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To Being Neighbors

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Harry is not a good person. He’s forgotten to thank store clerks for their help, ignored acquaintances from high school because they were never really friends, and he can’t remember the last time he helped an old lady cross the street. That being said, when he hears the sharp cry of a young child, he pulls away from his textbook and almost immediately heads for his door.

Harry peeks through the peephole first, not that he lives in a bad neighborhood or anything like that, but he’s seen horror movies that start like this and there’s no downside to being cautious.

It’s not an axe murderer, as it turns out. It’s just this man Harry can barely see out of the edge of the peephole, choppy blonde hair and a long grey sweater, a crying child on the hip of his black jeans with a tiny hand curled tight in the back of the man’s sweater. There are a lot of grocery bags around his feet, almost spilling over to the floor, but the man doesn’t seem to be concerned about that. He’s far too busy frantically searching through a small black messenger bag on his other hip while also trying to hush his child.

A part of Harry thinks he should just go back to his books, lord knows he has enough pages to read for Monday, but there’s something that makes him unlock his door and step out into the hall, socked foot and all.

Harry walks over cautiously, waggles his fingers at the kid when he looks over the man’s shoulder and goes quiet, blinking swollen blue eyes owlishly through long eyelashes, but the man still doesn’t seem to notice, not Harry or his child, so Harry speaks, “Hello?” Harry pipes up when he’s close enough, only for the man to spin around and nearly fall over, knocking his groceries to sprawl across the floor.

“Jesus!” The man hisses as he falls back against his door and, for as long as Harry’s lived here, this man has a face that he doesn’t recognize, young and cherub round, the same blue eyes and eyelashes that makes Harry’s mind chime in that he must be the father.

“Uh, sorry,” Harry stammers, wondering exactly what this must look like as he ducks down to pick up a set of oranges that have rolled across the floor. Harry wraps them back up in their bag before putting it back with the other bags on the floor, stepping back far enough that he’s not being overly friendly. “Just, do you need any help?”

The man considers Harry for a second, from his head all the way to his socked toes, and Harry can’t help but shift restlessly. “No.” The man finally decides on, twisting a little to hide the kid from view, but he doesn’t turn fully back to his door, doesn’t even take his eyes off Harry’s form.

“I live just down the hall.” Harry gestures toward his closed apartment door but he does take a step back because it seems to put the man at ease, let the kid wriggle in his arms enough so that he can get his own eyes back on Harry. The two sets of eyes would be almost unsettling if they didn’t look so forlorn. “It’d be no trouble.”

“No, thank you.” The man stresses the words and, this time, he turns back to his door and continues looking through his bag. Harry watches as the man lets out a huff of frustration and starts to put the kid down and the kid lets out a whole new set of screeches and tears.

“My name’s Harry,” the words are called over the cries, and Harry raises a hand in a half hearted wave when the man glances over at him. Harry can practically see the moment the man gives in.

“Niall,” The man offers, hauling his kid higher onto his hip. “And this is Charlie. I could’ve sworn I gave him the keys to hold but.” Niall pushes a hand roughly through his hair before gesturing toward the bags at his feet. “I just can’t find it. Could you hold him for a second?”

“Yeah, of course.” Harry doesn’t hesitate to step forward, holding out his hands, and he doesn’t expect Charlie to be fine with him, considering he was crying only seconds ago, but Charlie just looks at him and tangles a hand into Harry’s shirt, swipes his free hand clumsily across his cheeks. “Hello, Charlie.” Harry says in a silly voice as Niall ducks down to start searching through his groceries. “My name is Harry. How old are you?”

“He’s a little older than two.” Niall says absentmindedly as Charlie holds up two chubby fingers and smiles proudly. Harry doesn’t even think about it before pretending to gobble up Charlie’s hand and his shriek of joy is nothing more than music to Harry’s heart.

Niall is standing when Harry finally looks up, something in his eyes that looks a little lost and lonely, but he has his keys clutched in his hand. “Here they are.” Niall says after a second too long, stepping forward with his arms stretched out. “Thank you, Harry. I can manage from here.”

But Harry, for as long as he’s been holding Charlie, is already reluctant to let him go. “It’s no trouble.” He says again, but he makes sure he doesn’t move an inch, just in case Niall takes it the wrong way.

Niall still narrows his eyes, crossing his arms tightly over his chest as his mouth pinches in the corners. “What’s your game?” Niall demands more than asks, sounding seconds away from calling Harry a few choice words, but Harry honestly has none. He’s just trying to do the right thing.

“I’ve never met a kid so good.” Harry admits instead, two parts sheepish and one part rushed, a tentative smile crossing his face. “If I’m bothering you-,”

“No,” Niall cuts him off and Harry just holds off of cheering, not that he thinks it’s a secret that he’s a fan of Charlie when he tickles his stomach. Niall unlocks his door and stoops to pick up his bags, glancing over his shoulder at Harry once last time before nodding his head toward the door. “Come in. It’s a bit of a mess, but we’re still unpacking.”

Harry doesn’t hesitate to follow Niall inside, into the kitchen so he can sit at the relatively clear table while Niall starts to unpack his grocery bags. The one time Harry tries to sit Charlie on the table, he starts to let out a whine, so Harry just keeps him on his lap, doesn’t stop him when he swipes a pacifier off the tabletop and sticks it right in his mouth.

“You can go now if you want, I won’t keep you.” Niall says over his shoulder almost absentmindedly, but either Harry is projecting, or he can tell by the reluctance in Niall’s voice that he doesn’t really want him to leave. Either way, Harry just thinks about going back to his flat and doing nothing while he can hear Charlie crying, and it makes his skin crawl.

“If you want me to leave, you can say so.” Harry says, but he keeps his voice soft so it doesn’t sound like he’s accusing Niall. He is a stranger in their home, but he has a feeling he’d kind of like to stay, even if only for a little while. Harry twists his head up so that he can grin easily at Niall, almost like they’re old friends. “I promise it’s not the first time I’ve heard it.”

The sound of Niall’s laughter is just as good as Charlie’s, makes Harry feel all warm inside like he’s done something right. They fall silent but continue staring at each other, something that starts feeling like a moment, when it’s broken by a small hand smacking against Harry’s shoulder.

Harry looks down to see Charlie’s little face, his eyebrows pulled tight over his eyes in a forehead frown, but his scowl is ruined by the ducky sucker in his mouth, probably hiding the pout of his lips. Charlie doesn’t seem to care about Harry’s reaction because he hits him again, fist knocking against Harry again and again in a dull but solid punch.

