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Louis closes the door behind him and sighs, tossing his keys onto the counter. It’s cold and it’s wet and he misses the sunshine and not being late to class and not having to close the bar every night that he works.

He pulls off his shoes and thinks about making tea, but it’s so much effort. It’d be nice, he thinks, to have a 24-hour tea slave, just someone who’s always there and knows how you take your tea without you telling him and doesn’t mind that you sometimes come in at 3 AM soaking wet from the rain and smelling of beer because you somehow don’t own an umbrella and a stupid frat boy spilled a whole pitcher down your front.

Harry would make him tea. Harry would have tea waiting for him when he got in, and open arms, and a lot of dumb jokes about frat boys that didn’t really make sense, but Harry’s in stupid Australia and doing stupid important stupid humanitarian things and should be on his lunch break just about now.

He strips down to nothing because he really can’t be bothered to put anything dry on, or even dry himself off, really, and throws himself down on his bed, propping himself up on his elbows. He opens up his laptop, ignoring the six emails he has (probably at least two from professors wondering where he was, and in the mood he’s in he would just answer honestly, and probably ‘having skype sex with my boyfriend’ wouldn’t go over too well with his profs. Except maybe Mrs. Flack, she seemed a bit saucy) and just firing up Skype immediately. Harry’s online, and calls him immediately.

Louis picks up, and when Harry’s curly head appears on his screen all his weariness and frustration flash-freezes into solid longing in the pit of his stomach, in the headache above his eyes.

Harry raises his eyes at his state of undress. “Hello, sexy,” he says, teasing, and then takes in Louis’ expression. “You okay, Lou?”

“I miss you,” Louis says miserably.

He sees Harry swallow, sees him drop his eyes. “You too, Lou,” he says. “So, so much.” There’s dirt on his forehead and Louis wants to wipe it off and kiss him until both of them die from lack of oxygen.

“How was work this morning?” he asks, because it’s better than breaking down sobbing, and he does care, somewhere in the back of his head where he can think anything but come home come home come home.

Harry sees right through him but smiles anyway. “Good,” he says. “We’re working on the artificial hill, now, for the tunnel to go through. It’s shaping up to be a pretty great playground.”

Couldn’t you build playgrounds here? Louis wants to ask, but instead he smiles and says, “That sounds great. My sisters would love that kind of thing.”

“Oh! One of the other volunteers is teaching me to play guitar!” Harry says excitedly. “He’s really good, Lou. He’s Irish and hilarious and pretty much the nicest guy ever.” He considers a moment. “Also pretty cute.” He looks sideways at Louis. “Speaking of...?”

“No, Hazza, no one at school or at the bar has caught my eye yet,” Louis sighs, rolling his eyes. “And no, it’s not just because I have too high standards. I think the frat guy who poured the pitcher of beer down my front eyed me up for a second, but I’m almost certain it was just because he was surprised I wasn’t a girl.” He shook his head sadly. “Not enough tits for him. A real shame.”

“I’ve got enough tits for anyone,” Harry offers.

Louis shakes his head. “Never pass up a nipple joke, huh?”

Harry pouts at him. “Well you never make them, so I have to!”

“Uh huh,” Louis says dryly. “I don’t know how you can think I have high standards. I mean, I’m dating you, aren’t I?”

“Happily and forever,” says Harry with a certainty that makes Louis’ heart clench. “You tell me if there’s anyone cute, though. You have to, okay? No chickening out, that was the deal, remember?”

Louis remembers, remembers one of the only real fights they’ve ever had. Harry’d been hanging at the bar, and Louis had probably been giving him too many drinks and definitely been giving him too much attention, and Silvia had called him over to scold him. When he got back, Harry had been half hanging off a dude that was probably ten years his elder, and Louis had been stung from his reprimand and keyed up because Harry was about to go away for fucking months, and he’d reacted. Badly.

He wasn’t a jealous person, really, and he trusted Harry to the ends of the earth, but there had been something about it that just...he’d needed Harry to be his and only his, just for the next week, because soon he was going to be gone, and Harry should have known that, should’ve. Stopped himself, or.

They’d gotten back to the apartment and Harry, drunken, stupid, beautiful Harry had pulled Louis in, gone to kiss him, and Louis had turned away from him.

It hadn’t gone well. Louis had screamed at Harry that he wasn’t respecting his feelings, that by flirting with everyone that moved (an exaggeration, and one he wasn’t proud of) he wasn’t acknowledging Louis’ role in his life, that he was acting like he was single, like he was available. Harry mostly reacted with bewilderment, but it was bordering on the anger he tapped into so rarely, a deep and resentful fury that destroyed any selfish argument Louis had ever had. All I know is I had a really good time tonight, he hissed, I felt attractive and I felt wanted and when I went home with the one person I want, he pushed me away. You want me all to yourself? You have me. But making me feel like shit isn’t going to help us have a nice farewell.

Louis had apologized, and they’d gone to sleep in the kind of exhaustion that comes from a fight only half resolved. Two days later, Louis had knocked on the doorway to the kitchen as Harry was doing dishes. “Hazza,” he said.

Harry turned to look at him, the sunlight from the window above the sink lighting him up.

“I think we should be non-exclusive,” said Louis. “While you’re gone.”

Harry dried his hands and padded over to him. “Why?” he asked carefully.

Louis stared at the floor. “A couple reasons,” he said. “I realized why I was so mad, the other night. It doesn’t have to do with you wanting other people, really.”

“I don’t want other people,” said Harry, but he’s not touching Louis, waiting to hear him out. “Not like I want you.”

“But you’re a flirt,” said Louis. “You like to feel attractive, and there’s. There’s nothing wrong with that, you know? The, the part that hurt was that I felt like you weren’t. Respecting my wishes.”

“Only because I didn’t know them,” Harry said, infuriatingly calm.

“No,” said Louis. “No, you shouldn’t have to change for me, you know? That’s, like, the most fucked up thing to ask of someone in a relationship.” He took a breath. “It makes a lot more sense for me to just...make it okay, you know? Especially since you’re going away, and ugh, five months of celibacy.”

Harry bit his lip, trying to hide his smile. “Ugh,” he agreed. His hands came up to rest on Louis’ hips, and Louis relaxed embarrassingly fast, like he'd had to hold up too much of himself until Harry was there.

“Besides,” he said raising his hands to play with the curls at the nape of Harry’s neck. “We’ve talked before about it. Who wants to only sleep with one person all through university? We’re kinda running out of time to take advantage of all the hot slutty uni kids.”

You get hot slutty uni kids,” Harry said wistfully. “I’m shipping off to Australia.”

Louis made a face at him. “Oh, like there aren’t hot slutty Australians. C’mon, you could come home having banged, I dunno, that blonde chick from Lost. Claire. Ooh, or Thor.”

“Definitely prefer Thor,” Harry admitted. “Have you seen how big his hands are?”

“But could you live with the hammer jokes?” Louis wrinkled his nose. “They must be 24/7 with that guy.”

“Good thing I’m not looking to date him,” Harry said.”I could probably deal with a one-night stand’s worth of hammer jokes.” He looked Louis in the eye. “This means you, too, you know. I don’t want you wallowing at home alone while I sleep my way through the Outback.” His hand slipped down to cup Louis’ ass. “This is too good to go to waste.”

Louis had slipped his hands up Harry’s back and leaned up to whisper in his ear. “Better make good use of it while you can, then.”

Louis stares across thousands of miles of distance at Harry’s worried face. Through the magic of the internet, it looks close enough to kiss. He kind of hates the magic of the internet. “No worries, Hazza,” he reassures him. “I’m keeping my eyes out. What about you? Are you gonna make a move on your guitar-playing Irishman?”

Harry shrugs. “Maybe,” he says. “He’s cute, but I’m not totally sure he plays for our team, you know? He’s one of those cuddly types that are impossible to read.”

Louis nods. “So just slip him some tongue, sometime when you’re cuddling, see how he takes it?” he suggests. “Or, ooh, learn his favorite song on guitar and then serenade him with it, he’ll take the hint.” He pauses. “Wait, no, do that for me. Learn my favorite song.”

“Okay,” says Harry, grinning at him. “What’s your favorite song?”

“That, my dear Harold, is part of the test!” Louis crows, and checks the time. “Shit, I should sleep, and you should get back to work. Wouldn’t want your Irish boy to languish.”

“Shut up, Lou,” Harry says fondly, and Louis blows him a kiss before hanging up.

Chapter Text

He actually gets to class on time the next day, somehow. He’s exhausted and wants nothing more than to still be asleep—he’d dreamed sappy, embarrassing dreams about Harry and he wants to go back to them, thanks—but the alarm clock must be obeyed, and he has to face the music at some point.

He troops into class and slides into a desk at the back, the better to survey his classmates. He wasn’t lying to Harry (he never lies to Harry, it’s a thing. ‘Honesty honesty’, even if it hurts, that’s why it’s always so much worse when they fight) when he said he was keeping an eye out, it’s just. He keeps looking for curls and green eyes and a mouth that already knows the quirks of his own.

He shakes his head at himself. Hopeless.

He takes a few notes in class, which is better than he’s done recently, and so leaves feeling pretty good about himself, despite his inability to find someone on the whole of the campus that he actually wants to fuck. His phone rings as he turns the corner in the hallway outside, and he glances at it in a wild hope that it’s Harry, but the number is unknown and Harry’s probably asleep and it costs way, way too much to call from Australia anyway. The few texts a day they pull are wearing out Louis’ bank account already.

He picks up his phone. “Hello?”

“Er, hi,” says a deep voice on the other end of the line. “Is this Louis Tomlinson?”

“Yes, that’s me,” says Louis, frowning. “Why?”

“You put up an ad? Looking for someone to sublet your flat?”

Louis’ face clears, and he pumps a fist in the air in silent victory. “Yes! Lovely. You’re interested, I take it?”

“Yeah,” says the mystery man.

“You’re alright with there not being a separate bedroom?”

“I probably wouldn’t be sleeping there,” Mystery Man admits. “I’ve got campus housing, I just have a hard time studying when there’s anyone else around. You said in your ad it was quiet?”

Louis nods vigorously. “Very quiet. Top notch.” Oh, this was great. If this worked out, Louis wouldn’t have to keep working double-shifts at the bar all the time, and he wouldn’t have to move, either. Their apartment, his and Harry’s, would be there and waiting for Harry when he got back. “Listen, why don’t we meet somewhere and talk things through? Are you on campus right now? We could go to the cafe.”

“Yeah, alright,” says the Mystery Man. “Although if you just waved your fist in the air, I think I’m looking at you now.”

Louis glances around, and there is, in fact, someone staring at him, phone to his ear. He’s tall and built and brunet and the kind of guy who might star in, like, soap commercials. He looks very wholesome.

Louis hung up his phone and jogged over to him. “Hi,” he said, and held out his hand. “Louis Tomlinson. But you already knew that.”

Soap Commercial Mystery Man takes his hand in a very firm handshake. “Liam Payne. Nice to meet you.”

Louis nods. “Got some time now? If you want I can just take you there, show you what’s what?”

Liam nods. “Sure.”

The main thing that Louis learns about Liam Payne over the next hour is that he’s very quiet, and not really very much fun. He smiles at Louis’ jokes but doesn’t laugh, and just kind of nods approvingly as Louis gives the tour. As a housemate, though, it sounds like he won’t really be there much, and that works out pretty much perfectly with what Louis wants anyway. He’s not sure he could deal with anyone other than Harry being around all the time.

Liam’s happy enough to sign the paperwork that day, and Louis gives him the extra key—not Harry’s key, which Harry brought with him to Australia and that Louis knows for a fact he wears everywhere, but the actual extra key. Louis offers to make them dinner—it feels right, some kind of weird housewarming even though he’s lived there for ages—but maybe Liam senses the fact that he’s never cooked in his life because he excuses himself, saying he has dinner plans with his parents.

Parents who, Louis assumes, are behind his ability to pay for a half a flat on top of his uni housing, so Louis doesn’t begrudge them much. Besides, it means he can have dinner with Harry, which really means ‘have take-out Indian alone while Harry watches him eat through a computer screen’, and god, his life his sad.

“Guess what,” he tells Harry, spearing a bit of tandoori chicken on his fork.

“What, Lou?” Harry asks, smiling at him.

“I found a subletter,” he says, grinning, and Harry’s responding grin is like the sun.

“That’s awesome, babe! No more double shifts!”

“No more double shifts,” Louis agrees through a mouthful of rice.

“So who is it? Boy, girl? Vegetable, mineral?”

“Boy, mostly, although I’m not ruling out mineral,” Louis says. “Liam Payne. Seems like a nice guy, if a bit of a rich kid. Not really much for talking.”

“And?” Harry presses.

“And what?”

“Is he fit, Louis?” Harry leans forward like it’s the most important question he’s asked anyone in his life.

Louis shrugs. “I guess. Nice muscles. Not really my type.”

Harry’s eyes widen. “You’ve changed, Lou. What happened to ‘anything fit is my type, and I’m everything’s type?’ What happened to the Louis who was the star flirt of the party?”

Louis smiles at him, fond. “He spent two years attached to your hip, and came out of it much bettered and discerning.” He sorts through his rice for more peas. “Although I am still everything’s type.”

“Don’t I know it,” Harry says, running his eyes all over him, and he can feel the heat of it through his screen, christ.

He drops his eyes, concentrating on his food. “I miss you fucking me,” he says casually, and fights not to smirk when Harry’s whole face stutters. “I miss,” he says, measured, as he pulls apart his chicken to gnaw delicately on the bone, “being so far gone on you the only thing I can say is your name.”

Harry gulps, at the periphery of his vision, and he concentrates harder on his food, on not looking at Harry, on not giving him that satisfaction. “I miss when you clean me out, after you’ve come in me.” He places the chicken bone carefully back into his styrofoam take-out box. “I miss coming just from that, just from your cock and your tongue in me.”

Harry’s squirming in his seat, but Louis knows he won’t, can’t touch himself until Louis looks at him or he loses the game. “I miss your hands,” he says calmly, though he’s more than half hard himself. He cleans his fork with his napkin, meticulous. “I miss the way you’d open me up, slow, careful, working your fingers into me so perfectly.” He closes his eyes. “Mmh, Harry, your hands.”

“Lou,” Harry hisses, and Louis allows himself to smirk, but doesn’t open his eyes, not yet.

He licks his lips and hears Harry whine. “Miss swallowing you down,” he says, the images sharp against his eyelids, Harry above him, naked and beautiful, the V of his hips leading Louis’ lips down, down to nose at the hair around his cock. “Miss licking along the length of you, hearing you beg me for more.”

“Lou, please,” Harry murmurs, and Louis can hear him shifting but he’s not touching himself, he won’t, not ‘til Louis says so.

He grins wider, sucking his lower lip into his mouth. “Mmh,” he says. “You know what I want most, though, Haz?”

“What, Lou, tell me,” Harry begs, and Louis opens his eyes.

“I want to fuck your mouth,” he says, meeting Harry’s eyes. “I want to bury my hands in your curls and use your mouth ‘til it’s raw. I want you to make me come and then lick me ‘til I’m hard again, again and again, until we’re both numb with it.”

Harry’s hand flies to his belt faster than Louis can blink, and Louis isn’t far behind. Harry’s gorgeous in his need, the flushed head of his cock appearing and vanishing into his fist as he wanks himself off fast and hard. “Put your fingers in your mouth, babe,” Louis says, breathless. “Pretend it’s my cock.”

Harry licks his lips ‘til they’re shiny with spit and then slides two fingers of his left hand into his mouth, matching the rhythm of Louis’ fist on his own cock. His tongue flickers along and around his fingers as his hips arch up off his bed. His nostrils are flaring and his eyes blown wide and god, Louis is close embarrassingly fast.

“Yeah, fuck, Haz,” he breathes, and Harry pulls his fingers from his mouth with an obscene pop and comes all over his fist, slumping forward with a strangled “god!” that hits Louis hard, hot and familiar and so far away.

Harry looks up at him and draws spit-slick fingers across his lips and that’s all it takes, Louis is coming, the world going shaky and dark for a second before it resolves itself again into reality: Louis, alone and trembling with orgasm, staring at a computer screen with a styrofoam box of take-out Indian at his feet.

“Why’d you go?” he asks Harry, though he knows the answer. Harry went because Harry’s Harry, and Harry can’t just sit and be at university and be in love and be happy, Harry also has to be actively, proactively saving the world. Louis hates him, and loves him so, so much.

Harry smiles sadly at him. “Only four months left,” he says, and it somehow comes out hopeful.

“And you’ll have this place to come back to,” Louis says, smiling back at him, “thanks to Mr. Liam Payne.”

“You’ll have to thank him for me,” Harry says, and then grins. “Too bad he’s not your type, or you could “thank” him for me.”

“Yes, yes, you dirty boy,” says Louis, waving a hand at him.

“Says the boy covered in his own come.”

“To the other boy also covered in his own come,” Louis points out. “Those in glass houses, etc, etc.”

“Those in glass houses should probably not sit around covered in their own come, because everybody can see in?” Harry asks, and grins wide. “On that note, I should clean myself up, the others will be waking up soon.”

Louis grins at him. “Go do your good works, Saint Styles.”

“I love you, Louis,” Harry says seriously, and Louis feels like he might melt into a puddle.

“I love you too, Curly.”

Chapter Text

"You okay, mate?"

Louis looks up from polishing a glass in a way that, okay, from an outside perspective, might maybe have seemed a little aggressive. He pastes on a smile. "Isn't that usually my line?"

The kid across the bar from him grins, all warm brown eyes and stubble and dark, sculptural hair. His long fingers are wrapped around his beer and he's clearly already on the good side of tipsy. "Sure," he says, "Only I'm having an amazingly good night, and you look like you could use a drink, or a hug, or something."

"Amazingly good, huh?" Louis says, because he doesn't really want to pour his woes out to a stranger, even a flirty fit one. Not when they're such flimsy, self-pitying woes. "Get some good news?"

The boy leans across the counter. "They picked my play," he says conspiratorially. "For the big senior show. There was a contest, and I won, and the best of the theatre majors are gonna be competing to play characters that I wrote!"

"That's amazing," Louis says, sincerely.

“I’m not supposed to know,” playwright says, winking at Louis, “but I used my wiles on the Theatre Head’s assistant.”

Louis laughs at him, his bad mood vanishing. "What's your play about?"

The playwright sets his beer down, his face getting more serious. It's a good look for him, and Louis thinks if he didn't already know he'd peg him for some kind of writer. Maybe a poet. Except the hair, the hair's all rock star. "It's like…have you seen Once? It's like that, kind of, but gayer."

Louis shakes his head. "Haven't seen it, sorry."

"Oh, you have to," says the playwright earnestly. "It's so beautiful." He smiles a little and then he's singing, a gentle, high tenor that slips past his lips like it surprises him. "I don't know you, but I want you, all the more for that." He coughs a little, embarrassed. "Um. It's, it's about musicians."

Louis nods, his throat suddenly dry. "Got a killer voice there, mate." He sticks out a hand, at a loss for what else to do. "Louis Tomlinson."

The playwright takes it. "Zayn Malik." His handshake is as gentle as his voice. "You gonna tell me what's gotten you down, Louis?"

He draws it out exaggeratedly—Louehhh—slipping back into his tipsy flirtatious self, and Louis bites his lip. He could tell the truth, and the flirting would stop, and Zayn would probably go find someone else to celebrate his victory with. Or he could lie, and they'd keep flirting, and he could keep Zayn here long enough that he was no good to anyone, pour him into a cab, and go home alone. Or.

He slips his phone from his pocket. "Give me a moment? Just, like, two seconds, I promise. Don't go anywhere." He ignores Silvia's glare as he slips out the back, miming 'smoke break' even though they both know he's never smoked and never intends to start. It's gotten a lot colder since he got to work, and he bounces on his toes to keep himself warm as he waits.

When Harry picks up, his voice is full of confusion and sleep and happy surprise. "Lou?" He asks. "Everything okay?"

"Yes, Harry, I love you," says Louis, because just hearing his voice is enough to fill him up with the kind of lightness that only Harry gives him. "I'm sorry for waking you."

"It's okay," says Harry. "I have to be up in like an hour anyway."

"Right," says Louis, and closes his eyes against the streetlights, trying to work out how to even say this. "You know, the. When we decided to open this up, you said—"

Harry whoops, cutting him off. "Don't tell me!" he hisses. "You've met a boy fit enough to meet your standards?" He lowers his voice in mock hurt. "I feel so much less special."

"Shut up, idiot," says Louis happily. "Yes, I've met a fit boy, he's a playwright and he's got an amazing voice and cheekbones and the best hair I've ever seen, barring your curls, and I'd quite like to take him home tonight if that's. If that's a thing that's okay."

