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In Love and War

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It's 1941, and London's accustomed to air raid sirens and bombers overhead... It might be grim and all, but people still need their entertainment! This is the epic 'what if they lived through the war as performers' AU, which provides all the mortal peril and uniforms my little war-fic loving heart desires, without putting anyone into actual military service. Besides, the war effort needed people like them: Nick, to keep the entertainment on the airwaves via the BBC, and the 1D lot (and of course, many many others) to entertain the troops serving around the world. So, it started with the notion of Nick and Harry running around blackout London listening to jazz in smoky clubs, and turned into something that takes in North Africa and Normandy and India and Burma. I'm not a WWII historian, but half the fun has been the research for this. Let me know if in the process I got anything wrong! :)

me: so, idk, maybe they meet because harry's one of the touring musicians
for this bbc programme [that Nick is guest compere for, Worker's Playtime]
or maybe they meet at the club Café de Paris

the night it blows up


stagger out together after an evening's eyefuckery
end up at another club, trashed, and then in bed together

toomuchplor: nice
life-affirming sex

me: or maybe it happens in that order
nick knows harry from this show
and then hey! lookit!
he's at the club!

toomuchplor: seems v plausible

me: and nick's surrounded by his coterie of peeps
stuck in the middle of the horseshoe booth
by the time he gets out, harry's dancing with one of the chorus girls
and he can't very well cut in on her
so he goes to the bar, and is trying to work out how to get a drink
sent to the dance floor
when the ceiling caves in
(they bonded, in that factory in manchester, about the fact that they
were both on home turf, both of them dropping the bbc accent to mutual
delight)

toomuchplor: hee cute

me: (the rest of the lads were there too, and nick hadn't made a move
because harry had gone back to them, and they'd had the sort of
whispered conversation complete with sidelong glances that made him
desperately paranoid, and maybe there was a war on, but you still had
to be careful, even in showbiz)

toomuchplor: makes sense now too
:D

me: the first thing nick does after his hearing and vision come back
is check to see whether everyone he came with is still alive and
kicking
they are, wonderfully enough, with everyone at the table covered in
dust and bloody from tiny wood-shrapnel wounds
beffy aimee was in the toilets, and she comes back, pristine amidst the chaos

toomuchplor: lucky pee break

me: v much so
he hugs her, and then, of course, he thinks to look for harry
he's on stage with his dancing partner, who is picking her way past
bits of people and music to try to get to her fellow singers
he doesn't actually know her, though, and nick makes eye contact when
the girls all fall into a group hug, leaving harry out of it
behind Nick, the people he's come with are making plans to leave,
amidst the hysteria and sirens
nick beckons and harry comes
(not like that)

toomuchplor: heh
ARE YOU SURE

me: not yet, anyway
it takes several more hours
and bottles of champagne
nick is on surer ground as they stumble, as a group, down the dark road
mainly because a) harry joined them, b) harry keeps needlessly
bumping in to him and c) harry's remembered his name and the fact
they're both northern

toomuchplor: literal surer ground or emotional/social

me: only emotionally - literally, it's the blackout, so it's kind of
hazardous, actually
anyway, the point is
cafe de paris is v near leicester square
and thus
soho and theatre environs
and its many gay-friendly establishments

toomuchplor: yay
that works well

me: which means that they get to flirt and essentially engage in
extended foreplay

toomuchplor: your fave

me: hee
before falling out of the place and making their way to nick's place
covert and not-so-covert touching
and drinking

toomuchplor: :D
me: and smoking (nick, not harry)
ps: club in question
anyway, the war
I take it back
they don't go to nick's
harry's newly in london, and has a cheap hotel room nearby

toomuchplor: yay cheap hotel sex

me: nick doesn't plan on staying
it's foolish and also a bit dangerous
but when he wakes up, abruptly, harry's still asleep next to him and
there are no missing valuables and jfc he's adorable
so nick finds himself taking them out for brunch instead
here: Trocadero Long Bar

toomuchplor: Yay brunch!
post hook-up brunch
ooh in a fancy venue

me: there are other people at the troc that nick knows
but he's strangely uninterested in doing more than saying hello, introducing harry, and then dismissing them, because he doesn't want to share
they get back outside midafternoon, and there's that terrible awkward indecision
that usually comes around eleven o'clock after you've seen the show,
had dinner, the pub's closed, w/e
where they're the only people standing still as everyone streams
around them, giving them a dirty look or two for being in the way
and harry's got his hands tucked into his pockets, a little pigeon
toed as he squints at Nick
and says 'd'you fancy coming back with me?'
and nick says 'again??'
and harry shrugs 'yeah.'
and nick shrugs 'yeah, alright'
also
it just occurred to me that they would be wearing HATS.
ugh, WONDERFUL.
so, they go back to harry's hotel room, and done sex some more
and harry's got a gig that night, so he (gently) kicks nick out, and nick goes
he lasts all the way to monday afternoon before he writes harry a note
c/o the hotel
and includes a return address
thing is, he was filling on the programme where he met harry
he usually just stays put in london, acting as liaison between the Variety dept in Bangor, and the head office business in London
though he'd rather be doing the comedy/compere thing, as it
turns out it's convenient for him to be in london now
it means it's easy to meet up with harry in the evenings around gigs
they go to them, too, even if neither of them are working, per se
harry fits in well to nick's circle
even if nick doesn't rly fit into harry's so much, not at first
it's a ludicrous summer
everything is death and destruction and so much fun
nick has never been so exhausted/happy

History fact: The two months from March until May 1941 saw a series of heavy attacks, culminating in a very damaging raid on London on 10 May. The Blitz ended on 16 May, when most of the Luftwaffe was re-assigned east for the imminent invasion of Russia.

they arrange, during those months, to send telegrams if they're apart overnight
in increasingly obscure inside-joke-music-lyric-code
that boils down to 'yes, everyone 's okay' or 'that was close'
or 'half the building came down across the street/next door' or 'hurt, but it's no big deal'
that last one: it's not the bomb that's the problem, it's everyone on their way to the underground, pushing and shoving in haste, in the dark--
--nick has scabs on the heels of his palms and the bottom of his chin
for two weeks
he tells harry because it looks AWFUL and he's embarrassed about
it, but it's really not that bad, all things considered
[Harry looks at him with big eyes and hugs him tightly, not letting go for hours and hours, but he doesn’t say anything other than ‘glad you’re alright.’]
harry moves in to a flat with the other 1D boys
they have two rooms between them and a toilet at the end of the hall
at first, nick thinks it's hot that they all sleep in the same room, sharing beds
then it makes him uncomfortable
and then he gets over himself, because harry keeps doing things that
make it kind of unequivocal that nick's v impt
...even if he isn't the source of all hstyles orgasms

Sometimes they lie around in Nick's flat and listen to records. Some of it's stuff that they both have to play/perform - light music, gentle stuff, Vera singing - and sometimes they stick on some swing, laughingly trying to dance around the front room. Their main problem is that no matter who's leading, the other forgets halfway through the song that they are supposed to be following. Still, they persist, Nick wearing his hat on the back of his head, smoking, wearing undershirt and braces, Harry in half-unbuttoned shirt, untucked, (Nick did that) sleeves rolled up. Later, of course, he won't be wearing anything, but for now...

Nick gets wine for them from the black market. it's kind of a waste, given how quickly they drink it, but the taste of it in Harry's mouth drives him slightly crazy. They also get drips of it on the sheets, and he likes it. He doesn't articulate why, but it's evocative of blood, without anyone being hurt. Like communion (tho Nick's no Catholic and neither is Harry), maybe.

(At some point, he goes home to see his parents, and his mom absolutely clocks how happy he is, and she keeps giving him these LOOKS, but doesn't say anything. His dad is oblivious.)

Nerd times: looked up 1941 weather.

It was rainy and cold that spring, and they spent a lot of time with clothes hanging in front of the fire, at Nick's rather than at Harry's, for a multitude of reasons.

Then the war kicks off in the east, and there's a respite to the bombings (end blitz, not end bombing tho). Nick's done a lot of integrating Harry into his circle of friends, but when the weather heats up, he starts to neglect them in favour of Harry. This is also probs about the time when Harry starts talking about getting into uniform. Maybe even Niall and Zayn have already started the trend, with something to prove cos of their not-Britishness.

Nick doesn't want to hear about it. He wants to go out, get drunk, smoke too much, listen to music. He wants to go for walks in Hampstead Heath, go swimming in the ponds, have sex in the bushes when it gets dark, the fact other people are doing it too audible.

One random Tuesday, he bunks off work and they run away for the day to Brighton. There's cavorting in the sea, and Nick knows a gay club they can go, where they listen to Rita Ora trying to be Vera, folded in together like parentheses, making out between cigarettes and whisky.

Basically, it goes from being sex and affection to being love. Aimee comes and hijacks him at work, dragging him to a coffeeshop where no one cares about their conversation, and sotto voce asks him what he thinks he's doing.

"No more or less than millions of women in this country, you included," he retorts, because she's engaged and her fiance is in North Africa.

But there's knowing about the feels and then there's saying it out loud, and he knows that Harry sleeps with women, and that Harry is going to get called up, probably, and maybe it's for the best if they just keep having as good a time as poss in the time they have left.

[He doesn't need to make it weird by bringing feelings out loud between them.]

After all, a building could fall on them at any time.

He doesn't get long, though. The weather breaks at the end of July, and one miserable rainy afternoon, he comes out of work to find a soggy Liam waiting for him, looking v somber.

"No one's dead," he says, presumably in response to Nick's panicked look. "Yet."

"Let's go drink some terrible tea and you can tell me all about it," Nick says in response, because Liam is a bit of a drama queen, even tho he is the straightest of the lot (bar Niall) and it can't be that bad.

[They go to a nearby Government Restaurant, though neither of them have more than tea.]

Except it is that bad. There's been a string of bad luck, says the grapevine, and a bunch of the ENSA performers in North Africa have been injured, and a new batch are getting sent out. Zayn and Niall are in that group.

Liam's going to audition, he says, tomorrow. And Louis and Harry are coming with him.

Nick manages to be shocked, even though he knew this was coming.

"They probably won't send you to North Africa," he says, hurt and mean. "You'll probably end up in Scotland instead."

Liam shrugs. "I suppose so. But I have to try. We can't just abandon them like that. I can't, anyway."

Poor Nick is so chastised.

He waits for Harry to tell him, separately. He's not quite sure why Liam came to tell him, but as a whole week drags out where he doesn't hear from Harry at all, he starts to guess.

On day nine, he sends a telegram 'Were you going to leave without saying good bye?'

Harry has a key to Nick's apt - just in case, you know - and he's waiting, half-undressed, on Nick's sofa, no music playing, no lights on.

"So, you're not actually gone yet," Nick says, and dear god it's too late to pretend this is no big deal. He can't even keep his voice even.

"I'm sorry," Harry says, and Nick is a total softy so he caves almost immediately. He stops long enough to take off hat and coat, then meets Harry halfway, kissing him while holding his face in both hands.

*

They don’t make it to the bedroom, the first time. They only end up half-undressed, sprawled across the sofa, thoroughly rumpled. They don’t talk either, not even when they’re standing naked in the kitchen eating bread and margarine, Harry barefoot and weight on one leg, one foot tucked up behind his calf. They take the tea to the bedroom, where only half of it gets drunk while it’s hot.

They don’t talk after that, either, falling asleep and waking several hours later when the sound of a siren – fire truck, not air raid – startles them out of the doze.

THEN they argue, in the close dark, past midnight and only one lamp shining, blackout blinds drawn down tight.

“I don’t understand why you’re doing this.”

“I want a proper job with regular money. And they’re going to draft me shortly in any case. At least this way I’m in the combat zone with soldiers to protect me, and I don’t have to give up singing.”

“You could be doing vital war work for the BBC. I could get you hired on for Worker’s Playtime.”

Harry throws his hands up in the air, walking in a circle, while Nick clutches the mantle and his cigarette and tries to keep from screaming.

“You could’ve said something sooner. Anyway, it’s too late, it’s done.” He stops, looking down at his feet, and Nick feels like he’s hit that extra step and is falling, and falling, in the dark, heart lurching up to his throat.

“You’re leaving me,” he says, somehow, despite the fact he can barely breathe. “Then go on and do it.”

