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one; (2010)

Harry’s sixteen, it’s half-six in the morning and there’s a camera crew trawling the already massive line of people outside, waiting for their chance. He’s pretty far up in the line, farther than he thought he’d be, honestly, for how late they’d gotten here, but he’s pleased with his spot. He’s confident, and maybe it’s the reckless kind of confidence that only belongs to sixteen year old boys with a mess of curly hair and a smile that could end wars, but he’s got it, and he’s sure of himself. Of the fact that he’ll be going through.

And he’s right.

Three judges tell him yes and he’s through to boot camp, one step closer to everything he always knew he wanted. It’s exhilarating and nerve-wracking and he spends most of his days with a vague, underlying feeling that he’s going to vomit, and it is absolutely everything he’s ever wanted.

(He doesn’t even think about the moment they pull it out from under him. The horrible crush of disappointment on his chest that he’s sure would’ve consumed him had they not shoved him in the group with the rest of the boys. He can’t think about it, because there’s just no point.)

It’s strange with the lads, at first. He and Louis get along well-- almost inhumanly well, actually-- but he’d been expecting that from the moment Louis approached him in the bathroom. Niall’d been a presence at boot camp, always around with his guitar and some ridiculous group of people around him. A real people-person, and it’s not surprising that Harry gets on with him as well. Zayn takes a few days to open up, but Harry manages it by making a fool of himself as frequently as possible in front of him and inviting him to do the same.

And then there’s Liam.

Harry remembers Liam from boot camp. Actually, he remembers him from when he auditioned in 2008 and got sent home at the age of fourteen. Harry’d only been about thirteen at the time, so he wasn’t overly invested in the show, just enough to watch the auditions and lose interest after judge’s houses. But he remembers Liam the moment he sees him again, and he can’t help himself, feels a tug somewhere deep behind his navel, urging him closer.

“So,” Harry says, which seems to startle Liam, who’s just stiffened his back quickly and is looking at Harry like he’s never seen him before. That’s ridiculous. Harry’s been here the whole time.

“Yes?”

“What’d you sing?” Liam looks at him for a moment, like he can’t really suss out why Harry’s asking, as if they’re still in direct competition with one another. The moment passes, though, and Liam shrugs.

“Cry Me a River.”

“Timberlake?” Harry’s a little impressed that he managed to get through on that.

“Bublé,” Liam says, correcting him, and Harry huffs out a laugh. “Yours?”

“Isn’t She Lovely,” Harry answers him, grinning, because he knows it was impressive, that it is impressive that he got through on acapella Stevie Wonder. Liam only smirks, though, and seems to reconsider him for a moment. His gaze makes Harry’s skin itch, and he’s about to say something when finally:

“Guess there’s a reason we’re all in the group then, yeah?”

Harry doesn’t know how to take that. Like, what? Like Liam had been put in a group to punish him or something? Or they were put together because they weren’t good enough on their own? All right, maybe that last one’s technically true, but Harry refuses to see this situation as a negative. It’s just not who he is.

“Guess there is, yeah,” he says, nodding, and giving Liam a smile before walking away.

---

“What were you talking that guy about?” Louis’ voice is muffled, since his head’s mostly in his suitcase, searching for something, or maybe he’s just sniffing his own clothes. Harry’s got no idea. Never does when it comes to Louis.

“Hmmm?”

“That guy, the one in our group,” he repeats, waving a hand about. Louis does that a lot. Harry likes it about him. That he speaks with his hands and is loud and obnoxious to cover the crippling insecurity they all feel. Louis does it to feel in control, since their situation is so clearly out of theirs. Harry appreciates that in a person. Someone who takes control where they can.

Even if he’s acting like an arse most of the time.

“Liam, you mean?” Harry raises an eyebrow. Louis waves his hand again.

“Yeah, right, yeah.”

“You know you’ll need to learn their names eventually,” he says with a laugh, and Louis rolls his eyes.

“Know their names. Know his name, but he doesn’t know mine, so I don’t see much point in--” Louis cuts himself off with a loud sound, pulling something out of his suitcase. Harry thinks it’s a pair of braces. Why would Louis have braces? Odd boy. Harry’s really terribly fond of him.

Louis rounds on him again, pokes him in the chest. “So, out with it.”

“I asked him what song he auditioned with,” Harry says with a shrug. He doesn’t get why it’s a big deal. It’s not, right? “Just getting to know him. Seems pretty important, since, y’know…”

Louis rolls his eyes. “No, I don’t, whatever could you mean?”

Harry throws a pen at him, laughing when it hits him in the chest.

---

Louis and Liam don’t get on. At all.

Louis isn’t a bully, per say, because Harry genuinely believes any teasing he does comes from a place of affection, rather than like, aggression or whatever, but he can see how it’d be easy to misconstrue. Especially for someone like Liam, who mentioned-- in passing, as if it didn’t make a fierce jolt of possessiveness hit Harry right in the gut-- that yeah, he used to have problems with blokes at school. Then he learned to box, and all that changed.

(Harry would like to think Liam would never punch Louis, but he really can’t be sure. They don’t all know each other that well yet.)

Anyway, it’s clear that Louis boisterous personality doesn’t really jive with Liam’s sensibility, so. They fight. A lot.

It’s actually a bit terrifying, really, because this is Harry’s one shot. He’s not stupid enough to think that if he comes back next year after getting thrown out of Simon’s house that he’ll get through on his own. He won’t. And he’s still young, too young to get a solo contract from a label. So he really, really needs Louis and Liam to get over themselves and start working together.

Though, to be fair, they haven’t started vocal rehearsals yet, even though they’re meant to. Niall had suggested getting to know each other first, and everything had been fine while they were chatting around the fire, but then suddenly Louis was snapping at Liam and Liam was snapping back and it’s all a big mess that Harry would rather leave at home. Or, here, at the bungalow.

They’re set to leave for Spain in a day, Harry hasn’t packed a single thing and Louis looks like he’s about to jump over the fire and tear Liam’s face off for-- for what? Harry’s not even sure. Something about wanting a beer, maybe or something else generally unhealthy and voice-ruining that Liam absolutely doesn’t approve of. Harry knows Louis had only said it to push Liam’s buttons, and Christ, he wishes they’d just like, wrestle it out or something. Or talk. Talking would work, too.

“Why don’t we try to get some sleep, yeah?” Zayn’s quiet voice comes from the other side of the fire and Harry can feel the tension between all of them for a moment before it snaps, and Louis sits back in his chair.

“Good idea,” he says, though he still sounds about five seconds away from throwing a real fit. It’d be embarrassing, if the cameras were still here. But Louis and Liam are good about that sort of thing; they never let the cameras see. At least they’re on the same page about something.

---

“He’s just a proper tit, that one,” Louis says, once they’re in Harry’s room. Liam, Zayn and Niall have taken the guest room, since it’s got a double bed and a foldaway, and Harry’s room only has his one bed. There’s no real reason to make people kip on the floor, especially for the sake of “band bonding”. Just doesn’t seem right.

In any case, Harry rolls his eyes at Louis before he pulls his shirt over his head.

“It’s not as if you’re much better, you know,” he says, working on the button of his jeans and Louis’ eyebrows raise so much he’s sure they’re about to disappear into the rest of his hair.

“Excuse me?” His tone is dark, narrowed and pointed like something sharp, something that could hurt Harry much easier than he’d ever realize.

Harry sighs, waves his hand around. “I didn’t mean--” Well, no, he did. But he’s just tired of the fighting. He takes a pause, thinking carefully.

“You antagonize him just as much as he does you,” he finally says, figuring that’s about as diplomatic as he can get. “You’ve both got to fix that before we get to Simon’s, or that’s as far as we’ll get.”

Louis looks at him for a moment, examining, no doubt, and finally shrugs. “Suppose you’re right,” he says, and Harry lets go of a breath he didn’t realize he was holding. Louis wants to do well just as much as the rest of them. Harry knows that. It’s just Louis who needs reminding every now and then.

---

Simon puts them through.

It’s probably simultaneously the most exhilarating and most frightening experience of Harry’s life, because they’re standing there in a villa, Harry’s wearing a ridiculous scarf that he thought had been a good idea, Liam’s straightened his hair again and they all look absolutely awful. It’s a strange thing to focus on, but it’s what Harry chooses, and if they’d gone home because he wore a scarf--

But, no. Simon puts them through. It’s an intense moment of relief and anxiety and onestepcloseronestepcloser, and then Harry’s being swept up in hugs and demands for interviews and they have to pack and he has to call his mum and-- just-- everything. Harry’s smiling so wide he thinks he’ll never be able to move his face again, and he’s got a bit of a cramp in his left cheek, but he doesn’t care. Live shows. They’re going to live shows.

Later, in the van on the way to the airport, Liam knocks into his shoulder, giving him a small smile.

“Good job today,” he says, and Liam congratulated them all, of course, that’s all they’ve been doing for hours-- days, it feels like-- but this feels different. Special. Private.

“Yeah, thanks,” Harry says, foregoing his usual grin for something softer. Maybe it’s because he’s tired. Maybe it’s because his cheeks still hurt from earlier. Maybe it’s because he wants to match Liam’s. Harry’s not sure, but he finds he doesn’t really care to think about it. “You too.”

Liam gives him a nod, squeezes his shoulder and leans back over to Zayn, who’s fallen asleep, and nestles his head on his shoulder. Harry watches the city pass outside his window, streaks of light that start to blur as his eyes close.

---

Harry’s never had stage fright so badly that it’s kept him from performing.

He’s mortified, honestly. He’s gotten it before, especially when he’d first started performing and was old enough to realize the gravity of putting yourself in front of people. He’d gotten over it easily enough, though, or at least had gotten it under control. Or so he thought.

He gets sent away from rehearsal. Sent away. Like he’s actually ill or something, and not just got a bout of bad nerves. He hides, humiliated, in the loo in the X Factor studio, tucked up in the corner of the handicapped stall. The cameras can’t follow him in here. Convenient.

The door opens with a squeak, followed by footsteps, another squeak as the door closes. Harry assumes it’s Louis, because for all he’s loud and annoying, he’s good at the whole comfort thing. There’s a tentative knock on the door, though, so no. Not Louis. A producer, maybe, wanting to talk to him, and Harry sighs.

“Not now, please,” he says, hoping the miserable tone will make whichever one this is cut him a break. It usually works. And Harry really tries not to make a habit out of abusing the effect he has on people, but sometimes he just needs to be alone. Like now.

“Oh,” a voice says, definitely not a producer. Liam. Why would Liam follow him in here? “Shall I go, then?”

Harry frowns, scrambles forward and opens the stall door, staring up at the frown on Liam’s face. It doesn’t make him feel any better. There’s a long moment, a lot of staring, and a weird tension, like Liam’s waiting for Harry to do something, but he’s the one that came in here, so shouldn’t he be the one speaking first?

“Li?” he asks, gentle, which seems to work, since Liam blinks a couple of times and smiles down at him.

“Can I join you?”

Harry huffs in surprise but scoots back against the wall, gesturing to the bit of tiled floor next to him. “Not like it’s my bathroom,” he says, with a bit of a smile. “Can’t stop you.”

“Well, I only meant,” Liam starts, his frown coming back, “You sounded like you wanted-- I can still go, I mean.”

“Liam,” Harry tries to make his voice firm and reassuring and the exact opposite of everything he’s feeling. He’s not sure it works, but whatever. “It’s fine. I thought you were a producer. Come sit.”