"You know it is, Lou." And Louis did know, intellectually, knew because they'd talked about it and agreed that it was okay, but agreeing with it abstractly is different than agreeing when they're actually faced with it and he needed to make sure.

"Yeah," he says softly. "You're not jealous?"

"Louis," says Harry incredulously, "Of course I'm jealous. I'm jealous of your bed when I'm not in it with you. But that doesn't mean I don't think you should sleep on it."

"I'm not sure that metaphor really works," Louis says, and opens his eyes, drinking in the lights and the wet streets and all of the distance, all of the distance between them.

"Go get him, babe," says Harry. "I love you so, so much."

"Yeah," says Louis. "God."

Harry hums happily and kisses the receiver with a loud smack before hanging up.

Louis spends exactly ten seconds staring at his phone, and then he's shoving his way back inside, suddenly stupidly nervous, because what if he's been reading Zayn wrong, or what if he took too long talking to Harry and Zayn left—

But Zayn's sitting where he left him, toying with the lip of his empty pint, and when he sees Louis he grins slow and pleased. "Hey," he says.

"Hey," says Louis. "Another?" He asks, indicating the pint, and Zayn raises his eyebrows, nodding. Louis refills it for him. "I was sad," he says, "because I was missing my long-distance, very much non-exclusive boyfriend, and I was resigning myself to an evening of take-out Chinese and Netflix, without said very much non-exclusive boyfriend."

Zayn's watching him, a little guardedly, like he's not sure what to make of that, and Louis doesn't blame him, really. He hands him the pint, leaning across the counter more than is strictly necessary. "I'm not sad anymore," he says, licking his lips deliberately.

"Well, Once is on Netflix, so don't shoot down that option quite yet," Zayn says, but his eyes linger on Louis' mouth, and when Louis leans back again he pouts.

"I get off in half an hour," Louis says, smirking a little. There's lightning in his blood, a kind of disbelief and newness because he flirts, he flirts so much with Harry, but this is new, he doesn't have the reactions charted, he doesn't know what Zayn will do. It's like slipping back into the skin of who he was two years ago, only with none of the insecurities of a 19-year-old brain. He revels in it, twitching his hips when he walks down the bar to serve the girl at the end.

She's been in here a couple times before, sometimes with friends, sometimes alone. Eleanor, he thinks her name is. He likes her, mostly. She raises her eyebrows at him when he approaches, and then cocks her head—not very subtly—at Zayn. "Got a fish on your hook," she says.

Louis grins at her. "He's watching?"

She nods vigorously. "Oh yeah," she says. "If he stares any harder I think his eyes might fall out."

"That'd be a shame," Louis sighs as he pours her drink. "They're nice eyes."

She rests her chin on her hand. "Finally getting over Curls?" she asks, and it hits him low and hard, a punch in the stomach, deflates him from his flirtatious high completely.

He scowls at her. "We're not broken up. He's away, that's all, so we're opening things up."

She gives him a measuring glance. "Okay," she says.

"Yeah," Louis says. "Okay." He's pissed, a little bit, because he knows how it sounds but it isn't, it really isn't like that, and who the fuck is she to say that it is, to look at him like she knows. "Enjoy," he says shortly, and goes back to Zayn, trying to smooth the anger out of his face.

But the fucker's perceptive. "You okay?" Zayn asks when he gets back. "What'd she say to you?"

"Not very subtle, am I," Louis says drily.

Zayn flicks his fingers in a way that is both dismissive and kind of hot. "I'm a writer, we're trained in micro-expressions."

"That's a lie, Malik," Louis accuses, delighted despite himself. "You're a liar!"

"About as good a liar as you are, apparently," Zayn says, winking at Louis and sipping his pint.

Louis shrugs, trying to will the tightness out of his shoulders. "People just... make assumptions, is all."

Zayn nods like he gets it, and hell, maybe he does. "Nobody knows anything about you unless you've expressly told them, and they shouldn't act like they do."

Louis smiles at him, "Yeah." He wants to say more, talk about how much he loves Harry and how much it doesn't have anything to do with them, really, this opening up, and how problematic he finds the term "open relationship" in the first place, because it's not their relationship they're opening, that's theirs and always will be, Harry has a smile just for Louis and Louis has a laugh that's just for Harry and having sex with other people is a small, trivial pleasure in the face of the sea of happiness and security and home that Harry is to him, but he literally met this guy an hour ago at most and considering he's planning to enjoy that small, trivial pleasure with him tonight he figures that would probably be weird, so he settles for, "Thanks, man."

Zayn smirks at him. "Thank me in half an hour."

Louis checks his phone. "Only twenty minutes, now." Someone coughs to get his attention, down the bar, and he goes to help them.

He's kept pretty busy until the end of his shift. About five minutes before he's done Zayn catches his eye and mimes smoking a cigarette, and Louis laughs and nods. Probably he's actually going out for a smoke, rather than calling his long-distance boyfriend to ask him if it's okay to have sex with the fit bartender. One never knows, though.

Silvia waves him out once he's wiped down the bar, and he shrugs on his jacket, nervous again. Zayn's leaning on the wall next to the door, breathing out smoke, his head lowered. He's all angles and sweeping eyelashes and long, long legs, and Louis surreptitiously takes a picture, because damn. He could be a goddamn model.

"You could be a goddamn model," he says, and Zayn looks up and grins.

"There you are," he says, stubbing his cigarette out on the wall next to him.

"Here I am," says Louis, and crowds him up against the wall and kisses him.

Zayn makes a soft noise against his mouth. He tastes like cigarettes and beer and not at all like Harry and for about five seconds that feels so weird, not wrong but just not as right as Louis is used to, and then Zayn bites down on his lip and there's the scratch of stubble against his chin and suddenly not being used to it is wonderful. Louis pulls back, grinning, and swipes his tongue over the place Zayn bit, enjoying the soreness.

"Christ," says Zayn, his hands loose and gentle on Louis' hips. "This, this is definitely one of the better nights of my life," he mutters, more to himself than Louis.

"Flatterer," Louis accuses, and steps out of his hands, but grabs one of them so Zayn won't take it too hard. "C'mon, let's get out of here. I don't live far."

"Whatever you say," Zayn says, still sounding kind of dazed. He threads their fingers together and follows Louis home.

When Louis pauses at his door to fumble his keys from his pocket, Zayn crowds him up against it, one hand on his ass, his lips hot on Louis' neck. "You have the best ass I have ever seen, Louis Tomlinson," he breathes, and Louis laughs because he's too breathless for any real words. He manages to get his door unlocked and they stumble through it, Louis twisting so he can pull Zayn close. They ricochet off walls, kissing as they go, and Zayn is really good with his tongue, good enough that Louis takes it as a challenge.

He pulls back. Zayn's glassy-eyed, his hair mussed from Louis' hands, and he really is beautiful, all shiny-lipped and wanting. Louis leans in to whisper hot against his ear, breathing in the tobacco-cologne smell of him. "I wanna blow you," he breathes. He licks at Zayn's earring, tugging it with his teeth, and feels Zayn's breath stutter.

"Fuck, Louis," he says, and Louis smirks against his cheek. He slips his hands under Zayn's shirt, sliding his palms across the planes of Zayn's chest. His fingers find a nipple and he tweaks it out of habit. Zayn gasps, half pleasure, half annoyance, and he pushes at Louis' shoulders. Louis stumbles back, afraid he might've crossed a line, but Zayn is pulling his shirt over his head and dropping it, and damn, he's built, and tattooed, and Louis has a split second where he can hear Harry in his head—nice tattoos, mate!—and then Zayn raises his eyebrows and says, "Well?"

"Cocky asshole," Louis mutters, and sets about blowing his mind.

Zayn comes almost silently and Louis swallows him down like a gentleman, palming himself through his trousers like slightly less of one, and then Zayn pushes his hands away. He's sunk to his knees next to Louis on the floor of his living room, and he finishes him off teasingly slowly, their foreheads tilted together, both of them watching his long-fingered hand around Louis' length. Louis bites at his collarbones when he comes, likes the mark his mouth makes above Zayn's tattoos. He leaves his face in Zayn's neck for a while, letting his breathing slow and hearing Zayn do the same.

After a minute his ass starts to fall asleep, and he pushes himself to his feet, his fingers around Zayn's wrist. "C'mon," he says, "couch is comfier."

Zayn lets him lead him, beautifully pliant, and they stumble the few steps together and collapse in a tangle of sweat and limbs and clothing half-worn. Louis knows what usually happens now, has been here before, knows he should help Zayn back on with his trousers and maybe kiss him, maybe write his number along the edge of Zayn's (really cool) ZAP! tattoo, and send him on his way. But somehow his fingers stay closed around Zayn's wrist and Zayn doesn't seem to mind even a little bit that they just stay there, nodding off to the sound of Louis' fridge and the cars in the street outside.

Before he drops off entirely, Louis sends the picture he took outside the bar to Harry, captioned 'you approve? :) x'

Within seconds, he receives 'u weren't kidding about the cheekbones! have fun ;) xo' and he falls asleep smiling, his phone clenched in his fist and Zayn's head on his chest.

Chapter Text

He wakes to find Liam standing over them. "Ah," he says, and surreptitiously looks down at himself and Zayn, and then spends a moment wondering if it's possible to really be surreptitious in checking to see if your cock's out. No cocks to be seen, thankfully, so he smiles at Liam. "Morning, Liam."

Zayn stirs, picking his head up from Louis' chest. "Mmm," he mutters, smiling at Louis, and then blinks at Liam. "Um," he says eloquently.

"Alright," Liam greets them easily. "Anyone for some tea?"

"Thanks mate, that'd be great," says Louis, grinning at him. Liam's alright, really. "Liam, this is Zayn. Zayn, Liam." He squints, thinking. "He, uh, he's here sometimes."

"So I see," Zayn says drily. He untangles himself from Louis and holds out a hand, his eyes on Liam's face. "Nice to meet you, mate."

"You too," Liam says, shaking his hand and wandering into the kitchen to put on the tea.

Zayn looks back at Louis, and then at where Liam had been standing. "Christ," he mutters.

Louis raises his eyebrows. "What?"

Zayn shakes his head and stands, his attention caught by the collection of photos tacked up in a haphazard display by the TV. "This your boy?"

He's looking at one of Louis' favorite pictures. He'd caught Harry mid-laugh, his dimples catching the late afternoon sunlight, one hand pushing his curls back from his face. His shirt was hanging from his body, too-large, revealing his collarbones and the long pale freckled column of his throat. Louis is warmed with the knowledge of him, of him as his, and filled with longing for him all at once. He pulls his knees up to his chest, smiling softly and helplessly. "Yeah," he says. "That's Harry."

"Must be something in the water," Zayn says under his breath, glancing again at the door to the kitchen, and then, "You're a lucky guy." He crosses back over to Louis, leaning down to bracket him in, a hand on either side of his head against the back of the couch. "So is he," he breathes, and kisses Louis. He tastes a little like sleep and stale beer, but Louis doesn't mind, particularly. He kisses back, still smiling, until Liam coughs from the doorway.

Zayn pulls away, flushing, and Louis raises his eyebrows at him. He shrugs. Liam looks back and forth between them and then shrugs himself. "Dunno how you like your tea, Zayn," he says, almost apologetically. It's adorable.

Zayn thinks so, too, judging by the sweetness of the smile he gives him. "Two sugars no cream, thank you Liam," he says.

"One sugar one cream!" Louis announces, bouncing to his feet. He's in a better mood than he has been in ages and ages.

"I know that," says Liam calmly, turning to go back to the kitchen.

Louis follows him. "How? You never made me tea before!"

"I'm around, I know things," says Liam, flushing a little.

"Creeeeepy," Louis singsongs, but he grins impishly at Liam to make sure he knows he's kidding. Liam smiles back, good-natured, and Louis pats him on the back. Liam’s more than alright, really.

Zayn’s pulling on his pants when Louis gets back to the living room, and Louis presses a kiss to his cheek. “Gonna shower real quick.”

Zayn nods. “Should I, um.” He jerks his head towards the door.

Louis shrugs, smiling at him. “Liam’s making you tea,” he reminds him, as if that decides it, and it really kind of does.

Zayn’s grin warms his eyes in a way that Louis is already growing to like quite a lot.

When Louis gets out of the shower, Zayn is curled into one corner of the couch and Liam’s in the other, and they’re having a conversation, an actual conversation, with more words than Louis has heard Liam say since they met. He raises his eyebrows at Zayn and settles on the floor at his feet. Liam grabs the third mug from the coffee table and hands it to him without pausing in his telling Zayn about—workout regimens? He blinks at Zayn. He’s built, sure, but Louis assumed it was kind of natural, like Harry’s frustrating ability to sit on his ass all day or run like a mile whenever he felt like it and still have perfect muscles.

“Thanks,” he says to Liam, and flashes a smile that’s returned easily and earnestly. The tea is delicious, exactly enough cream and sugar, and Louis wonders idly whether Liam is a robot.

He leaves for class mid-afternoon. Liam’s moved to the desk to do work and Zayn’s kind of sprawled out on the floor, flipping through one of Louis’ textbooks (one of the ones that he probably should have read by now). He looks so at home that Louis is surprised to return after class and find that he’s gone.

Liam nods to the pad on the coffee table, the one that Louis bought for things like grocery lists but mostly uses to write dirty notes for Harry and hide them around the flat. Zayn’s left his number and see you soon, I hope in a curling, cheerful hand.

Chapter Text

He texts Zayn two days later, partially because the three days rule is dumb and for random hook-ups in bars and like, technically Zayn is a random hook-up in a bar but it was his bar and usually random hook-ups don’t stay until three in the afternoon the next day, making eyes at the guy-who-is-sometimes-in-your-house.

He also texts Zayn partially because Harry told him to, and Harry doesn’t tell him to do stuff often (ask, cajole, and beg, yes, but Harry is rarely commanding). Okay, so Louis’ life is a little out of the ordinary.

But he texts Zayn mostly because he really likes Zayn, and to be honest most of his uni friends are Harry’s friends, and Louis loves Harry’s friends but they always want to talk about Harry, and Louis isn’t really into talking about Harry right now. Talking to Harry, yes, always, he could talk to Harry all day and all night and never sleep at all, and pretty much does, but talking about Harry kind of just makes him want to curl up in a ball and sleep until he gets back.

And considering that would entail sleeping for nearly four months (longer, Liam announces unbidden when Louis is rambling mostly to himself in the kitchen one day, than the hibernation cycle of the average bear), it wasn’t exactly tenable.

So he texts Zayn: hey! it’s louis. got a night off tomorrow, we could watch once if you’re still in and he might or might not stare at his phone and jiggle his leg until Zayn texts back.

He’s not sure why he doesn’t feel comfortable just texting, like, u wanna hook up again or you owe me a blow job ;) but he kind of doesn’t. He wants to have sex with Zayn again, because Zayn is, like, crazy fit and very good with his hands and probably also other body parts, but almost (almost) more than that he just wants to hang out with him on the couch and drink Liam’s miracle tea and, like, shoot the shit.

Although you owe me a blowjob ;) is pretty great. He starts tapping it out with an “also” attached when his phone buzzes. i’m definitely in. what time? also i owe you a blowjob ;)

He laughs and screencaps it all to send to Harry.

Once is, in fact, beautiful. Zayn sings along to a lot of the songs and Louis finds himself watching him as much as the screen. His voice compliments Glen Hansard’s gruff tenor distressingly well.

“Do you perform?” he asks softly during the credits, not wanting to interrupt the quiet, subtle spell the film had cast.

Zayn looks at him sideways. “What, singing?” He shakes his head. “No. Not really, anymore.”

Louis shakes his head. “You’ve got a gorgeous voice.” He pokes his toes into Zayn’s thigh. “What do you mean, not anymore?”

“I, um,” Zayn squints. “Used to be in a band? Just me and one other guy, he played guitar, I sang, it wasn’t much of anything, but.” He shrugs a little. “It was nice.”

Louis flips himself around on the couch to lay his head in Zayn’s lap. “What happened?” He asks, because there’s a pain in Zayn’s face he doesn’t like at all.

“I, um.” Zayn’s eyes flicker to Louis’ face and away again, to the screen. “I fell in love with him. He didn’t feel the same way. Said he loved me but not like that, that he didn’t like boys that way.”

“M’sorry,” Louis says, reaching up a hand to slide his fingers into Zayn’s hair. “Sucks.”

Zayn shrugs. “I was sixteen,” he says. “I’ve had time to get over it. But like. First loves are hard, you know?”

Louis nods. “For what it’s worth, he was an idiot. You’re a catch, Zayn Malik.”

Zayn grins down at him, shaking his head. “Thanks,” he says, and then leans over so his lips are inches from Louis’. “And you don’t even know what I can do with my mouth.”

“Oho!” Louis crows, to cover the shiver that slid down his spine. “Cocky, aren’t you.”

“Always,” says Zayn, but Louis knows he’s lying, because thirty seconds before there’d been no sign of cocky, sexual Zayn, just soft open Zayn who admits to falling in love, and it makes Louis smile that he’s seen that Zayn, too.

Right now, though, cocky, sexual Zayn has all of his attention, because he’s slid gracefully to the floor and is literally manhandling Louis so that he’s sitting properly, legs spread and Zayn between them. He slides his hands up Louis’ thighs and leans forward to open Louis’ trousers with his teeth, and Louis makes a mental note to tell Harry about that, because Harry’s been trying to do it for months and it always ends in spit and laughter and Louis knocking him out of the way in amused impatience.

It’s anyone’s guess if he’ll remember anything that happened in the last day, because Zayn is slowly tugging his trousers off, his breath ghosting over Louis’ erection, and then he’s licking at it through the fabric, and oh, Zayn Malik may be a liar but he wasn’t lying about this.

“You weren’t lying,” he murmurs dazedly as Zayn wipes his chin, smirking at him. He watches as Zayn gets up on his knees, his eyes on Louis as he takes himself in his hand. Louis licks his lips, watching, as Zayn rocks into the curl of his fist. He would help, but, well, that would destroy the view, and he’s pretty sure this isn’t his last chance to help Zayn out. “You’re so hot,” he breathes, because holy shit, and Zayn shudders a little.

Louis smirks. “You like that, don’t you, you vain bastard?” He sits up a little, tucking his hands under his legs and watching Zayn’s face. “You like hearing how pretty I think you are?”

Zayn bites at his lips, breath coming short. “I like your voice,” he admits, and Louis grins at that.

“Harry thinks you’re pretty, too, you know,” he says, and Zayn shoots him a wide-eyed look. Louis’ grins wider. “I sent a picture. Not of you like this, of course, but I think he’d like that.”

“Fuck,” Zayn grunts, and his strokes get shorter, faster. He’s got on hand braced against the couch cushions, his fingers flexing against the fabric.

“You’d like that too, hm?” Louis is talking to just talk, mostly, just because of the way it makes Zayn twitch and tremble, but he’s intrigued, too, files it away for future exploration. “You look so good, Zayn, god, wanna see you come.”

Zayn’s eyes slide shut and his head drops back, his hand moving furious-fast. “Shit, Louis.”

Louis drinks him in. “That’s it, babe, c’mon,” he says, barely above a whisper, and Zayn cries out, his whole body jerking with the force of his orgasm. Louis slides bonelessly to the floor next to him before he’s even opened his eyes and takes Zayn’s wrist in his fingers, licking the come from between his fingers.

Zayn makes a noise like he might be dying. “Jesus,” he says, opening his eyes to watch his fingers disappear into Louis’ mouth. Louis sucks lightly on each one and then lets go, smiling at Zayn.

“Jesus,” Zayn says again, and closes his eyes.

Louis reaches down to pet his hair. “Stay tonight,” he says. “I’m gonna Skype Harry, he should be on lunch break soon, but I’ll be back out in a while.”
“Cool,” says Zayn, contented. “I’ll be here.”

“That’s what I like to hear,” Louis tells him, and pushes himself to his feet.

Harry raises his eyebrows at him when he answers the call. “You look like you had a good night,” he says, and Louis can hear a note of jealousy in his voice, but it’s so covered over by the Harry-joy-Harry of him that he doesn’t worry about it. If it’s anything serious, Harry will say so.

“I did indeed, young Harold,” he confirms. “Zayn can open trousers with his teeth.”

“Damn!” Harry swears. “I’m beginning to think he’s everything I wanted to be when I was a kid.”

“He used to be in a band, so I’m thinking you’re right,” Louis acknowledges. “Also I’m not going to think about how “open a bloke’s trousers with teeth” was apparently one of ten-year-old-Harry’s most coveted skills.”