So, Harry does, and there’s a terrible horrible two weeks where there are no telegrams, there are no letters, and Nick realizes for the first time that he has no photographs of Harry, that there are no photographs of them together.

He caves, then, and finds Liam after two days of searching. He’s back in London after a brief stint up at Duxford, living now in a tiny attic room down in Brixton. The privy is outside.

“They’re together, Harry and Louis, doing a double act at RAF Baginton.”

They’re in a brightly lit caf with cups of chicory coffee, Liam eating some eggs and toast while Nick chainsmokes.

“And what about you,” he asks, hiding behind his coffee cup. “You’re not with them?”

“Not for me, Scotland or Africa. Good old sordid London instead.”

He sounds more than bitter, and Nick nods to himself as he taps more ash into the glass dish at his elbow. “Well, I suppose we’ll have to keep each other company then, won’t we?”

“He’ll write. Guaranteed.” Liam looks up from his plate, serious. “You needn’t worry.”

“Who’s worried?” Nick asks, but he can’t manage the right amount of flip to his tone, and he tempers it with a wry grin.

“You don’t get a letter in the next fortnight, I’ll eat your hat,” Liam says, looking back down at his plate, fork scraping.

“You saying I’m poor company, Payne?” Nick returns, light. “Don’t wish to be seen with me?”

There’s a pause like Liam’s actually considering the question, a pause which has him picking up his cup and taking a careful sip, staring off into the middle distance. “Company is good.” He makes eye contact. “Maybe even yours.”

The first letter arrives at the end of that week, a fat, wartime-paper coarse envelope that has pages of Harry’s painfully schoolboy handwriting in it. It’s unrelentingly cheerful, full of details of the other performers, the acts they’re doing, the repertoire, a lengthy description of the double-act he and Louis have going, both taking turns to play the female impersonator. There’s not much else in the letter, nothing about their row, or anything of import, except at the very end. There, in the last two lines, in their lyrics-code, Harry says ‘I miss you’ and ‘I’m alright tell me you’re alright too’ and ‘tell me when I can see you again.’

Nick very carefully puts the letter away before allowing himself a small cry, to avoid smudging the ink. Then he grabs a telegram form and replies ‘Am fine come see me anytime miss you too’ and goes out into the rain to send it immediately.

It’s not that far on the train, and it’s not so difficult for Harry to get away, so he does come back south a fortnight later. Nick wants nothing more than to spend the entire time in bed, but they do end up going out, the entirety of Nick’s crew fetching up for the occasion, and Liam too, with some of his ENSA-mates in tow. Harry and Liam disappear off together, talking very seriously and earnestly at the side of the bar until Nick can’t stand watching anymore and he has to throw himself into dancing, taking Aimee round the dance floor for three numbers before going to the bar. Liam’s gone – out on the floor with a pretty girl Nick vaguely recognizes – but Harry’s still there, tumbler empty.

“Let me buy you another,” Nick says, like he’s meeting Harry for the first time.

Harry smiles back very slowly, and Nick gets the shivery thrill down the back of his neck of new conquest even as he naturally makes space for Harry to slide in next to him (where he fits).

“Vera for me,” he says, pushing the glass towards Nick. [Vera, gay slang for gin]

“You’re too pretty for the likes of this crowd. Stay with me, I’ll make sure no one thinks you’re rough trade.”

Harry laughs at this, his hip pressing against Nick’s, and Nick bites down on his molars to keep from abandoning the bar and just—making off with Harry, back to his flat, back to their bed.

Meanwhile, of course, Harry’s been talking to Liam, and he stops Nick before they go back to their table.

“Keep an eye on Liam, would you? He’s… a lot more unhappy than he lets on.”

“Liam? He’s got masses of friends.”

“But he doesn’t have Zayn, so.”

Nick freezes at this and then shakes his head. “Liam and Zayn?”

Harry nods, sucking on his lower lip. “They’re very quiet about it, but. Yes.”

Before they leave, Nick finds Liam and checks when he’s working in the week, says ‘come along to see me when you’re dark, we’ll go out, have a pint,’ and Liam nods and they even hug. But Nick is more concerned with spending as much naked time with Harry as humanly possible, so he kind of forgets about it, at least for a few days.

*

me: (nick writes loads and loads of letters)
(several pages a day of random ramblings while he's at work)
(a page over bfast, a page over dinner, and then he sticks it all in the post without reading it over)

justchelle: <333 nick
hehe
styles can barely make heads or tails of most of it
but pores over every word anyhow

me: after three weeks of this
it's actually attracting undue attention
so harry has to telegram and say 'pls send every two or three days, don't write less, just... you know, I think everyone knows who you are to me ok so'

justchelle: :DDDDDDDDD
wait where's zayn?

me: north africa
:(
with niall

justchelle: ;_________;

me: there's an amazing pathe film clip
of an ENSA performance in north africa
lemme find
just for the visual:
they had a machine gunner next to the stage, to be ready to shoot down enemy aircraft

justchelle: liam and zayn tho
tell me everything, how did it happen, when, where, how long did they have before they were separated ;__;

me: ok, so
them getting assigned off to north africa is what prompts harry and louis and liam to also audition
(they probs would have been drafted in before this but la la la, they all have some medical condition like flat feet or sthg, w/e handwave, harry is 16 in 1939)

justchelle: nod

me: all the 1D boys live together before niall and zayn go away
it's probably the point where niall and zayn audition that what has been a free-for-all cuddle-sex pile morphs into 'I have particular feelings for YOU' betw them

justchelle: ahaha back up
free for all sex pile??
ORLY

me: .....ye-es?
:D?

justchelle: IT STARTS AS OT5?

me: um.
yes?
:D?

justchelle: LOVE IT
carry on

me: even niall, who is otherwise straight, blessim

justchelle: haha
nialll

me: <3
so.
in my head, up to this point Liam was vaguely assuming that at some stage, he'd find some girl to marry, have babies, etc etc

justchelle: so zayn's going to be sent to north africa

me: yep.

justchelle: and liam is like
BUT ILU
?

me: heh, p. much
tho I just pictured him sitting alone with his feelings

justchelle: and what does zayn say

me: going WHAT THE FUCK WHY AM I SO UPSET AUGH... oh.

justchelle: liam <333
actual puppydog

me: he v stoically says 'please be v careful and don't get hurt because if you do you'll break my heart forever.'
poss this even happens when they're all in the room
and zayn is all O.O
OMFG ARE YOU FOR REAL.
and then there is CLINGING, of an epic variety

justchelle: augh
they should be alone
:D

me: ok and then what
;)

justchelle: sexing wot cannot be written off as bored/means to an end incidence
:D
FEEEELINGS

me: with lots of makeouts and staring into each other's eyes

justchelle: eleventy billion percent more foreplay than ever before
fdjlaljkasd does zayn get a tattoo in north africa

me: of course
idk if irl he knows a lot of arabic
but in this 'verse he does
he gets roped into a few spy-y mission-y things
(when liam finds out about zayn's secret missions, he has a belated heart attack re the danger of the thing, but it's not until way after the fact, so mainly he just gives himself indigestion and a panic attack)

justchelle: haha oh liam
<3<3<3

me: anyway, in the interim
there's a period of radio silence from tripoli or w/e
radio silence
i mean epistolary silence
boat carrying mail gets sunk
zayn is off doing non-music-y things for the army
niall is kind of terrible at letters
at the best of times

justchelle: niall would be haha
besides
all he ever does is bitch about rations ?
niall/food otp

me: heh
probs eat better in the army than not?

justchelle: maybe so!
a good point

me: (secretly, this is why he joins ;))

justchelle: lololol
get shot at for a regular meal sign me up yeah buddy

me: HOO-YEAH.
right, so.
so, after something like four weeks with no post
Liam shows up at Nick's door
with a bottle of whisky and a determined look on his face

justchelle: ok so
liam + nick + whiskey
oh dear

me: yeah
it goes exactly as you'd expect
and carries on that way, in times of stress and whatnot
not sure what happens in 1942 and 1943
stuff.
sex and war and death and stuff
(thoughts on this welcome)
(I just know what happens just before D-Day onwards)

justchelle: i would expect they end up fucking am i expecting this correctly?

me: yes.
they do.
because they're both lonely

justchelle: ;__;
and missing their boys

me: yyy
harry might be in England
but germany is still throwing bombs at it
and he's on a base where people crash land
and all sorts can happen, you know?

justchelle: nod
yes D:

me: so, nick tries not to be too much of a drama-hog, because liam is worse off

justchelle: so radio silence from north africa won't last forever though

me: but still.
no, it doesn't
but they get shipped off to india

justchelle: wow what a mixed bag for liam then

me: and from india to burma
mixed bag?

justchelle: of emotions

me: mostly when he and nick hook up
they're drunk

justchelle: nod

me: but he does de facto move in

justchelle: no i mean hearing from zayn again

me: sleeping on the couch when harry visits
oh!
yeah, there may be a veiled convo via letters, where liam is all 'um, kind of slept with nick, idk if we were going to be exclusive, but it's just cos I was rly sad about missing you ok'

justchelle: 'its ok niall is getting really good at blowjobs'
haha j/k

me: lolololol

and zayn is all 'if I have yr <3, bb, I wouldn't want to deny you a bit of comfort'
also yes, ps, you know I have niall here, right, so?

justchelle: oh nialler
you're such a good bro
does harry know about nick and liam
is harry still sleeping with girls
do harry and nick and liam ever engage in shenans
I HAS QUESTIONS
hehe

me: hee
in order
yes
yes
no

justchelle: why not?

me: harry is just as much of a sex fiend in 1942 as he is in 2012
liam... doesn't particularly want to sleep with anyone else
sex with nick is a) drunk and b) therapeutic
him having sex with nick and harry just makes him sadder that zayn is so far away
he can barely stand watching them make out
:(

justchelle: aw liam
darling

me: he's a little brittle
nick understands this
harry hugs him a lot
(it's not the same)

justchelle: course not
so when does he get zayn back

me: I have to check when they demobbed the pacific troops

justchelle: is he ok though

me: I think he and/or niall get injured
land mine goes off
truck veers
crashes

justchelle: niall gets a knee injury y/y

me: ooh perfect

justchelle: also
liam had kidney issues his entire childhood
so maybe that would keep him in england
poor niall tho

me: yeah, poor bb

justchelle: so he comes home first?

me: no one's hurt too badly
niall stays
I think liam mb auditions even tho he doesn't need to

justchelle: idk what that means

me: re the kidney biznis

justchelle: oh

me: just thinking about him being in england still
(bad) luck of the draw

justchelle: gotcha
pls tell me he and zayn have happy reunion tiems

me: it's not like the stereotypical pix
there's no rushing in for a hug
there's lots of standing and staring from a distance
because they've grown up in the meantime

justchelle: nodnodnod

me: and jfc, how is this finally finally real?
(is it everything they thought it was, or was it just because of the war)
and someone has to nudge one or the other of them
to get them to move
but then, oh, epic hug

justchelle: ooh
and liam is taller and broader

me: in victoria train station
yyy

justchelle: and zayn's taller too but still all wiry

me: they cling

justchelle: yyy

me: past the point of propriety

justchelle: fierce but self-consciously? b/c in public?

me: harry has to poke liam in the side when they get a few curious looks

justchelle: but they can't help themselves really

me: newp
and they break one hug only to fall into another one and this time nick has to theatrically clear his throat
and the rest of them bundle the lovebirds off to a nearby pub

justchelle: haha aw
liam smiles so much his face hurts

me: :DDDDDD
AW.

justchelle: he has his zayn back

me: 'you're better looking than the pictures', he says, v quietly

justchelle: hee!
and zayn says?

me: zayn goes all sfsdlkfjd;lkfj
because WHAT.
and says, inanely, 'no, you are'
because he's so flappity over it
and liam is all :DDD 'I am the luckiest guy in this bar', only you know, in 1940s speak

justchelle: zayn becomes instantly disinterested in any more drinks he wants to get liam alone NOW pls
me: hahahaa
<3<3<3
they have to get a hotel room
because liam doesn't want to share space with ANYONE.

 

Backtracking: it’s a foggy Sunday in London, December 1944.

