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sensible sells (so could you kindly shut up)

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If Harry is sure of one thing, it’s that love -- the way the media sells it -- doesn’t exist.

No, he’s not one of those bitter people who have been hurt, or completely averse to the idea of love. It’s just that the whole all-consuming, eternal, textbook love isn’t merely rare or hard to find or whatever, it’s impractical. What do you gain by giving your entire being over to another person, to make or break it as they will? The way movies and novels tell it, you have to lose all agency of yourself to be able to love, and seeing as the only person Harry is guaranteed to be with forever is, well, himself, he hasn’t exactly been rushing to find The One.

He’s not interested in finding one person to be with him forever; his energies are better suited to finding one person to get him through the night -- week -- month -- however long they can stand to be around each other without blowing the whole thing to smithereens.

Gemma will sometimes give him this sad look and say things like I just want you to be happy whenever he comes round for supper. Her darling Melody will be gurgling in her high chair or gripping Harry’s curls with her tiny but surprisingly strong fingers, and Gemma’s boyfriend will be on his way home from work. She is happy with who she is, what she’s become, the place she’s made for herself in the world.

Harry doesn’t want that. He doesn’t think a wife and a baby will miraculously make him a happier man. Gemma just wants him to be happy, she says, and he is. He’s content with the family he has.

His mum and Robin, with a spare bed always made up just for him; Gemma’s warmth and the way her place always smells like cookies, because she splurged on cookie-scented air freshener once upon a time and the flat has forgotten not to smell like baked goods; Louis and his stinky feet; how Niall’s grin can make him feel like the grimmest of days is perfect for the beach; Caroline’s sheets and how they slide against his skin, the same as they had when he was seventeen and reckless.

It would be easy to blame his cynicism on Caroline, but it goes back farther than that. The divorce, maybe, or the fact that he’s grown up with someone like Louis at his side.

See, Louis falls in love. Or at least, he believes he falls in love -- and often.

“She’s perfect,” he’d said about Hannah Walker in sixth form; “I really think we’re going to last,” he’d sighed a month before Eleanor Calder had broken his heart; “We’re forever, yeah?” he’d said a few years back, head in Harry’s lap, gazing up at him like he’d hung the moon in the sky.

He still says sappy things to Harry, but it’s all platonically cheesy things, haikus about friendship and kisses to the insides of Harry’s wrists. Nothing he wouldn’t say or do to Niall, but Harry is incredibly grateful for it. It isn’t often you get to actually remain friends with someone you’ve broken, but for Louis to put all their bullshit aside to stubbornly stay in Harry’s flat and force his way back into the role of Best Friend is... well, it’s amazing. Harry thinks that, if love was something he believed in, he’d be in love with Louis. He almost wishes he could’ve been, back when it mattered.

Louis wants a happily ever after; Harry just wants to stay happy in the moment. It had, inevitably, crashed and burned, but Louis was no less a romantic for it.

Therefore, it isn’t too shocking that he comes home from a substitute teaching gig one day raving about some music teacher. Harry pretends to listen, but he’s in the middle of a review and he doesn’t move his fingers from their position hovering over the keys lest inspiration hit in the middle of Louis’ spiel.

“You should’ve heard him sing, Hazza,” Louis says, eyes sparkling with hope that Harry knows in his gut will be crushed. “Like he was gifted by angels, really.”

“Really,” Harry deadpans.

“Yes.” Louis smiles, and it’s not that he doesn’t understand Harry’s lack of enthusiasm, it’s just -- he doesn’t seem to care, which is somehow even more depressing. I don’t know if I can put you back together again, Harry wants to warn, but Louis wouldn’t listen anyway.

Louis doesn’t wear his heart on his sleeve -- it’s branded into his arm like a tattoo screaming please hurt me!

“If you say so,” says Harry.

He and Louis can argue about this sort of thing ‘til they’re blue in the face, and have, but it just isn’t worth it at the moment. Harry will just have to sit back and wait with an I told you so on his lips and his arms wide open.


Except that this thing with the music teacher has extended past Louis’ gig at the secondary school, and when Harry wakes up one morning to find a topless stranger in his kitchen, he puts his cynicism on the backburner. In a few days he’ll be back to rolling his eyes at Louis’ epic declarations of love but, for now, he’s just going to admire the muscles in the teacher’s back and mentally congratulate Louis.

“Looking for something?” he finally asks, when the teacher has opened the same cupboard for the third time. He jumps and stares at Harry.

“Who are you?”

Harry doesn’t often go through this routine, though he’s sure Louis has. He feels a bit bad, briefly, for the parade of strangers that have marched through this flat and made awkward conversation with Louis while Harry was sleeping or showering. “I live here, mate. Who are you?”

“Liam,” the teacher says. He seems to realise that he’s standing around without a shirt, because he crosses his arms faux-casually. Harry would be disappointed, but the position is flexing Liam’s biceps and if he didn’t look so damned awkward in his own skin Harry would be asking Louis if he was cool with sharing. (Which he probably wouldn’t be, he’s very supportive of traditional sorts of relationships. Harry doesn’t understand it, himself, but he figures it’s just one of those things about Louis he’ll never fully get, like his collection of TOMS or taste for peanut butter ice cream.)

“Hello, Liam. Mind telling me what you’re doing in my kitchen?”

He squirms -- like, actually shifts his weight from one foot to another while rolling his shoulders, and Harry’s pleased with himself for causing such a physical reaction -- but is saved from answering by Louis, who launches a sneak-attack tickle on Harry.

“Stop badgering him, you’ll scare him off,” Louis says cheerfully, fingers digging into Harry’s midsection.

Good, Harry thinks, but doesn’t say aloud. He shrugs and walks around Liam to get the package of bacon from the fridge. He doesn’t ask if Liam likes bacon -- why would he want to associate with him if he didn’t, anyway?

“Sorry,” he hears Louis say, “that’s Harold, my flatmate. He’s here a lot.”

“Because he lives here,” Liam says.

“Yes, very astute of you, Liam,” says Harry, tossing a frying pan on the stovetop without much finesse. He’ll never be a master chef, but he’s never blown up a kettle, which is more than he can say for Louis.

Louis makes a noise that Harry takes to mean stop being so rude but ignores it. “Well, yes, he does live here. Hence ‘flatmate’. That’s not what I meant, though -- he’s home, like, all the time, because he doesn’t have a real job.”


His job might not be conventional in the sense that he doesn’t have to leave the house or work set hours, but running a review blog is no slacker gig. He’d gotten the idea from one of his favourite bloggers, who is a hero of sorts to Harry, but he hadn’t realised just how difficult it was to post a review every day for a show and/or novel. Even if he writes the reviews beforehand they stack up, and it’s stressful like he’d never expected, but on the bright side he doesn’t have to deal with schoolchildren like other people he might mention.

He doesn’t feel up to explaining all this to Liam, though, mainly because Liam is otherwise occupied with an armful of Louis.