“He’s just cranky because he hasn’t had lunch.” Niall laughs again, softer this time, and Harry looks up to see him halfway in the fridge, receives a glancing blow to his chin as punishment for his lapse in attention. “He’ll probably release you once he’s eaten.”

“I certainly hope so.” Harry stammers when Charlie starts a full body wriggle, kicks to Harry’s stomach and swinging fists to his chin. Charlie only stops when Niall tuts and hands him a piece of bread, and he spits out his pacifier to start gumming at it. It’s kind of a captivating sight because Charlie is a hundred percent devoted to eating his bread, doesn’t even notice when Niall comes over with a bowl of fruit and more bread.

When Niall sits down, he lets out this great sigh and slumps back in the chair, looking like he’s aged five years in five minutes. Harry feels bad for him but it’s understandable, because Niall looks to be about his age, maybe one or two years difference, and Harry wouldn’t dream about having a child this young. There’s no doubt it can be done, Niall living proof of that, but Harry can’t think of a better person who deserves a break and he would like nothing more than to be the person who offers one.

Except, before he can, Charlie finally pulls away from his bread and holds it out for Harry, the edge he’d been gnawing at just shiny with spit and mottled. Harry tries to smile as much as possible while still grimacing. “No, thank you.”

But Charlie is persistent, lifting his bread higher toward Harry’s mouth. Harry is genuinely afraid he’s going to have to take a bite, and that’s just about when Charlie cocks his head and says, “Mama?”

There’s a tense heartbeat in the room, wherein Charlie blinks expectantly at Harry, and Harry stares helplessly at Charlie, and then Niall plucks Charlie right out of Harry’s lap and curls him protectively in his own. “Sorry,” Niall sounds a bit rougher now, all traces of his relaxation, however brief, gone with a single word. “He’s started doing that lately. I’ve been trying to get him out of the habit.”

Harry bobs his head in a nod, and he knows that there’s nothing more for him to do here and he should just offer his bit and go, but the question is digging at his brain and he’ll be lucky if he can get any more work done if he leaves without an answer. It’s not his place so he prepares himself for a swift rejection, but that doesn’t stop him from asking the question. “Where is his mother?”

It seems Niall was more than ready for it though, because he bites his answer out. “She’s dead.”

When Harry ducks his head, it’s nothing more than shame, and the way he feels like an asshole is nothing less than he deserves. “Look, I’m sorry.” Harry starts but Niall just waves him off, not meanly, but absentmindedly again, like he hasn’t got enough presence of mind to worry about propriety and guilt on top of the way Charlie is slapping for the little bowl of fruit, bread forgotten.

They both watch Charlie in silence, the way he decimates his food before wriggling out of Niall’s lap, peeling off out of the kitchen until all they can hear of him are the little slaps of his feet. Niall doesn’t chase after him but Harry isn’t worried that he’ll get hurt, just because Niall doesn’t seem to be worried about it. He doesn’t seem like the type to be a neglectful parent.

Harry can hear Charlie rummaging around in the next room but he doesn’t dare get up from his seat to go check on him, not even when Niall stands up himself to go put Charlie’s dishes in the sink. He washes them in silence and Harry is just wondering if he should excuse himself when Niall finally speaks up.

“It wasn’t supposed to be like this.” Niall says, more to the sink than anything else, but Harry still perks up to full attention. “But when she found out, she wanted to keep him.” Niall hunches over the sink like he’s in pain, his knuckles turning white as he squeezes the counter, and the next words sound like they’re being positively ripped from him. “And then she died giving birth to him.”

Harry solemnly wishes he’d never spoken, stands up from his chair even though he’s not quite sure what he’s going to do. Charlie runs into the room before he can even think about reaching out to rub over Niall’s back. He has a toy car in each hand with him now, smacks into Niall’s knee before reaching up with the car in his right hand, like he wants them both to have one.

When Niall crouches down to take one, Harry can see that his smile is watery, but it’s growing stronger, especially when Charlie uses Niall’s forehead as a ramp. They watch silently until Charlie starts driving on the floor and then Niall glances up at Harry, eyes wet but bright. “We were with my parents until he was old enough that I could take care of him on my own. And now we’re here.” Niall puts his toy car on the floor and brushes his hands off on the back of his pants. “What about you?”

That takes Harry by surprise, but he doesn’t hesitate before spouting the most reputable fact about himself. “I’m doing my masters in law at CLU,” and Niall nods but it doesn’t seem like enough, like it’s just not big enough to compare to Niall’s story, and Harry feels like he has to give more. “I’m also a sucker for a crying child so,” Harry offers before waving his hand toward the door. “I’m sorry if I freaked you out.”

Niall smiles and says, “It’s alright,” but Harry can practically see him closing in on himself now that it’s brought up again, picking Charlie up off the floor and then again as Niall puts his back to the countertop.

“I promise I won’t always be creeping around.” Harry offers with a soft smile and he’s surprised when Niall actually returns it, however tentatively he does. “I’m actually really busy.” Harry gestures over his shoulder to where his flat should be, or in the general direction anyway. “Don’t have time for girlfriends or boyfriends,” except, that sounds like a come on so Harry rushes to continue, “Or friends, really! Just, take out and my text books.” Harry feels like he’s fucked up in a major way when Niall drops his eyes to the floor, but it wouldn’t be the first time he’s been thrown out on his ass.

“You should go then,” Niall nods toward his door, but he doesn’t sound cross or anything like that. He speaks like he’s just stating fact, like it makes sense that Harry should go back to his empty flat when it is really the last thing he wants to do. “Back to your text books and your take out.” Niall smiles slightly, his voice a tease, and it puts Harry at ease enough that he realizes Niall won’t just ignore him if they run into each other in the hallway. He hopes they do, at least once.

Harry heads to the entrance without a fuss, steps through the door and turns around because Niall hasn’t just shut him out. Instead, Niall is leaning against the doorframe, still holding Charlie carefully in his arms, and he’s watching Harry a little like he doesn't want Harry to leave, but it’s not Harry’s place to ask to stay. “I’ll see you around then.” Harry says, raising his hand in a weak wave before letting it fall limp back to his side.

Niall nods and bites his lip, but before Harry can take more than one step, Niall calls out, “Don’t be a stranger.” Harry doesn’t miss the plea in Niall’s voice, never mind the words. He would never dream of it.

“No, definitely.” Harry steps up to Niall again, and he kind of wants to get closer, but he’s just happy that Niall doesn’t take a step back when he reaches out to pat his shoulder. “You take care of yourself, Niall.” Harry speaks with such sincerity in his voice that he nearly scares himself, but he knows as well as anybody that, sometimes, he needs the reminder as much as anybody else. When Niall nods, Harry has a feeling he’s taking the words to heart.