“I never said “ten”, I just said “kid”, which has a very broad definition. Damning yourself there, Lou.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Louis stares at Harry. “You’ve got a bit of a smile on yourself, Haz. Got a story to tell?”

Harry finally lets the smile he’s been swallowing since he saw Louis bloom across his face, and Louis allows himself the disgustingly sappy thought that it’s still the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen. “Maybe,” says Harry cheekily.

“Well?” Louis demands. “Spill, spill!”

“It’s Niall. The Irish boy, the one that’s been teaching me guitar?”

“Did you slip him the tongue during cuddling?” Louis asks. “I knew that was fool-proof.”

“Um, kind of the opposite, actually,” Harry admits, and Louis gets caught off-guard by that, a little.

“Forward boy, this Niall,” he muses.

Harry shrugs, embarrassed. “It was cute. He’s cute. It’s all very...cute.”

Louis raises his eyebrows at him. “Mr. Styles, are you going slowly with this boy? Tell me you did more than kiss.”

“I might be? And, um, not really?”

Louis shakes his head. “I’m appalled. This isn’t a one-night stand with Thor at all!”

“I don’t think I could have handled the hammer jokes,” Harry says.

“Even a one-night stand’s worth?”

“Even a one-night stand’s worth.”

“Damn,” Louis says. “Sounds like you’ve got a crush, Hazza.”

“I might.” It’s a different I might, this time, one that’s actually unsure. “How do we deal with that, Lou? Like, is that okay?”

Louis thinks about it. He wants to say no out of a knee-jerk reaction, but that reaction isn’t a reaction to Harry, it’s a reaction to Eleanor and people like her, it’s a reaction to all the voices he’s internalized that say this is the beginning of the slippery slope, that say why would he be with you when you’re so far away when he has someone so close. He thinks about who he would be without those voices, and likes that Louis a whole lot better. Harry isn’t falling out of love with him, and until he is, he isn’t going to think about it happening. “It’s okay,” he says, “because it’s different, right? Your crush on him?”

“Oh, totally,” Harry says without hesitation. “Nowhere near what you mean to me, and a different flavor, anyway.”

“Yeah,” says Louis, and then, ‘A different flavor, huh? Is he a good kisser?”

Harry smiles a little dreamily. “Very.”

Louis raises his eyebrows at him, a little jealous but mostly amused. “Babe, you definitely have a crush.” He smiles a little, thinking about that secret Zayn, soft-open Zayn. “Me, too, though.”

Harry grins bright at him. “Oh yeah?”

“Yeah, a crush who puts out early and often, which clearly means I am winning this game,” Louis says loudly, because everything keeps getting soft and perfect and he hates more than anything that Harry isn’t with him right now.

“Well, my crush plays guitar,” Harry counters.

My crush liked the idea of me sending you dirty pictures of him,” Louis says back, playing his trump card early because he likes it too much.

“Well, my—” Harry cuts himself off. “Wait, really?”

Louis smirks at him. “Mhmm. A lot.” He remembers the column of Zayn’s throat, his head thrown back in orgasm. “Mmh, a lot.”

“Fuck,” Harry says, his eyes gone a little dark. “That’s really hot.”

Louis nods vigorously. “It really, really is.”

“We’ll, um, have to take him up on that sometime.” Harry gnaws on his lip. “What if...would he be okay with me watching?”

“Watching—” Louis blinks. “Oh, wow, um. We haven’t. It’s only been lips and hands so far, Haz, I feel like real fucking might come before performance for a third party, traditionally.”

“Fuck tradition,” Harry says easily. “Nothing we’re doing here is traditional, Lou.”

Louis has to admit that that is, in fact, true. “I’ll talk to him about it,” he says. “Not sure he’ll want it the first time we fuck, but I’m pretty sure he won’t have much objection to the idea as a whole.”

“Good, ‘cause now you’ve put it in my head and you know how bad I am at giving up on stuff,” Harry says.

“Indeed I do,” Louis says. He checks the clock, sighs. “You’ve got to go.”

Harry drops his eyes. “I’ve got to go.”

Louis rubs his hands over his face. “I hate these constant goodbyes.” He mutters, because he doesn’t want to bring Harry down but he can’t not say it.

“Let’s make a sign,” Harry says suddenly. “So we don’t have to keep, like, figuring out what to say at the ends of these conversations, let’s just. Do it.”

They have a lot of those, little things, little secret codes and jokes that keep them on track, remind them of who they are when the world pushes in on them too much. “Yeah,” Louis says. “Please. What should it be, though?”

“Um,” Harry says, and then gives Louis a thumb’s up.

Louis snorts with laughter. “That’s it? It’s a little obvious, Haz.”

Harry shrugs and doesn’t put down his hand. “You have to do it, too.”

Louis grins at him, his cheeks and his heart aching, and gives him a thumb’s up back.

Harry grins brighter than sunrise and signs off skype.

Louis buries his head in his pillow and wants to scream—with giddy happiness, with longing, with jealousy, with the horrible, gnawing sadness that is not being with Harry. He fists his hands in the sheets and breathes and breathes and breathes.

After he’s managed to slow his heartbeat down to non-thunderous levels he leaves his laptop on his bed and pads back into the living room. Zayn’s curled on the couch, his lashes dark against his cheeks, the planes of his face lit by the TV. Louis switches it off and climbs in next to him, tucking himself up under one of his arms, and goes to sleep.

Chapter Text

It becomes routine. Zayn comes over every few days, or sometimes just...stays, and either is fine. He and Louis watch movies, or play FIFA, or pretend to work on their schoolwork, and then they fuck (eventually for real). Some mornings Liam shows up and Louis forces him to make them tea, and then Zayn flirts with him for a while, and it’s...good. Really good, actually.

They even go out sometimes, although “going out” usually means “Louis goes to work and Zayn (and once, Liam) go and hang out there with him and get free drinks”.

Harry and Niall are moving so slowly Louis thinks Harry might be dying. “Just jump him,” Louis says, and Harry makes protesting noises but nothing that really convinces Louis that he can’t.

It’s three months ‘til Harry gets back that Liam walks in on Louis and Zayn for the third time.

They should really stop fucking in the living room, but they have a kind of unspoken something about the bedroom. The have sex there, sometimes, but Zayn never stays, always moving out to the couch before he falls asleep, because waking up with Zayn on the couch is fine but waking up with Zayn in the bedroom feels way too much like Louis is trying to replace Harry for both of them.

They could go to Zayn’s, except Zayn lives in a dorm, and the thought of spending any time in a dorm longer than was strictly necessary for things like ‘stealing back those pants Zayn stole’ makes Louis cringe in horror. So it’s Louis’ or nothing.

And, frankly, sometimes Louis wants to fuck Zayn so hard he doesn’t have the strength to make it to the couch, so, like, it just makes more sense to start there.

This time Zayn’s bent over the table, forearms braced (kind of ineffectually, Louis notes with satisfaction) against it as Louis fucks into him, hard. Zayn’s making obscene, beautiful noises, all breathless want, and it takes him a few moments to stop, to realize that the door’s opened and a very, very red Liam is staring open-mouthed at them. He’s got a pretty incredible view, Louis admits, a perfect vantage point to see all of Zayn spread out, facing him, his mouth wet and bitten and gasping, his legs spread.

“S-sorry,” Liam chokes out, and spins to leave as he always has before, but a wild spirit of mischief seizes Louis and he calls out, “Liam, wait.”

Liam freezes. “Um,” he says, squeezing his eyes shut, and turning back around just as Zayn hisses, “Louis, what the fuck—”

“Zayn and I were wondering if you’d be interested in a threesome,” Louis says conversationally. “Not right now, clearly, as we’ve rather rudely started without you, but maybe Saturday?”

Liam’s mouth works. He opens his eyes with great effort, and his gaze darts around the scene like he’s been dropped into a world where literally nothing makes sense. “I, uh, um,” he says.

“You can say no, of course,” says Louis, and reaches down to lightly slide his nails up Zayn’s cock. Zayn shudders against the table with a strangled moan that Louis is pretty sure was meant to come out as I hate you. It’s a struggle not to just fuck into him and finish it right there with Liam watching, but Louis resists because Louis is a good person.

“N-no, I mean, yes, that, I would, yes,” babbles Liam, his eyes larger than any eyes Louis has ever seen on a human.

“Great!” Louis says cheerily. “See you Saturday, then.” He twiddles his fingers in a wave. “Bye bye now.”

Liam trips over both his feet and his schoolbag, twice, on the way out the door.

“What the hell,” Zayn grits out, “do you think you’re doing?”

Louis wraps his hand around his cock for real this time, leaning down to breathe hot against his ear. “Do you want an answer or an orgasm, Zaynie?”

“I’ll get both,” Zayn growls, “and they both better be fucking awesome.”

“Do I ever disappoint?” Louis asks rhetorically, and slams into him.

Zayn’s droopy-eyed and exhausted by the time Louis is done with him, which is of course how Louis planned it, but before he passes out he grabs Louis (gently, as always, Louis has never met anyone who’s as gentle with him as Zayn, it’s simultaneously heartwarming and frustrating) by the throat, and okay, that’s kind of hot. He murmurs in a way that is probably meant to be threatening, “You will tell me why threesome,” which is a sentence that can’t really be threatening, ever, especially not when slurred through slack, come-slick lips. Louis presses a kiss to his forehead and promises, “Of course.”

Thankfully, Louis’ ‘honesty honesty’ policy applies only to Harry, because he gets the hell out of there before Zayn wakes up, and is very carefully only around when Liam is also around for a while. He pulls it off all day Thursday and Friday - it’s not hard, Liam has become obsessive about texting half an hour before he shows up, just to make sure, so Louis can always just hang around campus or the bar until he does and then arrive ‘coincidentally’ at the same time—but what he forgets to take into account is that Zayn is wily.

Friday night he tracks him down at the bar. “Very smart,” Louis greets him, “trapping me where I can’t escape.”

Zayn isn’t smiling. “Why would you want to escape?”

Louis looks at him for real, and all his playful attitude slides away. “I was kidding, Zayn, what’s wrong?”

Zayn stares at him. “What’s wrong? You set us up for a threesome with Liam, Liam, of all people, and then you vanish on me!” His eyes dart around the room as if someone might be listening. “I’m fucking freaking, Louis!”

“You freak very calmly,” Louis notes, but Zayn’s hair is too flat and he does have a kind of wild look around his eyes. “Sit down, sit down, I’m sorry.”

Zayn sits, and Louis pours him a pint. “I’m sorry for vanishing on you, I just thought you’d convince yourself you didn’t want this.”

“I don’t!” Zayn snaps, and he’s buzzing with a tension that Louis has never seen in him before. It makes him feel sick and guilty. “Why would I want this, Louis? You know how I feel about Liam!”

“I kind of got it from the way you stare at him dumbfounded every time he steps into a room, yeah,” Louis says easily, smiling, but Zayn’s not having it.

“Then why—this has happened to me before and you know it, I told you!” Zayn’s fingers are tapping out a anxious rhythm on the bar. There’s a cigarette behind his ear.

“Happened to you before—what the hell are you talking about?” Louis shakes my head, sliding Zayn his pint. “Let me break it down for you: You like Liam. Liam likes you. Both of you are idiots, especially you, and so I intervened like a good friend in a way that occurred to me, I might add, in a stroke of genius at a point where most people’s brain’s would be blissed-out mush.” He pauses. “That’s a compliment to your ass, by the way.”

“Thanks,” Zayn says automatically, and then, “But, Louis, I don’t. Liam’s straight.”

“Zayn,” Louis says, staring at him. “Zayn, Liam just agreed to have a threesome with us. Two dudes. He’s a dude. That is not straight-dude behavior.”

“Of course he agreed,” Zayn says bitterly. “You asked. You’re like, everyone’s exception.”

Louis blinks at him. “While that is true and incredibly flattering, it has literally nothing to do with the situation at hand. It was not I, my dear Zaynie, that Liam was staring at so hard I thought he might come in his pants right there—”

Zayn squeezes his eyes shut. “Louis—”

“It is not I who makes Liam light up any time he drops in to find you there or vice versa, it’s not I who managed to talk the one-kidney wonder into coming out drinking—”

“Louis—”

“Nor is it I who spends hours talking to Liam talking about, as far as I can tell, absolutely nothing—”

“Louis, he has a girlfriend!

Louis’ words die in his throat. “I—” He says, staring at Zayn. “Oh. Really?”

“Yes!” Zayn runs a harried hand through his hair, and Louis figures out why it’s so flat - it’s completely un-gelled. Louis wants to run his hands through it, but Zayn’s glaring at him and looks like he might be on the edge of tears. “Do you know anything about Liam at all?” Zayn demands.

“I...know...he only has one kidney?” Louis hazards, and for the first time he wishes it were Harry in Zayn's place, or at least that he knew Zayn as well as he knows Harry, wishes he knew what to do to wipe that angry-betrayed-terrified look off Zayn’s face.

I told you that, Louis,” Zayn snaps. “I don’t fucking understand you.”

“Oh,” says Louis, because he’s pretty sure Zayn understand him more than anyone else except Harry. “I.”

But Zayn’s not done. “You’re so—you hate when people make assumptions about you but you hold on to your first impressions of people like you can never be wrong, and somewhere you decided Liam was boring, and now he thinks you think he’s stupid because you never actually listen to anything he says!”

“I don’t think he’s stupid,” Louis says in a small voice. “He’s, he’s always studying.”

“And what is he studying?” Zayn asks sharply.

Louis feels like the worst piece of shit ever. “Medicine?” He guesses.

“Law,” Zayn says, and now he just sounds tired, like Louis is just confirming all the shitty things he suspected, and Louis wants to leap across the counter and fix it, doesn’t like having Zayn not, not caught up in him, not happy and his.

“I’m sorry,” he says, and means it.

Zayn shakes his head. “I’m not really the one you should be apologizing to,” he says, and then, “except for the fucking threesome thing, because what the fuck.” He stares at his beer like he wants to murder it. “Even if he weren’t straight, how the fuck was that going to work? For all Liam knows, you and me are the main act, and he’s just, like, for fun.” He looks at Louis. “Threesomes are not the easiest way to convey feelings, Louis.”

Louis shakes his head. “Zayn, darling, if you thought I was ever planning on actually showing up to that threesome you really don’t understand me.”

Zayn blinks at him. “What?”

“You know Liam’s not my type,” Louis says, wrinkling his nose. “I figured if I got you guys to admit that maybe you wanted to bang and then put you in the same room, thinking about banging, then maybe.” He clapped his hands together. “Bang.”

Zayn shook his head. “Thanks,” he says, “even though that’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard in my life.”

Louis leans on the bar. “Even if he does have a girlfriend, I think “straight” is generous to say the least,” he says. “I’ve seen the way he looks at you, babe.”

“Funny how you can see that but not read the titles on any of his law books,” Zayn says acidly.

“What can I say?” Louis says, grinning. “Our eyes meet looking at you.”

Zayn’s eyebrows shoot up. “Did you just quote the History Boys at me?”

Louis smiles wider at him. “I heard it was someone’s favorite play.”

Zayn shakes his head, smiling despite himself. “Christ, it’s hard to be mad at you, you charming asshole.”

“Here’s what we’ll do,” Louis says, businesslike. “I’ll show up tomorrow, and you won’t.” Zayn’s eyebrows draw together, and Louis holds up a hand. “No sex, I promise. Flattered as I am to hear you say so, I am not everyone’s type—don’t tell Harry I said that—and I am going to talk to Liam, not seduce him.”

Zayn eyes him suspiciously. “Talk about what?”

Louis shrugs. “I’ve got some apologies to make, if nothing else, and apparently some stories to catch up on from one Liam Payne.”

Zayn leans over and takes Louis hand, staring at it like it might give him the answers to all his questions. He traces the veins across the back of it, and finally lifts it to his lips. “Thank you,” he says seriously, and kisses each of Louis’ knuckles in turn.

“No problem,” Louis says, ignoring the way his cheeks heat and hoping Zayn will too. “Now go fix your hair.”

Zayn throws him a genuine grin as he leaves, and that’s worth any number of embarrassing blushes.

Chapter Text

“Sounds like Zayn’s got you dead to rights, Lou.” Harry says, his face sympathetic. “You have been a bit unfair to Mr. Payne. He’s not just a tea slave.”

“But he’s such a good tea slave,” Louis grumbles.

“Louis,” Harry chides.

“I know, I know.” He puts his chin in his hands. “I do like him, you know, quite a lot. I think he’s adorable and bizarre and quite funny. I don’t know, he’s Liam, he’s my friend, I just assumed that he knew that, I guess?”

“Like I said, Zayn’s got you dead to rights. How long do you have before he shows?”

“He texted me...” Louis checks his phone, “fifteen minutes ago. So fifteen minutes.” He cocks his head. “He’s coming over expressly to have sex with me and Zayn, so what’s the point of texting to make sure we’re not having sex when he gets here?”

Harry shrugs. “Liam Payne seems like a man of habits.” He bites his lip. “Want you to meet someone, Lou.”

Louis grins at him. “Oh yeah?”

“Niall!” Harry calls, and the door to his room in the volunteer house opens, and there’s his Irishman, smiling easily, wearing a tank top that’s too big for him and a backwards snapback. Harry’s sent him pictures, obviously, but it’s different in live color, as it were. He’s holding a guitar case, and he looks like he might set up on the next street corner he sees.

Nial slouches up next to Harry and gives Louis a nod. “I’d shake your hand or pound it or something, but, y’know. Screens.” He’s got a middling-thick Irish brogue that rolls slow and sweet out of his mouth, and he sets his guitar case down to stick his hands in his pockets.

“Screens indeed,” says Louis, charmed in spite of himself. He’s like a hedgehog, a douchebag fratboy hedgehog with soft edges. He gets it immediately, what Harry sees in him. “Nice to finally meet you, man,” he says genuinely, and Harry beams at him so hard Louis thinks his face might break in half.

Harry leans over and wraps his arms around Niall, pulling him down into his lap, and Nial laughs, letting him, his face like sunshine. “Niall’s been helping me with something,” Harry says, looking at the Irish boy with a fondness that Louis knows so well, and it’s disorienting to see it turned on anyone else. He has a split second, just a little, tiny second, of hating Niall, wanting to grab Harry’s chin and pull his eyes back to him. But he knows that 90% of that impulse is just the itching, constant need to touch Harry, doesn’t have anything to do with Niall at all, and he swallows against his heart.

Niall smiles at him. “You’ve got a killer boyfriend, mate,” he says earnestly. “If someone did this kind of thing for me I’d probably cry.”

Louis blinks. “What kind of thing?”

Niall leans over and kisses Harry on the cheek, and Harry scrunches up his face half in protest and half in laughter. “Good luck, love,” Niall whispers, not quietly enough for Louis to miss it. “You got this.” He slips from Harry’s lap. “Good to meet you, mate,” he says over his shoulder, and then he’s gone again.

“I like him,” Louis announces. “Even if I don’t know what he’s talking about.”

Harry clears his throat. He’s leaning down, out of frame, and then he comes back up with Niall’s guitar in his hands, and oh. “Oh,” says Louis.

Harry’s fingers are a little unsure, the rhythm of his chords a little halting, but when he starts to sing Louis feels like he might, in fact, cry. His heart feels—light, feels aching, feels caged and beating against his ribs in its fight to reach the boy on the screen. Harry flicks his eyes between his own hands and Louis’ face, his low voice wrapped careful around the words he’s memorised. “If I don’t say this now, I’ll surely break,” he sings, “As I’m leaving the one I want to take. Forget the urgency but hurry up and wait, my heart has started to separate.”

Louis bites his lip and concentrates on breathing correctly, on not screaming or putting his fist through his computer screen in his, his, whatever this feeling was, overwhelming impossible impotent love. He feels caged by distance, literally feels like he can press against it and it’ll never give. “Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh,” sings Harry, thousands and thousands and thousands of miles away, the words of Louis’ favorite song wrapped in his beautiful fucking voice, and why the fuck does Louis’ favorite song have to be this, have to be so true and relevant and awful and everything he’s been trying so hard not to think about?

He closes his eyes, because seeing Harry’s slow careful precision and listening to his voice and watching his hands and not being able to do anything about it is too much, it’s way too much, it’s probably the worst feeling in the world, but just listening—just listening lets him pretend that he’s only not touching Harry so Harry can finish the song without interruption, and that’s fine.

There now, steady love, so few come and don't go
Will you, won't you be the one I'll always know?
When I'm losing my control, the city spins around
You're the only one who knows, you slow it down.

Louis breathes the moment in, imagines Harry perched on the edge of the bed right next to him, imagines his smell and the feel of his warmth, radiating out from him like he’s some kind of fucking sun, all the things that he knows are still true of Harry but aren’t there over skype.

