis kicks off his shoes and shrugs off his blazer and starts up the stairs, walking into the bedroom just as the shower in the ensuite shuts off.

Louis is just picking out his favorite pair of skinny jeans and a nice t-shirt when Amy emerges from the bathroom, hair wrapped up in a towel and a big, fluffy robe tied around her waist. She jumps when she spots Louis but her shock quickly dissolves into a smile, and Louis grins as she comes over to kiss him hello.

“I thought I told you to be home early,” she mumbles, as she pulls away.

“I am early,” Louis argues.

Amy glances at the clock, and then narrows her eyes at him. “You’re seven minutes early.”

“Still early!” Louis hums, smacking a kiss to her cheek and disappearing into the bathroom with a flourish. She shouts after him that she needs to get back in there but Louis ignores her, turning on the shower and humming to himself as he undresses.

He makes good time in the shower, in and out within ten minutes. Amy is in a pair of exercise shorts and a t-shirt when he leaves the bathroom, sitting at her vanity doing her makeup. Louis takes a moment to watch her, amazed at how each swipe of her brush puts a little more color in her cheeks. He doesn’t usually like when she wears makeup, because it gets on him when he kisses her cheek and it almost always runs and he hates the way it looks after a few hours, but right now he thinks she’s never looked so beautiful. Her belly is starting to get round and Louis can’t help but walk over and touch it, feeling the way her bellybutton pokes out through the material of her t-shirt.

“Few more months,” she says quietly, turning to plant a kiss on Louis’s cheek. She’s not wearing any lipstick yet, thankfully, but she is wearing foundation and blush and it’s enough to make Louis keep his return kiss.

“I can’t wait,” he breathes, rubbing her stomach just a bit before he leaves her alone, finding his clothes where he left them on the bed and pulling them on. Amy disappears back into the bathroom to finish her makeup and do her hair and Louis leaves her to it, heading back downstairs to find something to snack on while he waits for Amy.

Once he’s gotten comfy on the couch with a packet of crisps, he hears his phone ringing from the coffee table. He spots Lottie’s name on the caller ID and picks it up, already knowing what this is going to be about.

“Hello?”

“Daddy?”

“Hi, Bridge.”

Bridget always calls before bed when she sleeps at someone else’s house. She hates to go to bed without saying goodnight, or leaving without saying goodbye. He can hear her relieved sigh over the phone, and he knows his own grin takes up his whole face.

“Hi, daddy,” she hums. “I asked auntie to call you so I could say goodnight. Is mummy there too?”

“She’s upstairs doing her hair, but I know she’ll want to talk to you too,” Louis assures. “Are you having fun at auntie’s?”

“So much fun,” Bridget gushes. “She made us cookies earlier and Nicky ate, like, seven, and then he cried because he didn’t feel good. I knew better, though, and I only ate three cookies.”

“That’s good,” Louis hums. “Is Nicky okay now?”

“Yeah,” Bridget says, “he felt better after a little while. We played on his train table and watched Finding Nemo and then he had to go to bed so I stayed up with auntie Lottie and uncle Tommy and we played a board game and then auntie said it was time for bed and I asked to talk to you and that’s what I’m doing now. Uncle Tommy said he would make waffles in the morning and I asked if he would put chocolate chips in them like you do and he said he would so I’m really excited for that.”

“I’ll bet you are,” Louis laughs, his heart swelling at his daughter’s excited babbling. “Well, you’d better get to bed then, so you can wake up and have those waffles. Do you want to talk to mummy?”

“Yes, please,” Bridget sings.

“One second, baby girl,” Louis says, hoisting himself up off the couch and running back upstairs. He finds Amy in the bedroom, looking at herself in the mirror. She’s wearing a little black dress, tight enough to show her bump but not enough to look too scandalous.

“You look beautiful,” Louis tells her, kissing the side of her head. “There’s a certain little someone who would like to speak to you before she heads to bed.”

Amy grins and whispers her thanks, taking the phone from Louis’s hand and holding it up to her ear. Her hair is down and her curls look soft and shiny, cascading down her back like a waterfall. She’s gorgeous, Louis doesn’t know what he did to deserve her.

“Hi, Bridget,” she hums into the phone, holding it between her ear and her shoulder while she starts putting on her jewelry. “That sounds like fun,” she says idly to Bridget, holding out her necklace to Louis and silently asking him for help with it. Louis turns her around and helps her on with it, while she assures Bridget that she will tell the baby goodnight and that she will see her tomorrow afternoon when she gets home. They hang up a moment later and Amy turns back to him, handing over the phone with a smile.

“She really is some little girl, isn’t she?”

“She is,” Louis hums, taking her by the hips and pulling her close. “And we are some parents.”

Amy grins at him and pecks his lips, being light about it because she knows he hates when her lipstick gets on him. “That we are,” she agrees.

Louis takes a seat on the bed to watch Amy finish getting ready, and then finally she decides she’s made up enough. “Ready?” She asks, and Louis perks up, more than ready to go out and get a little drunk. Amy’s friends are quite good at picking places that Louis loves, and he knows that no matter where they end up, it’s going to be a good night.

-

They decide to take Amy’s car to the bar her friends have picked out, as Amy will be the designated driver tonight. She’s four months pregnant, and she’s never much liked alcohol anyway, whereas Louis drinks like a fish on a night out and will stop at nothing to come back absolutely sloshed.

Louis checks the locks once more as he leaves the house, bouncing down the driveway to where Amy is already waiting in the car. She reaches for his hand over the console and Louis takes it happily, locking their fingers together. Amy still blushes like a teenager when Louis does that, and it makes Louis happy, but he doesn’t really know why. Holding Amy’s hand is nice, sure, and her palms get a little sweaty sometimes and it’s kind of gross but Louis doesn’t mind; he is married to her, after all. But he doesn’t get butterflies when he holds her hand, he doesn’t blush like she does, and he doesn’t feel the need to be in constant contact like she does. He loves her, of course he does, he loves her more than anything. He just doesn’t know why he doesn’t feel the things she does sometimes, why he doesn’t love her to the extent that she loves him.

He watches out the window while she drives, the GPS telling her every now and again to turn one way or the other. It’s about fifteen minutes before they pull up to the bar, and Amy’s hand is sweating and Louis is more than ready to get wasted.

They find Amy’s friends pretty quickly once they’re inside. The other couple is already at a table with drinks ready, waving them over happily. The girls hug and Louis shares a rather manly handshake with Amy’s friend’s boyfriend, and then they take their seats and finally, finally, the drinking begins.

“So Louis,” Amy’s friend’s boyfriend, Louis thinks his name is Timothy, says. “What do you do for work?”

“I work for a bank,” Louis says sipping at the beer in front of him. He wants something stronger, but he thinks it might be classier to take it slow. “Not very interesting.”

“A bank, huh?” Maybe-Timothy hums, sipping at his own beer. “Like, money and stuff?”

“Yes?” Louis says, glancing at Amy. Amy has a hand over her mouth, giggling quietly. “What other kind of bank?”

“Dunno,” Timothy shrugs. “Ever been robbed?”

Louis nearly chokes on his beer at that, shaking his head. “Uh, no, never. It’s not quite as common as you’d think. Plus, I’m not a teller, I do more of the office stuff. You know, managing accounts, sending bills.”

“Oh,” Timothy nods. “That’s cool, I guess.”

Louis tries not to look visibly amused, nodding once. “Right. I’m gonna go get some drinks, any requests?”

He finds himself up at the bar a minute later, waiting on two diet cokes, another beer, and whatever the strongest drink is that the bartender can make. He’s leaning against the bar, reading idly over the labels on the bottles on the wall, when he feels someone press up against his backside.

“Hey,” says a deep, gruff voice. “You here alone?”

“Um, no,” Louis says, turning around and prompting the guy to back off an inch. “Can I help you?”

“You’re a pretty little thing,” the guys says, smiling a wicked smile that makes Louis more uneasy than anything. “Let me buy you a drink.”

“I’m married,” Louis says, flashing the ring on his finger as proof. “And I’m not gay.”

The bigger man looks vaguely surprised, looking Louis up and down. Louis cocks his hip, trying to look unapproachable. “Married I can believe,” the guy mutters, “but straight… sorry mate, I don’t think so.”

Louis feels anger flare up inside of him at that, pushing the guy away. “Tell that to my wife of six years, and our two fucking kids. Get the fuck away from me,” he spits, pushing at the guy again. The man just looks amused, giving him one last once over before walking away and leaving him alone. There are quite a few people watching Louis now, but when he turns back around his drinks are waiting on the bar, so he takes them and storms off as quickly as possible.

He drops back into his seat at the table with a huff, handing out the drinks. Amy leans into his side, holding his arm gently and calming him down just the slightest bit.

“Okay?” She hums, quietly enough that the others don’t have to hear if Louis doesn’t want them to. Louis doesn’t care, though, doesn’t have anything to hide. It’s not like being called gay shook his confidence or anything. He’s not gay, so why should it matter?

“I just got hit on at the bar,” he admits, laughing it off rather weakly.

“Oh no,” Amy grins, wrapping her arms around his middle and holding him protectively. “Which bitch do I have to fight to keep my man?”

“It was a dude,” Louis says, trying to keep his carefree smile as he glances down at her.

Amy pulls a face at that, pulling away a bit. “You got hit on by another guy?”

“Yes,” Louis huffs, trying to turn it into a laugh. “Guess I’m just irresistible to everyone, eh?”

Amy smiles at him and kisses his cheek, wiping her lipstick mark away before he can complain. She leans into him and hangs off of him for pretty much the rest of the night, which makes him feel a bit better about himself, especially as he gets drunker.

It turns out that the strongest drink at the bar wasn’t nearly strong enough for Louis’s taste, and he has three more before they decide to call it a night. He’s more than a little tipsy on the way out, letting Amy guide him with a hand around his wrist. The cool night air feels so, so good on his skin, and the night sky is full of stars that make him feel so, so small suddenly.

“Amy?” He says, hiccuping quietly. She’s still pulling him along, trying to find their car in the car park. “Amy, can I ask you something?”

“Yes, love?” Amy hums, standing up on her toes to look for their car. She’s so beautiful. Louis wants to kiss her. Does he?

“Amy,” he says again, tugging on her hand to make her look. “Amy, do I look gay?”

Amy blinks in surprise, frowning at him. “Do you look gay? What does that even mean?”

Louis whines quietly, slumping against her. “You know I said that guy was-” he cuts off to hiccup again, “was hitting on me?”

“Yeah?” Amy says, wrapping her arm around his middle to lead him down another row of cars, walking a bit faster when she finally spots theirs.

“He said he- he could believe I was married, but not that I was straight. And the way he looked at me, it was like- like he could see it on me.”

“Lou, don’t be ridiculous,” Amy chuckles, tapping his hip gently. “You don’t look gay. You aren’t gay, that guy was just crazy,” she shrugs, like she knows exactly what she’s talking about.

“Crazy,” Louis mutters, nodding slightly. “Yeah.”

“C’mon, here’s our car,” she says opening Louis’s door for him. “Jesus, why did you get so drunk?”

“Sorry,” Louis giggles quietly, dropping himself into the car and clumsily doing his belt while Amy crosses around to get into the driver’s seat. “Amy?”

“Yes?” Amy hums as she does her own belt, glancing up at him.

“Amy,” he gushes, reaching over to hold her cheeks. “Amy, I love you.”

Amy laughs, blushing slightly. “I love you too, Louis.”

“Amy,” Louis hums, leaning his head back against his headrest and waiting for her to look over at him.

“Yes, Louis?”

“Amy,” he hums, “you’re so pretty. Why are you so pretty?”

Amy grins at that, her face lighting up. “You’re so silly when you’re drunk.”

“I’m not!” Louis argues, smiling at he reaches out to touch her face. “I’m not silly, you’re just- you’re fucking gorgeous,” he hiccups.

Amy stops the car at a red light and reaches up to hold Louis’s other hand, the one that’s caressing her cheek. “Thank you, love,” she grins, gazing at him for a moment.

“You’re just,” he mumbles, squeezing both of her hands, “you’re just so-.”

“I know,” Amy laughs, dropping one of his hands so she can start driving again once the light turns green. Louis leans his head against the headrest again and keeps gazing at her, until something out her window catches his eye.

“Amy,” he says quickly, but instead of looking where he’s looking, she looks right at him. She must see the panic in his eyes but it’s too late, the headlights are coming straight at them and Louis can feel himself screaming but he can’t hear it, all he can hear is the crunch of metal and he can feel the impact and he can taste blood almost immediately but that’s it, that’s all there is, and then there’s nothing, an overwhelming amount of it.

-

In every movie Louis’s ever seen, every book he’s ever read where someone wakes up in a hospital, there’s always a moment of confusion, a second of not knowing what’s happened. But for Louis, as soon as he opens his eyes, it’s like everything comes back to him all at once, and there’s only panic, as well as crippling pain.

There’s a nurse in the room, and she rushes over as soon as Louis starts whimpering. She checks the tube in his arm and tells him to stay calm but he can’t, he can’t, because he’s alone in this room and he doesn’t know where Amy is or if she’s okay and before he knows what’s happening there’s three more nurses in the room, and suddenly his limbs feel heavy and his head is swimming. Whatever it is they’ve given him to make him calm down seems to have numbed his pain a bit, as well, which he supposes is good.

“Mr. Tomlinson,” one of the nurses says, getting too close to his face for Louis’s liking. “Can you hear me?”

“Yes,” Louis mutters, blinking slowly.

“Do you know where you are?”

“The hospital?” Louis guesses, letting his eyes slip closed to dull the pounding in his head.

“Do you know what happened?”

“There was a car accident,” Louis says, voice a bit whiny. “My wife was driving and a car just… Where is she? Where’s Amy?”

He pries his eyes open at everyone’s lack of response, catching the nurses looking at each other uneasily. Louis’s heart drops to his stomach and he sobs, squeezing his eyes shut.

“She’s alive,” says one of the nurses, stepping up to the bed and touching Louis’s arm gently. Her voice is soft, and the way she strokes his arm makes him shiver. “But we don’t know if she’ll make it.”

Louis turns his head to press his face into his pillow, trying to wrap his brain around that. “Where is she?” He asks, voice weak. The nurse purses her lips, looking at one of the other nurses before sighing and looking back at Louis.

“She’s down the hall. We’ll take you to see her in a bit, once we’re sure you’re stable. Do you feel pain anywhere?”

“Yeah,” Louis breathes, trying to tamp down on his tears. “Yeah, in my ribs. And my head is pounding.”

The nurse nods, gesturing for the other nurses to leave once she jots something down on the clipboard she’s holding. “You might have a mild concussion, and we’ve yet to x-ray you, but you may have a broken rib or two.” Louis closes his eyes and clenches his jaw, trying not to sob again. “You’ll need to avoid driving and looking at any screens for the next few days, and after we do the x-ray, there may be more precautions you have to take.”

Louis nods, opening his eyes again and staring straight ahead at the wall. “Can we do the x-ray now? So I can get out of here faster?”

“You’re scheduled to have the x-ray in a few hours. Until then, can I get you anything to eat or drink? You’ve been unconscious for nearly sixteen hours, you should have something.”

Louis shakes his head, closing his eyes again. “Just water, I guess.”

“Okay,” the nurse hums, checking on a few more things before she goes to leave. She stops in the doorway and turns to look at him, waiting until Louis meets her eyes. “I’m very sorry for what’s happened, Mr. Tomlinson. So, so sorry.”

Louis clenches his jaw to keep away the tears, nodding once. “Do you happen to know what happened to the other driver?” He asks, voice weak and broken.

The nurse purses her lips again, glancing out into the hallway before coming back to the bed. “The guy was drunk. Died on impact, nearly went all the way through the windshield.”

Louis flinches, and looks away from the nurse and out the window. The nurse leaves quietly and Louis lets himself have a little cry, pressing his face into the pillow and sobbing quietly. It’s not fair that some idiot should get to ruin Louis’s entire life and then just die and not have to deal with any of the repercussions. Louis wants to vomit, and so he does, sitting up so quickly to puke over the side of the bed that white hot pain shoots through his entire body, bringing up another round of vomit. Louis is still slumped over sitting up when the nurse comes back with a glass of water, and gently helps him lay back down then makes him drink the entire glass. She gives him a little more medication before she goes, and Louis is out cold by the time someone comes in to clean up his sick.

-

After they do the x-ray, they’re able to tell Louis that his rib is only fractured, but it’ll still take a few weeks to heal. It won’t need a cast or anything and he’ll be able to take home some pain killers, but only enough for about one week because they’re addictive and that’s just about the last thing he needs.

A rather insensitive doctor tells Louis that the reason he escaped with so few injuries is probably because Amy took most of the damage. His baby is already dead, he learns, and it’s just a matter of time before his wife is too.

They get him in a wheelchair and bring him to Amy’s room, so he can spend the last few hours of her life with her. He holds her limp hand and rests his head on her thigh and he cries quietly into the paper sheets on her bed, listening to the slow, monotonous beeping of her heart monitor. A nurse comes to check in every hour but Louis doesn’t even react, really, just keeps his head down and his fingers locked with Amy’s. He wishes she would blush, that she would smile the way she does. He moves up and kisses her forehead and she doesn’t move, her pale face remaining still and lifeless. This is Louis’s everything, his entire world lying in this bed and she’s dying, she’s dying, and there’s nothing Louis or anyone else can do to save her.

It takes Amy until nightfall to let go. Her heart keeps beating for one more sunset and then she’s gone, taking with her every dream Louis ever had for the two of them.

-

Someone must have called Louis’s parents at some point, because they show up just as Louis is being discharged the next morning. He hasn’t spoken to anyone yet, not even Bridget, but the second he sees his mum’s face, he breaks.

She holds him while he cries, whispering in his ear that it will be alright. Lottie still has Bridget and is offering to keep her for as long as Louis needs, but Louis wants her now, wants to go home and be with his little girl and he wants to do what they need to to get through this. He knows that the longer he keeps this from Bridget, the harder it’s going to be for her to understand, and the harder it’s going to be for both of them to move on.

His parents drive him home, and Lottie’s car is already in the driveway when they get there. It’s a bright Sunday morning, the sun is out, and the sky is so clear it’s like it’s mocking him. Walking into his house feels like a dream, like it’s not real, it’s not happening.

Bridget and Lottie are cuddled up on the couch, and Bridget has her thumb in her mouth. She only sucks her thumb when she’s very, very upset, and the second she sees Louis she pops it out and runs to him.

“Daddy!” She squeals, and Louis kneels on the ground and catches her with open arms. It hurts like hell but he hardly flinches, squeezing his daughter tight. “Daddy, I missed you so much,” she whimpers, sounding like she’s close to tears.

“I missed you too, baby girl,” Louis breathes, burying his face in her neck. Her hair is soft and smells like the baby shampoo Amy still insists on using on her. “I’m here, I’m right here.”

Bridget clings to him when he goes to pull back, but he’s in too much pain to lift her, so he lets her keeping hugging him until she decides she’s had enough. When she finally pulls back, she has beads of tears in her eyes that she’s trying very hard to keep inside, but she doesn’t ask the question everyone is waiting for her to ask.

Lottie comes over next to hug him, breathing a few shuddering breaths into his neck. “I’m so sorry, Lou,” she murmurs, holding him tight. “I can’t even imagine what you’re going through.”

Louis just squeezes her as hard as he can, pulling away with a tiny, broken smile. “Thank you for taking care of her. I love you so much, Lot,” he whispers, tears springing back to his eyes.

“Of course, Louis,” she smiles sadly, hugging him once more. “I’ll be here, for anything you need, yeah?”

“Yeah,” Louis nods, looking down at the ground as they separate. “Thank you.”

Everyone stays for a bit, watching him like he’s some kind of hurt animal, like they’re waiting for him to break down or lash out or something. Louis grows tired of it rather quickly, ushering them out after the third time his mother offers to stay the night and help them out. He doesn’t want to be babied, he’s a grown ass man, and he can deal with this on his own.

That being said, by the time night comes, Louis can hardly breathe. He doesn’t want to go to bed, doesn’t even want to go near his room, because the last time he was in there he still had Amy, and now she’s gone. He focuses all of his energy on Bridget, trying to make her smile as much as he possibly can.

The question comes when they’re in the kitchen, making cookies. Louis has decided that Bridget doesn’t have to go to bed tonight if she doesn’t want to, and they can just sleep all day tomorrow instead of doing anything. It’s way past her bedtime, but she asked for cookies, and if Bridget can have anything in this world, it’s cookies.

“Daddy,” she says finally, looking up at Louis with pain written all over her face. “Where’s mummy?”

Louis flinches, thinking for a moment about how he wants to answer this. He sits down slowly on the floor and beckons Bridget over, pulling her down into his lap. It’s quiet for a moment, until finally Louis speaks. “Mummy isn’t here anymore, baby.”

“Well, where did she go?” Bridget asks, her bottom lip wobbling pitifully.

Louis hesitates, and then sighs. “She went to heaven, love.”

“Is she coming back?”

“No, I’m afraid she isn’t.”

Bridget looks shocked, the first tear rolling down her cheek. “Oh.”

“It’s not because she doesn’t love you, Bridge. She loves you so, so much, baby. She loves you more than you’ll ever know, and so do I,” Louis assures, holding Bridget tightly and rocking back and forth slowly, trying to soothe them both.

“Then why did she leave?” Bridget whimpers, looking up at Louis with big, watery blue eyes.

“It wasn’t her choice, sweetheart,” Louis says, not bothering to wipe away his tears as they begin to fall.

“Whose choice was it, then?”

Louis takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly, leaning back against the wall. “Someone made a really bad decision, Bridge. Someone decided to do something bad the other night, and because of that bad decision, they accidentally took mummy away from us. Mummy never wanted to leave you, I promise, but sometimes things happen that we can’t control.”

Bridget takes a shuddering breath, cuddling into Louis’s chest and tucking her head under his chin. Louis wraps his arms around her and holds her close, letting her cry into his shirt for a while.

“Daddy?” Bridget whispers after a bit, looking up at him. Louis smiles sadly at her and wipes away her tears, and tries not sob as she reaches up to do the same for him. “I love you, Daddy.”

“I love you too, Bridget,” Louis whispers back, hugging her as tight as he can. “I love you so, so much.”

They relocate from the kitchen to the living room once the cookies are done, settling in on the couch with the plate in front of them. Louis turns on Toy Story and Bridget is quiet for a few minutes, until finally she turns and looks up at him.

“Daddy?”

“Yes, love?”

“What about my little brother?”

Louis’s heart lurches at that, but he does his best to not let it show. “He- he had to go with mummy, love. He had to go to heaven too.”

Bridget seems to accept that, cuddling back into Louis’s chest. She falls asleep before the movie is even half over and Louis buries his face in her hair, letting himself weep until the early morning. He lost half his little family in one night, and if the person responsible for it wasn’t already dead, he thinks he’d hunt them down in a heartbeat to make sure they paid.

Louis had such big plans. He wanted so much out of life, and so did Amy. Now Bridget is going to grow up without a mother, and she’s always going to wonder what it would be like if this hadn’t happened. He wonders if she’ll blame him for her mother’s death as she gets older, or if she’ll understand that this is just as painful for Louis as it is for her. Louis doesn’t know how he’s going to raise her on his own, because he’s a fantastic father, yes, but he’s always been the fun parent, and Amy was in charge of the rules. He doesn’t know how to make sure Bridget has everything she needs all the time, doesn’t know how to make her favorite meal or how to do that one braid she loves to have in her hair or how to teach her to be the best person she can be. He doesn’t know how to live without Amy, he doesn’t know what he’s going to do.

He doesn’t resurface from his thoughts until the sun is already up, and Bridget starts to wake up in his arms. He’s exhausted, he realizes, because he didn’t really sleep in the hospital and now he’s been up all night long. Bridget yawns and looks up at him, frowning sleepily.

“Daddy?” She murmurs, eyes still hooded and half closed.

“Shh, you’re alright, baby,” Louis assures, moving to stand up from the couch with her in his arms. He groans quietly at the pain, but it’s bearable. “Gonna take you to bed, okay?”

“Okay,” Bridget yawns, cuddling into his chest. Louis brings her all the way upstairs and lays her down, sweating a little from the effort it takes. “Daddy, will you cuddle me?” She pleads, eyes snapping open as Louis turns to leave. Louis sighs in relief and climbs right into bed with her, because sleeping in her room means he doesn’t have to go into his own room and look at all of Amy’s things.

“Go back to sleep, baby,” he tells her, letting her cuddle close. “It’s early.”

“Love you, daddy,” she mumbles, and with that, she’s out cold again.

It takes Louis a few minutes, but eventually he drifts off as well. The world is a lot easier to take when he’s not conscious to face it, but as long as Bridget still loves him, he thinks they might be able to get through this.

-

The funeral is a few days later. Louis tried to be as helpful as possible throughout the process of planning it, but in the end, it was mostly Amy’s parents that did all the work. The service is scheduled for a Tuesday morning, the warmest day of the week, at the church they got married in Amy’s hometown, the town next to Louis’s. She’ll be buried just behind the church, in the plot closest to her grandparents.

Louis is dressed and ready to go by 8:00am, even though the service won’t start until 10. He and Bridget are supposed to get there early to greet people and thank them for coming, even though that sounds like just about the last thing he wants to do.

He took Bridget out the day before to get her a dress, and she picked out a simple black one with a thin sash around the waistline and little puffy sleeves that cut off just over her shoulders. He pulls her hair up into a half up-do that he watched Amy do on her once, and helps her on with the little pearl necklace that Amy bought her for her fifth birthday.

It feels surreal, kind of, getting in the car and driving back to the church. The last time he was even here was his wedding day, and it seems more than a little twisted that he should be back here now to put his wife of nearly seven years in the ground. Bridget has been quiet all morning, and Louis suspects she doesn’t really know what’s going on, but maybe it’s better that she doesn’t.

Amy’s parents are already there when Louis parks his car, setting up flowers around the casket on the altar. Louis carries Bridget inside, as the pain in his ribs has dulled substantially, but when he tries to put her down so he can help with the decorating, she clings to him.

“Bridge, baby,” Louis hums, petting her hair and hugging her close. “I’ve got to put you down. Do you want to help decorate?”

“No,” Bridget whimpers, kicking her feet in protest when Louis tries again to put her down. “I want to go home. I don’t like this.”

“Me either, love,” Louis admits, giving up on trying to put her down and hiking her a little further up on his hip. “But we have to. It’ll only be a few hours, and you can stay with me the whole time if you want to.”

“Please don’t put me down,” Bridget begs, her little face pressed firmly into Louis’s neck.

“I won’t, love,” he promises, holding her tight.

“I don’t want you to leave me,” Bridget breathes. “Ever.”

Louis’s heart drops into his stomach at that, and he turns away from where both of Amy’s parents are now watching them carefully. “Baby, I’m not ever going to leave you, okay? I promise. I’ve got you.”

“But you said sometimes you can’t control what happens,” Bridget mumbles, pulling her face away from his neck to look up at him. “How do you know something won’t happen that you can’t control?”

Louis takes a deep breath and sighs, walking over to one of the pews and sitting down, letting Bridget curl up in his lap. “Well, I don’t know. Things happen every day that I can’t control, like a few weeks ago when the shower broke, or when the fire alarm ran out of batteries in the middle of the night and woke us all up. But bad things, like what happened to mummy, are so rare. Things like that happen don’t happen very often at all, they’re kind of once in a lifetime things, if ever. And that’s not to say that bad things won’t ever happen again, but it’s a lot more likely that I’ll be around until you have kids of your own than it is that I’ll die tomorrow,” he says, brushing a piece of hair out of Bridget’s face.

“I’m just scared, daddy,” Bridget whispers, her lower lip wobbling. “I know it doesn’t happen that much, but it happened to mummy, why wouldn’t it happen to you, too? Or me, or nana or grandpa?”

Louis shakes his head, pulling Bridget into his chest. “I don’t know, babe. I wish I knew how to answer that. But you can’t think like that, or else you’ll constantly be living in fear. You have to look on the bright side, take every day as it comes, or else you’ll always be too afraid do anything at all,” he reasons.

“Okay,” Bridget says quietly, tucking her head under Louis’s chin.

“I love you, Bridge,” Louis whispers, leaving a long, lingering kiss on the top of Bridget’s head.

“Love you too, daddy,” she hums, sitting up enough to peck a kiss to his cheek.

Once the clock strikes ten, Louis hoists Bridget back up on his hip, walking over to where Amy’s parents are standing at the altar. Amy’s mother kisses his cheek in greeting and rubs Bridget’s back a bit, and they stand in relative silence while they wait for people to begin showing up.

Louis greets and accepts condolences from more people than he can keep track of, most of which he doesn’t even really know. Amy was so loved by so many different people, it’s so incredible to Louis.
He can’t help thinking, multiple times throughout the course of the morning, that it should be him in the casket instead of Amy.

Bridget clings to him like a backpack, squeezing his neck so hard he’s sure it’ll be sore for days to come. She hardly says a word to anyone that tries to say hello to her, which is so unlike her, but somehow Louis can’t find it within himself to tell her to be friendly today. He wishes he had someone to hide behind, dig his face into their neck and wait for it all to be over. He doesn’t put her down until the casket is in the ground, and his back is aching and his ribs are screaming for relief.

Somehow, Louis manages not to shed a tear throughout the entire service. It’s beautiful, and exactly everything that Amy deserved, but Louis can’t let himself cry in front of everyone, especially his daughter. He knows she saw him cry just the other day, but that’s different, somehow. Showing weakness like this in front of everyone they know and everyone they don’t know would make her think less of him, he’s sure of it.

When it’s finally over, when the only people left in the cemetery are Louis, Bridget, and Amy’s parents, Louis finally feels like he can breathe again. Bridget finally allows him to put her down and she walks back to the car, still clinging tightly onto Louis’s hand. This feels like the end, like it’s all actually over, like he’s going to take Bridget home and they’re going to have to find a way to go on from here, to go on without the person who made it easy to keep going.

Louis straps Bridget into her carseat and turns on the car for her, before turning back to face Amy’s parents. Their two cars are the only two left in the parking lot, and it’s strange that when they’re gone, that’ll be it.

“Goodbye, Louis,” Amy’s mother says, stepping up to give him a hug. She’s so young, too young to have just buried her only daughter. “Please don’t become a stranger, okay? Just because Amy is gone doesn’t mean you’ll lose us as well. Call us if you need anything, or even if you don’t, yeah?”

“Yeah, thank you,” Louis grins, trying not to let his face falter. “We won’t become strangers, I promise. Bridget and I are lucky to have you,” he says, hugging Amy’s father as well when he steps up.

With that, they’re gone, leaving Louis standing alone outside his car. He takes a few deep breaths to get himself under control before he finally gets into the driver’s seat, adjusting his mirror so he can see Bridget cleary.

“Daddy,” she says, kicking her feet against the bottom of her car seat. “What was the last thing mummy said to you?”

Louis nearly goes through the windshield at that, the words are so unexpected. “What?”

“I was just thinking, the last thing she said to me was that she loved me, and she would see me tomorrow,” she says thoughtfully. “She didn’t get to see me tomorrow, but I do think she loved me.”

“She loved you so much, baby,” Louis assures, trying to hide how choked up he is. “She still does, wherever she is now.”

“What was the last thing she said to you?” Bridget asks again, leaning forward in her carseat. Louis can barely see her in the mirror anymore.

“I think,” Louis says slowly, trying to remember. The whole thing is foggy, and with the mix of the alcohol in his system at the time and the concussion, anything could have happened. “I think I told her I loved her, and she said she knew, or something to that effect.”

Bridget sits back up in her seat, and Louis can see the frown on her face. “She didn’t say she loved you back?”

Louis grins, shaking his head. “No, but I knew she did. When you love someone, Bridge, you don’t always need to tell them that you love them. Sometimes you just know, and not saying it doesn’t mean it’s not true.”

“So you told mummy you loved her, and she said she knew, and you knew she loved you too?”

“Pretty much,” Louis hums, smiling at Bridget in the mirror. “When you love someone as much as mummy and I loved each other, you don’t need to say it all the time.”

Bridget hums in understanding, watching out the window for a bit. “Daddy?” She says after a few minutes, when they’re nearly home.

“Yes?” Louis hums, glancing at her in the mirror.

“I love you,” she says, watching him carefully.

Louis grins, eyes crinkling at her reflection. “I know,” he says, watching Bridget light up in return. He knew that was the reply she wanted. He waits a few moments, and then speaks again. “Bridge?”

“Yes?” Bridget perks up, eyes twinkling at him in the mirror.

“I love you,” he says, eyes flicking between her and the road as he watches her smile.

“I know,” she says, settling back into her seat and grinning widely out the window the rest of the way home.

-

Louis makes a box of Kraft mac and cheese for dinner, to Bridget’s absolute delight. They eat at the table, pulling funny faces at each other until every last little noodle is gone. It feels weird to think that just this morning they put Amy in the ground, because nothing has ever felt this normal.

After dinner, Louis sends Bridget to go pick out a DVD while he makes them some hot chocolate. Sure, it’s the middle of summer, but it’s chilly in the house tonight, like the air is determined to make them feel the absence of another body.

Bridget falls asleep halfway through Monsters Inc and nearly douses herself in hot chocolate, but luckily Louis is quick enough to grab the mug out of her hand before it can fall. He leaves it on the coffee table and scoops his little girl up in his arms, pressing a kiss to her forehead as he carries her upstairs. He changes her gently into her pajamas and tucks her into her bed, leaving a kiss over both of her fluttering eyelids before slipping out of the room. He makes sure to leave the door open just a crack, as usual, and then creeps back downstairs.

Without Bridget’s little body and huge personality taking up space, the house feels significantly empty. He almost expects Amy to be standing over the stove when he goes into the kitchen, but of course, she’s not. It hits him all at once; she’s not here, and she never will be again.

He cleans up the plates from dinner and washes their hot chocolate mugs, trying to keep his cool. He’s never been one to believe in ghosts, but the house feels inexplicably eerie at the moment, empty in a way he hasn’t noticed since the accident. Every time he turns around he expects to see her, to hear her voice, to feel her come up behind him and rub her hand down his spine. She’s everywhere, she’s a part of everything, but she isn’t here, and she’s never going to be.

As soon as Louis gets the kitchen in order he all but runs up the stairs, terrified of what he knows isn’t there. He still hasn’t slept in his own bed since the accident, opting for either Bridget’s bed or the couch. He doesn’t like the idea of being in here without her, but he knows he has to, or else they’re not going to be able to stay here.

He undresses as quickly as possible and climbs into bed, settling down against his pillow uneasily. After a while, when he’s finally able to relax, he reaches for Amy’s pillow, and pulls it close to his body. He’s always been the big spoon, always, even though Amy was about an inch taller than him. He cradles the pillow in his arms and presses his face into it, inhaling the lingering scent of her on it. He wants to cry, but he doesn’t, because crying isn’t going to bring her back and will probably just make him feel worse.

It takes him a while, but finally he’s able to drift off. He really hasn’t been sleeping too well the past couple of days, the grieving he puts aside during the day keeping him up at night. He sleeps fitfully, tossing and turning and whining quietly, until finally his eyes snap open.

There’s a pounding on his bedroom door, the whole frame of it rattling. Bridget is absolutely losing her mind on the other side of it, sobbing so hard she’s probably going to lose her voice, and Louis nearly wipes out trying to get out of bed to let her in. He doesn’t remember closing the door in the first place, but when he opens it, it swings open like it has a mind of its own. Bridget launches herself into his arms, digging her face into his neck and sobbing again. Her entire body is trembling like she’s absolutely terrified, and even when Louis picks her up and brings her to the bed to cuddle her back to health, she won’t calm down.

“Bridget, honey,” Louis coos, stroking at her hair. “Baby, did you have a nightmare?”

“Yes,” Bridget sobs, heaving so hard she nearly makes herself gag. “Daddy,” she whines loudly, clawing at him like she wants to climb inside him, like that would protect her from anything.

“You’re alright, love,” Louis assures, rocking her back and forth in his arms for a bit. She sobs for a solid ten minutes, and then finally starts producing words that mean something.

“Your door was locked,” she whimpers, trying to look up at him. “I needed you and your door was locked.”

“I’m so sorry, love,” Louis gushes, voice breaking. “I don’t know why it was locked, I don’t even remember closing it. Maybe the wind got in,” he reasons, glancing at the locked window beside the bed with a frown. The house is old, and the locks are shoddy. It’s probably just a coincidence.

Bridget just shakes, tucking her trembling body more firmly into Louis’s arms. “I had a dream about mummy,” she finally admits, talking directly into Louis’s sternum.

Louis’s stomach plummets through the floorboards, eyes falling shut. “Do you want to tell me about it?” He asks gently, rubbing her back with the tips of his fingers.

“I woke up and I went downstairs because I could hear you guys laughing and I went into the kitchen and when mummy saw me she got all scared and said she had to go and we tried to stop her but she kept saying she had to go and she couldn’t come back and I was crying and you were crying and mummy kept saying she loved us but she had to go,” Bridget whimpers, all in one breath. “And then you picked me up and you started running and I kept screaming and we went upstairs and we watched out the window and mummy just walked down the street and kept going and then she was gone.”

Louis feels his heart shattering in his chest, squeezing Bridget tight for a long moment. “It’s okay, honey, it was only a dream,” he whispers, not trusting his voice enough to speak much louder.

In the corner of the room, a piece of Amy’s jewelry glints in the moonlight. It’s then that Louis makes a decision, standing up quickly and holding Bridget close to his chest.

“Where are we going?” Bridget asks, holding onto his shoulders as he jogs down the stairs. “Daddy, I’m scared,” she cries, hiding her face as they pass the darkened kitchen. It’s about 3:00am, according to the cable box in the living room.

“I don’t know,” Louis mutters, grabbing a jacket and some shoes for both of them. “I don’t know.”

Once they’re outside, the cool night air feels easier to breathe. Louis puts Bridget in her carseat and then deals with her shoes, slipping them on her feet. “Stay right here, okay? I’ll be back,” he says, kissing her forehead before closing the car door.

He runs back inside and up to his room, grabbing a pair of jeans and a t-shirt, and then stealing a dress from Bridget’s room. He doesn’t know where he’s gonna take her and he doesn’t know for how long, but knows that this is the last time they’ll sleep in this house.

Amy is everywhere. She’s in the walls, in the stairs as Louis jogs back down them, in the couch in the living room and in the front door when Louis slams it behind himself. She’s in the front stoop and in the walkway, and she’s in the windows when Louis finally gets in the car and spares the dark house one more glance. Louis loves her, but he can’t live like this, with her lurking in every dark corner of his brain.

Bridget doesn’t say a word as Louis pulls out of the driveway, watching out the window with her head back against her carseat. She falls asleep somewhere between the house and the highway, and Louis doesn’t stop driving until the sun is up over the trees.

He gets off the highway around 7:00am, but he doesn’t stop driving the country roads until Bridget wakes up. They’re in a small town near the coast somewhere, and Louis isn’t quite sure where they are, but it seems nice enough to stay for a bit. Bridget gives him a knowing look when he meets her eyes in the mirror, and Louis thinks they both know how this is going to end.

Chapter Text

They stop for breakfast at a cute little cafe near a park. They’ve been doing laps around this little town for close to an hour now, and Louis thinks he could see them making a new life here. It’s not that he wants to forget everything that’s happened, but they need to move on, and if finding a new home allows them to do that, then so be it.

Bridget orders the biggest plate of French toast Louis has ever seen, and giggles manically the entire time she’s eating it. He’s so relieved that she’s not still shaken up over what happened last night. He, for one, is still terrified of what it all could mean.

“So, Bridge,” he says, after Bridget seems stuffed to the brim with French toast.

“So, dad,” she hums, propping her elbows up on the table and resting her chin in her hands. She’s so fucking cute, Louis can’t help but smile.

“What do you say we drive around a bit and see if there are any houses for sale around here?” He hums, trying not to fidget uncomfortably when the smile slides off of Bridget’s face.

“What’s wrong with our house?” She asks, dropping her hands back down to her sides.

“Nothing,” Louis assures. “It’s just- I was thinking we could use a new start, you know? We’ve both been through so much in the past few weeks, wouldn’t it be nice to start all over somewhere new?”

Bridget narrows her eyes at him. Louis feels thoroughly judged.

“I mean,” Bridget sighs, “I guess so. But won’t we miss our old house?”

“Maybe,” Louis shrugs. “But we’ll make new memories in a new house. You can start school here in the fall, and make a bunch of new friends, and you can decorate your new room anyway you want, and it’ll all be okay,” he says.

Bridget is quiet for a minute, staring him down. And then, so quietly he barely even hears her, she says, “is this because of mummy?”

Louis takes a moment to think of the correct way to answer that. On one hand, Bridget is young, too young to really understand Louis’s thought process. On the other hand, though, she’s brilliant, and if Louis lies to her, she’s liable to hold it against him for the rest of his life.

“Maybe,” he says again, carefully. “But it’s not because I want to forget her. It’s because I want to be able to live without her. In our house, every single thing reminds me of her. The furniture makes me think of how we picked it out together, our bed makes me think of when we used to sleep in it together, the stove makes me think of how she would be stooped over it every night after I finished putting you to sleep. I can’t very well learn to live without her if I can’t stop thinking about her, can I? Please, Bridget, I understand that you don’t want to leave our house, but I really think it would be good for both us.”

Maybe Louis shouldn’t speak to her like that. Maybe he should treat her like the child she is, instead of treating her as an equal. But Bridget cocks her head in a way that’s so similar to her mother that it makes Louis’s heart melt, and she nods.

“Okay, that makes sense,” she says, pushing around a bit of French toast on her plate. “But, just promise that if we move, you’re never gonna let either of us forget about mommy?”

She sounds so sincere, so desperate, that Louis knows he would do anything to do right by her.

“I promise,” he breathes, holding out his pinkie.

Bridget stares at it for a moment and then grins, reaching up to lock her sticky little finger with Louis’s. “Deal.”

-

It only takes an hour to find a house that they both love, and it just so happens to be having an open house today. It’s only one story and seems quite small from the outside, but it looks very cosy. It’s painted a warm baby blue with dark shutters on the windows, and the front garden looks lush and green.

“Daddy,” Bridget says, reaching forward to grab his arm while he parks on the curb outside the house. “This house is perfect.”

Louis chuckles, turning around in his seat to look at her. “How can you tell?”

Bridget shrugs, leaning back in her seat and looking out the window at the house. “I don’t know, I just can.”

Louis grins at her, shaking her head. “Well, we have a bit of time before the open house starts. Why don’t we take a walk, see what’s around?”

The street is very antique looking, but every house looks well kept. The sidewalk is made of cobblestone and the park is just at the other end of the neighborhood, close enough to walk to. It does seem pretty perfect, if Louis’s honest, but it seems much too easy.

They explore the park for a bit, discovering a small playground and a big, wide open picnic area. There are houses that line either end of the park, and they’re all just as quaint and perfect looking as the house they’re going to look at.

“What do you think?” Louis asks Bridget, after they’ve explored for a bit. She hasn’t let go of his hand once, even when Louis offered to push her on the swings. It’s like she’s being cautious, trying not to get attached lest they have to leave it behind.

“I like it,” Bridget says thoughtfully. “Do you like it, daddy?”

“I do, so far,” Louis hums. “But we’ll have to see the house before we make any decisions. For all we know, the thing could be falling down on the inside.”

Bridget looks panicked then, gripping his hand tightly. “What if it is? Are we going to have to keep looking? Daddy, what if we never find the right house? What if we can never move on,” she worries, tugging his hand until he kneels in front of her, holding her face to center her.

“Hey, that’s not for you to worry about, okay?” He hums, rubbing her cheeks gently with his thumbs. “You’re a kid, Bridge, please be a kid. Let me worry about all of that, okay? We’re gonna find a house, maybe not this one, maybe not the next one, but we’re gonna find one. And when we do, we’re both gonna love it. Sound good?” He asks, giving Bridget a small smile.

Bridget relaxes, nodding into his hands. “Yeah, okay. Thank you, daddy,” she breathes, reaching up to wrap her arms around his neck. Louis smiles and holds her close, wondering what he did to deserve her. She’s so amazing, Louis doesn’t know where on earth she came from.

“Love you, Bridge,” he mutters, squeezing her tight before pulling back.

“I know,” she grins, pushing her hair behind her ear before skipping off down the pavement a bit. She turns back before she gets too far away, smiling when she finds Louis still watching her. “I love you too, you know.”

“I know,” Louis assures, pushing himself up onto his feet to follow after her. She reaches for his hand and he takes it happily, steering her back in the direction of the house so they can be on time for the open house.

-

It turns out that the house is just as perfect on the inside as it is on the outside. There are two bedrooms, one a bit bigger than the other, one bathroom, and an open concept living room and kitchen that works perfectly for them. It’s probably not a forever home, but it could be, depending on how things turn out from here.

They’re standing in the backyard, Bridget walking circles around Louis and chattering about all the things she’d like to do with the room that would be hers. Louis just watches her fondly, waiting for her to finish.

“So,” he says, crouching down to be on her level. “What do you think? Could this be our home?”

Bridget smiles so big her eyes squint nearly shut, something she inherited from him. “Yes,” she says, reaching up to pinch Louis’s cheeks. It’s something she does when she’s really excited, and it never fails to bring a smile to Louis’s face. “I want this to be our home.”

Louis grins at her, before reaching out to tickle her stomach. Bridget shrieks, trying to bat him away, but he scoops her into his arms before she can. He tosses her over his shoulder and stands up, heading back inside the house. Bridget’s laughter is loud and raucous, but it’s adorable, and Louis doesn’t put her down until it’s more gasping than laughing.

They find the agent in charge of the open house, and Bridget goes off to explore some more while Louis talks numbers with the friendly woman. The house is well within his budget; his job at the bank pays quite well, and with Amy’s life insurance money, Louis can more than afford the house. He puts an offer in on the spot, and with that, he feels his life finally take a step forward.

