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No Way of Knowing


She watched him with a curious eye as he poured cream into each of the steaming mugs, a small smile tugging at one corner of her lips. “You didn’t even ask me if I take cream,” she murmured softly through her cheshire grin, her fingers playing with her pen on the granite counter. He froze in place, grimacing with his back still turned to her and sinking his teeth into his bottom lip.

“Oh, erm, I uhm… I assumed you still-” he started, clearing his throat as he set the creamer down, interrupted by a soft laugh from Nicole sitting at the kitchen’s island.

“It’s okay, you assumed right,” she assured him, sighing a soft breath and watching his shoulders relax slightly at the words. He nodded his head, letting out a soft laugh and turning to set her mug down in front of her.

“You’re not making this very easy for me,” he mumbled through a small half-smile, sitting himself down across from her. She pursed her lips; she knew he was right. She gently blew across the surface of her steaming tea, her eyes locked on him, still taking in the changes she hadn’t yet grown used to.

“M’Sorry, it’s just… Still so fun to mess with you.” He gave her a pointed look and shook his head, focusing his attention instead on sipping his tea.

“Yes, well… Some things never change, hm?” They met eyes and for a moment were smiling at one another, the kitchen was quiet and upstairs, a freshly bathed Anthony was sound asleep and curled into cool, soft sheets. Nicole’s lips parted as words she wasn’t sure she could say prepared to leave them, but was interrupted by the buzzing of Harry’s phone in his pocket. Their locked eyes broke apart and he turned to fumble in his pocket for the phone, Nicole taking a generous sip from her tea and wincing as the tea burned its way down her throat. Still too hot.

“Hello?” he answered, watching her sip her tea with one third creamer and two and a half sugars just like she always used to take it and he internally kicked himself for being so dismissive. Ask her how she takes it now, you massive tit. Would it have been that hard?

“Harry, what the hell’s on?” Louis’ voice came through, full of concern, “You didn’t leave a message and Niall’s been blowin’ up my phone with all types of shit. What is happenin’?”

Nicole watched as Harry explained everything to Louis, trying to maintain his composure as he went one by one through each detail. She noticed his brow furrow and his jaw clench and the way he ran his fingers through his hair over and over to calm himself and ground himself.

She sighed heavily and glanced away, setting her mug down and sliding from the barstool. He gave her a small nod and she bit her lip, stepping her way up the stairs and going straight for the room they’d put Anthony in.

Her mind ran over the details of bringing him home; he’d fallen asleep in the car and Harry had carried him into the house. It’d taken several minutes of coaxing from her, but she’d eventually convinced Harry to wake the boy up for a bath. He’d hated having to wake him, he kept insisting that he needed his rest, but he knew deep down that she was right. Afterward, she’d followed Harry to the master bathroom and thanked him for the towel and toiletries, and he’d taken Anthony’s clothes downstairs to wash them. But through all of it, Harry could barely get himself to find his place in everything. She could tell he’d been struggling to find where he fit in Anthony’s new situation.

While they waited for the clothes to dry, a silent Anthony had sat bundled up in two towels and a large blanket, Nicole’s arm around his shoulders keeping him warm and Harry trying to talk to him, introduce them. It was all so uncertain still.

But then they’d gotten him in his freshly washed clothes, dry and warm from the dryer, and tucked him into Harry’s large bed, bringing the sheets up over him and talking to him quietly until he’d fallen asleep. He still hadn’t said another word since the hospital, and she could tell that all Harry wanted was to hear Anthony talking, expressing himself, telling them what he needed.

Now, she stepped into the room, walking up to the small boy and biting her lip as she took in just how deeply he was sleeping. It seemed to be the kind of sleep you had when you hadn’t truly rested in months; something told her that for this boy, it could’ve been years. She gently set the back of her hand along his forehead, checking his temperature and breathing a sigh of relief. He’d not only cooled down, but was back to normal. She brushed her palms down over the front of her skirt and took in his unruly mop of brown hair, fair skin, and smushed cheek against his pillow. Her stomach turned as she thought about what was to come for him; she’d seen the kids Lisa had worked with over the last several months she’d been working for her, and it always took a toll to see them living without a genuine home to rely on and go back to.

