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One Shake and I'm Yours

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“Hi.”  The voice is quiet, shy, but it's enough to pull Niall’s rapt attention out of his laptop and look to his left.  It’s not often that people talk to him when he’s so engrossed in his work.  He’s been told he looks intimidating.

He's sitting at a small circular table in the dog park.  He comes here to work every day or at least when the sun is shining anyway - because it really just clears his head, helps him get the story to flow the way he wants it to.  But normally it’s just him and Stevie this early in the afternoon… so this is new.

He's never seen this girl before. She’s little, definitely young.  Her hair is light brown and it falls to her shoulders curly and wind tangled.  She’s wearing a pink dress over what he thinks used to be white leggings; Velcro snap shoes on her feet have little princesses on them.  Her eyes are bright green with tones of blue, wide and curious as she looks up at him.

“Hi.” He echoes her tone, soft almost a whisper that causes her to smile wide enough that it makes a dimple pop up in her left cheek.

“Is that your puppy?” he follows her pointing finger over to where his dog Stevie seems to have found a friend and is chasing another dog in circles; the two of them yipping and barking at each other.   They are the only ones in the dog park right now so they have plenty of room to be alone but seem to be more content playing with each other.  Stevie’s always loved playing with other dogs; she’s always dragging Niall to meet other dogs and new people.

“Yes, that’s Stevie. Is that your puppy?” Stevie may look like a pup but she's almost six years old, mix of retriever and black lab she’s incredibly smart and loves people and other pets. The dog she's playing with seems to be much younger, smaller- a husky mix of some type- he can tell by the curling tail and the coloring.  The little girl’s smile continues to grow, her eyes sparkling with joy she just can’t seem to contain. 

“His name is Mac, named after one of my daddy’s favorite bands.  We just got him.”  She moves to sit on the bench next to him, and he wants to help her, but he assumes said Daddy is around and he doesn't want to evoke any protective urges and get punched in the face. So instead he watches her struggle to climb up to the bench; her feet dangling off the ground kicking as she pulls herself up.  But finally she gets up there and settles in next to him.  “I was playing with him, but he seemed more interested in…”  She stopped and her smile falls, “I’m sorry, I don't remember your puppy’s name.”  Her lower lip starts to tremble and god he was always a sucker for tears.

“Oh, that’s okay. It's because you haven't been properly introduced.”  He lets out a whistle and Stevie looks up, quickly abandoning her new friend to run over to him instead.  The little girl brings her hands up to cover her ears at his sharp whistle and she lets out a giggle, her green eyes sparkling now instead of on the verge of tears.  He turns to face Stevie and the little girl wiggles around kicking her feet out as she turns as well.  “Stevie sit.”  She sits down, eyes bright, tail wagging.  “Now shake.”  She lifts her paw and waits patiently.  “Stevie this is…”  He leans over to the little girl and whispers softly, “What’s your name?”

“I’m Olivia.”  She looks at him with amazement as Stevie waits paw still in the air.

“Stevie, this is Olivia, Olivia, this is Stevie.  Go ahead, shake her paw.”  He nods, prompting her to slide off the bench to shake Stevie’s paw.  She lets out a laugh when his pup barks and then licks her face.

Mac takes this moment to run into Stevie and then the two pups run off chasing each other in circles.

“That’s so neat… can you get Mac to do that?”  She asks him clambering back up on to the bench to look at his computer.  He knows she’s probably too young to really be able to read, but in case she can he closes the laptop because really she does not need to read the current murder mystery novel he’s working on- it’s not really at a kid friendly part anyway.

“It takes practice to train a dog.  So you’ll have to work on that.  When did you get her?”  Niall asks, because he can’t help but think that he would have remembered seeing a little girl around here before.

“We got him yesterday.”  She nods curls shaking around her head. “ M’daddy and I went to a place and picked him out. There were lots of puppies but we couldn't have them all.  It was sad.”  It takes him a moment to figure out what she’s saying, she seems to run her words together a bit, and it has been a while since he’s had a conversation with a child other than Theo but she’s well-spoken for the most part though, he can’t help but be impressed.

“Ahh, you went to a shelter?”  He asks softly, and yeah, those are horrible places, he got Stevie there about five years ago himself.  “Those places can be sad, but you have a new family member now so that’s great.”  He smiles when her face lights up and it’s obvious that she hadn’t thought of it like that yet.

Liv?” the yell echoes through the park and that must be the dad now.  Niall can’t really see him yet but even Niall can hear the concern in the loud voice.  

Olivia’s head turns away and yells, “Coming Daddy!”  She slides off the bench and gives Niall a bright smile.  “What’s your name?”  She asks even as she starts to walk away.

“I’m Niall.” 

“’bye, Ni-all.”  She separates his name, sounding it out slowly.  It’s a mouthful for someone her age.  But he nods and smiles because she got it mostly right.

“Bye, Olivia.”  He watches her run off, as fast as her little legs will carry her. 

He can’t help but smile when he hears calls in two different voices, “Mac! Mac!”  Obviously her and her dad are trying to wrangle their new puppy back on his leash.  He whistles for Stevie and she comes running straight back to him, and he hopes that makes it’s a little easier for them.  The park isn’t huge but there are enough large trees between him and the gate that he loses sight of Olivia and he never did catch a glimpse of her dad.

While sitting at the dog park is a habit for him, it seems to also become a habit for Olivia and her dad.  He catches just a glimpse of them that next day.  He looks up from his computer when he hears the gate open. This time she’s holding onto her dad’s hand.  He can only assume that she got a stern talking to for disappearing the previous day.  He smiles and gives her a little wave when she waves at him but otherwise they keep to the other side of the park.  He has to call Stevie away with a sharp whistle a couple times.  It looks like they are trying to do some training so he does his best to keep Stevie away, because it’s hard enough to teach a puppy tricks without another dog wanting to play.

He can’t help but watch the pair as they try to teach Mac how to sit with limited success.  It’s obvious that neither of them really know what they’re doing, but hell he didn’t when he got Stevie either.  He just knew that he needed something to get him out of the house regularly and for some reason a dog sounded like a great idea.

It’s easy enough to tell from here that Olivia obviously gets her curly hair from her father, but it's much lighter in color than his.  From here he can see he’s tall, taller than Niall anyway, dark brown hair that’s curling around his head in a somewhat short halo.  He’s wearing tight black jeans, a red t-shirt, and scuffed boots, but that’s all that he can really make out from this distance.   He’s making zero progress on writing his book so he can’t help but be distracted by the pair.  They make a cute little family.

It's four days later when Olivia finally makes her way over to him again.  He hadn’t been there at the right times the days before so he’s sure that he missed out on spying on them.  It’s kind of become a habit for him. 

When she makes her way over, she’s wearing a mischievous smile when she greets him, “Hi, Ni-all.”  She clambers up onto the bench, this time in a purple top, black leggings, and what must be her favorite princess shoes.  Her hair is tied back but it doesn’t make it any less curly or tangled.

“Hi Olivia.  How are you?”  He asks politely closing his laptop. 

“’m good!  We taught Mac how to sit!”  She’s busting with excitement bouncing in her seat.

“Oh, really?”  He can’t help but be caught up in the little girls excitement, even though he knows the dog still barely responds to the command.  They are trying with very limited success but her excitement is extremely contagious.  She was probably one of the cutest kids he’s ever met- right behind Theo of course.

OLIVIA!”

“Oh, he’s mad.” Olivia exclaims and she’s gone before he knows it and he can’t help but laugh because he feels for her dad.  She’s a little spitfire.

Over the next couple weeks, she sneaks over to him asks him questions about what he’s doing? Working. Where he’s from? Ireland.  Where does he live? Close by. And every day he lets himself get distracted by her.  She always goes running when her dad calls. She’s obviously getting more comfortable with him and notices she sits closer to him each time.  She asks him if they can work with Mac to get him to shake and Niall feels awful when he tells her they can’t.

“Why?” And it’s the first time he’s seen her whine, let alone really pout.

“We need treats, something to reward him with when he does well.  It’s called positive reinforcement.” He feels like the words may be too big for her to understand but her curls bounce around her face as she nods to confirm that she does.

“Oh, what if I can bring treats?”  She smiles and again, and she looks like she knows a secret. Man, does he feel just a little pity for her dad, because clearly he has a heartbreaker on his hands.

“Then yeah, of course I’ll help.” She gives him a hug before she runs off this time and he’s left feeling nothing but fondness. He doesn’t see her for the next couple days, but he does see the dad, and he can’t help but wonder if she’s with her Mum or if they are together… she doesn’t really talk about her mum just her daddy. In the end he knows it’s really is none of his business, he’s never been a person to pry but he can’t help being curious.

He finally hits a good stride with his book on Friday afternoon and ends up taking Stevie to the dog park much later, it’s almost dark.  He’s sure he missed Olivia but he really needed to get a couple chapters done and he's successfully written more than that now.  His agent wasn’t getting nervous yet, but this is the first time in the last couple of years that he’s really gotten hung up with his writing.  He knows that he’s been insanely lucky that he got published at a young age and that his series of novels have done so well.  Liam takes amazingly good care of him as an agent and he’s blessed that he can make a living doing what he loves.  But he tries to be smart, he doesn’t live outside his means, and every advance he gets the money is invested in his future in case something would happen.

When he finally hits a good stopping point it’s 4:00 in the morning and he falls into bed, not even thinking about tomorrow.

Niall wakes at half past noon on the following Saturday when Stevie jumps up on the bed to wake him by nuzzling into his face.

“Yeah, yeah, I’m up.”  He sits up and looks over to his dog sitting on his bed with boundless patience as her tail wags rustling the sheets.  “Need out huh? Well I probably need some fresh air too.”  He gets up and pulls on just a tee shirt and trackies over his pants and brushes his teeth before making a cup of coffee which he forgets to drink when he goes to get her leash.  They spend a half hour playing Frisbee in the dog park before he notices an ad on the gate on their way out. It’s not a great ad, obviously homemade but it’s enough to catch his attention.

He takes a look and can’t help but laugh, ‘Three Barks for Treats’ it reads; a bakery that boast of the ‘best treats for people and for dogs’ .  It’s not that far from his apartment building so he takes a quick picture of it on his phone and then heads back to the apartment.

With all the work he did last night, both him and Stevie deserve a treat.

He leaves Stevie at the apartment, and walks down the stairs, reminding himself to grab the mail on the way back up, knowing he’ll forget it- he always does.

It doesn't take long for him to find the bakery; and turns out to be a short five minute walk. The bakery sign reads ‘Three Barks for Treats’ with a line underneath that says ‘something for you and your pet.’  He can’t help but smile because it’s a great idea.  He pulls the door open at quarter till three, only 15 minutes until closing time but he figures with a bakery that’s okay.  The last thing he’s expecting is to be greeted the second he walks in the door.

“Niall!”   He hasn’t even pulled his gaze away from the display counter when he’s hit at the hips with a hug and when he looks down he’s surprised to see Olivia there.

“Liv!  What are you doing?”  The man behind the counter hisses at the little girl but she just looks up at Niall with a big smile on her face her left dimple making an adorable appearance.

“Hi!  I missed you!”   She’s stepped on his foot in her excitement but he can’t really hold it against her, and she’s so light it doesn’t even hurt anyway.

“Hi. Olivia. I missed you too.”  He smiles down at her.

“Olivia Caroline Styles!”

“But Daddy!  This is Niall, he has the puppy that Mac likes to pay with.” She pulls off of him and turns around to face her father behind the counter as she points back at him.

“I thought Niall was your imaginary friend?”  He asks his daughter as he walks around the counter.  Now that Niall can see him up close he knows that his first glimpse of him did not do him justice. At first he’d thought he was quirky, but plain; now though he can see that there is nothing plain about him.  This man is actually devastatingly handsome.  Olivia must get her eyes from him as they both have long dark lashes and green eyes, his are a much darker shade of green as Olivia’s has hints of blue.  His lean muscular arms are tattooed with seemingly random words and shapes and Niall’s finds himself a little star struck by his face.  He’s clean shaven, jawline square and eyes bright as he looks at Niall.

“I’m not imaginary.”  He says and then shakes his head because he’s just made himself sound like an idiot.

“I can see that.”  when Harry gets close enough he grabs Olivia and picks her up, propping her on his hip.  In comparison to her father she looks small but she definitely does not look afraid as he talks to her in a stern ‘dad’ voice.  “What did we talk about with strangers, honey?”

“But Niall’s not a stranger, he’s my friend. He’s going to help me train Mac to shake.”  She tells him with a definitive nod before smiling back at Niall, “We just need treats.”  Niall really can’t help but laugh, mostly because Olivia doesn’t even realize that she’s in trouble.  He tries to stifle his laugh so it doesn’t encourage her more, but she just smiles at him instead.

“But Niall’s a stranger to me, Liv, we’ve talked about this.” Luckily the bakery is empty except for the three of them because while she was smiling a second ago it now looks like she’s about to cry or yell, he’s not really sure.  Niall really doesn’t always get a great read on those emotions with kids, besides the fact they can change in the drop of a hat.  She must have realized that she was in trouble though, because she ducks her head before looking back up at her dad, instead of crying or yelling she gives him a shaky smile.

“Daddy, this is Niall, Niall this is Daddy.  That’s how I met Stevie… now shake.”  Niall had picked up on it earlier that Olivia was intelligent, but he’s continued to be surprised by her and her amazing memory.

He decides to help her out and he reaches a hand out and waits for Olivia’s dad to extend his.  He sets his daughter down before reaching out to shake hands, “Niall Horan, pleased to meet you.”

“Harry Styles, Three Barks bakery owner and father to this terror.”  He runs his hand over her curls and while he’s obviously a little frustrated he’s smiles down at her lovingly.  And Niall gets it, he doesn’t have kids but the world is a scary place, full of scary people and kids don’t really understand fear at the mighty age of five.

“Olivia and I met in the dog park a couple weeks back, right after you got Mac.”  He tells him, hoping it eases his mind a little bit.

“Yeah, I think I remember seeing you there, you hide in the corner on your laptop.”  Harry nods and drops his hand to rest on Olivia’s shoulder. 

“That’s me, um, I write and the fresh air does me good. And Stevie loves to be outside so it's a win win.”  He doesn't really know what to do with his hands so he just shoves them in his pockets instead of just leaving them out- He’s usually great at meeting new people but Harry has him feeling unsettled.

“Oh, what do you write??” he inquires then looks down at Olivia, “Why don't you go flip the sign, hun.”  She hurries over to flip the sign and lock the door with a click.

“Uh, books, I write books. Fiction.  But I just stopped in to pick up some stuff; I saw your ad at the dog park.” Because now that he was here and it is Harry and Olivia in the bakery- he realizes that he looks a bit like a crazy person.  “I promise, I’m not like weird or anything.  I just live around here.  I didn’t know that she would be here.”  God- he’s so awkward and this is stupid.  He knows how to be charming.

Harry looks at him confused and Niall realizes that he wasn’t even thinking along the same lines as Niall like he was worried about.  Sure the world’s a crazy place, but Harry doesn’t seem to think that he’s trying to kidnap Olivia or something equally as awful.

“Sooo, you write books?  Anything I would know?”  Niall hates that questions but answers anyway.

“Murder mystery, about a detective name Justin Rose.”  Niall tells him and he hopes- just hopes that Harry doesn’t know them.  Right now that would just make this more awkward.

“Hmmm, I haven’t read those- but to be completely honest I haven’t read anything above Liv’s reading level since she was born.”  Harry smiles a little deprecatingly and holds his hand out for Olivia to grab as she rushes back to him.

“I’m sure. I get that.”  Niall can’t help but be a little relieved.  He loves writing, loves telling a story and creating a mystery, but he doesn’t really love the attention or promotions that he has to do sometimes- but there are ups and downs of every career and he can deal with it.

“But I really did just come in for some treats- something for Stevie and me.”  He clarifies just because this has been weird enough already, maybe it’s time for him to go?

“Stevie’s his dog.”  Olivia whispers up at her dad but really not all that effectively and Niall can see Harry is working hard to not laugh.  His perfect white teeth are biting into his lower lip and Niall gets a flash of want- wishing that he was doing that instead. Olivia’s dad really is too hot for his own good.

“I figured that out honey,” He looks back to Niall, “And I’m sure we can do that.”  Harry shoos Olivia to a booth in the corner where he has a coloring book and crayons set up.  “Go color, Liv, Daddy needs to work.”  He kneels down and tells her.  His voice is really soft so Niall’s not sure if he is actually supposed to be able to hear it or not.  So he takes a couple of steps towards the counter, finally getting a good look at the place.

The place is small and quaint; most of the brick is exposed giving it an old but yet somewhat industrial feeling.  The counter is obviously the main attraction; it’s all glass in the shape of an “L.”  It’s stocked with all sorts of breads, pastries, cookies, and muffins, a gluten free section, and then of course at the end, in a separate smaller case is the selection of homemade treats for dogs.  They’re all done in the shapes of bones, paw prints, ice cream cones, and all other sorts of designs, the creativity is insane. There is small bookshelf full of much loved books that people can read or trade as they eat.  The rest of the area is decorated in warm tones to offset the brick, and set up with some booths and tables here and there for people to sit and behind the counter is a tea and coffee station- basic and Niall guesses that the beverages are not Harry’s biggest seller here.

Overall it’s a really neat set up- Niall’s impressed.  He loves supporting local business when he can and this is one that he can see becoming a favorite.  Everything in the counter looks delicious from the sweets to the breads.   He almost wants to eat the dog treats- they look so good.

“But Daddy!  I want to help Niall!”  He can hear the corresponding stomp of a foot to go along with her whine.  He can’t help but smile- it’s a good feeling to know that Olivia likes him as much as he likes her.  She’s a very charming little girl.

“What’s the rule about whining, Liv?”  He doesn’t really get hear her answer, she replies so soft, but she goes to sit in her booth anyway, alternating between coloring and looking up at Niall.

Harry goes around the counter and smiles, snapping on a pair of gloves.  “Well what can I get for you?”

Niall ends up walking out of the store with more food than he could possibly eat- completely charmed by Olivia’s dad- Harry- he needs to think of him as Harry now- now that he actually knows his name.

And he is charming- from his bright green eyes to his dimpled smile, and his clumsy grace.  Harry is absolutely charming- and completely Niall’s type- tall, lean, smart, kind, and 100% straight.  Of course he is, he has a daughter- one he obviously loves very much and while he didn’t have a ring on- he didn’t try to flirt with Niall and Niall was too nervous to flirt with him so- ok maybe he doesn’t know for sure but knowing his luck that’s what he’s going to believe.

It’s not even that he has bad luck, he has horrible luck.  His last real relationship was in college and even then he can’t say why he and Rory were together so long.  Everything since then has just been a few weeks here, a couple weeks there, maybe a couple months at the longest.

He’s not lonely, but he never really has been.  His imagination has always been his best friend.  The worlds and characters that he creates in with his words have always understood him more than the real world has.  He has his cousins and Bressie, and they are always around and close- but still they never really understand how he can lose hours of the day telling a story.

By the time he gets home, Stevie greets him at the door, ready to be let back out.  She devours the treat that he got for her and he ends takes her back out the dog park, grabbing a ball to take this time.  He can’t write right now, his mind still fried and is a different level of tired.  

But by the time he gets home, he finds his brain wired and more and more of the story is brewing in his head and it just won’t leave him alone.  He sits down at his laptop and loses the rest of the night to the world he’s creating on his laptop.

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Sunday- thank god it’s finally Sunday.  The one day that Harry can sleep in, rest, relax, and not have to rush to the bakery.  He loves the bakery, but he loves lazy Sunday’s just as much.  He peeks into Olivia’s room and she’s still sound asleep, sprawled across her teal Frozen sheets taking up most of her twin sized bed.  She’s going to be in need of a big girl bed frame soon, it breaks his heart.  His little girl is just growing up too fast- it was bad enough that he cried when he sent her off to reception. But next year she’s going to be in elementary school and he just doesn’t even know how he’s going to deal with that.

He grabs the leash, trying to quiet Mac down as he takes him down to the small courtyard to play.  Between everything else Mac is starting to try his patience.  He couldn’t really give Olivia a good reason why they didn’t have a dog and he really did believe that every kid should have a pet, but he didn’t expect for her to fall in love with such an energetic puppy, and he should have known as soon as they saw the husky mix, with his bright blue eyes- she fell instantly in love.  He should have put it off for another year until she was really old enough to help, but sometimes he isn’t the best at telling her no.

He picks up after Mac then walks them both upstairs.  Olivia wakes slowly, not a morning person at all, and she’ll often drag her blanket behind her and crawl into his lap for a morning cuddle.  She’s never really ready to start the day- until she is.  Then it’s like flipping a switch.  She’ll be cuddled in his lap, eyes closed one moment, and the next she’s up and running and ready for breakfast.    

It is well after noon when Olivia comes up to him with Mac’s leash and a bag of treats they brought back from the bakery last night.  “Can we go to the park?”  She asks him super quietly but even then Mac jumps up, tail wagging.  It hasn’t taken the pup any time at all to learn the word ‘park.’

“Sure, baby.”  He gets what he needs, talks Olivia into using the bathroom first before they go and then they snap on the leash and harness.  He grabs the lead and they lock the door behind them as they head out to the park.

It didn’t take him long to put all the puzzle pieces together yesterday.  Just a few days after they got Mac, Olivia had told him that she met a man in the park with a dog that could shake.  ”Shake!! Can you believe that Daddy!” Once he got over his fear- realizing that his daughter had met someone while he wasn’t paying attention- he thought that he had figured it out.  That this Niall person was just an imaginary friend, a strange name yes- but imaginary.  She’d only mentioned him a couple more times, but when she greeted him at the bakery yesterday he’d been shocked.  Olivia never greeted people like that, unless it was him, Nana, or Auntie Gems.  In a way it terrified him but then proceeded to warm his heart at the same time.

His daughter was more than a little shy- mostly just comfortable around their family and Louis, who happened to be on of they only friends that stuck around through the midnight feedings and the nappy changes.  She was slowly warming up to Gemma’s boyfriend Michal, mostly because they had watched her for a couple nights when he had gotten some special orders that required a lot of extra time at the bakery. Wedding season was a money maker and sometimes he hated it but he couldn’t turn down revenue like that.

But he couldn’t help but see that Niall was charmed with his daughter.  He had been kind and warm, and even though the situation had been a little strange, he handled it smoothly and let Harry do his ‘Dad thing.’

It hadn’t helped that Niall was extremely good looking.  He was almost a contradiction, broad shoulders, with a thick neck, that lead down to a trim waist and lean skinny legs.  His dark brown hair and dark scruff set off his bright blue eyes and his soft smile had sent a tingle right down Harry’s spine. But most of all, he’d been kind to his daughter and that was just beautiful.

They’re walking through the double gate when Olivia tugs on his hand.

“Daddy, he’s here, he’s here- can we go sit by him.”  It’s an excited whisper and sure enough, there he is.  He doesn’t have his computer today.  He’s just sitting on the bench under the tree, throwing a ball for his dog.

“Yeah,” He tells her, because he can do this.  He can go talk to the extremely gorgeous man who is kind to his daughter and has a perfectly well trained dog…  That’s not intimidating at all.

When they walk into the fenced in park, Olivia reaches down and takes the leash off Mac, letting him run loose.  He now comes when they call for him and he sometimes sits, but Harry hasn’t had the time or the energy in the last three weeks to really try to train a dog.

“Niall!”  Olivia yells as she and Mac run over, Niall’s dog runs to intercept Mac and that seems to initiate a game of tag, both of them off running circles through the park.  He’s glad at least that part of this is easy.  Their dogs get along… that means they can right?

He catches up to his daughter when she telling Niall excitedly, “…we have treats so we can teach him to shake, right?”  She’s bouncing up and down in her excitement and Harry can’t help the huff of laughter that escapes his lips.   Olivia may not have been in the master plan but she brings him so much joy- and really she is the master plan now.  Everything he does is for her.

Niall laughs and Olivia smiles- Harry’s heart just seems to burst from his chest.  Never has she taken to anyone quite this quickly.

“Yes, we can, but we don’t want to use big treats, can we break these up?”  His voice is very soft but Olivia looks a little distraught about the idea of breaking up the treats.

“But why? They’re so pretty this way.”  He hears the whine and the pout in her voice and he’s about to speak up but Niall answers quickly.

“If you use treats too big it will be easy for Mac to get distracted, instead you use smaller treats that he can eat quick.  He’s young with a short attention span so it’s easy for him to get distracted.” Niall looks up at Harry then, smiles, and Harry can’t help but return it. Niall’s patience is outstanding.

Olivia nods like she understands and they start to break up the large dog ‘cookie’ that they brought home from the bakery yesterday.

“Does he know how to sit?”  Niall asks and he’s looking at Olivia first but then he looks up at Harry, just a quick glance.  Harry can’t help his grimace, but he shakes his head in a more definitive answer. 

“A little bit.”  Olivia whispers.

“That’s okay.  Maybe we should work on that first and then once he’s got that we can start to shake.  He’s just like you, one thing at a time.”

“One thing at a time.”  She repeats with a nod.   Niall lets out a sharp whistle and Olivia giggles when she covers her ears.  Stevie comes running over, Mac nipping at her heels.

“Sit.”  He tells Stevie and the dog gladly sits down, receives her ‘good girl’ with a lick to Niall’s hand- Mac on the other hand is still standing, tailing wagging.  Niall gets off the bench and gets on his knees and beckons Olivia to him. He puts the treat in her hand, telling her to “hold on to it.”  He puts Olivia’s hand right in front of Mac’s nose.  Slowly he guides her hand up and as Mac’s head moves up his rump moves down and once it hits the ground Niall smiles, “Good sit.”

“Good sit.” Olivia echoes and then she gives him the treat, smiling back at Niall her green eyes absolutely glowing.

“Now do it again.”  Mac doesn’t stay sitting for long and they play the ‘sit’ game, a few more times before Mac is obviously done.

“Why don’t you go play with them, bug.”  She nods at Harry and she runs off with the dogs and Stevie’s ball.  “Thank you.”  Harry finally looks over at Niall.

“For what?” Niall looks over at him, grabbing the water bottle that he had hiding under the bench.

“Just taking the time, I know you don’t have to.”  It seems like that makes it click what Harry is really saying.

“She’s an amazing little girl Harry.  You’re lucky to be her dad.  She’s very outgoing.”  Harry doesn’t really get compliments like that very often.

“I think that might just be you. She’s normally very shy.”  He can’t stop himself from running his hands through his hair, trying to get the curls off his forehead.  He forgot to gel it back today so it’s nothing but a curly mess.

“I find that really hard to believe.”  And now that he’s this close to Niall, Harry can see flecks of gold in his eyes, like sunshine is trapped there, shining out from within him- he can feel the actual warmth in his gaze.

“No really her school is a little worried about her because she’s so quiet.” Harry confides in him.  “She’s not like this with everyone.” 

“Well I’m lucky then I guess.”  The two men fall silent, watching Olivia play.  Niall pulls his phone out, seems to scroll through something or another before tucking it away in his pocket again, giving his full attention to the two dogs and Olivia playing in the center of the park.

“How old is Stevie?”  Harry can’t help but ask, hoping to fill the silence, it isn’t an awkward silence but Harry’s curious.  He wants to know more about Niall. It seems to be the right question thought because Niall’s face lights up as he starts talking about his dog.

“She’s six.  I got her at a shelter, I named her after Stevie Nicks, I know- I know-” He says laughing, “It’s not the most flattering but I couldn’t help it. I love her.”

Harry can’t help but laugh at the irony, “Mac is named after my favorite band, Fleetwood Mac.”  Harry shares and then they’re both laughing.  It can’t be coincidence and it’s not like he believes in fate… but it must be some sort of sign.  So he trusts it and trusts his instincts.  Niall’s a good person and one that his daughter adores- so he’ll try to be social.  He’s just not that great at it anymore.  But after that little revelation it doesn’t take long for the conversation to pick up from there.