He finds Bridget in the room she hopes will be hers, staring out the window. He comes up behind her and crouches down, hooking his chin over her shoulder. “What’re you thinking about?” He hums, smiling when she turns to look at him.

“Mummy would have loved this house,” Bridget says quietly, looking back out the window. “She always did love her flowers in the garden. Daddy, can we keep the garden?” She pleads.

Louis gazes out the window as well, eyes sweeping over the rainbow of flowers and lush, vibrant plants along the edge of the yard. “I don’t see why not,” he says, turning to look at Bridget again. Her eyes are bright, and Louis wants to keep them that way for as long as possible. “We could make the garden even bigger, maybe. Get some more plants, different kinds, plant them all over,” he says, watching Bridget’s smile grow.

This is going to be their home, he can feel it. This is going to be the pushing off point for the rest of their lives, and it’s lovely.

-

It takes three days to hear back from the real estate agent, and in that time, Louis has packed up the entire house. The only big things that they’re keeping are Bridget’s bed and the fridge; everything else is being donated, because Louis can hardly stand to look at it.

He put the house on the market the same day he put an offer in on the other house, but so far he’s heard nothing. He and Bridget spend as much time out of it as possible, going on long, full day shopping trips for new furniture and only really going back to eat and to sleep.

The call comes on Saturday morning, as Bridget is setting up a picnic in the backyard for breakfast. They have an entire bowl full of cubed fruit and a big stack of pancakes, and Bridget insisted they eat it outside. Louis is sprawled out on the grass, waiting for her to set the blanket to her liking, when his phone starts buzzing away in his pocket. He pulls it out and accepts it without looking, watching Bridget as she attempts to smoothe out every wrinkle in her blanket.

“‘Ello?” he singsongs, closing his eyes when the sun comes out from behind the clouds.

“Mr. Tomlinson?” Says a woman, her voice friendly and familiar.

“That’s me,” Louis chirps, squinting to watch Bridget again.

“This is Karen Carter, we spoke a few days ago about the house on Peony Street?”

“Oh!” Louis grins, sitting up quickly. “Right, yes. My daughter and I love that house.”

“Good,” Karen hums, “because it’s yours if you’re still interested.”

Louis pumps his fist excitedly, gaining Bridget’s attention. She quirks an eyebrow at him, and Louis grins. “We got the house?” He asks Karen, watching as Bridget’s eyes widen dramatically.

“You did,” Karen says happily. “Congratulations, Mr. Tomlinson. Should I start writing up the deed for you?”

“Yes,” Louis says, grinning when Bridget begins to twirl around the yard, her skirt flowing in the breeze. “Yes, we can’t wait to move in.”

“The current owners should be out by tomorrow morning,” Karen tells him. “So you’ll be able to begin moving in tomorrow afternoon.”

“Perfect,” Louis says. “That sounds perfect.”

“Excellent,” Karen chirps. “Congratulations again! I know you and your daughter will be very happy here.”

“Thank you,” Louis says sincerely, eyes softening when Bridget turns back to look at him.

She’s on top of him as soon as he puts the phone down, tackling him to the ground. Louis laughs and hugs her tight, hardly even flinches when she squeals right in his ear.

“We got the house, daddy?” She says, looking up at him. Her smile is faltering, though, and Louis can see the start of tears in her eyes.

“Yeah,” he hums, sitting up and tugging her into his lap. “Aren’t you happy about that?”

“Yes,” Bridget whimpers, voice strained like she’s holding back the waterworks. Louis gives her a look, and she nearly shakes with the effort to seem happy. “I am! Really, I am. I love that house, I can’t wait to live there,” she assures him. She turns her head away when the first tear rolls, but Louis doesn’t miss it.

“Then why the tears, love?” He asks gently, kissing the side of her head and brushing her tears away.

Bridget just shrugs, snuggling back into his chest. He holds her for a minute, until finally she decides what she wants to say.

“I love this house too,” she mutters. “That house is great, and I’m ready to start over and everything, but I love this house too. This is where I lived when I was a baby, this is where I knew my mum. This is where I grew up and where I learned how to walk and where I first rode a bike,” she says, voice trembling.

“Oh, love,” Louis coos, wrapping his arms all the way around her. “We’ll make memories in the new house, too. Everything has to come to an end at some point,” he says, trying to look at Bridget’s face.

“I know,” she says, giving him a watery little smile. “I know.”

Louis grins at her, affection bubbling in his chest. She’s so brilliant for such a little kid, so much more than her five years. “You’re so smart,” he tells her, nuzzling into her hair. “You’re the best kid I’ve ever had, you know that?”

Bridget rolls her eyes at him, smiling through her tears. “I’m the only kid you’ve ever had, daddy,” she giggles, returning the gesture when Louis sticks his tongue out at her.

“Well, let’s get this picnic in motion then, shall we? After we eat, we can start bringing all our boxes down by the front door so it’ll be easy to load up the car tomorrow,” he says, helping Bridget up and following her over to the blanket. He’ll need to call a van, because there’s no way they’ll fit of their boxes in the boot of his little blue sedan, but he supposes that can wait until later, as well.

“Bridge?” He hums, as Bridget settles down with a plate of pancakes and some cubed fruit on her lap. She looks up at him curiously, munching on a piece of watermelon. “I love you,” he says, throwing a grape at her face.

Bridget giggles when it bounces off her nose, picking it up and popping it in her mouth. “I know,” she chirps.

-

By the time they get to the new house the next day, Bridget is fast asleep in her carseat and Louis is more than ready to start over.

He didn’t get a wink of sleep the night before, probably because of a mixture of excitement and sadness. He waffled for a bit about what to do with all of Amy’s things, but ultimately he decided to keep them, and currently has every article of her clothing and every piece of her jewelry packed in a box in his trunk.

There hadn’t been any more tears from Bridget as they were leaving, just more excited chatter about exactly what shade of purple she intends to paint her new room and how she thinks they should get a new shower curtain with fish on it. Louis plans to indulge her every whim, because he thinks she deserves it after everything she’s been through.

He decides to leave her in the car while he sets about bringing things inside, because if he wakes her up mid-nap she’ll be cranky for the rest of the day, and it’ll be easier to get things done without needing to focus on her, anyway. He’s able to get all of the boxes from his trunk inside and almost half of the things from the moving van before she wakes up, and by then he’s far too tired to deal with her whining.

“Bridge,” he says, getting her attention from where she’s kicking rocks around in the driveway. “How do you spell your name?” He asks her, smiling slightly at the face she makes while she considers.

“B-r-i-d-g-e-t,” she tells him, “Bridget.”

“Good,” Louis hums, pointing to one of the cardboard boxes with her name scribbled on in Louis’s messy handwriting. “What does that box say?”

“B-r-i-d-g-e-t,” Bridget says, grinning brightly, “Bridget!”

“Good!” Louis cheers, pushing the box toward her with the toe of his shoe. “You remember where your new room is?”

“Down the hall, on this side,” she says, facing the house and holding up her right hand. “Right next to the bathroom. And your room is on the other side.”

“Exactly,” Louis smiles. “Do you want to do a job?”

“Yes!” Bridget says, hopping excitedly.

“Okay, I want you to take all of the boxes that have your name on them and bring them into your room, and we can unpack them later. Some of them might be too heavy, but most of them you should just be able to push along the floor,” he shrugs, handing her a smaller box with her name on it, probably full with clothes. “Can you do that?”

“Yes I can, daddy,” she sings, taking the box from his arms. She tilts forward a bit with the weight of it, but Louis thinks she can handle it. She sets off inside the house then, disappearing around the corner to her room.

It only takes another hour to get all the boxes inside, since there’s really no big furniture. The previous owners left almost all the appliances aside from the stove and the fridge, but Louis brought his own fridge and adds a microwave to his mental list of things he needs to get.

When he goes to check on Bridget’s progress, he finds her sitting on the floor amidst a sea of boxes. “Look, daddy!” She cheers. “I made myself a castle!”

“Very good, love,” he chuckles. “Whereabouts do you think your bed should go? The moving guys are gonna help me put it together before they go, so we need to know where we should put it.”

Bridget hums in thought, tapping her chin as she looks around the room. “Here,” she decides, going to stand in the corner, next to the window that looks out over the back garden. “Right here, so I can look out at the flowers when I wake up in the morning,” she explains.

“Perfect,” Louis grins, shifting some boxes out of the way to create a path to the corner of the room. The two men that have been helping him with the boxes lug the pieces of Bridget’s bed frame into the room, helping Louis fit the pieces together and then assisting him in getting the mattress up on it.

It’s nearly dark by the time the men leave, and Bridget has been complaining about being hungry for about half an hour now. Her bedsheets are still lost somewhere in one of the boxes and Louis wanted to get at least that set up before dinner, but he figures it can wait.

He sends Bridget off to find the lamps while he digs through the boxes labeled kitchen, trying to find something to make for dinner. He finds a box of pot noodles and figures that’ll do, getting them on the stove and then digging back through the boxes to find some bowls.

Bridget comes back into the kitchen wearing one of Amy’s old blouses, soft baby pink with little buttons down the front. In one hand she’s holding a small table lamp, and she has her opposite thumb stuck in her mouth. She looks close to tears, and Louis smiles sadly.

“I see you found mummy’s box,” he sighs, crouching down and opening his arms for her to come tuck herself into. She nods into his chest and then hands over the lamp, slowly pulling her thumb out of her mouth.

“Why did you keep her clothes? I thought we were moving on?” She mumbles, watching Louis set the lamp on the counter and plug it in.

“Bridge, I told you,” Louis says gently, turning to face her and leaning back against the counter with his arms folded over his chest. “Moving on doesn’t mean forgetting. I kept her stuff so we could always have a piece of her, but not necessarily be constantly surrounded by pieces of her.”

Bridget blinks, and then looks down at the blouse she’s wearing. It reaches almost to her ankles, her bare toes curling against the kitchen tile. “Can I keep this one?” She asks quietly. “Just- I don’t know. I like this one,” she mutters.

“Of course you can, love,” Louis assures, crouching back down so Bridget can lean into his arms again. “You can have any of it that you want, yeah? That’s why we kept it.”

Bridget nods, shoving her thumb back in her mouth. Louis frowns and reaches up to pull it out, because that’s a bad habit she doesn’t need to get back into.

“I miss her,” Bridget whimpers, looking up at Louis with watery eyes.

“I know you do,” Louis sighs, pulling her against his chest and pursing his lips. “I miss her too, baby.” The stove beeps a moment later to let him know that the pot noodles are done, and he squeezes Bridget once more before pulling away.

They sit on the kitchen floor to eat their dinner, watching each other over the table lamp they’ve placed between them. Louis wishes he could make this easier for her, wishes that maybe she wasn’t so smart so that maybe this would hurt less. But she’s brilliant, she’s so brilliant, and Louis doesn’t regret that for a second. Amy did so well with her, in the time that she had with her, and he knows Bridget is going to grow up to be an incredible person having ever known Amy in the first place. He hopes he can do well with her, hopes he can learn to fill Amy’s shoes eventually.

After dinner, they’re both too exhausted to go through the trouble of making up Bridget’s bed. Louis finds her duvet and her pillow and tucks her in on top of the naked mattress, still wearing Amy’s cotton blouse. He leaves a lamp at the end of her bed for a night light and then sets off for his own room, dragging in the air mattress from where he left it in the living room.

Part of his furniture purge included his beloved memory foam mattress. The only problem with memory foam is that it holds its shape, which means the divot where Amy’s body used to go is still there. He couldn’t deal with that, couldn’t deal with the thought that he would never share a bed with her, or probably anyone else, ever again. He can’t imagine finding someone that means anywhere near as much as Amy meant to him. The very thought alone feels like infidelity, even in the form of a faceless, nameless figure of his imagination.

He goes to find a blanket and a pillow while the mattress blows up, since he also tossed all his old bedding. There’s a throw pillow from the old couch and a worn blanket Louis used to keep in his car, and he supposes those will do for now. He sets up his bed and then heads back to the kitchen, unpacking all of the food and finding homes for it in the cupboards and in the pantry.

Getting into bed when he finally decides to call it a night feels better than it has in a while. He falls asleep quickly without the abundance of visual reminders of the love he lost, and for the first time in over a week, he sleeps through the night.

-

In the light of the morning, the mountains of boxes in the living room seem far too daunting to tackle right away. Bridget is begging to go to the park down the street and Louis supposes he could use the time to get some things done on his laptop, like finding a new job nearby and buying the rest of the furniture that isn’t already on its way to the house.

He finds his laptop and his phone and stuffs them in an old rucksack, and he lets Bridget pick two toys she wants to bring along to the park. She decides to carry her doll and lets Louis put her coloring book in his bag, and then they’re off.

The walk to the park only takes a few minutes, and Bridget runs squealing for the playground. Louis finds an empty picnic table close enough to keep an eye on her from and settles in, using his phone as a wifi hotspot to begin searching for jobs in the area that he’s qualified for.

He gets absorbed in looking, running several google searches all at once. He needs a television for the living room and he needs a new faucet for the kitchen sink and he also needs to find a daycare close by for Bridget once he gets back to work, and he really needs to find a job he can get back to. He liked the bank, and he’d like to maybe keep doing that, but with starting over comes the option to maybe try something else, something new, and the possibilities are overwhelming.

He glances up every now and again to make sure Bridget is okay, making sure the kids she’s found are all playing nicely. After they’ve been there an hour or two, though, and Louis is thinking it’s about time they head back home and get to unpacking some more boxes, he looks up from his screen and finds that Bridget is nowhere to be seen.

He feels panic rising in his throat immediately, standing up so fast he nearly brings the whole table with him. He quickly sweeps his laptop into his bag and takes off at a run, looking in every direction for his daughter.

“Bridget!” He screams, squinting against the sun as he looks down either side of the park, seeing only unfamiliar faces. “Bridget!”

He can’t lose her. He’s already lost his wife and his unborn child in one night, he is not about to lose the only person he has left. He feels sick, ready to absolutely lose his mind, but still he keeps looking. She’s definitely not at the playground, and Louis doesn’t know where else she would go. There’s a fountain at the other end of the park, but Louis can’t imagine Bridget would be too drawn to that. There’s a massive flower garden near the center of the park and Louis takes off for it, remembering Bridget’s fascination with the flowers in their own yard.

As he comes up on the garden, he finally spots a small, curly brown head amongst the flowers. It doesn’t ease his anxiety, though, because his daughter is holding hands with some random stranger. She sees him before he gets to her, and he can see from a mile away the smile that breaks out on her face.

“Daddy!” She calls, waving jovially. The man that’s holding her hand follows her line of vision and, to Louis’s immense relief, lets go of Bridget’s hand.

“Bridget,” he breathes, kneeling on the grass and opening his arms for her to run into them. He holds her tight, pressing his face into her neck until his heart returns to almost a normal speed. “Don’t you ever do that again.”

“But dad,” she says, pulling away to look up at him. “I was only playing with Harry.”

“We’re going home,” Louis says, shooting the guy still loitering beside them a dirty look.

“Daddy,” Bridget whines, pouting her lip back at the man, Harry, Louis supposes. “I want to keep playing with Harry.”

“Bridget,” Louis bites, tugging her away when she reaches for the tall, awkward looking guy. “What have I told you about talking to strangers?”

“He’s not a stranger!” Bridget argues, “he’s my friend now! He gave me bubblegum and let me put flowers in his hair!”

“He gave you- spit that out,” Louis rushes, nearly sticking his finger down her throat to get the gum out of her mouth. “Bridget, what were you thinking?”

“She’s only little, sir,” Harry pipes in. He’s got his hands clasped behind his back, looking like an absolute knob with his shoulder length hair and stupid Disney Princess eyes. What? “You should really watch her more closely. And maybe have a talk with her about taking candy from strangers.”

Louis’s blood is boiling, and he’s pretty sure his face is red with anger. “Did I ask, mate?” He spits, holding Bridget behind him while he gets up in Harry’s face. “You have no fucking idea what we’re going through,” he hisses, quietly enough that Bridget won’t hear. “So why don’t you keep your fucking opinions to yourself and stop giving candy to children in the first place.”

With that he turns on his heel, storming off with Bridget in tow. Harry is calling an apology after him but Louis doesn’t care to hear it, because he’s never going to see the prick again in his life, and he’s quite pleased about it.

“Daddy, I’m sorry but-”

“No, no buts,” Louis bits, glaring down at Bridget. “You scared the life out of me, Bridge. You know better than to talk to strangers. What if he asked you to come to his car, or to his house? Would you have followed him?”

Bridget blinks, watching her feet for a moment. “No?”

“Bridget,” Louis sighs, tugging on her hand to get her attention. “Be honest. Would you have?”

Bridget shrugs, still staring at the ground. “I don’t know. Maybe.”

Louis wants to scream, but he refrains. He chews on his lower lip, until Bridget tugs on his hand.

“Daddy,” she says, sounding close to tears. “I’m sorry, really, I am. I didn’t think he was bad, he was so nice to me,” she says, like that makes it okay.

“Yeah? And what if he stole you and you never saw me again? Would you still think he’s a nice guy?”

Bridget starts to cry in earnest then, hanging her head and sobbing quietly. Louis tries to ignore her, keeping their pace up. He probably shouldn’t have been so harsh with that, but she needs to learn one way or another. They don’t say another word until they get back to their own house, and Louis opens the front door.

“I want mummy,” Bridget cries, refusing to look Louis right in the eye.

Louis blinks, and Bridget finally rips her hand free from his hold. She runs off to her room and slams the door like a bloody teenager, and Louis feels tears spring to his eyes before he’s even closed the front door all the way.

“So do I,” he breathes, squeezing his eyes shut and rubbing at his face. Amy was always so good at this. She was the one that made and enforced the rules, and did the talking to when Bridget broke them. Louis was always just there with cuddles and ice cream to repair the damage afterward, but he doesn’t know if he can do both.

He goes to his own room and collapses on the air mattress, sniffling into his pillow. He can’t do this. He literally cannot do this on his own. Bridget is going to grow up and hate him because he doesn’t know how to be an actual parent. She already lost her mother, she doesn’t need a father she can’t count on to take care of her when she needs it.

He lets himself have a little cry, but only for a minute. He gets up and dries his face and calms himself down a bit, and then crosses the hall to Bridget’s room.

He knocks quietly on the door before he pushes it open, peeking his head inside. Bridget is sitting on the floor in the corner opposite her bed, talking quietly to her favorite stuffed bear. Louis can’t make out the words she’s saying but he can hear that she’s still sniffling quietly, apparently unaware of his presence.

He opens the door a little wider and Bridget’s head snaps up, her face softening immediately. She gets up and runs to him, wrapping herself around his leg when Louis steps into the room.

“I’m sorry, daddy,” she whimpers, pressing her face into his thigh. “I’m sorry for being bad. I’ll never wander off again,” she promises.

“It’s okay, love,” Louis assures, peeling her off his leg so he can sit down with her. She curls herself into his lap, and he holds her close. “I’m sorry I yelled at you like that. I just got scared when I couldn’t find you.”

Bridget just nods, tucking her head under his chin. Louis holds her for a bit longer, and then moves his head to try and catch her eye.

“Bridge, can you tell me exactly what happened? I’m not going to be mad, I just want to know what you were thinking,” he says, slipping his hand up the back of her shirt to scratch at her back the way she likes.

“Well,” Bridget sniffles, “I was at the playground and I was playing with these two kids, a girl and her older brother, and then their mum said they had to go, so I was all by myself. I looked over at you and you looked busy on your computer so I didn’t want to bother you, and I saw all the flowers so I just walked over to have a look, and Harry was sitting on a bench in the garden reading a book and I said hello to him, because you always tell me to be friendly, and he put his book down and he said hello and asked if I was lost, and I said no, because I knew where I was, and he asked where my mummy was and I told him she was in heaven and he looked all sad and asked if I had a daddy and I said that I did and I pointed to your picnic table and said you were busy. So Harry let me share his bench and he was chewing bubblegum and I told him it smelled good so he gave me a piece, and he asked what kind of flower was my favorite and I said daisies because I have an auntie Daisy and she’s my second favorite auntie after auntie Lottie and he asked if I knew how to make flower crowns out of daisies and I said no but I know how to braid daisies into my hair and he asked how I knew that and I told him my mummy taught me before she went to heaven. And then he asked if I wanted to braid daisies into his hair and I said okay because he had really pretty hair, curly and brown like mine and mummy’s and he sat on the ground in front of the bench and I tried to do it but I kinda forgot how and I started to get sad because mummy taught me that and I forgot, and he said it was okay and that we should probably go and find my dad anyway, and then you came running over,” she says.

Louis takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly, pressing a kiss to the side of Bridget’s head. This Harry fellow really was just being kind, and Louis just about bit his head off for it.

“Are you mad?” Bridget whispers, after a long few moments of silence.

“No,” Louis assures, smoothing her hair down and kissing her head again. “No, I’m not mad. I’m still not happy that you wandered off on me, but I guess all’s well that ends well, eh?”

Bridget gives him a little smile, nodding her agreement.

“What do you say we go out for dinner tonight?” He says, jostling her gently. “I bet we can find a really good diner around here somewhere. And maybe we can get some ice cream after?”

Bridget looks at him for a moment, and then looks down at her toes. Louis feels his heart sink, knowing that that won’t work this time.

“I miss mummy,” Bridget breathes, so quietly it’s almost like she didn’t say anything at all.

“I know you do,” Louis sighs, resting his forehead on top of Bridget’s head. “I do too. It’s okay to miss her though, yeah? It’s better that we miss her than that we just forget her altogether.”

Bridget nods, the movement jostling Louis’s head as well. After a moment she sniffles and looks up at him, and Louis shifts away so he can look at her without going cross eyed.

“How about,” she proposes, getting this evil little smirk on her face, “we skip dinner and go straight for the ice cream, instead?”

Louis laughs suddenly, so loudly that it startles both of them a bit. Bridget laughs too, after a minute, until they’re both giggling like children.

“As amazing as that sounds,” he hums, “dinner is a must. But I’ll tell you what: if you help me unpack some of the boxes in here and in the living room, I’ll buy you a whole brownie sundae and let you eat it all on your own,” he grins.

“Deal!” Bridget squeals, jumping up out of his lap. “Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go!”

Louis laughs as she grabs his hand and yanks him up, dragging him out of the room and into the living room.

There’s not a whole lot they can do without furniture. They roll out the rug on the hardwood floor in the living room and get all the plates and glasses put away in the kitchen cupboards, and Bridget very unhelpfully pretends to read the instruction sheet while Louis assembles the coffee table that got delivered while they were at the park. They’re still waiting on the kitchen table and chairs, the sofa, the television, both of their bedroom dressers, and Louis’s entire bed. For now, they finally make Bridget’s bed with her sheets and everything, and make a nest of leftover blankets on the floor for a makeshift couch in the living room.

When they’re finished with that, Louis decides a trip to the grocery store is in order. The fridge is set up and working in the kitchen but it’s still completely empty, and that’s something he’d like to fix sooner rather than later. He gets Bridget to agree to come by telling her she can pick out anything in the whole store to have for dinner, and promises to get her a sundae on the way home.

He sits her in the front of the trolley, listening to her babble on and on while he piles up the essentials, like milk and eggs and ketchup and things of a similar nature. She starts to talk about Harry again after a bit but Louis carefully tunes her out, finding himself highly uninterested in the man that nearly caused him a heart attack.

“Bridge,” he says eventually, cutting her off mid-ramble. “As much as I’d love to keep hearing about Harvey-”

“Harry,” she interrupts quietly.

“-I need you to tell me what you want for dinner so we can get home and get started on it,” he says, picking up a loaf of white bread. “What do you think?”

“I don’t know,” Bridget mumbles, slumping back in her seat. She watches the aisles as they pass them, not uttering a word as Louis keeps dropping boxes of granola bars and jugs of orange juice into the cart.

“We can do burgers,” Louis offers, glancing around. “Or chicken nuggets. Soup, grilled cheese, turkey sandwiches, steak, stir fry, pork chops? Anything sound good?” When Louis finally looks back at Bridget’s face, she looks uneasy.

“You know,” she says carefully, “maybe we should just go out for dinner after all.”

“What?” Louis squawks, drawing the attention of a few middle aged women a bit further down the aisle. “Why?”

“Nothing!” Bridget assures, but she’s biting the inside of her lip like she’s either trying not to smile, or trying not to say something, or maybe a bit of both.

“Tell me why,” Louis demands, turning his hand into a claw to tickle her stomach. Bridget shrieks with laughter, trying to push his hand away.

“Nothing,” she says again, angling her head down a bit to hide behind her hair. “It’s just that, like- well, you’re not the best cook, is all,” she admits, looking up at him through her eyelashes.

Louis gasps, clutching at his chest. “I’m wounded. I’m not that bad!” He says, sticking his tongue out at Bridget.

Bridget giggles, reaching out to pat his hand consolingly. “I know, but you’re not that good, either,” she says.

“You’re a tough critic,” he scoffs, shaking his head. “Alright then, miss hard-to-please, where do you want to go for dinner?”

“Surprise me,” she hums, leaning back like she hasn’t a care in the world. Louis snorts a laugh and tugs gently on one of her curls, rolling his eyes as he steers them toward the checkout.

-

It takes a few days, but eventually Bridget convinces Louis to take her back to the park. She promises to only play with other kids her age, and to make sure he knows where she is and where she’s going if she wants to leave the playground, and finally Louis agrees.

He sets up camp at the same table as last time, but this time he vows to keep a closer eye on his kid. If that Harry fellow shows up again, Louis wants to be ready to react accordingly.

He’s halfway through a list of schools in the area, looking for somewhere to send Bridget come fall. He already found a daycare that looks promising enough, and is about the only one he can afford to send her to for the whole summer. He’s hoping public school around here will be good enough, because being unemployed at the moment isn’t helping him out too much.

He feels someone sit down next to him on the bench and his head snaps up reflexively, hands freezing on his keyboard. The first thing his brain registers is stupid Disney Princess eyes, and then a strong feeling of distaste.

“Here we go,” he sighs, reaching out to close his laptop. Harry looks like he has a speech, and Louis supposes he can find the time to hear him out.

“Just hear me out,” Harry says, and Louis rolls his eyes. “Look, I promise I’m not a creep. I know what happened the other day painted me in a really bad light, but your daughter approached me first, I swear, and I was just going to help her find you.”

“I know,” Louis says, cutting short what he could tell was going to be a very long, very annoying pledge of innocence. “She told me about every second she spent with you, bubblegum and daisy braids included. She thinks you’re very kind, and that’s about the only reason I haven’t called the cops on you yet,” he admits.

Harry chuckles quietly, glancing over at Bridget, who is hanging upside on the monkey bars, sundress be damned. “She’s a great little kid,” Harry says. “She’s incredibly smart, and she has a fantastic sense of humor,” he smiles, glancing back at Louis.

Louis can’t help but grin, watching as Bridget rights herself and swings to the next bar. “Yeah, she’s amazing. She’s exactly like a little miniature version of my wife,” he says fondly, eyes crinkling at the corners.

He can feel Harry’s energy shift and when he glances over, Harry looks marginally softer. “Your wife?” He asks quietly, like he knows it might be a touchy subject.

Louis presses his lips together and nods, looking down at his lap to hide the way his smile drops. “My late wife, yeah.”

Harry makes a tiny clicking sound with his tongue, resting his hand cautiously over Louis’s on top of his keyboard. “I’m sorry,” he says quietly.

Louis appreciates the sentiment, he really does, but he keeps his mouth shut and pulls his hand away slowly. He thinks Harry gets it, though, must be able to tell how fresh this pain is.

They’re quiet for a bit, both of them watching Bridget chase some random kid around the slide, until finally Harry speaks up again. “Do you have any other kids?” He asks conversationally, like the topic doesn’t make Louis want to tear his heart out of his chest just to stop it aching.

“I would have had a son,” Louis says, voice deathly quiet. “In about five months.”

Harry makes a sound in the back of his throat like he’s physically hurt, and when Louis looks over, he looks it. His lips are parted in shock and his eyes are so wide, it might be funny if Louis wasn’t so fucking sad.

“Fucking hell,” Harry breathes, reaching for Louis’s hand again. This time, Louis doesn’t pull away. “I’m so, so sorry.”

Louis waits until he’s able to swallow the lump in his throat, and then forces a smile. “Louis,” he says, shaking the hand that Harry is still holding his with. “I’m Louis.”

“Louis,” Harry says, like he’s trying it on for size. “I’m Harry, but I think you already know that.”

Louis chuckles quietly, finally taking his hand back. “I do, yeah.”

They’re quiet for another few minutes, Louis watching Bridget and Harry watching Louis. The silence stretches on until Harry breaks it again, clearing his throat to gain Louis’s attention.

“Look,” he says, “I know we don’t know each other all that well, but could I make you dinner tonight?”

Louis flinches like he’s been slapped, frowning at Harry. “Wha- why?”

“Because you’re beautiful,” Harry says, without skipping a beat, “and beautiful people don’t deserve to be sad.”

Louis blinks at him once, twice, and even a third time, speechless and vaguely shocked, but mostly offended. “Excuse me? First of all, my wife died, like, less than two weeks ago, and it is extremely insensitive for you to be flirting with me right now. Also, I’m fucking straight, mate, okay? Just because my wife is dead doesn’t mean I’m going to suddenly be interested in boys; not now, not ever. Back off,” he spits, reaching for his bag to slide his laptop in, fully intending to get himself and Bridget out of here and possibly never come back.

“What?” Harry splutters, looking shocked. “No- no, I wasn’t flirting, Louis, hey,” he says, grabbing Louis’s arm to slow him down. “Listen, I wasn’t flirting, and that’s not what I want. I just meant, like, you and Bridget are such beautiful people, I just want to do something nice. You both seem so gentle and kind and it would be my absolute honor to make you both smile, even if just once,” he explains.

Louis slows, lowering his bag back down to where it was resting in the grass beside the table. “That’s very kind of you,” Louis says honestly, “but we’re okay. We’re managing just fine on our own, we don’t need charity from strangers,” he assures, making to get up again.

“Louis,” Harry stops him, chuckling tiredly. “Please. The world has been so cruel to you, it breaks my heart. I respect that you’ve got everything under control, but please let me be kind to you. Please?”

Louis swallows hard, glancing over at Bridget. She’s standing stock still at the bottom of the slide, watching the two of them with wide, hopeful eyes.

“Yeah,” Louis finally sighs, shaking his head. “Yeah, alright, fine. We’ll come, I suppose, but only because it’ll make Bridget very, very happy,” he says, glancing back at Harry.

Harry absolutely lights up, grinning widely at Louis. Louis gives him a small smile in return, and then looks back over at Bridget. Bridget squeals excitedly and runs right over, burrowing herself into Harry’s side for the biggest hug Louis has ever seen her give someone that wasn’t him or Amy.

“Harry,” Bridget chirps, pulling away to look up at him. “Do you have any bubblegum today?”

“Bridget,” Louis scolds, laughing embarrassedly. “Don’t be rude.”

“No, it’s okay,” Harry assures, pulling a pack of bubblegum out of his pocket. “Here you go, love,” he hums, letting Bridget pull a piece free from the pack.

“Thank you, Harry!” She sings, stuffing the gum into her mouth and running back off toward the playground.

“Spit that out before you go on the monkey bars!” Louis calls after her, but all he gets in return is Bridget sticking her tongue out at him. “Oh, she’s such a terror,” he chuckles, rolling his eyes.

“She’s absolutely adorable,” Harry laughs, watching her fondly. Louis takes a moment to look at Harry’s face, watching the way his long eyelashes flutter when he blinks, and the way his dimple deepens when he laughs at whatever Bridget is doing on the swings. He’s kind of beautiful, for a boy. It must be the lighting, or maybe the way Harry’s long, curly hair falls around his face, but he almost reminds Louis of Amy, in a weird sort of way. “I would kill for a daughter like her,” Harry hums quietly, turning his head and catching Louis staring straight at him.

It’s like it happens in slow motion, when their eyes meet. Time stops for a split second and then Harry blinks, smiling to himself and looking down as he blushes. Louis’s sure he’s blushing too, but he tries to cover it up by snapping his head away to check on Bridget.

“So,” Harry chuckles, gaining Louis’s attention back, “dinner at six, at mine?”

“Perfect,” Louis agrees, pulling his phone out of his pocket. “Here, let me give you my number and you can text me the address?”

“Oh,” Harry frowns, shaking his head. “My house is actually right there, literally across the path,” he chuckles, pointing to a small, mint green house right across from the park.

“Oh,” Louis says, still holding his phone out awkwardly.

“But, you can still give me your number, if you want,” Harry smiles, quirking an eyebrow at Louis.

Louis laughs despite himself, slipping his phone back into his pocket. “You’re flirting again,” he singsongs, grinning when Harry blushes.

“Shit, sorry,” he laughs, shaking his head.

“I’ll see you at six, then,” Louis smiles. “I’ll bring cookies for dessert?”

“Great,” Harry hums, awkwardly maneuvering his lanky limbs out of the picnic table. “But I’ll warn you now: I’m a baker, went to Uni for it and everything, so they better be up to my standard,” he teases, grinning when Louis laughs.

“Oh, well, in that case, I’ll just let Bridget do them on her own,” he scoffs, glancing back over toward the playground. “They’ll probably taste better that way.”

“Hush, I’m just joking,” Harry says. “Whatever you bring will be fantastic, even if you just bring yourself.”

“Harry,” Louis groans, “flirting, again.”

“Fuck,” Harry hisses, turning on his heel quickly. “Alright, I’ll go, I’ll go. See you at six,” he calls over his shoulder, and then he’s gone, just about skipping back to his house.

Louis doesn’t lose his smile for a bit, putting his laptop away and just watching Bridget while she plays. He feels okay, for the first time in a while. Or maybe it’s just the first time that he’s consciously felt okay.

-

By the time Bridget is ready to call it a day, she’s covered in dirt and has about half of the playground’s wood chips stuck in her hair. Louis makes her take her shoes off before she comes through the front door and then carries her through the house, sitting her right down in the bathtub.

“Daddy,” she hums, as Louis starts to fill up the tub around her and tosses her dirty dress in the hamper. “Are we going to play with Harry tonight?”

Louis nods, sitting on his heels next to the bath and pouring a bit of soap in to make some bubbles, just the way Bridget likes. “He’s going to make dinner for us,” he tells her. “It’s very kind of him, don’t you think?”

Bridget claps her hands excitedly, sloshing some of the water around. Louis puts a hand on her shoulder to settle her, even though the water isn’t nearly high enough yet to slosh out of the tub.

“Very kind,” she agrees, nodding her head quickly. Some of the wood chips in her hair fall into the water, and Louis chuckles as he picks them out and tosses them in the trash. “What is he going to make?” She asks a second later, looking weary.

Louis knows that Bridget is a picky eater, but he’s sure that Harry knows not to make some fancy, gourmet meal for a five year old, anyway. “I don’t know,” Louis says, “but whatever it is, I’m sure it’ll be lovely. Harry went to uni to be a chef, or a baker, can’t really remember,” he hums.

“Wow,” Bridget mutters. “That’s cool. I wanna go to uni to be a chef, too,” she decides.

“Bridge,” Louis chuckles, taking the cup off the side of the tub and dumping a bit of water over Bridget’s head to wet her hair. “You won’t even look at a tomato, and you cry if you find one little onion in anything, how are you going to be a chef?”

Bridget pouts at him, crossing her arms over her chest. “Mummy told me I could be whatever I wanted,” she grumbles, frowning deeply at the bubbles rising over her belly.

Louis softens at that, realizing what he’s just said. “Well, I suppose,” he says, picking a few more wood chips out of the bath. “Maybe you could be a special chef. A chef that cooks for people that are just as picky as you are,” he grins.

Bridget smiles, picking up a handful of bubbles and blowing them away. “Yes, that’s what I’ll do. Is there a special uni just for that?” She asks thoughtfully.

Louis chuckles, running his fingers through her wet hair to work out some of the tangles. “You know, I’m not sure. But uni is a long, long way away. You have oodles of time to figure out what you wanna be before then,” he says, reaching over her for the bottle of her baby shampoo on the other side of the tub.

“Yeah,” Bridget agrees, squeezing her eyes shut when Louis starts massaging the shampoo into her hair. “Daddy, do you like Harry?” She asks, her voice nothing but curious.

“I mean,” Louis shrugs, “I guess. He’s very nice, and he’s not as much of a creep as I first pegged him as,” he reasons.

“He’s not a creep at all,” Bridget says, tilting her head back to make it easier for Louis to rinse out her hair. “He just likes to make people happy.”

Louis hums noncommittally, focusing more on working the wood chips out of Bridget’s hair than on what she’s saying. “Jesus, Bridge, did you roll around in the wood chips, or what?”

“No,” Bridget giggles, peeking up at him. “This boy kept throwing them at me, and I told him to stop but he wouldn’t so I told him if he didn’t stop I was gonna knock him over and start shoving them up his nose,” she says proudly.

“Bridget!” Louis gasps, trying not to laugh. “You did not say that!”

“Yes, I did,” she says. “You told me to always stand up for myself if someone was being mean. He was being mean, and I stood up for myself.”

“You didn’t actually hurt him, though, did you?” He asks carefully, because the last thing he needs is for his daughter to start beating people up before she even starts school.

“No, he stopped after that,” she assures, grinning up at him.

Louis chuckles and shakes his head, leaning down to press a kiss to Bridget’s wet forehead. “That’s my girl,” he hums, reaching for the conditioner next.

Once she’s all clean and dry, Louis gets her dressed in some comfy clothes and then brings her to the kitchen to get started on the cookies he promised Harry. She sits up on the worktop and makes up bogus ingredients Louis should be using, while Louis follows Amy’s grandmother’s old chocolate chip cookie recipe.

Louis, for all he claims be a smart, rationally thinking young man, decides at some point that it will be a good idea to pick up a pinch of flour and flick it at his freshly bathed, highly impressionable young daughter. Bridget blinks at him and then smirks, and Louis suddenly regrets every life decision he’s made thus far.

She reaches into the flour bowl and before Louis can even blink, showers him in an entire handful of flour. He should scold her, but he started it, so really, he might as well continue it.

Bridget jumps down off the worktop just as Louis goes for another handful of flour, laughing as he throws it right at her. Bridget shrieks and scoops some up off the floor, running up to him and slapping two little hand prints right on the front of his t-shirt.

It goes on for much longer than it probably should, until they’re both caked in flour and dizzy from laughing so hard. Louis knows he’ll regret it later, but right now Bridget is doubled over laughing harder than he’s heard in a while, and he supposes it’s all worth it.

“Great, now we both need a bath,” he chuckles, shaking the flour out of his hair and turning around to finally put the sheet of cookies in the oven.

“I just had a bath,” Bridget giggles manically, “and now I need another!”

Louis rolls his eyes and sets the timer on the oven, turning around to look at Bridget. “Let’s go, then, time for another bath,” he sighs, to her absolute delight.

He doesn’t actually wash her again, just strips her down and stands her in the tub and turns the shower head on her. She finds it absolutely hilarious, taking a shower like a grown up, and keeps Louis in stitches while she dances around and over exaggerates washing her armpits and her hair.

Once she’s clean again, Louis dries her off and sends her to pick out her own outfit to wear to Harry’s. Louis jumps in the shower once she’s run off, shampooing his hair quickly and making sure there’s no flour stuck in any weird crevices.

He wraps a towel around his waist once he’s done, crossing the hall to his room. His new mattress has come in but his bed frame still hasn’t, which means the air mattress is gone and in its place is his his brand new memory foam on the floor.

He pick out a nice pair of black skinny jeans and a maroon v-neck, one that shows off the tattoo on his chest. Bridget used to like to trace the words it is what it is with her finger when she was littler, when Louis would cradle her in his arms and sing her lullabies to get her to sleep. He towels his hair off quickly and leaves it to dry the rest of the way on its own, because it’ll try a bit wavy and he can just sweep it across his forehead the way he usually does.

He heads to the kitchen once he’s done, waiting a minute or so for the timer to go off and then pulling the cookies out of the oven. They’re not quite perfectly round but they look like they were made with love, Louis thinks, as he transfers them from the baking sheet to the cooling rack.

He goes to check on Bridget’s progress while the cookies cool, knocking quickly on the door before he pokes his head inside. She’s standing in front of the mirror that came in yesterday, examining the outfit she picked for herself.

She’s wearing black and white polka dot leggings with a rainbow striped dress, hot pink ballerina flats on her feet and a sparkly purple tiara from Halloween last year on her head. She looks absolutely ridiculous, but her proud smile tells Louis she quite likes the way she looks, and who is Louis to dispute that?

“You look fantastic, love,” he gushes, crouching down and opening his arms for a hug. She runs right to him, snuggling immediately into his chest. He dreads the day when she won’t do that anymore.

“Thank you, daddy,” she singsongs. “You smell good,” she comments, as she pulls away. Louis pulls a face, making Bridget giggle.

“Do I not usually smell good?” He asks, letting her go and taking a peek at himself in her mirror, making sure his hair doesn’t look terrible.

“Sometimes you’re kinda smelly,” Bridget tells him honestly. “But right now you smell great.”

Louis huffs a laugh, shaking his head at himself in the mirror. “Thanks, love. Are you ready to go? We just need to wait for the cookies to cool a bit more, and then we’ll head out,” he says, herding Bridget down the the hallway and into the kitchen.

There’s still flour all over the place and dirty dishes in the sink that Louis needs to take care of, but he can get to that later. It’s already about ten minutes to six and Bridget is more than ready to go, waiting eagerly by the door while Louis puts the cookies into a tupperware. He doesn’t know what it is about Harry that Bridget likes so much, but he supposes it won’t hurt to give him the benefit of the doubt. Louis doesn’t know a soul around here yet, and having a friend may not be so bad.

-

When Harry opens the door for them, every doubt Louis might have been harboring about this evening flies out of his head.

His hair is pulled back in a messy little bun, strands falling out here and there. He has an apron tied around his waist and a massive smile on his face, and he drops to his knees almost immediately when Bridget reaches up for a hug.

“We brought cookies,” Louis says, when Harry stands back up.

“Oh, awesome,” Harry chirps, reaching for the container. “I’ll go put these in the kitchen. Dinner will be ready in two minutes, do you want to sit down?” He offers, leading Louis and Bridget to the table, which is already set with three place settings.

“Your house is beautiful,” Louis comments, helping Bridget up into a chair. “You live here on your own?”

“Yup,” Harry hums, disappearing into the kitchen for a moment and returning with a bottle of wine and a carton of milk. “Is milk okay for Bridget?” He asks, looking unsure suddenly.

“Yeah,” Louis assures. “We’re good on allergies, except we’re on the fence about tree nuts,” says, watching Bridget carefully.

“Well, no tree nuts in our dinner tonight,” Harry assures, smiling over at Louis while he pours Bridget a glass of milk. “And is red wine good for you?” He hums, picking up the bottle to show Louis the label.

“Mm, yes please,” Louis nods, holding his glass steady while Harry pours. He doesn’t drink all that often, but he does enjoy it, and it’s been far too long, in his opinion.

Harry pours another glass of wine for himself before disappearing back into the kitchen, and Bridget taps the table to get Louis’s attention. “Daddy,” she hisses, and Louis raises his eyebrows at her over the rim of his wine glass.

“Yes?”

“You should tell Harry he looks very nice today,” she suggests, waggling her eyebrows at him.

Louis feels his face go inexplicably hot, a surprised chuckle leaving his throat. “What? Why?”

“Because,” Bridget rolls her eyes, “it’s the polite thing to do when you like someone.”

“Bridget,” Louis laughs nervously, glancing over his shoulder to make sure Harry can’t hear them in the kitchen. “Honey, this isn’t like that. This is just a friendly dinner, friends don’t say things like that to friends,” he explains.

Bridget looks skeptical, but doesn’t say anything when Harry comes back a moment later. “Miss Bridget,” he hums, bowing slightly to her with his hands clasped behind his back. Louis can’t help but smirk, finding his stance endearing, somehow. “Would you like red sauce with your pasta?”

Bridget looks slightly panicked, looking at Louis for help. “No red sauce,” Louis chuckles, winking quickly at Bridget. “She absolutely despises tomatoes. Butter will do, if you have it?”

“Of course,” Harry grins, standing up straight again. He tweaks Bridget’s tiara a little and then sets off back to the kitchen, returning only a second later with a dish of spaghetti and butter.

“Thank you,” Bridget says happily, smiling at Harry with all of her teeth. Louis smiles at her proudly, making eye contact with Harry only briefly.

Harry returns to the kitchen and then comes back with two more plates, setting one down in front of Louis and one at his own place. Louis’s jaw drops slightly, because he’s not even really sure what to call the dish, but it looks and smells absolutely delicious. He just looks at it for a moment, and then glances up at Harry’s smiling face.

“Bucatini,” Harry tells him.

“Thank you, you too,” Louis says, smiling when Harry barks a laugh.

“No, that’s what it’s called,” Harry says, smiling fondly at Louis. Louis feels, for some strange reason, like he’s floating. “Bucatini, with marinara and ricotta.”

Louis hums in acknowledgement, looking back down at his plate. Out of the corner of his eye he sees Harry tuck in, so Louis twirls a bit of pasta around his fork and takes a careful bite.

It’s easily the best thing he’s ever put in his mouth, and he lets out a moan that might be slightly too pornographic for the child at the table. Harry grins at him and Louis holds up one hand, making a circle with his thumb and forefinger to express his opinion of the meal.

They’re quiet for a few minutes while they eat, but it’s comfortable, until Bridget decides to break the silence.

“Harry,” she pipes up, drawing the attention of both men. “Daddy had something he wanted to tell you,” she grins, tilting her head at Louis as if urging him on.

Louis blushes slightly, because he has no idea what she means. “Uh, did I?” He chuckles awkwardly, giving Bridget a firm look when Harry isn’t looking at him.

Bridget sighs, turning her attention to Harry. “Daddy wanted to tell you that you look very nice today, Harry,” she says, grinning when Louis splutters.

