Work Header

Heart Skips A Beat

Work Text:

Louis is as drunk as Harry has ever seen him, which is saying something, because Louis is still upright. Mostly, Harry suspects, Louis is upright because he is leaning against the wall. Between Louis and the wall is a boy that Harry mostly can't see, what with his face being entirely smashed against Louis's face and about half underneath Louis's mouth.

This is a typical Saturday night.

Some Saturdays, Harry is the one who is too drunk to function, and Louis does an admirable job of making sure that they both get home to their shared flat alive. Other weekends Louis starts drinking well before they get to the club and by the time Harry starts to feel buzzed Louis is already smashed. Generally one or the other of them picks up someone to take home. Harry doesn't like being alone very much, and Louis gets bored easily. Sometimes these pick ups work out fantastically and sometimes they're a disaster; either way they have a strict policy of mocking each other relentlessly.

Harry can tell this is going to be a hilarious morning after. He's on the other side of the club by the bar, drink in hand, and he can still see that Louis's got his hands up underneath the other boy's shirt and they're all going to be kicked out shortly for indecent behavior. (Harry and Louis are good friends with the bouncer. His name is Paul. He always seems sorry to have to make them leave, and he always lets them in again the next week. When Harry was still seventeen Paul let him in without a fuss and now that he's eighteen Paul calls cabs for them and says, "Get home safe, you idiots." Paul is fantastic.)

It's a bit of a surprise, actually, when Louis comes staggering over to Harry. "I need some water," he says, arm round Harry's neck, shouting in Harry's ear to be heard over the thumping music and the crowd. "And a piss. And possibly to throw up, but then I'll be back, make sure he doesn't leave."

This is not part of Harry's duties as Louis's official best friend, but he shrugs a little. "What's his name?"

"Oh," says Louis, blinking drunkenly. "I didn't ask." He looks genuinely saddened by this, pulling a face Harry last saw when Louis was dumped, and in public, by someone he'd really liked. Louis is startlingly fragile.

"I'm on it," says Harry, because this is one of his best-friend duties. He gives Louis a shove toward the bar where hopefully he will drink his body weight in water, and elbows his way across the club.

Louis's unnamed boy is leaning against the wall. His face is red and flushed and his hair is sweaty and his fringe is mussed and he's got what Harry clearly recognizes as a Louis Tomlinson Love Bite on his neck. "Hi," says Harry.

"I don't drink," says the other boy.

He says this with a vaguely panicked tone, as if he might cry, and Harry wonders if he's underage and has snuck in – Paul should check other people's IDs, Harry thinks, just not his. "You're drunk, though," says Harry cautiously, in case he hasn't noticed this.

"Oh god, I am," says the boy, and he sounds a little despairing, but then he starts to giggle. The giggling seems to make him slide down the wall until he's sitting on the floor and looks in danger of just pitching over and lying down. Harry knows from terrible experience that the floor of the club is sticky and awful, and should not be a place to lie down, so he leans over and grabs both of Louis's new friend's hands and hauls him to his feet again.

"You are very, very drunk," Harry says gravely. "And you've been kissing my friend."

His eyes widen comically. "Oh no," he says, and then he blushes, and oh dear, Harry can tell this boy is going to be a problem for Louis. If Harry were a different sort of friend he'd sneak in a kiss here, because he's fairly sure the other boy won't remember it, and he's sort of pretty in a mussed up way. Harry has a sixth sense for things that'll make Louis mad, though. Usually that means he does them deliberately anyway, but not this time.

"Yes," says Harry. "You're kind of a wreck."

"I really don't drink," he says. "Oh, god. I think I might be sick?"

Harry sighs a little bit. "You are the drunkest sober person I've ever seen," he says, but he drags Louis's boy toward the door of the club and gives Paul a little nod that means Call a cab, he's wasted.

The other boy throws up in the gutter and looks absolutely miserable about it. He'd probably be face-down on the pavement if Harry weren't there. "Sorry," he says, and then, "Sorry, oh god, where did everyone go, I was with people, I was, they've all vanished, I'm sorry—"

"Probably they thought it was best to leave you alone whilst you were getting felt up," Harry says, since that's what he usually does for Louis. "You'll text them when you're home so they know you aren't dead."

"Sorry," he says again, looking tragic. Harry is almost tempted to get in the cab with him and make sure he gets home safe, but Harry's real job is making sure Louis gets home okay tonight. New guys have to wait their turn.

Louis is going to be furious that Harry is sending him home, though. "You've got a name, right?" Harry says.

"Liam," says the boy who is apparently called Liam. Harry tells himself very sternly not to forget that.

"Have you got a flatmate?" Harry asks.

Liam shakes his head. "He's out of town."

Harry tries not to sigh just because he gets a little tired of other people's lives not being up to his standards. "When you get home you've got to drink all the water you can stand before you pass out," says Harry. "And also you've got to get some better friends who won't ditch you at a club."

"My friends are nice," says Liam, wounded, but Harry is the one holding Liam up with an arm round his waist while Liam throws up outside a club, so Harry doesn't think much of them.

Harry checks three times to make sure Liam remembers his own address and then Harry tells the cab driver where to go, just in case. He also gives him a tenner because the odds of Liam working out where his wallet is seem slim. Liam is half-asleep before Harry even gets the cab door shut. He is going to be hurting in the morning, Harry thinks, and smirks to himself a little, because hangovers are hilarious when they aren't his own.

When Harry finds Louis again, Louis is, as predicted, furious. "You sent him home!" he shouts a couple of times. "You're always spoiling my fun!"

Luckily Louis is completely drunk, and therefore mostly flail and no real anger. "It wouldn’t have been fun to have him be sick all over you," says Harry calmly. "Jesus, speaking of, I'm taking you home as well. What the hell were you two drinking?"

"Shots," says Louis, grinning and waggling his eyebrows. "Body shots."

"It's not body shots if you take a shot and then just start licking someone," Harry says. Louis attempts to tickle him but he's too far gone.

Harry drags him home and makes him drink some more water before Louis passes out on the rug in the living room. Harry is a good friend, but not a good enough friend to pick Louis up off the floor when he's dead drunk. He draws a mustache on Louis's face in permanent marker instead, and then writes LIAM on Louis's arm, so he won't forget to tell him who he was snogging when he wakes up.

Louis is a miserable bastard when he's hung over, and he's spectacularly hung over the next morning. Harry takes great pleasure in making himself runny eggs for breakfast and then eating them with loud slurping noises that make Louis run to the toilet to be sick.

It's nearly noon before Louis remembers that he was getting off with someone at the club and begins bitching. "You sent him home. You are a bastard and we are no longer friends."

Harry throws a roll at him. "I sent him home because he was drunk as shit," says Harry. "I got his name, though. And Paul says he came in with a load of boys from our uni, so I'd think two or three hours of Facebook stalking would find him. It's not my fault you were too drunk to even get his name. You can start telling me how wonderful I am any time you'd like."

Louis sticks his lower lip out poutily. "I really liked him!" he says. "I was going to get his name, I just forgot because I liked him so much."

"You liked trying to eat his face so much," says Harry.

Louis makes a bitchy face, which means Harry is right. "You sent him home, you find him."

"You are really hopeless," says Harry, but he makes Louis tea and gives him paracetamol and lets him sit on the couch while Harry fucks around on Facebook for a while.

There are lots of people on Facebook named Liam, as it turns out, and Harry gets distracted chatting to Aiden and then untagging himself in embarrassing pictures from Aiden's birthday party. Apparently Harry got pretty drunk and kissed every single person there. It's not a surprise.

The eventual break in the case comes when Harry is surfing around friends of friends pages and stumbles on to a video of Niall playing guitar. "Aha!" he says. Louis winces. "It's your own fault you've got a headache," says Harry sternly. "Tell me how much you love me."

"More than there are drops of water in the ocean," says Louis promptly.

"Guess who your Liam is friend with?" Harry asks, grinning, and picks up his mobile.

Niall answers on the third ring. "Hello, you bastard," he says in a friendly sort of way.

"Are you friends with someone called Liam?" Harry asks, clicking through all of Niall's pictures. That is definitely Liam with his arm round Niall's neck and Liam pulling stupid faces behind Niall and Liam attempting a handstand that looks like it probably ended badly. Harry is such a good Facebook stalker, sometimes he thinks he should rent his skills out.

"I am," says Niall. "Great mate of mine. Why?"

"Your Liam was kissing my Louis last night," says Harry.

There is a pause, and then Niall barks with laughter. "Classic!" he says, delighted. "Oh god, is that what Liam was going on about? All he could remember was someone in stripes who got him a load of shots. It was the most tremendous drunk voicemail I've ever got."

"Yes, that would be Louis," says Harry, giving Louis a stern look. Louis doesn't know what Niall said, though, so he just looks vaguely worried. "Glad to hear Liam got home okay. He was wrecked."

"He's never been out drinking before," says Niall. "I mean, he's been out, but he's never been drinking. I should have kept an eye on him but I've got cousins in town."

"You've always got cousins in town," says Harry.

"Eh, true," says Niall. "Liam had one drink and I turned around and he was gone. I was going to look for him, but then I got drunk and forgot. Really glad he's not murdered in an alley somewhere. I called him about seven times this morning before he picked up. I was just gonna go over and check on him. Don’t think he's ever had a hung-over morning after before."

"You're a shit friend," says Harry. Niall laughs. Sometimes Harry is amazed by the things he can get away with saying to people. "How about you bring your Liam and I'll bring my Louis and we have dinner? I think it's going to be hilarious."

Niall has clearly not told Liam why they are going to dinner, because Liam walks in the door of Harry's' favorite curry place, sees them, and stops dead. Niall walks right into his back.

Louis is bouncing hopefully in his chair. "He's so cute," he says. "This is great. I think I'm in love." Louis saved a bunch of pictures from Niall's Facebook, which Harry told him was creepy, except Louis insisted he was eventually going to make a Remember How We Met scrapbook for his anniversary with Liam, and then Harry gave up and went and had some tea. Sometimes Louis is a lot to deal with.

Liam has some kind of furious whispered argument with Niall that ends with Niall just grabbing him by both arms and marching him over to Louis and Harry. "Hey fellas," says Niall. "This is Liam. It's crazy, you never running into him before, we've been mates for ages."

Liam looks mortified. "I owe you ten pounds," is the first thing he says to Harry. "For the cab. Sorry, I'm… I'm really sorry."

"One drink," says Niall, laughing. "He finally says, 'Okay, Niall; I'll have one drink,' and next thing I know he's gone. I would have kept an eye on you, mate, if you'd told me you were a crazy drunk."

"I didn't know!" Liam says plaintively.

Louis is attempting to look sympathetic, which Harry knows is a ruse. He looks at Liam for a minute and thinks Liam probably deserves to be warned about Louis, but doing that would spoil all of Harry's fun.

Niall sits down and makes Liam sit down, too. "Is this your first hangover, then?" Louis asks. Liam turns sort of red and mumbles something at the table, and Louis starts grinning.

"And do you know what else, lads?" Niall asks, with such relish that Harry gets really excited about whatever he'll say next. "Do you know what other first our Liam had last night?"

"I wish I were dead," says Liam to no one special.

"Why that was the first time our Liam kissed a boy," says Niall, and then hoots with laughter at himself.

Louis sits up very, very straight. "Seriously?" he asks.

Liam sort of shrugs and sinks very low in his chair. "I um… I remember it seeming fun at the time?"

"It was more than just fun," says Louis. "It was positively filthy. Well done!" Liam buries his face in his hands.

Niall is laughing his head off. "I can't believe I missed it," he says. "Oh, there's Zayn, he's meeting us as well. Friend of mine and Liam's, you'll like him."

The best looking person Harry knows has always been himself. (Harry isn't conceited; people seem to appear out of the woodwork to tell him how attractive he is, but Harry has never spent much time considering about it himself.) And then a person who is even more good looking waves to Niall and walks over. He is bafflingly pretty, with eyelashes and hair that even Harry might envy, if he were a person who envied other people's eyelashes and hair.

He's not.

Well. He never has been before.

"Hey," says Zayn. "Is it cool if I crash your party, or…" He trails off, looking at Niall.

"Of course," says Louis. "Any friend of Niall's."

"You wouldn’t want to miss valuable time making fun of Liam," says Niall.

Zayn laughs. "I wouldn't," he agrees. Liam waves vaguely at him and doesn't look up. Zayn's laugh should be illegal; he wrinkles up his nose and he smiles and he looks like a photo shoot is going on somewhere, and he's modeling really expensive jeans and time-consuming hair.

"Have you got more secret friends lurking somewhere?" Harry asks Niall. If every one of them is going to exponentially more attractive like this then Harry needs to prepare. He's not sure what he'll do, exactly, but he might try and wear a clean t-shirt or something.

"Were you keeping us a secret, Niall?" Zayn asks.

"I think Harry just assumed he was my only friend, more like," says Niall.

Harry frowns a little. "That's ridiculous; you know everyone," he says.

"You didn't tell us you were keeping very attractive and fun-to-kiss people to yourself," Louis chimes in. "Speaking of, Liam, have you got a girlfriend? I know you haven't got a boyfriend, unless he's complete crap."

Liam had been on the verge of seeming settled, but Louis makes him wince and go red again. "No," he says. "Not anymore, at least." Liam looks a bit ill, whether from his hang over or from the teasing, Harry can't tell.

"That's what all the drinking was about," says Niall. "Have you lads ordered yet? I'm starving." He flags down the waiter and proceeds to order half the menu. While they wait Niall nicks a bowl of crunchy cracker things off the next table and then Harry nicks one off him. This is why they are friends.

Louis is looking expectantly at Liam, as if Liam might say, "Screw dinner; let's go and have sex out the back." Harry gives Liam a look up and down – he's wearing a button-up shirt done up to his throat and chewing a little anxiously on his thumb and his shoulders are so high they might as well be by his ears – and suspects that Louis will be disappointed.

"Liam," says Harry, "are you normally a get-off-in-a-dark-corner-of-a-club guy?"

Liam looks horrified that Harry has even suggested this, so Harry considers the question already answered, but Louis jumps in. "No," he says, "I'm just irresistible."

Liam narrows his eyes a little. "You've got a marker mustache," he points out.

Louis is the hardest person to embarrass that Harry has ever met. Well, except for Harry himself. "And it looks absolutely dashing and rakish," Louis says, waggling his eyebrows.

"I am never drinking again," says Liam, and puts his head down on the table.

"There, there," says Zayn, patting Liam's shoulder and rolling his eyes. "This is fun," Zayn goes on to the table in general. "I've never got to make fun of Liam for being a stupid drunk before."

"Liam is a very clever drunk," says Louis, the tiniest bit insulted. Harry puts his arm around Louis's shoulders and squeezes a little, because Louis is secretly very sensitive.

"His taste is clearly much better drunk than sober," says Harry quietly in Louis's ear. Louis snorts and laughs.

Niall is a music student, which is how he knows Liam, it turns out. Zayn is an art student, and has been friends with Liam for ages. ("And I'm heart broken I missed the one night he was drunk," Zayn says, with a little pout that sends a weird twinge through Harry's chest.) Niall tries to explain how he met Zayn but it turns into one of Niall's incomprehensible stories that sounds a bit like the begat sections of the Bible – "I know his friend James who has a girlfriend who was in a band I teched for briefly but that's how I met Dan who knows Mark –" and Harry doesn't really listen. Zayn does art, Liam does music. It's not often that Harry, who is studying English, is doing the most sensible course out of anyone he knows. (Louis studies communications and drama, which mostly means he makes really stupid YouTube videos late at night when he can't sleep.)

Zayn seems a bit quiet and doesn't say much unless he's making fun of Liam, but once Liam recovers from his tremendous embarrassment and stops apologizing every other sentence for having got drunk (this is something Harry has never heard anyone apologize for before) he is perfectly nice to chat to. He is actually a bit silly, and tends to answer questions with a little lecture until Niall elbows him in the ribs. Then he looks generally sheepish and it's so cute that Harry is not entirely surprised that Louis spends most of dinner staring at him with a ridiculous expression. Zayn and Niall elbow each other a little and look from Louis to Liam and snicker, but Liam himself doesn't seem to have noticed. This is both worrying and hilarious.

As they leave, Louis pulls Liam aside by the arm with a hopeful sort of smile. Harry suspects Liam is a person who might need a bit more time to work out how he feels about getting drunk and kissing boys. "So," says Louis, holding Liam's hand. Liam goes instantaneously pink. Harry edges away with Niall and Zayn.

"This is so funny," says Niall. Louis asks something and Liam shakes his head, but he laughs. Louis is edging right up into Liam's space. It's a bit like watching a mating ritual between a monkey and a bunny rabbit. It's not going to work out, but it's adorable.

"Eh, Liam could do with a bit more going out," says Zayn. "He's always studying or talking to his parents on Skype. He's doing university all wrong."

