No Strings Attached | Harry/Louis (Liam/Zayn) | NC-17 | Louis is a single father and Harry is a former X Factor contestant.
“Good morning, love.”
Louis didn’t jump at the suddenness of two arms snaking their way around his waist, pulling him back flush against a warm body that smelled of mint toothpaste and slight morning musk. He hummed delightedly, resuming his task of flipping the bacon in the frying pan.
Harry drew Louis closer to him, which was quite problematic, really, given that being pulled away from the stove was not the ideal way to go about making breakfast. But the younger boy hooked his chin onto Louis’ shoulder and breathed warm, soft air into the crook of his neck and — well, maybe this wasn’t really anything to complain about in the first place.
“You should’ve woken me,” Harry muttered. “I can’t have you burning the flat down.”
Louis rolled his eyes and scoffed. “We’ve gone three weeks without any house fires yet. I think we’re in the clear.”
“That’s what you think,” he replied playfully into Louis’ skin, leaving a lingering kiss there before pulling away and walking over to the coffee pot. “Is this for me?”
“Seeing as you can’t make a pot of coffee to save your life, yes.”
Harry grumbled something under his breath but immediately switched over to utterances of thanks as soon as Louis shot him a rather pointed look. But neither could hide the smiles on their faces; weekend mornings were made for easy banter such as this, especially before Rosie woke up.
“I’ve got a headache,” Harry moaned as he took a seat at the kitchen counter. “Help me.”
“What time did you get home last night anyway? I didn’t feel you climb into bed.”
“Four.” And Harry looked disgusted with himself as he said it. “I swear, that’s the last time I go out with the boys in a long while. I’ve been domesticated.”
“It couldn’t have been that bad. You brought Zayn along, didn’t you?”
Harry groaned. “He was the worst. Kept ordering shots for us. I think he even convinced Liam to join us for one round. I swear, your best mate is a handful.”
Louis chuckled, recalling Zayn’s stamina during the days they used to go out — long before Rosie was even born.
“He’s not my responsibility anymore,” he decided. “He’s Liam’s boyfriend, after all.”
“Yeah, well.” Harry sipped from his coffee. “They can do that if they want. But I think I need a break. I’d rather be with you and Rosie, at any rate.”
Louis transferred the bacon to a plate and set them on the table, along with two painkillers to help with Harry’s hangover. He paused, absorbing Harry’s words.
“What?” the curly-haired boy asked, taking note of the way Louis was staring at him.
“Nothing. I — It’s just — we’re not…keeping you, are we?”
Harry blinked. “Keeping me?”
Louis sighed, frustrated with his inability to articulate himself properly. “I mean, mine and Rosie’s being here isn’t making you…feel like you have to stay in, right?”
A stricken expression crossed Harry’s face, eyes wide in disbelief at Louis’ assumption.
“God — no, Lou! Of course not!”
Louis shifted uncomfortably, breaking off a piece of bacon and throwing it into his mouth just so he had something to do.
“Well, I’ve just been worried that ever since Rosie and I moved in, that maybe we’re…I dunno, cramping up your lifestyle or something.”
Harry’s initial horror dissipated into something milder — something like fondness and amusement, perhaps. His green eyes twinkled in the kitchen’s dim lighting, which only made Louis’ insides twist even more.
“Cramping up? Is that what kids have been saying on the streets these days?”
Louis frowned before swatting away one of Harry’s hands that made its way toward the plate of bacon.
“Oi,” Harry intoned warningly.
“You know what I mean,” Louis said wearily. “I don’t want you to feel like you have to stay in or anything like that just because we’re here.”
“Lou, you’ve got to stop acting like you and Rosie are just guests here. This is your place, too — our place, rather. So is it so hard to believe that I’d actually want to be here with my favorite people?”
Louis paused like he might have said something else, but sighed instead and accepted Harry’s explanation easily. Of course it wasn’t hard to believe that, not by any stretch of the imagination. But lately — and this had been a rather recent development, mostly ever since they officially moved in — he couldn’t help feeling like he’d been imposing on Harry’s boy band lifestyle. And as silly as it was to even think that, he knew that Harry’s life before him and Rosie had consisted of more nights going out and being with the boys without having to worry about a restless toddler at home.
And though he’d been more than willing to move in with Harry, he hadn’t really given this part of their new living arrangement that much thought. He didn’t want him and Rosie to be burdens.
But judging from the assessing look that Harry was giving him right now, he couldn’t have been further from the mark. In truth, Louis might have actually forced Harry to go out last night now that he was really thinking about it. After all, Zayn had been the one to text both of them, practically demanding that they join he, Liam and Niall for a night out. However, Rosie had been in one of her moods (Louis dreaded the phrase ‘terrible twos’ coming to fruition) and required multiple storybooks as well as stuffed animals before she finally succumbed to sleepiness. And even then, they lacked a sitter, which made Louis insist that Harry go out on both their behalves.