It all feels so stiff and serious that Harry has to lighten the situation, cups his hand gently over Charlie’s head as he says, “Bye, Charlie.” Charlie barely looks away from his toy car though, just pushes Harry’s wrist away from his head with his free hand before turning all his attention back to himself. It makes Harry laugh and Niall smile at the very least, and it feels like maybe everything will be okay.

The next time Harry sees them, he’s just walking into the building on his way home from school, and he hears them first, the quick patter of Charlie’s feet slapping against the floor. Charlie comes peeling around the corner next, without Niall in sight, and he looks like he’s making a break for it, even more so when Harry can hear Niall shout from the elevators, “Charlie! Come back!”

Harry doesn’t hesitate to grab Charlie off the floor and shut the lobby door behind himself just so that Charlie doesn’t run out into the cold but he looks ready for it, in a nice blue puffy jacket that makes him look a bit like a snowman.

Still, Harry holds Charlie close to his chest, even though he’s wriggling and feverishly trying to get back to his escape. Harry just wouldn’t feel right letting Charlie loose on the room.

It’s not long before Charlie finally gives up on running away, and that’s when he starts pulling at Harry’s scarf instead, concentration drawing his eyebrows tight into a frown as he looks up to gauge Harry’s reaction. Harry tries to smile as best he can.

“Yes, hello there!” Harry says, and the words come out in a strangled voice because his scarf is tight around his neck but Charlie just grins toothily as Harry chokes. Harry tries tucking two fingers into his scarf to free his throat and he ends up grimacing more than anything else when he doesn’t succeed.

Luckily, Niall comes around the corner moments later, a big duffle on his shoulder and a harried look on his face, but it smoothes out a little when he sees them, just enough that Harry thinks he’s done the right thing.

Harry heaves Charlie higher in his arms and cocks his head to the side, “I think you’ve lost something, Niall.” Harry jokes, but it’s ruined a little when his voice comes out the slightest bit hoarse.

Harry won’t admit it, but it’s not entirely because of the scarf tight as a noose around his throat.

Niall shakes his head a little but he does laugh, very softly, and then he steps forward. Harry can’t see anything but gratitude on his face. “Thank you.” Niall says, plucking Charlie from Harry’s arms but, instead of keeping Charlie in his own, he lowers them both to the ground and speaks in a very low, but stern voice.

Harry doesn’t catch all the words, doesn’t try to, but he can’t miss the cowed expression on Charlie’s face when Niall stands back up again, the way Charlie tucks his chin into his chest and just holds onto Niall’s hand docilely.

“So,” Harry grins sheepishly, almost feeling a little like he’s the one in trouble when Niall faces him fully, but Niall is smiling, genuinely and fondly, and the warmth just melts away all Harry’s worries. “Where are you two off to on this fine afternoon?” Harry asks, hoping he’s not overstepping his bounds but he is curious, he can’t deny that.

Niall just smiles wider so Harry doesn’t feel too bad for asking. “We’re going to see Charlotte's parents.” Niall says but Harry can’t help the stab of jealousy he feels through his stomach.

Harry’s mind starts racing with thoughts of exactly who this Charlotte person is and why Niall didn’t mention them the last time they met, imagining blondes with cheeky smiles and brunettes with lopsided hair cuts.

Harry has to remind himself, acknowledge the fact that he doesn’t exactly have the right to ask these questions, but even that doesn’t do much to make him feel better. “Charlotte?” Harry asks despite it all, but, when Niall’s smile curves with sadness, Harry just knows, and again, he feels like the worst human being in the world.

Niall looks down at Charlie and shakes his hand a little, picks him up but it seems more to comfort himself than anything else. “He was named after her. Charlotte was his mother.” Niall explains, hugging Charlie against his hip. Harry ducks his head in shame.

If anything, when Harry finally manages to put himself back together, Niall just looks amused, a little curl to his eyes as he continues, “We probably won’t be there long. It’s hard for them to see Charlie.”

“Right-o,” Harry says, hums and bites at his lip before he says anything else and puts his foot further up his own ass.

They stare at each other for a tense little moment and then it’s Niall’s turn to drop his eyes from Harry, like he’s got anything to be sorry or embarrassed about. Niall reaches out a hand and tries to fix Charlie’s hat but Charlie ducks him, tucks cutely against Niall’s shoulder, and Niall gives up with a chuff.

“Well, we should be off or we’re going to be late,” Niall says, looking at Harry again before he walks around him, heading for the front door.

Harry doesn’t think before he chases Niall a little, pulling open the door for him when he gets there because he’s got his hands full with Charlie and the duffle, and Harry doesn’t mind being nice.

“Hey, so,” Harry follows them out the door, “I was thinking about getting chinese tonight for supper.” Harry blurts randomly, testing the water between them just to make sure he hasn’t ruined any chance of anything between them, as friends or otherwise. But then Niall stops and stares at him while they’re on the stairs and Harry rushes to explain himself, “I mean, do you guys want? If you’re back in time?”

Niall cocks his head to the side like he’s confused, furrowed brow and all, and Harry knows they’re not exactly friends better than anyone else, but he just thought he’d offer, take up on that command to not be a stranger. “Charlie can’t eat chinese food.” Niall says instead and Harry feels like the dumbest idiot in the world.

“Right.” Harry smacks a hand against his forehead, wanting nothing more than to retreat into the building. “You’re right.”

“But,” Niall says, moving down the steps a little more before he stops again. “I can cook us something,” he offers like he isn’t handing Harry the world on a silver platter. “That is, if you think you can wait that long,” he continues like it’s a joke because his lips curl in a smirk. Charlie wiggles out of Niall’s arms so he can play with some snow on the bank and Harry watches him as he tries to process the words.

The thought of Niall cooking for him in his kitchen, of eating with Niall and Charlie at an actual dinner table, like a family Harry dares to think. But, he’s getting ahead of himself.

“Yeah, that sounds good.” Harry finally says, almost hard pressed to contain his excitement. “It’s a date.” And that’s about where his heart slams hard against his chest and the words settle in his head, right around the same time that Niall arches an eyebrow and tilts his head cutely to the side. “Not a date!” Harry babbles, throwing his arms out wildly. “I just mean, um.”

Niall laughs, louder than before, with his chin tilted up and his neck completely bared. Harry is not a good person because all he wants to do is leave purple marks all over it.