"Well, Louis could do with a bit more revising," says Harry. He has no idea whether Louis has got any sort of marks at all on any class he's ever taken. It's entirely possible Louis has dropped out and is just sharing a flat with Harry for fun. Harry has certainly never seen Louis go to a lecture.

"Could we actually make this happen?" Zayn wonders. "Liam's a bit more into long-term really serious relationships where he meets the parents and starts planning the wedding, but surely he should have at least one fling at university."

"He can have some of mine," Harry offers. In point of fact, he's drunkenly kissed two of the four boys from dinner. Niall was a fun evening of shouting drunkenly and snogging under a table. (It was logical at the time.) Louis was an on-again-off-again disaster that had lasted several weeks before imploding in spectacular fashion that would have ended a friendship between anyone except Harry and Louis, who as it turns out are impervious to hurting each other's feelings.

Louis has his hand on Liam's face, for some reason, and he's got his thumb quite specifically on Liam's mouth. Liam looks a bit confused by this, and grabs Louis's hand instead, so now they're holding both hands like children singing a song on the playground. Louis uses this to his advantage, darting in to kiss Liam while his hands are occupied. Good strategy, Harry thinks. Liam laughs and ducks his head and Louis kisses him again, this time with quite a bit more intent. Liam goes startled, and then pliant, and then Louis slips an arm around his waist.

"This is going to get us all arrested in a minute," Niall says.

Louis is sincerely trying to get his hand down the back of Liam's jeans. "Can I come to yours and hang out?" Harry asks. "I think my flat is going to be noisy tonight."

Niall laughs so hard he nearly falls over. "'Course," he says. "Beer at mine? You in?"

Zayn considers for a minute. He is probably even prettier looking off into space than he is normally, which is saying something. Harry considers making Zayn his next drunken mistake and thinks that would probably be loads of fun. He shoots Zayn a dirty, flirty smirk, and Zayn blinks.

"Yeah," says Zayn, a tiny bit uncertain. "Okay."

"Good night!" Harry yells as they walk off. Louis and Liam appear to be too busy to reply.

Harry fails to get off with Zayn but he wasn't really trying – not yet, at least, Zayn is definitely on the list – and ends up sleeping on Niall's couch. Niall sleeps on the rug, because he is the drunkest. Zayn can apparently sleep on any flat surface and nearly spends the night on the coffee table, until Harry rescues him and shoves him toward Niall's bed, since Niall isn't using it.

In the morning Harry gets coffee and flirts outrageously with the girl serving it, and then heads home. It's a couple of hours before noon and he is not entirely surprised to find Liam in his flat. He is surprised that Liam is attempting to make food, though.

Surprised and not entirely pleased; Liam is overcooking the eggs. Harry doesn't bother with a good morning before he pushes Liam out of the kitchen and rescues the toast from becoming charcoal.

"Hi," Liam says, biting his lip. "Sorry, Louis said you were touchy about your kitchenware but I'm starved."

"I am," says Harry. "You've ruined these eggs, you might as well serve tennis balls. Tell me what you were trying to do."

"Just… um, eggs?" Liam says.

Harry makes a grumpy noise and dumps Liam's sad attempt at eggs in the bin. "I'll make you breakfast, just don't touch anything unless you know what you're doing."

Liam laughs quietly. "Sorry," he says, sitting on the arm of the couch. His button-up tartan shirt is on the floor but he's wearing a vest and his jeans. Harry is fairly sure that Louis didn't get any luckier last night than Harry did. Harry starts planning ways to make fun of him.

"My kitchen is my kingdom," says Harry, a little huffily, but he makes eggs and toast for three anyway.

Louis comes stumbling out of his bedroom just as Harry is serving the food. Harry is wearing his Kiss the Cook apron, which usually means he's about to get jumped on by Louis, except Louis is clearly mostly asleep. Louis's hair sticks up in every direction and he's only wearing his boxers. "He left," Louis says in an absolutely tragic voice. "Did you make breakfast to heal my wounded heart? Oh wait, never mind. He's right here."

Liam waves from the couch. He's got a plate balanced on his knees, which doesn't stop Louis from trying to climb into his lap. "I, uh, I slept on the couch," says Liam. "It was late and I didn't really want to walk home. You don't mind, do you?"

"What's wrong with my bed?" Louis asks. "Haz, bring me some bacon."

"I haven't made bacon," says Harry, but he finds some in the back of the fridge for Louis anyway.

Louis has tangled himself around Liam, who can't find a way to eat without elbowing Louis or spilling all his food. He looks perplexed. "I mean… I mean nothing, but…" says Liam.

"I woke up and I thought you'd gone," says Louis. He waits until Liam's just had a bite of toast and then pinches his nipple with great deliberateness. Liam chokes.

"I don't need to see your foreplay," calls Harry.

"I didn't agree to this," Liam says plaintively, and they both ignore him.

Louis knows Harry very, very well, so the next thing he says is, "How'd you do with the pretty boy last night?"

"Not as well as I should have," says Harry. "Liam, you know him. Is there some trick with Zayn?"

Liam looks honestly baffled to be part of this conversation. "Uh," he says. "Not really? Zayn's a bit shy, I suppose. He's a really good friend, and sweet, and funny when you get to know him. He's amazing."

Harry makes a terrible whiny noise and throws himself into the other chair. "Patience isn't Harry's best quality," says Louis. He looks thoughtful for a moment. "It'd probably be his hair," he says. "Or the fact that he's nearly always naked."

"Well, then," says Liam, which isn't a reply, but he seems to be trying to be polite about the whole thing. "I should get going."

"Why?" Louis asks, and Harry sees the tiny little frown line between his eyebrows that means he's being serious, even though his tone sounds light.

"Um, I have… Um, there are things… I really, really don’t do this," Liam says. It's not clear to Harry whether he means eating breakfast, or staying overnight, or Louis. Harry considers what he'll do if Liam breaks Louis's secretly fragile heart. He can't hate Liam, he doesn't think – he's just met Liam but he's fairly sure he's unhateable. Revenge probably won't work, either. He suspects, though, that Liam can be worn down. He seems like he wouldn't be able to stand up to a real serious onslaught of Harry when Harry really wants something. No one ever can.

"That's alright," Harry says. Louis frowns at him. "We see Niall all the time. All the time," Harry repeats, in a vaguely menacing tone. Harry's got a great slightly-insane grumpy stare. He practiced in a mirror.

Liam looks like he can't quite decide between being frightened and laughing. "Right," he says. "Well, then I'm sure I'll see you both. Thanks for… Um… " He turns pink and doesn't finish whatever he's thanking Louis for. Harry's actually glad about that. Then Liam manages to untangle himself from Louis, grabs his shirt off the floor, and all but runs out of the flat.

Harry raises an eyebrow.

Louis shakes his head. "Couldn't even get his vest off," he says. "You?"

"Too much beer, not enough opportunities for creative nakedness."

Louis sighs and slumps against the back of the couch. "I genuinely might be in love," he says.

"I hope so," says Harry. "Because your arm is going to say 'LIAM' for ages."

Harry can't tell if this is going to be one of those things Louis forgets about when he's distracted by something else shiny, or something he's going to drive Harry mad talking about. Louis fails to find Liam around the university, maybe because Louis is almost never at university. He also fails to find Liam by randomly popping by Niall's flat for things. ("No, I haven't got a cup of sugar," Niall says flatly. "And no, I do not believe you are making me a cake. That cake is a lie." Louis scowls at him for the rest of the day.)

A week and a half later Harry decides that Louis is serious, and also he won't stop whining, so Harry sits on Niall until Niall sighs and says, "Liam runs for the university. You'll find him running by the river basically every day, training. Sometimes shirtless. Tell Louis to keep his tongue in his mouth or Liam'll run away."

"You've been very helpful," Harry says, and climbs off Niall.

Harry suspects that mentioning to Louis that he knows where Liam is will only lead to problems. Louis has a tendency to make a scene, and he particularly enjoys when he can plan to make a scene, screaming on top of tables or stripping his shirt off and waving it round his head like he's at a rodeo. Both of those things will get Liam's attention but not, Harry thinks, in a way that Louis would enjoy.

He's not even sure when Liam will be around, or where, so he just tells Louis that they need some fresh air and drags him outside to sit by the river. Louis complains about the sun, and then about the lack of sun, and then about getting dirt in his shoes, which he wouldn't if he wore socks. Harry forbears from mentioning this because Harry is a prince.

It pays off beautifully, though, when Liam comes jogging past. He's wearing a t-shirt and baggy basketball shorts, but he's sweaty so the shirt is sticking to his chest. Louis makes a funny noise and all the air seems to drain out of him at once.

"Yes," says Harry. "That's twice you owe me for, now."

Louis just waves at him, which is fine; Harry knows that it means you're the best and I love you and I owe you all of the children I will eventually adopt and raise with Liam.

"Hey!" Louis shouts, waving. Liam doesn't look up; he's looking very focused and he's got earphones in. It's quite sexy, Harry will admit. Liam's all broad and sweaty and concentrating. Harry will have to remember not to walk into Louis's room without knocking for a while, unless he's looking to deliberately embarrass everyone.

Louis jumps to his feet and jogs along with Liam for a minute before Liam does an actual double take and stumbles to a stop. "Hi – What – Oh," he says, pulling out one of his earbuds. "Are you out for a run, too?"

"Yes," says Louis, who is wearing pastel trousers rolled up at the ankles, and Toms, and braces over his shirt. "Absolutely. Are you going this way? So was I."

"You should jog together," says Harry, both because he is helpful and because he thinks Louis will probably pass out after about ten minutes. Physical exercise is not a thing that Louis does, unless he's playing football or flailing drunkenly.

"Yeah," says Louis, "we should jog together."

"Okay," says Liam, smiling a little bit. Harry gives Louis a very stern glance that he hopes will translate to Don't scare him away, you lunatic, and Louis shrugs a little, which means he'll do whatever he likes.

Louis goes jogging off with Liam, which is all kinds of hilarious waiting to happen, and Harry settles in to wait for Louis to come limping back. He'll be covered in blisters but hopefully have an actual date, or Liam's phone number, or something. Louis's usually good at closing the deal.

In the meantime Harry spends some time checking his texts. He doesn't look up again until a shadow falls over him, seeming vaguely like it wants something. When he glances up Zayn is standing there looking a bit fidgety.

"Hey," says Zayn. He is absurdly beautiful. Harry decides that he must be a space alien or a science experiment. "Has Liam been by?"

"Yeah," says Harry. "Louis's with him. I expect they'll be back soon. Or else you'll see an ambulance go by after them."

Zayn looks a little puzzled but he nods. Harry files that away: he can lie to Zayn with impunity and Zayn will apparently be fine with that. Harry enjoys that in a person. "I was supposed to meet Liam here for lunch. But like, an hour ago," says Zayn, with an apologetic little shrug.

Harry is almost never on time for anything, although he blames it on Louis whenever possible. Louis is amazingly late for everything. "He was busy jogging," says Harry. "You and Liam aren't… If you have a thing you should tell me, because Louis thinks he's in love."

Zayn laughs. "Cool," he says. "No, Liam's just a really good friend. Yay for Louis. Yay for Liam, I suppose, as well."

"Has he got any terrible secrets I should know?" Harry asks seriously.

Zayn sits down next to him and shrugs. "I don't think Liam's got any secrets at all," he says. "He's a bit like a teddy bear. If Louis ends up making him sad I'll have to kill him."

That is a sentiment Harry can understand. "Right," he says. "Well, glad that's sorted." He tries to think of a casual way to ask Zayn if he'd like to fool around sometime but he can't think of one when they're both sober and in public. If Harry knew Zayn a little better he'd just climb on top of him and see how that went – Harry could always pretend it was a joke – but Liam said Zayn is shy, so that's probably not the best way to start. "Art student, huh?" Harry says instead, for lack of anything else to say.

Zayn nods. "I plan a long life of being useless and unemployed."

Harry laughs, maybe a little too hard. "Do you paint, or draw, or… Um. What other kinds of art are there? Big metal sculptures in parks?"

"Draw," says Zayn. He gives Harry a little sideways look. Then he says, "I could draw you, sometime," which sounds like such a pick-up line that Harry is too startled to respond and the moment is lost because Louis and Liam come jogging back.

Louis is red-faced and puffing and Liam is clearly trying very hard not to laugh at him. "That was fun," says Liam, but he says it sincerely, not like he's taking the piss. Harry is a little worried that Liam will turn out to be sincere and honest about everything, and then Harry and Louis will accidentally ruin him by being themselves.

"Yes," says Louis, "that was loads of fun." He collapses on the ground face first with a loud groan. Liam laughs.

"Probably you should come out and train more with Liam," says Harry helpfully. "Since you are so pitifully out of shape."

This makes Liam slightly pink and he bites his lip and fidgets a little. "You could if you'd like," he says, which isn't a clear offer of anything, but it makes Louis stop moaning about his blisters and smile brightly at Liam, which in turn makes Liam go even pinker.

"Maybe I will," says Louis.

"Okay," says Liam.

"Okay," says Louis.

Zayn quietly makes a noise like he's being sick. Only Harry hears him and starts laughing, and then has to turn it into a not-very-convincing cough. That makes Zayn start laughing, and they spend a minute giggling on each other's shoulders while Louis scowls and Liam looks a little puzzled.

"Lunch?" asks Zayn when he's recovered. "It was nice to see you both, sure I'll see you around." He jerks his head toward Louis and rolls his eyes a little bit, grinning. Excellent, Harry thinks. If Zayn enjoys judging people while making fun of them, then they'll have loads to chat about when they aren't kissing. He needs to think of a clever way to let Zayn in on this plan. They'd both benefit, really. Harry gives Zayn his best devastatingly flirty smirk and Zayn… appears not to notice. Harry frowns.

"Bye," says Liam, and Louis waves and blows a kiss. This befuddles Liam entirely and Zayn ends up having to drag him off.

"That went well," says Louis.

"Did you get his mobile number?" Harry asks.

"Hmm," says Louis. "Well, no." He flops backward on the grass. "I'm normally better at this, aren't I?"

"Eh," says Harry, shrugging. Louis punches him in the leg and then gropes him a bit inappropriately for someone so determined to trick Liam into dating him. Luckily, Harry is immune to Louis's inappropriate advances. "Honestly, you didn't even manage to get his name after a full night of drunk tongue wrestling at the club. You're a bit of a disaster, aren't you?"

"He confuses me," says Louis. "He says things and he means them. Don't think I didn't see you staring at Zayn like he's a particularly juicy steak, by the way."

Harry shrugs. "I can't really be friends with anyone I haven't got off with, can I?" he asks. "You'll have to let me borrow Liam."

"With supervision," says Louis, "And strictly from the waist up."

Harry can live with that.

Dragging Liam into their circle of friends turns out to be a slow process. He's busy because he actually does sport and goes to lectures and has piano recitals to rehearse for. Louis spends an insane amount of time following Liam around like a lost puppy. Harry learns where Liam's flat is, and that he's got a flatmate who is never, ever home, and where he rehearses, and what his timetable is, because Louis posts it on their fridge for ease of stalking.

Liam comes over to watch films (with Niall and Zayn, Harry insisted, partially to avoid spooking Liam and partially because it's a good excuse to sit accidentally-on-purpose too close to Zayn on the couch). Louis sits on Liam's lap and Liam just shrugs and smiles. Louis does a bit of shushing everyone, pretending they are too loud so he has an excuse to lean over and whisper in Liam's ear whenever he wants to tell him anything. Liam squirms a bit and eventually Louis stops pretending he's whispering and just sits there kissing Liam's neck.

Harry and Niall and Zayn pretend not to notice, until Louis bites Liam and Liam groans a little loudly. Niall throws a handful of popcorn at them and Liam looks horribly embarrassed. Louis mostly looks proud of himself. "Some of us are trying to watch a film," Niall complains.

"Really?" Harry asks. "What's it about?" Niall turns and glares at him.

"Fine," says Louis, standing. He grabs Liam by the hand and pulls him up and into the kitchen, which isn't far enough away, really, but Liam seems like he'd have some concerns about being pulled into Louis's bedroom.

Harry has no idea what's happening in the film because he is busy snuggling up to Zayn. He's got an arm around Zayn's waist and one of his legs flung over Zayn's and so far Zayn hasn't objected. He hasn't reciprocated, either, but Harry's an optimist. He's also confident that he's irresistibly adorable.

"Are they a thing, now, then?" Niall asks.

"Seems that way," says Zayn. "I think I'm gonna step out and smoke."

"I'll come," says Harry immediately. Zayn gives him a puzzled look, and Niall gives him a knowing one. Harry ignores them both. He follows Zayn downstairs and out onto the pavement. It's dark and quiet and Zayn offers him a cigarette, which Harry refuses with a shake of his head. Zayn shrugs and lights his own, blowing smoke out by the lungful. Harry has some very, very dirty thoughts about the way Zayn's mouth wraps around the cigarette.

