They're 30,000 feet above the ocean when Zayn feels a hand sneak underneath his blanket, scrabbling against his thigh and sliding steadily upward.
"Get off me, Harry," Zayn mumbles, not even bothering to open his eyes.
Harry does the opposite and leans in closer, chin on Zayn's shoulder, nose against his neck, lips hot by his ear. "Do you think we can fit three people into the lavatory?"
Zayn groans and turns in to face the window, away from Harry. He pulls the scratchy in-flight blanket up over his head and tries to go back to sleep.
Harry's hand doesn't stop its ascent toward Zayn's crotch.
"Ugh, stop." Zayn gives up on the last vestiges of his nap and peels back his blanket to glare at Harry. "What is the matter with you?"
"Flying is boring," Harry says, fingertips dancing cheekily on the inseam of Zayn's jeans. "Just trying to make it less so."
Zayn looks around the cabin. Louis is nowhere to be seen. Liam is poking at his iPad, eyebrows furrowed in concentration, while Niall stares out the window on the other side with headphones blaring in his ears. "Why don't you bother one of them instead? And where's Louis?"
"In the lav. Like I said, we want to see if we can fit three in there. You should join us. He's probably lubing himself up, waiting," Harry says casually, like that's just something you can say to someone.
"Why don't you ask Niall—or better yet, why don't you go into economy and open up the offer to everyone? I'm sure there'll be people just flinging themselves at you."
"Shut up. We don't want people. We want you."
Zayn is not blind to Harry's charm or Louis'...everything, but he's also not keen on the idea of a cramped fumble in a tiny toilet, rushed and discreet, yet another secret to keep. And he has very knobbly knees and sharp elbows, Zayn does. They would probably knock into things. It would probably hurt.
After another ten minutes of being resolutely rejected, Harry gives up and heads to the loo. Zayn sinks down into his seat and concentrates on not thinking about what he and Louis might be getting up to in there.
The two of them return unexpectedly quickly, slapping at each other and giggling, revoltingly adorable. Liam glances up from his iPad and smiles at them before turning his attention back to whatever he's looking at, oblivious to the proposition Zayn has just turned down.
"Back so soon?" Zayn asks them.
Louis climbs into Zayn's lap and wiggles his bum down. Zayn clenches his jaw and tries not to react while Louis pouts at him. "Well, things didn't exactly go according to plan, did they? You were supposed to join us."
"What, you two couldn't think of anything to do without me?"
"No, we couldn't," Louis answers, tone inappropriately serious.
Fortunately for Zayn, the fasten seatbelt sign pings on just then, sending Louis back to his seat so Zayn doesn't have to come up with a reply. And that, he thinks, is the end of that.
Harry pricks up his ears when the interviewer starts asking them who they would date, if they had to choose among themselves. He'll admit it's partly because he's narcissistic and wants to see who will pick him this time, but it's also because Louis has a glint in his eye that says he wants to make things interesting. Harry wants to help him.
"Do I have to pick just one?" Louis asks innocently.
"What about one for the day and one for the night?" Harry says.
"Ooh, I like that! That's a good way of doing it." Louis pauses to hem and haw over the answer, drawing it out like the whole thing isn't just a joke.
Zayn's looking good today, thin white t-shirt almost sheer. He's also looking like he's beginning to tune out of the proceedings, bored by the game and sure that Louis will say something predictable. Louis reaches over to lay his hand on Zayn's forearm.
"This is good, you'll like this," Louis murmurs, fingers lingering on Zayn's skin. He sits back and announces, "I would take Zayn for the day, because I don't think I would be able to 'handle' him in the night, and I'd take Harry for the night...although I'd still struggle with handling him."
Harry can't help the cackle that jumps out of his throat at Louis' words, but it's okay because everyone else is laughing too. Zayn is blushing and doing that thing where he stares off into the middle distance to mentally remove himself from the situation. He keeps his arms crossed in front of him. Harry can't quite tell if he's just embarrassed, or if there's more to it.
