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(You Are) The Way That I Know

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Harry has been living in Boston for seven months now, and he’s honestly surprised that he has yet to see Niall. It’s not like he’s sure Niall has moved back or anything, but the kid certainly isn’t in Braxton or Toronto anymore. And Niall always had been a Boston boy at heart, saying he’d play for the Sox for free or threatening violence against anyone who had dared to say New York had the better pizza. Truly, it’s a big city and the chances that Harry should run into any one, specific person are quite small. At the same time, he did have to take a stat class to graduate, and he knows that he has the same statistical probability to see Niall as he is to see the lady currently walking in front of him. It’s just a matter of time, really.

He didn’t choose BU because of Niall, knows he didn’t deep down in his heart. No one else believes him, though. He saw the look on Louis’s face when he had told him his choice of law schools. It seemed to say “What are you doing to yourself?” with just the furrow of a brow and the clench of a jaw. But really, it’s well-ranked and offers good prospects, plus it’s in a bustling city that’s not fucking Chicago. He had grown to love that city, grown to understand all its little corners and intricacies, but there were too many memories and too many faces that remembered him. A fresh start was what he needed, and when his “reach” school accepted him, he didn’t have a good reason to decline other than “What if my ex-boyfriend might decide to move back home?” That wasn’t good enough.

Boston’s been growing on him, too, now that it’s stopped being fucking freezing all the time. He doesn’t know why he keeps doing this – moving to cities closer and closer to the Arctic Circle. There are only so many days in the negatives he can take before he’s dreaming about moving back to Jacksonville to live with his dad and new stepmom, but these cities keep on drawing him back in and he never wants to let go. Sure the rent’s expensive and there tends to be tourists and school groups everywhere and his mom is a few hundred miles away, but he can get lost in this city and he loves that. He loves that he’s been here for months now and he can still explore and find some more to love, so he just does that a lot. It’s what he’s currently doing, actually. On Fridays he has a class that ends at noon and a class at 4:30, so in between he tends to amble around the town like he actually knows where he’s going. It’s only as it gets closer to the time he needs to be in class that he decides to actually look at a proper map and get back to campus.

This particular Friday he finds himself in the West End, doing a bit of shopping and stopping off at some Holocaust Memorial that he thinks will make a nice picture for his Instagram. It’s not too bad out, actually. It’s nearing the high 40’s and God since when does he not need a jacket when it’s in the 40’s? He’s doing alright in his grey sweater, though, but he does notice as he passes by a Starbucks on the way to the train station that he’s gone a bit hungry. He usually waits until he gets home after class to eat before going out or something, but he’s got time to kill and his stomach’s grumbling and Starbucks is right there so why not?

It’s just his luck, though, that the one place he’s decided to eat is closed- on a busy Friday afternoon, no less. Still, the “CLOSED UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE” sign on the door is staring him right in the face.

“I didn’t know Starbucks actually close,” he murmurs to no one in particular. Someone decides to answer him back anyways.

“Water main broke last night. Flooded the whole place and nearly every shop on this side of the street,” a maintenance man explains as he sweeps litter into a bin.

“I just wanted a stinkin’ sandwich and a tea,” he complains, even if it isn’t the man’s fault.

“There’s an Au Bon Pain across the street. Don’t know how it stacks up but I’m sure it has a sandwich you won’t mind eating. That’s where everyone else’s been going, anyways,” the man explains, and then he continues down the street and around a corner as if he wasn’t just having a conversation with someone. Harry doesn’t feel like crossing the busy intersection again, but his stomach is starting to yell out at him and it’s not like the yellow awnings don’t look inviting. He walks over anyways and just hopes that Au Bon Pain’s tea lattes are even half as good as Starbuck’s. Harry doesn’t believe in fate, but maybe he should.

Au Bon Pain’s incredibly crowded considering the time, but he just queues up behind the old lady with the frizzy hair and decides to wait it out. Something about the café makes Harry feel warm, and he blames it on the bright yellow that seems to be smeared over everything in the small space. He’s never been in this particular chain before, but everything feels really familiar and he can’t really tell why. It’s like a sick sense of déjà vu that leaves him feeling less confused and more at ease. He reads the menu with an unintentional smile on his face, and it’s only as the line finally starts moving at a quicker pace that Harry sees him.

Niall looks good. His hair’s a bit shorter but it’s still that perfect shade of blond, and even if the past two years of his life have been kind of shit there’s still a smile across his face that Harry thinks should be illegal. It’s blinding and sincere and infuriatingly cute, and Harry hasn’t seen it in ages. He knows he can duck out now. The line behind him is thinning, but overall there’s enough people in the restaurant that he can leave without being noticed, and Niall’s busy enough with his customers that he can barely see the next person in line. Harry can leave. He doesn’t.

The old lady in front of him is up quicker than he expects, and she just orders a quick cookie so Harry’s left standing in front of Niall before he really has time to prepare any type of speech or gesture. Anything, really. So he just stares at Niall for a few seconds, and Niall stares back, slack-jawed in disbelief. Feeling an anxious pit in his stomach, Harry diverts his eyes back to the menu. He gets out a confident and drawn-out ‘uh’ before Niall turns away from him and gets the attention of the worker next to him.

“Zach, can you take this customer? I need to get something from the back,” he asks. Zach obliges, and Niall’s through the door to the kitchen in the blink of an eye.

“Is this for here or to go?” the worker starts. Harry coughs a bit and then places the order, just a ham sandwich and a cup of tea. For here.

It’s not until Harry’s found a seat (tucked away in a back corner) that he properly freaks out. It’s not like he screams or thrashes about or anything, but his mind is racing at a million miles a minute and there’s a noticeable tremble to his hand and his voice feels caught in his throat. He tries eating, but even with the tea his throat feels dry. The only thing he can think of to try and help is to text someone, but everyone’s got jobs now. Louis is doing some supply chain thing in Indianapolis while Liam has finally got himself a job in engineering in Detroit and Zayn’s working his way up the PR ladder in NYC – close to home. Harry decides not to care and he texts them all his predicament anyways. None of them respond, though, and before he knows it Niall is sliding into the seat across from him.

Harry doesn’t really know what to say. At all. It’s not like he thought he’d never see Niall again, but he always imagined it’d be at like… Zayn’s wedding. Or Liam’s 50th birthday party. Or Louis’s funeral. He never quite imagined this, so Harry says the only thing he can think of:

“Are you off work?”

“No… I’m on break,” Niall responds.

It’s awkward. Harry keeps trying to ignore how awkward it is, but it’s damn near impossible.

“Uh…” Harry starts, but Niall cuts him off.

“What are you doing here, Haz?” he asks, and Niall just sounds tired.

“I’ve been going to school here since last September. I go to BU for Law,”

“Interesting,”

“Listen, I didn’t know you were in back in town…”

“I know,” Niall interrupts again, “Louis told me about how I’m off limits in all forms of discussion. I’m not the same, though. I didn’t cut you out of my life,”

“Ni, that’s not fair. That’s not true,”

“Really? I haven’t heard from you since that fucking February night and now you come in here and you look so anxious but you haven’t left yet? Why haven’t you left yet?”

“All I wanted was a god damn sandwich. I didn’t know it would come with my ex-boyfriend waiting on me, alright? And wait a second, did you know that I was in town?”

“Yes I’ve fucking known. It’s not like you’re a common point of conversation between me and Louis, but telling me that you were coming here was kind of a big thing to know,”

“Why the hell didn’t you call, then? Stop pushing this all on to me,” Harry spits out, and he’s angry now. And it’s not like Harry’s never angry, though it’s rare, but anger and Niall have pretty much never mixed.

Even as they broke up, it was hard to be mad at him. Even now, as they sit across from one another lashing out with biting words that are intended to leave marks, Harry can’t be truly mad. Harry can’t be mad at Niall because Niall has one god damn break the entire day and he chooses to spend it fighting with Harry in the back corner of an Au Bon Pain. He could have spent that break eating or relaxing or fucking around on his phone, but he chooses to fight it out with Harry because there’s so much left unsaid in their relationship. And really, that’s what’s infuriating about Niall – you can’t be mad at him even when it’s quite possibly the only feeling you want in the entire world. Because the other emotions are sadness, guilt, pain and loneliness, and anger’s just so much easier to deal with.

Niall sits in front of Harry, hands pressed into fists in front of his mouth. He looks so focused and strained, and his gaze is hot on Harry’s face.

“Because if you didn’t even want to hear my name be spoken, why the hell would you want to talk to me?”

And there it is. There’s the guilt.

He returns his hands to his lap, looking down at them like that was some sort of confession.

“Ni, don’t you fucking dare think that I don’t care about you. Present tense,” Harry emphasizes.

Niall is distracted, playing with his apron string instead of paying full attention to the conversation, “Stupid way of showing it,”

Harry feels it now, that intense desire to keep Niall Horan happy and smiling and warm and comfortable and fulfilled. It’s really irritating, and he knows he’s not the only person to get it, either. Zayn had mentioned it without Harry putting the idea into his mind first. Just that an unhappy Niall always seems to feel like the end of the world. An impossibility. Something that should never happen.

“Here,” Harry finally says, shoving the plate of food forward. There’s a half-finished sandwich still sitting on it, “have this. You look hungry,”

Niall looks up at him with those big, dumb, blue eyes, ponders it for a second, and then rushes into the sandwich like he hasn’t eaten in days.

“Thanks,” he mumbles with a mouth full of food.

They sit in silence for a while because Niall seems to be genuinely hungry and even if they haven’t been together in years, it’s hard to forget how focused he can be when he’s eating. Harry just sits there and looks at the shop around him. Most of the customers are businesspeople or students or retired, and most of them are eating alone. Harry should be one of them, with his nose stuck in a crossword until it’s time for him to move onto his next scheduled event. That’s how it is most Fridays. Today isn’t most Fridays, though.

“I feel better now,” Niall says suddenly, and Harry drops out of his stupor to see that Niall’s looking him in the eyes again, “It was rough there for a while. So much had been pulled out from under me, but I’m good now. I’ve got an apartment with my friends down in Dorchester, near where Denise and Greg used to live, actually. Moving out of my mom’s place was good. They got divorced, you know. Not Denise and Greg, ‘course. Just had another kid, actually. But my parents did, like a year ago. That’s when I moved out, and I think that’s how everything got easier. To finally feel like my own person again,”

Harry can tell that Niall’s been dying to tell him that, just all of that. Because there are still times in Harry’s day when he wants to tell Niall something. Not just anyone, specifically Niall. And it’s usually been about the big things in his life, the spectacular moments that a few years ago would’ve had Niall shouting and spinning and grinning like a mad man. Or holding onto Harry so tight that the stress was simply squeezed out of him. The closest he had come to calling was when his dad had remarried and Harry had been forced to go to the ceremony in South Beach. That night, as he feigned off a panic attack in his posh hotel room that overlooked a calm ocean, the only person he wanted to call was Niall. He should’ve called Ben, he should’ve wanted to call Ben, but it was NiallNiallNiall that was on his mind.

It’s his turn to talk now. Niall’s said all on his mind and it’s Harry’s turn to offer something, anything, to the table. But it’s hard to come up with something to say when Niall’s sitting in front of him and he looks so different, but the same, as well. Like nothing has changed, but everything has. Harry should say something really nice, a nice stopping point for a conversation that needs to end before someone ends up crying or shouting. He doesn’t.

“I’ve… I’ve missed you so much, Ni,” he breathes out, barely letting the words escape his mouth. But they’re the truth, and although he knows it’s a little unfair to spring them on Niall, they’re the words he knows he needs to say.

Niall sucks in a shaky breath and Harry doesn’t know if it’s because he’s angry or because he’s sad or if it’s because he’s finally heard the words he’s been waiting to hear for three years. Sometimes Niall’s an open book, but sometimes he’s hard to predict. Very, very hard to predict.

“I get off of work at 4:30,” he says, his eyes searching over Harry’s face to see if that’s a thing he’ll want to hear. It is.

“God, yeah, um. I have a class soon? But after… after I’m good,” Harry responds, and he can hear his own voice betraying his excitement. Stupid fucking voice.

“Yeah, okay, here give me your phone. I’ll write down my address,” Niall says, and Harry happily obliges. Niall opens up Notepad and types it in, twirling a piece of hair around his finger as he does so. Harry wants to reach out and touch Niall’s hair, touch Niall because he hasn’t been allowed to do that for so long, but he still doesn’t feel like he’s allowed. Because he doesn’t know why he’s going over to Niall’s. It could be for a reconciliation or hate sex or just for a good, old fashioned yelling match. He tries not to get his hopes up.

“Okay, my class is supposed to end at 5:45,” Harry explains, “but it usually ends early. I’ll shoot you a text when I leave,”

“You still have my number?” Niall asks, and Harry feels like lying but…

“It’s fine if you don’t,” he continues as he grabs the phone back to put his number in his contacts, “Not everyone keeps their ex’s number. That’s not weird,”

Harry looks down at the screen, and after he’s left the café and said his goodbye he goes to the contact and changes it. It feels weird and distant for Niall to be anything but “Blondie” in his phone.

**

It’s on the bus that Harry remembers to freak out, and he’s just happy that he remembers to do so quietly. He can’t understand why Niall’s being so nice to him, so open to him, because Harry feels and knows that he shouldn’t. Because they broke up for a lot of reasons, and he’s very aware of that, but really it all boils down to Ben. It’s all, really, because of Ben. They probably would have broken up anyways, but it was so disastrous and messed up and broken because of Ben. And that’s all on Harry.

**

Liam texts him back when he’s in the middle of class, and when Harry doesn’t return the message he calls. Ten times. Harry thinks that’s perfectly normal behavior.

Liam, I was in class,” he hisses out as he walks from campus to the bus stop by the Chipotle he’s gone to a few times. He’s already looked up the fastest directions to Niall’s place.

“Oh yes, my mistake. One of my best friends happens to give me the biggest fucking news of the past few years and then just refuses to call me back. That’s not a reason to be upset,” Liam jests. He’s grown more sarcastic since getting a real-person job.

“Listen, it’s probably not a big deal…”

“You’re fucking kidding, right?”

“Okay, so like, it is. But I don’t know if it’s bad yet? I haven’t been able to figure that out. It’s all a bit much. A little confusing. I don’t know,”

“Is he mad?”

Harry stops on the sidewalk and moves off to the side because really…

“I don’t know, but we need to talk. Him and I, we just need to,”

**

The bus ride is long. Forty stops; Harry counts them. In that time Zayn and Louis get back to him, each of them exhibiting the same awe and weariness as Liam before. Zayn even goes as far as to say that they shouldn’t be doing this, that someone’s just gonna end up hurt. Harry thinks Zayn gives good advice, but sometimes you don’t really need to do the practical thing.

Unfortunately, the length also means that Harry gets to slip inside his own mind for an extended period of time, and that’s really a recipe for disaster because all he can think about is their last night together. When Harry had finally, finally, told Niall all about Ben. About everything. It wasn’t like he and Ben had really done much at all, just lots of touching and comforting and… but it was enough. That Harry had become so close to another man as to think to go to him when he was upset rather than go to Niall. That he was attracted to that man, that that man was attracted back. It was too much, Harry knew it, Harry knew it’d be the last straw, but it was necessary.

He thought it was just the natural progression of his life. From Niall: young and naïve and cute and funny and safe. To Ben: older and smart and impressive and cultured and experienced. Niall would be the relationship that taught him how to love and feel and overcome obstacles, and then Ben would be the one to show him how to make a relationship last for the long haul. How to build a lifetime around someone who could support you and cherish you and give you everything you needed and who was just always around. Ben was just the next logical step.

He and Ben broke up four months after that night, nearly to the day. Ben was getting back together with his wife; Harry was going away to an internship in Portland for a non-profit. Nothing was working out. It was nice while it had lasted, but it just wasn’t the right fit. The irony didn’t escape Harry then, and it sure as hell doesn’t now.

**

“Hi!” a woman with a fresh smile and bright, blonde hair nearly yells as she opens the door for Harry. He thinks he might have the wrong apartment, at least until Niall bounds down the stairs behind her.

“I told you I was expecting someone, Laura, Christ,” Niall says as he pushes her out of the way. He looks like he’s changed since they talked earlier. He’s out of his work clothes and he’s found his way into some grey sweats and a plain white shirt. His hair is wet in spots and it’s obvious he’s showered, he still smells like lemon soap. He still uses the same damn soap.

“Well, come in out of the cold,” Niall demands as he pushes Laura up the stairs and gestures for Harry to follow her. The warmth of the flat is inviting after the freezing temperatures outside.

“Uh, this is Laura,” Niall says as soon as Harry’s gotten into the living room of the apartment and has taken his boots and coat off. The girl from before, the blonde one, does a curtsy before she sits on the couch next to another girl with black hair who has a blanket wrapped around her like she’s a burrito. It makes Harry wish he had stopped off at the Chipotle.