"You and Louis," says Zayn after a while. He's leaning against the building with his arms crossed. He is insanely attractive, particularly in the shadows. Harry gets a funny twist in his stomach. He's not normally nervous about this kind of thing.

"Yeah," says Harry.

Zayn considers that answer for a long minute. "But it's not, like… a thing?"

"Not really," says Harry. "I mean, obviously he's my best friend, but it's not like…"

"Not like he is about Liam," says Zayn, mouth twisting in to a little smile. Harry wants to bite it off his face. He's feeling fidgety and restless as if he's about to take an exam, instead of hitting on a friend in a mostly-joking way. Maybe if he knew Zayn better it would be easier, he thinks, and almost decides to put it off for a few more weeks, but that's not who Harry is.

"We tried it, but it didn't work out. Now it's mostly playing," says Harry.

"Cool," says Zayn. He drops his cigarette and stomps out the stub with a really expensive looking trainer. "So uh. You came out here with me."

"I did," says Harry. He's leaning against the wall too, his arm brushing against Zayn's, and he edges over a little so that it's pressed against Zayn's. Harry gets a genuine little surge of panic, but that never happens to him, so he stuffs it down.

Zayn laughs, although Harry can't tell at what. Zayn slides his hand over until his little finger is on top of Harry's hand and curls his fingers through Harry's. The old stone of the building is rough underneath Harry's palm, and cold, but Zayn's hand is warm.

Harry leans over and kisses Zayn. It's hesitant, Harry can't help it; he wants Zayn to like him. He wishes Zayn were more like Louis. He always knows exactly what Louis thinking and what he wants. Zayn tastes of cigarettes and popcorn and it's a little unpleasant except he also tastes like himself, and that's amazing. Zayn kisses back but he doesn't really move, and after a minute Harry pulls back.

"Was that okay?" Harry asks, trying to sound cool and relaxed about it.

"Alright with me," says Zayn, almost-laughing.

Harry is dying to do it again, properly this time, with his hands down Zayn's jeans and his tongue in Zayn's mouth and his leg wrapped around Zayn's. He can see it, he can feel it, and it makes his dick ache a little, but… "Just something I do with all my new friends," says Harry, because Zayn is pulling out another cigarette and looking off toward the car park as if he hasn't got a care in the world.

Harry can restrain himself. He is practically an adult. There will be other chances to shove Zayn up against a wall and have his wicked way with him.

"I feel very included," says Zayn with a laugh. He does not appear to be about to swoon at Harry's feet, which is a little annoying. Zayn elbows Harry and Harry shouts indignantly and shoves him back. "We should probably go and rescue Niall," says Zayn. "He'll be drowning in Louis and Liam by now."

Harry will have to come up with some really clever plots to find more excuses to kiss Zayn, he decides. Harry is pretty good at clever plots, luckily. "Yeah," he says. "Do you suppose they're already naked?"

Zayn really considers this for a minute, rolling the cigarette back and forth between his fingers in a way that Harry finds enormously distracting. "I can see Liam getting naked as a joke," he says.

"Huh," says Harry. "I get naked for anything."

"Do you really?" Zayn asks, eyebrows up. He looks intrigued, Harry decides, but that might be wishful thinking.

Harry winks. "Maybe you'll get lucky and find out."

They go back inside and Harry makes a big deal of interrupting Louis and Liam in the kitchen. Louis is sitting on the work surface with his ankles hooked together behind Liam's waist and Liam's got a mark on his neck that's going to be epic tomorrow morning. "Ahem," says Harry loudly. "Shall I get a hose to cool you down? People eat in here."

"Says the boy who put his naked arse on my plate the other week," says Louis loudly. Liam hides his face against Louis's shirt. He's clinging to Louis with both hands, though. It's pretty adorable.

"Is this what we're doing now?" Niall asks, popping his head round the corner and wrinkling up his nose in disgust. "Gettin' naked in the kitchen? There's food in here. Perfectly good food."

"I'm not naked," Liam says loudly, not looking up.

"Not yet," says Louis hopefully.

Zayn laughs. "I kissed Harry. I guess I'm part of the gang now properly, eh?"

"Welcome," says Louis. He holds up his fist and Zayn bumps it with his own.

Harry shrugs. "I like to make everyone feel included. Speaking of, Liam…"

"I've been… I mean, surely this counts," says Liam, waving toward Louis.

"Absolutely not," says Louis. He tugs on Liam's shirt until Liam looks up. He's all resigned and a little pink and he wrinkles up his nose when Harry leans over. Liam is adorable and Harry could go to town embarrassing him – that sounds like fun, actually, for next time he finds Liam accidentally drunk – but it would make Louis scowl at him, and Zayn is watching.

Niall is watching too, but that's not as important. Zayn's eyes are a little dark and Harry swallows hard.

Harry kisses Liam softly on the mouth and then pulls back without trying anything funny. He gives Louis a little look — see? I'm respecting the fact that you think you're in looooove — and Louis smirks a little in return — Go ahead and mock us, I don't mind, the sex is going to be fantastic.

"It's really weird when you do that," Liam says.

"Kissing?" Niall asks, frowning. "Nah, mate. That's what they do. Harry's just being friendly."

"No, they… They talk to each other without talking," Liam says.

"Harry is my best friend and my soul mate," says Louis. "He can read my mind, is all. Don't let it bother you."

"But you were talking about me," says Liam.

Harry grins at him. "You're halfway to speaking our secret language, I see."

"Does anyone here speak the secret language of beer?" Zayn asks.

Niall cheers. Liam sighs a little bit. Harry wonders if he can possibly be serious about this whole not-drinking thing, and if so, how on earth Louis will get around it.

Harry wakes up on top of Zayn, which is better than fine. He's mostly naked, which is good as well. Zayn's warm and the flat's got a little chilly over night. Sadly, both of them are still wearing boxers, so whatever Harry doesn't remember about the end of last night probably wasn't as much fun as he wishes. He still takes a minute to admire Zayn's abs and his arms and his chest and his jaw and his general… Well, his whole general self. Harry knows lots of beautiful people, but there's something about touching Zayn that makes him feel a bit weird.

Louis is passed out on the couch with a blanket over him and Niall has his head under the coffee table. Harry stares blearily at all of them before he peels himself off Zayn. The room spins and dips a little and ugh, Harry is going to spend the rest of the day on the couch eating greasy food and moaning about his head, he can already tell.

"Good morning," says Liam cheerfully. He's up and dressed and –

"Are you doing the washing up?" Harry asks, horrified.

Liam looks a bit guilty. "Well, it's here, and there's a pile," he says. "You and Louis tried to make nachos last night by putting a load of crisps on a plate and covering it with whatever you had in the cupboard. Yogurt and olives, mostly. Then you microwaved it. If I don't scrub it—"

Harry feels a lot like he's going to vomit. "Stop," he says. "Oh god, please stop."

"I told you that last round of Smirnoff Ice was a bad idea," says Liam. Harry wishes he'd stop banging plates around so loudly.

Harry gives him an accusing stare. "When you got really drunk I was nice to you. Next time I'm drawing a dick on your face and getting a 'Property of Louis Tomlinson' tattoo done on your arse."

Liam goes absolutely scarlet. Harry thinks that if anyone in the history of the world is ever going to die of embarrassment it'll be Liam Payne, and Harry wants to be there to watch. "I – You can't — Harry!" Liam says, in the most scandalized voice Harry has ever heard. Harry bursts out laughing. Liam scowls at him for a moment and says, "If you don’t leave me alone to finish I'm going to describe what yogurt smells like after it's been microwaved. In great bubbling detail. It looks like a plate of snot—"

"Stop, stop!" says Harry, putting his hands over his ears. "Truce."

"And then I'll hoover," says Liam. "Loudly."

"We haven't got a hoover."

"I have," says Liam with great relish.

Harry sighs. He can respect mutually assured destruction, and it's a bit reassuring that Liam isn't just going to let himself be run over by Louis, or Harry, or whoever.

"I wouldn't dream of touching your kitchenware," says Liam. "So why don't you make some coffee?"

That is an excellent idea, so Harry only pretends to grumble about it.

Eventually everyone gets up. Niall looks half-dead, lying around on the rug clutching a mug of coffee and trying not to vomit. Louis crawls into his own bed and drags Liam along like a teddy bear. (Liam doesn't actually seem to mind.) Harry sprawls across the couch with his head in Zayn's lap, because he can. Zayn tugs gently on one of Harry's curls and Harry gets ready to murder him, but then tugging turns into petting. Harry closes his eyes. Zayn pets his head gently, massaging a little bit, even, and it's so nice that Harry's terrible headache fades. He leans into Zayn's hand like a cat. If he could purr he would.

"You lot are crazy," says Zayn. Harry doesn't care what he says, as long as he keeps on petting Harry's head.

Harry meets up with Louis for lunch and finds, to his delight, that Liam is attempting to get Louis to do his homework. "He's got an essay to write," says Liam. "It's due on Monday! Surely he should have at least started the outline."

"Surely," Harry echoes, and then grins at Louis when Liam turns away. It's clear from Louis's face that he can't decide whether he's besotted enough with Liam to actually write an essay, and the look he gives Harry is pure murder.

Sometimes Harry is sure he was put on earth just to annoy people. "He probably hasn't even got the notes," says Harry helpfully. "You should double check that. And then have him show you the outline. I know all your tricks, Tommo."

"Really, though, have you even got the books?" Liam asks, in a genuinely worried voice.

Louis slumps in his chair. "I think so. They're at the flat."

"Probably in that pile of books you haven't even opened," Harry explains.

"Lucky thing you've got all weekend to study," says Liam.

Louis might kill himself. Or Harry might die from trying not to laugh. "I am not studying all weekend," says Louis flatly.

"How else will you get it done?" Liam asks reasonably. Harry steals his chips and tries not to look too gleeful while he eats.

Louis sighs. "I probably won't get it done," he says. "It's fine. I've been late on lots of things before."

Liam frowns like he wants to argue and then thinks better of it. Harry wants to encourage him not to give up but then Liam looks over and notices that Harry's eaten half his lunch and frowns at him, too.

"I have studying to do as well," says Liam. "We'll just hang out and have a homework party."

"That sounds like the worst sort of party in the history of the world. I refuse," says Louis.

"Fine," says Liam calmly. "But there are rewards for hard work."

There is a very tense pause. Harry has never been so delighted to have snuck into a conversation in his entire life. "Are they sexy rewards?" he asks hopefully.

"They might be," says Liam, slapping Harry's hand away from his chips. "You aren't invited."

"Unfair!" Harry says, at the same moment that Louis sits up very straight, and says, "Really?"

Liam shrugs and doesn't look at either of them. His cheeks are really pink. Harry will have to plan to accidentally break in to Louis's room. (Really they should go to Liam's flat, where they can usually be alone. Harry would point that out if he were a better person.) "There was that thing you wanted to do," Liam says, for all the world as if he's discussing homework or an email he got. "And I just think I might be up for it, if you were done with your essay."

"Jesus," says Louis reverentially. Liam shrugs again.

Harry is too old to stomp his foot and shout Tell me tell me tell me! and anyway Louis will eventually. "This is the filthiest conversation I've ever heard," says Harry. He's honestly a little impressed.

"Your brain is dirtier than what we're actually discussing," says Louis, but he doesn't elaborate, probably because Liam kicks him under the table.

"Fine," says Harry. "I'll go and do dirty things with Zayn instead."

"Isn't it Niall's turn?" Louis asks, giving him a knowing little look that Harry chooses to ignore.

"Shouldn't you go and start reading the books for that essay?" Harry shoots back, because no matter what Liam just offered to do there is literally no way Louis won't take that bribe.

Louis points at Liam. "Saturday night we go out to the club," he says. "Sunday we can stay in and… study." The way he leers the word study nearly makes Harry blush, never mind Liam.

"Fine," says Liam. "I've got a rehearsal Sunday afternoon, though, so you'll have to study by yourself for a while."

"And then we'll have a homework party," says Louis. He puts his hand on top of Liam's, running his thumb back and forth along Liam's wrist until Liam shivers and tries to pull his hand away.

"I'll plan on buying some ear plugs," says Harry.

"I am absolutely not jealous," Harry announces, wrapping his arms around Zayn's waist from behind.

"I'm very pleased to hear that," says Zayn. He doesn't seem especially surprised to find Harry in his flat on a random weekday afternoon.

Harry buries his face against Zayn's back between his shoulder blades. Zayn smells nice, like cologne and sweat and a little bit of cigarette smoke. Harry should really stop noticing how good Zayn smells all the time.

"Louis blew off our lunch plans," says Harry. "This is the second time in a week he's ditched me. Will you help me murder Liam and hide his body?"

"It's a good thing you aren't jealous," says Zayn. Harry squeezes him a little bit and Zayn laughs. "Haven't you got friends besides Louis?"

"That's why I'm here," says Harry. "I couldn't find Niall. I need someone to help me fill Louis's bedroom up with dead rats."

"I'll help you," says Zayn. He reaches around to pat Harry and ends up grabbing his arse because that's what's available. Harry doesn't mind. "Where do you plan to get dead rats?"

"I don't know, there must be a science building somewhere, mustn't there?" Harry asks. He lets go of Zayn with a huffy sigh and Zayn wraps a friendly arm around his shoulders instead. Harry leans shamelessly into Zayn's side, wrapping himself around Zayn. He's got a lot of practice at this with Louis.

Zayn steers Harry toward the couch. Zayn shares his flat with a bunch of other art students, so it's full of shabby furniture and paint pots and canvases and assorted tools. It's also a disaster. Harry imagines Liam would throw a fit if he saw the number of crisp packets left empty on the floor. Harry and Louis's flat has never been tidier than it is now that Liam's there almost every day.

"I'm really not jealous," says Harry again, snuggling in to Zayn on the couch. "I know Louis'll always love me best. He's just busy now. It's boring without him."

"I think maybe you need to share for a little while," says Zayn. "Liam's like… He's new. You know when a kid gets a new toy that's all he wants to play with for a while."

Harry asks plaintively, "So what am I, the raggedy old teddy with one eye missing?"

"A cheeky doll where you pull the string and it says naughty things, more like," says Zayn.

Harry grins at him. "I'm bored," he says. "You should distract me." Zayn smiles and starts to ask how, or maybe why, or possibly just to say okay – he's certainly not saying no – when Harry leans in and kisses him.

Harry's not nervous this time, except that Zayn is really hard to read most of the time, and he wants Zayn to be impressed. Harry is an ace kisser, he knows; he's been told enough times by enough people. Zayn kisses back in a friendly enough way, but that's not what Harry wants. Harry slides his hand up Zayn's side and climbs into Zayn's lap, careful of his knees and elbows, pressing himself against Zayn wherever he can. Zayn's hands come around to Harry's waist and after a minute one goes up into Harry's hair, which is Harry's favorite thing. He nips encouragingly at Zayn's mouth, running his tongue along the stubble Zayn has very carefully grown to look just enough like he doesn't care.

"Bored, eh?" says Zayn, smiling. Up this close he's even prettier; his eyelashes are longer than any girl's that Harry can remember. Harry shakes the hair out of his eyes without moving his hands from underneath Zayn's t-shirt. Zayn's warm and friendly and solidly muscular underneath Harry. Harry wonders if he could convince Zayn they should take their clothes off and fool around. Naked kissing is Harry's favorite kind. (Naked anything is Harry's favorite, really.)

"We could just do this until I forget all about whatshisname," says Harry encouragingly. His heart is beating a little quickly and there's a tingle of excitement along his spine when he rocks his hips forward against Zayn's.

"My flatmates will be back eventually," says Zayn, but then he tugs Harry's hair until Harry leans down and kisses him again. Harry makes a happy groaning noise and Zayn smiles against his mouth. Harry's going to end up feeling a little raw from rubbing against Zayn's stubble, but he won't mind, he doesn't think.

"You could draw me like one of your French girls," says Harry, sucking on Zayn's ear. He's got an earring; Harry's only had that with girls before. The skin under Zayn's ear is soft and it smells like hair product, but in a sexy way.

Zayn laughs and then tips his head back, exhaling quietly while Harry kisses and bites and licks. Harry feels electric all over; he wants Zayn's shirt off, he wants to press all of their skin together, he wants to lick Zayn until he knows what every part of him tastes like and all the noises Zayn makes. Does he stay quiet and reserved? Harry's willing to bet Zayn can get a lot louder.

"You're too pretty, I wouldn’t know how to draw you," says Zayn, and then he turns and pushes somehow and Harry finds himself on his back on the couch, scratchy fabric rough against his arms and the small of his back where his t-shirt's ridden up. Zayn's on top of him, hands wrapped around Harry's upper arms, pushing him into the cushions. "You need a lot of attention, don't you?" Zayn asks, but he's smiling. Harry makes what he hopes is an encouraging noise, rocking his hips up again, because he's forgotten all the words he normally knows.