If ever there was a doubt
My love he leans into me
This most assuredly counts
He says most assuredly.

Louis bites his lip at the lyric change, so hard he draws blood.

It's always have and never hold
You've begun to feel like home
What's mine is yours to leave or take
What's mine is yours to make your own
.”

Louis is shaking. He threads his fingers together and presses his palms into one another as hard as he can, his lips moving with Harry’s last oh, oh, oh’s. He sings with him, softly, on the very last chorus, and the guitar fumbles to a halt. “Lou?” Harry asks, in the same low, gentle voice, and Louis shakes his head.

“I think,” he says carefully, his tongue thick in his mouth, “that if I have to look at you after that, I have to acknowledge that that’s a thing that you’ve just done for me and then open my eyes and see you, having just done it, and not be able to kiss you for it, I think I may fall to actual pieces right in front of you. Literally, Hazza.”

Harry coughs and shifts, and Louis can hear the laughter in his voice when he says, “Literally, huh? Gross. Meat cube boyfriend.”

“Shut up and put the guitar away,“ Louis says, his eyes still tight-shut. “I’m serious, Harry, I might die from this.”

“Drama queen,” Harry accuses, but there’s a laughing kind of wonder in his voice and Louis can hear him putting the guitar back in its case. “Okay,” he says, and Louis opens his eyes, cautious.

It’s just Harry, on the other side of the screen, just Harry with his hands on his knees and his smile hopeful and happy. “So you liked it, huh?”

“Liked—” Louis shakes his head, amazed. “You fucking—you perfect motherfucker, I—Fuck, Harry!”

“Right,” says Harry, his laughter bubbling up under his words and making them sound high and giddy, “that’s a yes, then.”

Louis flops over on his back to yell frustratedly at the ceiling. “Shut up shut up shut up I don’t know how to deal with you!”

“No worries, Lou,” Harry giggles, and then effortlessly drops back into his singing-voice. “I’ll take care of you.

“Fuck off, Harry Styles!” Louis shouts, upside-down, and from the doorway Liam says, “Um.”

Louis flips back over, his mind wiped completely blank for a second by the sudden switch of gears and he almost, almost asks what Liam’s doing here before realizing. Right. The threesome, and the real talk, and Zayn. He glances at Harry, on the screen, who’s raising his eyebrows.

“Is that Liam?” Harry asks.

Louis nods and spins the laptop to face the door of the room. Liam waves a little, baffled. Louis spins it back to himself. “Gotta go, Hazza,” he says, and Harry flashes him a quick sweet smile and a raised thumb, and Louis returns it, wishing there were anything he could possibly say that would tell Harry what this all has meant.

He sighs and closes his laptop, pushing it out of his way. “Hi,” he says to Liam, not moving from where he’s sitting on the bed.

Liam takes a hesitant step into the room. “Um, where’s Zayn?”

“He’s not coming,” Louis says, and holds up a hand when Liam’s eyes widen. “We’re not gonna have sex, Liam.” He cocks his head at Liam. “Not today, anyway, I don’t want to rule anything out prematurely.” He pats the bed beside him. “I do want to talk to you, though.”

“...Okay,” says Liam. “What about?” He comes to sit beside him. He’s barefoot, Louis notices, and wearing comfortable sweat pants and a t-shirt. Easy to remove. The practical man’s threesome-wear. He giggles a little, still giddy and buoyed up on Harry's song.

“Louis?” Liam asks.

“Zayn tells me you’re straight,” he says, and it’s not where he meant to start, not at all, he meant to apologize and ask questions and see who he really is but—well, it’s out, now, and Liam squeezes his eyes shut.

“I have a girlfriend,” he says, and Louis notes with no small satisfaction that that’s not a ‘yes’.

“I’m sorry,” he says softly. “I wouldn’t have invited you if I’d known.”

Liam shrugs. “I thought you thought—you and Harry, you’re so...open and casual and I thought maybe you assumed everyone was like that.”

“Are you?” Louis asks. “You and your girl?”

Liam shakes his head. “Danielle. And...no, we’re. Pretty serious.” His shoulders are tense, and he says in a small voice, “I used to think we were going to get married.”

Louis swallows hard. “Oh,” he says, and a whole bunch of things slot into place, things he’s noticed but not really, the fact that Liam’s around a lot more, the fact that he sometimes sleeps on the couch if Zayn’s not around or on the floor if he is (once Louis found Zayn on the couch and Liam on the floor, side by side. Zayn’s arm was slung over the side of the couch and Liam’s flung out towards him as if maybe they’d been holding hands), the fact that he’s withdrawn and even quieter than usual, lately. “Oh, Li, I’m sorry.”

Liam shrugs, jerkily, and Louis gives in to the temptation to wrap his arms around him and pull him in, cradling his head against his chest. Liam doesn’t resist, his breathing a little frantic. “I don’t know what to do,” he says, voice desperate, and Louis presses a kiss into his hair. “It’s all falling apart, Lou,” Liam says roughly, and Louis thinks it’s the first time he’s ever called him that. It makes him want to smile, but Liam’s fists are balled in his shirt and he can’t, not with how much he’s hurting.

“I’ve had this plan, forever,” Liam says, and Louis just lets him talk. “Graduate high school, go to uni for law, meet a girl, settle down, find a firm, start a family, a good, solid, safe, normal plan, and.” He pulls back from Louis to glare at him. “Does the universe have something against safe and normal? Is there a reason that only weirdos like you are really happy?”

Louis does smile, then, at his bluntness, and says gently, “There’s nothing wrong with normal.”

“Yeah, except apparently there is, because it didn’t fucking make me happy, I wasn’t happy until I stumbled into your weird nest of incestuous freaks,” Liam grumbles, but there’s no fire in it at all, he sounds almost fond beyond the frustration. “How do you do it, Louis?”

Louis cocks his head. “Do what?”

Liam gestures. “Have what you have, how do you, like.” He runs a hand through his hair, frustrated. “You and Harry are the closest thing to happily married I’ve ever seen in my life, and I’ve never even seen you in the same room, and yet you have,” he swallows, “you have Zayn, too, and Harry has his Irish boy—” That’s what Louis always calls him, when they talk about it around the house, and so everyone’s taken it up— “and I don’t understand, how can you.” He takes a breath. “How do you deal with loving someone but wanting to be with someone else?”

“Li,” says Louis, gently, “why did you agree to this threesome?”

Liam snorts a humorless laugh. “You made it kind of hard to say no.”

“We both know this has nothing to do with me,” Louis says firmly. “Answer my question, please, Liam.”

Liam stares him in the eye, setting his jaw. “Because I thought it was the best I was gonna get,” he says explosively, almost angrily. “Because I couldn’t—I couldn’t fucking deal with it anymore, and if it happened and I got it over with I could go back to Danielle and admit everything and she’d forgive me eventually and I could get back to my studies and everything would be fine.” He clenches his fists on his knees. “I failed an exam, Lou, because it was the day after I walked in on you guys for the first time and I couldn’t think about anything but how he’d looked, o-on his knees, and I wanted. I want.” He blows out a frustrated breath.

“The fact that you haven’t told Danielle what you want is the first reason you guys don’t have what Harry and I do,” Louis says, but inside he’s doing a fucking jig, because there has never been anyone more right than Louis Tomlinson. “Harry and I tell each other everything, Li. Literally everything, even if it’s boring or painful or kind of fucked up.”

Liam shakes his head, his legs jiggling with nervous energy. He’s staring at the floor. “I can’t,” he says. “I can’t, you don’t understand, I can’t tell her how I feel because if I tell her how I feel it’s, it’s real, I can never take it back, you know, it’s not an urge that I can get out of my system it’s something about me and I can’t be.”

Louis frowns. “You think fucking Zayn, even as part of a threesome, wouldn’t be real?”

Liam’s whole body stutters. “Of, of course it would, but it would be over, you know? Just, just a shag between friends.”

“No,” says Louis. “I don’t think it would be.” He stands up. “I’m not going to force you to come out to your girlfriend, Li,” he says. “That’s not even close to being my call to make. But remember there are two sides to this equation, and you’re not the only one with the ability to feel things.” He leans down to cup a palm around Liam’s cheek. “And remember that you can always talk to me, okay? Always. I promise to even listen, this time.”

Liam looks up at him. “Louis...”

Louis grins and drops his hand. “Now, how about some tea?”

Chapter Text

Rehearsals start for Zayn’s play, and Louis starts going to them. Mostly it’s kind of boring—not Zayn’s writing, which is lovely and understated and subtle, but there’s only so many times you can watch the same lovely, understated, subtle scene stumblingly acted in a row, and Louis sprawls himself out over the seats next to Zayn and sighs dramatically

Zayn casts him an amused glare. “Make it more clear you don’t wanna be here, Lou.”

“I want to be here...” Louis says, and trails off.

Zayn turns to look at him for real. “But?”

“But I might be able to think of some places I’d rather be,” Louis says, and wags his eyebrows.

Zayn shakes his head. “Insatiable,” he says. “With anyone else I’d worry that Harry and I might wear you out, when he gets back, but you’ve got the sex drive of a rabbit stuck perpetually in April.”

“Such a way with words,” Louis teases, because it’s easier than thinking about the easy way that Zayn says Harry and I, how the idea of having both Zayn and Harry in his flat and in his bed and in his life makes his heart want to burst out of his chest. “Speaking of!” He says, and slides fully into the seat next to Zayn so he can see his face right when he says conversationally, “Harry wants to watch us fuck.”

Zayn chokes on air, his eyes going too-wide. “D-does he,” he says, trying so hard to be casual that Louis would laugh at him if the idea didn’t make him just as breathless.

“Mhm,” he smirks. “I mentioned how much you liked the idea of me sending him dirty pictures, and he suggested it.” He leans over to murmur in Zayn’s ear, “He wants to see you ride me.”

“You are the absolutely worst kind of person,” Zayn breathes back. He’s sliding his hands up and down, up and down his thighs, methodical and distracted.

“I know,” says Louis. “I know.”

He stands up. Zayn’s eyes follow him. “Where are you going?”

“To work,” Louis announces. “Some of us have real jobs.”

“Some of us are dedicated to our creative selves,” Zayn snipes back. “Also, I reiterate, you’re the worst sort of person.”

“Yeah,” says Louis unrepentantly. “I’ll see you tonight, babe?”

“I’ll probably be there when you get back, if Liam’s around,” Zayn says, and Louis knows he means so he can let me in but also knows he means just if Liam’s around, and his smile gets a little sad.

“Should really get you a key made,” he says, offhand, and Zayn blinks at him, looking a little stunned. Louis bites his lip. “Just so, you know, you don’t have to wait for Liam. All the time.”

“‘Course,” says Zayn, smiling soft and warm-eyed at him, and then sighs. “As if I wouldn’t be waiting for Liam all the time anyway.”

Louis shakes his head. “Hopeless idiots all.”

Zayn snorts at him. “Like you know what unrequited love even feels like.”

Louis makes a face at him. “I’ll have you know I pined for Harry for six months before he deigned to to notice me,” he says.

“Sure,” says Zayn. “And how much of that time was he simultaneously pining for you before you deigned to notice him?”

Louis grins at him. “Like five months?”

Zayn jabs a finger into his stomach. “Doesn’t. Fucking. Count.”

“If that doesn’t count than neither does yours,” Louis says, grabbing Zayn’s hand.

“Louis—”

“Zayn, I’m serious, he—”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” Zayn snaps, but his hand is gentle in Louis’, tracing patterns over his wrist. “Okay? I just don’t. It doesn’t matter, because he’s not doing anything about it, and he won’t.”

Louis sighs. “Fine.” He brushes kisses across Zayn’s knuckles and grins at him crinkle-eyed. “Later.”

Zayn smiles back. “Later, Lou.”

Harry has to work through his lunch that day, though, and it wouldn’t really have been enough time to do it properly, anyway. Louis comes home exhausted and finds Zayn curled up on the couch, flipping through channels with a boredom that’s almost palpable.

“No Liam?” he asks, glancing around as if Liam might be hiding in one of the shadowy corners of the flat.

“He went to Danielle’s,” Zayn says tonelessly.

“I’m sorry,” Louis says, and curls up next to him on the couch.

Zayn shrugs jerkily, and then looks at Louis. “Can we get drunk?”

“Should’ve come to see me at work,” Louis says, but he gets up and pads over to the liquor cabinet. They’ve got some shitty vodka, some actually-pretty-alright rum, and a bottle of fancy champagne that Louis is saving for a day exactly three months and ten days from now. He grabs the shitty vodka and considers cups for a minute, but Zayn’s making grabby hands at him from the couch.

“Didn’t want to be out,” Zayn says shortly, and takes the vodka from him, unscrewing the top and taking a sip big enough to make Louis wince.

“Should I take it that you and Liam talked, then?” Louis asks rhetorically.

“That would’ve been nice,” Zayn says. “No, he let me in, I said hi, he said hi, we watched, like, two minutes of some shitty romcom and then he was out the door babbling about Danielle.”

Louis rolls his eyes and sighs. Ever since their threesome-that-wasn’t, Liam had been weird and panicky around Zayn, like he doesn’t know what to do with his hands or his face or any of his words. “Stupid boy,” he drawls.

“We should’ve just had that threesome,” Zayn mutters, and takes another swig.

“Maybe,” says Louis, taking the bottle from him. “But then we’d never have confirmation of how he feels about you. From his own mouth!” He drinks, just a sip, because at the rate Zayn’s going he’s going to need to be the sober one tonight.

Zayn buries his head in his hands. “But it doesn’t matter,” he says miserably, and Louis slings an arm around him, his head on Zayn’s shoulder.

“He’ll figure it out,” he says, reassuring, “just give him time.”

Zayn makes a face at him and gestures for him to give him the bottle. “Waiting sucks,” he grumbles.

Louis chuckles at him. “Tell me about it.” He gives him the bottle, watches as he swallows, and leans in to press a fond kiss to Zayn’s throat. “At least we’ve got each other, huh?”

“At least we’ve got each other,” Zayn echoes, and closes his eyes as Louis licks a stripe up to his ear and nibbles at his earrings. “God, what if he never does, though?”

Louis sighs and sits back. “Well I can tell you’re going to be no fun at all, tonight.”

“Sorry,” Zayn says, contritely. “But what if he decides I’m not worth everything he’s got with Danielle—”

“You’re worth six of her,” Louis said firmly.

“You’ve never even met the girl,” Zayn points out.

“True, but he basically told me point blank that she wouldn’t be cool with him liking dick,” Louis counters, “and that puts her pretty firmly in my bad books.”

“I’m not okay with him liking dick,” Zayn says morosely. “The idea of Liam Payne liking dick sends me into paroxysms of terror.”

Louis bursts out laughing. “Oh my god, copy,” he says, breathless.

Zayn looks at him like he’s gone mad. “What?”

Louis raises his eyebrows and sips the vodka. “You don’t know that game? Basically, someone says something hilarious or embarrassing or both, and you say ‘copy’, and then every time you say ‘paste’ they have to say it again, in the same tone as they said it in the first place.” He grins at Zayn. “Any time, in any company.”

The blood drains from Zayn’s face. “No. No, Louis, you can’t—”

“The good part is that you can only have one thing copied at a time,” says Louis, “so if you want me not to whip out that little gem next time we get Liam to stay in the same room as you for more than five minutes, you’re gonna have to come up with something better.” He pats Zayn comfortingly on the shoulder and hands him the vodka.

“You’re a monster,” Zayn says, and drinks.

Louis gets up, waggling his eyebrows at him, and gets Liam’s half-empty tub of ice cream out of the freezer. It’s the least he owes them, he figures, for all the emotional torment he’s putting Zayn through.

Zayn’s eyes track him as he comes back and sits on the floor at his feet. Louis opens the ice cream and sticks a spoonful in his mouth. “Well?”

“I want your dick,” says Zayn expressionlessly.

Louis laughs at him. “Zayn, darling, I don’t need a game to get you to say that.”

Zayn throws himself down onto the floor next to Louis, face down. He props himself up on his elbows and tilts his head against the bottle. “Louis Tomlinson is the prettiest girl at the ball.”

Louis tsks. “You’re not even trying.”

Zayn squints at him. “Louis Tomlinson has the best ass in London?”

“Not if you say it like a question, and anyway, everyone already knows.” He pulls the bottle out of Zayn’s hands. “Give me that.”

“Louis,” Zayn complains.

“Zayn,” Louis teases, sipping the vodka.

“This isn’t fair,” Zayn says, full-on whining now. “You’re not being fair and Liam’s not being fair and I hate it.”

“Oh, stop it.” Louis shifts position so he’s lying next to Zayn on his side, head propped up on one hand, his ice cream spoon in his mouth. “Life can’t possibly be that bad.”

Zayn picks his head up from his arms and scowls at him. “You don’t know anything.” He steals the bottle back, taking a huge swallow.

“I know you’re acting like you might be five years old, except I don’t know of any five-year-old’s who can take that much vodka without coughing,” Louis says. “Zayn, babe, I’m willing to let you wallow if you need to but this is getting ridiculous.”

“I’m not wallowing,” Zayn says, rolling up on one shoulder so he’s mirroring Louis. “I’m mourning, or something.”

“Mourning what?” Louis asks, and dabs ice cream on the tip of Zayn’s nose.

Zayn wipes at it with the back of his hand, “Hey, that’s cold.”

“You’re cold,” Louis retorts. “You’re supposed to let me lick it off.”

“Well, you’re supposed to get drunk with me and distract me from my woes!”

“I’m trying,” Louis says, “but you’re not letting me.”

Zayn sighs and rolls onto his back, and Louis steals the vodka from him. “Sorry, Lou,” Zayn says, and Louis scoots closer to him, nestling against Zayn’s side. He can feel Zayn’s heartbeat under his palm and hear his own, distinct in the ocean-rush of his ear pressed hard to Zayn’s shoulder.

“Nice stars tonight,” he says softly, staring at the off-white ceiling of his apartment.

Zayn huffs a laugh, but plays along. “Big dipper,” he says, pointing upwards.

“Mm,” Louis acknowledges, and points to a water stain that’s been there since he and Harry moved in. “Orion. Look, you can see three stars at his belt.” He flicks his eyes around the ceiling, fixes them on a cobweb in the corner. “And there, the north star, guiding all the ships home.”

“Beautiful,” says Zayn, and Louis feels him press a kiss into his hair. He lets his eyes slip shut and concentrates on pushing this warm-content-belonging feeling through his palm and into Zayn’s heart.

They lie like that for a long time, ice cream forgotten and melting beside them. He thinks maybe Zayn’s fallen asleep, but just as he starts to drift off he hears him mutter, “Sometimes I’m jealous of Harry.”

Louis stills, but doesn’t open his eyes. “Why?”

“He’s your ship,” Zayn whispers, “and you’re his north star.”

There’s a hot lump in Louis throat, and he tightens his hand in Zayn’s shirt. “I love you,” he says, because he’s helpless to say anything else.

He can feel Zayn shaking his head. “You were supposed to say ‘copy’,” he says, and wraps both arms around Louis, pulling him hard into his chest.

Chapter Text

It’s three months until Harry’s back that he finally sleeps with Niall and everything kind of goes batshit.

Louis throws him a party, because he’s not really sure what else to do, and he likes throwing parties. The party, of course, consists of himself and Zayn and Liam, who doesn’t show up ‘til late, and Harry on skype, and cake. Louis sometimes thinks he needs more friends.

(He told Liam, once, that he was welcome to bring Danielle around any time. Liam looked at him like he’d grown an extra head.)

They’re halfway through Harry giving them an almost-certainly-fictionalized (judging by the appearance of the alligator, anyway) play-by-play, his eyebrows wagging, when Liam nudges Louis. “Lou,” he says, and Louis notices he looks kind of drawn, pale. He’s not been saying much all evening, but he’s Liam, so Louis hadn’t thought much of it, and Zayn hadn’t punched him in the knees to tell him he should, so he hadn’t been worried. "Can I talk to you?"

He is now, though. “Of course,” he says, and excuses himself to follow Liam to the bedroom. He can feel Zayn’s eyes on them and he casts a small reassuring smile over his shoulder.

“I think, um,” says Liam, and he looks more than a little drawn, he looks like shit, and fragile in a way that Louis has never seen him, like he might be nothing but paper drawn over muscle. “I think I have to break up with Danielle.”

“Oh,” says Louis.

Liam looks at him. “Oh? That’s it?”

Louis runs a hand through his hair. “No, listen, Li.” He sighs. “It’s like. I’m torn. Tell me why, and then I’ll tell you why?”