Meanwhile, the interviewer tries to wrest the controls of the innuendo train back from Louis and salvage his answer by suggesting, "Do they party quite hard? Is that where you're going with that?"
"No," Louis deadpans.
As the boys break down into peals of laughter once again, Harry sees Louis' hand drop beneath the table to squeeze Zayn's knee. Zayn doesn't shake him off.
Harry reaches behind Niall's back to flash Louis a thumbs-up for a job well done.
But later that afternoon, when they're back at the hotel, Harry watches as Louis asks Zayn if he would actually be up for it, if Louis could date both Zayn and Harry at the same time, and Zayn just laughs and pretends he doesn't know what Louis is talking about.
Sometimes Louis gets it in his head that other people can remotely understand what he's on about. He doesn't know why, because they clearly can't. Even Harry, who seems to be able to hear every whisper of his soul on good days, finds his hooligan brain hard to follow on occasion. Louis knows that the connections between his abstract metaphors are incomprehensible to the average person, but Zayn looks so hot in his too-tight shirt and low-hanging jeans today that Louis just has to try.
"Zaaaaaaayn," he sings, flopping down next to Zayn on the sofa in the green room before a concert.
"Louis," Zayn returns gamely.
"You know how sometimes, people call somebody a third wheel, because you just need two wheels to make a proper bicycle so a third one would just hang about being useless? Have you ever thought, like, what if the machine in question is actually meant to be a tricyle, and a third wheel is needed to complete it? Like, what if two wheels are fine, they're good, they're the best thing that's ever happened...but something's missing, and the two wheels want the third little wheel to complete their perfect, well-oiled family?"
The space between Zayn's eyebrows bunches together into a deeply confused frown. Zayn even tilts his head slowly to the side, like a dog who only knows the word 'sit' and whose master has instead sprung a baffling extended metaphor about tricycles on him.
"I mean, just, hypothetically. What if," Louis says, not really clarifying at all.
Zayn licks his lips and hesitates, before saying, "Um...is this about you and Harry? And how you two...want a child?" He frowns even more deeply.
Louis has never seen someone look so devastatingly attractive while being so completely wrong before. "No, not exactly—"
"The two wheels are supposed to be you and Harry, right? And you feel like you're at the point in your relationship where you want to add a third and build a family. That's really sweet, but you're way too young, Lou. Our lives are too unstable, and it just wouldn't be fair to the kid, you know? But I'm sure you'll make great parents someday, after you wait for the right time." Zayn puts an arm around Louis' shoulder. "Out of everyone I know, I think you two would make the best parents. Don't tell Liam I said that, but it's true."
Simultaneous urges to laugh, yell at Zayn for being dumber than a sack of hammers, kiss his stupid face, and be strangely touched by his words all course through Louis at once. The whirling mishmash of emotions paralyses him for a moment, until the other boys are piling into the green room and it's time to do their vocal warm-ups, and Louis loses the chance to clear up Zayn's misunderstanding.
The roar of the crowd feels as incredible as it always does. Louis catches Zayn looking speculatively between him and Harry a few times between songs, but after the show he disappears before Louis has a chance to grab him. He asks Paul where Zayn's run off to, and is told that he's gone with a security guy to buy something he suddenly decided he needs right away.
Niall decides he wants to stay out and Liam decides he wants to turn in, so Louis and Harry are left sitting up alone in their shared hotel room. Louis recounts the story of the failed metaphor, voice shaking with suppressed laughter when he gets to the part about how Zayn thinks they would be the best parents ever.
Harry doesn't bother to suppress his own laughter, hooting into a pillow until tears gather at the corners of his eyes. He sucks in a few deep breaths and lets it all out in a whoosh. "Oh my god," he says, pressing the heels of his hands to his brow, "Zayn is so thick."
Louis buries his face into Harry's neck and giggles helplessly at the memory.
They start falling asleep like that, tangled together, still dressed and not even properly under the blankets, but a knock at the door rouses them.
Louis opens the door to find a manila envelope on the floor. He returns to the bed and sits cross-legged, back against the headboard and Harry half-sprawled across him, as he tips the contents of the envelope into his hand.