Zayn kisses Harry's neck and Harry can't keep his eyes open; there are too many feelings and too much electricity running through his arms and down through his belly. He's half-hard already, just from kissing, which isn't unusual but it doesn't normally make him feel like this, hot and a little desperate, like he might die if Zayn stops. Zayn bites Harry's collarbone and Harry says something that might be, "Please." He hopes it is. He's pretty shameless even when he's not this turned on.

"Yeah, alright," says Zayn. His voice has gone rough. Harry tries to get his hands on Zayn's back to drag him down, or maybe to push his shirt off, but Zayn's stronger than he looks and he just pushes Harry down into the couch again instead. Harry can't help making a pleading little noise, and Zayn kisses him again until he stops. "Hey, it's fine," says Zayn. Zayn's getting hard too, Harry can feel it where Zayn's pressing their hips together. Harry makes himself open his eyes and is pleased to see that Zayn – beautiful, calm, composed Zayn – looks a little wrecked and desperate himself.

"I want—" Harry manages, sneaking his hands around between them, fingers too clumsy and numb to get the button undone on Zayn's jeans. He's good at this, normally; he can get a girl's bra undone while he's fingering her and he can undo button flies with his teeth. Harry's practiced. But right now he feels too hot to breathe, and he can't seem to make his fingers work the way they ought to. His heart is pounding.

"Oh, Christ," says Zayn, gritting his teeth. He bites Harry's collarbone, and that's going to leave a mark. It stings and burns and Harry arches his back, trying to breathe but he can't, his brain is too busy telling him all the places he's pressed against Zayn, how his hands are trapped between them, Zayn's dick pressing against his thigh through his jeans. Zayn rolls his hips and Harry thinks This is probably how I'm going to die.

"Hey honey, I'm home!" someone shouts, banging into the flat.

Zayn groans and collapses on top of Harry. "Go the fuck away!" Harry shouts.

One of Zayn's dirty art kid flatmates walks in and stares at them for a minute. "Oh, hey," he says. "Busy?" He grins a lot.

Harry has a pretty good idea just what they look like. Given another couple of minutes he could have got off just from kissing and biting and some hands down each other's jeans, and he's fucking furious that he's not going to get to. He scowls at Zayn's flatmate, who doesn't appear to mind at all.

"Nice one, Zayn," says the flatmate, settling into one of the big overstuffed chairs under the slanted, dirty windows.

"Just friends, being… Friendly," says Zayn. He's got his face hidden in Harry's shoulder and his breathing is a little ragged. At least he's suffering, too.

Harry wants to say, Let's take this into your bedroom, mate, how about that?. But maybe that's not a thing friends do when they're being friendly. Harry does, but Harry's been led to believe he's not entirely typical.

"Jealous," says Harry instead. Zayn reaches up and tugs sharply on Harry's hair. Harry groans, partly because oh god that feels good, and partly to annoy Zayn's flatmate.

"I suppose you need to kiss him, now," says Zayn, sitting up on his knees. His legs are bracketing Harry's and Harry reaches up with both hands for Zayn's t-shirt. He doesn't care if they have an audience. Harry loves an audience.

Zayn lets Harry pull him down into a kiss but it's clear that Zayn's being gentle and trying to calm them both down a bit. He puts one hand on Harry's jaw and won't let Harry push up against him like Harry wants to. Harry tries to object, to protest, but Zayn swallows it and ends with just his forehead resting against Harry's.

"But we didn't finish," Harry whines. He still can't quite get his breath back, even if his heart has stopped racing.

"You forgot all about Louis and Liam, though, didn't you?" Zayn asks, voice smiling.

To be perfectly honest Harry doesn't give a single fuck about either Louis or Liam at the moment. Why isn't Zayn dragging him in to his bedroom right now? "But," he says again, trying his most devastating pout.

Zayn is apparently immune, though, which is infuriating. Even Louis can't turn Harry down when he's really, really sad. (Fine, maybe Harry isn't really, really sad at the moment, but he might die from blue balls; that counts.) Zayn sits up and runs his hands through his hair a little. Harry shoves himself up and fixes his t-shirt with an angry little yank.

"Maybe no one'll interrupt me and Niall," Harry snaps grumpily. He stands up and shakes his curls out of his eyes. He wants Zayn to grab his arm and drag him back down on the couch. In Harry's head Zayn tells his stupid fucking flatmate to fuck off and then he bites Harry until there are marks no one can miss, and Harry's got bruises on his arms and his hips and – if Harry lets his imagination really go – maybe Zayn fucks Harry into the couch until neither one of them can move anymore.

"Tell Niall I said hi," says Zayn, shrugging.

Harry is abruptly so furious it feels like his whole chest is on fire. "Fine, I will," he says, clenching his teeth, and stomps out. Zayn doesn't come running after him, obviously, which Harry didn't even want anyway. Or he did want it, but he doesn't want it now. He wants to be in a huff and feel neglected. There is a certain amount of joy in wallowing in self-pity.

Harry stomps the few streets from Zayn's flat to his own. When he throws the door open Liam and Louis aren't actually having sex on the couch – thank god, Harry couldn't deal with feeling like he was second-best right now – although they do look a bit flushed and Liam's collar is wrenched around and one of his buttons is done up wrong.

"Can I borrow him, please?" Harry says to Liam.

"Of course," says Liam. He moves over on the couch so there's a spot for Harry to throw himself on Louis and hide his face against Louis's chest. Louis hugs him tightly, in that excellent Louis way he has.

"You alright, Haz?" Louis asks, squeezing a little.

"I hate everyone," says Harry, knowing he won't need to tell Louis why, or that he doesn’t mean Louis. Liam starts to make noises about leaving but he and Louis must have some kind of silent conversation over Harry's head, because instead Liam puts on a DVD and settles on the floor with his book, leaning back against Louis's legs. It's nice; Harry wouldn't actually want to scare Liam away from Louis. He's fine with it being the three of them, as long as Harry gets some special attention from Louis. He breathes deeply, comforted by the way Louis smells like himself, and now just a little bit like Liam as well. Harry probably smells a bit like Zayn, but he doesn't want to think about that.

"You alright, really?" Louis asks quietly.

Harry sighs instead of answering, breath ruffling Louis's shirt. Louis crooks his fingers and tickles Harry's side, but gently, just enough to make Harry squirm a little closer.

Harry comes back to the flat after a lecture and finds Liam sprawled on their couch, surrounded by five different types of highlighters and biros. Harry doesn't understand how someone studying music can have so many books to read. Liam's marks are apparently pretty mediocre in everything that isn't actually performing, though, so maybe he's just overcompensating. Harry can't decide whether to be supportive or make fun of him.

"Hey," says Harry, and Liam waves. "Where's your boyfriend?" Harry dumps his bag on the floor and kicks off his trainers, heading in to the kitchen for a snack. He's starved, and Niall wouldn't let him nick any of his crisps on the walk home. "Don't tell me he's left you all alone here. Are you moving in or…" Harry trails off, because Liam hasn't replied yet.

When Harry sticks his head around the wall he finds Liam staring at him with huge, startled eyes. "Liam?" says Harry, tilting his head a little. "You alright, mate?"

"Um," says Liam, clutching his textbook a little. "Um, when you say boyfriend, do you mean officially… Like… Um…" His voice is a little squeaky, although he's clearly trying really hard to sound calm.

Harry frowns at him. "I mean your boyfriend. Louis? Brown hair, swoopy fringe, no sense of personal space? I hope this is jogging a memory or two."

"But," says Liam, and then seems to run out of words. He sits up and chews on his lip for a minute. He's blushing for no earthly reason Harry can puzzle out, but then literally every single thing anyone says seems to embarrass Liam, so who knows.

Harry brings out a plate of cheese and cream crackers he left in the fridge the night before and shoves all of Liam's notes and highlighters and biros off the couch. "What?" Harry says.

"Has he said… I mean, did he say anything about making this really serious, because… I mean, do you think he'd want… I mean—"

Harry can not listen to Liam start the same sentence again, or he's going to want to hit him, and that would make Louis cross. "Oh my god," says Harry. "Did no one tell you that you were seriously dating Louis? Should I have made a Facebook announcement?"

"No!" says Liam, although Harry's not sure which part he's denying. "I just… We haven't… I mean, he's not…"

Harry is not going to grab Liam and shake him, although he's awfully tempted. "Liam," says Harry grumpily, "you practically live in our flat. You've got clothes in Louis's wardrobe. You have done naughty, filthy things with Louis that I have accidentally overheard while I was trying to sleep. Are you fucking anyone else?" Liam shakes his head. "Good," says Harry, "so I won't have to kill you for cheating on your boyfriend."

"He never said anything!" Liam protests.

"You're a bit dim sometimes," says Harry, and then offers Liam some cheese. Liam scowls at him but takes a snack anyway.

"We've just been… It's very casual," says Liam. "And I thought maybe Louis liked it being just messing around, and I wasn't sure… I mean, I thought he'd say something."

Louis is over-the-moon in love, just like he predicted he would be, but Harry doesn't say so. Niall says that Liam is a serial monogamist who falls in love at the drop of a hat, and Harry doesn't want to give him any ideas. Harry is too young to be a best man and too old to be a page boy, so there can't be any weddings any time soon.

"Liam," says Harry, trying really hard to sound patient, "you are for-real dating Louis. You are Louis's one-and-only boyfriend. If that's not okay with you then you should have stopped this weeks ago."

"No!" says Liam quickly. "It's fine! I mean, it's fine with me, I just… Do you think Louis'll… Um. Mind?"

It takes Harry a minute to parse what Liam is asking him. "Do I think Louis will mind being your boyfriend?" Harry repeats, slightly incredulous.

Liam looks at him apologetically.

Harry is the most patient person who has ever lived. He's going to get a sainthood and have his portrait put on walls next to Gandhi and Mother Theresa. "I'm fairly sure Louis is okay with the whole situation," says Harry.

"Oh," says Liam.

Harry throws a slice of cheese at Liam's head. Liam starts to glare and can't quite make his face do it properly. A minute later Louis flings open the door of the flat and shouts, "Did you miss me? Have you been pining terribly?"

"Yes," says Harry, and Louis laughs. Liam starts to say something and Harry elbows him in the stomach. "Quiz time," says Harry loudly. "Point to your boyfriend."

Louis raises a confused eyebrow. He makes a big show of puzzling over it, pulling a really concerned face, pointing hesitantly to Harry, then to Liam, then to Harry again, then throwing his hands up in apparent surrender and pointing to Liam.

"Do I win a prize?" Louis asks hopefully.

"You would have if you'd chosen me," says Harry, sticking his tongue out and leering suggestively.

"Shut up," says Liam. He climbs off the couch and goes over to the door, smiling at Louis in a way that makes Harry's heart hurt just a little bit. No one smiles at him like that. Even Louis, who's got a special smile just for Harry, doesn't smile at him like that. "It's a whole thing, I'll explain it later," says Liam.

"Liam didn't know he was your boyfriend," says Harry loudly. They're having an adorable moment and he kind of wants to ruin it. He catches himself before he can say anything really nasty, though. "So you should, like, clear that up."

"Liam," says Louis fondly.

"I just didn't want to presume," says Liam, and then Louis kisses him. Liam tries to keep talking, and Louis walks him backward toward his bedroom, still kissing him. Harry turns on the television and sets the volume really, really loud, since he imagines there's some celebratory sex about to happen.

There are a decent number of people in Harry's phone that he could call to come over and keep him company while Louis and Liam are otherwise occupied. By "keep him company" Harry obviously means fool around with; he's not going to be the only person not getting off in the flat. Harry flips open his mobile and scrolls through names. No one seems particularly appealing. He gets all the way to the end – Zayn – and stares at his name for a long minute. Zayn could come over and maybe this time Harry could talk him into some nudity and groping, and they could give Louis and Liam a run for their money. But it gives him a weird feeling of squirmy uncertainty, because what if Zayn's not up for it? That would crush Harry, and he can't take any crushing at the moment.

Harry scrolls back up to Niall. "What are you doing and wouldn't you rather be over here with me?" Harry says by way of greeting.

"Yeah, alright," says Niall. "I'll bring food."

"Cheers," says Harry, hanging up. Niall is low-stakes and low-pressure, he'll be happy with a couple of ciders and a roll around on the couch, and then Harry won't feel lonely or annoyed anymore. Everyone wins.

Harry beats Louis for the seventh time in a row at Mario Kart, lying on the floor in their living room. Liam is sitting on the couch because he's not allowed to play Mario Kart anymore; he always wins. Harry and Louis are much more interested in throwing bananas and using cheat codes than actually getting the fastest lap times.

"Ahhhh, I win, suck it!" says Harry, throwing his arms in the air. Louis starts throwing sweets at him instead, and Liam makes a slightly tired noise, presumably because he's going to have to tidy up later. (Well, he doesn't have to, Harry has told him this repeatedly. But he will.)

"You cheat," says Louis, hitting him with a pillow from the couch.

"Yeah," says Harry. "So do you."

"I'm bored of this anyway," says Louis, which means he's tired of losing. "Who's up for dinner? Harry, you want to cook us something?"

Harry considers what he's got in the fridge and how much energy he's willing to expend in order to have a halfway decent meal when Liam says, "Sorry, can't."

They both turn and stare at him. "What?" says Louis.

Liam shrugs apologetically. "I'm busy tonight and all weekend. I should really get going, actually."

Louis sits up looking absolutely hurt. "You're busy?" he repeats incredulously. "You are not busy. I know your schedule by heart. Are you ditching me?" There's a thread of real hurt in his voice and Harry scowls at Liam.

"I am," Liam insists. "My parents have come down for the weekend."

There is a long, long silence. Harry is having a little trouble reading Louis's face, which is unusual and worries him.

"You didn't say," says Louis.

"I thought maybe if I said my parents were coming up to visit it would sound like I was pushing you to meet them," says Liam. "And we've only been dating a month—"

"Two," says Harry, because he counts from the night they had dinner, not from when Liam finally noticed they were dating.

"—and that's really soon to meet my parents," Liam goes on. "I mean. It's weird, right?"

"Do they know you've got a boyfriend?" asks Louis. He's still on the edge somewhere between mad and hurt and confused and Harry slips his hand into Louis's and squeezes a little bit.

"Yeah, no, they do," says Liam. "They said… I mean, they wanted me to take you out with us, but they're, you know, they're my parents." Liam says this with an apologetic scrunchy nose, so Harry assumes Louis knows something about Liam's parents that Harry doesn't.

Louis stares at the rug for a minute. "Okay," he says finally. "Have fun with them." He stands up and walks into his bedroom and shuts the door.

"Fuck," says Liam. Harry has never heard him swear before.

"What the fuck did you think he'd say?" Harry asks. He'd like to punch Liam, maybe not in the face, just in the arm, really really hard. "Are you embarrassed by him? I swear to god, Liam, I'm going to make your life so fucking miserable –"

"No," says Liam. "No, of course not." He draws up his knees and for a minute his face crumples like he's going to cry, but then he doesn't, thank god. Harry's busy being furious on Louis's behalf; he can't also feel bad about Liam.

"So explain it to me," orders Harry.

"I should go, probably," says Liam, looking at Louis's closed door.

Harry pushes himself up on his knees so he has a good angle and decent momentum to punch Liam in the thigh. Liam winces and then gives him a wounded look, which Harry ignores. "Explain yourself," Harry repeats.

Liam sighs. "My parents are just… They're a lot. And I love them, obviously, but dad's a bit poorly and mum's intense. Both my sisters' husbands were terrified of her, she was planning the wedding before they'd even proposed, and I just started dating Louis and… And they're a bit old fashioned, I mean, they love me, but they don't know anything about being gay and they're quite likely to be friendly by asking all sorts of questions about… About…" Liam trails off.

That does sound absolutely horrific to Harry. But then, Harry's never let anyone stick around long enough to be an official boyfriend, or girlfriend, or whatever, and he's certainly never met any parents. Maybe it's supposed to be terrible.

"I just thought it would be easier," says Liam quietly. "I should go."

"You should go and bang on his door until he lets you in, and then tell him all that," says Harry.

Liam sighs and fidgets a little. "I have a tendency to rush into these things," he says. "I was just trying not to rush him, I… I really like him."

Harry resists the urge to shout Just fucking say that to him, you absolute moron. "Get up," Harry orders. "Go and talk to him."

"You do it," says Liam. "He's never cross with you."

"He tries to strangle me daily," says Harry, although it does feel nice to have Liam acknowledge how well he handles Louis. "You're his boyfriend. You have to go and say you're sorry and fix it. Don't ask me how, I don't know. I just fool around with people so I never have to deal with all this shit."