He’s never really found someone this easy to talk to before, with Niall it seems to be easy and organic, something that he hasn’t come across in a long time and he can easily understand why his daughter is charmed, because now he is too. 

It’s nice because Niall doesn’t ask where Olivia’s mother is, why it’s always just the two them.  He seems to not judge them at all and that is totally refreshing.  It’s never really easy to explain to someone that your baby’s mother passed away from a drug overdose when she was just a baby.  That Olivia’s never her known her mother as anything but a guardian angel.   

One of the biggest challenges of being a single parent is your friends don’t always stay your friends.  Not every 20 year old wants to hang out with their friend...and a baby.  He had a couple that stuck around, but family became even more important. Gemma loves Olivia and so does his mum and they are a team. He wouldn’t be where he is now without them and he’s grateful.

“So how did you decide on a bakery?”  Niall asks and it snaps Harry out of his thoughts.  He can’t even remember what they were talking about

“Oh, it’s a crazy story actually.  I used to work there when I was 16 and Barbara the owner always told me that when she retired she would sell it to me. So when I went back to work there after Olivia was born she told me that she was ready to retire so she did… or sold it to my family. I’m still paying off the loan obviously but the bakery has done insanely well.”  He’s proud of it.  He puts in crazy hours sometimes and he sometimes has to go with function over creativity but he’s proud of everything that he makes there.

“You should try the farmers market.”  Niall blurts out and then looks away unsure in his suggestion, “Sorry, sorry, I’m just… never mind.”

“What do you mean?”  Harry can’t help but ask.  Admittedly he’s not the best at staying ‘in the know’ but he has no idea what Niall’s talking about.

“Thursday night, the downtown area is doing a Farmer’s market type thing; you can rent a space and sell there.  They’re doing like gigs and performances to bring people down there and they are only allowing in local businesses.”  Niall’s looking back at him; those blue eyes making Harry forget for a second what they are even talking about.

“How do you know about this?”  Harry asks because he hasn’t even heard of it and he should have because it’s a great idea.  It’s right up his alley.

Niall just looks at him blankly, “I read it in the newsletter?” 

“What newsletter?” Harry asks feeling dumb, he’s lived in this area for two years, worked here almost 10 and he has no idea what Niall is talking about.

“Uh never mind.”  Niall shakes his head and goes back to picking at the hole in his jean right at his knee.

“No, no, that’s a great idea- I mean I would need to check with Gemma to see if she could watch Liv on Thursday’s, because I’m sure it’d be at night.”  He says motioning his head to where Olivia is trying to get Mac to sit again.  She’s even having partial success.  Now that Niall turned it into the ‘sit game’ she’s much more active in it.

“If you ever need someone to watch her, like in emergency, I could help.  Or is that weird- that’s weird isn’t it?”  Niall shakes his head and looks away.  Harry is for a minute mesmerized by his profile, his cheekbones, the scruff along his jawline, and long eyelashes.  He’s gorgeous.

“Oh, no, that’s not weird, I mean some people let strangers babysit their kids, I just don’t really know you well yet, so like don’t take it personal but like…” In a way he feels bad because he would leave his daughter with Niall.  Something about the other man just makes him feel comfortable with him and he’s not really one to trust quickly- especially when it comes to his daughter.

“No I completely get it.”  Niall’s gaze snaps back to him almost like he’s relieved.  “I just, she’s a great kid.”  Harry can’t help but be a little charmed by how enchanted Niall is with his daughter.  But he knows that would change the second he had to get the little beast ready for bed- pajamas are the world’s enemy, in his daughter’s eyes.

“But maybe I could grab your number and we could – I don’t know- do a kids film night?”  Harry prompts because he could use someone in his life that could be a friend that Olivia would actually like.

“Yeah, I just live down the block.  In the red brick apartment building.”  He’s turning over his shoulder pointing back towards the way that Harry came.

“The old warehouse one?”  Harry asks because that’s too much… this has got to be a sign, or another one just like the names of their dogs.

“Yup, that’s the one.”  Niall nods pointing to the complex that they can see from here

“Huh, me too.”  Harry tells him and Niall smiles.

“It must be a sign.”  Harry can’t help but laugh because if this guy can already read his thoughts he’s in trouble.

“Daddy… the puppies are done.”  Olivia drops down in his lap, he exaggerates a grunt and she nuzzles in for a cuddle.  He can’t help but notice that Stevie walks up to Niall resting her head in his lap.  Niall’s hands are hypnotizing as he strokes his fingers through her fur, fingers strong and steady as scratches at her ears.

“I see that.  Did you run them ragged?”  Harry brushes her hair, tangled and curly, back away from her face and can’t help but wonder how much de-tangler he’s going to need tonight to just be able to brush through it.  But when she looks at him, those green eyes bright and beautiful he just doesn’t care.  He doesn’t care how tired he is, or how hard he has to work or any of it because she’s here and she’s happy and that’s all that matters.

“I didn’t mean to Daddy,” her lower lip comes out to tremble.

“No worries, poppet, Stevie will just sleep well tonight.”  Niall tells her and gives her a bright smile, almost as bright as the sunshine that looks like it’s trapped in Niall’s eyes. She echoes his smile realizing that she didn’t do anything wrong.

“Will you sleep well tonight, Niall?” And when he laughs it’s a whole body experience- for Niall and for Harry- it makes him smile and sends a shiver right down to his toes.

“Probably not, I’ve been doing my best work at night this week.”  He tells her.

“Work?”  Mac has dropped his head down beside her and she reaches down to pet him.  Harry grabs for the leash and latches it on.

“I write stories.”  Niall tells her, snapping on Stevie’s leash, then he looks back to Harry.  “How about I walk you home?”

“Well it sounds like we’re going to the same place so why not?”  Harry can’t help but remind himself on the walk home that this isn’t what it feels like- Niall’s not family- even though Olivia is holding on to his hand too, chattering at the both of them.  He reminds himself that Niall is not looking to join a ready-made family- hell most people out there aren’t. 

And when they part ways on the stairs with Harry and Olivia going up one more flight of stairs Harry has to remind himself that he really shouldn’t be looking for excuses to call Niall or to see him again…

But he is anyway.

----

So it’s not that Niall’s looking for a reason to visit the bakery- but he’s meeting Liam at the office this morning and pastries are a good idea right?  People can bring stuff in like that and not have it be weird, right?  That a perfectly normal reason to stop in at the bakery, right?

He’s not going just to see Harry- that’d be weird.

He pulls open the door and the little bell rings. Over by the windows there are people in the booths, one couple talking, another college girl reading a book, and then Harry’s coming through the door that must lead to the kitchen.

He smiles bright when he sees Niall and he instantly sees where Olivia got her dimples from.

“Hi,” he smiles back and Harry just puts his hands up.

“You have perfect timing!  Wait right here. I need you for something.” Harry commands holding both of his hands up in front of him; Niall doesn’t know what that is supposed to mean so he ends up  freezing a few meters in front of the counter as Harry instantly turns around going back to the kitchen only to come back up with his hands full.  “Okay are you hungry?  You are right?  ‘Cause I need you to try stuff for me.”  Niall walks the rest of the way to the counter and looks at the assortment in Harry’s hands, there are 4 different pastries, croissants, and cupcakes.

“I can’t eat all that.”  Niall tells him, its 10:00 in the morning- there is no way.

“I don’t need you to eat all of it.  Just a bite or two of each.  I just need someone else’s opinion.  Please…”  Harry looks at him, eyes pleading and Niall already realizes he’s in trouble- he can’t really stand up to Olivia or to Harry, apparently.

“Okay, sure.”  He looks over the collection not sure what he’s looking at but he’ll give it a shot.

“Oh, wait just one second.”  Harry requests as returns from out back once again with a three different piping and frosting bags.  He puts the finishing touches on them with a slash of icing on some and frosting on the cupcakes.  He ends up getting frosting on his thumb and he sticks it in his mouth licking it off.  Niall can’t help but watch as he does so, and he shouldn’t notice but he does. Harry’s lips are red and slick from where he licked them, but when Niall looks up; he sees that Harry is watching him. Harry raises his brow suggestively gives Niall a wink.

“This one is apple.”  He hands him a pastry and Niall takes it dumbly because he has no idea what’s going on, still a bit phased and flushed from Harry’s reaction to him staring a bit too long.  He bites into it and the flavors of apple and cinnamon explode in his mouth. It’s amazing.   He can’t help the moan of appreciation that slips out of his mouth.

“Good then?”  Harry asks, but Harry’s gaze is locked on his lips now and his cheeks have a bit of pink to them.

“Yeah, that one’s good…” he sets that one down before he eats the whole thing because he has more to try.  Harry takes that one away and gives him another one.

“Strawberry cream cheese,” Harry tells him watching him intently as he bites into the Danish.  He shakes his head at that one, “Hmm, weird texture.”  Harry nods and then gives him the next one.   The croissant was warm and flakey and has dark chocolate in the center and Niall finds himself letting out that moan again. This one he likes so much he takes a second bite. 

“So I think that I can just grade my food on the sound of your moans- that belonged in porn.”  Niall’s cheeks go red at that and he glances around at the other customers and no one even notices that they are there.

“Sorry?”  Niall shrugs his shoulders a bit and he can feel the blush moving up his neck and back into his cheeks.

“Don’t be, I like it…”  He hands him the next one and it looks just like the one he just had.  He looks back at Harry who just nods and waves his hand to take a bite.  He makes a questioning sound trying to identify the flavor, its sweet and very good.

“What is it?”  He looks back down at the croissant and smells it.  This time Harry laughs at him.

“It’s apricot.  Do you like it?  That moan was not very telling.”  Niall just laughs.

“Are you really grading your food by the noises I make?”  It seems like a valid question because Niall can’t help but be a little surprised at the intensity in which Harry is watching him eat. Harry’s gaze is locked in on his lips as he eats and it strange yet oddly …erotic?

“Your noises really are very telling.  I’m sure in more than just food tasting.”  Harry seems to be able to completely ignore the reference he just made by handing him a cupcake taking the croissant back from him.  Niall’s keeping the chocolate one though, that’s going to be his breakfast.  “Try that.” 

Niall’s still blushing as he bites into the cupcake.  “What the…”  It’s spicy, the cupcake is spicy?  He looks at it and it looks like a plain chocolate cupcake with chocolate icing- but it’s spicy enough so that his lips are burning and he can’t stop licking them.

“It’s chocolate cayenne. Do you like it?”  Niall just looks back down at the cupcake and doesn’t know what to think. 

“It’s spicy?”  Niall can’t help but think that’s just weird for a cupcake.

“Well, yeah, luv, cayenne pepper does that.”  Niall can’t help that notice that Harry’s green eyes are very intent on him, focused on him, his mouth, and his opinion.

“Well they taste good.  It’s just weird?  For me?”  Niall tells him handing that cupcake back to him.

“Okay, I’ll take it, now Niall after all of that,” He leans both forearms on the counter displaying his tattoos for Niall and smiles dimples and all, “What can I do for you?”

For a moment Niall just takes in the beauty that is Harry, his glowing green eyes, bright smile.  He must have shaved this morning because his jaw is stubble free and he just now notices that he has a bit of flour on his cheek.  He fights the urge to reach across the counter and brush it off.

“Uh, I have a meeting, for work, I was going to bring treats?”  Niall tells him.

“Well let’s do that then.”  Harry pulls out a box and opens the case, grabbing a pair of gloves and paper.  “What do you want?”

“You pick.”  Niall tells him, because honestly he has no clue.

“Half or full dozen?”

“Full?”  When it comes out as a question, Harry just laughs at him.

“Well how many people are in the office?”  Harry asks grabbing a piece of paper and pen putting it on top of the counter.

“I honestly don’t know.  I do most of my work via email and the cloud.  I only go in like four times a year. So I have no idea how many people there are in the office, but more is better?  Right?  So let’s go with a full dozen.”  Niall tells him and Harry just chuckles at him again.

“That must be interesting.  I can’t imagine working from home.  And hey, I forgot to get your number yesterday.  Why don’t you write it down?  I mean if you wanted to do like the cinema or something.  There is this kid dance movie coming out Liv wants to see, I thought you could come?  I mean if you don’t have plans Friday.  But you don’t have to- I mean if you already have plans.”

“No, yes, I mean...no plans.”  And what is it about Harry that turns him into a stumbling idiot… He grabs the pen and writes down his number, making sure it’s very clear. His handwriting is good for the most part but he still doesn’t want to risk this.

“Okay, so now you do- have plans I mean.  I’ll text you the info.”  Harry hands him the box and rings him up.  “We’ll have to do this again soon and see how much I can make you moan again.”  Niall’s cheeks flare up a bright pink.

“Hey, don’t judge me, I just love food.”  And that at least makes Harry smile. He looks down at his watch, “Hey I gotta go.”  He didn’t plan on staying here this long- but he’s glad he did…

“Get outta here!”  Harry shoos him out the door.

It’s the first time Niall’s ever been late to a meeting but he really doesn’t care at all.

----

Harry’s oddly nervous going into tonight.  It’s just a movie, that’s all it is but Olivia’s super excited and bouncing off the walls and he’s so nervous it’s like there is a fleet of butterflies in his stomach.

It’s like he’s going on date, but it’s just a movie- not even dinner and a movie, just a movie and a kids movie at that, but he’s going with his extremely hot neighbor who his daughter absolutely adores.  He couldn’t believe how excited she was when he asked if she wanted Niall to go along.  He had never seen her get that happy at the prospect of hanging out with someone, but she had just grabbed his had with both of hers –saying with big green eyes, “Really Daddy?”  And legitimately jumping up and down when he said “Yes, really.”

They’ve been texting back and forth a little bit just about the plans for tonight but this is the first time in a long time he’s met someone new; and more so someone that Olivia is comfortable around.  He doesn’t know why but she’s always been a bit slow to open up to people- Niall being the exception and he can’t help but feel like there is a reason for that.

“Go ahead and knock Liv.”  Harry nods to his daughter.   She’s small for her age but Harry secretly likes it.  The doctors have assured him that she’s just in the lower percentile and he doesn’t have anything to worry about and Harry’s just grateful that at the age of five he can still swing his little girl up into his arms at any time he wants. 

She nods and raises her fist and knocks.  Harry waits for Stevie to bark, but instead Niall answers the door with silence.

Niall looks good, he’s just in a black Henley and skinny jeans but he looks good- like good enough to eat.  Harry stops himself from thinking about that too much because that only leads to dangerous territory, territory that he’s trying to avoid.

Stevie sits beside him with a rope toy in her mouth and she takes a couple steps forward to give it to Olivia. 

“You can take it poppet and just throw it.”  She laughs as she pulls it from Stevie throwing it into the living room.  Stevie chases after it and brings it back, dropping it right back down in front of her.  Niall grabs a treat from a container on the counter and gives it to Olivia, “Here, tell her good girl.”

“Good Girl.”  Olivia repeats and Stevie takes the treat, picking up the rope, trotting over to the corner and curling up gnawing on the rope.

“How did you get her not to bark?”  Harry asks- every time Gemma or his Mum come over Mac makes a ruckus. 

“Oh, I trained her that if she hears a knock it’s polite to grab a toy for our guest.  That way she associates the knocking of the door with getting a toy from her box instead of getting excited and jumping all over people.”  Niall explains, locking the door behind him.  Harry’s heart skips a beat when Olivia reaches for Niall’s hand holding onto it as she trots down the stairs.

“Can you teach Mac how to do that?”  Olivia asks and he’s grateful that Olivia asked it so he didn’t have to.

“I’m sure we can.  We can teach Mac all kinds of tricks.”  Niall smiles over at Harry and it feels intimate and warm.  He likes it.

He listens to Niall and Olivia talk most of the walk to the cinema.  The air is just now starting to heat up for summer so he listens as Olivia explains that she’s only allowed to wear dresses with leggings because that’s Daddy’s rule but she didn’t want to wear leggings today so she’s wearing shorts instead.  

Niall acts likes he’s completely captivated by her conversation, but Harry can see those pink lips twitch with humor and when they get to the cinema he can’t help but drop his hand to Niall’s lower back to guide him in the door- since Olivia won’t let go of his hand.  And he didn’t look at his arse- nope- not at all.

Harry buys the movie tickets but Niall buys all the treats so it ends up being mostly even.  Once they find their seats Olivia climbs into Harry’s lap to get settled.   He always tries to time it so they miss most of the previews and that they are close to the aisle because Liv always has to wee at some point in time during the movie, but now he has this extra person here to help. 

He’s not used to that.

Niall hands him some napkins when Olivia accidentally spills soda on his arm and always makes sure she has some popcorn. 

He’s not used to that either.

But even with his daughter here he can’t fight the urge to brush his hand along Niall’s arm, or to tap his boot against Niall’s foot when there’s something funny on screen, and he finds he ends up completely enchanted, and discreetly watching Niall more than the movie itself.

His laugh is just pure joy.  The first time he hears his full bodied laugh, he’s caught off guard.  It’s the same laugh from the park; the one that makes Harry’s body stand at attention and a smile automatically hit his own lips.  Sometimes it’s just a light chuckle and sometimes it a full body laugh- but it doesn’t seem to matter, either way it just makes Harry smile.

On the walk home Harry buckles to Olivia’s demands and gives her a piggyback ride, her arms around his neck as her feet dangle and kick.  She’s starting to lose energy though- he wouldn’t be surprised if she falls asleep on the way home.

“Daddy?”

“Yeah baby?”  He and Niall are stopped at the crosswalk waiting for the signal to go.

“You need to hold Niall’s hand as we go across the street. You make me do it so he has to too.”  Olivia tells him and it’s loud enough for Niall to hear. 

“Poppet, are you worried about my safety?”  Niall asks her and he seems to be fighting a smile.

“Yes, we should always stay safe.”  Olivia tells him.  Harry has drilled it into her brain that she can’t go near a street without him.  She was three when he saw her run into a street to get a wayward ball and he almost had a heart attack at 23. 

Harry extends his hand and looks at Niall expectantly.

“I have very nice hands. Very good for holding.”  Harry tells him and Niall smiles and just goes with the flow putting his hand in Harry’s.  As they walk Harry doesn’t stop his thumb from rubbing over Niall’s knuckles or noticing that Niall’s hand is slightly damp- just like his.  “We’ll keep Niall safe.” Harry tells his daughter, and just so she doesn’t scold him again he holds onto Niall’s hand well past the intersection.

He’s just doing this for Liv, he tells himself- it’s not because Niall’s hand feels good in his own- not at all.

He doesn’t drop Niall’s hand until he starts to feel Olivia fall into slumber, legs and arms slowly going slack.  Niall lets go quick enough when he realizes what’s going on.   The conversation lulls into comfortable silence as they walk the last couple blocks home.

“Let me walk you up.  I’ll get the door open for you.”  Niall whispers and he must know something about having kids around because most people wouldn’t have thought of that.

“Yeah, thanks,” He whispers.  He should be able to keep Olivia asleep the entire time, he’s always been good at shuffling her around and once she’s asleep he likes to keep her like that.  They take the stairs up bypassing Niall’s second floor flat to go up to Harry’s third floor flat.

“Keys?”  Niall asks.

“Uh, front right pocket.”  And he keeps a grip on Olivia as Niall’s nimble fingers reach in and grab his keys- quick and efficient.  Harry tries not to think about how without his daughter this could be - would be a wildly different scenario.

Niall opens the door with a twist of the key and Mac starts to scuffle but Niall silences him with a quick “shhh.”  He wishes he could get the dog to respond to him that well- but it’s getting there.

“Do you need help…?”  He leaves it hanging but motions to Olivia still draped on his back, 

“Sure.”  And between the two of them they get her off his back and cradled into Harry’s arms, just like the baby she used to be.

“So I had a great time tonight.”  Niall tells him still whispering.  Harry knows why he’s whispering but it just seems to make the moment oddly more intimate.

“Me, too.”  And he’s really at a loss as to what to say… “We should do it again soon, but right now…”  He looks down to Olivia cradled in his arms and he just melts, like he always does.  It can be so hard being a single parent, trying to handle it all on your own, but times like this he wouldn’t trade for the world.

“Yeah, good night, Harry.”   He smiles soft then turns and heads towards the stairs.

“G’night Niall.” He watches the other man make his way down the stairs and then he turns to put his little girl to bed.

Tonight was a good night- he can’t help but hope for more just like it.

----

Chapter Text

----

It’s really surprising how quickly Harry and Olivia have started to become part of his daily routine after the odd but amazing date-like night at the cinema. And to think it had all started with him texting Harry the number for the organizer of the Farmer’s Market and then it just took off from there. It’s been about a month since they first made the trip to the cinema together and Niall finds that he stops into the bakery even more now; at least once a week and it’s almost gotten to the point where he and Olivia have trained Mac to do more tricks than Stevie…almost.  Its like he just can’t stay away from them- but he’s not really trying that hard either.

After the initial trip to the cinema the interactions just keep happening more and more.  He’ll get a call while he’s attempting to work on his book that he really should be focused on, but instead finds it’s so easy to get distracted. It starts with a text…

“Hey Ni, I need you to come and try this new recipe.”

And then another-

“Hey, Ni, can Liv come down? She’s insisting on showing you her drawing.”

 The next time is something like-

“Hey Ni, Mac is really stir crazy, do you want to come with us to the park?”

And every time Niall gives in, he doesn’t even stop to question it.

From there it turns into…

“Hey, H what do you say we take Liv to the zoo? The office had some spare tickets.”

Or…

“H, I saw an advert for this film that’s coming out, what do you think?”

And Niall finds he really doesn’t want it to stop.  He’s becoming so attached to the little family that it’s ridiculous.

To think it all started because he’d mentioned the market to Harry randomly, and now here they are- today, it’s the first Market Thursday.

He’s in the back of the bakery, and it’s the first time he’s been allowed back here but Harry had really needed a hand.  He doesn’t pretend to really know Harry, but even he can sense Harry’s anxiety. Olivia’s with Gemma doing whatever it is girls do and Niall is here helping to pack up Harry’s SUV with all the food items and everything that Harry thinks he might need. Originally Niall had wanted to be here for support, but also because he’s a bit curious to see how the night goes.  He really hopes this isn’t just going to be a waste of time- especially since it was his suggestion, and although he doesn’t think it will be, he really wants this to work out for Harry. Harry often mentions that he’s got a plan- a master plan of some sort- and he’s focused on making it happen. That’s one thing he does know about Harry- he’s very driven.

Niall finds that he’s nervous for him- and that’s one of the many hints that he’s picked up on that he’s starting to fancy his new best mate a little too much.

It doesn’t help that Harry is supermodel attractive.  From his face to his feet Harry is beautiful to look at and Niall is careful- very careful not to look too long.  But it’s tricky because sometimes he swears that Harry is looking at him too- and then he doesn’t know what to think. His beauty isn’t just on the outside however; Harry is one of the kindest, most gentle, down to earth people he has ever met.  So Niall tries to just push his urges to the back burner and focus on the fact he’s gotten to be pretty good mates with Harry.

It just gets a little tricky though, because Harry flirts with him so freely that he often finds himself left feeling somewhere between confused and aroused, sometimes even a strange mixture of both.  The man’s words can be sweet as honey or sinful as sex. Even on the best day Harry makes his head spin.

He’s been up to their flat a few times and they had spent another night going to the cinema, but this time they didn’t hold hands on the way home, Niall secretly hoping Olivia would insist on it, was left feeling slightly bereft. Then there was the one random night when the power went out, and they all went up to the rooftop to stare at the stars and he got to share with them his love of space as he excitedly brought out his telescope and taught them both all about the constellations.

He keeps reminding himself that this is just a friendship- but he often finds himself enjoying all the flirting and during those times he doesn’t know what to think. They’ve never really talked about it and Niall wonders if both of them just aren’t ready to take that risk.  It’s a big step but it’s hard to ignore all of Harry’s random touches, his blatant innuendoes at the bakery, or how his eyes seem to heat up when Niall doesn’t remember to censor a moan when biting into a new bakery creation. He’s walked out of the bakery half-hard on more than one occasion.

He still knows very little of Olivia’s mum; he’s really only been able to deduct a couple things- One; Harry had a daughter with a girl he loved and two; he hasn’t shown any romantic interest in anyone in the brief time that Niall has known him.

“I think that’s everything.”  Harry states as he slams the back gate down on the SUV, pulling Niall out of his daze of overthinking.

“Business cards?”  Niall asks because he pushed hard for those.

“Yes.”

“The new ones with the website and your email?”  Niall had pushed hard for that too- Harry needs to have a web presence and a way for people to contact him and search for him.  It was a digital world this day and age-because of his writing Niall knew that more than ever. 

Harry rolls his eyes at him and nods again.

“You have the tables, canopy cover and table clothes ?”  It didn’t look like it was going to rain, but in London you never know.

“Yes.”  Harry responds with a nod.

“The credit card reader?”

“Yes.”  Another nod.

“The notes to make change.”  Niall ticks off the list they had discussed earlier.

“Yes, you still think £250 is enough?”   Harry looks back to him for reassurance and Niall can’t help but smile at those pretty bright green eyes.

“More than plenty.  And you have everything you want to sell?”

“Yes.”  This nod shakes his curls and he ends up tying them back behind with a scarf he has wrapped around his head.  It looks stupid and somehow ridiculously attractive at the same time and Niall has no idea how in the world Harry can pull it off.

“Dog treats?”  Niall prompts.

“You think?”  Harry asks.

“People will bring their dogs, go get them.”  Niall orders and Harry rushes back in grabbing a plastic container full of the colorful treats.

“Ok, now I would say you are set.  Are you sure you don’t want me to follow you and help you set up?”

Harry looks back at the very full SUV and looks back worriedly at Niall.  And he gets it- knows what it’s like to want to try to do things all by yourself because you know you should, but at the same time just feeling so overwhelmed with the thought of doing it all by yourself.  He remembers Liam grabbing his hand the moment he found out his first novel was going to be published and pulling him to the first pub on the way home to get drunk off his arse in celebration.  He also remembers the overwhelming feeling of success and knowing that now he was going to have to do it again and again and again.

“Let’s go.”  Niall makes the decision for him and follows him on the short drive in his car. 

It takes almost two hours to get him set up.  Harry is the ultimate perfectionist when it comes to things like this and he doesn’t stop until it is just the way he wants it.

“Take pictures so you remember for next week.”  Niall suggests bumping into his shoulder with his own and Harry smirks at him.

“That’s a great idea.”  He pulls out his phone and takes a bunch of photos from all sorts of different angles.  Harry starts to rattle off that he already knows how to make this all more streamlined next time around.  He needs to pack this way and organize that way and maybe buy risers so the displays look nicer and baskets for the loaves of bread.  Niall makes sure that he has his new flyer and business cards at the front so that people can grab them and then he does a final look over everything.

People are already starting to wander the streets as they put the finishing touches on Harry’s set up.  “So I think I’m going to head back.  Let me know if you need help tearing this all down?”  Niall looks over at Harry behind the makeshift counter.  He’s in a white zip up chef jacket, black skinny jeans, and still wearing that scarf to keep his hair out of his face.  In short he looks as delicious as the baked goods in his display.

He doesn’t even know it’s happening until Harry’s arms are around him and he’s pulled in tight for a hug.  Harry’s the perfect height so he can easily drape his arms over his shoulders and turn his face into his neck.  Harry tightens his arms and lifts him up off the ground whispering “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”  Before setting him back down and releasing him.

Niall can’t help just staring into his face when Harry takes a couple steps back; Harry’s hands are still on his waist and his own hands still on Harry’s shoulders.  It all feels dangerously, deliciously tense and Niall quickly takes another long step back- away from Harry to put more space between them before he can give in to his desires and kiss him.  But that would be a bad idea- he has to remind himself.  It doesn’t matter how often he thinks about it- wants to- they are just mates.

 “So, uhm, yeah, call me?  Let me know how it goes?”  He takes a couple more steps back and he knows that this will be like all their other moments.  Come tomorrow they will just ignore that anything even happened.

“Yeah, of course.”  Harry nods and looks at the crowd starting to gather.