There's a plastic keychain toy with a screen and tiny buttons—a tamagotchi, Louis brain supplies, a half-forgotten morsel of nostalgia with a colourful casing and monochromatic pixels. There's also a note, scribbled in Zayn's handwriting.
"Dear Haz and Lou," Louis reads out loud for them both. "I know this isn't much but we're not even allowed to keep pets on tour, so here is a digital pet for you. You can practice your parenting skills on it and feed it and love it and it can help you feel less like your family is incomplete. Hugs and kisses, Zayn."
"Oh my god," Harry says again. He drops his forehead onto Louis' thigh, and his voice is muffled by Louis' pyjamas when he says, "Zayn is so thick. But he is so cute, I can hardly stand it. I want him."
"I know," Louis agrees. He tangles his fingers into Harry's hair. "I do too."
It's Harry's birthday and they come back from the club giddy and handsy. He and Louis had been dancing with Zayn all night, passing him back and forth between them and licking at the shell of his ear when they leant in to whisper to him. Now they take him by the hand, one on the left and one on the right, and tug him towards their room. Zayn is tipsy, but he's not so drunk that he can't say no. He's hyper aware of the fact that he's not even drunk enough for it to be an excuse.
He says yes anyway.
They spill into Harry and Louis' room, onto Harry's bed, and Harry's pulling off his clothes while Louis says, "It's his birthday, so he gets to go first."
Harry kisses him first, before he does anything, because he thinks he's a gentleman. His lips are chapped and sour from the last round of shots they had. He nips at the corners of Zayn's mouth until Zayn opens it, and they would've been happy to keep at it until their jaws got sore, but then Louis talks through their haze, ordering Harry to suck Zayn off.
Zayn groans, at the feel of Harry pulling down his fly but also at the sound of Louis' voice, steady and sure that he would be obeyed.
Harry doesn't muck about. He jacks Zayn's cock at the base a few times and then goes right down, hot and wet and tight pressure all around and goddammit. Zayn twists his hands into the sheets, knuckles scraping cotton fibre, biting his tongue to keep his moans inside, holding his breath.
"Let me hear you," Louis commands, and then it's a lost battle. Zayn lets loose, keening and whining and groaning.
Harry pulls off for a second to mutter, "Jesus christ, your voice, Zayn." The warm huff of his breath across the wet head of his cock just makes Zayn moan louder.
Zayn wants to tell Harry to fuck him, to stop teasing and just stick it in him, but he's not sure if that's how this works, if he's allowed to or if Louis is the one who has to say. Luckily, Harry sticks it in him anyway, eventually, after he's moved his mouth further down and opened Zayn up with his tongue. He hastily puts on a condom and bends Zayn almost in half, his thrusts pushing Zayn into the bed until it thumps against the wall.
Just when Zayn thinks he's getting close, Louis says, "Alright, birthday boy, you've had your turn," and Harry stills. Zayn thinks it's a distinct possibility that he might die from being stretched thin, pulled taut, and then left hanging.
Harry gingerly removes himself from Zayn, huge hands still gripping his hipbones but making room for Louis to fit himself over Zayn. And then it's Louis at his mouth, lips thinner and softer than Harry's but just as demanding.
Louis arranges Zayn and Harry until they're both on their hands and knees, shoulder to shoulder. He starts fingering them both. Zayn has the fleeting thought that he wishes he were on Louis' end of the bed instead, watching him open Harry up. All coherent thoughts fly away, though, as Louis sinks into him.
He can feel every inch of Louis' dick, the slow burn as he stretches, the new angle making his stomach muscles ache from holding himself up. He feels spread out and on show, more naked than he's ever been despite the socks still on his feet. He hears Louis hissing when he bottoms out, knees between Zayn's. Harry's eyes are wide and so close to him, drinking in every involuntary twitch of his face as he adjusts to the sensation of Louis. He can't help the breathless whimper that escapes.
"I know, babe, I know," Harry whispers, and when his breath hitches Zayn realises Louis' fingers are still inside Harry, pressing deep into him even while he fucks Zayn.