Harry laughs brightly, while Louis flushes red up to the tips of his ears. “Bridget,” he laughs, unmistakably nervous. “Remember I told you this isn’t like that?”

Harry looks chuffed, looking between a blushing Louis and a smirking Bridget. Bridget just shrugs, stuffing another bite of pasta in her mouth.

“Is that how you flirt, then?” Harry teases. He’s kidding, but it still makes Louis blush even harder. “Get your daughter to do it for you?”

Louis laughs, but it’s a bit tighter this time. “Still straight,” he says weakly. “Still a very recent widower.”

Harry’s laughter fades a bit, and Louis feels his foot brush against his own under the table. “Well, thank you, anyway. You both look lovely tonight, as well,” he smiles.

Louis doesn’t look up from his plate again for a while, Harry and Bridget talking idly between themselves to make up for his silence. He’ll have to have a talk with Bridget when they get home about how platonic relationships work, and why exactly one shouldn’t flirt like that with a prospective friend. He doesn’t know if the reason behind her wanting them to be close is because she also feels Harry’s strange likeness to Amy, but he knows he has to put an end to it.

When Louis finally looks up again, he makes eye contact with Harry almost immediately. Harry gives him a small smile and Louis returns it, and Harry seems to relax a little. It makes Louis relax a little, as well, a tightness leaving his shoulders that he didn’t realize was there to begin with.

Bridget is off on some story about her day, and when Louis tunes in, he realizes she’s talking about how she had to have two baths today. Harry looks dangerously fond, but Louis’s not sure which part of the story did it for him.

“I’ll clear the plates,” Louis offers, when he notices that everyone is done eating. Harry stands up quickly to try and stop him, but Louis snatches his plate away before Harry can get it. “No, you cooked. I’ve got the dishes,” he smiles, picking up Harry’s and Bridget’s plates and setting off for the kitchen.

The kitchen is just as cosy as the dining room, and very Harry. There seems to be a monochrome theme running through the house, but it’s more bright than it is dark, and more cream than stark white. Louis rinses the plates and silverware in the deep farmhouse sink and stacks them in the dishwasher, taking his time so he can continue his little look around.

Everything seems clean and neat and purposeful, like it wouldn’t be here if Harry didn’t love and need it. It almost warms his heart to be among the things in this kitchen, but as soon as the implications behind that thought sink in, he all but runs back to the dining room.

Harry and Bridget have vacated the dining room, and when Louis goes investigating, he finds them in the living room on the sofa, flicking through kids movies on Netflix on the tv. Louis smiles as he sits down on the other side of the two seater, looking at the way Bridget is cuddled into Harry’s side like she’s known him her whole life.

They decide to watch the movie Home, the movie with Rihanna and Jim Parsons. Bridget takes off her tiara so she can comfortably rest her head in Harry’s lap, kicking her feet into Louis’s lap. Louis holds her ankles idly, rubbing small circles in them with his thumbs.

Bridget has seen this movie a thousand times, knows it nearly by heart. It’s one of Louis’s favorites, as well, of all the annoying kids shows he’s been forced to watch over the years.

It doesn’t take long for Harry to tap Louis on the shoulder, grinning down at Bridget. She’s fast asleep on his thigh, drooling on his jeans and snoring quietly through her nose.

“Typical,” Louis chuckles, carefully lifting Bridget’s feet out of his lap and standing up from the couch. He puts a throw pillow at one end of the couch and gently lifts Bridget out of Harry’s lap, letting her rest on the pillow instead.

“I’ll get her a blanket,” Harry says, voice hushed, and rushes away. He comes back with a big, comfy looking wool throw, resting it over Bridget’s body gently.

Louis smiles down at his daughter for a moment, leaning over to press a gentle kiss to the side of her head. He smoothes her hair back once and then straightens up, looking over at Harry.

Harry is watching him fondly, and only smiles a little bigger when Louis meets his eyes. ”You’re so good with her,” he whispers, like he’s in awe. Louis feels himself blush. “We can sit in the dining room, if you want? Have another glass of wine?” Harry offers, leading Louis away from the couch.

“Yeah, sounds lovely,” Louis hums, taking the same seat from dinner and thanking Harry quietly as the other man tops up his wine.

“So,” Harry says, sitting down opposite Louis. “I hope this isn’t too personal of a question. You can tell me to fuck off if you want, but… Bridget told me the other day that you guys just moved here, after, you know,” he waves his hand dismissively. “And I’m just wondering, like, why? Like, what made you feel like you should move?” He asks, watching Louis carefully.

Louis swallows slowly, taking his time to ponder the question. He doesn’t really know how to put his thought process into words that will make sense, but he doesn’t want Harry to think he’s offended him, so he tries anyway.

“It was like,” he sighs, looking down at his wine, “like she was just… everywhere, even though she wasn’t. It was like one day she was there, and the next, she wasn’t, but everywhere I looked I could still see her, in her jewelry on the dresser and in the sofa we picked out together and in the kitchen when I got home from work. I couldn’t stand it, the way every little thing in the house reminded me of her, you know? It’s like when your pet dies, and you want to keep their bed and their toys and everything but as time goes on you keep expecting to see them lying in that bed, playing with those toys and it drives you crazy. I had to get myself out before it drove me crazy, I can’t do that to Bridget. She needs me, now more than ever,” he says, swallowing hard.

Harry nods, waiting until Louis looks up at him again to say anything. “She’s lucky to have you,” he smiles, eyes shining with honesty. “You’re a really great father, she loves you so much.”

“Yeah,” Louis shrugs, looking down again. “I’m really not. Amy did all the parenting, you know? I was the fun parent. I don’t know how to teach her anything, or how to help her be a good person. I know how to make her laugh, and I know how to make her angry. That’s about all I’m good for,” he admits.

“Louis,” Harry says, like he’s personally offended. “That’s not true, she adores you. The way you interact with her, it’s like, Jesus, it’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before. She idolizes you, Louis, you can’t do wrong by her. She’s brilliant, and she’s beautiful and lovely and kind and gentle and that’s you, you did that,” he assures, reaching over to grab Louis’s hand when Louis just shakes his head. “Lou, yes. She’s so incredibly lucky to have you.”

“Thank you,” Louis says, giving him a small smile. He fights the urge to pull his hand away, letting Harry decide when enough is enough. “I just wish, I don’t know. Sometimes I wish it had been me instead. Bridget would be so much better off, and Amy never deserved what happened to her,” he breathes, hanging his head. He doesn’t know why he’s confessing all of this to a near stranger, but he knows he feels a little better when Harry grabs his hand again.

“Don’t say that,” Harry says, sounding panicked. When Louis looks up, Harry looks close to tears. “No, I’m sure your wife didn’t deserve what happened to her. No one does. Especially not you. Look at you, you’re doing so well so far and it’s going to be fine. You’re an incredible person, Louis, please don’t think like that,” he pleads.

Louis chuckles sadly, pulling his hand away from Harry’s even though it’s just about the last thing he wants to do. Why does it feel so nice? “I’m not saying I want to die,” he says. “I’m just saying, you know, the universe chose wrong when it decided who to kill in that accident.”

Harry looks heartbroken, but instead of arguing again, he just shakes his head. “The universe must have big plans for you,” he whispers. Louis smiles, hoping to hell that there’s any truth to that.

“Well, that got rather deep, didn’t it,” Louis chuckles, leaning back in his chair and trying to discreetly wipe his sweaty hands on his jeans. “Why don’t we break into those cookies, yeah?”

Harry watches him for another moment, clearly catching right on to his scheme. If there’s one thing Louis is good at, it’s repression of his emotions, and he doesn’t need Harry to call him out on it right now.

“Yeah, alright,” Harry says eventually, pushing his chair back and standing up. Louis follows him to the kitchen, leaning against the breakfast bar while Harry opens up the tupperware of cookies. He takes one and then holds them out for Louis, and they munch in silence for a moment.

“Listen,” Louis says after a bit, scratching at the back of his neck with his free hand. “About what Bridget said earlier, you know, the flirty bit, I really don’t think of you like that, I don’t know where she came up with that, and I didn’t tell her to-”

“I know,” Harry cuts him off, grinning. “You’re still straight, and a very recent widower.”

Louis nods, smiling gently. “Yeah, exactly,” he breathes.

“And anyway,” Harry grins, sweeping some crumbs off the worktop into the palm of his hand, “just because I’m gay doesn’t mean I don’t know how to be just friends with another guy.”

Louis’s heart stutters, for some weird reason. “Oh, so, you are? Gay?” He asks awkwardly, flushing down to his neck.

“Yes,” Harry laughs, but his smile falters when he sees Louis’s face. “Are you- is that a problem?”

“No!” Louis assures, grasping Harry’s arm quickly. He drops his hand once he realizes what he’s doing, staring at it confusedly for a moment. “No, God, that’s not a problem, Jesus, who do you think I am? No, it’s not a problem that you’re gay,” he laughs, meeting Harry’s eyes. Harry looks vaguely scared, so Louis makes himself chill a bit. “I just, I don’t know. You don’t seem like- Jesus, that sounds bad, no, I just-”

“Lou,” Harry cuts him off, laughing now. “It’s fine. Just, stop while you’re ahead,” he advises, still grinning.

“Sorry,” Louis chuckles, rubbing at his face with one hand. “I think I need to go to bed, what is wrong with me tonight?” He mutters.

“Nothing’s wrong,” Harry assures, reaching forward to push at Louis’s shoulder playfully. “Maybe you’re just-”

He’s cut off by an ear splitting scream from the next room, and Louis takes off running before he even knows what’s going on. Bridget is sitting up on the couch in the living room, her entire body trembling as she screams, hands fisted in her hair.

“Hey,” Louis sings, dropping to his knees beside the couch. “You’re alright, I’m here.”

Bridget throws herself at him, holding on tight and sobbing into his neck. “I saw mummy and I was trying to get to her but I couldn’t and she kept laughing and then she-” she sobs so hard she heaves, and Louis rubs her back gently. “She turned around and it wasn’t mummy,” she whispers, so that only Louis will hear.

“Who was it, then?” Louis asks, slightly terrified of the answer.

“Harry,” Bridget breathes, body shaking a little harder. She sobs again and Louis hugs her tight, pressing his face into her hair and assuring her that it was just a dream, nothing more.

Harry is standing awkwardly in the doorway, watching them. After a few minutes, when Bridget hasn’t calmed in the slightest, Louis has her wrap her legs around his waist and carefully stands up.

“I’m sorry, Harry,” he says quietly, rocking Bridget slowly. “I think we should probably head home.”

“Yeah, of course,” Harry says, but he looks sad. He looks more than sad, more like heartbroken, completely devastated. “I understand.”

“This was fun, though,” Louis assures, smiling at him over Bridget’s shoulder. “We should do it again sometime, maybe?”

“Yeah, yeah,” Harry says, finally smiling a little. “I’ll give you my number for real this time.”

Louis grins, turning around to wiggle his bum in Harry’s direction. “My phone is in my back pocket, if you’d like to get it. My hands are a bit full,” he says.

Harry steps closer to him, awkwardly sticking his hand into Louis’s back pocket. Louis does his best not to tense up, focusing his attention on Bridget, who is still wailing into his neck.

Harry leads him to the door and then follows him out to the car, tapping his number into Louis’s phone while Louis detaches Bridget from around his neck and gets her in her car seat. He closes the door once he’s sure she’s okay, turning back around to face Harry.

“Well, I’ll see you, then,” Louis sighs, accepting his phone back when Harry holds it out. “Thank you so much for dinner, this was so lovely,” he says honestly.

“You’re welcome, I had fun as well,” Harry smiles. “I just wish it could have ended differently. She’s so upset, I feel awful. I just wanted to give you two a good night, you deserve it so much.” He sounds sad again, and Louis instinctually launches himself forward to hug him tight.

“This was a good night,” Louis promises, standing up on his toes so he can hug Harry around his neck. Harry’s arms snake cautiously around his waist, and Louis squeezes tighter to let him know it’s okay. “This was the best night we’ve had in awhile, honestly.”

Harry holds him for a moment, pressing his face into Louis’s neck. He’s a good hugger, Louis thinks. Louis hasn’t felt this safe and calm in a while.

With that thought he pulls away, smiling up at him. “Thank you again,” he says, making his way around the car to the driver’s seat.

Harry doesn’t say anything else, doesn’t get a chance to before Louis gets in the car and closes the door. He doesn’t know why are there butterflies in his stomach, or why he feels like he just took a Xanax.

Bridget cries most of the way home, but she’s quieted down a bit by the time they pull into their driveway. Louis carries her inside and helps her get into her pajamas, and by then her eyelids are already drooping again.

Louis reads her a story anyway, finishes it even though she falls asleep halfway through. He pulls out his phone to take a picture of her all snuggled up in bed, sending it off to Harry with the caption all better! He heads to his bedroom next, stripping off his clothes and pulling on a t-shirt and pair of basketball shorts.

He checks his phone once before he calls it a night, opening up Harry’s reply. All it says is :)))))), and there’s another immediately following it that says Goodnight, sweet dreams to both of you xx.

Louis plugs his phone into charge and then settles into bed, still smiling a bit about the text. He falls asleep easily, saving his analysis of Bridget’s nightmare for morning.

-

He wakes up to a very warm, very whiny little body crawling into bed with him, and hardly even thinks about it as he wraps his arm around her and pulls her in. She settles for a bit, allowing the cuddle, until she starts squirming frantically.

“Bridge,” Louis huffs, peeking one eye open. “You’re alright, love, settle in,” he mumbles.

“Daddy,” Bridget moans, trying to wriggle free again. “I don’t feel so-”

She cuts off as she vomits all over him, which wakes Louis up pretty quickly. He sits up so fast he gets a little dizzy and scoops Bridget up in his arms, running her to the bathroom just in time for her to puke again. Louis rubs her back and feels her forehead, pouting sympathetically when he feels how she’s burning up.

It all makes sense now, Louis thinks. How strange she was acting last night, the weird nightmare, the uncontrollable crying. She’s caught something, and something bad, if the way she’s sobbing and retching into the toilet again is any indication

He can do this, he thinks. He can take care of her. Bridget gets herself under control and clings to him, pressing her sweaty little face into his chest and whining pitifully. She needs him, and he’s going to be the one that makes her feel better.

“Alright, love?” He hums, rubbing her back gently. She just whines again and Louis chuckles sadly, holding her close to his chest while he stands up.

He sets her up with her toothbrush at the sink, because he knows that she’ll feel a bit better if she doesn’t have the taste of sick in her mouth. He sets off for the kitchen next, snooping through the cupboards for something he can give Bridget that won’t upset her stomach any more.

She shuffles into the kitchen a few moments later, attaching herself to his leg and moaning against his thigh. Louis reaches down to pet her head while he reads the back of a soup can, even though he has no idea what ingredients he should be looking out for.

“Daddy, I don’t feel good,” she whimpers, tugging at his sweatpants. Her stomach gurgles audibly and she whines, running back to the bathroom. Louis drops his can of soup and follows her, holding her while she retches. She isn’t sick again, but the way she gags makes Louis think he might be.

It seems she has nothing left to throw up, and eventually she sits back against him and takes a deep breath. She lolls her head back to look up at him and Louis gives her a comforting smile, rubbing her tummy gently.

“How about we go get you all snuggly in bed, and I’ll make some soup? You might feel better if you eat something,” he suggests.

“Your bed,” she says, voice a bit shaky. “And then you can cuddle me?”

“Of course,” Louis smiles, pressing a kiss into her sweaty hair. He helps her up and takes her hand, leading her across the hall and into his bedroom. His bed is still just a mattress and a mess of blankets on the floor, but Bridget climbs right in and allows Louis to cocoon her in his softest blanket.

He leaves her with another kiss on her forehead and heads to the kitchen, setting the pot of soup on the stove and leaving it to heat. He goes looking for a bucket or something next, because if Bridget is sick again, he’d rather her have something to aim for.

He finds a rather large salad bowl in one of the cupboards, and supposes that will do. They don’t have any buckets, and the only pot is currently filled with soup.

He brings the salad bowl to Bridget and sets it on the floor beside her, feeling her forehead to check for a fever. She’s definitely warm, but Louis is sure they don’t have a thermometer, and he has no way to check just how high her fever is running. She looks half asleep but she’s still whimpering softly, and Louis realizes he has no idea what to do for her. He doesn’t know if there’s medicine for whatever this is, and her pediatrician is way further away than Louis cares to drive with a sick five year old.

He thinks that soup won’t hurt; if worse comes to worst, she’ll just throw it up again and they’ll try something else. What that something else is, Louis has no idea, but he’ll figure it out.

He sets up his laptop on the mattress next to Bridget, streaming Sofia the First to help take her mind off the way she’s feeling. He heads back to the kitchen once he’s sure she’s set, because the soup should be about ready and he doesn’t want it to burn.

His phone is buzzing away on the counter when he walks in, and he checks the soup quickly before he looks at it. There are four texts from Harry, a few from earlier and one from just a few minutes ago.

Harry: Hello! What are you two up to today?

Harry: I’m dogsitting for a friend for a few days, he’s dropping him off in a few hours.

Harry: I don’t know if either of you like dogs, but Watson is the sweetest thing in the whole world. He’s quite big, but I’ve never even heard him bark! We could meet up at the park if you’re interested?

Harry: Hello?

Louis smiles to himself, leaning against the counter as he reads over the texts. Bridget loves dogs, has been asking for one since Lottie and her husband got one, but Louis is sure she’s not up for it today. He taps to reply, thumbs hovering idly over the keyboard for a moment.

To Harry: sorry, B woke up sick, we’re staying in today :(

He drops his phone into his pocket and grabs a bowl from the cupboard, spooning out some soup to bring back to Bridget. His phone buzzes again as he’s handing over the bowl, but he doesn’t check it until Bridget is cuddled firmly into his side and is eating her soup very, very carefully.

Harry: Oh no! Do you need anything? I can swing by the drugstore for you?

Louis smiles at the text, scratching idly at Bridget’s scalp while he replies with his other hand.

To Harry: i think we’re ok for now, thank you though :)

Harry responds within the minute, and Louis watches the three little dots until the message appears.

Harry: Okay, let me know if you change your mind. Hope she feels better soon xx

Louis locks his phone and puts it down on the mattress beside himself, shifting a bit so he can hold Bridget closer. She’s paused, spoon halfway to her mouth and her jaw dropped open, as she stares at the screen of his laptop. He always finds it funny how engrossed in her shows she gets, even when she’s seen them a hundred times.

She manages to eat the whole bowl of soup over the course of two hours, and after about ten episodes of Sofia the First, Louis thinks he’s going to tear his hair out.

“Do you want some more soup, babe?” He offers, shifting away from Bridget to look down at her. She shakes her head slowly, tearing her eyes away from the screen to frown up at him.

“No, I don’t think-”

It seems that opening her mouth has reopened the floodgates, and the next thing Louis knows, Bridget is kicking him in the stomach in her haste to get to the salad bowl. She mostly misses, most of it hitting the hardwood floor, and she proceeds to throw up every ounce of soup she ate.

Louis sighs and reaches over to rub her back, pulling her back into his chest when she’s finished. She’s crying again, but quietly, miserably. Louis wants to take all her pain away for himself, wants her to never have to feel like this again.

“I don’t think the soup helped,” Bridget says eventually, looking up at him miserably.

Louis can’t help but chuckle, pulling her close and pressing a kiss to her head. “I know, love. I’m sorry,” he hums, smoothing her hair out of her face.

“Make it go away, please,” she says, digging her face into his chest. His heart pangs in a mixture of adoration and guilt, because he really doesn’t know how.

Amy was always so good with illness. She always knew exactly what to give and how much of it to give and what to eat and drink. Louis was always there with a cuddle, but he can’t cuddle this bug away. He doesn’t even know if they make medicine for whatever this is, and if they do, he has no idea where to get it.

There’s one person he could call that he knows would help him without a second thought, but Louis doesn’t want to stoop that low. He can’t call Harry, because Harry isn’t Bridget’s father, Louis is. Louis needs to figure this out, because this is the first of many, many problems he’s going to have to get through, and he can’t just get someone else to come do it for him.

He lasts another hour of Bridget’s heaving and pitiful crying before he snaps, reaching for his phone.

Harry answers on the second ring, like he was waiting by the phone. “Hello?” He says cheerily.

“Hey,” Louis mutters, glancing down at Bridget where she’s lounging on his chest. “Are you busy?”

“Not at all,” Harry hums. “Watson and I just went for a walk, we just got home. Do you need something?”

“Yes,” Louis whines, dropping his head back against the wall. “Bridget is so sick. She can’t keep anything down, and even when her stomach is empty she just keeps retching. I have no idea what to do,” he admits, closing his eyes.

“Oh, no,” Harry coos. “I’ll run to the drugstore right now and see if I can find anything that might help. See if she can keep down some water, though, because dehydration will only make it worse. Has she been drinking water?”

“Of course,” Louis lies. He can’t let Harry know how incompetent he is.

“Good,” Harry says. There’s a jingling in the background, like he’s already grabbing his keys. “Okay, I’m leaving right now. Text me your address, and I’ll be there soon, yeah?”

“Yeah,” Louis nods, sighing internally in relief. “Thank you,” he adds sincerely.

“Not a problem,” Harry assures. Louis hears a car door, and then an engine starts.

“Alright, see you when you get here,” he says. Harry agrees, and then the line clicks dead, and Louis immediately taps out their address in a text.

“Who was that?” Bridget asks, looking up at him. She looks completely wiped out, like she needs to sleep for a week.

“Harry,” Louis tells her. “He’s gonna bring some medicine. I’m gonna go get you some water, okay? Think you can drink it for me?”

“Can try,” Bridget sighs, cuddling right up to the pillow Louis places his body with. Louis pets her hair once more and then hurries to the kitchen, filling a plastic cup with water from the fridge and bringing it right back to her. He decides to set about cleaning up a bit, because he’s still sporting a stain from when Bridget puked on him this morning and there’s still vomit on the floor next to the mattress from when Bridget missed the bowl.

He tosses his shirt in the hamper and pulls on a fresh one, collecting the rest of the dirty laundry around the room and tossing it all in. He picks up Bridget’s room next and gets a load going in the washing machine, before grabbing a paper towel to clean up the mess on his floor. He doesn’t know what to use so he just goes for some window spray, mopping up the puddle as best he can.

Bridget just watches him from the bed, looking worn out and miserable. Her cup is empty, though, so Louis refills it for her, and watches her drain it again.

“How do you feel now, muffin?” He asks, sitting down on the edge of the mattress and reaching out to feel her forehead. “Does the water help a bit?”

“A bit,” Bridget shrugs. “My tummy is still gurgling, but not like I wanna puke again,” she explains.

“Well, that’s good,” Louis smiles. “Do you need anything else, love?”

Bridget hums quietly in thought, shifting under her blankets. “A cuddle,” she decides, digging her arms out and reaching up for him.

“Oh, I’m always good for a cuddle,” Louis grins, crawling back under the covers and pulling Bridget close. She snuggles into his chest and Louis closes his eyes, hoping that she’ll only get better from here. Maybe he doesn’t need Harry, after all. Maybe he can do this.

He doesn’t know if he drifts off or not, but when he opens his eyes, Harry is standing in his doorway, knocking against the wall.

“Hi,” Harry smiles. “I hope it’s okay I let myself in. I knocked like three different times and you didn’t answer, so I just came in,” he says sheepishly, blushing high on his cheeks.

“Oh, of course,” Louis smiles, sitting up a little. “I don’t think I was totally awake just then,” he chuckles, looking down at Bridget. She’s asleep, but she’s frowning, and Louis frowns too. “Did you find anything?”

“Oh, yeah,” Harry says, pulling a paper bag from behind his back. “I asked someone to help me, and she gave me three different things to try,” he hums, settling down on the edge of the mattress and rifling through the bag.

“Three things? Jesus, Harry, that must have cost a fortune,” Louis admonishes, but he still reaches out for the bottle Harry hands him.

“Oh, hush,” Harry scoffs. “Bridget is worth it. That one is supposed to calm upset little tummies, just give her a capful and a few crackers, or something,” he explains, setting the bag with the rest of its contents on the ground.

“Awesome, thank you so much, really,” Louis says, reaching out to wrap Harry in a very quick one armed hug. “I just hate when she’s sick, you know? I feel so bad for her.”

“Course, yeah,” Harry nods. “I know it must be hard, dealing with it on your own,” he says, his voice almost hesitant, like he doesn’t want to remind him.

“Yeah,” Louis chuckles, swallowing hard. “Yeah, Amy was so good with this stuff. All I’m worth is a good cuddle,” he mutters.

“No,” Harry frowns. “You’re such a good father, Louis, you’re worth so much more than that,” he assures.

Louis smiles down at his hands, peeling open the seal on the bottle top. “Thanks, Harry.”

“I mean it,” Harry says, but less fervently this time. “Do you need anything else?”

“Yeah, will you get some crackers? They’re in the cupboard to the left of the microwave,” he says, looking up at Harry. Harry grins at him and sets off, and Louis can hear him messing about in the kitchen a moment later.

“Bridge,” Louis hums, reaching over to gently wake her up. “Hey, babe, Harry brought you some medicine. Can you sit up?”

Bridget whines quietly but sits up, leaning against Louis’s side. “Sleepy,” she complains. She looks up with hooded eyes when Harry comes back, smiling tiredly.

“Hi, Bridget,” Harry smiles, sitting down on her other side. “How are you feeling, love?”

“Not so good,” Bridget sighs, pressing just a little more into Louis. “I puked on daddy earlier.”

“Oh no,” Harry coos, trying not to laugh. “And what did daddy think about that?”

“He just carried me to the bathroom and let me puke in the toilet instead. But he didn’t change until right before you came,” she says.

“Bridget,” Louis hisses, flushing down to his neck. Harry laughs brightly, and Louis ignores him. “Maybe don’t tell people that?”

“Sorry,” Bridget giggles, smiling for the first time today. Louis melts a little, wrapping his arm around her for a gentle squeeze.

“We’ve got some medicine, but you have to eat some crackers first, do you think you can do that?” Harry pipes up, pulling few crackers out of the box he came back with.

Bridget goes a little stiff, and Louis rubs her shoulder. “What if I puke it up?”

“You won’t, love,” Louis assures. “You only have to eat a few, so your belly isn’t totally empty, and then when you take the medicine it’ll make you feel less pukey,” he explains.

Bridget still looks unsure, but she reaches for the crackers anyway. “Okay, daddy,” she mumbles, nibbling on the first one. Harry gives her four, and it takes her a few minutes, but eventually she eats them all.

“Alright,” Louis hums, carefully pouring a capful of medicine. “Now, slow, so you don’t spill, swallow this,” he says, gingerly handing over the cap.

Bridget takes it in two hands and slowly brings it to her lips, before throwing it back like a shot. Harry lets out a surprised chuckle and Louis’s face scrunches up with the force of his smile, taking the cap back from Bridget when she’s done.

“Tastes bad,” she complains, wiping at her mouth.

“I know, love,” Louis coos, tucking a piece of Bridget’s hair behind her ear. “But it’ll make you feel better. What do you say to Harry for bringing it for you?”

“Thank you, Harry,” Bridget recites, pushing away from Louis to give Harry a hug. Harry grins and hugs her back, smiling over at Louis.

“No problem, Bridge,” he hums quietly.

“You’re quite cuddly,” Bridget comments, melting into Harry’s side. “Will you stay?”

Harry looks up at Louis again, and Louis shakes his head. “B, Harry’s a busy guy. He probably has things to do, and we don’t want to get him si-”

“No, of course I’ll stay,” Harry assures, hugging Bridget a little tighter like Louis might take her away. “I’d love to, if that’s okay?”

Louis raises his eyebrows, shrugging after a moment. “Okay, I suppose. You really wanna subject yourself to this?” He chuckles.

“I don’t mind,” Harry says, grinning as Bridget tucks herself into his chest.

“Alright,” Louis sighs, smiling at the sight. “Well, if you’ve got the cuddle under control, do you mind if I go get some stuff done?”

“Please, go ahead,” Harry hums, smiling over at him. “I’m happy to help.”

“You’re a godsend, Harry-”

It’s then that Louis realizes he doesn’t even know Harry’s last name. He frowns, and Harry perks up.

“Styles,” he says. Louis just nods, walking out of the room in somewhat of a trance.

He’s come to think of Harry as a friend by now, someone he can count on. Harry has made him dinner, has helped care for his sick kid, has made him smile when he thought he couldn’t, and all this time, Louis didn’t even know his last name. He feels like shit, honestly, and decides he’ll have to do something as soon as possible to pay Harry back for all he’s done.

For now, though, he switches the laundry, and tidies up the kitchen. The rest of the furniture he’s waiting on should be here before the end of the week, so he really doesn’t have much else to do right now, and trudges back to his own room.

Harry is curled up on the bed, on the side Louis doesn’t sleep on. Bridget is fully on top of him, sound asleep, and snoring quietly into his chest. Harry looks delighted, petting slowly and gently at her hair and watching her face.

“Hey,” Louis says quietly, leaning against the doorframe. “Sorry about her. Bit of an octopus, isn’t she?”

Harry giggles quietly, glancing up at Louis with bright eyes. For some reason, Louis’s stomach flips. He doesn’t want to look into it. “It’s perfectly okay,” Harry hums. “She’s adorable.”

Louis smiles, watching the two of them for a moment. “Well, I for one have no idea how we’re going to get you out of there.”

Harry frowns then, and Louis wants to kick himself. “Why do I have to get up?”

“Well,” Louis shifts awkwardly, leaning against the other side of the doorframe. “I mean, don’t you want to? Like, there’s a sick kid drooling all over you, most people would be dying to get out.”

Harry smiles softly, looking down at Bridget. “Yeah, but I mean. I don’t know, don’t take this the wrong way, but it’s kind of nice? Like, I don’t have anyone in my life, like, a significant other or a child. It’s nice to feel like I’m wanted, even it’s by a pukey five year old,” he shrugs, rubbing Bridget’s back gently.

Louis blinks, weighing his options. On one hand, Harry is still mostly a stranger, and he has no idea Harry’s motives for being so nice to them. On the other hand, though, Harry has done nothing to make himself seem like more of a creep than Louis’s initial impression, and he seems genuinely happy just to have Bridget sleeping on him like he’s some kind of cushion. Louis supposes he can’t be a bad guy, even if he still has his reservations.

“Seriously,” Harry says, catching Louis’s attention again. “I’m fine here. Go do stuff,” he smiles.

“I don’t have any stuff,” Louis smiles back, walking over to sit on the other side of the mattress.

“Go take a shower, then,” Harry winces, covering his nose with the back of his hand. “I think the stench coming off of you is making Bridget sicker.”

“Oi!” Louis protests, sticking his tongue out at Harry. “There’s no stench, fuck off.”

Harry just raises his eyebrows, and Louis lifts his arm to take a whiff. He narrows his eyes at Harry, slowly lowering his arm.

“Alright, you win this round, Styles,” he grumbles, pushing himself up off the bed and crossing to the closet. He grabs a new t-shirt and a pair of joggers, throwing one more playful glare over his shoulder at Harry.

“I win every round, Tomulson,” Harry chirps happily, grinning when Louis turns to look at him.

“Tomlinson,” Louis corrects, his voice soft.

“Right,” Harry says. “I knew it was something like that. Your daughter is quite hard to understand sometimes,” he tells him.

Louis just watches him for a moment, somehow endeared, suddenly. Bridget lets out a loud, ridiculous snore and they both dissolve into giggles, Louis finally excusing himself from the room.

He crosses the hall to the bathroom, locking the door behind himself. It’s not that he doesn’t trust Harry, because he totally does, he just left him alone with his sleeping, vulnerable five year old in his own bed, but locking the door makes him feel more safe, somehow.

He strips down and turns the water on, stepping under once he’s sure it’s warm enough. He gives himself a good scrubbing, because for some reason, he wants to look nice in front of Harry. It’s probably just because Harry looks so nice all the time, it makes Louis want to look nice too.

When he gets out of the shower, dry and dressed with damp, messy hair, he goes back to his bedroom to see both Harry and Bridget sound asleep. Harry has one arm curled around Bridget and the other spread out beside him, and for one quick, terrifying moment, Louis feels the strongest urge to go curl up with them.

He drops his towels in the corner and goes to finish the laundry, vowing to kick Harry out as soon as he wakes up.

Chapter Text

By the following weekend, Louis is ready to rip his hair out of his head. He loves Bridget, he really does, but being cooped up in the house with her for the past week has been miserable.

It took her a few days to feel better, though she didn’t get sick again after the first day. It’s been raining since Tuesday so they haven’t done much but sit inside, which has been rough, seeing as how they didn’t even have a couch until Thursday.

Louis had called Amy’s parents Thursday night for a chat, because Bridget was asleep and Amy’s mother has always reminded him of Amy herself, and Louis’s been missing her more and more as time goes on. Amy’s mum had suggested they take Bridget for the weekend to let Louis get some rest and Louis nearly cried, thanking her over and over.

It’s Friday morning now, and Amy’s mum should be here within the hour. Louis is packing a bag for Bridget while she eats breakfast in the kitchen, making sure she has enough outfits and socks to last her until Monday. He puts her toothbrush and her toothpaste in a small plastic baggy and packs those away too, hoping he hasn’t forgotten anything when he zips up her little pink duffel and leaves it by the front door.

“Daddy?” Bridget calls, her voice muffled like her mouth is full.

“Yes, love?” Louis hums, turning around to look at her where she’s sat at the kitchen table

“When’s Gram coming?” She asks, taking another bite of toast as she watches him.

“Around 11,” Louis tells her, pulling his phone out of his pocket to check the time.

“When’s that?” Bridget asks, crossing her eyes to frown at the glob of peanut butter she’s somehow gotten on her nose.

“Little less than an hour,” Louis grins, walking over to the table to wipe the peanut butter off Bridget’s nose with his thumb. He licks it off, and Bridget pulls a face at him.

“How long is that?” Bridget presses. Louis wonders if she’s old enough to be taught to tell time.

“About three episodes of Sofia the First,” Louis says, because that’s a unit of time Bridget knows like the back of her hand.

“Ugh,” Bridget groans, dropping her head back. “That’s so long.”

“Just dying to get away from me, are you?” Louis teases, wiping another bit of peanut butter off the corner of Bridget’s lip.

“No,” Bridget assures, sticking her tongue out at him. She still has a mouthful of toast, but Louis doesn’t scold her. “I love you, but I miss Gram. I haven’t seen her since mummy’s thing,” she says. Louis goes a bit quiet, Bridget’s munching the only sound in the room.

“Yeah,” Louis hums finally, sitting down on the edge of the table.

“Excuse me,” Bridget scoffs, reaching out to tap his thigh with her sticky little hand. “This is a table, not a sofa,” she exclaims.

Louis laughs brightly, reaching out to ruffle her hair. “Jesus, you sound exactly like your mother,” he chuckles, pushing away from the table and walking over to the sink to put the small collection of plates gathered there into the dishwasher.

“Really? Am I like mummy?” Bridget asks, turning in her chair a bit to look at him.

“You’re exactly like her,” Louis smiles, glancing at her over his shoulder. “You look like her, you talk like her, you walk like her and you yell at me like her,” he says, smiling softly to himself.

Bridget hums quietly, looking down at herself. “I don’t think I’m that much like mummy,” she says, her voice brutally quiet.

“Why’s that?” Louis asks, wiping his hands on a dishtowel and walking back over to sit down at the table opposite Bridget.

“I don’t know,” Bridget sighs. “Mummy was nice, and smart, and pretty, and her eyes sparkled a lot and she always smelled good. I’m not like that,” she says, looking up at Louis through her eyelashes.

“Oh, Bridge, of course you are,” Louis gushes, reaching across the table to tilt her chin up. “You’re brilliant, and you’re so kind and caring, and you’re absolutely gorgeous,” he says, smiling when Bridget smiles. “You might stink sometimes, but I think you get that from me,” he jokes.

“I don’t stink!” Bridget argues, but she’s grinning, and that’s all Louis cares about.

“Hate to break it to you, love, but you do sometimes. Speaking of which, how about a bath before Gram comes? You’re absolutely covered in peanut butter,” he chuckles, spotting another glob of it in her hair.

Bridget looks down at herself, scrunching her nose at Louis. “Yeah, maybe that’s a good idea,” she giggles, sliding out of her chair and following Louis to the bathroom.

She strips her clothes off while Louis fills the bathtub, pouring in a few bubbles just because he likes the way Bridget laughs when she plays with them. He helps her in and lets her soak for a few moments, watching her pick up the bubbles in her cupped hands and blow at them gently.

“Remember how you told me I’m like mummy?” She says after a little while, looking over at Louis.

“You mean that time about five minutes ago in the kitchen? I think I recall,” Louis grins, grabbing the cup off the side of the tub to start wetting Bridget’s hair.

“Yeah,” Bridget smiles. “You know who reminds me of mummy a lot?”

“Who’s that?” Louis hums, prompting her to close her eyes and tip her head back while he dumps the cup over her hair.

“Harry,” she says. Louis is glad her eyes are closed so she can’t see the way Louis lurches, blinking in surprise.

“Harry?” Louis questions, his tone dripping with curiosity.

“Yeah,” Bridget says, peeking one eye open at him. “Like, he’s got the long curly hair, and he’s nice and gentle and his eyes sparkle and he always smells like roses and cookies,” she says.

“I mean,” Louis chokes out, shaking his head. “Yeah they have some of the same traits, but…” He doesn’t quite know what to say, because now that Bridget has said it out loud, Louis can’t ignore it anymore.

Amy was a goofball. She had the biggest heart in the entire world and she knew exactly what everyone needed and when they needed it, and exactly how to get it to them. She cared about everyone, even people she didn’t know, offered things she couldn’t afford just because she wanted to make someone happy. She was so smart, as well, always knew what to do in any situation, always knew who to call or where to go. She made horrible jokes and incredible food and she never failed to make Louis laugh, make him feel good, make him feel loved.

The thing is, he doesn’t know Harry all that well yet, but he thinks Harry is very much the same. Harry is a giver, he’s a lover, he’s a caretaker and he loves making people happy. He’s lovely, and quite beautiful as far as boys go, and he’s so good with people, especially Bridget. The only difference Louis can come up with off the top of his head are their eyes; Amy’s eyes were hazel, the most beautiful muddy green Louis’s ever seen. Harry’s eyes, though, they’re bright green, the kind of pure, crystal like green that makes you stop and wonder just how deep they are, how far that magnificent light travels. It almost scares Louis, how he knows about Harry’s eyes in so much detail. He shakes himself out of his thoughts, focusing back on Bridget.

Bridget doesn’t seem to have noticed Louis’s small stroke, making a sculpture in front of herself with the bubbles. Louis brushes off his thoughts and grabs the shampoo, making Bridget close her eyes again as he massages it into her scalp and hair.

Similarities aside, Harry is nothing like Amy. For one, Louis was absolutely, head over heels, madly in love with Amy. Harry is a good friend, but that’s all. Louis is straight, after all, he doesn’t like boys. He went through enough torture in his teenage years to know that good and well. He isn’t in love with Harry, and he never will be. He can’t be.

Once he’s sure Bridget is good and clean, he drains the tub and helps her step out. He wraps her up in her pink fluffy towel and sends her off to her room to pick out an outfit for the day. As he rinses the remaining bubbles out of the floor of the tub, he can’t help but laugh to himself. So, maybe Harry is very, almost eerily similar to his wife. It’s not like it means anything. Louis has been through a lot in his life, but he’s not living in a bad movie, that’s for sure.

-

For the first few hours, the peace and quiet feels good. Louis cleans just about the whole house, throwing out the boxes that the furniture was delivered in and getting everything set up that he wasn’t able to get to before. It takes him a while to figure out how to assemble the bed frame but eventually he gets it, and finally he feels like his life is coming together again.

Once he’s made his bed and tidied the rest of the house, he decides a rest is in order. He changes into his comfiest trackies and an old uni sweatshirt and curls up on his new couch in the living room, a cozy new blanket over his lap and a steaming cup of tea in his hand.

It’s been so long since he’s been able to just relax like this, he almost doesn’t know what to do. He tires of footie rather quickly for some reason and he can’t find a single movie that interests him, and he’s only able to watch the news for a few minutes before it starts to make him sad.

He glances around the living room at the empty walls, at the shelves with a few random nicknacks on and the photo frames that still have their original stock photos in. He knows there’s a box of photos he took from the old house hidden in the back of his closet and he decides to pull those out, because it probably wouldn’t hurt to make this place feel a bit more like home.

He doesn’t think it through until he’s back on the couch, mug of tea placed on the coffee table and the shoebox full of pictures in his lap. There’s some rom com playing on the telly but he’s not paying attention, pursing his lips as he lifts the lid of the shoebox.

The picture on the top of the pile is of Bridget the day she was born. She already had a full head of hair, curly as it is now, her eyes bright and blue and wide open. She was such a spectacular baby, made direct eye contact before she even figured out how to breastfeed. Louis remembers that day like it was yesterday, remembers Amy shouting and nearly breaking his hand while she gave birth, remembers seeing Bridget’s tiny, scrunchy face for the first time, remembers hearing her cry and thinking yes, this is it.

He smiles fondly at the picture and places it beside himself on the couch, deciding he’ll frame that one for sure.

The next picture he picks out is of Amy, looking exhausted and beautiful, holding Bridget in her arms for the first time. They’re nose to nose, Amy grinning so wide that her dimple is peeking out and Bridget staring right up at her mother’s eyes. Louis stares at it until his vision goes blurry, and when he blinks, a tear drips down his cheek.

He wipes it away quickly and puts the photo down, thinking he’ll frame that picture and give it to Bridget. She’ll love to have it in her room, he knows it.

He shuffles through a few more photos, some of Bridget over the years, some of their old house when they first bought it and the way the rooms used to look before Amy got her magic hands on them. There’s pictures Amy must have taken of Louis, playing football by himself in the garden and sleeping face down on the rug in the old living room with Bridget snoozing in the same position beside him. He’s sniffling like a baby before he’s even halfway through the box, wiping away the tears as they trickle down his cheeks.

The photo that breaks him is an old one, crinkled and creased and the slightest bit faded. It’s of Amy, back when she was so young, probably only twenty or so. She’s grinning so wide, giving the camera two thumbs up, dressed in the outfit she wore the night Louis proposed. Louis spots himself in the background of the photo, watching Amy fondly, his eyes crinkles by the corners and his hands stuck in his pockets like he’s trying to act cool, trying not to drop to his knee right then and there.

He sobs once, covering his mouth with a trembling hand. He stares at the picture until he can’t anymore, until it hurts too bad, and finally he puts it back in the box and moves the box to the floor.

He can’t stop the next sob that escapes him, or the next one after that. He hasn’t had a real, proper, all out cry since the accident, since the night he lost half his little family, and now that he’s doing it, he’s afraid he won’t stop.

He carefully moves his little piles of photos to be framed to the coffee table and curls up on his side on the couch, pressing his face into the couch cushion and letting himself cry. He clenches his hands into shaking fists and holds them against his chest, like he’s holding someone, holding on for dear life.

He doesn’t know how long he lets himself cry, but when he finally sits up, he’s heaving so hard he thinks he might be sick. He wanted to leave the old house because it reminded him too much of Amy, but this house is empty, this one doesn’t have any trace of her at all, and it fucking hurts.

It takes him a while to be able to breathe normally again, and even then his face is still a mess of tears. His entire body is trembling and he wants to be held, wants brown, curly hair in his face and soft, gentle words in his ear and green eyes looking into his own.

He startles himself with the thought, nearly falling right off the couch. Hazel, hazel eyes. Not green. Why did he picture green eyes?

He uses his sweatshirt sleeve to wipe at his face, scrubbing harshly at his eyes. Maybe he’s just tired. He feels like he hasn’t slept in weeks, he just needs to have a lie down. And maybe a shower, as well, to clear his head.

He leaves the box of photos on the coffee table as he drags himself to the bathroom, turning the water as hot as he can stand and stripping out of his clothes. He spends a little while just standing under the stream, letting the water push his hair into his face and soothe the muscles in his back.

He stays in the shower until he doesn’t really feel like crying anymore, and then finally he gets out and dries off, pulling his comfy clothes back on. Now that he’s showered he doesn’t quite feel like going to bed, so he heads back to the couch.

There’s an entire shelf full of DVDs under the telly, so Louis decides he’ll pick one of those. He wants to distract himself from how he’s feeling, and the only way to do that is with a mindless, action packed movie, he thinks.

He picks The Amazing Spider-Man without even really looking, popping it into the DVD player. He goes to make himself a new cup of tea while the adverts play, cuddling up on the couch just in time for the movie to start.

It’s just gone dark outside when his phone rings, startling him out of the trance he’s gone into. He pauses the film before he looks at the phone, frowning when he sees it’s Harry calling.

“Hello?” He answers, wincing at how weak his voice sounds.

“Hey,” Harry hums, seemingly unaware of Louis’s tone. “What are you up to tonight?”

“Oh,” Louis mutters, glancing around himself. There’s still old pictures scattered around, a cold mug of tea on the table and a half cold one in his hands. He feels like a mess even though he just showered, and he’s watching Spider-man by himself like a seven year old. “Just- hanging out, you know. Bridget’s at my mum-in-law’s so,” he shrugs.

“Oh, good!” Harry cheers. Louis frowns, but Harry elaborates. “I was just calling to see if you wanted to come out tonight. A few of my mates and I are heading out for some drinks, if you wanna tag along? I’ve told them all about you and Bridget and your, you know, your situation, and they all wanna meet you,” he says.

Louis freezes, looking down at himself. There’s no way he’s meeting Harry’s friends in the state he’s in, both physically and emotionally.

“Um, that sounds great, it does, but I think I’m just gonna stay in tonight,” he says, his voice wavering for some reason he can’t comprehend. “But maybe another time, yeah?”

“Are you alright?” Harry asks immediately. “You sound upset.”

Louis chuckles sadly, sniffling before he can stop himself. “Yeah, no, I’m fine. Just having myself a little strop,” he says, pushing his hair out of his face and trying to take a deep breath quietly enough that Harry won’t hear.