“And that’s Natalia. They’re both my roommates,” Niall explains before spinning on his heel to point to a man making waffles, “That’s Eoghan. He’s making breakfast for dinner. Is that fine with you?”

“No, yeah! That sounds great, actually. A bit starving. Didn’t get to finish all my lunch today,” Harry says, shooting a smile towards Niall. He returns one, but it doesn’t quite reach his eyes.

“Brez should be getting home soon,” Eoghan notes as he shoves another waffle onto a tower already about six high.

“You’ll love Brez,” Laura says as she flips through the channels on the TV, “Everyone gets along with him, he’s just a-,”

“We’re going back to my room,” Niall interrupts, drumming his fingers along the door frame of the hallway, “just call out when dinner’s ready, right?”

“No, stay!” Natalia demands, sniffling her nose, “I’m feeling sick and your laugh’s the only thing that makes me feel better, Nialler,”

“It’s just…”

“Harry, don’t you want to stay in here with us?” Laura asks, batting her eyelashes.

“Uh, I mean…”

“That’s a yes!” she yells, running off the couch and grabbing Harry’s hand to pull him towards it, “We’re just gonna talk until dinner’s ready!”

Niall cautiously joins them on the couches, squeezing between Harry and the arm of the sofa. They’re barely even touching, just little bumps here and there, but even so Harry can feel the tension radiating off of Niall’s body.

Natalia is the first one to start talking, telling a story of her day at school. She’s funny and sweet and Harry can see why Niall would want to room with her. And then Laura is basically Niall if he were to be a girl. They’re so close that Harry wants to see some sort of proof that they’re not actually related. Both of the girls are warm and inviting, and even Eoghan chimes in with a few interesting quips that send Niall roaring with laughter. Harry hadn’t even remembered how much that laugh could bring into his life; happiness and light and bubbles in his stomach. It’s unnerving, though, not knowing how much these virtual strangers know about him, know about him and Niall. Do they know Harry’s an ex, do they know how they ended, do they know about Ben? Their smiles seem sweet and genuine, but they’re not enough to convince him.

Finally, their food is ready and they dig in. Niall quiets, but Laura’s mouth continues to go at full force. It’s as if her God-given talent is entertaining. But suddenly, she’s not so interested in talking about herself any longer.

“So, Harry,” she starts, twirling her fork-full of waffle, “do you have any juicy stories about Niall here?”

“No!” Niall nearly yells, and although he talks loudly he hasn’t raised his voice the entire time he’s been home. It’s obviously not something he does a lot. Everyone around the table jumps a bit.

“It’s just…” he continues, trying to justify himself, “just drop it. Please,”

“Yeah, yeah okay, Ni,” Laura says, turning the focus back on herself. Harry still doesn’t know what these people know about Niall’s past with him, but at least now they’re sure something’s up.

The rest of dinner continues without incident, though, and it doesn’t take long for Niall to relax again. They finish their meals and end up back in the living room, curled under blankets with mugs of coffee and cookies for dessert. It feels really nice to Harry, because he doesn’t have what he’d call the most conventional roommates. He loves them to death and thinks that they’re honestly some of the best people he’s met in his life, but the living situation is… not normal. So just getting to sit around like this is special to Harry, and he’s just warming up to the new crowd when the front door opens and someone stomps up the stairs.

“Ay, Big Head!” Niall sing-songs as a very large, built man walks through the door.

“Hey, Bud,” the man says, walking over to Niall and ruffling his hair. It throws Harry’s stomach through a loop, “What’s going on tonight?”

“Niall’s just introduced us to Harry,” Laura says with a smile.

Harry turns around from his spot on the sofa with all the intentions of shaking Big Head’s hand, but at the mention of his name the man stops in his tracks. His smile turns to a grimace, and it’s hard not to notice. Harry gets the distinct feeling that it might not be the first time he’s heard Harry’s name.

“Brez, aren’t you gonna say anything?” Natalia asks.

He offers a small nod and starts backing off towards the kitchen. “Yeah, it’s nice to meet you,”

“Dunno what’s wrong with him,” Eoghan laments as soon as he’s through the door, “He’s usually a pretty jolly guy like… like a massive, sexy Santa Claus,”

But the mood in the room’s changed now, as if Brez had stolen the light, fun atmosphere when he walked out the door. Niall stands quickly, not waiting for any questions that may pop up, and turns to face Harry.

“C’mon, Haz. I think it’s time for us to slip away,” Niall says, holding his hand out to hoist Harry from his seat.

“No, please don’t!” Laura moans “Don’t let Bressie ruin this for you! He’s just being a grump,”

Niall sends puffs an annoyed breath out and offers Laura sympathetic eyes. “It’s not that. We just have a lot of catching up to do. We’ll see you guys tomorrow, alright?”

They all offer their goodbyes and blow kisses in their direction until Harry’s in Niall’s bedroom and sitting on his bed and then everything’s scary again. It’s silent for a moment because it’s tough to figure out what to do with the ex-boyfriend that you haven’t seen in three years. There’s so much to say, yet finding out what to start on seems to be the hardest thing in the universe.

“How’ve you been?” Niall starts. He’s leaning against his dresser and trying to look like nothing’s bothering him, but even if it’s been ages, Harry can tell when Niall is lying.

“I’ve been pretty good if I say so myself. Uh, Mom got married to Robin last spring. They’ve moved out of Michigan, thank God. Live in Pennsylvania now, actually. Right around Philly. They love it! Gemma’s got a good job in Portland. I interned with her company a few summers ago and it was pretty great. Dad got married, too, to some woman that you don’t want to hear about and I don’t want to talk about. We haven’t spoken since his wedding,”

Harry finds that that was a pretty good summation of his life; the important things were all hit. He skipped stuff like graduating because he figured Niall would have assumed that happened, but then Niall doesn’t say anything. Just stares at Harry like he’s not accepting that as the end of his story, so Harry just continues.

“Finally made it to Europe! It was a graduation present. Hit up all the big places like London and Paris. Uh… parents finally bought me my own car, right before I went back to school and had to leave it with them, obviously! I don’t think anything else really big happened?”

“And you moved to Boston,” Niall finishes for him.

“Well, like, yeah. I thought that was obvious. As I’m sitting here… in your bedroom… in Boston,”

“You applied for law school. Shopped around. And chose Boston,”  Niall adds, and there’s an edge to his voice that unsettles Harry.

“Well, like, yeah but…”

“You just chose B.U. without a care in the world, definitely not caring to think about whether or not I’d be back,”

Harry sighs. He knows he should’ve seen this coming, because if no one else in the world believed in his reasoning for moving here then why would Niall? It’s just that Niall always believed what Harry told him, always was trusting. Let things roll off his back without too much thought.

“Shit, Ni. It’s like you’re accusing me of something here. Of what? Not giving a shit if I might go to a school in a city where my ex-boyfriend may or may not be?” Harry grits out, trying to shoot daggers at Niall with his eyes. Tries real hard.

“I just, I don’t fucking get it! You want nothing to do with me, nothing to do with my life for three years. Longer than we were even together in the first place! And then… you can tell me all you want that you didn’t choose BU because of me, but I don’t think I’m gonna believe you,”

“Oh, that’s real fucking fresh. Thinking you know my life better than myself,”

Niall’s eyes grow wide when he’s mad, and Harry remembers that now. His lips sometimes twitches and he plays with his fingers too much, like all the pent up energy that he’s storing to really fight with you is stored in there. Harry hasn’t seen him like this often, because Niall was always chill and happy and forgiving.

“But why here, Haz? Why here? I know this isn’t the only school that accepted you, you’re a smart kid. You probably got into loads of places…”

“They’ve got great connections! Impressive professors! Top-notch technology…” Harry says, trying his own hand at interrupting.

“You didn’t come all the way down to Dorchester to lie to me…”

“I’m not lying! It’s such a fucking good school and I was amazed when they accepted me! I thought for sure they’d turn me down!”

“But why did you even apply there in the first place?”

“Why… Niall what the hell? I have no fucking clue what you want me to say. You’re making no sense and it’s pissing me off,”

“I just don’t understand!” Niall yells, and it takes Harry back a bit. Not that he’s afraid of him, but because it’s just so very un-Niall, “Because… I don’t believe you. I’m sorry, I don’t, and maybe that’s shitty of me but I just can’t believe that you would pick Boston out of all the fucking places and not have it be about me,”

“Oh, because that’s not self-absorbed,” Harry moans.

“No. It’s not. Because I know for a fucking fact that if Boston wasn’t my heart and my soul and in my blood, I couldn’t live here. And I don’t believe for one second that you don’t walk the streets of this city and think of me,”

“I…” Harry starts, and he tries to get an explanation out. But it’s such a lie that it’s caught on his tongue, because even he’s not starting to believe it.

“Even when it’s 30 degrees out and the Common is covered in snow, I still see you sitting on a bench eating ice cream. I see us standing outside of the hospital, waiting for my dad to pick us up after going to see Greg’s kid. Sometimes, late at night, when I’m riding the T I feel like I could turn my face and you’d be sitting there, half-asleep because you tried to drag me around the city too late. When I go back to my mom’s house for the night I can still feel you over me, feel your lips slide across my neck and feel your arms pin me to the bed. You’re every face I see and I hear your voice in every blow of the wind. I don’t know why, and I wish I did, but you haunt me in this city. And I can’t know for sure that you feel the same way as me… but honestly it might be worse if you don’t,”

Each memory comes flooding back to Harry and he feels like he’s drowning. His chest constricts as he remembers nights eating at the late-night diner by Niall’s house and cold hands shoved into pockets when they forgot their mittens on walks through the city and hushed ‘I-love-you’s on the waterfront. He stumbles over his words, trying to find them in a mind that’s been clouded over by a Boston he’s tried to hide.

“I haven’t… forgotten about us, if that’s what you mean,”

“I shared Boston with you. This isn’t something I’ve given to everyone, to get to meet and really know my family and my friends and the life that I’ve kept separate from the one I’ve made for myself. There’s Boston-Niall and then there’s Baseball-Niall; they’re separate. And when I brought you here it was because I trusted you with that part of me. How many times did we come here together? Like six? When Greg got married, St. Patrick’s Day, the birth of Greg’s first kid, Christmas… just because I wanted you here. Each time it was me opening up a part of myself to you, so after it’s all said and done you’re still there. You’re still in the hospital pictures from Theo’s first day and we still have the stocking that my mom made for you stored in our attic at home. We broke up but you didn’t leave, and I’d be lying if I said I wish you would. And to think that you don’t feel the same way would just break me,”

And then Niall’s done. Harry can feel that he’s finally said his peace, finished what he brought Harry here to do. His lips are pressed in a firm line and his eyes blink rapidly; not really crying but not really okay all the same. Harry feels like he wants to hug Niall, to rub his back and just get him to cry it out. He wants to say something, but he barely even knows what to believe.

“I…” he starts then stalls.

Niall’s eyes search over his face like he needs Harry to talk, needs Harry to reaffirm what he’s said.

“Earlier today, you said I never called and I did,” Harry says suddenly, almost surprising himself with the words he chooses.

“What?” Niall asks with a squeak to his voice, face scrunched up in disbelief.

“You… you said that I haven’t tried to talk to you since we broke up and that’s not true! I… I called you. That June I called you and it was you who didn’t pick up. I tried. You shot me down,”

**

Harry hated finding out over Twitter. Like discovering your husband’s cheating on you over a relationship status on Facebook. It seemed impersonal, miserable, and just wrong, but there was no way around it. He really shouldn’t have even been on Twitter in the first place, his finals were mere hours away and he needed to keep his GPA up if he wanted any chance of getting into law school the next year. Still, he kept on refreshing the damn page, until finally something caught his eye.

CNNBRK: Cringe-worthy injury @ Angels stadium leaves both teams horrified on.cnn.com/1d5HthC

He had stopped following Niall’s schedule months ago; didn’t think it was fair of him to know where Niall was at any day in the month when Niall wouldn’t be afforded the same luxury. So he stopped watching ESPN (like it was hard) and only checked the scores of Niall’s games a few times a month. It was the one thing he afforded himself, and it was partially for his own sanity. Harry just needed to make sure that Niall was still playing for Toronto and still happy and healthy. Still, he hadn’t expected Niall to be in LA that night.

The video started off normally, Harry was honestly barely even paying attention, but it was the pitcher that caught his eye first. He knew him. It was Bryan, the Blue Jays’ pitcher and one of Niall’s best friends on the team. There was a sinking feeling in his gut.

The person up at bat hit the first ball, sending it off towards center field. It was a respectable hit - a good hit. It bounced off the grass, easily flying back up into the mitt of the fieldsman, who threw it towards first. It was a very basic, finely-executed play except for one detail: the first baseman shouldn’t have been standing that far on the base. Niall shouldn’t have been standing that far on the base.

Harry covered his mouth at the exact moment that Niall and the runner collided, Niall folding into himself while the other man – Torres – just simply tucked and rolled. He was out. It made no difference. The commentators were saying things that Harry paid no attention to, but that didn’t stop them from replaying it again. As if that was a thing that you couldn’t miss. The way Niall’s knee clearly bulged out in an unnatural, painful way. Even through his gray pants there was an obvious misalignment, and it made Harry’s stomach churn.

Through the buzzing in his ears, Harry finally heard Niall’s name and it pulled him back to the present, “Horan’s obviously injured, his coaches and teammates are running up to him now,”

There was a spectacle of players surrounding Niall, but it was clear that he was in pain. Writhing on the ground and clutching his knee as hard as he could. It wasn’t like he had a mic attached, but Harry could just hear Niall’s voice anyways. Knew that he’d let through a string of curses that’d make a sailor blush. His chest was rising and falling quickly, heaving with the adrenaline and agony. Harry was frozen, not wanting to have to continue to see this boy that he had loved in pain, but not willing to look away.

The batter was there, too, kneeling next to Niall as if they were best friends, probably whispering apologies and trying to calm down this near stranger. Harry knew it wasn’t his fault, if anything it was Niall’s, but that didn’t stop him from hating this man he barely knew. For doing this, for being the cause of this, if only on accident. Torres – Harry had to keep reminding himself of his name, that this man had a name – was shaken too, clearly upset that his foot and leg had been at work. But he wasn’t even hurt and Niall looked destroyed and that just didn’t seem fair.

A cart made its way out onto the field, a team of medics and a stretcher on top. Niall was still on the ground, still in pain. Eyes screwed shut, mouth turned down in a grimace, skin flushing red. It didn’t look good.

“We’re getting word that it looks like a knee dislocation,” the commentator started back up again, “Horan’s no stranger to these, his right knee’s never been quite right, but I’ve never seen him hurt like this. Now, these can go one of two ways: sometimes you can just pop ‘em back in and you’re fine after a bit of rest, and then other times require surgery. It’s way too early to call which one this particular case is, but I think everyone in this stadium is hoping for the best,”

Niall was loaded onto the stretcher then put on the cart and his hands never left his face, covering or shielding himself from things Harry could only guess. And then the video was cut, Niall was off the field. Harry checked the time on the video, it had happened only half an hour before. He wondered, willing himself to stay calm, where he was then. Was he still in the stadium? Was he enroute to a hospital? Harry just needed to know, so he grabbed his phone and his finger hung over the contact he hadn’t used since the previous February. He pushed call anyways.

“Hi, this is Ni,” a voice rang out, “‘M not here but I probably want to talk to you so leave a message or summat. I’ll get back to you,”

“Fuck,” Harry murmured, slamming his fist into his desk. It hurt, but not enough. And then his voice was shaking and his lips were trembling and it was all too much. He needed someone else.

“Lo?” Zayn answered after only one ring.

“Thank God, Zayn. Did you see it?”

“See what, Hare?”

“Niall… Niall’s hurt. Niall’s hurt,” Harry repeated.

“Hurt? As in?”

“I’ve just seen a video… his knee, he’s hurt his knee. God, I’m not there. I need to be there. I was there last time, I helped,”

The last time Niall dislocated his knee was two Christmases prior. Harry liked ice skating, Niall didn’t.  But Harry’s smile was tempting and he smelled like gingerbread and it was never very easy for Niall to say no to him. Six hours and an ER visit later, Harry finally agreed that maybe Niall should have stuck to baseball.

“Calm down, alright? Is he okay? Like… what do you know?” Zayn was asking, his voice a steady constant.

“Only what any other ESPN viewer would know. I tried calling him! It went straight to voicemail and I don’t know if he has it off or if too many other people tried to call him, I just don’t know!”

“He probably doesn’t even have it with him. He turns it off for games, yeah?”

Harry nodded, and somehow Zayn got what the answer was through the silence.

“Calm down. Don’t you have studying to do?”

“God, Zayn,” Harry huffed. He didn’t need to study at a time like this.

“Well, just try to take your mind off of it with some studying. It’s not like your professors will accept ‘my ex-boyfriend hurt his knee’ as an excuse for you missing a final. Just… don’t worry about it yet. Try calling him in a few hours, yeah? Or tomorrow?”