Zayn whimpers again.
Louis pulls out just when Zayn is starting to relax into the rhythm, leaving him empty and shivering. He barely pauses before he shoves right into Harry. Zayn watches Harry lurch forward with a cry, and their shoulders knock together. He's not sure he's ever found it this hard to breathe, not even when he fell at a friend's pool party when he was little and couldn't scream for the water rushing into his lungs. Harry keeps his eyes open, looking into Zayn's. He reaches over to thread their fingers together, so Zayn can feel him rock forward with Louis' every thrust.
Louis reaches over and his fingers are back in Zayn this time, keeping him open while he fucks Harry, fucks them both at once.
They keep going for what feels like hours, alternating. Louis thrusts into Zayn, just enough to get him going, and then he pulls out again to plunge into Harry. They kiss while Louis moves back and forth between them. Harry's lips are swollen and red from blowing Zayn before. Zayn can taste himself on Harry's tongue, can taste Louis, and knows Harry can taste Louis on him too. Louis groans as he watches their mouths press open against each other, trying to gasp for breath and kiss at the same time.
"Oh god," Louis groans, "look at the sight of you." He sounds close, pulls out of Harry with a cry and rips his condom off, jacking his cock furiously until he paints his come all over Harry's backside. Zayn is pressed so close that he gets it on his hip too.
Harry reaches for Zayn's cock and strokes. It doesn't take long, and with Zayn gripping him in return they come within three seconds of each other.
It takes them a long time to recover, lying in a dazed pile among the ruined sheets, sweat cooling as they blink in and out of half-sleep. Finally, though, Zayn rouses himself enough to go clean himself off in the toilet. He returns with a damp towel for Harry and Louis, and as Louis wipes himself down Zayn leans over to kiss Harry softly. "Happy birthday," he says.
And then he heads for the door and leaves their room.
After a moment of silence, Louis starts laughing. "Oh no, he thought—he thought this was—he thought we were just—"
Harry flops backward into the pillows. "Oh my GOD, how can he be so fucking dumb?"
The threesomes keep on being mind-blowing after the tenth, fifteenth, twentieth times.
They're so good and so frequent that Zayn starts to worry. He thinks maybe they'll get tired of him soon, once the novelty of wears off and three becomes a crowd again. They'll probably want to move on to experimenting with something else, and Zayn is okay with that, mostly, but the thought wears at him until he feels a bit low and ill and doesn't feel like partying.
He tells the lads that he just wants to stay in tonight, that he feels a bit under the weather and wants to go to bed early. They should all go out without him. Niall triple checks if he's sure and Liam shoots him concerned looks, while Harry and Louis exchange a silent message in their secret language of eyebrows. Zayn assures them he's fine, just tired, and goes to his room.
He takes a shower and leaves the lights on in the bathroom, doesn't bother to turn on any others. He sits in the dark and takes a moment just to savour the stillness. His wet hair is sticking to his forehead but he can't be bothered to get another towel, so he just lies down on the pillow and tries to think about nothing. He isn't aware of closing his eyes, but he must have done so at some point because he's suddenly opening them at the sound of his door opening.
"How are you feeling, babe?" Louis asks, letting Harry in after him.
Spare keys to each other's rooms are always distributed amongst the boys. Zayn can't remember when they started doing that; it feels like they always have. He isn't completely surprised to see them, and he isn't sure if he's glad.
"Louis and I couldn't tell if you really were ill," Harry says, "or if it was an excuse to stay in and hang out with us. We thought we'd better check either way."
"I hope you were just pretending," Louis adds, "because I need to have it off in the most desperate way."
"So go back to your room and have it off then," Zayn says, not getting up. "I'm tired and I wasn't lying. I don't feel well."
Louis climbs into his bed without invitation.
"Fuck off, Lou. I'm not being funny, please just go away and have sex without me."
"But we can't have sex without you," Harry says, climbing in on the other side, leaving Zayn sandwiched between them.