“Okay,” says Liam, and goes to sit down on the bed. “I think...I think the feelings I have for her are...maybe not what I should? If I’m gonna be her boyfriend? I think she’s great and hot and everything but it’s like, I don’t. Want to be there, with her, in her nice flat with all her stuff and all my stuff and. All the stuff we chose together.” He takes a breath. “Not as much as I want to be here.”

Louis nods, silent.

“And it’s like. I could, I could stay with her, and be pretty happy, I think, but only if I completely...” He swallows, hard. “There a whole part of me that doesn’t belong, when I’m there, and to be with her I’d have to cut myself off from that part of myself and that’s not fair to me and it’s not fair to her, either, to only give her part of myself when a boyfriend, a husband should be able to give someone all of himself.”

“You love her,” Louis says.

“Yes,” says Liam. “But not enough to give up falling in love with.” His eyes flicker to the bedroom door and then away. “With someone else.”

“You don’t have to, maybe?” Louis says, coming to sit on the bed with him. “You could talk to her, work something out like with Harry and I—”

Liam laughs, a little panicked. “No,” he says. “She’s not like that, and to be honest, I, I’m not really like that either.” He shakes his head. “I think your ability to love more than one person is amazing, Lou, but I don’t have it. I’m more like Zayn, I guess.”

Louis frowns at him. “More like Zayn?”

Liam’s face is resigned. “Yeah, you know he only has eyes for y—”

“What?!” Zayn yells from the living room. It’s more a shriek, really, and Louis knew that Zayn had good falsetto but damn. He and Liam are both on their feet in an instant, shoving their way back into the living room.

Zayn’s staring open-mouthed at the screen of Louis’ laptop, where Harry looks bemused. His eyes flick to Louis as Louis comes in. “Er, yeah,” says Harry. “Niall Horan.”

Zayn drops onto the couch like he’s been thunderstruck. “I don’t believe this,” he says.

Louis crosses to him, exchanging completely baffled looks with Harry. “Zayn?” He says gently, because Zayn looks like he might explode at any moment. “What is it?”

Zayn stares right through him. “Your boyfriend is sleeping with Niall Horan,” he says, and then his eyes snap to Louis’ face. “What the fuck, Lou! Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I....did...?” Louis ventures, because he’s pretty damn sure they’ve all been talking about Niall for the past two months, pretty sure, in fact, that they’re at a party celebrating Harry sleeping with Niall right now.

Zayn fists his hands in Louis’ shirt. “You never told me his fucking name, Louis. You were always, ‘Harry’s Irish boy’ this and ‘Harry’s Irish boy’ that!”

“Everybody gets a nickname,” Louis says weakly, more confused than he’s ever been in his life. He jerks a thumb at Liam. “Liam was Soap Commercial Mystery Man for a while.”

Liam gives him a what the fuck? look, but they both have more important things on their mind.

“Who’s Niall Horan to you, Zayn?” Liam asks, coming over to lean over the back of the couch He’s always been good at cutting right to the chase except, of course, when it matters most.

Zayn doesn’t look at him, instead smoothing shaking hands over Louis’ stomach. “Remember when I told you I used to be in a band, Lou?” he asks, and Louis feels the pit of his stomach drop out. “Remember the guitar player?” He swallows. “Remember the straight boy who broke my heart? Louis, I wrote my play about him!”

“Oh, god,” Louis breathes.

Harry snorts. “Niall is not straight,” he says, just as Liam growls, “Who broke your heart?”

Louis shoots Harry a glare. “Not helping, Haz,” he snaps.

“Sorry,” says Harry, “sorry.”

Louis smooths a hand through Zayn’s hair and then goes to kneel down in front of his laptop. “I’m gonna go, okay?” He says. He glances back at Zayn. Liam’s got a tentative hand on his shoulder and Louis watches Zayn grab onto it with both his hands like it’s a lifeline. He smiles at Harry to make sure he knows he’s not mad, he’s just needed here, and flashes him the thumb.

Harry nods, says, “Sorry,” again, and returns the gesture before signing off.

“Not your fault,” he says to the ‘offline’ indicator.

He turns to look at Zayn and Liam. Liam’s looking down at Zayn with a kind of quiet intensity that Louis has never seen in anyone, ever, and Zayn’s fingers are clenched so tight around his that his knuckles are white.

“Anyone for some tea?” He asks, and both Zayn and Liam look at him like they’ve just realized he’s in the room. Liam nods and starts forward, but Louis stops him. “You, stay,” he says, and the look Zayn gives him is so grateful it makes him want to cry.

He spends as long as he possibly can in the kitchen, slowly filling the kettle, watching it boil, measuring out sugar and milk as carefully as humanly possible. It’s only once his and Zayn’s are done that he realizes he has no idea how Liam takes his tea—he always just makes it for himself. He pads softly to the door to the living room.

Liam’s moved to sit next to Zayn, kind of sideways facing him. Zayn’s still clutching one of his hands in both of his, and Liam’s got his other on Zayn’s neck, rubbing soothing circles into his skin. Zayn’s eyes are closed, his nostrils flaring as he breathes slow and measured. Louis is pretty sure he’s never seen any two people so united in silence, so close to one another and so desperate to be closer.

“Liam,” he says softly, and Liam looks at him. “Tea?”

The corner of Liam’s mouth turns up. “One cream, no sugar.”

Louis nods and retreats.

When he returns, all three mugs balanced in his hands, Zayn is kissing Liam. Or, possibly, if he squints, Liam is kissing Zayn. He very nearly drops the tea, even more nearly screams in happiness, and manages, somehow, to do neither, instead turning on his heel and going back into the kitchen. He’ll just put the mugs down and sneak out past them and they can finally sort out—

One of the mugs clinks into another as he places it on the counter, breaking the silence, and from the living room he hears Liam go, “Shit, I, I need to go,” and Louis is pretty sure he’s never hated himself more than he hates himself right now.

Liam rushes past the kitchen and is out the door by the time Louis gets to the living room. Zayn’s sitting on the couch, one hand on his mouth, his eyes closed. Louis has never seen someone so lost in his life.

“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, the fucking mugs—”

“It’s not your fault, Lou,” Zayn says tiredly. He doesn’t open his eyes.

Louis hovers in the doorway. “Well at least—”

“Shut up, Louis,” Zayn interrupts. He falls slowly backwards so he’s lying on his back across the couch, arms stretched up above his head. “I don’t want to think about what just happened. I don’t want to think about why. I want to think about Liam kissing me, and then I want to pretend that it is definitely going to happen again, soon and many, many times, because if that’s the only kiss like that I ever get I might drown myself.”

“Dramatic, but it is the classic poet’s death,” Louis says, coming over to settle on the floor by Zayn’s head. “Unless you want to pull a Sylvia Plath.”

Zayn opens his eyes. “Didn’t you make tea?”

“Right,” says Louis, and goes to get it. He puts Liam’s in the oven to keep it warm, out of some vague hope that he’ll be back.

When he comes back, Zayn’s turned on the television and is watching some kind of cooking show. ‘I’m sorry I flipped about Niall,” he says, and Louis shakes his head, motioning for Zayn to shove over. He does, enough that Louis can sit down, and then immediately flops back down on top of him, his head on his thigh. Louis hands him the tea and he holds onto it like it’s the only source of warmth in a cold world.

“Don’t worry about it,” Louis says. “I’m sorry I never mentioned his name, I couldn’t imagine why it would matter.” He huffs a laugh. “What are the fucking odds, right?”

Zayn closes his eyes again, snuggling into Louis’ thigh. “I hate fate and fate hates me,” he says matter-of-factly, and Louis pets him, tracing the tips of his fingers over the planes of his face.

“Tell me more about your play,” he says.

Zayn opens his eyes to look up at him. “You’ve been watching the rehearsals for it for weeks,” he says.

“Yeah, but.” Louis shrugs a little. “Tell me about it, like. From you.”

Zayn nods. “It’s about...I dunno, loving the idea of someone.” He sighs. “I was sixteen, you know? I wasn’t—I’d been kissed, but only by boys I didn’t care about, which kind of makes me an asshole, I guess, because they definitely cared about me.” He stares off into the distance. “Niall was different. He was—is, I guess—the kind of person that cares about everyone. I have no doubt that he loved me, Lou. He, he made me so happy.”

Louis slides his fingers into Zayn’s hair and waits.

“But he didn’t love me the way I loved him, and he said.” Zayn laughs a little hollowly. “He said it was because he didn’t like boys like that, but clearly that’s not true.”

“Maybe it was then,” Louis says. “Maybe he didn’t know.”

“Or maybe he just didn’t like me like that and wanted to be nice,” Zayn says with surprisingly little bitterness. “I wish I could hate Harry,” he says after a moment.

Louis smiles a little. “Impossible, isn’t it?”

“I can’t hate him,” Zayn says simply, “because he makes you so happy. But it really is unfair. It was unfair enough that he gets you, but.” He turns to press his face into Louis’ stomach. “He’s gonna come home and Liam’s gonna fall in love with him and then I really will drown myself.”

Louis wants to say no he won’t and he wants to say Liam’s going to break up with Danielle and he wants to say Liam thinks you’re in love with me but he doesn’t, because Zayn doesn’t want to talk about it.

“In your play,” he says instead, “Ian is Niall, and you’re Sebastian, but what about Danny?”

Zayn shrugs. “I can’t stand things that don’t end at least a little bit happily.”

Louis frowns at him. “But Danny and Ian get together.”

Zayn smiles a little. “I didn’t say happy for who, did I?” He pauses. “I guess that makes Harry Danny? I dunno, maybe I’ll have to write a sequel.”

“Only if I get to play myself,” Louis says, and Zayn raises his eyebrows at him. “What? I did theatre in high school, and anyway, you know you’re not gonna find an ass like this on anyone else.”

“Fair,” says Zayn, and then Louis’ laptop comes to life, the skype window flashing and the ringtone coming through the speakers. Zayn makes a noise and fists his hand in Louis’ shirt.

“I can ignore it,” Louis offers.

Zayn smiles, shaking his head and letting go. “Nicest thing you ever said to me,” he says, and picks up his head so Louis can slide out from under him.

Louis goes to kneel in front of his laptop, answering the call. “Hey, Haz,” he starts, intending to just say goodnight to him and go, but when the camera blinks to life it’s Niall’s face that’s looking out at him.

“Um,” Niall says. “Hi, Louis.”

Louis hears Zayn sit bolt upright on the couch behind him. “Hey Niall,” he says.

Niall chews his lip. “Uh, Harry said, um.” He blinks like he’s gathering courage. “Is Zayn there?”

Louis looks at Zayn. Zayn looks back at Louis, wide-eyed, and says nothing, but he also doesn’t shake his head, so Louis makes a decision. “Yeah,” he says. “Yeah, he’s right here, Niall.”

Zayn takes a breath and stands up, coming to take Louis’ place on the floor, and Louis shifts to make room for him.

“Uh,” Zayn says to Niall, “hi.”

“Hi,” Niall says, his lips twitching into a smile so sweet Louis starts smiling back, and it’s not even directed at him. He tries to stand up as unobtrusively as possible, leaning down to whisper in Zayn’s ear, “I’ll be in the bedroom if you need me.”

Zayn nods, not taking his eyes off the screen.

Louis closes the door behind him and pulls his phone from his pocket. He’s got a text from Harry, a worried was that a good idea? and he has to think about it before he texts back.

i think so. i’ll keep you updated.

He sits down on the bed, feeling drained and at a loss.

is zayn okay? Harry asks, and his concern is an anchor that Louis can attach himself to.

mostly he says, and then liam kissed him

omg finally!! he gets immediately, and grins wide.

tell me about it

wish i was there to help you sort through all this drama Harry says, and Louis curls up alone in their bed and is suddenly so glad he never sleeps here with Zayn, because nothing smells like Harry anymore but it doesn’t smell like anyone else, either.

you do help he types out, but me too, more than anything

love you boo

love you too, hazza x

Chapter Text

Liam doesn’t come home for two weeks.

Zayn is out of his mind with worry, pacing through the flat so often he’s starting to wear holes in the carpet, and Louis isn’t much better, if he’s honest with himself. Between the two of them they call Liam about five times daily, and the only thing they’ve gotten in response is a quick i’m okay to Louis about a week in.

They do what they can to distract themselves, but the worry is constant, and Louis leaves his phone on loud even if he’s in class or at work, and he doesn’t think Zayn even puts his down except to shower. They don’t fuck, really, except a few handjobs to try and relieve the tension, which works for about ten minutes and then Louis or Zayn or both will reach for their phones, and they’re right back to where they started.

Niall’s the most help, actually. He and Zayn talk every few days, whenever Harry and Louis are willing to sacrifice their face-to-face time (Niall has no laptop—from what Harry says he basically came to Australia with a guitar, the shirt on his back and six different colors of snapback—and Zayn’s shitty desktop is sitting untouched in his room at uni) and Zayn always comes out of it at least a little bit calmer. When Louis asks what they talk about, Zayn shrugs. “Classes,” he says, “and what he does at work, and stuff. I dunno, we just sort of chill.”

Louis doesn’t ask if he’s told Niall about the play. It’s a little weird, to have something about Zayn that he doesn’t know, that he’s not a part of, and sometimes he wonders what Zayn’s life was like before that night in the bar—if there are people that miss him, if he left people behind like Liam is leaving them—and then he stops that thought, because Zayn wouldn’t, and Liam isn’t, and it’s going to be okay.

“What if he’s never coming back?” Zayn asks one day, while they’re making shitty mac and cheese on Louis’ stove. He hasn’t gone back to his dorm since the party, and Louis doesn’t remember the last time he went to class, either. He’s like a ghost, kept inside the bounds of the flat by his panic. The only place he goes is rehearsal, twice a week, and he never says anything about it when he gets home.

“He’ll be back,” Louis says, wishing he was as certain as he sounds. “This is his home.”

It’s not really true, technically. Liam lives with Danielle, and even if he didn’t, he’d live with his parents, but. But he’d said not as much as I want to be here and he was around all the time and he had a key and he made them tea.

They get Zayn a key made and it’s not as sentimental or happy as Louis always imagined, it’s just necessary, because Zayn has to go to class sometimes and Louis can’t always be there to let him in.

Every time Harry calls he asks, "Any news?" and this time Louis squeezes his eyes shut and sighs. "You know I'll text you when I hear anything."

"Sorry," says Harry, and it's too fucking much.

"I can't take this," Louis snaps. "I can't do it. I can't live with the waiting, with waiting for Liam to come home or for you to come home or for Zayn to stop looking like someone’s hollowed out his insides with a spoon, I can’t.” He buries his head in his hands. “I need something to happen, anything. I feel like I’m the only thing holding Zayn up and I can’t, not and hold myself up, too, because what if he’s right, what if Liam never comes back, and it’s selfish to think about but if he never comes back I can’t afford to keep this place, and Zayn can’t help, he’s the definition of a starving artist, and I can’t take you coming back and not being able to live with you here, I can’t even think about it, and I’m falling to fucking pieces, Haz.” He can hear the tears in his voice and not once has he cried on camera for Harry, he knows what that would do to him, but right now it’s really fucking hard not to. “I need you home.”

“Two months,” Harry ventures, knowing it won’t help.

“Two and a half,” Louis snaps, but all of his fire’s gone. Never really had any fire in the first place.

“You could go out looking—”

“Where?” Louis asks helplessly. “Where would I even start? I have no idea where Danielle lives, and even if I did there’s no way of knowing whether he’s still there, and I have even less of an idea where he’d go if he isn’t.”

“The lease,” Harry says suddenly.

Louis blinks at him. “What?”

“The lease for the flat, wouldn’t he have put an emergency number down? For if he got hurt or something? You remember, when we were moving in, we were talking about whether to put your folks or mine and I ended up putting Gemma because she’s closer—”

“Yeah,” says Louis. “Yeah, that’s, you’re a genius, Haz, let me just—”

He leaves Harry on his bed and goes out into the living room, pulling out the drawers of the desk and rifling through the papers. 90% of them are Liam’s schoolwork, and he ignores the ache that causes in favor of focusing on the hope that’s running through his veins. Zayn comes in when he’s halfway through the second drawer.

“Lou?” he asks hesitantly, “What’s going on?”

“Help me out,” Louis says. “The lease, there’s gotta be an emergency number, we can call his parents.”

Zayn drops his schoolbag and crosses the room in two strides, taking a stack of papers from Louis and shuffling through them with businesslike fingers. They’ve just started on the third drawer when Zayn says, “Ah! Got it!”

“Is there a number?” Louis demands, but Zayn’s already got his phone out, typing in the digits faster than Lous has seen anyone dial a phone in his life. He slides onto the couch, thrumming with anticipation, and watches Zayn pace, phone to his ear.

“Hello?” he says after a minute, flashing Louis a panicked rictus somewhere between a grin and a grimace. “Yes, hello, this is Zayn Malik, I was hoping to speak to Li—”

He cuts himself off, listening, his grin fading, and Louis digs his fingers into the cushions of the couch.

“I see,” Zayn says, after listening for a long time, lips set. His voice is almost vicious. “Thank you, have a good day.”

He hangs up and goes to sit by Louis, all sharp, restrained movements. Louis reaches out to touch his leg, but Zayn flinches away. “Danielle,” he spits, and Louis’ heart sinks. “They broke up, she called him a fag, she called me a fag, and she hasn’t seen him in five days,” he recites, and finally looks at Louis, his face unnaturally still. “Lou, where did he go?”

Louis opens his mouth and finds he has nothing at all to say. He wants to pull Zayn in and let him cry, let them both cry, but he’s afraid of touching him in case he’s as close to falling apart as Louis is. He wants to punch Danielle’s face in. He wants to go out and drive for hours and hours in circles around the city until he finds Liam and can bring him home.

“Shit,” he says, “Harry.”

He goes back into his bedroom to find that Harry’s signed off, with a note that says “Gotta go. I love you. Good luck. Only 1,826 hours to go” and then a screencap of Harry giving the signal, his smile small but genuine. Louis bites his lip and picks up his phone to text him goodnight when he sees he has a missed call.

Liam.

Hands shaking, he calls him back, rushing to the living room to gesture wildly at Zayn. “Li called, I’m calling him back now,” he babbles, and Zayn’s face breaks into open relief. He buries his head in his hands, breathing like he’s just run a marathon, as Louis listen to the phone ring and ring in his ear.

Finally Liam picks up. “Lou?” he says, and his voice is rough and tired but Louis doesn’t care because it’s Liam and he’s okay, or, or at least alive.

“Li, where are you? Are you okay?”

There’s a small silence, and then Liam says, “No,” in a voice that sounds almost nothing like him, a voice that belongs to someone tiny and broken and as un-Liam-like as they come. “I’m, um, I’m near my parent’s house, they kicked me out.” He clears his throat. “I would take a bus but I, I have a lot of stuff?” He sounds almost apologetic, and that’s so Liam-like that Louis has to press the back of his hand against his mouth to keep himself from crying, or laughing, or something.

“Give me an address, Li, and I’ll be there as soon as I can,” he reassures him. Zayn’s nodding vigorously, his leg bouncing up and down with nerves.

Liam rattles off an address in an area Louis is vaguely familiar with, and he nods along with it. “Okay, listen, stay right where you are and I’ll come get you, okay?”

“Yeah,” says Liam, sounding so relieved that Louis smiles. “Come alone, though, Lou?”

Louis looks at Zayn, who is literally vibrating with impatience. “He really wants to see you, Liam,” he says slowly, and Zayn stills, his brows drawing together.

He can hear Liam swallow. “I know,” he says, “I really want to see him too, more than anything, but I. I can’t, yet, okay? Not, especially not the two of you together.” He takes a breath. “Please, Lou.”

“Okay,” says Louis. “I’ll see you soon, Li. Just me.” Zayn’s eyes widen, and Louis bites his lip, hating himself. “Bye,” he says to Liam, at the same time as Zayn explodes upwards.

“What the fuck,” he shouts, wild-eyed, and Louis winces but says nothing. Zayn shoves both hands into his hair. “You can’t,” he says, pleading now. “You can’t make me stay here, not when he’s out there alone, when she’s said those fucking awful things to him, you can’t, Lou.”

“He asked me to,” Louis says as gently as he can, but there’s no way that that’s not going to hurt to hear.

“Why?” Zayn breathes, sitting down again. “He, he blames me, he has to, that’s it, right, he blames me for this whole fucking mess and he doesn’t want to see me again because I fucking ruined his life—”

“Zayn!” Louis interrupts, crossing to him and grabbing his hands before he tears all his hair out. “He doesn’t hate you. He told me he wants to see you more than anything, he just can’t, yet.” He laces his fingers together with Zayn’s. “You’re gonna have to give him some time.”