Turning away from the small boy, she couldn’t help but let her curiosity lead her eyes around the room. It was still fairly bare. She wasn’t sure how long Harry had owned the house, but the walls were blank and the furniture minimal. She’d expected pictures of his family everywhere, pieces of his sentimentality living in every corner of his house, but there was nothing. The entire place held the feeling that he could be packed up and gone in a matter of hours; with not a trace left behind that Harry himself had ever been there.

That was when her eyes caught a still-packed suitcase sitting on the floor of his walk-in closet, its top open and clothes spilling out of it as if he still used it to get dressed each day. And it was at that moment that it occurred to her that maybe, just maybe, like Anthony, Harry was struggling to find a place he could really call home.

As she gave one last glance to Anthony, Nicole turned and found her way back down the stairs, stopping in the kitchen as Harry’s voice struggled to stay low. “Lou, I know. Alright? I know.” He saw her enter the room and sighed softly, pursing his lips and letting his eyes close tightly as Louis continued speaking into his ear.

She made her way back to her chair and sat down, opening the folder Lisa had handed her and starting to flip through the paperwork. There wasn’t yet very much filled out, save for the forms she’d had him initial and sign back at the hospital, but Nicole spent several minutes going over each piece of information with a thorough eye. She was trying to soak in every small by-law and loophole the small amount of text could offer. There was a lot more to read up on, but for now, she wanted to be able to answer any questions the small group would have later on.

Finally, Harry’s fingers were hanging up his phone and he was setting it down onto the counter, his hands immediately holding his aching head. “Can’t believe today,” he said, his teeth pushing together as he exhaled heavily. He felt like everything had flipped on its head.

“Can’t blame you,” she mumbled. “But I have a feeling you’ll sort a lot of it out when the other few get here.”

“Louis’ coming, he… He’s gonna be here,” he said softly, “And uhm. Ben, and James, and uhm…” There was a pause and he lifted his head and he was biting the inside of his cheek and she could sense that the overwhelming nature of his situation was stopping him from thinking clearly.

“You should sit on the couch, Harry,” she suggested, standing onto her feet and reaching out her hand. Her eyes assured him she meant nothing by it, her other hand still holding her cuppa as she took him by the wrist and gently lead him out to the living room. He sat down onto his couch and she stepped ahead, letting herself down into the opposite end of the long sofa. She turned to face him and continued drinking her tea. “I know it’s all a bit much, but don’t let it… Cloud things up.”

He nodded, squeezing his eyes shut as he let the rest of his tea soothe his racing heart. “I just uhm… I keep.. Thinking about his mum.”

“I can’t imagine what that must’ve been like,” she said honestly, shaking her head and frowning softly. “But also remember that her saying that has meant a better chance for Anthony to live a good life. I have a lot of faith that you’ll make sure he ends up in a place where he’s really loved.”

Harry let out a breath and stared across the couch at her. He was grateful for her words. “Is that why you chose counselling? Social work?” he asked. “To help kids find families?”

She slowly nodded her head, though it was paired with a shrug, her fingers tapping the now empty mug of tea in her hands as she pondered how to respond. “For the most part. But I also… I don’t know. I never want a child to feel the helplessness that… Well. I wanted a chance to be a voice for kids who don’t have one.” She couldn’t meet his eyes, her thumbs pressing tightly against the porcelain of the mug.

“You’ll do great at that, you know,” he spoke. His eyes weren’t moving from her, and she knew he meant it. She managed a small smile, still not letting her gaze meet his. “I’m serious, you uhm… You were always great with kids, I remember.”

“I just hope I can make the difference I set out to, you know?” she mumbled, staring down into the bottom of her mug.

“You already have.” She finally looked to him to find him locked on her, his eyes serious, “You and Lisa have made a massive difference for Anthony already.” He nodded his head in the direction of the stairs, then broke eye contact to turn and set his mug down.