You’re both going to get hurt, he thinks, staring at the sizzling bacon.


“Something’s wrong,” Caroline says, giving him the Look that she’s engineered to remind him how much older she is -- which, in her eyes, roughly translates to I know everything, Styles, so shut up. He doesn’t answer, just meets her gaze steadily. After a minute or so, she shrugs. “But, I don’t really care. Come on in.”

He wishes, crossing the threshold of her beautifully decorated home, that he had a key. They’ve been doing this for just under seven years now, and it’s the most permanent sort of ‘relationship’ Harry has ever had. Except for Louis, of course, but that had gone from friendly to sexual and cycled right back to friendly -- with Caroline, it’s only ever been sexual. They’re not friends. They have each other’s numbers for ease of access only, and when Grimmy has get-togethers they stick close by each other for familiarity, but Harry would never presume to think Caroline wants him to talk about his feelings.

“If you have feelings, keep them to yourself,” she’d said, that first night, smirking down at him. “Which isn’t to say don’t talk, because you have quite the mouth on you, don’t you?”

“Fuck,” he’d spit out. She was balanced so well, holding herself just over the tip of his cock, and he wasn’t exactly known for endurance. He’d figured that this would be the last time he’d get to have sex with a beautiful, experienced woman -- at least, the last time for several years, ‘til he caught up with the age group -- and he was tired of her teasing.

Laughing, she’d sunk down an agonising inch and said, “I don’t do emotions.”

“What have emotions ever done for me?” Harry had asked, and that was apparently the right answer, because she went down, suddenly, and his eyes rolled back at the feel of her.

Presently, she’s standing in the middle of her spacious kitchen, arms crossed. She’s wearing a crisp, white button-down and black slacks and she’s so put-together that Harry thinks he should’ve probably brushed his hair before coming over, or at least put on some clean jeans.

“There’s a such thing as a phone,” she says, “and that’s generally what you and I use when we want a fuck, is it not?”

It is, she’s not wrong, but...

“I don’t -- know if I want a fuck,” Harry says, wincing as the words come out of his mouth. She isn’t quite glaring, but she doesn’t look pleased either.

“Then what are you doing here?”

Maybe he should be offended by her incredulity, but the fact of it is they’re not friends. He enjoys her company, sure, and she puts up with him with the sort of fond exasperation he feels should be reserved for children and dogs, but he doesn’t really have a right to be coming to her for anything that isn’t physical. They have an agreement. He can’t fuck that up.

So why did he come here? He sort of knows.

“Because you’re the only person, mum aside, who can set me straight,” he says, shoving his hands into his pockets awkwardly. He’s out of his element here. Plus, he doesn’t like comparing her to his mum (for obvious reasons).

“I thought setting you straight was a lost cause,” she says. Harry barks a laugh, because it’s a terrible joke, yes, but at least she’s joking. “What’s the problem?”

“Do you really care?” he asks.

“No. You’re going to owe me big time for interrupting Project Runway, but I’m all ears.”

He keeps it simple: Louis is in love again, and Harry is caught between possessiveness over his best friend and constantly reminding Louis how not-well relationships tend to work out, both of which are difficult because Liam ‘the-kids-teach-me-more-than-I-teach-them’ Payne is one of the nicest people Harry has ever come across.

“You’re not caught between anything,” Caroline says, checking her perfectly filed nails. “Those feelings both stem from jealousy. You can’t be what he needs. Get over it.”

It’s like ice water in his face, but when he blinks it away everything is a lot clearer. This is why he’d gone to Caroline. She never bullshitted him, or put up with his moments of greediness. He smiles, and despite her disinterest in the topic she manages one back.

“Thanks, then,” he says, pulling his hands from his pockets and stepping closer. “What do I owe you, then?”

In one smooth motion, she unhooks her belt, steps out of her slacks, and hops onto the counter. Harry’s a bit impressed -- he would’ve fallen over for sure.

“I’m tired of watching your mouth move. Put it to good use.” She spreads her knees apart to draw his attention to the wet spot on her knickers and he licks his lips. It’s been way too long since he’s gone down on her.

“I suppose something can be arranged.”


When Harry gets home, late, he wants to curl up in Louis’ bed and apologise. Even if Louis doesn’t understand why, he’ll not hesitate to snuggle with Harry.

Except -- when he peeks through Louis’ open door, he sees two bodies, tangled together and breathing evenly, and he thinks, okay, he can share Louis for as long as this relationship lasts. He doesn’t expect it to be a very long time, in any case. Everyone gets hurt eventually.


Niall’s parties are perhaps Harry’s favourite kinds. For Nick’s shindigs, he has to dress up a bit and stick close to Caroline’s side; for Stan’s he’s always just that little bit scared for his safety; and for Louis’ he doesn’t even leave the flat, he just puts on a shirt and comes out to drink beer and watch bad reality shows.

At Niall’s place, it’s always so relaxed, laid-back, and nobody is jumping off anybody’s roof into a pool because Niall himself has such a calming influence that it’s just nice to be there.

Currently, Harry is watching Niall strum absently at his guitar strings and laugh with Liam, Louis standing next to them with his eyes all happily squished up. Harry wishes, again, that he could properly dislike Liam; now he’s invading Harry’s friends? That’s not okay.

People are milling about Niall’s house, talking in small groups and holding the red plastic cups that Harry used to think were a media myth. He could go around and chat to people, but he’s feeling more like an anonymous shag than being friendly, and that’s the one thing that Niall’s parties aren’t very good for. Harry sighs, drinking the rest of his rum in one go, and stands.

He doesn’t know where he was planning on going, exactly. To say goodbye to Niall? To get a dearly-needed glass of water from the kitchen? He forgets whatever plan he has when he turns and literally walks into someone.

“Whoa, hello,” the bloke says, laughing a bit as he helps Harry straighten up. “Had a few too many there?”

Harry looks up and finds his mental checklist for the night immediately scramble and change. He had wanted to have a good time, get Louis dancing on a table, and accidentally-on-purpose spill his drink all over Liam. The last one had been half punishment for getting along so well with Niall and half Harry really wanting to see Liam topless again, because damn. Except all of that is wiped from his mind the second he locks eyes with this stranger, replaced by one glaring, neon, large-fonted item on his to-do list: take this bloke home with him.

“No, I’m just perpetually clumsy,” says Harry. He hikes up his most charming smile, loving that it clearly disarms the stranger a little. “What’s your name, then?”

He gives Harry a once-over that Harry recognises well enough to feel giddy. It’s, like, the universal signal for wanting to hook up -- and this guy grins wolfishly instead of dropping to one knee and reciting Shakespeare like Harry sometimes imagines Louis does on first dates.

“Zayn. Yours?”

After that, it’s the same routine as any other pick-up. They shake hands, make small talk (how do you know Niall?), and hang around with their drinks until it’s an acceptable time to leave. Zayn offers his flat, which Harry is grateful for. He doesn’t want to bring somebody home when Liam is obviously also spending the night. He’s courteous that way.