Niall turns, leaving Harry to the madness and he heads home for a night of staring at his computer screen and his imagination most likely leaving him in despair. 

He’s only put down 15 pages in the last two weeks and for the first time in a long time Liam seems to be a little concerned about him hitting his deadline.  It’s just that he’s been busy lately and a lot of his free time and brain capacity has been taken up by a certain baker and his sweet young daughter. 

He finally saw the shy side of Olivia for the first time when they all went to the market together, as soon as Olivia was around strangers she started clinging to Harry and Niall- whichever one was closer- and now he understands what Harry meant when he’d said that Olivia didn’t normally warm up to people like she did with Niall.  He considers her walking up to him that day in the park a gift because his life has gotten so much better with the two of them in it.

It makes sense though that they never really ran into each other before Harry and Olivia got Mac.  They run on completely different schedules- Harry ever the morning person and Niall often working into the night whenever an idea pilfers itself into his brain and just won’t leave.  It’s why Stevie is so important… she’ll come and get him and make him take her outside, which always alerts him of just how much time has passed. 

He was so young when he started writing.  For as long as he could remember it had always been his emotional outlet. It had always just come natural, he would see a bickering couple in the grocery store and he could write out their life story.  He’d see a girl crying in the corner of the Tube- obviously trying to keep to herself and he could tell her love story and her heart break.  He took a huge risk in his first year of college, writing his book on the side when he should have been focused on his studies but he did it anyway. Once finished, he’d reached out to a publishing house- somehow found Liam and now here he is seven published books later- working on number eight. 

And number eight just keeps giving him issue after issue.  

It just after 10:30 when Harry calls him.

“Hey, H.”  He doesn’t know when Harry started becoming ‘H’.  It just happened and Harry never said anything- just mimicked the action when he and Olivia started calling him ‘Ni’- and he liked it, he liked the intimacy of the nicknames- the familiarity of it.

“Oh my god, I’m exhausted but that was amazing!  I didn’t even bring back a loaf of bread- I sold almost everything and it’s just gone- it’s all gone and I- I did really good Ni.  This more than doubled today’s normal sales.”  It’s huffed out on a sigh and Niall wonders if he’s home or driving home.

“That’s amazing!  I knew you would do well!”  And he did, while he had mentioned the idea to Harry spur of the moment he knew that a business like Harry’s would do well there.  His bakery specialized in fresh baked good and unique items that you couldn’t find elsewhere.  Plus his dog treats were getting to be really well known in the area.

“And the pet treats?”  Niall can’t help but ask.

“You were right.  They were the first things gone!  There were so many dogs there.”   Harry tells him on an exhausted laugh.  Niall lets Harry excitedly chatter on and on and he knows it’s stupid but his heart beats just a little bit faster especially when Harry finally falls silent for a second.  “So I should probably call my mum, let her know how tonight went.”  Everyone was excited for Harry to try something new, Niall hadn’t met his mum but he was sure that she was also waiting for his call.

“You didn’t call her first?”   Niall sputters out trying to calm his voice to mask his surprise.

“No I wanted to call you right away. You were the first person I thought of.” Niall’s heart stops because maybe- just maybe Harry is on the same page he is.  Maybe- he could fancy Niall the way Niall fancies him?

He tries not to think about it too hard.  But he can’t help but think back on little things.  How Harry’s arm will drop over his shoulder, or how he’ll often guide Niall with a wide hand on his lower back, or how when they sit at the park together watching Olivia with the dogs- how close it is that they really sit, thighs constantly touching.

“Yeah, yeah, you should.  G’night H.”   He hangs up the phone and tries to stop himself from thinking about Harry when he should be thinking about his storyline

It doesn’t work.

It’s about three weeks later when they’re sitting pressed close together at the park trying to teach Mac to play dead that Harry looks at him solemnly and asks, “So Gemma’s going out of town for 3 weeks and I don’t have anyone to watch Liv.  What do you think?”

He knows what a big deal this is.  He completely understands the level of trust that Harry must have in him taking this step forward. So of course he says “yes”.

----

“It’s going to be fine.”  Gemma tells him coloring in Anna’s dress on the coloring page that she and Olivia are working on.  Gemma is neatly coloring in the lines creating a bright dress of teal and purple.  Olivia is watching her aunt color with extreme concentration, her pink tongue sticking out between her lips as she attempts to do the same coloring Elsa’s dress but with pink and purple. 

Sometimes Harry can’t believe how lucky he is.

Tonight Niall is meeting a member of his family and while he always gives her a hard time, Gemma’s opinion is important to him. Gemma has been with Liv since she was born and because of that they are very close.  Really though, tonight is all about making sure Harry isn’t blinded by his insane attraction and that Niall will be able to handle watching Liv on his own without any issues.

“Yes, Daddy it’s going to be fine.”  Olivia echoes Gemma before she looks up with curiosity, “What are you worried about Daddy?” She asks before going back to her coloring page. She always gets worried when Harry’s worried so he tries not to let on if anything is bothering him.  It works most of the time, but sometimes his daughter is just too intuitive for her own good.  She’s very good on picking up on the emotions around her. Harry considers that empathy a gift even though at times like this he wishes that she couldn't.

“He’s worried you won’t be good for Niall. That’s why we are both watching you tonight.”  Gemma tells her, before looking over her shoulder and sticking her tongue out at Harry.

“Daddy! Of course I’ll be good for Ni!  I love Ni.”  She looks up from her coloring- her little face outraged.  She’d taken to calling him ‘Ni’ and Harry had picked it up the habit from her.  It was hard for a five year old to pronounce to his full name and Harry wasn’t even sure if Niall had taken notice of the change.

“I know you do, I’m worrying for nothing.”   He assures her and she seems to relax and goes back to her coloring, but not before giving him a long look.

“Besides I’m just going to pretend like I’m not here, and read my book,” Gemma says pointing to her tablet, “and talk to Michal about our vacation.”  She raises her phone and shakes it at him.  “It’s just a practice run for when I’m gone next week.  I’m sure he’ll be fine.”  She tells him.

“Of course we’ll be fine Daddy,”  Olivia agrees not even bothering to look up from her coloring this time, until there’s a quick tap on the door and Niall as per usual these days lets himself in.  Mac however is off to find a toy just like he had when Gemma arrived.  His training was paying off, Mac has turned out to be such a joy and he and Olivia together are just priceless to watch sometimes.  The last two months had really changed things… if he’s being honest with himself meeting Niall had really changed a lot of things.

“Hey guys!”  Liv jumps from her seat rushing over to him and wrapping her arms around his belly.  Every time Harry sees them together he falls a little bit more in love with the pair.  Mac sits patiently waiting to give Niall the bone he got for him.  Niall grabs it from him and gives it a toss while still giving Olivia a hug.

“Ni, Ni, Ni,” She rattles on excitedly, “You need to meet my Auntie Gems.  She has a boyfriend named Michal and she writes stories like you do!”  She’s pulling Niall by his arm into the kitchen and Gemma and Harry are both laughing because she didn’t even give Niall time to get both shoes off.  On his left is a brown boot; on the right is a black sock with bright multi colored dots.  To Niall's credit he just goes with the flow letting her drag him farther into the flat.

“Hi, I’ve heard so much about you.”  Gemma stands and looks at Harry and he knows what she’s thinking…because no, he never told her how attractive Niall was.

“All good I hope?” and Harry admires the charming smile on Niall’s face as he extends his hand out for hers to shake.

“According to Olivia you’re practically Prince Charming.”  Gemma tells him.

Niall looks down at Olivia with a bright smile and she smiles back.  Harry has known for some time that he’s a little bit in trouble because he just loves seeing them together.

It was only a couple weeks ago that they had invited Niall up to their flat to watch Frozen.  Olivia had been absolutely appalled when he told her that he hadn’t seen it and said, “But Daddy it’s the best!  Ni needs to see it now.”  “Now” hadn’t exactly worked out as Niall had been busy with his writing; or attempting to, so they planned a Sunday afternoon for him to come over and watch it instead.

They’d been all prepared with popcorn and snacks and even though Harry’s already seen the film 100 times somehow that night it was different; better even; seeing it with Niall there with them and then watching both Niall and Liv fall asleep on the couch not even getting to see the rest of the film.  Harry’s heart swelled;  almost burst at the picture the two of them made cuddled up under Olivia’s Frozen blanket.

So he wanders to the door putting on his shoes and he vaguely hears Gemma say, “I swear you look familiar, have you been on the telly?”  Huh

“Uh, I write books?” He hears Niall say- and really he should ask Niall more about that, but whenever they are together the conversation always flows so easily that he never thinks to ask about his job or what he does until after the fact, he just knows that Niall’s always around, especially when he needs him.

“Of course!” he hears Gemma exclaim and then she’s talking way too fast for him to understand and Niall is laughing and Harry relaxes a bit realizing that’s one thing he doesn’t have to worry about. They are getting along just fine.

“Are you guys good?”  He shouts out as he zips up his chef’s jacket. He doesn’t really use it that often- just for meetings and appointments but it helps him feel a bit more like a professional. 

“Are you leaving Daddy?”  Olivia rushes from her seat to barrel into him and he makes an exaggerated grunt as she collides into him and she giggles just like she always does.

“Yup, and you’re going to be good, right?”  He picks her up and she giggles again as he bops her on the nose with his finger.

“Yes, Daddy.”  She nods and he sets her down.  He can’t help looking over to Gemma and she just rolls her eyes.

“Seriously we’re fine.”  Gemma tells him shooing him along with a motion of her hand.

“Yeah, we’ll be good H.”  Niall assures him as he’s finally getting a chance to take off his other boot and tosses it towards the door a good distance away from Harry.  It’s a testament to all the work they have done with Mac that he barely lifts his head at the sound of boot hitting the floor.  Harry had lost many a good pair of boots to that dog before Niall and his patient training.

He’s out the door leaving behind the smell of cooking dinner and laughter.

The night passes in a blur much like they have been since he started attending the market just a few weeks ago.  It’s hard to even believe that Niall has been in his life that long already, it feels like so much longer.  They’ve become such a unit and in a way he feels bad because he can’t help but feel like he shouldn’t depend on someone like he depends on Niall because they’re not actually family. 

But when Harry lets himself think about it, he can see it.  He can see the three of them as a family. He can see himself coming home and having Niall there to kiss hello and share the details of his day with. They’re all attached to each other, he can see it - feel it.  He knows that Olivia worships Niall and that Niall adores her just as much.

But he can’t do it.  He needs to be focused- he needs to be smart.  He has a bigger plan, more than living paycheck to paycheck.  And these Thursday nights have turned into a crucial part of that plan.  He’s so busy at the market that the revenue he takes in is just insane. If he stays on course he’ll be able to pay off most of the mortgage on the bakery, refinance, and start really saving for a house for the two of them.  The houses in this area are expensive, but he wants to stay somewhat close to his mum and Gems and have Olivia stay in the school district that she’s in.  He works hard to save his money and lives as stringently as he can without denying Olivia of everything that makes a proper childhood.  One that he hopes she can look back on when she’s older and see that even though she didn’t have a mum- she had everything she needed and more with just the two of them.

It’s later than normal when Harry gets home and for some reason Niall and Gemma are still watching Frozen when he walks through the door.  But then again they haven’t seen it on endless loops like Harry has so at least they can still enjoy it, and maybe this time Niall will actually see the end?  Harry on the other hand, just can’t do it.  He knows what’s coming and instantly grabs the remote, putting it on mute, whispering a quiet “hello”.

“I don’t know what I’m gonna do if I have to hear those trolls sing that song again.”  It was cute the first few rounds, but not on time 357.

“I can see how that might be a bit much, brother dearest.”  Gemma chimes in as she stands quickly and heads for her purse.

“Is Liv in bed already?”  Harry asks looking around because this is new… most of the time she won’t fall asleep without him.

“Yeah, you can thank Niall for that. He read her a book and then we started this film- she climbed in his lap and she was out.  So I really don’t think you have to worry about Liv, she’ll be fine.  As far as she was concerned I wasn’t even here tonight.  It was all ‘Niall this’ and ‘Niall that.’”

“Hey, she knew you were here.”  Niall huffs out in a laugh, but he gets up off the sofa too and follows Gemma’s cues heading to the door, and slipping his boots on quick enough.

 She shrugs her jacket on, “Maybe let her go to his place next time?  That way it’ll even a bit more new and exciting. It’s not like she won’t sleep through the trip up the stairs.”  It’s not a bad suggestion- they are always looking for ways to get Olivia to be more comfortable with new situations and Harry knows that it’s not always in her best interest, but sometimes he’s glad she’s scared of other people and just wants her Daddy. He’s perfectly okay with that.

“My place is child-proofed.  I had to before Theo could come and stay with me.”  Niall offers up watching the siblings chat.  Harry had heard Niall talk before about Theo- his adorable little nephew that is just a couple years older than Olivia.

“Okay so I’ll just drop her off on my way to the market.” He looks over to Niall, “Can you stay for a bit?”  He just has a couple things to talk to him about, nothing major, just Liv’s nightly routine and things like that, or at least that’s what he tells himself.  Harry’s gotten really good at lying to himself when it comes to Niall.  Tries to convince himself he doesn’t want anything else he just wants to be friends- he’s happy being friends.

Niall nods and heads back to the sofa, just in case Gemma and Harry need to chat privately; Niall’s just too polite sometimes.

Maybe he should write out a list for Niall? Is that too much?  Too controlling? Should he make a list of foods that Olivia doesn’t like? She’s not allergic to anything, so he’s good there.  There are so many things to think about and even though Niall knows Olivia- he doesn’t know all those little things.  Not yet anyway.

“Stop it!  I can see it in your face.  You have nothing to worry about.  He loves that little girl as much as any of us do.”  Gemma snaps him out of his thoughts quick enough. She reaches up and pats his cheek, eyes so similar to his own and shining with truth.  “Good Night, Haz.”  She closes the door behind her and he turns back to Niall.

“So?”  Niall prompts once he hears the door close.  He makes his way back to the entryway where Harry just leans against the door forgetting everything he’d wanted to say to Niall.  He’s very good at making Harry lose his train of thought.  And all he can seem to think about at the moment is the handful of daydreams that he’s had. The scene unfolding before him so similar and reminiscent of his earlier thoughts tonight…coming home to Niall- to a kiss from Niall. 

It’s times like these that he reminds himself- he has a plan, a good plan, and Olivia is the center of it.  He’s a dad now- he doesn’t get to be selfish with his time.  He tries to shake it off- but the room feels warm with intent and he really didn’t mean to create that mood, but knows he did when he’d asked Niall to stay; by the way he looked at Niall… the way he’s still looking at him.

“Yeah, so- um Liv usually has homework, like- not a lot but just flashcards and stuff she does every night. And I’ll um, yeah, I’ll have her backpack loaded.”  He can’t help but stutter.  Are his eyes even bluer than normal?  God, they look like they’re glowing.  And Niall’s smiling- chuckling softly.  But this is important; they are trying to be proactive while Olivia’s on school break, and yes she’s only going into primary school but it doesn’t hurt to be ahead of the pack.

“Okay,” Niall nods, “So just like tonight?”  He prompts and Harry’s such an idiot. Of course they worked on that tonight.  He always loses his train of thought around Niall, it’s his eyes, and his smile, and well his everything. 

And he can’t stop staring.  Harry’s eyes are drawn down to his lips, wet from where he just licked them, his bottom lip red from digging his teeth into it.

“Yeah, just like tonight. Thank you again for doing this- thank you for staying, you’re just so good to her. I just worry, I’m sorry I just…”  Harry brings his hands up, hand spread wide and then just lets them drop.  He doesn’t mean to take the couple steps closer but he does. 

“I get it H, no worries.”  Niall mirrors him taking a few steps closer and Harry realizes that he is indeed still standing right in front of the door.  But Niall’s close, to be honest they are always close. And Harry always wants to be touching Niall, always wants to be pressed against him feeling the heat of his presence.  “Was there anything else?”

“No, yeah,” and it’s like Harry’s heart and mind aren’t connected right now.  He looks from Niall’s eyes bright blue to his lips. Then back up, and he knows Niall saw him do it.   He wants to ask Niall to stay longer.  They don’t always get a lot of time- just the two of them and usually when they do it happens at the bakery and he’s doing his best to see what noises he can draw out of Niall; but right now he wants time alone with Niall and not to have to share him with his own daughter- right now that’s all he wants. Wants to know when he’s going to see Niall again. “Hey, would you want to come by the bakery tomorrow, I could…”  Harry’s interrupted by Niall’s lips on his. The kiss is light, so light that he thinks he might have imagined it. 

But then Niall kisses him again and he knows he’s not imagining it. He can’t help but notice that his lips are just as soft as they look and a little wet- and he hates- just hates that he can’t do this because he wants to.  He really doesHe’s been dreaming about it day and night. He knows that he was even broadcasting the signals-

He presses his hands into his shoulders and gently nudges Niall back even though more than anything he wants to pull him in tighter- get lost in it.  See if all this chemistry is really as explosive as it feels.

Niall’s eyes open lazily and he looks a little apprehensive, “Did I...read this wrong?”  Niall asks, because Harry can see where he picked up on it, he knows exactly what he was doing.  He knows now that Niall feels it too-

“I’m not…I just” Harry starts and Niall face completely drains of color.

“I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to, I thought- I’m so sorry for assuming, I just...it never came up, and you flirted- but that doesn’t mean anything…and I fucked up I’m sorry.”  Niall’s hands are up and he’s backing away, shaking his head and Harry doesn’t want him to look like that- look scared- like he did something wrong.  He didn’t do anything wrong, the opposite really.  But Harry just can’t.

“No, it is fine- you’re fine. I like guys and girls and well I’ve never really worry about defining it really.”  But that doesn’t really seem to set Niall any more at ease.

“Ok, but still, I-” He brings a hand up and he’s biting his cuticle on his thumb and Harry knows a nervous gesture when he sees one.  He wants to grab it and pull it down, like he would have in the past, but Niall looks like he’s about to jump out of his own skin.

“I just can’t really do this- a relationship.  I have a Olivia and she’s my life- I don’t have time for a relationship or even a fling and I don’t know what you want- but I just don’t think I can give it to you right now.  I have more to think about than just myself.”  Harry tries to explain, feels his own heart breaking a bit in the process, but Niall knows Olivia- he’s sure he’ll understand.

“Yeah, I get that, I do, I just- I mis-stepped, I’ll-um- I...”  He points to the door that Harry is still standing in front of and Harry clumsily steps to the side.  “I’m just gonna go?”

“Okay, I’ll see you tomorrow?”  Harry asks.

“Maybe,” And Harry instantly hates it, hates this, because he knows that the answer would have been ‘yes’ a minute ago before he’d pushed him away.  “I have a meeting at work tomorrow about my book. I don’t know how long it will take but I’m sure we’ll run into each other at the dog park so Mac and Stevie can play with Liv?  Saturday afternoon, maybe?”  He’s inching toward the door, like he’s trying to stay as far away from Harry as he can and Harry hates it.  Hates that he can’t give Niall what he wants.  What they both apparently want- if he thought that he could have it now- but now is not the time.  No- something like this- a relationship- needs to wait, he has too much on his plate right now and he always promised himself that Olivia would come first.  Trying to have a relationship would just be selfish when he is all she has.

“Yeah, just let me know.”  Harry tells him and Niall nods slowly a couple times before opening the door and slipping out.

“I will, g’night Harry.”  And then the door is shut and Niall’s gone.

Harry walks to the door locking it behind him and the room feels empty; like Niall just took all the energy and light with him when he walked out the door.

He walks to his bedroom striping off his clothes and changing into his shorts and his old but well-loved Rolling Stones tee.  He learned a long time ago to sleep with clothes on.  He never knows when Olivia might walk through the door.  And as he drops onto his bed he feels just as emotionally drained as he is physically exhausted.

He hadn’t pictured tonight going this way- although he sort of had- he’d thought about what it would be like to come home to Niall and greet him with a kiss and tell him all about the two commissions that he may have gotten and the meeting with a bride next week.  

And now that’s not what he and Niall are going to be talking about the next time they see each other.  He lifts his hand and presses against his lips, like he can still feel the pressure there of Niall’s lips on his.  It had been so light- so tentative and then when he’d stopped him, he knows that he saw a bit of heartbreak in Niall’s blue eyes.

But it’s all going to be okay- he’ll see Niall soon- it might be awkward at first but they’re friends first and foremost- it will be fine.

This was all just a hiccup.

He’ll explain everything the next time he sees him and Niall will understand and everything will be fine.

Of course it will be fine.  It has to be- Harry can’t lose this. 

He just can’t.

----

Chapter Text

----

He takes the stairs as quick as his feet will carry him down to his own flat- not looking back.  He’s just wants to get away from this awkward situation that he just created.  He just wants to get out of here.  He doesn’t want to know if Harry peeked out the door after he closed it. If he’s watching him go… But as soon as he’s in his own flat, he lets himself break, falls back against the door and just drops to the floor.  He can feel the tears burning behind his eyes, but he breathes deep and tries to keep them from falling.  He can’t quite figure out the emotion he’s feeling- is it embarrassment?  More like heartbreak?  Mortification, maybe?

He thought…he just really thought…

He presses the palms of his hands against his eyes, hard, seeing stars in the blackness…Of course Harry doesn’t want Niall like that… what was he thinking?  Why couldn’t he just leave it well enough alone?

Stevie comes trotting over from her bed where she was all snuggled in for the night- but she must just know something’s wrong because she walks right into his space and nuzzles into his neck.

“Hey girl.” Niall wraps his arms around her neck and finds that a couple of the tears he thought he had been fighting have made their way loose. 

He’ll give himself tonight- just one night to mope, but then he’ll just get over it.

It had been a good night- Gemma had been an absolute doll and down to earth, even when Niall realized that she was a huge huge fan of his books.  “Read them all… Multiple times.”  She told him. 

And Olivia had been such an angel, not a thing to worry about there.  No issues even getting her into her pajamas and then when she fell asleep in his lap; he didn’t know that he could feel such huge affection for another human. His heart felt like bursting from his chest with how much he adores little Olivia.

But he had to go and take a chance…and usually he’s not a huge risk taker, but he’d been so sure that they were on the same page.  Harry had asked him to stay- had been reiterating things that Niall already knew, that they had already gone through but he should have known that Harry was just worried and really did want to go over that stuff with him.  He wasn’t really looking for an excuse for him to stay. 

He allows himself one beer and then makes himself go to bed.  Stevie follows him, jumping up on to the bed and curling up with him.  It’s not something she normally does but she’s an intuitive dog and she must just know

Of course he has a hard time falling asleep; ends up counting his breaths, hypnotizing himself to sleep and reminds himself that in the morning things will get better… it won’t be as embarrassing. He’ll get over it, and Harry’s memory of their awkward kiss from hell won’t be as vivid.  Maybe Harry can forget that it even happened…

Niall can only hope.

When he wakes up the next morning Niall reminds himself that yes- rejection sucks, but he’s experienced it before- hell everyone has at one point in time. But that doesn’t mean that it ever really gets better- or easier- or anything really-

It just sucks; no matter the circumstance.

But it’s still astonishing how many times he has to stop himself from texting Harry.  How many times a day he reaches for his phone to text the other lad.  And the fact that he has to stop himself from walking to the bakery just to grab breakfast out of habit.  He’s gotten used to stopping in there a lot more than he thought he had. It would be a good thing he thinks, to not be alone for a while.

But hell- It took him almost ten rejections before he even got his first book looked at; so of course he can fucking handle this.  

 Friday morning he finds that for the first time in weeks he’s able to throw himself into his work.  He ends up cancelling his meeting with Liam because thankfully- finally he’s getting somewhere.  Liam is more than happy to cancel if it means more progress on his book, which for the first time ever he is ‘officially’ behind on.  

Before he knows it it’s 3 A.M., then 5 A.M., and at 6 A.M. he ends up at the dog park watching the sunrise because Stevie eventually started barking at him, and that never happens.  But that’s why she’s so good for him.  He can lose hours- days even, writing in his own little world, but she’ll always pull him out of it.  Having to take care of her reminds him to eat and even to sleep.  She gets him out of his flat, moving around and breathing in fresh air- and sometimes that’s the best thing for him.

He sleeps, then writes, then naps, then writes, and then he eats when his stomach finally reminds him to by rumbling obnoxiously loud.  He can’t actually remember the last time he ate.   

He doesn’t even know what day it is when his phone finally lights up with a text from Harry, simple but never the less one that makes his heart jump a little in his chest. 

Park?

He looks at the time on the corner of his laptop and it’s already 6:00 and it’s Saturday night.  He’s almost two hours late compared to the normal time that they usually end up meeting; about an hour after the bakery closes.  Shit. 

But is this still a thing?   Is this something that they can still do?  Maybe he just needs to test the waters; feel it out to see how awkward it’s really going to be.  Because he already knows that it is going to be weird.

Harry’s just too nice- so he won’t be able to ignore what happened, even though that would be the easiest thing to do.  He’ll try to explain himself and it will be end up being one of those “it’s not you, it’s me” things.  But the truth is it is him- not Harry.  He made the advance- he misread the moment and he thought that Harry felt like he did- wanting more. But it’s hard to go backwards from that, the best thing to do is just ignore it and make sure it doesn’t happen again.  And that is exactly what he is going to do.

He looks in the mirror, takes off his glasses and even he can see that he looks awful. For a second he thinks about trying to make himself look better; less worn out; because Harry’s going to think it’s his fault but it’s not. This is just how he gets sometimes when the story he’s writing won’t leave him alone and lack of sleep takes its toll.

He decides to just go and texts back with a simple- be there in a bit.  He brushes his teeth and puts on some clean clothes and deodorant and then calls for Stevie. She’s used to this side of him- and she’s good at pulling him out of his funks. But even she seems a little tentative go to the park tonight, so he snaps on the lead and scratches around her ears. 

With one last look in the mirror- god, he looks really tired and his scruff is overgrown; but it’s not Harry’s problem and he’ll just make that clear.  He doesn’t ever want to make Harry or Liv worry, but if they are going to continue to be friends- Harry’s going to have to get used to this seeing this side of him as well.  He’s seen baker Harry- now its Harry’s turn to see writer Niall.

 He and Stevie head out and lock up behind them to make the quick walk to the park.  Stevie must sense his anxiety because even when they walk in, she doesn’t leave his side to go rushing off to Mac, like she normally does. When he takes off her lead she just stays there, pressed against his side.  So he reaches down and tangles his hand in her fur. “It’s okay, girl, go on.”

Olivia’s there with Mac already and she waves excitedly at them both and calls for her.  He gives her a big smile and a wave back.  Stevie looks up at Niall and he sometimes can’t get over how much his dog just gets him.  He takes a step away and pats her on her side in encouragement and she trots away heading over to play with the Olivia and Mac.  

Harry’s not hard to spot either, his bright pink shirt is eye catching and paired with black ripped skinny jeans that are blending with the colors of night.  Why, does he always have to look so good?   Niall thinks taking a deep breath as he walks over to ‘their’ bench. 

“Hey.  Sorry, I got a bit caught up with work.” He plops down beside Harry, much more cautious than he normally would be, but still trying to be casual about it. It’s so easy to overthink this now.  He doesn’t know what qualifies as too close at this point.  God- Why couldn’t he just have kept his hands to himself?  Why did he have to go and ruin a good thing?  Why did he even think he had a chance?

“Hey, so- um, about Thursday…”  And shit… he wants to talk about it. Right now?  They can’t even fake it for a minute?  He’s going to get the speech and really, he thinks he could do without it.

He glances quickly over at Harry before looking back at the ground between his feet. Harry is looking at him with a mix of nervousness and earnestness that makes Niall’s stomach turn.  He never intended to make Harry nervous. 

“Do we need to talk about it?”  Niall pleads. He takes in a deep breath and looks over at Harry holding his gaze.  He is going to face this head on.  He made a mistake and he can own up to that.  He sees the other lad’s eyes widen as he fully takes in his appearance for the first time.  He wants to let him know that this is normal- it’s not a big deal- it’s just the way he works sometimes, but he doesn’t really know how to say that without seeming like he’s lying. Instead he looks back to the ground, away from those green eyes that have probably started to see a little too much.

