Actions

Work Header

only because you know (that you wanna feel the same)

Work Text:

~*~

 

The first inkling Liam’s parents have that Liam is different from other boys his age is the day they get called to the school.

"Liam pushed another child down today on the playground without provocation, it seems." Liam refuses to look up, keeping his chin tucked down against his chest. His mother runs a gentle hand over his head.

"Are you sure?" she asks. It's completely unlike Liam to do such a thing. He's a quiet, obedient child and this all seems like a big misunderstanding. She glances over at her husband and he looks as perplexed as she feels. He shrugs, and she turns back to the headmaster.

Mr. Harviner is a rotund, red-cheeked man with kind eyes, whom the kids adore. Liam has often come home telling stories about the magic tricks he does and songs he sings to entertain them. Right now, however, those eyes are sad and a little confused. The headmaster knows what sort of child Liam is as well.

"I'm afraid so," he sighs. "Mrs. Latham witnessed the whole thing. Robbie was standing by the swings and Liam came over and shoved him down for no apparent reason--"

"He stole Janie's doll!" Liam shouts. They all startle at the abrupt sound, and he hollers again, "I saw it, I did! He took it and made Janie cry!" Liam's eyes are red and puffy, a little wild looking, when he looks at them before he tucks his chin back down. "S'mean," he mumbles, bottom lip trembling. "You shouldn't make girls cry."

Mrs. Payne runs her hand over Liam's head again. She can feel his little body hitch, a quiet sob, and she passes her hand through his curls again. She looks back to Mr. Harviner, questioning, but he just shakes his head. "Janie's had her doll all day," he tells them quietly.

They take Liam home for the rest of the day. Later in the evening, he's more talkative and they ask him what happened. He knows it's not right to push somebody, but, "You shouldn't make a girl cry," he tells them again. And Janie is great, she shares her purple crayon with him when his breaks and she always saves him a space for nap time on the best mat. Liam didn't think it was very nice of Robbie to take something that weren't his, especially Janie's doll.

He's adamant that he saw it, and begins getting upset when they try to explain that Robbie hadn't taken the doll. "He did, he did. I saw it," he hiccups through his sobs later. They let it go, afraid that Liam's going to hurt himself crying. Even when she tucks him in a while later, he still mumbling that he saw it happen.

The next day, Mrs. Payne is standing on the pavement outside the school waiting to pick Liam up when she overhears Janie's mom complaining about that "awful Jameson boy." She leans over to ask what happened, curious. Turns out, Janie had come home crying the day before because her doll had been taken by the youngest Jameson, Robert, and really, don't parents teach their children any manners anymore?

Two weeks later, she notices that Liam seems unusually somber as she tucks him into bed. Upon asking what’s wrong, she gets a hug, his short arms tight around her neck, and a mumbled, “Grandpa’s sick.” She does her best to reassure him, tells Liam that she’d spoken with him a few days ago and he was fine.

An hour later, the phone rings.

 

~*~

 

Liam's trying to concentrate. It's only a quiz and half the class is marking whatever the fuck they feel like, but Liam's on scholarship - every test counts. He's frantically trying to remember the answer to the current question, but the boy next to him is fidgety; restless enough that Liam keeps getting distracted.

He glances over to find that it's Harry Styles staring at him, and Liam's not quite sure how he missed that before the test began. Harry's ridiculously pretty for a boy, but Liam's slightly afraid that Harry’s hair might be trying to eat his head. Harry’s blue-green eyes widen a little when he notices Liam staring back, and a slow, cheeky grin makes its way across Harry's face. Liam can feel his own face heating, and he quickly averts his gaze.

A second later there's a low, "Heya,” and then, "I'm Harry," like Liam doesn't know exactly who he is. Liam tilts his chin a little, not looking over directly. Harry's never talked to him before. Of course, half the time Harry doesn't even bother to show up for class. It might have been an issue for any other student, but it's a well-known fact that the Styles family is one of the top contributors to the school, so most of the teachers look the other way.

From the corner of his eye, Liam can see Harry's hands tapping out a catchy little rhythm on his desk. Liam's foot immediately starts to follow the beat. With a concentrated effort, Liam stills his foot and pulls his focus back down to the quiz in front of him. He still can't remember the answer to this stupid question. With a frustrated sigh, he finally moves on, marking the next few questions with a fair amount of confidence. Halfway through a short answer question, there's a soft pssst to his right.

Without thinking, he glances over. That slow, sleepy smile is still in place on Harry’s face and Liam offers a tentative smile in return. Harry's smile widens, his cheek dimpling, and Liam does his best not to stare. It's just that Harry's mouth is really, really pink. Harry's tongue flicks out to wet his bottom lip and Liam can feel heat blooming over his cheeks again. He makes himself look up, into Harry's eyes. If possible, Harry looks even more delighted than before.

Even though his face feels like it's on fire, Liam can help the little bloom of pleasure in his chest at the attention. He hasn’t really made any friends this half, being the new kid and on scholarship. Liam knows he's shy and reserved, and it makes it a bit difficult to get close to people. It makes him miss Andy ferociously for a moment. Being friends with Andy was easy, he knew Liam better than anyone. He wouldn't let Liam mope around just because no one had made any friendly overtures since Liam got to school.

So, Liam can't help the flush of happiness at Harry's attention. It lasts until Harry leans over slightly and asks, "What'd you get for number 10?" Liam can feel the smile drop off his face, and he frowns instead of answering and turns his attention back to his quiz. It figures that Harry would want to cheat, and Liam feels disappointed for some ridiculous reason. Harry hisses softly for his attention again, but Liam ignores him.

Only, Harry Styles does not seem to like being ignored.

He's persistent, Liam has to admit, after a full five minutes of Harry asking, "What about number 4?" and "I got 54 on question 7, do you think that's right?" Of course it's not, Liam wants to tell him, they're taking a history exam, but he knows that Harry's taking the piss, so Liam keeps quiet. Others around them are starting to notice, shifting in their seats and throwing looks at the two of them. Liam can feel himself blushing again. This isn't the kind of attention he'd wanted.

Liam finally snaps. "Shut it," he whispers furiously.

Harry looks entirely too pleased to have finally gotten a reaction. He stares hard at Liam, "Then tell me what you got for number 10."

Liam gives him an incredulous look before asking, "Are you mental?"

Harry’s brows pull together in a quick frown, but he keeps his eyes on Liam's as he seems to consider the question. "No, not really," he finally answers. "Number 10 then?"

Liam's about to tell him no again when a voice from the front of the room cuts in. "I'm sorry to interrupt your conversation, gentlemen. Perhaps you'd like to continue it in the headmaster's office?"

Snapping his eyes to the front of the room, he can see Mr. Stearns giving them a hard stare. Liam feels the color drain from his face.

"No, sir-" Liam attempts, but he's cut off.

"It wasn't a suggestion, Mr. Payne."

"But sir-" He can't afford to fail a quiz, and he especially can’t be accused of cheating. The panic rises in his throat and he throws a desperate look at Harry, only Harry's slumped in his chair like there's not a care in the world.

Headmaster Conlin's office.

Liam can see Harry, with that stupid, flirty smile on his face. He's talking to the headmaster, but Liam can't quite make out what they’re saying. Sometimes that happens with the visions. It's always frustrating, to sit there and watch, but to have no verbal context to what's actually happening.

He frowns.

The headmaster is reaching over to shake Harry's hand, a wide smile on his face. When Liam glances over, Stearns' eyes look a little strange. Glassy, like he's not quite focused. Liam shakes the thought away, and focuses back on Harry.

Harry, with a little furrow between his eyes as he stares back at Liam. There's something calculating in his eyes that makes Liam a bit nervous. A hand reaches out to Liam, cool fingers around his wrist, tugging him up--

When Liam comes out of the fugue, it's only been seconds, like always. They last forever in his head, it seems, but the reality is different.

There are cool fingers around his wrist and Liam looks down, staring. He watches them tighten, press into his skin, and then tug. Harry's voice is jarring after the silence within the vision.

"Shall we then, love?" There's a tiny smile at the corner of Harry's mouth.

He doesn't let go as Liam gathers his bag, keeps his hand wrapped around Liam's wrist as they stumble out of class. They head down the hallway to the headmaster's office and Harry maintains his grip the entire time. Liam doesn't pull away.

*

It's not until they reach the office and Liam sees nice Ms. Delores, the school's secretary, that he jerks away from Harry. He's seen the way this is supposed to end, but it doesn't stop the blind panic that rolls over him. His visions have been wrong before - not often, but it has happened.

The disappointed look Ms. Delores gives them makes Liam feel even worse. She points to a couple of seats and Harry throws himself into one, sprawling one long leg over the arm. Liam sits more carefully, his back straight, trying to work out the best way to tell the headmaster they weren't cheating - well, that Liam wasn't cheating. But he doesn't really want to get Harry in trouble either, even though he should, and Liam's not one for lying, except for one giant, glaring lie. But lies of omission aren't really lies, right?

A hand appears in front of his face, waving back and forth, and Liam jerks back. Harry's voice infiltrates the jumble of thoughts running around his head.

Liam blinks, focusing on his hands, only to find the knuckles are nearly white they're clenched together so hard. He forces his hands flat on his thighs and his joints ache a little. "What?" he asks, finally looking up at Harry.

Harry's face is too close to his and Liam jerks back again, repeating, "What?"

"You've really worked yourself into a fit, haven't you?" Harry talks like he moves: slow, and a bit winding. It throws Liam off, especially when he adds, "No worries, mate," and grins. It's a really nice smile, if a little crazy. Liam shakes the thought away.

"What?" he says for the third time and Harry throws his head back, laughing. Liam glances over at Ms. Delores, but she's gone back to whatever game of Solitaire she was playing when they first came in. He looks back just in time for Harry to ask, "Is that all you can say?"

Harry's obviously amused by the whole thing and Liam can feel his face heating up again. He hasn't blushed this much since puberty hit. A raised eyebrow makes Liam realize that Harry's still waiting for an answer.

Shaking his head, Liam says, "Of course not." This gets him a nod, curls falling over Harry's forehead.

"Right, right." With a practiced hand, Harry shoves his hair back out of the way. "You're thinking too hard, I can practically feel it over here." He gives Liam another considering look and Liam's glad he can't get any more red. "Which is not a new thing for you, is it?" Harry looks at him expectantly.

Liam doesn’t answer; instead, he takes his own turn to study Harry. He's awfully calm. Which, from Liam's earlier vision, seems to make sense. But still. "Aren't you worried?"

Cocking his head to the side, Harry asks, "About what?"

With a huff, Liam waves a hand about. "We've been sent to the office. For cheating!" He frowns at Harry, who's still looking at Liam like he hasn't a clue about what's wrong. "And you're acting like it's nothing. We could be expelled." Or worse, they wouldn't be, but Liam would lose his scholarship instead. If that happened, the look on his parents' faces when they find out might actually kill Liam. He hates disappointing them.

"Hey," Harry reaches out to catch Liam's hand, stilling it. His fingers are warm against Liam's skin. Leaning back into Liam's space, Harry smiles again. This one is more - Liam searches for the right word - sincere than the others, and his eyes are definitely more green than blue right now. They’re a little intense this close. "Trust me, Liam Payne," Harry tells him in a quiet voice.

Liam doesn't say anything for a moment and second later, Harry adds, "You trust me, yeah?"

It makes Liam frown, the absolute confidence weaved into those few words, and makes him say, "I don't really know you, do I? So why should I trust you?"

And there's that little furrow in Harry's brow again, a calculating look that Liam doesn't have time to dwell on because that's when the door to Headmaster Conlin's office opens and he has to go back to panicking.

*

Everything goes the way Liam saw it in his vision.

"--well, Harry, glad to clear this nonsense up then. Maybe next time you'll pick a better time to trade numbers, eh boys?"

Conlin reaches his hand across the desk and Harry gives Conlin a bright, flashy smile and shakes his hand. Liam doesn't actually look at the headmaster; he's already seen all of this, of course. Instead, he keeps his gaze on Harry's face, watches as he murmurs of course and thank you before turning toward Liam. Green eyes narrow slightly when he finds Liam staring at him. It makes Liam swallow, knowing what happens next. He thinks about moving his hand, but in the time it takes to make the decision, Harry's already wrapping long fingers around his wrist. Liam follows just as easily as he did earlier.

He drags Liam out into the hallway, stopping so abruptly right outside the office that Liam nearly crashes into him. "Gimme your mobile."

"What?" Liam's beginning to hate that word.

Harry rolls his eyes, but there's humor in the tilt of his mouth when he says, "You need new material, Payne." He wiggles his fingers. "Mobile, please."

Digging it out of his trouser pocket, Liam hands it over. Harry immediately begins typing, thumbs flying over the keys. Liam opens his mouth to ask what he's doing when Harry jerks his head toward the office window. "Keeping up appearances, eyes watching, yeah?"

Liam glances over and sees both Ms. Delores and Mr. Stearns watching the two of them. Ms. Delores gives him a bright smile and a thumbs up. Liam nearly chokes, and quickly glances back to Harry. It hits him then, what Harry's said, and Liam can't help but feel a little disappointed. "Oh."

Something in his voice makes Harry look up. There's another smile, the one that's more real, as Harry hands the mobile back over. "Don't worry, Liam, I find you greatly intriguing-" Liam's not really sure that's a good thing. "This won't be the last time we meet."

Liam frowns. "We have History together." Harry laughs and starts walking backwards.

In the complete opposite direction as their classroom.

Raising a hand, Liam says, "But class is--"

There's another laugh, Harry's cheeks dimpled as he half-hollers down the hallway, "Quit thinking so much, Liam Payne!" and before Liam can say anything else, Harry's disappeared around a corner.

 

~*~

 

Harry arrives home and flings himself on the sofa, toeing off his trainers. He digs out his phone, reading the screen. Text Message Received - Unknown number. He opens it.

Liam payne history didn't respond?!?

He's debating whether or not he should send a message when a voice over his shoulder asks, "Who's Liam Payne?"

It startles Harry so badly, he nearly falls off the sofa. His mobile isn't as lucky, he fumbles it and loses, watching as it hits the carpet with a soft thud and ends up under the coffee table. Harry glares over his shoulder, only to find nothing there. "Nobody," he finally replies, then adds, "Are you invisi 'cause you were wandering around the flat naked again, or just because you're a wanker who likes to spy on people?"

"Both," Louis replies from Harry’s other side, and Harry swings his head around to scowl in that direction. He should be better at this by now. "Lou," he whines. Louis hates it when he whines. "I hate talking to you like this. Come onnnn." He puts a little extra nasally tone on the last part, dragging it out.

With a loud sigh, Louis is suddenly there, sitting on the sofa next to Harry.

"You liar," Harry pouts. He shifts over, crowding into Louis's space. "You're not starkers."

"Of course not," is Louis’s response, an arm curling around Harry's shoulder and pulling him in tighter. "I'm not you."

"I'm not naked all the time," Harry grumbles. This is good. Hopefully the conversation will distract Louis from asking more questions. And besides, clothing is restrictive. He just likes to be in a natural state is all.

Louis snorts. "You nearly gave the pizza delivery boy a heart attack last week, answering the door naked as the day you were born, Haz." Harry smiles at that. He'd not quite seen that shade of red on anyone before.

"I gave him an extra tip," Harry protests, poking Louis in the side. It's not like he'd done it on purpose. It's just that sometimes he forgets and Louis is too used to it. Another rib poke and Louis slaps the side of his head. "You shouldn't have let me answer the door anyway."

"Right, right," Louis concedes. The words are a little distracted and Harry glances up to find Louis staring at the coffee table. No, at the phone underneath it, Harry realizes.

"He was adorable though, don't you think?" Harry had been utterly delighted that the first thing out of the delivery boy’s mouth when Harry answered the door without a stitch on was to point at Harry’s dick and say in a cute brogue, That stays away from me and you get your pies, mate. Otherwise, I'm eating them. "Irish, yeah?"

Louis hums agreement, still distracted. "So who is Liam Payne?" he asks a moment later.

For some reason, Harry's reluctant to talk about it. And there's no reason for it really. He considers persuading Louis to drop the subject, but sighs instead. He's worked really hard not to use his powers on friends, to not to be an asshole to the people he loves. Except for Zayn, Zayn totally deserves it. He's got no sense of humor about the whole thing and it makes him the perfect target. The memory of the Saturday before makes Harry smile; that's been his best push yet, he thinks. It's not until Louis shrugs his shoulder, under Harry's head, that Harry realizes he'd gotten lost inside his own head again.

When it comes down to it, Harry tells Louis everything, and this time isn't any different.

When Harry’s done talking, all Louis says is, "So he didn't react at all?"

Harry shakes his head, the hair catching a little on Louis's scruff. He's moved from just sitting next to Louis to having a leg across his lap and an arm around his waist. "I thought a couple of times he might be, but I'm fairly sure it's just that he doesn't talk to many people."

"Sounds a bit boring," Louis offers and Harry bites his shoulder, getting a satisfying jump in result.

"He wasn't though, not really." Tilting his head back, he looks at Louis. "He was kind of like a puppy, all stupidly sincere brown eyes and fluffy hair." Louis snorts at that, raising an eyebrow and tugging at Harry's own curls. "I kind of wanted to pet him on the head and tell him good boy, I swear."

"And you should have seen him, trying so hard on that quiz. It was a bit adorable. Probably the reason I messed with him in the first place." It really had been cute, the frowning concentrated face. The way he kept biting his lip while thinking. Seriously adorable, actually.

A flick on the tip of his nose accompanies Louis's wry, "Well, that and you hadn't studied at all, had you? Cheaters never win, young Harold."

They sit there in silence for a bit, the two of them breathing in a give and take pattern. It's easy, like they always are, and Harry's mind runs through scene from earlier over and over. He's almost completely certain that Liam hadn't reacted to his push. It's immensely intriguing. The fact that Liam's nice to look at doesn't hurt either.

Louis must sense what he's thinking because he asks, "Are you going to go after him then?"

"I dunno." They've gotten off pattern; Harry can feel the resistance as he breathes in against Louis's own inhale. "He's a bit too nice for the likes of me, I think?"

"Ridiculous," Louis states, smacking Harry's thigh a little too close to his balls. Harry squeaks and curls up a little. "Nothing's too good for my Hazza."

Harry grins up at him and Louis smiles back. Something's a little off though and Harry's smile falls a little, as he stares at Louis. He's got his mouth open to ask what's wrong when Louis adds, "And it would be good to figure out if he's-" he waves a hand at Harry, "you know. Immune."

Before he can say anything though, Louis is shifting Harry's leg off his lap and standing. Harry grumbles at the loss and Louis just laughs, the sound more right than his earlier smile. "Come on, Haz." He reaches a hand down that Harry takes immediately. "I'll make some tea before Zayn comes over and you guys drink yourself into oblivion without me."

"You're not going tonight?"

Louis shakes his head, moving toward the kitchen. "Got a shift at the restaurant tonight." Harry pouts and Louis grins at him. "You'll do fine without me, mate. Plus it's steak special night."

That perks Harry up. Chez Leon is the best restaurant in town and even though Harry is more than capable of paying for dinner there, Louis is a bit weird about it. He's more than willing to bring leftovers home though, so Harry always lets it go.

"I guess I'll get cleaned up then." Bending down, Harry runs his hand over the carpet under the coffee table until his fingers hit cool metal. He grabs the phone, staring at the screen as he heads toward the bedroom. He's through the door when Louis's voice floats through the door.

"Oh, hey. I forgot--"

There's a smoky scent in the air.

"Zayn came by earlier."

Harry wrinkles his nose at the smell, finally looking up. An inarticulate noise of rage slips out. There are tiny little ash piles all over his bed, enough material left over to let Harry know exactly what they used to be - his favorite Burberry shirts. They’re stupidly expensive and Zayn knows it.

Directly behind him, Louis adds, voice entirely too delighted, "I don't know for sure, but I think he's a still a little cross over the whole 'strip karaoke' thing from last week."

Liam is momentarily forgotten as Harry starts plotting revenge.

 

~*~

 

Liam hasn't heard from Harry since the incident, which doesn't really surprise Liam. Harry was obviously keeping up whatever pretense he'd sold the head master, but Liam still feels a little disappointed. The whole scene in the office had been strange, to say the least.

He finds himself staring at his mobile a lot, finger hovering over Harry in his contacts list. He never dials, though; he always ends up shoving his mobile back into his pocket. It's a crazy idea anyway.

So Harry hasn't phoned him, but he has been showing up to class, and that’s thrown Mr. Stearns. Liam can't help but laugh quietly every time Harry asks a question, usually because it's completely inappropriate or not in line with the lesson. Class is more fun than it's ever been and Liam can't even be cross. Harry is just ridiculously charming.