Listen to this while reading, maybe: http://t.co/gnJwXQ4Y

It’s late morning, and Nick and Liam are lying in bed, contemplating getting up for breakfast. Maybe they’re postcoital; maybe they’re thinking about morning sex. It’s quiet, anyway, until the air raid siren goes.

It’s been months now since the first V1; scurrying to the shelters at all hours has become normal again.

Liam tenses, ready to get up, but Nick holds on to his elbow gently and he subsides. They look at each other, in the diffuse morning light, lying knees to knees and nose to nose, naked and warm under the blankets.

The sirens carry on moaning.

Finally, far away, there’s the sound like a book falling off a shelf. Nick closes his eyes. Liam touches his fingertips to Nick’s chest.

“You know,” Liam says, voice scratchy and quiet. “You know I love Zayn.”

Nick opens his eyes and looks at Liam for a long moment, then nods. “As I—“ He coughs, starts again, a little stronger. “As I do Harry, I expect.”

Liam presses his lips together, his forehead brushing against Nick’s when he nods.

“But I also love you,” Liam says, pressing his hand flat against Nick’s chest. Because he does – not like he loves Zayn, nor like he loves Harry and Louis and Niall and his parents and sisters – but it’s love all the same.

“Liam—“

“I’m just saying—“ he interrupts. breaking eye contact, looking down at his own hand. “Let’s not die, here, not like this.”

Far away, again, there’s another thump, and mixed in with the air raid siren there’s now a fire truck.

(Nick is depressed. There’s so little news from Harry and Louis, patchy and infrequent, and the last he’s heard they’re hardly able to perform, they may be pulled back only to be sent to Italy, or Burma, further and more dangerously away.)

Liam reaches down to take Nick’s hand, curling their fingers together, then kissing the knuckles, soft and sweet.

“Alright,” Nick says, voice gone weak and thin. “Alright.”

Nothing hits Nick’s flat that day, nor the next day, or the day after that. He’s at work in February, when it happens, and it’s a blessing that they have been keeping their correspondence locked up in a chest at the theatre where Liam’s working, because otherwise they’d have none of it, anymore.

(This is what happens when a V2 hits an apartment block)

It’s realizing his piano’s gone that makes Nick finally cry.

Backtracking further…

It’s not quite the end of the world, in the end, Harry and Louis having their double act at various bases around the country. Harry’s still usually within a day’s train journey of London (bar a brief stint up in Scotland, but that was terrible and no one likes to remember it) and if he uses up most of his salary on telegrams and train tickets, well. It seems reasonable.

Harry saves just enough to occasionally go home, see his parents, see his sister. It’s on one of those trips, where he gets two letters from Nick in one weekend, that the inevitable happens. It’s Gemma, of course - Gemma who’s now a WAAC, a ferry pilot even – who works out what it means. What Nick means to Harry.

“Oh my word, Harry,” she says, palms pressed to her cheeks. “I was just messing, you can’t be serious.”

There’s a ringing in Harry’s ears, like he’s been standing too close to the brass, even though it’s silent as anything in the front room. No one else is home, by some miracle. “Gemma, please—“

Her hands have moved, covering her mouth now, as she shakes her head slowly. “Oh Harry,” she says, muffled through her fingers.

He gives in to the urge to, childishly, pull his knees up to his chest, hugging them tightly, eyes pressed to his knees. There are tears threatening, and maybe this way he can keep them from escaping. He isn’t expecting it, so he startles when he feels Gemma’s touch on his arm, a gentle tug to get him to unfold.

“Please don’t hate me,” he says, even before he knows he’s going to speak. “I couldn’t bear it, Gemma, please.”

She looks away, sucking in her lower lip, and sighs. “I could never hate you, Harry. But this is… I didn’t expect this.” She looks at him then, and tears are abruptly very near again. “You have to give me some time, alright? This is…”

Harry covers his face again, this time with his hands.

This, Harry had never been warned about. When he’d first arrived in London, and had fallen in first with Louis and Liam, (and then, when there’d been no money, the dilly boys) there had been many lessons, many warnings.

It was the old queen in the Chat Noir who’d made the biggest impression.

“Never trust anyone,” he’d said. “At the very least, never trust your interests to be foremost in anyone’s mind.”

“But what about—“ he’d started, thinking of Louis, thinking of Liam.

“Not anyone,” he’d interrupted. “You must do what’s necessary to keep body and soul together. It’s what every other man will do, at any rate.”

(This advice became the foundation for how Harry had followed his career, from then on. Sure, he relied on the others – on Louis and Liam, and then Zayn and Niall, and crucially, Nick – but that edict had stuck. Make sure you’re secure, on your own. He’d done just that, every decision centred around being able to support himself, which the war only exacerbated. After all, no one could be sure of much of anything, with death always a possibility. Death of anyone you cared about, death for Harry himself.)

But he never imagined anything like this. Never imagined it would come home to Holmes Chapel.

“I love you,” Gemma says, after an eternity of silence. Harry’s palms are wet, though he doesn’t remember crying. “That much will always be true.”

(Gemma’s seen a lot, being a WAAC. It’s just not something she’d ever imagined for her brother, not when he’d always had so many girls around him, and had seemed so happy with them.)

*

Last night while I was lying in bed it abruptly occurred to me that Liam is actually the protagonist of the whole tale. I was already going to write about him, but now... well. He's at the centre of it all, it turns out.

*

So, after that first terrible time when Liam comes to Nick with whisky and desperation...well, it carries on for a couple of weeks, really. The post doesn't magically come because he's reached breaking point, after all.

Nick says, "just stay here, stay here at mine, your room in Brixton is full of damp and it's too far for you to come to Drury Lane" when what he means is "this is less lonely, we can lean on one another in these terrible desperate times, can't we?" and he's right on almost all the
points (travel really isn't the main issue) so Liam packs his case and de facto moves in.

It turns out to be both better and worse than being alone in Brixton. They sleep together, of course - it's a one bed flat, and there's one bed, and the settee is at least fifty years old, packed down horsehair that's about as soft as the floorboards - but they also take comfort
in each other.

Liam cooks, puzzling his way through the ration books, reading up on one-pot meals, and tries to teach Nick as well. That works after a fashion, the process being far more entertaining than the results. Really, they're a little bit too similar, prone to hyperbole and
fretting. But at least they seem to take turns, and Liam likes Nick so it could all be a lot worse.

The problem is, Harry comes back, sometimes. He's on the train with almost no notice, sometimes already in the flat when Liam gets home, exhausted and smelling of facepaint and footlight-induced sweat. They don't shut the door all the way, and Liam curls up on the settee under his coat and tries not to listen to the sound of sex, the sound of their conversation, laughter, the smell of Nick's cigarettes filtering down the corridor.

"You could... join us," Nick says once, catching Liam in the kitchen just as he's leaving for a costume fitting. "I could ask Harry, I'm sure he'd--"

"No," Liam replies, instantly. "No, absolutely not." He sounds horrified to his own ears, and he *is*, not because of Harry or Nick. It's just-- "You have your time together," he says, voice unsteady. "I--no." It would be unbearable he thinks, on the fringe of so much love. His teeth hurt, he's clenching his jaw so hard.

"Alright," Nick says, sounding confused as he rubs his hand through his hair. "Just-- you know."

"Thank you," Liam says, after swallowing. "But, no."

They don't speak about it again, at least not with words. Liam explains, with his hands, with his mouth, when Harry leaves and Nick is frantic with his desperation and heartache. They match, then, scratch marks and bites and too much friction and not enough preparation, Liam saying with every touch, see, now you understand, again, what it's like, how it feels to be wrenched away from all. They are wild together, and afterwards Liam is drained and calm, the sea after the storm, at least for one night.

Eloise:
Poor Liam, curled up on the couch listening to Harry and Nick. Will he ever get letters from Zayn? Zayn doesn't strike me as much of a letter-writer. It's interesting that you say Liam is the protagonist--I was thinking it was Nick, but I can see Liam at the heart of it. Poor Liam: he's so brave but he worries so much. Can't wait until he and Zayn are reunited.

Me:
Zayn tries. He is very faithful about sending letters, but he and Liam work more completely on a non-verbal level so it's hard. His letters are long on description of where he is and what he’s seeing, and short on feelings. Nevertheless, it's still enough for Liam, just to feel the same page, the shape of the pencil digging into the cheap paper, the equivalent of hold music, almost. It's enough to let Liam know that Zayn's still there, still cares, is still waiting
like he is.

Excerpt of a letter: It seems like forever since I last saw England. Everything here changes and stays the same, all at the same time. It's something about the sand, the way there’s no chance of landmarks out here. Everything shifts, the sand coming with you wherever you go. I’m becoming accustomed to my tea being a bit crunchy. Still, it’s beautiful. I wish you could see it.

me: there is so much more liam story
because it's not always high drama
in between, it's bearable, even fun sometimes
Nick comes to see him from time to time, brings his friends
Liam introduces him to castmates - he's doing musicals in the west end
from time to time - and they all go out like it's all normal

justchelle: nodnod
and?

me: sometimes they sit in the flat, though, afternoons after Nick's
done work, and before Liam has to be anywhere, and they listen to
records

justchelle: <3

me: at first, Nick's collection is heavily weighted towards
crooners, and he leans against the wall near the record player,
chainsmoking and sighing, the more they sound like Harry
Liam likes these tunes just fine, but there's being self-indulgent and
there's wallowing, and, well.
so he starts asking Nick for recs
plays up his lack of knowledge of jazz, says 'so, who's good on the keys, anyhow'
and it turns into this massive Project, where Nick gets kind of
obsessive finding instrumental music, explaining just why this or that
pianist is fantastic

justchelle: <3 nick
music nerd across all decades

me: NATURALLY.
it's only kind of manipulative on Liam's part
he likes when Nick gets all excited and flaily
and the music is good
they go out dancing, too, with their expanded circle

justchelle: what's liam's deal with ladies
not interested?

me: Liam likes ladies
up until Zayn fucked off to North Africa, he figured he'd eventually
settle down with a nice girl
have babies
...and have a very close-knit all-male friendship group

justchelle: heh

me: now he's really zayn-sexual

justchelle: i can just imagine if he's out, socially, he might get a
bit of lady attention

me: he is v happy to dance
and flirt
and be a perfect gentleman
...and go home with exactly one person - Nick

justchelle: oh liam

me: Nick, on the other hand, continues to put it about
until Harry goes to France

justchelle: odd that they reign in the promiscuity when their lovers are away

me: I think it's... harder to remember them, if you keep overlaying
the memory of them with other people?
or, subconsciously, maybe Nick's just taken on board Liam's reaction
'my boy might die at any moment, must not be banging someone else
when/if this happens'

As I understand it, ENSA folk could opt in to overseas postings… not clear to me if they could opt OUT, but either way, Harry opts in.

He gets put into a show, which means he’s in London for a couple weeks of rehearsals, at the beginning of May 1944. Nick is over the moon at this, and things go a bit boypile, as Louis is there too, and the four of them go out and party every night, and fall into bed in the wee small hours. Nick is hungover or drunk, always. Harry puts off making clear that the reason he’s in rehearsals for this show is that he’s going overseas. Of course, at this stage, he doesn’t know WHERE, but the mere fact of it – well, he lies by omission. Liam is not so willfully blind.

“You’re leaving England, aren’t you?” he says one morning, Louis still asleep, him and Harry waiting for the kettle to boil in the kitchen.

“I—what?” There’s no hiding the guilty flash across his face, but Liam doesn’t need to look at him to know.

“You’re going to have to tell him,” Liam says, turning away to start making some porridge. He doesn’t ask why Harry’s done it, because he doesn’t want to have a row over it. Whatever the reason, it’s bound to be profoundly selfish. Besides, Liam has gotten very good at being stoic.

He can see Harry’s shoulders curl inwards as he sighs, slumping against the wall. “I know.”

“Because I’m not going to do it,” Liam continues, banging the pan onto the hob. (The stoicism is slipping, slightly.) He pours some water into the pan, and chances a glance at Harry. He looks phenomenally guilty, but it doesn’t make Liam feel much better. He looks back at the kettle, and they’re both silent for several long moments.

“I don’t know what we’d do without you,” Harry says to break the silence, a murmur between them.

“You’re just lucky I love you,” Liam replies, light and flippant, but just as quiet.

“I know,” Harry says, his arm coming around Liam’s waist, forehead resting against his temple.

It almost makes it bearable.