“Oh, Lou,” Harry coos, sounding genuinely sad that Louis is sad. “Do you want me to come over? I don’t have to go out tonight, I was really only gonna go if you were coming-”

“Harry,” Louis interrupts, digging his nails into his bicep so he won’t do something silly, like start crying again. “No, I don’t want you to come over. Please go out with your friends, don’t worry about me.”

“But,” Harry whines, sounding like a child, “I won’t have fun if I know you’re at home crying by yourself.”

Louis has to pause, waiting for the sudden urge to whimper to pass. “Harry, I really don’t need you to look after me,” he says quietly.

“I know, I know,” Harry assures, rushing like he’s afraid Louis is angry. “I know, but- I don’t know.”

“Harry,” Louis chuckles, rubbing at his face. “Please go out and have fun. You don’t need to worry about me, I’ll be fine.”

Harry pauses for a long moment, but finally he sighs. “Alright,” he mutters, sounding defeated. “Okay, yeah. But, listen, I won’t get drunk tonight, okay? And if you need me at all, for any reason, even if you just want me to come over and get you a glass of water because you don’t want to get up, just call. I’ll be there in half a second, I promise.”

Louis can’t help but smile at that, looking down at himself. “Thanks, Harry.”

“Okay,” Harry says. “And you’re sure you’re alright?”

“I’m fine,” Louis assures, rolling his eyes. “I’ll be fine. Go, okay?”

“Okay, alright. I’m going. I’ll talk to you later yeah?”

“Yeah,” Louis hums, playing with the edge of his blanket.

“Wait, one more thing,” Harry says quickly. Louis laughs quietly, letting him go on. “Promise you meant it when you said we could do it another time? My friends are really great, they are, and I think you’d all get on really well,” he says.

“I promise, Harry,” Louis smiles. “You can’t be my only friend, can you? Stealing your friends will be much easier than finding my own,” he jokes.

“Oi,” Harry protests, but he’s laughing too, and it makes Louis’s chest feel just a little bit looser. “Okay, good. I’ll talk to you later, then.”

“Alright,” Louis hums, amused.

“Okay, bye,” Harry says, the smile clear in his tone.

“Bye, Harry,” Louis chuckles, letting his eyes fall closed.

“Bye, Lou,” Harry says once more, and then the line clicks dead. Louis chuckles again and drops the phone on the cushion beside him, dropping his head back against the sofa.

For the few minutes he talked to Harry, it’s like everything somehow got easier. It’s like Harry made him forget, like he took away his pain and his troubles for just a moment. Now that he’s alone again, though, now that it’s just him in the silence of his house, it’s a lot easier to feel.

He presses play on the movie and gets cosy, focusing his full attention on the screen. The less he lets his mind wander, the less shit he’s going to feel.

The movie ends an hour later and Louis still doesn’t want to resign to bed, switching back over to cable and flicking through the channels for a bit. He finds a marathon of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and goes for that, because if there’s one thing that will wear him out, it’s reruns of bad 90’s shows.

Halfway through the first episode, a knock on Louis’s front door nearly scares the hell out of him. He ignores it for a moment, hoping it’ll just go away if he doesn’t answer it, but a few seconds later the person knocks again and Louis groans as he pushes his blanket off and trudges to the door.

He catches sight of himself in the mirror he hung next to the door and cringes; his eyes and cheeks are swollen and puffy, and his hair looks like an absolute mess. His nose is red and his lips are chapped and if the person on the other side of the door is anyone that Louis will ever have to see again in his life, he’s probably going to move away again.

He sighs as he opens the door, finding none other than Harry Styles standing there with a paper bag and a cautious smile.

“Hi,” Harry says, his face softening when he gets a good look at Louis. “I’m sorry, I couldn’t have fun. I brought ice cream,” he says, holding up the bag in offering.

Louis scoffs, shaking his head at Harry. “You’re ridiculous, I told you I was fine,” he says, but he takes the bag anyway, peeking inside as he walks back to the couch.

“I know, I’m sorry,” Harry says, following him in and shutting the door behind himself. “I hope it’s okay that I came.”

“You brought ice cream,” Louis says, plopping down on the couch and pulling out the two pints to inspect them. “Of course it’s okay.”

“So I can stay, then?” Harry smiles, sitting down on the other end of the couch.

“Duh,” Louis scoffs, “if you don’t, I’ll eat this all by myself and then I’ll blame you for getting me fat.”

Harry laughs, standing up again. “Spoons?” He asks, walking over to the kitchen.

“Drawer next to the sink,” Louis mutters, smiling when he sees that one of the two pints is mint chocolate chip. “How did you know mint chocolate chip is my favorite flavor of ice cream?”

“Bridget might have mentioned it,” Harry says, bringing back two spoons and handing one over to Louis. “For some reason it came up on that first day we met in the park. I don’t know why I retained it,” he hums amusedly, taking the other pint from Louis.

“You did good, Harold,” Louis smiles, sitting back against the couch and pulling his blanket back up over himself.

“I’m glad,” Harry grins, seeming genuinely thrilled to have made Louis smile. “So what are we watching here?”

“Fresh Prince,” Louis says, peeling the cover off his ice cream and digging in. “A classic.”

“Of course,” Harry says, getting cosy on the other end of the couch. Louis almost thinks about asking if he wants to share the blanket, but he doesn’t think they need to be that close.

They make it through a whole episode and a half of another before Harry notices the pictures on the coffee table, putting down his ice cream carton and sitting up to look at them. Louis watches him carefully, heart rate picking up for some reason when Harry picks up the photo of Amy and Bridget from the day Bridget was born.

“This is precious,” he mumbles, smiling at the photo. “Is this your wife?”

“That’s Amy, yeah,” Louis says, throat tight.

Harry hums in acknowledgement, looking at the photo for a bit longer before moving on to the next. He doesn’t mess up Louis’s piles, carefully putting each picture back where he found it, until he comes across the old, crinkled photo of Amy.

“You really loved her,” he whispers. It’s not a question.

“That was the night we got engaged,” Louis says, voice trembling. Harry’s head whips around, and Louis tries to hide the tears budding in his eyes.

“Oh, Louis,” Harry coos, putting the photo down and turning to face him. “I’m so sorry.”

Louis just shakes his head, not trusting his voice. When he finally opens his mouth to say something, all that comes out is a quiet sob, and Harry is on him in a minute.

For some reason, being cradled against Harry’s chest feels way better than Louis might have imagined. He fists the front of Harry’s shirt and sobs again into his chest, letting Harry rub his back and tell him that everything is going to be okay.

The comfort only spurs Louis on, somehow, and he spends the rest of the night curled up in Harry’s arms, accepting his gentle touches and gentler words. He doesn’t know why this is so easy, being held and coddled, but it is, and he wants to keep it. That’s crazy, though, he’s a grown man with a daughter and a life to be in control of, and he doesn’t need to be coddled. Right now, though, he might.

-

Louis wakes up tangled in his sheets, mouth stale and eyes sore. Apparently he didn’t pull the shades before going to sleep like he usually does, because the sun is shining bright in his face and he squints against it as he sits up.

He’s still in his uni sweatshirt, the hood twisted around his neck so far that one sleeve is a few inches shorter than the other. He never sleeps in this many clothes for this exact reason, he thinks as he straightens himself out. Come to think of it, he doesn’t even remember going to bed last night. He has no idea when Harry left, or what time he finally got off the couch and trudged in here.

He drags himself out of bed and heads for the bathroom, rubbing at his puffy eyes to get rid of the sleep as he steps into the hallway. Just as he’s stepping into the bathroom he hears a bump from the kitchen, and then a shuffling like someone is in his house.

He freezes, listening for a moment longer. A cupboard door thumps closed and he can hear the fridge open, and his heart starts beating in his throat. If he turned around he’d be able to see the fridge right across from the hallway, but just as he looks, he sees the door swinging back shut on its own.

Fucking hell, he thinks, he left his old house because he couldn’t get away from Amy, if there’s another ghost in this house he might just die. He switches the bathroom light back off and begins creeping down the hall, peeking around the corner into the kitchen.

Harry is standing in front of the stove, cracking eggs into a frying pan. He has his hair pulled back with one of Bridget’s little pink elastics and he’s still wearing his t-shirt and jeans from the night before, his face looking soft from sleep. Louis must have fallen asleep on the couch and Harry probably brought him to bed, and then decided to stay the night. Louis isn’t quite sure why that makes him feel so warm inside.

“Hey,” Louis says quietly, trying not to spook him. Harry startles anyway, looking up at Louis with wide eyes.

“Oh,” he smiles, “just you.”

“Just me,” Louis confirms, rounding the corner fully and peeking into Harry’s frying pan. “I thought there was a ghost in my kitchen messing around in my fridge, but it’s just you, huh?”

“Just me,” Harry echoes, watching Louis for a moment. “How are you feeling today?”

“Better,” Louis sighs, pushing his hair out of his face. “Think I just needed a good cry, to be honest. Ready to take on the world now,” he hums.

“Good,” Harry grins. “And, um, I hope it’s okay that I stayed the night. You fell asleep on me and by the time I got you to your bed it was so late, I just passed out on the couch,” he chuckles, poking at whatever he’s making in the frying pan.

“No, of course it’s okay,” Louis assures. “Thank you, actually. For coming in the first place. And for breakfast, as I’m sure you’re going to share this delicious smelling omelet with me.”

Harry laughs softly, nodding. “Of course I’ll share. And I could hear it in your voice on the phone yesterday that you didn’t want to be alone. I’m happy to help,” he says.

Louis smiles, watching Harry for a moment. He hesitates and then hugs him quickly, sideways and a bit awkward, and then pulls away just as fast. Harry looks surprised but he’s still smiling, glancing sideways at Louis.

“Thanks,” Louis says quietly, watching Harry for a moment before dropping his eyes. Harry hands him the omelet on a plate a second later, and Louis grins at him with all his teeth, like a child, before taking it to the table.

Harry joins him a moment later, sitting down directly across from him in the seat that Bridget usually sits in. Louis watches him for a moment, and Harry watches him back. When their eyes meet Harry smiles at him softly, and Louis’s stomach does some strange swooping thing that it hasn’t done since before he got married.

“I hope you don’t mind,” Harry says after a moment, his voice quiet and hesitant. “But I, um, I looked at some more of your pictures after you fell asleep last night.”

Louis hums in acknowledgement, looking down at his omelet.

“You really loved your wife, didn’t you? It’s so clear in your eyes, even in photographs,” Harry mutters.

Louis swallows hard, nodding. He’s not going to cry again, but he has to admit that even thinking about it stings just a bit. “She’s the best thing that ever happened to me,” he manages. “Aside from Bridget, of course.”

Harry nods, watching him for another minute. Louis stares carefully at his omelet, chewing at his lip.

“You don’t have to answer this, obviously,” Harry says, voice startlingly clear suddenly, “but, like. Will you tell me what happened?”

Louis takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly, pushing his chair back and taking his plate to the sink. Harry doesn’t push, just looks down and keeps picking at his own omelet. He probably doesn’t expect Louis to actually tell him, but Louis thinks he deserves to know.

“We were going out for date night with a couple of Amy’s friends,” he starts, gaining Harry’s attention quickly. Louis isn’t looking at him, still standing by the sink, staring out the window. “They were always a bit weird, all of Amy’s friends were, but they were good company. They picked the place, and it was like a bar, or something, and Amy made me come home early from work so we could be on time and I was only, like, seven minutes early and Amy made fun of me for it but we still got there on time,” he smiles.

Harry waits quietly while Louis pauses, reliving the night moment by moment. “We had the house all to ourselves that night. Bridget was sleeping at my sister’s for the night, and she called us right before we left the house to say goodnight and that she loved us. That was the last time she ever spoke to her mother,” he whispers.

Harry makes a soft noise in his throat, like he’s hurt. Louis barrels on, staring at the butterfly bush in the back garden. “So we got in Amy’s car, because she was pregnant and couldn’t drink, so she was my designated driver for the night. She hates driving my car, always says- said it’s a pussy car, so we took the SUV with the carseat still in the back and everything. I was so in love with her that night, with her little baby bump peeking out of her dress,” he says, sighing and shaking his head while he collects himself.

“So we went to the bar and her friends were already there, and at one point this guy at the bar tried to flirt with me, and it was just- it was a strange night. I drank way more than I should have, Amy practically had to carry me to the car.

“So we were heading home, and I was so drunk, I kept touching her face and saying stupid things, I wish I remembered exactly what. I just remember how beautiful she looked, especially in the moonlight, I couldn’t stop touching her and telling her how beautiful she was.”

Harry’s breath hitches a little, and Louis squeezes his eyes shut. He doesn’t know why Harry’s crying, he’s not the one that went through this.

“And the last thing I remember is seeing the red glow of the stoplight on her face turn green, and then headlights, and then nothing. It was a drunk driver, ran a yellow light and plowed right into us at a four way intersection. My baby died on impact, but Amy took almost twenty hours to finally let go. I sat with her the whole time, held her hand and everything, until she flatlined. I ended up with a bruised rib and a mild concussion, and I went home the following morning. Amy never got to home. Our baby never even got a chance to live.”

They’re both quiet for a few minutes, Harry sniffling quietly at the table behind him. Louis spots a bird hopping around in the grass outside, watches it until it flies away and then finally turns around.

“You didn’t deserve that,” Harry says, wiping at his face. Louis doesn’t like it when he cries; he thinks Harry should only ever be happy. “God, you didn’t deserve any of that.”

“Yeah, well,” Louis sighs, looking down at his feet. He’s only wearing one sock, he doesn’t know where the other one got off to. “It happened.”

Harry takes a shuddering breath, standing up and bringing his plate over to the sink as well. Louis doesn’t move, lets Harry reach around him to put his plate down, and lets Harry hug him for just a second.

“Can I take you out today?” Harry asks, pulling back and looking at Louis’s face. “Like, we can take a walk, I can show you some of my favorite places around town. You haven’t been here very long, and I really want you to be happy here,” he says, watching Louis carefully.

Louis nods, lips twitching into a small smile. “Yeah, okay,” he hums. “Now?”

“If you want to,” Harry nods.

“Yeah,” Louis says, looking down at himself. “I’ll go change,” he chuckles.

“Good idea,” Harry smiles, letting Louis slip around him and out of the kitchen.

He settles for a pair of comfy jeans and a t-shirt, as it’s quite warm out today. It’s not raining but it’s not exactly sunny, and Louis figures he can get away with not wearing a jacket.

Harry is waiting for him in the living room when he’s ready, keys in hand. “We can drive to my house so I can change,” he explains, “and then I’ll take you to the center of town, where all the little shops are.”

“Perfect,” Louis hums, grabbing his wallet and phone. He’s actually somewhat surprised that Bridget hasn’t called yet to tell him about her day, and as much as he wants to hear about how much fun she’s having with her Gram, he kind of hopes she doesn’t call and interrupt his time with Harry.

Harry’s car is clean and smells quite good, unlike Louis’s. Louis’s car is an absolute mess, cheerios mashed into the carpet in the backseat and bits of paper, receipts and toys littering every inch. Harry clearly takes good care of his car; everything’s in its place and there’s a clean smelling air freshener stuck into the air vent. Louis wants to know how he has his life so put together.

The ride to Harry’s is short, and Louis waits in the living room while Harry goes to get changed. He takes a moment to walk around and look at the pictures Harry has framed, wondering if he can get a glance into Harry’s life.

There’s a photo hung up near the stairs of Harry and two other boys, their arms around each other. Harry looks young, his hair shorter and curlier, his eyes a bit brighter. The boy to Harry’s left has a buzz cut and warm, brown eyes, smiling like he’s proud of something. The boy to Harry’s right just looks happy to be there, bright blue eyes shining and blond hair a bit wild.

The photo hung below it is of two women, nearly identical except one is much younger. They look enough like Harry that Louis thinks it’s safe to assume it’s his mother and sister. There’s more photos hung all around, some with Harry and any number of different people and some without Harry, pretty landscape shots and candid photos of who Louis assumes are Harry’s loved ones. Every photo is nice and clearly carries a meaning, and Louis thinks he’ll ask about them sometime.

“Ready?” Harry says, jogging down the stairs in a pair of clean skinny jeans and a pretty sheer shirt. Louis can see his nipples and dark patches of what must be tattoos through it, but he doesn’t stare.

“Ready,” he confirms, letting Harry lead him back out the door. They cross the street to the park and find the path that winds through it, setting off at a leisurely pace.

“Obviously you’ve seen the park before,” Harry says, sweeping his arm in a gesture that makes him look a bit like a tour guide. Louis is endeared, strangely.

“Seeing as how the first two times we ever spoke it was in this very park, yes, I think you should know,” he chuckles, smiling as they walk by the flower bed where they first ever saw each other.

They follow the path through the park until they reach the end, where the path connects with the pavement that leads down the street. Harry leads him past house after house until finally the area seems to get a bit more populated, people dotting the pavement on either side of the road.

There are little shops and cafes in strips, and Harry points some of them out as they walk. There’s a little pub that Harry says is no good, and a thrift store that Harry loves, and a handmade craft store that Harry apparently spends a lot of time in. There’s a drugstore and a little fresh food market and a coffee shop and Louis is so in love, can’t wait to bring Bridget down here to explore.

“Do you want to get some coffee? A good friend of mine owns this cafe here,” Harry says, pointing to a little cafe a few more buildings up the street.

“Sure,” Louis hums, smiling as a dog on a leash and its owner walk past him. “Do I get to meet this friend?”

“Maybe,” Harry shrugs, holding the door open for Louis. “We’ll see if he’s in today.”

There are only a few other people in the cafe, mostly couples sat at little wooden tables. It looks like something out of a magazine, everything is so pretty and warm and inviting.

“Are you more of a coffee or a tea person?” Harry asks, getting into line behind the one other person ordering.

“Both are good, but I’ve got to go with tea, I think,” Louis decides.

“You should try the chai latte,” Harry gushes, “it’s the most incredible thing.”

“It’s, like, 30 degrees outside,” Louis laughs, “why would I get a hot drink?”

“It comes iced as well,” Harry says, looking over the menu himself. “Just try it, you’ll love it.”

Louis shrugs and steps up to the counter, taking Harry’s advice and asking for an iced chai latte. He goes to pull out his wallet but Harry stops him, ordering his drink as well and paying for both.

“Oi, you didn’t have to do that,” Louis admonishes, slapping Harry’s arm lightly. “You bought me ice cream last night, I could have paid for this.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Harry hums, glancing over at him. “You can pay me back at some point, if you must.”

The barista comes back a few moments later with their drinks, handing them over the counter just as Louis is sticking his tongue out at Harry.

“You two are cute,” she tells them, handing their drinks over with a smile.

“Oh, we’re not-”

“Thank you,” Harry interrupts him, smiling at the barista. Louis blinks in shock but doesn’t say anything, following Harry over to a table. “Sorry, it’s just easier to not correct people when they say little things like that. Why embarrass her?” He shrugs.

“Because we’re not a couple?” Louis says, narrowing his eyes at Harry.

“She doesn’t have to know that,” Harry chuckles, taking the seat with his back to the window so Louis can sit facing it.

“What if she goes around telling people that-”

“Lou,” Harry cuts him off, laughing. “Chill. It’s not that big of a deal.”

Louis huffs, swirling his cup to make the ice clink together. “Alright, fine. But I just moved here, and if there are any rumors because of-”

“Lou!” Harry laughs, shaking his head. “No one even knows you. I think you’re in the clear.”

“Alright, alright,” Louis surrenders, taking a careful sip of his drink. “I’m not even gay, I don’t need those kind of rumors,” he mumbles.

“You know, you don’t have to be gay to like boys,” Harry says, leaning his elbows on the table and sipping at his iced coffee.

Louis frowns, staring at him in confusion. “Is this gonna be a bad joke?”

“No, I’m serious,” Harry chuckles. “I mean, you can like boys without being gay. Like, you can be bisexual, or-”

“Harry,” Louis interrupts, unamused. “I’m not gay, or bisexual, or whatever the bloody hell else there is these days. I don’t like boys in any form,” he says.

Harry looks a bit put out, pouting at his coffee. “You know, they say that nobody is one hundred percent straight-”

“Well,” Louis interjects loudly, looking at his bare wrist. “Would you look at the time! I should be-”

“No,” Harry giggles, grabbing Louis’s wrist to pull him back when Louis goes to get up. “Okay, okay, I’ll stop,” he smiles, not letting go of Louis until he’s fully back in his chair.

Louis smiles at him for a moment, taking another sip of his drink. “This is actually quite good,” he says after a brief silence, saluting Harry with his cup.

“I wouldn’t lie to you,” Harry hums, watching Louis over the rim of his own cup.

“But you would lie to the sweet little barista,” Louis teases, grinning when Harry groans.

“Oh, let it go,” Harry pleads, rolling his eyes. “Do you want me to go up there right now and make sure she knows that we’re actually totally platonic dude bro pals?” He jokes.

“Yes, actually, I would,” Louis hums, sitting up a little straighter.

“What- seriously?” Harry asks, looking panicked.

“Yes. Go on,” Louis urges, waving his hand at Harry dismissively.

Harry blinks at him, staring with wide eyes for a moment before he slowly rises to his feet. “Shit, okay,” he breathes, making to walk over to the counter.

“Harry,” Louis stops him, giggling and grabbing at his wrist like Harry did to him only a moment ago. “I’m just playing, sit your arse down,” he laughs.

“You knob,” Harry hisses, sitting down quickly. “My heart is actually beating, feel it,” he whines, grabbing Louis’s hand and placing it against his own chest.

Louis blinks, staring at his hand on Harry’s chest. He can feel his heart beating fast under his hand, and quickly pulls away.

They’re quiet for a few minutes then, both of them sipping idly at their drinks. Louis watches Harry discreetly, who looks like he’s fighting a war with himself internally. The silence isn’t awkward, though, at least not for Louis, as he watches people walk by on the street outside.

“Harry!” Someone calls suddenly, making both boys jump. Harry looks up, brow furrowed, searching for the source of the voice, but when he sees the person, he breaks out into the biggest grin.

“Liam!” Harry cheers, waving the person over. Louis turns to look and sees the buzzcut kid from the picture in Harry’s house, but aged a good five or ten years.

Liam pulls up a chair from an empty table and sits down, holding his hand out to Louis. “I’m Liam, Harry’s mate,” he says jovially.

“Louis,” Louis smiles, shaking his hand. “Good to meet you.”

“Oh, Louis,” Liam sings, glancing over at Harry. Harry blushes, and Liam smirks. “Are you the same Louis that Harry here ditched us for last night?”

Louis laughs awkwardly, looking at Harry for help. “Uh, yeah, sorry about that, mate. I told him not to, honest,” he says.

“Liam, be nice,” Harry chastises, whacking Liam’s shoulder gently with the back of his hand.

“Oh, no, I didn’t mean that in a bad way,” Liam assures. “You look like you wanna jump off a cliff right now. No, believe me, I’m happy Harry has found someone that makes him so happy, he talks about you all the time,” he grins.

If Louis looked like he wanted to jump off a cliff before, he definitely does now.

“Liam,” Harry hisses, glaring at him.

“No, I just mean-” Liam looks panicked now, looking between Harry and Louis. “Like, not like that, I just-”

“Wait, start over,” Louis interrupts, because this is getting more painful by the minute, and if Liam is anything like Harry, he’s just going to keep digging himself deeper and deeper until he can’t get out. “Hi, I’m Louis, you are?” Louis hums, extending his hand again.

Liam blinks, but seems to catch on rather quickly. “Liam Payne, Harry’s mate. Happy to meet you, I’ve heard a lot about you,” he says, shaking Louis’s hand again.

“Better,” Louis smirks, winking at Liam. “So you own this cafe, Harry told me?”

“Yeah,” Liam grins proudly, looking around. “That’s why it’s called Liam’s, actually.”

“Interesting,” Louis gushes. “I wouldn’t have even caught that.”

Harry is watching both of them fondly now, seemingly over his initial horror at Liam’s conduct. Now that Liam is acting less like a bumbling fool, Louis can see why Harry enjoys him so much.

“So what are you two up today?” Liam asks, leaning on his elbows on the table. “Louis, I understand you have a kid? Where’s she?”

“What is this, an interrogation?” Harry interjects, looking exasperated at Liam.

“No, it’s okay,” Louis chuckles. “Bridget’s at my mother-in-law’s for the weekend. Harry here is showing me around a bit, since I’ve been cooped up inside me house from just about the day we moved in.”

“Your mother-in-law?” Liam asks, looking confused.

Louis realizes he must know about Louis’s situation, and offers him a small smile. “Yes, my late wife’s mother,” he says.

Liam almost flinches a bit, smiling tightly in return. Harry looks like he’s vibrating out of the corner of Louis’s eye, like he’s afraid Liam is going to say the wrong thing and hurt Louis, or something.

“Right. Sorry about that, by the way. Harry told me what happened, um, well not exactly what happened, but like-”

“Yeah,” Louis cuts him off, feeling the need to save him. Bless him, he’s so sweet, but he really doesn’t know how to hold a conversation.

“Well, anyway, we should get on with our walk. It looks like it might rain,” Harry pipes up, leaning back a bit to look at the sky out the window.

“Nice to meet you, Louis,” Liam says, standing up and putting his chair away. “I’ll see you later then?”

Harry mumbles his goodbye and all but drags Louis out of the cafe, looking at him apologetically once they’re back on the pavement.

“I’m so sorry about him, honestly,” he says, shaking his head. “He’s the sweetest guy I know, really, but he’s so awkward with new people,” he explains.

“No, it’s okay,” Louis chuckles. “He is sweet, I can see why you like him.”

Harry smiles, nudging him with his shoulder as they begin to walk. “The rest of my friends are a bit more normal. Well, not exactly normal, but probably better at holding conversation,” he laughs.

“I can't wait to meet them, then,” Louis grins, glancing over at Harry. Harry smiles back at him, and Louis shoves his hands in his pockets. “So, tell me about them,” he prompts, watching his feet while they walk.

“Oh, where to start,” Harry hums, tilting his head back to look up at the sky. “Well, Liam is my best mate, and then there's Niall, my other best mate,” he says. “Niall is a musician, plays at all the local pubs on the weekends. He's kind of a legend in town, everyone knows his name,” he says proudly.

“I'll have to come see him with you sometime, then,” Louis says, smiling when Harry smiles.

“Definitely. Let's see, who else do I hang out with? Oh, there's Lou, Louise, and her daughter. Lux is only a few years older than Bridget,” he says. “And then there's Nick, who works for the local radio station. He's quite a good radio dj, but he hasn't made it to the big leagues just yet.”

Louis just nods, amazed that Harry has this many friends. Louis only ever really hung out with Amy’s friends from work since he got married, and even before then, he only really remembers having a lot of friends back in school.

“I also hang out with my sister Gemma quite a bit, you'll love her. She's just as witty as you are, I think you two will get on quite well,” Harry chuckles. “I might have to leave, though, as I'm usually the brunt of the jokes.”

Louis laughs, accidentally knocking elbows with Harry. Harry's smile gets a little brighter, and Louis pretends not to notice. “Jesus, how many friends do you have?” Louis asks, knocking Harry's elbow again just to see his dimple pop. “You could start your own football team, I reckon.”

Harry giggles softly, shaking his head. “That's about it, I think. I've known them all forever, just about. What about you? Any cool friends you wanna tell me about?” He asks.

Louis purses his lips and looks back down at the ground. “Well,” he sighs, “there's you, and, um, there's Bridget, and… Oh, there's you,” he says, pointing at Harry.

Harry laughs, his cheeks pinking just a bit. He looks adorable. The thought makes Louis flinch. “Oh, cmon. You have to have more friends than just me, right? I mean, you're a lovely person, who wouldn't want to hang out with you?” He asks, seeming genuinely disbelieving.

“Believe it or not, Harold, I'm not quite as lovely as you think. I'm a right bitch most of the time, I'm glad you haven't seen that side of me yet,” Louis laughs.

“No,” Harry shakes his head, “I don't believe that. You're the sweetest guy in the world, or at least the sweetest guy I've ever met,” he shrugs.

“I thought Liam was the sweetest guy you've ever met?” Louis teases.

“Yeah, he's pretty sweet, but I think you're sweeter. He doesn't have a five year old, though, so you might be at an unfair advantage,” Harry teases right back.

“But, really, thank you. I'm glad one person in this world doesn't think I'm an absolute tit,” Louis chuckles.

Harry frowns, bumping Louis’s arm with his own. “No one thinks you're a tit.” At Louis’s disbelieving expression, Harry rolls his eyes. “Bridget doesn't think you're a tit. Amy didn't think you're a tit. Liam doesn't think you're a tit.”

“How do you know what Liam thinks of me?” Louis says, mostly just to sidestep the comment about Amy. For some reason, Louis doesn't like the sound of her name coming out of Harry's mouth.

“I can tell,” Harry says proudly. “He's my best friend, I know when he does or doesn't like someone, and he was just about in love with you, I think,” he hums. “Platonically, of course.”

“Right,” Louis laughs. “Well, wait til he gets to know me,” he sighs, watching his feet while they walk.

“Seriously,” Harry scoffs. “I can’t imagine why anyone would not want to be your friend. You’re funny, you’re kind, you’re a great father. I’m never bored when I’m with you, even when Bridget isn’t around,” he admits.

“Well, thank you, Harold,” Louis smiles, glancing over at him. “That means a lot.”

“Surely I can’t be the first one to be telling you this,” Harry frowns. “Really, has no one been lucky enough to consider themself your close friend?”

Louis shrugs, looking back down at his feet. The only people present enough in Louis’s life for him to be close to are Bridget and Amy, and now that Amy’s gone, Bridget is all he has. He’s close to his siblings, yes, Lottie especially, and his parents and even Amy’s parents. Amy’s friends have tried to reach out to him since she passed but Louis isn’t interested in them, isn’t interested in being single in a room full of couples, especially after having lost his other half. He doesn’t have too terribly many other people in his life, which he supposes is a bit sad.

“All my friends were Amy’s friends,” he says, voice low so it won’t break. “It hurts too much to be with them without being with her, to know that they only like me because of her, and only still pretend to like me because of what happened to her,” he mutters.

“Lou,” Harry tries, but Louis kind of feels like crying, turning his head in the opposite direction to gaze across the road.

“Amy and Bridget are the only two people in my life that truly, unconditionally and completely have my heart. And now Amy’s gone, Bridge is all I have. You’re young, you have all these people that care about you and love you and want to spend time with you because they enjoy your company, and your company alone. And I have Bridget, I have a five year old. She’s the only person in this world that-” his voice cracks and he huffs, shaking his head in frustration.

“Louis,” Harry tries, sounding sympathetic and like he’s going to say something really profound. Louis takes a deep breath and turns to look at him, just as Harry grabs his hand and laces their fingers.

When Louis held Amy’s hand, she would always get all blushy and smiley and she would press closer, like the bit of contact only made her crave more. Louis never really got why that was, never felt those same urges. He never felt like her hand was the only thing tethering him to the earth, like her hand was sending little shocks of electricity through every nerve ending in his body, like her hand was the difference between here and wherever else and like her hand and her hand alone could keep him here forever.

When Harry squeezes Louis’s hand, all of those thoughts rush through Louis’s head at the same time, and Louis’s gut seizes as he rips his hand away.

The first thing he notices is how hurt Harry looks, before he even notices that he’s yelling, or that his hands are balled into fists and his body is ready to flee. It’s a moment before the roaring in his ears dies down enough for him to hear what his own mouth is spewing, and it’s far too late for him to take any of it back.

“How many times do I have to fucking tell you,” he spits, taking a step away from Harry when Harry steps toward him, trying to calm him. “I’m not into guys, I’m not into you, and I never fucking will be. I don’t want to date you, I don’t want to hold your hand, I don’t want you to fucking comfort me and make feel better and I don’t want to keep doing this. I don’t want you, I don’t want you! I want-” he hiccups, only realizing he’s crying when Harry tries to reach for him. “I want my wife,” he grits out, shoving Harry away. “I want Amy,” he says again, tiny, broken.

Harry looks like he’s been kicked, hurt and angry and sad all at once. Louis can’t bear to look at him for another moment, turning on his heel and taking off before either of them can do anything else.

He’s fuming, absolutely raging as he tears down the pavement. People look horrified as he passes them but he doesn’t care, he feels like he’s breaking from the inside out, like everything he’s tried to push down deep and keep there is bubbling back up and there’s nothing to do to stop it.

He loved Amy. He still does love her, knows he always will, as well. He loved kissing her, and holding her, and talking to her and being with her and touching her and having a child with her. He loved Amy. He fucking adored her.

But for the split second that Harry’s fingers locked with his own, Louis can’t deny that he felt the most intricate, most exciting mix of emotions he’s ever felt in his life. For the split second that Harry held his hand, it was like Louis could see for the first time, but he couldn’t fucking breathe. For that split second, they weren’t Louis and Harry, they were something else, something united, something good.

He kicks up more than a few flowers in the park, cutting a quick line through the flower bed instead of following the paved path. He’ll feel bad for it later, but right now he’s too busy feeling bad about everything else.

He’s terrified, is the thing. He hasn’t felt anything like this since he was nineteen, since a drunk boy kissed his cheek at a party in uni and Louis had spent the next two weeks kicking himself for liking it. He’s not nineteen anymore, though. Jesus, he’s nearly thirty, he’s far too fucking old to be going through a sexuality crisis. He’s far too fucking old to be locking himself in his house to cry about a boy.

Harry’s opened this window now, though, and Louis can’t stop his mind from crashing through it. Even as he turns off his phone, as he climbs under his bedcovers, as he presses his face into his pillow and tries to even his breathing, he can’t stop thinking about it, about everything.

It’s like a landslide, the way it all crashes down on him. One simple, noninvasive yet electrifying touch has sent him into a tailspin, an endless barrage of images he’s never wanted to let himself imagine.

As hard as he tries, he can’t stop thinking about what could have happened. He can’t stop thinking about letting Harry hold his hand, letting Harry pull him close, letting Harry kiss him. He can’t stop imagining himself kissing Harry back, touching him, letting himself be touched in a way he’s never let himself want.

It’s like being on a rollercoaster, like he’s being physically jarred and shaken without pause. It’s not a fun rollercoaster, though, it’s one of those rides that slams his head around and leaves him dizzy and sick and wishing he’d never got on in the first place.

He stumbles out of bed before long, dragging himself to the bathroom and staring at himself in the mirror. He looks panicked to his own eyes, looks tired and wild and thoroughly fucked.

He imagines Harry standing behind him, Harry’s arms winding around his waist, Harry’s chest pressing up against his back. He imagines himself arching into him, feeling their bodies collide, watching Harry’s eyes sparkle as they mould into one.

He gets himself so worked up that he’s sick, hunching over the sink and retching. His throat burns, as do his eyes, and when he uncurls his spine, the person staring back at him in the mirror is everything he’s ever tried to avoid.

He spends the rest of the afternoon in bed, cuddled up to a pillow that smells like nothing but fabric softener. With his eyes squeezed shut, it’s hard to distinguish between who he wishes it to be, and who he’s trying to wish it to be.

There’s soft, curly brown hair, an infectious smile, dimples and a long, lean body. There’s an obnoxious, endearing laugh and a sweet, slow voice that’ll sing him to sleep, and there’s cold feet and a warm heart and a tiny, quiet snore that only sounds during the slightest of head colds. What Louis doesn’t know, though, what Louis can’t tell, is the difference between hazel eyes and green.

-

He doesn’t know where he is, but for some reason, that doesn’t bother him. He’s focused on one thing, one beautiful thing, laughing and spinning and darting out of his grasp every time he reaches. He calls, over and over, but to no avail. He knows his calls don’t fall upon deaf ears, but they might as well, for all it gets him.

He wants to laugh, wants to sing, legs burning in the best possible way as he chases that beautiful, breathtaking creature. Their combined laughter is melodious, like a song he wants on repeat for the rest of his life. He can’t see, he can’t really breathe but it’s okay, because he’s running, and he’s isn’t catching up but it’s okay, because he’s been doing this all his life and he’ll do it forever more.

It’s only when the peace turns to panic, when the laughter gets frantic, their movements turn manic and he’s falling behind, he can’t catch up, screaming her name at the top of his lungs that she turns around, and everything shatters.

Louis wakes up sweating, heaving, grasping at his covers and whimpering like a child alone in the dark.

His eyes were green.

Chapter Text

Bridget comes home on Monday morning with a bright purple manicure, and enough new toys to warrant a new toy chest. Amy’s parents have always been quick to spoil her, their first and only grandchild, but Louis thinks this might be a bit excessive.

What Louis is grateful for, though, is his little three foot tall shadow following him around the house and telling him every detail of her weekend. They talked on the phone a few times, of course, when Louis was between panic attacks, and he’s already heard most of these stories, but listening to her means he doesn’t have to listen to his own thoughts for a little while, so it works out well.

Amy’s parents fed Bridget breakfast before they brought her home, but apparently telling the story of a four hour trip to the shopping center works up an appetite, and Bridget requires lunch before long, so Louis sits her down at the kitchen table and gets to work on a grilled cheese.

“Gram took me out for ice cream last night,” Bridget says, perking up when Louis finally hands her the sandwich. “I got vanilla in a cone with rainbow colored sprinkles and Gram told me we couldn’t get back in the car until after we were finished because I would make a mess so we ate on a bench outside,” she says. Louis wonders if she considers every detail essential, or if she just likes to hear herself talk.

“Oh yeah?” He hums, watching her dig into the grilled cheese. It’s not as gooey as he knows she prefers it, but Louis isn’t a chef. “And what kind of ice cream did Gram get?”

“She got chocolate yogurt, the soft kind,” Bridget says, mouth full of bread and cheese. “She says that hard ice cream makes her teeth hurt because she’s old. Does it make your teeth hurt, daddy?” She asks curiously.

“Oi,” Louis barks, smiling when Bridget giggles. “I’m not that old, kid. I’ve still got a few years of hard ice cream in me,” he says.

“Good,” Bridget chirps. “Then you should take me for ice cream today.”

“You just had ice cream last night,” Louis chuckles, rolling his eyes.

“So?” Bridget sticks her tongue out at him. “Don’t you want to eat all the ice cream you can before you can’t any more, daddy?”

Louis pauses, looking down at the table. Bridget may only be five, but somehow she’s already wiser than Louis thinks he’ll ever be.

“Yeah, alright,” he says after a moment. “I suppose we can get ice cream.”

“Yes!” Bridget cheers, wriggling happily in her seat.

“But only if you eat your whole grilled cheese,” Louis says, raising an eyebrow in her direction.

Bridget gasps and takes another bite quickly, like she might run out of time. Louis loves her so much he thinks his heart might explode.

-

By the time Wednesday rolls around, Louis can’t find any more excuse to not leave his house.

Harry has been calling and texting every day, trying to get Louis to talk about what happened, or at least try to forget it and move on. It’s not like anything really happened, anyway, Harry just held his hand for a second. Louis should really chill.

Every time he thinks about seeing Harry again, though, his chest aches and his hands get all sweaty. He doesn’t know if he’ll be able to ignore the thoughts he’s been trying not to have about Harry if he saw him in person, these thoughts that have invaded his dreams and his consciousness and every second of every day of his life.

Bridget is whining to do something, anything, and Louis really needs to go to the grocery store at some point. He supposes a quick trip out won’t hurt, and if he has Bridget with him, he’ll be distracted enough that he’ll probably be okay.

He makes a deal with Bridget; if she comes to the grocery store with him, he’ll buy her a pack of bubblegum. She’s been obsessed with the stuff ever since she met Harry.

She hasn’t mentioned Harry at all since she came home from Amy’s parents’ house, almost like she forgot about him while she was gone. She’s been talking just about constantly the past few days, but never about Harry, which is quite a relief. With any luck, she’s moved on from that, and they can go back to their peaceful little life in which Louis is one hundred percent straight and still madly in love with his late wife and there’s no pretty boy with big stupid eyes and long stupid hair trying to fuck that up.

Bridget talks a mile a minute, blathering on and on about what happened in the episode of Sofia the First she watched this morning, while Louis pushes her in the shopping trolley. She’s almost too big to sit in the front part so Louis let her sit in the bigger part of the trolley, handing her things off of shelves for her to organize around herself.

“So Amber was jealous because their dad was spending more time with Sofia than with her,” Bridget says, accepting a box of Cheerios from Louis and adding it to the stack in front of her. “So she accidentally turned Sofia into a cat so that their dad would be allergic to her and spend more time with Amber instead.”

“That’s not very nice,” Louis mutters distractedly, reading the signs above each aisle as he hunts for the bread aisle. They’ve lived here for a few weeks now, but Louis still doesn’t have the grocery store aisles memorized.

“Not at all,” Bridget agrees, grabbing hold of the side of the trolley to keep herself steady when Louis makes a sudden turn into the bread aisle. “But then nobody knew that Sofia was a cat, and they didn’t know where she was,” she says.

“What did Sofia do?” Louis asks, reaching for a loaf of white bread and dropping it into Bridget’s lap.

“She kept trying to get everyone’s attention but everyone just thought she was a stray, and then- Harry!”

Louis flinches, whipping around to see where Bridget is pointing over his shoulder. Harry looks like a deer in the headlights, shopping basket in the crook of his elbow and a loaf of wheat bread in his hand.

“Hi,” he says awkwardly, dropping the bread into his basket. “Um.”

“Harry, I missed you!” Bridget shrieks, standing up in the trolley and reaching for him. Louis helps her down, not because he wants to let her say hi to Harry, but because he doesn’t want her to fall.

Harry smiles as Bridget runs to him, kneeling on one knee and catching her in his arms. It would be a sweet sight, if Louis didn’t feel like vomiting.

“Missed you too, love,” Harry hums, standing back up and looking at Louis unsurely.

“Bridget, honey,” Louis says, tearing his eyes away from Harry and looking down at his daughter. “I think the cookie aisle is the one over, why don’t you go pick out a box?”

“Okay!” Bridget grins, taking off at a run for the next aisle. Louis can still see her over Harry’s shoulder, but she’s definitely out of earshot.

“You haven’t been answering my calls,” Harry states. “Or my texts.”

“I’ve been busy,” Louis says, his voice low and his posture stiff.

“Look,” Harry sighs, running a hand through his hair and adjusting the basket on his arm. “I didn’t mean to scare you off, okay? I just- you seemed sad, and like you were gonna get all distant and hard to reach, and I didn’t know what else to do. I wasn’t trying to hold your hand, I was just trying to keep you with me,” he says, taking a step closer.

Louis doesn’t move, deflating a little bit. “No, okay, I know you didn’t mean anything by it. I think I overreacted a little, maybe,” he mutters, shrugging one shoulder. “I shouldn’t have run away like that,” he admits.

“Why haven’t you been answering my calls?” Harry asks, taking another step closer. When Louis still doesn’t move, Harry gets a little braver, stepping just a little closer. “Why have you been ignoring me?”

Louis can feel himself starting to panic, can feel the anxiety rising in his chest. They can’t have this conversation right now; they’re in the grocery store, of all places, and Bridget will be back any second.

“I’ve just been really busy, is all,” he says, backing away the tiniest step. “Getting the house in order, chasing after Bridget, you know. I’m starting my new job next week and Bridget is going to daycare, everything’s just been hectic,” he says. It’s not a lie, but it’s not the reason he’s been avoiding Harry.

Harry seems to know that, as well, nodding slowly. “Right. Well, can we get together soon for dinner or something?” He asks, shoulders slumping when Louis moves back again.

Louis sighs, hanging his head for just a moment. If he’s going to do this, he needs to be completely honest. “Listen,” he mumbles, “I’m not sure if that’s a good idea.”

Harry doesn’t react, stares Louis dead in the eye when he says, “stop pushing me away, Louis.”

“I’m not-”

“You are, though,” Harry cuts him off. “You clearly need help. I’m not blaming you for having troubles, trust me, I completely understand. You need help, and I love helping you, please just let me,” he pleads.

“I don’t need help,” Louis croaks. “I’m a grown ass man, I’m Bridget’s father, I don’t need help. I know you think that I do but I don’t, I don’t need someone to hold my hand while I’m raising my own daughter,” he says, gripping the handle of his trolley so tight his knuckles turn white.

“You don’t?” Harry scoffs, shaking his head. “Then what the hell was your wife for?”

Louis feels his jaw drop, feels the world come to a screeching halt around him. Harry already looks like he regrets it, but Louis is going to make sure that he does.

“You fucking dick,” he spits, eyes filling with tears despite himself.

“Lou-”

“No, fuck you,” Louis says, stepping back when Harry steps forward. “I loved her. I still love her, and I’ll never stop loving her. How could you say something like that? How could you be so fucking ignorant,” he breathes, pushing past him to go get Bridget.

“No, Louis, that’s not what I meant, I swear-”

“Fuck off,” Louis hisses, glaring at him. “You piece of shit, stay away from me and my daughter.”

Harry looks like he’s going to crumble into a million tiny pieces, like he regrets every decision he’s ever made. Good, Louis thinks.

He finds Bridget still in the cookie aisle, choosing between three different kinds of treats. “We have to go,” he tells her, and for a second he thinks she’s going to argue, but when she looks up at him, he can see the fight melt out of her.

She stays quiet as Louis sweeps all three cookie options into the carriage, allowing him to take her hand and pull her toward the check out. Louis sees her look back over her shoulder but he doesn’t know what she sees, but from the look that’s still on her face as he’s putting her in the car, he can guess it wasn’t good.

His phone starts buzzing before he even gets home, but he doesn’t check it until he has Bridget sitting at the table with a few store bought cookies and all of the groceries are put away.

Harry: I’m so sorry

Harry: Please talk to me. It doesn’t have to be now but please let me apologize.

Harry: What I just said to you was so unbelievably shitty, I don’t know why I even thought it. I won’t call, because I know you won’t answer, but please call me at some point. Xxxxx

Louis rolls his eyes and locks his phone, leaving it face down on his bed. Somehow he thinks that Harry isn’t going to stop there, and he doesn’t have the energy to deal with it right now.