Harry doesn't talk to him - doesn't even sit next to him - but Liam feels eyes on him every so often. When Liam turns to look, it's to find Harry staring at him. Once Harry notices Liam looking, he always, always gives Liam a slow, wicked smile. It makes Liam flush from head to toe, jerking his eyes back to the front of the room.

Liam feels like Harry's waiting for something, biding his time, and it's driving Liam a bit mad.

*

He's been done revising for ages, but he's reading ahead because it never hurts. Only, he's having trouble concentrating, the words blurring in front of him as his mind wanders. A restless feeling has been hanging over him all day, and now with nothing to really distract him, Liam feels a little like he's trying to come out of his own skin.

He glances over, and the clock beside his bed reads 9:30. That means the gym will still be open for a bit longer. It's a little late for working out, but Liam's pretty sure physically exhausting himself is going to be the only thing that lets him sleep tonight. He grabs his bag and heads out. Johnny's Ring is only a few minutes away and it's not the first time he's gone for a late night session with the bag.

It is the first time, however, that Liam feels like someone's watching him. Truthfully, he's felt like this all day, like eyes are on him, but every time he's turned around there's been nothing. Even this time, when he casually bends down to re-tie his shoe and glances about, the street is empty. With a sigh, Liam shakes the feeling off and continues to the gym.

When he gets there, it's just as empty as the street. Liam waves to Johnny, the owner, before heading into the locker room to change. The lights are a little lower when he comes out and Liam's glad. The weird half-light fits his mood.

Liam starts with his regular routine, some jump rope to warm up, a few stretches before he moves into a circuit of squat thrusts, bench step-ups, chin ups and hanging crunches, until he's worked up a good sweat. He grabs some water before wrapping up his hands and heading to the bag. He likes the monotony of the bag, the way his hands feel when they connect, how he can get lost in the solid thud as his fists connect. There's a strange melody there and it always helps to clear his head.

The sting of sweat in his eyes makes him pause, and he drags off his shirt to wipe his face. He tosses it on the floor and he’s about to turn back to the bag when he gets that feeling again, the feeling like eyes are on him. He glances around again, but other than Johnny’s light in the second floor office, the place is still and empty. Shaking his head, Liam goes back to the bag.

It's nearly half an hour later when Liam stops. He grabs his shirt off the floor and turns toward the locker room, wiping the sweat off his face. When he drops his hands, it's to find a boy standing in front of him. Liam's not proud of the startled noise that comes out of his mouth, but it doesn't get much better when the stranger finally speaks.

"Well. You're quite fit, aren't you?"

"Pardon?"

"Louis," is the response he gets, even though Liam hasn't asked. "And I said, you're quite fit, yeah?"

It takes a moment for Liam to realize that he's expected to answer. "Uh, well." What, exactly, is he supposed to say to that? "I suppose?"

"No," Louis rubs a hand over his chin, "no, I'm quite sure you're fit. It's no wonder then."

The corners of Louis's mouth twitch as he continues to stare, as if Liam's confusion amuses him. He thrusts out a hand, stating again, "I'm Louis," before adding, "You should make me fit, too."

"You look fit enough to me," falls out of Liam's mouth and Louis bursts out laughing as Liam' realizes what he said, cheeks flushing bright red.

Louis pats his belly and seriously, he does look in fine shape to Liam. "Fit as a fiddle, I am, but I want to be manly. Like you."

"You don't even know me," Liam responds automatically. He's still staring at Louis's hand, splayed across a bright blue and white striped shirt. Jerking his head up, before Louis can say something else outrageous, he adds quickly, "And I'm not really qualified to train someone."

That doesn't seem to deter Louis. He waves a hand, dismissing the claim. "Bah! I'll just follow along, do what you do. Yeah?"

Liam's about to protest again, although he's fairly certain that it's not going to matter, when Johnny's voice rings out across the floor. "Everything okay, Liam?"

"Yes, sir," Liam responds automatically. His politeness seems to amuse Louis further.

They both stay silent as Johnny makes his way towards them. He gives Liam a small smile and a nod, glancing at Louis. "A friend of yours?"

Liam opens his mouth to answer, but Louis gets there first. "Ancient friends, actually!" He flings an arm around Liam's shoulders. It's such a blatant lie that Liam can't even get the words out to protest it. Louis grins at him, a little crazy, a little intense, before he says to Johnny, "I've just been trying to convince my pal Liam here to take me on as a student in the ancient art of boxing, but he keeps telling me he isn't qualified."

"It's true-" Liam finally manages to get out, but Louis drags his fingers across Liam's face, making a shushing noise. "Nonsense."

Shocked, Liam can only blink. No one has ever been this touchy with him.

Johnny looks a little skeptical, either at Louis's declaration of friendship or the fact that Louis isn't what they normally get in the club, but he ends up nodding. "You're solid, Liam, and you've got good technique, know what you're doing. " Liam can feel his stomach sink. "I think you'd be okay to show a beginner the ropes."

Louis's glee is practically a palpable thing; Liam can feel it where Louis is pressed along his side. He looks over only to find Louis leering at him. His cheeks are starting to feel a little warm again.

"What'cha say, Liam, pal-o-mine, up for showing me the ropes?"

Yeah, he's definitely blushing again.

 

~*~

 

Louis hadn't really meant to stalk Liam.

And anyway, stalk is such a horrible term. Louis prefers to call it "research". It's just that, for all Harry's charm and bravado, he's ridiculously easy to hurt emotionally. And despite the way Harry dismissed the entire conversation, Louis knows Harry found Liam Payne interesting.

It's not exactly hard for Louis to sneak into the headmaster's office and find Liam's file, to find out where he lives, that he's on scholarship, and that he's got the most boring file Louis has ever seen. Seriously, there isn't a single incident of interest, and Louis shakes his head. Maybe Harry's just lost his head this time around. He puts the file back with a sigh just as the lights go out. A moment later the auxiliaries come on, and Louis lets himself out of the office. (He completely rearranges the secretary's desk first, of course, because he just can't not.) The janitor looks up as the door clicks shut, frowning when there's nothing to see, and Louis walks past him and out of the building.

He waits a few days or so before searching out Liam, because work called him in, but also because he's not quite decided what he wants to do. In the interim, Harry's actually gone to class, coming home with soft, silly smiles that make Louis's stomach twist weirdly.

Eleanor's caught onto his weird mood, and when she asks about it, Louis waves it away. "Harry's got a crush, I think." She’s quiet, and it makes him look up. He frowns at the look on her face. "What?"

She shakes her head, giving him a small smile. "What?" he asks again. "You know Harry's a bit sensitive. I'm just worried about him."

"I know," she says, leaning over to give him a quick kiss on the cheek. "You're a good friend, Lou."

There's something off about her words, but Louis can't figure it out. He tugs her in closer. She comes willingly, so Louis shoves the feeling away and buries his nose in the soft strands of her hair. El always smells good; it's one of his favorite things.

*

For about a week or so, Louis watches Liam. Not a lot, but often enough that he kind of gets a feel for Liam, and Harry's right. He doesn't really have any friends, and keeps his head down. Liam's got a routine and he sticks to it for the most part. Classes, then the library, then home. Most nights he'll head to a small boxing gym a mile or so away from the school, then back to his dorm.

Louis wants to feel justified in his initial 'boring' statement to Harry, but mostly he finds himself thinking that it must be a bit lonely, being Liam Payne.

*

It's not the first time Liam's sensed Louis's presence, and Louis can't help grinning as Liam glances about, trying to be subtle. Louis’s a little impressed; Liam's better at sensing his presence than Harry for damn sure, but not quite as good as Zayn. To be honest, Louis is fairly sure that Zayn has an unfair advantage, some sort of sensitivity to heat patterns that lets him know when Louis is about in his invisible state. It's quite annoying on occasion.

Snapping out of his thoughts, Louis looks up to see the frown on Liam's face. Louis is maybe starting to realize why Harry was a little bit fascinated. It's quite adorable.

When Liam continues on and enters the gym, Louis's curiosity gets the better of him. This is a normal part of Liam's routine, but Louis's never gone inside. The street is quiet around him and Louis decides to go for it. Liam's disappearing into another room on the other side of the building when Louis finally slips inside. He's back a few minutes later and Louis watches as he starts an obviously familiar set of exercises.

Liam pauses once, glancing about, and that's when Louis realizes he's been sitting there, quiet, for nearly forty minutes. Liam turns back to the bag, starting up again. The play of muscles as continues is impressive and Louis can't help a tiny spark of jealousy. Louis's own exercise routine has been sporadic at best, even though Harry's stocked the house with a ton of equipment. He really should start up again--

The thought cuts off as an idea pops into his head.

Louis has never been one to not take advantage of an opportunity when it presents itself and this time is no different.

*

A week later, Louis is willing to admit that this might not have been the best idea he's had.

Liam may have been reluctant to teach Louis, but that's obviously not the case anymore. The thing is, Liam isn't mean. He's an excellent coach, patient yet firm, pushing Louis to do his best. He makes Louis want to do his best, but holy god, Louis has never been this sore in his entire life.

Louis sits down to the toast and tea that Harry's set out and can't help the little pained noise that escapes when he reaches over for the jam. Harry glances over at the sound and Louis manages to plaster a smile on his face. It just earns him a raised eyebrow before Harry hops off his stool and heads into the living room. Louis does his best not to cry when he tries to take the lid off the jar.

"Have you seen my essay?" Harry asks and Louis turns, watching as Harry picks up one of the sofa cushions. Frowning, he puts it down, glancing up when Louis says, "What essay?"

"The one for History," Harry responds absently. Louis isn't sure he heard that right.

"You did homework?"

Harry glances up from where he's searching under the coffee table, giving Louis a look. "Of course I did," he says, like he does his class work all the time. Which, Louis knows from years of experience, is not true at all. Louis is sure his body hurts too much to think about this new development, so he just says, "Have you checked your bag?"

Harry looks at him like he doesn't know what Louis is talking about, and Louis feels similarly confused. He points to a backpack near the front door. "That one."

Harry's eyebrows go up in surprise and he grins at Louis. "Forgot about that! Thanks, mate." He's gone a minute later.

Not quite sure what just happened, Louis sits back down to his breakfast. Even his ass hurts. His small, "Ow," echoes in the quiet flat.

*

After a couple of weeks, Liam decides they need start running. Louis is sure it's because he's been driving Liam nuts the last few days. Louis can't help himself though, now that he's kind of able to keep up, he's been bothering Liam every chance he can get during their workouts. It's Liam's fault, really, because he's got the best exasperated face that Louis's ever seen. It's just too much fun.

There are a few things wrong with running in Louis's opinion. One, it's boring. Two, the chances of running into Harry increase exponentially the minute they step out outside of Johnny's. Louis feels a bit guilty that he's not told Harry yet. Especially as Harry's going to class nearly every day and still doing his course work. Louis figures that the History teacher still doesn't quite know what happened. Obviously, Harry's still interested, and this makes Louis feel like a bit of an arse.

But.

The thing is, Louis may have started this whole thing to watch out for Harry, but he actually likes Liam. And Liam's not boring at all. A bit reserved, yeah, but he gets really excited about things and practically vibrates with it. And as often as Louis makes him grimace with frustration, Liam's always there to talk. He notices things, sometimes with uncanny accuracy.

So Louis hasn't told Harry and now Liam wants to go outside, where an infinite number of things could come back and bite Louis in the ass. Only, he can't really tell Liam the real reasons he doesn't want to do it and Liam looks at him with those stupid eyes and now they go out for a run twice a week instead of heading to the gym. Louis often wonders, lately, how exactly life spun out of control and how he's got only himself to blame.

He lets himself relax after the first few times they go out and nothing happens. Which means his guard is down when it actually does.

Louis feels like he's doing a good job of keeping up. It helps that Liam is most likely pacing himself to Louis anyway, but Louis manages to have a decent conversation - okay, he gets Liam to blush twice - and not die. They come around a corner and Louis nearly clips a pedestrian looking down at his phone. It's the pizza delivery guy from a while back, Louis notes, the blond one that Harry had embarrassed. The guy looks up, disgruntled, only to double-take when he gets a look at Louis.

"Hey-!" He half-shouts, eyes narrowing as they continue running. Louis turns, jogging backwards. He grins, giving an exaggerated wink and finger guns. It gets him an eye roll and a shake of the head, but there's a smile on the delivery guy’s face too. Louis can't help smiling wider. Then there's a hand on his elbow, and he turns back around. Liam's face is curious and Louis opens his mouth to say something when he glances ahead.

Harry's coming out of the coffee shop halfway up the block, his head thrown back, all dimples and smiles for the girl ducking under his arm as he holds the door.

Lightening panic flashes through Louis, even as he jerks his gaze toward Liam to see if Liam's noticed yet. Liam's blinking rapidly, confusion making his brows pull together in that familiar way. It makes Louis think that he must have gone invisible for a split second.

Out of the corner of his eye, he can see Harry start to turn their way. Louis isn't ready for this, not yet.

He grabs Liam's wrist and cuts in front of him, nearly tripping the both of them. Liam frowns."Hey-"

"Let's go this way," Louis interrupts. "Betcha I can beat you to the next block, yeah?" He doesn't wait for a response, just tugs Liam along with him. Louis picks up his pace, even though his heart is already racing, like it’s about to burst out of his chest. Louis knows Liam is confused, but Liam's also ridiculously competitive when it comes down to it. He grins at Louis and lengthens his stride.

They hit the next corner, Liam several feet ahead, and he turns to Louis, smile wide as he lifts his arms in victory. Louis can't help rolling his eyes as he finally reaches Liam. He glances over his shoulder in time see the dark blue of Harry's coat disappear.

Louis leans over, heart still pounding from both the run and the close call. Liam tugs him up a second later, hand on his shoulder. "Come on, Tommo, you know this. Up straight, hands behind your head. Let your lungs have more room."

Louis lifts his head, lacing his hands behind his head. Liam's right, it's easier to breathe this way. He meets Liam's gaze, taking in the wide, proud smile on his face. He doesn't even protest when Liam tells him they'll jog back to Johnny's. Their pace is slower, though, and Louis knows it's on purpose. He appreciates it even, but it does nothing to help relieve the lead weight that's settled in his stomach.

He can't keep this up.

*

"So-"

Louis swings his legs over the arm of the sofa, sliding down until he's completely seated. He digs his toes under Harry's leg. It's been two days since the he and Liam nearly ran into Harry. Louis isn't avoiding Liam per se, but the everythng okay tommo? text on his phone reminds him that he really, really needs to talk to Harry.

"Liam Payne."

He can see Harry glance at him from the corner of his eye, even though he doesn't look up from where he's taking notes from - Louis looks over - a textbook. History, if Louis wanted to bet on a sure thing.

"Liam who?" Harry responds, not looking up. He scribbles a quick note before flipping the page. Louis narrows his eyes. That's how it's going to be played, is it? He digs his toes in further, until half his feet are buried under Harry's leg.

"You know." Wiggling his toes, Louis is satisfied to see the muscle in Harry's jaw twitch. "The Liam Payne that you are currently doing actual homework to impress. That Liam Payne."

Harry finally looks at him, scowling. Louis wriggles his toes again and Harry wraps his hand around Louis's ankle. "I'm not-"

"Did you ask him out yet?" Louis interrupts. He knows Harry hasn't, obviously, but he gets a little perverse satisfaction at the faint blush that appears on Harry's cheeks. Louis isn't quite sure why he's pushing this, or coming from this angle, instead of just confessing that he's been hanging out with Liam. For crying out loud, he'd started the whole thing for Harry, for this very reason. Still, he can't help the, "This is a longer courtship than usual, isn't it? Do you serenade him with 500 word essays on beheadings and battles and other events of historical significance?" He wiggles his toes again.

The pressure around his ankle increases, Harry's fingers pressing in harder. "Drop it, Louis."

Louis can feel it, that weird little tingle, the need to make Harry happy. It's a shit trick to do and it makes Louis a little angry. "Knock it off," he glares. "You know I hate that."

Harry's frown deepens, the pressure retreating even as he says, "Then stop going on about Liam."

They sit there for a moment, staring at each other. The thing is, Louis really does need to talk to Harry about Liam. "Look, Harry--"

Louis's mobile starts playing the ringtone he’s set for Liam. He freezes for a moment too long and Harry gives him a you going to answer that? look. Louis digs his mobile out of his pocket at that, slumping back against the arm of the sofa. He avoids looking at Harry when he answers.

"Hey, what's up?"

“Ah, hi.” Liam's voice is hesitant, like he's not sure how Louis is going to respond. It makes Louis feel even more like an arse than he already does. “I was just, um. Just wondering if we were still on for the gym in a bit?”

"Course, yeah." Louis answers. He makes the mistake of looking up. Harry's still staring at him, curiosity evident in the tilt of his head. Louis offers a bright smile, but it just makes Harry frown. Louis moves his gaze over Harry's shoulder, adding. "Wouldn't miss it."

“Oh. Good.” The uncertainty has dropped out of Liam's voice, and Louis knows he's smiling now. He can feel an answering smile on his own face. “Then I'll meet you at Johnny's in about a half hour then?”

Louis hums his affirmation and hangs up a moment later. When he finally looks back at Harry, he's got a mildly disapproving look in his face. Before Louis can say anything, Harry asks abruptly, "You're not stepping out on El, are you?"

"What?!" Louis's jaw drops in shock. This whole conversation hasn't gone anything like he'd planned it. "Of course not. Why would you even ask that?"

Whatever Harry sees on Louis's face makes his mouth twist a little, even as he shrugs, mumbling, "I dunno." He turns his attention back to the book in front of him. "You look like you did when you first met Eleanor, all giddy and shit."

Louis can't help but laugh at that. "You're off your nut, Hazza." He leans over, digging a finger in Harry's ribs. It earns him a half-shout and his hand swatted away. Louis goes back in for another jab. "I've only eyes for you, Harold, you know that." That gets him an eye roll and fingers going for the bottoms of his feet, where he's most ticklish. It devolves from there, landing them on the floor and halfway across the living room until Louis gets the upper hand. He shouts his victory, seated neatly on the small of Harry's back.

Rolling out from under Louis, Harry grumbles something about Louis's new-found athletic prowess. Louis glances at the clock on the wall. "Shit. Gotta go!" He can feel Harry's eyes on him as he scrambles up, headed toward the door. "Don't wait up, darling. I've got a hot date-" He turns, keys in hand, and says pointedly, "with my girlfriend tonight."

Harry gives him a silly face, sticking his tongue out. Sliding around the door, Louis points at him. "Your face is going to freeze like that one day, Harry, and no one will want to have sex with you." He ducks out the door as a pen comes flying his way, grinning.

Louis is halfway to Johnny's when he realizes that he still never told Harry about Liam. Shit.

*

Louis spends the entire workout session distracted, enough that Liam keeps asking him if he's okay. It just makes Louis feel even worse. Liam's a good guy, one that Louis's really come to like and consider a friend. Neither he nor Harry deserve Louis lying to them.

The thing that keeps rolling around in Louis's head is the fact that Liam would be an excellent match for Harry, especially as he seems to be immune to Harry's ability. Someone telling him no might be the best thing to ever happen to Harry. Eventually, they would have to tell Liam what's going on, and what they can do, but something tells Louis that Liam would be able to handle it fairly well.

Louis's mobile goes off just as the he loses momentum on the bag and nearly gets whacked in the face. Liam laughs at his obvious sigh of relief. "Grab it for me, yeah?" Louis asks as he works the wrap off his hands. There's a strange look on Liam's face when Louis crosses over to him, and when Louis touches his wrist, Liam jerks.

"I'm sorry," Liam blurts. Louis laughs and knocks their elbows together. He takes the mobile, sliding the unlock key. Sometimes Liam's really weird. Another reason he'd be good for Harry.

"What are you sorry for, twit?" he asks, even as he's lifting the phone to his ear. Liam shakes his head and Louis makes a face at him. "Hey, love."

Eleanor's voice is almost lost in the background noise of where ever she's calling from. They talk for a bit, Louis agreeing on where to meet for dinner as soon as he's cleaned up. He looks up to find Liam watching him, looking entirely too serious. Louis crosses his eyes and sticks out his tongue. It seems to do the trick, because Liam rolls his eyes and wanders off a few feet. He's still watching Louis from the corner of his eye though.

When Louis hangs up, Liam finally turns to face him. It looks like he wants to ask Louis something, but he doesn't. Instead, he just says, "I guess we're done for today then."

"As much as I love your company, Kevin-" Another eye roll from Liam. Louis grins, slapping a hand on Liam's shoulder. "I've got a date with my girl and that is a far, far better thing to do than I have ever done before."