He’s probably starting to put the pieces together and realize that Niall’s been falling head over heels in love with him since day one.  Harry’s got to be trying to think of a way to let him down easy, but that’s not really his responsibility- Niall was the one that had assumed.

“I...I guess not…”  Harry stutters a little bit.  He probably had some big speech all planned out- now seemingly searching for what to say next. “But I guess- I um- I just want to make sure that we’re still okay, we’re okay...right?  I mean...I just can’t do any type of relationship- with the bakery and Olivia they take up most of my time.  And I’m really sorry that I lead you on.  That wasn’t my intent.”  And he’s getting the speech anyway…

“Harry, I get it- or I get it as much as I can without being a parent myself.  We’re good.”  Or they will be anyway.  He’ll make sure that happens- it’s the least he can do.  They might start to feel a little bit less like a family but Niall can’t help but feel that he brought this on himself.  He should have just not taken the risk- but Harry was saying the right things, asked him to stay to talk about things he already knew, moved in closer to Niall. The signs were all there. He really thought he’d been reading it all correctly.

“But this is...weird.”  Harry’s voice is a bit louder than normal. But he doesn’t sound angry.  It’s definitely frustration that’s coloring his voice right now.  It’s the first time Niall’s ever heard it directed at anyone other than Olivia.  “Right now this feels weird and you won’t even look at me.”  Niall looks back up and gives him a small smile, the best he can muster.

“It only feels weird ‘cause we’re talking about it.” Niall stresses.  “We don’t need to Harry.” and it feels foreign, and too formal to be using his full name again, but he figures that might help, calling him ‘H’ feels a little too intimate right now.

“But I feel like we do, you look tired...”  He sees Harry’s hand move like he wants to reach out, but then thinks better of it and puts it back in his lap. Just more proof to Niall that everything has changed.

“Yeah, I’ve been working; don’t really know when I slept last.  The story keeps coming into me head and I just need to get it out while it’s still fresh.”  Niall tries to explain but most people don’t understand-can’t comprehend how he can sit at a computer and completely lose track of time as the words pour out from his fingertips.  

“Oh.”  Harry looks surprised and also slightly unbelieving of his answer.

“Yeah, but it’s a good thing when it happens.” It really is a good thing.  He doesn’t really know how to explain it so instead he doesn’t even try.

“So we’re okay then?”  Niall can see Harry’s hands twisting together nervously and his toes digging into the dirt making his brown boots dusty and dirty.  He’s feels at a bit of a loss; because he just doesn’t know how to comfort him.  Normally he would put a hand on his thigh or swat at his hands, but he feels like he can’t touch- like that’s not respecting Harry’s decision. And there is no questioning Harry’s decision- he made it very clear.

“Yeah, of course, if it’s a friendship you want.  I...We can do that.  I’ll give you a bit of space for a while and in a few days hopefully this will seem like it’s not as big of a deal.  I was wrong and I get that.  I’m sorry to have put you in this position.”  Niall tells him laying out the facts and making sure to look Harry in the eye while he does it.  But Harry still doesn’t look okay with it all, looks like he still wants to say something. “Don’t worry about it.  It will all be better when the memories aren’t so fresh.”  Niall tries to reassure him...and maybe himself a little too.

He does know that time will help. Time always heals all wounds right?  But right now the rejection is just so fresh and it hurts, but the last thing he wants to do is damage his relationship with this beautiful family any further.  They’ve brought him so much joy in the last couple months and he doesn’t want to lose that.

“Okay, Okay,” Harry nods, and Niall can see his shoulders lower and relax.  So talking helped, and it will be alright- they can fix this, move on as though it never happened; maybe soon they’ll even laugh about it.  Okay- probably not soon, but later…eventually they’ll be able to have a laugh about it.  God- he hopes so anyway.

Niall nods but is at a loss for what to say next.  What can he do?  How can he make this easier for both of them?

Luckily Olivia solves that problem rushing towards them and then she’s babbling on about something or another in excitement and Niall figures with her as a buffer everything should be okay.

He’ll just make sure it’s all about Olivia- because the truth is it all started with her and it really is all about her anyway.

That’s just going to have to become the truth for both of them.

----

Harry can’t stop himself from looking up every time the tinkling bell chimes above the bakery door when it opens. Niall used to always stop in specially on Mondays to taste test for Harry or just to hang out and help the afternoons pass by quicker.  But today he was a no-show.  Just like he probably wouldn’t have come to the park Saturday without Harry’s texting him. But Olivia had been worried- who was he kidding – he was worried too.  Niall has always been as steady and reliable as the sun, so when he didn’t show up at the bakery before closing time, he’d taken the leap and sent the text.

Niall had looked so tired too- not at all like himself.  His eyes had been red rimmed and dark underneath, his hair fluffy and in complete disarray. He wasn’t even sure if Niall realized that he’d been rubbing his eyes every so often, and that towards the end he’d been more quiet than anything, only a yawn every once in while that would break up the uneasy silence between them.

On the walk back Niall had held Olivia’s hand and all Harry had really wanted to do was gather the other man up in hug, run his fingers through his hair and insist he take a nap.  Most of the time he’d say that was the dad in him- but it’s not with Niall- he knows it’s really not.

He didn’t expect that this would happen.  He hasn’t really felt drawn to anyone since Olivia was born.  She was the only person in his life, just this perfect little person that depended on him for everything.  And he was not going to fail her- he couldn’t.  But he didn’t want to let this go either- this thing with Niall.  He’d never felt a connection- a level of comfort with anyone quite like this before. 

He can’t help but pick up his phone now, looking for any type of interaction from the Niall, but there’s nothing. It’s been radio silence since last Thursday. 

In his head he knows what Niall’s doing; he’d even said it out loud.  He said that he would give Harry some space, some time to clear the air. Hoping to make things easier and less awkward between them; because yes Harry admits that Saturday evening had been a little awkward, which was something that he really wasn’t used to with Niall. 

The funny thing that Harry realizes is that space is the last thing he wants. The exact opposite if he’s being completely honest.  He wants Niall here and around him all the time.  He always has.  But in a way he gets it- because it really is unfair to lead Niall on- which he was doing, however unintentional it may have originally been.

There was an intimacy to their friendship that he’d never really realized before and he’s missing it like a limb right now.

Intuitive as always, Olivia had noticed that something was not quite right, with her dad at least; if the extra nightly cuddles were anything to go by.  It’s not like she’s seeing Niall any less; right now anyway; but she’d noticed that Niall had looked sad at the dog park, and when she ask him he had just smiled and said, “Not sad poppet, just tired, I’ve been working at night again.” 

Another day passes, still without any word from Niall and Harry is so attached to his phone it’s juvenile.  He never looks at his phone this much.  Ever.  

He can’t stop himself from texting on Wednesday.

We still on for tomorrow night?  It’s not like he thinks that Niall would bail- he’s just legitimately looking for an excuse to text and this is as good an excuse as any.

He sets his phone down and makes a point of walking away.  He does have things to do; he can’t just stare at his phone for hours on end.  So he checks on the pastries and the muffins baking in the back before heading back up.  His muffins have been making a killing at the markets downtown and he wants to make sure that he has plenty.  He’s thinking of doing a maple bacon favor, but he’d really like Niall’s input before he rolls it out...

Yup, film and dinner already selected.  Does Liv like puzzles?

An actual question… Niall is initiating conversation- just like he’d hoped he’d reply back to him with- a bit of that ease their earlier conversations had resurfacing, and he can’t help but be a little giddy about it- before he’s rolling his eyes at himself when the realization strikes that he’s officially turned back to his teenage years. But he can’t really be upset about it, and he doesn’t care that he responds back in seconds.

We’ve never tried.

He watches on his phone as the three dots appear… then disappear, then appear again...before the text finally comes through.

Ok

That’s it?  That’s all he gets?  He drops his phone to the counter feeling a bit deflated and goes back to the kitchen.

This fucking sucks.

When it’s finally Thursday Harry doesn’t know who’s more excited to see Niall- him or Olivia.  To be honest they are both kind of bouncing off the walls wanting and waiting to get their fix.  Liv can hardly contain her excitement and Harry really just wants nothing more than to stay home and spend the night in with them.

But the market nights have become a vital part of his long term plan- and this he reasons is exactly why he can’t have a relationship, he’s always going to be putting Olivia or the bakery before Niall, before anyone else, and that is as big of reminder as ever as to why he hasn’t seen Niall in almost a week.

But he’s still not happy about it.

Niall looks absolutely ecstatic to have them at his door.  He picks Liv up for a hug this time and smiles bright at Harry, but it’s still a little tinged on the edges- like Niall’s bit unsure of what to say or what to do, and really it was barely a kiss it shouldn’t fuck things up like this.

He knows that’s not true though- even as he thinks it- because the truth is there was emotion behind that kiss, a touch of tenderness and a lot of affection.

But it did change things- because now he knows what Niall’s lips feel like and he has to keep constantly reminding himself that he doesn’t want to taste them again.

“Hey.”  Harry feels a little stupid but he doesn’t know what else to say. And even though Olivia’s on the ground now she still has her arms wrapped around Niall’s legs. 

“Hey, so you don’t need to worry.  We’re going to make dinner and work on a puzzle and when we get bored with that switch to a film…Tangled?”  And he looks down to Olivia for approval.

“Yay!”  Olivia looks up at him, “Can I go play with Stevie?”  The dog is waiting patiently sitting a few steps behind them with a long chain of rope in her mouth- perfect for tug of war.

“She’s been waiting for you.”  Niall’s face can only be described as fond and really one of Niall’s most attractive traits is how much he loves Olivia.

“Hey, hugs.”  Harry tells her getting a tight one in before she’s off.   Harry is a bit sad to see his daughter run off so easily, but he’s still glad it’s with Niall.

“So I’ll be back…”  Niall interrupts him with a laugh, quirking his head and Harry can’t help but smile.  He brings his hand up and tugs on his lower lip.  He notices the fact that Niall’s gaze drops to his mouth for a second...but knows it’s best to try ignore those things now.  

He had always seen them- when they flirted, he just never thought that Niall would act on them- it really was unfair of Harry to lead them both on, but it was effortless and comfortable and fun and he really really misses it. 

“I know when you’ll be back, Haz.  You have nothing to worry about.  She’s proper well behaved.  Promise.”  Niall seems to be a bit more comfortable than he was on Saturday and maybe he was right- maybe this is just a time thing?

“I know, I just...you’ve never really had to deal with her when she’s misbehaving.  It happens- she gets mouthy and stubborn and just sinks her heels in and becomes a terror sometimes.”  Harry tries to explain- it’s just new- leaving his daughter with someone who isn’t Gemma or Mum.

“Hmm, could she take after her dad?”  And he has a smirk on his lips, blue eyes bright for the first time in a week but it really feels more like forever and Harry is struck by the urge to kiss that cheeky smirk right off his lips. If he’s being realistic he can admit that this is not the first time he’s felt that way, but the urge is definitely stronger now- now that he knows that Niall does feel the same, now that he knows what Niall’s lips feel like pressed against his. He watches Niall’s tongue as it sneaks out to lick his lips and Harry clears his throat, realizes he’s staring.

“Yeah. Okay I...gotta go! See you soon.”  And with that he rushes off, he doesn’t even hear Niall say anything and he wonders if he’s made things weird again. Because he saw Niall’s eyes widen- he knows that Niall knows where his eyes were- maybe even what he was thinking. He can’t help but hope it’s not always going to be like this.

He almost hates how successful the market nights are.  They are fun, busy, and most of all profitable, but tonight all he can think about is staying at home with Niall and Olivia, making dinner with them and then working on a puzzle and falling asleep to a stupid princess film he’s seen a million and two times. 

When he finishes up that night- he’s exhausted and he can’t help but hope that Olivia is already asleep when he gets back.  He knows that it’s wishful thinking, but Niall was able to get her to sleep the last time he helped.  Gemma and his mum have never had the best of luck. But he just can’t imagine having to face another two hours of getting her ready for bed, so he crosses his fingers. 

Niall opens the door before Harry even gets to it.  Olivia is a sleeping dead weight in his arms.  “I heard you on the stairs.  C’mon I’ll carry her up.”  Harry just nods exhaustion seeping through his bones but he’s so grateful.

He opens the door to his flat and Niall walks down the hall to Olivia’s room and places her carefully on her bed.  Harry follows in after him and takes off her shoes getting her ready for bed, knowing how to do all this without waking her up.  It is old hat for them by now.

“We had a great time. But you look beat- So...I’ll just let you get to bed.  Goodnight Harry.”   Niall rushes out and is gone before Harry can even turn around, or think to ask him to stay.  But he knows he really shouldn’t do that anyway -that’s how he got into trouble last time. Had it really only been a week?  A week since it all happened?  Since he finally felt Niall’s lips on his?

When he gets back to the living room he sees Olivia’s backpack on the table, Niall must have run down to get it and brought it back up in the time it had taken him to gently maneuver Liv into her pajamas.

He didn’t even get the chance to ask him if he would be at the park on Saturday.

Harry knows that Niall’s just trying to do what he said and give him space- but he really needs to figure out how to tell Niall he doesn’t need it or want it.  But is that selfish?  God- he just doesn’t know.

He’s so tired but sleep doesn’t come easy that night, or the next, and when Saturday afternoon rolls around he waits in the park watching Liv play fetch somewhat successfully with Mac.  Half the time she still has to chase him down to get the stick and Mac never really wants to let it go.   He’s a little surprised when he sees Stevie, figuring that he would have to text Niall again, but when he looks over towards the gates he’s there, walking over slowly.

His smile is a little guarded when he sits down, but he still drops down to the bench in what looks like a relaxed slouch, legs spread out, hands on his thighs.  Harry knows it’s not though.  His shoulders are still a bit tense, rolled back and squared.  And he’s still farther away than normal- their thighs aren’t touching.  He’s used to feeling the pressure from Niall’s thighs against his own. He misses that connection.

He can’t help but appreciate how good he looks, he’s only in a black tee and dark wash skinny jeans but the man looks unfairly attractive.  His blue eyes are glowing bright when he finally looks over at him.

“Hey.  How was Thursday? You looked beat.”  He asks.  He’s wearing a snapback, his dark brunette hair covered but Harry can still see those bright blue eyes, and his beard is the longest he’s seen it.  He looks scruffy- but soft; and most importantly he doesn’t look as tired as last time, but he’s still not completely his normal self.

“Yeah, it was exhausting but good, I mean the money's great, but I’ll be glad when the end of September rolls around and I get to relax more.”  He tries to set the mood, relaxing into the bench himself, leaning back his long legs crossed in front of him.

“I get that.  Have you heard from Gemma? How’s her vacation so far?”  Polite talk. Harry hates it, but at least he knows that Niall is actually curious.  He seems to have really gotten along well with Gemma when they watched Olivia together.  Back when things were still “normal”.

“So Michal’s going to propose when they’re in Bora Bora, I don’t know if she’s figured it out yet.”  Harry lets him in on the secret.   “He asked my permission before they left”

“Ah, good on them then.  They’ll make it work.”  When Harry looks down at Niall’s hands his cuticles are bitten all around the nail and he can’t help but think back to that night- when that was the first thing he did, and he wants more than ever to go back and just relive that moment.  Do it differently.

“I thought about getting married once, to Liv’s mom, but we were just teenagers having fun, we thought about it when we found out about her being pregnant but we didn’t really love each other like that.”  Harry tells him, and it’s the first time he’s shared anything personal since it happened. “I didn’t want to get married for the wrong reasons.  We decided that we didn’t have to be married to be good parents.”  He waits for the judgment that he’s so used to- about how he should have tried anyway- make a proper family unit.  But Niall just hums in agreement.

“No, that’s true.”   And when Harry looks over, Niall has a quizzical look on his face.

“What?”  He asks.

“You’ve never talked about her mum before.”  Niall doesn’t seem to maintain eye contact like he used to.  It’s a shame- he misses regularly staring into those blue eyes, feeling the heat of the sunshine that’s trapped there.

“No, it’s not a great story.”  Harry tells him and its true- it is not a good story by any means.  But he wants to do something- anything to try to get them back on level footing- back to where they don’t feel like they have to be so careful with everything that they say and do.   He wants to feel comfortable reaching across the bench and putting a hand on his thigh and ask him if he’s okay.  And he wants to get a real answer- not just one that’s fluff, and carefully picked words, he wants to let their guards down again.

“You don’t have to tell me.” Niall tells him

“I know.  But one of these days I will.”  Harry smiles a little and just starts talking about random things- he hates that he’s reverting to bakery talk but Niall’s never minded before; he’s always just listened to him ramble.  He’s doing it now- and Harry can tell that Niall’s laughs are getting a little bit closer to genuine and things are getting better- he thinks they are anyway.

“So since they are most likely going to be getting married I’m going to have to explain to Liv what marriage is.  Oh and what a wedding is!  And knowing Gems she’s going to want to have Liv in the wedding.”  Harry tells him, just letting his thought ramble on out.  That makes Niall laugh.

“Have fun with that.”  He huffs out, “I can almost see how that conversation is going to go and mate, I don’t envy you at all on that one.”

“Yeah, do you think I can leave it to Gemma?”  Harry tells him a little bit embarrassed.  “It is her wedding after all.” 

“Coward.”  Niall teases him, but it’s with a soft smile to help soften the blow.  

It’s Niall’s phone ringing that throws him off, it never rings when they’re together.  Never.  He’s seen Niall mess with it now and again and now he can’t help but wonder if all those times he was turning it on silent, assuring Harry and Olivia always had his undivided attention and now that’s changed?  Harry doesn’t want that to change though.  He loves having Niall’s attention- all of it.  And now more than ever he misses those times that Niall would stop in the bakery and it would be just the two of them, and their conversations could be a little more adult instead of worrying that it was ok for his daughter to walk in on.

 “I’m sorry, I need to get this.”  Niall gets up and takes a couple steps away, “Hey Liam…”  Is all Harry hears before Niall makes it out of hearing distance.  He can’t help but watch as Niall walks away.  He really does have the nicest bum Harry has ever seen.  And his body is just so perfect, broad shoulders, leading to a trim waist- just slightly rounded; soft even; and then his thick thighs slimming down into lean fit calves. It doesn’t take long before Niall’s rushing back with a sharp whistle, Stevie quickly dropping out of play time to run over to Niall.

“Shit, I’m sorry.  I totally forgot that I’m meeting up with Liam this afternoon.  I need to go.”  Niall pulls off his snapback to run a hand through his thick brunette hair and Harry’s oddly distracted before forming his thoughts into his words.  Liam?

“Liam?”  He almost physically bites his tongue to stop himself from asking ‘who’s that?’ Why is he important? “Like...right now?  Ok?”  Harry asks instead trying to mask the disappointment in his voice.  He won’t lie, he’s a bit startled.  Has Niall mentioned a ‘Liam’ before and he just hasn’t noticed?  It’s not his brother, and it’s not his dad or nephew- he knows those names, Niall’s talked about them before but ‘Liam’ is new.

 Harry’s old enough to recognize jealousy when he feels it. And he does feel it- deep in his stomach and burning in his throat, he barely even notices his hands curling into tight fist, until he feels his fingernails digging welts into the palms of his hand.  The feeling is foreign to him.  He can’t remember the last time he was actually jealous.

“Oh, yeah, for my book. Liam’s my agent.  I need to get him up to speed.  Since I’m almost done.” Agent- he works with Liam- he’s not dating him.  Liam. Okay he thinks, maybe he does know that name.  Maybe he has heard it before?  Harry finds he is beyond relieved, but also a bit astonished.

“Wait. You have an agent?”  Harry’s a bit amazed at that, “Are you like...a big deal?”  He’s never thought of it before, because Niall’s always around- never seems to have to ‘go to work.’   He’s always talks about working or writing but Harry never sees him doing it. These last couple weeks are the first time Niall’s really talked about working late- or into the night and whatnot.  But he does remember seeing Niall, a shadow on a park bench with a laptop in his lap or at the small table in the corner of the park with the curved benches, typing away furiously, what was two- no wait- almost three months ago?

“Google me, pet, I gotta go.”  He says with a chuckle snapping on Stevie’s leash and rushes over to give Olivia a big hug and a kiss to her forehead before he’s off and out of the gate giving a lazy wave back as he heads back toward their flats.

Harry watches him go and grabs his iPhone from his back pocket. He likes to stay off of it as much as possible but curiosity gets the best of him as he pulls up the browser and types in Niall Horan.

Floored he sees on his first search that Niall has seven published novels, all part of a murder mystery series about a Detective named Justin Rose, there are also a couple novellas and some magazine articles listed with him as the author.

Well shit… Niall is kind of famous.  That makes Gemma’s comments when they’d first met make a little bit more sense. Who knew? And if he’s not mistaken Niall had just called him, ‘pet’…  Well- that is new.

Harry can’t help his smile; thinking he’s more than perfectly okay with that.

----

 

Chapter Text

----

“So it’s going good?”  Liam questions; looking skeptically at him over his cup of coffee.  He doesn’t seem to be annoyed that Niall was running late again.  Especially since this time had less to do with Harry and Olivia and more to do with the fact he hadn’t remembered to set a calendar alert on his phone.  Most of the time Niall’s memory is amazing; something he’s really proud of.  But when it gets to this point in his writing he has to really make a point to set reminders for everything because sometimes he just gets so lost in his own head.  But Stevie had needed to go out and he found he was only running about 10 minutes behind so he just shot Liam a quick text and rushed out the door.  Luckily Liam knows him well enough and just settled in with his tablet and coffee to wait.

It’s their second meeting in the last two weeks; mostly due to the fact that Niall’s moving at an incredibly fast pace right now; almost completely ahead of schedule at this point.  The publishing house is extremely pleased and he has one more advance in his bank account.  All this turmoil with Harry is actually good for something- he supposes.

“Yeah, did you not check your email?  I have like four chapters left, well maybe closer to six.  Seriously. But...Almost done.  I’m just going to have to go back to a couple of the earlier chapters… add a few things in to make sure it flows right.”  Niall takes a sip of his own coffee and then takes a bite of his muffin.  It’s not as good as Harry’s but he’s still not sure where they stand, so he doesn’t know if he really has the right to just drop into the bakery or if that’s off limits now.  So he goes with just not.  It’s not like Harry’s asking where he is or inviting him to come over, so he figures that this is going to be the new ‘normal’ of their relationship.  And while it sucks, he has to face the facts- he made his bed, now it’s time to lie in it.

 “But last month when we met you were stalled- we’re talking major writers block like I’ve never seen in you before….and now?  In these last two weeks- poof!  Inspiration just struck? Out of the blue?  Like lightning on a clear day?”  Liam asks half serious and half-jokingly.  He’s been through this enough with Niall to know, just never to this extreme.  Niall had never been truly blocked like he was just a month ago. 

The first book he ever wrote was fun, an amazing experience, and he’d loved doing it. Then when it came out it was successful- much more successful than either of them could have predicted.  But along with that success came the stress of book two.  How was he ever going to match the numbers? Could he? He found when writing book two that it was a bit more of a challenge, there was pressure, and expectations now, and sometimes- at the weirdest times- inspiration would hit him and he’d have to email himself or send himself a voice memo just to make sure he didn’t lose the ideas that would pop into his head.

“Well...not exactly.  I can’t remember the last time I got a full night’s sleep, but I’ve just had a lot on my mind lately and it turned into a lot of the story’s plot because- hey- when I can’t solve my own problems I create problems for Justin to solve.  Luckily he can solve all of his.”  Niall can’t help but laugh because it’s true.   Things with Harry aren’t really being solved. And it doesn’t help that things are starting to get increasingly more confusing as the days go on. 

He’s starting to get more of those vibes from Harry; catching Harry reaching out for him- but not touching, talking more often about personal things and his plans and he doesn’t know what to think.  Harry was clear- he doesn’t have time for this- a relationship with Niall.  He wants to be friends- and Niall knows he does- but Harry also seems like he wants to go back to that flirty vibe and that’s what got Niall into trouble to start with.

“Well I’m glad it’s all coming together for you but…”  Niall interrupts him before he can go on- because he knows what’s coming.  Liam has his ‘dad’ face on right now.  Instead he interrupts him, somewhat excited.

“And...I have the plot idea for the next book. It came to me a couple nights ago so I started outlining that as well.” Niall rushes out and that seemed to stun Liam silent. He hadn’t been planning to tell him what it was about yet; especially since everything was still coming to him in bits and pieces; but if it all worked out he could potentially end up with a spin-off series that may be just as good and hopefully just as successful as the Justin Rose Series.

“But, Niall do you really think that’s a good idea…” Liam starts up again and Niall won’t lie; he often drifts off into his own thoughts in these meetings with Liam and he ends up tuning out whatever it is Liam wants to talk to him about.

He finds himself doing it now, but this time his book and its plot aren’t where his mind wanders. Instead he can’t stop thinking about when Harry had picked Olivia up last week. It had been a great night.  They had started working on a puzzle the first Thursday, he had mostly just watched her, but he had a feeling it wouldn’t hold her interest for too long, so he made sure he had a puzzle mat- one of those things that you can just roll up, put away and pull out to work on again later, and it ended up being a lifesaver.  They had only gotten the outside edge of the Disney Princesses puzzle done the first time around before she was ready to move on to the film.

So this time they had worked a little more on putting together the princesses themselves; they made a bit more progress before she was ready to move on again.   He didn’t blame her though, puzzles take a lot of concentration and she is only five.  He was happy she even wanted to try it at all.

He did of course do her ‘homework’ and they went through some flash cards, but they had spent most of their time in the kitchen making pizza- once he’d figured she done enough learning for the day.  It still surprised him when she’d cuddled up close when they started the movie, How to Tame Your Dragon, for a second time- because Harry was running a little later that normal, he’d laid back and she’d climbed right on his chest; and he couldn’t help but cover them with a blanket and let his eyes fall shut after he’d heard the first of her small adorable snores.

 He didn’t know how long they’d been asleep; but he’d been woken up by a gentle hand on his shoulder.  He’d been surprised he’d fallen asleep and somehow slept through Harry entering the flat.   When he opened his eyes he found he wasn’t nearly as comfortable as he had been when they’d fallen asleep- he had one of Liv’s elbows poking into his neck and a knee in his stomach.  He was a little surprised he was even able to sleep through it.

Harry already had Olivia’s backpack slung over his shoulder, and he’d started to stir and make a move to get up but Harry stopped him.  “It‘s okay. Just...go back to sleep.” Harry had whispered to him, pulling the blanket back slightly, and then lifting Olivia up and off his chest, with the practiced ease of a dad.  “You look like you need it.”  Olivia was out- pure hanging weight in his arms but Harry still used one hand to cover Niall back up with the blanket and sure enough he’d drifted quickly, easily back to sleep on the couch.

The worst part was that Harry had had this soft, fond look on his face.  And it had been awhile since he’d seen that look- if he’s honest he doesn’t want see it again just for the fact that he really wants to see it all the time.  It’s a look that makes him think of home, warmth and family and he has to remind himself that those are not things he gets to have with Harry, that he and Harry do not want the same things.  He gets friendship- the line has been firmly drawn in the sand and he sure as hell is going to stay behind it this time.

He knows in a way he’s making it more confusing.  He’s the one that’s pulling back and away, at least from Harry.  He makes sure that he and Harry are never really alone anymore.  He doesn’t think that Olivia has noticed all that much, but the last Saturday when they were at the dog park she’d been unusually clingy- constantly talking with Niall and holding onto his hand, instead of playing with the dogs.   He has no idea what even brought that on; they still have one more Thursday together- the day after tomorrow.

“You aren’t even listening to me, are you?”  Liam’s voice cuts through his thoughts pretty quick and he feels his cheeks flame up, but Liam’s just laughing at him.