It seems to be enough, because Liam pauses for only a moment before nodding and stepping into the stall, closing the door behind him. “Just in case the cameras come in,” he murmurs, wrinkling his nose before sitting on the ground. It’s pretty funny that someone as messy as Liam has a germ problem, but whatever. His body is warm and solid where their shoulders touch and Harry can feel some of the tension leaving him.

He leans his head on Liam’s shoulder and closes his eyes, listening to the hum of the lights above them and the steady rhythm of Liam’s breaths. It feels like a long time before Liam speaks, but Harry isn’t really sure at all. He’s never had the best sense of time.

“I used to get it, you know,” Liam says quietly, pressing his head against Harry’s.

“Yeah?” Harry doesn’t need to ask what he means. There’s really only one thing he can mean.

“Yeah.” Liam lets out a breath, and Harry brings a hand to rest on his knee. Liam’s not as tactile as the rest of them are, not really, but they’re working on him. Slowly but surely. And he doesn’t flinch away from Harry’s hand, so it’s a win, really. “Like, really bad. I’d get sick, and stuff.”

Harry wrinkles his nose, turning his head to press it into Liam’s neck. Why? He’s not so sure. Liam only stiffens a little though, before relaxing, bringing a hand up to cup the back of Harry’s neck.

“How’d you get rid of it?” Harry asks, ignoring Liam’s jerky, soft intake of breath.

“Not really sure,” he says, but Harry appreciates the honesty. “Think I just realized that I can’t control people, you know? Whether or not they like me. It was hard, but--” Liam shrugs, jostling Harry a bit. Not that he minds.

He lifts his head, though, lets Liam’s hand fall away and leans forward, pressing his forehead against Liam’s, taking a deep breath.

“Thanks,” he murmurs, and wants to add reckon I might love you, but he’s fairly certain Liam’s one of those people who takes the word ‘love’ ridiculously seriously and that would just ruin what really is a very lovely moment. A bond, Harry thinks. A proper one, and all that. So, he just squeezes Liam’s knee and pulls away, leaning back against the wall, infinitely more relaxed.

“No problem, Haz,” Liam says, and Harry lets his mouth curl into a smirk at the nickname.

---

two; (2013)

The thing about it all is that Harry knows what he signed up for. Or, he thought he did, at least, because he was sixteen when he signed the contract and too smart for his own good. Too naive for his own good, too. Too trusting.

Which isn’t to say that in two and half years of this that he’s become some sort of jaded popstar who hates everyone and snaps and-- whatever. He just likes to think he’s a bit smarter about it all now. Maybe.

Or maybe not.

Anyway, following a growth spurt, some tattoos, and more dates with starlets than he really knows what to do with, Harry’s become a bit of a lothario, of sorts. Not that he wanted to, mind. He really prefers dating and all that, but it just seems impossible. Especially after what happened with Caroline.

Honestly, he doesn’t know how Liam, Louis and Zayn do it. Dedication, maybe. Being less of a flake, maybe. It doesn’t really matter, anyway, because Harry’s sure that it’ll all run its course. He’s prepared for that.

No one else really seems to be, though. Especially not Liam, whose nightly phone calls to Danielle have turned… a bit odd. Off. More often than not, he comes back into the lounge (or the hotel room, depending) with a frown, and Harry really hates that. They’re young and beautiful and rich and all that jazz. They ought to be having the time of their lives. But, whatever.

Liam, though, Liam seems to be handling it all fairly well. He’s long since adjusted to the frequent physical assaults that any of the boys will dole out, Harry knows, but he seems a bit more comfortable himself. Like, with the touching. Initiating it, and all that. Harry isn’t sure how someone could be friends with Louis and not turn out more comfortable in themselves, actually. He remembers how intoxicating it was, those first years of being in the band and being best mates with Louis; he remembers having Louis’ constant attention and giving his own in return, the touches and the cuddling and the intense, almost indescribable dependency they had on one another. There was a brief period of time where Harry had himself convinced that he was properly in love with Louis, but then they kissed-- actually kissed-- after a show and it’d been….well, it’d been a bit lackluster for someone who was supposedly his soulmate. So that was that.

Anyway.

Liam. Liam touches Harry a lot, actually, especially in public, and Harry can’t tell if it’s for the cameras or just for him, and he finds he doesn’t particularly want to find out.

Basically, the first time Liam punches him in the dick onstage, Harry doubles over from shock more than anything else.

It’s not-- Harry won’t say it’s weird, because it isn’t, he supposes. It’s just-- well, shocking. Dick touching is a line all the lads have been hesitant to cross, mostly because it can cause real damage, and all that. But Liam’s just, gone and done that. Just whacked Harry in the groin with his microphone and Harry doesn’t even know if it was an accident or not, but when he looks up to find Liam grinning, like a challenge, he feels his own eyes narrow.

Yeah, two can play at that game.

---

Harry gets him back.

He just casually sends his fist between Liam’s legs later on as they’re walking by each other, and he’s missed on purpose, thanks, because he’s not really sure he wants to know what Liam’s dick feels like just yet. (Not that he hasn’t thought about it, though. They’ve all seen each other naked enough times, and Harry can’t help it, his thoughts stray, all right? And Liam’s got a very nice dick. Anyway.)

He hits the inside of Liam’s-- firm, very firm-- thigh, and raises his eyebrow as Liam huffs out a breath. Don’t mess with me, he hopes he’s saying, but judging by the way Liam smiles, all teeth and looking much more like Louis than he has any right to, Harry’s sure that he’s going to have a very sore dick for awhile. And not even in the good way.

---

Liam pulls his trousers down.

This time it is weird, very weird, because Harry’s singing, yeah, just trying to sing his solo for ‘What Makes You Beautiful’ so they can end the concert and get some sleep, when he feels hands in his back pockets. The moment he realizes it must be Liam sends a hot, unexpected spike of arousal down his spine, and it’s like the feeling continues and takes his jeans down with it as it goes straight down his legs to the floor, but no, right, that was Liam, and Harry really needs to pull up his jeans. There are literally thousands of people screaming for him in his pants right now.

He’s never had a big sense of shame, but this is pushing it, a bit.

He tries his best to look confused and pouty and-- and not at all like he wants to shove Liam against a wall and demand an answer. And maybe kiss him, but that’s about as odd as the whole situation, and Harry really doesn’t know what to do about it, especially in the middle of a concert.

So, he finishes the song and absolutely does not speak to anyone as they leave and board their buses.

It’s just a bit too much for him to think about, at the moment.

---

“Hazza?”

Harry blinks his eyes open, groans as he looks right into the light on the ceiling and lifts his head, rubbing the spots out of his eyes.

“Time is it?” His voice is rough and he’s got a crick in his neck, but that’s what he gets for falling asleep sitting up on the couch.

“‘Round half-one,” Liam says softly, standing in front of him. The television screen’s blue, the Xbox turned off, and he guesses Niall’s gone to his bunk, because any sane person would. Christ.

“Okay,” Harry says, nodding, expecting Liam to leave, but he doesn’t. He just stands there and...stares. Liam does that sometimes. Stares. It’s all right, because Harry’s used to it by now, like. It’s kind of like Liam’s a computer with an old operating system, or like, maybe he’s the human embodiment of Internet Explorer. It takes a bit of time for things to process, and Harry’s more than happy to wait for him to catch up.

“M’ sorry,” Liam says, taking a step forward so Harry has to crane his head up with a wince. Liam’s hand is there in the next second, squeezing just right. Harry slumps a bit, his eyes falling shut. “Your jeans. I’m not sure-- I just thought it might’ve been good. For the cameras, yeah?”

Right. The cameras. For their documentary. Harry feels his mouth go into a tight line, though he’s not really sure why. He’s not mad at Liam for pulling his jeans down. That’d be ridiculous. No, maybe he’s more upset that Liam pulled them down for-- for their image, and not because he’d wanted to like, make people laugh. Make Harry laugh.

Whatever, it’s nearly quarter til two in the morning and Harry’s just woken up from a deeply dissatisfying nap. His thoughts don’t have to make sense.

“It was,” Harry assures him, eyes flicking back open. He doesn’t feel like having a conversation he doesn’t fully understand. “It was okay, I mean. And a laugh. You were right. It’ll look good in the film.”

Liam still looks a bit upset as he nods, and usually, Harry would tug him down, ask him what’s wrong, ask him what’s been bugging him for days-- because Harry’s friends with Louis, he knows when someone’s acting out-- but he’s got a feeling it has mostly to do with Danielle, and that’s really a conversation Harry can’t have right now. Liam’s hand stills on his neck and retreats, and Harry tries not to feel too sad at the loss.

He runs a hand through his own hair, looks around the lounge and stands. It’s late. They’ll be up early tomorrow. “Let’s go to bed, yeah?”

Liam nods and follows him back to their bunks.

---

It doesn’t stop, is the thing. Well, the jeans thing stops, because it was only ever the once-- and maybe it was just for the cameras, but that makes Harry feel a bit ill, so he ignores it-- but the other stuff. The touches, the punching, the general rough housing that escalates into actual tackling and/or Liam tugging Harry to the ground. Sometimes sitting on him. Pinning him. It’s not-- Harry can’t say he dislikes it, really, because he’s a glutton for attention, but it’s all just confusing. Like, Harry would think that it was proper flirting, if it weren’t for the fact that it’s Liam.

Liam, who has a girlfriend and a dog and who wouldn’t flirt with Harry in a million bajillion years.

It’s just, they’re-- it’s-- they’re in a band. A bloody boyband that’s probably one of the most popular British groups since the Beatles, and that sounds conceited and idiotic but it’s a little true; people say it all the time. They all sort of flirt with each other because it’s part of their appeal, but there’s never any intent behind it. Especially not when it’s Liam who’s being affectionate.

He’s just a big puppy, is all. A puppy that Harry would like to take care of and pet and let sleep in his bed every night, but that’s a bit of a weird thought process, so he makes sure to leave it.

It’s a Tuesday afternoon when Liam flops down onto the bed next to Harry’s in their hotel room.

They’re in...huh. Somewhere in Europe, definitely, but Harry’s not really sure. Germany, maybe. The Netherlands? Belgium? Somewhere in there.

“All right?” He looks over at Liam curiously, making sure his gaze doesn’t catch on the sliver of tan, smooth skin where Liam’s shirt has ridden up. Pretty impolite to leer at your mate while he’s clearly upset.

“I think things are really over with Dani,” Liam says miserably, an arm covering his eyes. Harry ignores the swoop of something low in his belly-- maybe he won’t date anyone else for awhile, Harry thinks, but knows he shouldn’t-- and frowns over at him.

“What makes you say?”

“Mostly?” Harry nods, even though Liam can’t see him. “The part where she just broke up with me.” Liam’s voice cracks at the end of his sentence, and Harry feels his own face crumple. Sure, he’s a bit happy about it for selfish reasons, but Liam’s his friend. His sad friend. That’s not okay.

“Oh, Li, I’m sorry,” he says, getting up and crawling onto the bed with Liam. He grabs Liam’s wrist and hauls his arm away from his face, forcing him to make eye contact.

“You want a cuddle?”

Liam’s chin wobbles as he nods, and Harry scoots closer, wrapping his arms around Liam’s broad shoulders and tugging him close. Liam snuggles in, pressing his face to Harry’s chest as Harry runs his hand up and down Liam’s spine soothingly. Harry knows how this goes. They’ve broken up before-- Liam and Danielle, that is-- and it was difficult, and Liam was mopey, but they got through it, in the end. Liam’s hair has started to grow back, even. They got through it.