For a split second Liam gives Harry a stare that feels like it rips right through his chest and sees all the things Harry doesn't let anyone look at. "Oh, really," says Liam flatly.

"You know he's in there planning ways to break up with you, right?" Harry lies, because it isn't his turn to deal with shit right now. Liam goes pale, and presumably forgets whatever he was going to say about Harry. "Get up and go and talk to him, quick," says Harry, shoving Liam off the couch.

Liam doesn't much like arguing, or dealing with people who are angry, but he squares his shoulders and sighs and knocks on Louis's door. It takes a couple of minutes of quiet apologies and cajoling before Louis opens the door and Liam goes in, and Harry is left sitting alone in the living room.

"Harry Styles: marriage counselor," says Niall, and then falls over laughing.

"It worked, didn't it?" says Harry indignantly. They're all sat outside waiting for Liam to come back with his parents – Louis had what he says was a mostly-successful dinner last night with them, and now he's chasing Zayn around trying to get leaves in his hair while Zayn swears and throws twigs at him. Harry feels weird not being included, but he can't decide if he feels weird about Louis or about Zayn playing around without him.

"I don't know. Louis, did Liam's parents approve?" Niall shouts.

Louis stops running for a second. "I dunno," he says. "They showed me a load of baby pictures of Liam, which was nice, but they also seemed a bit confused about the whole thing. Liam's dad kept giving me these looks when Liam wasn't watching, and his mum asked me about my intentions."

"I've met her, she's lovely but she's a bit odd. I bet she actually said 'What are your intentions toward my son?'" Zayn says, and then shoves a load of leaves down the back of Louis's trousers.

"Augh, you bastard," shouts Louis, squirming away. "Anyway, Liam told her she can't just ask that sort of thing, and she said she wasn't sure how it works but she knows lesbians move in together and get married right away."

Harry has similar fears about Liam and Louis, frankly, and it makes him feel weird to think about, so he doesn't. "And then Liam died of embarrassment?" Harry suggests.

"More or less," says Louis. "Shame, really. I was going to make my intentions towards him clear."

"You've made 'em as clear as they could be," says Niall. "I walked in on the two of you this morning and I got an eyeful. No thanks."

Louis nods his head toward Niall, and Zayn grins a little. The two of them pick up more leaves and twigs and whatever and with a collective shout shove it all in Niall's hair. He jumps up and swears at them and chases Louis off.

"Why are you messing around with him? He's got a boyfriend. You should mess around with me," says Harry, who is not above whining when he feels left out.

"Oh no," says Zayn, laughing. "I've been warned about you."

Harry sticks his lip out poutily and grabs Zayn's hand, pulling him toward the bench. Zayn comes willingly, smiling that devastating smile of his. Harry's heart leaps, just a little bit. It's nice having Zayn smile at him like that.

"Who warned you about me?" Harry says. "Lies, all lies."

"Niall and Louis told me you're a heartbreaker," says Zayn. He braces himself on the back of the bench with one hand and leans down and kisses Harry, cupping Harry's jaw with his free hand. It's a really sweet kiss, but sweet is never what Harry wants from Zayn. He wants rough and dirty and possessive. Harry drags his teeth along Zayn's lower lip and Zayn growls a little. Harry hooks his ankle around the back of Zayn's leg and puts both his hands on Zayn's shirt, pulling him closer, kissing harder.

When Harry pushes, Zayn gets pushy in return, which is Harry's favorite thing. Zayn presses harder with his fingers where they're pressed against Harry's neck, and moves his knee up to the bench between Harry's legs. Harry's stomach flips and his chest feels tight. He puts one of his hands on Zayn's waist, running his fingers up and down Zayn's back under his t-shirt, scratching a little. He wants to leave marks. Zayn growls again and bites down hard on Harry's jaw, and Harry shudders and forgets how to breathe.

"Jeeeeesus," says Louis loudly. "I leave you alone for one minute, Styles, and look what you're up to."

"Fuck off," says Harry indistinctly. Zayn pulls away. Harry considers shouting No, no, no, no! and refusing to let go, but Niall and Louis are both staring at him. Harry generally tries not to be too obvious.

Zayn laughs and straightens his shirt. "Whoops," he says. "Harry's distracting."

"You got to play with Zayn, it was my turn," says Harry. He leans forward and shakes his hair into his eyes and then flips it back out. It's a nice excuse not to look at Louis for a minute.

Louis starts to say something about that, but Niall says, "There's Liam! And there's his mum, oh god, come and help me embarrass him," and pulls Louis away.

Harry chances a look up at Zayn. He's flushed and gorgeous and all kinds of wonderful. He's shy but he's also silly; he's reserved but he's also affectionate. He's thoughtful and funny and the prettiest person Harry has ever seen in his life. And he doesn’t seem that impressed by Harry, frankly, which makes Harry feel wild about impressing him somehow.

"We were interrupted," Harry says hopefully.

Zayn steps away a little. He laughs. "Fun's fun," he says, "but I don't think I'm what you're looking for right now, Haz."

Yes, you are! Harry thinks, and then is so startled at himself that he doesn't stop Zayn from turning and jogging off to join Louis and Niall making fun of Liam.

This is the new typical Saturday night:

Louis is drunk, and using it as an excuse to cling to Liam, as if Liam is the only thing keeping him upright. (He's not actually too drunk to stand, but Liam has trouble telling the difference. Harry doesn't want to ruin Louis's fun.) Louis is trying to dance but Liam can't be persuaded to do much more than the macarena and sometimes to moonwalk a little bit, which is not the kind of dancing Louis is attempting.

Niall and Zayn and Harry are hanging out by the bar, and they've got as far as shots, which means Harry's not sure what they're drinking anymore. He can get trashed now, even if Louis is completely trashed, because Liam won't be.

Harry is really, really trashed.

Zayn is on his second or third shot, he's been competing with Niall, which is a terrible idea. It means that Zayn's face is red and he's laughing louder than usual and he's got a little sweaty and a little mussed.

Harry is staring. So are half the people in the club, though. But no matter what Harry's done all night, Zayn isn't staring back, and it's become this burning, crazy feeling that's crawling its way up Harry's throat and strangling him from the inside. So far shots haven't made it go away.

Niall is apparently trying to teach Zayn to do Irish dancing; this involves a lot of grabbing his arm and helping him flail around just right, while they both laugh. It would be weird if Harry grabbed Niall's hand where he's holding Zayn's arm and shoved him away. Everyone would want to know why. Harry isn't even entirely sure why. He thinks it might be the alcohol. It's certainly not Zayn's stupid laughing face and how he's not laughing at Harry.

"Come and dance," says Niall, grabbing Harry and pulling him over. Harry isn't a dancer but he's more coordinated than Zayn is. He bounces up and down to the terrible music in the club and then Louis appears behind him, grinding a little bit with his hands on Harry's hips, and Harry laughs.

"My boyfriend won't let me grind on him," says Louis in Harry's ear, and then bites him.

"Your boyfriend lets you do all kinds of things to him," says Harry, and Louis laughs. Harry is drunk enough that people seem to be appearing and disappearing almost at random; he can't remember when he put his arms around Niall's neck, but he's sandwiched between Niall and Louis, and it's nice. Harry licks Niall's chin and Niall laughs and kisses him on the cheek. Zayn looks over and grins at all of them.

"Shots!" says Louis, and then he's got them another round. He couldn't possibly have done that and been back already; he must have magical alcohol powers. Harry's holding a shot but he forgets to drink it because he's watching Zayn tip his head back and swallow. Zayn's neck is just really… It's so incredibly…

Harry is going to lick Zayn's neck and make Zayn fuck him up against the wall and then punch him in his stupid gorgeous face for being so beautiful when no one asked him to. Harry grabs Zayn's arm but Zayn is talking to Niall and doesn't turn immediately and Harry is so furious he can't breathe, and—

"Water," says Liam out of nowhere, pulling Harry away.

"What?" Harry protests. "No, I've got a shot, see?"

Liam has his hands full of Harry and Louis hanging off his neck, laughing as if this is the funniest thing he's ever seen. Louis is approaching actually falling-down-for-real drunk. Liam considers his options for a moment, and then takes the shot out of Harry's hand and drinks it himself. He makes a tremendously disgusted face afterwards. "There," says Liam, "now you haven't got a shot to worry about. Come on: water."

"Did you see—?" Harry asks Louis, genuinely confused, because Liam doesn't do shots, he'll barely even sip a beer, but Liam's got both of Harry's hands in his own and is dragging him over to the bar. Harry thinks vaguely that Liam owes him a shot now, and is going to get him one, but the cup Liam presses into Harry's hands is depressingly full of water.

"I don't want water," says Harry petulantly.

"I know," says Liam, "but you were about to climb Zayn like a tree and bite his face off. You'll feel better if you have some water."

"I wasn't," says Harry, craning his neck over the crowd to see Zayn. His shirt's undone and his chest is sweaty and Harry wants to lick him everywhere. "I just… I mean. He's pretty."

"He's gorgeous," says Liam. "But you don't want to get off with him, drunk like this."

"Yes, I do," Harry insists. He drinks some of the water because it's in his hands and it's cold and he's suddenly really, really hot. "It'd be easier that way. I wouldn't have to explain."

"You're Harry, you never have to explain," says Liam. He sounds fond but Harry's not entirely sure what he means, and so he scowls. Liam leans in and kisses Harry on the cheek and then pushes him to drink more of the water. "I just think you'd rather get with Zayn sober, so you can… You know. Enjoy it."

"I'd enjoy it drunk," Harry insists, but maybe Liam is right. He'd like to be able to remember what's going on. His cup is empty and he doesn't really remember drinking that. "Zayn's more important than water," Harry says.

Liam nods. "Okay," he says agreeably. "How about more water, and then Zayn, then?"

"He's not even looking at me!" Harry says, crossing his arms and slumping against the wall. Liam has got the cup magically refilled with water.

"Of course he is," says Liam. "Everyone is."

"Well, he's not doing it right," says Harry murderously. Zayn hasn't really looked at him all night. Liam makes Harry drink more water and pulls him back to his feet when Harry starts to slide down the wall. "Go away," says Harry. "Go and bother your boyfriend. Leave me alone to sulk."

"Do you have any idea what you want, Harry?" Liam asks, sighing.

"I don't know," says Harry. Liam pulls him into a hug and Harry clings to Liam's neck and thinks he'll stay there as long as Liam lets him.

"Hey now," says Louis's voice. "No having fun without me." Liam swears and jerks to the side, which means Louis's just pinched him or stuck his hands down Liam's jeans. Louis wraps his arms around Liam and Harry both, and for a second Harry feels okay about the whole thing. Then Louis wraps himself around Liam and starts kissing Liam's neck.

Harry feels tremendously, achingly alone.

Harry has never been a maudlin drunk, that's always been Louis's thing after a bad day. But right now he could absolutely cry. He could throw a fit and break every glass in the bar and he could sob his fucking eyes out. He wishes wildly for a second that he'd seen Liam first; Liam knows how to fix things, Liam is sweet and generous and capable and steady. Harry could make him happy if he really tried. Liam's so easy to please.

Or better, Harry thinks, he could have sent Liam home from the club and never asked his name, and then he'd have Louis all to himself. There wouldn't be Zayn to feel terrible over. There wouldn't be Liam to be jealous of. That would be perfect.

"Fuck," says Harry out loud. He isn't this terrible person, normally. "I'm really trashed. I'm going home."

"I'll call a cab," says Liam immediately, trying to disentangle himself from Louis.

"I can do it myself," says Harry. "You stay with your boyfriend." He doesn't mean to sneer that last word, but his voice does it anyway.

If Louis weren't so drunk he wouldn't miss the misery in Harry's voice. Liam doesn't miss it but he can't get Louis's hands out of his pockets fast enough to be able to follow Harry across the club. Harry almost runs over to the door and gives Paul the little nod that means he needs a cab and Paul nods back. Harry's pretty pleased with himself for not crying. Not yet, at least.

"You leaving?"

Harry turns and there's Zayn, smoking, leaning against the wall. He's particularly beautiful when he's smoking, Harry hates him. He must have sobered up a little bit, though, because he doesn't want to punch Zayn in the face at the moment.

"Feeling a little bit ill," Harry lies.

"Shall I come with you?" Zayn asks, frowning. "Make sure you're okay?"

"I'm fine," says Harry. A cab pulls up and Zayn throws his cigarette away and climbs in the back before Harry can tell him not to.

Harry sighs a little and resigns himself to dealing with Zayn all the way home. His friends are simultaneously wonderful and terrible. They never let him be alone when he really wants to have a proper sulk. Harry sits on the other side and crosses his arms, looking at the street lights and the buildings rather than at Zayn.

"Are you cross with me?" Zayn asks. He's texting someone, probably Liam, but he looks up and smiles uncertainly. "You're way over there, I mean."

"I… I'm giving you some space," says Harry.

Zayn raises his eyebrows. "So you're the opposite of Louis when he's drunk?"

Harry giggles in spite of himself. "I'm being respectful," he insists, but Zayn just looks confused and skeptical. Harry crawls across the back seat and leans into Zayn, who puts his arms around Harry. Harry's sleepy, suddenly, and Zayn is warm and cozy. Harry could fall asleep listening to Zayn breathe, he thinks, and it would be really, really nice.

"You seemed a bit wound up tonight," Zayn says quietly.

You were ignoring me, you fucker, Harry thinks. Probably he just needs to get Zayn in bed with him properly, get off with him, and then all these horrible crushing feelings will go away. "Long week," says Harry instead.

"Poor Harry," says Zayn. "You want me to play with your hair?"

"Yes," says Harry, because he always wants that. Zayn puts his fingers in Harry's hair, scratching his nails along Harry's scalp. Harry would forgive anyone anything if they did that for him.

"Liam says he's bringing Louis and Niall home as well," says Zayn, checking his phone. "That got a bit out of hand, didn't it?"

"I wish I were drunker," says Harry, and it's the truth. He's sorry he let Liam talk him into drinking so much water because he's only a little bit drunk and he can feel Zayn's muscles under his shirt and the heat where their thighs are pressed together. Zayn is just being a friend and Harry wouldn't have to know that if he were passed out drunk.

"'Course you do," says Zayn fondly, and then they sit mostly quietly for the rest of the ride home. Zayn's got his arm around Harry and Harry's got his arms around Zayn's waist and he likes this, how quiet Zayn can be when Harry feels like a mess. It's a bit like having a rock to cling to. (Louis is always wonderful, but he isn't much of a rock.)

The cab pulls up by Harry's flat. "You want me to come in and make sure you get in okay?" Zayn asks. He's still a little drunk but he's clearly trying so hard to be a good, responsible friend, and Harry could love him for it.

"I want you to come in with me," says Harry impulsively. Honestly.

Zayn laughs. "You're drunk, Harry."

"I'm not that drunk anymore," says Harry. "I just… I want you." There. That's as honest as Harry can stand to be. It makes his throat hurt, actually, and his chest feels tight. He is surprisingly terrified.

Zayn starts to smile, but it's a let-you-down-nicely sort of smile, and Harry will actually kill himself if that's what Zayn's going to say. He leans up and kisses Zayn before he can say anything, both of his hands on Zayn's jaw. Harry is a great kisser, he ought to be able to put all these feelings into a kiss so he doesn't have to try and put them into words. He kisses Zayn hard, but as sweetly as he can manage, trying to make it shout Me, me, me, you want me.

"Please," says Harry, breathing hard. His voice breaks. "Zayn, please."

"I…" says Zayn. He looks at Harry, right at him, and his eyes are huge and beautiful and honest, and Harry wants to kiss him until they can't move. He wants to crawl inside Zayn somehow, and make Zayn promise that from now on he's only going to look at Harry, and Harry will never have to share him, ever. "Harry, I don’t do this," Zayn says regretfully. "And you'd be sorry in the morning."

Harry doesn't start to cry, but it's mostly because his chest hurts so badly that he can't breathe. If he can't breathe he can't cry.

"You getting out?" says the cab driver.

Harry needs to pull himself together. He forces frozen muscles to work, to inhale, to move him toward the car door. "Yeah," says Harry, flipping his hair deliberately into his eyes as he climbs out of the cab. That way he won't have to look at Zayn and Zayn can't look at him, either.

"Good night," says Zayn. Harry waves. He doesn't feel drunk at all anymore, just bitter and crushed and lonely. The cab pulls away and Harry thinks about lying down right there in the middle of the street. He isn't used to feeling this much about anything, let alone this much disappointment.

That's stupid, though, and the next car along will probably be Liam and Louis in a cab. They'd be upset if they ran Harry over. At least, they'd better be.

Okay, maybe Harry is still a bit drunk.

He doesn't want to deal with Liam telling him to drink more water or Louis being loud and drunk, anyway. Harry goes upstairs and inside and collapses on his bed, alone.