Liam grimaces, but there's something in his eyes that's off. Louis wants to ask about it, but he's not seen Eleanor in a while and he misses her. Another day can't hurt, right? He'll definitely sit down and talk to them soon. Tomorrow, maybe. Louis pushes the twinge of guilt away.

They're walking out the door, about to head in opposite directions, when Liam puts a hand on Louis's elbow. "Hey," the words are hesitant and Louis watches Liam chew on his lip before adding, "I'll be home tonight, if--um. If you want to--" Louis watches as he struggles to find words, finally ending with. "Anyway, I'll be there. If--if you need anything."

"Right," Louis responds, bemused. Seriously, Liam is such an odd duck on occasion. "You’re a chum, mate. 'Preciate it."

Liam nods, looking a little miserable. Shaking his head, Louis grabs him in a quick hug. It's hilarious, because Liam flails a little, with no idea what to do with his hands. It makes Louis laugh and he releases Liam, poking him in the ribs instead and heading off down the street.

 

~*~

 

It's close to 2am when the knock on the door comes. Liam's at the edge of sleep finally, but the single knuckle rap has him shooting straight up, wide awake again. Another knock has him scrambling off the sofa and he knows, of course he knows, who's on the other side before he finally gets the door open.

"Liam!" Louis half-shouts, throwing his arms wide. Reaching out, Liam wraps a hand around Louis's wrist and pulls him inside. Louis stumbles and Liam steadies him with a hand on his hip. The stench of alcohol and cigarettes makes Liam wrinkle his nose.

"Have you been smoking?" he asks. It's not the question he really wants answered, but Liam knows how much Louis hates cigarette smoke.

Louis obviously thinks this is a ridiculous question, too, shaking his head and pushing away from Liam's grip. "Li, Li, Li-aaam," he sing-songs. Turning, he walks backwards into the room, wagging his finger at Liam. "That is not the most important question here, now is it?"

Panic flashes through Liam, but the heel of Louis's shoe catches on the rug just then and he flails, going down. Liam moves forward, trying to catch him, but the momentum and the angle are awkward and Liam just ends up tangled in a pile of limbs on the floor with Louis instead. It makes Louis laugh and Liam watches the way Louis's eyes wrinkle at the corner.

"Lou-" he says softly and Louis's laughter catches on a harsh sound. "Oh, Louis," Liam sighs again, wrapping a hand around a shaking shoulder and tugging Louis upright. He pulls Louis in closer, shifting them both until they're leaning against the back of the sofa.

"You want to tell me about it?" Liam asks, not like he didn't see the whole thing anyway.

"I can't do this anymore, Louis," the girl says. Eleanor, Liam knows, Louis talks about her constantly. She's pretty, long-limbed and soft. Liam imagines she's gorgeous when she smiles, but she doesn't look happy now. Louis looks even worse, confusion shifting to realization as Liam watches. "I can't," she repeats, biting her lip and trying not to cry. "I'm sorry, Louis." She walks away and Louis lets her go.

Liam remembers the ache in his chest when he'd snapped out of the vision, before he'd opened his mouth and apologized for something he wasn't even supposed to know about. He feels the same now as Louis shoves his face into Liam's neck. Louis isn't crying, but his breathing is ragged, catching, like he's about to. After a few moments, Liam says his name again. He keeps his voice soft, but Louis jerks anyway.

"El-" Louis's voice cracks on her name, his fingers twitch where they're curled into Liam's shirt. He sounds so fractured when he says, "Eleanor--she decided that, that-," Liam's fingers tighten around the curve of Louis's shoulder, pulling him tighter.

"She didn't want me anymore," Louis finishes. The words are slurred, alcohol and emotions obviously taking their toll. Liam marvels at the fact that Louis even made it to his place. There's a looseness in Louis's body that tells Liam that he's not going to be conscious for very long.

Making a decision, he slides his arm down and slips an arm around Louis. He drags the two of them upright, catching Louis when his knees buckle. "Come on, Lou, let's get you to bed."

It's a quiet shuffle as Liam moves them into his bedroom. He's got Louis's shoes off and is in the process of pulling his comforter over him when Louis grabs at his wrist, tugging. "Don't go," he mumbles. Liam can see his eyelashes flutter as Louis looks up at him. His eyes are glazed, but they focus for a moment on Liam's face. "Don't leave me," he pleads quietly.

Liam can't say no.

The bed is a single and Liam slides in, awkward. He wants to give Louis a little space, but a moment later Louis grabs his arm and Liam finds himself curled around Louis's body. Louis twines their fingers together, tucking them under his side. A memory from years ago hits Liam, of Ruth holding him like this and how comforting it felt then. He finally relaxes into the warm line of the body in front of him, listening to Louis's breath evening out.

"You knew," Louis mumbles just as Liam's about to drift off. Liam's grip tightens automatically and Louis grumbles in protest. Liam waits, not daring to breathe, but Louis doesn't say anything else. A few minutes later, Liam knows that Louis's finally slipped into sleep.

He's got to be more careful, Liam decides. Louis came to him when he was hurt, like he considers Liam a friend, and Liam doesn't want anything to mess that up.

He won't make the same mistake again.

*

The space beside him is empty when Liam wakes a few hours later. There is, however, a cup on the stand beside his bed, the gray early morning light illuminating tendrils of steam rising. Liam figures Louis hasn't been gone very long. There's also a note, corner tucked under the cup.

owe you xx

-L

Liam slips back into sleep a few minutes later.

*

Liam's preoccupied the entire morning. He writes half a dozen texts to Louis, checking in on him, but never hits the send button. It's not until Mr. Stearns turns around, sighing, "And no, Mr. Styles, that doesn't mean Communists drink coffee because they don’t believe in personal proper tea--" and trails off, that they both realize that Harry isn't in class. Mr. Stearns looks a little disgruntled, like he's mad at himself for being unhappy that his cheekiest student isn't there to make his life terrible. As Liam looks around, confirming that Harry really isn't there, he feels a little bit of a kinship with their teacher.

At the end of class, Liam slips his book into his bag and stands. He pauses at the front of the room, clearing his throat when Mr. Stearns doesn't immediately look up. Liam's not entirely sure what he's doing, not until he opens his mouth and, "Harry's a bit under the weather, sir. I could, um, I could take his assignments to him?" slips out.

Mr. Stearns doesn't bat an eye, just hands the papers over. Liam jerks his chin in thanks, turns, and walks out of the classroom. The hallway is fairly empty and Liam sucks in a huge breath. He stares down at the papers in his hands, and realizes that he doesn't even know where Harry lives. Dropping his chin to his chest, he whacks the papers against his face, groaning quietly.

"Everything okay, Liam, dear?" Ms. Delores' voice makes Liam's head shoot up and he glances over to find her staring at him with concern.

"Um," he stutters. "I--I volunteered to take some homework to another student." He can feel his face flush. This is stupid; he should just forget about it. Only, Harry hasn't missed class in ages, and he's done all his homework lately, Liam's noticed, and suddenly Liam doesn't want that work to go to waste.

It's a silly thought, like Harry couldn't talk his way out of whatever, but Liam's curious. If he can work up to it, he might even ask why Harry never texted him. "But I just realized that I don't know where he lives."

She gives Liam a soft smile and he flashes back to that day with Harry, the enthusiastic thumbs up through the office window, and feels his face flushing. She's got the wrong idea, he's sure, but before he can say anything, Ms. Delores pats his shoulder.

"Well, I think I can help with that, dear."

*

Liam feels like a fool, his hand clutched around a slip of paper. Glancing down, he can see his sweaty palms have smudged the writing. It doesn't matter; he's been standing in front of Harry's door for the last ten minutes and has yet to knock. A door slams down the hall and Liam startles, glancing toward the sound. He gets a quick chin nod from the guy as he passes and Liam offers a tentative smile, shifting from one foot to the other and looking back down at the paper in his hand.

"You're being a tit," Liam mumbles to himself. He shoves the address into his trouser pocket, then reaches into his bag to grab Mr. Stearns' assignment. With a deep breath, he raises a hand and knocks on the door.

When Harry opens the door, the only sign of surprise on his face is the raising of his eyebrows. He slouches against the door frame. His shirt, halfway unbuttoned already, slips open further and Liam finds himself staring at the paper airplane necklace that dangles from the chain around Harry's neck.

"'Sup, Liam?" Harry doesn't sound surprised to see him, which throws Liam a bit. It also makes him snap his gaze up. There are dark circles under Harry’s eyes and he looks tired. There’s something else there, too. Anger maybe, Liam thinks. Fingers brush his wrist. "Liam?"

Liam jerks at the touch and practically shoves the papers at Harry's chest. It makes the corner of Harry's mouth twitch and Liam can feel his face getting warm. Seriously, what is it about Harry that makes Liam act like a twelve-year-old? It's incredibly frustrating, to say the least. He blurts out, "You missed today."

And now Harry's trying not to laugh at him, Liam can tell. "I thought, well. I figured you'd want to stay caught up, since you've been to class lately." And that sounds like Harry hadn't been before which, that's true, but Liam wasn't raised to be rude. "I mean. I just thought, uh, you'd like to know," he finishes lamely. His face feels like it's on fire.

Harry isn't even trying to hide the fact that he's absolutely delighted with Liam's level of discomfort. He gives Liam a break, giving him a quiet thanks and taking the proffered papers. They stand there for a moment until Harry finally straightens up, slipping his hand around the edge of the door. Like they're going to be done here.

"Is everything okay?" falls out of Liam's mouth without his permission. Harry pauses, tilting his head to the side. Studying Liam. "You just-" Liam bites his lip and watches Harry's eyes narrow a little. "You look tired," he finishes.

The smile he gets this time is different, softer, and Liam shifts from one foot to the other, disconcerted.

"I'm fine," Harry answers in his slow drawl. "A friend of mine had a rough night, is all. Earlier morning than I'm used to."

Liam makes a sympathetic noise. "Must have been the night for that," he responds, thinking of Louis. Who still hasn't answered any of his texts from this morning. Harry gives him a questioning look and Liam's about to answer when a voice calls out from behind Harry.

"Hey Hazza, who's—“

It happens in slow motion for Liam. Harry, turning at the sound of his roommate's voice, allowing Liam a unobstructed view of the living room.

"--at the door?" Louis finishes.

Liam blinks, and it's like Louis's not there, then he is again, and Liam shakes his head. When he finally tunes back in, it's in time to hear Harry introducing him.

"This is Liam, from my History class." Harry looks back at Liam, giving him a grin. Liam can see it from the corner of his eye, but he can't stop staring at Louis. "He's come by to drop off my schoolwork." There's a thread of humor in his voice that Liam notes absently.

Louis. Standing in Harry's flat. Louis never mentioned Harry the entire time they've spent together.

Louis. Who looks a bit panicked now, eyes wide.

It's gone quiet in the room and Liam can feel Harry's gaze on him. He should say something, but can't get his mouth to work.

"Nice to meet you, Liam from History!" Louis's voice breaks through the silence, bright and so very Louis that Liam can feel his stomach twist. It's very obvious that Louis hasn't told Harry anything and now Liam feels like he might actually be ill.

"You okay, Liam?" Another hand, on his elbow this time, and Liam jerks. Stepping back, he forces himself to smile. It just makes Harry frown harder. He looks like he's about to say something else and Liam glances over Harry's shoulder. Louis looks miserable.

"I've got to go," Liam says abruptly. "There's, um, a thing-" he waves a hand, "that I forgot about. I'm just-"

Harry frowns even harder, taking a step forward. Liam steps back again, out of reach. He makes the mistake of looking at Louis again, who's got a death grip on the back of the sofa where he's standing. "Sorry, you had such a bad night," Liam tells him quietly, because despite Louis lying to him this entire time, Liam knows how much last night hurt.

And maybe that's what makes this whole thing worse, Liam thinks. Louis came to him first.

Liam doesn't even pretend like he's not fleeing.

*

Liam finds himself at Johnny's, slamming his fists into the bag so hard that his shoulders ache with it.

He's been trying to wrap his head around this--betrayal is the first word his brain supplies, but he shakes it off--this Louis situation. Louis had lied, had spent hours and hours of time and effort put into spinning this friendship with Liam. Why? What was the point? There'd been so many times in the last month when Louis could have said something, but hadn't.

Liam finds himself glancing over toward the bench where his phone rests. It hasn't gone off once, no phone call, no text messages. That seems to make everything worse and Liam does a quick one-two that sends a twinge of pain through his left wrist.

"I think that's enough for today," a quiet voice says from behind him. Liam turns around, to find Johnny's gaze on him. There's concern in the small frown, the furrow between his brows. Nodding, Liam starts unwinding the wrap around his hands. His fingers are not really cooperating.

"Where's Louis?" Johnny asks.

Liam's eyes sting, and he blames the sweat sliding down his face. It takes him a moment to answer. "I--I don't think he'll be coming around anymore." The last of the wrap comes off and he glances up. "Got what he wanted, I guess?"

The sympathetic look that flickers across Johnny's face makes Liam want to turn back to the bag. "Sorry to hear that, Liam." Johnny pats his shoulder, adding, "You're a good lad though, there'll be other boys."

It takes a second for Liam to process what Johnny's just said, but before he can say anything, Johnny gives him a gentle push toward the changing room. "Go home and have a pint. It'll help, I promise."

"I don't drink," Liam says automatically. It's not what he should say. He should be protesting Johnny's mistaken reasoning. Instead, he adds inanely, "I've only got one kidney." All it gets him is a quick grin and another push. Liam shakes his head and goes to shower and change.

*

The rest of the evening is spent in the library. He works for a few hours, at the check-in desk and then re-shelving returns. He's like an automaton, thoughts swirling around and around inside his head. At one point, he swears he can feel Louis watching him. But when he turns, there's no one except other students milling about or intent on their studies. It makes him pull out his mobile, but there still aren't any calls or messages. When he slides into bed that night, it's still silent.

*

It's really hard to pay attention the next morning. Liam blames lack of sleep for the fact that he doesn't even notice Harry sliding into the desk next to his until he hears, "Thanks again for bringing my papers, mate."

He looks over to find Harry smiling at him, warm, with bright eyes. His hair is a mess, as usual, and Liam feels a smile tugging at the corner of his mouth. And then he remembers Louis. Turning back toward the front of the room, he mumbles, "No problem."

There's a few moments of mostly silence, the only sound the shuffle of papers and bodies shifting in their seats. Mr. Stearns makes his way into the classroom and Liam can feel Harry staring at him. From the corner of his eye, Liam can see Harry lean across the aisle. "You should come to ours tonight, have some drinks and help me cheer Louis up."

That makes Liam glance over, eyes wide. "What?"

"You should come over, Liam Payne. I think you could use a laugh, both you and Lou." Harry seems delighted by his own rhyme, smile wide, dimples in full force. Liam can't imagine a more awkward evening.

"I-I can't," he stutters. "I've work tonight." It's mostly true.

Harry pouts. "You're sure? We're mainlining Doctor Who."

He drags the 'o' out obnoxiously and dammit, Liam is not going to smile. He's saved by Mr. Stearns, who welcomes Harry back to class with a fondly exasperated look. Harry straightens up, beaming at their teacher. "I've even done my work, sir!" Mr. Stearns clutches a hand to his chest, gasping, and the entire class laughs.

As they're leaving class later, Harry flings an arm around Liam's shoulder. Liam tenses, but it doesn't seem to phase Harry at all. "Are you sure you won't join us tonight then? My mate Zayn's gonna be there, too, and I think you'd get along really well with him. He tends to be on the quieter side. Mostly." Liam glances over to see Harry frown, then shake his head. "Okay, not really." He turns his head toward Liam. His smile is a bit blinding this close, Liam thinks. "But he's quiet at first, until you get to know him."

Liam's not even sure where they're going, with Harry steering them through the other bodies. He's confused. Two months and Harry's not said half a dozen words to him since that first day, hasn't texted him even though he'd shouted otherwise. For a split second, Liam wonders if this is all a joke, a plot to make him the butt of some terrible prank and he blurts out, "Are you having me on?"

Harry looks startled and they stop abruptly enough that Liam can hear a couple of rude remarks behind them. Harry ignores them and turns to face Liam fully, putting his other hand on Liam’s shoulder and looking him square in the eye. It hits Liam then, that Harry's got a couple of inches on him now. That he's grown that much in the short time Liam's known him. It's an odd thing to notice and Liam shakes the thought away.

"Liam James Payne-" Liam opens his mouth to ask how Harry knows his middle name, but doesn't get the chance. "I am deeply offended that you would say that."

Despite the teasing tone, he does look a little hurt. "Sorry," Liam mumbles.

An immediate grin. "So you'll come then?"

Liam shakes his head. It's a terrible idea. He has no idea what he would say. To Harry. Especially to Louis.

Louis, who still hasn't texted or called at all. The whole idea of sitting there for hours makes Liam want to crawl into bed and never come out again. He shakes his head again and takes a step back before Harry can stop him.

"I'm sorry," he apologizes. "I've got work and then assignments." He moves another step and Harry frowns at him. Liam just wants to get away. "I'm sorry," he repeats, turning and moving into the flow of bodies. He can feel Harry's eyes on him the entire time.

*

While Liam spends the next few days alternately glaring at his silent phone and not sending messages like whyd you not tell me or i don't understand or even your kind of an arsehole, Harry has decided that Liam is his new best friend.

He takes the seat next to Liam each day in class. Sometimes, Harry gets there first, but whenever he doesn't, Liam watches him charm whoever's there into giving the seat up. They always do it willingly, smiling back at Harry like it's a perfectly reasonable request. It's a bit odd, really, but before Liam can ever ask, Harry's looking over at him giving him a wink and one of those smiles. He asks several more times, for Liam to come hang out, but Liam always tells him the same things - work and class.

"Dull," Harry moans, and Liam just shrugs. It's the truth, even though Liam knows the library closes early enough that he could go. Harry sighs at Liam, but lets it go, turning to the front and raising his hand to answer a question. Liam can't help staring at Harry's profile as Mr. Stearns calls on him. His answer's correct, of course, because Liam's learned that Harry's incredibly smart. It makes Liam a bit jealous; he always has to study so hard.

Thursday in class, Harry doesn't bother Liam about coming out with him and Liam feels a bit put off.

*

The lights flash, signaling that the library will close in 15 minutes, and Liam grabs the remaining books on his cart. He slides the cart into its storage space and starts across the room. The library on a Thursday night is practically deserted and Liam concentrates on the faint echo of his footsteps on the tile. The quiet is one of the reasons he likes working here.

Harry's leaning against the shelf when Liam rounds the corner. Non-fiction A-Br, Liam notes. Right where Liam needs, of course.

"Hullo, there."

Liam rolls his eyes. "You look like you're shooting for Fabulous or something."

Harry cocks his hip out further and shakes his head. "Draw me like one of your French girls?" There are curls all over the place now, and Liam works hard not to smile. Instead, he shoves a couple of books into their places on the shelf. He can feel Harry watching him as he searches for the last spot. When he does find it, it's practically under Harry's elbow. Harry gives no indication of moving, even after Liam sighs.

"Harry."

"Liam."

Liam sighs again. "I have a book that goes there. Are you going to move?"

"Depends."

Liam knows what's coming, but he asks anyway. "Depends on what?"

"Zeelander's. Tonight. Right-" From the corner of his eye, Liam catches Harry looking at his watch. "-now, in fact."

"I really don't think-"

"Come on, Li." It's the nickname that finally makes Liam glance up. Harry’s smiling at him still, only this time it's softer. Liam can feel his resolve weakening.

"Just for a bit, yeah?" Harry adds, ducking his chin to keep Liam's gaze. "Please?"

He doesn't even know why Harry's so insistent now, and this is such a terrible, terrible idea. Liam opens his mouth to say no again. "Fine," slips out instead.

They both look a little startled at the answer and a second later, Harry lets out a loud whoop. Liam raises a hand automatically--they're in the library--but Harry beats him to it, slapping both his hands over his mouth. His eyes are bright, laughing. Liam just rolls his eyes again and slides the last book into place.

This is a terrible, terrible idea.

*

It's not... terrible, per se. More like extremely awkward. Liam's still not entirely sure why Harry's asked him to tag along. And Louis… Well, Liam can barely say hello to Louis. It's a small consolation that Louis doesn't really seem to know what to do either. Which is probably the reason that Liam spends most of the night talking to Harry's friend, Zayn.

Harry was right, Liam gets along easily with Zayn. He was quiet at first, but three pints in he'd asked Liam's opinion on Superman versus Batman, then duty versus responsibility, and the conversation had taken off from there. At times, it feels like Zayn is testing him out. Which makes some sense, if he's close with Harry and Louis.