When Harry and Louis go, Liam deliberately avoids watching Nick and Harry’s farewell. There’s a second iteration at Victoria [or some other station, must check], which by necessity must be more restrained. Liam chooses to hide his face in Louis’ shoulder for the duration, clinging to him because there hasn’t been time for him to think Louis will be in danger also.

“Take care of each other,” he murmurs, just before letting go. “Be safe, I love you.”

“You as well, all of it,” Louis says, serious for once. “We’ll cable when we can.”

“And write,” Liam says. “Please write.”

“Of course.”

He and Nick travel back to the flat in silence, and Nick takes a bottle of whisky to bed. He stays there for those two days, going out now and again for fags, but he doesn’t eat, doesn’t speak. The radio broadcasts the news all day long.

Liam cleans, puts away two weeks worth of chaos, does the washing, the washing up.

He’s about to break, demand that Nick do something other than mope – wash, eat, go to work – when Nick switches gears. Liam’s settled in front of the wireless, listening to the news report (again). It’s nearing twilight, and Liam’s thinking about getting up to switch on the light when Nick comes in and does it for him, a slap against the wall with his palm.

“We’re going out,” he says, cigarette tucked in the corner of his mouth, braces hanging down by his hips. He’s got a glass of whisky in hand and a manic look in his eyes, so it’s not a complete transformation, but it’s enough.

Liam’s on his feet before registering the desire to stand. “Where to?”

“Anywhere. Everywhere.”

They go out, and Nick throws himself at a variety of men in uniform. (Harry and Louis, at this point, are in uniform, for safety reasons re being accused of being spies.)

He's being v v v obvious, and Liam stands at the bar and watches him, getting increasingly frustrated with it.

Liam keeps an eye on him, at the bar. Nick hasn't bothered to find out where anyone else is at, and they're not at one of their usual haunts - they're somewhere the army boys come, instead.

He loses Nick for a quarter of an hour, and is just shy of frantic when he comes sauntering back in, obvious in the mouth he's been out sucking cock. OUTSIDE. WHERE HE MIGHT BE CAUGHT.

(Liam is speechless with wtf. Nick has been v v v careful, up till now. This is not at all in character.)

Liam grabs his arm and holds on, keeping Nick by the bar for the duration of another pint. He seems a little less manic, and nothing terrible has happened, so Liam gradually relaxes.

Bad idea, Liam.

Eventually, of course, Liam needs the loo. He comes back only just in time to keep Nick from going home with some random pilot.

"What the bloody hell do you think you're doing?" he whisper-shouts into Nick's ear, one hand on his shoulder to haul him away from the door, and this random in uniform.

"This place is dull, I'm going to find the excitement. You can come along too, I suppose. If you must."

justchelle: well done liam
i imagine nick is cross about this

me: "You are not going to do this to me, you are not going to do this to Harry, you are not going to do this to yourself." (Liam thinks about punching Nick. Doesn’t.)

me: Nick defs has a strop about it. But he does finally deflate.
And leans on Liam.

Eloise: Oh, NICK. This is perfect--exactly how he'd act, I think--both his care and his manic spell after Harry leaves. Does he come to understand Harry's decision? Is he worried about Harry or angry at him--or both? (I meant to ask: does Nick have lots of famous friends in this AU? And, actually--forgive me if I'm forgetting a plot point--are the 1D boys together as a successful act before the war, or just friends?)

me: He never understands Harry's decision, but he doesn't question it either. Under the exigencies of the time, long-term commitment doesn't seem like an option: both for the gay and the bombs falling from the sky sitch.

I was thinking about that little aside I did from Harry's POV, and how different IRL Harry has it to 1940s Harry. The unconditional love/acceptance from his fam gives him such freedom, comparatively, now. (I presume all over the place, of course, but you know. Not everything is fiction, right?) I think it's Nick and Gemma meeting, after the war, that shifts everything just fractionally, and Harry can let go of the 'I must be fully independent or all is doom and gloom' because that wasn't true when he was at home, and actually, the evidence points to the fact he can rely on his friends, on Nick. He calms down a lot after that...

Nick's friends circle includes all sorts of entertainment people, but with him a) not working the Variety bit of the BBC and b) the war taking people away, I think his usual network is dramatically eroded. Plus, he falls in with the 1D boys and kind of loses all but the nearest and dearest, I think. This is a gradual process, and he probs doesn't notice so much, until after.

AFAIK, there's no musical format which would allow the 1D boys to perform together. They'd have to be singletons and/or duos. Niall probs plays guitar, they probs also do some comedy, as well as 'straight' singing. Harry and Louis have a comedy singing act, for instance.

*

When Liam gets word that Zayn is leaving North Africa, but isn't coming home, is instead going further away, he sublimates his despair into running.

He makes the mistake of mentioning the situation when he's getting kitted out for his next show (Liam, blessim, just does musical theatre throughout, basically) and one of the costumers sucks her teeth and says, "s'for the best, really, back with his own kind."

And then another woman pipes up and says, "hope he finds himself a local girl and settles there."

The whole encounter makes Liam's ears ring, and he has to go and sit quietly outside the stage door with his head between his knees. Afterwards, he goes home and doesn't mention it.

The fear - Zayn will meet someone in India and never come back – is more real and plausible than the one - Zayn might die in a place so far away and unlike England I can hardly imagine it - which preceded it. He runs, but can't outrun it. He sleeps and drinks, but it won't leave him alone even in oblivion. He dreams the letter, the telegram which will destroy everything.

Nick notices there's something wrong, obviously. He doesn't push, however, after Liam insists he's fine. He just worries from a bit of a distance.

(Nick writes to Harry about it. Harry advises getting him drunk first, THEN interrogating him.)

So, Nick waits for a quiet Monday night, drags Liam to a pub which has snugs, and pours beer down his throat until he's pliable. Literally pliable, leaning against the wall of the booth, against the table, against Nick himself.

Then he tries again. "You haven't had bad news you're keeping to yourself, have you?"

It takes several seconds for Liam to parse the question, and blearily shake his head. "No, no, not exactly."

Nick waits, but Liam doesn't continue. "So, then, what is it that has you so glum? If no one's died--"

"What if he doesn't come home," Liam interrupts. "What if he--stays in India."

Nick props Liam up in the corner, so they can actually make eye contact. "Why on earth would he do that?"

So, Liam explains, rather badly, the conversation at the theatre. His words stumble against one another, and his voice nearly breaks once, twice, again. Nick lets him speak, without interruption; he's drunk too, and a great deal of what Liam's saying resonates with him.

"What if, after all this," Liam says, repeating himself, but finally sounding like he's winding down. "It still ends?"

In the morning, Nick will blame the beer for the excess of sentiment, but in the moment, it's all he can do. "Loving someone is never a waste. Even if.... it ends, even if the Germans or the Italians blow us all to kingdom come. It isn't meaningless."

Liam looks at him, brows furrowed, corner of his mouth twisted. "You think so?"

"Certainly," Nick says immediately. "How could it be?"

*

me: so at one point liam takes a gig from one of the other performers, because it means he can go to bradford, see zayn's fam, say hi
and of course when he gets there, after the initial OMFG DID SOMETHING BAD HAPPEN, IS THERE BAD NEWS??? reaction from the fam, they're very pleased to see him
and immediately insist that he stay with them for the duration of his theatrical engagement
he is like D: i don't want to impose... and they are like PSHHH
STAY
they ask him for details, anything he's heard lately from zany and, embarrassingly enough, he actually happens to have all of zayn's letters with him
because he's possibly a sap
(not possibly)
and because zayn's writing style isn't particularly effusive, and they're not so into putting lots of feels in there, he can share most of them with his relations
[but not all of them, because by volume, it's ... eyebrow-raising, how many letters he has gotten]

justchelle: aw liam

me: so yes, zayn's family are GREAT, is the thing - there's lots of little cousins running around, hanging off liam like he's a climbing frame, and he loves it, the total normalcy of it... except it's also totally. overwhelming.
[there are baby pictures, btw]
[liam has SO MUCH to say to zayn for the few weeks he's with them. he doesn't have to internally debate about whether or not zayn will care abt what he's up to, because he's with z's family, so of course he'll care]
zayn's apparently complained in the past how his mum never passes the gossip along to him

Liam also finds out, when he’s there, visiting them, that Zayn hasn’t escaped entirely unscathed. There’s a telegram, which Zayn’s mum shows him, her eyes brimming with tears.

“He’s alright now, of course, and anyway it was just his shoulder. But it could have been a lot worse, and a mother always fears the worst, I’m sure.”

A dislocated shoulder is certainly minor, he reminds himself, even as he goes hot and cold and hot again, and has to sit down, the paper trembling in his grip. But Zayn’s shoulder dislocated because of a land mine, and the jeep they were in rolling over, and it could have been so much worse.

He clears his throat. “And Niall? Did he say anything about Niall?”

“Oh, yes, he was in the jeep as well, did something terrible to his knee. But then, he’s always sitting down with that guitar of his, so perhaps it doesn’t bother him, so much.”

(Zayn’s letters, inevitably, will say ‘I wish you could see it.’ about whatever he’s describing. Every time Liam reads ‘I wish you could see it’ it says ‘I miss you’.)

*

On the 6th of June, 1944, Liam uncharacteristically doesn’t switch on the wireless when he gets up. It stands silent in the corner all through ablutions, and breakfast, and getting dressed. This means that the first time he comes up against the importance of the day is
out in the street, looking at the headlines of the morning papers.

He’s not the only person who’s staring at them, but most are also handing over coins to take them away, giving him displeased looks for blocking the pavement.

He buys three different editions, and carries on to the theatre, where he immediately makes his way to the booking office.

“I just—I need to ring my mate at the BBC,” he says, in justification. He holds up the papers, and there’s definitely something in the air today, because they turn the handset over to him.

“Normandy,” he says, when Nick is finally on the other end of the line.

“Before you ask, I didn’t know for certain.” Nick sounds just as breathless and… excited. Liam curls his hand into a fist, nods though it’s not audible.

“But you suspected.”

“I did. Isn’t it wonderful?”

“They might be on their way right now. They might even be there.”

They both pause, just breathing down the line. It’s almost too much to take in, pride and fear limned with sun-bright excitement.

“Shall we meet for lunch?” Liam suggests, fingers abruptly itching for some kind of human contact.

“Just been,” Nick says, apologetic. “Meet me at the Salisbury, half five?”

“I’ll need to be back for half past six.”

“I’ll come see the show. Say you’ll come, Liam.”

Liam closes his eyes and nods. “I will.”

The pavement outside the pub is thickly clustered with people, talking loudly of the day’s news when Liam arrives. Inside, it’s just as busy but louder; there are people Liam recognizes, some of Nick’s colleagues, some people from ENSA shows, and he waves at them all in turn. Nick is at the bar, but he abandons all pretense of trying to order pints when he sees Liam.

“Come along,” he shouts, hand curling around Liam’s wrist, pulling him through the throngs to the toilets at the back. The volume drops dramatically, after the first door, and again after the second, Liam locking them into the cubicle. He’s barely turned around when Nick
grabs the lapels of his jacket, pushing him up against the door, mouth a breath away.

“Can you believe it,” he asks, voice breathless and hushed.

Liam shakes his head. He gets his hands between them, pulling Nick’s spectacles from his face. “The lucky buggers,” he says, and leans in to press their lips together.

It’s awkward, messy and quick – flies undone, hands curled together, breathing against each other’s mouths, not quite kissing. Nick holds on to the back of Liam’s neck, Liam’s hand on Nick’s shoulder, quietly frantic. There’s time after, though, cleaned up and tucked away again, for something a little softer. They trade kisses, pressed together shoulder to knee, Nick leaning against the cubicle wall.

“Finally,” Nick murmurs, in a pause between kisses.

“You really didn’t know,” Liam asks, resting his head against the wall next to Nick’s. They’re both sweaty now, and it’s hot and close in the stall.

Nick shakes his head. “Knew it was coming eventually, but then, who didn’t. You know they’ve kept the details top top secret.”

“You were right then, about Harry’s cable.”

(They’d received one, last week. It read ‘BIRDS FOUND SONGS TO SING STOP LOVE TO ALL HARRY AND LOUIS.’ Nick had looked at it for the barest moment before dropping it on the settee and disappearing into the kitchen. Liam had followed, watching him very deliberately and slowly making a cup of tea.