Harry Styles has never run from a problem in his life.

He is much more the type, actually, to keep pressing his fingers on a bruise to see how much it hurts. He wakes up with a throbbing head and a mouth that tastes like dead things and mud, but determined to find Zayn and…


Harry's plan is hazy; first he will find Zayn, and then he will find someone who actually wants to kiss Harry. Someone who understands that Harry is beautiful and special and fantastic, and then Harry will get this imaginary person to fuck him somewhere Zayn can't help but be.

That plan is put on hold for a little while by Harry's massive fucking hangover, which at least he shares with Louis. Louis looks absolutely miserable, sitting on their couch, slumped and pale and unshaven, with bloodshot eyes. "At least he's not throwing up," Harry suggests.

"He did all night," says Liam grimly, in the voice of someone who Did Not Sign Up For This when he agreed to date Louis.

Liam is not actually a very sympathetic person when you're hung over and miserable. He gets quite judgy, which is funny to Harry when it's only Louis feeling ill, but less hilarious when Liam makes his disapproving face at Harry instead of bringing him tea.

"You were doing shots," says Liam. "There was no call for that. Now you feel ill and it's your own fault."

"You took one of my shots," says Harry. His voice sounds terrible. "You owe me a shot." Liam punches him in the arm instead.

"Liammmm," Louis moans. "I think I'm dying. Tell my mum I loved her." Liam rolls his eyes and makes annoyed, huffy noises.

Harry kicks at Louis. "Make him bring us tea."

"Liam," Louis says again, tragically. "If you ever loved me…"

"Oh, for god's sake," says Liam grumpily, but he goes off to the kitchen.

"You alright?" Louis asks, squinting at Harry. "Liam said you were upset last night."

"Liam should keep his stupid mouth shut," says Harry. Louis gives him a puzzled look. "I'm fine, I had too much to drink," says Harry. "Don’t worry about me."

Louis doesn't look convinced but he stops arguing. Harry's glad; he can't argue anymore with his head throbbing this badly. Liam brings them tea and sighs at them a lot. He is only pretending to be cross, though, because he lets Harry fall asleep on his shoulder.

Harry wakes up later on the couch. Someone – Liam probably – has put a blanket over him. Louis would have drawn dicks on his face instead. They're both sitting in the other chair, Liam making a vague attempt to read something and Louis making a concerted effort to stop him.

"I can't go months not seeing you," says Louis.

"I'll be working all summer," says Liam, "and you've got a phone and a computer. We can Skype."

"I'll die," says Louis. He's keeping his voice quiet but he's using his kidding-not-really-kidding tone.

Liam sighs. "I'd like to – I mean, I want to see you, obviously, but I've got to go home and I've got to work. And anyway, don't you and Harry usually stay here and spend all summer partying? I'm sure you said that."

"Come and stay in our flat with us," says Louis. "I'll pay you to be my boyfriend."

"That's weird," says Liam. "What's wrong with you?"

"Don't you think, though," says Louis. He shifts, crawling over Liam's lap so he's straddling him, arms on Liam's shoulders, giving him a really serious look. Harry should cough or something so they know he's awake. He doesn't. "Don't you think that this is pretty great? Not seeing you all summer would be like breaking up, almost, and I don't want to do that."

There is a long pause. "I mean," says Liam cautiously. "That might be smarter? We're both really young and it's hard to date when you're apart, and then when I see you again at the start of next term if you still—"

"If you're trying to dump me I'm going to start screaming and I'll never, ever stop," says Louis. "Don't you fucking dare."

"No, no, I don't want to break up," says Liam. "I'm just trying to be sensible about it. What if you meet someone over the summer?"

"I won't, if you're here with me, where you ought to be." Liam starts to argue and Louis kisses him until he stops. "Okay, fine," says Louis. "How about this? You go and work for a while, or whatever, and then we'll go on holiday together. I'll get my summer lazing about with Harry and then you and me'll go to Paris or Barcelona or something. Just us."

"Ohhhh, maybe?" says Liam. "But—" and then he kisses Louis, or Louis kisses him, and Harry really needs to let them know he's up so they don't start having sex on the chair while Harry's in the room.

Harry makes a big show of yawning. "Hey," he says. His stomach feels weirdly unsettled in an entirely different way to how it feels from a hangover. He's never seen Louis so serious about anyone. Louis's never planned a summer around anyone but Harry before. They planned which university to go to together, and to always room together and... He's being supplanted and it feels very strange. "Guys, gross, there are other people in the room."

"Liam's coming on holiday with me this summer," says Louis happily.

"Maybe," says Liam, but his face is all scrunched up in a smile.

Harry tries not to be a terrible brat to Louis; he loves Louis and he wants Louis to be happy. Liam makes Louis insanely, obnoxiously happy all the time. But there's a little ball of uncertainty settled right in Harry's gut that doesn't know what he's going to do if Louis is really, honestly in love with Liam. "Oh, what next," Harry says grouchily. "Is he moving in with us next year?"

The ensuing pause is much too long.

"Oh, for fuck's sake," says Harry, throwing the blanket off. "I'm leaving."

"No, wait!" says Louis. "Harry, stop. I was kidding; we haven't talked about that at all."

"Well, obviously you should," snaps Harry. "Good luck with him, Liam. He never does the washing up and he leaves his shit everywhere." Liam knows this, obviously; if Harry were feeling fairer at the moment he'd be forced to acknowledge that Liam has all but lived with them for the last month and a half and Harry's life has been better for it. Luckily he's not feeling fair at all.

"Harry," says Liam, apologetic and a little wounded.

Harry can't stop and look at Liam's sad face or he'll stay and let Louis say he's sorry properly. Harry is apparently still in a sulk from the night before. The only cure, he suspects, is to find someone who will look at him like Louis looks at Liam, and that's not going to happen because Zayn doesn't fucking do that, whatever that means.

"I'll be back later," Harry says. Louis starts to follow him to the door. "No," says Harry. "You stay here and work out your summer shit with Liam. I need some fucking space."

Harry can't actually be furious with Louis and Liam just for being happy, which means it's time for him to start working on his plan to get revenge on Zayn instead.

"Can I have a cigarette?" Harry asks.

Zayn looks at him a little funny, and Niall does a double-take. But then Zayn shrugs and shakes a cigarette out of his pack.

"Those are disgusting," says Niall.

"Shut up," says Zayn, laughing. "You bummed one off me last week."

Harry has never smoked a cigarette. He stares at it for a second and then shrugs. He doesn't think he'll actually enjoy it much, but he's feeling… Reckless.

It's never hard to track down Zayn and Niall; they're almost always near one of the chip shops or pubs. There are loads of other students wandering around. Harry recognizes a few of them, some girls he's flirted with, some guys he's flirted with. He scans the crowd to see if there's anyone who's a good candidate for helping him make Zayn miserable.

Zayn lights his own cigarette and then offers Harry the lighter. Harry fucks around with it for a minute and can't get it to light, so Zayn laughs and takes it back. He lights it himself and holds it out for Harry, one hand cupped around the flame. "Inhale," Zayn coaxes.

Harry takes a deep breath and the smoke feels like it's searing his lungs. It burns all the way down but he's determined not to cough. His eyes water a little bit instead.

"You alright, then, babe?" Zayn asks, grinning at him. Harry nods, because he doesn't trust himself not to choke and start coughing like crazy. Zayn leans in a little bit and murmurs, "Too bad it's not pot, eh? We could shotgun it."

That's the end of Harry's attempt to look cool; he can't laugh and breathe at the same time and he ends up a spluttering, coughing mess. Niall looks confused with both of them, and Zayn looks smug. He's kind of a bastard, Harry thinks admiringly.

"Fuck," croaks Harry. His eyes are watering and his throat burns. "You enjoy this?"

"Yeah, it's alright once you get used to it," says Zayn.

"Bloody disgusting, is what it is," says Niall, wrinkling up his nose. Harry sucks on the cigarette again and then leans over and kisses Niall, blowing smoke into his mouth. Niall splutters and swears and shoves him away.

Harry isn't really enjoying the cigarette but he likes the way smoking makes Zayn watch him, squinty-eyed and focused, like he needs to keep an eye on Harry. Harry wonders what Zayn would do if he tried something really crazy, really self-destructive. Would it keep Zayn looking him like that? Harry's not an idiot, he doesn't really want to hurt himself, but he'd like to be the center of Zayn's attention.

Harry manages a flirty smirk when he blows out cigarette smoke the next time, and he swears something appreciative flashes across Zayn's face. A little tingle of thrill shoots up Harry's spine. He can make Zayn want him, he can have Zayn like he can have anyone else. It makes him feel powerful and triumphant for a minute, and then he remembers that he's mad at Zayn, and Zayn doesn't deserve flirty smirks whilst he's admiring Harry's mouth. Harry turns and smirks at Niall instead, who actually takes a step back.

"Whoa," says Niall, as Harry steps a little closer, sliding his arm around Niall's waist. "Keep that shit to yourself."

"You love me, really," says Harry confidently. Niall shrugs. Harry glances over at Zayn, who looks… He doesn't look blank, exactly, but whatever's going on with him, Zayn's hidden it under the same squinty stare-off-into-the-distance expression he's always got.

If Zayn's jealous he doesn't show it. After a minute he says, "Oh, there's Kelly," and waves to a bunch of girls walking by. They stop and wave back, giggling. One of them shouts, "I've still got your book!" and Zayn laughs and jogs over to go and retrieve it.

Harry makes a frustrated, growling noise. "You alright, there?" Niall asks, giving him a confused look. Harry is trying hard not to stare at Zayn where he's talking to the girls. Zayn laughs and smiles at everyone, and the girls are playing with their hair and laughing back at him, but Harry rather imagines everyone tries to flirt with Zayn. He can't actually blame them.

Still, it's a shame Harry can't set people on fire with his mind. If he could Zayn would be a pile of ashes at the moment. "I fucking hate him," says Harry.

"What?" says Niall, squinting at him.

Harry doesn't think about what he does next at all: Zayn turns toward them, maybe to wave, maybe to tell them he's going off with the girls. Either way Harry ignores him and shoves Niall back against the wall. All the breath goes out of Niall with a soft little whoosh, and then Harry kisses him, hands on Niall's hips, thigh pressing between Niall's legs. Niall's pliable, or willing, or maybe just too startled to stop Harry. Harry kisses him hard, lots of teeth and tongue, and Niall's hands flail around a little bit before they settle on Harry's shoulders. Not pulling him in, exactly, but not pushing him away, either.

Niall's face is red and flushed when Harry pulls away. "What the fuck, Haz?" Niall says breathlessly, staring at him with wide eyes. Zayn is staring, too. Harry tries to stop himself looking but he can't. Zayn is giving them a funny look with his head tilted just a little. Harry turns and smirks at the girls Zayn is talking to, blatant and overtly sexual. See? Harry thinks nastily as they giggle and turn away, and he hopes somehow Zayn can hear him. I could have them, too. I could have anyone, including you. You're the only one here I don't want.

"Seriously, are you okay?" Niall asks.

"I'm great," Harry growls. He nods at one of the girls who's giving him a bit of a bold stare. She smiles back at him. Harry will fuck every single person who's ever spoken to Zayn, until Zayn's got no one else left to look at but Harry in the entire world.

Harry's jealousy just keeps burning hotter in his chest; when Zayn laughs and elbows Louis in the side, Harry turns around and kisses Louis until Liam starts giving him dark looks. Zayn sits next to Harry on the couch on film night and Harry gropes him shamelessly while pretending to reach for the popcorn. Zayn doesn't say anything, though, and there is some kind of wild, angry monster living inside Harry's chest that he doesn't know how to stop.

It's not that Harry's unaware he's being a dick. It's just that the more Zayn doesn't say anything the more Harry wants to scream and punch him and do absolutely filthy things with people where Zayn will have to see.

He maybe gets a little too handsy with Liam, who very patiently pushes Harry's hands off the flies on his jeans a couple of times before Louis actually drags him away. "What the fuck?" says Louis, politely confused. "I said from the waist up, remember?"

"I didn't agree to any of this," says Liam loudly, rubbing his neck where Harry was biting him. Zayn leans over and kisses him instead, and everyone laughs. Harry can't, though. It's not fair. He wants to be the person Zayn fools around with.

Everyone's a little annoyed with Harry, which seems fair; Harry's a little annoyed with himself. He's sure there was a point where he had normal reactions to things and wasn't being an arsehole all the time. Louis and Liam are still planning their summer together, though, and no one's said anything about where they'll all be living next year. It makes Harry feel ill every time he hears them, even though he knows they aren't trying to exclude him. He's jealous of Liam and jealous of Zayn and jealous of everyone. Harry's never been jealous before. It makes him unpleasant to be around, apparently.

So, Harry decides, he can't really be blamed for not noticing that Liam isn't speaking to him for a few days. It's not like Liam announces it in a huff the way Harry's sister does. Just, when Harry's around Liam suddenly has something else to do. When Harry's on the couch for film night Liam sits on the floor. Harry thinks he's imagining it for the first couple of days – Liam is surely too nice to stop speaking to anyone – but he can't seem to find Liam, or keep Liam in the same room as him for a conversation.

Harry corners Louis in the flat. Liam is in the kitchen doing the washing up – he bitches about it but he can't stand having a pile of dirty dishes – so Harry drags Louis into his room. "What's wrong with Liam?" Harry asks.

"…I don't know?" Louis says, questioning. "Is something wrong with him?"

"He's not speaking to me," says Harry, and crosses his arm.

Louis looks at the floor for just a heartbeat too long before he says, "What are you talking about?"

"You know!" Harry says accusingly. "You know he's been avoiding me!"

Louis fidgets guiltily for a minute and then pushes the door of the bedroom shut. "I just know he's been a bit upset," says Louis. "Maybe it's not you? Maybe it's… life?"

"It's not life, it's me," says Harry certainly. "Did I do something?"

Louis shrugs. He looks miserable. "You've been kind of difficult lately," Louis says. "Don't worry about it. Liam can't stay cross. He'll get over it."

"You should have told him to fuck off if he can't put up with me," says Harry. There is a very real and terrifyingly cold feeling crawling up his belly. What if Louis decides Liam's right? What if Louis stops speaking to Harry as well?

"Yeah, I… I mean…" Louis says. He starts and stops a couple of times. He's quiet and serious and so, so sad that Harry wants to take the entire conversation back. Louis is never quiet and sad like this.

After a minute Louis sits down on Harry's bed. He reaches out and grabs Harry, pulling him onto his lap. Louis wraps his arms around Harry's waist and they just sit there for a little while, with Louis's face pressed against Harry's back.

"This worked better when you were taller than me," says Harry eventually, trying to lighten the mood. His bedroom feels absolutely apocalyptic. "Hey. What's Liam cross about?"

Louis's arms tighten just a little. "You know if I ever had to pick, I'd pick you," says Louis quietly.

It's horrible, and it shouldn't make Harry feel better, but it does. Some of the awful, cold tightness in his stomach goes away. "I know," says Harry.

"Okay," says Louis. "I just… I wish you wouldn't make me choose."

Harry could punch himself in the face.

The sheer sorrow in Louis's voice is awful. He's been thinking about this, obviously, what he'll do if Harry and Liam can't get along, and he's miserable over it. Harry has made him miserable. Harry is terrible and he deserves to be punished terribly.

Harry fights through those feelings, though, trying to sound normal when he says, "I'm sorry. I didn't mean that thing before, that was a joke. I'd never –Liam's great. If he wasn't great I would have run him off a long time ago." Harry twists around so he can hug Louis and Louis makes a quiet, relieved little noise. Harry hugs tighter, but there's no amount of hugging that's going to translate to I'm really sorry I've been such a jerk on the scale that Harry needs to say it.

"I can spend the summer with you," says Louis. "It's okay. It's always been the plan."

"No, really, I'm sorry," says Harry. "You should spend it with your boyfriend. We can split time with you, like divorced parents or something." He smiles coaxingly at Louis, trying to get him to smile back. Louis tries, but he's obviously still upset. Harry hates himself. "Whatever I've done to Liam, I'll go and say sorry," says Harry. "I can get him to like me again and then we can all go on being a loving, slightly incestuous family, yeah?"

Louis nods and tries to smile. "I love you best and always," he says.

"I love you," says Harry, and then, "I love Liam, too." He's pleased to realize it's the truth as he's saying it. Liam is funny and sweet and he looks after them both. It would ruin everything if he left. He needs some looking after himself, anyway. "It's not every boyfriend who'd put up with you having me around. You'd better keep this one. He gets us."

Louis laughs. It's only half as bright as his usual laugh, but it's a good start. "I mean, unless there's an upgraded model next year," Louis jokes.

"No," Harry replies, hugging him again. "I think this is the right one."

