No Strings Attached | Harry/Louis (Liam/Zayn) | NC-17 | Louis is a single father and Harry is a former X Factor contestant.
As it turned out, dating was far more complicated than Louis expected.
When Louis first started seeing Eleanor and Hannah before her, it was because they had gotten to know each other over a period of time. It was only after days, weeks, or even longer of conversation and tiptoeing around each other’s feelings and reactions that the prospect of dating even came up. Everything about the experience was organic, from meeting the person to stumbling into them when you least expected it to finally mustering up the courage to ask if you could see them again.
It was, Louis realized, a process that mirrored his experience with Harry. But he ignored it, pushed it aside, tossed it away, and tried his best to move on with his life. He only imagined the Cheshire boy somewhere halfway around the world doing something – anything – that was undoubtedly more important than thinking about the poor boy in the striped shirts that he left behind.
Louis had always scoffed at Internet dating, but as the days wore on and he came to terms with the fact that he didn’t know what he was doing, it seemed like more and more of a viable option. It didn’t help that Zayn only shrugged him off when he voiced his concerns, even lending a hand with building his online profile.
Zayn had grown mostly apathetic since their conversation regarding Harry, and ultimately decided that going along with whatever Louis felt like doing was much better than forcing him to a conclusion he wasn’t ready to accept. Louis could sense that his best friend was only going through the motions, but it was what he needed. He needed anything to get that stupid boy – that stupidly wonderful and beautiful boy – out of his head.
There was also the added complication that Louis had never dated another bloke before. He didn’t know protocol, or if there was any kind of protocol to begin with. He assumed that everything would happen as naturally as it had with Eleanor and Hannah, but life apparently didn’t work that way when you were a twenty-year-old father still coming to terms with sexuality.
Though Louis’ willpower improved over the course of the next several days that followed his decision to start dating, he found himself slipping now and again, if only for a few seconds. But those few seconds were moments of warmth and brilliance, green eyes and pink lips, tangled limbs and hazy silences, afternoon sex and late night takeout. He would think back to when life was simpler, when opening the door to Harry’s smiling face was enough to make Rosie happier than Louis had seen her all day, when lying against his bare skin was the perfect way to fall asleep at the end of a long day.
But he always brought himself out of those moments, shocking himself out of his daydreams before he’d slipped too far.
By the end of Louis’ second month without Harry, he had a date. It was nothing spectacular to look forward to, as Zayn didn’t even seem all that thrilled when he called him up one afternoon to let him know that he had met someone that Louis might possibly be interested in meeting. He was a new hire at the restaurant, Zayn had said, who had just moved to London and needed a friend in the strange, new city.
It’s not another friend I need, Louis thought during the phone call. But he agreed to have dinner with the guy because, well, why wouldn’t he? There was no use in filling time with daydreams when it could be filled with someone kind and wonderful instead.
As it turned out, his date was anything but kind and wonderful.
Louis hadn’t bothered remembering his date’s name, but he knew that he was very shy and nervous in the first minutes that Louis got to know him. But as the evening went on, Louis picked up on the way that he treated the people at the diner they met at, from the hostess to their servers to the bus boy. He was harsh with his words and Louis soon discovered a very mean person whose meanness, as it turned out, came from a very bitter breakup with a long-term boyfriend not too long ago. And that was when Louis decided he probably wouldn’t be seeing him again.
Louis texted Harry that night, feeling miserable and lost and all around beaten from an experience he didn’t know he could ever repeat. He knew that he shouldn’t have because they hadn’t texted in several weeks. But he was a little bit lonely and he didn’t feel like talking to Zayn, not after setting him up with that asshole of a date.
wish you were here to bring me a donut, Louis texted when he realized he had skipped out on dessert to end the date that much sooner.
His heart sunk a little when Harry didn’t respond as quickly as he usually did. An hour had passed and Louis tried to distract himself by watching some children’s program with Rosie, who really couldn’t be bothered because she was busy scribbling on scrap paper with a box of crayons Zayn had given her earlier that weekend. When that didn’t work, he tried cleaning the flat. But he remembered he hated cleaning, and so he remained in the living room while Rosie remained perfectly oblivious to her father’s sulking. Why was dating so needlessly difficult?