But if they’ve broken up for real this time, well, there’s no telling what Liam will chop off next.

Harry’s not sure how long they’re like that, but he’s fairly certain Liam’s fallen asleep by the time the rest of the boys burst into the room.

“What’s all this then?” Louis asks, voice startlingly loud in the quiet of the room.

Liam stirs, and Harry’s hand goes to his hair automatically, soothing.

“You could learn to knock,” he says, in lieu of a real answer and Louis rolls his eyes, throwing himself down on the bed with them. Zayn and Niall get in on the other side, calmly, like normal people, thank goodness. Zayn wraps his arm around Harry’s shoulders, resting his head on one. Niall perches at the end of the bed, near Liam’s feet.

“That’d be absolutely no fun,” Louis says, reaching out to prod Liam in the ribs. “Oi, Payno, come on then.”

“Louis,” Harry warns, but then Liam’s sitting up and looking around, frowning.

“Haz?” Liam’s gaze finds his, and he feels his face soften. Christ, he’s got to do something about the way Liam twists him around his finger like that.

“Hey,” Harry says softly, “Louis and Zayn and Niall are here.”

“I noticed,” Liam says with a yawn. “How long was I out?”

“Dunno,” Harry says, right at the same time Louis says,

“Care to tell us why you’re taking a midday nap on top of Harold here?”

Harry smacks Louis in the arm.

Liam frowns and clears his throat. “Yeah, er, it’s just--” His mouth twists and Harry frowns in sympathy for him. Liam clears his throat again.

“It’s just Dani? She um-- broke up with me.”

The silence that follows is almost unbearable. Louis at least has the good grace to look sheepish, and Harry feels Zayn stiffen up next to him. Niall’s got a sort of sympathetic wince on his face. Not for the first time, Harry’s immeasurably glad they all have each other.

“Shit, Liam,” Niall says, reaching a hand out to pat his back awkwardly. “M’sorry. That’s-- That sucks.”

Harry wants to laugh. That sucks is probably the least ineffective thing Liam could hear right now, besides maybe there are other fish in the sea or you’re better off without her. All true statements, yes, but also overwhelmingly inadequate to comfort someone who’s just been broken up with by the girl of his dreams, or whatever. But Harry can’t fault Niall for trying, obviously, and it’s not as if he knows anything better to say. It’s just-- He feels so useless, and he can tell the others do too.

It’s all rubbish.

“It does,” Liam says, agreeable even in the throes of heartbreak, and Harry can’t help but smile fondly at him.

“Well,” Louis says, clearing his throat. “I was going to suggest we terrorize all the other patrons of this fine hotel, but you know, I think I’d rather sit and watch a movie.”

“Yeah.” Zayn’s voice startles Harry a bit, but he doesn’t jump or anything, just turns to look at his profile. “I’m always up for a movie night.”

“I’ve heard The Notebook is good in times like this,” Harry says, nodding, and Louis pinches his calf, hard.

“We’ll let Liam decide,” Zayn says, ruffling Liam’s hair, and Harry sighs, long-suffering.

“We all know what he’s going to choose, though.” Louis pinches him again, and Liam looks up at him, his stupid eyes wide and hopeful.

“Batman?”

Harry sighs again. “Yeah, okay, Batman. Niall, order food, please? I’m starving.”

Niall gives him a salute and moves for the phone while the rest of them detangle and move to settle down in front of the telly. Liam ends up sprawled across the couch with his head in Harry’s lap and his legs draped over Louis and Zayn. Niall sits himself on the floor in front of them with full control of the remote.

They watch Batman Begins, pausing only when the food arrives, and then The Dark Knight and the Dark Knight Rises. No one says anything that doesn’t have to do with the film or the food or the city they’re in, and while it’s a bit odd, it’s not entirely awful. It’s nice, really, just spending time with the other boys when no one expects anything from them. It’s a relief.

“I’m for bed,” Louis says as the credits roll on the last film, unceremoniously shoving Liam’s feet off his lap and standing to stretch. “You coming Malik?”

Zayn nods, patting Liam’s knee until he scoots over to let him off the couch. Harry stays where he is, watching them pick up a sleeping Niall off the floor and drag him out of the room.

And then it’s just Harry and Liam.

Harry, who’s spent the last seven hours trying not to think about the fact that Liam’s head was in his lap, or the fact that his hands were shoved up under Harry’s thighs. And Liam, who still looks sad and tired and who Harry wants to kiss until he’s smiling and laughing again.

“You okay?” He asks Liam, and cringes immediately at his own stupidity.

Liam laughs, but it’s a hollow sound. “Not really,” he says, picking at the piping on the couch cushions. “A little better, though.”

Harry frowns, watching him. “You’ll be okay, Li,” he says, wanting to reach out and touch him. He doesn’t. “You know that, yeah? Like, it’s awful right now, and will be for awhile probably, but. You’ll be alright.”

Liam meets his gaze, silent for a long moment that feels a bit like that pause between seeing the lightning and waiting for the inevitable, bone shaking rumble of thunder.

“I hope so, Haz,” he says finally, and Harry feels his own breath hitch. “I really hope so.”

---

Things are a bit shit, after that.

Liam mopes around for about a week when they’re not onstage, and after the third day of it, Harry’s the only one who’ll share a room with him. It’s not smart for him to be in a single, they all agreed, but Zayn tends to absorb the moods of people around him unintentionally, Niall’s too focused on trying to cheer him up and Louis is a terror when he feels like he can’t fix something, which he obviously can’t in this case. Harry seems to be the only one who just lets Liam be sad without letting him sink into it. He’s not sure how he does it, actually, and after they’ve roomed together on every hotel night for two weeks and Liam finally starts to visibly cheer up, Louis starts calling him “the Liam Whisperer.”

It’s not the best joke, but it still makes Harry’s chest bloom with something warm when he hears it.

Anyway, it’s three weeks before Liam finally gets over most of his depression phase. They’re almost done with the European leg of the tour, then they’ll have a short break. That’ll be good. It’s probably not helping him to see Louis and Zayn chat to and about their girlfriends. Constantly. (It’s starting to annoy Harry a bit, if he’s really honest about it.)

“So your house just isn’t finished yet?” Louis sounds incredulous, like he can’t believe Harry spent millions on a house and it wasn’t move-in ready. Harry’s sure he could live in it, but he doesn’t want to. He’s never lived alone. He was sixteen when all this started, lived in the X Factor house, then spent the next year and a half either in the flat with Louis or shoved into a tour bus or hotel room.

To be honest, he’s not sure why he’d bought the place. He thought maybe he’d need it one day, that inevitably he’d want space away from this suffocating life and the rest of his band-- he’s a bit like Zayn, in that regard-- but the thought of going back to a cold, empty house in London makes him a bit ill.

He shrugs in response to Louis, though. “Dunno. I mean, s’just not how I want it.”

Louis raises an eyebrow. “Never took you for a perfectionist,” he says, but they both know that’s not true. They both know Harry’s the only one who can rival Liam in his neuroses to get everything just so. Their ideas of perfection are different, maybe, but the thought process is much the same.

Stop at nothing to get what you want.

“Sorry if my idea of perfection doesn’t involve an empty house,” Harry snaps, suddenly irritable with Louis and their conversation and the fact that he used to have someone and somewhere to go until it’d just been ‘too much’ for them to be together constantly. Harry had agreed at the time, so he’s a hypocrite, but Louis should know by now when to stop fucking needling.

Louis doesn’t take the bait, though. He just gives Harry a cool look and stalks out of their dressing room-- probably to go find Zayn and a skateboard and wreak havoc-- leaving Harry sitting on the couch.

Tilting his head back to rest on the couch, Harry closes his eyes and starts his breathing exercises. It’s better than visualising different ways to shove Louis off the stage and into the audience, which would actually just keep him in his strop, and he’s nearly calmed down by the time the door opens again and the couch sinks down a bit a moment later.

Too heavy to be Niall, and Zayn’s almost certainly with Louis. He likes to spend time before concerts outside. That leaves…

“Liam,” Harry says, eyes still closed.

“How d’you do that?” Liam sounds properly awed, and Harry can’t help the way he grins, wolfish and smug. He picks his head up and looks at him.

“Magic,” he says, with an accompanying waggle of his fingers. Liam doesn’t laugh, but his smile crinkles up the corners of his eyes, so Harry will take it. God, he’d like to kiss him. Harry thinks he’d like to kiss more than half the people he meets. It’s a good thing he doesn’t. Or, mostly doesn’t.

“You need something, Li?”

Liam shrugs, sinking back into the couch a bit. “Nah. Louis’ in a mood and I didn’t want to be around him.”

Harry nods. “Yeah. Had a bit of a fight. It’ll be fine soon, I’m sure.”

“It’s not like you and Louis to fight,” Liam says, sounding concerned, but Harry shrugs.

“Think it’s just the tour, yeah? Don’t worry about it. We’ll be fine. Now come on, I need my pre-show Liam cuddles.” He holds his arms out, waggling his fingers and eyebrows in what he’s sure is a completely irresistible fashion. Liam laughs, but scoots forward anyway, pressing his forehead into the juncture of Harry’s neck and shoulder, his breath hot on Harry’s collarbone. Harry slides a hand down Liam’s spine, smirking briefly at the slight shiver it gets him.

---

“I think we ought to go out when we get back to London.”

Go out? Like, what? On a date? No, no, it’s Liam. He can’t possibly mean that. Harry stares at Liam for a full half-minute before he realizes he hasn’t said anything. Seems he’s having a bit of trouble thinking. Funny, that.

“What?”

Liam frowns at him. “D’you not want to? I mean, you’re always going to clubs, yeah, and I thought maybe-- but it was dumb-- I can--” He moves to leave, but no, no. Harry catches his arm and hauls him into a hug.

“Of course I will go out and get smashed with you Leeeeyummmm,” he mumbles into Liam’s ear, grinning when he relaxes in Harry’s grip.

“I thought maybe--”

“Nah, just shocked you thought you had to ask, really.”

---

Partying with Liam turns out to be a dreadful idea.

Not only does Liam have Recently-Broken-Up-With-itis, but he’s also got Never Really Partied Before Syndrome. The two compounded means that Harry spends their first night out babysitting more than anything else, and then hauling Liam home after he’s had five too many to puke up his guts into his toilet. At least Liam doesn’t have much hair to hold back.

The next morning is more than worth it, though, because Liam’s smile when Harry hands him some light breakfast-- hangover cure, more like-- is appreciative and bright. They eat in relative silence and make their way to the couch to snuggle in for a day of absolutely nothing. Harry lets Liam flip through the channels from where he’s basically on top of him, head pillowed on his chest and settled between his legs. Liam’s a nice, warm weight that presses him down. It’s comfortable. He’s content to lazily trail his fingertips up and down Liam’s arms and back, smirking softly whenever it gets him a shiver.

“You’re a good friend, Haz,” Liam says as some cooking show-- that Liam chose for Harry, no doubt-- plays on low. Harry’s fingers stop pn Liam’s shoulder blades, hands resting for a moment.

“So are you,” he responds, running a hand through the short hair on top of Liam’s head. Liam looks up at him, chin digging into the middle of his chest.