“What does it mean?”

“It means they’re off to France.”)

Now, in the toilet at the pub, Nick smiles wryly. “I suppose I was. Our boys, off winning the war.”

The excitement wears off, of course. The triumph of establishing a toehold in Europe is superceded by the immense slog of getting to Berlin, and the casualty figures are sobering.

Then the doodlebugs start dropping on the metropolis. Between air raid sirens, the terrible sound of the V1 engine cutting out, and the long gaps between letters, nerves fray for both of them.

Liam gets letters that are six months out of date, and a cable once a month. Nick does slightly better – a cable every three weeks or so – but letters rarer than real coffee in the shops.

Even though he has to be up for work long before Liam does, he’s still awake every night when Liam gets home from the theatre, sitting by the record player with the ubiquitous bottle of whisky at his elbow, cigarette dangling from between his fingers. The only blessing is, at least when Liam’s there, Nick will get up, try to maintain the pretence that all’s well, more or less.

Liam’s too tired to have to pull Nick up every night.

*

In France, Harry finds the reality of war far more startling than Louis does. Of course, they’ve both seen bombing, having been in London for the Blitz. They know what ruined buildings look like, the smell of burning, the limp, messy heaps that people become when breath and heartbeat leave them.

What’s different about France is that it’s the countryside. Harry knows countryside, he grew up in it, and war has been tied up with the urban landscape up till now. Even airfields are urban, in a way, with all the technology and electricity they need to function. In France, it’s stone walls and tall hedges and centuries-old houses and shops that have been blown up, horses and cows dead in the verges, old women who remind him vaguely of his gran standing in doorways looking sad, lost, tired. Not that they’re not happy to see them, liberators and all, but when half the house is missing, or all the windows have been blown out, three cheers for the British Army entertainment is perhaps a bit much to ask for.

So he’s already wobbly when they end up in the midst of an air attack, and the guns start thundering. He doesn’t know he’s clutching at Louis until he can’t breathe through the thick battledress wool against his mouth, fingers clenched around the pockets of Louis’s tunic.

“Sorry,” he says, when he realizes he’s got his face pressed to Louis’s chest. His glasses are askew, and the world is broken up into sharp and blurry.

“S’alright,” Louis says, hand petting the back of Harry’s head. There isn’t much room to move, caught between a lorry and a hedge-covered stone wall. Beside them is a piano player whose name abruptly disappears from Harry’s mind, and a sergeant who’s blocking access to their tiny hiding space with himself, rifle pointing up to the sky.

Harry closes his eyes and leans against Louis, tries to remember the nighttime prayers of his childhood.

They don’t die, Harry, Louis, or the pianist. The sergeant lives through that day, and the next three weeks, before getting shot by a sniper. He isn’t dead when the medics take him away, but Harry never does find out if he survived.

The close calls are actually relatively infrequent. As it happens, in the main, they fetch up after things have calmed down, play to British, Canadian, American troops, French civilians, and then move on to do it again.

They do lose their costumes, somewhere in France – as it happens, not too far from Paris – when the lorry carrying their trunks hits a mine and everything is blown to kingdom come. The scramble to find something – anything – to wear before they get on stage has them going through house after house in an abandoned village, giggling hysterically while a newish private waits at the door, twitching at every sound. The dresses they find are far from glamorous – thick practical wool bundled up to wait for the winter – but it’s better than their uniforms. They improvise shawls with some tablecloths, and the lads don’t even seem to mind so much that their wigs went up in flames along with the stage makeup and proper frocks.

“I found strawberries,” Louis had hissed, while Harry was improvising eye makeup with a burnt matchstick. “Here, for your lips.”

Fresh, sweet fruit is too rare to pass up, so Harry parts his lips obligingly, sucking on Louis’s fingers to eat the fruit instead.

“Surely,” he says, very quietly. “It would be better if you just kissed me and we ate the strawberries.”

They’re not exactly hidden, in the barn over the road from the current temporary HQ. But they are alone, and the strawberries are delicious. Harry licks his lips, and Louis’s gaze catches, sticks there.

“We can use the strawberries for our cheeks?” Harry tries, standing up from his makeshift dressing table, now toe to toe with Louis.

“We won’t need to,” Louis says, and Harry knows he’s won, ducking his head to press their lips together.

*

Harry and Louis come back to England almost a year after they left. Nick and Liam get regular reports of their progress across the continent – from Germany to the Netherlands, to France and finally, a telegram which says EMBARKING STOP LANDING DOVER TOMORROW MORNING ARRIVING VICTORIA 9 O’CLOCK STOP.

After half an hour of Nick wandering about the flat, picking up odd socks, putting them down in even odder places, smoking his way through five cigarettes, and putting on the kettle, he stops.

“I know it won’t matter to them, but we really ought to tidy up.”

Liam, who has been wanting to suggest tidying both for cleanliness purposes, and also to diffuse their collective nervous energy, nearly collapses in relief. “Yes, let’s.”

They clean everything, including dusting the radiators and the lightbulbs in their sockets. The toilet cistern gleams. Even the kettle is buffed to within an inch of a structural failure. Liam even manages to get the bed linens washed and dried – though it is late into the night before they fall on top of them, alarm set for enough time for breakfast before the journey to Victoria.

Instead of being woken by the alarm, however, they’re woken by the sound of the bedroom door opening. Nick is by far more asleep as he and Liam both stir exhaustedly.

“Shhh, it’s just me,” Harry says, already stripping down to undershirt and pants.

“Wha—“ Liam asks, groggy and confused.

“Go back to sleep,” Harry says, crawling up onto the bed, insinuating himself between Nick and Liam. He reaches over, turning off the alarm clock before settling down on the bed.

Liam blinks at him. Harry smiles in return, leaning in to kiss him once, closemouthed and soft.

“You’re here.”

“Sleep, love. We’ll talk when it’s properly morning.”

Liam closes his eyes, just for a moment, and wakes to a mid-morning-bright bedroom. Nick isn’t in bed any longer; he’s stood alongside the bed, gawping, incredulous. Liam, for his part, is half-curled around Harry, who’s blinking sleepily.

“How are you here, we haven’t fetched you yet,” Nick says.

“I—we got in to Dover last night, I got the first train this morning. Why aren’t you in bed still?”

“Harold Styles, are you trying to give me the shock of my life? How did you even get in? And where’s Louis?” Nick looks around, as if Louis might be hiding beside the wardrobe, or behind the door.

“You keep your spare key in the same place,” Harry says, stretching out on the bed. “And Louis has gone up north, he’ll be back in London the week after next. Aren’t you a little bit happy to see me?”

Liam tries to blink himself more awake, gives up and resorts to rubbing at his eyes. When he opens them again, Harry’s turned over to face him, looking uncertain. “And you, Li?”

Liam flushes, glancing away. “Course I am, Harry.” He pushes himself upright, holding one arm out. “Come here, let me give you a proper hug.”

Harry throws himself forward immediately, nearly knocking Liam over in the process. He nearly topples again, when Nick gives up on standing beside the bed and gets back on it, his arms going around Harry and Liam both.

It’s no surprise when Harry turns towards Nick, pulling away from Liam in the process.

“Of course I’m happy to see you, you pillock, I’m beside myself, I missed you—“ And then they’re kissing, and Liam waits only a few seconds before extricating himself with a yawn and a stretch.

“I’ll just go make some tea, shall I?” he asks, taking Nick’s dressing gown from the back of the door. He doesn’t get an answer, but then, he doesn’t expect one either.

(Nick and Harry reunion sex times!

me: :D!
so, harry's got ink, when nick gets his clothes off
he must get a bit distracted in between kisses and groping
kissing each of them as he finds them
the bends of his elbows
the outside of his bicep
over his heart
harry squirms a bit, tries to push towards the main act
ie let's have orgasms already
nick keeps shushing him

Eloise: awww, impatient harry.

me: he's still the younger one, even if no longer a teenager
probs just as sex-crazed
nick has to hold him down a bit

Eloise: ahahahahahaha yes.
...okay, that image is working very well for me!

me: I think it works fairly well for harry
all the I-don't-mean-it 'oh no no no, stop, ahhh'

me: he has to let go of harry's hands to get his pants off
harry's hands immediately cradle nick's head, pull off his glasses
pet through his hair

Eloise: UGH HIS GLASSES

me: nick loses a few seconds leaning into it
I KNOW RIGHT
ALL OF THEM
WITH GLASSES
*flaps*
but he's got a plan here
and he has to catch harry's wrists again, pin them to the bed
makes harry squirm
nick bites his thigh, which is meant to be admonishment but of course just makes it worse

Eloise: because harry likes it so much!

me: yes, yes he does
and nick has to say, "harry, be still, I really want your cock in my mouth"
and harry stops fighting, with a noticeable effort
nick tries to take his time, he really does
but it's been a year
and frankly, harry's not really letting him take it slow, not the way he tries so hard not to squirm, is trying hard to be quiet, biting down on his lower lip, watching

Eloise: oh god. he really wants to be good!

me: he rly does
esp for nick
nick has to close his eyes, focus on sensation
because he doesn't particularly want to just come in his pants
and it's slightly less overwhelming thinking about taste and texture
the ache and spit
he swallows, when harry comes, but not everything
kisses harry, still holding his wrists
harry squirms more at this, like he can't get close enough
groans and whimpers and mumbles random syllables into nick's mouth

Eloise: aghhhh dying of the hotness frankly. GOD.

me: nick is all 'pls let there be fucking now oh my god my dick is going to FALL OFF'

Eloise: HAHAHAHA i was wondering about that

me: idk re historical lube
but there's something
and harry's super eager to help with this project
but he's all postcoital
and fumbly
so they end up kind of hysterically giggling during the process
and the sheets, though clean when all this kicked off
aren't so much, anymore

Eloise: oh god fumbly giggly sex: AMAZING. they'd go back and forth from giggly to intense

me: yyyyyyy
best kind of sex, imo
and nick's fingers in harry, and harry trying to help
alternating between too much and not enough
harry finally says 'enough, stop, stop, c'mon, I want you, it's been-come here, please, nick-'
the giggling eases, after that
the back of harry's thigh against nick's chest
neither of them looking away
it's quiet and close
the sound of breath and skin against skin
the light a lot brighter now, but still oblique - west facing windows
it's been a while for harry
not by any kind of deliberate or conscious choice
but he's rarely allowed this in the last year, and not at all the last few months
the fact it hurts, a little, is reassuring
he's not dreaming this

Eloise: i was going to ask: has he been sleeping with many men? or mostly women?
oh, harry

me: more men than women
but it's more complicated when they're constantly travelling
and it's even more stolen moments than usual
easier to not bother with the kind of sex that needs prep to be satisfying

Eloise: makes sense

me: course him and louis have been at it

Eloise: right

me: but yeah, still
he's been waiting to come home
and unconsciously trying to keep something back for that
anyhow

Eloise: awww, harry. <3 he wanted his homecoming to be special. more special.

me: bless his face
he is so head over heels for nick

Eloise: he really, really is

me: nick insists, without words, that harry should come again
it's a bit of a struggle, and again, hurts a bit
but harry rly doesn't mind
nick comes first, and harry fights to join him, squirming and curling his toes

Eloise: this is, like, BLISTERINGLY hot. just fyi

me: nick kisses him, a little desperately, because he wants to collapse but he also wants harry to come-come, please come-
it's a little wrenching for both of them when he does
eyes-closed-too-tight spangles
and then the wave recedes, and everything's just hot and slick and the sound of still-too-fast pulse gradually quieting

Eloise: and ends so sweetly <33333

me: harry, being the lovely and ludicrous boy that he is speaks first
and says 'i love you'
and nick is (still, again) kind of overwhelmed

Eloise: is this the first time he's told him he loved him?

me: oh, no
first time in a year, in so many words, of course

Eloise: aha! indeed.

me: nick is mainly still a little astonished at how easy it is for harry to say
like he doesn't mind the massive emotional risk of laying that out there
(even in a sitch where it's fairly safe, like this, it makes nick go a bit wibbly and he has to brace himself for it)

Eloise: oh nick <33333333333

me: harry doesn't exactly expect reciprocation, even here, now
there's been so much said with action, after all
words are small, in comparison
but words are what nick does, it's his job
he WANTS to reciprocate, esp given the significance of the day
harry's gone
and come back
and not just come back, in general, but come back to nick
harry's rolling away, to reach for his undershirt to make some attempt at wiping away the mess
and nick, thinking harry might be getting up, grabs him in a bit of a flail

me: 'stay' he says, fingers curled around the ink at harry's elbow. 'stay here just a little while longer, it's been such an age since we were last here, like this'
and harry laughs and settles, obligingly. 'you're getting sentimental, old man.'
'is it sentiment,' nick grumbles, wiping at himself, then harry, with part of his undershirt, 'to love you, then?'
there's only a tiny stillness from harry, but there's no missing the beaming grin which follows. 'of course it is, what else is love but sentiment?'
nick is trying very hard not to smile at this point, looking away, looking for his cigarettes, to keep a straight face. 'inevitable, young harold. with you, inevitable.'
AND THAT IS THE SAPPIEST THING I HAVE WRITTEN IN SOME TIME JFC.