Two hours after sending the text, Louis heard his phone buzz. He didn’t immediately check because he figured he had descended into such a state of anxiety that he imagined the whole thing. But when it vibrated a second time in reminder, he opened the message waiting for him.
is that a euphemism? ;)
It was amazing how one little text message managed to lift his mood completely. Already, his date seemed a distant memory.
of course not, you twat. just a bit hungry and had a shit day, that’s all.
i’m sorry :( want to talk about it? i can call you but only for a couple minutes
Of course Harry was busy right now. He shouldn’t have texted.
no it’s okay. i’m going to sleep it off. just wanted to see how you were doing. go back to work!
:( alright. feel better x
Louis sighed into his pillow that night, contemplating a lifetime of being alone. Rosie would grow up healthily and well adjusted, though no thanks to him, and would eventually chase after some boy or some dream that would take her far away from him. Even Zayn would probably find happiness elsewhere, leaving Louis alone with an empty nest and a heart with so much love to give but no one to give it to.
The thought of prolonged solitude terrified him, absolutely fucking terrified him, because he had never reached such a point before where all he wanted to do was lie in bed and stay there forever. He ran through his most recent memories, looking for the reasons that brought him here.
But all that filled his mind in that instance before sleep was the face of a boy grinning goofily at him, hair messy and eyes twinkling.
It was a week away from a third, full month without Harry and, fittingly enough, Louis was midway through preparing for his third date with the same guy.
“What do you think?” Louis said, stumbling out of the bathroom and into the living room where Rosie was half-drawing, half-watching television. “How does daddy look?”
Rosie looked up from her spot on the floor, her nose scrunched up and her eyes carefully scanning her father head to toe and back again. Her purple crayon hung limply in one hand.
Finally, after some careful consideration, she gave him a toothy grin and a thumbs-up. “Good!”
Louis sighed in relief, like Rosie’s input was the be-all and end-all of dating fashion advice; she could have seen him in a striped shirt, polka-dotted tie and plaid pants and approved it without hesitation. He ran back to the bathroom where he stood before the mirror and spent an inordinate amount of time playing with his hair before he perfected the balance between unkempt and presentable.
It had taken some time before Louis willed himself to face the world again, but Zayn eventually called him with another prospect the following week. Naturally, he had his reservations after the first time around, but his best mate insisted that he had found someone well worth Louis’ time and attention. His name was Charlie and he was a bartender at Zayn’s favorite bar. Though that wasn’t exactly what Louis had in mind, he couldn’t afford to be picky and decided to go for it – again.
Going for it ended up becoming a smart decision because Charlie was a wonderful date, the kind that Louis had secretly imagined during some of his low points. He was loud in a comparable sense to Louis’ own loudness; he had an impeccable sense of humor capable of appreciating Louis’ off-color jokes while also making him buckle over in laughter; and he was just generally very charming and easy to be around. And though they’d only had two dates, Louis found himself looking forward to their next one.
He was applying a second layer of deodorant when he heard a knock at the door.
“Coming!” It was probably Zayn, showing up earlier than he needed to be. That was a change. He tripped on practically every toy and shoe that littered the path to the front door, silently cursing himself though thankful that Charlie hadn’t yet expressed a desire to see his flat. When another knock sounded, he bellowed, “Oi! Hold up! I’m almost – ”
It was like the wind had been knocked from him as he stumbled backward, in shock from the green-eyed figure standing in his doorway.
He looked older, if that made sense. And taller. Much taller than Louis remembered him. It was like he had stretched out over the course of his voyages, his torso longer and his arms hanging like noodles at his sides. The bag slung over his shoulder looked rather disproportionate to his body. His hair was shaggier and wavier than it was curly, and his features had grown more defined, as if days of recording and nights of sleeplessness had chiseled him into maturity. But none of that really seemed to matter when his face lit up with the same, lilting grin that often touched his dreams, with rose-tinged cheeks and dimples that devastated Louis’ consciousness.