Somehow, god only knows, Harry manages to rein himself back from pushing forward into Niall’s skin and, in that time, Niall scoops Charlie back into his arms and brushes off the snow he’d gotten on himself. “I’ll see you, Harry.” Niall says, heading down the stairs and Harry watches him go.

“Yeah, see you.” Harry sinks to the ground, remembering a second too late that he hasn’t got snow pants on but he doesn’t care that his ass is getting wet when Niall turns around and grins at him one last time before he heads off down the street. It’s a gorgeous smile.

Harry spends the rest of the day anxious, putting clean dishes in the sink just so that he has something to do with himself. More than once, he kicks himself over the whole ‘date’ thing because it seemed so forward, and the last thing Harry wants to do, barely below failing out of law school, is scare Niall away.

Harry tries to occupy himself with studying music and course reading, but he absorbs basically nothing. He mostly just gets himself more stressed out at all the work he has left to do, but Harry knows that he either has to suffer through his stress or just get the work done so. Harry spreads his books out in the living room and gets to work, loses a few hours to the text until it gets so dark outside he has to turn on a light.

Harry doesn’t realizes how hungry he is until his stomach lets out a long growl as he’s standing up, stretching his arms high above his head. He has half a mind to go raid his fridge and see what he can scrounge up when there’s a knock at his front door.

Harry stops mid-trek to the kitchen, looks over at the clock out of pure habit, and he’s shocked to see it’s nearly ten o’clock at night. Niall never showed up. The thought sits like a stone in Harry’s stomach, the bitter sting of rejection, but he has to see who’s at the door first before he even begins to worry about that. Harry heads over and pulls it open and.

“Sorry, we stayed a bit longer than planned,” Niall says, looking tired but smiling wide anyway, the bridge of his nose red like he’s just come in from the cold. “Didn’t want you to think that I stood you up.”

“No, of course not,” Harry says, lies really, but his previous thoughts don’t really matter now that Niall actually is here, looking soft in a baggy striped sweater and blue jeans.

“I’ve got Chinese back at mine, if you want?” Niall offers, gesturing over his shoulder to where his door is just about propped open with a shoe. “Charlie ate at Charlotte’s.”

Harry looks down at himself, in grey sweats and a loose black t-shirt. No, this is definitely not a date, definitely not what he’d wear to a date, so he says, “Yeah, of course.” Harry grabs his keys so he can lock his door behind himself, and he follows Niall across the hall in bare feet.

They step inside Niall’s flat and Harry almost instantly looks down around his knees, waiting for a little body to barrel into them but there’s nothing, not even the sound of toys clanging around.

“He’s asleep already,” Niall says, noticing Harry’s eyes, and Harry can’t help feel a little embarrassed at assuming, but he can’t deny he’s disappointed to know that he won’t get to hear Charlie’s babble. Well, he’s disappointed until he realizes that this means he has Niall all to himself.

Harry has to remind himself that this is absolutely not a date.

“He’s had a long day so he should sleep through the night,” Niall tells him and Harry nods, follows Niall as he leads them into the kitchen where there are a bunch of styrofoam containers set out. Niall grabs them two plates, and Harry waits until Niall’s served himself before he goes to town, piling his plate high in anticipation of his hunger.

It’s when he finally stops that he notices Niall’s amused expression and he shrugs, sheepish, “I swear this stuff is my lifeblood.” Harry admits, saying nothing of the fact that he hasn’t remembered to eat up until right now. Niall doesn’t need to know that much. “I promise I’ll pay you back.”

“Or you could just pay next time.” Niall smiles, herding Harry toward the kitchen door, and Harry can’t wrap his head around the whole ‘next time’ thing, let alone Niall’s hand gentle against his elbow.

“Yeah, alright.” Harry breathes as Niall steers him into the living room.

There’s an empty space in the middle of the room surrounded by a sea of boxes. That’s where Charlie’s stretched out on his stomach, a fuzzy blanket beneath him and he’s swaddled in a cute onesie from head to toe. He’s got a toy in his hand like he fell asleep mid-play and Harry has to bite his lip to hold back from cooing.

“So, the couch’s being used as box space.” Niall gestures to the other boxes Harry didn’t even notice up until he mentioned them and Harry feels sad that they’re still unpacked and moving in, wants to offer his help in any way he can but he keeps his mouth shut as Niall continues, “But I can move some if you want?”

“Niall, I’m a college student.” Harry waves his free hand and moves to the floor beside the couch, slides down the length of the wall slowly until he’s sitting. “The floor is fine, I promise.”

“Cool, then.” Niall grins, joining him on the floor before they dig in, and they just eat for a few minutes while the food is still warm, until Niall nudges Harry with his elbow to get his attention, asking, “So, how was your day?”

And, god, that reminds Harry of all the things he’s supposed to be doing, makes him think about the way he’s spending his time but he doesn’t think he’ll mind the wasted hours while Niall is blinking at him like this. “Well, my teacher is kicking my ass for my paper.” Harry shoves his fork into his food so he can palm a hand down his face. “Apparently, my topic isn’t good enough, but it’s due in like a week and it’s gotta be fifteen pages long and I don’t have time to pick a new topic and find new sources and-,”

Niall cuts him off with a snort, pushes his fist against his nose when Harry glances over at him with a mild glare. “I can honestly say I don’t miss school.” Niall admits, and that makes Harry wonder just how long Niall’s been out of school, what he studied, what he’s doing now.

“What do you do anyway?” Harry asks, feeding into his thoughts. “I mean, Charlie’s gotta be a handful.”

“I’m a ghost writer.” Niall waves his hand around vaguely, “And he is, but it’s easy articles to write while he’s asleep. The rest of the day is my other job.” Niall glances over at Charlie and Harry follows his eyes, watches the quick rise and fall of his body like he’s hypnotised. “I think it’s the better of the two.” Harry has to agree.

Niall nudges him again, “Tell me more about this asshole teacher.”

And they talk, Harry isn’t sure how long, but he knows his leftover food is growing cold in his hands. He can’t find it in himself to care though, because talking to Niall is like swimming with the current in a river. It’s easy.

It’s when they’ve got their heads tipped together in a quiet laugh that Harry realizes how close they are, how intimate the space between them is, and this isn’t a date by any means, at all, whatsoever, but Harry can’t help leaning in for a kiss.

Just, the delicate brush of his nose against Niall’s, testing the waters before he properly leans in. Harry moves slow in case Niall doesn’t want this, in case he wants to jerk back or turn away, but he just lets out a short, harsh breath before Harry seals the gap between them.