“Need to tell anybody you’re leaving?” Zayn asks, a promising glint in his eye.

“Nah, my mate won’t even notice I’m gone,” Harry snorts. The idea of telling Louis he’s off to have another one-night-stand is kind of hilarious. “How about you, did you come with anyone?”

“Yeah,” says Zayn, “but Li is a bit... preoccupied, lately.”

Harry wants to ask if Zayn’s talking about Liam, but he’s pretty tired of Liam taking over most aspects of his life, so he just checks his pockets for taxi money and follows Zayn out the front door. It’s been a few months since he’s gotten a conquest that quickly, and he’s happy to discover that he’s still totally got it.


Harry isn’t nearly drunk enough for this. Or maybe he’s too drunk, he hasn’t decided.

What he is certain of, though, is that for all he looks wiry, Zayn is a pretty strong guy. He’s able to throw Harry onto his mattress easily enough, in any case, which is most definitely something Harry looks for in a shag.

Efficiently, Zayn starts to take off his clothes. Harry really ought to follow his lead, but he’s distracted by watching each new piece of skin appear. He wonders if he’ll be able to get his tongue on each of Zayn’s tattoos, or if he’s going to have to pick and choose.

“You just going to sit there?” Zayn asks with a raised eyebrow when he realises that Harry hasn’t moved. He’s down to his pants, now, and Harry figures that catching up with him is a good idea. Getting undressed would, perhaps, be easier if he stood up, but now that he’s on a comfortable mattress he isn’t keen on getting up again. He struggles with his own trousers and pants; Zayn laughs and reaches down to help him. While he’s within arm’s reach, Harry pulls him onto the bed and into a messy kiss.

Kissing Zayn isn’t much different than kissing other blokes, but Harry is reminded vividly about why he prefers snogging guys -- Zayn’s stubble is a pleasant scratch against his face, and he has no problem taking charge, tongue thoroughly exploring Harry’s mouth -- and he keens, dragging Zayn closer.

It’s easy enough, once they’re both comfortable on the bed, to wrap his hand around Zayn’s cock, sniggering at the shocked little noise Zayn makes. Harry likes the feel of him a lot.

“D’you want to fuck me?” he asks when Zayn draws back from the snog for air.

“Yeah,” Zayn breathes, his voice already raspy.

Rolling just enough to reach for his bedside table, Zayn rummages in the top drawer while Harry jerks his cock, thinking about how long it’s been and how great it’s going to feel. Then, Zayn groans -- and not in a good way, either. Very unhappy, is this groan. He grimaces at Harry and says, “Out of KY.” That’s disappointing, but it isn’t a dealbreaker.

“Oh, that’s okay,” says Harry, still working his hand over Zayn. “I suppose we can just...” He sits up, repositions himself, and kisses Zayn’s inner thigh. “Y’know.” His lips are a hairsbreadth away from Zayn’s cock. In his best falsetto, he says, “cuddle”, and swallows Zayn whole.

Zayn’s laugh catches on a sharp inhale.

This is something Harry is very good at, and he feels the strongest sense of pride with every noise he sucks out of Zayn. If this were just foreplay, he would slow it down, teasing the smallest bit, but since actual fucking isn’t on the table for tonight Harry slides his mouth down Zayn’s cock and holds it in his throat mercilessly, until tears are springing to his eyes and Zayn sounds a bit like he’s sobbing, himself. It’s easy to focus on what he’s doing, because Zayn doesn’t seem to be very vocal about his pleasure -- he’s so quiet about it, in fact, that when he finally comes it’s a surprise to Harry.

It makes Harry choke a bit, but he keeps his mouth on Zayn, determined to suck him dry. Zayn allows it for a little while, but then starts to squirm, and tangles his fingers in Harry’s hair to forcefully pull him up again. Harry gasps for air like a drowning man, but grins up at Zayn all the while. Tiredly, Zayn smiles back.

“C’mon, up here,” Zayn says, patting his chest. Harry knows what he wants, and, fuck, he wants it too, so he nips at the skin of Zayn’s lower stomach and shuffles his body up so he’s got his knees shoved up under Zayn’s armpits. Zayn hums in agreement with the change and wastes zero time getting his mouth on Harry. Normally, in this position, Harry has to be careful with his thrusts -- but Zayn, Zayn’s apparent lack of gag reflex rivals Caroline’s.

He seems content to just let Harry fuck his face, basically, and what kind of person would Harry be if he ignored that?

While Harry loses himself a little bit, Zayn kneads Harry’s thigh with one hand and his arse with the other. Harry’s knuckles are white on Zayn’s iron headboard, and he wonders if he’s supposed to hold out for a while or what, because he isn’t entirely sure how long he’s able to last. He might, possibly, whimper, but nobody is around to laugh at him for it -- Zayn could try, but he would choke -- and Zayn’s eyes flutter open for a second to gauge Harry’s state. Whatever he sees makes him double his efforts, and Harry has to look at the ceiling because the picture Zayn is making with his lips stretched wetly around Harry’s prick and his stupidly long eyelashes is almost too much.

Zayn isn’t having that. His fingers slip from Harry’s arse, purposefully, to press against his hole like a promise for a next time, and Harry lets himself come. He’s never been one to strive for orgasms alone -- the sex is generally more entertaining than the completion -- but it feels like his ears pop from the pleasure of it and he glances down while he’s riding it out when he hears Zayn gag.

He can’t move for a few moments after his body has stopped shaking, and it takes Zayn pulling off Harry’s cock with a popping noise to complain about how heavy he is for Harry to actually get off him. He lies spread-eagle on his back, not too close to Zayn, while he comes down.

“Do you want me to leave?” Harry asks as soon as his breathing slows to normal. He turns his head in time to see Zayn shrug.

“I don’t mind if you stay.”

“Cool,” sighs Harry. He isn’t sure if cuddling is an option -- that’s what he likes about shagging people regularly, because at least he knows never ever to hug Caroline to him and even after all these years he can’t seem to shake the memory of Louis looking wounded that time Harry got up to take a shower immediately afterward -- so he just flops onto his stomach, burying his face in Zayn’s pillow, and lets the knuckles of his left hand brush against Zayn’s hip. It’s just light enough that he can easily pretend he didn’t mean to, but it turns out that isn’t a problem. Zayn chuckles before sliding his hand into Harry’s, entwining their fingers.

All in all, Harry sincerely hopes this isn’t the last time he gets to share Zayn’s bed.


“So,” Louis says in a loud, lilting voice the moment Harry closes their flat’s front door behind him. “Had a good night, then?”

Harry grins, not bothering to play coy. There’s no sign of Liam, and Louis looks happy enough, so he nods, climbing onto the couch with Louis and snuggling close. Louis laughs and runs his fingers through Harry’s hair. The gesture is so familiar, Harry is suddenly fourteen again and complaining about the kids who’d thought he made a good punching bag.