Speaking of Harry and Louis, every so often Liam can feel them looking at him, but he ignores it. Another hour passes, and Liam's right in the middle of a sentence when Zayn glance over Liam's shoulder and smirks. Liam can't help but look, too.

Harry is slumped in his seat, legs sprawled everywhere. He's frowning, looking a bit disgruntled with his brows all pulled together. Louis is leaned over, and whatever he's whispering doesn't seem to be improving Harry's mood any. When Louis looks over, catching his eye, Liam wants to ask if everything's okay. He freezes for a moment; it almost looks like Louis's angry, too.

Turning back around, Liam gets a speculative look from Zayn.

Terrible, terrible idea, Liam remembers.

Zayn taps a fag out of his pack and jerks his head toward the exit. "Gonna go take a break. Come with?" Liam glances back over his shoulder again, takes in more whispered conversations, and stands up. Fresh air sounds good.

It's nice outside, the music muted and the air cool. Zayn blows his smoke in the other direction and Liam lets himself settle for a moment. Zayn finishes his cigarette and immediately starts another one, but Liam doesn't move. His head is finally starting to clear when Zayn speaks.

"What's going on with you three?"

It's so unexpected that Liam forgets to breathe for a moment. "What?"

With a final drag, Zayn tosses the butt down and grinds it into the ground with the toe of his shoe. He looks up at Liam, studying him. Liam's a bit warm now and wants to fidget, but he holds himself still. Motioning to inside, Zayn says, "They're acting like teenie girls in there. Harry gets pouty when people don't pay attention to him." Zayn makes a face that Liam can’t decipher. "And trust me, that really doesn't happen very often. And for some reason, Louis can't stop looking at you when he thinks you're not paying attention. Which," he says, and points a finger at Liam, "has pretty much been this entire time since you've done everything possible to ignore him all night. So give."

Liam opens his mouth, not sure what he's going to say, when Zayn's mobile goes off. Zayn gives Liam a look before pulling it out of his pocket. "It's my sister," he frowns. He starts to turn away, but glances back to tell Liam, "Don't think this is over, yeah?" He doesn't wait for acknowledgement, just puts his back to Liam, and murmurs a quiet greeting.

Taking advantage of the reprieve, Liam makes his way back inside the building. Harry and Louis are still at their table, heads together, and Liam's just not ready to face them alone so he makes his way toward the toilet instead. Hopefully, that will give Zayn enough time to come back. It's a sad sign that Liam is more willing to be interrogated by Zayn than to spend time alone with Harry and Louis. He just--he can't right now, is all.

*

There's a line for the loo, so Liam leans a shoulder against the wall, rubbing a hand over his face. A headache is starting behind his left eye, and he just wants to go home. Zayn's pretty cool, and easy to talk to, but their last conversation made things all jumbled in his head. As if his thoughts weren't a mad mess of confusion already.

There's a whisper of a touch at his elbow and Liam knows who it's going to be before he turns. Louis is there, shifting from one foot to the other and staring up at Liam. They just look at each other for a minute before Liam sighs. "What, Lou?" The nickname slips out and Louis's eyes brighten a little. He takes a step closer, and Liam looks away, shuffling back a step as the line moves. The small smile on Louis's face slips and Liam kind of hates himself for feeling bad.

Like he can sense this, Louis bounces up on his toes, pushing into Liam's space. It's such a familiar move that Liam gets a little angry. "What are you doing, Louis?"

"You won't talk to me," is the response he gets. "You've barely said three words to me all night."

Liam gives him an incredulous look. "Seriously?" Louis shrugs and the pain behind Liam's left eyes sharpens. With a ragged sigh, Liam shakes his head and turns around, giving Louis his back.

Another brush of fingers on his elbow. "Come on, Liam--"

"There's no 'come on, Liam', okay?" He whips around, wrapping a hand around Louis's arm. He crowds Louis against the wall. "You lied to me. For a month." Louis drops his gaze, chin dipping to his chest. The half-light in the hallway make Louis’ eyelashes look ridiculous and Liam sucks in a sharp breath. Oh. Things make a little more sense suddenly. Only they don't, not really. Liam whispers, "Was it a joke?"

He can barely hear his own words, the music from the club bleeding down the hallway. Louis hears them though, snapping his chin back up. His eyes are wide, shock that gives Liam a little relief. "What? No! Of course not."

"Then why?" Liam's trying not to notice how close they are now, how his hand wraps nearly all the way around Louis's arm. A wild thought runs through his head. Did everyone know but him? "Why the whole--why didn't you just tell me?"

Louis bites his lip, looking away again, and Liam wants to shake him. Make him answer. A second later, Louis goes stiff, eyes widening. Liam looks over to find Harry a few feet away, watching the two of them with interest.

"Everything all right here, boys?"

Harry glances back and forth between the two of them. His gaze is a little too sharp for Liam's liking, knows how quick Harry really is, so he drops his hand and steps back. Louis reaches out immediately, fingers against his wrist, and anything Liam is going to say is lost in the rush of image and color behind his eyelids.

--Skin.

So much skin.

The slick slide of mouths. And the sounds.

Liam wants to cover his ears, but that's not the way it works. Fingers clench in a mass of curls that Liam would recognize anywhere.

Louis moans obscenely, his head going back. Comes with Harry's name on his lips--

And Liam snaps out of the vision as quickly as he fell into it.

"Liam--"

He pushes Louis's hand away with a raspy, "Don't."

"What's going on?" Harry's voice is equal parts concern and curiosity as Liam puts another step between himself and Louis. He can feel Louis hovering though, and it's too much. Flashes of mouths and skin and god, the sounds -- he hates the ones with sound, it's too real -- he's hard enough to hurt. His stomach turns.

"Ask Louis," he mumbles. Harry's eyebrows raise then draw together in confusion. "He's the one who likes to play games with people." There's a sharp intake of breath from Louis's direction, but Liam forces himself not to look. Instead, he brushes past Harry without another word. Let Louis clean up this mess.

He can hear Harry's, "Well then, what was that all about?" but doesn't stick around long enough to hear the answer.

 

~*~

 

Harry is drunk.

Not falling down drunk, but definitely sloppy. It’s something that doesn't happen very often, mostly because his ability is hard to control when his inhibitions are lowered. He'd learned that lesson the hard way years ago. Some days, Harry's really amazed that he and Zayn are still friends really.

He watches blearily as Zayn shoves Louis toward the entrance to their complex, telling him not to vomit in the lift. When Zayn turns to him, Harry blurts out, "You've the best eyelashes, babe," because other times, he still has to push, even when it's got nothing at all to do with his ability.

It earns him an eye-roll and a nipple tweak that makes him stumble back. Louis shouts, louder than is necessary for someone standing less than 10 feet away, "Hey! That's my move!"

Zayn shakes his head. "Fuck, you're both pissed." He turns back toward the cab, throwing over his shoulder, "Don't die, you bastards."

"You'd miss us if we did!" Louis yells. Zayn flicks him off, sliding into the cab. Harry watches him, waving goodbye wildly when he glances back out of the window. He's shaking his head at them as the cab takes off.
In the lift, Louis curls into his side and Harry wraps an arm around him. They don't talk.

The low hum of the lift and the alcohol buzzing through his system lulls Harry into a weird head space, and he staggers a little when they come to a stop. Louis's arms come around him and Harry huffs out a laugh. Blue eyes crinkle at the corners when Louis glances up. It's a completely different look than the one Louis had worn with Liam.

"What was that about then, at the club?" Harry asks again.

Louis drops his gaze, pulling away from Harry as the lift doors finally open. Harry follows. They reach the flat door and Louis drags out his keys. Harry reaches out, brushing his fingers Louis's wrist, "Lou?"

He gets a quick glance and a flash of a smile, before Louis gets the door unlocked. Harry frowns.

It's the fake smile, the one that Harry absolutely hates. He thought they were over those kind of responses, the ones that Harry used to get when they'd first met and Harry would fuck up, pushing Louis without permission. Only, Harry's pretty sure that he's not projecting right now. In fact, he feels more 'normal' than he has in a while.

Louis tosses his keys on the coffee table, still not answering, and Harry starts to get frustrated. Things have been a little weird since Eleanor, but Harry figured it was because of the breakup. Tonight though, seeing Louis and Liam in the hallway, both of them obviously upset, is making Harry reconsider. Liam's cryptic parting remark that Louis wouldn't explain, Liam brushing them off without really saying goodbye, and the ensuing rounds of beer and shots that came after says a lot too.

"What did Liam mean, about you playing games?" Harry asks again. The look that flashes across Louis's face looks almost sad before it's wiped away.

"I told you already, I don't know." Louis responds, voice short. He moves into the kitchen, grabbing a glass and filling it with water.

"Was he mad at you? Did you say something to him?" Harry isn't quite sure why he's making such a big deal. It's just that Louis is obviously avoiding the questions. Experience lets him know that it's something that Louis thinks will hurt Harry. He's more than capable of taking care of himself. "Did he say something to you?"

Louis just shakes his head, still keeping his back to Harry.

Crowding into the kitchen, Harry wraps a hand around Louis's arm and pulls him around. "Tell me."

Louis's eyes go a little unfocused, the muscles under Harry's hand relaxing immediately. Harry drops his hand.

"He's mad at me for lying-" Harry's pulled his ability back so hard that Louis slumps back against the counter, back to himself when he finishes. "-to him."

"Shitshitshit. Louis, I'm sorr-" Harry's fumbling through his apology when Louis's words finally make it through his own panic. He watches Louis shake his head, rapidly blink like he's clearing something out of eyes, and pushes his guilt away. "Wait. What do you mean, he's mad at you for lying to him?"

Louis's hands clench, the line of his shoulders tensing, and Harry knows.

"You totally went to check him out, didn't you?" he asks quietly. A muscle in Louis's jaw jumps. He still isn't looking at Harry. "You did."

"Dammit, Louis." Harry sighs. He reaches out and Louis jerks away, sliding around Harry, around the kitchen counter, and moving towards the living room. Guilt rears its head again, but Harry ignores it. There's a bigger issue at hand now. He turns and follows. "I told you that I didn't need your help. You should have stayed out of it."

Louis snorts. He still won't look at Harry, staying half-turned away, and it's starting to make Harry angry. Louis can be such a shit sometimes.

"I told you," Harry stresses, moving around the sofa and closer to Louis. "It isn't what you thought it was, and I don't need your misguided maternal urges-" Louis steps away just as Harry comes up next to him. "Fucking hell, Lou, quit running away from me!"

That finally earns him a straight look, a quick glare before Louis shifts invisible. Harry throws up his hands. "Oh come on, that's not fair!"

"Neither is what you pulled in the kitchen, you arse!" Harry whips around to find that Louis's put the sofa between them, but at least he's visible again. For some reason, it just makes Harry even more angry.

"I didn't need your help!" he insists for the millionth time.

Louis gives him a look. "You were obviously into him."

"Because he's immune, you dick, not because I wanted to get into his trousers!"

That earns him an eye roll. "Don't fucking kid yourself, Haz. You practically have hearts in your eyes every time you talk about him." Harry opens his mouth to protest again, but Louis steamrolls right over him. "You did your fucking homework! Christ."

There's obvious frustration in the way Louis runs his hand through his hair. "I was just going to make sure he wasn't going to hurt you, that's all."

"I don't need you to protect me, Louis," Harry protests. His stomach is tied up; Louis's words twisting something inside him. "I don't."

"You did your assignments," Louis repeats, voice quiet. "Because you wanted his approval, you wanted him to like you." He gives Harry a small, sad smile. "When was the last time you wanted someone to like you this much?"

Harry opens his mouth to retort, but Louis adds, "To like you for you, without making them?" and he snaps it closed. Louis keeps twisting the knife though, and won't shut up.

"Oh and tonight?" Louis's laugh isn't very pretty. "Tonight you were like some petulant five-year-old who wasn't getting enough attention. It's pretty obvious to anyone who knows you that it's more than the fact that your power doesn't work on him. So stop kidding yourself, Harry."

Harry shakes his head. He doesn't do love, doesn't do relationships. Relationships are give and take, and it's so very easy for Harry to take. And take and take and take. When's the last time you wanted someone to like you for you? runs through his head. He's never quite sure about that, there’s always a tiny grain of thought that someone only likes him because he wants them to. Harry shakes his head again, harder. This conversation is getting away from him.

This isn't about Harry though.

"What about you then?" Harry retorts. Louis frowns at him, looking away when Harry adds, "You weren't acting much better tonight."

"I don't know what you're talking about."

"You went to go check him out for me, I get that." Harry studies Louis's profile, the way he's got one arm wrapped around his middle. "But you kept going back. You created this facade of a friendship with him--" Louis’ head whips around at that, his jaw clenching. "And now? Now you're upset that your fake friend is mad at you."

"He's not a fake--" Louis cuts himself off, pressing his lips together briefly before saying instead, "You're being a jerk, Harry. And this time it's all you, can't even blame your ability." He moves towards the bedrooms. "This is ridiculous. I"m going to bed."

Harry's on a roll though, ignoring Louis's words, focusing instead on the body language. The way every line of Louis - his shoulders, his back, his jaw - is precise, held straight in place, and tense. He moves to block the way and Louis immediately steps back.

"He's nice, isn't he?" Harry asks quietly.

Louis swallows, staring at Harry's left shoulder. "Harry-"

"He is. He's nice and he's serious." Harry can't help a quick grin. "But a bit silly, yeah?" There's a smile fighting at the corner of Louis's mouth. Harry keeps going. "He's entirely too nice, really. And polite, Jesus. Ms. Delores practically coos anytime he's around, I swear."

There's a definite curve to Louis's mouth now, but it falls immediately at Harry's next words.

"And fit. He's ridiculously fit under all those button-ups, isn't he? I bet he is." Harry moves in a step, and Louis shifts back in the same motion. "I kind of want to mess him up a bit, Lou. Ruffle his calm, sensible demeanor, you know?"

And okay, maybe Harry does want into Liam's pants. But just because he's done some actual assignments and goes to class does not mean he's in love. It's a ridiculous thought. He shakes it away.

Louis hasn't said anything, just keeps staring straight ahead and giving Harry the silent treatment. Harry wants a reaction.

"Or maybe not," he continues. "I saw the two of you in the hallway. Up against the wall." Louis bites his lip, teeth digging in. That's what Harry was looking for. "Maybe you don't want to mess him up like I do, maybe you want him to mess you up a bit, yeah?"

He takes another step and Louis hits the back of the sofa. Startled, he finally looks up, and Harry leans forward, putting his hands on the back of the sofa and essentially trapping Louis in place. "Yeah, I think that's it," he says. "The look on your face when he had you up against the wall-" Harry doesn't finish his sentence, just hums pleasantly and watches Louis's throat as he swallows hard.

"All those good intentions on my behalf," Harry adds after a moment. He's being such a bastard right now, and he knows it. "It started out that way, I know it did. I know you," he emphasizes. "But Liam gets under your skin, doesn't he?"

And still Louis doesn’t respond, just presses his lips together until they're nearly white from the pressure. That won't do.

Harry leans in closer, lips brushing close to Louis's ear. "Did you even know?"

From this close, he can feel the heat coming off of Louis; he always runs a bit hotter than normal people. It's one of the main reasons Harry loves snuggling with him. Only, right now, Harry notes in surprise, it's not snuggling that his body is thinking about. He's half-hard in his trousers. "Did you even know that's what you wanted until tonight?"

Louis shoves at his chest hard enough that Harry stumbles back. He takes a couple of steps away, then turns back to face Harry. "No," Louis tells him quietly "No, Harry, I didn't. So thank you, for being an absolute dick about the whole thing."

The last part is said in such a scathing tone that Harry nearly misses the tremble in Louis's voice, the way his body shakes just a little.

And just like that, all of Harry's anger, all of whatever it is that had wound itself through him, dissipates in an instant. Harry collapses against the back of the sofa and runs a hand over his face, sighing. When he opens his eyes, he's surprised to find Louis still there, staring at him.

"Lou-"

"God, Haz." Louis's voice is thick and Harry feels even worse. "You're such an arsehole, I swear."

"I am," he nods. His fingers dig into the sofa and he repeats, "I am and I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."

"I did it for you. I did. You were obviously so interested and I wanted to make sure--" Louis breaks off. "But you're right. There's just-there's something about him and I liked him. He's a giant dork, but kind of an awesome giant dork." There's a look on Louis's face like he can't quite understand what happened. "I was lying to you and I was lying to him and I hated it. I just couldn't figure out the right time to tell either of you. It got out of control and then Liam was at the door, and afterwards I couldn't think of anything that would make the whole situation right again, so I just didn't talk to him. You-" A hand flails toward Harry, "-still didn't know."

Louis is on a roll, in part because of the alcohol still running through him, but another part, the most important part, is the obvious guilt that's been eating at him for the last month or so. Harry watches until he can't anymore.

"And then you brought him tonight and I thought 'okay, I can apologize', but he sat there and talked to Zayn all night and you were acting like a child and I was just angry and I couldn't figure out why. And then in the hallway--" He breaks off when Harry wraps him up in a hug, arms curling around his shoulders. Louis's fingers dig into his back, and Harry can feel the shaky sigh across his collarbones.

Harry holds onto him until Louis stops shaking, until his fingers finally relax.

"I didn't know boys were an option for you," Harry finally says, the words quiet in the air of the flat. For some reason, he flashes back to the memory of meeting Louis for the first time, the way Louis had his arms wrapped around Hannah, his girlfriend at the time. The way Louis's eyes were always bright when she was around.

Louis laughs, short and harsh, "Neither did I, obviously," and Harry pushes the memory away.

Things go quiet and weird, and when Louis draws away a second later Harry lets him go. Louis settles back against the door frame to his room and finally mutters, "Not like it matters anyway, nothing could happen."

Without thinking, Harry asks, "Why not?"

It gets him an incredulous look along with, "Well, one, Liam probably won't let me within fifty feet of him again and two, did you forget your raging crush on him?" Louis waves a hand about. "Pretty much the reason we're in this whole mess?"

Harry grins sheepishly and Louis just rolls his eyes. "I dunno," Harry adds a minute later. "I'm fairly sure Liam actually likes you, mate. You could go for it."

"I am not going to try and pull someone you like, Harry. Don't be daft." Louis shakes his head. "And it's not like I have a fuckin' clue what to do with a dude anyway. Thanks, but no thanks."

"You've got the same equipment," Harry can't help grinning. "Mostly it's just doing what you think feels good for yourself."

That earns a laugh from Louis and another shake of his head, but Harry can feel something shooting up through him again. Like earlier, but less...destructive.

"No, really," he insists, and without even thinking, he's up in Louis's space again. It earns him a wary look and Louis shifts, straightening up.

"Harry-"

Sex isn't love. Sex is--sex is feeling good, making someone else feel good. Sex is something Harry is good at. It's something he can share. He slants his mouth across Louis's, cutting off whatever protest Louis was going to give.

Harry doesn't mess around. He goes in a bit rough, biting at Louis's lips and sliding his tongue into the slick heat of Louis's mouth. There are hands on his chest, pushing until they're not, until there are fingers stretching out the material of his shirt instead. Harry slides an arm around Louis, pulling him in closer, and Louis starts kissing him back.

He's not sure how long they stand there, but when Louis finally tears his mouth away, swearing, "Jesus, Hazza." Harry's completely hard. Louis's mouth is red, red, red. It's a good look for him, Harry thinks absently.

"Harry's fine," he retorts instead, watching as Louis's eyes narrow. As a distraction, Harry runs his fingers under the hem of Louis's shirt, nails catching the line of his hipbone. Louis's breath hitches and his eyes go half-closed, like he can't hold them open.

"This isn't exactly what friends do for each other," Louis murmurs. Harry laughs, sliding his thigh between Louis's legs. Louis is hard, too.

"This is exactly what friends do for each other."

*

In the morning, Harry runs right over any awkwardness by waking Louis up with his mouth around Louis's cock. Judging by the sounds coming out of Louis's mouth, Harry figures they're okay.

 

~*~

 

The second time Louis wakes up, the sun has crept to the edge of the bed. He stretches, pointing his toes and sliding his arms up under his pillow, fingertips brushing at the wall. His body feels good, warm. That's when he remembers exactly why. With a groan, he rolls over and buries his face in a pillow.

It gets really hard to breathe after a minute, so Louis turns his head until his cheek is resting on the pillow. The clock beside the bed says 8:12. Louis groans again. It's his day off, he's not that hung over, and he's awake before noon.

On the other hand, he'd been the recipient of a bloody fantastic blowjob this morning.