“What about you?” she chuckled lightly, memories lost in her voice as she added, “You’ve made that exact difference for thousands upon thousands of lives.” Harry turned his body to face hers on the sofa, though they were still more than a few feet apart, and began playing with the rings on his fingers, focusing there because it was so much easier to do than answer to her kind words.

“It isn’t just me, and I’ve not really done that much,” he retorted, his ring-turning growing in intensity, “I just… What the band has given us, the opportunities we have… I can’t take credit for the gift it’s given each of us in helping people.”

“Sounds like something you’d say,” was all that she said in reply, her eyes sad with all of the long-ago memories but lips curled in a reminiscent smile. He felt his cheeks tint slightly as he took in the phrase. Something so simple and yet he had to spend minutes processing it.

“So… Update me. Are there any men in your life?” Harry chuckled, his fingers subtly crushing one another as he waited for her answer. His hair annoyed him, hanging in his face, and he took the opportunity to grab a hairtie from his wrist and begin putting it all up in a bun.

“Just the uhm… Just the one…” she trailed off, watching him in amazement as he effortlessly set the bun on top of his head.

Though his throat had tightened up and brows furrowed at first, Harry coughed out his discomfort and let his hands fall into his lap as he murmured, “Oh, that’s… That’s great. S’it serious?”

She giggled softly and ignored the follow-up question, pointing to his head. He furrowed his brows in confusion. “...What?” he asked, genuinely offended that she seemed to be laughing at him.

“No, I just… I have been female for twenty-one years and have never accomplished a bun quite like that.” She laughed softly, though his reaction was rather deadpan, a small smile eventually cracking through despite the heavy weight in his chest. “And uhm, I’d say it was pretty serious. He has been my dad for quite a while, anyway.”

His initial confusion was something of an art, Nicole decided, watching him with great pleasure as he deciphered the new information. Finally, he let out a huge breath and crossed his arms, staring at her as he said, “Alright, I see how it is.”

They found themselves talking for at least another hour, Nicole happy to be distracting him from his troubles and Harry full of curiosity about this girl that had disappeared from his life all that time ago. He found out that she was still going through her courses at college, and wasn’t too far from obtaining her license with the state - he also found out that her father’s business was growing ever since they’d moved out to Los Angeles, and the success was a big relief around their house. She’d only recently moved into her own apartment, and had a roommate who she rarely crossed paths with. She was doing everything on her own, and making great success at it. He found himself in awe.

When Ben’s knuckles rapped on the door, Harry turned to face it from the couch and felt his stomach twist suddenly. It was now that he had to deal with the reality he’d been distracted from over the last couple of hours, and he didn’t know how two of his closest friends would push him through it. He didn’t want them feeling they had a hand in the responsibility.

As he went to the door and unlocked it, knowing Nicole was standing now in the middle of the living room, ready to help him through the conversation he was about to have, Harry took a gulp and told himself everything’d be fine. He pulled open the door, and before he could even get out a word, a body was nearly crashing into him and two arms were tightly wrapped around him. He breathed out a sigh of gratitude as he immediately hugged James back, closing his eyes tightly.

“How’re you doing, Harry?” Ben asked gently from beside James, the two of them smelly and disheveled. Harry could tell they had literally run straight from the taping, barely stopping to breathe. Normally they took time to come down from the show’s wrap - but he could see how fast they’d hurried to him.

“M’Good, Ben,” he croaked, reluctantly pulling out of James’ hug and stepping to the side for the both of them to come in.

He closed the door and was engulfed then in Ben’s hug, listening to James greet Nicole in the middle of the large, open front room. “Theresa,” she introduced, and again, Harry internally winced. Theresa, Theresa, Theresa.

“Is he upstairs?” James asked quietly, following them to the table in the kitchen. Harry nodded a quiet ‘yes’. They all sat down, one empty chair waiting for Louis’ arrival as James and Ben stared Harry down. It was as if they were waiting for him to fall apart.