Niall kisses like a dream, the gentle press of his lips against Harry’s mouth, the way he lets out another breath against Harry’s lips before he reaches out and cups a hand around the side of Harry’s throat. Harry sets his plate aside noisily so he can twist into Niall, shuffle his knees against Niall’s thighs and kiss with his whole body.

It’s the first time in a long time that Harry’s kissed someone and, to come back with this, he can’t help but moan.

That’s what snaps Niall out of it, shuddering back and scrambling to his feet, a white tight grip on his plate. “I think there’s still some egg rolls left in the kitchen, I’m going to go see.” Niall blurts out, backing away from Harry like he’s horrified with what they’ve just done.

Harry shifts to his knees, and reaches out a hand carefully, says, “Niall, wait,” because he’s dealt with this kind of thing before, but Niall doesn’t give him a chance.

“I’ll be right back!” Niall disappears into the kitchen but, he’s too loud. Harry can see Charlie jolt out of the corner of his eye, lifts his little head and look around. His pacifier falls out of his mouth and his face goes all red like he’s about to cry.

Harry doesn’t even think before he’s moving forward, rubbing at Charlie’s back like he’s done to his cousins and he lies down a little as he hands back Charlie’s pacifier so that he doesn’t start crying. Harry’s worried that, if he does start crying, he’ll never get a chance to talk to Niall and this doesn’t seem like something to leave for another day.

“Shh, Charlie. Go back to sleep.” Harry whispers and Charlie watches him until his eyes start to blink heavily and then they shut, and then he’s asleep again, just like that. Harry waits a second, just to make sure.

When he stands up, Niall is hovering near the kitchen doorway, watching them, biting at his nails. Niall looks away when Harry meets his eyes, disappears back into the kitchen and Harry follows him in, corners him. “I’m sorry.” Harry says, putting his plate down by the sink so he can wring his hands, “I shouldn’t’ve kissed you, Niall.”

But Niall’s busy emptying out the leftover food into other containers, collapsing the styrofoam and shoving it into an empty plastic bag. When he speaks, it’s off-hand, like he’s barely even paying attention, “Did you put him back to sleep? Most people would’ve just come and gotten me.”

“He was already drowsy. It was nothing.” Harry shakes his head even if Niall’s isn’t looking at him, grimaces and scuffs his feet against the ground. “Niall, will you just look at me? Please?” He asks, because Niall hasn’t turned to him since he scrambled away and Harry’s feels swamped with guilt.

Harry waits until Niall turns around and leans against the counter, until he flicks his eyes gently up. He looks nervous, insecure, and all Harry wants to do is step forward and wrap him up in a hug but he doesn’t think that’ll help anything. “Thank you.” Harry says instead, smiling gently. “Now tell me what you’re thinking.”

Niall crosses his arms in front of his chest defensively but he doesn’t lower his eyes when he asks, “Why did you kiss me?”

The question makes Harry’s eyes drop to Niall’s lips, the rosy purse of them. Harry wants to kiss him again but, more than that, he wants Niall to want Harry to kiss him. “I wanted to.” Harry admits, “Is that so wrong?”

Niall lets out a harsh laugh and turns away, like he’s frustrated, like he doesn’t know what to do with himself anymore. “It is if I don’t know what it means, Harry.”

And, what does it mean? That’s a loaded question if Harry has ever heard one, but he doesn’t have a reason. There’s no great plan behind it. “I just did it because I wanted to.” Harry admits with a shrug, “I thought you did too.”

Niall pulls out a chair at the kitchen table and sits down, buries his head in his hands. “I can’t just do what I want to anymore.” Niall says, his voice all muffled behind his palms. “Charlie is my number one priority. He comes first and he always will. I can’t just do what I want. My life affects him.”

And, if that is the reason Niall’s stopping himself. Harry moves over and sits down in front of him, pulls his hands away from his face. “I know. I understand that.” Harry says emphatically but Niall just shakes his head like Harry doesn’t get it.

“You said it yourself,” Niall stands up from the table and moves away, pushes his hands through his hair roughly. “You’re a law student. You don’t have time for a relationship.”

“To be fair, it’s the same with you.” Harry retorts, a little childishly as he gestures toward the living room. “You have Charlie. You don’t either.” But there Niall looks like Harry’s said exactly what he was thinking.

“So what is the point, Harry?” Niall says, exasperated, “Why even bother trying?”

And, oh. Harry understands now. “Because I want to try with you,” Harry explains, ducking his head a little because he can feel Niall’s eyes on him but he doesn’t know if he can look at Niall if he doesn’t think they’re worth the effort, worth the extra time. “It’s fine if you don’t want to.”

“Harry,” Niall reaches over when Harry stands up, circles a hand around Harry’s wrist and holds him steady. “We’ll never be able to go out for drinks, and I don’t have friends for you to meet,” Niall explains, and Harry understands that this is a serious step but, they’re both adults. “And I’m not even sure if I’m ready to get back in a relationship.”

When Niall adds that last bit, well third time’s the charm, and again, Harry feels like shit. Harry reaches up to cover his mouth before he puts his hand over Niall’s on his wrist, “I’m so sorry for pushing you.” Harry breathes, and Niall nods and lets him go, and Harry feels awkward now, too big for this small kitchen, too close, “I should go.”

Niall drops his eyes and wraps his arms around himself, nods his head and says, “Yeah, you should.” And that’s not exactly what Harry expected him to say but this is not a movie and, maybe that’s for the best. Harry’s got a pint of vanilla ice cream in his fridge that has his name all over it.

But Harry barely makes it two steps into the hallway before Niall’s calling to him, one foot keeping the door open and the other in the hall, “Harry, wait.” And it would be so much easier for Harry to shake his head and move for his door but he’s helpless to answer Niall’s call, moving back over hopefully. He isn’t disappointed.

Niall reaches out and snags a hand in Harry’s shirt, tugs him close and looks up at him with a dangerous look in his eyes. “This is not my answer,” but his kiss feels like a ‘yes’ when he seals their lips, when he leans into the way Harry catches at his hips and pulls him close.

And then he’s darting back to keep the door open, resting his head against the door so his eyes go all hooded. His lips are rosy and delicious pink. Harry can’t resist ducking in twice more now that he’s allowed, kissing Niall with all the delicacy he deserves.

But it’s late, and Harry understands why Niall twists his head away from a third kiss, lets Harry’s mouth catch his cheek with a coy smirk.

“You should really go,” Niall says, nodding across the hall. Harry doesn’t want to but Niall is smiling at him, and he might not’ve said yes, but those kisses are clear enough to read, and it feels like maybe everything will be okay.