“Hey there,” the younger boy said in a low voice that rumbled through Louis’ bones and into his core.
He wanted to reply, wanted to say something, but found that his throat caught and all he could really pay attention to was how his jeans clung to the contours of his legs and the way that his white shirt was just thin enough that you could see his skin through it, tanner and sun-kissed from days undoubtedly spent in the Californian sun.
“You look nice,” Harry said when Louis’ silence lasted a little too awkwardly for him to maintain. Raising a brow, he added, “Are you going somewhere?”
But all Louis could say after clearing his throat was, “You’re here.” But it sounded more like a question than anything else.
Harry offered another small smile, shrugging. “Yeah, I am. Sorry I didn’t tell you beforehand, but, you know, surprise and all…I thought it’d be fun.” His voice grew quieter with each word.
“What – how?” Louis still couldn’t wrap his mind around the fact that Harry was standing on his front step after a nearly three-month absence.
“We’ve finished recording most of the album. We’re back home for the rest.”
That was as much as Louis needed to hear at the moment, so he stepped aside and let Harry wander into the flat that seemed so strangely empty without him for the past few months. As soon as he stepped through the doorway, Rosie’s head perked up from her drawings, tilting to the side almost like she couldn’t quite trust the person that had just walked through.
Louis watched as realization spread across his daughter’s face, causing her to literally jump at the sight of her old friend before she lurched and tripped in her excited dash into Harry’s arms. The younger boy swept her upwards and held her tightly, planting several kisses on each cheek before holding her out to really examine her.
“You’re so big now! What’ve you been eating!”
“Nothing!” Rosie squealed through her giggles, grabbing at Harry’s longer curls and beaming at the familiarity of it.
“Nothing? Nothing? That’s a lie, because you’re like a little monster now!”
Louis would have been content to stand there all day and watch their reunion. He spent endless days running their reunion through his head, practicing what he would say and what he would do once they were together again. But somewhere along the way, he seemed to forget that he wasn’t the only one in that flat Harry had left behind. Quite honestly, he was a little surprised that Rosie still remembered Harry as well as she did, especially with the influx of new people she had met in childcare during his absence. But there she was, clinging to Harry like he was going to disappear once more under her watch.
And maybe he was.
Several minutes passed before Rosie relaxed in Harry’s arms, resting her head on his shoulder and just happy to be there in the first place. He put her down, and she immediately went back to her stack of papers to work on a new doodle that seemed to begin with a scribble of messy brown hair. Still chuckling lightly to himself, Harry met Louis’ eyes.
“You didn’t say where you were going.”
“You’re dressed up. You’re going someplace. Where?”
Before Louis could stop himself, he said, “A date.”
A flicker of something that resembled confusion or maybe even pain registered on Harry’s weary features before disappearing, replaced by a blank look that didn’t quite register to anything Louis could place his finger on.
“You’re going…on a date?” He said it like he had to get a taste for it. “With who?”
“Just a guy,” Louis said hurriedly, wishing this would all end and that maybe Harry was just a dream right now.
“Just a guy?” Harry’s tone was noticeably louder, even if only a little. “What – I mean, how long have you two been dating?”
“Not very,” Louis said truthfully. “This is the third date.”
“The third date?” This time, the disbelief wasn’t hard to miss on Harry’s face. It bloomed there like a bruise, and he only stared at the ground trying to make sense of this revelation. Finally, “You’ve been dating?”
“Well…yeah,” Louis said after several seconds of trying to come up with an appropriate response. “Not very successfully, I might add. But Charlie’s the first bloke in a while that – ”
“That’s his name.” Louis felt his cheeks getting hotter. They hadn’t moved very far from the front door, and Louis watched as Harry’s eyes flickered toward the exit.
“I should probably go then.”
But Louis cut Harry’s stride off before he could reach the door, and he suddenly became very aware of how close they were to each other. Harry was only a few inches away from him; he could practically feel Harry’s heavy breathing on his cheek.