“Huh?”  Niall looks back to Liam.  “What? No, I was, you don’t think it’s a good idea…”

“Okay, spill. Normally when you’re ignoring me like this something’s going on.”  Liam huffs and Niall knows he’s just trying to help, so it’s hard to get annoyed or angry with him. 

“It’s nothing… just this book.”  But Niall’s an awful liar; always has been and Liam knows him too well to not see right through it.

“That’s bullshit, and we both know it. So c’mon now, spit it out.  Who else are you going to talk to about this?  Besides I don’t have anywhere to be.”  Niall just laughs a bit, shakes his head, but it doesn’t ever hurt to get an outside perspective.  It’s not like Liam is going to meet Harry or Olivia anytime soon- so he might be a good person to get that perspective from.

“Okay so there’s this guy, Harry, and he has a daughter…”  Niall starts and he ends up recounting the whole story of the last three months. How he’d met Olivia and Harry and how they’d become friends and then how it seemed to feel like this sort of pseudo family and how now he’s worried that he’s ruined it all.  It all spills out and he lets out a big sigh when he’s done because yeah, he does feel a little bit better now.

“Feel better now, don’t you?”  Liam asked, echoing his thoughts, he’s not exactly smiling but there’s a look of fondness on his face and Niall nods.  “Have you talked to him about it?” Liam tilts his head curiously and Niall can’t help but smile because sometimes Liam has the same mannerisms as a puppy and it just goes to show how much Liam himself radiates warmth and affection.  He really is one of his best friends.

“What’s there to talk about? We already did. I know where he stands and he knows too much about what I want.”  Niall points out.

“But maybe…”  Liam starts, and Niall interrupts him right away.

“Maybe what?  He’s changed his mind?  He’s decided that he likes me enough to try?  No, he was pretty clear- Liv comes first.  I don’t know what it’s like to be a da so I’m not going to push.”  Niall just shakes his head- because yeah he gets it- but in way he also doesn’t.  People with kids have relationships all the time.  He would never do anything to hurt either of them- at least not on purpose.

“But for how long?  Like maybe once she’s in primary school he’ll be able to be in a steady relationship.”  Liam points out and it’s not like Niall hasn’t thought about that too.  But the last thing he wants is to look desperate or be clingy.  He’s 25 years old.  He can take a fucking hint.

“And what if the answer is when she’s 16...or when she moves off to college.  I can’t just wait around forever.” Niall counters, even though he’s thought about that too. “I think… I just need to focus on staying friends with him and moving on, right?  That’s the healthy thing to do.” 

“But, I don’t like this- like seeing you like this.”  Liam remarks and really he is one of the best and most compassionate friends.

“It’s all just temporary, right?”  Niall shrugs his shoulders when he asks because that’s the reality of it all.  Eventually he’ll get over Harry and he’ll move on to someone new- and eventually- when he’s ready, Harry will find someone too.

“Maybe just plan a nice night to go out with the crew instead?  Finish up your book then corner this ‘Harry’ for a chat.”  Liam suggests again. 

“Finish my book...eh?”  Niall can’t help but laugh because there’s his agent…friend first, agent second.

“Yeah, one less thing to worry about.  When you do talk to Harry- and I really think you should- you shouldn’t be thinking about anything else.  I know how inspiration works with you.  You’ll be in the middle of a conversation one minute and then suddenly you’ll just be like- ‘Wait… I gotta go’ and boom you’re gone; sometimes for days at a time.” Liam knows how the writing process goes; he’s seen it more than once himself.

Niall feels like he’s gotten better at it over time though, not letting it completely consume him at inconvenient times- that’s why the emails to himself or voice memos are helpful, they’re something that helps him capture his thoughts so that he can come back to them later.

“I don’t know why you think a talk will solve anything- but I’ll think about it.  Maybe in a couple weeks, just...let me finish this book first.”  Niall tells him, relenting. Honestly though he knows he’s not going to do it.  Another awkward conversation is the last thing he wants, and Niall’s having a hard time not letting that show in his day to day interactions with Harry.  He wishes that he could just pretend like it never really happened. Usually he does quite well with pretending, it is one of his job requirements, but for some reason it’s just not working with this situation.

“Okay.  And don’t be worrying about that new outline- just...finish this one first.  You’re supposed to take a break between projects anyway.”

“Yes, Dad.”  Niall counters with a smirk and roll of his eyes.

----

“Daddy!”   He instantly perks up at the sound of Olivia voice coming from the front of the bakery.  What is she doing here?  She should still be at daycare.  His heart stops for a full second fearing the worst, until he pushes out the door from the back kitchens and he instantly knows how she got here.

“Louis!”  He walks around the front counter giving his best friend, his oldest friend a hug.  “How did you…What are you doing here?”  Olivia is pushing a small stroller that has 18 month old Freddie sitting in it.

“We walked here, Daddy.” Oliva counters and Harry can’t help but think that at five years old- she shouldn’t be able to state the obvious with such sarcasm.

“You still have me on her pick up list at the daycare so they let me take her out.  I called your mum- wanted to surprise you.”  Louis assures him knowing that Harry was most likely panicking slightly on the inside.  Louis is a dad now too, he was always by Harry’s side when Liv was first born and when her mum passed but Louis gets it now more than ever- all because of little Freddie.

“Oh, right.” Harry instantly relaxes. Olivia’s enrolled in a school-like daycare; he drops her off each morning around 5:30 and picks her up in the afternoon around 4:00.  He closes the bakery in the afternoons-at 3:00 sharp since he really doesn’t deal with desserts- mostly just breakfast pastries and breads.  And his morning crowd is insane; he has lots of ‘regulars’ who’ve included his bakery into their morning routines.  He would however like to grow his business eventually- have it stay open later, it’s all part of the master plan- growing the business, hiring someone he trust to work nights and maybe even days so he can just focus on the baking.  But right now adding on a salary other than his own is not something that he can afford.  He’ll get there though- eventually.

“I’m surprised that you didn’t take me off the list the second I moved to Manchester.”  Louis jokes, but he keeps an eagle eye on Olivia who’s keeping Freddie occupied in his stroller.  She’s now moved around to the front to reenact a scene from her favorite movie, Freddie’s giggling with bright eyes clapping his hands in front of his face.   The pair have only been around each other a couple times but Olivia instantly fell in love with Freddie. 

“I wasn’t going to take you off just because you moved.  Don’t be ridiculous.  It’s not like I was mad at you.  You left London you didn’t leave me.  I just miss you more now, is all.”  Louis is still one of his best friends, really the only one that stuck around after Olivia was born, but it’s harder now that they both have kids, it just makes their lives busier and makes it harder to find time to talk and Harry is admittedly not always great at texting or replying to emails. He tries but communication isn’t his strong suit.

“Daddy, can we take home treats for Mac and Stevie?”  Olivia’s wandered over to where the dog treats are- the selection slim at this time of day- but he’ll put out fresh ones tomorrow.

“Mate, you got two dogs?” He sounds a bit amazed.  Of course Louis had been a part of the whole getting a dog conversation; his new girlfriend has a dog that Freddie adores and Louis was always the oldest of a brood of kids- Harry values his opinion since Louis almost helped to raise his middle siblings before his mum got remarried.

“No- just the one, Mac” Harry clarifies but Olivia just steamrolls over him, obviously excited whenever any mention of Niall comes up.

“Stevie is Ni’s dog!  She’s pretty and she can shake and do all sorts of other tricks and Ni taught Mac how to sit, and shake and lie down and Mac and Stevie like to play…”

“Oh, really?”  Louis interrupts her knowing that she could babble on for days if you let her. “Who is ‘Ni’?”  Louis glances suspiciously at Harry but its Olivia who answers.

“He’s Ni-all.”  Olivia explains looking at Louis like she’s confused and Harry can’t help but laugh because her facial expression says it all. 

“He’s our neighbor.  We met him at the dog park when we first got Mac.”  Harry tells Louis but he can already feel the heat rising in his cheeks- knows he’s blushing.

“Oh, really?”  He asks again and this time he raises a brow and looks at Harry.  His blue eyes are laughing at him and somehow Harry just knows what Louis is thinking and the thing is he can’t really argue it.  He knows that it’s written all over his face.

“Yeah, yeah, he’s really nice and he writes stories, and helps me train Mac!”  Olivia is practically bouncing in excitement- really she is anytime she gets to talk about Niall.

“Well, maybe, I’ll have to meet this Niall lad.”  Louis tells Olivia with blue eyes that are anything but innocent.

“Can we drop off Stevie’s snack, we haven’t seen Ni since Saturday, Daddy.  I miss him.”  Olivia turns and looks at him eyes big- and he knows she knows what she’s doing.  She knows her charms and isn’t afraid to use them.

But really he thinks that he misses Niall a little more than she does; the Irishman used to come into the bakery at least twice a week and now- he’s finding he’s having some withdrawals.

“I’m sure we can.  On the way home, maybe.”  He has no idea if Niall will be home or if he’ll even answer the door.  He hasn’t been brave enough to send more text messages, but he wants to- he really really wants to.  Every Monday that Niall doesn’t walk through the door to test his new bakery creations Harry wants to text him, ask him what he’s doing or what’s going on or just quite honestly “why aren’t you here?”.

But he just doesn’t know what to do or what to say.  Niall is giving him what he thinks Harry wants.  They still see each other on Thursday's; at least they have the last two anyway; and typically every Saturday; he hasn’t had to text him about showing up at the park again since his that first time.  Maybe he should try to suggest another cinema night- but then he thinks better of it- it doesn’t even seem to matter if it is a kid’s film they’re watching, or that Olivia is there with them.  It still ends up feeling oddly romantic when he drops Niall off at his door; because he has to- obviously being on the way up to his own flat- he always finds himself wanting to kiss him goodnight- and that was before Niall had even kissed him.

“Hello?”  Louis is waving his hand in front of his face and Harry snaps back to reality. “Okay, so there is definitely a story here that I need to know about.”  And of course Louis notices. He’s always been able to pick up on things like that- all the things that Harry hasn’t told him, spoken out loud.  It’s not like he didn’t tell him because he didn’t want to talk about Niall but it was more that he didn’t want to put up with the nonsense, the pressure.  The truth of the matter is that as soon as Louis heard the way he said Niall’s name he would just know.   Because that’s just how best friends work, and Louis has known him too long to not pick up on things like that- but he just really doesn’t want to talk about it.

“No, there’s no story.  Liv just...really likes him.”  He tries the lie anyway.

Liv does?”  Now Louis looks more intrigued.

“Yeah, she does.”  He can’t help but attempt a glare at Louis, but glaring has never bothered him before.

“I love Ni.”  Olivia perks up at his name, going behind the counter to grab the treats that she wants to take home and putting them in a bag.

“Really?”  Louis looks surprised and Harry knows why- because Louis knows what she’s always been like, more than a bit shy, especially with strangers.

“Yeah, apparently she saw him in the dog park and knew Stevie was his- the way he tells it she walked right up and said ‘Hi.’”   Harry can’t help the pride that comes through in his voice, knowing the confidence that it took for his daughter to do that.  Still strangers are strangers and they potentially could be terrifying- but look at how much their lives have changed, and for the better, all because of that one little ‘hi.’

“Cheers.”  Louis encourages her and reaches over the counter to give her a high five. 

“Thanks Uncle Lou.”  She gives him a bright smile.

“Why don’t you grab your coloring book baby, and go sit in your booth while I close down.”  She grabs her stash that he keeps there and goes to hang out in the booth as he closes up shop.  It only takes about a half hour before he’s ready to close the door for the day.

Locking the door behind them he can only hope that Olivia’s forgotten about the treats, but when he glances over he can see that she still has them in her other hand.  He and Louis are just talking- catching up.  He’d moved to Manchester almost a year and a half ago and they have only seen each other a handful of times since. But every time they reconnect it feels like he never left.  Louis will always be one of those friends that he can always come back to.  Sure they may not talk for a couple months but it never feels that long when they finally do.  They still know each other inside and out.

He enters the code to the building, Louis folds up the stroller and Harry carries it up while Louis carries Freddie.  Olivia hurries up the stairs in front of them and Harry doesn’t even have time to stop her; before she’s knocking on Niall’s door.

“Is this Niall?”  Louis asks as they all stop on the landing and wait.  He looks over and nods to Louis.  Harry secretly hopes that Niall’s not home but that doesn’t seem to go his way either as the door pulls open rather quickly.

“Hey Liv!” As always Olivia has captured Niall’s attention first, but he has all of Harry’s.  He’s obviously been lounging around; he’s in blue joggers and a plain white tee that pulls deliciously tight over his chest, makes his shoulders look broad and waist look extra trim.  Stevie’s just a couple feet behind him with a squeaky toy in her mouth.  It squeaks when she bites it and it makes Olivia and Freddie, who’s beside him in his dad’s arms, both giggle.

Olivia hugs him around the waist and then she pulls back to show him the dog treat in the shape of a paw.  “We brought Stevie a snack.” 

“Well, thank you, poppet! Go ahead you know what to do.”  She breaks it in half and gives Stevie the first half whispering to her, “Good girl.” 

“Hey Harry,” Niall’s bright blue eyes are on him now.  Is it sad that he misses being called ‘H?’  He’s not an idiot- he’d realized the nicknames had stopped right after Niall said he would give him space to try and make things easier- the funny thing is it’s not really gotten any easier- not like he thought it would.  The conscious thought that Niall has to be putting into making Harry feel more at ease is ridiculous.  The highlight of Harry’s week last week was when he walked into Niall flat to find his daughter asleep and cuddling up to the other man.  That’s what he wants.  He wants that all the time.  But he has other things he needs to take care of first. 

“Hey Ni. We just wanted…”

“Ni, this is my Uncle Lou; Uncle Lou this is Ni-all.”  She says his name slow, like she always has to when she is saying his full name.  Niall snaps his gaze back down to Olivia before following her pointing finger.   “You should shake.”

“Hi, Niall Horan.”  Harry sees Louis pause; shift Freddie from one arm to another and so he can shake the Irishman’s extended hand. 

“Hi, I’m Louis, nice to meet you mate.  Did you say Horan? Are you the…”  Louis eyebrows rise, this time in definite surprise.

“Yeah, that’s me.”  Niall cuts him off- but it’s done nicely and with a bright smile.

“Oh man, El is going to be so jealous.  So nice to meet you.”   Harry just looks between the two as they get a little lost in conversation.  Harry had never realized that Niall’s name was so easily recognizable- but he’d been honest when he met Niall.  He hasn’t read anything beyond Olivia’s reading level since she was born, except for the occasional news story of course.  Maybe he should grab one of his books, read it and see what all the fuss is about. It’s now been both Gemma and Louis that have recognized his name- and Louis doesn’t even read all that much.

The two seem to be getting along just fine. Chatting about football now and apparently they are both avid fans- able to discuss players and stats and Harry is a little bit lost because he doesn’t really follow sports all that much. It actually just goes to show how neatly Niall could fit himself into Harry’s life.

It’s Olivia who finally snaps him out of it, cuddling into him for a hug around his stomach and letting him know she’s hungry.  He invites Niall up but he already knows the answer before he’s shaking his head.  “No thanks ...I just ate. Think I’m going to take Stevie to the park in a bit then call it a night.”  He does still look tired; he’s actually looked tired every time they’ve seen him lately, but still not as tired as that first Saturday.  He feels a little guilty about it still, he just hasn’t figured out how to fix it yet. But he will.

The rest of the night is a blur of activity with dinner and flashcards and then bath time.  It’s not until Olivia and Freddie are down for the night that Louis looks at him and just says, “So Niall, huh?”

“What about him?”  Harry can’t help but sit up a little straighter, roll his shoulders back as he turns to face his friend.   He’s bracing for attack- raising his shields preparing for what he knew was going to come the first time that Louis heard Niall’s name and associated it with Harry’s blush.

“Oh mate, you are so in over your head.  You’ve always talked about your plan, and how it’s all going to work out, that you don’t have any time for anything but being a dad and business owner- but then fate was like- here take this- and gave you that man, like...literally the perfect man for you, on a silver platter- you’re being fucking daft mate.”  Louis laughs his loud cackle and Harry shushes him. 

“Shhhh, they’re sleeping!”  He hisses looking back at Olivia’s closed door.

“Mate, get your head out of your arse, you are head over heels in love with that lad.”  He’s trying to hold in his laughter now- but failing.

“Why are you taking such joy in this?”  Harry hisses at him looking back down the hall, again, like he expects the little ones to come creeping out at any minute from the all the racket.

“See!  See!  You admit it!!!”  Louis almost jumps with joy at his omission.

“No I didn’t, now shut up.”  He knows he’s acting like his daughter, crossing his arms across his chest and leaning back against the sofa curling his shoulders over- he’s pretty sure he’s even pouting.

“Mate, I don’t know what happened- and, yes, I can tell something happened- but he’s absolutely perfect for you.  It’s obvious that Olivia hand picked him for you. How else could you explain all of this? I’d say it’s time to think about changing your master plan.”  Louis sits back putting his feet up on the coffee table and looking over at Harry with a smug look on his face; and Harry hates it.

“You say that like it's easy.” Harry huffs out annoyed by this entire conversation.

“Haz, it is. You’ve just gotta relax; go with the flow a bit.  I know it's stressful being a da, I get it, now more than ever.  But we can’t plan out every second; we can’t live our lives foregoing all our own happiness for our children.  All it does is create resentment.  All you’re going to do is deny your own happiness and Olivia’s by believing that you always have to think of her first.  If you’re happy and in a happy healthy relationship- Olivia isn’t going to suffer; she’ll just have more people to love her.  Listen, El isn’t Freddie’s mum- and she’s not trying to be- but she loves him and he loves her. It’s always good to have people that love you- whether you’re five or twenty-five.” 

Harry can’t help but just stare at him.  It makes sense, sure it does. But what he’s doing, being a dad and managing his career, his dream, he just can’t see how he’ll have the time to make Niall happy too- how could he balance it all?  But they were kinda happy before he spoiled it all.  Niall wasn’t taking up too much of his time or taking time from Olivia.  It was working before they shared that first kiss.  Can a relationship really be that easy?  His last and only real relationship had been with Camille, Olivia’s mum, and they had been young, so young that it was easy and dramatic.  No one had been prepared for the post-partum depression or for Camille to turn to drugs and hide it so well.  He was sure that it had been an accidental overdose that killed her.  Camille had loved life and Olivia before she was born and the depression had set in- but it had been a shock to him and left him alone with a little girl to take care of.

Now seeing Olivia was just too much for Camille’s parents.  They always sent Christmas presents and birthday gifts every year but they saw too much of their daughter in Olivia to really be around her, know her.  It just hurt them too much.  

He’d dabbled in a couple other relationships, but one in particular ended very quickly when his date didn’t even want to hear him talk about his daughter.  She had even gone on to suggest that whenever they go out they needed to get a sitter and leave Olivia at home.  He told her later that night that it just wasn’t working out for him.

But none of that had ever been an issue with Niall- maybe it was because he’d met Olivia first?  He knew that they came as a package deal?

Olivia didn’t have a lot of people- she had him, just Harry and his family.  But now she had Niall too.

“Just think about it- and get some sleep, I’ll make up the couch.  I’m off to Lottie’s tomorrow before heading down to Doncaster.”  As much as Harry wants to go straight to bed, Mac is wandering aimlessly around the flat- and they had skipped their trip to the dog park tonight. 

“Yeah, I’m just going to take Mac out one more time.  C’mon boy.”  Harry taps his thigh.  “You’ll keep watch?”  Harry asks and Louis just looks at him for a second then shoos him out the door. 

It’s almost 9:00 and the sun has almost completely gone down but the park is softly lit with the light of the lamp posts and he’s surprised to see there are quite a few people here this late at night- and although it’s not that late- it’s late for him.

He lets Mac off the lead and lets him run, watching for where he goes so he can follow to clean up.  It only takes him a second to recognize Stevie running around the park.  She seems to have already targeted Mac and is chasing after him, the two quickly starting to play.

Niall hasn’t noticed him yet, head down and stuck in the glow of his phone on what Harry always thought of as ‘their’ bench.  He starts the slow walk over- but he can’t help but question his welcome.  Niall is trying hard to pretend like nothing happened.  He knows that. He’s trying to give Harry the space he thinks he needs so he can forget what his lips felt like.  But the more he tries to forget the more that he remembers.

Niall finally looks up when he gets close and gives him a smile- it’s tight but it is there and it is genuine; there is always warmth in Niall’s smile.  Harry can’t help but realize this is the first time they’ve been alone since it happened.

“Hey,” Harry plops down beside him.  Niall’s wearing glasses-and this is the first time he's ever seen him in glasses- for some reason it makes him even more attractive. In a way it almost knocks Harry speechless; the glasses make his eyes appear even a brighter shade of blue.

“Hey, you’re up late.”  Niall presses the power on his phone and shifts it back into his pocket, like always he gives Harry his full attention.

“Yeah, um, Lou’s watching Olivia- she’s already asleep.”  Harry figures it‘s probably obvious but he fills the void with the useless words anyway.

“He seems nice.”  Niall’s not really looking at him; seemingly more focused on the multiple dogs in the park- Harry didn’t realize it was ever this busy here at night.

“Yeah, he’s the only friend that stuck around when Liv was born.”  Harry can’t stop looking at him, memorizing his profile and just tucking it into his memory.  The logical part of his brain is telling him that this is part of the problem- this is what lead Niall on in the first place.  But here in the lamp light he looks soft, fuzzy around the edges and Harry really wants to cuddle up next to him, scoot closer and lace an arm through Niall’s, hold his hand, let Niall rest his head on his shoulder, maybe even close his eyes for a bit.

“I can’t even imagine… I’m sorry you had to go through that.”  And he means it, Harry knows he does.  Niall doesn’t say things he doesn’t mean. He never does.

“Yeah, so I was thinking. I know this is the last week that you have with Liv until Gems gets back...but you know with her getting ready to plan a wedding and stuff I was wondering if you wanted to maybe like help us out and do like...every other week or something?  Just until October…”  He’s been thinking about it- a lot.  He really loves the way that Olivia blossoms around Niall.  He seems to bring out a confidence in her that Harry just loves to see.

“What?”  Niall looks back at him a little shocked but Harry can see his lips starting to turn up in a smile.  Niall just can’t seem to hide how much he adores Olivia.

“It’s just. Olivia looks forward to it- to seeing you...so much- and I know that we haven’t seen you as much- and that’s okay, like we’re both busy.”  And that’s such a lie- they aren’t any busier than they were before; but somehow they’ve isolated themselves to Thursdays and Saturdays- like those are the only two days they can see each other now- instead of Mondays at the bakery or Sundays in Harry’s flat or any other day Niall would decide to swing by for some reason or another- any excuse to meet up.

“Harry- yes- definitely yes.”  Niall looks relieved and happy and Harry can feel the tension leave the air around them.

“Thanks- I can pay you…” he barely gets the words out before Niall is talking over him.

“Don’t even start; I don’t want to be paid.  That’s just ridiculous. It’s not work watching Olivia, I enjoy spending time with her.  But...do you want me to start coming to your place instead?  Is that easier?”  For the first time they really maintain eye contact as they talk.  There is no little one to keep track of and the dogs aren’t going anywhere outside of the park.  Harry can’t help but notice that it feels just a little bit like it used to.

“No it makes it more special to go to your place and it’s not like she doesn’t fall asleep there.”  And he loves that he can still go to his flat, to walk in and feel at home, cherishes the moments like last week- when he found the two of them sleeping and it just warms his heart.  He wants to see it again.

“Okay then.”  His hands are tangled together dangling between his knees.  He’s still in his joggers but had changed into a long sleeve casual t-shirt and he can’t help but notice now that his legs are covered in blonde hair, he fights the urge to touch- run his hand up over his knee, up his thigh.   

“I’ve never seen…are the glasses are new?”  Is what he goes with instead trying to rein in his wayward thoughts.  He really needs to stop staring at his legs anyway so moves back up to his face to stare at that instead.

“Uh, yeah, I’ve been working a lot, staring at my computer screen.  My eyes get strained, usually I typically just need them for far away or watching the telly.”  He runs a nervous hand through his hair and uses a forefinger to press his glasses up the bridge of his nose.  He looks gorgeous when he does that, academic almost and it makes butterflies awaken in Harry’s stomach.  He had no idea the addition of one little accessory could make Niall even more attractive than he already is.

“I- uh- I like them. They look great.”  Okay so that came across a little too enthusiastic, “Hey, why didn’t you tell me you’re famous.”  Harry finally questions, acknowledging the way that Louis had recognized Niall’s name today made him think of it.  Niall certainly doesn’t act like he’s famous…

“Because it didn’t matter with you.”  Niall tells him and he looks back over at Harry and it feels like before- one of those somewhat intense moments that they would have that he would just ignore- a moment that was heavy with intent; a moment that could lead to something more.  He tells himself he doesn’t have time for this.  Being in a relationship takes work- a lot of work and he doesn’t have time for it.  He has lot of things to accomplish and just can’t manage it all.  But he’s starting to question that more and more.  Does he really have to sacrifice everything for his dream?  And if he sacrifices all this is his dream really worth it?

Does he have time for it?  Can he make time for it?

Niall interrupts his thoughts when he lets out a sharp whistle, “Think I’m gonna head back, shoot me a text after you talk to Gemma and see what weekend she wants.  Just...let me know.”  He has the leash back on Stevie before Harry even really realizes that she was there and now he’s standing and he’s going to leave, but just like always he’s not ready for Niall to leave.  He just wants another minute- another second of his time.

Harry goes to stand up but he shoots up too quick, his foot landing on a root and although he’s not going to fall – Niall’s hand is there on his elbow to catch him, steady him, and Niall’s touch is warm, sending heat all up and down his arm. Niall pulls his hand away quickly and shoves it in his pocket. 

“So um, see you soon?”  Niall questions as he takes a couple steps away before pausing to look over his shoulder obviously waiting for a response.

“Yeah, of course, soon. Good night Ni.”  He smiles and gives him a wave and with that Harry watches him go, because damn it’s a good view. 

After Niall is out of sight, he drops back down to the bench.  He watches the other folks come and go, and then finally shouts for Mac when he can barely keep his eyes open anymore. 

Maybe Louis is right… he can’t plan out every second of his life- of Olivia’s life…

But he needs to figure out what it is he really wants…

----

Chapter Text

----

Niall had been surprised when Harry had offered up every other Thursday to him.  He gets it.  Gets what Harry’s thought process is but really, selfishly he’s overjoyed.  It makes sense- Gemma’s going to be busier- planning her wedding, and weddings are a lot of extra work.  But he absolutely loves the idea of splitting Thursdays with her- maybe even talking her into letting her steal a couple of her days, too.  He knows that she watches Olivia every once in a while on Saturdays, too; at least when Harry’s normal sitter is out of town.  Maybe he can mention that he’s free on Saturdays.  Then Harry wouldn’t have to pay a sitter- and Niall would love to spend the day with Liv.

But he’s getting ahead of himself here.

He’s been worried, so worried that he wasn’t doing well.  That Harry was still sensing the awkwardness that echoes around him every time he’s around Harry, especially when it’s just the two of them, even though he tries to avoid that as much as possible. Last Thursdays hand off had been easy, Harry had walked in Olivia was out on the couch and he just picked her up and went out on his way after chatting for just a little bit.  But Olivia is always close, and it’s a good thing because Niall’s not brave enough to go the bakery or visit Harry’s flat like he had a few times.  He feels a bit like a coward using a five year old as buffer- but really you do what you gotta do.

He and Gemma were both supposed to hangout the first Thursday but then Harry texted him saying Gemma wanted a girls night, so since this is the first Thursday that he doesn’t have Olivia, he ends up taking Liam’s advice and rings up Deo, Bressie, and Laura; a few of his close friends to see if they can do a night out.  Of course they say yes, not even minding that he suggested a Thursday night.  He hasn’t quite finished the book yet, he’s really really close but he just thinks that he needs this; a night to let loose.

He locks up and heads out- taking the stairs at a quick trot when he comes to a stop on the main floor.  Olivia is there; tongue out in concentration as she tries to open the postbox.  It always gives her some problems, the key always needs a bit of finagling, but she’s stubborn and always gets it eventually.