But he’d be okay, he knew that. They were here now, and they could figure everything out.

Ben had a notepad and pen out and Nicole opened the file folder, taking out a few of the forms and getting them ready.

Harry explained everything once again, and James and Nicole created a silent dialogue with their eyes throughout the entire thing as Ben listened intently. Nicole knew James had the same faith in Harry that she did; but she also could see that he was just as worried as she was that Harry would struggle with letting Anthony go once he’d had the chance to take care of him.

“God, Harry, I… I honestly don’t think there’s another person in the world I can think of who’d be in your shoes right now,” Ben spoke, rubbing his forehead and setting the pen down that he’d been writing with.

Harry groaned thoroughly as he pressed both of his palms to his temples, his elbows rested on the table and eyes watching Ben react to the whole thing. “I know, I… That’s what Lou said. I just…”

“You can handle it, though, that’s the other part to that,” James interjected, helping translate Ben’s initial reaction. “You may be the only person we know who could get yourself into this; but you’re also the only one that could handle it well and make sure that kid comes out of this okay.”

Harry didn’t know what to do with that information. It was at once the kindest and scariest thing he’d ever been told. You’re the only one that could make sure that kid comes out of this okay.

Could there be a scarier venture?

“Look, it’s going to be fine, Harry,” Ben said, “But we need to be careful about this. You still have a lot going on, and Anthony will need a lot of attention. So there have to be boundaries.”

Harry’s eyes glanced around the table, and met with three heads nodding in agreement. “Alright… Boundaries. I.. That sounds a bit harsh, though, I…”

“I think what he’s trying to say is that you need to have a specific goal, because otherwise it’d be easy to lose a lot of momentum in court. When you walk in there, you want the judge to be confident that you are the best choice in guardianship for Anthony until he’s given a home. That means he needs to know you can provide for him, and that you have a stable schedule, and that you’ll be finding him a home within… Say, for example, the year.”

“Within the year?” Ben immediately cut in, his head in one hand and eyes on Nicole, “I’m not sure if you know this, but he’s back on another world tour first thing come February.”

Nicole’s expression melted into a grimace and she ducked her head, sighing heavily. “Okay. So… That’s four months. That’s doable. Four months.” She looked back up. “You can say that you have until the end of January to find Anthony a home, or he’ll be turned over to the state.”

Harry bit the inside of his cheek. “‘Turned over to the state.’ Makes him sound like a criminal.”

“I know,” she frowned, “It isn’t the best choice in words. But… It isn’t all bad. The state does want the best, everyone he’ll be in contact with will want what’s best for him. It’s just that they don’t have the resources to give him the attention and time he needs to find a home and recover from what’s happened to him; not like you do.”

There was a long moment of silence as they all sat in the dim lighting of the kitchen, the sun setting outside and the lamp above their heads leaving a bright spot in the center of the table.

“You can do that, Harry. Four months, that’s plenty of time to help him get back to himself. Maybe enroll him in a school or program of some kind. Whenever you have to leave for some kind of work with the boys, he is more than welcome to stay with me,” James said, setting a hand on Harry’s wrist.

“And in that time, Lisa and I will sort through the families that’ve applied for an adoption. It takes families months to get through the adoption process; they’ll all be ecstatic just to be considered. All you’ll have to do is be there for him, take care of him while we find suitable families to interview, and be present while they meet him. Straight forward. Yeah?”

Harry glanced to Ben, finding agreement there; then to James who only seemed concerned with how he was feeling about everything; and then to Nicole, who had a determination in her eyes that reassured him beyond compare. He nodded his head.

“Yeah. Yeah, I can do that. Four months. We can find him a home in four months.”

“Good,” she said, as a loud knock rang at the front door.

“Louis,” Harry breathed a sigh of relief, “Come in!” he yelled, hearing the door subsequently open and close. He stood without hesitation from the table and went toward the entrance of the kitchen, being met with a frazzled Louis on the other end.