Zayn groans and tries to burrow face-first into his damp pillow. "Please, I'm serious. Stop playing games with me, I'm not up for it tonight."
"Okay," Harry says. "No games. Just a cuddle."
Four arms wrap around him, around his shoulders and his chest and his back and his waist, and Harry's cold nose pushes against his throat while Louis' sharp chin jabs the top of his head.
"Why are you doing this?" Zayn sighs from deep within the cuddle.
"Because you're our boyfriend, obviously."
Boyfriend. It's an endearment they've taken to jokingly calling him lately. Zayn doesn't mind it, only it makes him feel sort of fidgety because Harry and Louis are actual, bona fide boyfriends, and he's not quite sure if they're mocking him when they say it. He weirdly kind of hopes they aren't, which is daft. He forces himself to stop thinking about it and close his eyes again.
Harry exhales as Louis inhales, and the rise and fall carry Zayn to sleep like the swelling of the tide.
Zayn wakes up pleasantly sore in all the right places, small round bruises and crescent-shaped red marks smeared across his skin. He rolls over and gets a face full of Harry's curls, then sits up and tries not to knock Louis off the edge. He didn't mean to fall asleep in their bed yet again, but he's stopped mentally berating himself for it. They've never indicated that they don't like it, and really it's their fault for wearing him out so much that he passes out before he can go back to his own room.
He shuffles into the bathroom to brush his teeth, and when he comes back out both Harry and Louis are up, looking at him like two bright children waiting expectantly for an answer.
"...What?" Zayn asks warily.
"We got you something." Louis tilts his head toward the bedside table. There's a small giftwrapped box on it that definitely was not there before.
"You should open it."
Zayn pulls the ribbon gingerly, the way a bomb disposal expert might pull a wire. Rather than a prank by Louis, though, the box reveals a beautiful wristwatch, with the wide face Zayn prefers and the kind of understated sparkle that screams expensive louder than any ostentatious gemstones could. When he turns it over, he sees that it's got xoxo H&L engraved on the back.
"It's a watch. The hands point to numbers and that's how we tell time," Louis says, in the helpful tone of a nursery school teacher.
"Shut up. I meant what's it for?"
"It's a six-month anniversary present," Harry says.
"If you ask 'six month anniversary of what,' Zayn Malik, I will hit you," Louis warns.
Zayn feels like he should maybe sit down. Or put the watch on, possibly. He takes it out of the box and slips it onto his wrist, the cool metal sliding down low over the back of his hand. He'll have to get a link or two taken out to make it fit perfectly. He'll have to ask Paul if he knows of a good jeweller who'll do it without scratching the—
"Oi, Zayn," Louis says, and his voice is softer now, still sardonic but also a little tender. "You alright? You look a little dazed. I was joking about hitting you. It's the six-month anniversary of when you became part of our relationship, yeah?"
Harry clambers over to the side of the bed and puts his arm around Zayn's shoulders. "We decided that if you refused to understand that you're really, truly an equal part of this relationship in every way, then we would just keep treating you like our boyfriend until you finally get it. Because you are our boyfriend. You have been. For six months."
The watch is heavy, maybe heavier than one he would have bought for himself but he decides he actually quite likes the extra weight. It sits like it means something.
"So, I guess I should say I'm sorry," Zayn says.
"For what?" Harry sounds as worried as Louis looks.
"For not getting anniversary gifts for my lovely boyfriends," Zayn says, finally allowing himself to smile.
They tackle him onto his back, smothering him with their relief, snippets of "thank god" and "finally" and "you don't know how long" and "I was starting to think you didn't want" and "were you dropped on your head as a child" falling between all the kisses.
"No, but I really am sorry I didn't get you anything," Zayn says once they've calmed down a bit.
"Trust me, the fact that you're finally on the same page is a gift all on its own," Louis says.
Harry snorts but doesn't contradict him.
"Oh, so you don't need me to make it up to you in the form of blowjobs, then?"
Louis sits up quickly. "That is also an acceptable gift!"
Zayn laughs, and Harry laughs, and then they're all laughing, easy and comfortable, the three of them.