The thing that sucks is that Harry goes into exams almost immediately after the night of their first kiss and they only manage to spend one breakfast together, where Charlie falls asleep in his oatmeal, before Harry goes into finals mode.

They text, of course, but a kiss emoji is nowhere near to the real thing, and Harry really likes the real thing.

And then one day, when Harry’s heading out for a last minute study group before an exam, he notices Niall’s keys are still stuck in his door, but the door is closed and Niall is nowhere in sight. Harry looks around, and locks his own apartment door before he heads over.

They aren’t close enough that Harry just wants to use the keys and let himself in so he pulls them out of the lock and knocks, and it doesn’t take long before Niall is opening the door.

Niall looks tired, bags under his eyes and a shirt that’s got a milk stain on the hem, but he smiles once he sees it’s Harry. Harry isn’t so much of a sucker that he thinks Niall’s the most beautiful thing he’s seen while he looks like this but still, there will be no complaints from him.

“Hey, Harry,” Niall rasps, leaning in for a quick kiss. He hugs his arms tiredly around Harry’s waist and Harry can practically feel how exhausted Niall is through his skin, in the way he shuts his eyes against Harry’s cheek and doesn’t complain when Harry starts to rock them.

“Hey, you alright?” Harry asks, stroking a big hand over Niall’s back like that’ll offer some comfort. He was only supposed to hand over the keys and go on his way, because he’s definitely missing the bus right now, but he doesn’t care much when Niall practically starts to snore against his shoulder. His study group can wait. “Niall?”

“Shit, sorry,” Niall wipes at his mouth and stands up straight, only for a couple seconds before he lists uselessly against the door frame. “Sorry, Charlie’s come down with a cold or something. He’s kept me up for two nights straight,” Niall ruffles a hand through his already messy hair and snorts, “And I think I might’ve caught it too.”

“I am so sorry.” Harry hums, tugging Niall back into his chest, and Niall doesn’t complain, closing his eyes again and leaning his full weight against Harry. “Try and get some sleep, okay? And don’t go letting yourself get too sick either.”

“Thanks, mum.” Niall says, a chuff of a laugh, and Harry wants to hear that again but against his mouth. Niall is lazy with the kiss but Harry doesn’t mind.

“Right,” Harry says as they pull apart. “I came to tell you, you left your keys in the door.” Harry holds them out and Niall snags them, stares at them like they’re a foreign object.

“I was wondering where these went.” Niall murmurs, looping them around his thumb and twirling it gently through the air. He laughs again and shakes his head, “I thought I dropped them on the way to the pharmacy.”

Something must happen to Harry’s face because Niall runs a hand down his arm soothingly. “Charlie and I went on an adventure for medicine,” he says, now rubbing that same hand across his eyes, “You can imagine how well that went.” Yes, Harry can, he remembers the first time they met.

“You could’ve called me.” Harry offers, but he can’t deny that he’s a little glad Niall didn’t. He was probably elbow deep in textbooks and unwilling to move.

Niall shrugs and opens his mouth to say something, and that’s when there’s a clatter somewhere behind him and his mouth twists. “Charlie,” he calls over his shoulder.

“No, daddy!” is the aggravated reply and Niall groans, ducking his head against the door frame heavily.

“I’ll talk to you later,” Niall says, shooting Harry a wry look, and Harry nods, kisses Niall twice more because he can’t resist it before he lets him go.

Harry has missed two buses by the time he gets to the right stop, but he doesn’t much care if that is the only cost for the time he got to spend with Niall. Despite that, he feels as though his study group will probably be half over by the time he gets there and he’s nearly tempted to just turn around and head back to Niall’s flat but this exam is pretty important and Harry needs all the help he can get.

So he goes to it and, a few hours later, Harry heads home relieved that the group plans to meet every day until the exam because his brain is fried. Fleetingly, he wonders if Niall’s eaten supper yet, maybe they can have something together, and he steps out of the elevator already opening a text, when he hears the sound of a child’s toy just down the hall.

It’s too loud to be from inside someone’s apartment and Harry looks up and.

Charlie is in the hallway with a toy truck, its lights flashing on the walls. That’s what’s playing music, and it’s weird because Niall is nowhere in sight again. It’s just Charlie, sitting by the apartment door, but he is in the hall, wearing socks and a striped onesie.

Harry shoves his phone back into his pocket and makes his way over, crouches down when he’s close enough and he waggles his fingers when Charlie looks at him. “Hi, Charlie. Do you know who I am?”

And Charlie pops his pacifier out of his mouth and grins toothily. “Harry,” he says, his R’s coming out more like W’s. The fact that Charlie knows his name makes Harry wonder just how much Niall talks about him, makes him feel warm in his stomach and tingly in his toes.

“That’s right. Where’s your daddy?” Harry asks, getting down to business because he’s a little worried that Charlie is just here alone, especially since Niall had told him that Charlie wasn’t feeling too well. Harry reaches out a hand to feel Charlie’s forehead and he’s warm but not worryingly so. “Where’s daddy, Charlie?”

“Daddy?” Charlie says, twisting around to look at the door like he expects Niall to be standing there. His brow furrows in confusion when he sees that Niall’s not actually there and then he looks at Harry like he has the answer. “Hm?”

“Let’s go find him then.” Harry stands up, reaching down a hand, and Charlie doesn’t exactly take it but he does hand Harry his truck which is better than he expected to get, so.

Harry holds the door open as Charlie scampers inside, leaving his shoes and his bag by the door while Charlie disappears off into the living room. Niall isn’t in the kitchen when Harry looks over, and that’s when he starts to get really worried because he doesn’t know how long Niall has been gone, how long Charlie’s been alone. He doesn’t know whether he should call the police or not.

Charlie runs back into the room and he’s holding a picture frame. He steps on Harry’s foot to try to hand it to him. “Alright, what’s this?” Harry asks, turning it around so he can see the picture inside the frame.

Niall is in the picture, wearing blue scrubs and a brilliant smile on his face, rounder than it is now, softer lines too. He’s not alone; there’s a woman lying in the bed beside him wearing a hospital shrug and she’s got a newborn baby in her arms. It’s gotta be Charlotte and Charlie, when he was just born. Charlotte looks exhausted and her hair is matted brown curls against her shoulders.

Harry can almost see the resemblance, understands why Charlie called him ‘mama’ back when they barely knew each other. He wonders how soon things went wrong after this picture, how long they got with their bliss before everything turned to shit.