He doesn’t check his phone again until after he puts Bridget to bed, and he goes to get changed out his jeans. It seems Harry gave up for a little while, but at some point within the last few hours he started in again.

Harry: I feel so horrible, I can’t imagine how you’re feeling right now.

Harry: I hope you’re okay.

Harry: And Bridget as well.

Harry: I really hope you don’t hate me. I understand if you do, but please don’t. I really wish I could talk to you, I promise I didn’t mean what I said.

Harry: Louis please call me.

Louis kind of wants to cry again, wants to throw his phone at the wall and go to bed and wake up and have none of this exist anymore.

He ends up blocking Harry’s number, before any more texts come through. He doesn’t want to call him, doesn’t want any more notifications about how sorry he is. He can’t stand the thought of Harry waiting by his phone, waiting for Louis to call, but he also can’t stand the thought of calling him and listening to him beg for forgiveness.

He goes to bed early, turning the lights out before it’s even 9:00. He falls asleep quickly, thankfully, and doesn’t dream about anything at all.

-

 

Two days later he’s watching a match on telly while Bridget plays in her room, even though it’s a beautiful day and they should be outside. He should take her to the park, take her for a walk, bring her to the playground, but he’s terrified that wherever they go, he’ll run into Harry.

Bridget hasn’t mentioned him since the grocery store incident, which is good. Somehow Louis thinks she understands how much Louis was hurting when they left, and maybe she gets that Harry had something to do with it.

She emerges from her room after a bit and climbs up on the couch with him, burrowing into his side the way she does when she wants comfort. It’s usually nothing serious; sometimes her mind takes a path of it’s own while she’s playing with her toys and she’ll accidentally upset herself, and all it takes is a gentle cuddle and Louis reminding her it’s all just pretend.

“You okay, love?” He asks her, curling his arm around her and holding her close. She nods against his stomach and stays quiet, so Louis lets her be.

“Daddy,” she mumbles after a bit, propping her chin on his little pouch of a tummy and looking up at him.

“Bridget,” he responds, turning the telly down a little so she can talk.

“I miss Harry,” she pouts, her chin digging into Louis’s stomach when she talks. “I miss his stories and his games and his bubblegum and his jokes. I love you, daddy, but I’m kinda sick of you,” she admits.

Louis chuckles, rubbing her back gently. “Well, that’s good that you should say that. Today is Friday, and you’re starting daycare on Monday,” he says, watching Bridget’s eyes light up. “You’re gonna meet so many new friends your own age that you can play with all the time,” he smiles.

“Yes!” Bridget cheers, sitting up quickly. “Oh, I can’t wait! Will I get to play with them every day?”

“Pretty much,” Louis hums. “You’ll be in daycare while I’m at work, and I work every day of the week except for weekends,” he tells her.

“How many days away is it?” Bridget asks excitedly, bouncing up and down in her seat.

“Well today is Friday,” Louis says, “and daycare starts on Monday. So that’s the rest of today, tomorrow and the next day, and then you’ll go,” he explains.

“That’s so long,” Bridget complains, stopping her bouncing. “How will I wait that long?”

“I think you’ll survive, drama queen,” Louis chuckles, ruffling her hair. “Now come back and cuddle with me, yeah? What do you wanna watch?”

Bridget sighs, cuddling back into his side. “Ratatouille,” she decides, waiting patiently while Louis flips through their saved movies to find it

She ends up falling asleep on him, of course, and it’s not late enough to call it a night, so he shifts her from his lap to the couch and covers her with a blanket while he goes to get dinner started.

He grabs his phone from the counter and unlocks it, scrolling through his text message threads to find Harry. He hesitates, but then clicks on his contact, scrolling down to the bottom and finally unblocking him.

Nothing happens, of course, not right away. He just wants to know if Harry is still trying, is all, if he still cares enough to try to make this right.

He wakes Bridget up when their pasta is ready and they eat at the table, and then Louis brings her to the bathroom to start getting ready for bed. Bathtime is more subdued than usual, which is nice, as it means Bridget is already half asleep by the time Louis gets her into her pajamas and into bed. It only takes half a story to knock her out, but Louis finishes it anyway, because leaving a story unfinished is wrong in a way that goes deeper than just bedtime stories.

He checks his phone again after he cleans up the kitchen and starts shutting the house down, turning off lights and locking the doors. There’s a single text from Harry, but Louis doesn’t read it until he’s already in bed.

Harry: Okay, I understand. I’ll stop bothering you now, you’re obviously not going to call. I’m sorry. I’m so fucking sorry. I’ll always be here for you both if you ever need me xxx

Louis’s throat feels tight as he turns his phone off, leaving the text unanswered. He settles down into bed and cuddles up to his pillow, feeling cold and alone and horrible for not having the balls to call Harry and make all of this right.

-

Bridget is up before the sun even fully rises the following Monday, dressed and ready to go to daycare. Louis doesn’t have to drop her off until 8:30 but it’s 6am and they’re already up, so Louis makes pancakes for breakfast and lets Bridget watch a show while he goes to get ready as well.

He’s a bit nervous to start this new job, if he’s honest. It’s not that he doesn’t know what he’s doing, because it’s the same position he had in his previous job, but starting over like this is always a bit scary. He thinks he’ll be fine if he can just get off on the right foot with his co workers, maybe make some new friends that aren’t Harry.

This will be good for him and Bridget, he tells himself. They’ll both meet new people, forge their own paths. Just because Harry was the first person they happened to meet here doesn’t mean he’s anyone special, and certainly doesn’t mean they have to keep him around. So what if he makes Louis’s heart beat faster and Bridget’s eyes light up like stars. So what?

He packs Bridget a lunch for daycare and makes sure she has all of her stuff together, and by the time he’s confident that they’re both ready for the day, it’s just about time to go.

“Bridge,” he says, leaning over the back of the couch to look at her upside down. “Ready?”

“Yes!” Bridget shrieks, jumping off the couch so fast she nearly wipes out. Louis chuckles at her and hands her her bag, following her out to the car.

She’s old enough to do up her own buckles in her car seat, but Louis still supervises from the front seat. Once he’s sure that she’s all set he reaches back for a high five, and then they’re on their way.

“Are you nervous at all?” He asks, looking up at her in the rear view mirror.

“No,” Bridget says immediately. “I can’t wait. I’m going to make so many friends,” she grins, kicking her feet against the bottom of her car seat and gazing happily out the window.

Louis wishes he had that kind of confidence, at least for today.

“That’s good,” he hums. “You’re still gonna give me a hug and kiss goodbye, though, right? I’m gonna miss you all day,” he says, pouting when he catches Bridget’s eyes in the mirror.

“Daddy,” she giggles, “of course I will. You’re still my favorite, even if I make a hundred friends,” she assures.

Louis can’t help but grin at that, warmth spreading in his chest. He doesn’t know what he did to deserve this little girl, and he doesn’t know what he’d do without her.

Bridget is out of her carseat before Louis has even parked the car, jumping excitedly and waiting for Louis to come around and get her out of the car. As smart as she is, she still hasn’t figured out how to unlock the car door on her own, which is good, because she’d probably already be halfway inside by now if it was up to her.

Louis makes her hold his hand while they walk in, and while he introduces them both to the caretakers. There’s only two women but they both seem very nice, and once Louis is sure he’s comfortable with all of it, he lets go of Bridget’s hand.

Bridget has never been to something like this before. She used to stay home with Amy all day, because Amy worked from home, and the only other kids she’s ever had real playdates with are Lottie’s son and the little girl that used to live down the street from them. Louis doesn’t know how she’s going to handle this whole daycare thing, but they’ll never know if they don’t try. She’ll be starting school come fall, anyway, so it’s best they get her used to it sooner rather than later.

Bridget goes to run off as soon as Louis releases her, but she quickly stops and turns back around. Louis kneels and cocks his head at her, and she jumps into his open arms.

“Bye, daddy,” she murmurs into his ear. “I love you.”

“Love you more, munchkin,” he says, squeezing her tight. “Have fun today, okay? Be nice to the other kids, and all that.”

“I will,” she says, trying to pull away. “Daddy!”

“Sorry,” Louis grins, finally releasing her to run free. She gives him a crooked smile and then darts off, going straight for the train table.

“New to daycare?” One of the caretakers, Julie, asks, giving Louis a gentle smile and helping him up off his knees.

“Yeah,” Louis chuckles, “is it that obvious?”

“No, a lot of parents find it hard to let go,” Julie smiles.

“It’s been a rough couple months for us,” Louis admits, watching Bridget greet a few of the kids that approach her. “I just want her to have something good, you know? I feel like I can never give her enough.” He doesn’t know why he’s telling this to a complete stranger, but Julie’s brown eyes seem caring and Louis has a craving for comfort.

“Well, if it’s any consolation, she obviously adores you,” Julie says. “Very secure attachment. I can’t tell you how many kids come in here kicking and screaming and refuse to even look at their parent when they return. It seems you’ve done an incredible job with her,” she says.

“That’s my wife,” Louis smiles. “She did most of the raising. I’m just trying to pick up where she left off.”

Julie’s eyes flash in realization but she doesn’t say anything, giving his arm a gentle squeeze. “Well, you seem to be doing a wonderful job. She’s going to be just fine here,” she hums.

“Right, thank you,” Louis says, tearing his eyes away from Bridget finally and looking at his phone for the time. “Well, I should be going, thank you again.”

“No problem, Mr. Tomlinson,” Julie grins, sending him off with a gentle wave.

The drive to work is short, and there’s a secretary waiting to greet him and show him to his new office. He’s on the ground floor here, which is a bit less than thrilling, but he has a great view of the parking lot and the sun shines straight through the window until about noon, which means he doesn’t put his blinds up until nearly three hours into his work day.

The work isn’t hard, of course; he’s been doing this work for years, and even though it’s not very exciting, he’s good at it. Back in school he always dreamt of being a footie star or an actor or a singer, so he’s not quite sure how he ended up in banking, but it pays well, so it’s okay.

His office reminds him a bit of a shoebox, but the secretary that showed him here told him he could arrange it any way he likes, as it’s his and only his. He pushes the desk so that his back faces the window and the light shines over his desk, because the artificial lights are horrid and he’d like to be able to keep them off until he absolutely has to turn them on. The arrangement makes the room look a bit bigger, but not by much.

He hopes to be able to move up through this company, and not only for a better office. He has a child that deserves the entire world, and Louis wants to be able to put her through school without struggling and support her until she can support herself. Maybe this job is just a jumping off point; maybe he’ll find something bigger and better down the line, but for now this is it, and he’ll make do.

-

It turns out that the cell phone reception inside the bank is terrible, because as soon as he gets out around 5:00 that evening, his phone blows up with notifications.

He has seven missed calls from the daycare, five of them with voicemails, and he can already feel his blood pressure rising. He calls back immediately, jumping into his car and backing quickly out of his spot.

“Mr. Tomlinson?” A voice says over the line, sounding exhausted. It’s not Julie, he doesn’t think, but he’s too stressed out to care.

“Hi, sorry, apparently I don’t get reception at work. Is everything okay?” He asks, trying to remain calm.

“We’ve been trying to get a hold of you all day,” the woman says. “There’s been a bit of a… problem.”

“What kind of problem?” Louis asks hurriedly, tapping anxiously on the wheel while he waits for a red light to turn green.

“Bridget tried so hard to make friends today, she really did, but I think some of our kids found her a bit pushy. She didn’t do anything wrong, what happened was completely not her fault, but she tried to get in with the wrong group of girls and got in a little fight,” she says.

“A fight?” Louis spits, chewing his lip nervously. “Is she okay?”

“She’s a bit banged up,” the woman admits. “And she’s quite upset. The children were all punished, but we think they may have been picking on her when we weren’t looking.”

“I’ll be there in two minutes,” Louis sighs. “If another person, child or otherwise, touches her again, I’ll have the whole goddamn daycare shut down.”

“Mr. Tomlinson-”

Louis hangs up before she can go on, because quite frankly, he doesn’t want to hear it. He’s driving too fast, he knows he is, but his little girl is hurt and sad and Louis will be damned if he makes her wait another second longer than she has to.

He storms into the daycare when he gets there, eyes scanning over the room. Bridget is sitting at a table by herself, staring at a blank piece of paper with a crayon in her hand, but before Louis can get to her, someone steps in his way.

“Mr. Tomlinson,” Julie says. “I understand that you’re angry, but I’d like to talk to you about what happened today.”

“You have ten seconds,” Louis growls, standing firm when Julie tries to get him to sit in the waiting area with her.

“She was being very nice,” Julie says, “but there’s this group of girls we’ve been having trouble with forever. They’re older than Bridget, and tougher, and when Bridget asked them to play they laughed in her face. She was persistent, though, and the other girls grew tired of it, and before any of us caregivers could get to them, one of the girls had pushed Bridget down and the other was hitting her.”

Louis feels a lump in his throat, pushing past her to get to Bridget. When she looks up at him she has a bruise on her cheek and a tiny cut near her eye, and she starts crying immediately.

“Hey,” Louis coos, crouching down to let her crash into his arms. “You’re okay,” he assures, “I’m here.”

“Mr. Tomlinson,” Julie says, looking sympathetic when Louis glances over at her. “I can promise you that this will never happen again. We-”

“Yeah, it’ll never happen again,” Louis says, standing up and lifting Bridget on his hip. “She’s never coming back here.”

Julie tries to argue but Louis ignores her, rubbing Bridget’s back gently as he takes her to the car. She’s still crying into his neck, her little fists clutched into his shirt, shaking.

“I just wanted to make some friends,” she whimpers, as Louis helps her into her car seat. “Daddy, they were so mean.”

“I know, love,” Louis frowns, kissing her forehead gently. “It’s okay, you don’t have to come back here, yeah?”

Bridget nods, popping her thumb in her mouth. Louis’s stomach twists with the knowledge that the last time she did that was after her mother died.

“Daddy?” She says after a bit, when they’re almost home. “Are we gonna find a different daycare?”

“I don’t know, sweetie,” Louis sighs. He looked at every daycare in the area, and this was the only one he could afford. He doesn’t have the money to hire a nanny and he doesn’t have any friends or family that live close enough to help him out, and he has no idea what he’s going to do. “I’ll figure it out,” he says, assuring both Bridget and himself.

“Daddy?” Bridget says again, a few minutes later. “Can we see Harry again?”

Louis’s stomach drops and he grips the wheel tighter, glancing up at her in the rear view mirror. “I don’t know,” he says hesitantly, shaking his head.

“But daddy,” Bridget whines, sounding close to tears again. “I miss him.”

“Bridge, how about we focus on making some friends that are closer to your age?” He suggests, but Bridget isn’t having it.

“I just tried!” Bridget argues. “Daddy, please, I love Harry, and he loved both of us so much, especially you! Sometimes when he looks at you it’s like he’s looking at a really cute puppy and you look at him the same way sometimes and he makes us both smile so much,” she says, pouting at him in the mirror.

“Please, Bridget,” Louis sighs. He’s far too tired to deal with this right now.

“Please, Daddy,” Bridget fires right back.

“Why do you love him so much, anyway? What is it about him that makes you love him so much?” Louis asks, because really, he doesn’t understand.

Bridget gets quiet then, turning to look out the window. Louis frowns, flicking his attention between her and the road.

“Hey,” he says gently. “Tell me.”

“It’s just-” Bridget whimpers, like she doesn’t know what to say. “He reminds me of mummy sometimes.”

Louis’s lips part in surprise. He can’t believe this is happening.

“Like, when he laughs sometimes, it’s just like mummy. And the way he plays with his hair is just like how mummy used to, and when he plays with me and tells stories and jokes, and his clothes and his smile, it’s like mummy came back to us in a different body,” she says quietly. “And the way he makes you laugh, daddy, and the way you smile when he’s with us, you’ve never smiled like that with anyone else except mummy.”

Louis can feel tears in his eyes, knows that if he blinked, one would roll down his cheek. He presses his lips together for a moment and doesn’t say anything, trying to process what Bridget just said.

“Honey,” he says finally, glancing up at her in the mirror. “You know Harry can’t be your mum, right?”

“I know,” she says, still staring out the window. “But he makes me happy like mummy, and he makes you happy like mummy, and he doesn’t have to be my mum for me to love him.”

Louis doesn’t say anything for the rest of the drive, keeping his focus solely on the road. It blows his mind how incredibly smart Bridget is, how perceptive and intuitive she is. He’s so fucking proud of her, but at the same time, sometimes he wishes she wasn’t so wise.

He sits her down on the couch when they get home with a pack of frozen peas to put on her eye, and turns on the telly to distract her for a bit. He sits down at the kitchen table with his back to the sofa, putting his head in his hands for a few minutes and trying to figure out what the hell he’s supposed to do now.

Eventually he stands up and tells Bridget he’ll be right back, slipping out into the back garden with his phone in hand. He dials before he can talk himself out of it, sitting down in the grass and pinching at his ankle.

Harry answers on the first ring, sounding breathless when he says, “hello?”

“Hi,” Louis says quietly, looking down at the grass and combing his fingers through it.

“I didn’t think you’d call,” Harry says. “Like, ever.”

“Well,” Louis sighs, “I did.”

“Yeah, you did,” Harry says softly. “Thank you.”

“Listen,” Louis says, breathing deep. “I’m not calling because I want to talk, okay? As much as I really, really don’t want to ask you for anything and I’d really rather not even be talking to you right now, I kind of need a favor.”

“Anything,” Harry says immediately, sounding only slightly hurt that Louis is still upset with him. “Anything at all, Louis, I owe you everything right now.”

Louis closes his eyes, trying to keep breathing. It’s so hard to not love Harry when he’s so endlessly sweet.

“I started my new job today,” he says, lying back in the grass and keeping his eyes squeezed shut. “And Bridget went to daycare. She was so excited about it, she wanted to make so many new friends, and I couldn’t wait to finally get back into the swing of things, you know? And so I dropped Bridget off and I went to work and it kinda sucked but then when I got out I had a ton of missed calls from the daycare and apparently Bridget tried to make friends with some mean girls and they ended up fighting her and she has a fucking black eye, Harry, she got a black eye in daycare and I feel horrible about it and I promised her she never has to go back there but I don’t have anywhere else to send her. All the other daycares in the area are either way too expensive or way too sketchy and all my family lives so far away and I just-”

“Louis,” Harry cuts off his rambling. Louis takes a deep breath, and Harry gives him just a moment before speaking. “Do you need someone to watch her during the day?”

“Yes,” Louis grits out. “And, like, I really hate asking for things like this, especially after what happened the other day at the store but she’s so fond of you, really, and I don’t have anyone else,” he admits quietly.

“Lou,” Harry says, like he’s about to start a speech. “Listen for a second, okay? What I said at the store the other day was so completely, entirely inappropriate, I don’t even know where it came from. I promise I didn’t mean it, and I don’t think like that, yeah? But, please, if you’re looking for someone to watch Bridget, please let me. I adore her, and you, and I’d love to redeem myself in your eyes,” he says.

“Are you sure?” Louis breathes. “I mean, I need you to watch her every single day of the week. Don’t you work?”

“Yeah,” Harry says. “I’m a baker, I only work very, very early in the morning. I’m home before the bakery even opens. I was gonna bring you there the other day, actually, but, you know,” he says awkwardly.

“Sorry,” Louis winces, shaking his head. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be,” Harry says quickly. “Let’s just- can we start over? Like, clean slate and all that? We can just forget about it and move on,” he offers.

“That sounds perfect, actually,” Louis sighs, peeling his eyes open again to look up at the darkening sky.

“Good,” Harry says. He sounds like he’s grinning. “So about this babysitting thing?”

“Right,” Louis says, sitting up. “I mean, obviously you don’t have to, I can figure something else out, but I would-”

“Louis,” Harry interrupts. “I want to.”

“Are you sure? I don’t want to just dump her on you,” he says.

“Yes, I’m sure,” Harry hums. “I’d love to spend all day with her. I’ll be the best babysitter ever, you’ll see.”

“God, thank you, Harry,” Louis breathes, dropping his head back. “I’m going to pay you.”

“No, nope,” Harry argues. “No you’re not.”

“Yes!” Louis fights back. “I’m not letting you watch my kid full time for free, Harry.”

“No, please,” Harry whines. “If you pay me I’m just going to end up using the money to buy things for her, so there’s really no point,” he says.

Louis sighs, staying quiet for just a second. “What did I do to deserve a friend like you?”

Harry is quiet for a long moment, before finally he huffs a breath. “Listen, before anything else happens, I just need to tell you something, okay?”

“Okay,” Louis says, trying not to sound skeptical.

“Okay, look, I know you’ve made it abundantly clear that, like, you’re straight and you’re not into me or boys at all and I get that, I really do, trust me, but I- I guess I’ve kind of developed feelings for you? Romantically? And like, I can totally ignore them and go on being your totally platonic best bro dude or whatever it is you straight men say but, like, I just needed to tell you,” he says nervously.

“Harry,” Louis croaks, but Harry doesn’t let him finish.

“No, no, don’t feel like you have to say anything. Unless you have something to say, in which case I would totally love to hear it, but if you don’t know what to say I can totally deal with silence,” he says quickly.

“Harry,” Louis says again, stronger this time, “I love you.” Harry’s breath catches, and Louis feels horrible. “But not like that, yeah?”

“Yeah, yeah, no, of course, of course, I get it, I get that, I do,” Harry rushes, words coming out like he’s falling down stairs. “I just needed you to know, like, I felt weird keeping it a secret,” he says.

“Thank you,” Louis says, his voice somewhat small. He doesn’t know what else to say, really.

“It’s okay,” Harry says, sounding a bit relieved.

“Um, so I’ll drop Bridget off around 8:30 tomorrow?” He says, hoping the abrupt topic change isn’t as awkward for Harry as it is for him.

“I can come there, if it’s easier,” Harry says, like nothing’s weird at all. “I mean, all her stuff is there and everything.”

“Whatever you want,” Louis shrugs. “I mean, you’re doing me possibly the biggest favor in the world, you can do whatever you want.”

“I’ll come there,” Harry decides. “I just think it’ll be easier for all of us.”

“Okay,” Louis hums, playing with the grass again. “Thank you so much, Harry, honestly,” he says.

“It’s no problem at all, I can’t wait,” Harry says.

“Okay, see you tomorrow, then?” Louis says, picking himself up off the ground and heading inside.

“Okay,” Harry chirps.

“Okay,” Louis echoes.

“See you then,” Harry chuckles, ending the call a second later. Louis closes the door behind himself and leaves the phone on the kitchen worktop, walking over to sit with Bridget.

She turns to look up at him, still holding the peas against her face. She frowns curiously when Louis sits, cocking her head at him.

“Who were you on the phone to?” She asks.

“How do you know I was on the phone?” Louis smiles, pulling the peas away from her face to take a peak. She’s still bruised, but hopefully it won’t swell.

“I looked. You were lying down talking on the phone,” she says. Louis hums in acknowledgement, letting her press the peas back to her face. “So who were you talking to?”

“Your favorite person,” Louis grins, watching Bridget’s eyes widen.

She turns and looks at the telly, and then back at Louis with her jaw dropped. “You were talking to Sofia?”

“No, you goober,” Louis laughs, bopping her nose. “It was Harry.”

Bridget gasps, dropping the peas and jumping into Louis’s lap. “What did he say? What did you talk about? Are we going to his house soon, is he coming here?” She asks excitedly, holding him by the collar of his shirt.

“He’s gonna come over and watch you tomorrow,” Louis says, chuckling as he pries her hands off of his shirt.

“Yes!” Bridget shrieks, leaping off the couch and doing a lap around the room. Louis laughs as he watches her, waiting for her to come back to the couch.

“But you have to be really good, okay? And if it works out, maybe Harry will come every day to watch you while I go to work,” he says.

For a moment Louis thinks Bridget is going to combust in her excitement, practically vibrating. “I’ll be the best in the world, you’ll see,” she promises. “I’ll go clean my room right now to prove it!”

“Alright, love,” Louis laughs, watching her run off. “What do you want to have for dinner?” He calls after her, smiling when she pokes her head back out of her room.

“Can you make pasta like Harry’s?” She asks hopefully, giving him her biggest smile with all her teeth.

“I can try,” Louis says back, “but no promises.”

“Thank you daddy,” she says, seeming to think for a second before she darts back to the living room and gives him a hug.

“You’re welcome, Bridge,” Louis grins, hugging her back tightly. He hopes she never stops being this sweet.

Bridget runs back to her room a moment later to pick up all her toys, and Louis pulls his phone out again to text Harry.

To Harry: hey can you tell me how to make that pasta you made B that time we came over she’s asking for it

Harry takes a few minutes to answer, but finally Louis’s phone buzzes where he left it on the worktop while he hunts for spaghetti.

Harry: It’s literally just spaghetti with butter?

Louis feels himself blush. Of course it was just spaghetti and butter, he knew that. His brain tricked him, he thinks. Maybe he wants to talk to Harry more than he lets himself think he does.

To Harry: oh right i knew that lol sorry

Harry: It’s okay. You’re cute.

The reply is instantaneous, like Harry had been waiting. Louis blinks at the message, and immediately another one comes in.

Harry: Sorry…

Louis giggles, honest to god giggles, and covers his mouth with the back of his hand. Maybe Harry having a crush on him will be more fun than he thought. He smiles to himself while he types out his reply, biting the inside of his lip.

To Harry: it’s okay i know i am

With that he puts his phone down and sets the water on the stove to boil, measuring out the pasta and making sure he has enough butter in the fridge. Bridget comes back from her room a few moments before dinner is ready, and Louis is distracted enough for the next few hours that he doesn’t notice until he’s about to go to sleep that Harry never texted back.

-

Bridget wakes him up at about 6:00 again the next morning, jumping excitedly on his bed. Louis groans and rolls over, tackling her to the mattress and holding her down under one heavy arm while he digs his face into his pillow.

“Daddy, wake up!” Bridget whines, struggling to get out of his hold. “Harry is coming soon!”

“Harry is not coming for another,” he peeks one eye open to look at his clock, “two and a half hours.”

“How long is that?” Bridget asks, giving up on trying to wiggle free.

“Long enough that you should go back to sleep,” Louis mutters.

“Can you call him and tell him to come sooner? I can’t wait that long,” She pleads, turning over under his arm and pressing her little nose against his.

“No,” Louis grumbles. “But maybe if you cuddle me and go back to sleep he’ll come sooner.”

Bridget gasps, scrambling to get under the covers. She cuddles right into Louis’s side and puts her head down, breathing right into his mouth.

She’s asleep within minutes, snoring quietly on his pillow. Now that Louis is awake, though, he can’t go back to sleep, so he just waits for the sun to come up and watches the way Bridget’s eyelids flutter while she dreams and the way her nostrils flare when she breathes.

He gets up around 7:00 and lets Bridget sleep, because the more she sleeps the better she’ll be for Harry. He tucks her into his blankets and then goes to have a shower, making it quick so that Bridget won’t wake up and freak, thinking he’s gone.

She’s still sound asleep when Louis goes back to his room to get dressed, his button down shirt and polyester trousers feeling exceptionally uncomfortable today. He goes slow, careful to be absolutely silent, and by the time he goes to the kitchen to make some breakfast, it’s already 8:00.

There’s a knock on the door just as soon as the toaster pops, and Louis slides it onto a plate before he hurries over to answer the door. Harry looks great for 8:00am, Louis thinks, his hair pulled into a bun on the top of his head and his t-shirt clean and crisp, nothing like he woke up at 3:00am to go to work.

“Hi,” Harry says, sounding sheepish. “I’m, like, super early. I just wanted to make sure we had time to talk about what I need to do for Bridget today,” he says. Louis steps aside to let him in, and Harry toes his shoes off by the door. “I mean, I know how to change diapers and heat up bottles, but that’s as far as my babysitting expertise goes,” he chuckles.

“Well,” Louis grins, “lucky for you, Bridget doesn’t require either of those things. Come to the kitchen, I’m just about to eat.”

Harry trails after him awkwardly, sitting down at the table while Louis butters his toast. He eats leaning against the worktop, watching Harry watch him.

“So,” he says, wiping crumbs from his chin, “she’s still asleep right now. She’s in my bed, and she’ll probably be up any minute, and she’ll be thrilled to see you,” he says, smiling when Harry smiles.

“Is there anything I need to know? Like, no telly before lunch, anything she doesn’t eat?” Harry asks.

“Um, let’s see,” Louis hums, putting his plate into the dishwasher. “When she gets up just get her dressed and have her brush her teeth and everything, she’ll pick out her own outfit, she just might need some help getting it on. And she can just have cereal for breakfast, or whatever you see fit. Um, she had a bath before bed last night, so, she’s clean. Just put her hair in a ponytail, she’ll ask you to braid it probably but you don’t have to. Maybe make sure she plays outside for at least an hour, and I usually let her watch a little tv after lunch. Her favorite show in the world is Sofia the First, but don’t let her watch more than an episode or two or else she’ll start talking like Amber, which is extremely annoying. She’ll also probably ask you for a snack, don’t let her eat on the couch because she’ll make a mess, but she can either have graham crackers or popcorn or something small. She will ask you for one of my protein bar things, but don’t give it to her. It makes her horribly constipated,” he says, tapping his fingers on the worktop while he thinks of anything else. “If she starts acting tired, like around late afternoon, just lay her down on the couch and rub her back a little and she’ll go right to sleep. But don’t let her nap for longer than an hour and a half, because then she’ll never sleep tonight,” he says. “Did I miss anything?”

“Holy shit,” Harry chuckles, scrubbing a hand over his face.

“What?” Louis hums. “Oh, sorry, is that too much to remember? Do you want me to write it down?” He asks, searching for a pen and paper.

“No, it’s okay,” Harry assures. “I just didn’t think you had to think about every aspect of her life like that. It’s amazing,” he says, smiling up at Louis.

Louis gets a bit smiley then, grinning down at his feet. “Yeah, well,” he shrugs. “It’s all part of being a parent.”

“It seems amazing,” Harry sighs. “I’ve always dreamt about having kids of my own. It’ll be fun to pretend,” he grins.

Louis smiles at him, watching him for just a moment. “Right, well, I should be off.”

Harry walks him to the door, holding his bag for him while he gets his shoes on. “We’ll see you when you get home,” he says cheerily, handing over his bag when Louis is ready.

“Have fun,” Louis hums. “Call me if you need anything at all. I can’t guarantee that I’ll get it, but I’ll make sure to take a few breaks to go outside and check,” he says.

“Got it,” Harry says, giving him one last smile before Louis goes. It feels weird to get in the car without Bridget, but he knows she’s in good hands.

-

His phone starts ringing as soon as he parks the car, and his stomach drops a little when he says Harry’s name on the caller ID. He doesn’t have long before he needs to get into his office but he can’t ignore this, so he answers quickly.

“Hello?” He says, turning the key to shut off the car. “Need me already?”

“Bridget woke up and started screaming when she saw me and she won’t calm down and she wants to talk to you,” Harry rushes, sounding utterly panicked. He can hear Bridget’s distressed sobbing in the background, and instantly feels like shit.

“Bloody hell, alright, put her on,” Louis says, waiting patiently while Harry hands over the phone, Bridget’s crying getting steadily louder.

“Daddy?” She asks, her voice strained.

“It’s me, love,” he coos, “you’re okay.”

“Why did you leave?” She sobs, sniffling loudly into the phone. Louis’s heart breaks for her. He never thought she would react like this.

“I had to go to work, honey, remember? Aren’t you excited that Harry is there?” He asks, trying to cheer her up.

“Yes,” Bridget whimpers. “But why didn’t you say bye to me?”

“You were sleeping,” Louis says. “I didn’t want to wake you up, and I thought it might be special if you woke up and Harry was there.”

“Please don’t ever leave without saying bye,” Bridget sobs. “Ever.

“But you were-”

“What if you leave and you never come back like mummy and I don’t get to hug you goodbye or tell you I love you?” She bites.

Louis’s jaw drops, eyes growing a bit wet. He’s stunned into silence, to be honest. He didn’t know she thought like that.

“Daddy?” She whimpers after a second. “Are you there?”

“I’m here, love,” he whispers.

“I love you, daddy,” she tells him firmly, like she wants him to believe it.

“I love you too, baby,” he repeats softly. “Be good for Harry today, okay?”

“Okay,” Bridget says, sniffling once more as she hands the phone back over to Harry.

Harry sounds hesitant when he speaks this time, and Louis knows he heard everything that Bridget just said. “Lou?” He asks carefully. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah,” Louis says quickly, too quickly. “Yeah, I’m okay.”

“Okay,” Harry says, like he doesn’t believe him. He shouldn’t. Louis wants to cry. “Have a good day at work, yeah?”

“Yeah, thank you,” Louis says, finally getting out of the car. “I have to go.”

“Right, see you later, then,” Harry says. Louis hangs up the phone without another word, blinking the tears out of his eyes as he walks into the bank.

He spends the rest of the day in a haze, more affected by Bridget’s words than he should be. It’s just so real of a possibility, though, that one day Louis could leave the house and never see her again. It’s terrifying, so fucking scary it makes him sick, and needless to say, he doesn’t get a lot of work done.

-

Bridget and Harry are sitting at the kitchen table when Louis gets home, both of them staring at a piece of paper. It seems Bridget is giving Harry a comprehensive list off all the words she can write, but when she glances up and sees Louis, she nearly falls out of her seat trying to get to him.

“Daddy!” She cheers, launching herself into his waiting arms. Louis lifts her onto his hip, giving her a firm kiss to the cheek.

“Hi, pumpkin,” he hums, walking over to the kitchen. “Did you have a good day today?”

“Yes I did,” Bridget nods quickly. “Harry is a very good babysitter.”

“Well, that’s good to hear,” Louis smiles, putting her down on her feet and crouching down to her level. “Let me have a look at you, then.”

Bridget has daisies braided into either side of her hair, and more wrapped around her head like a crown. She has a bit of glitter at the outer corners of her eyes and she smiles brightly as Louis looks her over, enthralled by what must be Harry’s work.

“Harry took me to the park and did daisy braids,” she says, turning her head so he can see them, little french braids on either side of her head, with daisies poking out. “And we did arts and crafts, and we put glitter on our faces,” she says, sticking her cheek out now.

“I can see that,” Louis chuckles, standing up to look at Harry. Harry has glitter striped across his forehead and a little in his eyelashes. He looks beautiful, for some reason.

“I did everything you said to do,” Harry assures, standing up from his seat and wiping at his forehead self consciously. Louis wishes he wouldn’t. “Except, we played at the park for close to three hours, and we didn’t watch any telly at all,” he smiles proudly.

“Wow, impressive,” Louis nods, picking Bridget up when she claws at his leg. She’s clearly exhausted, but she won’t start being difficult about it until after Harry leaves, Louis thinks. “You’re hired,” he says, grinning when Bridget nuzzles into his neck.

“Wait, seriously?” Harry asks, a slow smile spreading over his face.

“Yeah, unless you don’t want to,” Louis says, sitting down at the table and letting Bridget curl up in his lap. Harry sits back down across from him, looking thrilled. “I know she can be a bit of work, I wouldn’t blame you for throwing in the towel,” he smirks, laughing when Bridget pinches his arm in silent protest.

“Of course I want to,” Harry says, grinning from ear to ear. “Today was the most fun I’ve had in awhile,” he says honestly.

“Well,” Louis sings, looking down at Bridget. “We’ll see you bright and early tomorrow, then?”

Bridget finally picks her head up, smiling just as wide as Harry. “Daddy,” she says, quietly but not so quiet that Harry can’t hear. “Is Harry going to be my new dad?”

“Oi,” Louis frowns, pinching her side playfully. “I’m your dad.”

“My other dad, I mean,” Bridget giggles, batting his hand away.

Louis laughs, scrunching his face up at Bridget. “You can’t have two dads, Bridge, that’s silly.”

Harry flinches out of the corner of Louis’s eye, and he looks hurt when Louis looks up. Louis feels his stomach drop, realizing what he just implied.

“Why is that silly?” Harry asks, voice deathly quiet. Louis bites his lip quite hard, setting Bridget down to run off.

“Harry, I didn’t mean it like-”

“No, why is that silly?” He asks again, a bit more forcefully now that Bridget isn’t in the room. “Please, tell me why that’s silly to you.”

“It isn’t,” Louis says, feeling as tiny as his voice.

“Do not plant ideas like that in her head,” Harry growls, getting out of his chair. “The last thing we need in this world is close minded children,” he spits.

“Harry, I’m sorry-”

“I have to go,” Harry mutters, shaking his head as he makes his way to the door, slipping his shoes on. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Louis runs after him when he slips out the door, stopping him in the driveway. “Harry, I’m really sorry that I’ve offended you, but that isn’t what I meant, I swear. I just meant that it’s silly for Bridget to think that she might have two dads,” he tries.

Harry turns to look at him, eyes suddenly sad. “Yeah, I know what you mean,” he breathes.

“Harry,” Louis pleads, trying to grab his arm to stop him from getting in his car. “C’mon, seriously?”

“I’ll see you tomorrow,” Harry says, pulling his arm out of Louis’s reach and getting in the car before Louis can stop him.

Louis watches from the driveway as Harry drives away, his heart sinking into his stomach. He feels horrible, even though he probably shouldn’t. He understands why Harry is upset, it was a rather insensitive thing he said, but Harry needs to get it through his head that his feelings for Louis are only one sided. Louis doesn’t feel the same way, and he never will. Louis is straight, for crying out loud.

He still feels like a part of him is numb when he goes back inside, though, like a part of him is gone, maybe. Bridget comes to the kitchen whining for dinner, as irritable now as Louis predicted she would be, but she doesn’t stop talking about Harry for the rest of the night. Louis almost doesn’t want her to.

-

If Louis thought that the whole ‘two dads’ thing would just blow over, he was very, very wrong.

Harry hardly speaks to him the next morning when he comes over to babysit, though he seems just as excited as usual to see Bridget. Louis gets it, he does, but it hurts.

The worst part might be that Harry won’t even let Louis explain himself, because every time Louis tries, Harry just turns away and ignores him or talks circles around him until Louis is more lost and confused than he was before. Bridget doesn’t seem to notice the difference, but Louis does, and it’s killing him.

It’s Friday morning, nearly two weeks since the incident. Louis can’t imagine that Harry is still upset over the comment, but yet.

Louis convinced himself days ago that Harry is creating distance between them so he can get over his feelings for him, that he’s vilifying him to make it easier to move on. He hopes that’s what’s happening, at least, because for some reason, the thought of Harry actually hating him makes him want to cry.

He can’t help but keep remembering what Bridget said a few weeks ago, about Harry making Louis laugh like only Amy did. With Harry’s sudden distance, he’s starting to see how true that is, because now that he doesn’t have Harry’s constant attention and positivity, he feels like he’s just back where he started in terms of feeling lost and alone and empty.

Work starts to suck even more when Louis starts dreading going home in the evening, dreading saying hello to Harry only to be faced with a cold shoulder. He spends a lot of time thinking, both in his office and at home, and his conclusions aren’t at all what he would like them to be.

He’s working late today, making up some of the stuff he’s been slacking on throughout the week, too distracted to work. He doesn’t end up leaving the office until long after it’s dark outside, and Bridget has already called to say goodnight.

The drive home is horrible, because he knows that without Bridget as a buffer, he and Harry are going to be forced to actually interact somewhat, and he doesn’t know what that’s going to mean. With any luck, tonight will be a turning point. Louis will come home exhausted and a bit sad like he has for the past week, and maybe Harry will finally notice and get to making him feel better, like he used to.

It’s hardly past 9:00 when Louis walks in the door, but it’s way past Bridget’s bedtime, so when he hears cartoons on the telly, he’s automatically a bit annoyed. When he walks over to the couch, though, he finds a sleeping Bridget curled up on top of a sleeping Harry, and his heart throbs in his chest.

A thought runs through Louis’s head before he can stop himself, staring down at Harry holding his beautiful daughter, both of them looking so peaceful and soft. Bridget is in her pajamas and it looks like Harry gave her a bath, and thinking about them going through that routine together makes his heart hurt even more. Bridget loves him so much, enough that she wants him to be her dad, her other dad, and finally, Louis thinks he gets it.

I’m in love with him, he thinks.

It’s still terrifying, and it’s everything he’s ever not let himself want. It’s real, though, and finally he has a name for this thing he’s been feeling, but fuck if he’ll ever admit it out loud, or even maybe to himself.

It’s just the timing. Louis is sad and lonely and confused, and Harry is in a very sweet position. He could fall in love with anyone, seeing them like this. It doesn’t help that it’s Harry’s face he pictures coming home to every night, all of a sudden, that it’s this exact image he wants to see every night for the rest of his life.

With that, he heads to his room to get changed, throwing on a pair of sweats and an old t-shirt. His shirts used to smell like Amy, because she wore them to bed all the time, but this one just smells like closet.

He creeps back to the living room when he’s done, carefully scooping Bridget up into his arms. She and Harry both stir a bit, and Louis freezes until they both settle in. He carries Bridget carefully to her bed, laying her down like she’s made of glass and tucking her into her covers.

Her eyes flutter open when he kisses her forehead, and he gives her a warm smile.

“Daddy?” She asks, looking confused.

“It’s me, love,” Louis whispers, smoothing her hair out of her face. “Go back to sleep.”

Bridget grunts softly and turns over, slipping right back to sleep. Louis watches her for just a moment, before heading back to the living room again to deal with Harry.

Harry looks so sweet, hands spread over his tummy like he’s still holding Bridget in his arms. Louis sits down on the edge of the coffee table and watches his face for a second, falling in love with the flutter of his eyelids.

He doesn’t know what to do with him. He could wake him up and tell him to go home, or just let him sleep here. He doesn’t know if Harry has to work in the morning or not, or if he has anything to do at home, but Louis decides he looks far too sweet to disturb, and pulls a blanket over him.

Harry makes a quiet, contented sound, cuddling into the blanket. Louis smiles, losing his sense of self for just a moment and letting himself reach out to touch his hair. It’s soft in his fingers, and the curl bounces back into place when he lets go of it. He strokes his thumb gently over Harry’s cheekbone and Harry’s lips twitch up into a smile, which makes Louis smile even harder.

He wants to kiss him, or at least his forehead. That’s too much, though, Louis is too close, he needs to run before he does something stupid, like accept that his feelings might be real.

He gets up before he can make another move, turning the telly off and retreating to his room again. His bed feels colder than ever when he climbs into it and he almost just wants to go curl up on the couch with Harry, pillow his head on his chest like Bridget had done. He hates himself for thinking it, but it’s all he can think about.

He falls asleep feeling terrible, longing for something he’ll never be able to let himself have.

-

He wakes up to the smell of something baking, his stomach rumbling in curiosity. He hopes to whoever that when he walks out to the kitchen, Harry will still be here.

Harry isn’t in the kitchen, but there’s a batch of freshly baked muffins on the counter, along with a note scribbled on a piece of Bridget’s construction paper. Louis pokes at one of the muffins, finding that they’re still warm, like Harry didn’t leave too long ago. It’s about 9:00am, so he couldn’t have woken up too terribly early.

He picks up the note and grabs a muffin, bringing both to the table with him. He sets the kettle on for a cup of tea and then sits down, reading over Harry’s neat, blocky handwriting.

Thank you for letting me sleep, Bridget really wore me out yesterday! Sorry to leave without saying goodbye, but I hope these will do as a parting gift. -H

Louis smiles to himself, biting into the muffin and putting the note down on the table. He picks up his phone to text Harry, thumb hovering over the keyboard for a moment.

To Harry: thank you for the muffins, hope you got home ok xx

He only has to wait a second for a reply, taking another bite of his muffin before his phone buzzes. The muffin tastes like cranberries, and Louis wonders where Harry even found cranberries in his house.

Harry: I did, thank you. Tell Bridget thank you for the love note she left in my shoe

Louis frowns at that, but then another message comes in with a picture attached. It’s a piece of green construction paper with the word Harry written poorly in the center, a bright pink love heart drawn around it. In the bottom corner, in black crayon, it reads, form Bridget!

It makes him laugh, the whole thing, and the fact that she left it in Harry’s shoe. He wants to go wake her up just to tell her he loves her, to show her the muffins Harry left for them.

He texts Harry back a few laughing emojis and puts his phone away, finishing the last few bites of his muffin.

Bridget doesn’t sleep very much longer, shuffling into the kitchen a few minutes later in her favorite footie pajamas. She smiles sleepily at Louis and climbs up into his lap, cuddling into his chest.

“Morning, lovebug,” Louis grins, wrapping his arms around her. “Harry left us some muffins, do you want one?”

Bridget nods, yawning against Louis’s neck. Louis rubs her back gently, looking down at her.

“Why so sleepy?” He chuckles. “What did you and Harry get up to yesterday?”

“Well,” Bridget hums, cracking her eyes open. “We went to the park and we had races, and we made friends with some other kids and we raced them too. We didn’t leave the park until the sun was going down and Harry took me to a little restaurant and we ate burgers and fries, and then we came home and watched The Little Mermaid and we fell asleep,” she says, sounding rather pleased with it all.

“That sounds like a good day,” Louis says. “You had fun?”

“So much fun,” Bridget confirms. “But I wish you could play with us too, sometimes. I like playing with Harry, but it’s more fun when you’re there too,” she says, looking up at him.

“Why’s that?” Louis frowns.

“Well, you make Harry happier. He smiles bigger when you’re there, and he laughs louder. When I tell stories about you and stuff his eyes get all crinkly and he says he thinks I’m the luckiest little girl in the world to have a daddy like you,” she smiles, hugging him around the neck.

“He does?” Louis blushes, hugging her back. “Well, that’s very nice of him.

“He’s very nice,” Bridget says pointedly, pulling away to look at him. “I wish you and him were better friends.”

“Yeah, me too,” Louis sighs, shaking his head. “How about that muffin, then?”

“Yeah,” Bridget says, sliding off his lap and getting into her own seat. Louis brings her a muffin and a fork on a plate, and she makes an absolute mess, but Louis finds it hard to care at the moment.