Zayn chokes a laugh, shoving his fists into his eyes and Louis’ with them. “When have I ever done anything else?”

“I know,” Louis says, gentle. “I know.” He gives Zayn a second, then gently extracts his hands. “I gotta go, babe, but I’ll be back.” He kneels down so he’s looking Zayn in the eye. “I’ll bring him home to you, I promise.”

Zayn nods numbly and watches with empty eyes as Louis retrieves his keys and lets himself out of the flat.

Chapter Text

When he pulls up to the curb Liam has his arms wrapped around himself, standing in a pile of boxes and half-packed bags. He tries to smile at Louis as he jumps out of the car but it falls a little flat. His surprised whoof of air is genuine, though, when Louis throws his arms around him and clings.

“Don’t you ever fucking do that to us again,” Louis growls into his shirt, and he’s pretty sure he’s crying but he’s even more sure he doesn’t care. “Do you hear me? Never.”

“Okay,” Liam says into his hair, a little breathless. “Okay, Lou.”

Louis leans back and wipes the back of his hand across his stinging eyes. “Right,” he says, and coughs. “Let’s get you home.”

He helps Liam gather up his stuff and waits until he’s settled in to say, “Zayn’s not in love with me, you know.”

Liam freezes. “Nice to see you too,” he says, with something he probably means to be a laugh.

“Li, I love you, and if you think I’m going to spend a moment not catching up with you and cuddling you and appreciating the shit out of you once we get back to the flat you’re a complete idiot, but we’ve only got a twenty-minute car ride back and I am not letting you walk into the room where Zayn’s waiting for you still thinking that what you feel for him is one-sided. I’m just not,” Louis says firmly, and he can feel Liam stare at him while he drives.

They sit in silence for a few minutes, and then Liam says weakly, “But...the way he looks at you?”

“Pales in comparison to the way he looks at you, which you would know if you didn’t have your head so far up your ass,” Louis says exasperatedly. “Listen, Zayn and I...” He stops, because he’s never had to put it into words before, and he’s not really sure how to. “Zayn and I are Zayn and I,” he finally says lamely.

Liam snorts at him.

“I’m just trying to say, like, it’s not the same, not like what I have with Harry, and.” He swallows. Well done, Louis, make it sound more like Zayn’s in unrequited love with you. “Not that it’s less! It’s just different, and we both know that.”

“Okay,” says Liam, sounding completely unconvinced and completely exhausted, like he just wants Louis to shut up.

“Liam, I’m serious!” Louis snaps. “He’s been, he's been fucking insane with worry since you left. He hasn’t been to class, he doesn’t eat unless I make him, he barely sleeps. He nearly tore my head off when I told him he couldn’t come with me to pick you up—” which, okay, exaggeration, but if Louis had been anyone other than Louis it wouldn’t have been—”And I. He cares about you so much, and I just..” He sighs. “If nothing else, I want you to let yourself see that.”

Liam’s silent again for a bit, and Louis starts to worry that he’s not going to say anything at all, and then he finally says, “I’ll try.” He fidgets with the hem of his shirt, with the ends of his sleeves. “But, Lou, even—even if everything you’re saying is true, even if he feels th-the same way or anything even close to the way I do, I can’t just...jump into something like that. I’ve been thinking about it, since I broke up with Dani.” It’s the first time he’s called her anything but her full name in front of Louis and he kind of stumbles to a halt, after, the unexpected intimacy of it hanging in the air between them.

Louis lets him find his feet again, and when he does he sounds better, more sure in himself. “It wouldn’t be fair,” he says. “It wouldn’t be fair to her and it wouldn’t be fair to me and it definitely wouldn’t be fair to him. I need to figure this out, you know? I need to figure out who, who I am and what I want to be and who I want to be that with and if I rush into something I risk it being just a rebound, and if you’re right about him and I used him like that I—” Liam shakes his head, wordless. “I couldn’t live with myself.”

Louis has never wanted to kiss Liam Payne before, and if he ever did kiss Liam Payne one Zayn Malik would probably shove his hands into his chest and tear out his still-beating heart, but even so, probably the only thing preventing him from kissing Liam Payne in that moment is that he is, in fact, driving. He settles for reaching over and squeezing his thigh and murmuring, “Good man.”

He scowls at the road. “I for one don’t give a shit if it’s unfair to Danielle, no offense to your feelings towards her. Probably most of the time she’s a sweet girl, but she said some pretty fucking awful things to Zayn.”

Liam stares at him. “Zayn talked to her?”

Louis nods. “Today.” He glances at Liam. “No worries, he was perfectly polite.”

“What’d she say?” Liam asks, and there’s a muscle twitching in his jaw.

“He told me she called him a fag,” Louis says grimly, “though I get the feeling there was more than that.”

“Christ,” mutters Liam, “that fucking bitch.” There’s more venom in his tone than Louis thought he contained in every cell in his body combined. “How did she even get his number?”

Louis chews the inside of his cheek. “She, uh, she didn’t.”

Liam stares at him. “Zayn called her?”

Louis nods slowly. “You put her down as your emergency contact," he says. "On the lease? We were really worried, Li."

"Fuck, I can't believe..." Liam stutters to a stop, staring at his lap. "She's still down as that at school, too. I'm gonna have to change that." He says it distantly, like he’s talking about going to the bank, but he’s sitting too still in his seat. “I, um, can’t put my parents, either.”

“Put me,” Louis says immediately.

Liam turns to look at him. “But, Lou, you know I can’t—my parents cut me off, I can’t afford to split the rent with you anymore. I thought, um.” He fists his hands on his knees. “I wasn’t sure I could stay.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Louis snaps, half in outrage and half in guilt, because as much as he doesn’t like to admit that it matters, it does matter, and he’d been talking to Harry about how much it mattered literally earlier that day. “I paid all of it before, I can do it again, I’ll just take more double shifts.”

“I, I can get a job—” Liam starts, but he sounds like he might start crying at any moment.

“Li,” Louis says reassuringly, and pulls into their flat—their flat, his and Harry’s and Liam’s and Zayn’s, all of the things that make them them stuffed into three and a half rooms. “Don’t panic. We’ll work it out. We’ll make Zayn hold, like, bake sales.”

The corner of Liam’s mouth turns up, and it’s the closest thing to a real smile that Louis has seen on him since he picked him up. They sit in silence for a minute, Louis watching Liam’s face. He takes a deep breath, staring again at his lap. “Okay,” he says, and Louis nods and gets out of the car.

He waits for Liam to slowly climbs out of his seat. “Leave your stuff,” Louis says quietly. “We’ll get it later.” He hesitates a moment, and then holds out his hand.

Liam blinks at him, and then a sort of calm seems to settle over him. He takes Louis' hand. His palm is clammy and warm and he squeezes Louis’ hand tight as he leads him up the stairs.

Louis squeezes back, flashes Liam a smile before he opens the door.

Zayn’s exactly where Liam left him on the couch, although Louis is willing to bet he’s gotten up to pace several times since. He looks up when Louis opens the door, and if Liam is paying any attention at all he’ll see how right Louis is, because Zayn doesn’t even glance at him. His eyes snap to Liam’s face and he stands up all in a rush, his mouth working.

Liam runs a shaking hand through his hair, letting go of Louis' hand. “Hey, Zayn,” he says softly.

Zayn crosses the room so fast Louis’ isn’t sure he even touches the ground. He pulls Liam in, one hand cradling the back of his head, the other fisted in Liam’s shirt at the small of his back, holding him tight. He buries his face in Liam’s neck and just holds on, his shoulders shaking.

Liam squeezes his eyes closed and lets out a breath like a sob.

Louis slips back outside to get Liam’s things, feeling transported two weeks back in time to the moment of Liam and Zayn’s kiss, to that same fragile-desperate silence. He feels light, he feels weightless and happy and so, so relieved. They’ve been given a second chance, all of them, and it’s not all okay but they’re together and so it will be.

It’s surprisingly warm, and the sun is just starting to set over the city, draining all the color from the sky in a way that’s somehow distinctly February and just as distinctly lonely. He leans against the hood of his car and calls Harry, knowing he’ll be waking him up but also knowing Harry would want him to.

“Hey, babe,” Harry greets, and his sleepy-hopeful voice makes the loneliness so much worse and so much more bearable all at once. “Did it work?”

“Yeah,” says Louis, smiling at the darkening sky. “Or, no, but he called and we found him and he’s okay.”

“Thank god,” Harry breathes.

Louis toes the dirt at his feet. “Yeah. He’s inside, now, with Zayn.”

“Good.” They’re silent for a while, just listening to each other breathe, and Louis knows he should let Harry go back to sleep but he really doesn’t want to, and he bites his lip when Harry says, “Hey, Louis.”

“Mm.”

“Which way are you facing?”

Louis blinks. “West?”

He hears Harry grin—the quick clicking of lips pulling upwards and outwards from teeth—and then he says, “There. Now I’m facing you.”

Louis takes a breath, enveloped in the softness of the dusk and Harry’s voice.

“I think,” says Harry slowly, “I think if I squint I can just make you out.”

Lous thinks of him, staring into the dark halfway across the world, imagines the sheets tangled around his legs. He thinks of the first shivers of dawn starting their slow march across the planes of his chest. He thinks of kneeling down, of following their path with his fingers, of waking Harry into this perfect lonely silence so they could be lonely together.

But dawn isn’t for a few hours yet, and when it comes Harry will need to be up and working, bringing joy to children all across the world, and he doesn’t have the time to be lonely with Louis. “You should sleep,” he says, regretful.

Harry sighs. “Do I have to?”

Louis smiles, imagining his pout. “No,” he says. “But when you wake up you’ll be three hours closer to me.”

Harry huffs a laugh. “Like we’re on speeding trains, and in two and a half months we’ll collide.”

Louis snorts. “Speeding trains? These are the slowest fucking trains in the world, Harold. Snail trains.”

Harry laughs at him for real, now, and Louis aches to see it. “Snail trains to the end,” Harry teases.

Louis shakes his fringe from his eyes. “‘Til your lips meet mine,” he says softly. “G’night, Harry.”

He can see Harry curl in on himself, see him sigh in preparation to breathe sleep back in, and tries not to imagine himself under Harry’s arm, snuggled into Harry’s chest. “Goodnight, Lou,” Harry says, and Louis blinks himself back to London with wet eyes.

He hangs up, slips his phone back into his pocket, and raises his thumb to the setting sun.

Chapter Text

When he gets back inside Zayn and Liam are sitting on the couch cross-legged, facing each other. Zayn’s hands are on Liam’s knees, their heads bent together, and Liam’s murmuring to him, his eyes closed. Louis wishes he had a word for the kind of stillness that Zayn only gets when Liam’s touching him. The closest he can think of is centered.

Zayn tilts his head to smile at him as he closes the door, and then turns back to Liam, listening with all of his intensity and attention. Louis brings Liam’s bags in, setting them up in the corner by the TV and doing his best not to eavesdrop on their conversation. It's not for him, not right now, and anything he needs to know Zayn will tell him later. He leaves a twenty on the kitchen counter and heads to work early for the first time in months.

On his way down the block he calls for Chinese takeout, sending the delivery to his flat, and then texts Zayn, money for dinner on the counter. Silvia will be glad to see him early; she's been on his back lately about his attendance and his attention while he's there. The news that he'll be back to taking double shifts again will also be welcome, they've been a little low on help lately since the new kid quit to deal with finals.

Louis blows a sigh through his fringe and lets himself worry about money.

Maybe Zayn or Liam or both could work at the bar. Okay, no, maybe Liam could work at the bar, because having Zayn there all the time would be equal parts distracting and disastrous, at least if he and Louis ever worked the same shifts, and if they never worked the same shifts they'd never see each other, and Louis has one boy he loves and never sees and that is far, far more than enough.

But Liam's not a bad idea. Of course, Liam also has his fucking pre-law exams to worry about, and Louis doubts very much he’s been doing much studying while he’s been having a sexuality crisis, breaking up with his girlfriend, being disowned, and being kicked out on the streets. He can’t in good conscience ask Liam to abandon his law ambitions to pay the bills. It’s not that Liam would mind it, he’d think it was justified, but that doesn’t mean Louis is okay with it.

So Louis is back to double shifts and it’s. It’s only two and a half months, maybe it’ll be okay.

He puts it out of his mind and throws himself into his job. He serves up drinks and charm in equal measure, indulging all the uni kids who are also here to wash away their worries about school or work or relationships, and idly he wonders if any of them have a web of love as complex as the one he sits in. It wasn’t intentional, this gathering together of hearts under his roof. He remembers the day Harry left, remembers leaning against the door and looking at his empty apartment and thinking, this is it, for five months this is it.

He’d never really thought he would find someone he even wanted to sleep with, for god’s sake, and then. Well, Liam like a god-send, and Louis and Liam’s combined gravitational pull tugged Zayn in and somehow made him stay.

He smiles to himself and throws a wink to a pretty girl with hair dyed a pale, almost luminescent lavender. She’s been staring at him for the last twenty minutes. It’s not a flirty stare, rather something calculating and appraising, and he’s not really sure what to make of it. Between one glance at her and the next she finishes her drink, gesturing for him to bring him another (vodka sours, he notes with approval).

He slides her way. “Another?”

She nods, and then says, “Hey. What’s your name?”

He blinks at her. “Louis. Tomlinson.”

Her face breaks into a huge grin. “I thought so.” She shakes her head, chuckling.

“Um,” Louis says. “Okay? Do I know you?”

She raises her eyebrows at him. “Hm? Oh, no. Another drink, please?”

Louis narrows his eyes at her. “Fine.”

He mixes her the drink, casting glances over his shoulder every once in a while to check if she’s still watching him. Infuriatingly, she isn’t—she’s examining her nails, or glancing over her shoulders at the other patrons. He intends to follow up when he brings her her drink, but she immediately takes it with a polite nod and moves away into the crowd. Baffled, he follows her with his eyes and watches as she—quite deftly—seduces the attention of a pretty black girl away from what is presumably her boyfriend.

He shakes his head and chalks it up as one of his weirder—although certainly not weirdest—bar encounters.

Two hours of his shift pass uneventfully. He’s in the back room getting ice when Silvia taps him on the shoulder. “Your boy’s out there,” she says, short as always but not really unkind. “Looks happy.”

Louis has a split second of blinding, heart-stopping hope that she means Harry. But of course she can’t, and he leaves the back room to find Zayn leaning against the bar. He does look happy. He looks comfortable and settled and happy in his own skin in a way that Louis has missed unbearably.

“So?” he says, grinning up at him. “Spill.”

Zayn’s eyes warm at him, and he feels it to his toes. “We talked,” Zayn says, teasingly vague.

“Aaaaand—“ prompts Louis.

“And we’re not anything, really, not yet,” Zayn sighs, but it’s a content sigh.

Louis raises an eyebrow. “And this makes you glow like you’re an expecting mother why?”

Zayn drapes himself across a bar stool. “Because he’s back. And I told him how I feel, and he told me how he feels, and we’re on the same page, you know? And like. He’s being so clear and so honest with me, finally, and I know his reasons for not wanting to be anything.” He wrinkles his nose. “I think that they’re really fucking dumb, but I know them, and kind of at this point ‘dumb’ and ‘Liam’ go hand in hand.”

“I guess I should call you dumb, then,” Louis says “you know, because you also go hand in—“

Zayn rolls his eyes. “Yes, Lou.” He shakes his head. “I like how you set that up like a dirty joke, but it was the tamest possible thing. Get me a pint?”

“I’ll set you up like a dirty joke,” Louis retorts, and then stops. “Ooh, that’s actually quite good, isn’t it.” He goes to pour Zayn a pint. “You’re really okay with waiting?”

“I am a surprisingly patient man,” Zayn says. “A surprisingly patient man with a very good friend who is willing to fuck him any time he gets too sexually frustrated with a certain Liam Payne.” He winks at Louis and drinks deep.

Louis shakes his head sadly. “How depressing, I’ve been demoted to a masturbation aid.”

“I did say ‘very good friend’?” Zayn offers, but Louis can see in his face that he realizes just how inadequate that is.

“Doesn’t quite do it justice, though, does it,” Louis murmurs at him across the bar.

Zayn shakes his head, sipping his pint. “Lover?” he says after a minute. “Or, like. Friends with benefits is worse, isn’t it.”

“Much,” Louis agrees. “No permanence to that at all.”

Zayn licks foam off his lip, his eyes on Louis’. “Is that what we are? Permanent?”

Louis raises an eyebrow in challenge. “You’ve got a key to the flat, don’t you?”

“So does Liam,” Zayn points out.

“And Liam is permanent, too,” Louis says. “What’s your point?”

Zayn shakes his head. “You’re ridiculous.”

Louis inclines his head. “True enough.” He indicates Zayn’s pint. “Finish your drink and go home to your boy, babe.”

“Home,” Zayn says, and smiles down at his hands for a moment. “He’s sleeping. I, um, I told him he could sleep in your bed? Is that—I didn’t want to cross any boundaries and I know, because of Harry, but he was so tired, Lou, and I didn’t want him to be cramped on the couch, not when he’s been sleeping basically on the streets for two days—“

“His parents kicked him out two days ago?” Louis asks, horrified.

Zayn presses his lips together, eyes hard. “I’m at the bar tonight because I’m pretty sure otherwise I’d be in their house beating the shit out of his father right now,” he says, radiating a kind of calm rage that makes Louis hope he never gets on his bad side. “They were fucking awful to him, Lou.”

“Of course he can sleep in my bed,” Louis says. “Of course.”

Zayn’s face softens again, so much that it seems impossible it was the same face at all. “Thank you.”

“We’ll just take the couch tonight, yeah? Get him an air mattress or something tomorrow, until we figure out something better.”

Zayn nods, still looking at him soft and warm-eyed, and Louis squirms under his gaze. He coughs. “Liam’s okay with us, right? I told him you weren’t in love with me, but I don’t think he believed me.”

“He’s okay with us,” Zayn says, “now that he understands that we’re not in his way, you know? I think it was killing him a little bit when he thought you could have me when he couldn’t, but now…” He licks his lips. “It’s gonna take some getting used to, huh.”

“Mm,” Louis says, watching him tilt the last of his pint down his throat. He catches himself marveling at how gorgeous Zayn is in a way he hasn’t had time to in weeks. It’s a comfortable place to be, only there’s an edge to it that’s new, something hard and competitive and Louis swallows that down because he kind of hates it. It’s not jealousy, because there is nothing in the world—okay, only one thing in the world—that he wants more than for Liam and Zayn to be happy together. But it’s something like possessiveness anyway, an urge to remind everyone not that Zayn is only his, but that Zayn is also his.

He clears his throat. “Hang out here ‘til closing?”

“That’s the plan,” Zayn smiles, and Louis feels something small in him relax.

He checks on Liam when they get home, cracking open his bedroom door to peer in at his sleeping form. He's curled into himself, too small in Louis' bed, but the worry's smoothed out of his face and he's breathing deeply.

He curls into Zayn’s chest on the couch, tired but not wanting, yet, to sleep. It feels like they’re on the edge of something, and he’s pretty sure it’s something new and wonderful but he still wants to stay here, where he’s used to things, just to give it a proper goodbye.

He leans up to press a kiss to Zayn’s jaw, and Zayn stirs, running a hand down his spine. “What’s up, Lou?”

Louis wrinkles his nose and says in a voice smaller than he’d like, “Gonna miss having you all to myself.” He coughs a little. “God, that makes me an asshole, doesn’t it.”

Zayn laughs at him, soft and wondering in the darkness above his head. “If that makes you an asshole I’m the worst person who’s ever lived.”

Louis squirms around so they’re chest to chest, legs tangled together. He can’t see Zayn’s face so he slides a hand between them to trace fingers over his lips and the arch of his brow. “What d’you mean?”

“I want you to myself,” Zayn admits quietly and steadily, “all the time. And I want Liam to myself, and for Niall to realize he was wrong and come back to me, and once I spent a whole week thinking up different scenarios in which I was a horrible villain who stole Harry away from you and moved with him to Switzerland.” He takes a breath. “I want to be a thousand people and have each of you just for me, but.” His hand on Louis’ back traces over his shoulder, up his throat ‘til he’s cupping Louis’ cheek. “You wouldn’t be Louis if you were just with me. Louis is a boy who’s in love with Harry, and if I’m going to love Louis, that’s who I love.”

Louis swallows, feeling too big and too warm for his skin. He tilts their foreheads together. “And Zayn is a boy who’s in love with Liam,” he says against Zayn’s lips, and feels him smile.

“In love with Liam and perfectly happy to be wrapped in your arms tonight,” he murmurs back.