“Not exactly what I had in mind,” Harry mumbles to himself but he sets the picture frame down gently, because it’s important, he can tell that much, before he turns back to Charlie. “Let’s go on an adventure, shall we?” Charlie’s face lights up and he throws his arms up in the air like he wants to be picked up. Harry doesn’t hesitate.

Both his and Niall’s apartment are laid out the same, the living room giving way to the hallway which branches off into three doors. The first doorway on the right leads into the bathroom, Niall’s full with bath toys and rumpled towels, a stack of toilet paper in the corner. The second door has a crib and a dresser-changing table combo, a couple stacks of boxes yet to be unpacked, and still no sign of Niall.

Charlie kicks his feet restlessly when Harry stays in the room too long, tries to wiggle out of Harry’s arm and reach for the door frame. “Alright, alright, I get it.” Harry says, backing out of the second room and heading for the last door, cracked open a slit. He feels more nervous now that he’s checked the other two rooms, like this is his last hope before he’s given full permission to freak the fuck out.

Harry takes a moment just to breathe before he pushes the door open, and he lets out the longest breath of relief when his eyes land on Niall inside, where he’s lying on a large bed. Niall is asleep, stretched awkwardly across the bed with his feet curled up so that they’re not dangling off the edge. He’s got a balled up onesie in one hand, like he passed out while changing Charlie or something.

Niall doesn’t move an inch when Harry sits on the bed beside him. Not even when Charlie squirms out of Harry’s arms and crawls over to him. Niall is so deep asleep that he all does, when Charlie pats at his face, is breathe. But, at least he’s here.

“Alright, let’s let him sleep.” Harry murmurs, picking Charlie up carefully again and carrying him out of the room. Charlie starts to fuss when Harry closes the door, and even when Harry puts him down, he stumbles back over to the door and pushes his little fists against it with a whine.

Harry’s never had to babysit any younger siblings or cousins or anything like that, so he doesn’t know where to even begin when Charlie slumps to the ground like he’s about to throw a tantrum. “No, come on.” Harry rushes back over and picks him up, pleading even as Charlie’s ears go all red. “He’s tired. He just needs a little rest, Charlie.”

“No!” Charlie pouts, pushing a hand against Harry’s chin, hard. Harry doesn’t know how Niall does it, every day, all day, he’s already tired himself. But he manages, carrying Charlie back to the kitchen and sticking him in his high chair so he can’t squirm away.

While Charlie is struggling with the straps on his chair, Harry starts to raid Niall’s fridge, thinking maybe Charlie is hungry. But, jesus, there are barely crumbs in Niall’s fridge, just some vegetables that Harry knows Charlie won’t take too kindly to, and four baby bottles of milk stacked neatly in the corner. It looks like Niall hasn’t had a chance to do groceries in a while, at least not the last few days while Charlie has been sick.

The bottles are cold when Harry pulls one out and eyes it warily. Charlie almost immediately starts to reach for it, fussing loudly when Harry doesn’t give it up, but Harry doesn’t know if he has to warm the bottle up before he hands it over, so he does the only thing he knows to. He calls his mother.

“Harry, darling.” His mother says sweetly, and Harry can hear her shutting off a sink in the background, shuffling a chair, sighing a little as she sits down. “How are you? You haven’t called in a while.”

Harry winces, but he’s been in finals, okay? He hasn’t had time for anyone. “I’m fine.” Harry bites at his lip carefully. “Uh, mum, this is kind of a weird call so I’m just going to ask, can you give a toddler a cold bottle?”

There’s a pause, far too long for Harry to stand still, and every time he shuffles feels like his mother is judging him, hardcore. “I suppose it’s alright.” She finally says, slowly, like there’s something else she’s dying to ask. “Depends on if they take it. Lukewarm should be fine, if they don’t.”

“Great. Thanks, mum. Gotta go.” Harry hangs up before she can ask who or why or how, god, he hasn’t even thought of telling his family about Niall. Not that he’s a dirty secret or anything, but Harry enjoys having something just to himself. It’s undeniably nice.

Regardless, Harry hands over the bottle and Charlie snatches it up, popping the tip in his mouth and sucking like he’s been starving. Harry winces and turns to Niall’s cupboards to try to find some food. If Charlie is hungry, it’s the least he can do, but all Harry finds are some crackers, those baby animal ones that are good for teething, some cereal, and some other stuff.

Nothing really fit for a meal, but it’s practically suppertime and Harry would feel like a terrible person to just give Charlie snacks. Thinking about it now, Harry could’ve sworn he had some chicken noodle soup in his own pantry, and he used to love having that as a child.

Harry hesitates, and in that time, Charlie pipes up from behind him, “Finish!” Charlie says, sounding more like he’s mimicking things he’s heard his father say more than anything else, but it’s adorably slurred in baby babble. Harry turns around and Charlie is holding out his bottle, smiling wide, and he has milk on his chin. Harry doesn’t even know how that got there.

“Thank you.” Harry’s impressed to say the least, using a paper towel to quickly clean Charlie off before he sets him free on the room. Charlie doesn’t run off like Harry expects him to though, hugging an arm around one of Harry’s knees and blinking up at him quietly. “Um. Hello?”

“Hi!” Charlie beams at him, a gaping smile, and he pushes up on the tips of his toes and pulls at Harry’s belt loops.

“Uh,” Harry hesitates again, but he picks Charlie up and settles him on the kitchen counter where he almost immediately starts to paw at one of the cereal boxes left out on the countertop. Charlie sticks his hand inside an open one and pulls out a handful of Cheerios so he can gum at them, and Harry nearly stops him because cereal does not a meal make. “Are you still hungry?”

“Hungry!” Charlie parrots him, clapping his hands together and casting Cheerios across the kitchen floor. “Hungry!”

Given that Niall’s fridge is so empty though, Harry doesn’t know what to give Charlie to eat and it’s not like he can get takeout for Charlie either, but. Harry thinks he might have some chicken noodle soup in his cupboards or at least some kind of soup product.

The only problem is, Harry doesn’t want to leave Charlie on his own again, not even for a little bit. There’s too much potential for him to hurt himself.

Harry could take Charlie and they could be fast, five minutes at the most, maybe less. Harry could even leave a note on the off chance Niall wakes up while they’re gone but he really hopes he doesn’t. The idea of Niall waking up to Charlie gone is not something Harry would wish on anyone.

But, Charlie needs to eat. “Want to go get some food?” Harry asks and Charlie, with Cheerios sticking to his cheeks and all, smiles so sweetly that Harry’s heart must grow at least two sizes larger.