“So…” Louis suddenly became very interested in one of Harry’s bracelets as he spoke. “I’m an idiot, right?”
Harry barked out in unexpected laughter, his eyes crinkling up and his nose pinched in that way that only Louis (and every other teenage girl in the country) found adorable. It wasn’t fair, if he was to be honest.
“Yes. Yes, you are.” Harry gazed over at him affectionately. “My idiot, I’m afraid.”
Louis pouted, if only slightly amazed that they could sort something out like this all before breakfast time. “Stuck with me now, Styles.”
“Yeah, yeah. Hey, I have an idea to run past you.”
Louis arched a brow. “What is it?”
“I texted Lou Teasdale on the way to the club last night. You know who she is, right?”
“Your new stylist? Yeah, go on.”
“Anyway,” Harry said thoughtfully. “She’s got a little girl of her own, Lux. I think I’ve mentioned her. She’s younger than Rosie, not even a year old yet.”
“Okay.” But Louis could already tell where the conversation was going. “So?”
“So, poor Lou’s been in need of a break lately — you should see just how tired she looks half the time. And I got to thinking about how Rosie hasn’t really met other children around her age — ”
“She goes to childcare, Harry. I think there are other children around her age there.”
“Okay, regardless.” Harry was staring at his hands, inexplicably transfixed by his fingernails. “I may have offered to babysit Lux — or, rather for both of us to babysit Lux.”
“What? Both of us?”
“That’s tomorrow, Harry.”
“Yeah.” By now, Harry was picking with his nail beds. “I just thought — ”
“I know what you just thought,” Louis said wearily, slumping forward and leaning onto the counter. “I — yeah, okay.”
Harry’s expression visibly brightened at Louis’ words. “Really?”
Louis didn’t know why the idea jarred him so much. It was one thing to know that Rosie was making friends at childcare — in fact, he wanted her to make friends with childcare — but it was another thing entirely to meet other children, especially those of close friends (Harry’s friend, but still). He’d never been one to give into play dates and though this wasn’t exactly the same thing, he had always been cautious.
Part of it, he reasoned silently, was selfishness to him that he didn’t want to acknowledge. For the longest time, he didn’t exactly feel like sharing Rosie with anyone else, hence his hesitation to enroll her in childcare and his even greater reluctance for her to finally meet Harry. And though both of those situations had turned out much better than he could have hoped for…well, it was something he would have to get over eventually.
Besides, seeing how happy it made Harry made it all seem worth it.
“Yeah,” he conceded, reaching over to hold Harry’s hand in his. “It’ll be nice for her to make friends. More friends, that is.”
“She’s the little social butterfly, she is,” Harry gushed, rubbing circles into the back of Louis’ hand. “Thanks, Lou.”
He shrugged. “That’s how this works now, right? We both know what’s best for Rosie. And though I’ve tried my hardest to make her sick of you…fact is, she’s yours, too, Haz.”
Harry’s expression faltered and Louis didn’t miss the lump that found its way to the other boy’s throat.
“Oh — uh, well — yeah, okay.” Harry looked like he’d been smacked across the face; the redness in his cheeks didn’t help, either.
“Harry,” Louis said fondly, reaching over and running his thumb across the other boy’s cheek. But as Harry brought his hand up to meet Louis’, a light shuffling of feet and a sleepy voice disrupted the moment.
Their eyes darted over to Rosie, standing in the doorway and sniffing the air like a lost puppy.
“Oh, bug, are you hungry?” Harry jumped out of his seat and rushed over to the toddler waiting for him with outstretched arms.
Yeah, Harry made it all worth it.
Rosie, however, was nowhere nearly as endeared with the infant sitting across from her in the living room. Louis and Harry watched nervously from the couch, waiting for something to happen.
If the atmosphere in the living room was uninviting, then little Lux didn’t notice it. The small girl — just shy of eight months, if Louis heard Lou correctly — was more distracted with her blocks and stuffed animals that were now strewn among other toys from Rosie’s room. And though Louis and Harry initially expected some sort of reaction from Rosie, either a resounding ‘no’ or a reluctant willingness to share, the two-year-old girl sat there wordlessly studying the foreign specimen in front of her.
“Ro…” Louis tried carefully. But Rosie didn’t look up. “Why don’t you say hi?”
It had been fifteen minutes since Lou dropped Lux off, and already it felt like it had been an entire day.
“Who that.” It wasn’t so much a question as it was a demand. Rosie’s blue eyes seemed tacked onto Lux.