“It’s just… I feel like he needs everyone to support him. Even me,” Harry tried.

Zayn was the silent one then, and Harry could hear him sighing.

“You just listen to Niall, okay? If he wants you by his side he will tell you. If he doesn’t, he will tell you. And you’re going to do what he says,” Zayn instructed.

“Yeah… yeah of course,”

“Don’t go doing something dumb like buying a ticket to wherever he is without knowing if he’s actually there or how he’s doing or if he even wants you there. This isn’t about you, right?”

“Zayn, I don’t know what you’re getting at here…”

“This relationship has been fucked up enough already. It doesn’t need more damage. Don’t do anything stupid,”

“I… of course…”

Harry called again a few hours later, right before he got into bed. And again when he woke up the next day, and again after his Econ final, and yet again right after his dinner. The fourth time was the charm.

“Ni, God, it’s me. I’m so happy you’ve picked up,” Harry said, a smile blooming across his face before he could even register it.

“Harry, dear, hi,” the voice on the other line said. It wasn’t Niall’s.

“Oh, hello Maura,” Harry responded, and he didn’t get why she was answering and Niall wasn’t.

“How are you, dear?”

“Fine,” he responded, but really, it was not the time for pleasantries, “I was just… how’s Niall? I saw what happened and I need to make sure he’s okay,”

“He’s alright. He’s out of surgery and everything. There are a lot of medications rolling through his system so he’s not in too much pain for now,”

“Surgery? So he needed surgery?”

“Yes…” Maura started and then stopped. Harry could hear muttering in the background, like a small voice that didn’t want to be heard.

“He’s doing great, I think. The doctors seemed hopeful,” she continued, the background noise changing from the relative quiet it had been in to a loud bustle. As if she had left a private room and entered a busy hallway.

“Hopeful? As in… he’s going to play again?”

Maura sucked in a shaky breath before continuing, “We’re just taking it one step at a time,”

“Is he awake? Can I talk to him?”

“Harry…” she said, and he could already hear the letdown in her voice, “I don’t think that’s the best idea right now. He’s very emotional, very uncomfortable. I just… he needs some space and time to be alone. Needs some time to gather his thoughts and clear his head. I don’t think what he needs is you again,”

Harry pushed his jaw out. It hurt like a punch in the stomach, to be told that. She might as well have just said “He doesn’t want to talk to you. Doesn’t want to be hurt again, he’s already in enough pain,” At least it would’ve been the truth.

“I don’t… I don’t want to intrude on anything. Just make sure he knows that I hope he’s doing well, and if he ever needs to call me it’d be alright,”

“Of course, dear. I’m afraid I have to go. I hope you’re doing well, Harry,” she said, and he could almost hear a smile.

“Good bye,”

And then the call was dropped and Harry’s finger was still lingering over Niall’s name in his phone. He pressed delete before his mind could stop him.

**

“Are you seriously mad that I didn’t talk to you as I was in the hospital, recovering from a career-ending injury, mad on painkillers, and just angry in general?” Niall spits out, obviously trying to keep himself from yelling again.

“I’m not mad, I’m just saying I called! I tried to talk to you! I didn’t ignore you!” Harry spits back. He’s still sitting on Niall’s bed and Niall’s still standing over him, he wonders if that’s why it feels like Niall is slowly breaking him down.

“You had three years to call me, and the one time you did was because you felt bad for me. Sorry, it made me feel like shit. Like you felt it was obligation,”

“I just cared about you is all,” Harry mumbles, the words caught in his throat.

Niall growls, then throws himself back on the bed. He’s on the other side from Harry, but it’s clear that he’s at least not trying to assert his dominance anymore.

“I don’t know why I asked you to come,” Niall says with his hands over his face.

The words hit Harry like a bullet; he can feel his heart thumping like a drum in his chest and it’s like every cell in his body tightens. “I can leave if that’s what you want,”

“That’s not what I meant,” Niall groans, “I just really don’t know why I asked you back. I don’t know if I’m mad or sad or happy. I don’t know what I’m feeling. It’s weird,”

Harry knows he shouldn’t, but he finds himself starting to cry anyways. He stands abruptly from the bed and heads for the door, but he knows he’s not going to leave. He just needs to move, needs to get his body flowing again.

“Don’t leave,” Niall begs, and he sounds so damn genuine.

“I’m not… I’m not leaving. I need…” Harry starts, but he can’t finish. He doesn’t know what he wants to say. He shakes his hands around, trying to will himself to speak, as if the words will fall from the palms of his hands. He doesn’t know what he needs.

“Are you crying?” Harry looks over to Niall whose face is just pure concern and it hits him in the gut again because it wasn’t supposed to turn out this way.

“I regret everything. I regret falling in love with Ben and using that as an excuse for us to break up. I hate that I broke contact with you. I wish I never deleted you from my phone,”

“Please don’t cry,” and Niall’s almost pleading now.

“I’ve messed everything up and you’re just letting me back into your life and fuck I don’t deserve you,”

“We would’ve broken up anyways, we were growing apart…”

“Don’t try to pretend that I didn’t fuck everything up. I did! I fucked things up with you for Ben, and then I fucked things up with Ben because I wasn’t over you, and God that’s taken me two and a half years to admit to myself,” he finishes as his voice cracks.

Harry buries his face in his hands, trying to cover up something. He doesn’t know if it’s the tears or how red his face gets when he’s crying, but soon he hears the bed creak and Niall’s soft footfalls on the wooden floor and arms are pressed around him.

“This isn’t about you deserving me or anything like that, okay,” Niall says, and his voice is low and soothing. One of his hands is rubbing down Harry’s back and the other is lost in Harry’s hair and it’s like Niall never forgot how to calm Harry down, “This is about me missing you, and me seeing you, and me feeling like we still had something to say to each other,”

Niall holds on for a few moments longer before he finally pulls back.

“I’m gonna go brush my teeth,” he says, moving towards the door, “Wanna come?”

Harry shakes his head and sits back down on the bed as Niall leaves the room. He checks the clock and it’s getting late now, it’s been dark for hours and he really needs to get home. His roommates are probably worried about him and he hadn’t even told him where he was going after class let out. Not to mention it’s starting to snow and he wants to get home before it turns into some big storm and he’s left stranded on some train platform.

“I think it’s time for me to leave,” he blurts out as Niall reenters the room.

“What, why?”

“It’s late… it’s starting to snow,”

“What better reasons for you to stay,” Niall adds, rooting through his drawers for some clothes, “Listen, I don’t know where you live but this isn’t the nicest neighborhood after dark and you don’t even know the area. Just… stay the night. It’ll be fine,”

“Alright,” Harry says without much more thought, because he knows if he thinks too much then everything will get complicated in his head, and at the moment’s everything blissfully simple. He’s staying the night. Niall wants him to stay the night. That’s all he needs to know.

“That means you’ll need to brush your teeth, then,” Niall reminds him with a wiggle of his eyebrows, “The bathroom’s next to the kitchen. You can’t miss it. You might be able to find a spare toothbrush in the bottom drawer, but if you can’t mine’s the red one. Use the minty toothpaste not the cinnamon one. That’s Brez’s. He gets mad when other people use his,”

“Okay,” Harry nods, and then he’s off through a strange apartment towards the bathroom.

It’s there that he finally sees himself in the mirror. His eyes are a bit puffy, but other than that you’d never be able to tell he was crying. He looks a bit tired, too, but he reckons it’s been a long enough day. There aren’t any spare toothbrushes so Harry uses Niall’s, and it’s a bit weird, he thinks, but they used each other’s enough back in the day that it doesn’t feel gross, just familiar. He splashes some water on his face and tells himself to pull it together, shoots a text off to his roommates telling them not to wait up, and heads back to Niall.

“Oh, are you still here?” a small voice asks, and Harry turns around to see Laura walking out from the kitchen.

“Uh, yeah. It’s snowing and dark out and Niall didn’t think it’d be the best time for me to leave yet so I’m sleeping over,” Harry explains, and it feels weird now that he’s saying it out loud.

“Really? Do you need anything? A pillow, a toothbrush?”

“No! I’m good, actually. Just headin’ back to Ni’s,”

There’s a slight, sad smile on her face that Harry just can’t ignore, though, and he feels like he just gets drawn into it.

“There isn’t… anything going on between you and Niall, right?” he asks.

“God, no!” she laughs, “He’s like my kid brother! I’d never… no,”

“Oh, I was just-”

“I’m just very protective over him, is all. Not that I think you’re bad, or anything,” she adds, trying to catch herself before she says something dumb.

“No, no, it’s okay. We’re okay, though. I promise, I’d never hurt Niall,”

“I’d hope not, because then I’d have to stick Bressie on ya and he’s got really strong hands,”

Harry laughs as much as he can at the joke before returning to Niall’s room, but she said it seriously enough that Harry wonders if Bressie’s killed a man before.

Back in Niall’s room he’s plugging his phone into the wall and looking ready to really get to sleep. He lets out a big yawn when he sees Harry’s come back and asks “Find everything alright?”

“Yeah, uh, I’m all set,” Harry says, peeling off his socks and taking off his sweater. The t-shirt he has on underneath should be good enough, he thinks.

Niall’s fingers hover over the lamp’s pull chain, “Can I turn off the light?” and it clicks off right after Harry gives him a slight nod.

The bed isn’t small, certainly bigger than the one Niall had in his mom’s house, but with two people who haven’t slept on the same bed in years it’s a bit of a tight squeeze. Harry doesn’t know how close he should get to Niall, but he figures he’ll just stick to his side and if any body part goes astray then he’ll just wait for Niall to move it. He lies into the bed on his back; it’s been giving him a bit of trouble lately, actually, and sleeping on his side or stomach only makes it worse. So he falls asleep, or at least tries to, with his hands folded over his stomach like he’s lying in a casket or something. But really, it’s worse. Much much worse. Because Niall falls asleep with his back to Harry, as if the wall Harry had hoped to break down was firmly set in place.

He doesn’t know how long he stays awake because there doesn’t seem to be an alarm clock and Niall’s brought his phone over to the other side of the bed with him. Harry knows he can just look at his own phone, but he doesn’t want to wake Niall so he just lays in darkness. A prisoner in his own thoughts. He assumes that at least an hour has passed before Niall moves, turning on his side of the bed to face Harry.

It takes a while for Niall to do or say anything else, and Harry just kinda figures that Niall had moved in his sleep, until he hears a voice next to him.

“Are you awake?”

Harry considers feigning sleep for a few seconds, and he doesn’t know why he wants to. He wants to talk to Niall and touch Niall and feel Niall again, but he feels like he shouldn’t be allowed. He might do something stupid, let something slip out that totally shouldn’t, but he says something anyways.

“Yeah,”

The mattress moves next to him. He can feel Niall shifting around, but not turning back to his previous position. Niall’s not trying to keep him out anymore, and there’s suddenly a hand at the bottom of his shirt, digging under it until it’s resting safely across his stomach. Harry can feel Niall’s breath hot against his cheek, knows that if he turns his neck a quarter of an inch they’ll be face-to-face. So he does.

Niall doesn’t act quickly, never really has, but he doesn’t hold out long and soon Harry senses an intimate brush against his lips. The kisses are small and Harry gets the distinct feeling that Niall is testing the waters, like if they leave it at a few chaste pecks in the cold of winter that they can leave in the morning with their lives unchanged. Niall presses further though, nipping at Harry’s lip softly and slowly pushing forward. Making sure this is okay without really saying it. And it is okay. It is very okay.

A hand comes to rest against Harry’s jaw, and suddenly it’s at his neck and pulling him closer, and it’s all so familiar. How Niall’s fingers rest at his hairline and stroke over it soothingly, and how Niall can nudge into his mouth without even the tiniest bit of hesitation. The smooth of Niall’s skin, the prints of his fingers, the flutter of his chest have never left Harry’s memory. And as he lies there with Niall’s hands slowly moving after him, reacquainting themselves with a body they thought they had lost, Harry’s stomach does a hopeful little flip.

“I’ve missed you,” Niall says easily as he pulls away.

Harry absent-mindedly follows after the contact, but when it’s out of his grasp completely he opens his eyes to see what’s happened. The room is dark with the only light coming from a streetlamp beaming through Niall’s open blinds. There’s just enough light to make out Niall sprawled next to him, and Harry wonders if maybe that’s where Niall draws a line. Instead, Niall just starts picking at the comforter around them and moves to hover over Harry.

“Is this alright?” Niall asks. Harry can barely see his face as it’s blocked from the light from the window, but it’s not as if there is any doubt that it’s the same Niall as always.

“Yes,” Harry says back, and suddenly it’s as if there’s a renewed purpose behind Niall. Like he’s been toeing some imaginary boundary since they started and Harry’s approval has sent him over the edge. He presses in deeper, lingers a little longer, digs his hands into Harry’s side with accidental force. As if he’s afraid that if he pulls away that Harry will slip from his grasp, but Harry has no such intentions.

Instead, he starts to feel breathless. It has to be a mixture of how insistent Niall is being and his weight on Harry’s body. It’s starting to be overwhelming, but he won’t let Niall go. Harry can feel Niall under his hands, how the muscles have changed there since he got to do this last. It’s been about a year and a half since Niall last played baseball, and the change is startling. Niall’s not necessarily small, but there’s a definite difference there that Harry can’t ignore.

Suddenly, there are hands at the bottom of Harry’s shirt and he feels himself pull his arms up without even thinking about it. Like his brain’s on autopilot with the destination being whatever the hell Niall’s thinking. Niall hesitantly pulls back, as if his lips will miss the company of Harry’s if they’re separated for a few seconds, and sits back on his haunches after flinging the shirt to some corner of the room.

“Watch your knee,” Harry absentmindedly says as he reaches over to tug at Niall’s own top.

“Stop,” Niall warns suddenly as he grabs onto Harry’s wrists, leaving him confused, “I don’t need you to worry about me. I’m fine. That isn’t what this’s about,”

Harry nods as Niall reaches down to get his shirt off, tossing it somewhere that he doesn’t care to notice. Hands run over his chest, brushing over some new muscles that Harry’s pretty proud he finally gets the chance to show off. Thumbs softly find their way to lightly tease at his nipples and the gasp he tries to form is chased away by Niall slotting their mouths together again. It’s a really slow kiss that reminds Harry of nights in Niall’s bed where they were both too built-up to sleep, and they just laid there for hours kissing and touching and relishing in it all. Where they had hours to just breathe each other in because they were young and dumb and time was waiting for them. And now Harry’s aware that he no longer has the luck of time on his side, and every second Niall lips meet his again is special because for a while there he thought he’d never get the chance again. So he decides to stop thinking too much, stop making everything about the past again. Because when Niall pulls away again he realizes that it’s much too soon and he’d rather focus on his hand in Niall’s, than the memories that have all but died.

“I’ll just get you off and you get me off,” Niall says. He slides his sweatpants over the round of his ass and reaches for Harry’s pants to do the same.

“Wish you could fuck me,” Harry whines as he bucks his hips up, but he immediately quiets to a needy whimper when Niall finally gets a hand around him.

“We’ll save that,” Niall whispers as he hunches down to get closer to Harry, and there’s enough hope in his voice to keep Harry’s mind numb.

Harry reaches down blindly to grab at Niall’s cock, half-hard and plumping in his hand. He kinda feels sorry for Niall in a way, because he knows that Niall is far superior at hand jobs. It’s like Niall’s delft hands were made for fitting around a dick. He can perfectly twist on the upstroke in a way that sends Harry swimming in his head and he never forgets to give a little attention to the balls, just a peek of interest that sends Harry gasping for more. Niall just, in general, has really good hands. Harry wouldn’t call himself bad at hand jobs or anything, but he doubts he’s ever left Niall seeing the stars that he gets from Niall’s slow, easy strokes.

“You gonna come for me, hm?” Niall asks then, and Harry’s surprised to find that he really is. They haven’t been at it for long and it’s kind of embarrassing, but when he’d gotten focused on the slick of Niall’s cock in his hand and the feeling of Niall thumbing perfectly over his slit he had forgotten how close to the edge he was really getting.

Harry tries to respond but all that he gets out is a strangled moan before he’s coming into Niall’s closed fist. His hand drops, then, unable to keep going on Niall as he’s stroked through his aftershocks. Niall reaches over to wipe his hand on something that Harry can’t make out before he picks up where Harry left off on his own cock.

“No, let me,” Harry starts to say before Niall cuts him off.

“I can do it. ’S long as I can come on you,”

Harry moans out a ‘fuck’ before Niall starts striping him with his come, hitting his chest and a bit of his neck.

He can feel Niall’s eyes rake over him, taking in the sight of Harry blissfully sprawled across his sheets with a well-fucked grin taking over his face and a sheen of sweat that wasn’t there before.

“You look gorgeous,” he mumbles, as if Harry isn’t really supposed to hear it, before climbing off and going to get a washcloth. He returns with one in hand, and goes through his drawers to pull something out.