“I guess, but really, Harry. You’ve been great.” The smile he gives Harry is so genuine and happy and matches his tone so sincerely that Harry can’t help the way he smiles back. Or the way his hand cups Liam’s face, a thumb running over his eyebrow.

“I’m glad to help,” he says, tracing over the delicate skin underneath Liam’s eye. “Hate it when you’re sad.”

Liam’s expression shifts into something unreadable before he slowly turns his face into Harry’s palm. The feeling of Liam’s lips pressing against his skin sends a spike of heat so quickly up Harry’s spine that it’s dizzying and his breath catches in his chest.

“You make me happy, Haz,” Liam says, and Harry still can’t breathe, can’t move. “Thank you.”

Liam turns his head away to rest on Harry’s chest again, and it’s another moment or two before Harry can actually relax enough to take a slow breath in and let it out.

“No problem, Li,” he mumbles, but judging from the way Liam’s breaths have evened out and his eyes are closed, he’s fallen asleep. Right.

---

After that, what happens at the club three nights later seems a bit inevitable.

It’s a good, run-of-the-mill club. Packed with people, loud music with a good beat and dim lighting with smoke machines ensure that they won’t get recognized every five seconds. The anonymity it provides is worth it, and Harry’s always loved the press of sweaty bodies all around him.

He heard someone say once that they never felt more alone than in a room full of people, but Harry’s the opposite. He loves people, and they love him. Seems a shame to waste a relationship like that.

In any case, Liam hasn’t had much to drink this time around, and neither has Harry, really, but they’re both buzzed enough to laugh when the DJ switches to something that sounds a lot like one of their songs mashed up with someone else’s. Harry can’t actually hear very well, not with Liam pressed to his front and an arm wrapped around his neck, dancing like he’s a girl who wants Harry to take him home.

Ha, take him home.

“Take me home, Liam,” Harry murmurs in his ear, loud enough that he knows Liam hears him over the shitty mash-up. He’s not sure why he says it, but it probably has something to do with the haze of the alcohol and the way Liam’s cheeks have gone all flushed. And the fact that Harry can’t stop thinking about how soft Liam’s lips were when they pressed to his palm, and how they might feel against his own lips, or maybe wrapped around his cock.

He tilts his head back to gauge Liam’s reaction-- the way his eyes widen and his pupils, already blown from the lack of light, dilate even further-- and cups his hand against Liam’s cheek, thumb dragging over Liam’s bottom lip.

Liam’s eyes flutter closed, and Harry can feel the rumble of a noise in his chest, even though he can’t hear it. Fuck, it’s so hot. It’s so, so hot.

“Take me home, Liam,” he says again, fierce and urgent, and Liam nods, tangles a hand in his shirt and pulls him out of the press of bodies and building and back into the safety of his flat.

Harry doesn’t really remember how they got there, only the feel of Liam’s hand in his and their thighs and hips pressing together. Maybe they walked. No, that would’ve been too dangerous. Did they have security with them? Harry remembers something vaguely about it, but it doesn’t matter, because Liam tugs him into his flat and closes the door by shoving Harry against it.

Fuck, Li.” That was so unlike Liam and so ridiculously attractive that Harry’s not sure he’ll be able to stand much longer if he keeps getting light-headed like this.

“You okay?” Liam’s hand runs over his side, like he’s checking for injury, maybe, and Harry laughs, fondly, but gets cut off when Liam’s hand cups his arse and shoves a thigh between his.

Oh.

“I’m fine,” Harry says, albeit a bit breathlessly, “Are you okay?”

Liam looks up at him, uncertainty flashing briefly in his features before it’s replaced by the other look, the one that Harry doesn’t ever want to go away. The one where Liam looks at him like he’s the sun, or something.

“I’m great, Haz.”

“Great.” Harry nods. It is great. Really, really great. “Are you going to kiss me, or--”

He’d been right; Liam’s lips are soft against his, but still demanding, moving over Harry’s like they’ve got some intrinsic right to be there. Harry whimpers when Liam runs his tongue over his bottom lip, opens easily to him, and fuck, maybe this is-- maybe they do belong. Maybe it makes all the sense in the bloody world that this is where they’ve ended up. Harry’s not sure he hasn’t always wanted this.

He doesn’t think of much else as Liam shoves up against him, pressing him harder against the door and rolling his hips into Harry’s. They’re both hard-- Harry feels like he’s so hard he’ll never not be hard again, actually-- and Harry savors the shudder down Liam’s spine as he grabs Liam’s bum, squeezing and punctuating with a smooth roll of his hips.

They kiss against the door for a few more minutes, or maybe hours, days, months-- Harry doesn’t know. He knows that he could easily do it forever, just kiss Liam up against the door of his flat without it having to go anywhere.

The thought should frighten him, but it doesn’t.

---

They end up in Liam’s bed eventually, clothes stripped off as they move through the flat until they’re just in their pants by the time Harry’s back hits the mattress. Liam settles over him, rutting his hips down hard enough and in just the right position to make Harry moan, hands squeezing at Liam’s bum to make him do it again and again until they both come.

Liam sits up, though, hips moving in slight circles where he sits on Harry’s dick. Harry’s hand digs into his thigh, nails leaving bright red marks that Harry hopes will sting tomorrow morning and the next day and serve as a reminder. It causes Liam to shift, leaning over and moving down between Harry’s thighs and making Liam’s hard cock nudge up behind Harry’s bollocks, just fucking right.

A shudder racks his body, and fuck, fuckfuckfuck, Harry’s going to come so soon, so goddamn soon, except Liam’s slowed his pace down so it’s not enough, just a hard press that sends him up the bed a few inches, but not at a quick enough interval.

“Li, Liam, please, c’mon,” he begs, panting, and Liam doesn’t answer, just slides his hand up Harry’s chest to pinch at a nipple, hard, and take his mouth again.

Another pinch and a bite to his bottom lip has Harry tensing, white spots dancing behind his eyelids as he comes, moaning into Liam’s mouth as Liam grinds down against him. He feels Liam’s rhythm stuttering as he comes down, and the groan that follows with the sudden stillness lets him know that Liam’s done as well.

Harry runs a hand through Liam’s sweaty hair as he slumps to the side, smiling serenely at him.

“Thanks for that,” he says, with a bit of a laugh. Liam blinks up at him and smiles, leaning up to kiss him.

“Thank you,” he murmurs, and Harry’s sure he could get used to this.

---

It keeps happening.

They don’t really discuss it after that night. More just a brief conversation where Harry had assure Liam that they were still mates and nothing was weird and no, the band didn’t have to know, not even Louis and no, it doesn’t have to mean anything if he didn’t want it to.

(Harry thinks that maybe it does mean something, but he’s not sure what, and he doesn’t want to scare Liam away, so he doesn’t mention it. He wouldn’t know what to say anyway.)

In any case, it happens three more times before break ends. Quick hand jobs before bed that escalate to wake-up blowjobs and then another frottage session that leaves them both boneless and sated. Harry’s never really done this with a bloke before, but it’s not as if he’s never thought about it or planned for the possibility, so he knows a few things. And like, Nick’s one of his best friends, so he’s heard plenty of sexcapades. Both good and bad. He doesn’t know the extent of Liam’s experience, and it’s another one of those things that Harry’s afraid will scare Liam off if they talk about it, so, he doesn’t.

They don’t really talk about fucking either, as it were, because that seems a bit too much. At least, for Harry it does. Properly fucking might mean-- like-- there’s preparation involved, yeah? And planning and it’s just a lot more difficult to pass off as something that maybe mates do sometimes.

Maybe Harry’s a romantic, but fuck, he’s not going to go around sticking his dick in everything that moves. He likes to think he has a bit more class than that. And he’s not about to just let Liam carelessly stick his dick in him either. He’s not that desperate, and he imagines Liam isn’t either.

Anyway, it keeps happening, and Harry expects it to stop when they go on tour, but it doesn’t. It never happens on the bus, or anywhere the lads might see-- obviously-- but Liam manages to get most of his hotel nights sharing with Harry, and slips into his bed after he’s turned off the lights. More often than not it’s just Harry wrapping a hand around both of them to bring them off to get rid of some of the post-show adrenaline, but there’s also a lot of kissing. A lot of kissing.

Harry loves kissing, though, so he doesn’t mind.

---

They’re in Madrid when Harry realizes it. It’s the day after they all went clubbing in Madrid and while Harry doesn’t entertain any sort of delusions about what he and Liam have-- they’re mates who fuck and it’s fine-- watching Liam get danced on all night by a crowd of beautiful people has left him feeling sicker than a hangover would.

Harry watches as Liam makes his way to the bathroom, clad only in a pair of sweatpants. They’d both been too drunk and too tired to do anything except fall asleep, and the smooth expanse of Liam’s back has arousal pulling deep in Harry’s gut.

He rolls out of bed and presses himself to Liam’s back, hooking his chin over his shoulder, his hands gripping the counter, trapping Liam in as Liam brushes his teeth.

“Good night, yeah?” He rumbles it into Liam’s ear, voice low and rough from sleep and too much liquor the night before. Liam shivers, and Harry wouldn’t even notice it if the movement hadn’t brought their hips together. Harry slides a hand onto Liam’s bare stomach, humming out a pleased noise.

Liam spits into the sink, bending at the waist and shoving his arse right into Harry’s semi. The awful tease. Liam straightens-- and Harry’s not sad at the loss of contact, he’s not-- rinses out his mouth and turns so he’s facing Harry.

Harry’s only wearing a pair of black pants, and he thinks that maybe the way Liam’s gaze rakes over him should make him do something more than flush pink with want. Liam puts a hand to Harry’s hip, tongue darting out to wet his lips as his thumb runs over the might as well tattoo.

“Liam,” Harry says, voice quiet but still managing to echo strangely in the bathroom. Liam looks up, eyes flashing with something that Harry can’t read, and goes to his knees, hands holding Harry’s hips firmly.

Liam looking up at him from between his knees isn’t a new image, but by the way Harry’s dick goes from half-hard to fully hard in no time at all, no one would ever be able to tell. He cards a hand through Liam’s hair, biting his lip when Liam hooks his fingers in the waistband of Harry’s pants and tugs them down.

“Didn’t get a chance to do this last night,” Liam murmurs, wrapping his hand around the base and jacking Harry’s dick in one smooth motion. Harry inhales sharply, fingertips digging into Liam’s shoulder. He’s just-- God, Liam’s just so fucking sincere about everything, and earnest, and he’s spitting in his hand to make the glide easier and all Harry can think about is the fact that eventually he won’t have this anymore.

His breath leaves him in a whoosh, loud enough that Liam looks up at him, eyes dark with arousal and tinged with concern. The vise around Harry’s lungs tightens.

“You all right, Haz?”

“Fine,” he chokes out, taking a step back from Liam, swaying a bit. “Think I need more sleep.”

“Oh.” Liam frowns, though he seems more genuinely confused than anything else. Harry’s a bit astonished at himself, actually. Not much makes him turn down a blowjob, much less one from Liam. He stands as Harry adjusts himself, pulling his underwear back up as he exits the bathroom.

“Are you sure you’re okay?” Liam asks as Harry slips back into the bed. He hadn’t been outright lying, at least. He really could go for a nap.

“Hungover, I think,” he says, sending Liam what he hopes is a reassuring smile.

“A nap should take care of that,” Liam says, smiling back at him so sweetly that Harry’s chest aches with it. Liam hovers over the bed a bit, looking unsure. Maybe he can feel Harry’s hesitance. Maybe he just doesn’t want to be close to him. Who knows?