Harry sticks a note to the refrigerator and then helps Charlie down off the counter, taking his hand carefully and letting him lead the way to the front door. Harry props Niall’s front door discretely open with one of his shoes and pads down the hallway to his own flat.

When he unlocks the door, he expects Charlie to go tearing off inside but, for some reason, he doesn’t. Instead, he lets go of Harry’s hand but sticks close by his knee, hugs an arm around Harry’s leg like he did before.

“Come on,” Harry coaxes him inside, a hand on the back of Charlie’s head, and he’s thankful for small blessings that Charlie doesn’t freak out when the door swings shut behind them.

Harry moves into his kitchen, assuming that Charlie will either follow him or stay where he is. Or, at least Harry doesn’t think Charlie will be brave enough to explore a strange place, even though it bears striking resemblance to his own home, and if he does, Harry doesn’t have anything too dangerous laying out and about.

The only problem Harry has now is that he can’t remember exactly where he left the cans of soup, if he has any. God, he hopes he has some. Maybe in the fridge?

It takes a while of search until Harry finds one behind some red beans in one of his cabinets, and the can is definitely smaller than he remembers, fitting comfortably in the palm of his hand. He should probably find another can, just to be safe. Which means he has to begin his search all over again for the illusive noodle soup.

It’s weird that, just when Harry finds another one, in his spice cabinet of all places, he hears a tiny voice say, “Uh oh,” from somewhere in his living room. And he may not have ever been a babysitter but he knows well enough that those words are never good news out of a child’s mouth.

Harry lurches out of his kitchen doorway just in time for him to see Charlie standing near to a carefully stacked tower of expensive textbooks, and Harry watches his intricate organization system slip into a perfectly uncoordinated puddle. Charlie was too quiet, now that Harry thinks about it, suspiciously silent and that should’ve been Harry’s first clue, but it’s too late now.

Charlie looks up at him as though he’s waiting to see what Harry will do, and Harry just sighs, but he can worry about his textbooks later. “Let’s get out of here.” Harry jerks his head toward the door and Charlie pads over, running out into the hallway while Harry locks up, and he slips back in through the open door to Niall’s flat while Harry’s still making his way over.

It’s fine though, because he’s back in his home and Harry has the soup and, peering down the hallway, it seems that Niall is still asleep because the bedroom door is still shut the way he left it.

Harry only struggles a little bit while trying to find out where Niall’s pots are, but after that it’s easy, pouring the two cans of soup in and setting it to a boil. As it turns out, two cans of soup make far more than he had ultimately thought it would, not bubbling out of the pot but high enough that Harry knows it’s too much for Charlie to eat all on his own, so when it’s finally finished, Harry makes himself a bowl as well and sits across from Charlie at the kitchen table.

Charlie evidently knows what to do with soup because he reaches for the spoon Harry set out but it’s still far too hot so Harry rushes to stop him, “Wait, wait,” Harry tips the spoon back into Charlie’s bowl and makes a show of turning to his own bowl, blowing on it and flapping his hands as well, just to make a whole gesture out of it.

Charlie watches him with owlish eyes, and then he tries to imitate Harry, his cheeks puffed up like the cutest chipmunk and his little flailing hands. It’s a valiant effort and, moreover, adorable to a fault, that Harry can’t help smiling when Charlie looks to him for approval.

When they finally start eating though, Harry wonders if he shouldn’t be feeding Charlie because he is abysmal at using a spoon, thankfully not spilling any hot soup on his clothes but he fishes more for the cubes of chicken and those slippery noodles than the broth, which is fine as long as he’s eating something.

And then suddenly, there’s a loud sound coming from deep in the apartment and it makes Harry jump, his knees hitting the bottom of the table and nearly spilling their soup. Charlie jumps too, twisting around to see what made that noise and the source of the subsequent slapping of feet, but then he coos once he sees that it’s his father coming barreling down the hallway, lifting his hands, and his spoon, up to say hello.

There’s a frantic look on Niall’s face that dims into confusion when he sees Harry sitting at his breakfast table, and Harry feels so awkward when all he can do is raise his hand in a wave and gesture to the pot still on the stove, “Soup?”

Niall blinks at him, then at Charlie when he claps his hands together and tries to copy what Harry said, which somehow loses the S and comes out as “Oop! Oop!” but is still as cute as ever.

“I don’t,” Niall starts, slowly, his brow furrowing with such confusion that Harry wants to smooth out that little wrinkle with his thumb.

Harry stands up, careful not to look like he’s running away but moving from Charlie enough that he hopes Niall will feel more comfortable. “When I got back, Charlie was sitting out in the hallway, playing with his cars.” Harry feels terrible at the way Niall’s face drops into shock-horror, and rushes to continue. “But he was absolutely okay! And you were sleeping, and.”

“Why didn’t you wake me up?” Niall interrupts him then, crossing his arms tight over his chest and Harry feels like he’s thrown back to a time when he didn’t know the feeling of Niall’s lips against his, and the curve of his body when he really gets into it.

“Because,” Harry shrugs helplessly, “you looked like you could use the sleep.”

And, as though Harry’s just said the absolute best thing in the world, Niall lets out a frantic little noise and steps forward, his arms reaching out to grab at Harry’s shirt, pulling them chest to chest, his lips against Harry’s mouth.

It’s a short, chaste kiss and, at the same time, really not, and Harry is still stumped to silence when Niall pulls away from him. “I don’t deserve you,” is what Niall says when there’s enough space between them for words, and there’s a sweet sort of surprised look on his face as he stares at Harry, like he can’t begin to understand why someone who doesn’t share his last name would ever do this for him.

Harry mouths for a second, wanting to shoo Niall back off to bed because he’s still got those bags under his eyes but he’s sounding better, not sniffling any more, not looking on the brink of exhaustion. So Harry shrugs and runs his thumb the length of Niall’s cheek, “I think you deserve me just fine.”

Niall smiles helplessly before he leans in, another soft kiss, and then he’s taking a step back. “Be careful or you’re going to catch our cold,” as though Harry was the one to initiate their kisses, but Harry doesn’t think he’ll care much if he’s coughing and sneezing on the day of his exam.

Niall moves over to the table, kissing the top of Charlie’s head sweetly before he takes the free chair across the table. “Yes, to the soup, thanks.”

Harry grins and makes Niall a bowl, handing it over and sitting back down at the table with him and Charlie, and Harry should be studying, god should he ever be, but locked away in Niall’s apartment kind of feels like the rest of the world doesn’t exist and Harry knows that, without a doubt or question in his mind, everything will absolutely, unequivocally, be okay.