“Here, put these on,” Niall says after he hands Harry a pair of sweats and starts wiping down his chest, “Boston’s cold and heat’s expensive. Those jeans don’t look too comfortable to sleep in,”

“You always take such good care of me,” Harry replies as he kicks off his jeans and pulls the pants over his legs. They’re a bit too small but they’ll do for the night.

“You can never sleep when you’re cold,” Niall reminds him as he gets back under the covers and pulls them around them both, “And I didn’t go and tire you out for nothing,”

“I need to fall asleep on my back, though. It’s been killing me lately,”

“Okay,” Niall says as he crawls over and rests his head on Harry’s chest, Harry’s arm reflexively coming up to haul him in closer, “You’re a good pillow,”

Harry finally falls asleep with a stupid grin across his face that he doesn’t remember forming.

**

There’s a few moments of panic when Harry first wakes up that throw him through a loop. The walls are a different shade of tan and the windows are larger and the air’s colder than Tom ever lets it be in their apartment, but then there’s Niall standing by the window and everything makes sense again. It’s not bright out yet but there’s enough sun streaming through the window that the room’s hazily lit. Niall looks small shrouded against the streetlamp still shining outside, but he’s lost in his own world that Harry only wishes he could understand. He’s pulled back to reality, though, by Harry rustling the comforter up around him.

“What time is it?” Harry croaks out as Niall turns to look at him.

“Early,”

Harry’s shivering now; he had completely underestimated how cold Niall was talking about.

“Here, let me help,” Niall says as he climbs back into the bed, rubbing his hands up and down Harry’s arms.

“You’re always so warm,” Harry replies with a lazy smile as he feels sleep overtake him. There’s a nudge of a nose at his arm before he fully falls under, and he hears Niall say, “I try,” before he’s lost to sleep again.

**

Laura’s nice enough to not say anything about Harry’s sweatpants when he walks into the kitchen for breakfast. Eoghan’s not.

“Those a bit short on you?” he asks, flipping some bacon from a pan to a plate.

“Uh, I’m sorry?” Harry says back, because he’s eyes are all watery and his mind’s all bleary and he really hates mornings.

“Your pants. Don’t seem like they’re yours, hm?”

“Eoghan, stop it!” Laura yells, “My coffee tastes bitter when you start annoying people before they’re properly awake,”

“Yeah, yeah,” Eoghan mutters back, but he quits it after then and Harry sits down at the table in peace. They’re the only three in the kitchen, what with Niall in the shower and Natalia probably sick in bed and Bressie God knows where. Harry doesn’t mind Bressie being gone, though, because he’s honestly scary as shit.

“What’re you two planning to do today?” Laura asks Harry when his face finally brightens up over a mug of steaming team.

“Erm, I dunno? We haven’t really got anything planned at the moment. I’ll ask Ni when he gets out, I guess,”

Niall walks out of the bathroom then, steam following him out the door as he walks around the table. He’s dressed in a nice pair of jeans and a white t-shirt and Harry’s at least glad to see that his simple fashion taste hasn’t changed. Before scooting into the chair next to Harry, he knocks his knuckles into his back as if to say “good morning” in some language that his roommates won’t understand. Harry offers back a small smile and he feels like a giggling girl with a schoolyard crush. He kinda likes it, though.

“What’re we talking about?” Niall asks as he reaches over Harry to grab the teapot.

“How small Harry’s pants are,” Eoghan says before Laura throws a piece of toast at him, making him giggle over the stove.

Harry half-expects Niall to grow tense or quiet, instead he reaches over and tugs at the fabric by Harry’s knee, saying “Eh, I think they look good on him,” He pokes out his tongue in Harry’s direction before turning to talk to Eoghan, asking him if he had caught some game on last night that Niall had forgotten to watch.

It takes only a few more minutes for Eoghan to finish cooking their breakfast and in that time Natalia comes to join them, still wrapped in a blanket and sniffling. Bressie, though, is an obvious absence.

“Where’s Head?” Niall asks as he digs into an omelet half the size of his face.

“He left really early this morning. Like, he had his coat on ready to go when I was just leaving my room. Had his guitar so I guess he’s goin’ down the studio?” Laura replies.

“Well, he missed out on the best damn breakfast Eoghan’s ever cooked,” Niall says back, and his voice is light but Harry had gotten to know every single one of Niall’s emotions when they were together, and there’s still a hint of bitterness hidden there.

The mood picks up after that, though, and Eoghan keeps any quips he may have to himself. The breakfast is actually really good and the company is giggly and talkative with the start of the new day at their fingertips. It’s nice to remember how easy mornings with Niall are. When his laugh is deeper and his eyes go crinklier and he’s more likely to give hugs. Harry thinks it’s a damn shame that not everyone gets to see Niall in the morning, when his face is smooshed into the pillow so hard that it leaves silly lines and his hair is spouting off in any direction it wants and his mouth burns hot on your skin. Damn shame.

“Wait, shit, my phone’s ringing,” Harry says when he feels the buzz in his pocket, “Mind if I get it?”

The rest of them shake their head ‘no’ so he answers it, seeing his roommate’s name flash across the screen.

“Hi, what’s up?” he answers.

“Where are you, Harry!” she yells back into the phone, and Harry doesn’t get it.

“Um, I’m at a friend’s. I texted you that last night,”

“Yes, but I just assumed you’d be home by now considering Tom and I need to leave in like half an hour and you’re supposed to be here!”

“Fuck,” he moans before stumbling from the table and back to Niall’s room, “What are the repercussions if I’m late? Like, can you leave a bit later? I’m leaving as quickly as I can but I can’t promise I’ll get there on time,”

“Just get here quickly, alright?”

“Yeah, yeah, leaving now. See you in a bit,” he mumbles before dropping his phone and trying to find the jeans he shucked somewhere the night before.

“You’re leaving?” he hears, and Niall’s standing at the door. His face is sad and it tugs at Harry’s heart.

“Shit, I’m just fucking everything up today aren’t I?” Niall offers him a smile, “I have to go because I forgot I have to do something at home and like I need to get home right now, and trust me if I didn’t I’d want to spend all day here with you or out with you or really anything with you and you have to believe me,”

“It’s not like I think you’re running out on me,” Niall laughs as he picks Harry’s jeans off the floor and throws them at him, “Just wish you could stay, I guess,”

“Me too,” Harry mumbles as he pulls his jeans on and throws back on his gray sweater. He’s in the same clothes as he was last night, but it’s not like his roommates will care, “But, like, I have to leave,”

Harry leaves a small kiss on a shell-shocked Niall’s cheek before he goes to leave the room, and then he realizes he’s been really stupid.

“Wait, shit, just come with me?”

“Like… back to your place?”

“Yeah, my roommates won’t mind. And I’ll mind if I have to leave you again,”

“You sure?”

Harry pouts, “One-hundred fifty percent positive, actually,”

“Okay,” Niall says quickly before he’s rooting around in a drawer and pulling out a blue sweatshirt, “I’ll come with,”

They walk back into the kitchen, quick with purpose and silly with excitement.

“I’m going over’t Harry’s!” Niall calls out as they pull on their shoes by the door.

“Oh, are you?” Eoghan screams back.

“Don’t wait up!” he says finally before getting a scarf from a hook and pulling it around Harry’s neck. “It’s cold out there,”

**

“So you’ve got some new ink,” Niall notes after they’ve been on the T for a few minutes. Harry thinks it’s a bit crowded for a Saturday but he doesn’t really mind. He’s standing over Niall who had gotten a seat; Harry hadn’t been so lucky.

“Yeah. Old habits die hard, huh?”

“Liked the birds on the boobies,”

Harry laughs because he’s heard a lot of things about his chest piece, but that has yet to be one.

“Oh, yeah” Niall continues “and the butterfly monster on your belly’s a bit frightening in the dark,”

“Hey, it’s a moth! Much more manly!” Harry whines, but he laughs again anyways.

“Any more that I missed?”

“Um, I got ‘Things I Can’t’ on my right arm and ‘Things I Can’ on my left arm,”

“Any particular reason?”

“Just… felt a little overwhelmed at the time,”

Niall nods.

“Then there’s Gemma’s name in Hebrew on my shoulder. Don’t ask me… it’s just a thing,” he continues, “And, um,”

Harry tries to rake his brain and think back through his tattoo timeline, but all the ink’s bleeding together in his mind.

“Um, then there’s ‘I can’t change’ on my-”

“I know,” Niall interrupts.

“What?”

“I was there. You got it on your birthday, and I sat next to you the entire time,”

“Right,” Harry mumbles, finally remembering, “Christ, I can’t believe I forgot. That’s so shitty of me, I’m sorry,”

The train pulls to a stop then and Harry holds on to the bar above to keep himself from sliding. The woman sitting next to Niall leaves so Harry takes her spot.

“I’m… I should have remembered. And I do now!” Harry continues.

“Haz, stop. I’m not, like, mad. Those two weeks were pretty draining. It’s easy to get lost in them,”

Harry moves to rest his chin on Niall’s shoulder, “I just keep disappointing you and it sucks,”

“I don’t know,” Niall says as he runs his hand through Harry’s hair, “I’m not too disappointed that you’re sitting next to me and we’re on our way to your apartment and you look really cute in that scarf,”

He nuzzles into Niall, feeling the warmth of the sunshine spread on his back match the warmth from Niall’s hand on his cheek.

**

“Of course you live in Cambridge,” Niall laughs as they get off at Harry’s stop.

“Hey, there’s nothing wrong with Cambridge! It’s a perfectly respectable neighborhood and, like, crime’s low and stuff,”

“Have they given you your hipster badge of honor, yet?”

“No, got lost in the mail,”

Harry leads Niall through the streets of his neighborhood, and it finally feels weird to be the one that has to show Niall something about Boston. When they had first come here Harry had thought his boyfriend was a walking dictionary on all things Bostonian.

“So this is it?” Niall asks as they stop in front of Harry’s building.

“Yeah, it’s um. Let me just remind you what I said earlier. About my roommates not being normal,”

“Are they gonna be in there naked or something? Are they nudists? Druggies? Oh, God, they’re actually alive, right?”

Harry just rolls his eyes as they make it up to the door on the third floor. It’s unlocked and he yells out “I’m home!” once he and Niall finally get in.

“Thank God, Tom and I really need to get on the road…” a blond woman says as she enters the room, trying to stick an earring in her ear. She stops at the sight of Niall, perplexed by the new addition. But before she can say anything, a small toddler, clothed only in a diaper and a binky, runs screeching out of a doorway and wraps herself around Harry’s leg.

“Lux!” he cries, picking her up by her waist and flipping her upside to rest on his shoulder, “What’s my favorite girl been getting up to today?”

“Literally everything!” the woman cries exasperatedly, “I think Tom fed her Lucky Charms for breakfast again, Christ. Anyways, can you get her dressed in something before someone calls CPS on us? Also, when you’re done, maybe try getting dressed in something you didn’t wear  yesterday,”

“Yeah, sure,” he replies, walking back towards the nursery with the girl still hooked over his shoulder, “Oh, by the way, this is my friend, Niall. And Niall, this is my roommate, Lou,”

They offer little nods before Harry gets into Lux’s plush nursery. It’s blue and green with everything all sea-like, and sometimes he thinks it’s his favorite room in the apartment. He lies Lux down on the soft carpet with a small, little thud and starts looking through her drawers. She tries to distract him, babbling words through her binky about a teddy bear she’s shown him fifty million times before, but he finds clothes anyways. He manages to wrangle her squirmy little arms into a blue shirt with a panda on it, and her kicky little legs into a pair of magenta jeans that remind him of jeggings. She runs free, then, taking over the apartment as he opens the door.

Niall’s sitting on the couch alone when Harry comes back into the room, laughing a bit but not totally freaking out yet.

“So, yeah, it’s a little unconventional. But it works,” Harry shrugs.

“Well, at least they’re alive,” Niall retorts.

“You’re not mad, though, right? That we’re stuck here babysitting? She’s a cute kid and really well-behaved, even if she doesn’t look it right now. And, man, I should’ve told you but I just forgot. By the time I remembered we were already on our way. And… and I really wanted you to come,”

“This is fine! Honestly! It’ll be… fun. Probably. So how do you know these people, by the way?”

“Tom was a music professor back at Northwestern that I grew really close to when I took a Gen Ed in my junior year. We just, I don’t know, really hit it off. I met Lou, his girlfriend, a little while later and we would go to bars together. I don’t know, it sounds weird but it’s not like they’re old,”

“And how did the three of you end up here?”

“Tom moved to Boston to start teaching at MIT and Lou got a job as a stylist somewhere around here. They offered to let me move in for a fraction of the rent, and as long as I would babysit whenever they asked,”

“Not that bad of a situation, honestly. It’s a really nice apartment, really nice neighborhood, really cute kid,”

“Oh, that reminds me!” Harry says suddenly, searching out for Lux in the room and bringing her over to face Niall, “Niall, this is Miss Lux. Lux, this is Niall. He’s my friend and he’s gonna play with us today,”

“Hello, Missus Lux,” Niall laughs as he extends his hand to the child. She declines it and turns to giggle into Harry’s shoulder instead.

“Oh, don’t feel bad. Lux is just a bit shy. And, in fact, a bit tasty,” Harry jokes as he grabs Lux’s little fist and shoves it in his mouth, pretending to eat it. She laughs so hard that her binky falls out of her mouth. Harry begins to think that maybe he spends a little too much of his time with giggly blondes.

“We’re leaving now!” Lou yells as she reenters the parlor with a man following her not far behind.

“It’s a little too late to ask but can we trust him with Lux?” the man asks.

“Yes, Tom, you can trust Niall to be a very good babysitter,” Harry replies, gesturing to each with their name as to try and introduce them.

“Whatever, just make sure she eats and gets changed and takes a nap and is emotionally fulfilled and whatever else comes with being a person, alright?” Lou demands as she scoops Lux up in her arms and covers her face with kisses, “And, young man, when we get back we are talking about this,” she adds, pointing to Niall.

Harry just walks over to take Lux from her arms, gives her a peck on the cheek, and then the couple is gone through the door.

“You should listen to Lou,” Niall says suddenly, “Get changed, ya weirdo. Been wearing the same thing as yesterday. God, while you’re at it, take a shower. Still all sweaty from last night…”

“Niall, there’s a child here, Christ. Anyways, I don’t think that’s such a good idea. I mean, you’ve just met her and she’s just met you and…”

“You’ll be literally right through that door,” Niall reminds him, “And I think she seems to be doing pretty well on her own.

Lux sits on the carpet running a car over the floor as they talk, oblivious to the fact that they’re talking about her.

Niall continues, “She doesn’t even need me. I’ll just make sure she doesn’t choke or fall out of a window or something. And if something does go wrong I know where to find you. You told Tom that you trusted me, so do you?”

“Yeah, okay,” Harry smiles, “Lux, I’m going into the bathroom to take a shower!”

She doesn’t respond to him and Niall cocks his head to say ‘I told you so’. Harry figures he could probably go, then.

The shower is nice after the events of the past 24 hours. It gives him a moment of peace to clear his head and the soap scrubs off whatever remnants of Niall’s cum may remain on his stomach. He realizes that he probably should’ve washed earlier, yeah. The little tiled space is his only place to go where nothing’s expected of him and nothing’s changed and no one’s relying on him. He wants change, craves it even, but at times it’s nice to return to your bath where your soap still smells like ocean breeze and there’s still a bin of child’s toys suction-cupped to the wall.

Harry doesn’t stay in there long, though. He trusts Niall, sure, but he doesn’t want Lux to get too freaked out either. It feels nice to slip into new clothes again; just a new pair of jeans nearly identical to his last and a plain, white shirt. And it’s also great to brush your teeth with your own toothbrush, and damn does he need it. He rushes, though, for no reason, because as soon as he steps back out into the room he’s hit with a sight so cute it does something to his stomach.

Niall’s lying on the ground with one arm supporting his head and the other raised in the air like a road for Lux as she passes her toy car over it. She seems focused on Niall, wheeling the car over his arm and onto his stomach and up and down his leg, eventually reaching his face where she forgets to tread lightly. Niall growls out in pain, only making her laugh and drive the car over his face harder. He grabs her, then, sits up and pulls her into his lap, tickling her until she lets the car drop from her hand.

“That’s what we get, Miss Lux, when we drive over someone’s face!”

Lux returns a blissed smile at him, still recovering from the giggles. She pulls at Niall’s hand until he gets the idea and continues to tickle her. Her laugh radiates through the room, echoing off of the corners and getting lost in the curtains. For a while there it had been Harry’s favorite sound, but now it seems to have some competition.

He decides that maybe they actually are okay without him, so he ducks back into the bathroom and starts to brush his teeth. Harry would’ve just used Niall’s at his apartment again but he had to get out of there so quickly that it got forgotten. It’s nice to feel totally fresh again, clean and hygienic and ready to finally start the new day. He’s just beginning to fully relax when he hears Lux’s scream through the door. It could be her just fooling around, but he stops brushing his teeth anyways to wait for anything else she may yell out. Then he hears Niall yelling his name and the toothbrush has dropped to the sink and his feet are out the bathroom door before he even properly processes what is happening.