“That’s Lux,” Harry explained carefully, gripping Louis’ sleeve tightly. “She’s Lou’s baby.”
Rosie narrowed her eyes then pointed at her father. “Lou?”
Louis made a strangled sort of noise in an attempt to restrain the laugh that came so naturally to him; judging from the very serious expression on Rosie’s face, this was not a time for that.
“No, babe. Lou is Harry’s friend.”
Rosie shot Harry an accusatory look, her plump cheeks swelling with color. “Harwee?”
“Look, bug.” Harry instantly fell from the couch and crouched down next to Rosie, who trained her eyes back to the gurgling baby moments away from putting one of the wooden blocks in her mouth. “Lux only wants to play. See?”
But when Lux’s stubby fingers wandered innocently to one of Rosie’s stuffed animals, the dark-haired girl cried aloud and reached over, grabbing the toy before the strange baby could get to it first.
“Mine!” she declared defensively, her eyes welling up with tears.
For a moment, Louis thought they would have to deal with two little girls crying, but Lux shrugged off the intrusion and went for another block that matched the one in her other hand.
“No,” Rosie moped, burying her head into Harry’s chest instead.
Harry ran fingers through the little girl’s hair, looking up desperately at Louis. “Is she like this at childcare, too?”
Louis shook his head, eyes wide. “No — her teachers say that she loves sharing and playing with the other children. Even at her birthday party, it wasn’t a problem.”
“Then I wonder why now. Why Lux.” Harry leaned down and pressed a kiss to the top of Rosie’s head.
“Give it time,” Louis said, though it didn’t come out anywhere as confidently as he would have liked.
But an hour had passed and Rosie’s attitude toward Lux hadn’t thawed one bit. Eventually, lunchtime came around and they hoped things would be remedied on a full stomach. However, barely a minute had passed and Rosie completely ignored her buttered noodles, opting instead to tug on Louis’ sleeve while he fed Lux her bottle.
“Daddy, me,” she pouted, eyes frantic. “Me!”
Louis looked over to Harry, who looked just as lost as he did. They decided on a different approach, with Harry taking Lux into their bedroom to give her the bottle while Louis lifted Rosie onto the counter and fed her small bites of noodles.
“What’s the matter, lovebug?” Louis kept his voice soft and low.
“Luck,” Rosie intoned darkly.
“Yuck,” the little girl said, sticking her tongue out. And if it had been any other context, Louis would have found the portmanteau of Lux and yuck utterly adorable. But for now…
“Babe…I’m going to need you to be nice to Lux, okay?”
But Rosie only looked at him with murky, curious eyes.
“This — she’s probably going to come around more often after this,” he explained, hoping that Rosie would understand. “She’s a friend, just like all the other ones you have at childcare. Right?”
The little girl shrugged, lip pouting slightly. “Daddies.”
Louis paused. “What?”
But Rosie didn’t repeat it. Instead, she patted her tummy and opened her mouth widely, waiting for Louis to feed her properly.
And whether they had reached some sort of understanding or Rosie was choosing to ignore the situation entirely, Louis didn’t know. They dropped the subject for the remainder of their lunchtime, and while Louis handed her a sippy cup filled with grape juice, he wondered desperately how he would ever manage to raise her once she reached adolescence.
When they emerged in the living room thirty minutes later (thirty minutes of quality and necessary father-daughter bonding time, Louis reasoned), Rosie seemed more or less assuaged. However, when she caught a glimpse of Harry lying down on the couch with Lux bouncing on his chest, her expression fell almost instantly.
Louis thought for a moment that she was seeking his attention, but when he noticed the way she was glaring at Harry and Lux on the couch, he knew otherwise.
“Daddy,” Rosie repeated, detaching herself from Louis’ leg and running over toward Harry.
“Hi there, cuddlebug,” Harry cooed, glancing over to Rosie who was now standing next to his face. “Want to join?”
“No,” she said for what must have been the millionth time that day. “My daddy,” she proclaimed, and proceeded to shove Lux’s leg.
Though there wasn’t much force behind the way Rosie pushed Lux, it was enough to startle the baby into fresh tears. Louis rushed over and lifted Rosie into his arms, prepared to chastise her.
However, he faltered when he saw the way that Rosie was crying as well, her eyes rimmed red as tears fell along her cheeks inflamed with color. She didn’t bother waiting for proper punishment; she dug her face into Louis’ shoulder and sobbed unabashedly.
Louis peered over to find Harry sitting upright on the couch, holding Lux in a similar position. He looked just as confused as Louis felt in that moment, though he seemed to be having more luck consoling the child in his arms. Within moments, Lux’s sobs turned into quiet murmuring noises before they abated altogether. Harry set Lux down on the floor with the rest of the toys before standing up and tugging on Louis’ sleeve.