“Very good night,” Harry confirms.

“Well, you have to give me more that that,” Louis complains. Harry doesn’t bother pointing out that Louis hadn’t given him any time at all to attempt storytelling. “Was it a girl? A bloke? A person who doesn’t fit into the gender binary? Tell me that much, Hazza.”

“Bloke,” says Harry. “Didn’t get fucked, though, which was a shame.”

“Yeah, well, you’re a bit of a slag for it, aren’t you?”

Though he’s obviously trying to keep his voice level, a hint of irritation slips into Louis’ words and makes it an insult rather than a joke. Harry doesn’t protest. Louis has the right to be annoyed, even if it isn’t true -- which it kind of is, actually. He wonders how often Louis gets bitter; if he ever considers crawling back into Harry’s bed when he’s lonely. Harry would let him, of course he would, but Louis knows as well as he does what a monumental mistake it would be. Their friendship may not be able to take another hit that big.

To cover over the sticky moment, Louis kisses the side of Harry’s head and asks, “Is he prettier than me?”

Louis asks the same question every time Harry regales him with stilted tales of his sexcapades, and Harry has never had to lie. Louis is the best-looking boy that Harry has ever met, and that includes during their awkward teenage years. Except --

“Yes, actually,” Harry says, surprised by his own answer. “He is prettier than you.”

Looking torn between offense and a desire to laugh, Louis prods at Harry’s ribs.


“I don’t want to go to Liam’s,” Harry complains. Louis nudges him further off the sidewalk, snickering when he trips over the kerb. “I can make myself dinner, thanks.”

“You love chicken,” sighs Louis, slinging an arm around Harry’s shoulders to prevent him from actually falling on his face.

“Not when Liam is making it, I don’t.”

Louis makes a frustrated little noise, but doesn’t continue arguing with Harry. He must know it’s a lost cause. Or possibly he just assumes Harry will be eating his words later, which isn’t likely. Harry is annoyed by how long this thing with Liam has lasted. Soon, Louis will start getting proper stars in his eyes and start talking about, like, happily ever afters or whatever, and when Liam leaves (which he will, because everybody leaves, because nobody is as stubborn as Louis when it comes to the ideals of love) Harry will have to pick up the pieces of Louis yet again.

He doesn’t want to get to know Liam more than he’s already had to -- he loathes knowing that Liam can sing like an angel and pick Louis’ whole body up to move him about as he pleases and that he smiles with his eyes so scrunched-up Harry sometimes worries he has vision problems. Watching Louis and Liam smile together is like watching two people who’ve lost their glasses trying to identify each other. Crinkly-eyed bastards.

When he’d first been told about this dinner thing, Louis had laid on the guilt-trip pretty thick. Wasn’t it so nice of Liam to invite Harry along when Harry had never been anything but bitchy to him? Wasn’t Liam such a good guy all around? That sort of thing. Harry’d let himself be coerced into going, because, well, he wasn’t one to turn down a free meal, and if it sucked he could always file that away as yet another thing to tease Liam about. Except now that he’s on his way to Liam’s flat, all he wants to do is turn around and go back to sleep.

“Don’t be mean to him, please,” Louis says when they reach the door of Liam’s building. His fingers tighten on Harry’s jacket like a warning.

“Why on earth would I be mean to him?” mutters Harry.

“Because I love him,” says Louis, blunt as you please, and Harry feels the air get sucked from his lungs in one go, “and you can’t handle that.”

Harry wants to protest. Not about the second comment, because no, he wouldn’t be able to handle it if Louis happened to be in love again, but that’s the thing -- he isn’t. He can’t be. He’s only been sleeping with Liam for... how long, now? Harry strains to remember and can’t. Only a couple of months, though, he’s sure.

Before he can open his mouth to say the words he thinks are ingrained into his muscle memory by now -- you aren’t in love, Lou, you’re only going to get hurt thinking like that -- Louis steers him towards the stairs.

It’s clear that he doesn’t want to talk about it now. Louis tends to carve out a couple of hours, safe at their own flat, to listen patiently to Harry’s (quite frankly useless) lectures. As unhealthy as it is, it’s a routine at this point. Harry won’t yell or even raise his voice, probably, but he can be pretty damned earnest when he wants to, and he tends to lose his voice just when he’s gathering up steam. So, naturally, as any sane person being told their feelings are make-believe would do, Louis makes him a cuppa and hugs round his shoulders until he’s forced to admit that perhaps this time things might potentially be a very little bit different.

For now, Harry will have to suffice on dirty looks alone. He’s perfected his special Louis Glare for just such an occasion.

Liam opens the door before they even reach it, and at first Harry thinks that he and Louis have finally connected their brainwaves to hang out on the same frequency. Then he sees the mobile in Louis’ hand. Just regular connection, then, nothing terribly science fiction about it. Unless you’re Harry’s great aunt, in any case. To be safe, he deigns to keep an eye out for any sudden telepathic abilities.

“Hi,” Liam says, squinting at them happily. Maybe he really does need to see an optometrist.

“Babe, thanks for inviting us.” Louis smiles, all warm, and steps forward to kiss Liam on the corner of his stupid mouth. Harry will never find it any less astonishing, the way Louis can turn on his honey-sweet voice like that just moments after being short with Harry.

Harry doesn’t notice that Liam grins as soon as Louis’ lips make contact, or that he butts his nose against Louis’ forehead in a weird retaliation. He also doesn’t find it sweet in the slightest.

If he’s going to play the jealous ex for a night, he might as well go the whole nine yards.

“Hey, Liam,” says Harry. He wants his tone to convey everything he promised he wouldn’t use words to outline, but Liam is hopelessly oblivious to people trying to be mean to him. It’s simultaneously frustrating and a very cool get-out-of-jail-free kind of thing. “Are we the first ones here?”

“Not even close, Haz.” You’re not allowed to call me that. “To be fair, Niall’s been hanging around all weekend, but Josh got here an hour ago. We’re just waiting on Zayn. He’s late to everything and calls it fashion.”

Liam shakes his head, and Harry wonders if he’s taking the mick. Then, the name catches up with him.

“Zayn,” he says, trying to control whatever emotion might be present in his voice. Louis looks at him sharply, because Louis knows him too damned well, but Liam just nods and says that Zayn’s one of his best friends, that Niall introduced them, that he’s a bit artsy and mysterious but deep down he’s a dork, and that he was most certainly at Niall’s party the other weekend. Harry remembers Zayn mentioning a ‘Li’, remembers pointedly not asking details to prevent more of Liam’s unintentional encroaching on his life. He gives Liam a speculative look and slowly adds, “I see your value now.”

Though Louis’ nostrils flare, Liam smiles bemusedly and invites the two of them inside.