“Reckon Lou’ll want to go out again?”

Liam shrugs. “I’d be up for it,” he says, stretching out on his back. “It’d be nice to get out there, you know? And actually remember who you dance with. Think I’d like to do that, tonight. Dance with someone I’ll remember.”

“Yeah,” Harry agrees, feeling a bit hollow.

He’s not an idiot; he knew Liam was just getting over Danielle, and if he could help him on the way, well, that’s fine. That’s just mates, yeah? But it’s still-- it still hurts to hear it like that, like he’s so replaceable that it’s basically an afterthought. Hell, maybe Liam just comes to him because it’s convenient. He knows Harry won’t tell, and it’s not like Liam would have to go through the trouble of pulling.

He scoots up the bed a little as Liam steps closer, ducking his head when Liam leans in for a kiss. He plants one on the underside of Liam’s jaw, dodging his mouth again when he leans down to try to take it. Harry doesn’t want to kiss him right now and thinks maybe Liam won’t notice if Harry sucks him off.

He slides off the bed, hands going to Liam’s hips to maneuver him into a better position. Liam stops him with a hand to his hair, and when Harry looks up, Liam’s eyes are wide and pitiful. Well. That plan didn’t work, then. Christ, Harry’s such a mess. He’s just such a stupid mess.

“Harry, what--” Liam sounds genuinely confused, at least, and not like, insulted. That’s something, maybe. It makes Harry feel a little better, but also guilty. Liam probably thinks he’s gone mad, and knowing Liam, it’s definitely worrying him.

“I’m tired,” he says for the tenth time, hoping he’ll start to actually believe it and crossing his arms over his chest. He stands, trying to sidestep Liam without actually looking at him. “Think I’m just gonna sleep, yeah? Relax a bit.”

He doesn’t look up because he can’t, because he doesn’t know if he’d be able to handle the hurt puppy look on Liam’s face that he gets when he’s been rejected. He knows he definitely couldn’t handle the other option: the casual indifference that would mean that Harry’s just really something convenient and within his grasp. It’s much easier not to think about either of those things.

“Oh,” Liam says, sounding sad, and fuck, okay, fine, okay. “I can just go--”

“Nah, fancy a bit of a cuddle too,” he says easily, reaching out to pinch Liam’s naked hip. “So you should definitely stay.”

Harry isn’t sure how he forgot about the third option: the bright smile that means Liam’s pleased with whatever’s happening. He’s pretty ill-equipped to handle that, as well.

---

Liam wakes him from his nap two hours later with a kiss to his shoulder. It’s soft, and Harry’s dozing more than anything, and when Liam presses against his side, cock hard against his hip, Harry rolls over, on top of him, nosing down the line of his jaw until his lips meet neck. He kisses the skin, sucks and bites a mark into it until Liam’s a writhing mess under him and Harry has to pin his hands over his head as he ruts his hips down.

I love you, he thinks as Liam’s back arches below him, mouth falling open when Harry changes the angle to press right how Liam likes it. Harry wants him like this every day, pliant and open and trusting and coming apart under his hands and he wants everything Liam will give him. All of it.

He ends up crawling down the bed until he can shove Liam’s thighs apart and get a hand around his dick, swallowing it down. Liam comes so hard that his legs are still shaking by the time they have to go to the venue, and Harry can barely hide his smug look.

---

three;

Liam brings Harry an obscenely large cup of tea the morning after their final concert in Mexico City, made just how he likes. And the thing is-- Christ, the thing is that Harry’s exhausted, they all are, and he’s been wanting tea, real tea that isn’t some herbal shite that people in Mexico drink. He’d given up hope, but he takes the lid off, and nearly cries at the smell of it.

I’m fucking in love with you, he wants to say, but instead he claps a hand on Liam’s shoulder and squeezes, leaning close to whisper.

“Owe you one, yeah?” His lips brush the shell of Liam’s ear, and he doesn’t miss the way he shivers, turns his head to the side like he’s trying to work out a crick.

“Yeah,” Liam finally answers when Harry’s hand slides from his shoulder, voice rough. Harry smirks behind the rim of his cup.

---

four;

Liam corners him after their show in Florida, the first time they’ve been alone since Mexico City. There’d been a short break and everyone did their own thing and Harry didn’t want to look desperate by trailing after Liam wherever he went. So. It’s been almost a week, and now they’re in Florida and Liam’s kissing him like he’s just as starved for it as Harry is.

It’s not a bad thing, but it’s not necessarily a good thing, either.

The heat’s almost oppressive; makes it hard to catch his breath in between the rough kisses Liam pushes on him, makes him feel like he’s about to burst into flames, the ember of something in his chest growing, spreading through his veins with each touch of their skin.

And the thing is-- the thing is that Harry knows it’s stupid. He does. He knows it’s absolutely ri-fucking-diculous, both that they’re doing this and that he needs it so badly. Wants it so badly, even. That it makes him speak in cliches and overly dramatic prose that Byron would probably be ashamed of. He gets it. That doesn’t mean he’s capable of stopping.

Liam tugs at the waistband of Harry’s jeans, rough and urgent, and Harry barely keeps himself from whimpering pathetically as Liam unbuttons them and slides his hand in.

“Been waiting for this,” Liam says, breathes, hot against his ear, fingers wrapping around the base of Harry’s cock, squeezing just so. Harry groans, arches toward the touch and grabs onto Liam’s biceps, solid and unforgiving and comforting under his palms. It grounds him, keeps him from collapsing as Liam works him off in quick, practiced jerks of his hand. His orgasm comes suddenly, feels like it’s ripped out of him, and he sags, slides down the wall slowly, Liam half moving with him since Harry’s still attached to his arms.

“Christ,” Harry murmurs, blinking a few times and looking up at him, only to feel another pull of arousal deep in his gut at the sight of Liam’s face: lips red and bitten, pupils blown wide, making his eyes almost black. Harry’s fairly certain he never wants to look at anything else. Ever.

“Come here,” he says, using the grip on Liam’s arms to tug him forward and down, so they’re both on the floor and Harry can kiss him senseless before getting his own hand down Liam’s pants.

It’s only fair, after all.

---

They’re sharing that night, luckily (or not, some might argue), and by now the other boys don’t even look twice as Harry curls himself around Liam’s back, hooking his chin on his shoulder as he tries to open the door. Harry thinks they’ve probably figured it out, but just don’t want to say anything. Harry can predict anything they’ve got to say to him about it anyway. He’s sure it’s all things he’s already told himself.

Liam mumbles something, Harry turns his head, nosing into the space just behind Liam’s ear, lips just skimming the edge of it, making him swear and fumble with the keycard. Harry smirks but doesn’t move to help him. No, he can wait patiently for Liam to get a handle on himself. It’s one of his favorite past times, really.

There’s separate beds, of course. Harry’s not surprised in the least to discover that once they finally get into the room. There’s always two beds. Unless you’re the lucky person with the single room, then there’s only one, but that’s not really the point.

The point is just because there’s two beds doesn’t mean both of them will be slept in. Or, at least, Harry hopes they won’t.

“Gonna shower,” he says, stripping off his shirt and stepping out of his shoes. Liam sits at the edge of one of the closest bed, hands on his knees, watching Harry. His eyes don’t leave the movement of Harry’s hand, staring blatantly as he undoes his belt and the top button.

“You could join,” Harry says, smirk on his mouth and his voice gone low. Liam’s eyes flick up to his, darken, and Harry knows he’s won.

“Yeah, might do,” Liam says, still watching as Harry begins to back up, moving toward the bathroom.

Of course, his luck being what it is, he trips over his own stupid bag and nearly goes sprawling. Thankfully, he’s got experience in this, so he catches himself on the wall, frowning down at his bags and his feet. Treacherous, the lot of them. Doesn’t his body realize he’s got a plan?

He looks back up at Liam, who’s stood up at some point and gained a fond and amused looking smile. It makes the warmth in Harry’s chest spark up again, and he counteracts it by frowning deeper.

“You’re laughing at me.” That’s a pout. He’s definitely pouting. Liam laughs and approaches, hands coming to cup Harry’s jaw, forcing him to look down the centimeters that separate them. (But Christ, those are important centimeters, really. They’re the difference between Harry holding and being held, and while he likes a bit of manhandling, he likes doing the manhandling much more.)

“Only because you’re cute,” Liam says, infuriatingly endearingly enough to make Harry whine out a protest.

“Wasn’t really the point,” he mumbles, looking away, but Liam must lean forward because a moment later they’re kissing. Liam’s hands are firm on Harry’s hips, pressing in and steering him backwards as his own arms wind around Liam’s neck. The back of this thighs hit a counter-- the one in the bathroom, he can only assume-- and he hisses into Liam’s mouth, then moans when Liam slips a hand into his jeans to grab at his arse. It’s just-- it’s so good. It’s unfair.

“Shower, yeah?” Liam’s not really asking though, Harry knows, because he’s pulled away a second later to shed his shirt and jeans. Harry only gets a moment to ogle before Liam’s slipped through the next doorway thumbs tantalizingly hooked into the elastic around his pants and Harry takes just a moment to turn and lean on the counter, limbs heavy all of a sudden. He doesn’t look in the mirror because he doesn’t want to see what he looks like, doesn’t get off on seeing himself ready to fuck one of his best mates and then pretend like it’s not happening.

No, he imagines if he looked in the mirror, he wouldn’t like what he’d see.

Instead he turns back around, sucking in a deep breath before struggling out of his jeans-- seriously, he likes the look, but Caroline could’ve warned him that they’d shrink in the wash-- and sliding through the crack in the door.

Liam’s already standing under the spray, shoulders hunched and one hand resting on the wall, like he’s holding himself up. Maybe Harry’s made a mistake. Maybe Liam doesn’t want to shower with him, or he wants to be alone and unwind and-- No. Definitely not, because Liam’s other hand, Harry’s just noticed, is wrapped around his dick, moving in long, slow strokes. The sight takes Harry from a semi to full mast almost embarrassingly quickly, and he steps in the shower, draping himself over Liam’s back.

“Couldn’t even wait for me, huh?” He doesn’t wait for an answer, just lets himself slide down to his knees and push Liam’s hips until he’s pinned against the shower wall. Harry knocks his hand out of the way and Liam groans, groans again when Harry leans forward to bite at Liam’s thigh, his hands digging into Liam’s hips. Harry preens at the sound, wraps his hand around the base of Liam’s dick and swallows him down.

Liam comes with a hand in Harry’s hair and his free fist stuffed into his own mouth, biting down so hard he’ll leave marks. Harry doesn’t notice at the time, actually. It’s not until later, when they’re curled together in the bed and Harry’s trailing his fingers over Liam’s that he even notices it.

He wants to ask why Liam thinks he needs to muffle his noises, because it’s not like he doesn’t know Harry gets off on them. But maybe that’s the problem. That, for Liam, it’s not about Harry, or even the two of them together. Maybe for Liam it’s just about Liam and what he needs and wants and takes.

Harry’s usually not so cynical about it, but it’s not like they’ve ever discussed this thing. Any time Harry’s tried-- which, honestly, has only been twice, in the beginning-- Liam’s brushed him off and made up some excuse and--

Whatever. It doesn’t matter.

“Liam?” Harry says voice soft, afraid of waking him if he’s already fallen asleep. Liam makes a noise like he’s listening, and Harry runs a hand over Liam’s short hair, smiling at the shiver it gets him.