“What, what’s the matter?” he sputters as Lux screeches again and launches herself at his legs, tears streaking her frantic face. He’s so confused that he hasn’t even registered the foam around his mouth, still left over from his toothpaste, “Ni, why are you both freaking out?”

“That!” he yells, standing perfectly still in the center of the room.

Harry picks Lux up and settles her on his hip, willing her to calm down by patting her back. He squints to where Niall is pointing and sees nothing, until he spots a scurry of legs that sends Niall shuffling back a few steps.

Oh my God, Niall, it’s just a centipede!” Harry whines, giving Niall one of his ‘don’t be dumb’ looks. It passes by Niall unseen, though, because he’s too preoccupied with staring the insect down. Like if he turns away it will crawl up his pant leg and give him a radioactive bite and turn him into Centipede Man.

Just a centipede, Harry? Is just really an adjective you can use to describe something with a million legs,” Niall says, and then his voice rises as he begins to yell at the bug, “I hate you! Go away!”

“I think it’s closer to thirty legs, actually,”

“Whatever the number, I hate it with every fiber of my being and I think little Lux agrees with me,”

Harry takes the moment to check on Lux, seeing her still upset but calmed slightly by the safety of his arms.

“Just kill it already!” he yells at Niall.

“Nu uh, no way. I do not do bugs. I do many things: I do baseball, I do lookin’ cute, I do guitar, I do eating. I do not do bugs,” and then as if the bug hasn’t suffered enough abuse, he starts yelling again, “You’re an alien! No one likes you!”

“You’re kidding?”

“Think about it, Curly. Have you ever seen me kill a bug? Literally ever?”

He thinks about it for a second, and he’s sure he remembers Niall stomping on something in his dorm room once. Wait, no that was a dust bunny. He must have at some point, though, because he’s never remembered Niall being this freaked out by a creepy crawly before. But his thoughts are yet again interrupted by Niall squealing and jumping onto the sofa as the bug runs under a pillow that is three feet away from him. As if his obnoxious yelling isn’t enough, it sets Lux off again and her crying starts up at full force.

“For Christ’s sake, hold the kid, you big baby,” Harry complains as he shoves Lux into Niall’s arm, “Don’t know which one of you is more the child,”

Niall sticks his tongue out in return, as if that helps his case, and Harry grabs a newspaper sitting on the coffee table to roll it up. He moves to the centipede’s pillow hiding spot and removes it quickly, the ugly bug still cowering there and paralyzed in fear.

“Aw, Ni, do we really have to kill it? It’s kinda cute in a way. I feel bad,” Harry says.

“Haz, I swear to God if you do not kill that monstrosity in ten seconds I am running out that front door and taking Lux with me and I don’t know where the hell we’ll go but Lux is barefoot and do you really want this poor child out on the mean streets of Boston without any sockies on?”

Lux looks just as distressed as Niall does at her choices, and she’s grabbing onto the front of Niall’s shirt like it’s her life force, so Harry swallows his guilt and smushes the centipede into the carpet. The duo on the couch refuse to get down until Harry has successfully removed it with a tissue and cleaned any remaining guts from the floor.

“My hero,” Niall coos as he comes up behind Harry and wraps his arm around his waist.

“What would you two do without me?”

“Dunno, probably be eaten by moths or something. Like the one on your belly,” and Niall moves to poke the spot where Harry’s gotten the tattoo done.

“He’s a vegetarian, I think,” Harry laughs.

“Well, good,” Niall replies as he presses a kiss into Harry’s back, “because I have a feeling I’m going to be seeing a lot more of him,”

**

The rest of the afternoon passes in a blur of The Wiggles and finger paint and Spaghetti-o’s for lunch. Harry had been afraid that Lux would be awkward around Niall; instead they seem to hit it off like old pals. He thinks it’s probably their shared interest in sugary treats, getting messy, and making Harry laugh. Not to mention their inability to grow tired, even after the fifth round of Duck Duck Goose and the (God, he’s lost count) edition of Airplane. When eventually Lux does get sleepy, Harry thanks his lucky stars.

“Lux, are we ready for a nap?” Harry asks.

“No!” she yells, tears leaking from her eyes as she tries to struggle against Harry’s arms.

“Come on, you’re tired!”

“No!” and she’s shrieking now.

“Does Tom have a guitar?” Niall asks suddenly.

“What? Yes, Ni. Why are you asking right now?”

“Because the idea of getting a kid to sleep with a lullaby is ludicrous,” and his tone is just dripping with fucking duh.

“Oh… right. It’s in their bedroom on a stand. You can’t miss it,” Harry replies, Lux doesn’t seem to be listening. She’s too wrapped up in her battle against naps.  

Niall returns with the guitar in hand sits back on the opposite chair, playing around the strings.

“Niall wants to play a song for us, Lux. Do you think he can do that?” Harry asks.

She nods her head as she sucks her thumb into her mouth. Harry doesn’t think she’ll last long.

“Ok, here we go,” Niall says as he starts with the first few tabs. Harry recognizes it immediately.

            They didn’t have you where I come from,
            Never knew the best was yet to come,
            Life began when I saw your face,
            And I hear your laugh like a serenade

Harry doesn’t know when it became their thing. He suspects it started when it was one of the songs that Niall sent to him so long ago. Niall said one of the guys on the team had been listening to country a bunch and it was the one that was always stuck in his head. Still, there’s a slight croak in Niall’s voice as he sings out the chorus.

             How long do you wanna be loved?
             Is forever enough?
Is forever enough?

It brings back memories that Harry hasn’t thought about in years. Sunsets wrapped in blankets by the South Carolina beach, cold nights around Christmas when they went to visit Zayn in New York, the videos Niall would send him that are still saved on some thumb drive, tucked away in a drawer of his desk. He can’t bring himself to throw it away, and now he’s grateful.

Lux’s passed out by the time Niall finishes the first chorus, but Niall won’t stop playing and Harry won’t move so they sit there. Harry starts getting cramps in his arms from holding Lux so he brings her up to his shoulder where she can rest a little easier, pressing his cheek to hers and humming along. It’s not as if the words have left his mind, not after all this time, but they’re Niall’s words, and they always have been. He allows himself one line.

            Tomorrow there’ll be so much to do,
            So tonight I’ll drift in a dream with you

**

“You played dirty,” Harry whines as he falls onto the sofa next to Niall. Lux is peacefully asleep in her nursery and it’s the quietest the apartment’s been all day.

“You liked my song, then?” Niall smirks, “It’s the only one I could think of, honest,”

Harry rests his cheek against Niall’s shoulder, “Made me miss you,”

“I was sitting right there,”

“Still,”

Niall moves to sit across Harry’s lap, knees on either side of his waist, “This better?”

“Yeah,” Harry giggles before Niall silences him by fitting their mouths together.

Kissing Niall is easy and Harry’s hardly forgotten it. His lips are pliant are soft and his tongue is a roving force in an otherwise lazy kiss. He responds effortlessly to anything Harry does, like shivering when Harry strokes over his thigh or groaning when Harry bites his lip. There’s no mystery involved and that’s fun, knowing that Niall’s having a good time and he’s gonna make sure you know it.

“Like your mouth,” Niall notes as he sweeps his thumb across Harry’s bottom lip, making it raise into a smile.

“Well then why’d you pull away?” Harry asks.

“’Cause I like your neck too,” he responds before moving to latch onto the side of Harry’s neck, sucking a bruise into the skin. It’s been a long time since Harry’s been lit up like this.

“And I like your collarbones,” he continues, tilting Harry’s head up with his thumb so that he can easily run his tongue the bones sheltering the two birds.

“And your shoulders,” He drags the collar of Harry’s shirt over so that he can nip there, a twinge of pain that resonates through his body and leaves a ringing in his ears.

Niall,” Harry whimpers, voice broken, into the soft of Niall’s sweatshirt. The smell of clean linen lingers and it brings back memories of making out in dorm laundry rooms at three o’clock in the morning.

Niall doesn’t listen, just sweeps his fingers across Harry’s cheek, “I like when you smile and you get a dimple right there,” he pokes, “Or when you go out in the sun too long and your nose turns red. And when your eyes get greener after you’ve been awake for too long. How your hair curls around my finger,”

“Are you making sure everything’s still there?” Harry asks, “Were you afraid I had lost everything?”

“No,” Niall says quickly and with resolution, “just thought I had,”

He shoves the words that Harry wants to say back into his mouth, hands coming up to wrap around Harry’s neck. It’s a bit unfair, Harry thinks, for Niall to place these thoughts in his head and not give him time to talk them out. But then Niall’s hands start working along his chest and every thought he’s ever had about anything else is chased from his mind.

**

Lou and Tom arrive home at six, holding bags of carryout that Harry’s never been happier to see in his life. After Lux had woken up the day took a turn for the lazy. The three of them mostly crawled around, occasionally playing with the random doll or puzzle, but eventually they found their way onto the couch in front of a movie. Niall’s cuddled into Harry and Lux is heavy in his arms, all quiet under a blanket and enthused by the princess movie playing out in front of them.

“Isn’t anyone going to say hi?” Lou finally says as they walk through the door, after no one turns to greet them.

“Welcome back,” Harry offers, while Niall just gives a small wave. Lux barely blinks.

“Harry, kitchen, now. You’re helping me set up dinner,” Lou demands as Tom retreats back to their bedroom to get changed.

“How was Lux today?” she asks as she starts to reheat the Thai food in the microwave.

“She was fine, honestly. A little bit rowdy but she quieted down after her nap. She and Niall are best pals now. She calls him ‘Ni’ and he calls her ‘Ducky’ – I don’t know why – but she even shared her goldfish with him today. Fed them to him right in his mouth,”

Lou pauses, “Weird, she never does that,”

“Tell me about it,”

“About Niall,” she continues, Harry groans, “Who the hell is he? And don’t you dare say a friend because I’ve never seen you forget that you were babysitting for a ‘friend’ before,”

“Ok,” Harry starts, pulling out a chair and taking a deep breath, “it’s complicated. I met Niall when I first moved to Michigan. He was a minor league baseball player and I was… head over heels in love with him. We eventually got together, and it was hard because he always had to go away to games but we made it work? And like he introduced me to his family in Boston and overall it was just the best summer of my life. Even when I went to school four hours away we still managed to stay together and be happy. He got a spot on the Toronto Blue Jays and that made it a bit harder, but still we made it work. One time I even got to go on vacation with him to the beach during the middle of the season because he had, like, five straight days off. Then… it just stopped working,”

“Just stopped working, eh?” she asks.

“I met someone,”

“Oh,” The look she gives him is one he has gotten on a few occasions, the one that seems to accuse of him everything all with the curl of a lip.

“Yeah, oh. His name was Ben and he was a professor at Northwestern, now mind you not my professor. But still. After Christmas Niall and I just became more distant. I don’t know, we stopped talking as much and whenever we had problems we just would ignore them. It was horrible. I feel like we were always mad or sad or annoyed at the other, and no one said anything. My birthday came around and it was perfect, honestly. It was a Sunday so I didn’t have class and Niall had been staying with me for the weekend. We went out to dinner, went shopping, I got a tattoo. Everything should’ve been perfect, but it wasn’t. It all felt wrong and forced and like we were just trying to make it work because we didn’t know anything else. I talked to Ben about it and I realized he had feelings for me too, and that was it. That was the last straw. I knew that if I broke up with Niall, there was still a life waiting for me. So, like, three days before Valentine’s Day I called it quits. Ben and I broke up four months later, not even. We didn’t even last four months. He went back to his wife, I escaped to Portland. It was a big ol’ mess and I didn’t even want to believe it,”

“Christ, Harry,”

“Then… yesterday I walked into a café downtown and there Niall was. As if nothing had changed. We talked, it was awkward, I was sad, he was angry. We hadn’t talked in, God, three years. But he still invited me back to his and… I don’t know what happened but we haven’t left each other’s sides since,”

“Why isn’t he playing ball anymore?” she asks.

“Knee. Dislocated it the year after we broke up. It was June, I was in the middle of finals. I tried to come to him, he didn’t want me there. Never healed quite right. Still hurts him now, I think, but he’s too stubborn to admit to it,” Harry explains, and it hurts him to do so. Hates to explain in words how Niall’s life has been fucked over by no one but his body. And maybe Harry.

“And you’re happy with Niall back?”

“I saw him yesterday at, like, 2:30 in the afternoon, and ever since I’ve been feeling like the worst thing that could happen to me would be for Niall to leave again. I don’t feel like I did back in February of my sophomore year. I don’t feel suffocated or lost. I feel like I did when we first got together. I feel light and carefree and just fucking happy. That’s worth something, right?”

Lou stops dealing the food out on the plates for a moment, lips pursing in thought.

“The times I really know I’m in love with Tom are when he’s gone and I still feel all warm and bubbly just because he’ll be there when I get home and he’ll be excited to hear about my day and he’ll give me hugs and kisses until I feel electricity all over my skin. Not that my happiness depends on him but because he just fills in the holes in my world,”

“What are you trying to say?” Harry asks, because he needs reassurance that what he’s doing is the right thing more than anything. Especially from her, a woman who’s simultaneously his best friend and a fill-in mother.

“Don’t make it like a thing where you’re only happy when he’s giving you compliments or leaving those,” she pokes at the hickey on his neck, “on you. Be happy when he calls you from work to tell you he’ll be late to dinner but he hopes your day has been wonderful. Relish in when he picks the gray scarf to wear to work over the red one, only because it still smells like you. Or when you’re both riding the T late at night and you’re both too tired to talk, but the fact that it’s Niall whose head is on your shoulder and whose hand you’re holding is enough to make the train seem less cold and less stinky and overall less terrible,”

“That sounds an awful lot like keeping your happiness dependent on him,” Harry quips. Lou merely shakes her head.

“Find the balance,” she says before leaving the kitchen with the tray of food.

**

The night ends when Lux – finally – falls asleep. They all eat dinner in the living room, finishing the first princess movie and moving on to the straight-to-DVD sequel. Lou curls into Tom and Harry folds around Niall, as if both couples have been married for years. Lux happens to be the awkward fifth-wheel, but she just doesn’t seem to mind.

“I’ve been trying to avoid this,” Harry whispers into Niall’s shoulder as Tom whisks Lux from her spot on the sofa and carries her back to her room, “but, um, I’m in law school and I need to study. A lot,”

“Are you kicking me out?” Niall asks, and he frowns but there’s hope behind his eyes.

“Well, like, I don’t really want you to. But you’ll just have to sit here by yourself while I read boring textbooks if you stay,”

“But you want me to stay? If I stayed you’d be happy?”

Happy. “Yeah, I would be,”

**

Harry didn’t consider how hard it would be to study copyright laws with Niall in his room, though. It’s not like Niall keeps on trying to talk to him. If anything, that’d make it easier. Harry could just tell him to shut the hell up. No, it’s barely even Niall’s fault that he’s so distracting. It’s not Niall’s fault that his cologne is stuck in Harry’s mind like a pop song, or that the soft drumming of his fingers against his phone screen is sounding like a chant in Harry’s ears. It’s his own damn fault, really, to delude himself into thinking he could care about court cases when (a very patient) Niall is lying feet away on his bed. He doesn’t stay patient for long, though.

The creak of Harry’s mattress is so quiet he almost misses it, but then Niall’s feet are sliding along the wooden floor and there are arms around his shoulders before he can protest.

“How’s the studying going?” Niall whispers in Harry’s ear, his breath hot and inviting.

“I’ve been reading the same paragraph for the last five minutes. I’m a bit distracted,” Harry replies, turning to look up at Niall.

“Oh yeah? Distracted by what?”

“You,”

“Mm, really?” Niall says softly before tilting his head to nibble on Harry’s ear.

“Wanna suck you off, actually,” Harry groans, because there’s no use beating around the bush now.

Niall starts working the hand that rests over Harry’s chest down his body, bunching up his t-shirt at the end and plunging below the waistband of his jeans. “It make you hard?” Harry whimpers as Niall passes over his cock, already half-hard and straining his tight jeans. Niall works his hand up and down Harry’s shaft, torturously slow, and twists when he gets to end. It’s just enough to  get his heart beating faster and get him desperate enough to stop overthinking.

“You really wanna blow me?” Niall asks Harry, his voice all low and dripping with confidence.

He hisses out a yes and can hear Niall back away and sit back on the bed behind him.

“I’m not gonna say no,”

Harry turns in his seat and sees Niall with his legs spread on his bed, the line of his cock against his jeans just a promise. It’d probably be mean to deny him any longer, so he gingerly walks over and kneels on the ground.

Niall pulls Harry’s head towards him, slotting their mouths together before he pulls back again, cupping at Harry’s chin.