Knowing that a gorgeous bloke who’s good at giving head and looking moody is going to be in Liam’s flat soon enough makes Harry disproportionately nervous. He sits on the arm of the sofa and half-watches the other lads play video games. Niall is good-natured and tipsy on wine as usual and Josh (who Harry’s, like, eighty-six percent sure is the guy who ends up necking with Niall at every party) seems really intense about FIFA.

Louis has abandoned his controller to curl up at Liam’s side, which Harry is blatantly ignoring in favour of thinking about Zayn.

Will Zayn remember him? They didn’t drink enough to black out or anything, but a couple of weeks is a long time in hot guy hours. No, he definitely would have thought of Harry at least once since -- if only to make a mental note to buy condoms. If Harry is lucky, Zayn would’ve remembered him when he brought the box to the checkout; if he’s really lucky, Zayn might have wished he’d had the opportunity to use the condoms with Harry. That’s just wishful thinking, though, so Harry doesn’t relax his muscles while he waits for the doorbell.

He kind of desperately wants to fuck Zayn. He’d been a great break from the drama of Louis’ love life once before, and Harry is confident that he can be again, if he’s up for it.

Thinking about the possibility that Zayn won’t know him, or won’t want him, successfully taking away the best distraction Harry’s found in almost five years... it winds Harry up pretty tight. That’s the only explanation he has for flailing and slipping onto the floor when the doorbell suddenly rings.

Niall laughs at him. Josh takes the opportunity to score on Niall, and then joins in on laughing at Harry’s poor balance.

“Are you okay?” Liam frets, and Harry glowers, mumbles that he’s fine. “That’ll be Zayn.”

Before he goes to get the door, Liam presses a kiss to Louis’ ear and whispers something that Harry hopes never to hear about. Harry scrambles up to arrange himself artfully, leaning his shoulders and one foot against the far wall and jutting his hips a little forward. Louis gives him this look, like he knows exactly what Harry is trying to do but doesn’t understand why, but Harry ignores him and slips his thumbs through his belt loops.

There are voices in the hallway, and Harry recognises the rasp of Zayn’s laughter. He grins to himself, looking at the floor and hoping that Louis doesn’t piece things together. Of course, it’s futile.

“Niall,” Louis says slowly. “Do you know this Zayn bloke, by any chance?”

Niall nods an affirmative, throwing his controller to Louis so he can stretch into Liam’s space. “Yeah, known him for ages. We went to uni together.”

“Liam mentioned he was at your party, yeah?”

“Yeah,” somebody says, but it isn’t Niall.

Harry snaps his eyes away from Liam’s stupid beige-y carpet. His memory on Zayn’s wardrobe is fuzzy -- he remembers the tattoos beneath them much better -- but he’s a fan of skinny jeans and necklaces, so he thinks they’ll get along just fine.

“This is Zayn, guys,” says Liam. He slings an easy arm around Zayn’s shoulders, which makes Zayn look way smaller than he is. Harry swallows down the tiny throb of jealousy and focuses on the fit of Zayn’s leather jacket while he’s still got the chance to ogle. It can’t be much longer before Zayn notices him. “Zayn, that’s Josh and Harry. You know Niall. And, of course, this is Louis.”

He moves away from Zayn to nudge Louis’ glasses with a knuckle, and Louis turns his head to kiss at Liam’s fingers. Harry can’t win here.

Except, maybe, he can.

“Hey, nice to meet you.” Zayn addresses it to all of them, but his gaze is fixed on Harry. A smile creeps up on his face, slow and bordering on filthy, and that answers a good percentage of Harry’s questions. Harry quirks his lips up at him and winks. There is no way that Louis hasn’t realised that Zayn is the most recent conquest of Harry’s -- he’s looking Zayn up and down, now, probably trying and failing to find some kind of exploitable flaw. Josh and Niall greet him, too, and challenge Zayn to a game of FIFA.

Zayn declines the offer, says he needs to go to the loo. The look he gives Harry feels like an invitation, but Harry can’t very well walk in front of the telly without drawing attention to himself, can he? He weighs his options while Zayn ducks out of the room, and decides that whatever odd looks he’s given are worth it.

“I’m going to,” he says, thinking on his feet, “go and go through your personal stuff, Liam. Make sure you’re as respectable as you put yourself out to be, yeah?”

“Er, yeah,” Liam says, looking taken aback but not suspicious. “Bedroom’s at the end of the hall.”

“You’re a weirdo,” Niall informs Harry, already engrossed in another football game. Harry hopes they rope Liam and Louis into playing, too. Josh doesn’t seem to give a shit about anything that’s going on, but Liam is clearly confused and Louis is starting to look murderous.

“Just looking out for my best mate,” says Harry. He pokes Louis in the nose as he passes the sofa. Louis opens his mouth, furious, but Josh cuts him off with a loud swear.

Once he’s gotten past that hurdle, it’s easy to slip into the bathroom. Zayn is waiting for him, perched on the edge of the counter, and Harry grins. He closes the door behind him, muffling the sounds of tiny footballers and loud curses.

“Thought you weren’t gonna risk it,” Zayn says, his quiet voice still echoing slightly in the tiled room.

He spreads his legs, and Harry has never been one to turn down an offer like that. With what he hopes is a wicked sort of grin but is probably moreso maniacal, Harry steps into the V of Zayn’s legs and just enjoys the feeling of leaning in close. His hands look larger than usual on Zayn’s skinny upper thighs. When Zayn smiles at him, his eyes don’t crinkle, and that in itself is reason enough for Harry to kiss him.

In the weeks following their first snog, Harry must have forgotten how good Zayn was at this part, because it blows his mind a little bit. Zayn is all warm hands bracketing Harry’s jaw and slick tongue, and Harry tugs at Zayn’s thighs to get him closer. They both nearly lose their balance, but Zayn’s chest is pressed against Harry’s now, so Harry considers it a win. There isn’t any faux-subtle grinding or wandering hands -- it’s like Harry’s whole world narrows down to the scratch of Zayn’s stubble on his chin, the lazy way Zayn traces Harry’s teeth with his tongue.

For a little while, none of Harry’s problems exist. Gemma’s disappointment in his life; Caroline’s utter indifference; the stack of books he has to read and the subsequent reviews he must write, all while knowing he won’t get enough revenue to pay his half of the rent; Louis.

Louis is always an issue for Harry. He has been ever since they were kids, when they crashed into each other while pretending they knew how to skateboard. They’d exchanged apologies and names, stammering like the idiots they were.

Even that first day, Harry had known he was looking at someone important. At least, someone he wanted to be important. He remembers spending half his teenage years watching Louis fall in ‘love’ over and over again. He remembers steadfastly believing that love was a myth created to let terrible people have an ironclad excuse for doing stupid shit. He remembers wondering when Louis was going to start thinking he loved Harry. Kind of hoping for it.

He probably shouldn’t have hoped so hard, now that he knows how it all turned out. Hindsight is 20/20, or however that saying goes.