-

Bridget doesn't stop talking about Harry for the rest of the day, which makes it a little hard for Louis to get him off his mind. He almost wants to invite him over, spend time with him like he hasn't in so long, finally figure out if these feelings are real or if Louis is just caught up in an illusion.

He ends up texting Lottie around noon, asking what she’s up to tonight and if she’d like to have Bridget for a sleepover. He just wants one night, one chance to figure out what the hell is going on inside his head.

Lottie answers a few minutes later that she’ll pick Bridget up around four, and that Louis should do something nice for himself while he has a break. Louis takes that as all the affirmation he needs, closing out of his text thread with Lottie and going straight to Harry’s.

To Harry: hey, do you want to come over for dinner tonight, just me and you? my sister is taking B for the night

He busies himself as soon as he’s sent it, putting his phone down and heading to Bridget’s room to tell her the good news.

“Hey, Bridge,” he hums, startling her where she’s sitting on the floor, playing with her dolls.

“Do you knock?” She rolls her eyes, putting her dolls down to give him her attention.

“Sorry, love,” Louis chuckles, stepping over the dollhouse to sit on the edge of her bed. “I just talked to auntie Lottie, and she’s gonna come get you in a little while and you’re gonna go have a sleepover with her, Tommy and Nicky,” he says.

Bridget lights up, jumping up off the floor excitedly. “Yes! I love going to auntie Lottie and uncle Tommy’s,” she cheers, running over to hug Louis’s leg. “When is she coming?”

“In a few hours,” Louis grins, lifting her into his lap. “So, let’s go have some lunch, and then after that we can get your sleepover stuff together,” he says.

“Okay,” Bridget agrees, sliding out of his lap and running off to the kitchen. Louis follows her with a smile on his face, always endeared by how happy Bridget gets over everything that happens.

He doesn’t have any notifications when he checks his phone, frowning slightly when he opens up Harry’s text thread. Harry usually replies pretty quickly, and it makes Louis nervous that he hasn’t answered.

He makes two turkey and cheese sandwiches, one with mayo and one without, and then goes to sit at the table with Bridget. They eat quietly, Louis staring at his phone, waiting for the three little dots to pop up at the bottom of the screen that mean Harry is typing back. They don’t come, though, and Louis doesn’t blink until Bridget waves her hand in front of his face.

“Sorry,” he chuckles, locking his phone and shaking his head as he pushes it away.

“What were you looking at?” Bridget asks, cocking her head at him. “You looked sad.”

Louis’s stomach twists a little but he smiles, forces himself to. “Nothing, love,” he hums, biting into his sandwich to distract himself.

Bridget makes a quiet noise, almost like she doesn’t believe him, but she doesn’t press. Louis tries not to, he really does, but he checks his phone about every five seconds until Bridget literally drags him out of his seat.

“We have to pack my bag,” she says, taking Louis’s phone out of his hand and leaving it on the kitchen worktop. “And you’re leaving that here.”

Louis can’t help but laugh, letting Bridget pull him down the hall by his hand. He gets her duffel from under her bed and sets it open on his lap, folding her pajamas as she throws them at him and neatly packing them away. He lets her pick out her own outfit for the next day, smiling at the little pink leggings and baby blue t-shirt that gets thrown at his head. He thinks maybe he should take her shopping one of these days for some new clothes, as she’s bound to grow out of these soon.

Harry doesn’t respond until about a half hour before Lottie is supposed to be picking Bridget up, after Louis has set her duffle by the door and given her a bath so Lottie won’t have to. When Louis finally checks his phone again, there’s a message from Harry, and his heart drops a little when he reads it.

Harry: Are you sure you want to do that?

Louis bites the inside of his lip, tapping out his response quickly.

To Harry: yes, i’m very sure.

Harry: Okay, what time?

Louis grins, writing back that he’ll have dinner ready around 6:00. He’ll probably need to run to the shops once Bridget is gone, because he doubts Harry is going to want to eat mac and cheese from a box and Louis doesn’t have much else at the moment.

When Lottie shows up for Bridget a little while later, Louis has already made a list of everything he needs to get from the store. He has a recipe for some fancy looking chicken dish open on his laptop, and he owns approximately none of what it calls for.

Bridget hugs him extra tight before she leaves, leaving Lottie waiting by the door with her duffel. Louis picks her up and spins her around a few times, grinning when Bridget giggles into his ear.

“Bye, love,” he hums, crouching down to put her back on her feet. She holds on, though, moving closer to whisper in his ear.

“You should have Harry over to play while I’m gone,” she whispers. “He misses you, and you seem sad today.”

Louis blinks in surprise, pulling back a bit to look at her. Bridget grins at him, pecking a kiss to the tip of his nose.

“Bye, daddy,” she chirps, letting go and darting over to Lottie.

“Have fun,” Louis says weakly. He doesn’t know how she does it, how she knows exactly what Louis is thinking, sometimes before Louis even knows he’s thinking it.

The house is quiet once Bridget is gone, and Louis heads almost immediately to the grocery store. He has a list in his phone and a bit of anxiety in his chest, because if tonight goes the way Louis is hoping it might, it might change his whole life.

-

It’s strange, how easily conversation doesn’t flow when Bridget isn’t there. Louis would have thought that not having a five year old to be mindful of would open a whole new realm of possibility for conversational topics, but all Louis can do is keep his eyes on his chicken and pray that Harry will say something first.

He didn’t have dinner ready by 6:00, of course, because he’s Louis and his time management skills are shit, and really, this dish shouldn’t have taken longer than a half hour. But here he is, at quarter past 6, still trying to figure out how exactly to get the mozzarella to stay inside the chicken.

It’s a good enough distraction, keeps him from thinking about how Harry is sitting at his kitchen table, sipping at a glass of wine and probably watching him fuck about. It should be embarrassing, but Louis is just thankful that he doesn’t have to talk yet.

Eventually, of course, he gets to a point where he can’t keep distracting himself with the cooking. The chicken is in the oven and the potatoes for the mash are boiling on the stove, and he has nothing else to do with himself. He grabs his own glass of wine off the kitchen worktop and goes to sit across from Harry, giving him a little smile.

“So, what exactly are you making?” Harry asks, grinning when Louis chuckles. A bit of the tension fades away, and Louis feels himself loosen up.

“It’s a surprise,” Louis hums, sipping at his wine. “A chef never reveals his tricks.”

“That’s a magician,” Harry argues, “and from what Bridget has told me, you’re not a chef.”

Louis snorts, shaking his head. “Alright, no, I’m not. But this is going to be good, I promise,” he says.

Harry hums in acknowledgement and looks down at his wine, still smiling softly to himself. Louis thinks now would be a good time to ask what’s on his mind, while everything is peaceful.

“Um, can I ask you something?” He says, shifting a bit in his chair. Harry looks up, sensing his discomfort, and frowns.

“Of course,” he assures, putting his glass down to give Louis his full attention.

Louis sighs, slouching back in his seat a little. “Does Bridget ever talk about her mother to you?”

Harry purses his lips, taking in a deep breath and releasing it slowly, like he’s thinking of the gentlest way to answer this. “Yeah, sometimes,” he says, locking eyes with Louis.

Louis nods, glancing down at his wine before forcing himself to look back up at Harry. “What does she say?” He asks quietly, like maybe he doesn’t even want to know.

“Um,” Harry breathes, breaking the eye contact he established. “Well, I- she tells me sometimes that, like, I remind her of her mum,” he says, looking up at Louis cautiously. Louis nods, and Harry takes it as a cue to go on. “Like, she says that when I laugh really hard, sometimes, it reminds her of her mum, and the way I flip my hair over my shoulder,” he says. He looks down then, blushing slightly. “And she told me, like, just recently- this is a bit awkward,” he chuckles, “but she told me that the way I make you laugh reminds her of how you used to laugh with your wife.”

Louis feels himself turning red, staring down at the table. He forces himself to chuckle, because it’s either that or scream. “Yeah, she’s quite the character, isn’t she?” He says weakly.

“Listen,” Harry says, sitting up a little more, demanding Louis’s attention gently. “I truly don’t mean to make you feel uncomfortable when I say this, but-” he pauses, like he’s trying to find a way to say whatever it is he needs to tell him. “She asks me all the time if I’ll be her new dad, and I never knew what she meant by that, so the other day I asked her about it, and- And she told me, like, she loves how happy I apparently seem to make you, and all that. She told me that if you can’t have your wife back, like, she wants you to have me, instead,” he whispers.

Louis can’t even pretend to not be affected by that, his jaw hanging open a little. He hates, positively loathes the thought of his little daughter, so brilliant and intuitive, thinking those kinds of thoughts. He hates that Amy hasn’t been gone for six months and Bridget has already found someone to take her place, while Louis is still reeling.

He hangs his head and sobs, just once. He’s not going to cry, his eyes don’t even feel wet, but his chest just aches and he wants to yell, wants to scream until the tension gives and lets him move on.

He feels arms wrap around him and he leans into the warm embrace, realizing only when he feels the solid, steady chest against his back that he’s shaking like a leaf. He lets Harry hold him until he doesn’t feel like screaming anymore, until his mind is clear and open, until his mouth is under his control again to voice the next thing on his mind.

He turns his face and presses his nose against Harry’s neck, prompting Harry to tell him so, so quietly that he’s okay, to rub his palm down his spine and soothe him from the outside in. He’s so warm, so comfy, and Louis doesn’t let his stomach clench when he speaks.

“Harry, can I ask you something?” He says. His voice isn’t shaking, not like his hands. His voice is steady, clear, quiet but strong.

“Anything,” Harry tells him, resting his chin atop his head.

Louis takes a moment, but finally his eyes fall shut on their own, and in the dark, it’s easier to see. “How did you realize that you were gay?”

The whole world stops for a moment. It’s not a screeching halt, not like tires slipping on pavement. It’s like the world just pauses in confusion, looks around a minute, and then proceeds.

“Well,” Harry says. His shoulders are so tense. They weren’t before Louis spoke. “Um, so I had this girlfriend back when I was in school,” he says, adjusting Louis in his arms so they’re both more comfortable. “I thought I was in love with her, and maybe I was. She took me home to meet her family one night, like a dinner type thing, and-” he chuckles softly, “I may have realized then that I was way more into her older brother than I was her.”

Louis laughs, but it sounds a little miserable. It sounds so easy, the way Harry puts it, even though Louis is sure it couldn’t have been. Louis can’t imagine it was as excruciating for him as it is for Louis now, realizing that everything he’s ever believed about himself might be a lie.

Harry holds him a little tighter, rocks him back and forth like a child. Louis feels like a child. He wants to go to bed. He wants Harry to never stop holding him.

“Do you want to talk?” Harry asks gently, brushing Louis’s hair back out of his face with one hand and looking down at his face.

Louis closes his eyes and takes one last deep breath, and then he pulls away.

“Not at the moment, no,” he says, staring down at his knees. Harry nods out of the corner of his eye, and Louis reaches over to touch his leg without looking. “Thank you.”

Harry smiles at him, nudges him with his elbow. Louis sways with the movement and lets himself smile, just a little, just enough to feel okay again.

The timer on the oven goes off a few seconds later, and Louis reluctantly stands to go get the chicken out. The potatoes are just about done, as well, so Louis sets the chicken to cool just a bit and gets to work mashing the potatoes.

When he finally has two plates ready, Harry has moved back to his original seat, on the opposite side of the table. He gives Louis the warmest, cosiest smile when he sets his plate down in front of him, and Louis feels his heart skip a beat or two.

They eat in a comfortable silence, aside from Harry telling Louis in a rather surprised tone how good it is. For his first proper adult meal, Louis thinks chicken wrapped in parma ham and stuffed with mozzarella with a side of homemade mash was pretty good idea.

They don’t really say anything again until Louis accidentally kicks Harry quite hard under the table, directly in the shin. Harry whines and Louis gasps, reaching across the table to touch his arm.

“I’m so sorry,” he says, but he can’t stop the little giggle that comes with it.

“You’re not,” Harry argues, smiling at the smile on Louis’s face.

“I am, look,” Louis says, nudging Harry’s foot with his own. “Kick me back.”

“I don’t want to,” Harry says, grinning as he pushes Louis’s foot away.

“Kick me,” Louis demands, digging his toes against Harry’s ankle. “I deserve it.”

Harry giggles softly, shaking his head as he kicks Louis’s foot gently. Louis narrows his eyes at him, unamused.

“Harder,” he says, kicking Harry again. “Do it harder!”

His eyes widen in shock when he realizes what he just said, and Harry just about blows wine out of his nose. He doubles over, laughing in that loud, obnoxious way that makes Louis’s heart clench, and all Louis can do is blush and fumble for words.

“Of all the things I thought I’d never hear you say to me,” Harry giggles, sitting back up and wiping at his eyes. “That was probably the best.”

“Oi, shut up,” Louis mutters, but he’s laughing as well. They’re like a couple of children, honestly.

They settle down again in time, giggles wearing off, but the smiles remain. It takes a few minutes, but Harry nudges Louis’s foot again, and they both smile just a little bit bigger.

After dinner they move to the couch, bringing with them their wine glasses and the bottle Harry brought over. They sit next to each other, not quite close enough to touch, but close enough that Louis can feel the warmth of Harry’s body beside his own.

He tops up both of their glasses while Harry turns the telly on, finding them something to watch. The comfortable silence is back, engulfing Louis in it’s embrace and making him feel at ease.

Harry settles on some old timey movie with a grainy picture and it’s totally not Louis’s thing, but he doesn’t feel like arguing right now. Harry crosses his legs and bumps Louis’s knee in the process, and all Louis can do is press his knee more firmly against Harry’s and take a long sip of wine.

He finishes his entire glass of wine before Harry is even halfway through his own, and he might be going too fast, but he pours another immediately. Harry settles his hand on his thigh and Louis drains his glass, waiting for it to smudge his judgement and blur his senses.

The film is terribly boring, it turns out, but Harry seems to be enjoying it. Of course he is, Louis thinks. Leave it to Harry to be all sophisticated and smart and old fashioned and beautiful and so, so warm when Louis presses into his side.

This development comes unbeknownst to Louis, but when Harry wraps his arm around him and holds him a little closer, he thinks his subconscious must be doing him a favor. He cuddles in and reaches for Harry’s free hand, examining all of his costume rings that Louis always forgets to ask about.

“The thing is, I miss my wife a lot,” he says, too quietly. Harry still startles like Louis shouted right in his ear, shifting a bit to look down at him.

“Sorry?” He hums, rubbing Louis’s shoulder.

“Amy,” Louis says, twisting the ring around Harry’s thumb. “I miss her so much. She hasn’t even been gone that long, you know? Sometimes it feels like she was with me yesterday, but other times it feels like I’ve been on my own for years. I miss her so fucking much, every single day,” he admits.

“I’m so sorry, Lou,” Harry murmurs, catching Louis’s hand where he’s still playing with his fingers and giving it a little squeeze.

“But, like,” Louis sighs, trying to think of how he wants to put this. “Since I met you, it’s like- it’s like the world got a little brighter, a little sweeter, maybe even more so than when she was here. It’s like you showed me all these things I’d never seen before, and you make it so much easier to be alive.

“You’re terrifying, to be honest. I’m so fucking scared of you, and the way you make me feel. In the short time I’ve known you it’s like a whole new spectrum of emotions have become available to me and I don’t know what any of them are or where they come from but they’re all good, even the not so good ones, because it’s you that makes me feel them.”

“I don’t understand,” Harry says gently, trying to meet Louis’s eye. Louis looks down, staring at their hands.

“The boys at school used to tease me relentlessly,” he whispers. “Because I’ve had hips and a bum since secondary school. They used to call me all sorts of names, they called me gay like it was something contagious, something bad. They destroyed me, I think. I used to cry myself to sleep over it, because I didn’t want to be sick, and they made me feel like I was. I didn’t let myself feel those feelings, the ones I’m feeling now, because I was afraid of being different. Being weird.”

“Oh, Lou,” Harry sighs, hugging him with the arm around his shoulders. “That’s utter shit,” he mumbles against the side of Louis’s head.

“They’d call me a girl, ask if I liked it up the bum, those sorts of things,” Louis mutters. “Standard, honestly, but it fucking broke me. I suppressed every feeling I ever had that sounded even remotely close to what those stupid pricks were calling me, and I guess I’ve been able to keep it down my whole life,” he shrugs.

“Until now?” Harry asks cautiously, trying to look at him again.

“Until now,” Louis breathes, meeting Harry’s eyes for half a second before looking down. “And it’s still so fucking scary, like, I’m still conditioned to hate this part of myself, to be disgusted by it. I don’t know what to do,” he whimpers.

“It’s okay,” Harry assures, dropping his hand and wrapping his other arm around him, as well. “It’s okay, you’ve got time to figure it out,” he hums. “You’ve got time. And you’ve got me, if you want me.”

Louis flinches at that, shaking his head. “But I don’t know if I-”

“Shh,” Harry soothes, “that’s not what I meant. You have me to help you, yeah? If ever you need anything, have a question, need someone to talk to. You have me then, okay?” He waits for Louis to nod, and squeezes him once before he whispers, “and you can have me any other way you decide you want, whether it be everything or nothing. It’s all up to you.”

“I’m sorry I’ve been pushing you away,” Louis mutters, turning into Harry’s embrace a bit more. “The truth is, I think, like, deep down, I’ve wanted you since we met. But, you know, repression and all that is kind of a mood killer,” he chuckles miserably. “I was so scared of you, and I still am, of you and of all of this,” he sighs.

“It’s okay,” Harry tells him. “It really is. You’re gonna figure it out, yeah? Whatever’s meant to happen will happen, and it’ll all turn out okay,” he says.

Louis takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly, pressing his face into Harry’s neck. He smells so good, a scent that Louis could maybe call home someday.

With that he reaches for the wine again, bypassing his glass and going straight for the bottle. Harry chuckles as Louis drinks, taking the bottle when Louis hands it over.

They finish the rest of the bottle within the hour, passing it back and forth between them. Louis feels a hundred times lighter than before, giggling into Harry’s shoulder for no reason. He’s so sleepy, probably two seconds from passing out, but going to bed means ending the fun and the last thing Louis wants to do is end the fun. He wonders if Harry will let him sleep on top of him like he let Bridget that one time. He’s about to open his mouth to ask when Harry sits him up, smoothing out his mussed up hair.

“You’re drunk,” Harry tells him, but he looks amused. Harry’s drunk too, though. Louis should tell him that.

“You’re drunk too,” he tells him, humming in triumph.

“I’m not drunk,” Harry chuckles, pressing his thumb into Louis’s cheek. Louis may be inebriated, but he knows that Harry wouldn’t be touching him like this if he was completely sober.

Harry’s eyes widen suddenly, and Louis wonders if he just said that out loud. Harry’s hand falls away and Louis frowns, reaching for it.

“I think maybe it’s time for bed,” Harry says, giggling when Louis picks up his hand and starts playing with his fingers. “Do you mind if I stay? I think you’re right about the not totally sober thing,” he chuckles.

“I don’t want to go to bed,” Louis frowns, tugging on Harry’s thumb. “Don’t you want to cuddle more?”

Harry looks extremely fond all of a sudden, shaking his head slowly at Louis. “God, you’re so cute. But, no, you should sleep. You’re going to regret staying up in the morning,” he says.

“I’m cute,” Louis grins, apparently his only takeaway. “You think I’m cute. You’re a boy and you think I’m cute.” He’s not freaking out about it, which is a first. He actually feels quite flattered.

“Alright, come on,” Harry laughs, helping him up off the couch. “Time for bed.”

“Come to bed with me,” Louis gasps, like it’s the best idea he’s had all night. “I don’t have a guest bed, and I don’t want you to sleep on the couch. Sleep in my bed, with me,” he says, trying to pull Harry along to his bedroom.

“Lou,” Harry says, staying put. “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

Louis frowns, turning back to look at him. “Why not?”

“Well,” Harry shifts uncomfortably on his feet, looking down. “What if you wake up and regret all of this? What if you roll over and decide that this was all a fluke and you end up hating me?”

“Harry,” Louis says, suddenly serious. He steps closer, cupping Harry’s cheeks and making him look at him. “Listen, tipsy or not, everything I said was the truth, and I wanted you to know all of it. There’s nothing about any of this that there’s even a chance I’ll regret. And we’re just sleeping in the same bed, that’s all. It’s not like I’m asking you to take my butt sex virginity right here right now,” he shrugs.

Harry lets out a surprised laugh, one of those ones that makes his whole face contort into the happiest sight in the world. He shakes his head, taking Louis’s hands away from his face. “Okay, I know that, but still. I don’t think it’s a good idea,” he says.

“Fine,” Louis huffs. “Then you take my bed, and I’ll take the couch. I don’t feel right about you sleeping out here, I want you to be comfortable,” he says.

“I’ll be comfortable on the couch,” Harry says. “I’ve slept there before, it’s actually one of the better couches I’ve slept on,” he smiles.

“Harry,” Louis whines, pouting up at him. “I don’t want you to sleep on the couch. Either come to bed with me or let me sleep on the couch,” he says firmly, crossing his arms over his chest.

“Lou,” Harry chuckles, shaking his head at him. He seems to make a decision, and then he reaches out to take hold of Louis’s head. For a moment, Louis thinks he’s going to kiss him, but then Harry plants a sweet, comforting kiss on his forehead. “Go to bed, I’ll see you in the morning,” he hums, giving Louis a warm hug and another kiss on the head.

Louis walks to his room in a haze, changing out of his clothes and climbing into bed. He cuddles up to his pillow, wishing it was Harry, wondering how easy it would be to creep down the hall in the middle of the night and cuddle up with Harry on the couch while he’s sleeping. In the end, though, he conks out, snoring into the pillow from the empty side of the bed.

-

He wakes up with a headache, the kind that pounds right behind his forehead. He rolls out of bed and shuffles to the bathroom, opening up the medicine cabinet to find something to make it stop.

Harry is still sleeping when Louis makes it out to the living room, curled up under a blanket on the couch and snoring peacefully into one of the throw pillows. Louis wants nothing more than to go curl up with him, prove to him that he still doesn’t regret anything.

In the light of morning, he’s actually more relieved now than he was last night about having gotten everything off his chest. He feels comfortable knowing that Harry knows exactly where he is right now, and that he’s willing to help him and be here for him in whichever way Louis decides he wants.

He walks over to the couch just to brush Harry’s hair out of his face, tucking the curls behind his ear. His face is smushed up into the pillow, lips pouting adorably in his sleep.

Louis wants to kiss him again, but still he doesn’t. He wants that to happen, if it ever happens, when they’re both sober and fully alert, and they both have the opportunity to want it.

He heads to the kitchen to get started on breakfast, partly because he’s hungry and partly because he’s hoping that the smell of eggs will wake Harry up. He can’t make fancy omelets like Harry can, but he makes a mean plate of scrambled eggs, and he hopes Harry won’t mind.

As predicted, Harry comes shuffling into the kitchen just as the eggs are starting to simmer. He wraps his arms around Louis from behind and hooks his chin over his shoulder and hums with the inflection of a cheery good morning!

Louis can’t help but tense up, having Harry so close when he wasn’t expecting it. He wants to shake him off, call him a goober and laugh about it, but when he tries to shrink away, Harry just holds tighter, and Louis melts into his arms.

It feels better than Louis thought it would, being held like this. Once he’s not fighting it, it’s quite nice to be cradled against a warm, firm chest.

Harry digs his face into the side of Louis’s neck, groaning quietly. “It’s so bright in here,” he mutters, his breath tickling Louis’s neck.

“You’re weak,” Louis laughs, swatting him with his dirty spatula. Harry shrieks, pouting as he wipes the bit of egg Louis got on his arm off onto Louis’s shoulder.

He shuffles back to the living room, then, presumably to curl back up on the couch. Without him so close Louis feels cold, scooping the eggs out onto two plates and following Harry to the couch.

He hands Harry a plate and then sits mostly on top of him, leaning into his side to share his warmth. It’s not cold at all, outside or in, but Louis has always liked to be toasty and Harry is like a walking furnace.

“Oi, what are you doing,?” Harry laughs, trying to push Louis away for an inch of space. “You’re literally on top of me.”

“I’m cold,” Louis mutters through a mouthful of eggs, pushing closer when Harry tries to move away.

“You’re weak,” Harry mocks him, sticking his tongue out at him when Louis glares at him. Louis wants to kiss him for the second time today.

They eat their eggs quietly, settling into a comfortable cuddle as soon as they’re both done. Harry turns on the news and Louis plays with the curls at the base of Harry’s neck, smirking as he watches waves of goosebumps erupt on Harry’s skin.

Louis is no stranger to domestic Sunday mornings, but somehow this is so much nicer than it ever was with Amy. Harry’s homey scent is diluted with sleep and Louis wants to breathe him in all day, wants to stay on this couch until the world ends.

Eventually Harry shifts beside him, though, pulling his phone out of his pocket to check the time. Louis stays perfectly still, like if he doesn’t move, Harry won’t say he has to go. It’s not a very good logic.

“Well,” Harry sighs, pressing his nose against Louis’s shoulder. “I should get home.”

“No,” Louis whines, turning to pout at him. “Why?”

“I have things to do,” Harry grins, looking up at him. “Why, you don’t want me to go?” He teases.

“Bridget won’t be home for another few hours,” Louis says. “I’ll get lonely here all by myself.”

“As much as I hate the thought of you being lonely for any amount of time, I really need to go. I have a bunch of stuff to do and then I should turn in early, I have work in the morning,” Harry sighs.

Louis pouts at him, holding firm when Harry laughs and tries to tickle him. Harry shakes his head when Louis still doesn’t break, shifting to get up off the couch.

“It’s probably for the best, anyway. I don’t want you to get sick of me before we’ve even started this thing,” Harry laughs.

Louis pauses for a moment, looking down at Harry’s socked feet. “So we’re doing this, then?”

Harry turns to look at him, watching his face carefully. “Do you want to?”

“Yes,” Louis says immediately. “Do you?”

“More than anything,” Harry grins.

Louis gets up to follow him to the door, his stomach erupting in butterflies. He doesn’t know the terms and conditions but he thinks they just agreed to start dating, and it’s quite exciting.

Harry straightens up after he gets his shoes on and they lock eyes for a moment, the longest moment of Louis’s life. Harry hesitates, but something in Louis’s eyes must tell him to go for it, and then he leans in and kisses Louis right on the mouth.

It’s everything a first kiss should be, in Louis’s opinion. It’s everything Louis has never, ever had in a first kiss. There’s fireworks and sparks and trumpets and whatever else they have in the movies, everything all at once and even when Harry pulls away.

“Bye,” Harry hums, looking quite pleased with himself.

“Um,” Louis responds eloquently, reaching up to touch his lips. He feels himself smile, and Harry kisses his cheek once more before he slips out the door.

Louis feels like he’s drowning, but in the best possible way. He wants to squeal like a schoolgirl, wants to jump on the couch and dance and sing. He might be in love, and it’s never felt so good.

The weird thing is, though, it doesn’t feel like being gay, not at all. It just feels like being in love.

He spends the rest of the morning flipping through the channels on the telly, waiting for Bridget to get home. He thinks he’ll take her to the park later, if she’s up for it. And if they run into Harry while they’re there, well, the day will have gone according to plan.

Chapter Text

Much to Bridget’s delight, Harry and Louis grow a lot closer over the next few days. Harry stays for dinner with them some nights and leaves after he helps Louis put Bridget to bed, and he comes back early the next morning to hang out with them while they get ready. Louis is marginally happier, and he knows Bridget can tell, because she looks at him like she’s proud of him and goes out of her way to make sure he knows she loves him.

They’re careful not to get too touchy in front of her, though, because Louis doesn’t want to tell her about them too early and get her hopes up if it doesn’t work out. They’ve come to an agreement that even if they don’t work out as a couple Louis will still let Harry babysit, and it makes Louis’s heart happy to know that Bridget is so obviously important to Harry as well.

They haven’t kissed since the first time, for a number of reasons. They don’t have a lot of time alone without Bridget demanding their attention, and when they are alone, it’s either when Louis is rushing to get ready for work, or when Harry is rushing to get home and get to bed to get up for work in the morning.

They’ve scheduled their first proper date for Friday night, after Bridget goes to bed. Louis has to work late again and Harry is going to feed Bridget and get her in bed, and then he’s going to make dinner for the two of them for when Louis gets home. Louis has been looking forward to it all week, and he’s not going to let the anxiety he feels about dating another man keep him from having a good time.

Work drags on, and it feels like Louis finishes everything he needs to do before lunch. He spends the rest of the day messing about on his computer, and ends up leaving on time instead of staying the extra hour he told Harry he was staying.

They’re in the middle of bathtime when Louis gets home, he can hear them laughing in the bathroom. He smiles at Bridget’s delighted shrieking, leaving his shoes and bag by the door and creeping down the hall.

Harry is crouched beside the tub, grinning at Bridget, who is completely submerged under the water, only her face sticking out from the bubbles. She’s laughing like nothing has ever been funnier, and Harry scoops up a dollop of bubbles and drops them on her nose. Bridget shrieks again and Louis grins, leaning against the doorway.

“What’s going on here, then?” He hums, making his presence known. Harry startles so hard he topples right over, landing hard on his arse with a very manly shout.

“Jesus,” he gasps, clutching at his heart. Louis laughs, walking over to sit on the closed lid of the toilet seat, reaching down to pet Harry’s hair.

“Sorry, love,” he giggles. “And just Louis will do,” he teases.

“Daddy!” Bridget cheers, reaching up for him. Louis lets her grab his fingers, running his thumb over the back of her wet hand. “Harry said I wouldn’t see you until I woke up!”

“I finished all my work early,” Louis explains, still petting Harry’s hair with his other hand. Harry looks mighty pleased about it, nuzzling into his hand and getting Louis to scratch at his scalp. “Couldn’t wait to get home and see you guys,” he grins.

“Are you gonna tuck me in, then?” Bridget asks, pulling on his fingers to get his attention. “I like it better when you do it. Harry does it the same way you do, but you do the stories better,” she admits.

“Hey,” Harry whines, pouting over at Bridget. “I thought you liked my stories?”

“I do,” Bridget assures, reaching over to pat his knee, getting his jeans a little wet. “But I like daddy’s stories better.”

Louis sticks his tongue out at Harry, grinning when Harry grumbles to himself. “Of course I’ll tuck you in, princess. What story do we want tonight?”

“Grasshopper,” Bridget decides. “And Harry?”

“Yes, love?” Harry hums.

“Will you sing to me, as well?” She asks quietly. “I like it when you sing to me.”

“Of course,” Harry smiles, leaning down to kiss the top of her head. “I’d love to sing to you.”

Louis can’t help but smile as well, watching Harry for a moment. “You sing?” He asks, smiling a little harder when Harry blushes.

“A bit,” Harry admits. “Not in front of people, not really. Only for Bridget, here,” he chuckles.

Bridget looks thrilled, grinning up at Harry. “He’s really good, daddy. Harry, you should sing for daddy sometime,” she suggests.

“Yeah,” Louis says, reaching over to scratch at Harry’s scalp again. “Please?”

Harry chuckles nervously, blushing a little harder. “I suppose,” he says, looking up at Louis shyly. Louis grins down at him, pushing his hair away from his face.

“Look,” Bridget giggles a moment later, drawing them away from their own little world. “I’m a raisin.”

She holds up her wrinkly little fingers, wriggling them happily. Louis smiles at her, patting Harry’s head before he stands up.

“Alright, I’ll be waiting in your room with your pj’s and the grasshopper book,” he says, leaving them to it. He walks to Bridget’s room and pulls her favorite pajamas out of her dresser, grabbing the book out of the bookshelf and sitting down on her bed.

He can hear Harry helping her out of the bath through the wall, can hear them both giggling as he dries her off. Louis smiles and lays back on the bed, looking up at the ceiling.

There are little stick on glow in the dark stars stuck to the ceiling, already glowing faintly. Louis doesn’t remember them being there, has no idea how they got there.

Bridget comes running a few minutes later, wrapped up in her fluffy pink towel. Louis smiles at her and sits up, taking the towel from her and helping her into her footie pajamas.

“Bridge,” he asks, once the zipper is all done up. “Where did those stars on the ceiling come from?”

“Harry got them for me,” she says, climbing into her bed and getting under the covers. “We put them up yesterday, while you were at work. Harry was teaching me about space, and all the plants,” she says proudly.

“Planets,” Louis corrects her, chuckling. “What did you learn about them?”

“I learned that there are nine of them, but some people think that Pluto shouldn’t be one, because he’s too little. I think he should, though; just because he’s little doesn’t mean he can’t be a good planet,” she says matter of factly.

“I think you’re right,” Louis grins, smoothing her damp hair away from her face. “Alright, Grasshopper?”

“Yeah,” Bridget smiles, snuggling up under the covers. She watches Louis while he reads, always enthralled by the show he puts on.

Harry comes in a few pages into the book, sitting down on the floor beside the bed to listen. Louis makes his storytelling a little more fantastic, glancing over to find that Harry looks enraptured as well.

They both clap for him when the story is over, and Louis takes a dramatic bow when he gets up to put the book away. Harry looks incredibly fond and Louis tries to not let himself blush, sitting down in Harry’s place on the floor when Harry takes his spot on the bed.

“Alright, let’s hear this song, then,” Louis grins, clapping his hand together once. Bridget claps as well, nudging Harry with her covered foot.

Harry blushes deeply, smiling down at his feet. “I can’t do it with you staring at me like that,” he mumbles, pushing at Louis’s knee with his toes.

“Oh, come on,” Louis groans. “Do I have to leave the room?”

“Yes, please,” Harry asks quietly, pursing his lips apologetically. If Louis was meaner, he might push, but Harry actually looks anxious, so Louis stands up with a sigh.

“Whatever. I’ll be in my room,” he grumbles, sticking his tongue out at Harry. He gives Bridget a kiss goodnight and tells her he’ll see her in the morning, and then he retreats to his own room.

Harry closes the door after him, and as hard as Louis tries to listen through the door, he really can’t hear all that well. He pouts to himself and leans against the wall beside the door, waiting for Harry to come out.

It takes a few moments but eventually Harry creeps out into the hall, closing the door quietly behind himself. He jumps so hard he nearly brains himself on the wall when he sees Louis, clapping a hand over his own mouth so he won’t scream.

“Stop fucking doing that,” he hisses, pushing lightly at Louis’s chest.

Louis laughs quietly, reaching out to squeeze Harry’s hip. “That’s what you get for kicking me out.”

“Sorry,” Harry blushes, stepping a little closer. “I get really self conscious about my voice,” he admits.

Louis frowns, reaching up to poke at Harry’s cheek to pull it into a smile. “That’s okay, love. You don’t have to show me if you don’t want to.”

“No, I do,” Harry assures. “Just, I don’t know.”

“I get it,” Louis promises, smiling when Harry smiles. “How about dinner, then?”

“I started it earlier, it’s going to be ready in a little bit,” he says. “Why don’t you shower and get all nice and comfy and by then I’ll have dinner ready,” he suggests.

“Alright,” Louis nods, but he nuzzles into Harry’s chest before he goes. Harry holds him for a moment and Louis feels whatever tension is left in his body from the day melt away. He goes to his room when Harry lets him go, collecting his towel and a change of clothes before he heads to the bathroom.

He takes his time in the shower, scrubbing himself down and making his skin soft and clean. He feels brand new when he steps out, wrapping himself in a towel and brushing his teeth quickly at the sink. He gets dressed when he’s done, in a clean pair of joggers and a loose jumper. He wants to be cosy tonight, wants to look as cuddly as possible so Harry might not let him go.

When he finally makes his way out to the kitchen, there’s soft music flowing from a wireless speaker that doesn’t belong to Louis, and there are lit candles burning in the center of the kitchen table. The lights are dimmed and it smells amazing, which is typical for when Harry is cooking.

Harry turns around when he hears him come in, smiling softly at him. “I know we still have a lot of talking to do, and we need to figure a lot of shit out, but for tonight, I just want to woo you,” he says, taking Louis’s hand and pulling him close.

Louis grins, wrapping his arms around Harry’s neck when Harry holds his hips. They sway slowly to the music, Louis’s head finding its way to rest on Harry’s chest.

Louis recognizes the song that’s playing, but he probably couldn’t name it. It’s the type of music his mum listens to, that slow, jazzy kind of piano music. Harry hums along with the instrumental bits, and Louis about melts into a puddle at his feet when he starts singing.

Come away with me, in the night,” Harry croons, his voice deep and low. Louis wills his knees to stay strong, closing his eyes and grinning against Harry’s chest. “Come away with me, and I will write you a song.”

He’s got a beautiful voice, Louis can see why Bridget loves when he sings to her. He cracks his eyes open, just to make sure this isn’t all a dream, and watches the way the candlelight flickers on the kitchen walls while they turn.

He spots a little head poking around the corner from the hallway, sees big blue eyes watching them dance. She has her hand pressed over her own mouth, like she can’t believe what she’s seeing, and Louis can’t help but wink at her.

Go to bed,” he mouths at her, grinning when she pulls her hand away and smiles at him with all her teeth. She does an excited little hopping dance and then runs off back down the hallway to her room, and Louis tunes back into Harry’s voice in his ear.

I want to walk with you, on a cloudy day,” Harry sings. Louis lets his eyes fall closed again, breathing in the scent of Harry’s t-shirt. “In fields where the yellow grass grows knee high, so won’t you try to come.”

Harry presses his face against Louis’s neck, lips moving against his skin. “Come away with me and we'll kiss, on a mountaintop. Come away with me, and I'll never stop loving you.”

They sway quietly during the instrumental bit, Harry’s fingers tracing patterns up and down the length of Louis’s spine. Louis wants to live in this moment for the rest of his life, while he’s warm and happy and nothing can bother him, here in Harry’s arms.

And I want to wake up with the rain falling on a tin roof, while I'm safe there in your arms. So all I ask is for you to come away with me, in the night. Come away with me.”

Louis looks up at Harry as the song ends, smiling softly at him. He still feels invincible, feels incredible. “Your voice is beautiful,” he whispers. Another song starts in the background but Louis doesn’t notice, all of his senses occupied by Harry.

Harry leans in before Louis can start to freak out, catching his lips in the gentlest kiss Louis has ever shared with anyone. They stop swaying, Harry’s hands pressing into Louis’s back, bringing him closer. Their lips move slowly, so slowly, and it’s so sweet, Louis is breathless when they finally pull apart.

It’s everything, absolutely everything he’s ever wanted. He’s never felt like this before, not even with Amy, not with anyone. He feels like he could die in this moment and be fine, like he’s finally found something worth dying for.

“Thanks,” Harry breathes, eyes flickering between Louis’s eyes and his lips. Louis smiles at him and leans back in, catching Harry’s lips this time. Harry makes the quietest noise into his mouth and Louis wants to play it on repeat, wants to make it happen again, and again. He kisses him a little harder, pushing up onto his toes, making Harry hold him even tighter to support his weight against his body.

The oven breaks it up, the shrill sound of the timer cutting through the moment like a knife. Louis startles so hard he nearly falls, but Harry catches him, makes sure he’s steady before he lets him go to finish their dinner.

Louis walks through a thick fog to the table, finding his chair blindly. Without Harry’s hands on his body, without his heart beating steady under Louis’s ear, the world feels a lot bigger, a lot scarier. He stares at the candle burning in the center of the table and touches his lips, his stomach turning. Whatever song is playing now is much jazzier than the last, sharp and less melodic. It makes him feel sick, all of it.

He feels wrong, so very wrong. He wants to turn the music off, blow out the candles and tell Harry to go. He doesn’t want this. He doesn’t think he wants this.

Harry brings a roast chicken to the table, a whole bloody chicken on a platter for the two of them. Louis looks down, realizes there are tears starting in his eyes. He can’t let Harry see, can’t let him know that he’s two seconds away from calling the whole thing off.

“Lou?” Harry asks, too loudly for the quiet moment. Another song starts, softer and sweeter, and Louis’s heart aches. He turns his head and doesn’t say anything, trying to get himself together.

“Hey,” Harry coos, realizing that Louis is breaking down. “Hey, hey, hey, what’s wrong?”

Louis shakes his head, his breath stuttering when he tries to open his mouth. He clamps his mouth shut again and closes his eyes, trying to hide his face.

Harry is quiet for a moment, and then, “you don’t want this, do you?” He sounds hurt, deeply hurt. Louis gets it. He thought this was going to happen, bless him, he really thought Louis was going to be able to do this.

“I do,” he says, weakly. “I do want this, I just-” he cuts off with a tiny noise, shrugging his shoulders helplessly.

Harry nods, looking down at his hands on the table. The song playing is whiny, the woman crooning some kind of lullaby.

“Is it me?” Harry asks, his voice tiny, so thin it might just snap in half.

“No,” Louis whimpers. “No, god, it’s not you. It’s just- it’s the whole thing, like. I feel like yesterday I was madly in love with my wife, and today I’m kissing another man, for crying out loud, I don’t-” he cuts off again, shaking his head. “It just feels wrong.”

Harry nods again, rubbing at his eyes. Louis hopes to god that he isn’t crying. He can’t deal with the thought of making Harry cry. “What feels wrong,” he asks lowly, “the timing part, or the man part?”

Louis sniffles, hesitates. “It’s- the timing, I think,” he admits, staring fixedly at his empty plate. Harry set the table so beautifully.

There’s a massive chicken sitting on the table between them, probably getting cold. Harry leans his elbows on the table, running his hands through his hair and holding it back for a moment. “What do you want from this?” He asks suddenly, voice a lot stronger.

“What do you mean?” Louis frowns, looking up at him finally. Harry’s eyes are dry, thankfully, but he looks exhausted.

“Like,” he starts, shaking his head. “Like, I want you. I want all of you, in whatever time you need to take. I want to be yours, and I want you to be mine and I want us to share this life together. I want to take whatever comes in stride and I want to work together with you to raise Bridget into the wonderful person I already know she’s going to be. That’s what I want out of this, what are you looking for?”

Louis huffs a breath, rubbing at his face. “That sounds amazing, Harry, it really does, but I don’t even know if I can think like that yet,” he admits, shaking his head. Harry keeps watching him, so Louis sighs and tries to gather his thoughts. “I want- I think right now, I just need someone to be there for me. To be there when I come home and to hug me when I’ve had a shit day. Someone to cuddle me at night and help me when I’m stressed and, just, to be there for me,” he says. “If that’s romantically or not, I don’t know, but I just. That’s what I need right now,” he breathes.

There’s a duet playing over the speakers now, a man and a woman harmonizing about yearning for each other. Louis wonders why they can’t just work it out, just have each other the way they obviously want each other.

“I can be that for you,” Harry says. “I can be all of that, Louis, if you’ll let me.”

“But-” Louis whimpers, breathing out shakily. “Thank you, but I- this, like. This is too much. I can’t- I mean, the candles, and the music, and- it’s too much. I don’t want this yet. It still feels wrong, like cheating, almost, even though I know she’s gone,” he says quietly.

Harry leans forward and blows out the candles, grabbing his phone to turn off the music. It cuts off right in the middle of a rather marvelous trumpet solo, and in the silence, Louis feels like he can finally think.

“Done,” Harry says, putting his phone down on the table. “What if I promise not to start anything, like, I’ll be there, always, but I won’t try to start anything unless I’m one hundred percent sure that you want it too? You call the shots, you make the decisions, and I’ll just be here to hold your hand when you need me,” he says.

Louis shifts in his seat, frowning at Harry. “But what’s in it for you, then? I don’t want you to just drop everything and look after me every time I’m a bit sad,” he shrugs.

“I want you to trust me,” Harry says, like he’s already given this thought. “I want to know that you trust me to know when something’s wrong, and that you trust me enough that you’ll come to me with anything you need, or that you want to talk about. I want to know that I’m helping you. It’ll make me feel good to know that I’m helping you feel better,” he says, staring into Louis’s eyes like he desperately wants him to believe that.

“So,” Louis purses his lips, looking down. “Like, you won’t be bummed if I turn down a few snogs here and there? And, like, if we maybe keep our clothes on for a while?”

“Listen,” Harry says, reaching over to grab Louis’s hand. Louis laces their fingers, watches Harry’s thumb rub circles into the back of Louis’s hand. “I wouldn’t dream of making you do anything you don’t want to do, and I’d never be disappointed for not getting it, even though I may want it. You’re what I want, and the other stuff is a nice bonus that may come in time, but for right now, all I want is you, a happy you,” he says.

Louis smiles, lifting Harry’s hand and nuzzling his cheek against the back of it. “How did I get you?” He sighs happily, kissing Harry’s knuckles lightly.

“You didn’t teach your daughter not to talk to strangers,” Harry giggles, squeezing Louis’s hand.

Louis sticks his tongue out at him, rolling his eyes. He feels so much better, knowing how this is all going to work.

“So shall we dig in, then?” Harry hums, reaching for the knife to cut into the chicken.

“Um,” Louis winces, looking up at Harry. “Would you kill me if I said I’m not really that hungry right now?”

Harry stares at him for a moment, slowly putting the knife back down. “I won’t kill you, but I may severely injure you,” he murmurs.

Louis laughs, reaching over to snatch the knife away, just in case. “Sorry. I’m just- lost my appetite, I guess,” he mutters.

“No, don’t worry,” Harry assures, getting up and bringing the chicken over the fridge. Louis gets up to follow him, hugging him from behind.

“Sorry,” he says again, mumbling into Harry’s shoulder blade.

“Shh,” Harry hums, turning around to give him a cuddle. “Do you wanna go watch a movie?”

“Yeah,” Louis says, letting Harry take his hand and lead him to the couch.

Harry sits first and pulls Louis down beside him, gently manhandling him until Louis is laying on the couch, head pillowed on Harry’s thighs. He smiles as he looks over at the telly, Harry’s hand resting on his chest while he flips through the movie section on Netflix.

He takes ages picking a movie, but Louis doesn’t mind. He turns to watch Harry’s face, instead, smiling at the concentrated furrow of his eyebrows. Louis can see clear up his nose at this angle but somehow he’s still breathtakingly beautiful, his jawline sharp and his lips full and pink.