“I really like your mouth,” he smirks, and then Harry’s giggling and unbuckling Niall’s belt. Once it’s off, he undoes the button and pulls down the zipper and Niall’s bulge is there, waiting for the warmth of Harry’s mouth. He starts rubbing over it quickly, half a tease and half to just get it up more.

“Thank you” Harry murmurs into the soft hairs of Niall’s belly. Niall just pushes back Harry’s hair to goad him into moving. He takes the hint and quickly releases Niall’s dick from the constraints of his boxers and pulls his mouth over it in a temptingly slow manner.

Niall gives hand jobs well but he takes blowjobs even better. As Harry works his lips and tongue expertly over his cock, Niall lets out a low, stifled grumble and places his hand firmly on the back of Harry’s head, coaxing it a little lower. It’s not really a thing they’ve ever done, making him choke on a dick, but the little huff of breath that escapes from Niall’s mouth is enough to make him keep going. Niall’s hand lets up, telling Harry that he doesn’t need to. He continues down further, anyways, feeling the head of Niall’s dick hitting further back on his throat until tears gather at his eyes and he’s forced to resurface for air.

“You don’t have to do that,” Niall says, wiping at Harry’s eyes with a gentle thumb, but there’s hesitancy in his voice that betrays that Niall wishes he’d never stop.

“Want to really bad, though,” Harry gasps, and he goes back to enclose Niall’s dick again. It’s like a weight’s lifted off of him when a hand finds its way back his head and pushes it down further. Like he’s not some fucking weirdo to want to choke himself on a cock. The twinge in his jaw is a perfect offset to the comforting pressure of the dick on his tongue, and it sweeps Harry’s mind off to where he can try and suppress his gag reflex, if only so he can feel the jolt through his body he gets when Niall’s cock nudges deeper and deeper into his mouth.

It’s amazing. He’s feeling euphoric from it, but he doesn’t think that’s the way it’s coming across because Niall’s hand is going loose in his hair. Maybe it’s the crying, he thinks, it’s probably the crying. But he’s on edge, it’s amazing and not enough all at the same time, and only Niall can take it the last step. Only if he wants to, though.  Either way, Harry pulls his hand around to settle at the round of Niall’s ass and pulls him forward, hoping that Niall will get the hint. He does.

His cock slides easily into Harry’s mouth, and the thrust of it sends shockwaves through Harry’s entire system. His hands slip from their resting place on Niall’s thighs, he feels like he’s losing control, but in a way he treasures. Niall’s there to catch him, hold his head up and fuck into Harry’s mouth with controlled drives. He could push further, but there’s still a tremble in Niall’s hand that tells him that though they both want this it’s a bit too much to go all out on their first try. Harry’s secretly happy for it, though, because the way Niall still looks after him is as much of a turn on for him as anything.

Too soon, though, Niall pulls himself all the way out as Harry collapses across his lap. They’re both breathing hard and Niall’s got a mean grip at the base of his cock.

“Nothing’s wrong,” Harry whines. He wants more, needs more.

“I was gonna come,” Niall says, his hand still tight over his own cock and his face all screwed up.

“Well, yeah, that’s the point, big boy,” Harry chides and Niall hits his shoulder lightly.

“Rather come in you,” he grits out, and then obviously he’s managed up some self-control because he lets go of himself and his face relaxes.

“Yeah?”

“Yeah,”

Harry removes himself from lying across Niall and grabs at the hem of Niall’s shirt, removing it when he compliantly lifts his arms.

“You sure you okay, Haz?” Niall asks and his voice is all low and soft again.

“Why… are you asking,” he answers. His voice is a little shot and weak, still.

“Well, for one you’re still crying,”

“Am I?” he asks, reaching up to his eye and still finding a few tears are leaking out, “Oh, yeah, I am,”

“C’mere,” Niall says, moving up the bed to Harry’s headboard and opening up his arms for him to crawl into.

“I’m okay, honest. It was just a little overwhelming but in, like, a good way,” Harry continues, and he can feel himself starting to calm down again, but his cock’s still aching.

“We’re good though? We can go on? If you say no I’m not gonna be mad…”

“I’m the one who’s gonna be mad if you don’t get yourself out of those jeans and start fingering me,”

“Christ, you can’t just say that…” Niall whispers, but Harry doesn’t listen as he’s leaning under his bed to find the box where he keeps his lube. There’s rustling behind him and he can tell that Niall’s jeans are probably off now, and then there’s a finger trailing down his back that reminds him that he’s still fully-clothed. It clouds his mind for a second, makes him forget where the hell he’s put that god damn lube, but then his fingers close around the bottle and he breathes out a thank God that he prays Niall can’t hear.

“Gonna need you out of these jeans,” Niall says, slipping his fingers through the belt loops of Harry’s jeans and taking his boxers down with them, “And the shirt wouldn’t hurt, either,”

Harry pulls that off too, and then presses his smile into the side of Niall’s cheek. He’s not sure if it still counts as a kiss if he doesn’t pucker his lips, but he also doesn’t care.

“Here,” Niall says, leaning on his back against the headboard, “Come on up here,”

Harry crawls up the bed and moves to straddle Niall’s waist, cocking his head in confusion.

“I… I’ll just finger you on top of me, yeah? Just lie down on me and I’ll open you up,” Harry nods and gets himself comfortable across Niall’s body, opening his legs wider to gives Niall room and resting his head in the crook of Niall’s neck.

He hears the bottle of lube being opened and then feels an accidental drop of it on his back, groaning when Niall’s first finger is pushed in.

“Forgot how good you feel,” Niall adds and Harry just huffs against his neck because he’s can’t really be expected to form words when Niall’s got one finger in him and another teasing to join.

Harry just lies there and takes what Niall gives him, groaning softly whenever he hits the perfect spot. It’s nice, he thinks, to just lay his head on Niall’s shoulder and kiss him softly whenever he feels like it. As another finger edges its way inside of him, he starts to get a full feeling that has eluded him for what seems like ages now, and he hasn’t realized how much he craves it.

“You think you’re ready? Need one more finger?” Niall asks, and his voice is soft like he’s afraid of scaring Harry.

“No, no, I’m good,” Harry responds, panting and quick because Niall’s three fingers seem to be pushing the breath out of him with every thrust.

“I need to get up and get a condom, yeah?”

Harry nods and lets Niall out from under him. He can hear Niall rut through his things on the floor, finally finding a condom in the pocket of his jeans. Harry’s thankful he’s got one because he doesn’t think he could find his own stash in his state of mind.

“You look so gorgeous, Christ,” Niall mutters as he slips the condom on and slicks himself up with lube “On your hands and knees fine?”

“Yeah,” Harry says as he moves from his spot on the bed to kneel in front of Niall.

“We good?” Niall leans forward and asks, his hand rubbing circles on Harry’s back, “You sound…”

“Desperate? ‘Cause I’m desperate, yeah. Need you inside me,”

“Fucking hell,” Niall says, slowly lining himself up with Harry’s hole and pushing in.

Harry’s missed the stretch. He hasn’t really been with anyone, not like this, since he came to Boston, and that’s been quite a long time. He’s missed the full feeling and the drag on his rim from Niall slowly going in and out. Niall’s just trying to get him loosened up, make sure he’s really ready for it, but Harry gets impatient easily.

“More,” he moans.

Niall doesn’t answer back, just picks up the pace until he’s found the spot that sends Harry weak. It doesn’t take long, and Harry wonders if maybe Niall still has his body memorized like a map.

“You’re so tight,” Niall whines, and that in addition to the way his hands are pulling his cheeks apart, obviously to give Niall a better view, make a hot flush spread over Harry’s skin. He feels like he should be embarrassed, too, with the way he’s chanting Niall’s name over and over again in a voice that sounds like it’s been through hell and back. But his name is soft on Harry’s lips and it’s just another reminder that Niall’s here. Niall’s still there.

The sounds they’re making are obscene, and Harry knows it, but it just pushes him closer to the edge. The smack of skin against skin, his own panting, Niall’s soft groans that he tries to stifle for the sake of whoever’s not yet asleep in the apartment. And he just wishes that maybe they had picked a different position, that maybe they could’ve been facing each other so that Harry could see if Niall still pulls his lips together when he really gets into it and if the memories of glazed over, blue eyes still hold true.

“More,” Harry pleads again, and he knows that Niall can’t go any faster without hurting him, but he does reach a hand around and start stroking Harry’s dick again. Hard and fast, at the pace that Niall’s already set. It makes him come faster than he expects, almost without warning, into the slide of Niall’s grip. He’s grateful for Niall’s hand that still rests at his hip, holding him up as his arms collapse underneath him. Niall slows both his hand and his thrusts, stroking Harry cautiously through his orgasm. His lips find a way to the knobs of Harry’s back and start working at relaxing the muscles there. When he’s finally done, when his arms have solidified and his heart rate’s eased back to just short of overwhelming, Harry can feel Niall’s hand return to their spots on his waist. The thrusts quicken and turn harder again, and he can tell Niall’s close.

It’s in the way Niall’s fingers press angry marks into his skin and how the rhythm’s been lost. It’s in the way his knees are getting shakier on the bed and his breath is getting shorter. But most importantly, it’s in the way he can’t stop talking.

“Christ, you’re gorgeous,” he repeats, “All fucked out and still taking me so well. You’re amazing, you know that? Still feel so hot and tight around me. Keep on telling you how much I like your mouth but I never mention your ass. What a pretty little ass you have, always so eager for my cock,”

Niall takes a moment to catch his breath then, and Harry’s happy for it because the things that he is saying are threatening to get him hard again and he doesn’t think he has the stamina for another round so quickly.

“I’ve missed your ass, you open up for me so well and take everything I give you. Always ready for more. And the sounds you make, Christ the sounds. Like you’re so fucking desperate that you’ll tear your throat apart just for me,”

He comes then, seemingly sent over the edge by his own words. It takes all Harry’s got to support himself while Niall works through his aftershocks, but after he’s completely pulled out and has started to dispose of the condom, Harry just collapses on the bed in a haze of post-fucked wonder.

“You were so hot,” Niall gasps out as he flops next to Harry on the bed.

“Thank you,” Harry says back as he offers a smile, “’S not like I was complaining or anything,”

“I just showered you with the greatest fucking compliments known to man and that’s all you have to say?”

“How about this: you just turned my world upside-down and now all I want to do is sleep so I can relive it in my dreams,”

Niall’s grin mirrors Harry’s as he kicks the comforter off the bed “It’s pretty gross we’ll just sleep under the sheets”. It’s quiet then, everyone finally lulling to sleep in the stuffy apartment, and Harry doesn’t even know what time it is. But when he scoops his arms around Niall’s middle he doesn’t care. He doesn’t care that he’s lost sleep this weekend or that he didn’t get all his reading done yet or that his ass is gonna hurt just as much as his back does when he wakes up from sleeping on his side in the morning. Doesn’t care that Tom and Lou probably heard them or that Brezzie for sure hates him now or that his life has done a complete 180 from what it looked like days before. Niall’s there now; Niall’s in his arms and Niall’s in his future. He’s cemented his spot, and when Harry grips a little tighter and presses a kiss to Niall’s hairline, it’s both a “good night” and a “don’t leave” that he whispers into the soft skin there.

**

Harry wakes up and he can tell it’s early and his nose tickles a little from Niall’s hair and his arm’s dead because Niall’s lying on it, but the only thing that truly annoys him is that Niall isn’t awake too.

“Hey,” he says softly, nudging Niall’s cheek with his nose.

“What time is it?” Niall groans and he’s really barely awake, Harry feels kinda bad.

“Early,”

“That’s my least favorite time. Whassa matter?”

“I haven’t kissed you since last night,” and even Harry blushes at how fucking cheesy that sounds, but he does miss Niall’s lips so…

It takes a few moments for Niall to react, but then he’s sloppily rubbing over his eyes with the back of his hand and turning over to face Harry.

“Well, since I’m awake you might as well make it worth my trouble,”

Niall’s cockiness does something to Harry, like makes him want to shut him up with a tongue down his throat. So he does precisely that; just grabs Niall hard by the scruff of his neck and tilts him into the kiss he wants. And Niall is tired and lazy and willing to roll with whatever Harry wants. Leaning into the warmth of Harry’s hand when it comes to rest on his cheek and wrapping his leg around Harry’s so that they’re essentially tangled. He only breaks off the kiss to breathe, then starts to move further down his body, settling over the birds on his chest and grazing his teeth over them sharply.

Niall’s always liked his tattoos, even the ones that look odd now or seem silly and insignificant. It’s probably because he knows that every little dot of ink means something to Harry, or at least did at one point, but Harry still remembers something Niall whispered to him, nearly inaudibly one November night when his season was finally over. He was drunk and horny and he and Harry were pressed together on the sofa of Niall’s Toronto apartment, but the words have never left Harry’s mind.

“Whenever I touch your tattoos I expect them to, like, pop out of your skin. Like, they should be raised or something,” he had said, “But then I run over them and they’re smooth, like a continuation of your body. Like you were born with words across your skin that planned out who you were going to be before they even stuck a name on ya. Each time you get a new one I just get a new part of you to love,”

And then Niall had stuck his hand down Harry’s pants and both of them got a wicked hand job by the end of the night, but Harry remembers Niall’s words over the feeling of a strong palm pressed to the tip of his cock.

Niall soon tires of worshipping Harry’s body, so he lets his head fall into the warmth of Harry’s neck where he can press soft pecks to the thrumming pulse and rest his head on the pillow at the same time. He’s a lazy asshole sometimes, but Harry can’t help but to be endeared by it. Sometimes it can be a pain, but other times, like today, it can give Harry a second to collect his thoughts and push some things he needs to say into the air.

“D’you have to go to work today?” he asks, though he knows what he wants the answer to be.

“I, um-” Niall starts, and then he’s pulling out of Harry’s embrace and dancing a finger over the line of his arm, “I was supposed to but, like, last night I texted one of my coworkers and he agreed to cover my shift,”

“Wait, really?”

“Yeah… I just… didn’t want to stop spending time with you yet,”

“I appreciate that, you know,”

“Yeah, figured. Stupid way of showing it, though, waking me up at shitting six in the morning or whatever on the one day a week I would otherwise get to sleep in,”

“Dunno, seemed silly to waste time with you,”

“I know; I like that about you. Would rather wake me up and have me be cranky than let me sleep and be alone. Sounds like a thing I wouldn’t like, and trust me I know it, but I still do,” Niall adds, pressing a small kiss to Harry’s cheek.

“I like when you talk to me,” Harry says, then hums when Niall brushes a hand across the hair on his forehead, “When you tell me about your day or how good I look or anything, really. Sometimes you’re yelling at a game on the TV and sometimes you’re whispering my name when you think I’ve gone to sleep already. Just like your voice,”

Niall pulls Harry a little closer, settling him against his chest and ducking their heads together but not saying anything. Harry wants to call him an asshole for staying silent immediately after he was just told how much him talking means to him, but his thoughts are interrupted by Niall speaking.

“Last night, I know you saw me standing by my window. I didn’t mean to leave you all alone in my bed, I just needed to think about things. Because that night was… a lot. I knew that I still had some decisions to make, like if I really wanted to I could sneak out to the sofa and sleep there and have it be clear that I didn’t really want to do that again,” the words sting but Harry doesn’t think Niall intends them to.

“But you came back,” Harry whispers.

“I came back to bed,” Niall agrees, “The more I thought about it the more I realized that you in my bed, snoring softly and all mine, was the only thing I wanted. When I heard you shuffling under my covers I was worried that you would think I had regretted it or something, so I just jumped back in. As I settled against your chest I felt like I never wanted you to slip out from under me. But was it a bit stupid or premature of me, to just assume that was what we would do? Just… get back together,”

“Should we really be having this conversation right now?”

“I don’t see why not. We can’t make the same mistakes as last time. We can’t put off uncomfortable conversations until we’re bursting with the words we want to say,”

“You’re right,” Harry concedes and then snuggles impossibly closer, because if they’re going to talk about it he’s going to get comfy.

“I just” Niall continues “in the beginning of our relationship I was always waiting for it to end. Not like wanting it to or feeling like it should, but it felt inevitable. Because we were young and we had everything working against us. Then slowly I realized that, like, we were trying really hard and nothing was wrong and that maybe we could have really gone the long run? So when we broke up, it took a while but one day it just hit me like a ton of bricks. Because I had grown accustomed to you… to us. Every time I thought of my future you were always there. Not like… not like we were married or something like that because I don’t want to freak you out. You were just so into my present that I forgot what it was like without you,”

Niall stops talking to gather his thoughts and suck in a heavy breath before continuing.

“Now that you’re back, now that you are actually, like, a thing that is happening again, I don’t want to rush back into it. I don’t want to start building my future around you again when I don’t know for sure if this foundation we’ve built is going to actually support anything,”

Harry swallows a deep breath of air and holds onto Niall’s arm for a bit of confidence before he asks what he’s been dreading, “Do you want to stop doing this?” Niall’s quiet again, running over everything in his mind. As if the both of them haven’t been overthinking every breath they’ve taken since finding each other again.