“You know,” Zayn whispers, lips brushing Harry’s with every consonant, “there’re condoms in the drawer by my left foot and lube in the medicine cabinet.”

“How do you even know that?” Harry laughs, breathless.

Zayn smirks and uses his hold on Harry’s face to turn his head and speak directly into his ear. “This isn’t the first time I’ve had sex in Li’s bathroom. We’d better hurry, though, if you want to fuck me.”

“Would rather get fucked,” Harry admits.

“I’m flexible,” Zayn says with a shrug.

Harry’s trying really hard not to think about the implications of Zayn having sex in here before. He focuses on getting his kit off in record time, making sure the door is locked, letting Zayn manhandle him against the counter -- anything to avoid the mental images of Liam in the same position. Thankfully Zayn is well aware they need to be quick. He wastes no time getting two fingers inside Harry, successfully erasing every anxiety Harry had brought with him into the room.

Sighing contentedly, Harry crosses his arms on the granite countertop and pillows his head atop them. He loves this bit.

It’s so easy to lose himself in the sensation of being fucked open, and it seems to take no time at all before Zayn is pressing a hesitant fourth finger against Harry’s stretched hole. Zayn decides against it, possibly realising that time is of the essence here, and withdraws his whole hand. Harry is only able to bite back a whine because he knows that what’s coming next is better. Of course, he would love for Zayn’s fingers and his arse to get better acquainted sometime, but they’re at a dinner party, sort of, and Harry knows that at least Louis has figured out what they’re up to.


Harry’s thinking about him, hoping Louis is feeling that restless, protective urge that Harry has started to associate with Liam’s presence, when Zayn pushes into him in one go.

“Okay?” Zayn breathes, and Harry gasps some kind of affirmative.

Careful as you please, Zayn places one hand on Harry’s hip and the other on the back of his neck before snapping his hips suddenly. Harry has to sink his teeth into the sleeve of his jacket to keep from moaning in surprise as much as pleasure; Zayn is just using him, basically, and it turns Harry on like nothing else.

Since Zayn clearly has no qualms about fucking Harry like a tool for his own pleasure, Harry only feels a little guilty about letting his thoughts stray to Louis.

This is exactly what Harry needs, though, to stop being such a twat. With every rough slide of Zayn inside him, Harry starts his Louis Process. He replays moments, the ones that had made him think that, hey, maybe the concept of love wasn’t so far-fetched after all. The memories swim behind his closed eyelids -- getting drunk behind the school gym, serenading each other with the sappiest songs at Leeds Festival, the wonder in Louis’ face when Harry kissed him for the first time -- and he cuts the strings. The moments fall away from the forefront of Harry’s mind, content to bury themselves back behind the wall of reasons Harry and Louis could never work. They’d just wanted some acknowledgement.

He knows it isn’t fair to Zayn, but when Harry takes himself in hand he’s still thinking about Louis and how he used to love riding Harry, yelling ridiculous things about being a cowboy until Harry was curled up on himself and laughing so hard they couldn’t keep going.

Yeah, he misses Louis, but Caroline was right when she said he can’t be what Louis needs.

“If you come on Liam’s counter,” Zayn warns him between laboured pants, “you’ll have to clean it up, y’know.”

Harry laughs and lets go of his cock, aware that Zayn is right. So, then, he can’t come until Zayn is finished? Fair enough. He clenches his muscles around Zayn’s dick mercilessly as soon as Zayn buries deep, and he repeats the movement until Zayn’s nails dig into the back of his neck. Zayn comes with nothing more than a sharp exhale, the quiet bastard.

After a couple of seconds, during which Zayn pulls out and flushes the condom, Harry tries to catch his breath. It’s pretty useless, though.

Zayn grunts, “Turn around, Haz.”

Yeah, Zayn can definitely call him that. Harry does as he’s told and is rewarded almost immediately with Zayn’s mouth on his dick. The last time Zayn went down on him, Harry hadn’t watched. He’d known full well that the picture Zayn made would’ve been too much -- but now, he’s banking on that.

He stuffs his knuckles into his mouth to stifle any noises he might subconsciously make and meets Zayn’s gaze. He doesn’t expect Zayn to start being gentle now, and he isn’t disappointed. Zayn is completely ruthless about this blowjob, swallowing Harry down whole and not letting up until Harry comes too, gripping Liam’s stupid counter to make sure he doesn’t fall over.

“C’mon,” Zayn says, standing up and pulling Harry’s pants up with him. After a quick glance at his swollen lips in the mirror, Zayn grins. “Let’s go get some chicken, shall we?”


On their way home, Louis says, “Zayn is prettier than me”, and then lapses into a strange silence. He doesn’t speak to Harry for the rest of the night.


Now that Harry and Zayn have each other’s numbers, they’re sleeping together pretty damned often. They never go to Harry’s flat, which is cool, because Zayn doesn’t have a flatmate and neither of them want to run into Liam, besides. Zayn says that Liam gets all judgemental whenever he sees Zayn hooking up with someone new, and he isn’t in the mood to deal with that bullshit. Harry completely understands.

He’s just telling Zayn that he doesn’t mind avoiding Liam, anyway, because he doesn’t really get along with Liam, when Zayn goes a bit quiet. Harry nudges him with a foot and asks him what the matter is -- is he uncomfortable with Harry badmouthing his best mate?

“No,” Zayn says, tapping his fingers against Harry’s bare stomach. “I’m just curious. Are you in love with Louis?”

“Love isn’t real, so, no I’m not. I’m...” Harry has to think about it for a while, casting around for the proper word to describe how he feels about Louis. He lands on, “Possessive.”

“Possessive, huh?” Zayn asks, sidling closer to press his half-hard cock against Harry’s thigh. “So, like, what if I told you I’ve been dating a girl at work?”

“I wouldn’t care,” Harry says with a shrug. “It’s your dick, do what you want with it.”

To prove his point, Harry wraps his fingers around the dick in question, sniggering at the way Zayn sucks in a breath when he does. For a few minutes Zayn drops the subject, content to buck into Harry’s fist and sigh little noises into Harry’s shoulder. When he comes he bites down, adding to the constellation of bruises forming on Harry’s upper body. His fingers twitch on Harry’s lower belly, but more in the need-a-fag way than the gonna-return-the-favour-now way.

“So,” Zayn says, “just possessive of Louis, then.”

“Can we change the subject, please?” Harry asks, staring up at Zayn’s ceiling. None of his other -- for lack of a better word -- lovers have shown this much interest in him and Louis. Except Nick, but Harry’s fairly certain it was a Thing for him.

Zayn hums apologetically and finally, finally drags his hand lower.


Liam is over, because Liam is always over. The most noticeable difference this time is that Louis is not home.

“What,” says Harry.

“Oh, hello,” Liam smiles from the fridge. This is annoyingly reminiscent of the first time Harry saw him, except that he knows for a fact Louis isn’t sleeping or in the shower, because he went to his mum’s for the weekend.