“As you should be,” Louis replies, and kisses him. He doesn't stop for a long, long time.

Chapter Text

Louis has, somewhere in the back of his mind, between worrying about Liam and worrying about Zayn and worrying about money and missing Harry, been dreading Valentine’s Day.

He and Harry have, have a thing, a Valentine’s thing, a Valentine’s routine, and it is a thing that he has no idea how to do over skype, because a) Harry can’t make him breakfast and b) he can’t tie Harry up and c) Harry is very fucking far away and they can’t even watch Love Actually afterward and everything is going to suck, forever.

He sleeps in his bed (they did, in fact, buy Liam an air mattress) and wakes up alone and more miserable than he’s been in months. It’s like a physical ache, the lack of Harry around him.

He shoves his hands into his hair and tries not to cry. He stays in bed for almost two hours, staying quiet, needing the silence and the solitude because when he’s alone he can feel all the more clearly the space Harry should take up, and that lack of Harry is still Harry-shaped and he can’t quite make himself deal with having it crowded in on, broken up.

He finally gets up at half-past twelve, shrugging himself into sweatpants and out into the living room. He can hear Liam in the kitchen, but Zayn’s nowhere to be found—which is fine, it’s a Wednesday, he has class, and it’s not like Louis expected him to skip, not when they’ve just gotten back into the swing of things, but his absence makes everything a little bit quieter and duller and more frustrating.

He wanders into the kitchen and Liam hands him tea immediately. “Morning, mate,” he says comfortably, as if it’s any other day, as if Louis ever fucking sleeps past ten AM anymore, and Louis doesn’t know whether to thank him or hit him for that. Liam moves past him to sit at the table, methodically buttering his toast, and Louis almost just takes his tea and shuts himself back into his room when something gives him pause.

“Liam,” he says after a moment, “did you clean?”

Liam glances at him. “Um,” he says, “yeah, last night.”

Louis looks around the flat. “Liam,” he says again, “did you buy flowers?”

There are, in fact, flowers on the table, a bright bouquet of pale pink roses and daises and some purple spriggy thing that Louis doesn’t know the name of. They’re really quite beautiful, if he’s honest.

Liam goes a little pink, but holds Louis’ gaze unwaveringly. “It’s Valentine’s Day.”

Louis smiles at him and ignores the fact that it comes out a tiny bit bitter, willing Liam to do the same. “So you bought Zayn flowers,” he teases.

Liam shakes his head. “No, these ones are for you,” he says. “I’ll give Zayn his later.”

Louis blinks at him. “Oh,” he says. He cups a rose in his palm and thinks about springtime, and a little bit of the weariness of the day falls away. “Thanks, Li,” he says, and leans over to kiss him on the temple.

Liam makes a noise that’s a little bit embarrassed snort but mostly pleased grunt and shoves a bit of toast in his mouth. Louis starts to leave, to shut himself back into his room, but there’s sunlight through the window and leaving Liam sitting alone at a table he decorated for Louis seems too cruel for a spring day. Even this spring day.

He settles into the chair next to Liam instead. “Class today?” he asks, because he still can’t tell everyone’s schedules apart.

Liam nods. “In an hour,” he says, checking the clock. “I’ll have tagged Zayn in by then, he should be home soon.”

Louis narrows his eyes at him. “Tagged him in?”

“Well, yeah,” Liam says, as if it’s obvious. “If you think we’re gonna leave you here alone today, you’re stupider than I thought.” He slides the other piece of his toast over to Louis. “Eat, Lou.”

Louis swallows hard, his tongue suddenly thick in his mouth. “Oh,” he says, and picks up the toast. “That’s, um, thanks, mate.”

Liam nods absently and then frowns at the air. “Wasn’t there a match last night?”

Zayn comes home about half an hour later, by which time Louis and Liam are arguing amiably about the football score from last night’s game, finding clips on youtube. They’ve shifted to the couch and there’s more tea on the stove. Liam automatically shoves over to make room for Zayn next to him, and Louis reaches across Liam’s lap to thread his fingers into Zayn’s and maybe this day isn’t the worst thing that’s ever happened.

He gets a text from Harry a few minutes after Liam leaves for class, which is weird because Louis was pretty sure he was going to be asleep for at least another three hours.

It just says call out of work we have a plan

Louis stares at it for a minute, and then shows it wordlessly to Zayn, who shrugs without meeting his eyes. “Dunno.”

Louis pulls his legs off Zayn’s lap, scowling at him. “Don’t you lie to me, Zayn Malik—“

Zayn grabs at his ankles, pulling Louis’ legs back to where they’d been, then leans over so that they’re trapped between his legs and body. “I refuse,” he says. “I promised Niall!”

Louis punches ineffectually at Zayn’s shoulder, because he’s not letting him storm off in a huff properly and that’s just unfair. “Are you all in on it?” he demands. “Liam too?”

Zayn shakes his head. “Liam doesn’t know. I barely know, honestly.”

Louis pouts and sits back, giving up on reclaiming his legs for the minute, at least. Zayn relents a little, trailing his fingers across the top of Louis’ feet and then under, so he’s pressing his fingertips into the ball of Louis’ heel, massaging slow and steady, and okay, maybe Louis will keep his feet there longer than a minute. Forever, preferably.

“Besides,” says Zayn, still massaging, “I thought you loved surprises.”

Louis makes a face at him that he hopes doesn’t look too appreciative and pleased. “I love planning surprises,” he tries to grumble, “not being surprised. I worry too much to love being surprised.” He wrinkles his nose. “What if it’s dumb?”

Zayn laughs a little, in a way that's infuriatingly knowing. “Trust me, Lou, it’s not dumb.” He raises an eyebrow at Louis and works his way up to his toes. “When was the last time Harry let you down, babe?”

Louis lets his eyes slip closed, leaning back over the arm of the couch and hanging his head upside down. “Fiiiine,” he relents. “Fine.” He calls Silvia still upside-down, claims a migraine, and she clucks at him but doesn’t put up too much of a fight. She's been training a new kid lately, and he can work the bar tonight.

While he’s on the phone with her Zayn stops massaging his feet. Louis kicks at him to let him know how totally unacceptable that kind of behavior is. Zayn doesn’t start again, though, instead slipping up from the couch altogether and padding over to where he’s left his leather jacket hanging off the kitchen chair. He retrieves something from the pocket and returns to the couch.

Louis hangs up and looks at him, eyebrows raised. Zayn swallows and holds out the thing he got from his pocket. It’s an envelope, unaddressed. Louis takes it curiously.

“You, um.” Zayn clears his throat. “You should open it now, because today’s about to be all about Harry—I mean, like, already is all about Harry? Obviously, but.” He shoves a hand into his hair in the way he does when he can’t think of a word, or the right line of a poem, or one of Liam’s favorite songs—it’s a frustrated-at-himself gesture, a this-should-be-going-better. “I wanted to do something, is all.”

Louis bites his lip. “I, I didn’t,” he says, “do anything for you, or for Liam, and you both—”

Zayn shakes his head at him. “You do realize you’re letting both of us live here for free for no reason, right? And that you cook for us and buy us dinner and give us advice and a shoulder to cry on and, in my case, fucking awesome orgasms?” He smiles. “We don’t need gifts from you, Lou, we have you.”

Louis curls into himself, embarrassed and too happy and too sad all at once. He examines the envelope rather than react to Zayn when he’s like this because reacting to Zayn when he’s like this is pretty much impossible. It’s not sealed, and he turns it over and over in his hands. "I don't need naked pictures, Zaynie, I can just have the real thing," he says, a little bit too joking. He leans over into Zayn’s space, trailing the tips of his fingers down his jaw in a way that’s meant to be flirty but just comes out tender.

“You’re the worst,” Zayn says firmly, and bites at his fingertips.

Louis laughs and pulls his hand back, sliding the piece of paper from the envelope. It’s Zayn’s handwriting, cheerful and graceful and a little bit cramped.

For Louis

You are
Laughter bubbling up in the throat of the world
The free-flow-push-pull moment on a high-speed turn

You are
Laced fingers and the breath between heartbeats, you are
Tan skin sharp hips hard kisses soft smiles, you are

You are

You are mine his yours ours
You are now then this always
Too much for one mouth, you, too much for one soul, you
Too much—

Louis looks up at Zayn, who looks like he might pass out if he doesn’t say anything soon, but he can’t, what can he even say to this, this. “I-it’s a poem,” he says, robbed of anything but the blindingly obvious.

Zayn lets out a little tiny despairing laugh, and Louis hates himself.

“It’s only kind of a poem,” Zayn starts, “I couldn’t figure out how to finish it, because like, we aren’t, we don’t.” He gestures helplessly. “I’m sorry, it’s weird, it’s too much—“

Louis reaches over and pulls him in, kissing him deeply to shut him up. “It is too much,” he agrees against Zayn’s lips, “we’re too much, everything is too much, but god, Zayn, it’s beautiful.”

“Oh,” says Zayn, tiny and surprised and pleased. “You really think so?”

Louis shoves at his chest. “Of course I fucking think so, you genius idiot,” he says, and carefully folds the poem up, slipping it into his back pocket. “I’m gonna keep it in my wallet,” he announces, “so that any time I start to think I’m not a god worthy of worship I have it to pull out and regain my natural confidence.”

Zayn fights his grin. “Good,” he says. “Now go call your boy. It’s Valentine’s day, after all.”

Louis kisses him again, quickly, and gets up. “It’s Valentine’s day,” he repeats, and goes to call Harry.

Chapter Text

Harry’s not online when he first signs into Skype, so he texts him ?! and waits, gnawing on his lips. This is why he hates surprises, or hates knowing about surprises before they happen, because then what if they don’t actually happen or what if they suck—

Harry calls him, and he picks up.

Harry looks nervous and excited and a little bit turned on, and the three together are enough to convince Louis that, okay, this will probably not suck at all. He shifts on his bed, licking his lips. “Hey, babe. Got your text.”

Harry grins at him, lightning quick. “Yeah, good,” he says. “I guessed. Um. Hi.”

“Um, hi,” Louis echoes, making fun of him but also really fucking impatient. “So. Plans.”

“They’re not definite if you don’t want them to be definite and it’s just an idea and it might not even be a good one,” Harry says all in a rush, and then glances off to his right, just quickly, and then back to Louis. “But I was thinking about our, our Valentine’s thing, and I think I thought of a way we could still, uh, do it?”

Louis cocks his head, puzzled and intrigued. “How?” he asks. “You’re kinda far away, if you haven’t noticed, and it’s a bit hard for you to tie yourself up.”

Harry swallows hard. “Let Niall be your hands.”

Louis stares at him. “What?”

“Let Niall be your hands,” Harry says again, “and, and the rest of you. Tell him to, to do what you would do, if you were here.” His eyes are dark. It’s one of Louis’ favorite things about Harry, how demonstratively sexual he is, so full-body in his arousal that all it takes is a suggestive thought for him to be heavy-lidded and slack-mouthed. “I, I want you to control him, Lou, use him to fuck me like you would.”

Oh,” says Louis, and thinks about that. He wants, so fucking badly, not to skip this tradition. He wants to see Harry desperate for it the way he only is when his hands are tied, when he’s completely at Louis’ mercy. He wants blissful boneless destroyed Harry, Harry so far gone that he can’t speak, he wants Harry trembling on the edge for hours and he knows exactly how to get him there. It’d, it’d be weird, to only, like, narrate, but the idea of Harry being on the edge just waiting not only for Louis to make him come but for Louis to make him come with a single word, that’s.

Harry’s watching him, gnawing on his lips, waiting. Louis licks his own lips, thousands of miles away. “He’d be okay with it?” he asks, though he knows Harry wouldn’t have suggested it if Niall wasn’t willing.

Harry nods. “He wasn’t sure at first he’d be able to, you know, not just…take what he wanted? But he went off and texted Zayn, I think, and came back and really wants to and he, he gets it, Lou, gets us, he knows what this would mean.” He glances to the right again, smiles a little. “He won’t fuck it up for us.”

Louis nods and believes him, but. But so much depends on Niall knowing, really knowing he can do this, because doing this, being so in control of the both of them and then having Niall just take over, it. It would be like he was literally stealing Harry from Louis, at a moment when both of them were at their very most vulnerable, and Harry might trust Niall implicitly but Louis doesn’t really know him. “Is he there?”

Harry nods.

“Let me talk to him.”

Harry beckons, and Niall moves into view from the right, and Louis was right, that’s who Harry’d been looking at. Louis waves a little to him. “Hey, mate.”

“Hey Louis,” Niall says, smiling at him. He’s already shirtless, and Louis admires him for a moment. He’s fit in a totally different way from Harry or Zayn, even from Liam. He’s all compact muscle and tiny waist and veiny hands, somehow just more of a lad than the others, and Louis likes it, sees why Harry does, too.

“You’re sure you can do this?” he asks, looking Niall as close to in the eyes as he can over skype. “I need you to be sure.”

Niall nods shortly. “I’m sure,” he says, and licks his lips. “I, I quite like the idea, really, of. Giving up control.”

“You’d be mine,” Louis says, with no small thrill, and Niall glances at Harry, eyes a little wide. Harry nods at him, sliding a hand up his back to curl reassuringly around the nape of his neck. Niall swallows and turns back to the screen.

“You’d be mine,” Louis says again, “completely. You’d do nothing I didn’t tell you. Harry’s beautiful. Harry’s perfect, you know that as well as I do, but you would not touch him unless I told you to, and then you would only touch him in exactly the manner I say. Can you do that?”

“Yeah,” says Niall, and swallows. “Yeah, I, I can.”

Louis exchanges looks with Harry. “Let’s test him,” he suggests, and Harry and Niall both swallow hard, nearly in synch. Louis wants to laugh at that but he’s already half hard, and he’s afraid if he breaks the tension he’ll chicken out or Niall will or Harry will and he kind of really wants this to happen.

“Touch yourself,” he says to Niall, and Niall takes a breath, makes an aborted motion towards his pants, and then stops. “Um,” he says. “How?”

Louis makes a pleased noise, and Harry kisses Niall on the cheek proudly. “None of that,” Louis says immediately to Harry, who pulls back, smirking and nodding to himself. He’s slipping already into pliancy, beautifully responsive.

“Unzip your trousers,” Louis says to Niall, “and pull yourself out. Don’t touch yourself, yet.”

Niall does, slowly but not hesitantly, and Harry and Louis watch him. He’s standing so that only his torso is visible and that won’t do, really, at all.

“Harry,” Louis says, “go sit on the bed, on the edge.”

Harry nods and obeys, leaving the frame for a minute before reappearing in the background.

“Move me so I can see properly,” Louis says to Niall, and Niall nods, leaning down to pick up the laptop. He hasn’t put his cock away, something that Louis notices and appreciates as Niall tilts the webcam down in order to carry the computer. He puts it on the end of the bed and tilts it back up so Louis can see both of them, and then Niall stands back and waits.

“Good,” Louis says, because he’s really doing amazingly well, and because, well, Harry’s looking at him like he’s starving for it and Niall’s got his cock out, hard and standing out from a nest of blond curls and he’s not doing anything but waiting, and.

“Okay,” says Louis. “Okay, let’s do this.”

Harry lets out a little breathless sigh and Niall’s eyes flicker between them. He grins, and he’s still just waiting, and Louis relents a little bit.

“Go on,” he says, watching Harry as he does so. “Stroke yourself.”

Niall swallows and wraps a hand around himself, the whole focus of his body turning inwards. Harry watches him, perched on the bed, his hands tucked under his legs and his eyelashes sweeping his cheeks as he blinks slow. Louis wonders if they’ve done this before, if Harry likes watching Niall the way he likes watching Louis. He smirks a little. “Put on a show,” he tells Niall. “Harry’s as much under my control as you are. Make him wish he weren’t.”

Both of them shoot him wide-eyed glances, Niall’s very quick and disbelieving. Harry’s lingers a little, wondering and fond and so turned on Louis has a hard time breathing. He winks at him. “Don’t look at me, babe,” he reminds, and Harry turns to stare again at Niall—

Niall, who took Louis’ instruction to fucking heart. He’s on his knees on the bed, one hand in his hair, the other moving up and down his length. He’s watching himself, lip trapped between his teeth, and his hips are gyrating slow, rocking his whole body up and down and into his fist. As they watch him he slides the hand from his hair down his chest, fingers flickering over his nipple, twisting it, and he gasps, his lips parting wet and shining.

“Fuck,” whispers Harry, and Louis remembers to look at him. He’s panting, now, his hips shuddering in little involuntary reactions to Niall’s movements, and the two of them make a stunning plateau.

“Stop,” he says to Niall, and to his credit he stills within half a second, though he’s still breathing hard. When he meets Louis’ eyes he’s flushed but his gaze is steady and, Louis notes with approval, he doesn’t look at Harry first.

“What’ve you got to use as rope?” Louis asks Harry.

Harry ducks his head, looking embarrassed for the first time all evening. “I brought the scarf,” he admits.

Louis’ eyebrows shoot up. “Really?” He grins wide. “You’ve been planning on seducing us a sex slave this whole time, then?”

Niall snorts a laugh, clapping a hand over his mouth when he realizes Louis hasn’t told him it’s okay. Louis winks at him and he relaxes.

Harry makes a face at him, remaining, somehow, the sexiest thing Louis has ever seen. “N-no, I just.” He stumbles to a halt, shaking his hair out like a distressed puppy.

“Sometimes he sleeps with it,” Niall says, breathlessly teasing, and Louis feels a surge of goodwill towards him.

“Shut up,” says Harry. “I like it, it. It smells of you and it reminds me, of, of this.” He gestures around, not meaning this as in Niall naked and trembling and Harry fully dressed and panting and Louis on a computer screen watching from the other side of the world, but this as in tradition and Valentine’s day and them.

“It’s okay,” Louis says, smiling warmly at him. “It’s, I. I really that like that, Haz.”

Harry looks gratefully up at him, and Louis spends a wistful moment wishing he could kiss him before realizing he can, kind of. “Niall,” he says, “be a good lad and kiss Harry for me. Just fondly, please, no funny business.”

Niall laughs at him openly this time but scrambles across the bed, nudging up into Harry’s space and kissing him soft. Harry closes his eyes looking at Louis and opens them still looking at Louis and it’s not, it’s not even close to being enough but it gets Harry kissed when he needs to be, and if there’s one thing Louis hates in the world it’s leaving Harry unkissed.

“Good,” Louis says, quieter than he means to. He clears his throat. “The scarf, Haz?”

“In my closet,” Harry says.

“Niall,” Louis says, “take Harry’s shirt off.”

Niall sits in front of Harry, any embarrassment he’d had about being naked completely vanished now, and undoes the buttons of his shirt. Harry alternates watching his hands and Louis’ face.

“Push it off his shoulders but leave it on his arms,” Louis says, and Niall does, leaning over Harry to tug the shirt low, and Harry’s gaze gets trapped on his mouth for a long moment. Louis smiles. “Kiss him again, harder this time, and keep going. Kiss his jaw, down his throat.” He twists his hands in his shirt, so hard himself he knows he has to speed this up. “Mark him,” he says, and hears the shudder in his own voice at the idea, at Niall sucking bruises into Harry on Louis’ behalf.

Harry gasps and Niall swallows it, eager to follow Louis’ instructions, and they’re so desperately beautiful together, a clashing cacophony of mouths and teeth and tongues and skin, written and conducted by Louis and Louis alone. He guides Niall through getting the scarf from the closet and lube from the drawer, through binding Harry’s hands above his head. He has Niall run his hands down Harry’s sides, half caressing and half tickling, has him kiss his way down Harry’s hips and peel his trousers off his long, long legs and bite at the insides of his thighs until Harry is squirming and pleading with him. “Lou, Lou,” he’s babbling, eyes tight shut, and Niall sometimes glances at him, his own eyes blown wide with arousal, his cock untouched and leaking against his thigh, and Louis is going to fucking need to touch himself soon but he can’t, he’s too worried about coming too soon and ruining this incredible, unbearable tension the three of them have strung between them.

“Let Harry suck your fingers, Niall,” he says, and Niall swallows hard and nods, slipping between Harry’s thighs and slipping his fingers up to Harry’s lips. Harry opens his eyes and stares at Louis as he opens for them, mouthing at them, kissing their tips, flicking his tongue between them, and it’s so familiar to what Louis tells him to do to his own fingers—pretend they’re my cock—that it makes Louis gasp, ragged. He hasn’t let himself make noise, up ‘til now, except his instructions, and both Niall and Harry arch at the sound.