I love you, he wants to say, wants to etch into his own skin and show to anyone that may walk into his whirlwind of a life.

“Haz?” Liam’s lifts his head, and Harry touches the crease on his forehead with the pad of his thumb.

I’m in love with you.

“Nothing,” he says, like the coward he is, leaning down to kiss where his thumb just touched. “Sorry. Just thinking. Let’s go to sleep, yeah?”

If Liam has any protests, he doesn’t voice them, and it’s not long before Harry’s asleep.

---

five;

They’re somewhere in North America, lounging around the venue-- because it’s better than lounging around a hotel room or the bus or any other place they’ve seen a million times because they’re all startlingly identical.

Anyway.

Harry’s draped over a couch, half-heartedly eating a banana and watching Louis and Niall play FIFA. Zayn’s doodling something on Harry’s exposed ankle, but he’s not really paying attention. It’s hard, when Liam’s not there in his periphery or at his side or whatever. No, Liam’s been a bit odd all day. Energized and, well, Harry would say nervous, but they don’t really get nervous anymore. Not for a show as routine as this. He’s tried to ask him a few times, sliding a hand on his shoulder or touching his knee, but each time Liam ducked his head and moved away from the contact, and Harry knows a brush off when he sees one. If he were more vindictive, he’d say fuck you too, Liam and go about his business. But, he’s not, so instead he’s-- god, what is he even doing? Moping, probably. Louis would call it moping, if he even noticed.

The door bursts open so hard it hits the wall with a smack! and Harry jumps, scaring Zayn, and Harry’s sure whatever he’d been drawing is now basically ruined.

“Hi lads,” Liam says with an absolutely manic grin. Harry blinks at him a few times, and then turns to look to Zayn, who’s about two seconds away from a proper fit. Well, a proper Zayn fit, at least, which is less like a real fit and more like he just goes all moody and silent.

“Hey,” Harry murmurs to Zayn, ignoring the way Liam moves into the room, wedges himself on the couch with Louis and Niall. He puts on his best apologetic face and squeezes Zayn’s shoulder. “M’sorry, yeah? The door scared me.”

“You ruined my drawing,” Zayn says, frowning, but still leaning into Harry’s hand, so he knows it can’t be too bad.

“Sorry,” he repeats, and pulls up his jeans on the other leg. “You can do this one, if you want?”

Zayn shrugs, but nods, so Harry turns on his side to put his leg in Zayn’s lap and letting him go to town. He knows it’s one of those things that like, calms him. They all have them. For Louis and Niall, it’s playing FIFA (or, for Louis specifically, it’s being a right terror), for Harry, it’s doing absolutely nothing except like, breathing exercises and for Liam, Harry’s pretty sure it’s being with them, the other boys and like, feeling like part of the group.

He just doesn’t understand why Liam has to be a part of the group on the couch across the room, but, whatever, he’ll take it.

Things are quiet for awhile-- or, as quiet as they ever are with Louis and Niall cursing at each other-- until Liam clears his throat.

“So, you know Sophia?” He says, voice a bit hesitant and definitely not looking at Harry, because Harry can tell when Liam is looking anywhere but him, because he’s been doing it all day, been doing it on and off for weeks really, and it’s just-- it hurts. Anyway, Liam’s looking at Louis and Niall, who grunt in the affirmative. Liam smiles, and the place in Harry’s chest that’s usually filled with warmth goes cold, heavy.

“Reckon she’s gonna let me take her out when we get back,” he says, full on grinning now and Harry feels sick, like the heavy thing in his chest’s dropped down to his stomach. That explains why Liam’s been ducking him all day and making up excuses anytime Harry wanted-- Well. Harry’s hand clenches into a fist at his side and he takes a deep breath.

He won’t get angry. He won’t.

“That’s great, Payno,” Louis says, not taking his eyes from the screen but still managing to sound more than halfway sincere. Niall claps him on the shoulder and Zayn-- well, Harry thinks that maybe Zayn hadn’t heard him, too involved in the drawing on Harry’s ankle, but when Harry looks at him, there’s something soft in his expression, but he’s looking at Harry. He squeezes Harry’s ankle, brief but no doubt meant to be reassuring, and Harry can’t even bear to look at him.

“That’s awesome, Liam,” Zayn says, and Harry shuts his eyes. The room goes a bit quiet, and for a moment Harry relishes it, lets himself indulge the rush of no, fuck, that’s not what’s supposed to happen, going through his head before opening his eyes again to meet four expectant gazes.

Briefly, suddenly, Harry wishes he were more prone to dramatics and making a scene like Louis is. He wishes he could tear his leg away from Zayn and stomp out of the room and have a proper strop about it, but he knows that’s not fair. The thing with Liam was never discussed or defined, and Harry’s not about to make an arse of himself over something that might’ve been all on his end. I’m in love with you, you idiot, he could yell it, maybe. How can you not know that?

“Congrats, mate,” he manages, twisting his mouth into something like a smile. “If you need any good jokes for your first date, you know where to find me.”

Niall, bless him, laughs, which sets the others off, and then Louis tells a truly awful joke about a duck in a bar-- Harry suspects it’s only because he wants the subject to change as well, but gift horses and all that-- which leads to all of them googling truly heinous jokes for an hour and a half before Paul comes to tell them Lou’s ready to make them beautiful.

“Please,” Louis says, tossing his hair as he walks by Paul, “you can’t improve on perfection.”

Niall and Zayn laugh, following him out, Harry close behind, but he stops when he feels a hand around his wrist, feels a tug telling him to stay. He knows it’s Liam, because it bloody well isn’t Paul, but that’s just-- it’s unfair. Harry turns, tries to school his expression into something like gentle confusion instead of the hurt he’s sure is all over it. Judging by the way Liam frowns and scratches at the back of his own head, Harry didn’t succeed. That’s fine. He’s always been rubbish at faking things, everyone knows that.

It’s probably part of the problem.

“Haz,” Liam says, and that’s too much, just that nickname, and Harry pulls his arm out of Liam’s grip. “Harry, I--”

“It doesn’t really matter, Liam,” Harry says, taking a step back, stuffing his hands in his pockets. “You don’t have to-- explain, or--” he shakes his head. This is so stupid. He’s been so stupid, but Christ, he’s always been like this, hasn’t he? At least when Liam’s involved.

“You don’t owe me anything,” he says, pressing his lips in a line.

“I know,” Liam says, but seems to regret it from the way he shakes his head. “I mean-- that’s not what I meant. I just--” He closes his mouth, takes a deep breath, and Harry suddenly realizes that whatever’s about to come out of Liam’s mouth is the last thing he wants to hear.

“Just forget it, yeah?” Harry says, before Liam can say anything. “Doesn’t matter. It’s in the past.” He takes another step back, and Liam’s nodding, looking...relieved, maybe, but Harry’s not sure. He can’t read the expression well. It’s like a mix of relief and...disappointment, maybe? He’s never known a relieved person to frown like that, at any rate.

“Yeah,” Liam says, nodding, his mouth gone all tight, and Harry wants to step forward again, kiss him until he’s happy and pliant and relaxed. But, no, that’s not his job. Never was.

Harry stares at him for a moment, until he hears Paul yell down the hallway for them and he startles, then turns on his heel and walks quickly away. He doesn’t look back to see if Liam’s followed or not.

---

and one; (2014)

Harry’s certain that Liam’s gone off the bloody deep end.

It’s the only explanation. First, the ledge thing, and then the massive Twitter breakdown (which Harry can’t believe he still hasn’t apologized for) and Harry would be concerned, maybe, if he hadn’t also seen the photos of Liam and Sophia at the NBA game.

If Liam really has gone off the deep end, it’s not his problem, yeah? He’s in California for a reason, and that reason is to steadfastly ignore his feelings. Sophia can take care of it. He doesn’t need to bother himself with it. He’s on holiday for three glorious months, and he’s not going to let it be ruined by the likes of Liam Payne. Ha.

LA is refreshing in a way that London’s not. There are people there who know him, of course, but also people who respect him and who want to work with him and yeah, who want him for his fame, but they’re not secretive about it. He hangs out a bit with Kendall and then Alexa and the gang-- sending texts to Grimmy every hour to make him jealous, of course-- and focuses on himself. Ridding himself of negativity and preparing himself for the upcoming tour and writing songs and just. Not thinking about Liam.

Of course, that all goes a bit to shit when he flies back for the Brit Awards. He’d spent a week in an undisclosed location for his birthday, spoke to absolutely no one and maybe cried a little from the relief of it, and then had to fly back into the fray. He supposes it’s all worth it; everything he has now. It’s what he’d wanted. A once in a lifetime kind of thing. He’s really lucky, after all.

Zayn meets him at the airport because Louis’ busy training for his football match and Niall’s practically an invalid. Harry doesn’t even consider asking Liam. He’d probably be busy with Sophia, or something. Or he would’ve actually shown up and the ensuing awkwardness would’ve been ten million times worse. In any case, Harry had insisted that he didn’t actually need a welcoming committee, but Zayn had just scoffed and told him he’d be there.

He’s infinitely grateful when Zayn wraps him up in a tight hug. It’s late, Harry’s exhausted and he really just wants to sleep. Like, forever. Usually, he steps off a plane and is excited to be back in London, but it’s odd this time. Wrong. He doesn’t think about it, though, he just lets Zayn get him into a car and to his flat. Zayn doesn’t even question it as Harry strips and slides into his bed, just gets in next to him and lets him cuddle. Zayn’s always good for a cuddle, and Harry’s definitely never been more thankful for it than right now. He falls asleep easily, the feel of Zayn’s heartbeat calming him.

“You still snore,” Zayn says the next morning when he finally stirs. Harry pouts at him.

“No one else complained,” Harry says, voice rough, and Zayn raises an unimpressed eyebrow at him.

“I’m not some bird you pulled and who still wants to impress you,” he says and Harry’s pout deepens.

“Didn’t pull anyone in LA,” he mumbles, sitting up and tossing the covers off himself. He doesn’t mind banter usually-- welcomes it, in fact-- but he can’t stop thinking about how he’ll have to sit around with the rest of the band and Liam in a week and pretend that everything’s all right. God, Liam will probably bring Sophia and Harry will have to be polite. The thought makes him sick.

He feels Zayn’s hand on his back, just between his shoulderblades. “Hey, you okay?”

“Yeah,” Harry croaks, running a hand through his hair. “Fine. Tired. Gonna shower.”

Zayn doesn’t answer as Harry gets up and stumbles out of Zayn’s room and into the guest bath. He showers relatively quickly, feeling calmer and less grumpy as he changes clothes and goes into the kitchen for breakfast.

Zayn’s stood at the stove when Harry sits himself on a stool, long legs curling to rest his heels on the little rungs. “Good holiday?”

Harry shrugs. “All right. Nothing to write home about.”

“I noticed,” Zayn says dryly, and Harry feels his cheeks heat.

“Sorry I missed your birthday,” he says, clearing his throat. Zayn shrugs easily. Harry knows it’s not actually a big deal, because it’s not like he fucked off without telling anyone, and Zayn understands his need to get away from the group better than the rest of them do anyway.

“Thinkin’ about a new tattoo,” Zayn answers, and Harry perks at that.

“Oh yeah?”

Zayn turns to look at him, grinning. “Yeah.”