It would be nice if Harry could stay there forever, getting hugged by Louis and knowing that the person he loves best loves him best too, no matter what. It's like great gaping cracks have been appearing inside Harry's chest, and now he's got a plaster to put over them. Maybe that'll make some of the rage and jealousy that's been eating Harry alive go away.

Unfortunately, the only way to make Louis start smiling again properly is to patch things up with Liam, so Harry has to deal with whatever he's done. "You go out and get dinner," says Harry. "Kebabs or something. I'll talk to Liam."

"He gets grumpy," says Louis. "Maybe I should stay."

"I fucked it up, I'll fix it," says Harry firmly. He is not at all certain he can manage that, but before this whole mess started he'd always been the sort of person who could cajole anyone into loving him if he tried hard enough. Maybe he can get that back somehow. "Go and get dinner, yeah?"

"Okay," says Louis, pulling a face. Harry follows him out into the living room so when Louis leaves Liam can't make an excuse to go with him.

"But I should really—" Liam says a couple of times. Louis pretends not to hear and runs out, which just leaves Harry and Liam standing in the living room looking at each other. "Um," says Liam. "I should probably go."

"Or," says Harry, summoning up all his courage to smile, "you could tell me what I've done that's making you so angry."

"No, I – I've been trying to avoid that, actually," says Liam.

"Go on," says Harry coaxingly. "You can punch me, if you'd like. Tell me what I did. Was I flirting with Louis too much? I can stop, if it's making you uncomfortable. I swear it's just playing around."

For just a second Liam looks really, properly angry. "Fuck you, Harry, and your playing around," says Liam tightly. Harry recoils a little, because he can't help it; Liam is never angry. Then Liam sighs and deflates a little, and he looks less furious and more sad. "I can't yell at you properly because Louis would never forgive me, but I'm so cross with you in my head. Don't offer to let me punch you; you wouldn't like it if I did."

"I'd like it better than you avoiding me," says Harry. He's never been punched, properly, and also he's never really noticed just how wide Liam's shoulders are before. He can probably punch really, really hard. "Listen, whatever I've done, you avoiding me is making Louis sad, and I'd do anything for him. Just tell me. I can take it." He grins at Liam, a little cheeky. Maybe if he's obnoxious enough Liam won't be able to resist shouting at him, and everything can go back to normal.

"You know Zayn's one of my best friends, right?" says Liam. Harry blinks at him. "And you've been an absolute dick to him for weeks now."

Oh — oh, Harry thinks, eyes going wide. "You noticed that?" he says, voice getting a little squeaky.

"Your backwards little crush on Zayn?" Liam asks impatiently. "Yeah. I noticed. He just thinks you hate him."

Harry stops dead. "I haven't – I don’t have a crush on Zayn," he says. He hopes his tone makes it clear that Liam is the stupidest person on the entire earth.

Liam rolls his eyes. "Right," he says. "You just stare at him and want to kiss him all the time, and are actually obsessed with who else he might be kissing that's not you. No crush at all."

"It's not," says Harry fiercely. He tries to sound fierce, at least; he might just sound petulant. Why is Liam suddenly this horrible, observant person? He barely noticed Louis's planet-sized crush on him for weeks.

Liam starts to say something, stops, looks at Harry, starts, and stops again. He shakes his head. "This is going to get me dumped, probably, but I'm so tired of everyone letting you hurt my friend's feelings. Either – Either you have a crush on Zayn and this is how you're coping with all your feelings of unrequited love, or you're just the most selfish little prat I've ever met in my life, and everyone has to love you best or else you lose your mind." Liam crosses his arms tightly and puts up his chin like he's ready to take a punch.

Harry feels like he's been slapped. Liam is never mean like that, ever. "I am not selfish!" Harry says, voice weirdly high pitched and tight. "I gave you Louis! I didn't have to share him." He wants to hurt Liam so Liam will go away and he won't be able to say awful things about Harry anymore. Awful things that might be entirely true.

Liam makes an exasperated noise. "You can't seriously think you've given me Louis," he says. "It seems to me I've spent pretty much every minute I've been dating him here, in your flat, so he can hang out with you. I've got a perfectly nice flat with practically no flatmate, where we wouldn't constantly be walked in on or have to clean up after someone else. But I'm always here, Harry, because Louis always wants you." He throws his hands up in disgust and sits heavily on the couch.

Some things that Harry had only idly wondered about suddenly make a lot more sense. "Oh," says Harry, very quietly. "I mean… That's just me and Louis?"

"I know," says Liam. "I get it. Dating him means dating you too, basically, and that's fine. I don't mind that you talk around me, or that you two have your own secret language, or that he'd rather cuddle you than me half the time. But you need to seriously, seriously consider the word 'selfish' and how it relates to your relationships. I don't mind being a third wheel, but you can't go around messing Zayn about like this. It isn't nice."

Liam puts his head in his hands and Harry just stares at him for a minute.

Apparently Harry has been a much, much worse friend than he ever thought. He feels absolutely sick with guilt, which makes him want to scream and cry and throw things, but he swallows that down tightly and just thinks selfish, selfish, selfish over and over until it's echoing around his head and there's nothing else left.

"I'm sorry," says Harry, sitting down on the couch next to Liam. "Jesus, Liam, I'm really, really sorry. I already apologized to Louis, but…"

"Well, that's good. You've been making him crazy." Liam looks up and smiles at him like all is forgiven if he's made things right with Louis. Harry must look stricken because Liam bumps him with his shoulder. "It's fine, Harry," says Liam. "I'm mostly only pissed at you on Zayn's behalf."

Maybe it's that Harry can't imagine lying to Liam, when Liam is always so ridiculously honest and open about everything. Harry's pulse skyrockets. "I just," he says quietly. Nervously. "I've never wanted anyone who didn't want me back before."

Liam's face changes. He looks surprised, and then confused, and then he settles on so, so fond that Harry feels tears starting to well up in his eyes. "You're so stupid," says Liam, and pulls him into a hug. "You're really lucky we love you."

Fuck Liam Payne and his sincerity and his hugs. Harry starts really crying and can't seem to stop. "I just," Harry says. "He makes me so angry." He is getting Liam's shoulder rather damp, but Liam doesn’t seem to mind.

"Yeah," says Liam. He rubs Harry's back like he's a little kid or something, and Harry is annoyed with himself for enjoying it. "He can tell he makes you angry. He's always asking me what he's done."

"I don't know!" says Harry, and then has to hiccup back a sob.

"Have you tried telling him that he drives you crazy?"

"Yes," says Harry. "He just said I don't do this and went home."

Liam sighs a little. "Were you drunk at the time, by any chance?" Harry sniffles and doesn't answer. "Because if I were Zayn, and you were drunk, and you told me that you liked me, I'd just think you were being Harry. You kiss everyone, especially when you're drunk."

That sounds fair, but it feels wretched. Harry spends a minute or two trying to force himself to stop crying. Liam is going to tell Louis about this, and then Louis is going to fret and fuss over him. Harry sits up and takes a deep breath that almost doesn't sound like he's been sobbing into his best friend's boyfriend's shoulder for the last few minutes.

Liam says quietly, "I just think, if you tell Zayn that you kiss everyone but you don't… I mean, you have to tell him that the way you want to kiss him is different to everyone else. And see what he says."

"And then what?" Harry asks. His eyes start to burn with tears again and he sniffs them back. "What if he actually doesn't like me?"

"Of course he does!" Liam says, because he's Liam, and he thinks everything is always going to be fine and work out for everyone. He says it so honestly, though, that it sounds true, even if it's ridiculous. "I mean, I can tell when he likes someone, and he definitely likes you," Liam goes on. "He just doesn't know why sometimes you act like you really like him and other times you act like he's the only person in the room you don't want to – Um."

"Fuck," Harry says hollowly. It's the word Liam won't say and sort of his general feeling about the whole thing.

Liam nods, biting his lip.

"I don't know what to do," Harry says. "Tell me how to fix it. You're good at all this stuff. What am I supposed to do?"

"I would probably start by not being overtly hostile toward the boy I wanted to date," says Liam, smiling a little bit. "If you think you can manage that."

"But—He—" Harry says. "Normally I'm really good at this! I can get anyone to like me." He is pouting a little bit, but it's better than crying.

Liam considers that for a minute. "I think the problem is that you're using the same kind of charm on Zayn that you use on everyone else. So he doesn't see it as anything special. Flirty, cheeky Harry is excellent for making friends and getting drunk kisses at the club, but I don't think it's very useful for telling someone you actually like him."

"What else am I supposed to do?" Harry demands. "That's all I've got." He feels all hollowed out, like the uncertainty has been eating him from the inside out for days now. It's a little bit better, knowing that Louis still loves him best, and Liam apparently loves him as well, but it's not fixed.

Liam says, "It's a lot harder, but I've always had good results with being honest."

"Of course you think that," says Harry. "You think honesty is best for everything." Sometimes Liam is really frustratingly himself.

Liam shrugs unapologetically.

The door to the flat bangs open and Louis sticks his head in. "No one's killed anyone, right?" he says. "Oh, good."

"No one's dead, and I said sorry to Liam, so he's not cross with me anymore, right?" Harry says hopefully. He feels the tiniest bit hopeful; if he can put things right with Louis and Liam, maybe he can actually figure this Zayn thing out, too.

Liam rolls his eyes. "I don't know how anyone could ever really be cross with you. Your parents must be saints."

"So all the horribleness is done and now we can all sit down and eat some kebabs?" Louis asks.

"Yes, please!" says Liam. "I'll get some plates."

"Plates for kebabs," scoffs Louis, rolling his eyes at Harry. "I'm gonna eat with my hands and drip all over the carpet."

"Remind me what I see in you again?" Liam asks mildly, going in to the kitchen, presumably to get plates anyway.

Is everything really okay? Louis asks, tilting his head a little.

Fine, Harry smiles back. He jerks his head toward Liam's back. We need to figure out this summer, and the flat for next year, and all.

Louis grins, the first real smile from him that Harry's seen all day.

"I can hear you two thinking about me!" Liam shouts, and they both fall over laughing.

It's a miracle that Zayn hasn't stopped hanging out with all of them, Harry realizes. It's probably down to him being really good friends with Liam. And Liam must have been vouching for Harry, even when Harry was being the absolute worst. Harry makes himself a mental note to give Liam and Louis a night when they're alone at the flat, as a thank you.

Everyone comes over for film night and Harry finds himself abruptly shy. He's never felt shy before. Zayn gives him these funny looks all night, but Harry's honestly just trying to act normal around him. It's hard; he keeps catching himself wanting to cuddle up to Zayn and just shout, Do you think you could like me best? I like you best. Only Harry's not going to do that in a room full of his friends, they would never stop taking the piss. His other plan is to avoid Zayn entirely, but when he tries to do that and sit on the chair with Louis, as far from Zayn as he can get, Liam kicks him in the shin.

"Ow," says Harry, giving Liam big tragic eyes, which Liam ignores. Harry tries it on Louis instead. Louis laughs. "I love you too much to kick you when you deserve it," he says. "I'm glad we've got Liam around."

"Why does Harry deserve kickin' and can I have the next go?" Niall asks.

"Tell them all to stop being mean to me," says Harry, sitting on the couch next to Zayn. His pulse jumps just from being around Zayn, it's absolutely ridiculous.

Zayn laughs. "Yeah, I'll defend you," he says. "Back off, all of you!" Niall tries to give Harry a little shove and Zayn leans over Harry to shove Niall back. They laugh and push at each other for a minute. Zayn is leaning against Harry's side and Harry tells himself to take a deep breath and not lean into it like a cat. If he does lean into it a bit it's not his fault; Zayn really is pressed up right against him.

Harry maybe snuggles for the rest of the evening, and Zayn doesn't stop him. Harry is really so incredibly lucky that his friends are patient, and if Harry ever manages to get his shit together he's going to throw them a party or something. No, probably not; that sounds like work. But he'll get Liam to organize a party. Zayn's got his arm around Harry's shoulders and Harry just settles into his side and tries not to think about the fact that he's actually got to properly talk to Zayn at some point.

Film nights always devolve into Louis and Liam bothering each other, which turns into kissing, and then groping, and then vanishing into Louis's bedroom. That makes it a little easier when Zayn stretches and says, "I should really go home," for Harry to take a deep, nervous breath and say, "Can I come with you?"

Niall squints at him a little funny, and Zayn tilts his head curiously. "I mean," says Zayn. "I suppose?"

Harry's heart is trying to race out of his chest. "There's just something I want to talk to you about," he says. He starts to wink and grin cheekily and has to tell himself sternly to stop it. What he needs, really, is Liam to shrink down and sit on his shoulder and kick him whenever he starts being too ridiculous, but Liam is otherwise occupied at the moment.

"Oh, I see," says Niall loudly. "No one wants to talk to me, do they. That's fine! I don't mind. I'm taking the rest of this pizza home." He helps himself to the box and pretends to storm out in a huff. His huff is slightly marred by the fact that Zayn pretends to trip him and he and Zayn have a little slap fight in the doorway.

Then it's just Zayn and Harry, and Harry has to spend a lot of time working on breathing normally and not throwing himself at Zayn mouth-first, which is what he wants to do. Zayn's wearing a slightly stretched out t-shirt and it shows his collarbones – Harry wants to lick them, right where his tattoos are – and tight jeans and Harry just wants. He hadn't thought about it like a crush before Liam yelled at him but now it's obviously that, just bubbling feelings of wanting to touch Zayn, all the time. He wants Zayn to smile at him. He wants Zayn to want him in return so badly it makes his chest hurt.

"So are you walking me home to like, protect me from bogeymen lurking in the dark, or…" says Zayn. He's laughing at Harry a little bit.

"Yeah, I'm basically a ninja," says Harry. It's a nice night for once. The term is almost over. There are a few people out here and there, cars going by and couples kissing on the pavement.

"I appreciate it, then," says Zayn. They walk in companionable silence for a little while, because Harry can't figure out what order to say all the things Liam told him he's supposed to say. Is it I'm sorry and then I want you or the other way around?

"You wanted to tell me something?" Zayn says, bumping Harry with his hip.

Harry feels like all the air got knocked out of him. "Yeah, I—" he says. He puts on his most winning smile and starts to say something cute, but catches himself. Liam would be so annoyed. "I mean..." He tries to look sincere but he can't manage it like Liam does, and he ends up frustrated.

"Hmm, sounds serious," says Zayn.

"I'm, um, I'm trying this thing Liam suggested," says Harry. "Something about being honest. I don't know, it made sense when he said it but now I feel stupid." He pulls a face and Zayn laughs.

"We can't all be Liam," says Zayn, like that's a deep philosophical thought he's having. "I'm glad I'm not, I think. Seems like it'd be pretty stressful."

"And having to be good all the time. I'd die," says Harry, shuddering dramatically.

Zayn laughs again. "You'd be wasted, being good."

Harry swears quite a lot at himself in his head. "Hang on," he says, and catches Zayn's hand. He didn't mean to do that, but he's not sorry he's done it, either. "I really am trying to be honest here, so… Liam's pointed out I've been pretty awful to you and I'm sorry about that."

"Oh," says Zayn. He goes a little squinty and distant. Maybe that's not him not reacting, though, Harry realizes. Maybe that's what Zayn does when he's uncertain.

"I am not normally awful," Harry says. "Honest."

Zayn shrugs. "I know," he says. "You're Harry Styles, how could you be awful, really?" He smiles at Harry and Harry's whole chest feels like it's on fire.

"I, um," says Harry. He could drag Zayn closer and kiss him and it would feel awesome, but that's maybe a mixed message for Zayn again. Harry must seem like a crazy person half the time. "I really like you," Harry blurts instead.

Zayn's face crinkles up, confused and beautiful. "Yeah?" he says, and Harry can't tell if he gets it or not.

"I mean," says Harry, taking a deep breath, "I really, really like you, and it made me pretty terrible. Liam threw around the word 'selfish' kind of a lot."

Zayn's frown is adorably confused. "Why would liking me make you terrible?" he asks.

"I don't know," says Harry. If this honesty thing backfires he's going to murder Liam. "I just… I really liked you, and you seemed to sort of not care, and it made me want to punch you."

"You like me so much you want to hit me?" Zayn repeats. He's either horrified or he's trying not to laugh. It's dark out and Harry can't tell.

"Well," says Harry, shrugging uncomfortably. This conversation feels like it's going about as badly as it possibly could. At least when it's over he can go home and tell Liam he tried, and then Liam will be required to pet him and make him tea and hug him and never be mean again. Honestly, Harry gave it a shot. "I just really wanted you to notice me."

"Jesus, Harry," says Zayn quietly. "How could I not notice you?"

Harry is not going to cry, no matter how stupid and disappointing this conversation gets. He shoves his hands in his pocket and tries Zayn's thing of squinting off into the darkness. It works pretty well. "I just," he says. "I mean, you noticed me wrong. I didn't want you to look at me like you look at Liam or Niall. And I know I fucked it up, I was all over the place, but it was like the less you saw me the crazier I got. I'm sorry."