“No. Don’t go.”
“You didn’t say you had a date tonight,” Harry hissed, quietly so Rosie wouldn’t hear.
“A date tonight, or a date at all?” Louis eyed the other boy carefully, taking notice when his green eyes darkened with harshness. “I’ve been dating, so what? We agreed on this, remember? To meet other people – ”
“Well, I haven’t,” Harry said bluntly.
Louis blinked. Why hadn’t he met anyone? That particular question, along with a litany of others, blazed through his mind as he watched the younger boy slump forward, exhausted.
He cleared his throat but his voice was still unreasonably high when he asked, “No one?”
“No one,” Harry repeated wearily. “Look, Lou. I don’t really want to talk about this anymore. And you’ve got a date, so I should really leave.”
“Please don’t,” Louis blurted out, sounding a little more desperate than he would have liked. “I’m really, really glad that you’re back, and I want to talk to you. Really.”
Harry shook his head, his curls moving in tandem.
“But your date – ”
“I’ll make it quick,” he promised quickly. “I’ll come home right away so we can talk.”
“Lou, you don’t have to – ”
“I want to. I’ve already ruined your homecoming as it is, so let me make it up to you. Please?”
They stared at each other, uncertainty and mystification teeming in each other’s eyes. Louis imagined what it would be like to look into those emerald pools again, but it never played like this. Here, right now, they felt oddly close to some sort of precipice.
Harry sighed raggedly, pinching his nose and turning away from Louis’ gaze.
“Okay, fine. You might as well call off your sitter because I’ll watch Rosie while you’re gone.” Louis winced; Harry said the last word a little too callously.
But he felt lighter already – or at least, as light as he could feel in anticipation of the inevitable conversation he would have with the other boy that had shown up on his doorstep.
This night was certainly going to be interesting.
At dinner, Louis couldn’t meet Charlie’s eyes. Instead, he directed his attention to the steak and mashed potatoes on his plate, both untouched while he swirled his fork around on the tablecloth. He found that he wasn’t very hungry, after all.
He poked at the garnish with his fork. “Yeah?”
“You seem distracted. Is everything alright?” Charlie’s concern was palpable in his voice, and Louis hated him for it. Why did he have to be so caring, so attentive?
Feeling horrible for ruining what could have been a potentially perfect third date, Louis looked up at Charlie, who was sitting across from him with an expression far too involved for Louis’ liking.
“I’m not feeling well,” he half-lied. “Might be a stomach bug. It’s been spreading through some of the kids at the school.”
Charlie’s face fell and Louis’ chest felt oddly constricted.
“That’s not good,” he said. “Would you want me to take you home instead?”
Louis’ shoulders slumped. He didn’t want to answer that truthfully, but it was the option that offered the least amount of awkwardness and discomfort for the rest of the night; he didn’t want to subject Charlie to anymore of it.
“I’m sorry,” he offered genuinely.
“It’s okay,” Charlie said encouragingly, already looking around for a waiter to bring the check and several take-out boxes. “I’d rather you felt your best. We can try again another time.”
But Louis knew it was over.
He felt sincerely horrible, even when he walked into his flat after Charlie graciously dropped him off for what he was certain would be the last time. It wasn’t fair to do that to someone as kind and generous as the man he had so nonchalantly blown off. And it wasn’t fair to himself. He couldn’t figure out why yet, but he knew that it was true.
No one was sitting in the living room to answer his call, so he put his leftovers away in the kitchen and tiptoed carefully to Rosie’s room, not wanting to breach the silence.
She was sleeping peacefully in her crib, brown hair splayed around her like a halo. Her arms were wrapped snugly around a new stuffed bear that Louis didn’t recognize. But she must have loved it a great deal to fall asleep with it in the first place. He blew her a kiss goodnight and slowly shut the door behind him.
Unsurprisingly, Harry was in his bedroom. The lights were off, but Louis could make out his figure spread across the bed, his hair spread untidily on one of the pillows. He moved slowly, but jumped at the voice that greeted him.