That thought makes Louis bury his face back into the pillow. If he suffocates himself, then he totally will not have to acknowledge this whole situation. Only, it gets hot really quick, and then Louis's stomach rumbles in protest two seconds later, so he shifts onto his back again. The ceiling doesn't offer any grand epiphanies, so Louis finally rolls out of bed to take a piss.

He's brushing his teeth, mind and hand on automatic pilot, when last night's hallway scene hits him. For a split second, all he can feel is Liam's hand wrapped around his arm again, the hardness of the wall behind him.

Dying from choking on toothpaste is not something Louis wants written in his obituary. He leans over, spitting it out then rinsing out his mouth with a handful of water. Cupping his palms, he splashes some of it across his face. It's gone icy cold by now, the zing of it making his skin tingle. He manages to find a towel, burying his face in it for a second, and then throwing it back on the counter with a loud sigh. His reflection in the bathroom mirror looks tired.

There's reasons you don't sleep with your best friend, he thinks.

A small love bite has bloomed along the edge of his collarbone and Louis presses his fingers into it. He can barely feel it, a dull ache. Thoroughly unlike the way Harry's teeth had felt as they'd dug in last night. Louis can feel his face heating and decides he needs to get out of here, out of the apartment. Out of his head.

One of Louis's favorite things is to wander around while he's invisible. People fascinate him anyway, but even more so when they think that no one is watching. He's seen the best and worst of people over the years, watched things unfold that he couldn't do anything to stop, and occasionally been in the right spot at the right time. When he was younger, he caused a lot of mischief and even now, he can't help himself on occasion. Harry pouts so prettily and Zayn's bugger off, you arse are two of his favorite things.

It's just that people are honest when they're not worried about how they're being perceived, and Louis loves watching that.

It's probably why he ends up wandering the hallway, trailing his fingers over the cool, blue walls of Harry's school. It's been a while since he's made a visit, but he finds the classroom after only one wrong turn. Unlike most of the other rooms along the corridor, the door to Harry's class is open. Louis isn't sure if this is a good thing or not, but his feet carry him over regardless. He leans easily against the door frame and peers around the room, looking for Harry.

It's not hard to find him.

Harry's sprawled in his chair, legs blocking the aisle from what Louis can see. Everyone within a two desk radius looks like they've never had a care in the world, curved into their seats and staring at the front of the room with slightly glazed eyes. Everyone but Liam. Liam looks like he'd rather be anywhere else, anywhere at all. The line of his shoulder is stiff. It's not obvious at first, but Louis can tell that he's leaning away from Harry. He's taking notes, eyes forward, but as Louis continues to watch, he glances at Harry from the corner of his eye.

Harry, on the other hand, is pretty blatantly staring at Liam. He looks around every so often, taking in the surrounding students with a small smirk. His gaze always comes back to Liam though, studying him. Louis is fairly certain that Harry has no idea at the way his eyes soften each time.

Louis sighs, running a hand over his face. What a fucking mess.

The shuffle of bodies makes him drop his hand. Students are restless, shifting in their seats and putting their pens and notebooks away. The teacher huffs and Louis smiles at the look of resigned consternation on his face. When Louis glances over to Harry, he's not moved at all. Liam still isn't looking at him. Curious, Louis slides into the classroom, shifting into the corner on the opposite side of the door, away from any departing students.

There's the murmur of the teacher's, "Fine, fine. Get out of here," and then the mad shift of students as they file out. Louis tucks himself further into the corner and keeps his eye on Harry and Liam. Harry's stepped in close, cutting off Liam's exit. From this distance, Louis can't hear what's being said, but Harry's got his most charming face on, dimples in full force as he ducks his head to get Liam to look at him. It doesn't work, and Liam's chin stays tucked down on his chest.

Harry pouts, but it has no effect on Liam. It's almost entertaining to watch, really. A second later, a straggling student stops next to them and touches Harry's elbow. Harry waves her off, but Liam finally lifts his head. He looks bewildered, a frown between his eyebrows. It makes Harry smile and Louis watches as Harry reaches up. His finger rubs at the spot, words obviously teasing. Liam reaches up to grab at Harry's wrist.

Even from where he's standing, Louis can see the way Liam freezes. It's only for a split second, then he releases Harry almost instantly. He says something to Harry, Louis watches his lips move, but whatever it is, it confuses Harry this time. He tilts his head and Louis can see his mouth shape the word What? Liam repeats it, shaking his head and grabbing his knapsack. He easily avoids Harry's hand when it reaches out to stop him and practically runs out of the room.

The look on his face as he passes Louis is so sad that Louis finds himself reaching out too. It's too late, and Liam flies out of the room without looking back.

When Louis glances over, it's to find Harry looking after Liam, a considering look on his face. They both startle when the teacher's voice, tinged with humor, asks, "Youthful romance not going as planned, Mr. Styles?"

Harry recovers quickly, and his dimples are back as he answers, "Some things require delicate handling, Mr. Stearns."

It earns him an eye-roll. "Yes, some things do. Be sure one of those is the essay due on Wednesday."

"Of course," Harry gives him finger guns, "Anything for my favorite teacher."

Mr. Stearns is obviously trying not to smile. He moves towards the door, waving at Harry to get going. Harry takes the hint, the teacher following right behind him. Louis can hear Harry being cheeky as they head down the hallway.

*

It doesn't take long for the hallways to clear, and Louis doesn't feel like going home, so he continues to wander around for a while. After a while, he ends up underneath a set of stairs on the second floor. So many thoughts are still going round and round in his head and none of them seem to be making things any more clear.

He pulls out his mobile, turning it over and over, debating. Finally he types out where you at? It's a stupid question; Louis knows Harry's in class. His mobile beeps.

Currently? In the loo.

Louis can't resist typing Shake it more than 3x youre playing with it. He should know better though, and his face flushes when he gets That's what I've got you for, innit?.

Shut up come meet me.

Where

2nd floor stairwell, east side

It's a bit longer before he receives, Here at the school? Louis rolls his eyes.

Unless you know another stairwell on the 2nd floor

Wanker. Be there in 5

Louis spends those five minutes not pacing, but definitely going through the reasons that the whole thing between him and Harry is a bad idea again. He's so deep in thought that it takes him a minute to realize that Harry's there, staring at him.

"Did you win?" he asks and Louis frowns at him. "Whatever argument you had going on in your head," Harry clarifies. "Did you win?"

Louis huffs. "Probably not," he admits. Harry's wearing one a hoodie, a worn blue one from Louis's old footie club, and Louis makes himself look away. It's a bad idea.

Before Louis knows it, Harry is all up in his space, hands curling around his hips.

"What're you doing?" Louis isn't proud of the slight panic in his voice. He swallows hard when Harry brushes the tip of his nose over Louis's cheek.

"Testing a theory," Harry whispers across his lips, right before he kisses Louis. The thing is, Louis notes absently, is that regardless of whether or not Harry had a power, he's always been pretty persuasive in his own right.

Also, his mouth was made for kissing.

He's not sure how long they've been snogging, but there are fingers digging in just under the waistband of his trousers and his own are tangled in Harry's shirt, when a voice breaks in. "Gentlemen, I don't believe this is an appropriate venue for this."

Louis has to push Harry back, breaking the kiss. Harry’s absent, "Huh. Interesting," makes Louis frown.

"Haz," he whispers. The teacher is looking increasingly annoyed at being ignored. "Harry."

That finally gets Louis a slow blink and then a sharpening gaze. Louis tugs his own shirt back down and then reaches up to straighten Harry's collar. It earns him a quick grin and Louis quits fidgeting and rolls his eyes. "Go do your thing," he murmurs.

"But Lou," Harry whispers. He's a total shit. "I thought you didn't like it when I used my power for evil."

"It's better than a trip to the police station for trespassing or something." Louis hisses back. "And I'm sure you don't want detention, yeah?"

"Gentlemen." The voice is more insistent this time. Harry's smile widens, dimples showing.

"You've got a point," he whispers back. A second later he turns around. "Mr. Callahan! I have a proposition...."

*

"Let me talk to Liam," Harry says. They've collapsed on the sofa after a few rounds at the local pub, and Harry's speech is even slower than normal. "I'll convince him to come around."

"And how, exactly, are you going to go about that?" Louis asks. They've been having the same conversation for the past half hour. "He always looks like he's about to crawl out of his skin when he's around you."

Harry smirks. "No one can resist me." Liam's the only one who actually can resist Harry. Louis tilts his head to the side, eyebrow raised. He gets a hand wave in return. "I'm not actually an arsehole, Lou. I can talk to people without using my ability. Besides," he adds, "I got him to the club that night, if you recall."

"Right," Louis huffs. "And look where that got us." Harry's smile is slow and a little wicked. He shifts on the sofa and Louis points at him. "No, Haz." Louis has made a pact with himself, no more sleeping with Harry. It's a recipe for disaster basically. Or more disaster, anyway.

He doesn't listen, of course. Harry never really listens to Louis anymore. "No," Louis repeats, moving backwards and then scrambling to get off the sofa. The alcohol in his system makes him too slow though, and Harry manages to grab him around the thighs.

Louis flails, off balance, and falls backwards. He ends up landing on Harry's head and the squawk of disgruntled protests makes him feel better. Louis is cracking up, telling Harry, "Serves you right, you twat." Harry pushes at Louis's legs, his head popping up between Louis's knees. His hair's a mess, his cheeks flushed.

They both notice the proximity of Harry's face to Louis's crotch at the same time.

"Well." Harry grins. He slips one arm under Louis's leg, curling his hand around a thigh. "As I was going to say, I think it's turned out fairly well." Louis can feel his dick give an interested twitch and knows Harry can't help but feel the tension running through his entire body. Harry hums, "Smashingly well, in fact."

He nudges his nose against front of Louis's trousers and glances up. "Don't you think, Lou?" he asks. He mouths at the line of Louis's cock, obviously hard now.

"I think-" Louis manages to get out, jumping as Harry drags his teeth over the flap of his trousers, "-that this is not really going to help with the Liam situation."

"Sure it does," Harry murmurs in response. He's got his fingers on the snap of Louis's trousers. He starts dragging the zipper down, and Louis thinks that maybe he should do something, like stop Harry. He doesn't. "I'll teach you how to give excellent head and then the two of you can skip off into the sunset and have perfect, adorable babies."

"And what about yo--fuck." Louis's head snaps back, his question cut off, as Harry gets his hand around his cock. He licks around the head. It makes everything a bit fuzzy and Louis struggles to focus. Their conversation is important, he knows this. Harry needs to stop pretending that he's isn't part of the equation when it comes to Liam.

Harry's moved down, taking more of Louis into his mouth. It's wet and hot and Jesus Christ, he's really good at this. Louis manages to get his body to work, shoving a hand in Harry's hair. It gets him a pleasant hum that feels bloody fantastic and nearly makes him stop. It takes a moment, but he remembers what he was going to say and gives Harry's curls a tug.

The only response he gets is for Harry to suck harder. Louis's fingers tighten instinctively and Harry actually whimpers. Oh. Leverage. Louis has finally got something to work with. He pulls harder, until Harry comes off his dick with a wet pop that's hot enough that Louis nearly shoves his face back down, to hell with talking.

Except the look on Harry's face lets Louis know that's exactly what he wants, and that helps Louis focus a bit. "Seriously, Harry," he manages to get out. "You need to quit acting like you don't want Liam too."

Harry frowns. "It's bad form to talk about another bloke while someone's having a go at you, Lou. I hope you realize this." He keeps his hand in motion, stroking Louis in an almost absent manner. It makes Louis grit his teeth.

"I'm fairly sure it's bad form to fuck one bloke when you're interested in a different one," Louis remarks. Something shifts across Harry's face, but it's too fast for Louis to catch it.

Harry's eyebrows shoot up. "Fucking? Is that the direction we're headed?" He looks almost delighted and Louis can't help the panicked sound that slips out. It earns him a pat on his hip and a murmured, "S'okay, Lou, we'll work our way up to that. I'll be gentle, I promise."

With a glare, Louis tells him, "You're such a tit sometimes." He tugs hard on Harry's curls, but instead of wincing, Harry's eyes dilate. Louis swallows hard. Harry opens his mouth to say something and Louis does it again. His dick twitches when Harry's mouth falls open, and gives another interested jerk when Harry runs his tongue across his bottom lip.

It's suddenly excessively hard to remember the point Louis was trying to make.

"I'll take care of it."

Louis realizes that he'd zoned out when Harry's face comes back into focus. "What?"

"I'll take care of it, okay?" The look on Harry's face is serious again. "Liam's a good lad. He can't stay mad for long, I'll bet. So I'll get him to come around and-" He tilts his head, shrugs the best he can in his current position, and adds,"-and we'll go from there, yeah?"

Louis wants to protest. He wants to ask about what they're doing and how it's going to affect everyone. He wants to force Harry to tell him what's really going on inside that head of his. He does none of those things, of course, and works really hard to not think about why he doesn't. Instead, he just nods, offering a quiet, "Okay."

At Louis's answer, Harry grins. The seriousl look disappears and the hand around Louis's cock tightens again. "Well, then. Now that that's cleared up..."

*

Somehow, Harry does it.

Louis really shouldn't be surprised, but he can't help standing there like an idiot when Harry comes home three days later, Liam trailing behind him. He's obviously nervous, looking everywhere but at either Louis or Harry.

Harry, being Harry, promptly leaves them alone, heading into his room to call Zayn.

It's awkward.

Liam still won't look directly at him and Louis's fingers twitch. He wants to reach out, poke, pinch, prod - something - to get Liam's attention. He settles on a quiet, "I'm sorry." It makes Liam flinch but he still doesn't turn his head, and Louis says it again, more urgently. "Liam, I'm sorry."

That gets him a soft sigh. "Johnny keeps asking about you," Liam says. He still won't meet Louis's eyes, chin down, but at least he's talking.

"What?"

"Johnny-" Liam shrugs, "-at the boxing club. He asks about you at least once a week. Apparently you made an impression." There's a press of lips together, like it hurts for Liam to admit that.

Louis takes a step forward. "Well, it's hard to forget the only person who's ever gotten stuck in one of the lockers, don't you think?" The corner of Liam's mouth curls up and Louis nearly crows. "Also, there was that time someone, who shall remain nameless, by the way, accidently tossed a red towel into the laundry."

"Pink's a manly color, so I've been told," Liam offers a moment later. He's looking up now, a small smile on his face. Louis smiles back.

"Hello," Louis says softly. The smile on Liam's face falls away.

"Louis-"

He takes a couple more steps, until he's standing right in front of Liam. "I am sorry, you know. It wasn't meant as a game and I shouldn't have handled it the way I did." He knows he's rambling, but Liam needs to understand that it wasn't his fault, that Louis does his best to never hurt anyone on purpose. "I hate that I hurt your feelings, but it's really hard to apologize when you won't even talk to me--"

"Please don't lie to me again," Liam says, cutting Louis off. "Just--"

"I won't." Louis hopes to hell that Liam doesn't ask about Harry. He's not sure how well Oh, I want in your pants and Harry's teaching me how to do it. Also, he's got a bit of a crush on you too would go over. "I won't," he repeats and prays that it's a promise he can keep.

Liam just stares at him, studying his face for the longest minute of Louis's life. Finally, he nods and Louis lets out the breath he was holding.

"All good again, are we?" Harry says from the doorway of his bedroom. Louis has no idea how long he's been watching. He moves into the room, flopping down on the sofa. "Zayn's coming with takeaway. What are we watching?"

"I thought we were going to revise for History." Liam looks confused. Harry leans his head back, grinning, and Louis almost feels bad for Liam.

"You've already done your essay." It's not a question, but Liam nods. "And I've done mine." At the skeptical look on Liam's face, Harry pouts. "I have! Ask Lou."

"Came home after shift yesterday and he was typing away," Louis tells him when Liam glances over for confirmation. He carefully does not look back at Harry, and pushes the thought of what happened after that out of his head. "You should just give in," he says instead. "Harry's a five-year-old when he doesn't get his way."

"Hey!" A throw pillow flies past Louis's nose and hits Liam squarely in the chest.

Louis shrugs. "Case in point."

"Wankers," Harry mumbles. The television flickers to life and he says over his shoulder, "See if you get any food."

Reaching down to pick up the errant pillow, Louis smiles up at Liam. He moves toward the sofa, jerking his head for Liam to follow. After a second, Liam does. With a wink, Louis tells Harry, "Of course, we will. Zayn loves me best anyway."

"That's a lie!" Harry says. Louis whacks Harry in the back of the head with the pillow. Harry reaches back and tries to grab it, but Louis pulls it out of his reach and then hits him again. "Liam!" Harry cries, "Liam, make him stop."

Liam just looks confused, like he's trying to figure out exactly how he got here. It makes Louis grin and he tosses the pillow. Liam catches it without thinking and blanches a little when Harry calls his name. "Liam, Leee-yum. You can sit here." Harry pats the spot next to him on the sofa. "Since Louis is such a git, you're my new best friend.” He glances at Louis, as if Louis will tell him what to do. "Come on, come on," Harry insists.

"Best do what he wants," Louis finally says. "Else he'll be even more unbearable for the rest of the evening."

There's a moment of hesitation, where Liam glances at the door, but he does take a seat. Harry smiles wide, dimples in full force, and immediately tosses his legs over Liam's lap. It makes Liam jump a little and Louis watches as his fingers tighten on the pillow in his hands. It makes Louis frown.

Before he can say anything, there's a loud pounding on the front door and Zayn's voice hollering on the other side. Louis lets him in and Zayn grins when he sees Liam. "Hey, mate."

Louis doesn't think about Liam's easy response, the way he smiles immediately at Zayn. He does take in the way Harry frowns at the exchange, filing it away even as Harry starts making hands for the food. Louis jumps in then, demanding that Zayn not let him have any and it's like everything is normal.

It's not normal; Liam never really relaxes, but he smiles back at Louis and Harry makes him laugh. It's not perfect, however it is a second chance and Louis will take it.

*

It's so good to have Liam around again.

He's still a bit skittish around the two of them, twitching when Louis or Harry reach out to touch him. It's like a personal challenge to the both of them, and they make it a mission to break him of the habit. Arms around shoulders, hugs, body piles on the sofa while watching a film. They're a perfect tag-team assault unit and after a while, Liam learns that holding Louis's hand stops him from nipple pinching and that head scritches make Harry docile as a cat.

Louis doesn't think about the way the calluses on Liam's hands feel against his palms, or the way Harry's body goes loose in a way he's only seen in other, more intimate, moments.

Liam asks him back to the gym on the first really cold day of fall. He's wearing a bright blue jumper, a gray scarf wrapped around his throat. Louis is afraid his face might burst, he's smiling so hard. There's a tinge of red to Liam's cheeks and Louis can't care if it's from the cold or something else. When they finally go, Johnny rolls his eyes and tells Louis to stay out of the lockers, and things shift back into their old routine so easily that Louis could cry. Then he remembers how it feels once he's done a round of Liam's training and spends the next week whining.

It really is like old times.

Except for how it's not like old times at all.

Not when Harry finds out that Liam has a sweet tooth and greets him at the door with a cup of hot cocoa every Wednesday night after Liam makes the trek from the library to their flat. Not when Harry gets his first cold of the season and Louis comes home from his shift at work to find them on the sofa, Harry sound asleep with his head on Liam's lap. Liam's hand is curled through Harry's hair and he lifts his other one to make a "shh" motion. Louis's heart is pounding so loudly that it's all he can hear.

It's not like old times at all because he and Harry hardly sleep apart much anymore. They've not had full-on sex, but there are hand-jobs and that one night, where Louis learned how to give a blowjob. It was messy and funny and something twisted inside Louis's chest at the way Harry looked with his head thrown back, curls stuck to his sweaty forehead.

His feelings are becoming all jumbled, and Louis is starting to think he might have a real problem.

*

"You didn't have to come pick me up, Haz." The wind is blowing and Louis tucks himself in closer against the chill. Harry slings an arm around his shoulder, pulling him in. They stumble a little bit, trying to get their strides synced up and Harry laughs.

"Eh, I was bored anyway." There's something off in voice.

"Liam not about?"

Harry shrugs. "Said he had 'plans'."

"It's possible, you know." Louis pokes him in the side and Harry squeaks, shifting sideways. "He has other friends besides us."

"Lies," Harry scoffs, settling their steps in line again. "No one can give Liam what we can."

Laughing, Louis offers, "What? Hot cocoa and endless abu--" Harry stops abruptly and Louis stumbles. "Harry?" He glances up, but Harry's gaze is fixed across the street. Louis looks over.