Louis can’t help but reach up for him, pulling him down to kiss him. Harry makes a quiet sound of protest but doesn’t pull away, even though he’s folded in half with his face essentially in his own lap.

They shift without breaking apart, Harry laying down on his back with Louis on top of him. Louis leads the kiss, licking experimentally into Harry’s mouth, while Harry’s hands smooth down his back to rest on his hips, just above the curve of his arse.

He thinks about reaching back and moving Harry’s hands down, letting him touch, but he doesn’t want to give Harry the wrong idea. He’s not in the market for anything more than kissing right now and he’s not sure if he’s entirely comfortable with the idea of another man’s hands on his arse yet but he’s working on it, cupping Harry’s cheeks and kissing him harder.

Harry, to his credit, remains entirely cool. He keeps his hands in safe territory and doesn’t try to push Louis along at all, even when he knots a hand in Louis’s hair and pulls him to the side, kissing down his neck instead to give them both a breather.

Louis picks a movie while Harry kisses at his jaw, chewing on his lip so he won’t moan, or something. Harry has been making these little noises the whole time but Louis is too shy, still, has too many walls up to let Harry see him like that yet.

He settles on some stupid rom com that he remembers seeing adverts for months ago, pressing play and then meeting Harry’s lips again with his own. Harry kisses him back happily, fingers pressing divots into his hips.

It’s not like Louis has never had a good kiss in his life. He’s had his fair share of mind blowingly hot makeout sessions, has rarely walked away unsatisfied. This, though, is so exponentially better than anything he’s ever done, better even than some of the sex he’s had over the years. Amy was good, amazing, even, and Louis loved every little bit of her, but when Harry takes him by the hips and pulls him closer and puts him where he wants him, shit, it’s better than anything Louis could imagine.

Neither of them are completely unaffected, Louis knows. He can feel Harry under his thigh, and he can tell that he’s perked up a bit in his own pants, as well. The fact that Harry isn’t taking advantage of that right now makes Louis trust him so, so much, enough that it doesn’t even make him want to freak out that another man’s hard dick is literally pressing against his leg.

They kiss until Louis has to pull away to yawn, tucking his head under Harry’s jaw. Harry chuckles, stroking his hair, making Louis smile against his collarbone.

“Like a little kitten, you are,” Harry comments. His voice sounds rough, probably a mixture of exhaustion and the hour he just spent with his tongue in Louis’s mouth.

“Oi, I’m not a kitten,” Louis argues sleepily. “Like a lion. Roar,” he murmurs.

“Right,” Harry giggles, scratching at his scalp. “My little lion.”

“M’not little,” Louis presses.

“You’re tiny,” Harry muses, fitting his hands around Louis’s waist. “Look at you.”

With his thumbs hooked around either side of Louis’s ribcage, Harry’s middle fingers can touch at Louis’s spine. Louis growls quietly, nipping at Harry’s neck.

“Shh, little lion boy,” Harry soothes, still chuckling softly. “You’re tired, aren’t you?”

“Not at all,” Louis yawns, nuzzling his face into Harry’s chest.

“Right,” Harry hums, rubbing his back gently. He massages a few of the knots in Louis’s back and Louis melts like ice, fast asleep within ten minutes.

He doesn’t wake up until Harry starts shifting under him. The telly is off, the living room dark and quiet, and Louis pretends to still be asleep as Harry finally gets out from under him, waiting to see what he’ll do.

Harry scoops him up into his arms, cradling him against his chest and carrying him quietly down the hallway. He lays him down on his bed and carefully strips the socks off his feet, tossing them into the hamper and then maneuvering Louis’s body under the covers. He’s so gentle about it, touching Louis like he’s made of glass, it’s everything Louis can do to keep from smiling.

He peeks one eye open when he feels Harry walk away, wanting to watch what he’ll do next. He goes snooping through Louis’s dresser and comes back with a pair of sweats and an old t-shirt, changing out of his jeans and pulling on Louis’s clothes, instead. It makes Louis feel warm inside, for some reason, seeing Harry in his clothes.

He shuts his eye when Harry comes back over to the bed, hearing him hesitate. He knows he told Harry earlier that he wanted someone to cuddle him at night, but he doesn’t know if Harry knows that that starts now. He hears Harry huff frustratedly, and cracks his eyes open to see Harry frowning at the bed.

“I hope this is the right thing,” Harry breathes, sighing as he climbs into bed on the opposite side. He stays far enough away from Louis that they don’t touch at all, and Louis is pleased by the fact that Harry is giving him the option to choose.

He rolls right over into Harry’s side, cuddling up to his chest. Harry looks startled when Louis looks up at him, but Louis just smiles. “This was the right thing,” he whispers, kissing Harry’s chest through his shirt and putting his head down.

Harry laughs and wraps him up in his arms, holding him close. “Goodnight, Louis,” he whispers, kissing the top of his head.

“Night, Harry,” Louis whispers back, falling back to sleep with a smile on his face.

It’s the first time in a while that Louis hasn’t fallen asleep feeling cold and lonely, but it feels a hell of a lot nicer than he remembers it.

-

Louis wakes up with two heads on his chest, two dead arms, and a mouthful of curly hair. When he opens his eyes, he finds Harry cuddled up to his left side, and Bridget cuddled up to his right. He smiles when he sees that Bridget’s eyes are wide open, watching Harry sleep.

She glances up at Louis after a moment, startling when she finds him looking back. She grins almost immediately, propping her sharp little chin up on Louis’s chest and smirking at him.

“Good morning,” Louis chuckles, reaching up to smooth her mess of curly hair away from her face.

“Good morning,” she says, looking cheery. “This is how you and mummy used to sleep.”

Louis blinks, looking down at Harry. Harry has a leg thrown over Louis’s and an arm snaked around his waist. It’s so similar to how Amy used to cuddle that it makes Louis’s heart hurt. “Yeah, I guess it is, isn’t it?”

“I saw you dancing last night,” she says, drawing his attention away from Harry.

“Yeah,” Louis chuckles, blushing a bit at the way she’s smirking.

“You looked happy,” she says, seeming delighted about it.

“Yeah,” Louis says again, a bit softer this time.

Bridget pushes up onto her elbows, getting closer to his face. “Keep him,” she breathes. She desperately needs to brush her teeth. “We need him.”

“You’re literally five years old,” Louis tells her, pushing her back by her face. “Why are you so wise?”

Bridget giggles, batting his hand away. “Do you love him?” She asks.

Louis blinks again, his heart skipping. “What?”

“Do you love Harry?” She asks again, like it’s the easiest thing in the world.

“Bridge, it’s a lot more complicated than that,” he sighs, glancing over at Harry. He looks so fucking cute, face smushed into Louis’s chest.

“Daddy,” she says, deadpan. “Do you love him, or not?”

“Well-” Louis huffs, watching Harry’s eyelids flutter a bit. “I don’t know yet.”

“Well when will you know?” Bridget demands, frowning at him.

“It literally doesn’t work like that, Bridge,” Louis laughs, poking at her cheek.

“Please fall in love with him,” Bridget says, completely serious. “Please, daddy.”

“Bridge-”

“No offense, daddy,” Bridget cuts him off, sighing softly, “but you’re a mess when he’s not here. I know you think I don’t know anything because I’m little but I know what you were like with mummy, and I know what you were like without her, and now I know what you’re like with Harry. I never ever want to know you without him, daddy,” she says, lip wobbling a bit. “Please, please don’t let him go.”

Louis blinks, lips parting in surprise. He can’t believe how attentive she is, how perceptive. She’s so fucking brilliant, Louis doesn’t know where she came from.

Bridget sighs and looks over at Harry again, leaning over to kiss the bridge of his nose. Harry’s face scrunches up and he exhales, and Bridget smiles softly at him. “I’ll be in my room,” she says, pushing herself up off of Louis’s chest and sitting back on her haunches. “Tell Harry to make pancakes when he wakes up, and then come get me, please,” she requests, jumping down off the bed and scampering back to her room. She closes the door behind herself, and Louis shakes his head at the ceiling. God, he loves her so much.

He looks down at Harry again, brushing a piece of hair out of his face. Harry snuffles and makes the cutest little sleep sound Louis has ever heard, half grunt and half whimper, nuzzling his nose against Louis’s chest. He settles down again after a moment and snores quite loudly, making Louis laugh.

Louis pulls him a little closer, holding him with both arms. He’s not quite sure when they switched positions during the night but when Harry rolls over, mostly on top of him, and snores into his collarbone, Louis feels nothing but absolute joy.

It takes Harry another half hour to wake up, and it’s just about the cutest process Louis has ever seen. He yawns the biggest yawn and whines a little, pressing his nose into Louis’s pec. He breathes very slowly for a moment, and then finally blinks his eyes open.

It takes his eyes a moment to focus and then he picks his head up, squinting up at Louis. Louis grins so hard his eyes squint nearly shut, scratching at Harry’s head.

“Good morning, sunshine,” he sings, smiling as Harry rubs at his eyes.

“Morning,” Harry rasps, his voice deep and rough. Louis shivers a little. “How are you feeling?” He asks, watching his face carefully.

Louis considers for a moment, eyes flickering down to Harry’s lips. He leans in to kiss him instead of answering, feeling Harry smile against his lips.

Harry breaks away from the kiss to yawn, pressing his face into Louis’s chest again.

“Oi,” Louis frowns, tugging at Harry’s hair. “Do my kisses put you to sleep?”

“No, of course not,” Harry giggles, looking up at him. “But that sounds like a lovely way to go down.”

Louis blushes, smiling when Harry nuzzles into his neck and yawns again. “Why don’t you sleep a few minutes longer, love,” he hums, running his fingers through his hair, “and I’ll go get started on breakfast?”

“Mmkay,” Harry hums, rolling off of Louis to let him get up. He rolls onto his stomach and Louis tucks him in, leaving him with a gentle kiss on his cheekbone and slipping out of the room.

He hums quietly to himself, dancing around the kitchen while he gets started on the pancakes. Harry joins him before Louis even finishes mixing the batter, shuffling up behind him and pressing his face into the back of his neck.

“I got cold,” he says, though he feels like a heater against Louis’s back. “Couldn’t sleep without you.”

“We’ve been on one date, and you’re already helpless without me,” Louis teases.

“Can’t help it, now that I have you I’ll never let you go,” Harry murmurs.

Louis can’t help the way his heart soars, the way his grin splits his face in half. “Alright, weirdo. Why don’t you go get Bridget and tell her breakfast is almost ready?” He hums, glancing over his shoulder at him.

Harry makes a quiet sound of acknowledgement and shuffles off, making his way down the hall.

He comes back with Bridget in tow a few minutes later, just as Louis is finishing the pancakes. Bridget takes her plate skeptically, looking up at Louis with narrowed eyes.

“I thought I told you to have Harry make the pancakes?” She says, looking wearily at her lopsided, slightly overcooked pancake.

“Oi, then you try to get him out of bed next time,” Louis says, pretending to swat her with his spatula. She giggles and darts away, going to her seat at the table. “He sleeps like a log, this one,” Louis nods in Harry’s direction, rolling his eyes.

Harry just looks amused, taking his plate from Louis with a smile. “They look delicious, love,” Harry tells him, kissing his cheek and leading him to the table.

“Don’t lie to him, Harry,” Bridget says, giving Harry a look.

“Listen, sassy,” Louis chuckles, pointing his fork at her. “One more comment and I’ll make you eat my pancakes every day for the rest of your life,” he threatens.

Bridget’s eyes widen and she shoves a bite in her mouth, putting on an obviously forced smile. “Tastes great, dad,” she mumbles, making a show of swallowing.

Harry is nearly in tears, giggling so hard he’s gone red. They’re both lucky Louis is so endeared by them, because if he wasn’t, they’d both be dead by now.

Louis grumbles incoherently to himself while he cuts into his pancake, until Harry reaches over and squeezes his knee. “They really are good, Lou,” he says, nodding when Louis looks up at him.

“Really?” Louis asks hopefully.

“No,” Harry winces. “But we can work on it.”

Louis growls and Bridget laughs loudly, setting Harry off again as well. Louis can’t help but smile, too, chuckling down at his ugly pancake. Breakfast seems to last ages, but it’s okay, because nobody stops smiling the whole way through.

-

The first few weeks of their relationship go beautifully. It’s like a natural extension of the relationship they’ve always had, except now there’s a lot more touching, and a lot more kissing when Bridget isn’t looking. Harry only sleeps over when he doesn’t have to work the following morning, claiming that he doesn’t want to wake Louis up when he has to get up at 4:00am. Those are the only nights that Louis feels lonely anymore, really, and even then he doesn’t know if he’s ever been this happy in his life.

It’s like Harry belongs in their little family, like he’s the piece that keeps everything moving along. Louis feels like without him here, they would have fallen apart a long time ago.

The empty void Louis’s had in his chest since the car accident is slowly healing, and it’s nothing like it was before, but it’s different in the most incredible way. Harry makes him happy without even doing anything, and he respects him so much, Louis doesn’t know what he would do without him. He’s still not entirely sure what he’s looking for and what he wants but knows that he needs Harry, that they both need each other.

It’s been a long day, rainy and rather cold. Both Harry and Bridget were irritable when Louis got home from work earlier, trapped in the house all day with nothing to do. Louis had managed to cheer them both up a bit with takeaway, and it was a cosy night in on the couch.

They stay up for a bit after they put Bridget to sleep, which has become a new nightly routine. Harry gives her a bath before Louis gets home and then Louis handles the tucking in, with the occasional song or two from Harry. Harry has been trying to get him to do a duet for weeks now but Louis keeps avoiding it, because Bridget doesn’t need to have nightmares about that.

Louis finds Harry on the couch once Bridget is asleep, flipping through the movie channels. He hums quietly when Louis sits down with him, but doesn’t melt into him like he usually does. He’s wound up so tight, Louis can tell, he hardly even reacts when Louis reaches over to rub at the back of his neck.

“Hey,” Louis hums, pulling him closer forcibly. It’s awkward because Harry is so much bigger, but when he finally settles between Louis’s legs with his head against his chest, it’s achingly nice. “You okay?”

“Yeah,” Harry mutters, nuzzling his cheek against Louis’s chest. “It was a long day,” he sighs.

“Was Bridget snippy? She gets like that with me sometimes, I can have a talk with her if you want,” he says, rubbing the heel of his hand over Harry’s spine.

“We both were snippy,” Harry admits. “Dunno, everything just felt off today,” he shrugs.

Louis frowns, moving his hand to play with Harry’s hair. “Wanna turn in early?” He suggests, giving Harry a small smile when he turns to look up at him.

“Yeah,” Harry says, pushing himself off of Louis and leading the way to the bedroom.

They change in a comfortable silence, rain still pelting against the windows as they climb into bed. Harry curls up mostly on top of Louis, head on his chest and his arm thrown over his waist. Louis pets at his hair for a bit, watching his face.

“I just,” Harry starts after a bit, sighing. “I don’t know.”

“What?” Louis hums, tugging Harry’s hair gently so he’ll face him.

“I don’t know,” Harry mutters again. “Bridget says things to me sometimes, and I just- I can’t figure her out,” he says.

“What kind of things?” Louis frowns.

“Like,” Harry shakes his head. “Like, she compares me to Amy, like, all the time. Everything I do, I feel like she’s watching me, evaluating me. I’ve told her before that I have nothing to do with her mum and that no matter what ends up happening between us, no one will ever actually replace her mum, but, I don’t think she gets it,” he admits.

Louis sighs, tilting his head back against his pillow. It’s Harry’s turn to watch him now, while Louis thinks of how on earth to reply to that.

“I think she just misses the family aspect, you know? We weren’t on our own for that long, just me and her, before you came into the picture. I don’t think she ever got completely used to being without two parent figures, she’s just trying to place you within the role that makes the most sense to her,” he reasons.

“Yeah, maybe,” Harry hums, putting his head back down. “Okay. Goodnight,” he whispers, kissing Louis’s chest gently.

Louis smiles at him, pulling the covers up a little higher over them both and settling in. Harry falls asleep quickly, and it takes Louis a bit longer, but eventually the rain still pouring down outside lulls him to sleep, as well.

-

It’s about two in the morning when Louis wakes up again. Bridget is crying, clawing at his arm, begging him to wake up, and Louis sits up so fast he nearly decapitates Harry.

“Hey,” he coos, pulling Bridget into his arms. “You’re alright.”

Harry sits up blearily beside him, looking dazed and confused. Louis smiles apologetically at him, but Harry looks more concerned with the sobbing child in his lap.

“D-daddy,” she wails, pressing her face into his chest. Her shaking hands are fisted in his t-shirt and Louis hugs her a little tighter, whispering in her ear until she calms down a bit.

“Did you have a bad dream, love?” He asks gently, looking down at her.

“There’s a monster under my bed,” she whispers, eyes wide.

Louis can’t help but smile a little, glancing over at Harry. “Don’t be silly. This is a monster-proof house, there’s no monsters under the bed,” he soothes.

“Yes there is, I saw him,” Bridget whimpers, looking out the door to her own bedroom.

“Would it make you feel better if I went and had a look?” Louis asks, making to get up.

“No!” She shrieks, clinging to him. “Don’t leave me.”

Louis holds her quickly, lest she start crying again. He looks over at Harry helplessly, and Harry smiles softly. “Here, I’ll go have a look, then,” he says, his voice unmistakably tired.

He rolls out of the bed and pads across the hall, reaching into Bridget’s room to flick the light on before he actually goes in. Louis smiles as he watches him drop to the floor, getting down on his belly to look under the bed.

Harry chuckles, sticking his arm under the bed to reach for something. Bridget makes a quiet sound of protest, shaking in Louis’s arms.

“All that I can see,” Harry says, sitting up and holding up Bridget’s favorite stuffed bear, “is this guy.”

Bridget nods, whimpering. “I know, I dropped him while I was sleeping. I went to reach for him and I saw eyes looking at me from behind him,” she explains.

Harry looks terrified suddenly, locking eyes with Louis. Louis opens his mouth to rationalize but Harry jumps up before he can, flicking off the lights and darting back to Louis’s room.

“Guys,” Louis laughs, wrapping an arm around Harry to pull him into the cuddle when he launches himself back into the bed. “There’s no monster under the bed, okay? Just like there’s no zombies in the drain, and there’s no witches behind the mirror,” he says. Bridget sighs but she seems appeased, nodding finally. Harry looks less than convinced, though, and Louis pinches the back of his arm.

“Tell me more about these witches behind the mirror,” he says, as they all settle down into bed.

“Harry,” Louis hisses, “not now.”

Bridget stays with them, sleeps right in between them. Louis holds her against his chest and Harry cuddles up to her back, slinging an arm over Louis’s hip to keep her caged in, safe.

She falls asleep gradually, checking every few seconds that Louis and Harry are both still there.

“Go to sleep, love, we’ve got you,” Harry assures her.

“Goodnight, Bridget,” Louis whispers.

“Okay,” Bridget mumbles, tucking her face under Louis’s chin. “Goodnight daddy, goodnight papa.”

Louis frowns at that, glancing up at Harry as Bridget finally dozes off. Harry’s face is scarlet, even in the dark, his jaw dropped like he can’t believe she said that.

“Papa?” Louis questions, quietly enough that he won’t wake Bridget again. “Where did she even learn that?”

“Um,” Harry breathes, staring down at Bridget’s sleeping face. “I may have told her some other names for ‘dad’ when she asked me the other day,” he admits.

“Oh my god,” Louis chuckles, looking down at her.

“She’s never called me it before, though, and I didn’t even think she would,” he says.

“She wants you to be her dad so badly,” Louis whispers, the smile fading from his face. He knew that, obviously, but it feels so much realer now.

“Yeah,” Harry mutters, reaching up to push a piece of Bridget’s hair behind her ear. “So do I, to be honest.”

Louis blinks, eyes falling to Harry’s chest. He knew how Bridget was feeling, but Harry’s opinion on the matter is brand new information.

Suddenly Louis feels like an idiot, like an absolute fool. Suddenly he’s the only one in the room that doesn’t have his own life figured out. Harry wants to marry him, apparently, and Louis isn’t even sure he wants to take his shirt off in front of him yet. Even his five year old daughter thinks that Harry is his soulmate.

Louis is the only one that’s still on the fence about all of this. He’s still not even really sure he’s ready to move on from Amy, he’s still so hurt from everything that happened, he doesn’t even want to think about letting Harry fill that void so completely so soon.

“Why are you so quiet?” Harry asks, his hushed voice startling Louis out of his own head.

“It’s the middle of the bloody night,” Louis says. He doesn’t want Harry to know that he’s speeding toward a breakdown, that all of these illusions he’s created to make everything seem okay are just illusions after all.

“Louis,” Harry says, voice deathly quiet. Louis can feel himself breaking.

“I don’t know, okay, it feels like everyone has my life figured out except me. Even my five year old daughter thinks she knows what’s best for me and I’m still just as lost and confused as I was the day after the car accident and I-”

“Lou,” Harry stops him, touching his face gently. Louis flinches. “Hey, you know you don’t have to want this,” he says.

Louis doesn’t say anything, sinks into the bed a little more. He feels like shit.

“Lou?” Harry whispers. Louis closes his eyes. “Do you want this?”

It takes a moment, but Harry waits. Fuck, why does he always wait? “I don’t know,” Louis breathes. “I don’t know what I want.”

Harry is silent for a long few moments, while Louis forces himself to keep breathing. Eventually he sniffles, pulling back carefully and sitting up.

“I think I’ll go, then,” he whispers, swinging his legs over the side of the bed.

“Hey, no,” Louis reaches for him, but he can’t quite reach. “You don’t have to go, why are you crying?” It feels like the whole world is crashing down around him, and he hates it.

“I don’t know,” Harry mutters. “I guess I just hoped that you weren’t still having doubts about me, seeing as how I’m in-” he stops himself with a sigh, shaking his head. “Nevermind.”

“What?” Louis asks, watching him shuffle toward the door. “You’re what?”

“Nothing,” Harry breathes. “I’ll be on the couch.”

He leaves without another word, shutting the door behind him. Louis buries his face in Bridget’s hair, suppressing the urge to scream.

He knows Harry says he doesn’t have to want this, but at the end of the day, he does. If he decides he doesn’t, he’s going to break Bridget’s heart, and Harry’s, and without Harry here, Louis might actually shrivel up and die. He needs him, he knows he does, but when he thinks of giving himself to Harry, all of him, like he knows Harry wants, he gets so scared he wants to scream. When he thinks of letting Harry touch him, of touching Harry, now that it’s so much more realistic and palpable, he’s terrified. He knows they can’t go on forever the way they are now but he’s so, so scared of moving forward, of what it means.

He should talk to Harry about that, probably, get all his fears off his chest so at least Harry knows where he stands. Harry is upset right now, though, Harry is hurt because Louis hurt him and Louis can’t, he can’t deal with that. He can’t leave Bridget alone, though, because if she wakes up and both of them are gone, she’ll absolutely lose her mind.

He cuddles her a little closer after a moment and closes his eyes, letting a few tears slip out into her hair. He can only hope to god that Harry is still there when he gets up in the morning, though, that he hasn’t decided he’s done enough waiting and finally moved on.

-

Bridget wakes him up in the morning, shouting that there’s an emergency. Louis’s blood runs cold before he even opens his eyes, and when he finally does, the panic in Bridget’s eyes makes his stomach drop.

He lets her drag him out of bed and to the kitchen, which is empty. He doesn’t see any screaming emergencies, until he spots a note on the worktop.

Harry isn’t on the couch, or in the bathroom or outside. His car is gone from the driveway and he left the clothes he borrowed from Louis folded up on the arm of the couch, and Louis realizes that this isn’t an emergency, it’s a tragedy.

He picks up the note and leans forward against the cupboard while he reads it, facing away from Bridget. She hasn’t said a word since she got him out of bed, and Louis thinks it’s because she knows.

I need to be alone for a bit. You need to make a decision, and it’s fine if you want to just stay friends, but I can’t do this anymore. I need to know how you feel about me. I’m sorry it came to this. -H

There’s no muffins attached to this note, no little hearts and smiley faces drawn at the bottom. Harry left because Louis drove him out, because Louis is too fucking stupid to even give him a straight answer.

“Daddy?” Bridget asks, her voice cautious. Louis looks at her over his shoulder. “Where did Harry go?”

Louis takes a deep breath, turning around fully. “Um, he went to his house for a bit,” he says.

The look on Bridget’s face tells him she knows everything she needs to know. She might not know the details, but she knows Louis fucked up. He can see it in her eyes. He feels three inches tall, like he’s a bug on the floor, like he’s just running around with no sense of direction trying not to get stepped on.

Bridget walks over to him and grabs his hand, pressing a kiss to his palm. “Please don’t let him leave us,” she whispers. She looks so fucking sad, Louis wishes someone would step on him.

“I’ll try,” he tells her, probably the only thing he’s sure of right now.

Bridget squeezes his finger and then turns around, going back to her room. Louis waits until he hears the door close and grabs his phone off the worktop, sliding down the cupboard doors until he’s on his arse on the wood floor.

He tries to call Harry, but the phone cuts out after only two rings. He thumps his head back hard against the cupboard door and whimpers pitifully, repeating until his phone buzzes once in his hand.

Harry: Did you get my note?

To Harry: yeah can we please talk

Harry: Am I going to like what you have to tell me?

To Harry: i’m not sure honestly.

Harry doesn’t respond after that, and Louis figures the least he can do is give him the space he asked for. He puts his phone away and picks himself up off the floor, deciding to make some French toast for breakfast to try and cheer both himself and Bridget up a bit.

They eat in relative silence, both of them avoiding the other’s eyes. Louis wants to cry, shoving food in his mouth to keep him from saying something he’ll regret later.

“Did I do something wrong?” Bridget asks finally, dropping her fork. She looks as close to tears as Louis feels.

“What?” Louis asks, putting his own fork down at well. “Of course not, why would you think that?”

Bridget shrugs, sniffling quietly. “Harry left, and you’re sad. Is it my fault? Did I mess it up?”

“Honey, no,” Louis assures, rounding the table and kneeling next to her chair, hugging her close. “What happened isn’t your fault at all, okay? It’s mine,” he says.

“What did you do?” Bridget asks. She doesn’t sound angry, even though Louis thinks maybe she should be.

“I made Harry sad by accident,” he says, after a moment. “I made him feel bad, but I didn’t mean to, and I’m going to make it better,” he promises.

“Okay,” Bridget sighs, hugging him back.

She goes back to her room to play while Louis clears away the dishes. He keeps eyeing his phone, pleading with it to light up, to tell him that Harry texted back. It doesn’t, though, until Louis makes the decision to try calling again, and finally Harry responds to his text.

Harry: I’ll be there tomorrow to watch Bridget. We can talk when you get home from work.

Louis whimpers out loud. He can’t wait that long, he can’t sit on top of this all day at work. He needs to get this off his chest now if he’s going to do it, and he needs Harry to let him.

To Harry: please i don’t want to wait that long

Harry: Well I do.

Louis flinches at Harry’s immediate response, but it almost makes him feel better. This is the first time since Louis met him that Harry has stood up for himself, has pushed for what he wants instead of just blindly accepting whatever Louis says. It’s good that Harry can be assertive, Louis thinks, even if it makes him want to go crawl back in bed and cry for the rest of the day.

-

It’s raining again the next morning, which makes everyone in the Tomlinson household a bit cranky. Louis is on edge, dreading the work day, nervous as hell for the conversation he has to have when he comes home. Bridget is feeding off of his anxiety, stomping around and crying when Louis says he doesn’t have enough time to make her waffles for breakfast.

This is what they’re like without Harry, Louis realizes. They’re falling apart, and it hasn’t even been a full day.

Harry shows up looking tired and annoyed, hair pulled up into a bun, wearing a loose fitting t-shirt and a ratty old pair of jeans. Louis wants to curl up in bed with him and cuddle all day, but that’s not even the slightest bit realistic.

“Hi,” he says, letting Harry in with a small, forced smile. He hesitates but leans up to kiss Harry hello. Harry turns his face, giving him his cheek instead, and Louis pulls away feeling like Harry just slapped him.

Harry can obviously see how hurt he is, but sympathy only flashes in his eyes. Louis steps aside to let him pass, trying to hide the way he’s biting his cheek to keep himself in check.

“So, um, B’s in my bed right now having a strop. It might do you well to make her some waffles, she’s in a mood. Obviously it’s raining, but please don’t let her watch too much television, I’m afraid her brain is going to rot out of her head,” he says, collecting his stuff.

“Got it,” Harry hums, looking through him.

“Listen,” Louis says, quietly. “I’m sorry that-”

“Louis, not right now,” Harry bites, finally meeting his eyes. “Just, go to work.”

“I just want to say that I’m-”

“Louis,” Harry cuts him off, a bit louder this time. “Please just go. I don’t even want to be here in the first place, you’re just making this harder.”

Louis frowns, shaking his head. “Listen, I know that you’re pissed at me right now but don’t you fucking dare take this out on Bridget. She has nothing to do with this, so get rid of that attitude and put on a smile for her, at least,” he spits.

Harry deflates a bit, looking over his shoulder toward the hall, where Bridget is hiding out in Louis’s room. “I know. Sorry,” he mumbles.

“I’ll be home at five,” he says, shrugging his jacket on. They lock eyes for a second and Louis thinks, fuck it, leaning in for another kiss. Harry turns away fully this time and Louis whimpers audibly, clenching his hand into a fist.

He slips out the door without another word, rushing down the driveway to his car. He slams the door behind himself and screams, just puts his head down on the steering wheel and screams until his chest doesn’t feel so tight, until the tears in his eyes have retreated.

He drives to work on another planet, forcing everything out of his mind that doesn’t have to do with his job. He can’t do this today, can’t pretend like everything is alright, because it isn’t. If it doesn’t exist to him, though, he might just be able to push through.

-

His day absolutely sucks. He spills an entire cup of coffee on the carpet in his office and then hits his head on the underside of his desk while he’s trying to clean it up, and this is all before 10:00am. By noon the light in his office has died and it takes maintenance almost another hour to come fix it, and Louis can’t see shit by the dim light of the gloomy sky. He’s an hour behind on his work by the time the light gets fixed, which means he has to skip lunch to get it all done if he wants to get home on time.

He gets called to a meeting around 2:00 that eats up an hour and a half of his day, and the first quarter of an hour of it is just sitting around waiting for his boss to show up. He’s in such a bad mood by the end of it that he doesn’t watch where he’s going on his way back to his office, accidentally knocking over a squeaky little intern who had her hands full of bottles of water for the higher ups.

After he helps her pick up all of the bottles and sends her on her way, he locks himself in his office until 5:00 comes. He doesn’t answer his phone when it rings and he pretends he doesn’t hear anyone knocking on his door, and when the clock finally strikes 5, he just about runs.

The button on his keys to unlock the car doesn’t work for some reason, suddenly, so by the time he gets his door unlocked and gets inside, he’s absolutely drenched. The air con comes on full blast when the car turns on and he shivers the whole way home, even with the heat all the way up. He’s considering just telling Harry to go home when he finally gets inside, he’s so stressed.

When he opens the door, though, Bridget comes barreling toward him from the couch, where she and Harry were watching a film. Louis shrugs off his jacket and hugs her, already feeling some of the day’s stress evaporate.

“Hi, baby,” he hums into her neck, holding her for much longer than he probably should. He needs the comfort, though, needs the strength to tackle this last obstacle.

“Hi, daddy,” she says back, hugging him a little tighter. “Please make Harry feel better,” she whispers in his ear. “He’s been so sad all day. His cuddles were awful and every time I asked to play a game he just shrugged and he was so boring, please fix it.”

Louis sighs a bit and pulls back, looking down at Bridget. She gives him a serious look and then runs off to her room, shutting the door behind her.

Harry looks as soft and cuddly now as he did this morning, curled up on the couch. Louis looks at him and sighs again, kicking off his shoes and running a hand through his hair. Harry looks away when Louis meets his eyes, and Louis trudges to the couch feeling like he’s walking to his death.

He sits down heavily, his pants still a bit damp against his legs. He leans his head back against the back of the couch and stares up at the ceiling for a moment, trying not to notice the way Harry shifts minutely away from him.

“What did you want to talk about, then?” Harry asks, sounding vaguely disinterested. Louis feels something snap inside him and he sits up, turning to face him.

“Look, I understand that you’re mad at me, okay? I get it. And I get why. And I know that it’s probably making you feel so much better watching me suffer right now but please- Can you please stop acting like you hate me for, like, two seconds because it’s going to make it so much fucking harder for me to tell you how I feel,” he says, getting a bit choked up toward the end.

Harry gives, finally, the ice melting out of his eyes. Maybe it’s not healthy, but Louis is so thankful at the moment that Harry is so careful with him, lets him have what he needs.

Louis sighs and folds his legs in front of himself, sitting sideways on the couch. He takes a shaky breath and Harry turns to face him, reaching out to take hold of his hand. That opens the floodgates and Louis squeezes his eyes shut, trying to organize his thoughts before they all come spilling out.

“I feel like I don’t have a choice,” he starts, looking down at the space between them. “I mean, obviously I do, and maybe it’s just that I’ve already made the choice without meaning to, but I feel like I have no other option than to keep you around. We need you, Bridget and I, and I- I mean, I’ve thought about this a lot, like, more than you could ever know and I’ve thought about it from every angle, and I don’t see how we could function in a world without you. I feel like I have no choice but to keep you because if you left I think we’d all be so, so hurt, all three of us. Because this, this thing- this isn’t just about us, this is about Bridget, too. You made a comment once, like, you can’t believe how much I have to think about when it comes to her. Whatever we end up doing needs to benefit her, as well, and I know that if I let you go it’s going to crush her, which would crush me even more than I already would be,” he says.

“Then don’t let me go,” Harry whispers, like it’s that simple.

“God, I’d hate to let you go,” Louis says, shaking his head. “But I’m so fucking scared. I’m not scared of being gay anymore, because that’s- I don’t even know, putting a name to it is the least of my worries. Being with you doesn’t feel like being gay, it feels like being in love,” he says, chuckling sadly.

Harry flinches, his eyes widening. He looks like he’s about to say something, so Louis cut him off before he can.

“Yeah, maybe I might be in love with you, a little. But when I think about all that being in love entails, when I think about giving myself to you… When I think about having the same life with you that I did with Amy, it fucking terrifies me. I’ve been shit at committment my whole life, and now that I’ve already loved and lost once, I’m fucking terrified to do it again.”

“Louis,” Harry breathes, trying to pull him closer. Louis resists, though, because there’s still a lot to be said and if Harry interrupts him now, he may never finish.

“I am so, so terrified of giving myself away like that again. And it’s not because I’m afraid you’ll die in a car crash, I know how unlikely that is. I’m just- I feel like I’m damaged, almost? Like, I’m so badly scarred from what happened with Amy I don’t know if I even want to try again, because I think about this beautiful life we could have together and I think about us and Bridget living happily ever after but that doesn’t happen, Harry, this is real life and what happens if my happily ever after gets fucked again? What do we do then?”

“You can’t think like that, Lou,” Harry says. “I know how scared you must be but if you keep thinking like that, you’ll never let anything good happen ever again,” he reasons.

Louis remembers telling Bridget something similar when Amy died, and wonders why he can’t take his own advice.

“But it’s also, like- okay, maybe this isn’t something I should be focusing on, but, like, sex? When I think about having sex with you, it’s like- how does that even work? How does- like- and I’m just, like, I can’t even think, like, it’s so fucking scary to me to think about being touched like that by another man, I’ve literally never let myself think about it until I met you and now it’s like- god-”

“Louis,” Harry cuts him off, looking worried. “Please breathe, okay?”

Louis takes a deep, trembling breath, calming himself down just a bit. “It’s like, I love you, and I want to be intimate with you but the images I have in my head are so fucking scary, I don’t now. I love you, and I want to be with you, and I want you to be with us forever but I’m so scared, Harry, I’m so scared.”

“What are you scared of, though? Louis, I love you too, okay? I love you and I understand that you’re scared, but I promised you I’d be here no matter what, and if going slow is all you need then, Jesus, I’m here,” he assures.

“What if I’m not good enough?” Louis worries. “What if we finally get down to it and I’m finally able to give you everything and you decide I’m not what you want? It’s been about me all this time, but what if you change your mind?”

“Trust me,” Harry chuckles, pulling him closer finally. “I will never, ever change my mind about you.”

In the comfort of Harry’s arms, Louis can think a little clearer.

“So we can go slow? Like, we can keep the pace we’re at? You’re not going to give up on me?” He asks quietly.

“I’m never going to give up on you,” Harry assures. “Babe, I was only upset because I thought you still didn’t know how you felt about me. I’ll wait forever for you,” he hums.

“I know exactly how I feel about you,” Louis mumbles. “I’m just fucking terrified of it.”

“I wish you weren’t,” Harry frowns.

“Me too,” Louis sighs.

“What if-” Harry makes a quiet noise, like he’s thinking. “What if I took initiative more often?” He suggests.

Louis frowns, shifting to look up at him. “What do you mean?”

“Well,” Harry sighs, pursing his lips and organizing his thoughts. “Like, maybe I’ll start doing things I want to do, sometimes? Like, I’ll initiate kisses more, and I’ll ask for things sometimes, and maybe we can try getting a little closer in the bedroom? But, like, of course you can tell me stop before I’ve even started, if you want to. I never want to do anything you don’t want. But I feel like you’re so terrified of this stuff that you don’t even want to try it, and if we never try it, then this is never going to work out,” he admits.

Louis nods slowly, watching Harry’s face. “Okay, yeah, we could do that. That might work, actually,” he hums, sitting up a bit.

“Are you sure?” Harry says, shifting a little closer.

“Yes,” Louis smiles, watching Harry’s lips when he smiles too.

“So, if I kiss you right now, you’re not going to freak out?” Harry hums, inching closer.

“No,” Louis giggles, catching Harry’s face and letting him kiss him for a long moment.

“And,” Harry says against his lips, “if I touch you like this,” he slips his cold hand up under Louis’s shirt, laying it flat against his tummy, “are you going to be okay?”

Louis shivers, nipping gently at Harry’s lip. “Yes,” he says quietly, waiting for Harry to make the next move.

“And if I play with you like this,” Harry trails his words down Louis’s neck, sucking a bit at the base, “will you let me?”

Louis whimpers quietly, tipping his head back and letting his eyes slip closed. Harry seemingly won’t move on without consent, though, so Louis lets out a very breathy little, “yes.”

Harry grins against his skin, slipping his other hand up under Louis’s shirt and holding his hips while he kisses and sucks at his neck. Louis’s always been a sucker for this, but he’s careful of how vocal he is, conscious of Bridget just down the hall.

He pulls his hands out from under Louis’s shirt after a moment, bringing them up to play with his top button. “And maybe if I start to undress you, like this,” he murmurs, popping the button open.

Louis lets him do two buttons before his breathing starts getting ragged, anxiety tensing his muscles. Harry stops immediately, pulling his shirt closed and leaning in to kiss him thoroughly.

“It’s okay,” he murmurs against his lips, like he can tell Louis was building up to an apology. “It’s okay.”

Harry redoes the buttons he undid and Louis keeps kissing him for a moment, until he needs to pull away to breathe. “Sorry,” he mutters, even though Harry already told him it was okay.

“Don’t be,” Harry smiles, giving him a chaste kiss on the lips. “It’s okay to want to go slow.”

“But,” Louis shifts, smoothing out his shirt. “Like, what if I never want to?”

Harry purses his lips, watching Louis’s face for a moment. “Louis,” he says, leaning in a little. “Do you find me attractive?”

Louis looks him over, carefully laying a hand over Harry’s chest through his shirt. He nods, meeting his eyes again with a tiny smile.

“I’m not worried about it,” Harry winks, pulling Louis against his chest again.

Louis scoffs, rolling his eyes. “You’re awful,” he chuckles.

“I’m the best,” Harry argues, grinning.

“Alright,” Louis hums, sitting up and kissing him one last time. “I’m gonna go change. Why don’t you order some pizza or something, and maybe we can try again once Bridget’s asleep?” He offers.

“Deal,” Harry grins, reaching for his phone.

Louis smiles and turns away, walking to his bedroom with a smile stuck on his face. Bridget peeks her head out the door and raises her eyebrows at him and Louis winks, making Bridget grin as well.

Yeah, Louis thinks, maybe this will be okay.

-

Harry is a lot more touchy now that Louis has consented to it, and Louis isn’t sure if he loves it or hates it.

He takes every opportunity to get his hands on Louis’s body, kissing him extra hard when he gets home from work and letting his hands roam a lot more when it’s just the two of them. Louis knows what Harry wants, can tell that he’s trying to build up to it, but he’s still so fucking scared of it that it almost hurts to think about.

Harry has slept over every night this week, regardless of whether he has to work in the morning. He doesn’t try to push beyond what Louis can deal with but he’s obviously getting hungry for it, getting needy and greedy for what he can take.

Louis lets him go a little further each night, lets him try something new that Louis has never felt before. The farthest they’ve gotten, though, was on Wednesday, when Harry put his hands down Louis’s pants during a rather heated makeout session. Louis had absolutely lost his mind, locking himself in the bathroom and refusing to come out until Harry was nearly crying with guilt. Louis hadn’t looked him in the eyes for the rest of the night, and Harry learned to take things a bit slower.

It’s Friday now, though, and they’ve had a long, hard discussion about boundaries and rules and what exactly Harry is going to do. They’ve decided to try to go all the way tonight, or at least as far as Louis can handle, and they’ve spared no detail.

Louis’s parents came and took Bridget for the weekend earlier in the day, so Harry and Louis have the house to themselves for two whole nights. Harry took Louis out after work to shop for condoms and lube and everything they could possibly need, and Louis’s head is spinning by the time they get home.

“And like always,” Harry is saying, as he parks the car in the driveway, turning to face Louis. “You need to tell me as soon as you start to feel uncomfortable, yeah? If we’re going to do this, you need to trust me to do it right, and I need to trust you to tell me if I’m not,” he says carefully.

“I know,” Louis assures, reaching over to squeeze his hand. “I’ve had no trouble thus far telling you to stop, have I?” He smirks.

Harry chuckles lightly, leaning over to kiss his cheek. Louis grabs their plastic shopping bag and leads the way into the house, closing the door after Harry. He’s already shaking slightly, even though he knows they’re not going to do anything until later.

Harry can clearly sense how nervous he is, holding his hips and kissing him gently. “Why don’t you go take a shower, a very thorough shower,” he hums, winking at Louis as he takes the bag out of his hand, “and I’ll go start dinner?”

Louis nods, watching as Harry sets the bag down on the couch and makes to head off for the kitchen. Louis grabs his wrist and stops him, pulling him back.

“Wait,” he says, pulling Harry close enough that they’re aligned perfectly down their fronts. Harry leans down to rest his forehead against Louis’s, and Louis smiles as he lets his eyes fall closed. “Thank you for being so good about this. I know I’ve been a royal tit lately, so, thank you for being patient. I really do want this, I swear, I want you so bad. Thank you for not rushing me into it,” he says, peeking his eyes open to look at Harry’s face.

“Are you sure you don’t feel rushed?” Harry asks, running his hands down the length of Louis’s arms. “Because sometimes I feel like I’m pushing too far and, like, when you freaked out the other day-”

“Hazza,” Louis interrupts, smiling softly. It’s a new nickname that he only discovered the other day, and he finds he likes it quite a lot. “Stop, you’re perfect. I only freaked out because I wasn’t expecting it. We’ve planned this night out to the second, practically, as long as you don’t pull any curveballs on me, we should be fine,” he hums.

Harry smiles at him, pecking his lips one, two, three times. “Okay. Now go shower, and when I say thoroughly, I mean, like, you really have to-”

“Harry,” Louis laughs, pushing him away gently. “I get it. Ew.”

Harry grins at him, sticking his tongue out before finally setting off for the kitchen. Louis watches him for a long moment before he heads to the bathroom, stripping off his clothes while the water heats up.

He takes his time in the shower, saving the awkward bit for last. He washes his hair and uses a bit of the conditioner Harry left here at some point, lathering up his body with Harry’s nice smelling soap and brushing his teeth under the warm spray of water, even though he’s about to go eat dinner, anyway.

When it finally gets down to the point where he can’t avoid it any longer, his entire body shudders. He’s fooled around in the past week with his fingers and his bum and everything but he’s never quite gotten all the way there, and what little he’s done hasn’t exactly been pleasant. He’s terrified that when Harry gets down there later Louis is going to hate it, and what are they going to do then?

They’d discussed that at length too, how topping works. Louis is definitely more terrified of being on the bottom so they decided to start with that, so that hopefully they can get Louis over his initial fear and the rest of it will be as fun as Harry makes it seem like it is. Louis’s had good sex in the past, or at least he thinks he has, but the way Harry describes it makes it sound like something Louis has never experienced before. He’s hoping that Harry will end up being right, but he’s still quite terrified.

He soaps up a finger and reaches behind himself, wincing as he rubs at his hole. It feels so strange, Louis has no idea how anyone could find that pleasurable. He grits his teeth and tries to push his finger inside, but he hardly gets past the tip, and it’s like his body won’t allow anymore.

He does the best he can and then shuts the water off, deciding to just hope for the best. He gets out and dries off, crossing the hall to his bedroom with just a towel wrapped around his waist.

Harry is just leaving as Louis goes to walk in, both of them jumping at the sight of the other. Louis smirks at the way Harry’s eyes sweep over his body, at the flush that colors his cheeks. Harry has seen slivers, of course, but Louis has never let him get the full image, and this is as close as he’s come yet.

“God,” Harry breathes, reaching out to touch, just a bit. “Louis, you’re so fucking pretty,” he whines quietly.

Louis giggles softly, extra flirty. “Not yet, Hazza,” he hums, batting Harry’s hand away and walking to his dresser.