“Hey, poppet!”  He does in a way miss the fact that Thursdays aren’t just theirs anymore- but next Thursday would be all his.  Even though he wishes today was his too he doesn’t envy Gemma at all. According to Harry he’s already tried to explain marriage, love and commitment to his daughter but she’s not really grasping the whole ‘concept.’  So Gemma is getting the chance to explain to her about how Michal proposed and how marriage works and also that Olivia gets to be in the wedding.  Olivia’s smart- extremely smart- but it’s still hard to wrap your mind around things like that at such a young age.  She’s five and wants to marry Mac, so there’s that.

Niall’s glad that he doesn’t have to be there for that conversation.  He can write books and describe murder scenes and violent crimes in detail with no issue, but the thought of explaining commitment to a five year old seems much more daunting.

“Ni!”  She drops the key on the floor and rushes over giving him her usual hug around his waist.  He’s really going to hate when she starts to get a little taller. Hell, one day she might even be taller than him.  Harry’s got a good four to five inches over him and he’s not sure how tall Olivia’s mum was and he really tries not to inquire much, although Olivia was the one to tell him that her mum was in heaven.

 Harry had talked a bit about her that one time- but Niall didn’t want to push.  They’ll tell him when they are ready.  “I missed you!” Olivia’s love for him just makes his heart swell.

“Well I missed you too!”  He tells her wrapping her up, “How are you, love?  Do you need some help?”  He asks once he pulls away.

“I’m good.”  She takes the steps to pick up the key again and then puts it in the lock finagling it to get it to open the front so she can get the mail.  He can’t help but hover, ready to assist if needed.   “I’ll get it.” 

She does finally get it open and she pulls out the pieces of post setting them on the ground as she works to now close the door and get the key out.  It’s a challenge for her but Harry always lets her do it because she likes to.  It not like she’s not safe, both the building and the complex are code protected and he knows that Harry’s standing on the landing three stories up listening for any strange noises.

When she turns back to look at him her eyes are wide and she’s biting her lip.  She looks worried and he hates it instantly.

“What’s wrong, Liv?”  He can’t help but ask.  He’s running a bit early, it won’t hurt to talk with her a minute.  He’s guessing Harry hasn’t left yet ‘cause it’s not that late, still actually early afternoon.  By his estimate Harry’s probably due to be leaving in the next 10 to 15 minutes.

“Ni, I don’t get it- why can’t you and daddy get married like Aunt Gemma and Michal are going to?  Then we could be together all the time?”  Niall’s a little startled by the absolute innocence of the question. He ends up letting out a little laugh.  Because Harry was right, Olivia isn’t really getting the concept of marriage- not yet anyway.

“It’s not funny, Ni!  I’m serious.” She can’t really pronounce the word and when she stomps her foot- the lights in her shoes glow and Niall has to bite his lip himself from laughing again.  She looks like a cute, wet, angry kitten.

“Have you talked to your Daddy about this Liv?”  He can’t help but wonder.   How did Harry answer? What look did Harry have on his face when his daughter asked Harry if he could marry him?  And how the hell is he supposed to answer this question? 

“Yeah, kinda. But he says he doesn’t need anybody but me to be happy.”  She tells him.  She’s still holding the key to the mailbox along with the mail in her hand and it seems like a lot for her little hands to hold but he knows better than to try and help.

“Well then- that’s the truth isn’t it?”  Niall says backing Harry.   There- that was enough right?

“Then can I marry you?”  Her green eyes bright and hopeful, “I want to go work on our puzzle and come to your flat tonight and I miss you.”  Her green eyes are lined with tears and Niall drops himself down on the stairs to sit and opens his arms. She dashes into them nuzzling into his hug, dropping the key and the post that she’d taken so much time with already tonight.

“Okay, Liv, I’ll tell you a secret okay?  Then you have to get the mail and go back up and wait for Gemma ok?”  She nods solemnly tucked into his arm. Is it odd that he never wants to see her get older?  He wants her to stay like this forever- even though he knows that she is going to grow up, be amazing, and light up the world the same way she’s lit up his life.

“So the secret is that not all love is the same.  There are a lot of different types of love, ok?  There is the way that you love Mac, right? And then the way that your Daddy loves you, and the way that Gemma loves Michal.”  She nods.  “Your Daddy and I don’t have the right kind of love to get married.  We love each other but we don’t love each other the way that Gemma loves Michal.”  He stops and brushes her curly hair back behind her ear, he just can’t help it- it’s always getting into her eyes and even though it doesn’t seem to bother her much, it bothers him.

“I love you and I love your daddy very much, but it’s a different kind of love, ok? Friendship love.  And I know that this isn’t what you want to hear, but I promise it will make sense when you’re older.”  And he knows she hates hearing it, knows she just wants to understand.

“I don’t think so.”  She tells him shaking her head at him and making her little curls bounce, “You look at Daddy the way Michal looks at Gemma.”  And how the hell a kid can pick up on something like that is mental- she’s just too damn smart for her own good, either that or Niall is just shit at hiding his emotions.  He guesses it might be a bit both.

But how do you even begin to explain the idea of unrequited love to a little kid?  It’s not even an easy concept to wrap your mind around as an adult.  The idea that someone who doesn’t want your heart also essentially holds it in the palm of their hand; he doesn’t want Olivia to know what that’s like.  He doesn’t wish that on anyone- and it’s no one’s fault really; not Harry’s and not Niall’s it just is. So he just goes with it. 

“Liv, it has to be the same on both sides.  Sometimes people love each other differently and that’s okay.” He doesn’t even pause instead just keeps on talking, doesn’t want her thinking about it too hard; doesn’t want her seeing things that aren’t there and then getting her hopes up. “The way that Gemma looks at Michal is just like the way he looks at her right?”

“Like she’s the princess and he’s the prince!”  And okay- that analogy actually does work really well right here.  And really it is close enough-

“Yes,” It’s then that he hears the front door open and he stands up coaxing Liv up gently to stand and then prompting her over to the mail slots where she grabs the post and the key she dropped earlier.

He looks over when the second door opens and there is Gemma, tan, relaxed and looking as beautiful as ever.

“Gemma, hey!”  He raises a hand up in wave and she smiles.  Olivia rushes over to give her aunt a hug but this time holds onto the mail and the key keeping it all in her grip as her aunt spins her in a circle.

“Hey you guys! Were you waiting for me?  Is Haz already gone?”  She asks after she puts Liv back down from the circling hug she’d wrapped her in.

Olivia tugs on her dress and Gemma looks down at her after asking the question, Liv just smiles, “You look really pretty Auntie Gems.”

“Ahh, thanks baby girl- it’s the tan.”  She tells her and Olivia just nods sagely- like she understands.  But then Gemma looks back up to Niall- “But what’s up?”

“I’m just on my way out, catching a couple pints with some mates.” A look of confusion crosses Gemma’s face. 

“I thought we were watching her together?”  She asks.

“Uh, no...I was told you wanted a girl’s night with Liv.”  Niall skeptically forces the words out. 

He can already feel the sinking in his stomach. He had to go and jinx things by thinking that everything was going a bit better between them.  He’d thought he’d been hiding his anxiety and working through the awkwardness well enough, but maybe he wasn’t?  Maybe Harry was still picking up on those things and now he had decided that he wanted distance?  Maybe this was Harry’s way of taking a step backBut Harry could have just told him if he didn’t want him around anymore. Maybe this was Harry’s way of trying to cut Niall off, and out without having to say so, just avoiding a confrontation.

If he’s honest- really lets himself be honest he probably should have seen it coming. But  Harry had  been the one who’d brought up the idea of Niall watching Liv every other week and he’d thought that’d meant he have a bit more time. And it felt the same the last time Harry had picked Liv up and when they were alone in the dog park he’d thought- but he must have made that awkward somehow too.

He’d apologized, admitted he was wrong, made sure that it was all about Olivia-all the time, he didn’t stop in at the bakery anymore,  and he’d tried so hard not to respond to Harry’s flirting.  He thought he was doing all the right things.  Harry had said that he just wanted to keep things platonic and that’s what he was doing. Trying to do, anyway…  He didn’t send texts for no reason, always letting Harry text first.  He’d been trying so hard, curbing every impulse he’d gained over the first three months of their friendship.

“You okay, Ni?”  Gemma’s voice snaps him out of his thoughts and he looks back at her, tries for a smile, but the nauseated feeling in his stomach isn’t going away.  Now more than ever he is glad that he had planned a night out with the lads.  He’s glad this happened now because at least he can prepare. Gemma obviously did not request a girl’s night- she thought the two of them would be hanging out together with Liv.   Sure, it could be a miscommunication but he doubts that.  Now he can’t help but doubt everything.

“Yeah, yeah, I’m good.”  Olivia walks over to give him a half hug.

“Will we see you at the p-a-r-k on Saturday?”   She’d gotten better about spelling the word since Mac had started recognizing the word and always went a little crazy when he heard it; the dog had yet to figure out the spelling but it was only a matter of time.

“Yeah, I’ll be there.” He tells her, “I’ll see you then.”  He leans down and presses a kiss to her forehead.  He needs to get out of here, “Later, Gemma!” 

Niall heads out the door and down to the pub to meet the lads.  He’s trying to talk himself down, to calm his heart pounding and his breathing.  Maybe it’s not as big of a deal as he’s making it?   But he can’t help thinking that this is how it was going to end all along.  He’s only known them, what, for a few months?  But he can’t really remember liking someone as much as he likes Harry, and Olivia means the world to him. She just so special and sweet and he’s realizing that more than ever now that he’s probably going to lose it all- and he’s pretty sure there is nothing that he can do about.  He walks into the bar wondering if the kiss, if you can even call it that, was worth the risk of losing everything he’d gained.

He gets home at 3:00 in the morning- drunker than he’s been since his college years and spends the rest of his Friday severely hungover and cursing himself for not remembering how terrible the aftermath always is. Because overall he still doesn’t feel any better.

----

Harry’s quiet when he walks in, it’s later than normal and he’s not sure if the girls are asleep.  It was a long day but these Thursdays are going to have the loan from his family paid off by the end of this year and really it's only for two more months. If he decides to do them again next year he may even be able to get the mortgage refinanced by the end of the next year.  He’s gotten contracts for caterings and wedding desserts and brunches and he’s going to have to hire someone sooner than he thought.  He can’t keep up all on his own.  And this is all he ever wanted; it was all part of the plan.

But he’s not as happy about it as he thought he would be; still feels like there’s something missing. And he knows why.

He kicks off his shoes, trying to be as quiet as possible and wanders down the hall towards Olivia’s room, he hears Gemma laugh, so he knows they aren’t asleep. Sometimes it’s better not to rile Olivia up when he gets home, and it looks like tonight might be one of those nights. 

He approaches the door cautiously leaning against the section of the wall that doesn’t creak and he can’t help but eavesdrop on their conversation.  It sounds like serious girl talk.  “Well it doesn’t really work that way, baby girl.”  Gemma’s telling her and he has to try to figure out what it is they are talking about.  Sometimes moments like these are the only reason he knows what’s going on with his daughter- he figures this could be a lifesaving habit when she hits her teenage years.

“Why not?  I asked Ni too and he says he can’t marry Daddy because the love is all wrong.”  Olivia sound completely serious and extremely sad about it.  Harry can’t help but drop his head back against the wall.  He had told her about Gemma and Michal, explained to her about weddings and marriage and commitment.  Her first question had been, “Can we marry Niall, Daddy?”  It wasn’t a ‘you’ or an ‘I’ it was a ‘we.’  He almost wanted to answer ‘yes’ right away but stopped himself, and instead went with trying to explain that he doesn’t need to marry anyone because she makes him happy enough.  She’d seemed to accept it then, but clearly she didn’t buy it.  She could obviously see through his bullshit.

She had noticed that she’s not seeing as much of ‘her Niall’ as she would like, even though he is still definitely around. It’s just obvious to Harry that he cutting out earlier; anytime things start to feel the least bit weird.  Harry still having a hard time figuring out how to fix things- considering it was what he had kinda sorta...deliberately asked for in the first place.

He wanted platonic and Niall had decided the best way to do that was by giving him space.

“Is that what he said?”  Gemma asks and good lord she’s such a bloody gossip trying to pry information from her own niece.  But Harry is curious too, so he holds his breath waiting for the answer.

“Noooo- well, not exactly.”  And Gemma’s laugh is like a bell soft and warm as it radiates out of the bedroom.

“Well what did he say then?”   She pushes for the answer.

“He said that there are different kinds of love and that he loves Daddy but Daddy doesn’t look at him like you look at Michal.”  And Harry exhales, has to run through that a few times in his head to fully grasp the concept.

“And how’s that?”  He can hear the shuffling of the blankets and can only assume that Gemma is pulling the blankets up and tucking her in. 

“Like a prince- so Daddy’s Niall prince but Niall isn’t Daddy’s prince.”  And Liv sounds sad about that.  “But they’re both my princes and I want them happy!”  And her voice sounds wobbly and it breaks Harry’s heart to hear her weepy over him- over them.

“Oh, honey.  It’s not like that. It’s just that Niall and Daddy are friends so they don’t need to get married.  Michal and I are getting married because we love each other and we want to build a life together as a family.  Niall and your daddy don’t need to do that. ”

“But I want them to.   Then I get them both forever.”  Her voice still sounds a little wobbly and Harry has to stop himself from going in there and trying to explain how getting married doesn’t fit into his master plan- but even he’s starting to see what Louis was trying to tell him a couple weeks ago- He’s being an idiot.

“Oh!  I see how it is.  It’s all about you!”  Olivia’s giggle rings out but then it calms down quick enough, but tears averted- thank god.  He hates seeing his daughter cry.  “But don’t you worry about that right now; nobody is getting married anytime soon. So just hold your horses and go to bed.  Daddy will be here when you wake up.”

“I love you, Auntie Gems.” 

“Love you too, baby girl.”  Harry tiptoes his way back out to the living room being as quiet as possible when dropping onto the couch. He doesn’t want to get Olivia all wound up and he’d rather she go to bed decent time then be up for the next two hours.

It only takes a few minutes before Gemma drops down into the seat beside him and smiles.  “I heard you come in.  Were you listening to that?”  She points back to Olivia’s bedroom like it’s not 100% clear what she’s actually talking about.  “What the hell happened while I was gone?”  She asks.  She’s smiling but her eyes are not.  “I take three weeks off to travel around the world and get engaged and I come back to my niece wanting to marry Niall.”  She has that serious big sister look on her face- but this is what he needed; someone to talk to- someone who knows the whole story.  It’s why he ended up telling Niall that Gemma wanted a girl’s night tonight even though Gemma suggested both of them hanging out.  

He really just needs his big sister right now.

“It stupid, Gems, it really is- So before you left- the day before you left...actually- he uh, he kissed me.  Just barely, like it was just like a peck on the lips. But I sort of….I stopped him and I told him that I can’t- because...obviously,” he points down towards Olivia’s room, “So when I saw him again next, I told him that I would like to just stay friends.  And he said he’d give me some space.”  It’s all out in a big emotional rush before even he knows it.

“Yeah?  And how’s that working out for you?”  She asks because she already knows, and she looks as smug as Louis did sitting on this very same sofa just a couple weeks ago. 

“It blows, Gems. We never really talk anymore and when we do it always seems to be about Olivia, he won’t ever text me first, he doesn’t drop by the bakery...at all, we still see him at the dog park on Saturdays but I’ve had to text him once to see if he’ll be there, and he’s watched Liv the last three Thursdays...but it still seems like things are a bit weird. I’ve tried to flirt with him a bit, tried to let him know I didn’t intend for it to be this serious, this...strained, but he’s sort of like a brick wall when it comes to that. At least... ever since I turned him down. Oh, and Liv’s usually asleep when I get back so we can’t really talk more than just to whisper and usually all he’ll say  is that they had a ‘great time’ and that ‘she was good’.”  He can’t help but slump back against the back of the sofa hands behind his head staring at the ceiling.

“So he’s doing what you asked.”  Gemma’s always been good about stating the obvious.

“I mean….Sort of, but I didn’t really ask for distance...or want space- he more like...just assumed that’s what would be best.  And it sounded like a good idea, right?  Take a step back, let time run its course, etcetera etcetera.”  Harry huffs.

“Too bad that’s not what you really want, huh?”  Even he can tell that Gemma is trying not to laugh.  This all feels very similar to the conversation that he had with Louis. “Oh and apparently he had to explain to your daughter how love works.  He did a pretty decent job too by the sound of it.  You heard that part right?”  She tells him.  She tucks her legs up in under her on the couch settling in.  She looks so relaxed, beautiful and happy.  He couldn’t wish for more for her; he loves seeing her happy.

“I heard.” It’s interesting to hear it come from a child’s perspective- and he can’t help but wonder what it is that Niall really did say.

“He explained to her that love has to be the same on both sides for marriage and now she thinks that Niall needs to be your prince.”  Gemma laughs a little.  “Guess she didn’t realize he already is.”

“Yeah.”  Maybe…this is the first big hiccup in his master plan. Sure there were others; the loan for the bakery- upgrading and remodeling it, finding a daycare close by… but this is the first major one.  Maybe it is time to think about things differently…maybe Niall’s just a small detour?  Louis words still keep echoing in his mind- just won’t leave him alone.

“You know...You deserve to be happy too, right?  Olivia can have two dads.  You don’t have to do this alone.  Just because Camille died doesn’t mean you have to do this all on your own.”  Gemma’s hand is on his leg squeezing his knee, drawing his attention from the ceiling to look back at her.

“But it’s just so much.  If I tried anything I’d probably just be disappointing him.”  Maybe that’s the problem or maybe the real problem is that he’s actually found someone who makes him want to try.  Someone who he really is okay with sharing his daughter with- and like Louis had said it’s like Olivia had handpicked Niall just for him.

“You don’t know that.  You were good friends before he kissed you. You guys were happy together.  And sure relationships take work but you need to stop telling yourself it’s all about the “plan.”  I think you just don’t want to get hurt.”  Gemma always has been good calling it like she sees it- but this time she’s wrong or at least partially wrong.

“I just don’t want anything to hurt her.”  It’s his job- his main job to protect his daughter.  That’s a father’s duty in life- Olivia is what gives his life meaning.

“Stop projecting.  You don’t want to get hurt but guess what? You will get hurt.   Both of you will and that’s life.  Look at Mum and Dad, Robin was amazing to us.  There was never a day that we didn’t feel like he was our Dad too. And we pushed for that.  We wanted them to date and later on we wanted them to get married. You can’t just lose out on something because it scares you.”

“But what if he…”  And really he has nothing-

“He loves her.”

“I know.”  He doesn’t mean to raise his voice but he does just a little.  It’s not that he’s angry it's more like he’s just frustrated.  Is there a way that he can have it all?

“And you could love him- if you let yourself- it’s okay to fall in love, I promise you're not going to love your daughter any less.  You have a big heart- plenty of love to go around.”  And that’s part of it.  A huge part of it- it feels so selfish wanting this for himself when his life isn’t just about him anymore, it’s not just about his happiness, it’s about them, him and Olivia.

“I know. But I feel a bit selfish.”  He finally tells her, looking over at her where she’s still leaning against the back of the couch. 

“It’s not selfish.  If you’re happy and she’s happy it’s a better life for both of you.  Just...Talk to him.”  And he wants to- he really, really wants to, now more than ever.

“I will.”  He promises her.

“And maybe shag him.  God knows it’s been long enough.”  Gemma gives him a wink and he blushes like he’s fifteen again.

“Jesus, Gems!”  And then another thought occurs to him, “Hey, did you know that Niall’s sort of...famous?”  She just laughs at him.

“Of course- I’ve read his books.  They’re amazing. You should really give him a shot.” The irony of her comment isn’t lost on him.

Like the last few weeks, sleep is still slow to come to him.  He’s had two people reiterate his situation with Niall to him at this point. And he’s heard it all from different points of view, but there is still someone he hasn’t talked to that he knows will tell it to him straight. 

Gemma’s comments about their mum and Robin are still rolling around his head when he finally gets up the next morning.   He can’t help but grab the phone, he’s got a few minutes before he needs to wake up Liv and get her ready for daycare and he knows his mum will be awake.  She always was an early riser.  After the conversation he had with Gemma last night making this call just makes sense.   The phone only rings a couple times before she answers.

“Hello, luv, good morning.”  Her voice is always calming, like wrapping himself in a blanket.  He hopes that one day, when Olivia calls him he has the same effect on her.

“Hey Mum, I’m sorry to call so early but I just...I had something important I wanted to ask.”  It’s something that he’s been thinking of since last night.  Robin was like a dad to him and he remembers hoping- just hoping that he and his mum would date and that Robin would become part of their family.  He can’t help but relate that to the questions that Olivia was asking Gemma last night. “I..um after...Dad...How did you make the decision to start dating Robin?”

“Oh, well, luv, it’s hard when you have a family to think of and you always think about how you have to put them first.”  The phone goes silent but just for moment, “Do you remember when you and Gemma talked to me about Robin?”

“Vaguely…” he didn’t know exactly what she was talking about.  He remembers a time when it was just the three of them and he remembers the first time he met Robin.  He had liked Robin but what he had liked even more was how much happier his mum was when he was around.   How he could make her smile and laugh.

“Well, you and Gemma sat me down at the kitchen table one day and asked me when he was going to be part of the family.”  And now when she says that he can kind of remember the three of them sitting around the table talking about how they liked him and it would be okay if they lived together… Gemma and Harry could share a room even.  He couldn’t have been more than nine or ten at the time.

“Yeah I do actually remember that.”  The funny thing is it sounds a lot like the conversation that he had with his own daughter just last week when she asked if they could marry Niall.

 “See the thing that’s so hard is that once you become a parent your first priority is that little person that you’ve helped create. And everything isn’t about you it’s about them- but the truth is- we felt more like a family with Robin than without him.  You guys showed me that.  And after that, it was easy.”  He hears his mum sigh; he can picture her in her fluffy robe sitting down at the kitchen table with her morning cuppa.

“Hmm.”  Harry gets that- he can really relate. Because the three of them had really started to feel like a family and it had been pretty damn great. 

“But don’t get me wrong, it’s hard adding another person in the mix.  You have to be willing to dedicate time just to them.  It’s easy to just play family- but you have to have a real emotional relationship with them too.”

“That’s what scares me.”  He whispers.

“If they are worth it you will make it happen.”  His mum sounds so confident in him, he can feel it through the line and in a way it empowers him.  “Does that help, baby?”  It always amazes him how she just seems to say exactly what he needs to hear, she hasn’t met Niall or even really know what’s going on- but somehow she just knows.

“Yeah, Mum, it really does.”  

He can’t help but feel a little lighter now that he knows the decision he needs to make. 

With Saturday fast approaching he can’t help but think of how this is all going to work.  How does he need to approach this conversation with Niall?  He know wants it to be alone, just the two of them. But Niall seems to avoid that like the plague; they’ve only been alone that one time since everything went down. But he has an idea…

“Hey Liv, you wanna make some treats for Niall?”  He asks over the sound of the telly. Her head instantly pops up over the back of the couch.

“Yes!  Can we make some for Stevie too?”  She hops off the couch quick enough dashing to the kitchen, smile bright.

“Sure,” he’s pretty sure he has the ingredients for dog treats here.  He can make a batch and take them into the bakery tomorrow, even though he tries to avoid cooking pastries at home and then taking them to the bakery.  Cooking with Olivia usually isn’t the most…sanitary. No matter how much he tells her not to, she always tries to eat the dough. But that usually isn’t a problem with the dog treats, just the other treats, the ones for people.

“Can we make some in the shape of your picture?”

“Huh?”  He asks a bit confused.

“Your good luck charm?”  She asks again eyes wide.

She grabs at his wrist and points to his tattoo, the one of the shamrock.  Years ago he got it on a half drunk dare, but when his daughter started questioning all the ink swirled onto his skin he figured he should at least make up some kind of story for them other than ‘it was a good idea at the time’.  So the shamrock became his good luck charm.

“Of course we can.  How did you know about that?”  He asks and she just shrugs and for a minute Harry already dreads the teenage years.

“There’s one on the wall in his living room.”  And okay, Niall does have a lot of Irish stuff in his apartment so that actually sense.

Overall it’s a good way to spend the evening.  Olivia talks him into making the pastries in the shapes of hearts and then they bake up the dog treats into shamrocks.

Bath time that night is extra fun- especially trying to get all the flour out of Olivia’s hair. 

So the plan is to take the pastries to the park and maybe start up a conversation- explain to him in detail what the master plan is, and tell Niall he’d like to make him part of his new plan.  See if he can make it all balance out, because he wants Niall in his life, but more than before.  He really wants to make this all work. 

He wakes up Saturday morning with a good feeling.  Now that he’s finally made his decision he’s so much more at ease.  Olivia even seems to pick up on it, holding his hand and skipping as they walk back from the sitter’s house Saturday afternoon.

They’ll be heading to the park soon; it’s almost 4:00 and the nerves are starting to settle in his stomach.   His stomach is tying itself in knots as he looks at the little box of pastries sitting on his counter.  There are only half a dozen; but they made all of Niall’s favorite flavors.  

He almost ignores his phone when he hears the ding of a text message; he was planning on leaving it behind today, not needing any distractions.  But he quickly grabs it just to make sure that nothing crazy is going.

Can’t make it to the park today, not feeling well

Another text quickly follows.

Sorry and please tell Liv not to worry

Harry stares at his phone and looks over at the pastries that he and Olivia had prepped.  His heart plummets and he can’t help but worry. This is the first time Niall has ever canceled on them.  He’s always been steady and reliable- only that first Saturday...after the kiss did Harry have to encourage him to come along.

He was hoping that today was going to turn things around a bit, get them heading back in the right direction.  Now he can’t help but feel his breath catch in his throat.  He tells himself it’ll be okay. Focuses on breathing out, then in, deep breaths.  This could mean anything. The truth of the matter is he mostly likely really doesn’t feel well. There isn’t any other reason that he would need to cancel. Not really anyway.  He pushes the air out in a sigh. And texts back a quick.

Ok, Feel better. H

“Daddy what’s wrong?”  Liv is putting on her shoes by the door, Mac prancing around her because she’d grabbed the leash and he knows exactly where they’re going. 

“Uh, it looks like Niall can’t make it today, Love.”  He hates delivering the bad news to her and seeing her face fall.  She doesn’t curb her emotions like Harry does though.  She’s too young for that still, doesn’t mind the whole world knowing how she’s feeling.

“But Daddy! His pastries!  We decorated them special for him.”  She had too – icing in the shape of hearts on the heart shape pastries.  They weren’t the most beautiful work he’d ever done but Olivia was proud of them.  Her lips are wobbling and tears are pooling and it’s not okay.

“We’ll drop them off at his door baby. Please don’t cry.”  And that will work.  He’s obviously at home, so they can just leave them at the door and knock on the way out.  If Niall’s not feeling well he probably doesn’t want to see them...or anyone.  And that’s okay- if he’s sick he really shouldn’t be around Olivia anyway.

“I miss him Daddy!”  Harry swoops in and picks her up cradling her close.  He’s so glad she still so small, still so easy to comfort.  Why do adults make everything so hard?

“Me too, baby, don’t worry he’ll feel better soon.  We’ll see him Thursday.”  He pats down her back.

They drop the pastries at Niall’s door with a quick knock as they move down the stairs and when they come back from the park they’re gone. 

His phone lights up with a text from Niall, just a simple thank you. But it still warms his heart. 

He just needs to work on a new plan now.  Find something else that will work.

Inspiration comes to him in the form of an email Thursday afternoon.  It’s been raining all day- even more so than what’s normal for cloudy overcast London. He opens the email to the find that they have to cancel the market tonight- it’s raining too hard and the streets are flooding.  His bank account hurts for the loss of revenue but he also sees the potential to make use of his extra time.

Tonight is Niall’s night with Olivia.  He’s going to be expecting them to show up at his door.   This is the perfect opportunity. 