As they watch, Zayn says something and Liam's eyes squinch up like they always do when he's excited. He makes a gesture with his hands and they both lean into each other, giggling like school kids. Zayn tilts his chin down, looking up through his lashes and Louis--

Louis knows Zayn, he knows that move.

They're on a date, he realizes absently. That's the 'plans' that Liam had told Harry about. Louis suddenly feels like someone's sitting on his chest. It's hard to breathe.

Zayn glances up, like he can feel someone watching them, and Louis goes invisible. Without thought, without looking around. Thankfully, no one notices. Well, Zayn frowns in their direction, squinting. Liam touches his arm a second later and Zayn looks away.

The weight sitting on Louis's chest falls away so quickly that he nearly staggers with the loss. Startled, he glances over at Harry.

"Well, I guess he really was busy," Harry says. His voice is flat though, like the smile he gives Louis. "Shall we head home then?" All Louis can do is nod. The ache in his chest is still there, Louis notes. He's sure that it's all his own this time, though.

Harry doesn’t mention the fact that they’re still not visible, but he keeps his arm around Louis all the way to the flat. Even though they don’t speak, that in itself says volumes.

*

When Harry reaches for him later, as they lay in bed, Louis doesn't say no. They move quickly past any previous lines and Louis watches Harry prepare himself, three fingers deep, and he's so hard it hurts. Louis pushes in, barely breathing and with no clue what he's doing. Harry pushes back, impatient, and Louis's moan is harshly loud in the silence of the bedroom.

It's good, it's amazing, and Louis has this strange urge to reassure Harry of that. Harry rolls away when they're done though, leaving Louis to stare at the line of his back. Fuck it, he thinks, curling in close. Harry tenses and Louis can hear him breathe out, then inhale like he's going to say something. Louis wraps an around his waist, pulls him in tighter and there's another exhale. Harry's body goes lax a moment later, shifting into the heat of Louis's body.

Louis tucks his nose into the curls at the nape of Harry's neck, taking his own breath and letting it go. He falls asleep like that.

 

~*~

 

Harry's been unusually quiet. The two of them are spread across the living room floor of the flat, coffee table piled with books and papers. Exams are in two days and Liam's got a study schedule that’s more than a little scary. He'd expected Harry to laugh at the sight of it, but he'd just nodded instead. It's a little worrying actually. Liam finds himself staring, fingers itching to push Harry's curls back and make him look up.

Except when Harry finally does glance up, Liam ducks his chin down and pretends that he's paying attention to whatever is on the page in front of him. A few minutes later, Liam peeks and finds that Harry's gone back to studying.

Over the next hour, Liam tries to make conversation a couple of times but Harry's answers are short, stopping Liam before he's even gotten started. A normal study session with Harry generally involves a million interruptions, either paper tossed at Liam's head or questions that have nothing to do with History. They've accomplished more today without the messing about, but Liam finds that it's not nearly as fun. Liam tells himself that he's being ridiculous, but it's hard to miss such a noticeable change in behavior.

And today's not the only day. Harry's been off all week. Louis has been quieter than normal too, and Liam's caught him watching Harry when he thinks no one is looking. It's like Louis is waiting for something. What, Liam can't even begin to imagine. He just pushes away the weird feeling in his stomach every time he catches the soft looks on Louis's face.

Liam blinks and Harry's face comes into focus. He's looking at Liam, head tilted to the side, and Liam realizes that he must have been staring.

"Everything all right?" tumbles out of his mouth before he can stop himself.

"S'bout to ask you the same thing," Harry responds, reaching over for a set of Liam's notes. "You looked like you were pretty deep in thought there."

It's more words than Liam's been able to get out of him all night. He debates letting it go, but in the end pushes on. "Seriously though, Haz." Liam swallows. "We--We're friends now, right?" Harry's eyebrows raise and Liam rushes on, "I consider you my friend, anyway, and, well, I'm here if you wanted to talk about something. Anything."

It's Harry's turn to study Liam and he's quiet for so long that Liam's opening his mouth to say never mind, when Harry's face just kind of--softens, is the only word Liam can think of--and he smiles at Liam. It's real, relaxed, and Liam can't help smiling back.

"Of course we're friends, you twat,” Harry tells him. His dimples appear for a moment before a more serious look comes over his face. He adds quietly, "You're a good mate, Liam. The best kind." The words make Liam's stomach twist a bit, but before he can analyze it, Louis bursts through the door.

"Break time! Hope you lads are hungry, I've got loads of pizza coming!"

Liam watches Harry's smile broaden again and he murmurs, "Starving, yeah?" Liam nods his head, still a bit befuddled. Glancing over his shoulder, Harry says loudly, "I hope you ordered from the place on Perth, they're the quickest."

"It's like you don't even know me," Louis scoffs, like anything else was out of the question. He throws himself on the sofa, one his knees knocking in Harry's back. It earns him a slap and Louis just ruffles Harry's hair, adding, "Please try not to flash the delivery boy again, okay, Haz?" Liam's eyebrows go up.

Not much studying gets done for the rest of the night, in spite of Liam's timetable.

*

Things seem to go back to normal after that, like whatever had been bothering them lifted, and exams go well despite Louis and Harry's interference.

Except that every so often, Liam remembers the look on Harry's face and his You're a good mate. He remembers the way that Louis's hand had slid down after messing with unruly curls, to rest on the curve of Harry's neck, thumb pressed against the vein in his neck. He remembers the way Harry sort of leaned into the touch, not even aware that he was doing it.

Liam thinks of all these things and hates the way they make him feel so lonely.

The break will be good for him, time to recharge and get his head back on straight. His mum and dad will be happy to see him, for sure, and he's surprised at how much he's missed Ruth and Nicola. They'll be a welcome distraction and Liam can work on pushing these thoughts behind a better wall, a stronger one. He's determined not to let feelings get in the way of friendship, not now that he's actually got some true friends.

He's just got to work harder on it, that's all. Liam's good at working hard.

*

The television is throwing shadows around the room when Liam startles awake. He glances around, blinking to clear his head, and finds Harry and Louis sound asleep, curled around each other on the other side of the sofa. It's not the first time they've fallen asleep like this, but Louis's fingers, tucked just under the waist of Harry's jeans at his hip, is different. Liam looks away, only to find himself staring at his own face.

It's a photo, a Christmas gift from Louis. He'd presented one to both Liam and Harry with a murmured, "To my favorite mates." Liam had done his best not to notice Harry's sharp glance toward Louis. He'd just accepted the gift, passed out his own small presents, and kept his gaze from straying toward it too often throughout the evening.

He lets himself study it now.

Liam recalls that day, remembers Louis's terrible jumper and Harry sprawling across the two of them in the small coffee shop, never any personal space with either of them. Mostly he remembers all the laughter, the bright, wide smiles painted across Harry and Louis's faces. And from the evidence in front of him, on his own.

A small noise drags his attention back around. Harry mumbles something that Liam can't make out, burying his face further in Louis's hoodie. Liam watches as Louis makes a sound of reassurance and Harry settles immediately.

He manages to slip away a few minutes later without waking either of them and doesn't look back when he leaves.

*

The message alert on his phone goes off and Liam doesn't even glance at it. A minute later it goes off again. With a sigh, he reaches over and switches it to silent and sets it back down. There's a glance from his mother that's almost palpable, but she doesn't say anything. Liam knows it's only a matter of time before she does.

Being at home hasn't done what Liam was hoping. Instead of clearing his head, it's only made things worse. He's so bored that he could cry, and it turns out, he misses Harry and Louis both so much that he's afraid that actually crying is a very real possibility. The girls are already tired of his moping and his mom looks dangerously close to a lecture.

Even now, Liam can feel her eyes on him. Pushing up from the sofa, he mutters, "I'm going for a run," and deliberately ignores his mobile as it vibrates on the table. Maybe some fresh air will help.

It doesn't.

Normally when he runs, it's about concentrating on the breathing, on the warmth and stretch in his muscles as he moves forward. It's usually calming, focusing. This time, however, his thoughts just keep going around and around. Each push off the pavement, each breath, brings something else to the surface.

Right foot. The ridiculous way that Harry dances around Liam, never taking it seriously for a second.

Breathe in. Louis's eyes, blue and clear and bright and always looking at Liam

Left foot. How Harry curls into Liam’s shoulder when he's being lazy and wants Liam to make tea.

Breathe out. Louis trying to make Liam smile, hanging off the top of the piano in the music hall.

It's all those moments, warm with feeling like he belongs somewhere, mixed with things aren't so warm. That night at the club, the way he just put Louis where he wanted him. Harry's mouth from that stupid vision, red and slick. Open doors at the flat showing Louis's bed looking barely slept in. The hint of bruises at Harry's hips when he forgets, stretching arms above his head.

These aren't warm moments, they're more like flames building, pushing Liam to the edge of--of something he's not sure he's ready for. If he even knows what it is.

He runs faster.

*

Liam purposely waits until supper is nearly ready to call Louis. It's not like anyone in the house notices anyway. Ruth is acting like a five-year-old, and he can hear his dad hollering at her to get out of the potatoes. Louis's excited, "Liam!" nearly makes him drop the phone.

"'lo," he mumbles, moving into the hallway. It's quieter, at least on his end. On Louis's side, Liam can hear the same ruckus. He clears his throat, trying again. "Hey, Louis. I just thought I--"

He's interrupted by a shout, one of Louis's sisters it sounds like, of Who's that, Lou?, followed by Is it Harrrrrrrrry? It's a tease and Louis pulls away from the phone to mutter, "Shut it." Liam can imagine the look on Louis's face. He's opening his mouth to say that he can call back later when he hears Wait, wait. Is it the other one? The one with-- He doesn't catch the last part, but he can feel his face heating up. Liam, isn't it? Another voice joins the first one. More like Lee-YUM with those shoulders!

There's the sound of scuffling and it's possible the phone gets dropped, Liam's not sure. He can hear Louis's voice, mixed with his sisters', but it's muffled. After a moment, Louis comes back on the line. He sounds a little winded. "Sorry, sorry. The girls are being total shits. Puberty has not been kind to their personalities." He sounds almost embarrassed.

Liam can't help blurting out, "They know what I look like?"

"Yeah, they were looking at my mobile--" Louis breaks off, and it takes a second for Liam to realize that it means that Louis has pictures of Liam on his phone.

He shakes it off; there's a number of pictures of all his friends on his phone as well. It doesn't mean anything. "Ah," he says to break the silence. "Well, I--I just, um, wanted to call and wish you a happy bir--" Liam's father hollers that dinner is ready. "-thday."

Louis laughs at Liam mumbled, "Sorry." It's what he wanted, the option for a way out, but now, getting to hear Louis's voice, he's a bit disappointed to go. "Happy Birthday, Lou," he says again. There's a sigh on the other end of the line.

"Thanks, Liam. I'm really glad you called. We were kind of worried, what with you leaving without saying goodbye." Liam winces. "And you hadn't really answered any of our texts. " Liam doesn't miss the we, the our.

"Yeah, it's just." Liam falters. "It's just been a mad rush around here. Busy."

"Of course, yeah." Louis sounds distracted himself. "Same here. Families are crazy, aren't they?" Liam hums an affirmative and they just stand there, silence winding from one end of the line to the other. There's another shout from the kitchen.

"I should go," Liam finally says. "I just--I wanted to wish you a happy birthday."

Louis doesn't say anything for long enough that Liam's just about to say goodbye again. "Liam--"

He's not proud of how quickly he responds. "Yeah?"

"I--" Louis stops and it sounds like he's moved back from the phone. It's confirmed a second later when he says, "Haz is calling."

"Right, right. I've got supper so, um," Liam just wants to get off the phone. "Tell Harry hello for me."

"You should call him." Liam kind of wants to laugh hysterically and he's not quite sure why. He must make some kind of noise because Louis's voice softens "Liam--"

"I've got to go," Liam manages, adding another quick, "Happy Birthday, Lou," before ending the call.

*

The hallway is eerily quiet when Liam slips out of his room. There's still a few more days until classes are back in session and Liam is enjoying the stillness that permeates the building. Despite this, he's finally grown tired of the four walls of his dorm room and decided to head out for food. It's the first time he's left the room in the three days he's been back.

His mobile goes off, startlingly loud in the hall, making him jerk.

Boorrrrrrrrrred. How's wolverhampton? Your going to be back in time for the bash yeah?

Guilt flashes through Liam and he very nearly turns around and goes right back up to his room. Instead, he texts back wouldn't miss itttt ! xx. Liam stares at the x's at the end and after moment, replaces them with a smiley face. It's ridiculous, how one tiny letter makes his palms sweat.

Liam heads in the complete opposite direction of the school, into a part of the town that he knows is probably safe from running into Louis and Harry. The bite of the wind has him pulling his collar in closer, tugging his beanie further down around his ears. He grabs a quick bite to eat at a local shop, munching on a hot sandwich and watching the slow drive of traffic through the store window. Most of the town is on holiday and will be until after the new year.

A shout of laughter draws Liam's attention toward the door of the shop. Liam catches sight of a shock of blond hair and there’s another infectious laugh, and Liam can't help but smile. The smile falters when he sees the sky-high swoop of dark hair coming in right behind, though. Zayn's eyes widen when he recognizes Liam, the smile on his face widening.

"Liam!"

He waves awkwardly. Zayn's distracted by a hand on his elbow and Liam watches as the blond says something that makes Zayn's eyes brighten. He nods and the blond smiles wide then moves toward the counter. Zayn heads over to Liam, frowning as he gets closer. When he throws an arm around Liam's shoulder, Liam can't help but lean into a little. Zayn's warm, despite having just come in from the cold, and it's nice.

"I thought you weren't supposed to be back until tomorrow?" Zayn asks as he pulls back.

"Came home a bit early," Liam tells him. "I just--I needed some quiet." It's not a lie, his family are ridiculously loud around the holidays.

Zayn laughs. "Can't have gotten much of that, can you? Not with Lou and Harry around."

Liam looks away, face heating. "Yeah. I, uh, I haven't told them I was in town. Yet," he adds quickly.

Zayn's gaze sharpens. "How long you been back?" Liam just shakes his head, not answering. "Liam--"

Thankfully they're interrupted by Zayn's friend. He slams into Zayn's back, sending them both forward. "Zayn has shit taste in sandwiches, yeah?" There's a noise of protest from Zayn that gets him a quick knock in the head, but before Zayn can say anything, Liam gets a wide smile and a friendly, "Niall, by the way."

Niall is a spot of brightness, blonde hair and blue eyes, braces and a buzz of energy that almost makes Liam tired just being near him. Liam doesn't hesitate to shake Niall's hand, instinctively knowing that whatever he might see won't be bad. It's a strange feeling, to be so sure of that. Niall's hands are calloused in a way that Liam's familiar with and before he can stop himself, Liam asks, "You play guitar?"

Niall’s smile widens and Liam can see Zayn roll his eyes in the corner of his vision. The rest of the afternoon flies by and for a while, Liam forgets to be worried or uneasy.

It's not until the street lights are flickering on and they're standing in front of Liam's building that things get tense again, not until Zayn asks quietly, "You are going to be there tomorrow, right?"

Niall drops back with a quick glance at Zayn and Liam watches him lean against the brick wall a few feet away. Even when Niall has moved out of hearing distance, he still doesn't say anything. Not until Zayn asks, "Everything all right, Liam?"

He opens his mouth to spout of an, "of course," but "not really," slips out instead. At Zayn's look, he adds, "I'm just trying to--to work through some stuff is all."

Zayn looks angry for a moment. Strangely enough, Liam knows that it's not directed towards him. It sounds like Zayn mutters, "Fuckin' Haz," and Liam glances up sharply, brows drawn together.

"Listen," Zayn puts a hand on his shoulder, fingers squeezing briefly. His hands seem really warm, even through Liam's coat. "Listen," he repeats. "The thing is--the thing is, is that Harry doesn't let himself have things, not the things he really, really wants, okay?" He doesn't let Liam answer. "And Louis--" Liam's stomach twists at Louis's name. Zayn gives a sharp laugh. "Louis doesn't have a fucking clue what he wants half the time."

"So the thing is," Zayn shakes his head in exasperation, placing his other hand on Liam's shoulder, curving them closer. Liam can feel the heat from Zayn's breath on his face. "They finally figured that shit out and of course, of course, it's not enough for them. Wankers," he adds as afterthought.

He looks at Liam like that’s supposed to mean something. All Liam can do is shake his head; he doesn't understand.

It makes Zayn sigh. With another squeeze of his shoulders, Zayn steps back. "Just--just tell them what's going on in your head, Li. Talk to them." He glances over at Niall, who's making no bones at being curious about what's going on, and then back at Liam. "You're the only sensible one of the lot, and I say that lightly, but still-" He smiles, eyes soft, and starts backing away. "You're a good lad, you know. You deserve to be happy too."

Liam watches the two of them walk away, Niall sending him another wide smile and a jaunty wave, and he’s even more confused than before.

*

The party is in full swing by the time Liam arrives.

People are spilling out into the hallway and Liam worries about Harry's neighbors until he sees that half the doors on the floor are open. It figures that Harry could talk everyone into participating, Liam thinks as he worms his way around the group in front of Harry's door. A warm body slams into his back and all Liam gets is a glimpse of blond hair and a quick, "Hey, Liam," before Niall shifts around him, sliding into the flat.

It's even more crowded inside the flat. Liam apologizes half a dozen times before giving up. Glancing around, he finally spots Zayn at the back of the room, Niall's arm around his waist. That makes Liam's eyebrows raise a little. Something's obviously changed in between the time that Zayn had walked into the sandwich shop yesterday and tonight.

Zayn smiles at something Niall says, eyes crinkling, and Liam thinks maybe nothing changed really, he just missed it. As usual.

He's about to turn around when Niall looks up and points at him. Zayn's eyes find him and he waves Liam over. Fighting his way toward the two, the first thing Liam says is, "Your quiff has reached epic proportions," to which Zayn snorts and tells him to fuck off, even as Niall laughs loudly. It makes Liam grin. Maybe this won't be too bad.

A second later Zayn throws an arm around Liam's shoulders and murmurs, "Glad you decided to show up, mate." Something in his voice makes Liam pull back.

"Everything okay?"

Zayn shrugs. "Harry's been a miserable twat all night." He gives Liam a look. "Wasn’t sure if you were coming, I think. Louis's ignoring him, which hasn't helped, so he's been extra pissy."

"I told them I'd be here." Although Liam nearly bailed at the last second, to be honest. He wants to ask why Louis's ignoring Harry, but doesn't. Zayn just shrugs again and takes another drink from the glass in his hand.

Zayn's got the least tolerance of all them for Harry's tantrums, despite knowing him the longest. Maybe because of that, Liam thinks absently. He smiles and Zayn rolls his eyes, then smiles back. Over Zayn's shoulder, movement catches Liam's attention and he glances over.

It's Harry.

He's dressed head to toe in black and it makes him look even longer than normal. There's the faintest of flushes on his cheeks, and Liam knows he's had more than a few drinks. There's a lanky grace to Harry, but the alcohol in his system makes his movements even more loose, makes them fluid. Harry starts to look over and Liam shifts until he's out of the line of sight.

It doesn't matter though, because a second later a shout goes up across the room and Harry's attention focuses on it immediately. Liam watches him slide his way through the crowd, breathing a sigh of relief when he's swallowed up by a sea of bodies.

"You're going to have to talk to him sooner or later, Li," Zayn mutters. "The flat isn't that big."

His mouth is open to protest when someone leaps on his back. Without thinking, Liam's arms wrap around Louis's thighs, holding him in place. Arms come around his neck and a warm voice, slurring a bit, breathes, "Liammmmm," against his ear. Louis licks his ear and then cackles when Liam jerks away.

"About time you showed up, you arse. How was the trip back?"

Liam glances over at Zayn before answering, "Not terrible. Quiet." Louis laughs.

"Right. A million people on the roads today, and you think it was 'not terrible'." Zayn raises an eyebrow at him and Liam glares. Behind Zayn, Niall just looks amused, a half smile on his face. Liam's making a great impression, he's sure. He wants to tell Niall that he's not a liar, not generally, but Niall's half smile widens and he gives Liam a wink. He moves his arm from Zayn's waist to his neck and starts tugging him away.

"I need another drink, Z, come on." It looks like Zayn wants to protest, but Niall's hand inches toward Zayn's hair, distracting him, and they're lost in the crowd in seconds. Which leaves Liam alone with Louis.

He's just standing there, fingers flexing around Louis’s thighs while he wracks his brain for something to say, something inane, something safe, when Louis whispers, "Liar, liar, pants on fire." It makes Liam jerk.

"What?" he says stupidly.

"I saw you," Louis sing-songs against his ear. "Two days ago, you left your curtains open."