“I don’t know what I want,” he responds, words echoing in Harry’s ears like a confession.

The air around them feels heavier now. Changing from the light laziness of mere minutes before to a static, electrified atmosphere that leaves Harry choked and tense.

“Ni, I can’t handle us apart again,” he starts and he can feel tears burning behind his eyes and he hates them, “These past two days have been fucking amazing and I… I’ll listen to what you want to do but it’s like everything’s fallen back into place again. Ben and anyone else I was with after you, they don’t compare. They don’t understand me like you do. You can quiet me with a stroke of your finger and leave me gasping with just one kiss and no one else has been able to do that. And you… you know when I’m being stupidly emotional and how to snap me out of it, but you also know when I’m truly, deeply upset and you know how to comfort me. I’m not the most open person in the world and I know it, but you still understand every part of me, every little intricacy that I’ve never bared to anyone else. I’ve met other people, started relationships with other people. I’ve seen what they can offer me and I don’t want it. And, Christ, I don’t care if we have to be ‘just friends’ or what, I just need you in my life. I need someone who I can talk to about anything and who will always listen and understand what I’m saying, even when I’m babbling complete nonsense. That’s you,”

Harry’s feels himself relax after he’s done, but he’s also more aware now of how much he’s shaking. He hasn’t started crying, at least not yet, but it’s like his entire body is working to fight it off.

“I’ve only been with one person since… we broke up,” Niall starts, and his voice is so low that he’s almost whispering, “Her name was Amy, a girl from my hometown that I met back up with when I came home for the next Christmas. She was, in so many ways, perfect for me. She understood, and was okay with, the long-distance thing. So smart, so pretty, so kind. Always eager to make me happy. Her laugh, God, it made my days instantly bright. She was in LA with me when the knee thing happened, sitting between home and first base on the upper deck. Called my parents for me, had my phone. Don’t worry, she wasn’t avoiding your calls on purpose. Just got through to my family and then turned it off to give me privacy. Stuck with me as much as the hospital would allow those first few days, always there to get me food or a pillow or the nurses. Even as I was a moody, broken mess, she was there,”

Niall stops talking, making sure that Harry is okay with him babbling on about how supposedly perfect his ex was.

“She was there when you called and my mom picked up. My mom had only gotten in, like, an hour before and Amy took the chance to run back to our hotel room and pick up some stuff I asked for. So Mom answered my phone without glancing at the screen and you just happened to be the one calling. And it scared the hell out of me because I was in near desperation to talk to you, but I was fighting it off all the same. I just… wanted you to fly out to LA at my whim and bake me brownies and stroke my hand when the pain meds wore off and eat all the fruit I didn’t want on my little tray of food. It’s like I could barely control these feelings that I had sealed up inside of me. I thought they were lying dormant; I was wrong. So there Amy was, being the perfect fucking girlfriend, and all I wanted to do was grab the phone and beg for you to come,”

“You don’t have to talk about this if you don’t want to,” Harry says.

“No, it’s fine. I wanted you there because you had just always been there; I kept on expecting you to just pop up everywhere. I expected you to be beside my bed when I woke up from surgery, and I expected you to send me a congratulatory dick pic whenever I had a really good play, and I expected you to call me a few weeks before Christmas and ask me what our holiday plans were. I never stopped figuring you into the equation and that wasn’t fair to Amy. I broke up with her like a week later and we tried to stay friends but ultimately failed. Ever since then I’ve just been… working on myself. Getting my knee better, setting up a job, looking to go to school. And, really, this year has been fantastic. Everything has fallen into place better than expected, and then you stepped in,”

Harry winces.

“Not like that,” Niall continues, “It’s not like you’re not a good thing, just an unexpected thing. And I think a few months ago I would have been really reluctant to do all of this, let you back into my life and all that, because I was still trying to find myself and figure out who I am now that I’m not “Niall Horan: Baseball Star”. But I know who I am now. I’m… a cute blond kid who can make a mean cappuccino and can still hit a decent pitch and who doesn’t need you or the idea of you to make me happy anymore. So now, when I want you by my side and I want to kiss you and keep you in my bed, I know it’s not because I crave the happiness I think you’ll bring me. I just… want… you,” 

When Harry looks down at Niall for the first time in what feels like forever he’s staring back with big doe eyes and a slight smile that turns his insides into Jell-O, and he finds himself cradling Niall’s face before he even knows what he’s doing. It’s a passionate kiss that ends with Niall lying on his back and Harry’s hands curled over his cheeks, brushing against the soft fuzz there. They’ve kissed for a lot of reasons these past few days, but nothing can compare to the insistent hope that stirs within Harry as he tangles himself in his sheets with Niall under him.

“I want you,” Harry repeats.

“So, then, what is this exactly?”

“I don’t know” he responds, and he knows it’s the truth, “but I don’t think it needs to be exactly anything. I want to be a thing with you and that’s enough, right?”

“Okay, but, if I was out with my friends and someone was trying to start something up with me I should say…”

“That there is a lovely boy with chocolate curls who’s waiting for you in Cambridge who wants to hold your hand and make out with you and tell you all about his day. And he wants to do that the next day. And the day after that, too. Maybe never stop?”

“I think that sounds fair,” Niall’s grin feels like waves in Harry’s stomach.

“You wanna do a little more of this?” Harry asks, nipping quickly at Niall’s jaw, “Or do you want to go back to sleep?”

“I know which answer you want to hear but I don’t think it’s the same one I’m gonna say,” Niall responds.

“Eh, you’d be surprised,”

Harry falls onto his back and settles his head into the pillow again. The position is a nice change from what he’d been sleeping in all night, and he thinks his spine will thank him. Niall clambers over Harry for a second, and when he returns to his spot he’s dragging the comforter with him.

“Ew, Niall, that’s still got my fucking cum on it,”

“Only on the other side! And I’m cold, I need warmth!”

“How about this?” Harry asks, and he pulls Niall over to him so that they’re as close as possible without entirely overlapping.

“It helps, but I still want the blanket,”

“Fine,” Harry huffs, but the warmth just lulls him off to sleep before he can even want to protest any longer.

**

When Harry wakes up again he’s a bit sweaty and his mouth tastes god-awful, but there’s a comforting weight across his chest that he quickly remembers is Niall’s arm and it makes him smile. The sun is brighter in his window and his room smells vaguely of French toast, almost a perfect Sunday morning.

“Harry, are you awake?” he hears, and then he peeks over to the door to see Lou standing on the outside with it cracked just a hair, “A better question: do you have clothes on?”

“We’re decent enough,” he mutters back, and then she’s slowly making her way into the room.

“Well, we’re just getting ready to clean up breakfast, so if you want anything to eat you’re gonna have to get up now,” she whispers, trying to make sure Niall stays asleep.

“K, I’ll wake this sleepy, baby bear up,”

“Don’t wait too long,” she adds as she leaves, “and you two look cute together,”

He flashes a wide, child-like smile as she leaves because he doesn’t know if she’s being sarcastic or not, and dammit the two of them do look cute together. Curled up in soft sheets with arms strung together and mouths pressed thin in sleepy smiles.

“Ni,” he finally whispers, “Ni, wake up,” Harry runs his hand through Niall’s hair and kisses the crown of his head, breathing in the dulled citrusy scent that has since been overcome by the laundered smell of his sheets.

“What,” Niall mumbles against Harry’s chest, “If you just miss me again I swear to God you better be offering to suck me off,”

“Actually, I’m offering food, but…”

“Yeah, okay, you got me up,” Niall whines as he pushes off of Harry to roll to the other side of the bed, “Do you have some pants I can wear? I don’t think Lou’d appreciate it if I came out there in nothing but my birthday suit,”

Harry goes into his closet and picks out two pairs of sweats, throwing one at Niall and pulling the other onto himself.

“D’you think there’s bacon?”

“Well, the only way we’ll find out is if we go out there, right?”

He opens the door and is greeted by an empty apartment, Lux being the only person he sees as he enters the kitchen with Niall trailing slightly behind him.

“Hiya!” she yells out as soon as she sees them enter the room. She’s sitting at the table with crayons and a coloring book spread out in front of her. Niall answers back with a “Morning, Ducky. What’re we coloring today?”

“Lux, where are Mommy and Daddy?” Harry asks as he grabs two plates and starts piling food on them. There are cinnamon buns and (luckily) bacon, he grabs two cups of yogurt from the fridge to stick on them before taking them to the table. Lux’s too busy showing Niall her scribbles on a picture of a frog in a pond. As soon as Harry sits down on the table, she turns to face him and shows him her sippy cup.

“Mo,” she pouts, and Harry takes it and shuffles back to the fridge to fill it with milk before he can finally get to eating his breakfast.

“How about this one,” Niall says as he points out a picture of a puppy by its doghouse, “D’you think we could color this one?”

Lux agrees in gibberish and hands him a pink crayon. The two of them sit there, entranced in conversation of made-up words and a world where (apparently) dogs are perfectly content with being aqua blue. Niall barely even looks at his bacon, too happy to be coloring with a toddler to be even thinking about food.

“You know, Ni, you’re supposed to talk to kids with proper words. Helps build their lexicon and all,” Harry adds as he gets up to pour himself some tea. And, well, if it sounds like he’s bitter that he’s been forced to enjoy his breakfast alone, then that’s a coincidence.

“And you’re supposed to be eating your yogurt while I color this grass pink…” and it sounds like Niall wants to say more, but he’s interrupted by Lux excitedly standing on the chair and taking his face in her hands.

“Ni!” she shouts.

“What?” he shouts back. And they’ve returned to coloring before anyone can shout anymore.

Niall eventually finishes his breakfast, at least all that he wants to. The yogurt’s left untouched and Harry just returns it to the fridge. Lou and Tom finally show their faces and grab Lux to be whisked off to a bath, leaving Niall and Harry alone at last.

“I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I think I’m jealous of an 18-month-old,” Harry says as he leans against the counter, drowning his third mug of tea.

“Don’t be, she’s not my type. I like ‘em tall, dark, and ruggedly, charmingly handsome,” Niall replies as he walks over to Harry and removes the mug from his hands, settling in front of him with ease.

“And not toddlers, right?”

“Jesus, Curly, I thought that was a given,” but there’s no bite behinds his words and he’s soon moving in to kiss Harry. His hands are settled on the counter next to Harry’s hips and Harry grabs onto Niall’s neck. It’s more than either of them usually have the energy for so early in the morning.

“Forgot how nice it is to wake up with you,” Niall adds as he breaks away, “Makes me smile,”

Harry giggles as he trails his hands down the firmness of Niall’s chest, “If I’d known that all it took to get you happy in the morning was coloring with a small child I would’ve gotten you to knock me up ages ago,”

**

Lux cries when Niall and Harry start getting their jackets on. She doesn’t know that much (though Harry swears she’s insanely smart for her age) but she does know that shrugging on coats and forcing on shoes usually means goodbyes. And Lux hates goodbyes.

“Christ, have you ever seen her like this?” Lou asks as Tom struggles to restrain her. She lets out another round of “Ni!” and “Ah-ree!” before resorting to crying against her daddy’s shoulder.

“I’ll just have to invite Niall back for a bit more babysitting, won’t I?” Harry smirks as he throws his backpack on. He really doesn’t want to take his schoolwork back to Niall’s, but he knows if he doesn’t finish his reading he’ll regret it.

“Well, he’s welcome anytime,” Tom replies.

“Be careful on your way to Niall’s, watch for ice, don’t get mugged, drink plenty of water!” Lou yells as Harry shuts the door in her face, finally relieving himself from the chaos of his home.

“Sorry ‘bout that, they get to be a bit clingy. All of ‘em. Where do you think Lux gets it from?”

Niall laughs, “It’s okay. They’re such nice people and honestly I can’t think of a better fit for you,”

“Maybe you?” Harry offers as he grabs Niall’s hand and holds it. It’s a comforting weight in his own and it warms him up in the cold, March morning.

“Yeah, maybe,”

**

The T’s not crowded when they get on so they grab a pair of seats near the back where Harry can read in peace. They’re not quite sure what they’re going to be doing the rest of the day, but Harry at least knows he can’t let go just quite yet so he agrees to go home with Niall as soon as he’s asked. He knows he probably won’t be the most fun person ever with a law book spread across his lap, but Niall obviously doesn’t care.

A bump on the train sends Harry’s leg suddenly knocking about, and there’s a small yelp of pain to Harry’s right as Niall grabs onto his knee.

“What’s the matter?” Harry asks. Copyright laws still aren’t enthralling enough to keep him focused.

“Nothing’s the matter, what’re you on?” Niall snaps, but his eyes still try to offer an apology.

“I don’t think you keeping on grabbing your knee whenever something touches it is considered ‘nothing’, really,”

“Don’t worry about it, I’m fine. I’d tell you if I wasn’t, right?”

Harry doesn’t offer a response, instead he grabs Niall’s hand in his again and starts rubbing over his fingers. Niall’s hand is tense at first, but his fingers relax one by one as Harry runs over them. It’s a bit awkward to turn the pages of his book with the opposite hand, but the comforting reassurance of Niall’s palm against his is enough for him not to care.

“I’m alright,” Niall offers as he nuzzles his face against Niall’s shoulder, “Promise,”

**

The apartment is empty when Niall finally gets the key in the lock and opens the door.

“Dunno where everyone is,” Niall starts as he toes off his shoes at the top of the stairs, “I think Eoghan might be at work and Natalia told me she might be dropping by the doctor’s today. Laura could be over her boyfriend’s? Never know about Bressie, you’re lucky if he texts you back, really,”

“I don’t think he likes me very much,” Harry notes as he unwinds Niall’s scarf from around his neck. He wonders if Niall would notice if he just left his house with it forgotten on his neck, or if he’d even care.

“Bressie? He’s just protective over me, is all. Guy’s a big sweetie underneath that large, burly exterior. Mind if I dip in the shower? Didn’t want to use yours,”

“Yeah, that’s fine,” and then without much thought Harry tacks on, “How much does he know about me?”

“Dunno,” Niall replies, all nonchalantly, “Enough,”

Only a few minutes later the apartment’s door opens again and loud footsteps make their way up the stairs. Harry’s already snuggled under a blanket he found draped over the back of the couch and is actually focused on his reading when Bressie bursts through the door.

“Oh, hi, you’re here?” he asks. He doesn’t sound particularly happy about it.

“Um, yeah. Just… studying for the time being,”

“Where’s Nialler at?”

“The shower. He’ll be out in ten minutes I estimate,”

Bressie stomps off to the kitchen and returns to the parlor with a glass of orange juice in his hand. He sits awkwardly on the opposite sofa and Harry just ignores him, feigning actual interest in his textbook. It doesn’t last for long, though.

“What’re you doing back, Harry?” Bressie asks suddenly.

“Um, you mean in this apartment?”

“Has Niall even told you how he knows me?” Bressie adds, not answering the question.

“No, I just know you’re his roommate,”

“I was an assistant coach for Niall’s high school baseball team, way back in the day. I was fresh out of college and needed the extra money. I guess being a musician in Boston isn’t exactly lucrative, eh? Anyways, I always felt really protective over him? Even after he left school and went into the big boy leagues, I needed to make sure he was alright. We kept in touch, and it wasn’t always about baseball, either. Sometimes he mentioned his personal life, in particular a boy named Harry,”

“Listen, I don’t know what you’re getting at here-”

“I’ve helped him. He came back here, home to Boston, and I took him back under my wing. Was there for him for everything from driving him to doctor’s appointments when his parents couldn’t and getting him that job in the city and offering him a room here when he was finally confident enough to move away from his mom. And I was there for him, one drunken night right after he moved in here with us, where he spilled his guts to me. About how you left him for another man. Betrayed his trust, his kindness, his openness. I’ve never seen Niall sadder, and it broke my heart. And you just… you just tried to weasel your way back in. You called him when he was at his weakest and just expected him to take you back. Now? I don’t even know what’s happening, or what’s running through Niall’s head,”

Harry sighs and sees that his textbook is still open in his lap, useless and barely read.

“You’re not giving me much chance to explain myself here-”

Bressie isn’t listening. “I’ve done my best to heal Niall. Gotten his knee back to good condition, restored a bit of the old spark to his eye, given him back a normal life. So why are you here? To ruin everything we’ve worked towards?”

“Hold on one fucking minute!” Harry yells, though he tries to keep his voice down so Niall won’t hear, “You didn’t heal Niall, Niall did! You’re taking away all that Niall’s done for himself in the past few years so you can give yourself a harder pat on the back. Niall was the one who did all the rehab on his knee, Niall was the one who pushed himself out of feeling sorry for himself, and Niall is the one who now gets to decide who the hell he lets back into his life, not you. Stop taking all the fucking credit for yourself. I get it, you love Niall. Who the hell doesn’t? No one wants to see him hurt, not even me! Not even me from the night we broke up! Sometimes people do shitty things and upset the ones they love the most, and then never ever forgive themselves,”

Harry’s fuming now and he gets out of his seat because the last thing he’s going to do is let this near-stranger take ownership of Niall’s life and then decide who gets to stay. It looks like Bressie is about to say something, but Harry stares him back down to his seat and continues ranting.