He shoots Gemma a quick text.

Can you come over tonight?

He’s got a plan.

----

 

Chapter Text

----

It wasn’t so much that he had planned on skipping out on Saturday. But he still felt awful after drinking so much on Thursday night.  It hadn’t helped that even though he felt like utter shit on Friday...or was it Saturday? – at this point he can’t remember- he ended up finishing his book.  While handling his hangover he sat at his computer for almost 18 hours straight and his book is now officially finished. 

Then for the next couple days it was re-read after re-read, going back changing previous chapters, looking for plot holes and filling them all in.  He distinctly remembers the knock on his door on Saturday night.  The dread that he felt when he walked to the door, his hand had been shaking when he’d answered it. Only to open it and find nothing but a box at his feet, which had been a little… startling. 

However when he finally opened the box, his heart melted a little bit.  It had obviously been planned out thoughtfully in advance, the pastries frosted by an obviously shaky hand and those signature dog treats in the shape of shamrocks.   Touched and slightly overwhelmed, he hadn’t known what to say so he just went with a simple thank you.

He didn’t get a text back so he doesn’t quite know what that means.

He keeps bouncing back and forth between thinking the worst and then thinking that it’s all just in his head.

On the one hand, Gemma had thought they were watching Olivia together, she hadn’t asked for a girl’s night- which means that Harry hadn’t been completely honest with him.  If he wasn’t being honest then he has something to hide- and maybe Harry is just regretting the decision of letting him watch Olivia on Thursdays.  Maybe Harry’s decided that Niall makes him uncomfortable just enough to not want him to be a regular part of their lives.

On the other hand, the rational part of his brain keeps telling him- not to worry.  He’s just overreacting and seeing things that aren’t there. 

Harry didn’t act weird at all last time they saw each other.  It was definitely their new normal- small talk yet still somewhat tense conversation, careful not to touch or to get too close, and definitely no flirting.

With all this turmoil he’s already thrown himself into book number nine.  He’s keeping it on the down low- after Liam’s last reaction- but he’s been working on it steadily since Sunday. 

His phone chimes.  And it’s not like he forgot that it’s Thursday, he knows exactly what day and time it is.  It’s his week.

Olivia will be here in an hour and a half. 

He can’t remember the last time he showered- so he starts with that.  Once that is checked off the list he starts on dinner.  The last time they chatted Liv had wanted to work on the puzzle so instead of cooking dinner together tonight he’s going to make it in advance.  His homemade mac and cheese and chicken tenders should do the trick. 

Once the pasta is in the oven and the tenders are ready to fry, he heads back to the laptop to make sure everything is saved and closed down.  It’s always best to just avoid the distraction.  He can feel the start of a headache coming on, so he grabs his glasses and puts them on.   He pops Brave in the blu-ray player and unrolls the puzzle mat from a couple weeks ago.  They are really only just getting started on the puzzle but she’s doing most of the work, and he’s just walking her through it. It’s such an amazing thing to walk a child through something, see the light-bulb click on and just enjoy something they haven’t done before.

It’s earlier than normal when there is a knock on his door.  He can’t help double checking the time because if it’s Harry and Olivia they are almost 15 minutes early, but he’s ready and so is the food.

But when Niall opens the door, he finds Harry is standing there all by himself.  He waits to see if he can hear Olivia coming down the stairs but there’s nothing; no patter of little feet, no excited chatter, nothing.  The other man has his hands in his pocket and he looks a little uncomfortable- or maybe nervous is a better word?   

Niall can’t really help the ball of dread that starts to form in his stomach. His mind is steering him right back to that worst case scenario that’s been playing in his mind since last Thursday.    

This is the second Thursday in a row now that Harry hasn’t brought Olivia over and his heart breaks a little bit because now he knows that he was right.  Last week wasn’t a fluke- Harry had lied to him because he wasn’t ready to tell him the truth- but now it looks like he’s ready.

He can’t help but beat himself up a little.  Why did he have to choose that one moment to be brave?  Why couldn’t he have just kept his hands to himself?  Why did he let himself be courageous for once and make the first move?  He never makes the first move.

“Hey, can we talk?”  Harry asks.

“Uh...Sure,” Niall pulls the door open and turns away grabbing the remote and powering down the TV hopefully before Harry can see the title screen for Brave.  He quickly gives Stevie her treat and tosses her toy and she bounds off to the corner to chew on her squeaky toy in her dog bed.  He can smell the food and the puzzle is pretty obvious.  He’s trying not to be embarrassed that he appears so excited to have Olivia over.  He just really enjoys her company.  She’s such a special little girl and he loves that he has her in his life. 

Harry steps inside the door and closes the door behind him while Niall turns his attention to the puzzle mat rolling it up and securing it with a band trying to not to look so disappointed.

“So...Olivia’s not coming then?”  Niall asks, moving to the kitchen and shutting down the oven.  He doesn’t want the food to burn, even if he’s going to be the only one eating it now.

“Uh, no, Gems is watching her right now. I really thought that maybe we should clear the air.”  Harry’s body language reads uneasy and Niall can’t help noticing how closed off he looks, shoulders hunched, hands in pockets, toes facing each other.

“Are we not good?  I thought we were good?”  He tries to stop his rambling but the words just continue to come, “This is about the kiss again right?  I apologized and I am sorry.  I understand… I mean I understand where you’re coming from- as much as person who isn’t a parent can understand.  You were incredibly clear.”  Niall tells him and to keep himself busy, he walks into the kitchen.  “Are you hungry?  I have mac and cheese? Chicken?”  He looks over his shoulder as pulls it out of the oven removing the tin foil to let it vent.

Harry looks a little lost as he gazes around the flat, before looking back at Niall.  He’s really trying to avoid Harry’s gaze because the last thing he wants to see there is pity or something equally as dismal.

“Uh, sure, we can eat.”  Niall gets busy and sets a couple plates at the island in the kitchen and grabs the homemade chicken strips from the oven as well.  Niall can’t help but laugh a bit at the meal.

“Sorry, if I knew you were coming I would have made something else.”  Niall tells him setting both serving dishes on the island along with silverware.

“No, I realize it’s kind of a surprise.  I know I’m not who you were expecting?”  Harry’s voice is soft and curious.  “You like to cook?”

“When it’s just me no… but when I cook for someone else yes.  I don’t put a ton of work into feeding myself really.  But Liv and I made pizza and stuff like that.  Thanks for the pastries again by the way, they were great.”  Niall keep himself busy while he talks.  He realizes that he’s rambling but he can’t seem to help it.  He sets out napkins, glasses, and dipping sauces, walking back and forth from the fridge, trying to delay the inevitable.

Because he knows where this is going, he had tried to talk himself down after last week- telling himself it’s just in his imagination.  This is week two of not seeing Olivia and he gets it- he really does.  He wouldn’t want to have his kids around people that make him uncomfortable either.  He must be making Harry uncomfortable, he doesn’t know how to respond to him anymore- he doesn’t know how to fake it.  He didn’t have to fake it before.

“So hey, we probably don’t need to drag this out much, right?  You’re here to tell me that you don’t think it’s good that I babysit Liv anymore. And that’s cool. That’s okay. So what’s the story we’re going with?   Am I busy or working or something?” His voice is shaking and damn, his hands are shaking too.  All he can hope is that Harry doesn’t really notice.

“What?!  No!”  The genuine shock in Harry’s voice finally pulls Niall’s eyes to his.  His green gaze is wide, worried, “No that is not... that’s not what I want to talk to you about at all.”  He stressed it again shaking his head almost violently.  Some of the tension leaves Niall’s stomach, muscles relaxing.  So it’s not the worst case scenario but it still can’t be good.

“Okay...then why are you here?  You make a killing on Farmer’s Market nights?”  Niall can’t really sit down, he’s too anxious- too nervous with Harry here, and it’s been awhile since he’s been alone with Harry.  He’s been so careful.  Olivia has always been there- he knows it’s cowardly using a five year old as a buffer but what else was he supposed to do?

He goes to the fridge and grabs them both a glass of water.  Harry is alternating between dishing up his food and looking at Niall like he’s a skittish cat. Niall doesn’t know how to handle it so he finally loops around and discreetly moves the barstool away from Harry so they won’t touch.  He doesn’t know his boundaries, hasn’t for quite some time, and that makes him a little uneasy.

“It got rained out today… So I figured that it was a good chance to come and talk with you.  I actually was going to talk to you Saturday but then you weren’t feeling well.”  Niall takes the chance and looks out the window.  It is pouring rain, he can barely see outside the window.  For a minute he’s struck dumb, but he’s spent so much time in the last week in his own little world that he didn’t even look outside.  He just knows that it was sunny earlier today when he took Stevie to the park, but that was really early this morning. “So yeah- the streets are flooding so they had to cancel it.”  Harry tells him.  “I guess...I didn’t realize how much work you put in on Thursday nights.”

“Sorry, sorry, I was working all day.  Didn’t even look up from my computer screen until an hour ago.  And it’s not really work, I enjoy it, I love it really.”  He plates up some of the food, but he doesn’t really feel like eating any of it. His stomach is still feeling pretty sour and tense.

He doesn’t know what to say- so he doesn’t say anything.  Just waits.  Harry’s eating taking slow bites, “This is really good.”  Like he’s shocked or something.

“I do know how to cook- just because I’m not an award winning baker doesn’t mean that can’t make a decent meal.” he huffs out, and it’s meant to come out as a joke but it definitely doesn’t sound like one.

“That’s not what I meant.”  But Harry doesn’t look offended and god….he looks more concerned and worried.

“I know, God...I know, I didn’t mean for it to come out that sharp.” He stalls because he just doesn’t know what else to say. He doesn’t know why Harry’s here. He doesn’t know what he wants. All he knows is that he’s here, and he wants to talk and that just normally is not a good thing.

“I’m not here to – like- make things awkward or anything. I just- we’ve both- I feel like we’ve become this divorced couple and you just have weekly visitations- and I feel like you want to avoid the dog park and you don’t come when we go like we used to and you never come into the bakery anymore…”

“But you said you wanted everything to be platonic or whatever- I’m giving it to you, trying to do what you asked.  I said that I would give you space.” Niall interrupts. He’s not doing anything wrong; he’s doing exactly what Harry wanted him to. Why does he feel like he’s getting into trouble again?

“Yes, but I think maybe...a little bit too much space?” Harry clarifies speaking, slowly, cautiously, like he doesn’t know how Niall’s going to react. He’s given up the farce of eating, setting his fork down on the plate. Niall still doesn’t want to look at him, just peeks from his peripheral vision, pushing the food around on his plate.  Harry’s full attention is locked on him however.  He can feel his gaze.

“I think that maybe its best this way?”  Niall says after a quick moment of thought, not that he doesn’t want to see more of both of them, go back to the way it used to be, but Niall knows himself, knows he’ll get even more attached and he’ll get confused and fall more in love with the both of them. He really doesn’t want this to be harder or any more awkward for either of them. 

Because it’s become pretty obvious, at least to him, that he is head over heels for this drop-dead gorgeous baker and his precious little girl

“Uh, no?  I don’t really think so.” Harry disagrees almost immediately and looks just a little bit disappointed and that just annoys him. Granted he created this situation- it is all his fault- but he is doing his best.

“Harry, what is it that you want from me?” He asks exasperatedly, and that’s the big question isn’t it.  Because he thought he knew what Harry wanted a little over a month ago when he made his move, but he had been wrong then and he is not going to make that same mistake again.

 He can’t keep his hands from coming up and running through his hair, he presses his glasses up on his nose. He finally sets his elbows on the counter and lets his hands fall in front of him as he leans back against the back of the bar stool.

“Okay, so just listen...alright?”  And Harry’s holding his hands up, forest green eyes pleading for his attention, “So...uh- I overheard that you had to explain to Liv about the different kinds of love.” And that makes Niall smile through his frustration, because that girl is so incredibly smart and perceptive that he’d had to think hard to find an explanation that would make her happy.

“Yeah- I- she’s smart and it’s hard to lie to her.  She sees right through the bullshit, ya know?  But trying to explain love? In a way that makes sense to a kid…that was a little tough.  Lucky for me I have a good imagination.” Or most of the time he does anyway, he smiles as he shakes his head.

“Yeah, and thanks for that.  For not lying to her or feeding her a bunch of bull- but I’ve kinda realized that you did...sort of have to lie to her, because it’s not that…” and Harry pauses a bit, a ruddy blush staining his cheeks. “Well it’s not that we don’t feel something for each other, it’s just that…” And he pauses again rolling his eyes away and looking somewhere over Niall’s shoulder.

“You think we shouldn’t try anything. I know, I told you I get it. I’m not going to tell your daughter that though.” He pulls his hands into his lap before going to stand up. They are obviously not going to eat so he might as well put the food away.  He needs something to keep him busy and it’s stupid just to let all this go to waste.  He just can’t keep looking at those green eyes- so bright and earnest- knowing that Harry doesn’t want what he wants.  It’s just not fair.

“Niall, can you just sit back down please?” Harry asks him.

“Seriously H,” Niall sits back down and turns his swivel chair to face Harry, turning Harry’s so he has to face him as well.  And he’s done- he just needs to know what is going on.  Before he kissed Harry they were completely comfortable with each other.  Or at least he was.  There were things he’s told Harry that he never even whispered to another person- he’s pretty sure Harry felt the same.  So seeing this- Harry like this all nervous and unsure is just killing him. “What are you trying to say? It’s just me. You know you can talk to me.” He doesn’t like seeing Harry this uncomfortable- it makes him even more uncomfortable.

“Yeah, well, you’re right, my daughter is smart. I overheard her telling Gemma that you said that you and I couldn’t get married, because it’s not the right kind of love. But the thing is- that’s not true, we do have the right kind of love- well kinda- I think it could become the right kind of love if I let it. But I didn’t want to take the chance because I thought that it might hurt her. But really I think I’m more scared that you’ll hurt me. But since that day- you’ve been nothing but thoughtful and respectful and I know- knew then if I’m honest- that you aren’t going to hurt my daughter or me, at least not on purpose.”

Niall lets him babble words flowing out of Harry’s mouth and he’s trying to make sense of them. His eyes are wide and pleading, like Harry’s begging him to understand what he’s trying to say. But it’s obvious that he really can’t seem to put what he wants to say into words.

“So… you’re not worried and you want to go back to the way things were?” Even as Niall says it he knows that’s not quite it. Or he hopes it’s not, because Harry’s talking about love here and that’s more than what they had- that’s what they were growing into.

“No,” And he shakes his head frustrated, “I mean. Yes, kinda. God. I had this all figured out in my head ya know. Like practiced in front of a mirror and everything.”

“I’m honored.” He smiles as he says it and it feels like the first genuine smile he’s had in a while that hasn’t been centered on Olivia.  Something about how worked up Harry is right now is comforting.  To know that no matter how much Harry is fucking up this conversation right now- the fact that he’s spent time practicing it for Niall is flattering.

"You should be," Harry jokes back. The humor helps a bit to lighten the mood and Niall finally feels like he can relax a little. 

"So what's the point?"  He brings his hand up and waves it between the two of them. "Why the need for this conversation?"   Why the need for the panic and the worry and this uncomfortable tense situation? He leaves that last part unsaid- this is weird enough the way it is.

Harry stands suddenly and Niall finds himself mirroring the movement.

"Fuck it,” and it is the first time he's heard that word come out of Harry's mouth. He’s always so careful around Olivia. It shocks him. Is he upset?  But then Harry’s hands are on the sides of his neck, pulling him firmly closer- and he realizes Harry’s not upset- not at all.

It’s only a matter of seconds until Harry's lips are on his, pressing in softly and he lets out a sigh as his eyes flutter shut. 

Their first kiss, if you can call it that, was unsure and tentative. But this - this is on a whole different level.  Niall almost feels like he's being overwhelmed by Harry's emotions.  He drops his hands from Niall’s neck but they find residence quickly around his waist, pulling him into him and up onto his toes.

And god, his lips feel good, warm and slick pressed against his, tongue tracing his lower lip asking for entry.

He doesn’t know what to expect but he lets him in anyway and Niall’s knees go weak as Harry explores him, tasting every part before prompting Niall to do the same.

Niall’s hands are on his shoulders, fingertips digging in and he presses his hips into Harry’s as he pulls his mouth away to huff hot breath into Harry’s neck.  One of Harry’s hands moves up- is combing through his hair just once before it drops back down to his waist and Niall doesn’t know what to think.

“So...Uhm?”  He presses the question into Harry’s neck and Harry huffs out a laugh.

“So this is what I wanted to talk about.”  When did Harry’s hands move under his shirt?  They feel hot on the skin of his lower back and Niall nods into his neck.  Not ready to move his head- his pulse is racing and his knees still feel little weak- just from a kiss.  “No more bad thoughts, I want to talk about us- the possibility of an us?”  It sounds like a question so Niall pulls away to look up at Harry’s face.

“Of course we can be us.”  That sounds too ambiguous, “You mean like…”

“I want to date you, Ni.”  His green eyes are wide and he pulls back from Niall so that he can look at him hopefully, “I mean I don’t have a lot of time for dating, and you know that but I was hoping that maybe we could kinda go back to the way things were?  But like add in the dating?”  He shakes his head breaking eye contact, “Fuck, I’m messing this up again…”

And Niall hates seeing him this upset, this unsure he goes to say something anything to make him feel better- he doesn’t know what- but instead Harry’s kissing him again and really as soon as his lips touch Niall’s his brain goes to static.  He’s barely conscious of digging his hand into Harry’s dark curls, pulling him closer, keeping him tight, bodies pressed together from lips to hips. 

Harry’s shuffling around, lips not leaving his but moving the two of them until he drops back on his barstool where they were sitting just minutes ago, Niall’s stomach sour as they both picked at their food.  Now instead Harry is spreading his legs, pulling Niall in between them and dropping a hand to his arse like it belongs there- pressing him in tight. 

Harry moves to kiss his cheekbone, then his ear, then the spot behind his ear.  “Okay… different approach.”  And Niall isn’t sure if Harry’s talking to him or to himself so he stays quiet.   “So,” Harry’s voice is soft but it’s a tone that Niall hasn’t heard before and it’s seductive to say the least, “I think that you love my daughter…”

“I do,” Harry’s response to that is a bite on his neck, the soft pressure of teeth sending a spark down his spine.

“And you know that she and I are a package deal.”  Harry’s lips move down his neck- it’s like he’s figured out that if he just keeps kissing Niall he can say what he needs to say.  To say that Niall is perfectly okay with that is an understatement.  This might be the best form of communication he’s ever experienced.

“She did kinda claim me first anyways.”  Niall agrees.  His hands aren’t staying still either, Harry’s legs feel strong under his hands, and for the first time he actually lets himself massage the thick muscle underneath.

“And I’ll always think about her first, but I want to see if I can be your boyfriend and her dad at the same time.”  His voice shakes on the word boyfriend and for the first time Niall realizes how scary this is for him.   Harry’s taking a risk and it’s a much bigger risk than starting a bakery and owning his own business.

Niall brings his arms up and wraps them around Harry’s shoulders, pulling them in tight and he hopes that Harry can feel his heartbeat, that he knows how much this means to him.  “I’d really like that- and you know we can take her on our dates too, right? I don’t mean to push or rush but it kind of used to feel like family.”

“I know, and I want that too, but we need to have an us too.  I want this to be a real relationship, a strong healthy relationship. ” There is another kiss to his neck, then another and he knows that Harry can feel each tremor- knows that he’s is the cause. Because that’s a big, bold statement, and he knows that it’s fact.  If the only focus in a relationship is on the family and not on the foundations of the relationship it just becomes two people just practicing a habit.

It will take work, commitment, and honestly Niall and Harry will have to be NiallandHarry so they can be the base for a healthy family.  But that’s 100 steps in the future…that’s not tonight, that’s not now.  Right now is Niall is happy, ecstatic even, just being held in Harry’s strong arms and realizing he gets to have what he was so sure he’d lost.

“Ok, so dates are just for us then,” he relents and he’s blessed with a bright beautiful smile before Harry leans back in.

“I love that.”   Harry’s moved back to his ear, now his cheekbone, zoning in on his lips.

“I love you.”  He could almost worry that it was too soon, that it was too much, but instead Harry lets out a whimper and kisses him like he’s drowning, like Niall’s the only thing he has to cling to and he’s never letting go.

“Me too, love you too. I’m so sorry I was an idiot.  I tried to tell you with the pastries.”   Harry has such a disappointed pouty look on his face that Niall has to fight a full laugh.  Harry looks just like his daughter.

“The heart shape pastries?  Covered in icing? They were a message from you?”  Niall laughs a little because he was sure that it had been something that Olivia had talked him into it. He stops thinking though when the hand on his arse gives good squeeze and he ends up pressing his hips in tighter against Harry’s- if that’s even possible.

“Liv helped.”  Niall hummed in response, moving back into kiss him.  It’s a realization that this will be unlike any relationship that he’s had before, sure Harry holds his heart in his hands, but he has two hearts to consider now, Harry’s and Olivia’s, and he will handle them both with care.  Because this, is worth it, worth the last month of agony, the hours spent wondering how close is too close?  How much texting is too friendly? All the do I or don’t I-s? It's all better now, or at least it's getting there.

“So what’s the plan then?”  Harry’s hands on him, his lips on his- all of it just feels right like everything is slotting into place. 

“Plan?  I have plans…”  Harry’s remark is deeply suggestive especially with that look on his face and before he knows it he’s losing time- he finds that Harry’s lips on his will do that to him.

“Plans?”  He asks trying to focus, because Harry was saying something- and it could be important… maybe. He pulls away from Harry, but not too far, his arms stay over his shoulders- that are strong and steady underneath his hands.  His lips feel tender, bruised, and the last thing he wants to do is stop kissing Harry, but there is heat spreading through him and he needs to breathe- even for just a second.

 “Yeah,” Harry nods, his eyes are hooded, cheeks pink, and lips red from kissing Niall so very thoroughly, but his eyes turn serious when he starts to speak again. “See that was part of my issue.”  “When Camille passed and left me alone with Olivia I had to make a plan.  I knew that I wanted the bakery and I knew I wanted to build a business and I had mile markers set up.  By year one, up and running.  By year two, increased profit margins by at least 5%, by year three this, by year four that, and I knew where Olivia and I would always stand.  But being an entrepreneur is hard and Liv spends a lot of time with Gemma, Michal, and my Mum when she comes down.  And I just never planned…well I never planned on meeting someone like you.

 “And you scared me, because I want you in my life,” He breaks eye contact and rest his head on Niall’s shoulder.  He can feel Harry shaking and he combs his hand through his hair doing his best to sooth.  “It just took me some time… and I wanted to talk to Gemma on Thursday…”

“Is that why you told me she wanted a girl’s night?”  He has to ask.  Honesty is important to him- it’s always been one of his core values. 

“Yeah, I panicked.  I just really needed to be able to talk to my sister about you and if you were both there…”  Harry trails off, not really finishing the thought.

“I get it,” Niall tells him but he needs to make it clear, “But next time could you please just...tell me Haz. You had me worried, and honesty...it’s a big deal to me and important for a relationship.”

“Yes, because that’s what I want… a relationship… and I want to commit to you. I’m sorry for being an idiot but I’m just so scared that I won’t be able to give you what you deserve.”  And for some reason Niall feels like Harry has already beat himself up enough for this.

“So this is when I get to tell you that you being an idiot doesn’t really matter because I’m already in love with you and I’m going to decide what I deserve.”  Niall fills in for him, part statement and part question.

“Something like that.”  It's muttered into his neck and he smiles as he curls his face into Harry’s neck.  Smelling his cologne and the smell of fresh baked bread that has seeped into his pores.  “I’m bound to make mistakes and I mean we both have busy lives…”  Harry pulls his head out of his neck to look back up at him, those green eyes are so earnest.

“H,” and wow does that feel good to say again, to let it slip out like second nature, “I think that there are going to be a lot of things that we will have to work through.  But we’re adults and we’re smart- we will just need to communicate.  Both of our hearts are right where they need to be.”  And his hand finds its way right back up there, running through Harry’s dark curls.  They are just as soft as they look. 

“So was there any more to this plan of yours?”  Niall can’t help but ask- because he did interrupt and if there is more he would really like to hear it.

“Oh, yeah,”  Harry’s eyes are bright and Niall can’t believe that he is the one that put that look of joy on Harry’s face, “The rest of my current plan- not my master plan, that’s different- the current plan has more to do with me asking you if you want to come up to our place for a bit?  Maybe stay after Olivia goes to sleep but we have to be really really quiet?”  Harry’s voice has gone deep and almost seductive and he can’t help but think that if Harry asked him to walk off a bridge in that tone of voice he probably would.

“Uh…”  Niall is a little bit blindsided because wow- that’s moving a bit fast.  Harry must read his reaction well because his loud laugh is echoing around the flat, waking Stevie from where she was sleeping in the corner.

“Oh- god- no! No- we need to at least go on a date first- we- no- I just...I meant talk and be quiet you know...because Liv is right down the hall.  I just…”

“I’ll have to bring Stevie.”   Niall interrupts and he can't help but see that Harry’s anxiety instantly melts away- instead his face lights up and he seems to be radiating joy.

“Her bed can go right next to Mac’s.”  Niall can already see Harry formulating a plan, moving his living room around to make room for the other dog bed.

“Yeah, okay, let's...yeah, we can do this.”  Niall squeezes his hand and they both grin like the idiots in love that they are, “Are we going to tell Liv?”  Because this is ultimately up to Harry, Olivia’s way too young to really understand the complicity of human relationships but she is smart enough to recognize that love is love.

“Let’s start by taking this film and puzzle night back to my place, and we’ll take the rest as it comes.”  Harry thumb rubs over the knuckles of his hand and he finds that it helps to ground him even though he still bursting from the seams with excitement.

He really, finally gets to have this.

And when he and Harry walk into Harry’s flat and he sees Olivia’s dimpled smile aimed right at him; he can’t help but feel like he’s exactly where he belongs.

----

“Daddy, no.”  Olivia is digging her heels in and he is not surprised- not at all.

“Olivia, yes.”  He doesn’t even have to look at her to know she’s pouting, most likely shaking her head, curls bouncing around her face, lower lip pushed out.  He knows that pouting look, hell- he created it.  He can hear her foot stomp from his doorway.

“But I want to go.”  Her voice is wobbly now and he can hear her sniffle.  She’s trying the crying approach.  Her big green eyes welling up with tears, but in this situation he’s going to stand firm.  His mum was right.  He and Niall need to be- HarryandNiall.

“You don’t get to go. Not this time Liv.  Niall will be here in the morning to watch you after you get up and Nana leaves.”  He tucks his blue floral top into his black skinny jeans and can’t help but think it’s a good look for a first date.

“But he’s MINE!”  And now it’s a wail because the tears aren’t going her way, but she’s going to have to get used to it.

“No, baby, he’s ours.” Can he say that?  Is Niall really theirs?  It sure feels like it.   But he doesn’t raise his voice, doesn’t bend to her tears, “You got to be alone with him all night last night and last Saturday Liv.  When do I get to be alone with him?”  Harry asks and his daughter falls silent, thinking.

“But...Daddy, why?”  Why doesn’t parenthood come with a manual?  Why isn’t there a great answer to this question? Why? Why? Why?

He flounders for a bit trying to think of the best way to answer this.  He motions with his hand, and Olivia walks forward.  He picks her up and sets her on the side of the bed and then kneels down in front of her.

“Do you remember a couple weeks ago when you and Niall talked about all the different kinds of love?”  He waits for her to nod before moving on, “Well...we are trying to see if maybe we do have the right kind of love after all.” 

“So does this mean you’re going to let Ni be your prince charming?”  She has her head tilted to the side, desperately trying to think this through her Disney references, but fairytales can only explain so much and the real world is much harsher than that.     

“That’s what we’re going to find out.  But that’s also why we need to be on our own.”  He tells her.

“Just this once?”  She asks and she looks hopeful but he can’t promise that.