He waits until Harry has left the room to drop his towel, quickly pulling on a pair of worn skinny jeans and a soft t-shirt. He puts a bit of product in his hair to make it extra soft and feathery, looking around to find any evidence of what Harry was doing in here. He put the box of condoms and the lube they bought earlier on Louis’s bedside table, and there’s a box of baby wipes on the other. Louis shudders at the thought of what they’ll need those for, finally making his way out to the kitchen.

There are candles lit on the table and on the worktop, in little clusters that make it look more like a seance than a romantic date. Louis laughs brightly at the scene, startling Harry where he’s bent over the stove.

“What’s funny?” Harry pouts, looking around the room. “It looks nice.”

“Of course it does, love,” Louis giggles, walking over to sniff one of the candles. “But I thought we were having a date, not trying to summon the ghost of,” he reads the candle label, “Black Currant Vanilla?”

“It’s nice!” Harry argues, sticking his tongue out at Louis. “Doesn’t it smell nice?”

“One, maybe,” Louis hums. “But,” he takes a moment to count the candles around the room, rolling his eyes, “ten candles might be a bit overkill.”

“Eleven, actually,” Harry says, moving aside a bit to reveal another candle beside the stove. “It’s relaxing. I know you’re nervous, so the smell of the candles will help you to relax,” he explains.

“Yeah, I’ll be really relaxed when I pass out,” Louis chuckles, but he can’t deny that the mention of it has brought his anxiety back tenfold. He still has all of dinner to get through and a film after that, but the reminder that Harry is thinking about this just as much as Louis is makes him feel a bit shaky in the knees.

“Lou,” Harry smiles, clearly able to see how tense Louis has become. He walks over to him, taking his hand and pulling him close. “It’s okay. We don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do, remember?”

“I want to,” Louis assures, pressing his face into Harry’s chest. “I’m just- nervous,” he mumbles.

“I know, love, but there’s nothing to be nervous about,” Harry tells him. “It’s just me and you. You trust me, don’t you?” He asks, pulling away to look at Louis.

“Of course,” Louis says immediately. “I know. I’ll be fine,” he says, assuring them both.

Harry smiles at him and ruffles his damp hair, before walking back over to the stove. Louis sits down at the table and blows out a few of the candles there, waving the smoke out of his face.

Harry sets a plate of pasta down in front of him, scowling when he sees that Louis has blown the candles out. Louis smiles sweetly at him when he sits down as well, and they’re quiet when they dig in.

It’s not a big fancy meal like Harry usually makes, but even his spaghetti and meatballs are amazing. Louis finds that his hands are shaking while he eats, staring down at his plate so maybe Harry won’t notice.

Harry bumps his foot with his own, making Louis glance up. He gives him a comforting smile and Louis tries to return it, but suddenly he’s flooded with nerves.

He knows it’s not that big of a deal, really, it’s just sex, but it feels like this is the defining moment for the rest of his life. If he doesn’t like it, Harry is going to be so upset, and not only will he be disappointed but he said it himself, this whole thing probably isn’t going to work out. He’s so terrified he’s going to mess it up, that he won’t be good enough, that Harry won’t him anymore-

“Louis,” Harry says, startling him out of his thoughts. “Okay?”

Louis blinks at him, shaking his head slowly. “What?”

“You look like you’re going to be sick,” Harry says carefully, watching him worriedly. “Are you really this nervous?”

“No,” Louis mutters, rubbing at his face. “No, we talked about this. I’m fine, I’m fine,” he assures, giving Harry a small smile.

Harry doesn’t look like he believes him, but he nods anyway. “Okay. Why don’t you go pick out a movie, yeah? And I’ll clean up,” he says, taking Louis’s half eaten plate of pasta away from him.

“Yeah,” Louis murmurs, getting up and walking to the couch. He needs to snap out of it, or else Harry is going to make him wait even longer to get down to it because he thinks Louis is too scared.

He settles down on the couch and props his feet up on the coffee table, opening his legs just a little. He bites at his lips to make them a bit pinker, hopefully more appealing, and tries to relax. He rests one hand over his own tummy and grabs the remote with the other, flicking through Netflix to find something that might help set the mood.

Harry joins him just as he’s settling on a film, one that sounds boring enough that they won’t be disinclined to ignore. Harry curls up into his side and Louis pulls him close, letting him cuddle in.

They’re quiet for about the first ten minutes of the film, Harry’s head resting on Louis’s chest. Louis completely forgets his anxiety, Harry’s warm body and his slow, even breathing completely calming him down.

He doesn’t think anything of it when Harry starts playing with the rip in the knee of his jeans, doesn’t do anything but smile slightly when Harry slips his finger inside to touch his skin. He doesn’t really pick up on it until Harry shifts to start kissing at his neck, taking his finger away from his kneecap and trailing his hand up the seam of his jeans.

Louis can’t help but react, letting out a breathy little sigh as Harry sucks a mark into his collarbone. His hand stops at the meaty part of Louis’s upper inner thigh, squeezing gently and making Louis twitch a bit.

He slides his hand up Harry’s spine to play with his hair, scratching at Harry’s scalp while Harry nips at his neck. Harry moans quietly against his skin and Louis shivers, the sound going straight to his crotch.

He’s not hard yet, not in the slightest. His nerves are back almost full force and it’s keeping him grounded, keeping him from getting lost in Harry’s warm touches. Harry’s finger scratches at the seam right over Louis’s cock, though, two layers of fabric away from touching, and Louis gasps loudly.

This is just about the time he freaked out last time, but he knows what’s coming now. Harry fits his hand over his dick through his jeans and palms him gently, drawing the quietest little whimper from the back of Louis’s throat.

For some reason, this already feels incredible. Louis isn’t even hard yet and he’s already enjoying himself, already ready to move on. Maybe it’s because he knows exactly what’s going to happen, or maybe it’s because he’s been waiting for this for days. Either way, though, his cock is starting to fatten up under Harry’s palm and he knows Harry can tell, can feel the way Harry smirks against his neck.

He pulls away and sits up a bit, keeping his hand firm over Louis’s crotch. Louis pushes his hips up a little, begging silently for more, and Harry grins at him.

“Okay?” He asks, starting to undo the button on Louis’s jeans. Louis nods quickly, pushing his hips again, all of his inhibitions gone. He can only think about the feeling, can’t even remember why he was so nervous, why he thought all of this meant so much.

Harry starts touching him through his pants, and through the thin cotton his hand is so much warmer and nicer. Louis whines, bucks his hips again, with a bit more force this time.

Harry watches his face while he makes his next move, fingers worming past Louis’s waistband and into his briefs. Louis watches until Harry’s face blocks his view, and their lips meet at the same moment Harry’s hand wraps around his dick.

Louis groans into Harry’s mouth, thrusting up into his hand. Harry makes him work for it, just a little, holding his hand still and letting Louis do the work. Louis nips at his lips and reaches out to hold him, clawing at his back through his t-shirt and dragging him in closer.

It’s so good, everything sex should be, and it’s hardly anything yet. Harry makes it feel so much more exciting, and he’s not even bloody doing anything. Louis might be losing his mind.

“Lou,” Harry rasps, pulling away from the kiss. Louis’s hips slow a bit, and Harry strokes him a few times to keep up the pace. “Can I suck you?”

Louis’s mind goes a bit staticky, his lips parting in surprise. This wasn’t part of the plans, but Harry looks desperate for it, his lips wet and swollen and begging to be wrapped around Louis’s cock.

His silence must give Harry the wrong idea, because a moment later Harry nods. “That’s okay,” he whispers, giving him a little smile. “We don’t have to-”

“No,” Louis interrupts, whimpers a little. “Please. Yeah, please, now,” he says, bucking up into Harry’s hand again.

“Yeah?” Harry asks, eyes lighting up like Louis has just given him the best gift. “You’re sure?”

“God, Harry, yes,” he whines, dropping his head back. “Want it, please.”

Harry drops to his knees in front of the couch so fast Louis is almost worried for him, but when he sees how eager Harry looks, his cock dribbles a little and he drops his head back again.

Harry tugs his jeans down a bit more, getting the tops of his thighs out. Louis tries to ignore the fact that his bare arse is out on his fairly new sofa and breathes deeply, peeking his eyes open to see why his cock isn’t in Harry’s mouth yet.

Harry looks awestruck, staring at him. Louis feels himself flush, and Harry grins at him. “You’re so fucking beautiful, Lou,” he breathes out, running his hands up his thighs and spreading them as wide as he can.

Louis goes silent when Harry finally swallows him down, all the breath stolen from his lungs. Harry bobs his head a few times, getting used to it, but then he hollows his cheeks and sucks, and Louis’s entire body trembles.

“Fucking hell, Harry,” he moans, reaching down to get a hold on his hair. He doesn’t push, doesn’t guide him in the least, just lets Harry do his thing and encourages him with desperate moans and gentle tugs on his curls.

Harry moans around him every time Louis pulls, and it’s so fucking hot Louis doesn’t know what to do with himself. He wants to know how Harry got so good at blowjobs, because Louis has had a fair few in his time, but this is better than every girl he’s ever had, combined.

Harry holds the base of his cock with one hand and reaches down between his own legs with the other, moaning a little harder around Louis’s dick. Louis just about sees stars, his tummy tightening rapidly.

“Harry,” he pants, letting go of Harry’s hair to dig his nails into his own thigh. “I’m- I’m gonna-”

Harry pulls off to breathe quickly, staring up into Louis’s eyes when he swallows him back down. They’re so green, so watery, so unwavering as he lets Louis’s cock nudge the back of his throat, and Louis is gone.

He throws his head back and shouts as he comes, reaching up to pull at his own hair just for something to do. Harry swallows it all without difficulty and keeps sucking, licking incessantly at Louis’s cock while he jerks himself faster.

Louis picks his head up to watch, as Harry finally pulls off, panting hard. He lays his head down on Louis’s thigh and whines, squeezing his eyes shut. Louis reaches out to play with his hair again and Harry gasps, his entire body tensing up for just a second before he releases, letting out the deepest moan Louis has ever heard and turning his head to bite at Louis’s inner thigh.

Louis yelps but Harry doesn’t seem to care, or even notice, working himself furiously through his orgasm. Fucking hell, Harry just had an orgasm on the floor between Louis’s legs, and Louis’s only reaction is to feel a bit upset because he couldn’t see that well.

Harry lets out a breathless little chuckle, sitting up and looking up at Louis. Louis grins at him, completely boneless, and Harry’s eyes crinkle with delight.

He gets up off the floor and sits back down next to Louis, while Louis struggles to get his jeans back up. Harry reaches for a tissue on the coffee table to clean his hand off, but Louis stops him hesitantly.

“Wait,” he says, voice quiet and tired. “Um, can I…?”

“Can you?” Harry frowns, glancing down at his hand. His face softens a bit when he realizes and he looks back up at Louis, smiling slightly. “Are you asking to taste?”

“I’ve never,” Louis says, blushing deeply. “Like, I don’t know what it-”

“Hey, it’s okay,” Harry hums, leaning in to kiss his lips gently. “It’s not exactly very good, but feel free,” he says, offering his hand to Louis.

Louis takes his wrist and examines his hand for a moment, counting himself down. He goes for Harry’s thumb, where there’s a little bead of come dripping down, sucking it into his mouth and licking it off.

His face crumples immediately and he shakes his head, pushing Harry’s hand away while Harry laughs. “Ew,” he complains, scrunching up his nose while Harry wipes the rest of his hand off on a tissue.

“Told you,” he chuckles, getting up to toss the tissue out in the kitchen bin before he comes back to the couch.

“I can’t believe people enjoy that,” he says, pulling Harry back into his side. Harry giggles, wrapping his arms around him and tangling their legs.

“It’s an acquired taste,” he shrugs, looking up at Louis.

“Spunk is not a fine wine, Harold,” Louis says, horrified.

“Shut up,” Harry laughs, slapping his chest lightly. “This is the weirdest conversation I’ve ever had.”

Louis smiles, leaning down to drop a kiss into Harry’s hair. Harry squirms happily in his arms, nuzzling his face into his chest.

They make it through about another fifteen minutes of the movie before Louis gets bored, laying Harry out on the couch and placing himself right on top of him. They make out for the rest of the film, until Harry is hard and whining underneath him and Netflix has returned to the browsing screen.

“Bedroom?” Harry murmurs, breaking away from Louis’s lips and looking up at him. “Please?”

Louis blinks at him, nodding slowly. The nerves are back, the ones that make his stomach turn and his knees weak, and Harry seems to sense it immediately.

“I’m fine,” Louis says, before Harry can worry out loud. “I’m fine.”

They roll off the couch and Louis leads the way to the bedroom, wringing his hands together. Harry takes him by the hips and kisses him again, slipping his hands up the back of his shirt and pressing their bodies together as he kisses Louis hard.

Harry backs him to the bed, laying him down so, so gently. Louis goes easily, allowing Harry to climb right up on top of him, not breaking the kiss for a second. Harry straddles his hips and Louis touches him everywhere, to Harry’s delight.

When they finally pull away to breathe, Harry looks so ruined Louis wants to cry. His hair is an absolute mess and his eyes are wild, lips puffy and pink and probably about as tender as Louis’s are. Louis has never found so much pleasure in kissing someone before.

“Can I take your clothes off?” Harry asks, sounding breathless. Louis’s breath hitches and he nods, trying not to go rigid when Harry rucks his t-shirt up. “Relax,” he breathes, kissing at Louis’s chest while he pushes the shirt up and over his head.

Louis hardly feels naked once his shirt is on the ground, as Harry immediately covers his body with his own. He kisses all over Louis’s chest, his nipples, his collarbones, his shoulders, and then down his arms, the palms of his hands and the tip of each finger. Louis is giggling by the time he’s done, watching Harry press tickling little kisses down his tummy.

“You’re so beautiful,” Harry tells him, working to get his jeans open again. “Every bit of you. How fucking lucky am I?” he mutters, kissing at the skin just above the base of Louis’s half hard cock.

Louis closes his eyes while Harry gets his pants off, tilting his head back against his pillow. Harry kisses from his ankle up to his inner thigh and then gives his other leg the same treatment, murmuring constant praise and affection into Louis’s skin. Louis feels like he’s glowing, like every one of Harry’s kisses is making him lighter and lighter until he just might float away.

Harry works his way back up his body until he finds his lips, kissing him thoroughly. Louis holds the back of his hair and kisses him like he never wants to stop, like he never wants Harry to leave him alone.

Harry sits up after a minute to get his own clothes off, tossing his shirt across the room and awkwardly wiggling out of his jeans. Louis stares at every inch of his skin as it’s presented to him, amazed at how beautiful he really is.

Harry straddles his hips again once he’s in just his briefs and Louis reaches out to touch, starting with the butterfly on his stomach. He wants to ask, but he doesn’t think he can produce words at the moment, just letting his fingertips trail over every bit of Harry that he can reach.

He’s tanned and muscular and so fucking pretty, his hair hanging in his eyes as he watches Louis’s face. Louis is in awe of his strong, meaty thighs, his squishy little hips, his narrow waist. He feels like he could spend hours just looking, can’t believe he let himself go so long without having this.

Harry’s smiling down at him when he finally looks up at his face, looking a mixture of self satisfied and fond. “Like what you see?” He grins, reaching down to brush his knuckles over Louis’s cheek.

“Mhm,” Louis hums, running his hands up Harry’s stomach to his chest once more. “You’re incredible. Absolutely gorgeous,” he says breathlessly.

Harry smiles a little harder, swooping down to kiss him again. Louis pulls him in by his shoulders and Harry moans softly into his mouth, grinding his hips gently against Louis’s.

The feeling is indescribable, Harry’s soft cotton briefs against Louis’s bare skin. He gasps into Harry’s mouth, cock fattening up a little more, and Harry builds up a steady rhythm.

It hits Louis then that Harry is going to fuck him in a matter of minutes, that the way he’s moving right now is the way he’s going to move when his cock is inside of Louis. It’s both so arousing and so terrifying that Louis actually whines, digging his nails into Harry’s back.

Harry doesn’t stop until Louis is squirming, until he’s so hard he’s leaking all over his tummy and he’s whimpering almost constantly into Harry’s mouth. He finally pulls back and sits up again, leaning over Louis to reach for the lube.

Louis tenses up immediately, as Harry shuffles off of him and sits between his legs. Harry rubs his stomach gently and shushes him soothingly, letting Louis grab his hand and squeeze his fingers.

“Just relax, Louis,” he says calmly, spreading Louis’s quivering legs. “It’s not going to feel good unless you let it,” he says.

Louis nods, taking a deep breath and trying to unclench his muscles. He hears the snick of the bottle opening and then he feels Harry set it down on the bed beside his hip, and then he feels the cool wetness of Harry’s fingers at his hole, prodding at his most sensitive place.

He clamps his legs closed immediately, trying to sit up. He’s on the verge of a meltdown, anxiety rising in his throat. Harry leans forward and kisses him calm, lays him back down, holds his hand until Louis isn’t shaking quite so badly.

“Do you want to stop?” He asks, pulling away just far enough to look at Louis’s face.

Louis hesitates, taking a deep breath. If they stop now, Louis knows they’ll never get going again. “No,” he breathes, squeezing Harry’s hand. “No, I’m sorry. Try again,” he mumbles, spreading his legs.

“Are you sure?” Harry asks, looking worried. Louis hates it.

“Yes,” he nods, watching Harry’s lubed up fingers. “Do it.”

“Louis,” Harry mutters, shaking his head. “Babe.”

“Harry, please,” Louis grits out, closing his eyes and opening his legs wider. “Please just do it.”

Harry wipes his fingers off on the sheets, leaning over Louis’s body to cup his face. He looks so worried when Louis opens his eyes, it makes Louis’s heart hurt.

“Baby, you’re shaking like a leaf,” Harry says, looking a bit sad. “Why don’t we try again another day?”

“No,” Louis whines, surging up to kiss him. “I’m just, I- I need you closer. I can’t do this with you so far away from me, I need to-” he touches Harry’s body instead of clarifying, and Harry nods.

“Okay, we can do that,” he soothes, reaching for the lube again. He gets his fingers coated and then leans down to kiss Louis again, waiting until he’s practically melted into the bed to bring his fingers to his hole again.

Louis shivers dramatically, but he forces himself not to tense up. Harry rubs at his hole until it doesn’t feel so terribly weird anymore, and then slowly starts to push his finger in.

Louis breathes deeply, trying to keep his cool. He buries his face in Harry’s shoulder and Harry whispers gentle things into his ear, keeping him calm. He moves his finger so, so slowly, and it feels so strange inside of him, Louis is shaking with the effort it takes to not reach down and yank it out.

Harry goes for a second finger once he’s sure Louis is ready, and with two fingers instead of one, it starts to feel different. The stretch is weird and the intrusion is horrible but it’s less so than before, and Louis feels himself actually starting to relax.

It isn’t until Harry gets his third finger in that Louis really starts to lose it, moving his hips with the rhythm of Harry’s hand. It’s still awkward and strange and he isn’t sure he likes it until Harry crooks his fingers just so, and pleasure like Louis has never felt before shoots throughout his entire body.

“Oh,” he gasps, pushing his hips down. “Oh, do that again,” he breathes.

Harry smiles against his ear and rubs at the spot again, making Louis’s body stutter and a series of high pitched whines fall from his mouth. Harry really gets into it, then, working his fingers faster, brushing that spot inside of Louis every time he pulls his fingers out.

He doesn’t stop until Louis is nearly in tears, squirming around so much that Harry has to actually hold him down. He’s begging, pleading in Harry’s ear, scratching at his back and shoulders and aching for more.

More means Harry’s cock, though, more means finally getting everything he’s been so scared of. Harry pulls his fingers out and reaches for a condom and Louis forces himself to chill, reaching up to run his fingers through his hair.

“Ready, love?” Harry asks, hovering over his face.

Louis nods, staring up at his eyes and breathing out slowly against his lips. Harry nuzzles his nose comfortingly and then looks down, watching what he’s doing as he carefully presses into Louis’s hole.

It hurts, a lot. Louis grunts in real, actual pain, clawing at Harry’s back and whining pitifully. Harry kisses his lips and mumbles that he knows, that it’ll be better soon, and eventually, it is.

Harry bottoms out with a shaky sigh, touching Louis everywhere, pumping his cock slowly. Louis takes a long few minutes to calm down, let his body relax, let Harry fit inside his body.

It starts to feel good when Harry starts to move, drawing his hips back and pushing back in slowly. Louis whimpers quietly, grasping at the bed sheets, trying to gain control of what he’s feeling.

Harry builds up a careful rhythm, fucking into Louis in long, drawn out thrusts. It’s driving Louis crazy; it’s everything and not quite enough all at the same time.

“More,” he pleads, digging his heels into Harry’s back. Harry nips at his neck and fucks him a little harder, punching a few tiny grunts out of him.

It seems that every noise Louis makes spurs Harry on a little more, making him fuck into him harder and faster and more brutally by the second. Louis can hardly breathe, he feels so good, with Harry’s cock pounding that spot inside of him and sending fireworks exploding everywhere.

He’s nearly screaming with pleasure, Harry’s thrusts shifting him up the bed half a centimeter with every thrust. He might have tears in his eyes but they’re squeezed closed, feeling too much to see. Harry is talking to him, telling him how good he is and how happy he is that they’re finally doing this, and Louis thinks he’d be on the verge of orgasm even without Harry’s hand on his cock right now.

Harry thumbs at the head of his cock and Louis’s back arches off the bed, his jaw falling open in a silent scream as he comes, pulsing over Harry’s fist and his own stomach. Harry fucks him through it, getting more and more erratic as Louis clenches around him.

When he comes, it’s a full body experience. He tenses up and shouts into Louis’s ear, and Louis feels it warm and pulsing inside of him. It takes Harry a moment to pull himself together and pull out, sweaty and panting and looking absolutely wrecked.

Louis spreads himself out on the bed while Harry gets up, throwing away the condom and cleaning Louis’s tummy off with the baby wipes. Louis laughs at nothing, breath still coming hard, watching as Harry climbs back into bed.

He looks so good, all worn out and dazed. Louis can only imagine how he looks right now, but the smile on Harry’s face tells him he’s probably pretty much the same.

Harry tries to pull him close but Louis just rolls on top of him, kissing what little breath he has left right out of his lungs. Harry wraps his arms around him and slows him down, drawing out their movements until it’s just a lazy snog, neither of them putting too much effort into it.

They kiss until they’re both falling asleep, movements slowing to a stop. Louis pulls back an inch and smiles, nudging Harry’s nose with his own without even opening his eyes.

“I love you,” he whispers directly into Harry’s mouth, kissing him once more. Harry grins into it, pulling back to look up at him. Louis smiles back and Harry touches him everywhere, tickling his sides and his neck and making Louis shriek, rolling away laughing.

“I love you too, you know,” Harry says, rolling right into Louis’s side. Louis tangles their legs together, burying his face in Harry’s hair.

They fall asleep like that, sweaty skin sticking together. Louis’s never been so relieved in his life, because now he knows this boy is his, and nothing is ever going to change that.

-

Louis wakes up Saturday morning to breakfast in bed and a still mostly naked Harry cuddling up next to him with a tray full of waffles. Louis hums happily and goes to sit up, wincing suddenly at the pain in his behind.

“Jesus,” he mutters, leaning heavily into Harry’s side. Harry hums sympathetically, rubbing his arm. “Feels like I-”

“Lou,” Harry stops him, eyes wide. “As much as I love your similes, I think this is one I don’t need to hear,” he giggles.

“Yeah, you’re probably right,” Louis blushes, punching weakly at Harry’s arm. “But, fuck, man, you didn’t tell me it’d hurt so much the next day,” he says, whining quietly when he shifts to get a bit more comfortable.

“Sorry, love,” Harry smiles. “You liked it, though, yeah?”

“Yeah,” Louis says, tearing off a piece of waffle with his fingers, even though Harry put forks on the tray, and popping it in his mouth. “A lot. Way more than I thought I was going to.”

Harry looks pretty pleased with himself, cutting into his own waffle with utensils like a normal person. “So you’d be interested in trying more? Like, different things?” He asks hopefully, watching Louis’s face.

“It depends on what ‘different things’ we’re talking about,” he says, narrowing his eyes suspiciously at Harry. “Nothing too kinky, please.”

“How kinky is too kinky?” Harry asks, laughing at Louis’s horrified expression. “Don’t worry, I’m just kidding. We don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do,” he says, kissing the side of Louis’s head.

“But, seriously, what else can we try? Give me some options,” he says, munching on the waffle in his hand.

“Well,” Harry sighs, tipping his head back against the headboard. “You could top, or you could ride me, or I could ride you, and we can experiment with blowjobs, and rimming, if you want, and-”

“Wait,” Louis frowns, looking at his waffle. “What’s rimming? I’ve never heard of that,” he says.

Harry flushes, pursing his lips. “Well, it’s- it’s like, eating arse, I guess?” He stutters.

Louis nearly chokes, looking over at Harry. “Are you serious? Is that a real thing people do?” He asks, feeling himself blush about as deeply as Harry.

“Don’t knock it til you try it,” Harry hums, nudging Louis with his shoulder. “But maybe we can work up to that.”

Louis shakes his head, scoffing at his waffle. “Yeah, maybe,” he chuckles. “I think I’d like to top. I mean, obviously I’ve fucked girls before, is it that different?” He ponders.

“Better,” Harry smiles dreamily, “at least in my opinion.”

“Which do you prefer?” Louis asks, turning to face him a bit more. “Top or bottom?”

Harry shrugs, taking another bite of his food. “Depends. I quite like both, if I’m honest, and I think it’s important to be versatile in a relationship,” he says.

Louis laughs softly, shaking his head. “You say it like it’s some kind of art,” he chuckles.

“Maybe it is,” Harry grins, pinching his leg. “The art of orgasm, that’s an exhibit I’d like to go to,” he muses.

“You’re so weird,” Louis laughs, nuzzling his head into Harry’s shoulder. “So, what do you think? Can I try topping?”

“Now?” Harry splutters, looking down at him. “Right now?”

“Why not?” Louis frowns, moving the tray to the floor. “You have anything better to do?”

“Anything better than getting fucked?” Harry scoffs, reaching over Louis for the bottle of lube on his nightstand and pressing it into his chest. “Absolutely not.”

Louis chuckles softly, taking the bottle from Harry’s hand and watching him turn over. He frowns again when Harry settles on his stomach, head resting on his folded arms.

“What are you doing?” He asks, poking at Harry’s naked hip. He’s only in his pants, and Louis is still completely naked under the covers.

“Waiting,” Harry hums, turning to look at him. “I thought it might be easier if I’m on my stomach. Easier to reach,” he explains, wiggling his bum.

“Right,” Louis nods, crawling behind him to settle between his spread legs. Harry’s little arse is so perky and cute and right there, Louis can’t help but cop a feel before he does anything else. He gets his hands on either cheek and just squeezes, smiling when Harry moans quietly into the crook of his elbow.

It doesn’t take long to get Harry hard, and Louis finds he quite likes kissing the skin at the base of his spine and playing with his arse cheeks. It isn’t until Harry starts pushing back into him, though, hips rising completely off the bed, that Louis realizes he actually has to stick his fingers inside Harry’s bum now.

“Louis,” Harry pants, glancing back at him. “Please don’t be nervous. I’ll tell you if you do something wrong, but please, please just get going.”

“Sorry,” Louis murmurs, hooking his fingers in Harry’s waistband and pulling his briefs down his legs. He has to shift his own body to get them off of Harry’s long legs completely, but when Harry’s finally naked, Louis thinks he hears angels singing.

He’s gorgeous, soft and narrow and squishy and long. Louis thinks he could spend all day just staring at him, and he thinks he might try someday if he can get Harry to stop whining to be touched.

He slicks up his fingers with the lube and examines Harry’s hole for a moment, flinching a bit when Harry reaches back to spread himself open for him. It’s still so strange to Louis, but if this ends up being half as good as it was last night, well, he thinks it’s all worth it.

He prods at Harry’s hole with his index finger carefully, waiting until he thinks Harry is actually going to kill him before he finally pushes it in. It’s so much warmer, so much tighter than any girl Louis has ever fingered, and his cock perks up just at the thought of getting in there.

He wriggles his finger until Harry is doing most of the work himself, fucking back on Louis’s finger like he can’t get enough. He holds Harry’s hips down with his free hand and adds his second finger, scissoring Harry open until he can get in the third as well.

Harry sounds absolutely ridiculous, sobbing and whining into his pillow. Louis would be laughing if he wasn’t so turned on, if his cock wasn’t already leaking at the tip.

He pulls his fingers out when Harry assures him that he’s ready, reaching for a condom and rolling it on carefully. He gives himself a few tugs, using way more lube than he probably needs to, and finally lines himself up with Harry’s hole.

“Jesus,” Harry shudders, turning his head to glance back at Louis. “Did you leave any lube in the bottle?”

“Shut up,” Louis huffs, grinning, biting at his lip as he finally pushes in.

Harry whines high and long in the back of his throat, his legs spreading a little wider, almost naturally, as Louis bottoms out. Louis leans down to bury his face in the back of Harry’s neck, taking a few deep breaths.

“Lou,” Harry rasps, reaching back to scratch at Louis’s scalp gently. “Move, please.”

“So polite,” Louis hums, pushing himself up onto his elbows on either side of Harry’s head. He pulls his hips back and snaps them back in experimentally, both of them groaning at the feeling.

He pulls out again and fucks back in a few times, building up a steady rhythm. Harry appears to be enjoying himself, but not nearly as much as Louis was last night.

“Lou,” he says, glancing back at him.

“Yeah,” Louis breathes, trying to fuck him a little harder to get him to fall apart like he did to Louis.

“Angle- fuck,” he cuts off when Louis thrusts particularly hard, regaining his composure. “Angle your hips down a bit, like, toward the front of my pelvis,” he pants, reaching back to try and shift Louis’s hips.

Louis frowns and tilts his hips down, shifting a bit with every thrust to try and find the right angle.

“No, more like you’re fucking down, not straight in,” Harry says, chewing at his lip. “Aim for- fuck, right there,” he suddenly moans, his body convulsing. “Fuck, yes, right there.”

Louis smirks, fucking him a little harder, working to maintain the angle. Harry absolutely loses it, whining and moaning into his pillow, fucking his hips back every time Louis fucks forward.

It doesn’t take long for Louis to come, worked up and overwhelmed. He fucks in hard and stills, biting into the back of Harry’s shoulder, and whining as he comes.

He pulls out when he’s finished, tying off the condom and tossing it toward the bin. He nudges Harry to turn over and Harry does, one hand already wrapped around his cock and jerking fast.

Louis knocks his hand away, settling down between Harry’s legs again. He takes hold of him and strokes him slowly, watching in fascination as Harry’s back arches off the bed.

He plays with him a few moments, flicking his wrist this way and that just to see what kind of reaction he gets from Harry. He leans down after a few minutes and licks at the underside of Harry’s cock, and that seems to do it.

Harry arches and shouts, body trembling as he comes all over himself. Louis watches in amazement, stroking him through it, not stopping until Harry is nearly crying, batting his hand away.

“Holy f-fucking shit,” Harry whimpers, still shaking a bit as Louis wipes him down. “Fuck, that was so good.”

“Really?” Louis hums, laying down beside him and letting Harry cuddle up against his chest. “From the way you were whining and grunting, I thought it might have sucked,” he teases.

“Shut up,” Harry laughs, pressing a kiss over Louis’s heart. “Did you like it?” He asks, propping his head up to look at Louis.

“I’ve had better,” Louis sighs, shrugging his shoulder. Harry looks hurt, and Louis grins. “I’m kidding, you loser. Yes, that was the most incredible round of sex I think I’ve ever had,” he chuckles.

“Good,” Harry smirks, putting his head back down.

They lay around for a bit, perfectly happy to just be wrapped up in each other’s company. The world is so peaceful when it’s just the two of them, just Louis and his boy. It’s never felt this easy with anyone before, not even Amy, and Louis thinks it’s okay to let himself be happy about that. He’s finally done it, he’s finally found his forever.

Harry rolls on top of him again some time later, grinding against his hip minutely. “Wanna go again?” He hums, waggling his eyebrows suggestively.

Louis grins, reaching down to grab Harry’s ass, and flips them over. Yeah, he thinks, he’s okay with spending the rest of his life like this.

-

They decide to leave a bit early on Sunday to go pick Bridget up, because Louis hasn’t visited the cemetery since the funeral and he feels quite awful about it, and Harry wants to come along for moral support.

The car ride there is quiet. They take Harry’s car, and Harry holds Louis’s hand over the console the whole time. Louis is so thankful for that, because he’s much too distracted to be driving, and much too distant to be without constant contact.

His weekend has been absolutely massive in terms of learning about himself. It was incredible, all of the things Harry’s taught him and all of the things he’s discovered on his own. It’s not even just about the sex, either; Harry has made him feel so many new emotions in the past 48 hours that Louis doesn’t even know what to do with them all, but he’s so, so happy to have experienced them.

At this point, Louis knows for sure he doesn’t want to live a life in which Harry isn’t around. He wants to keep this boy forever, and with this second chance at love that the universe has given him, he plans to use every bit of power he has to make sure he gets to.

Before Louis is totally ready, the GPS tells Harry that he’s reached his destination. Harry parks in the car lot behind the church, as the pavement that winds throughout it is too narrow for a car to navigate. Amy’s headstone is far enough away that Louis won’t feel like Harry is watching him from the car, but close enough that he knows Harry will be able to see him.

They discussed it earlier, what Harry should do while Louis visits Amy’s grave. They decided that he should stay in the car, because Louis has some things he needs to say out loud that he isn’t quite sure Harry needs to hear.

When he finally works up the courage to get out of the car, Harry sends him off with a gentle kiss to the cheek and a soft proclamation of love.

He stuffs his hands in the pockets of his jeans, making the familiar trek along the pavement that winds through the cemetery. Amy is buried with her grandparents under a magnificent oak tree, the shade falling just perfectly over the little cluster of stones at this hour.

He reads over some of the names on the headstones as he walks, wondering who they are to somebody in the world. He wonders if they’re still missed, if there’s anyone out there who still wishes that they were here.

His heart pangs when his eyes finally fall on Amy’s headstone, her name bold in the shade of the oak tree. Louis walks to it and sits on top of her plot, folding his legs in front of himself and staring at the engraving on her stone.

Amy Marie Tomlinson, it reads, Beloved daughter, wife, and mother. January 23, 1987 - May 27, 2016.

Louis cradles his head in his hands, elbows resting on his knees. It still fucking hurts, to be honest, the reminder that she’s gone and she’s never, ever coming back.

“Amy,” he whispers, tears flooding his vision the second he opens his mouth. “Amy, Amy, Amy…”

He takes a minute to breathe, wiping at the single tear that rolls down his cheek. His back is to Harry’s car, but even if he was facing him, he knows he’s too far away for Harry to tell that he’s crying.

“I found someone,” he says, staring at a spot in the grass. He imagines her hazel eyes looking back at him, imagines the way she used to smile just for him. “He’s not you,” he says, chuckling wetly. “God, he’s definitely not you.”

He hangs his head for a moment, forcing himself to breathe. “I love him,” he says, closing his eyes. “I love him so much, you have no idea. But the way I love him, it’s like- it’s different, I think, from how I love you. Like, you, god, Amy, you were everything. You were the sun and the stars and the glitter in the snow in the winter and you were the birds singing in summer. But Harry, he’s like, he’s the moon, he’s the ocean, he’s the dew on the grass early in the morning and he’s the sound of a piano in a concert hall. I don’t know why, and I don’t know how, but I’ve fallen so deeply, madly in love with him. I don’t love him more than I love you, though, and I don’t love him less, but, differently. Everything is so different, Amy,” he whispers.

“Bridget loves him too,” he says, smiling softly. “She adores him. They have so much fun together, you should see it. I think you would love him too, if you met him,” he says, curling his fingers into the grass. “It’s impossible not to love him, just like you. I was helpless for you, arse over teakettle just about the first time we met. It definitely wasn’t like that with Harry,” he chuckles, “but he grew on me. He’s taught me so much, and Bridget, as well. He’s teaching her about space, I think, behind my back. With my luck she’ll grow up wanting to be an astronaut, and I’m going to go broke putting her through school,” he laughs.

“I hope you’re looking down on me right now,” he says, the tears returning to his eyes. “Wherever you are, I hope you’re happy for me, because I’m happy for myself. Where are you, Amy? Where did you go?” He murmurs, fisting the grass a little harder. “I wish I knew, I wish I knew where to look. I wish I knew how to find you. I miss you so fucking much, every single day. I haven’t been the same since you went away, and maybe that’s for more reasons than one, but it’s true. I don’t think I’m the same man that I was when you were here with me, and I don’t know if I’m better for it, but I’m definitely different. So is Bridget; she’s stronger, she’s so fucking smart, Amy. I wish you could see some of the things she picks up on. She’s brilliant, she gets it from you. Thank you for her,” he hiccups. “Thank you for helping me make her.”

He tilts his head back and looks up at the sky, watching a cloud drift into his field of vision. “There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t love and miss you,” he says, still watching the sky. “I will always, always love you, and I will never forget you. But I think it’s okay now, that you’re not here anymore. We’re in good hands, Bridget and I, and we’re getting through. We have Harry, and Harry has us, and it’s hard and it’ll never get easier but we’re doing it, we’re doing it.”

He wipes at his face again, looking back down toward the ground. He wishes he knew where to look, wishes he knew what the hell he’s doing.

“I think I’ve found my forever in him,” he says, smiling as another tear rolls down his face. “I’m so happy with him, Ames. God, I hope you’re happy for me too. I hope I’m doing the right thing,” he breathes. “He just, he’s so good. He’s so fucking good, Amy, in general and for me, in every single way. He’s been growing his hair out for three years now, and it’s so long, it’s so beautiful. He’s cutting it for charity in a few days. He says he’s been gifted with health and happiness in his life and he wants to be able to help someone who isn’t so fortunate. How sweet is he? What did I do to deserve him?” He shakes his head. “Maybe once his hair is gone he won’t remind me of you so much. The way he twirls it around his finger, and tucks it behind his ear, and flicks it over his shoulder, god, Amy, sometimes I could swear it’s you. But I don’t think that’s why I love him, you know? I don’t love him because he’s just like you, I love him because he’s him, he’s just Harry and I’d be nothing without him,” he admits. “I think he’s my soulmate, Amy. It’s so crazy, because I thought it was you, and maybe it used to be you, but, things change. People change, and I think I’ve changed for good,” he says.

“I so wish you could meet him,” he sighs, a fresh wave of tears falling over his cheeks. “God, Amy, I wish you didn’t have to be gone. I wish you never had to leave,” he cries. “I’m so sorry, Amy, for what happened to you. You didn’t deserve that, you never deserved to die like that. You had so much going for you, fucking hell,” he sobs. He puts his head down for a moment, gritting out a few more sobs until he can control himself enough to say what he wants to say. “I used to think that it should have been me, you know, to go. I used to think that the universe got it wrong, that you were meant to stay here, and I should have been the one to die. But recently I’ve learned that the universe doesn’t fuck about, you know? Harry tells me that what happens happens for a reason, and as fucked up as it is, I think he’s right. What happened to you, shit, I wish it hadn’t happened, but it did. It did, and now here we are, and Bridget and I are okay, and I hope that you, wherever you are, I hope you’re okay too.”

He gives himself another few minutes, hanging his head and crying into his own shirt. He waits until the tears have stopped and his breathing is mostly back to normal before he lays his hand on the ground one last time, saying goodbye until next time.

He gets up slowly, taking his time walking back to the car. Harry is waiting for him, of course he is, looking soft and warm and inviting and just about everything Louis needs right now.

He opens the car door and drops himself in, leaning his head back against the headrest and breathing out slowly. Harry doesn’t say anything, just extends his arms for him, and Louis flops gratefully into his arms.

Harry holds him for a long few minutes, petting his hair. Neither of them say anything, and it’s good, it’s perfect. Louis stares at Amy’s headstone, under the shade of the oak tree. It’s not as far away as he thought, not really. Harry could probably see the way his shoulders were shaking while he was talking, if he was watching.

“Are you okay?” Harry asks finally, after they’ve been quiet for long enough. Louis turns to look up at him, meeting his lips in the gentlest, warmest kiss they’ve ever shared.

“I’m okay,” he says, pulling back and giving Harry a little smile. “I feel better, actually. I told her everything, you know, about us. Maybe it’s pointless, I don’t know what I believe in, but I feel better having said it out loud, even if she can’t hear me,” he shrugs.

“I think she can,” Harry tells him, squeezing him a little. “I don’t know exactly where she is, either, but I know she’s looking down on you. I know she’s happy for you,” he whispers.

Louis smiles, even as he feels another tear roll down his cheek. Harry is quick to kiss it away, pulling him back against his chest.

They sit there until Louis is completely recovered, until his eyes are dry and the lump in his throat has dissipated. He smiles as they pull away from the cemetery, watching the headstone in the mirror until it blinks out of sight.

Louis directs him to his parents’ house, because using the GPS is silly; he grew up here. Harry holds his hand right up until the moment he parks in Louis’s childhood driveway, and Louis leads the way to the door.

Bridget opens it for them, lighting up when she sees both of them behind it. She throws herself at Harry first, of course, and he holds her on his hip as Louis’s mother invites them inside.

“Louis, darling,” she smiles, giving him the biggest hug. Louis presses his face into her neck, taking all the comfort he can get. “How are you?”

“I’m okay,” he says, an echo of what he told Harry earlier. It’s the truth, though, and he smiles. “I really am.”

“Good,” Jay grins, squeezing him once more. “You must be Harry,” she says, pulling away and addressing Harry now. “Bridget has been talking about you all weekend.”

Harry blushes, grinning at Bridget. Bridget giggles and hugs him around the neck, and Louis steps a bit closer to curl his hand around Harry’s hip.

“Harry this is my mum, Jay,” he says, waiting for them to shake hands. “Mum, this is my boyfriend Harry.”

The word surprises every single one of them, especially Louis. He blinks and then looks over at Harry for approval, finding him grinning so hard back at him that Louis is afraid his cheeks might split.

Bridget’s eyes are wide, her jaw open in genuine surprise. She looks thrilled, though, and when Louis reaches out for her, she launches herself at him so hard she nearly sends them both over backward.

Jay looks shocked, the only one who wasn’t expecting this in the slightest. She doesn’t seem to have a problem with it, though, watching as Harry curls his arm around Louis’s waist now, Bridget sandwiched happily between them.

They stay for a bit, Bridget showing Harry around the house while Jay pulls Louis aside and hugs him extra tight. “I’m so proud of you,” she whispers in his ear, and that’s all they say about it, but it’s all Louis needs.

They decide to go to dinner on the way home, to celebrate Louis and Harry finally being official. Harry holds his hand the whole way to the restaurant, and Bridget can’t stop telling them how happy she is that they finally worked it out.

“So,” she says, propping her elbows up on the table and flicking her eyes between the two of them. “Daddy, Harry is your boyfriend now?” She asks.

“Yeah, love,” Louis smiles, glancing over at Harry. “Do you understand that?”

Bridget nods, grinning at him. “Yeah, like, before mummy was your wife, she was your girlfriend, right?”

“Exactly,” Louis hums. He has no idea how she knows how dating works, but he supposes that makes his life a lot easier.

“So when you and Harry get married,” she says, making both men flinch a little, “Harry will be your husband?”

Louis glances over at Harry, and Harry just smiles and takes his hand. “When we get married,” he says, staring right at Louis’s eyes, “I’ll be daddy’s husband, yes.”

“Okay,” Bridget hums, picking at her chicken nuggets. “Can I be the flower girl at your wedding?” She asks, looking excited suddenly. “Like when auntie Lottie got married, and I got to throw flower petals? I’ll be older this time, so I’ll do even better,” she promises.

“Alright, Bridget,” Louis laughs. “You can be our flower girl if-” he cuts off, glancing over at Harry, “when we get married.”

Harry kicks him under the table, looking so happy he could burst. Louis just laughs and leans over to kiss his cheek, getting a squeal of excitement out of Bridget.

They don’t stay out long, because Bridget is getting tired and it’s evident in the way her energy turns frantic, the same way Louis’s does when he’s exhausted. Bathtime is a team effort when they get home, as per Bridget’s request. Apparently, them being together now means they have to do everything together, at least in Bridget’s mind.

“Daddy,” she says, as they get her into her pajamas. “Will you read me a story?”

“Course I will, love,” Louis smiles, kissing her forehead.

“And will you sing me a song, papa?” She asks, looking up at Harry.

Harry freezes, a smile spreading slowly across his face. It’s only the second time she’s used the word, but this time, it’s okay. Louis grins at him, and Harry nods. “I’d love to,” he breathes.

Harry cuddles Bridget while Louis reads the story Bridget picked, both of them giggling at all of the voices he gives each of the different characters, his dramatic rendition of a picture book. They all settle in when he’s done, Louis cuddling Bridget’s opposite side, and Harry tilts his head back and starts to sing.

Come away with me,” he sings, “in the night.”

Louis grins, closing his eyes while Harry sings. It reminds him of the first night they tried, the first time Louis let himself try.

Come away with me, and I will write you a song.”

Louis doesn’t know the words, but he knows the tune. He hums along, feeling Bridget smile where her face is pressed against his chest.

I want to walk with you, on a cloudy day,” Harry sings, glancing over at Louis. Louis grins back at him, joining him on the next lyric.

In fields where the yellow grass grows knee high, so won’t you try to come.”

He lets Harry finish out the song, until Bridget is sleeping soundly between them. They creep out of her bedroom together, and Harry pulls Louis right into bed.

“She called me papa,” he says, sounding close to tears. “She called me it. Louis, she called me it,” he says.

“I know,” Louis grins, pulling him in by his hips and kissing his lips chastely. “It’s because she loves you, and so do I,” he whispers.

Harry hugs him, throws his arms around him and buries his face into his neck. Louis grins and hugs him back, turning his head to press his nose into the length of his curls. He loves him so fucking much, he can’t even stand it sometimes. He’ll take him, though, he’ll keep him forever, if he can. He loves him, and Harry loves him back, and they’re going to be alright.