“I didn’t say hello.” Harry wants to savour this, finally getting to bitch Liam out without reproachful looks from Louis. “I said ‘what’. As in ‘what are you doing in my kitchen’, seeing as your boyfriend isn’t home.”

Being mean to Liam never really works out the way Harry wants it to. Liam just keeps smiling and says that he was missing Louis, so he came over last night to sleep in Louis’ bed. To another person, it might sound really romantic, but to Harry it sounds like a fucking stalker alarm bell. If he weren’t perfectly aware that Louis is one of the aforementioned ‘other’ people, he would be telling Louis to abandon ship as soon as possible. Liam must have a key to his flat, he belatedly realises. Louis -- Louis never asked him if that was okay, or even told him he’d given one away. It feels like someone’s kicked Harry in the gut.

He takes a few moments to stand there, trying to figure out when Louis stopped telling him things like who had access to their home, while Liam gets himself some Lucky Charms. Harry counts backwards in his head, trying to figure out how long this thing between Liam and Louis has been going on for. A few months? Something like that. To be certain, he asks out loud.

“Er,” Liam says, pausing in his pouring of the milk. He thinks about it, and then smiles. “Almost ten months.”

Harry has to fucking sit down.

“That’s -- no, that can’t be right,” he says, weakly. He drops into the nearest chair and stares into space. Liam has stopped making cereal and is crouched in front of him, clearly worried, but Harry doesn’t care. “No. Ten months is too long, he’s too far gone.”

“Too far gone?” Liam repeats, baffled.

“He thinks he’s in love with you,” Harry intones. “Like, he must be mad about you by now. Why can’t you just hurry up and break his heart so I’m not fucking waiting for the other shoe to drop all the time?”

After a beat, Liam puts his hands on Harry’s knees and looks up at him. He says, “I’m not going to break his heart,” so earnestly that Harry almost believes him. Harry’s never been exactly confused as to why Louis chose Liam as the object of his affections, but he thinks he gets it now in a way he hadn’t before. The puppy thing really suits him, all warm eyes and warm hands and warm words -- Harry wonders if maybe that’s what Louis needs. Warmth. Louis tends to be a pretty cold guy, all things considered, and Harry has never really helped thaw him out.

Liam is still just staring at him, and his eyes haven’t strayed from Harry’s even though any sane person would have gotten bored by now. It’s like he needs Harry’s approval, which is ridiculous, because who is Harry to Liam? A nuisance, mostly; just some bloke who lives with Liam’s boyfriend.

“I’m sorry,” Harry finally says, mortified at the way his voice cracks. Liam smiles, soft, but doesn’t rush him to speak. Which is, you know, good, because Harry isn’t great at rushing his words at the best of times. “I’ve been a pretty massive twat for... holy balls, almost an entire year now. I didn’t even -- I thought you’d hurt him, you see, because everyone hurts him. I hurt him. You... really like him, do you?”

“I love him,” Liam says quietly.

“I don’t believe in love,” Harry informs him, swallowing a lump in his throat.

“You don’t have to. I’m not asking you to.”

“Then what,” Harry starts, but he can’t finish the question, not with those eyes so focused on him. There’s something about the way Liam is looking at him that makes Harry feel fifteen again, emotionally unstable and on the verge of tears. Liam doesn’t offer an answer to his half-question, either, he just keeps crouching in front of Harry like a frog. He is a teacher -- maybe he wants Harry to figure out the answer for himself. God, Harry hopes not. He never was very good at subjects where the rules weren’t all laid out in front of him. Math, P.E., those were fine, but hand him an opinion essay outline and he’d freeze up.

He doesn’t want to figure out what Liam wants from him. Maybe the question he should be asking himself is what does Louis want from Liam?, because that's a mystery in and of itself. Louis hasn't had a relationship -- not one that has spare keys and spending the night in each other's beds while the other is out of town, in any case -- since he and Harry became a hot mess of a relationship.

Back then, Louis hadn’t wanted much. Love. That was it. The one thing he’d asked for, and Harry hadn’t been able to give it to him.

At least one thing is painfully clear to Harry now: he is jealous. Not that Liam gets to have sex with Louis, and not even that Liam seems to be actually perfect in every way, but... Liam makes Louis happy. Liam can say that he loves Louis without a trace of irony, can make couple-specific plans for the future, can love Louis the way Harry still isn’t sure he can ever love somebody. Harry never thought it would feel like a superpower, love, but the weight of Liam's hands on his knees, the genuine set of his mouth, is something so out of reach that Harry doesn’t think you can come by it naturally. He looks at Liam, now, and he understands. Liam doesn’t need Harry to believe in love, Liam just needs Harry to trust him. Trust that he’ll do a better job by Louis than Harry ever did. That he’ll keep Louis crinkly-eyed and singing in the shower.

And... Harry does.

“You love him?” Harry asks again, determined to at least kind of believe in the answer.

Liam quirks his mouth into a smile that’s shy, even though Harry has been ragging on him for almost a year now, and confirms, “I love him.”


Giving Liam a pathetic attempt at a smile -- his facial muscles are far too used to scowling when Liam is around -- Harry rests his hands on top of Liam’s and pats twice. Liam gets the message and stands up at last, wincing at the apparent ache in his legs.

“Feel free to beat me to death with a shovel if I make him sad,” Liam says. Harry barks out a surprised laugh. He didn’t know Liam had a sense of humour. Then again, has he ever really cared enough to try and find out anything about him? The guilt is bubbling away in Harry’s stomach, eroding away at his insides like all the regrets before it, and he thinks that maybe he should get to know Liam better. If Louis likes him, and Niall likes him, and Zayn likes him, he must not be all that bad.

“Your cereal’s soggy,” Harry says, getting out of his chair on wobbly legs. “C’mon, I’ll make you breakfast.”


“Hey, Styles,” Caroline’s voice comes through the speaker on Harry’s mobile, slow and purposeful.

“Caroline,” he responds. He’s hanging out in Louis’ room while Liam whisks Louis away on some romantic getaway to London that Harry thinks is totally stupid. He’s getting better, though -- it’s not stupid because Liam’s doing it, it’s stupid because it’s stupid, end of story.

His jaded view on relationships must have started before Caroline, but she certainly hadn’t improved matters. Not believing in happily ever after is only sane, he knows, but when the sheer idea of staying the night in London for the hell of it makes him want to laugh until his sides ache, he knows he’s got something to work on. It isn’t that he’s unhappy, believing the things he does, but he feels like maybe he’s only content because he isn’t risking anything. Only time can tell, really.

There are more words in his ear, and he knows that Caroline is asking if he’s up for spending the night. Except -- he isn’t. He really isn’t in the mood for a booty call. That isn’t what he wants tonight.