Eloise: HAHAHAHA IT'S OKAY I'M EATING IT UP WITH A SPOON

me: so yes
and then they adjourn to the bath
where idk if they have to worry about water rationing
because google won't tell me
and both of them are kind of breathless with joy
there's lots of laughter
they talk about the gossip from nick's group of friends
harry's about a month out of date
the water's cold before they manage to come out, nick forcibly wrapping a towel around harry's waist
harry objects
it's june!
it's warm!
why would you wear a towel if you could be naked?
but nick can hear liam banging around in the flat determinedly
and if harry doesn't keep the towel on
they're going to get to round two and liam will be all grumpysadface at the ruining of tea

Eloise: hahahaha oh harry.

me: blessim.
HE'S A FREE SPIRIT, OKAY.
CAN'T BE CONTAINED.)

Eventually, all three of them sit down for early dinner, cooked by Liam. The way Nick and Harry look at one another - in between Harry explaining his journey, elaborating on the last few letters, filling in what’s in the ones which haven’t arrived yet – has Liam already mentally packing his bags. Harry’s neck is rubbed bright red, and he’s wearing a half-buttoned shirt and his pants. Nick’s no more dressed than Harry, and it’s clear they’d like to be even less so.

When they adjourn to the bathroom, to the sound of splashing water and laughter, Liam packs up in actuality. There isn’t much to take. The family pictures, the books and records and other precious things he had in Nick’s old flat are all gone. It’s the work of a quarter of an hour to strip away his things from their – Nick’s – bedroom, the spare room, the front room, the kitchen. It all fits into one suitcase and one carpet bag.

He spends the night in the second bedroom, listening willingly/unwillingly to the sound of Harry and Nick through the wall. It’s just about bearably unbearable.

In the morning, he waits until they emerge from the bedroom to put his hat on. His bags are by the door already.

“I’m off, chaps,” he says.

(Later, when they get him back, Harry will spend several hours wondering about this moment and how they ever let him leave. Of course they were all post-coital and sleepy, and Liam was so… upright. Certain. They’d been caught off guard.)

Nick’s the one who finds him. Well, not so much finds him as sees Liam at Piccadilly Circus, pushing against the flow of foot traffic. He’s got his shirt sleeves rolled up, collar floppy and not quite white. His hair is sweaty at the temples, and he’s holding a profoundly uncharacteristic cigarette. In short, he looks terrible. Nick crosses against traffic, dodging a cab and an omnibus to get to him.

“Liam, good lord, man!”

He startles, just a fraction of a second too late, cigarette falling to the pavement. “Oh. Nick, hello.”

“Where are you going?”

“Oh—I just—“

“Never mind, you’re coming with me, when was the last time you had a cup of tea, or something to eat?” (Nick is aware he’s playing the role of Liam in this conversation, but someone has to do it if Liam won’t.)

“I’m alright, Nick, don’t fuss,” Liam says, letting Nick lead him by the elbow in the direction of the Lyons over the road.

“You don’t look alright,” Nick mutters, pressing close to let a pram roll past them.

“Yes, well,” Liam replies, with a sigh that does something funny to the middle of Nick’s chest.

Over tea and cake, Liam explains. Nick has to pull every word out of him: crucially, where he’s sleeping, what work he has just now – on his last co-star’s settee just around the corner, and nothing at all.

“I don’t understand,” Nick says, topping up Liam’s teacup for the fourth time. “You should just come back to us.”

“But—“

“No,” Nick says, after a pause to light his cigarette. He offers the pack to Liam, who shakes his head. “You’re coming back with me. We more than have the space.”

And I miss you, he thinks. (It’s been about four years that Nick and Liam have been sharing a flat. Four very stressful years, even.)

Harry opens the door with, “I’ve had tea waiting, where—oh.”

Tea waits, heated up again in the oven after they take Liam into the bath. Liam is pliant and quiet, and Harry matches him, filling the tub and getting towels, leaving Nick to hold him, back to chest.

me: ok!
so.
liam's in the bath
and harry gives in and helps him wash

Eloise: lovely image

me: while nick mucks about in the kitchen, reheating/sorting out dinner/tea
because he's not convinced liam's eaten anything in days
so, they eat, mostly in silence.
a couple of letters from zayn have arrived in the interim -
they're from february. liam keeps one hand on top of them while he's
eating, palm down

Eloise: awww :(

me: he reads them while the other two tidy up in the kitchen
brb googling feb 1945 in burma

me: hah
so
february is actually rly significant?
*facepalm*

me: “Reinforced by the third brigade of 17th Division, which flew in to a captured airstrip, they struck Meiktila on 1 March and captured it in four days, despite resistance to the last man. In an often-recounted incident, some Japanese soldiers crouched in trenches with aircraft bombs, with orders to detonate them when an enemy tank loomed over the trench.”
oh jesus, I forget how suicidal the japanese were

Eloise: Wow. Okay, that's intense.

me: ugh, I bet the british/indian troops were kind of traumatized by it, tbh

Eloise: Yeah, I was just thinking that; Zayn might come out of the
war the most damaged by what he's seen.

me: maybe it's not even that he's seen so much
but like the greek chorus
everyone he talks to talks about it
and the visualization of it is just as bad/worse?
I can see these february letters being wry about the fact
they're happy the monsoon season is over, but it means that they're
playing show after show to people who are manic and frankly a bit
disturbed. They are desperate to have a good time, and it translates
into frantic near-violence?
UGH, WAR, YOU SUCK.
“While the Japanese were distracted by events at Meiktila, XXXIII Corps had renewed its attack on Mandalay. It fell to the Indian 19th Division on 20 March, though the Japanese held the former citadel, which the British called Fort Dufferin, for another week. Many of the historically and culturally significant areas of Mandalay, including the old royal palace, were burned to the ground.”
anyway, for the purposes of getting Liam into bed sooner rather than later
the general tenor of zayn's letters is 'things are fine, but a bit weird, idk, I'm fine, there's some nice scenery, the buildings that are still standing are pretty great'
'wish you could see it'

Eloise: I see what you mean about the shows and how disturbed the soldiers are. And ugh, all that destroyed art :( Zayn would appreciate that for sure.

me: I was wondering about having him sketch pix of what he's seeing
he takes actual photographs when he has film/camera
but in between, his letters are illustrated by hand?
(since in canon, he does draw/paint)

Eloise: Does Liam get frustrated by the letters? Does he wish zayn was more emotionally effusive? Or has he gotten good at reading between the lines.
I was just about to ask if he could do that in canon. that's lovely.

me: he's frustrated less by the lack of emotional access and more by the huge temporal differences between the zayn he reads and zayn out there in the world
he doesn't even know for sure when he's reading a letter that zayn is still writing them, on the other side of the world when it might take weeks to hear of someone being killed

Eloise: ah, good point. :((((((((

me: reading them reinforces how far apart they are
space, yes, but also time

Eloise: Heartbreaking stuff.

me: a thousand tiny cuts, innit?

Eloise: Absolutely.
So Zayn's in Burma--how much longer does he have to serve? Another year?

me: he comes back after christmas
maybe january 1946?
christmas 1945 would have been a very bleak time
everything is still all rationing, all the time
not enough housing to go around
but I'm getting ahead of myself
back to june 1945
harry and nick take liam to bed
nick holds him again, big spoon style
it is a pleasing image to me
I like the idea of liam being held, in general
and specifically while harry goes down on him

Eloise: He seems like he needs it.
hahahaha yes!

me: :D
it's a very comforting blowjob
lots of petting
unsaid, but instinctive, is the desire to get him to relax enough to
sleep properly
he's tense even in exhaustion
harry sorts him out
liam lets it happen, because a) he's too tired to fight it, b) he
likes being in between them, even if he doesn't believe he ought to

Eloise: Oh, Liam :(

me: when he wakes up, it's broad daylight, and the clock tells him
he's been asleep for something like twelve hours
he's alone in bed, but there's the far-off sound of conversation in another room of the flat
he's still all tucked in, but it's too warm for that so he makeshimself get up rather than lying naked in bed
there's nothing of his in the bedroom - not even a pair of pants
he has to grab nick's dressing gown to avoid having to venture out naked
nick and harry are in the kitchen, making lunch
they're doing that comfortable kitchen dance of people who are used to moving around each other, gentle glancing touches

Eloise: <3

me: poor liam
it makes him feel bad for interrupting
but he's actually hungry, and whatever's happening on the stove smells good

Eloise: they love you too, liam! it's okay!

me: nick notices him first, abandoning stirring the pot (soup!) to come over and kiss him hello
"me next," harry says after a couple seconds, and nick laughs, petting liam's cheek once before stepping back so harry can kiss him too, lingering with a little nip to liam's lower lip.

Eloise: Making heart eyes at the screen! Liam needs peopel to love him.

me: started typing pre-nick ot5 backstory
but let me ask it as a question
what do you think liam and harry got up to?

Eloise: Hmm. I don't have a great sense of the 1d boys' characters but I wonder if Harry and Liam weren't as close as the were to other 1d boys--they seem like opposites personality-wise in some ways. Does that seem right?

me: that feels...right
am calling in additional expertise to confirm this impression

Eloise: So I wonder if they hadn't gotten up to very much before the war. Just didn't end up paired up that way much. Maybe this is part of Liam feeling like he's intruding on Harry and Nick's relationship.

me: my gut reaction is defs that he doesn't feel like he has a claim on being part of that

Shai: I can /definitely/ see that, yes

me; liam can only maintain a disbelief in their co-sincerity for a few days
because he a) already trusts them and b) they are relentless

Eloise: good! So what happens after a week or so?
I wonder if Nick and Harry aren't glad to have a little bit of a buffer to get over the initial awkwardness

me: ooh, interesting point
they've only had a few months of being together, properly
and neither of them have been monogamous, sexually
(really really aside: harry totes got with a french chick, and knocked her up)

Eloise: oh shit!

me: (no one ever knows, ever... she becomes one of the 60s french ye-ye girls, and meets and marries one of niall's sons)
(no one ever ever knows, just me, and you, and the internet, eventually ;) )

Eloise: !!! crazy! Does Harry even know he has a daughter?

me: newp.
never does
but I had to stick that in there
because in the 40s in wartime, given how much harry puts it about, there's no way that there isn't at least one accidental offspring

Eloise: no, totally. makes perfect sense

me: it just occurred to me the other morning, half-awake
of course niall isn't the only one to pass on genes to the next generation
and jfc, she would be smoking hot, this ye-ye girl

me:
:D

Eloise: HOT. Most excellent.

me: they were all these big eyed ingenues
wearing short dresses
with endless legs
I mean.
imagine her with harry's curls
*fans self*

Eloise: Perfect.

me: she and niall's kid can even meet in carnaby street for the epic lolz
but no one ever really thinks to comment on her resemblance to harry
:)
(am imagining that everyone continues to work in music/entertainment, incl next gen)

me: I have been advised in another window
to give them three weeks to get acclimated to trio
before Louis comes back south from Doncaster
but, he serves a v impt function at this point in the narrative
he also shoves himself into the trio scenario
and oddly, makes it easier for liam to feel like he fits
because they're making space for louis, and thus it's easier to
believe that they'd make space for liam
and also, liam can now lean on louis separately, also

Shai: Personally, I think Louis is needy enough to do that, to push for a place with loud words and actions, like if he overwhelms them quickly enough, they /have/ to keep him.