Zayn stops walking because they are in front of his flat. Maybe Harry was warm before but he feels cold now, and he rubs his hands up and down his arms and tries to keep his face blank.

"So…" says Zayn. "You kissed a load of other people because you wanted me? That's really weird, Harry."

"Yeah," says Harry. "Cheers." It would be undignified to run home, but Harry hasn't got much dignity, anyway. He's already cried all over Liam.

There is a bit of an awkward silence. Just as Harry is getting ready to actually turn and run away, Zayn says, "They told me, you know, that you just fool around with everyone. I thought maybe you were being a bit, like, serious about me, and then everyone said, 'Nah, that's just Harry,' and you'd be all over Niall or someone next time I turned around. And I thought, 'Well, that's too bad.'"

Harry blows out an impatient breath. "Yeah," he says, "I get it. I fucked it up pretty badly."

"But, I mean…" Zayn says, and then trails off. "I don't know. I wanted you to mean it. I just didn't want to get my heart broken if you only wanted to be friends."

"I wouldn't," says Harry. His chest aches like a pile of rocks have fallen on top of it. "I mean, not on purpose. I'd try, at least. If you wanted me."

"God, don't say things like that," says Zayn. He reaches out and grabs Harry with both hands, and then they're kissing before Harry has entirely worked out what Zayn wants from him. Harry would say, Wait, what? but Zayn's hands are so tight on his arms that he'll probably have bruises, and anyway if he asks, Zayn might stop. It's really important to Harry that Zayn never, ever stop.

They stumble backwards a couple of steps until Harry's got his back against the rough brick wall of Zayn's building. Harry can't breathe, Zayn's pressed so tightly against him, grinding their hips together so that Harry gets little flashes of lightning behind his eyes. Harry groans and Zayn bites his lip. Harry's hands have found their way around to Zayn's back pockets and they're trying to pull Zayn closer even though there's nowhere closer for him to be.

"Please," says Harry. He means Please get naked and Please get me off and Please, can I touch you and Please never stop and a load of other things that are fizzy and flashing through his brain instead of words.

Zayn presses him back against the wall with both hands. His mouth is red and wet and his hair is falling in his eyes and his chest is heaving. "I swear to god," Zayn says raggedly, "all you really want is someone to say 'no' to you."

"I—" says Harry, but his knees have gone all weak and his head is spinning. He probably does want Zayn to tell him no, but he wants Zayn to tell him no while they're actually fucking, please, if that can be arranged. And Zayn wouldn't really mean no, he'd mean Yes, Harry, you can have whatever you want if you're good. The idea of it makes Harry feel hot all over. "Yes," Harry says. "I mean, no? Fuck you, I can't think."

"I want you so badly," says Zayn, and for a second Harry can't hear anything else, all the blood in his body has gone straight to his dick. He groans and leans over a little bit, hunching in on himself as much as he can with Zayn still pushing him against the wall. His jeans are fucking painful. Harry slides one of his hands around to Zayn's fly. He can undo the zip and get his hands properly on Zayn's cock and—

"Hang on," says Zayn. "Stop, wait." He catches Harry's hand and Harry is not at all ashamed of the breathless, whiny, desperate noise he makes.

"No," says Harry. "Fuck, why? What have I done now?"

Zayn takes a couple of breaths. He hasn't let go of Harry's hand, so that's okay; he's not pushing Harry away at least. If he's changed his mind Harry is going to murder him, though. It's been weeks of waiting, and Harry's not good at patient.

"If we do this," says Zayn, "is that going to be it? Is that all you want? You need to be honest with me."

Harry is so impatient and frustrated he could cry. He might actually be crying; his eyes sting and his chest still hurts. "I want you," Harry says. His voice already sounds scratchy. "I want all of you. I want to do this a million times. Then, maybe, we can talk about other things I want from you, like holding hands and cuddling and all the stupid relationship shit Louis and Liam are always doing—"

"Fuck you," Zayn says, with a relieved little laugh, and kisses Harry again. Harry moans against Zayn's mouth and melts into him. He'll let Zayn hold him up and they can fuck against the wall. It'll be magic. Then Zayn pulls away and Harry is bereft. He really is going to cry. "Inside," says Zayn. "I have a bed and everything."

"Here is fine," Harry complains, but he lets Zayn pull him to the door of the building. Zayn has a hilariously hard time getting the key in the lock, like his hands aren't working right. Zayn swears a lot and Harry tries not to laugh at him, but he loves that Zayn isn't cool and calm, and that Harry made him that way. Harry is going to sneak in to Zayn's life and wreck every cool thing about him.

"You shut up, I haven't agreed to anything yet," says Zayn, but he gets the door open. Harry pushes him through and kisses him up against the wall by the stairs to his flat until they're both dizzy from not breathing. "Bed," Zayn growls. He closes his hand around Harry's arm like a vise and pulls him up the stairs.

Some of Zayn's flat mates are sitting around on the ragged old couch watching TV. "Hey," says one of them, waving.

"Don't disturb us," says Zayn, and Harry throws back his head and laughs as Zayn drags him into his bedroom.

Zayn's room is full of drawings and charcoals and an easel half set up in the corner. There are clothes all over the floor, including a jumper that Harry's pretty sure is actually Liam's. "Your room should secretly be full of naked drawings of me," Harry complains, and then giggles when Zayn glares at him.

"I'd rather my room was just full of you, naked," says Zayn.

"Right," says Harry quickly, "yes." He always loves being naked, and he loves it a lot more when it means he gets to see Zayn naked, too. Zayn is gorgeous, obviously, and there are tattoos Harry's never seen before on his stomach and his back. He's a little shy about getting entirely naked, so Harry kisses him and undoes one of the buttons on his jeans, and then kisses him and undoes another, until Zayn is smiling and doesn't seem to mind that Harry is pushing his jeans and boxers down together.

"You're beautiful," says Harry. He starts at Zayn's neck, kissing and licking and biting until he works out what makes Zayn tip his head back welcomingly, what makes his eyes flutter shut, what makes him groan and bite his lip. Harry puts his hands on the muscles in Zayn's stomach and over his hips. His skin is so soft and warm and the nice thing about them both being naked is that Harry can finally see exactly how much Zayn wants him.

"Shut up, you're beautiful," says Zayn. His face gets a little pink, from embarrassment or from how much Harry's touching him. Harry kisses him on one of the tattoos on his chest and Zayn groans and catches both of Harry's hands with his own. "What do you want to do?" Zayn asks. "I mean, how far are we… I mean…"

It is adorable that Zayn can get flustered about sex when he looks like a walking advertisement for fucking all day, every day. "I want everything," says Harry, pressing against Zayn. His cock is bumping Zayn's thigh, he's been hard and ready to go since they were outside. He'd do absolutely anything that Zayn wanted.

"All tonight?" Zayn asks, laughing a little. He pulls Harry's hands up to his mouth and kisses his fingers, one by one. Harry feels a lot like his knees are going to collapse, and passing out doesn't seem like a sexy way to start a relationship.

"No rush, I guess," says Harry. He kisses Zayn again and twists one of his hands free so he can run it down Zayn's chest, over his stomach, and down to his cock. Zayn gasps against Harry's mouth. "Can I?" Harry asks, stroking his hand gently down Zayn's dick. Zayn's hips move forward a little bit in tiny stutters, and his cock swells, hot and heavy in Harry's hand.

"Fuck, fuck," says Zayn, leaning forward to rest his forehead against Harry's shoulder. Harry strokes him a couple of times, too slowly to do more than tease.

"Tell me what you want," says Harry. His voice has got lower still somehow, rough. "Anything, I'd do anything—"

"If you weren't such a brat we could have done this weeks ago," says Zayn, and sinks his teeth into Harry's shoulder. Harry shouts a laugh and shudders at the same time. He feels like he's on fire everywhere Zayn's touching him, and that's nearly everywhere now. Zayn digs his fingers into Harry's hips and shoves him toward the bed, sucking hard on Harry's neck. Harry can't keep his balance and squirm away from Zayn at the same time, and so he ends up on Zayn's duvet on his back.

Zayn lands on top of him and laughs when Harry loses his breath. Zayn kisses Harry hard and says, "Stay here." Then he slides down until his hands are on Harry's hips.

Harry pushes himself up on his elbows because he wants to know what the hell Zayn is doing. He's so turned on it's hard to breathe, even before Zayn starts kissing the muscles in his stomach and working his way down toward the crease of his thigh. Harry feels a lot like he's going to die, like he hasn't taken a full breath in hours. This was good in his head, but it's a million times better when it's really happening.

"I said stay," says Zayn. He sits up a little.

"I did," says Harry, pouting. Zayn just looks at him, eyes dark and a little fierce, and still framed by the prettiest lashes Harry's ever seen. "I did!" Harry repeats.

Zayn leans up and kisses Harry again, pushing him back against the duvet. Their cocks are trapped together between their bellies and it's almost enough friction to be something. Harry takes a couple of tiny, gasping little breaths. He's lightheaded, from a lack of oxygen or a surplus of naked Zayn lying on top of him.

"Stay," says Zayn, growling. He bites Harry's jaw. "Right here."

"But—" says Harry. Zayn bites harder and digs his fingers into Harry's side until Harry whimpers. "Okay," says Harry, letting his head fall back against the bed. "I'll stay."

"Yeah, you will," says Zayn, a little smug. Harry would argue but he's getting what he wants; Zayn goes down again and takes Harry's cock in his mouth.

The last really coherent thing Harry thinks is Fuck, fuck, fuck. His hands are clenched in the duvet and he digs his heels in, pushing himself up off the bed. Zayn slaps his hip and pushes him back down. Zayn's mouth is magic, apparently, every time he runs his tongue along the bottom of Harry's dick Harry feels like he's going to come immediately, helplessly. The whimpering noises Harry can hear are definitely his own, but they're coming from something entirely outside his control. He's saying, "Please," a lot, and "Oh god," and then, "Please," some more, and his voice is so wrecked it sounds like he's crying. He closed his eyes at some point and his eyes are burning, but that might be because his chest is heaving and he still can't breathe properly. Harry doesn't deserve to get everything he wants, and yet here he is.

Zayn pulls off and Harry sobs, opening his eyes again. "You—" he says, but he doesn't know what else he wants to say.

"Really fucking gorgeous," Zayn mumbles, kissing Harry's neck again. Harry is so turned on and painfully hard that he could scream. He braces both hands against Zayn's shoulders and shoves.

"Fucking do something," Harry demands.

Zayn grins at him. It's the best and worst thing Harry's ever seen, because there's Zayn, he's real and he's looking at Harry with as much want as Harry could ever as hoped. But it's a teasing grin, too, and Harry can't take any more teasing right now. "I thought you wanted someone to tell you no," says Zayn.

Harry rallies to try and make words into sentences. "Not right now," he grits out, although maybe right now, maybe just like this, maybe what he really wants is for Zayn to draw this out and keep him waiting forever until he's begging and screaming and crying and—

Zayn turns on his side so he can hold both their cocks in his hand and starts stroking. Harry's dick is already leaking so there's a little bit of lubrication but it's still hot and rough, which turns out to be just what Harry needs. It should be absolutely embarrassing how fast Harry comes, but he was so close anyway that it can't be his fault. The room goes white for a minute and he feels cold and then hot and then he shakes all over.

He'd help Zayn out if he could move, but Harry feels wrung out and exhausted and by the time the room stops spinning and he realizes where he is and what's going on, Zayn's come too, biting down on Harry's arm as he does. He's lying half on top of Harry, and they're going to be stuck together because they're sweaty and sticky and hot. When Harry breathes out Zayn breathes in. It's comfortable. It's amazing.

"Next time," Harry croaks, "I'm going to lick all of your tattoos."

"Next time you're going to suck me off," mumbles Zayn. He nudges Harry's chin with his nose until he tilts his face up, and then Zayn kisses his jaw and behind his ear.

Harry would like to feel some interest in doing that, but he's too worn out at the moment. "Give me ten minutes," he says. Zayn laughs, a puff of hot breath against Harry's neck.

"Not bored already?" Zayn asks. He's got a hand on Harry's stomach and his fingers curl up a little, rubbing some of the fine hairs on Harry's belly.

"Not yet," says Harry, and then grins when Zayn glares at him. Apparently he can only refrain from being cheeky for so long. "Happy," he says reassuringly, punctuating it with a kiss. "Relieved. Thinking about the next round."

Zayn smiles a little, the heart-stoppingly beautiful smile he gets when he's feeling a little bit shy. "Thinking about tomorrow?"

"And the day after that, and the day after that," Harry promises, and kisses him again.

It's the last Saturday night of term, and Liam is wrecked.

Harry thinks it's hilarious, even though he has ended up mostly holding Liam upright while Liam blinks accusingly. "I don't drink," Liam says, as if this is going to change the fact that he is absolutely drunk. "Oh my god, I'm going to feel terrible in the morning."

"Yes," says Harry. "This is what you get for dating Louis."

"Oh no," says Liam, and starts to giggle. That's Harry's cue to find Louis, who's got lost somewhere in the crowd. Harry steers Liam around the groups of people drinking and dancing and then pushes Liam, still giggling, on to Louis's shoulder.

"You broke him, you fix him," says Harry.

"Liam!" says Louis happily, because he is also drunk. "Oh good! Hey, babe." They stagger a couple of steps until Louis hits the wall, and then he proceeds to start kissing Liam in a way that is going to get them all kicked out of the club in a few minutes.

Harry is pleasantly buzzed but not actually drunk. They don’t have an official schedule of who-gets-wrecked-when but since Louis talked Liam into having "just a couple" of drinks Harry's been careful all night. Presumably he will be in charge of not letting Liam fall into any gutters on his way out to a cab. Harry doesn't mind. He's taken a hundred incriminating and hilarious pictures of Liam tonight that he will use as blackmail next year.

He squints at Louis and Liam and thinks that also he's going to be in charge of a best man speech at a wedding at some point. It's mildly terrifying but also reassuring, because there are much, much worse ways everyone could have ended up. Liam is only drinking tonight because Louis has been whining endlessly about spending the summer apart, even though Liam has agreed to all sorts of weekend visits and a trip to Wales camping with Louis's family that is going to be hilarious. Harry might come along, just for laughs.

They are also going to on holiday to France for a couple of weeks, and Harry would be dying of jealousy except he's talked Zayn into spending basically the entire summer with him and Louis, so there won't be any need. (Niall is going home for most of the summer, which he says over and over, followed by, "So I don't have to see you lot fucking all the bloody time anymore." Then he scowls. It's very cute.)

Speaking of which, Harry finds it suddenly imperative to locate Niall. He's somewhere in the club, doing shots with a bunch of musicians he didn't know an hour ago but who are now his best friends. Harry drags him away into a hug-slash-headlock. "You should stay with us this summer," Harry says, even though he knows Niall won't. "We're going to miss you."

"Crazy drunk bastard," says Niall fondly. Harry gives him a loud smacking kiss on the cheek and Niall pulls a face and laughs loudly.

"You can't leave us, Niall, you can't," says Harry, pretending to be a lot drunker than he really is.

Niall shoves Harry away. "Go and find your boyfriend, you idiot," he says. "No one's leaving until tomorrow afternoon. Like I'm not gonna spend the night drunk on your floor anyway."

That's a good point. Harry pinches Niall's side for good measure and Niall laughs again, and then Harry turns around and there's Zayn. He looks sweaty and a little drunk and absolutely beautiful.

"Was that—" Zayn starts, and then Harry throws his arms around Zayn's neck and kisses him so hard that they both stumble a couple of steps into a crowd of disgruntled drunk girls. When they manage to extricate themselves Zayn laughs and says, "Okay, fine. I was gonna ask if you were kissing Niall to try and make me jealous, but I guess not?"

"Do I need to?" Harry asks, grinning.

"No," says Zayn. "But then, you never did."

Harry feels so light he could almost float home. Maybe he's drunker than he thought, or maybe he just likes the way Zayn's arms feel around his waist. He definitely likes the way Zayn smiles at him, and the way Zayn looks at him like Harry's the only person in the entire world. "Sometimes it's fun, though," he says. His smile is a little wicked and he looks at Zayn through his lashes. Zayn growls and digs his fingers into Harry's hips.

"Hey," says a loud voice, and Harry drags himself away from his plan to kiss Zayn until they both get kicked out. Paul is giving them a disapproving, slightly annoyed look. "Your friends are making a scene," Paul says loudly, jerking his head toward Liam and Louis. "Take them home."

"You're always taking everyone home," says Zayn quietly, teasing, in Harry's ear, and Harry bursts out laughing.

"And that's why you love me," says Harry confidently, and doesn't even have to wait for Zayn's answering grin before he goes and collects all his friends.