“Christ, Harry,” Louis muttered, turning on the lights. “I thought you’d fallen asleep.”
“Couldn’t,” Harry said simply. “So I just laid here after putting Rosie to bed.”
“What’ve you been doing?” Louis said carefully, gingerly taking off his shoes and peeling off his jumper as if any movement could shatter the delicate air in the bedroom.
He sat down at the foot of the bed where Harry was now sitting upright, his knees drawn to his chest.
But Harry shook his head, unable to answer. Louis couldn’t blame him, and so he offered an easier question.
“Did you give Rosie that bear?”
“It’s from Sweden,” Harry said softly, eyes cast downward.
“Looks like she loved it.” He tried being as gentle as possible.
“I told you I had gifts.”
Louis wanted to groan, but he resisted the temptation. It would have been too easy, too hurtful.
Instead, he inched over to Harry, who was still wound up in his little ball. The other boy eyed him warily as he made his approach, but he didn’t back away when Louis settled next to him, lying down and looking up at him.
“Gifts, huh? Any for me?”
“Of course not,” Harry mumbled, but Louis noticed him biting down hard on his lip, and he knew that he was lying. Harry must have realized, because he abandoned his façade and smiled widely at Louis instead. “Yeah, of course, you twat. Here, let me get it…” He reached over the side of the bed and pulled up his bag. He rummaged through it momentarily before pulling out a bundle of cloth and tossing it across Louis’ face. “There. That’s one of them.”
Louis scooted into a sitting position and examined the fabric Harry threw at him. It was a shirt. On it, Harry’s giant face had that same goofy grin, except it was larger than usual yet somehow more intimate than Louis could explain. Beneath his head was the text, “One Direction.”
“This is you,” he said rather stupidly.
And Harry actually managed a chuckle. “Yeah, it is. It’s one of our merchandise. Apparently, we’ve got to start putting our faces on everything for people to start giving a damn about us.” Then after a careful beat, “What do you think?”
Louis tore his shirt off and instantly wrangled the new one around his head and onto his torso. He beamed proudly at Harry, whose own grin was the mirror image of the one now situated on Louis’ chest.
“I love it,” Louis said, glancing down at the new garment. He really did.
Harry’s grin faded slightly before he fell back onto the bed, his head crashing with one of the pillows. Louis thought that maybe he did something wrong, but he didn’t want to ask. So he set his old shirt aside and adjusted himself so that he was lying down rather closely to the other boy, but far enough so that they weren’t touching.
They stayed like that for a minute. They were silent, but they could practically hear the maddening buzz of gears shifting and whirring in their minds as thoughts, old and new, rushed to the forefront of their reality. Everything they had repressed for the past three months came rolling back in that moment that they shared a bed again.
Just as Louis contemplated saying something, Harry faced the other way so that his back was turned to him. But before he could react, the other boy reached over and found his wrist, grabbing it and tugging his arm around so that it wrapped around his waist. Catching on, Louis moved over so that their bodies lined up evenly, his knees against his and his chin tucked into the space between Harry’s neck and shoulder. He didn’t want to breathe too loudly for fear of breaking whatever this was.
Louis’ body tensed momentarily as he registered the sensation of Harry’s fingers sliding into his. He relaxed when Harry purred comfortably into the embrace, his sweet smell filling Louis’ consciousness.
“I can’t believe you started dating,” he murmured, his voice so low that Louis might have missed it.
“It was stupid,” Louis breathed against Harry’s skin, and he felt the boy shiver in his arms. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be,” he said, voice trailing off into the darkness where sleep threatened to pull at them.
But Louis was wide awake, perfectly aware of this new arrangement he found himself in. That morning, he had no expectation of seeing Harry, no inclination that this might happen on the same night he had a date. But it had, and it was both terrifying and exhilarating to have everything change so suddenly from what he had expected.
From the beginning of all this, he never expected Harry.
Minutes passed and once Louis was sure Harry had fallen asleep, he whispered as softly as he could, speaking more to the enveloping shadows than the boy now gently snoring.
“You’re going to ruin me, Haz.”
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