“No, it will probably happen a lot more than that.  But don’t you worry.  Niall has enough love in his heart for both of us.”  She looks at him and blinks.

“I know that Daddy, he already loves us both.”    How in the world can his daughter be so sassy at five years old?  What did he do in his past lives to deserve this?

“Okay, so you’ll be good for Nana?”  His mum is here for the weekend.  It might be a bit fast but he wants her to meet Niall.  And they will meet tomorrow and he won’t even be here for it.  Niall will be here around 10:00 in the morning to relieve his mum from her babysitting duties.  She’s here to help Gemma plan thing for the wedding; venues, dates, and so forth and while they offered to take Olivia along it was something that would be easier done without a child in the mix.  So Niall had offered and to be honest- Harry was more nervous for him to meet his mum than Niall seems to be. 

“Yes, Daddy.”  When he looks down at her, her attitude from earlier in the evening is gone, leaving behind his beautiful baby girl instead.

“Yes, baby, don’t you worry. We’ll be fine.  Now you go have fun on your date.”  Anne is standing in the doorway, where Olivia was earlier and she’s watching the two of them, smiling brightly.  He presses a kiss to Olivia’s forehead and then walks over to hug his mum tight.  

“Thank you, Mummyyyy.”  He quips, and she just laughs and pushes him down the hall and he slips on his Chelsea boots, ready to get this date started.  He’s had a lot of big moments in his life, his daughter being born, his bakery becoming his bakery, but this feels big too.  

Is it weird that he’s nervous?  He doesn’t think so.  He and Niall are taking a big step tonight.  It really is just dinner and a film, but he can’t really remember the last time he did this, last time he even really wanted to do this.  But he does- he wants this so much he really can’t even put it into words.

He’s not surprised when he doesn’t even get to knock on the door before it’s opening. And there he is, casually dressed in a white button up and dark wash skinny jeans… and Harry doesn’t really know how he’s going to handle the night because he’s wearing his glasses and those make Harry feel like he can’t even really form coherent thoughts.

He doesn’t really know what the protocol is with this. Sure they’ve kissed already, more than once, did quite a bit last night.  But is he supposed to kiss him now?  Do they need to wait?  Is he supposed to move in for the kiss right away?  Or is a hug the right choice?  What is he supposed to do?

Fortunately Niall helps him out, calming the uncertainty by pressing up on his toes to press a kiss right to the corner of his mouth.  He lets his eyes flutter shut as he enjoys the pressure of Niall’s lips so close to his.

“Hey,” Niall sounds normal and he looks all calm and collected but there is a blush on his cheeks and when Harry grabs his hand to pull him in for a hug, it’s slightly damp with nervous sweat.

 “Hey.”  Harry can’t stop his smile because even though he’s scared, terrified even, they are really doing this.  They are going on date, and then hopefully another one, and another.  He already knows he’s never going to let Niall go.  He’s already planning ways to keep him forever.  “Shall we get this thing started?”  Harry asks, but he can’t help but think it’s more like; can we get started on forever?

He doesn’t even question if Niall understands, if he can read between the lines, because Niall is Niall¸ and he just gets it.  He’s smiling bright and Harry thinks back to the beginning when he thought that it looked like flecks of the sun were trapped in Niall’s eye, but his eyes are even brighter now.   Filled with excitement, happiness, and contentment, all emotions that Harry put there; and he has the power to put them there, again, and again.

“Yes!  Let’s go.”  Niall’s smiles bright as they head down the stairs and out on their way.

They’re just walking to the restaurant and the cinema, nothing major, and certainly nothing they haven’t done before. Harry doesn’t reach for his hand, but every time their hands brush he can’t help but look over and down to see Niall looking up and over at him. He can’t stop his blush, can’t stop his heart racing. In a way he knows what’s happening; can already feel it forming, the foundation of them cementing becoming something solid and he knows that this more than anything is what he wants to build his future on.

When they stop at the light, waiting for the green, Niall reaches an arm around his waist and Harry tucks him into his side with an arm over his shoulder.  He tilts his head down and presses a kiss to his lips, soft and chaste.  He can feel Niall’s lips curving under his and Harry’s own lips tip into a smile as he pulls away.

In a way Olivia was right… he is Niall’s prince charming

And now he gets to be Niall’s too.

----

Chapter Text

----

 

Harry steps away looking at the finishing touches of the box of not so simple cupcakes that he’s made.   Gemma’s wedding is still months away, she wanted to take her time planning it, but since Harry was doing all the baking for her wedding they were going to go ahead and get the flavors selected and out the way.  She was coming in tomorrow afternoon with Michal, but today he was taking home the sample box to Niall because well, Niall always tasted everything new first and there are a couple new ones mixed in with his favorites.  Though he is pretty excited for her to come in tomorrow; he has a little bit of everything for her to try.  He has cakes, cupcakes, cake pops, and he has different desserts for a dessert bar.  She is going to walk out this door gaining an extra stone just by taste testing- but tonight he has a very different goal in mind with Niall.

He pulls the box from his pocket and flips it open taking another look at the ring inside.  The ring itself is beautiful.  Platinum in color it’s mostly plain, nothing sparkly for Niall- but it’s perfect for him- the design has a very light engraving on it- taking a hard look to see it- a Beibhinn Celtic Knot - which Niall had told him a while back that it had a bunch of different meanings, but he was raised thinking it stood for ‘endless love’.  It had been a battle finding a ring that both he and Olivia agreed on, but once they found this one they knew it was the one. He can’t stop looking at it, knowing that very soon, it will be on Niall’s hand.  He doesn’t really see him saying no- well…he hopes not anyway.

He closes up the lid of the box of cupcakes, it’s a special box ordered specially for his cupcake bouquets that the bakery added to their menu about 6 months ago- they are a huge seller, but the reason Harry’s using it is because one cupcake sits up a little higher than the rest, right in the center of the display.  He takes the ring out of the box and puts it in the frosting of his ‘Wedding Cake’ cupcake.  He always said that he hates fake decorations on cakes but he doesn’t have to worry about that with this ring.

This isn’t just a tacky decoration- this one is the real deal.

One year ago today he wasn’t sure about what he was doing; where his life and career would be going.  Whether or not he could be a boyfriend, dad, and entrepreneur all at the same time- but now he sees it as inevitable.  Niall is it for him. 

It’s been a year to the day since that crazy night where the market thankfully got flooded out and he’d made his way to the flat below to set things to right. His life hasn’t been the same since; it’s been infinitely better.

But now he wants more, now instead of a boyfriend- he would much prefer Niall to be his husband.

His mom was right- after you accept the truth- the rest comes naturally.  Not everything has been easy- they’ve had fights, they’ve had miscommunications, they’ve made each other cry but in the end- they’re still a unit.

So many things have changed in such a short period of time.

He has two full time and one part time employee at the bakery now, and they are staying open later into the afternoon and evening, selling a wide array of cupcakes, cake pops, and desserts.  He’s broken into the wedding market amazingly well and bakes for two a week, almost every week, but that’s only because he cuts himself off.  He’s not ready to trust another baker in his kitchen yet. Bringing someone else’s on board was enough of a shock and he fought Niall on it at first. 

It had only been four months into their relationship when Niall had brought it up, and it ended up turning into a huge fight; all because of a miscommunication-

Niall had said, “Maybe you should look at hiring someone so you can be home more.”

But Harry had heard, “I’m watching your daughter too much.”

It was their first big fight and it was all done in angry whispers because Olivia was sleeping down the hall.  Niall had ended up almost in tears because – no that ‘wasn’t what he’d meant at all’, and Harry broke down too when he realized that Niall had been a business major in college and just wanted to help, because apparently it really sucked seeing your boyfriend so tired all the time. 

Niall had ended up helping him find an accountant to figure out payroll taxes, labor percentages, and all the other complex details; and once Harry realized all that he could get done without having to work it all by himself he saw his profit margins go up.  In a way his narrow minded views had actually been holding him back.

He won’t lie; he gets to spend a lot more time with Olivia and Niall now, and he loves it.

Niall’s eighth book is in publication, nine is finished and he’s currently working on ten. It was a huge eye opener for him, watching the way that Niall works- how he wrote until all hours of the night typing endlessly.  The bursts of inspiration that would drive him to sit at his computer until Harry, Stevie, or Olivia would demand his attention. But they each have their own ways of get his attention- Stevie will beg to go outside, Olivia climbs in his lap, and Harry generally just has to whisper something suggestive in his ear- which was easy because watching Niall work is incredibly erotic for him.

It’s all fair and good because Niall loves to watch him bake just as much.

Now it’s time for him to head home- time for him to claim his man.  He can’t help but snort in laughter at his own joke.

He's been thinking about this a lot, trying not to let the nerves get to him, but its hard not to.  He's not scared that Niall will say no, he's not even scared of Niall saying yes- but he just wants this moment to be perfect.  He wants Niall to know exactly how much he means to him, but there really is no way to put into words how important Niall is to him, to them.

He’s so ready for this; knows he is; but his palms are damp with sweat and his hands; hell his whole body is shaking. 

“Hey Joy, I’m leaving.”  He shouts out and it only takes a second before she’s standing in the doorway, her purple streaked hair pulled up into a ponytail.  “You need anything before I go?”  He asks.

“Nope- all good.”  She was the first one to apply to his ‘help wanted’ ad and she’s been nothing but a pleasure to work with ever since.   “You got this boss-man!”  She tells him- and of course they all know.  He can’t keep a secret very well but the important thing is Olivia knew and she didn’t tell Niall that this was coming- didn’t tell him about the ring or the very important conversation she and Harry had just a couple weeks ago about how this can- may - will change their lives.

“Thanks.”  He’s grateful for the support but doesn’t pay too much attention as she walks away, instead he looks at the box he designed for Niall.  He’s got this.

He’s leaving work early, going back to his flat and ringing Niall up later.  Gemma is picking Olivia up from daycare and today when he had dropped her off he had reminded her that today was the day.  She is staying over at Gemma’s tonight.  He can’t help but recall the conversation with her before he dropped her off at daycare.

“Auntie Gems will pick you up so make sure you’re a good girl for her, okay?”

“Because today’s the day you ask Ni to be your husband?”  Olivia had asked.  They had talked this over a lot over the last couple weeks.  She still uses Disney references to make things make sense and for now that works, right now for her husband equals official Prince Charming.

“Yeah, tonight I give him the ring we picked out.”  Harry had told her, making her smile bright.

“Do I have to a have a ring to give him too?”  He had looked over to her and her eyes were very serious for so early in the morning.  Usually she’s still very tired and groggy this time of the day.  Clearly she’s just as excited for tonight.

“For what?”

“For when I ask him to officially be my papa?”  She smiled at Harry bright as the sun, the idea obviously made her overflow with joy.

“What?”

“When you get married I get two daddies, I want to ask him proper, like you are.”   She nods sagely looking much older than 6 years old. 

“I’m sure we can figure something out, it doesn’t have to be a ring it can be anything you want.”  But he’s more shocked than anything and has to fight to keep the tears out of his voice.

“Can I ask him tomorrow when Auntie Gems drops me off?”  He’d started taking Saturdays off, only working them once in a while, so now they had most weekends to spend together.

“Yeah, of course you can.”

Harry still gets tears in his eyes just thinking about it now even though it happened much earlier this morning.

Niall doesn’t know that Gemma is picking Olivia up, Harry usually picks her up on his way home.  They generally spend their evening together eating dinner and helping Olivia with her homework and getting ready for the next day.  Most of the time Niall really only uses his flat as an office, some of his items and furniture have made their way into Harry’s flat.  They don’t live together- not really- but Niall usually bounces between the flats half the time.  It did take almost five months before their first sleepover happened- both of them not ready to have to explain to Olivia why Niall was sleeping in Daddy’s bed, and even when it did happen it was accidental.  Olivia however didn’t miss a beat or think there was anything weird when she saw Niall come out of Harry’s bedroom. So thankfully he didn’t have to answer any potentially awkward questions.

It’s a careful walk home; he’s doing everything in his power to make sure that not a single cupcake gets damaged. He’s almost home when he gets a text from Gemma.  He waits until he’s in the doors so that he can set the box of cupcakes down to take a look.  He’s not taking any chances with these cupcakes, they’re far too important.

Good Luck and you owe me

Attached is a picture of a tan leather weave band bracelet with a small silver section, the word papa engraved on it.

Apparently Olivia is all ready to propose to Niall tomorrow. 

He takes a minute to take a deep breathe and will the tears away.

Grabbing the box of cupcakes, he rushes up the stairs ready to get all set up for tonight.  But when he gets to his flat he’s a bit surprised- finding his key isn’t necessary because the door isn’t locked?   He opens the door and peeks in; nothing looks unusual, but it smells heavenly.  Shit!  Is Niall here?

“Ni?”   He takes the risk and calls out his name- he’s obviously not being robbed.

Fuck!”   There is loud collection of boom, clang, clack, that come from the direction of the kitchen and Harry takes the few steps into look around.  The kitchen table is set, with a tablecloth, runner, flowers and candles?  What?

“H?”  Niall comes skidding around the corner from the kitchen, “You’re home early?” 

“What are you doing here?”  Harry asks, but he can already put the pieces together- he’s making dinner- a very obvious romantic dinner.

“Um, surprising you?  Or...trying to anyway.”  Niall looks a bit embarrassed and Harry does feel a little bit bad for spoiling it for him.  It’s obvious that Niall wasn’t ready for him yet.  He’s still in trackies with a red splattered t-shirt, hair mussed, glasses on.   But he had left work early for a reason too…

“Me too- I mean, I wanted to surprise you….so… surprise!”  Harry tells him smiling, because of course they would both plan something for their anniversary- it was a special day after all.   This pushes his timing for his plan up a bit… he thought he would have more time to prepare and ringing Niall when he was ready, but now Niall is looking at him, then the box of cupcakes, then back up to him and he’s smiling.

“Did you bring my favorites?”  Niall doesn’t have a huge sweet tooth but he’s partial to certain flavored cupcakes, probably because they weren’t insanely sweet.

“Kinda, and a couple new test flavors I need your opinion on.”  Harry looks down at the box and the ring is easy for him to see, sitting right there in the middle of his carefully created cupcake bouquet. 

Niall takes those few steps closer and he presses up on his toes to give him a kiss, “So hi,” Niall tells him smiling before looking down at the cupcakes.

“Hi,” Harry’s struck a little dumb for anything else because this, this is happening right now. And okay he can work with this. He twists around quick and keeps the box from view and Niall looks at him questioningly.

“Are you ready to taste test?  Can we do it before we do what you have planned for us to do?”  Harry asks - and yeah- that might not make a lot of sense, dessert before dinner; Niall gets it.  He always does. He has a knack for knowing when something’s really important to him.

“Sure let me just grab a couple plates.”  Niall heads back to the kitchen and Harry rushes over to the chair sitting down and tucking the box out of the way.  He takes out three of Niall’s favorites and sets them in the middle of the table, hoping to draw his eye.  

Niall drops down in the other chair, “You did bring my favorites!”  Niall goes to grab the lemon with raspberry frosting but Harry slaps his hands away. 

“No you need to try these first.”  Niall nods and hands Harry the plate. He starts with the green tea cupcake.  Niall looks a bit skeptical. “So Gem’s colors are green, pink, and silver so flavor-wise I thought green tea?  Or maybe pistachio?”  He pulls out both flavors and sets them on the plate. 

Niall takes a small bite of the first one and lets out a hum of approval.  “It’s better than I thought.  The raspberries in the frosting are a nice touch.” He tries the other one as well- “Okay so they both are surprising good...for being green.”

“What is that supposed to mean?”  Harry asks on a laugh.

“H, they’re green cupcakes- no matter how you look at it it’s a bit weird.”  There is a beeping coming from the kitchen and Harry couldn’t have timed it better if he tried.  

“So I’m making oven baked chicken parm tonight with kale salad.”  Niall tells him a bit bashfully.

“My favorites!”  Harry smiles and it’s sweet.  When Niall walks back to the kitchen he moves the other two partially eaten cupcakes out of the way and places the ‘wedding cake’ cupcake front and center.  There it is, now is the moment.   He can feel it- he’s never been more sure of anything in his life.   This right here will be one of the most important moments of his life.

When Niall drops back down into the seat across from him he smiles, “I wanted to do something nice for our anniversary.  You are always taking care of Olivia and I so I wanted to do this for you.”  Harry feels his heart melt a bit in his chest.   But all he can think is look at your plate… look at the damn plate.

When he finally does, Harry can see his body freeze, see his eyes widen and his hand reach for the cupcake and then drop onto the table.  He looks back up at Harry those eyes so wide behind his glasses.    “Are you...doing decorations now?  Because you always said they were tacky and take away from the food.” 

“No- uh, not a decoration…”   And he’s practiced this over and over again- How he’s talked to Olivia and they want him to be part of the family.  How they want to go house shopping and find a house for all of them together.   They are already family it’s time to just make it official.

“It’s amazing.”  Niall says awe coloring the tones of his voice and he looks like he’s scared to touch the ring- he keeps bringing his hand up only to pull it away again, like if he touches it, the ring will disappear.   Harry gets up and walks to the other side of the table, kneeling on one knee.  Niall turns to face him and cups his face, hands gentle.  “Yes.”  He says on a whisper almost so soft that Harry doesn’t hear it.

“But...I didn’t even get to ask.”  But he’s smiling, he can feel it in his face- his smile so wide it hurts.

“You don’t need to.  I’m already all yours.”  He tells him pulling him in for a quick kiss. “Oh, Jesus, are you going to pout?  Please don’t?  You know I don’t like it when you pout.”  Harry knows he’s doing it.  He looks at Niall with his puppy eyes and lets his lower lip extend just a bit.  But Niall’s smile just keeps getting bigger and bigger, “God you’re an idiot, okay, ask away.”

Harry takes the ring, cautiously and takes Niall’s left hand holding it tight.  Niall rolls his eyes as he looks at him but his smile radiates love.  “Niall, one year ago today, I came to your door…”

“To admit to being an idiot.”  He interrupts, he’s still talking soft, like anything could ruin the moment, but there is a whisper of a laugh in his voice, and Harry knows that nothing could ruin this moment.

“Well I was going to say because I came to my senses, but sure we can go with that instead…”  He doesn’t fight it because he knows it’s true…  “But, to continue, I had created so many excuses for why we couldn’t be together.  I had to be a dad. I had to be a business owner.  I had so many things that I had to do first.  I had my plan and I was going to stick to it.”  He can’t stop looking at Niall’s eyes.  They don’t leave his, steady and strong, giving him the strength to power through, “But I couldn’t stop flirting with you, always wanting more and I came to realize that sometimes dreams change, and I had a new dream to make come true.  So I came to ask you on a date.   You said yes and it made me one of the happiest people on Earth.”  He laces their fingers together and for all he’s smiling and laughing at Harry his hand is shaking, “So after getting my daughter's permission I ask now, will you say yes again?  This time though I’m not asking for a date, I’m asking for forever.  Will you marry me?”  His voice is shaking too at the end.  And so is his hand but Niall’s is gripping his tight.

“Yes, of course I will.”  Harry sighs and takes the ring with shaking fingers and slips it on Niall’s hand, it fits perfect, it looks perfect.

Niall’s looking at his hand, where the ring is a very obvious addition but then he’s looking at Harry with a crooked smirk.  “You just had to beat me to it...didn’t you?”  Niall tells him. Niall pushes him back and takes Harry’s hand to pull him up.  “Wait right here,” Then he’s off heading back towards Harry’s bedroom.

Harry stands a little bit in shock because this wasn’t what he expected but he can’t help the smiling beaming from his face.  He turns around when he hears Niall coming back, socked feet quiet on the hardwood.  He’s got a ring box in his hand and it looks like Harry really didn’t beat Niall by much at all.  He can’t stop the laugh that bubbles out of his body.  He cannot even begin to describe the joy he’s feeling.

Niall walks over and takes a match lighting the candles on the table.  “Take a seat.”  He tells Harry waving his hand to the seat that he’d just vacated.  Harry takes the couple steps over and drops in the chair watching Niall go and light the other candles around the room and then walk to the entryway and switch the light off.  The room is mostly dark, bathed only in flickering candlelight. 

Niall sits down across from him and takes his hands.

“Harry, last year on this day you and I made a conscious decision to become more than just friends.  You wanted to see if we could be partners in life.  This last year, with you and your daughter have been one of the best years on my life.”  Harry can hear his voice thickening with emotion and he can relate.  He was right there just a few moments ago.  He squeezes Niall’s hands giving him the push to just keep talking, “I cannot even say how much better my life is with you and Olivia in it.  I have already asked your daughter and mother and they both gave me their blessing.  But now, now I need to ask you.   Will you marry me and consider becoming my husband and trying this out for the rest of our lives?”

Niall takes one hand away and opens up the black velvet box, inside is a ring, platinum as well, with an engraved word and on either side is rose.

“Of course I will.”  Niall takes the ring out and slides it on his finger.  “What does it mean?”  He recognizes that the word engraved is Celtic.

“Same as this,” Niall holds up his hand, “Endless love.”  He moves around grabbing a second box from the pocket in his trackies. When he opens it this one has a small necklace, “And this is for Olivia.”   It has a very similar design to the ring, engraved with roses and shamrocks on a small silver heart.

“Ni, she’s gonna love it.”  Harry doesn’t even try to hide his tears, a couple leaking down his face.  How the hell did he get so lucky?

“Ya think?”  And he looks hopeful, “I don’t really know what to ask her but I want to do something? Yeah?”

“You can just ask her if we can all be a family.”  Harry tells him, grabbing both of Niall’s hands and squeezing them tight before bringing them both up and pressing a kiss onto the top of his hands. 

“So, I was originally planning this super romantic dinner and then proposal afterwards and- well, I asked Gemma to keep Olivia tonight because I’d planned on asking you if we could go to bed and we could stay there a while?  Maybe even sleep naked...for once?”  Niall tells him and Harry just laughs.

“I also asked Gemma to pick up Olivia.  And Olivia helped to pick out my ring for you.”  Harry adds on, because he can’t be the only one that takes credit for the ring that Niall can’t seem to stop looking at.

“She helped with yours too.  She’s getting a little too good at keeping secrets.”  Niall tells him, whispering low.

“She is.”  Harry stands and then pulls Niall up, “But right now, I think we should focus on part three of your plan… the bed part.”  Harry tells him, pressing in and kissing his fiancé for the first time.

They eat much much later.

The sun is just barely peeking in the window when Harry wakes, Niall pressed up against his back left hand on his stomach.  He reaches down and laces their fingers together; looking at the rings they had placed on each other’s fingers last night, promises of a future, a forever, together.  They shine and sparkle in the pale light coming through the window, both rings that his daughter helped pick out, and she’ll be home soon to ask Niall a very important question of her own.

Soon, they will start planning a wedding, picking venues, flowers, colors, he can already see it, them walking down the aisle together, writing their vows to share in front of their family and friends, their first dance, the cutting of the cake.  But he can see beyond that too.  He can see the house that they will buy, maybe sooner than the wedding, and the adoptions that they will go through because Olivia will be an amazing big sister.  He can see all the laughter and all the tears and he can’t wait.

Niall’s hand squeezes his and he presses a kiss to his neck with a little hum as he wakes.  He’s not a morning person, he never will be but he tries for Harry.  “Morning…”  It’s mumbled into his neck and Harry can’t help but laugh.

“Good Morning,” He turns around pressing a kiss to Niall’s lips, again and again, waking him in the sweetest way possible.  Niall pulls him in tight and doesn’t let go.

It’s almost three hours later when they do finally get out of bed, heading first to the loo, then to the kitchen cleaning things up.  They really didn’t clean up much last night, just ate a late meal and went back to bed.  But now it’s time to start getting ready for breakfast.  Olivia should be back any minute.

Harry starts on the pancakes, a favorite of both Olivia and Niall and he figures it will be perfect for this morning.  Harry is just finishing up the batter when Olivia walks through the door, curious eyes and wide smiles and she’s followed by his sister.  Olivia rushes over to hug him and he wraps his right arm around his daughter and then he waves with his left hand and she notices immediately. 

“No way! You guys…..both? But- what?”  He’s never seen his sister so speechless and he loves it.  She looks over at Niall and glares.  “You didn’t tell me!”

“Couldn’t jinx it.”  Niall smiles at her.  Gemma’s laughter is breaking up her glare- it’s obvious she’s not really upset.  “But apparently we both had the same idea for last night.”  Niall tells her, folding up the newspaper as Olivia moves from hugging her dad to rushing over to Niall and crawling in his lap.  She looks back over to Harry and he nods.

“Ni-all,” She places her hands on either side of his face, turning it to make sure that she can look him straight in the eyes. She’s got much better at saying his name, but still only uses it in rare circumstances.

“Olivia.”  Niall nods looking back at her.  “I have a question for you.” 

“No! Me first!”  She exclaims and Niall just smiles and nods again when she drops her hands.  They both watch her struggle to pull something from the back pocket of her pants, but finally she gets it out.  “Since Daddy asked you to be his… husband?”  She looks back at Harry who nods at her and then Niall, “you said yes right?’  Olivia asks a worried look on her face- like she didn’t even consider that to be an option until this very minute. 

“’Course I said yes.”  Niall tells her instantly calming her down and putting the bright smile back on her face.

“So since you said yes… then I would like to ask you o- off-officially if you would please be my new papa?”  She pulls out the bracelet that Gemma had apparently helped her find yesterday and with tears in his eyes, watches his daughter ‘propose’ to the love of his life. 

Gemma makes her way around the counter to give him a hug as Niall answers her solemnly, his eyes glistening wet, “Of course, poppet, I would love to be your papa.”  He chokes a little on the last word, but Harry can tell it’s not fear that’s in his voice it is pure emotion.  He watches the two of them struggle but finally between the two of them they finally get the bracelet on his left wrist, to ‘match the ring, of course!’

“Now my question for you… would you mind if I become a part of your family, officially?”  Niall’s voice is still a little rough with tears and it makes Harry pull his sister in tight and if he cries a little bit on her shoulder she’s not judging him.  She’s crying too.

 Niall pulls the little box off the table, the one that holds the heart pendant he showed Harry the night before.  Olivia’s face lights up; eyes wide, mouth open in surprise. 

“It’s so pretty!”  She looks over to Harry, “Daddy!  Daddy!  Look!”  And she bounces where she’s still sitting in Niall’s lap, pointing to the necklace sitting in the box.

“I know, it’s beautiful, baby, now go ahead and answer his question.”   Harry tells her, but they all already know they answer.  They all knew it ages ago, back when she said ‘hi’ to a stranger somehow knowing he was Harry’s soul mate.

“Yes, papa, I would like us to o-officially be a family.”  Niall picks up the pendant and places it around her neck and Harry can see he’s crying, just a little bit no matter how much he’s trying to fight it.  “I love you Papa.” 

“I love you too, poppet.”  Niall pulls her in tight for a hug and Harry’s heart just feels too big for his chest. 

 Gemma pushes him away, towards them, dabbing at her tears, and he rushes over wrapping both of them up in his arms pulling them in tight.

He is holding his whole world in his arms. This is definitely going to be ranked as one of the best days of his life, right up there with the birth of his daughter.  He squeezes them all for a moment before Olivia starts to squirm.

“Daddy!” She huffs out on a laugh.

“What do you think about pancakes, Liv?”  He asks when he finally pulls away.  He can’t look over to Gemma- she’s a crying mess in the kitchen and Niall’s eyes are still a little damp.  Olivia is the only one who isn’t crying. She’s beaming with joy.

 “Papa?”  She turns to look at Niall and Harry can’t help but think that Niall’s eyes are going to well up every time she call him papa, at least until he gets used to it.

“Pancakes sound good.”  He nods and the Olivia looks back at him.

 “Sounds good, Daddy.  It’s going to be a good day!”  She smiles bright snuggling into Niall, her papa.

 “Yeah, baby, it sure is.”  He presses a kiss to Olivia’s cheek then to Niall’s lips, tasting his tears, and then heads back to the kitchen.

 He has pancakes to make for his soon to be official family.

 ----