(If he’s honest, what he wants is Louis. He wants his best friend to curl up next to him on the sofa and eat peanut butter ice cream and invent ridiculous backstories for the extras in whatever romantic comedy ‘accidentally’ gets put on. There’s just something about Louis that’s comfortable in a way nobody else in his life is; not even his mum or Gemma.)

“Er, I’m not really,” Harry says, stilted, “feeling it tonight. Rain check?”

Caroline sighs, all long-sufferingly, but agrees to get together another night. Harry says he’ll call her, and he wonders if she can tell from his tone that he’s figured it out -- that over the years she’s done him more harm than good. Probably. She’s a smart woman.

She hangs up without saying goodbye, so Harry thinks that she must realise there’s a good chance he won’t be calling her back.

For a moment he sits on the edge of Louis’ bed, trying to figure out if he feels upset about this. He’s spent seven years of his life shagging Caroline, and maybe he ought to have more of a reaction, but he doesn’t feel anything at all. Not relief, not sadness. Nothing. It’s like he always knew this had to happen eventually, in order for him to grow up. He knows that he was never supposed to feel anything with Caroline, or keep it to himself if he did, but it’s a little strange to feel nothing without her as well. He’s twenty-four and a fuck buddy who thinks he’s a childish moron is the most permanent relationship he’s ever had -- besides the mixed-up shit he and Louis have gone through, of course. He’s closing a chapter of his life, but it isn’t a chapter he needs.

There’s a knock on the front door of his flat and he jumps. Does Caroline need a fuck that badly? Jesus.

He leaves Louis’ room slowly, hoping that whoever it is will go away. He doesn’t want to deal with anybody at all right now. When he opens the flat’s door, however, it’s Zayn behind it. He’s wearing a plaid shirt that Harry is completely certain belongs to Liam and an anxious-looking smile.

“You, er,” Zayn says, rubbing the back of his neck. “Haven’t, y’know, called.”

“Aw, miss me?” Harry teases. He doesn’t step aside to let Zayn in, and the furrow between Zayn’s eyebrows says he notices.

“A little bit, yeah, I guess. D’you -- should I leave?”

Harry feels bad immediately. He doesn’t want to turn Zayn away when Zayn looks so utterly out of his element. He’s never been to Harry’s place, and he’s bouncing nervously on the balls of his feet. Taking pity on him, Harry opens the door further so Zayn can cross the threshold. The smile that lights up Zayn’s poetically discomfited face is worth the forfeited solidarity.

When he closes the door, Zayn is standing in the middle of his living room. He’s looking around at the framed photos that Harry and Louis have collected over the course of their lives, both separately and together. There’s a brand new one on the bookshelf, of Liam being used as a jungle gym for Louis’ younger sisters. Harry knows without having been present at the time of capture that Louis is laughing his head off behind the camera. He watches as Zayn goes over to it and picks it up, cradling the picture in a way that just strengthens Harry’s suspicions of a similar fucked-up relationship going on in Zayn and Liam’s corner.

“I don’t want to have sex tonight,” Harry says, mostly to remind Zayn that he’s there. “I was just going to watch some telly and go to sleep, so...”

“No, that’s -- Haz, that’s okay.” Zayn turns to him, abnormally flustered. He puts the photo of Liam down in its rightful place and steps closer. He’s grimacing now, looking more awkward than he’d been at the door, and Harry just wants to pat him on the head and make him a cuppa. “I just wanted some company. I can leave if you want, but watching telly with you sounds like a good night. The flat was just -- I don’t know, too quiet, I guess.”

Harry wonders if quiet is the real reason, or if Zayn is feeling just as listless without Liam as Harry is without Louis.

“I don’t mind if you stay,” he tells Zayn.

The tension leaves Zayn’s shoulders with a single deep breath. He says, “Okay, then,” and waits until Harry flops onto the couch to sit down, perched on the edge of the cushion. Harry laughs at him outright and tugs at his shoulders until they’re properly cuddling, rubbing Zayn’s arms to help with whatever internal issues Zayn is having tonight.

Within a single episode of Friends Zayn has become completely malleable, and Harry wants to laugh at his past self for ever worrying about whether or not this guy would kick Harry out of his bed for snuggling.

Harry falls asleep like that and wakes up with the worst sort of kink in his neck, but there’s eyeliner smudged under Zayn’s closed eyes and he’s snoring ever-so-slightly, and Harry thinks that, like, he’s definitely woken up in worse ways. He hadn’t spent the night with Louis-his-best-friend, but... this wasn’t a bad alternative. He untangles himself from Zayn to get up and make breakfast for them both, even though observation tells him Zayn will be dead to the world for another hour or two.


They make a habit of that, of just hanging out, because neither of them can see a reason to stop.

It makes Louis’ nostrils flare and he’s using the word ‘boyfriend’ in relation to Zayn now -- dripping with sarcasm -- but being with Zayn is nice, and Louis has Liam, anyway.


“I ought to get a proper job,” Harry says, stretched out along the sofa with his head in Zayn’s lap. He’s naked, as he often is when he’s in Zayn’s flat, so Zayn decides the proper response is to poke at one of Harry’s extra nipples. “I’m running out of, you know. Money.”

“You could always be a porn star,” jokes Zayn. At least, Harry hopes he’s joking.

“Please, nobody will look at me twice when you’re in the video. Except, perhaps, to be ridiculously jealous of me.”

“So do it with someone else,” Zayn says flippantly.

Harry laughs, a little sheepishly, and tilts his head to look up at Zayn. Zayn’s got one hand buried in Harry’s curls and the other on Harry’s chest, and that makes it easy to inform him that, actually, Harry hasn’t slept with anybody else in months. For a long moment Zayn just stares at him, teeth digging into his bottom lip. Then, he grimaces in a good-natured sort of way and says that he hasn’t, either.

Turning to curl further into Zayn and subsequently hide his goofy grin, Harry says, “What about that bird from your work?”

“Yeah, I -- I may have, possibly, made her up to check if you were the jealous type.”

Harry giggles and kisses the sliver of bare skin just above Zayn’s jeans.

“If it makes you feel any better,” he says, reaching up to entangle his fingers with Zayn’s and pressing them against his heart, “I would be a bit jealous now, if you starting hooking up with some girl.”

That does seem to make Zayn feel better.


Somehow, Gemma finds a way to chide Harry for his lifestyle every time he drops by for dinner.

“I just want you to be happy,” she sighs when she realises he isn’t listening to her. She’s balancing Melody on her hip, using her other hand to stir spaghetti. Gemma is so content with her world, Harry knows, but that isn’t the world he belongs in. Preschools and joint presents at Christmas just aren’t his cuppa. He’s sure Louis will be joining those ranks proudly soon enough, which he’s -- he’s okay with that, mostly.

“I am happy,” Harry insists. His fingers find their way to the spare key he’s been wearing on a chain for a handful of days. For ease of access, you know -- Zayn hadn’t wanted to make a big thing of it, which Harry had fully agreed with. “I’m happy where I am.”