“You had your chance to say something about this. When you came home two nights ago and saw me sitting there, face falling as you heard my name, you could’ve said something. The next morning when you ran out of here like a bat outta hell before anyone could wake up, you could’ve just stayed and said something. Said something to Niall who is the person you should be saying this shit to, not me,”

Bressie’s face is emotionless and his eyes are wide, and honestly it unsettles Harry just the tiniest bit. “I didn’t want to make things uncomfortable…”

“Niall’s a big boy, he can handle you talking to him like an adult,” Harry adds, and even though Bressie’s got a few inches on him both in height and width, Harry likes to think he’s finally not intimidated by the man sitting in front of him.

It looks like Bressie wants to say something back, to spit out words that are meant to make Harry leave, but before either of them can start up again the bathroom door opens and Niall walks out.

“Head, there you are!” he screams, throwing the towel he’s got in his hand on the chair and running over to Bressie to give him a good pat on the back, “What’re you two getting up to?”

Harry wants to explain everything, wants to get in the first word so that he can make Bressie look bad and get him the fuck off his back. But Niall at that moment looks so happy to just have his two best friends in such close quarters that he can’t bear to do it.

“He just walked in the door. Just having a bit of a chat, is all,” Harry says instead.

“You two’ve barely even met each other!” Niall yells as he walks into the kitchen and grabs a muffin from a box, “Brez, where’d you run off to the other morning, anyways?”

“Um, I just got called in to the studio. The band was having a bit of a crisis, I was able to calm ‘em,”

“Eh,” Niall adds, though he sounds unconvinced, “Anyways, Harry, I think I’m gonna give my doctor a call. My knee was starting to get really weak in the shower and I think you’re right, it’s probably not normal. I mean, they’ll probably just give me some braces and tell me to lay off jumping around for a bit, but it’s whatever,”

He comes to settle against Harry’s back, knocking a knuckle into the dip of his spine, “I’m glad to hear it, bud,”

“Okay, well, why don’t you come back to my room to study, Harry, and we’ll get out of Brez’s way, yeah?”

Harry nods and picks up his book from the sofa, Bressie giving the two of them a confused stare as they go back to the front bedroom.

“I really don’t think Bressie likes me,” Harry repeats as he flops onto his stomach on Niall’s bed. Niall sits next to him, back against the headboard as he props his laptop up on his knees.

“Eh, probably not. He’s… I mean it when I say he’s overprotective. Sometimes it’s a bit overwhelming but it comes from a good place in his heart, I promise. He’ll get used to you, I mean, if you’re still sticking around,”

“Course,” Harry smiles, then he’s off to hopefully finish the chapter.

It takes a while, of course, because all of his law books are long and boring and drag on for what seems like ever. Niall tries to help the best he can. He types noiselessly on his laptop and rubs a comforting hand up and absent-mindedly down Harry’s calf. It’s a comfortable silence that lulls Harry into concentration like a security blanket. When Niall leaves the room after a bit, he returns with a bacon sandwich in both hands; one for each of them. Harry hadn’t even realized that he was hungry.

“I’m done,” Harry finally gasps out as he reaches the last word. His face falls into the open book with a little more force than anticipated and there’s a loud smack of skin against paper that echoes through the room.

“Are ya? Only took you about half a lifetime,” Niall jokes. He’d been on his laptop nearly the entire time and didn’t look like he was finished just yet.

“Whatever,” Harry mumbles as he crawls up the bed and settles next to Niall on the pillows, “What were you doing today?”

“Well, first I had to chat with some very angry friends of ours. Apparently you texted them on Friday telling them about meeting up with me and then ignored their pleads for information,”

“Shit,” Harry whines into Niall’s shoulder, “What’d they say?”

“Well, I gave them like a paragraph-long rundown of what happened. And then Liam said that we were the luckiest people in the world and he was so happy and wished us luck, Zayn said we were idiots but that he loves us both, and Louis just sent me a picture of him pretending to throw up,”

“You think they’re okay with it?”

“I think… they’re wary, but hopeful. And at the very least excited that they can start inviting the both of us to things again, and not have to worry about things getting awkward,”

Harry hums his approval and lets his head fall back into the pillows along his back. It’s chilly in Niall’s room so he pulls the covers out from under him and snuggles beneath them. The events of the weekend start to catch up to him and he feels tired again.

“Also, today I started on some college applications,” Niall mentions lowly, like he’s maybe hoping Harry already drifted off to sleep.

“Yeah? You’re gonna leave me here like I left you for Northwestern?” Harry jokes.

“Nah, just looking at ones in the city. I’m probably cutting it a bit close to the deadlines but I think I’ll be alright,”

Harry turns over to face Niall and closes the lid of his laptop.

“So you’re really going back to school? Like full-time?” he asks.

“Yeah, pretty confident about it. I’ll probably quit my job, or at the very least cut down the hours drastically, but money’s not really an issue. I’ve still got loads saved up from my two and a half years with the Jays. Dunno, I’ve avoided it for a while because, like, it’s never seemed like the right time. It was important to me that I really wanted it and really was prepared. I think I’m good now,”

“I’m really proud of you,” Harry offers before looping his arms around Niall’s waist and pulling him in.

“Yeah… when I first got injured I was so fucking mad at myself. Because I had quite a few offers from colleges that I turned down to go to the minor leagues, and if I had taken one of them up I would be at school getting a good education and still getting to play. And possibly not even hurt. Then I started to calm down more, started to think about my life as a whole, and I realized that I didn’t regret my choice one bit. Because if I hadn’t made the choices I had then there would have been no Liam and Louis and Zayn, and I wouldn’t have had the career I had. Though it was too short, it was fulfilling, and it made me happy. Most importantly, though, I would’ve never met you, and I don’t want to think of a present where you’re not in my past,”

“I mean… are you looking to make me cry or…”

“I just wanted to let you know that you didn’t ruin my life, and you’re not weaseling your way back in with me. I want you here; I’ve always wanted you here,” Niall adds, and his smile is all-knowing.

“Shit, so you heard that?” Harry groans, trying to hide his face under the blanket.

“Most of it, yeah. Neither of you were speaking very softly,”

“Sorry,”

“Dunno what you’re apologizing for. Bressie was coming on… strong. Even more so than normal. He’ll come around, I know he will. And, you know what, if he doesn’t, then fuck him. It’s my life,”

“Don’t be mad at him, though. He seems to love you so much,”

“I’m not, and really, don’t worry about it. We’ll… everyone will be fine. This was just a tumultuous weekend,”

“Tumultuous? Ni, have you swallowed a dictionary?”

“Stop,” Niall laughs as he pushes Harry off of him, sending him rolling back to the other side of the bed, “Go take your nap, yeah? I’ll wake you up whenever someone makes dinner. And don’t be alarmed if I leave, because that someone might have to be me,”

“Okay,” Harry mumbles as he shrugs the covers closer around himself and builds a cocoon.

**

When Harry wakes up, Niall isn’t gone, instead he was wrapped around Harry and out cold. He can hear dishes in the sink and the smell of burnt pizza is dull. It’s probable that they have missed dinner, and the sun is already gone and set and it looks like it has started snowing again. Getting to wake up in Niall’s arms again is worth it, though.

**

“It’s snowing,” Niall says flatly as they stand at the top of the steps.

“Yep,” Harry replies.

“It’s dark out,”

“Yep,”

“It’s not the nicest neighborhood,”

“Is it?”

“Harry, come on, just stay one more night!” Niall whines.

“Ni, I’ve got school in the morning! You’ve got work! I need to get home and get some real sleep for once, thanks. I’ll be fine. Don’t plan on dying tonight,”

“Well, c’mere,” Niall loops a scarf around Harry’s neck and pulls him into a kiss, “Don’t need you getting cold out there. It’s chilly,”

“Thanks,” Harry adds, and he feels like both of their smiles together could be enough to warm him up, “What’re you doing tomorrow?”

“Got work and then I think Eoghan wants me to visit him at the station. Doing anything on Tuesday?”

“Got class until, like, four, and then I’m babysitting Lux at night,”

“I’m working most of this week, really. Christ, since when did being an adult get in the way of adult sexy times?”

“I’ll call you, yeah? We’ll set something up,” Harry says as he starts to back his way towards the steps.

“Yeah, maybe ask Ducky if she would like two babysitters instead of one?”

“I think something might be able to be arranged. I’ll see you soon?”

“Definitely,” Niall adds as Harry makes his way down the steps and out the front door.

It really is a cold night, March is being a bit more stubborn than Harry would prefer, but he guesses that it’s one of the things he signed up for when he moved here. And, yeah, maybe running into Niall was another one of those things, but he’s not regretting that one all that much. Not really at all. The street’s quiet and Harry’s backpack is feeling heavy after Niall forced him to take home a tub of leftover pasta that he could eat at home. All in all, though, he feels good.

The night is silent, even in a big city like Boston, and the only thing he can hear besides the snow under his feet and the shuffle of his backpack is a dog that must be a block and a half away. He hates snow, really does, but it seems to bring the city to a standstill, and he can appreciate that. Maybe not so much when he’s running late for class and the T is delayed because of the weather, or when the temperature dips too close to zero and yet it still demands to snow. It just doesn’t quite make sense because whenever anyone thinks of snow, they think of soft falls and catching it on their tongues and rolling it into benevolent, cheery beings. And then it just decides to fuck up everything you’ve ever thought about it and pound into your commute and make your life a living hell. No matter how many Nor’easters the city has lived through, snow seems to always find a way to be noticed. He hates it, but stands in awe at it all the same.

Harry gets lost in his thoughts easily, and he’s half-way thinking about how cool it would be to see a blizzard in a desert when he hears fast footfalls behind him. Niall’s reminded him time and time again that the neighborhood’s not the greatest and it’s dark out and the streetlamp ahead is broken, no one is outside in this dreadful weather so no one will hear him scream. He gets a good hold on his keys, a trick he learned from his stepdad that can help you gauge an assailant’s eyes out, when he hears his name being called.

“Curly, slow down!” Niall yells, Harry turns on his heel to face him, “Damn it, you’ve got them long-ass legs. Can’t keep up with ya,”

“Ni, what are you doing here? Did I leave something at yours?” Harry asks, but Niall just keeps on walking and Harry has to step back in line with him.

“Um, I just wanted to make sure you got to the station alright. I didn’t want you to get lost and then you’d have to call me and I’d have to rescue you so I just saved myself the time and ran to go with you,” 

“You didn’t have to…”

“Oh, shut it. Like we’re both going to pretend I’m not being dependent and all. Just let me walk you to the station, yeah? At least it’ll help pass the time,”

“As if I’d say no,”

Niall grabs his hand, and even through their mittens the warmth that Niall radiates sinks into Harry’s skin and settles into place. Warmth and softness flowing through his body and wrapping around his bones and taking place next to all the other feel-good feelings that he’s felt throughout the years: seeing his mom get married to someone who wasn’t an asshole, holding his diploma that he had worked towards for four years, or being enveloped in a group hug the last time he, Zayn, Louis, and Liam were all in the same place. It’s been at least a year, but it all resonates in his body the same; as a tightening in his chest and a subconscious smile and a spread of warmth across his spine.

“The snow looks really nice tonight,” Niall says.

Harry wants to say that the snow only looks nice from Niall’s bedroom, or landing softly on the bridge of his nose before it melts. Instead, he says “If you insist” and lets Niall do all the talking. He’s starting to lose feeling in his ears and he keeps on breathing in snowflakes, but the pressure of Niall’s thumb rubbing circles into his hand is enough to make him happy.

Things are finally falling into place; things finally feel right. Maybe it isn’t all because of Niall. Maybe he’s always secretly liked the crunch of snow under his feet and he’s just never admitted it. Maybe he’s always been willing to take the T an hour across the city twice in one day just so he can read his boring books with someone special by his side. Maybe he really did just move to this city because the school’s library was impressive. Or maybe Niall’s the exception he’ll always allow.

**

--- five months later ---

The apartment feels weird, Harry thinks, because he’s able to walk through it without stepping on a toy and baseball’s on the TV more than Yo Gabba Gabba is. The fridge is stuffed with pizza rather than juice boxes, and he can finally sleep in in the morning with a toddler screaming in the other room, waking him up. It was hard to say goodbye to his roommates, the ones who had served as a family to him for almost a year. Lux’s goodbye was the hardest considering she was the one with the mean puppy dog pout, but he’s promised to come and visit again, and maybe even babysit every once in a while. He needed to move out, though, not only because he wanted to feel like an adult again, but also because Tom and Lux have been throwing out phrases like “baby #2” and “moving to the suburbs”, and he’s really not all about that life. At least not yet.

It was always kind of a joke. Niall would complain about walking home in the rain or Harry would leave the textbook he needed to be back on his desk, and then someone would say I’m tired of always going back to mine - we should just move in together. They’d laugh, get over it, and return to doing whatever else they were already doing. But then Harry found just the ‘perfect’ two-bedroom in Jones Hill that wasn’t too far from UMass and just a ride of the T away from BU. Once they found someone else to fill in the spare room, it was a no-brainer really.

A few days ago Niall moved in, and now Harry’s finally finished unpacking his own half. Their clothes are strewn together in the closet, and any sort of organization was lost in the first few days. Now when Harry pulls a white t-shirt out of their dresser it’s a crapshoot where it will be the perfect size, or just a little bit smaller because it doesn’t belong to him. He’ll wear it either way.

“It doesn’t feel weird, right?” Niall had said, “Like, we’ve never lived together but it feels totally normal that your toothbrush is next to mine in the bathroom and that when we walk home together we both pull out our keys out of instinct. Like, that feels like… it should’ve always been that way,”

There’s a pile of dirty dishes in the sink and Harry still has the urge to clean them before Lou wakes up and yells at him, but then he relaxes and realizes he can go back to bed without doing all of that. Niall does the cleaning, Harry cooks, Niall handles the bills, Harry does all the shopping, Niall performs minor maintenance and Harry kills the bugs. They don’t know who does the laundry yet, but they still have a few more days where they don’t have to think about it.

Niall’s all sleepy hair and sheen of sweat when Harry gets back to the bedroom. Boston’s some kind of hell where it’s hot in the summer and freezing in the winter, and the current heat wave they’re on is pushing three days already. They have two fans set up, one for each side of the bed, but it’s still barely enough, even at night. The windows they have were sold to them as a plus of the apartment, because when it rains you can still keep them open and no water will get in. Someone had conveniently forgot to mention that it keeps the air out, as well, and Harry will start to consider these stupid fucking windows a blessing if it ever actually decides to rain again.

His side of the bed’s cool now since he’s been out of it for so long, and he knows that it’ll feel nice to crawl on top of it again and get that little additional help. He decides to blanket himself over Niall instead.

“It’s too hot for this,” Niall mumbles as Harry settles his face into Niall’s neck.

Harry smirks, “There’s never a good enough reason to keep me from cuddling,”

There are a few feeble attempts from Niall to push him off, but he relents easily enough and ends up pulling Harry closer anyways.

“Time is it?” he asks as he slowly blinks awake.

“Just after two,” Harry says, “I needed a drink of water,”

Niall blindly reaches over to his fan to see if he can turn it up anymore, “Early,”

They’re already naked with two fans pointed on them and the covers have long since been pushed to the floor. The only way they’re getting any cooler is if the heat wave disappears overnight or if they decide to return to separate sides of the bed. Neither seems that likely.

“We need some curtains,” Niall reminds him for when they go shopping the next day, “and a dish rack for next to the sink. Some book ends, a seat cushion for your desk chair, a new fucking fan…”

“You need to get to sleep,” Harry interrupts, “We’ve got school in the morning,”

“Who’s the one who woke me up again?”

“Sorry,” he grumbles into the pillow, then starts scratching at Niall’s head in apology. He falls back to sleep again within a few minutes and then it’s just Harry again.

It’s just Harry alone with his thoughts as the clock on the bedside table clicks the seconds away. Just Harry who can’t find the most comfortable position but who wouldn’t dare risk waking Niall up again to move. Just Harry who’s had trouble sleeping the past week because he’s finally moved in and he’s heading back to school and Niall’s heading to school for the first time in years, and Christ isn’t that at least a little bit scary? And it’s Harry who wishes he’d brain slow down a little bit.

It’s Niall who says, “Go to sleep, Haz,” softly into the night, like a comfort blanket they can’t afford in this heat. He hushes Harry, circling his fingers softly on his back and willing him to sleep. Pulling an arm around him, like he’s leading him somewhere, telling him it’s not just Harry anymore. Now, it’s Niall and Harry.

Just Niall and Harry who have finally found their way.