Eloise: Aww, louis :( Do all four of them start sleeping together? Or is it more of an emotional thing?

me: yeah, they do
not exclusively
sometimes they pair up
nick&harry, liam&louis
but yeah, defs.

Eloise: How do Louis and Nick get along in this 'verse?

me: I think there's room in this canon for a bit of distance between them
nick both appreciates and resents him
for being there for harry when they were away
but he knows they have a separate thing, which is unavoidable
given the history
and he's a little jealous of it, though he probably spends v little time admitting it out loud (metaphorically)

Eloise: that makes sense

me: and vice versa
louis... I don't think this louis is capable of the kind of relationships that liam and zayn, nick and harry have but he kind of wishes, abstractly, for it?

me: I have a particular scene in mind to encapsulate liam and louis
during this interstitial time

harry comes home one day, having been out for auditions or something equally responsible and the music in the front room is on, LOUD.

he can hear louis singing along to vera lynn and liam laughing and trying to join in. he comes in to the front room, and yep, there they are, surrounded by records and record sleeves...wearing the dresses he and louis had made in paris to replace the ones that were blown up when their transport truck hit that land mine.

"harry!" louis says when he catches sight of him. "you're just in time, liam can't duet for shit."

harry blinks at them both, as liam protests. "hey!"

“you look fetching," louis says, with a hint of apology. "fill that dress out better than harry did. but you've gone soft, all this stage business, the dancing and what have you. can't keep up with the andrews sisters."

harry licks his lips. "very nice," he says to liam, who takes the opportunity to curtsey. "I'll make tea, shall I?"

Eloise: this is lovely! aww, louis. cheering up liam properly.

me: liam is still protesting when harry goes to the kitchen, and he smiles when he hears the music abruptly cut out, their voices loud now that the music's gone. he puts on the kettle, humming to himself when he hears the brass of 'in the mood'

"harry! we need you!" louis shouts.

for ref:

harry doesn't immediately come when he's called so louis does the fetching, dragging him reluctant but laughing to sing along with him and liam and the three actual women on the recording. louis lets him go back to the kitchen with a smacking kiss when the song ends, and the volume drops off after that while harry makes dinner for them

he can hear they're talking, quietly, over what now sounds like the radio, but he leaves them to it, happy that liam seems to actually be happy. (in harry's mind: no one drags up when they're miserable, if they don't have to)

Eloise: Their friendship is lovely!! I like that someone is making Liam happy and that he feels secure.

me: louis makes him the focus of his attention
and that rly helps
maybe they even try this act for a few weeks
the three of them, in drag
it doesn't last, because liam gets another role
and then louis does
and someone finds harry and decides he should rly be singing on his
own, because with that face? yeah.

Eloise: Hahaha indeed. #averageface
Are any of them very successful after the war?

me: they all do well
in their various areas
it abruptly occurs to me to worry about zayn
the possibilities for his pop music career in the 50s seem... slim
I think I might have to stick him on stage too
more possibilities
I am rly committed to liam having a conventional stage career, oddly enough
idk why my brain will not let that go
but, v insistent

Eloise: Is Liam the one who said he wanted to be Justin Bieber
or was that Niall?

me: hahahah idk!
he could do a left turn and become a solo singer like harry
niall defs does
tho I was having a bit of a dither about genre with niall

me: I have to bring zayn home properly

justchelle: right yeah
I mean
they basically developed deeper feelings before they were separated, right?
prior to which i was presuming were some mutual orgasm shenanigans

me: yeah
tho it was zayn leaving that was the catalyst to actually talk about said feelings
talk/confront/air, etc

justchelle: finding out he was leaving, correct?
by which i mean the talking/discussing was done together in person

me: but probs with not v much notice
I pictured it like zayn coming in and being all 'ok, so it's settled, we're going'
and liam going '...'
and zayn going '...'
both of them going 'OH. OH GOD.'

justchelle: ;___; boys

me: FOOLISHNESS.
anyway.
so the time in which they realize depth of feeling etc is v brief before separation

justchelle: so emotions are all over the map in this hotel room
sooo maybe the last time they got up to shenans it was with acknowledgement of said feelings but also with a boat load of 'waugh i'm/you're leaving'

me: yyy

justchelle: and now 'waugh you're leaving' is 'omfg you're HERE' but the rest of the feels also seem shifted

me: do go on

justchelle: like trying to pick a book up that you started reading so long ago
nowhere on the bookmarked page seems familiar
but something must be
so there's a searching

me: zayn has ink
liam has to catalogue it all
kisses

justchelle: and wanting to flip back to a more familiar page
except there isn't one
where is his ink?

me: BOYS AUGH.

justchelle: arms?

me: for the time, yeah, arms
maybe chest
he has arabic irl?

justchelle: nodnod

me: wherezit?

justchelle: clavicle
'be true to who you are'

me: let's keep it
:)
maybe a bit lower

justchelle: over his heart?
* __ *

me: just under undershirt, yeah
:)

justchelle: nngh killing me

me: liam touching it, v gently
'what does it say?'
(zayn could give him lots of diff phrases)

justchelle: and zayn replies
he wouldn't just tell him?
or are you thinking it says sthg different
in this au

me: I was thinking him being playful, mb

justchelle: hee

me: saying improbable things

justchelle: breaking the tension a bit

me: 'ilu liam'
'music is my bf'
etc

justchelle: aw
liam is so trusting though

me: and liam is all 'hee I don't believe you'

justchelle: but
he can probs tell zayn is joking
even tho zayn's poker face is pretty good
liam remembers how to discern zayn taking the piss

me: if zayn was all :) :) '(ludicrous translation)' :) :)

justchelle: nodnod
hee

me: 'niall is a terrible guitar player'
;)

justchelle: haha
poor niall
howevs i don't think zayn would be thinking of niall
;)

me: PROBS NOT.
and then zayn says the truth
and liam is all 'and who is that?'

justchelle: and what does zayn say?

me: a little half-shrug 'someone who loves you?'

justchelle: ZAYN
<3333
liam's response is enthusiastic snogging i hope

me: liam is all <3___<3
...OH MY GOD, I AM THE LUCKIEST, ETC.

justchelle: are they naked or just half undressed or
DETAILS

me:down to underpants?
lying in bed?

justchelle: ok cool
just getting a mental picture

me: :)
feels like there was a bunch of frantic clothes removal
and then the reality of being in bed made everything slow down

justchelle: nodnod

me: and lots of 'can't believe you're real/I'm here/we're actually together/this isn't a dream'

justchelle: oof yes
and carefully just exploring physical details

me: yyyyyy
so, then what

justchelle: well
neither of them are going to lie there forever trailing touches over limbs and muscles and being desperately turned on i mean they're gonna fuck or what is the point
hahaha

me: lolz
well.
quite.
tho mb that's round 2, the actual fucking
and refusing to go to sleep

justchelle: and round one was?

me: because what if it all turns out to be a dream
handjobs with makeouts?
lol

justchelle: yyy

me: the café radio just now
AT LAST, MY LOVE HAS COME ALONG
MY LONELY DAYS ARE OVER
AND LIFE IS LIKE A SONG

justchelle: hahaha

me: AT LAST

justchelle: <3333

me: ugh perfect timing
...a thrill to press my cheek to?
is that what they called it in those days

justchelle: hee

me: do you have a headcanon for who's toppier?

justchelle: liam

me: pls go on
using diagrams
;)
lavish illustration etc.

justchelle: hee
idk i feel like it's just in liam's nature to be more so
and physically he's fuller than zayn
not that this fact alone ~means anything about someone's preferences but yunno

me: :)
I do hope they thought ahead
and have something for lube

justchelle: did i share this with you

me: ...NO.
OH MY GOD.

justchelle: do you need more diagrams now
or are we good

me: well
I won't say no to more diagrams hahaha

justchelle: (zayn's hips, jfc, i wish the frame of that gif were a bit larger)
(liam's hand on his stomach i just)
(sobs/sobs)

me: UGH YES.
I can see perfectly clearly now, thx

me: CRINKLY EYES/NOSES
AHHHHHHHH
WEYYYYYY

justchelle: this is pretty

me: the moment harry calls out to him and niall in the train station
and liam goes '...oh my god'

justchelle: :')

liam's hand on zayn's arm
tell me now who tops nancy
TELL ME

me: hee
I SEE YOU HAVE SUPPORTED YR THESIS WELL.

me: I like to think they are still kind of overwhelmed, even after round one

justchelle: overwhelmed yes
i agree

me: so lots of staring into one another's eyes

justchelle: so
surely one of them
has some foresight
re: lube

me: or both of them
I REFUSE TO HAVE REUNION SEX FOILED OK

justchelle: agreed

me: I have not looked up the historical lube options
let's just handwave

justchelle: haha

me: there's stuff

justchelle: s'ok
gloss it for now

me: are they in a hurry?
is it one of those HURRY-slow-slow-HURRY-slow times

justchelle: why would they be?
or do you just mean
the pacing of the sexing

me: pacing of sexing, yis

justchelle: i presume they have the room all night so
heh
it's probably one of those fits and starts things
totes overwhelmed but also don't want it to be over

me: yeah
'wait, wait, wait, we don't have to rush'
and then agh, omg frantic

justchelle: yyy

me: and lots and lots of touching, during and after
touching and tasting

justchelle: all languid and spent

me: and one or the other almost drifting off
the other doing something to keep him awake

justchelle: hhe
no, don't sleep... [jostle]
mmh... 'm not...

me: fingerkissing

justchelle: lies.
ear nibbles
hee

me: waking up after round three, and weak winter light coming in the window
and briefly, being confused as to why the light is wrong
and/or unfamiliar

justchelle: then flood of realizations/memories
sleepy eyes-closed-again smiles

me: who wakes up first?

justchelle: liam
zayn sleeps deeply/forevs
is canon
he also drops off anywhere/everywhere

me: lots of time for liam to stare at him then
:D
could wake him up with a blowjob

justchelle: perf
oh man they're not gonna wanna leave

me: no
but then there's all sorts of noise in the corridor
people coming and going

justchelle: hehe

me: and the little bubble around them is kind of burst

justchelle: aw
why does the rest of the world exist

me: quite.

justchelle: tho probs they're a bit hungry by now

me: truth

justchelle: also the sheets are a mess

me: VERY the truth
it's january
so it's cold
but they might go for a long walk, regardless

justchelle: oh man
long coats?
scarves?

me: and hats!

justchelle: * _ *

me: hands in pockets
so they can keep bumping elbows

justchelle: :')

me: lets them be alone just a little bit longer
mb liam has rehearsal
in the avo
lets zayn get settled in the flat

justchelle: somebody must have dealt with zayn's bags for him

me: yis
must have

justchelle: thnx harry/nick/louis/niall
whoevs

me: they'd have trunks
so when liam gets back, zayn unpacks
so many tiny presents

justchelle: haha
zayn forgets

me: 4 years worth

justchelle: what all he's bought
as he unpacks he just comes across them
oh yeah
and this is for you

me: tiny beautiful things
defs a tiny carved elephant

justchelle: liam is all <333 at him
but also
'but i haven't got anything for you'

me: and zayn is bothered by this?
:P
oh liam

justchelle: lolz not at all
me: esp since THE FLAT GOT FLATTENED.

justchelle: probs makes a rude joke
along the lines of all liam gave him last night

me: hahahahah
mb a ring?
they sold them, with the crest of w/e unit
I have two
irl

justchelle: :o

me: that, zayn would be reluctant to hand over
never trusted enough to send it
mb this is ooc, idk
hard to tell what war and +4 years would do

justchelle: i think he could give liam a ring
love the idea actually

me: mb it's a signet ring
anyhow
he could defs have got it in India
and hung onto it
'if I get the chance, I'll give it to him'
'if it's possible (and all that means)'

justchelle: nodnod
does liam wear it

me: yes, tho not always on his hand

justchelle: i agree
around his neck on a chain yes?

me: yeah
at least half the time, that's where it is

justchelle: nngh
and it hangs down between them when liam's fucking him
:)

me: zayn uses it to pull him down to kiss
(I totes just made heart hands at the screen at this mental image)

justchelle: they're the hottest
srsly ilthem

me: LIAM, STEALTH MAIN CHARACTER.
LIAM/ZAYN AWESOME OTP.