---

Zayn gets a giant lotus on his left forearm and wrist, and Harry ends up getting an anatomically correct heart in a empty patch on his left arm. It’ll cover easily enough for the award show-- unlike Zayn’s, which will peek out of his sleeve, obviously-- so he’s not worried about it, really. He spends one more night at Zayn’s before meeting up with Gemma and Nick and generally tries to avoid interaction with the outside world as much as he possibly can.

He tweets every now and then to let people know he hasn’t died and wanders around London every now and then to take photos with people as per management’s request. He doesn’t mind meeting fans, not really, but the paps always get a bit annoying and rude. He’s pretty good at dealing with them now, though. Anyway.

By the time the Brits actually roll around, Harry’s made plans to get ready with Louis and the other boys. He’s not bringing a date, though he knows Louis will bring Eleanor and Liam is definitely bringing Sophia, but Harry figures he can just avoid her, of necessary. And avoid watching her have any lovesick interaction with Liam. Hopefully.

Harry makes it to the hotel a bit early and takes the opportunity to revel in the silence of the room without the other boys yelling at each other or at their stylists or simply terrorizing the general public. He loves his boys, but they really can be a bit much.

His hair gets done first, since he’s the first there and has already taken a seat by the time Lou gets back into the room. They talk for awhile-- Harry agrees to go to her book launch in March-- before he lets the feeling of her gentle fingers in his hair lull him into a properly relaxed state. He’s a bit like a cat, with his hair. Loves to be petted. Loves it a bit too much, really, but, eh, what can you do? He’s not going to start doing his own hair for events, that’s for sure.

“Are you sure I can’t just trim it up a bit, darling?” Lou asks. Harry watches her frown down at his head in the mirror.

He pouts at her reflection. “S’not so bad, is it?”

Lou sighs, looking at the clock and then toward the door when there’s a loud noise behind it, like a thud, as if someone’s tried to open it but run into it instead. Harry laughs a little at the thought as Lou goes over to open it. Louis strolls in with Eleanor in tow, and Harry gives them both a wave.

“Guess I ought to go find Caroline for my outfit, eh?” he says, sidestepping Lou and the scissors in her hand. Louis takes the seat he’s vacated and widens his eyes, staring up at her.

“Make me beautiful?”

Lou sighs and turns to him, and Harry flees.

---

“So, California was good?”

Harry looks up from his tea at Louis, who’s shirtless (just like Harry, actually, but Harry’s always shirtless) and has damp, nicely styled hair. Seems as though he didn’t let Lou cut his either. Or maybe she hadn’t wanted to. She’s always been a bit strangely fond of Louis’ hair, though Harry can’t hold it against her. He’s always been a bit strangely fond of Louis’ everything, so he can sympathise.

“It was, yeah,” he answers slowly, setting his mug down. Louis takes the seat next to him, frowning when he realizes there isn’t another mug.

“Suppose it must’ve been difficult,” he says, lifting the lid of the teapot to sniff it and removing it completely. Harry has the strangest urge to take a photo, but he knows Louis would be cross if he did. Louis picks up the milk, and doesn’t elaborate on what he’s said.

“Being in California?” Harry raises an eyebrow. “Nah, it was all right. Relaxing, you know.”

“Oh,” Louis says with a shrug, pouring the milk carefully into the pot and then replacing the lid. He takes Harry’s spoon and stirs it a bit, licking it when he’s finished.

“I thought maybe it would’ve been,” he says, lifting the pot to his lips. Frankly, Harry’s a bit surprised he went through all that trouble. Normally he’d just have stolen Harry’s mug. “Since there was that big mobile service blackout. I know how much you love your phone.”

Harry frowns. What the hell? “Louis, what are you talking about? My phone was working fine.”

Louis looks at him, something sharp in his gaze that makes Harry uneasy. “I would’ve known that if you’d bothered to contact me at all. Or any of us. Besides Zayn, of course.”

The rush of shame Harry feels makes his cheeks pink up. He looks away, taking a sip of his tea, even though it’s a bit too cold to be enjoyable. Louis is probably the only person who can make him feel like a tit for going on holiday and enjoying himself. Christ.

And it’s not that he’d ignored them all on purpose, or anything, but it’s just-- Zayn was the only one who’d texted him first, and Harry made absolutely sure to text Niall on the day of his surgery and after it, even though Niall was drugged out of his mind. Liam was the only one he actually didn’t contact on purpose, and-- yeah, okay, he was a bit worried if he’d texted Louis, Louis would’ve asked why he hadn’t spoken to Liam.

Really, it’s just easier to ignore the whole thing.

“Sorry,” he says, but it’s mostly for show. “It’s not like you tried much either.”

Louis shrugs, makes a noise that Harry can’t really decipher and starts to drink the tea from the teapot. Harry pulls out his phone to take a photo, sending it to their official twitter.

“Twat,” Louis says, though he’d posed a bit and his tone is more fond than anything else. Harry finishes off his tea and goes to dress himself in the outfit Caroline picked.

He shucks his jeans, adjusting his pants a bit before pulling the trousers off the hanger. “D’you think we’re only ever going to wear black and white and grey for the rest of our professional careers?”

Louis snorts. “Probably, but that’s better than pastel polos and red skinny jeans.”

Harry shrugs. “I dunno. Those were a pretty good look for you.”

“Feel free to bring them back, Harold. I’m sure there’s nothing your legs couldn’t make look good.”

Harry tosses his discarded jeans at him, laughing when they end up over Louis’ head.

“Christ, when’s the last time these had a wash, then?”

“Dunno,” Harry shrugs, “There’s no washing machines in California, y’know.”

“‘Course not. Absolute barbarians, the lot of them,” Louis says primly, taking the jeans off his head with delicate motions.

“Right. And you know I don’t wash them unless I’ve come in them,” Harry adds, laughing at the way Louis drops them immediately, kicking them away.

“I’ve just told you I didn’t come in them, there’s no need for that,” he says, but Louis only glares at him.

“What’s all this, then?”

Harry turns sharply, flushing when he sees Liam standing in the doorway, looking on fondly at them with Sophia standing a bit behind him. Of course. He shouldn’t be surprised-- or, he’s not surprised, not about Sophia, at least-- but he still feels a bit like an idiot, fumbling around.

“Payno!” Louis nearly screeches it, throwing his arms out and wrapping him up in a hug. Liam’s eyes go all crinkly when he smiles, and Harry has to turn away to pull on his trousers. He dresses quickly, hands hardly shaking as he does up the buttons on his shirt despite how inexplicably nervous he feels. It’s just-- Liam. Liam looks so good with the bit of weight he’s put on, and he looks happy and warm and relaxed, and Harry just wants to wrap himself into him, easy as that.

He’s pulling on his jacket as he feels Liam’s hand on his shoulder. “All right, Hazza?”

Harry sends him a smile and hopes it doesn’t look as fake as it feels. “All right. Bit weird, yeah? Doing this again after a break.”

Liam smiles, though his eyes don’t crinkle up. His hand’s still resting on Harry’s shoulder, warm and suffocating. “Yeah, a bit.”

Harry rolls his shoulders, shrugging Liam’s hand off and ignoring the hurt look on his face.

---

He makes sure to keep himself separated from Liam and Sophia for most of the night. They have to sit at the same table, obviously, but Harry situates himself next to Niall at the end claiming it’ll be easier to help him with his crutches. It’s a good spot for him to chat with the table next to theirs as well, so he spends most of his time twisted around to talk to them and ignore the sight of Liam chugging down drinks in his periphery. Liam’s a lightweight on the best of days, so Harry’s not surprised when Liam’s gaze goes glassy and his shoulders slump. There was a time when he’d ask Liam what’s wrong-- Harry knows him well enough to know that he only drinks this much in public when something’s the matter-- but that’s not what he does anymore, he supposes. Besides, Sophia’s there with a hand on Liam’s shoulder or around the back of his neck (Where your hand should be, Harry’s mind spits at him) or low on his waist.

Not that it matters. Obviously.

It only gets worse as the night drags on, and Harry ends up going to the loo just for a moment of fucking peace. Of course, that’s when they win their award and he’s got to break out in a run, flipping off Nick Grimshaw as he runs past him because Harry’s sure he’s making some snide remark, the twat. Harry loves him terribly.

In any case, it’s embarrassing that he has to run onstage to Liam asking where “the curly one” is, and Louis’ so pissed that he won’t even answer Harry’s question. It’s a mess. Harry’s a mess. They’re all a bloody mess. Thank goodness the rest of the night’s basically only filled with photos and some short interviews. There’s parties, but Harry only makes an appearance at one, opting to go back to his flat with his parents. They’re leaving the next day, after all.

Los Angeles is a blur of meetings and sight-seeing and his motorcycle breaking down. It’s not as much leisure as last time, but it’s enough of a break that he’s fine. He’s not quite sure what he’s going to do when he goes back to London again, where he’ll have to sit through a whole dinner with just Liam and two fans for Trekstock, and then they’ll have to shoot a music video and then they’ll have to go on tour.

Fucking tour. Harry doesn’t know how he’ll survive it. Hell, he hardly knows how he’ll survive rehearsals. But maybe not having Sophia around to remind Harry of the crushing disappointment he feels at the thought of her and Liam together will help. It’s something to test at the dinner tonight, at least.

He arrives at the hotel without much fuss, thankfully, and makes his way up to the room where he’s told Liam has already arrived. It makes sense; they’re definitely the two most punctual members of the band, but he’d at least have liked a bit of time to prepare himself. He takes the stairs all the way up to the floor, breathing a bit laboured by the time he makes it.

Harry takes a moment outside the door to catch his breath before he pushes into the room, but it’s a prime exercise in futility since his breath leaves him in an embarrassing whoosh the instant he gets a look at Liam.

It’s just-- it’s been awhile since he really allowed himself to look at Liam; properly search him out in a room and let his gaze flit over him and take note of what he’s wearing. Harry thinks it’s ridiculous that he can make a pair of jeans, a white t-shirt and a simple black jacket look so bloody good, but then he supposes people think that about him, too, so maybe it all really is just subjective. Maybe someone, somewhere, doesn’t think Liam’s attractive.

The thought, as misplaced as it is, doesn’t bring him any comfort.

“Hey,” he says, proud of himself for how evenly it comes out.

Liam’s eyes flick up from his phone and his face lights up, eyes crinkling with a smile. It takes everything Harry has not to cross the room and slot himself into Liam’s lap. “Hazza,” he says, scooting over a bit on the couch and patting the empty space he leaves. “Come join us, then.”

Harry moves without thinking and situates himself next to Liam, curling toward him just the slightest bit. He’s so warm and it’s so absolutely dreadful outside that Harry just can’t help it. Liam doesn’t seem to mind-- he just throws an arm over Harry’s shoulders and tugs him close, going back to his phone. Harry nuzzles his face into Liam’s neck until the cameras show up and they have to separate a bit.

 

Dinner isn’t bad. The fans are sweet, as always, and Harry really does love meeting them, especially like this, where they’re not being mobbed. It’s a bit awkward at first, since the girls are clearly nervous, but he and Liam are charming on even their worst days, so it’s easy enough to put them at ease. They take photos and have a dessert course and it’s over before Harry really knows it.

He takes some more photos,-- with a dog, this time-- gets shuffled into a car, asks the paps why they won’t leave him the bloody hell alone and zooms off, trying not to think about how lonely it is in the back seat of the car, or how lonely he’ll be in his bed or how the past few hours had been the best he’d had in months.