“Over here,” he directed, gesturing at one end of the living room where he undoubtedly planned on having a discussion with Rosie.
Louis thought it wouldn’t work, not after his failed attempt earlier in the kitchen. But Harry looked kind, if not determined in the way he pried Rosie from Louis’ embrace and placed her in his lap as he settled onto one of the armchairs. Louis stood there, watching them both.
“Ro. Rosie, love. Want to tell me what that was about?”
But Rosie shook her head, burying it into the fabric of Harry’s shirtfront and dampening the material there.
“Bug, we’re not mad,” he said, ignoring the looks of protest that Louis was sending his way. “We’re not,” he insisted. “We just want to know why you’re angry with Lux. She hasn’t done anything to you.”
Louis looked over his shoulder and found Lux blissfully nibbling at one of Rosie’s stuffed animals; they would deal with that later.
“Ro?” Harry asked once more.
“Daddies,” she said, voice trembling. She looked up at Harry, and then to Louis. “She wants daddies. My daddies.”
Louis chest tightened with unbridled emotion and if Harry’s expression was anything to go by, then he wasn’t the only one. Rosie looked at them both plainly, her eyes waiting and patient.
“Rosie…” Louis began.
“Lux has her own daddy,” Harry said soothingly, rubbing Rosie’s back. “She’s — she just wants to play with you, Rosie. She knows we’re your daddies.”
Rosie seemed to see the world differently following Harry’s explanation, her eyes still wet but somehow brighter with clarity. She peered up at the curly-haired boy whose lap she had been sitting in. She reached up with a tentative hand and settled it on Harry’s cheek, patting it warily.
“Mine?” she asked.
Harry smiled toothily, his eyes going noticeably glassy. “Yes, bug. Always.”
She looked over to Louis, almost as though she had been dreading his reaction. But he could tell that things had, more or less, resolved themselves, and so he offered a smile of his own, bending forward and kissing Rosie on the cheek.
“Now that that’s over with, what do you say we go over and apologize to Lux before playtime?”
Rosie frowned, but reached up to Louis anyway, waiting to be carried. “Okay.”
And so the rest of the afternoon proceeded as it was always meant to, with Rosie and Lux giggling as they played with toys in front of some television program while they watched on from the couch, Harry curled into Louis’ side with legs draped over the other boy’s thighs.
“That was a mess,” Louis whispered into Harry’s curls.
Harry squeezed Louis’ hand. “Not too bad, I thought.”
“You did brilliantly.”
He could feel the way that Harry smiled into his chest. “Thanks.” Then, a moment later, “You know…I was thinking.”
Louis laughed. “You’re always doing that. You should stop, maybe.”
“Miserable twat,” Harry teased, pinching Louis’ side and eliciting a guttural sound that, mercifully, went unnoticed by the children. “I was thinking we should get Rosie a pet. I personally loved having one at that age and I think it would be good for her. This way, she can learn how to share the flat with another living thing.”
“With other babies, Hazza. The solution isn’t to buy her a ferret.”
“A ferret? No, I was thinking something else.”
“You’re serious, then?”
“Definitely,” he muttered into Louis’ shirt. “Very serious.”
“No dogs, though,” Louis said in spite of himself, not realizing that he had essentially given Harry’s idea validation. “I won’t have one of those running around this flat, not without a backyard.”
Harry yawned. “Okay, no dogs, then. We’ll have her decide. Give her some options.”
Louis looked over to Rosie, who finally looked genuinely happy to be sharing with Lux. He got to thinking about how Rosie’s world seemed to be expanding — expanding much quicker than he ever expected it to. But he paused before he let that train of thought continue; for now, a world with him, Harry, and the occasional friend was all she needed.
Still: “Sure. Eventually.”
Eventually only came a month later when Harry returned from some promotional tour elsewhere in Europe and whisked them both away to some fancy pet store he’d apparently found through loads of research.
And when they returned to the flat — Louis’ nose scrunched up while Harry was positively beaming — Rosie ran off to her room with her new pet secure in its plastic habitat.
“I’m not cleaning up its bloody droppings,” Louis said once they were in the kitchen.
“Yes, you will,” Harry assured him. “I will, too.”
“It’s a rat.”
“It’s a hedgehog,” Harry said, frowning. “And I think it’s cute.”
Louis rolled his eyes. “What did she name it anyway?”
Harry turned around from the coffee pot, blinking and a little pink in his cheeks. After all, he’d been the one to help her pick out the name in the backseat as Louis drove and griped about having to buy more Febreeze than necessary and whatnot.
Harry chuckled, though mostly to himself.
“Larry. She named it Larry.”