justchelle: :DDDD

me: louis and niall have entertained themselves with harry and nick, perhaps
in the background
shenanigans
but they are going to have to turn the front room into another bedroom
just to get some sleep

justchelle: yyy
surely zayn goes home to bradford for a bit?
to see fam

me: Oh yes
liam must come sometime too

justchelle: oof
difficult
being around zayn and his fam
acting like friends

me: Go on

justchelle: justfriends

me: It's like being in public

justchelle: i know
but
still

me: Sure
Cos not public

justchelle: and vigilant defenses are difficult to keep up when you feel safe/comfortable

me: Instinct says liam better than zayn?

justchelle: and have had a few beers
tho to be fair
idk if zayn drinks
with his fam
heh

me: point well made!
probs helps

justchelle: i do like a bit of pining though
pining while in the SAME ROOM

me: Haaaah

justchelle: holding gazes just a tad too long
and then zayn smiling all secretly and looking down
his lashes going on for miles

me: I like liam's mum being like nick's mum - p sure abt her son, not that bothered bc he seems happy

me: They share a bed at both places out of necessity

justchelle: liam and zayn do?
ORLY

me: Yyyy

justchelle: how does that go

me: V v v v quietly heh
And no mess ok

justchelle: :x

(liam keeps getting letters for weeks after zayn returns
and he asks, every time
'what couldn't you say then'
but zayn kind of prevaricates
because that shit's depressing
liam does hear some of it
when zayn randomly gets a letter, a few months after he's back
from some of the indian guys who he met while he was there
gurkhas, maybe
anyway, they all go to the pub
and the other guys are a lot more open about talking about some of
this stuff, and zayn chips in
liam mainly sits there and listens and goes O.O a lot
'remember the smell in Meiktila?"
'oh fuck, yes, rotting fruit, and rotting people'
'never mind that,' zayn says 'I don't think i could ever live
somewhere with a rainy season'
‘mate, you live in England, I don’t think you have a leg to stand on’)

Eloise: And YES I love that they go through Zayn's letters--and there's stuff he still doesn't want to say and that Liam has to piece together.

me: esp after that research we did
ugh, terrible stuffs

Eloise: yes. :( oh, zayn. he is safe now!!

Eloise: does liam ever give zayn anything like the ring?

me: I…dk.
mb he gives him ink
like, on his own skin

Eloise: eeeeeeeee. Zayn would like that a lot I think.

me: I think it's deeply romantic
AS LONG AS it's not the person's name

me: I must also negotiate the nick/liam in the nick&harry, liam&zayn thing
the six of them live together for a couple of years
there's limited housing
and it's just... easier
even though it's loud and messy
and kind of chaotic
maybe liam and nick meet up now and again
outside of the flat
have lunch near the bbc
and it's nice and whatnot, but liam starts feeling a bit guilty?

Eloise: Poor Liam--he can't help it.

me: and nick's... aggressively 'who cares, it's fine, why are you worried’ which doesn't help
but before liam can go all 'idk, this feels problematic'
zayn says something?

Eloise: Does Zayn think it's weird?
Are they all still sleeping with each other at this point or are they mostly monogamous? (the ones in relationships)

me: it's a bit of a free-for-all, I think
though they probably more or less default to relationship pairs
I want zayn to understand straightaway
but I don't know if that's wishful projection or...

Eloise: I don't know Zayn well enough to know. But I think he could very well understand--he learned some complicated things during the war and maybe this one of them.

me: I would like to think that he recognizes by this point just how emotionally committed liam is to him
four years of separation
and liam is STILL all <3___<3 at him

Eloise: Absolutely.

me: and really, zayn wants his boy to be happy
as long as it doesn't mean, you know
3 for zayn
in my head, zayn has sat quietly thoughtful and is now shaking his head
he seems to think that he'd want liam to be happy even if it meant heartbreak for himself
ugh.
BOYS.

Eloise: Awww. He loves Zayn SO much, though. And he wouldn't hurt Harry like that.

me: not just that, but he doesn't want nick all to himself, because that would be all...incomplete
nick wouldn't be himself (and he's just so noticeably happier and relaxed now that harry's back) and liam wouldn't really know how to be properly HIM without zayn
liam is still horrified when zayn broaches the convo
awkwardly
because, feelings.
and talking about potentially not-happy feelings is HARD.
but they manage to persevere

Eloise: it is hard indeed. is harry bothered by it? it seems like he might not be.

me: and zayn says something like 'just as long as you don't want nick more, because I'm not sure I could stand it' and liam's all horrified and just says 'ZAYN"
oh, I don't think he is, no
he has enough of nick's attention, in general
and the time they spent as a trio has made harry a little protective of liam

Eloise: Yeah, I like that way of thinking about it--harry having enough of nick's attention, I mean.

me: I think harry gets lots of attention, in general
and lots of love
he doesn't lose out if nick also wants some liam-times

Eloise: Ha. Yes, I think he inspires that reaction in people for sure.
And I think Nick and Liam wanting time away from the group seems very reasonable--but Zayn and Liam are still negotiating their relationship, and it's understandable that they'd have a misunderstanding over it. Or almost a misunderstanding over it, anyway.

me: Liam and nick are v much emotional connection over physical
and harry and zayn vice versa
So when nick and liam go out to the cinema and harry and zayn are home bored, they'll get it on together. If they're still at it when Nick and Liam get home, sometimes they’ll join in.
Harry is happy to get it on with whoever p much
but he chooses nick, first and last
V specific image if him and zayn naked in bed
And nick coming in
and harry just lighting up and reaching out for him

Eloise: That seems perfect! Makes sense to me.
Aww, harry lighting up for nick. That's pretty adorable. My reaction to Harry is usually "That's pretty adorable," which is probably not what he wants

me: hee
<3
but it is adorable!
also
zayn and liam
is it the same with them, more or less, y'think?
(I have liam and nick as committed cinema buddies in my head)

Shai: totally. I actually had a vision of zayn being all heyyyy and then liam walked in right behind nick and he did the same thing harry did, lol

me: but louis and niall
idk

me: actually, problem
not sure when/how niall meets his lady
probs freaks the rest of them out
niall spinning off into his own orbit, with a LADY.
waugh, the good times are done, everything is going to disappear, it's
now time for all of us to go off and get married and have babies
(except nick, who is not deluded about himself, obvs)

Eloise: i have two questions! 1) is niall's relationship with the LADY
why they stop living together? and 2) so the 1d boys have the idea for
awhile that this is a phase or something? or just haven't thought
about the future?

me: re 1
I'm not sure!
maybe!
pasting from other window
me: naturally, none of them do
liam has angsted about this already
zayn is probs the one who has introspected on the subject the least and has particular family/social pressures that make it even harder for him, when he does think it through

(I love how people can hold such contradictions in their heads - 'yes, I love liam and cannot imagine not being with him' coexists quite happily (for a while) with 'of course I will marry a lady and have babies')

I think liam has heard/seen enough from zayn that he doesn't actually expect zayn to leave him for anyone else and zayn acting all weird in and around niall's wedding is just him mourning, in a way
...thinks liam

later, when zayn has come to terms with the fact that he cannot be both people - with liam, with some lady - and talks to liam about how difficult it's been, liam retrospectively realizes there was in fact a threat
and freaks out a bit, now that the danger has actually passed, as it happens

me: he can go talk to nick about it tho
and nick is all 'LOL YOU ARE ME'

Shai: consolatory sexy tiemz?
lol

me: yes

Eloise: The idea of them holding two contradictory future ~visions in their head seems quite right to me. Does Harry fret much over the future? I am wondering if this perspective is different since he's with Nick, who, as you noted, would not be deluded about himself.

me: harry...
no, I don't think he does
his 'eureka' moment is when gemma meets nick,
he can abandon the ladies and babies plan, i think

Eloise: ah, right! but basically it worries liam and zayn.

me: I think it worries all of them
the disruption
but for various diff reasons
and to differing degrees

Eloise: yeah, right--the "we're growing up and this bubble won't last forever" moment

me: poor boys
nick abandons them a bit, I think
goes off and hangs out with aimee
and is all JFC THEY ARE ALL SO YOUNG.

Eloise: yeah. nick has already had his "i'm an adult" moment.

me: yyyyy
I am laughing imagining them at niall's wedding reception
forgetting over and over not to get handsy

Niall meets some lovely Irish girl who's been having an exciting war too, shortly after everyone's demobbed and home again. It's a whirlwind romance that takes everyone by surprise, but Niall is walking around with a perma-:D face so no one's too upset. Handwave handwave, they have five or six sprogs, who are then blessed with five uncles who flap and dote on them. Obvs one of them turns out to be queer, and as much as the others have been involved with all the kids, they FALL on the queer one as One Of Us, and fight about who gets to induct him into Life Of The Gays (post 1967, legalization of homosexuality blah blah) which frankly freaks him out a bit (because also, hahaha omg talking about sex to your uncles UM.) and Niall is all OMG STOP TRAUMATIZING HIM >:| but it all works out of course, but we'll handwave how this takes us into AIDS territory la la la everyone's fine it's fine no one dies okay? OKAY?

(Niall's wife also works out that her husband's ~~special friendships were kind of queer, and there may or may not be pegging, but Niall in my head defs wants me to draw a veil over that.)

Eventually, everyone's fam knows about their choice of partner, to varying degrees of acknowledgment/approval of it. No one is shunned, tho.

(Just got a flash of Liam's mum coming to visit, and her seeing... something. Zayn taking care of Liam, completely instinctively - like, putting his arm out to keep Liam from stepping into traffic, or making him tea first, something small - and kind of realizing. Liam, of course, still has the canonical health probs from childhood with the kidney, so she's kind of overprotective? Seeing her bb being taken care of is immensely significant, and Zayn is defs on the 'keep' list from that moment.)

Out of all of them, Louis is the one who doesn't end up in a stable committed relationship. I have a very distinct vision of him turning into the old queen holding up one end of the bar, fabulous and bitchy, and actually kind of content with his bitterness. He shags his way
through successive generations of twinky boys, and has profound emotional commitment to the 1D boys, but these two don't line up. He gave up on the idea of relationships as stable entities watching his parents split up, and it's only exacerbated by the gay.

I think Harry voices the 'let's go to war' idea, and Louis absolutely turns it from a flippant comment into an action plan. He doesn't mind so much that it upsets Nick - besides, he's a 20-something guy, he still believes he's immortal - but he does mind that Liam is upset.
He takes care of Harry with Liam in mind, in a mixed up welter of love.

Ultimately, I don't think Louis ever has the capacity for what the other five manage.

Eloise: I really like that it takes awhile for everyone to get their bearings after the war. It's like Nick and Harry are learning the same lesson re: trust from the opposite direction and have to find some middle ground. Does Zayn's family ever know about Liam? If so, how do they take it?

Me: To answer the Zayn question directly: there's no eureka moment. I think it's a gradual thing, over years, as Liam is always there, and no one else ever enters the picture, he just gets assimilated into the family.

Maybe way down the line, in the context of the legalization of gay, someone finally vocalizes their view as 'but, sure, it's fine, I mean, look at Zayn and Liam, right?' and then no one mentions it for several years again.

me: I have worked out that eventually
post-wwii
all but niall end up living in a massive victorian house
and they have separate door bells
but they never bother building the dividing walls to make separate flats

Shai: * _____ *

me: they say, when they move in
'oh, we'll defs do that, yup'
...and never get round to it
louis shrugs
'it would be awkward, getting to the kitchen'

Shai: louiiiiiis
ugh.

me: harry and nick have the ground floor
liam and zayn the first floor
and louis the 'attic'

Shai: once again, * _____ *

me: of course
harry and liam do all the cooking
as the 'wives' in this scenario

Shai: lololol

me: I think it entirely possible/probable that nick will refer to harry as 'wife' in scenarios where a) it's people v much in the know and b) where there's no chance he'll encounter them again

Shai: I could see that

me: for category a, he will do this with harry in the room
I hope that harry smacks him

Shai: it's either that or look stupidly fond of him.
probs both?

me: both
I like both

Shai: :D

me: after the fiftieth iteration, the violence starts
;)

Shai: lolol

me: Nick being Nick, there has to be a dog

Shai: and zayn!

me: aw, happy families. :D