“Goddamnit, Harry,” Louis blurted, pulling him into a tight hug before he could say another word. Nicole felt a lump in her throat as she watched them hug each other like they hadn’t seen one another in months, though she was certain it’d been less than that. Louis didn’t seem to let Harry go, and when she noticed Harry’s back begin shaking, she felt her heart shatter.

James and Ben turned to her and were both immediately filled with a protective look in their eyes that was, admittedly, intimidating. “You and Lisa, you can take care of this?” James asked bluntly, his kind eyes still full of more pressure than she’d initially been prepared for. “You can help him find a family and deal with the courts and all of that?”

Her answer was immediate. “Yes, Mr. Corden, that’s our job. And Harry’s an old friend of mine. I wouldn’t let him go it alone.”

Ben sighed and nodded, reaching out and firmly shaking her hand. She looked past the two men to see Louis still comforting Harry, and all she wanted was to run straight to him and wrap her arms around him and run her fingers through his hair and mumble out the words to their song from back in secondary and remind him of every happy memory they’d ever shared. But she couldn’t, there were so many thousands of reasons, and she sat glued to her chair.

“Alright, well… If there are ever any problems, please call me,” James mumbled, handing her his business card from his wallet. “And uhm… Please, don’t call me Mr. Corden.”

She chuckled softly and nodded her head. She knew there was still plenty for all of them to go over.

Harry found himself still standing in the kitchen, and it was as if he’d completely forgotten where he was when his best friend entered the room. The tears had spilled without his permission and now he was coming to with so many questions as to where it all had come from. He’d been fine earlier.

He sighed out heavily and straightened up out of the hug, wiping at his eyes and rubbing his hands over his face. He cleared his throat and Louis sighed, stuffing his hands in his pockets. “Bloody traffic from Vegas made me want to scratch someone’s throat out,” he grumbled, hoping for a laugh as he watched Harry compose himself.

“...You came from Vegas?” Nicole asked softly, standing from her chair to greet Louis.

He reached out to shake her hand. “Yeah, I-” Louis was interrupted by the sound of Harry’s front door opening, a pair of feet slipping past the door and a velvet voice floating through to the kitchen that had several of them raising brows in question.

“Harry?” her voice cooed, “You guys still writing in here?”

He had to hold back a reaction of any kind as he stood there, gripping Louis’ shoulder for his life as Kendra strutted into the kitchen with a confident smile on her face. Harry tried to smile back, realizing he’d forgotten completely to call her about any of this in the first place.

Kendra’s smile dropped as her eyes were met with the scene; a dim kitchen, Ben and James sat looking out of sorts - to say the least - at the table, Louis standing beside Harry clutching him around the back as if to help him stay upright and a red-eyed Harry clinging to his shoulder just in case. Her eyes finally landed on Nicole, and her smile returned.

“...Hi. I’m Kendra,” she introduced, shaking Nicole’s hand before turning to Harry. “What’s uhm… What’s going on?”

Harry sighed heavily and patted Louis’ back in gratitude before taking Kendra into the next room to explain what he could, his retreating back an all too uncomfortable sight for Nicole as she went to sit back down at the table. The three men all looked at her with questions, Louis joining them and beginning the round. “What’s he going to do about all of this?” His question was simple, really, but effective.

Nicole began to answer, with as thorough an explanation as she could offer, but her mind would remain stuck on the pair talking in the next room - she was hopeless, and she hated that.

Harry stood with Kendra, his hand holding hers as his other moved around while he spoke. He tried explaining with a clear mind, but his thoughts were still on the beautiful memory sitting in his kitchen casually discussing his situation with his best mates - he was helpless, and he hated that.
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Oh my lord. Another long wait. Thank you all so much for reading, your patience is so appreciated! <3

I really am so grateful for the feedback I've been receiving for this story. You guys are amazing. Huge, huge thank you to both arizonaskies and tommo; for your incredible comments! Reading your feedback is the absolute best thing.

I hope everyone had a lovely weekend, and Happy Fourth to those of us in the US! :D Please let me know what you thought of this chapter, it would be much appreciated. <3

Have a lovely one,