---

“You know all those people on Twitter are just knobs, right?” Harry asks, watching the way Liam straightens when he sees his reflection for what has to be the twentieth time that day. He’s been doing it all week, ever since those aresholes said he was fat.

Christ, imagine. Liam. Fat.

“Yeah, I know Harry,” Liam says, sounding like it doesn’t really matter that he knows that they’re knobheads because it still hurts, doesn’t it, and Liam was bullied in school, Harry knows, and Harry also knows what it’s like to care all too much about what other people think of you.

He walks over before he can stop himself and presses up against Liam’s back, sliding his hands around to Liam’s chest and tummy. Harry likes Liam with softer edges, truthfully, but he’s sure Liam could have warts and yellow toenails and spots all over his face and he’d still want to stay here, pressed up against him, for as long as possible.

“Just means there’s more of you to love,” Harry murmurs, squeezing him a bit tighter when Liam’s hand comes to a rest on top of his.

Liam huffs out a laugh. “That’s what Sophia said,” he says, and Harry feels something unpleasantly familiar and heavy settle in his stomach.

“Smart girl,” he says, giving Liam one last squeeze before pulling away, ignoring the way Liam’s hand lingers on his wrist.

---

A knock on the door rouses Harry from his nap. He’s got no idea who it is-- the other boys all buggered off to dinner after getting back from the video shoot, but Harry had just gone home to try to fight off the cold he’d surely caught on the pier.

Fucking Ben, Harry thinks as he shuffles his way toward the door, his thick duvet wrapped around him to stave off the shivers that have been wracking his body on and off for hours. Better be a bloody brilliant video.

The person knocks again just as Harry makes it to the door and he rolls his eyes, opening it without checking who it is. Stupid, he knows, but there’s not many people it could be, really.

And yet, he’s still somehow surprised to see Liam standing there, smiling sheepishly with a Waitrose bag clenched in his hand.

“I er,” he says, after a moment of silence. He holds up the bag. “I thought you might want some soup.”

Something inside of Harry’s chest breaks. He’s not sure what it is, and he’s not sure that it’s a bad thing, but suddenly he’s almost overcome with emotion, his eyes welling with tears and his shoulders sagging against the doorframe. It’s just-- it’s Liam. Bringing him soup. Fuck, Harry loves him. He loves him so much.

Fuck it all.

“Harry?” Liam’s tone matches the worried scrunch of his brow, and Harry laughs at it, absolutely ridiculously.

“I would love some soup, Liam,” he manages, moving to the side to let him in.

Liam sets the bag down on the table and starts removing the outer layer of his clothing. Harry watches him, mouth quirking into a smile at the pink of Liam’s cheeks from the cold and the way his hair gets mussed up a bit in the back when he takes off his scarf. Harry reaches out, closer than he realized, and smooths it down. Liam stills and catches Harry’s gaze.

They stand like that for a long moment, Harry’s hand on the back of Liam’s head, arm over his shoulder and Liam just looking at him with wide eyes. It feels like maybe they’re frozen in time, like that crazy old bird in Great Expectations, but then Liam’s gaze flicks down to Harry’s mouth and Harry sways forward, dizzy with it.

Though that may also be the cold.

“Careful there,” Liam says, steadying Harry with hands on his waist. “Let’s get you something to eat.”

“Okay,” Harry says, but it comes out as more of a whisper.

Liam doesn’t feed him the soup or anything, but he does sit closer than is probably strictly necessary on the couch, especially considering his germ thing. Harry wants to point out that if he really is ill that this is probably the peak of his contagiousness, and that Liam should definitely not be sitting this close to him as they watch Gordon Ramsay fix people’s restaurants.

“Maybe this wasn’t the best thing to watch while eating,” Harry says with a grimace, after Gordon pulls a pan of molded unidentifiable raw meat out of a refrigerator that probably hasn’t been opened in weeks. He looks down at his soup, a simple chicken noodle that’s more broth than anything else at this point, and sets it down on the coffee table, feeling a bit queasy.

“Yeah, bad choice, that,” Liam agrees, flipping off the telly all together. “Sorry. Wasn’t thinking.”

“S’okay,” Harry says, leaning back, letting his eyes fall shut. Liam doesn’t respond, but he also doesn’t move away, judging from the lack of shifting on the couch, so Harry’s fine with the silence as long as he has Liam’s warmth next to him.

“I’m sorry,” Liam murmurs again, after so long that Harry almost drifts off back to sleep.

“Said it was fine,” he says without opening his eyes. “Just Gordon Ramsay anyway. Not the end of the world. Worse things have happened.”

“No, um, I meant.” Harry hears Liam inhale and exhale a breath, just a bit shakily. “For um. God. For being a twat, Harry. For-- for not seeing what I had and treating you like you didn’t matter--”

Harry’s eyes snap open and he looks at Liam, who’s got his face in his hands. A warm feeling blooms in his chest, small but strong, and slowly spreads.

“Liam,” he says, kindly, and with the patience of a fucking Saint, he thinks, “what the hell are you talking about?”

“I’m sorry.” Liam turns to him, eyes a bit shiny and Harry blinks. “You were-- I just-- Ugh!”

Harry blinks again as Liam buries his hands in his face. He sits up a little straighter and looks down at his own hands, notices the slight shake and reaches out to put one on Liam’s shoulder.

“Liam,” Harry says again, his hand moving in slow circles on Liam’s back. “Babe. If you don’t know how fucking in love with you I am then you’re more hopeless than I thought.”

Liam lifts his face out of his hands and Harry stills his movements and they stare at each other for a long ten seconds.

“I broke up with Sophia,” Liam blurts, and Harry surges forward to kiss him.

Liam catches him easily, hands on his hips and an arm winding around his waist, pushing the duvet away so Harry can slide into his lap.

“You’ll get ill,” Harry murmurs when they break for breath, kissing down the line of his neck, pausing at the birthmark and running his teeth over it, lightly. He bites down when Liam palms his bum, pulling their hips together and making both of them gasp.

“I don’t care,” Liam answers, digging his fingertips into the flesh of Harry’s arse again and sounding breathless. Harry finds his mouth again and kisses him, messy and hard with tongue and teeth. He ruts his hips down, when Liam nips at his bottom lip and squeezes at his bum again, and christ, all right, Harry knows how to take a hint.

He stands, taking one of Liam’s hands and hauling him up. Liam frowns, obviously confused, but Harry just pushes him toward the stairs, closer to the bedroom. He gets his hands up Liam’s jumper halfway up the stairs and pulls it off, flinging it behind himself before pulling Liam in for another kiss.

“Thought you were sick,” Liam says into his mouth, hands working up and under Harry’s shirt, smoothing over the inked skin and making him flush.

“Thought you didn’t care,” Harry says, lifting his arms so Liam can tug the shirt off. They kiss again, Liam pressing Harry back until his thighs hit the railing and his shoulders hit the wall, bent awkwardly backwards in a way that’s definitely no good for his back. He groans when Liam fits a leg between his, rocking his hips just right. Harry lifts a leg, fits it around Liam’s hip and uses it to tug him closer, winding his arms around Liam’s neck.

“Babe, as lovely as th-is is,” he says, breathless and just the tiniest bit high-pitched, “I was really hoping you’d, y’know, not fuck me for the first time on the stairs.”

Liam doesn’t say anything in response, just hefts Harry up with a hand under each thigh and carries him up the rest of the stairs and into the bedroom. Harry’s usually the one pulling the caveman act, and, yeah, he gets it. The way Liam can just pick him up like he’s practically nothing and carry him around-- well, it shouldn’t be attractive, probably, but it is. It so is.

He bounces a bit when he lands on the bed, laughing at it, and then harder when Liam growls at him. The sound dies in his throat when Liam straddles him, his weight heavy and real just below where Harry needs it. He reaches for Liam’s flies, frowning when Liam catches his hands, tangling their fingers.

“All right?” he asks it as Liam leans down, pressing his hands to the mattress on either side of Harry’s head.

“Perfect,” he says, pressing a kiss-- slow and gentle-- to Harry’s mouth. Harry squeezes his eyes shut and kisses back until he’s breathless with it, until he’s stopped struggling against Liam’s hold and can’t do anything except meet Liam’s fucking beautiful mouth over and over again.

“I love you,” Liam says, pulling away. Harry opens his eyes to Liam’s red mouth and his wide eyes, his gaze so open and intimate that Harry’s breath catches in his throat.

“I love you too,” he says, squeezing their fingers together. Liam smiles down at him but doesn’t move to do anything else. That won’t do. “Glad that’s settled.” Harry bucks his hips a bit, “Now could you please get a move on?”

Liam’s gaze darkens, and his hands squeeze around Harry’s, a flash of pleasure before he’s pulling off and up, hands working at his own flies to get his jeans off. Harry scoots back on the bed to reach at the drawer that has the condoms and lube, retrieving them and throwing them at Liam’s chest. He settles back against the pillows, shimmying out of his pants and reaching out when Liam comes close enough to pull his down and off as well.

“You’re sure,” Liam says, settling himself between Harry’s spread thighs, slicking up his fingers like it’s not really a question anyway. It isn’t.

“God, yes, please just--nngh--” Harry breaks off into a groan as Liam presses a finger to his hole. Usually he’s not so responsive, but maybe it’s because it’s Liam, and his fingers are better than Harry thought they’d be-- and Harry had high expectations, seriously-- or maybe just because he’s been waiting for years for this, probably, and Liam’s always brought it out in him anyway.

“Fuck,” he whimpers when Liam adds a second and twists his wrist to do something that makes stars burst at the edges of Harry’s vision. “Fuck, Liam, how did you--”

“Research,” Liam pants, pulling his fingers out and twisting them back in again with a third, and Harry doesn’t remember what they’re talking about anyway.

By the time Liam’s rolled the condom on and slicking himself up, Harry’s simultaneously so hard he feels like he might explode and unable to do anything except wrap his legs around Liam’s waist as the head of his cock lines up to his hole.

Liam pushes in with one long torturously slow thrust that has Harry scrabbling for some sort of purchase against his shoulders and biting down on his bottom lip, inhaling sharply through his nose as he adjusts to the thick burn of Liam’s cock.

“All right, Hazza?” Fuck, Liam sounds about as wrecked as Harry feels, the sound of his voice making Harry’s dick twitch against his stomach and blurt precome. He nods, digs his fingertips into Liam’s shoulders and rolls his hips experimentally, making them both groan.

“Please,” he says, and it’s all Liam needs to pull back and thrust back in, starting a steady rhythm that sends Harry’s headboard knocking back into the wall with every thrust.

He comes without a hand on himself and his mouth pressed to Liam’s in a not-quite-a-kiss. Liam follows shortly after, pulling out gently and binning the condom before grabbing some tissues to clean Harry up. They wrap themselves in the sheet-- Harry’s duvet long forgotten downstairs-- and curl around each other.

Harry rests his head on Liam’s chest, letting his breathing even out before glancing up to find Liam looking down at him, smiling fondly. Harry smiles up at him, leaning up to press a soft kiss to his mouth.

“I’m sorry you broke up with Sophia,” he says, then frowns at himself. Liam frowns too, and no, no, that’s not what he meant. He shakes his head. “I mean, I’m sorry if she got hurt. But I’m really glad that you’re here.”

Liam smiles, his eyes crinkling up at the corners and it still takes Harry’s breath away, as stupid as it is. “I am too,” he says, linking their fingers again.

Harry settles down against his chest again, closing his eyes so he can drift off to sleep.