Liam's stomach drops. "Louis--"

A foot hits his leg and Louis wiggles, obviously wanting down. Liam doesn't want to let go though. This is easier if Liam doesn't actually have to look at Louis. Another kick, harder this time, and Liam sighs. He tries not to think about the way Louis's body slides against his, the brush of hands across his shoulders. He refuses to turn around, waiting until a pair of Toms come into view before looking up.

Louis doesn't look angry, per se, more like… disappointed. That makes Liam feel worse, somehow. He opens his mouth to explain, to say something, when Louis holds up a finger.

"We do need to talk, yes." His cheeks are flushed, but his eyes are clear when he looks at Liam. "But I need another drink before that happens." Liam starts to protest, but Louis gives him a hard look. "You lied, Liam. You've never lied to me before."

He sounds so sure that it makes Liam angry for a second. You lie to me all the time, runs through his head. You and Harry both. The words almost slip out, and Liam bites his lip to keep them in. Louis's eyes drop to his mouth and he shakes his head.

"Stay," he grumbles. Then says, "I seriously need a drink," before heading to wherever the liquor is, the kitchen most likely.

Liam just stands there, unsure, until someone bumps against him. It all kind of hits then, the crowd and the noise and the heat, suffocating him. He needs some fresh air, but the path to the front door of the flat is dense with people and it'll take too long to make it outside. Instead, he slips into the closest bedrooms.

It's Louis's. The room is blessedly quieter and Liam does his best to ignore the made bed, the lack of 'lived-in' feeling as he moves toward the window. The sight of a familiar picture frame stops him cold. He's not sure how long he's been staring at it when there's a burst of noise, quickly shut off. Liam glances over, expecting Louis.

It's not.

Harry's slumped against the closed door, just staring. Running a hand through the mess of his curls, Harry pushes off the door and moves toward Liam.

"Haz?" Liam swallows nervously.

"The prodigal son returns," Harry murmurs, making Liam frown. He stops, less than a foot from Liam, and adds, "How were your hols, Liam? Have a nice time with the family?"

It's completely not what Liam was expecting and all he can do is nod, say, "You?"

"Eh," Harry crinkles his nose. "Bit shit, actually. I had one friend who took off without saying goodbye-" Liam winces. "-and another one who was a whiny git the entire time." He shrugs. "The sex was good though." He looks up, straight at Liam, adding, "But then, it always is with Louis."

And there it is.

It's not like Liam is surprised. He knew it, he's known for ages really, but hearing confirmation is making it hard to breathe.

Harry takes another step, moving into Liam's space. He stumbles a little and Liam reaches out automatically, hands wrapping around Harry's biceps. Harry shakes him off, grumbling, and Liam can smell the alcohol on his breath. He's expecting Harry to move away again; instead, he throws his arms around Liam's shoulders, tucking his face into Liam's neck.

It makes Liam flounder, unsure what to do with his hands, until they finally settle on Harry's hips. Harry hums against his neck and Liam tries not to flinch. Without thinking, his fingers dig in, holding Harry's body away from his. There's another noise, deeper than the first, and Harry pushes back. He uses his whole body this time and Liam, unprepared, stumbles back against the wall. There's a pleased hum from his neck, Harry's body slotted against Liam's. It feels a little too good.

"Harry--"

He's cut off by the light scrape of teeth against his neck, the nudge of a nose underneath his ear. He tries again, but Harry murmurs, "He's great at suckin' cock, you know." He bites Liam's earlobe. "I taught him that." Liam nearly chokes. He's strung so tight right now that he's afraid any movement might shatter him into a million pieces. There's a brush of lips over his jaw, and Liam swallows hard. He tries to say Harry's name again, but he's cut off.

"Why'd you leave without saying anything?"

The words are quiet and totally not what Liam's expecting. Harry sounds--he sounds hurt almost. Liam tries to pull back, to see Harry's face, but it's back in the crook of Liam's neck. "Doesn't matter, doesn't matter," Harry says before Liam can answer. "You're home and Lou can stop acting like an arse."

Harry's roller coaster of pushing buttons and being cuddly is confusing the hell out of Liam. He's about to pat Harry's back when Harry shifts against him, pressing closer. He's hard. Liam can't help the noise that slips out, and Harry laughs, low and hot against his skin. He presses again and Liam's fingers dig in to Harry's hips, trying to still him. There are lips back on his jaw, dragging across his cheek until Liam's breathing with Harry's breath.

"Haz." Liam knows he sounds desperate, but he is. He has no idea what's going on Harry's head, or how drunk he really is, and Liam just wants too much right now.

Harry goes in hard, kissing Liam like he wants to possess him, and Liam pulls back at first. But his head hits the wall and he's got nowhere to go. It's a punishing kiss, teeth and tongues, and Liam responds, because he can't help himself. He slides one hand around Harry's neck, his thumb brushing against Harry's jaw. He tries to slow it down, to calm whatever's going through Harry's brain. It works after a moment and Harry goes lax against him, melting into his body. Liam can't feel anything but the slide of Harry's mouth against his, can't hear anything but the noises Harry makes when Liam's fingers tighten in his curls.

Liam manages to break away, watching as Harry's eyes open. There's hardly any green left, his pupils dilated almost completely.

Their breathing is harsh, loud in Liam's ears. Maybe that's why it takes a second for the sound to filter in, the noise of the party no longer muted by a closed door. Liam watches it register with Harry, and they both look toward the door at the same time.

Louis's standing there.

And then he's not.

It seems like he flickers for a moment - like a telly about to go out, Liam thinks - and then he's just gone. He doesn't run out, doesn't turn and walk away. He just. Disappears. Pops out of existence like a light being switched off.

Liam blinks.

"Fuck," Harry hisses. He stumbles back, moving towards the door but Liam grabs his wrist.

"Did he just--what?" He tugs hard enough that Harry looks back at him. "Harry?" He's about to ask if what he just saw happened, if Louis actually fucking disappeared in front of them. "Harry."

All he gets is a disgruntled look, and a hand wave. Liam can't think and when Harry breaks Liam's hold, only to thread their fingers together, all he can do is follow as they make their way into the living room.

The party is still loud, and still crowded. Harry looks around, even as Liam's trying to get his brain working, and they end up by the sofa. Zayn and Niall are crammed in one corner and Liam absently notes the way Zayn's hand has crept up under the hem of Niall's red polo. Nice to have that confirmed, he thinks absently. Harry's voice breaks into his train of thought.

"Zayn. Zayn." He finally looks up at them, frowning. "Can you see Louis?"

Zayn rolls his eyes, glancing around in an exaggerated fashion before shaking his head. His gaze drops to Liam and Harry's hands, eyebrows going up. He looks at Liam, calculating, and Liam pulls his hand away. He can feel his face getting hot.

"No," Harry says, drawing Zayn's attention back. "Can you see Louis? "

It's strange to watch, the way Zayn goes, well. Soft is the only word Liam can use to describe it. Zayn's eyes go unfocused for a moment and even Niall seems to relax, body slipping further into the sofa cushions.

Zayn's brows draw together a moment later, his gaze sharpening. Liam watches a muscle twitch in his jaw. It seems warmer all of a sudden, and Liam tugs at the collar of his shirt.

With a sharp shake of his head, Zayn glares up at Harry. "Knock it off," he says sharply and Liam frowns, confused. Before he can ask about it, Zayn growls, "What the hell did you do, Styles?"

Waving the question away, Harry adds, "Just tell me." Zayn shakes his head, but turns his attention to the rest of the room. Harry half turns as well, eyes moving over the crowd again.

Liam almost does the same, but something keeps him watching Zayn the way his gaze moves over the crowd. Like he'll see something different than the rest of them.

It hits Liam then, that's exactly what's happening.

When Zayn offers Harry's hopeful face a quiet, "He's not here, Haz," Liam knows that he's right.

From the corner of his eye, he can see Harry shift, turn toward him. Liam glances over, thinks of Zayn's reaction to Harry's words, of students, teachers, everyone, giving Harry what he wants, and just knows. He feels a bit stupid, to not have seen it before. It's been so very, very obvious.

For a moment, it's the most brilliant moment Liam's ever felt. He's not alone, not the only one.

But it crashes the next second, when Harry's fingers wrap around his wrist and he asks, "Did you see anything? Do you know where he's gone?" All he can do is stare at Harry. "Liam--"

"How long?" he interrupts. Harry shakes his head, confused. "How long have you known?" Liam clarifies. He doesn't get an answer, not until he insists. "Tell me."

He's not sure why his voice cracks at the end, but Harry tugs at his hair, looks down at his feet, and finally answers, "That day, the one you told me to stay away from the second floor stairwell." Liam thinks back, remembers a vision of kissing under stairs, the shadow of a teacher, and nods. That makes sense.

Still.

"You never said anything."

"Neither did you!" Harry glares at him. "We're wasting time arguing about this anyway. Just tell me if you know where he went."

"If I don't, are you going to make me tell you?" Liam tilts his head to the side. "That's what you do, isn't it? 'Persuade' people?"

Harry looks away again and Liam laughs. It hurts a little. "Come on, Haz. Make me." From the sofa, he can hear Zayn murmur his name. He ignores it; he's not very happy with Zayn either. Seems like everyone was lying to him. "Make me tell you, Harry."

That earns him another glare. "I can't," is the answer Liam gets. "It doesn't work on you."

Ah, well. That makes sense now, too. There had to be a reason that someone like Harry would want to be around him. "Right, right. Of course it doesn't." His chest hurts, like someone's got a vice grip on his heart. Shaking his head, Liam takes a step back. Someone knocks into him and the sounds of the party rush back in, overwhelming.

He needs to get out of here, needs to be somewhere quiet where he can wrap his head around everything.

Harry takes a step forward and Liam tells him, "I didn't get anything, sorry." Disappointment flashes across Harry's face even as he keeps moving.

"You might have an idea where he'd go, yeah? Some place I can't think of-" Liam's already shaking his head. Fingers slide over his wrist and Liam jerks back. There's something too close to hurt in Harry's eyes when Liam looks up, but he puts another step between them. "Liam--"

"I can't help you, Harry." There's another protest forming, and Liam adds, "You'll have to find your boyfriend on your own." That makes Harry stumble to a stop, eyes going wide.

It gives Liam enough time to flee.

~*~

"He's not my boyfriend," Harry says for the millionth time. They've been outside for hours, trying every place he can think of to find Louis. His hands are still freezing. He wraps them around his cup, soaking in the warmth. "He's not," Harry repeats. He doesn't do boyfriends.

Zayn grimaces, tossing a sugar packet at his face. Harry barely flinches.

"Really?" Zayn says. "You live together, you cook each other dinner, you hold hands, cuddle on the sofa, watch horrible made for television movies...and this was before you apparently starting sleeping together." There's an accusatory edge to his voice, but mostly he sounds disappointed. Harry hates it.

Outside, the sun is starting to make an appearance, slatting the dark with streaks of gray. Harry shakes his head, he needs to make Zayn understand. "No, no. It was just sex." He turns away from the window, back to Zayn and adds, "so he could seduce Liam."

That makes Zayn's eyebrows shoot up, and his voice is sharp when he says, "so the next logical step was to try and pull Liam yourself? That's a bit fucked, Haz, even for you. Especially after you dropped that little bomb about the immunity on him."

"Well, it's not like you ran out and told him about what you can do, did you?" Harry snaps. He's happy to see the guilt on Zayn's face, but it makes him think of Liam's face, the way it'd fallen at Harry's words. Liam probably hates him now, he thinks, and ignores the way his stomach turns. He needs to focus on finding Louis right now anyway.

"You guys need to talk, I swear. I told Liam that the other day and it's true. Fucking hell, you lot are a mess," Zayn mutters.

That catches Harry's attention. "What?"

"You need to actually talk to each--"

"No," Harry interrupts. "No, you said you told Liam the other day. Did he pick up his mobile for you?" There'd not been a single response to his or Louis's texts during the holiday and it stings a little to think that Liam answered Zayn. Zayn’s fingers twitch against his cup and Harry narrows his eyes.

"Zayn."

Harry watches Zayn's mouth, the silent fuck that forms there. Sitting up straight, Harry repeats, "Zayn."

"I will burn everything you own," Zayn grits out, obviously fighting the pull. "If you don't stop right the fuck now." Harry's never seen him so serious before. With a sigh, Harry lets go and they both slump back into their seats.

For a few minutes, there's nothing but the sound of their breathing and the quiet noises of the shop. Finally, Zayn sighs, leaning forward again.

"Liam's been back for days, Harry." That makes him look up. "He's confused and I don't blame him. Your little stunt last night didn't help, I'm sure." Harry opens his mouth, to say what, he doesn't know, but Zayn cuts him off. "I'm not even going to try and understand what going on with you three, but the first thing you need to do is tell Louis that you're in love with him."

Harry blanches, feels sick to his stomach. "No, that's not possible."

Rolling his eyes, Zayn shoves his chair back and stands up. He leans across the table, each word succinct. "You're in love with Louis, Haz." His face softens a bit. "I think you have been since you met him, really, and you're just too stupid and stubborn to admit it. And now you’re in love with Liam, too."

Harry shakes his head again. He doesn't fall in love. He definitely can't be in love with two people. It's a ridiculous notion.

The soft touch of fingertips against his wrist makes him look up. Zayn's standing next to him now, looking down. "It's okay, you know. To let yourself have this. Louis loves you, too. So does Liam. I'm certain." He laughs softly, reaching up to tug on one of Harry's errant curls. "When you go, Haz, you go big."

"Talk to Louis. Like an adult for once, about the two of you. About Liam." Straightening up, he adds, "And don't fuck it up, okay? Or I really will burn everything you own." Harry can't make himself move, can't make his mouth work.

Zayn reaches down to Harry's cup, and the porcelain heats up under Harry's palm. "Drink that up first though and then go home. Louis will come back to you eventually."

There's a soft kiss against the top of his head and then Zayn is gone, leaving Harry alone with a jumble of thoughts swirling around his head. The tea goes cold again before he moves.

*

It takes Harry a second to process the Toms haphazardly kicked off near the door. He's moving further into the flat before the door clicks shut, panic and relief warring in equal measures inside him. He nearly calls Louis's name, but the sight of a figure, curled up and asleep on the sofa, stops him.

He wants to shake Louis awake, demand to know where he's been. Instead, he half-tumbles to the floor and watches Louis's face as he sleeps. The steady rise and fall of his shoulders, the shadow of eyelashes against his cheek. Harry watches until he can't anymore. Reaching out, he traces a fingertip across the top of one sharp cheekbone.

Zayn was right. Louis came back.

As Louis blinks awake, Harry realizes that it's what he was really afraid of all along. Harry pushes and pushes until people leave. Zayn hadn't, of course, but he's stubborn. It's something that Harry hasn't fully appreciated until just now. And Louis is the same, stubborn, but this time it matters so much more.

"Haz?"

Louis's sleep-roughened voice breaks into Harry's thoughts, and he focuses on that, on the curve of Louis's mouth around his name. Before Louis can say anything else, Harry kisses him. Louis responds immediately, and Harry slides a hand around his neck, pushing the kiss deeper.

A moment later, Louis pulls back. His mouth is red, slick, and the words fall of his mouth before Harry can stop them.

"Do you love me?"

Panic flashes across Louis's face, disappearing just as quickly when he answers, "Of course I do, you're my best friend." But that's not what Harry wants.

He asks again, "Do you love me?”

The look in Louis's eyes goes soft, hazy, and Harry realizes what he's doing. With a quiet curse, he lets his hand fall away from Louis's skin. Shifting back a little, he drops his head back onto the sofa seat. "Sorry," he whispers.

Louis has gone still and Harry repeats the apology, running a hand over his face. Fuck.

"You know," Louis finally says, "I hate it when you do that." Harry nods, the fabric of the sofa rough against his neck. It's something he can understand. "It's like you don't trust me. You don't trust that I'll tell you the truth when you ask." That makes Harry glance over.

"Would you though?"

That earns him an exasperated sigh. "When it matters, Haz, I'll always tell you the truth." They stare at each other for a minute. Harry thinks absently that Louis's eyes have never been bluer than they are right now.

"Do you love me?" he asks again. His voice is a whisper, but it sounds impossibly loud to his ears. He half thinks that he didn't say it, that it's the sound of his heart, pounding out of his chest to make Louis answer. He watches Louis's throat move as he swallows, watches the way his lips form the word, "Yes," and thinks maybe.

Louis asks his own question then. "Do you love me?"

Harry nods his head.

"Are you in love with me?" Louis adds. His knuckles are white where his fingers are digging into the sofa. Harry wants to reach out and tug them loose. Slide their fingers together perhaps. He tries to answer but his voice doesn't want to work. Instead, he bites his lip and nods again.

Harry." Louis's voice sounds wrecked.

"Yes," he manages to force out. For some reason his fingertips feel a little numb. Looking down he sees that his fingers are digging into his legs, knuckles white as well, mirroring Louis. From the corner of his eye, Harry can see Louis tilt his head, studying him.

"That absolutely terrifies you, doesn't it?"

Yes, Harry wants to shout, but his throat has closed up again and he can't say anything. He doesn't have to though, because there's acknowledgement of Harry's silent answer in the way Louis sighs again, in the way he drops his head back down on the cushion and watches Harry's profile.

Harry releases a breath he wasn't even aware of holding and shifts until he's facing Louis, shoulder pressed against the sofa. He lays his cheek on the seat and they sit like that for a while, just staring at each other.

It feels like eons later when Louis says quietly, "You know you can't make me love you, right?"

Instead of answering, Harry closes his eyes. His fingers still feel a bit weird, and now that he's taking stock, it feels like he might throw up as well. Louis's voice breaks in again, derailing the panic that's started to settle in his bones. "I mean, you can make me say the words, yes." There's a warm touch on his forehead, a curl pushed back. "But you can't actually make me feel them, Harry."

A finger brushes over his brow. "That's mine. No matter what."

Louis slides his hand back, threading his fingers in Harry's curls. He tugs a little when Harry still won't open his eyes. "Harry."

When he finally does meet Louis's eyes, he feels incredibly young, unsure and overwhelmed. When Louis whispers, "The feelings are mine, Haz, but I'll give them to you, okay? All on my own," Harry can't breathe with the want that rolls through him.

Louis moves first this time, a soft press of his mouth against Harry's. He’s hesitant when he shouldn't be and Harry sighs into it, body going loose. The fingers in his hair tighten at that, and a familiar heat curls low in Harry's belly. He scrapes his teeth over Louis's bottom lip and loves the response he gets, the way Louis pushes back, harder this time.

"Thought you weren't going to come back," Harry murmurs in the space between their mouths when they pull back to catch their breaths. He can feel his face heating.

"S'cuz you're an idiot," Louis tells him. There's a small smile on his face that Harry can't help returning. He chases it, their mouths coming back together, like he could swallow it. Make it his. A second later, Harry realizes that it is his. He goes back in for another kiss and Louis laughs against his mouth.

When Louis pulls back, Harry can't stop the noise of protest that slips out. That makes the corner of Louis's eyes crinkle. Harry wants to touch them. "We need to talk," Louis says.

"Thought that's what we were doing."

A serious look settles over Louis's face. "Harry--"

"I know," he interrupts. "Just. Can we--" He curls into the sofa, pressing his face into Louis's stomach. “Can we just...not right now?" He's still trying to process things. The fact that Louis is really his and that it's something that he wants. That he's thinking of letting himself have.

Louis sighs; Harry can feel the movement and he reaches out, curling an arm over Louis's hip. His fingers find their way under Louis's shirt to the warm skin underneath. "Please," he whispers. A shudder rolls through Louis and Harry presses his face in harder.

"Fine," Louis finally answers, "but it's going to happen. It has to." He doesn't wait for Harry to acknowledge that, just tugs until Harry's off the floor and sprawled across him and the sofa.

*

Louis looks up expectantly when Harry walks in. Harry can feel the frown on his face, the frustration evident in his voice when he says, "Liam wasn't in class. He never misses class." Harry's fairly sure that Liam told him at some point that part of his scholarship was based on attendance, and he hasn't been in class all week. Even Stearns had stopped Harry today, asking if Liam was okay. That only served to make Harry grumpier because he'd had to admit that he didn't know.

It's so stupid, he thinks. Feelings are more trouble than they're worth. He slides onto the sofa, throwing an arm over Louis's waist, a leg over his knee, and tucking his nose into a warm neck. "He won't answer his mobile either. You have any luck?" Louis hums a negative.

They still haven't really discussed it, despite Louis's words that day. But it's been a week now and Harry's actually getting a little worried. "Guess we should go make sure he's alive?"

Louis pats his leg. "I think you should, yes." Harry arches a brow.

"Just me?" The thought of facing Liam by himself is a little daunting, he's not afraid to admit. Liam likes Louis best anyway. He says as much. Louis huffs, but Harry sees the way the corner of his lip tilts up.

"Yes," Louis answers instead. "You need to apologize for using him anyway." The smile slips and there's something funny in his voice.

"That's a little harsh, isn't it?" Harry's a bit miffed at the word 'using'. Louis side-eyes him.

"Are you sure?"

"I wasn't using him--" He wasn't. It's just that Liam left for holidays without saying anything, then wouldn't talk to them. Then Louis acted like an ass the entire time and it's possible that maybe, just maybe, Harry's feelings had been hurt. Also, it's not Harry’s fault that Liam was wearing that stupid Henley, with the scarf around his neck and-- "Sometimes I do stupid things, okay?" he finally says.

Louis just raises his brows. "Only sometimes?" Harry scowls into his neck.

"Arse," he mumbles. Louis huffs a laugh. They sit there in silence after that, and Harry tries to figure out what to do.

*

Harry raps his knuckles against the door. A couple of students give him as a look as the pass by, but he ignores them. On the other side, he can hear the tinny sound of music and the slide of a chair against the floor. He thinks absently that the door must be thin, but then Liam's there, giving him a tired look.

"Harry." Liam doesn't move aside to let him inside, but Harry steps forward anyway. It means that Liam has to either stop Harry or move back to let him in.

Liam steps back, quickly enough to make sure that they don't touch. It makes Harry frown. He watches Liam debate whether or not to leave the door open, but in the end, he shuts it. He doesn't move from there, just turns to look at Harry.

"What are you doing here?" Liam's tone is short.

"You've not shown for class all week," Harry replies. "Friends are allowed to get a bit worried about each other, aren't they?"

"Friends?" Liam snorts. "Is that what we are?" The words cut more than Harry expected. "Friends, last time I checked, friends didn't have-have-" he's struggling for the words, "-ulterior motives. They didn't lie to each other. They don't--" Liam breaks off and looks away.

"It's not like you were telling us the truth either!" Harry snaps without thinking. He reaches out, frustrated, but Liam jerks away.

"Don't touch me!" His back hits the door. Liam looks like a caged animal, wild eyed and scared. Normally, Harry would just make someone calm down, but this time he can't. He feels out of his depth, but still angry at Liam's self-righteousness, so he does what he always does. He pushes the situation.

Stepping in closer he says quietly, "That's how it works, isn't it? Touch." Harry slides his fingers across Liam's wrist. "Can you make it happen? Can you control it?"

Liam swallows, throat moving harshly. Pressing his lips together, Liam shakes his head. "No. No, it just--whenever." He won't look Harry in the eyes. Harry takes a moment to study Liam, the tense line of his jaw, the way his shoulders are so high and tight that Harry's afraid he might actually fracture into a thousand pieces. He drops his hand and Liam seems to breathe easier. He still won't look at Harry though.

"I was five," Harry offers in a quiet voice. Liam finally glances at him, confused. "I was five and I asked for some frosties. Mum never let me have the sweet stuff," he explains. "But I was a right prat that day and had a fit. We drove to the market and I ate four bowls." Liam's eyebrows raise and Harry laughs softly. "Sick as a pup for half the day."

"It took both of us a while to figure out. And by the time we did, Dad was gone and Robin was around. Did a world of good, mum falling for him. He figured it out really. We had a lot of discussion after that, about what's right and what's wrong." He laughs. "Don't think it stuck as well as it should have apparently."

"Harry--" He holds up a hand and Liam stops.

"The thing is, you're right. At the start, you fascinated me because it was the first time I didn't get what I wanted. That I couldn't make someone do what I told them." Liam bites his lip, and Harry has to physically stop himself from reaching out, from touching. "It didn't take long, though, to figure out that it was more than that. Well," he laughs. "Being the king of denial that I am, I refused to believe that, of course."

"Even Louis saw it though. I don't want you to blame him," he rushes out, seeing the shift of expression on Liam's face. "He was just watching out for me. " Shaking his head, Harry finds himself staring at the faded print on Liam's t-shirt. "For some reason, he thinks he needs to do that."

"He loves you," Liam whispers. Harry glances up to find Liam's eyes on him. "You seem to inspire the need for people to take care of you." There's a faint tinge of red to the tops of his cheeks. It makes Harry grin. He leans in and Liam's eyes widen. Liam sidesteps, but Harry snatches at his wrist again, stopping him.

It's strange to watch this time, knowing what's happening when Liam's eyes go faintly unfocused, when his body goes so very still. It only lasts a split second, but Liam gasps like a drowning man and his face goes red enough that it concerns Harry.

Liam jerks his wrist out of Harry's grasp and stumbles toward his desk. Harry reaches out again, but Liam moves again, trying to keep him away.

"What?" Harry asks. "What did you see?" Liam shakes his head.

"Dammit, Liam. Just tell me." If it weren’t for the fact that Harry knew it was an embarrassed blush and not something more serious, he’d turn Liam around and force it out of him.

"The same thing I always seem to see with you, Haz." Liam's tells him. His voice is full of frustration and a tone of sadness that makes Harry's stomach hurt. Liam doesn't elaborate. Harry wants to know so badly, but he holds his tongue. He's got a fairly good idea already.

"Liam--"

"Harry, go home." Liam waves a hand at him, body half-turned away. He sounds exhausted. "I forgive you, okay? That's what you're looking for, isn't it?" Harry wants to protest; it's not all he was wanting, no, but Liam doesn't give him time to respond, just adds, "I'll be in class tomorrow, but I just-I just need some rest right now." Harry doesn't move. "Please, Harry."

"You promise?" he asks. Liam's good at keeping his word. He gets a nod. "Fine," Harry mutters. "But I'm coming back if you aren't. I'll keep coming back, too." That almost makes Liam smile, something that's good enough for Harry. At least for right now.

When he slips out the door, Liam's still standing in the same spot, not really staring at anything. His fingers keep running over the same spot on his wrist, the same spot where Harry touched him. It's the last thing Harry sees before the door closes.

*

Things go back to a semblance of normal after Harry's visit. Liam shows up for classes, even sits by Harry. He still smiles when Harry's cheeky, and still looks faintly disapproving when Harry doesn't take notes. It's almost the same, really.

Except that Liam doesn't stop by on Wednesdays anymore, and the cocoa just seems to taste a bit bland after a while. There are still training sessions, but Louis comes back looking more exhausted than Harry thinks he should.

It's almost normal, except for the way it's not. It's not normal the way Liam holds himself now, always just a touch too far away. It's not normal in the way his smile never quite reaches his eyes now, and how Harry finds himself missing the little divots in Liam's cheeks when he's over-excited. How he misses watching Louis watch Liam, the softness on Louis's face that he doesn't ever realize is there.

The flat is too quiet lately and nothing is normal anymore.

Which is probably why Harry finds himself completely pissed by ten on a Friday night. Louis has the closing shift and Harry hadn't felt like going out because he doesn't feel like watching Zayn and Niall snog the entire time. Instead, he found a leftover bottle of vodka, mixed it with juice and found himself drunk and pathetic, sitting on the sofa and watching Toy Story.

Harry drags himself up as the credits start to roll, stumbling a bit as he stands. Glancing over, he notices that most of the bottle is gone. The second step is more sure, mostly because he's concentrating harder than normal not to fall over. "Gah, you're a bit pathetic, Styles," he mumbles to himself. There's a package of strawberries in the fridge calling his name, and some sponge cake Louis'd brought home a couple of days ago. It's not a proper trifle, but it'll do.

He's torn up the cake and is searching for a knife when he spots his mobile on the counter. Pathetic, he thinks. Out loud, "Pining. You're pining. Like some twelve-year-old girl. That's what's happening here." He looks down at the fruit in his hand. "I'm eating my feelings, oh god."

This is all Liam's fault. So Harry calls him.

No answer.

Harry tries again. And again.

He's gone back to slicing the tops off the strawberries, pausing to hit redial for the sixth time, when Liam finally answers.

"Harry." He sounds frustrated.

"You sound frustrated, Lee-yum." Harry loses a strawberry off the cutting board and leans over to watch where it lands. He'll get it later.

"You just called me twenty times-" Harry's about to protest when Liam asks, "Are you drunk?"

"No. Yes." Harry squints one eye. It's getting a bit hard to focus and maybe this wasn't such a good idea after all. He shifts the phone to his other ear. "Maybe a bit?"

There's a sigh on the other end of the line and it makes Harry want to apologize. Then he remembers why he's drinking in the first place. "S'your fault though."

"What?"

"Your fault, Liam James Payne. 'Cuz you’re never here anymore." There's quiet now and Harry frowns. For some reason, his hands seem to be shaking.

"Harry-"

The alcohol in his system dulls his reaction time, so it's not until he finally feels the sting that Harry realizes he's nicked himself with the knife. "Oh."

"Harry?"

"Oh," Harry slurs, "that's quite a bit of blood there." He stumbles over to the sink, momentarily forgetting the phone tucked into this shoulder. It tumbles toward the floor and Harry grasps at it, but it lands face up and the glass front is intact. A drop of red hits the floor beside it and Harry stares at it for a moment before straightening up. His hand is really starting to sting now.

And there's no kitchen roll. "Fuck."

He can hear Liam's voice, tinny from phone on the floor. Bending down, he half-shouts, "Sorry, Li, got to find a towel now. M'bleeding." A tiny smear of red is left behind as he hits the end call button. The mobile stays there on the floor as Harry stumbles to his bathroom.

*

Loud pounding on the door startles Harry from a light doze. Just about the time he realizes what the noise is, he hears Liam's voice hollering on the other side.

"Are you all right?" Liam demands, pushing past Harry into the flat. He turns around, running his eyes up and down Harry. His gaze settles on the towel wrapped around Harry's hand and he's reaching out immediately.

"Hullo, Li," Harry mumbles. Liam unwraps the towel, ignoring him.

"Why hello, Harry!" he chirps in an imitation Liam's brommy accent. It's not his best work, but then he's still smashed. And he's tired now, too. "How are you, Haz?" he continues. "I'm great, thanks for ask--ow." Harry glares at Liam's bent head. "What are you doing?"

"I don't think you'll need stitches," Liam says instead. He finally looks up, asking, "Do you have a first aid kit? We should definitely bandage it up."

Harry's having difficulty breathing. This is the closest he's been to Liam in ages. Something must show in his face because Liam swallows and turns his attention back to Harry's hand. "First aid kit?" he prompts again.

"I think Lou might have one."

Harry finds himself seated on the counter in Louis's bathroom with Liam digging around under the sink. He stands up, kit in hand, and proceeds to systematically clean and bandage Harry's hand. The alcohol stings, even through the haze in Harry's head, and he hisses.

"Sorry," Liam murmurs. It's the only thing he's said since they got into the bathroom. Liam keeps his head down, brow furrowed in concentration. It's kind of adorable.

"Liam," Harry says. There's a quiet questioning hum, but Liam still won't look up. The words slip out before Harry can stop them. "Do you hate me now?"

Liam does looks up at that, startled. "What?"

Harry repeats the question.

Ducking his chin back down, Liam murmurs, "Of course I don't." He presses the bandage into place, fingers soft but sure over Harry's hand. "I don't hate you, Haz. At all." He steps back and Harry slides off the counter after him, stumbling a little. Liam reaches out to steady him and Harry just curls into him.

It's near identical to the night of the party, the way Harry's got his nose tucked into Liam's throat. This time though, he just stays there, breathing against Liam's skin.

He's not sure how long they stand there, but when Liam finally murmurs, "Let's get you to bed, yeah?" Harry just nods. Liam pulls back and Harry makes a frantic grab at his hand, wincing he uses his injured hand and it bumps against Liam's wrist. There's another sigh and Liam slides his fingers through the fingers of Harry's good hand, leading him back to his room.

It's a mess of clothes and limbs and Liam's exasperated, "Harry" and then Harry's in bed, Liam pulling the duvet up. He disappears into Harry's bathroom, back a moment later with a cup of water that he places on the nightstand. "You should drink that now, but I don't think I want to risk it." He glances at Harry. "Drink it first thing when you wake up, okay?"

"I don't mind really," Harry mumbles instead. He's so very tired all of a sudden.

Liam shakes his head, confused, and Harry clarifies."I don't mind you taking care of me."

Something shifts on Liam's face and Harry reaches out, hand clumsy with alcohol and fading adrenaline and Liam, here, finally. His fingers find Liam's wrist. "Stay."

"Harry--"

Liam stumbles when Harry tugs, his knee landing on the bed. "Stay," Harry says again. "Make sure I don't die in my sleep." That gets an eyeroll and it's such a familiar look that Harry's chest hurts for a moment. "Please," he adds quietly. "Please."

Shaking his head, Liam says, "It's not a good idea." He sits on the bed anyway. Harry yawns, jaw popping at the stretch of it. Blinking blearily at Liam, he mumbles a whiny, "But I want you to."

Liam starts to say something but cuts himself off. Instead, he offers, "I'll stay here until you fall asleep. How about that?"

It's not what Harry wants, but he nods. Liam moves and Harry noises a protest. He's only reaching over to turn the lamp off though and Harry settles when Liam stills. Right before Harry slips into sleep, he swears there's a light tug on an errant curl over his forehead. His fingers tighten around Liam's wrist and then he's asleep.

*

There's a single beam of light that seems intent in searing straight through his eyelids to pierce his brain. Harry rolls over, pressing his face into a pillow. He breathes in deep and the scent is different. There's Louis, definitely, but traces of something different. New, but not.

Harry's memory returns just as the argument filters in from the living room.

"That's not how things work!"

Liam. He sounds frustrated. It's the first time Harry's ever heard him raise his voice, too. With a silent groan, he kicks off the covers and swings his legs over the side of the bed. Everything kind of spins for a second and he closes his eyes.

"Why not," Louis demands. "We're not supposed to be able to do the things we do, are we? Yet we can. So why can't we write our own rules for this as well?"

It's Liam's, "Because Harry doesn't want me like that," that finally has him stumbling to his feet, headed for the door.

"Are you blind?" Obviously, Harry thinks. He leans against the door frame in time to see Liam's face close off.

"It's just--It's because he can't make me do what he wants. I'm, like, a-" Liam searches for the word while Louis just looks at him like he's crazy, "-a novelty to him. That's all."

"Well, that's not true at all." Two pairs of eyes swing toward Harry. "But the real question here is, have you two kissed already? Did I miss that?" Liam's eyes widen and his face immediately starts to redden, even as Louis rolls his eyes. Harry grins, raising his hand to push hair out of his face and Louis's gaze sharpens on the bandage.

"I'm not even going to get started on you, you idiot. Coming home to your phone on the floor in the kitchen and blood spatters everywhere. I swear to god. What idiot decides they want trifle while pissed out of their mind?" He waves a hand at Liam. "Thank goodness Liam has some sense!"

Harry scowls. Somehow he's already lost control of the situation. "Seemed like a good idea at the time."

Louis opens his mouth, but Liam beats him to the punch, asking, "How does it feel?" He walks over, taking Harry's hand and gently pulling back the bandage. In the cold light of near-sobriety, it looks kind of terrible and Harry can feel the blood leave his face, the swirl of nausea in his stomach.

"Harry?" He looks up to find Liam looking at him, concerned. And okay, maybe it wasn't the best idea ever. He says as much. Liam's eyes crinkle at the corner. He smooths the bandage back in place and says quietly, "It's not so bad, I promise. Had worse from the playground in grade school, you baby." He glances back up, and Harry can't help the way his body sways in closer. Liam's expression smooths out, goes blank, and he drops Harry's hand, stepping back.

Harry can understand why Louis is so frustrated. Still, he can't stop the flash of panic when Liam says, "I need to go anyway; Harry's fine and-” he motions towards Louis, "-you're home now," and turns away. He pushes off the door frame to follow.

"We haven't finished our discussion," Louis protests.

Shaking his head, Liam says, "Just leave it, Louis." He sounds tired and sad and Harry's reaching out when Louis disappears. Liam stops so abruptly, a startled gasp falling from his mouth, that Harry nearly runs into his back. It doesn't matter, because Louis shifts visible again, right in from of Liam, who steps back and knocks into him anyway. Harry can't help the way his hands fall to Liam's hips, tightening when he catches a glimpse of Louis's face.

"No." Louis moves forward. Liam can't move, not with Harry in close behind him. "I'm tired of this."

"It's not fair to you two-" Liam starts and Louis throws up his hands with a growl of frustration.

"I don't really think-" Harry's pressed full-length against Liam and his body is starting to respond to that. "-that you're the one to say whether or not it's fair to us." He breathes the words against the shell of Liam's ear. Harry can feel the way he shivers and can't help dragging his teeth over the flesh of Liam's earlobe. "Right, Lou?"

"No," Louis says again. "He's not."

It's a little incredible, watching Liam's face this closely when Louis kisses him. The way he tenses for a split second, then leans forward, seeking more. Then there's the way Louis's fingers tremble just the slightest bit where they're pressed against Liam's jaw.

Harry licks them. He wants his turn now.

Louis pulls back and Harry watches the delight in his eyes when Liam makes a noise of protest and follows. It seems to embarrass Liam, because he immediately tucks his face into Louis's neck. Harry watches the flush creep across Liam's ears.

"Your breath's terrible, Haz," Louis says, drawing Harry's attention. Louis is grimacing, nose scrunched in disgust. Harry scowls. That's not really the important thing to focus on right now, and he says as much. Louis just shrugs. "You're not kissing me with that mouth. Liam either," he adds. Liam starts a bit at his name and Harry's fingers twitch, slipping under the edge of Liam's shirt.

The skin under his fingertips is warm and Harry can't help pressing them down harder. Whatever response it gets from Liam, Harry enjoys the way it makes Louis's eyelashes flutter, makes him bite his own lip.

Louis curls his hands in Liam's shirt and presses in closer. He looks right at Harry. There's a question there, an are you sure?

Like either one of them could turn back now.

As an answer, Harry tucks his nose into the space below Liam's ear, then drags his teeth over the same spot. Liam shudders and Harry undoes the snap on Liam's trousers. The back of his hands brush against Louis and Harry can't help doing it again, deliberately running a knuckle along the obvious hardness there. He never looks away from Louis.

Liam's lifting his head, body tense, when Louis drops to his knees. "Lou-"

"Shhh," Harry murmurs. He's got a palm pressed low on Liam's stomach, and he can feel the muscles tremble under his hand when Louis tugs Liam’s trousers further down. Even if Harry hadn't been watching, Liam's hands scrabbling for purchase, first on nothing and then with his fingers digging into Harry's thighs, lets him know exactly when Louis gets his mouth on Liam.

Liam drops his head back on Harry's shoulders, his eyes tightly shut, and Harry takes a moment to trace Liam’s features. He's overwhelmed, Harry notes absently. He takes tiny, gasping breaths. His whole body is so taut against Harry's that it feels like he might snap. Harry drags his gaze back down and watches Louis, the way his lips turn more red. He watches Liam's cock get slicker, watches the slide of Louis's hand get quicker.

Something like jealousy surges through him.

"You should watch," he tells Liam quietly. "I taught him how to do this." Liam gasps out a quiet fuck that makes Harry smile. He adds, "Taught him for you, Li. His mouth looks so good on you."

There must be something in his voice, he's not sure, but Liam murmurs his name then. One of his hands searches for Harry's, and he slides their fingers together. It makes Harry's throat tight and he tucks his chin down, forehead on Liam's shoulder.

Liam moves their hands to curl around Louis's neck a moment later, smoothing through the soft hairs at his nape. Liam's not going to last much longer, Harry can tell, and so can Louis, apparently. Louis does something that makes Liam go rigid in Harry's arms.

He's nearly silent when he comes, bowing forward. Harry pets his stomach through it and wonders if he's always like that, quiet. If so, then he immediately thinks about what it will take for Liam to not be quiet.

Liam practically drags Louis up off his knees, kissing him hard and fast. He still hasn't let go of Harry's hand.

They'll get to find out, Harry knows. They'll get to find out because Liam's theirs now. He tightens his own grip on Liam's hand.

*

"Your breath still smells like garbage," Louis tells him later. They've finally made it to the bed. It's a little crowded, but Harry finds he likes it. His hand throbs a bit from accidentally knocking it into the headboard earlier, but the pain is already fading as sleep grabs hold again.

"Fuck off," he murmurs, tucking a leg between Liam's and curling into his shoulder.

"Seriously, thou--"

Harry lifts his head and finds Liam kissing Louis quiet. He smiles, dropping his head back down and closing his eyes.

Liam learns fast.

~*~