“Fuck,” Louis curses. “Fuck, you two are so fucking hot.” He’s breaking script and he knows it but it’s a script he’s fucking written and it makes them both squirm, Harry whining around Niall’s fingers, and he can’t really bring himself to care. “Wish you were sucking my cock, babe,” Louis breathes, “wish I could fuck your mouth while Niall opens you up,” and Niall drops his head into Harry’s neck and gasps loud and ragged.

“Go on then,” Louis prompts him. “You heard me.”

Niall swallows and nods and pushes himself downward, his back a long expanse of pale skin and freckles shifting over muscle. He flips open the lube one-handed and slicks up his fingers. He’s trembling as he slips his hand under Harry’s legs to palm at his ass. “Put a finger in him,” Louis breathes, and Harry jerks against his scarf, twisting and twisting his wrists. Louis can’t see Niall push into him but he can see Harry react to it and that’s, god, that’s almost better, because Harry’s mouth opens in a wordless, shuddering moan and his hips lift and his cock bobs inches from Niall’s mouth and Louis’ own mouth fucking waters.

“Suck his cock,” he says, not even meaning to, his words born involuntarily from his own longing. “Please, Niall, swallow him down, I need to see it.”

Niall has to take a moment, but Louis doesn’t begrudge him it because when it’s over he’s unbelievably eager, lapping and sucking at the tip of Harry’s cock before he takes him fully in. He bobs up and down in time with the shift of muscles in his back that tells Louis he’s fucking Harry open and Harry is making high, helpless, repetitive noises in the back of his throat and Louis doesn’t know what to do. He’s got one hand on his mouth, tugging and playing with his lips, but when Harry’s eyes snap open and find his face he can’t, he fucking can’t, and he’s pretty sure he breaks the zipper of his trousers as he shoves them down to his thighs and takes himself in his hand.

“Ff, fuck, Lou—“ Harry’s whole body tenses on the edge of breaking and Louis breathes, “Niall,” to warn him and Niall hollows his cheeks and that’s it, Harry’s coming with a strangled, sobbing shout. Louis tightens his fist to keep himself from following and watches as Niall pulls off Harry with an obscene pop, swallowing. His lips are sticky with Harry’s come and his eyes are glazed, and he starts moving away from Harry and Louis can’t have that, not yet.

“Don’t pull out of him,” he orders, and both Niall and Harry tense. Harry’s eyes are still tightly closed, shivers running up and down his body, and when Niall carefully doesn’t move his arm he squirms against it, letting out a tiny shattered noises, twisting, twisting, twisting his wrists.

Louis is straining, himself, against his own arousal, but this isn’t how the tradition goes, they’re not finished here. “Get him hard again,” he breathes to Niall. “Use more lube if you need it but don’t touch him until I say so.” It doesn’t need saying, Niall’s shown that he won’t, but he likes reminding them of what’s happening here, likes reminding them they’re his. “Kiss his hips, keep him calm. Go slow, but get him there.”

Niall nods, nosing along the line of Harry’s hips, pressing tiny, comforting kisses to the bruises he’d sucked into him earlier, and Harry settles, breathing hard but no longer fighting away from Niall’s touch. “Lou,” he says, like he’s afraid Louis has gone somewhere, like he thinks Louis even remembers where he is or what day it is or anything but the long arch of him and the perfect shape of his lips. “Lou, t-talk to me, m-miss you,” and Louis is caught between coming and bursting into tears.

“I’m here, Hazza,” he responds, “I’m right here, I see you, you’re beautiful, god, you’re so beautiful,” and Niall starts moving in Harry again, slow and gentle, like he doesn’t want to distract from Louis’ words, and Louis loves him for that, a little bit.

“I love you, babe,” Louis says, and it comes out a little thick. “God, I love you so much, love seeing you spread out like this for me.”

“Is for you,” Harry says raggedly, and opens his eyes. “N-Niall wanted it and god, I did too but it’s for you, Lou, all of it, w-wanted you to see—ah—w-wanted you to have this, even.” Even far away, he means, but to say it would be to acknowledge the distance and this is the closest Louis has felt to Harry since he left, even if it's also the farthest, and he needs it.

“I know,” Louis babbles, “I know, Harry, shh, just feel, okay, I see you, I see you, I'm here.”

Harry nods too many times, caught in the thrust of Niall’s finger, and Louis breathes, “add another.”

Niall does and Harry bites at his lips, so hard Louis worries he’ll hurt himself. “You’re okay,” he murmurs to him. “You’re okay, Haz. Niall, kisses.”

Niall presses kisses to Harry’s legs and hips and Harry’s face smoothes gradually into pure pleasure. “There you are,” Louis soothes, “there you go.” It’s an incredible feeling, to know that he knows Harry like this, to know that he’s right about exactly what will calm him and what will make him squirm and what will drive him mad. He risks stroking himself, hissing at the contact after waiting so long. Harry opens his eyes and watches him, unabashed, licking his lips again and again, lost in repetition.

“Come with me,” he breathes. “Promise you’ll come with me, Lou.”

Louis nods, swallowing. “Yeah,” he says, “Yeah, I promise, Haz.”

Harry nods, satisfied, and closes his eyes again. He’s fully hard again, and absolutely pliant under Niall’s hands. Louis slows his strokes down and says to Niall, quietly, “another finger. Spread him open wide.”

Niall is breathing like he’s seconds from coming and Louis hopes he can hold out, but it doesn’t seem as important as it did before they started. The idea of Niall stealing Harry from him is almost laughable—not because Niall has no claim on Harry but because he already has him, and so does Louis, Harry is strung out between them, shuddering and twitching and moaning at their command, the two of them together. Louis licks his lips. “Once he’s ready,” he says softly, “fuck him hard.”

Niall slams his eyes closed. “If I don’t hold myself off,” he says, voice blowjob-rough, and Louis shivers at the sound, “I’m going to come as soon as I’m in him.” He laughs a little, wondering. “Maybe before.”

Louis nods. “Go ahead.” He strokes himself as slowly as he can stand it, his eyes flickering around his screen, trying to take everything in at once.

Niall rolls sideways onto one shoulder so he can wrap a hand around himself without stopping the slow, steady movement of his fingers in Harry. It’s an awkward position but it doesn’t have to last long, and it gets him out of the way so that Louis can see his fingers moving in and out of Harry, see Harry clench down on them with every thrust.

“Fuck,” he breathes, and Niall moans. Harry’s smirking like he knows, eyes still closed, and Louis loves him with a fierceness that he feels to his bones. “Niall,” says Louis shakily. “For all our fucking sakes.”

Niall pulls his hand off himself with an effort, pushing himself back up onto his knees, and slips his fingers out of Harry, who sighs a little at the loss. Niall’s whole body is trembling as he positions himself, pulling Harry’s legs onto his shoulders and shifting forward. “Ready?” he asks Harry, the first words he’s said to him since Louis took control, and Harry nods, languid and desperate all at once. Louis loves second-orgasm Harry, can almost fucking taste him, the exhaustion and sweat and perfect, thrumming need of him.

Niall slips inside him and Harry shoves back into him and Louis speeds up his strokes to match. For a moment they’re in perfect harmony, Niall slamming into Harry like he’s never needed anything more in his life, Harry’s head thrown back, his throat long and shivering as he moans, Louis shoving a hand into his hair and fisting it tight because he needs to have a hold on something and then he chokes out, "now," and the world dissolves around him and they all come at once, a great, shivering simultaneity with the whole world between.

Niall drops his head onto Harry’s chest, breathing heavily, and Harry’s still jerking with aftershocks, his hair a tangled mess against the pillow, stuck with sweat to his forehead and to his arms where they’re pinned above his head. Louis, for his part, has the waistband of his trousers cutting so hard into his thighs that they’ve left a mark, and he bit his lip enough when he came that he’s bleeding.

“Well,” he says, shakily. “Well, boys, I’d call that experiment a success.”

Niall starts to laugh helplessly against Harry’s skin, his shoulders shaking again for reasons very different than they had been moments before. “Jesus,” he breathes. “Jesus.”

Harry just opens his eyes, slowly, and stares at the ceiling like it’s the whole universe.

Niall pulls out of him and flops over on the bed by his side. Louis watches him with a smirk. “Nice to actually meet you,” he says cheekily, and that sets Niall off again, waves of giggles wracking him.

He shoves a hand over his face. “Christ,” he says when he can breathe again. “You two,” he says, and then leaves off, shaking his head. “Just. You two. Are you like that all the time?”

Harry moves a little, like he’s testing whether he still has a body. “Mm, like what?” he asks, lazy.

Niall looks between them. “Like. I dunno, you’re just. You’re like magnets, man. I could fuckin’ feel the connection, and I was pretty fuckin’ busy feeling other things.”

Louis raises a shoulder in a shrug, secretly pleased. “It is what it is,” he says, beaming, and Harry meets his eyes, his own smile blinding.

Louis stares at him a moment, just letting himself bask in post-double-orgasm Harry, and then coughs before he does something embarrassing. “I should, uh, clean myself up,” he says. “Do me a favor, mate, and untie Harold for me?”

Niall shoots up with impressive speed, wide-eyed. “Shit, sorry, love,” he says to Harry, who just grins blissfully at him.

“Don’t go anywhere,” Louis warns them, and goes to take an extremely quick shower.

Zayn’s in the living room, reading, headphones shoved in his ears. He raises an eyebrow when he sees Louis jog pantsless past him to the bathroom. Louis pauses at the door. “Liam?”

“Just got back,” Zayn tells him, and pointedly doesn’t ask how the surprise went. “He’s in the kitchen.”

Louis nods. “Make me one if you’re getting tea, Li!” he calls, and then slips into the bathroom and into the shower.

When he gets back Harry’s curled up like a cat, his head on Niall’s thigh as Niall cards his hands through his hair. They’re both more cleaned up, though still totally naked, and someone sent Louis a link on the chat part of Skype. He clicks on it, and the Netflix version of Love Actually opens in his browser.

He grins so wide his cheeks hurt and opens up the skype window again, small, in the corner. “Get some boxers on,” he says. “We’re opening up this party.”

Harry makes a small, complaining noise. “Don’t wanna move,” he murmurs.

Louis rolls his eyes. “Niall, put boxers on Harry.”

Niall laughs and salutes him, and Louis casts around for pajama pants or something for himself.

When he carts the laptop out to the living room Zayn and Liam are already on the couch, and Liam points out the tea that’s awaiting him. “Movie time,” Louis says, switching off whatever Liam had been watching on TV (some singing show—the X Factor, maybe) and plopping his laptop down on Zayn’s lap, because he's in the middle.

Zayn peers at the small skype window and his eyes widen. “Um,” he says. “Hey, you guys.”

Harry and Niall are barely dressed and curled around each other in unmistakably post-orgasm contentment. “Hey, Zayn,” Niall says happily. “Happy Valentine’s day.”

Zayn blinks, still looking a little bit stunned. “Thanks,” he says. “Um, this is Liam.”

Liam, bless his heart, looks totally unfazed by the half-naked boys staring back at him, though he might scowl at Niall just a tiny bit, on principle. Louis assumes Zayn will talk to him about that later, so he just says, “Liam, this is Niall and Harry. You all know Zayn. Zayn, feel very special because everyone knows you.”

Zayn grins. “I do,” he says.

“Alright!” Louis announces. “Now that that’s over, we’re going to cap off this Valentine’s Day with the most important part of the Louis’n’Harry tradition—“

“—the greatest cinematic masterpiece in history—“ Harry interrupts.

“—yes, Harry, I was getting there: Love Actually.” Louis settles in beside Zayn, pulling Zayn’s arm around him. “You ready Haz? I’ll count us down.”

Niall nods, and Harry and Louis hover their hands over the mouse, ready to start the film at the exact same time.

“Three,” says Louis, and Harry beams at him. “Two.” Zayn’s arm tightens around Louis, his other hand settles comfortably on Liam’s knee, and Niall leans over and kisses Harry’s dimple. “One.”

They press play.

Chapter Text

A few weeks later Zayn invites them to a party with the cast of his play.

It’s not a cast party, because the play’s not on yet and won’t be for another three weeks and cast parties are things that happen after productions, Louis learns, not just, like, any time the cast parties.

This is just a normal party that happens to be for the cast of the play, and Louis and Liam are Zayn’s plus two.

It’s at a flat a few blocks from campus in the other direction than Louis’, and it’s so weird to be going somewhere that isn’t campus or home or the bar that Louis feels like he’s headed to a foreign country. He brings the nice rum from his liquor cabinet because he’s feeling generous. Liam is applying for an internship on campus that, if he gets it, will pay enough that he can pick up half the rent again, and considering that Liam is a goddamn genius, Louis is feeling pretty good about life.

He feels even better about life when he gets to the party and there’s loud music and lots of drinks and many, many people with many, many different hair colors and Louis has missed being on this kind of scene.

He’s also crazy jealous of the flat it’s in, because it’s beautiful and spacious and has its own bar, okay, really a counter that separates the kitchen from the living room but it has bar stools and that makes it a bar in Louis’ expert opinion. Standing behind it, he sees with a shock, is the girl from his bar, with the lavender hair and the mysterious manner.

Zayn’s busy hugging cast members and introducing them, so Louis pokes Liam in the side. “Hey, have you seen that girl at the bar at rehearsals?” he asks.

Liam glances at her. “No,” he says. “Wait, maybe? Not as part of the cast, though, but I think she was hanging out talking to Zayn once when I got there.”

“Hmmm.” Louis narrows his eyes. “Any idea what her name is?”

Liam shakes his head, shrugging, so Louis takes matters into his own hands. He squeezes Zayn on the shoulder to let him know he’s moving away and then marches through the crowd, rum in his hand.

He puts the bottle down on the counter authoritatively, and the lavender-haired girl turns. For a split second she looks shocked, and then she glances over his shoulder, presumably to find Zayn, and the smile that splits her face is overjoyed. “Mr. Tomlinson,” she greets him warmly.

“If I give you good rum will you tell me who you are?” Louis demands.

The girls hums to herself and examines the bottle of rum. “This will buy you a name,” she concedes, and sticks out a thin-fingered hand. “Perrie Edwards.”

Louis shakes it. “Hello,” he says.

She’s still smiling at him. “Hello,” she echoes. “This is my house.”

“Is it!” Louis exclaims. “It’s pretty wonderful. I like your bar.”

“I like your bar, too,” says Perrie, and Louis grins at her. He likes her, and he’s at a party, and he can wait for his answers.

“Want a drink?” Perrie asks, and in that case, he can definitely wait for his answers.

“Love one,” he answers, and hops up onto one of the bar stools.

She doesn’t ask what he wants, instead examining him head to toe for a minute and then turning to the fridge and the liquor cabinet beside it. Louis watches her with interest until Zayn slides up to him, putting a hand around his back and pressing a kiss to his brow. “You’ve made yourself right at home,” Zayn observes, and when he speaks Perrie whirls from her secret drink-mixing.

“Zayn,” she hisses, eyes narrowed.

“Perrie,” Zayn greets her, uncowed.

Perrie holds her glare for about three seconds and then starts laughing, dancing over to the counter and lifting herself up onto it enough that she can give Zayn a peck on the lips. “How are you!” she demands from two inches from his face.

Louis leans back enough that he can exchange curious glances with Liam, who’s on Zayn’s other side. Liam shrugs, looking as bewildered as Louis feels.

“I’m good,” Zayn says, and he’s smiling a tiny warm open smile, the kind of smile he gets when he’s truly happy and around people he truly trusts, and Louis is so, so happy to see it. “Really good, actually.”

Perrie smiles back at him. “Somehow I guessed,” she says softly.

Louis clears his throat. “Do you ever feel, Liam,” he says, “that two people are being quite rude and speaking in code in front of their friends and loved ones?”

Liam grins at him around Zayn. “Duh,” he says, “I’ve been around when you’re skyping Harry.”

Zayn laughs and Perrie winces. “Burn, Tomlinson,” she says, and goes back to making his drink.

Louis scowls, because everyone is teaming up on him and it isn’t fair. “So,” he says, trying again, “Zayn, you know Perrie from…?”

“Around,” Zayn says evasively, and turns away, tugging at Liam’s arm. “C’mon, I want you to meet Ant and Danny.”

Liam follows him, casting Louis a smirk that is somehow a little bit sympathetic, and Louis frowns at them all. Perrie hands him a drink that’s the color of seafoam and smells pretty much amazing and he accepts it. “Danny,” he says. “Not Danny of Zayn’s play?”

Perrie wrinkles her nose. “Nah, just unfortunate coincidence. Danny’s Ant’s older brother. Ant plays Zayn in the play.”

Louis raises his eyebrows. The mystery deepens. “So you know the story,” he says. “With Niall and all.”

“As do you,” Perrie notes. “Good. Drink.”

Louis does, and detects gin and lime and something wonderfully cool and a tiny bit sweet and almost coconutty and god, that is a really fucking good drink. “Wow,” he says.

Perrie grins at him. “Thanks.”

“You’re not getting out of anything by distracting me with delicious alcohol, though,” Louis chastises her. He takes another sip, just for good measure. “Did you—were you around? For the Niall thing?”

She shakes her head. “Before my time. I helped him write the play, though, or he’ll tell you I did, though really I just nodded and told him what a genius he is.”

“He is, isn’t he?” Louis says fondly. “Genius boys I’ve got.”

“Louis Pan and his lost boys,” Perrie says, and Louis raises his eyebrows at her. She shrugs, unabashed. “That’s what we call you guys, in the theatre. Zayn doesn’t tell us much but from what I have gathered you’ve got quite the collection.”

Louis wrinkles his nose, caught between being delighted and weirded out. “They’re not really mine,” he protests. “Niall’s Harry’s, at least”—discounting the whole Valentine’s situation—“and the argument could be made that Liam is definitely Zayn’s.”

“Mhm,” Perrie says, unconvinced, “and by the transitive property of harem, that makes both of them yours.” She hops up to sit on the counter next to him. “Does it weird you out that we know about you?”

“Kinda,” Louis admits, “but only because I know literally nothing about any of you.”

“Here, I’ll dish,” says Perrie, and pours herself a drink.

The next two hours are spent in distressingly pleasant gossip, and by the end of it Louis is well on the way towards truly drunk and way, way more informed about the uni theatre department than he thought he’d ever be. He learns that Zayn and Ant had a thing for about five minutes before Zayn figured out he was a freshman and that maybe Ant was still holding onto that torch (something Louis called the first time he saw them interact), and that the boy playing Niall’s equivalent smoked more weed than Bob Marley and John Lennon combined and was, startlingly enough, straight as an arrow. He didn’t mind kissing the boy that played Danny (who Louis refuses to think of as the Harry equivalent because the part wasn’t written to be him) though, which is good because the boy who played Danny freezes up easily and gets very, very nervous before every kissing scene, and was once caught fucking one of the lighting techs behind the projection booth.

He learns nothing at all about Perrie or how she met Zayn, except that they’ve known each other since freshman year and she refers to him easily and non-bitterly as her best friend, and seems quite confident he would do the same.

“So why on earth,” he asksher, after she’s mixed him his third drink of the evening, this one pink and bubbly and sweeter than the others, “have I never met you before?”

She regards him with amused eyes. “Because you’ve been locked up in your flat with my best friend and I’ve been locked up at uni with my best friend and never the twain Zayns shall meet?”

Louis crows delightedly. “Twain Zayns! You’re brilliant, you are.”

She sips her own drink. “And you're drunk, but thanks.” She shakes her head, her violet locks shining. "Really, though, Zayn compartmentalizes like a motherfucker. I literally never thought I would actually meet you, I would’ve thought you and Mr. Payne there—” She jerks her pointed chin at the couch, where Liam is still nursing his first drink, watching Zayn and Ant talk about, like, music or something. “—were figments of his imagination, if you didn’t send him to me all marked up with love-bites every other rehearsal.”

Louis shrugs unabashedly. “What can I say,” he says. “His skin is perfect for marking.”

“I know,” Perrie says, and leans close, conspiratory. “I did his tattoos.”

Louis stares at her. “What? No! God, I said you were brilliant, but you’re brilliant.” He sips his drink, and then glances at Zayn. “Really? All of them? Even the one on his hip, and that little—” he gestures and makes a demonstrative noise, “by his bum?”

Perrie nods, cool as a cucumber.

“Even ZAP?”

“Zayn Adores Perrie,” Perrie says, and to her credit keeps her cool for nearly 30 seconds before she bursts into gales of laughter.

“You’re lying!” Louis accuses, betrayed. “My god, you’re all liars!”

Perrie shakes her head through her giggles. “I did do a few of them,” she says after a minute. “The arabic script on his pec, and that little—” she imitates Louis’ noise, mockingly.

Louis shakes his head. “You’ve lost my trust,” he says. “I’ll never believe anything you say again.” He sips his drink. “Next, you harlot, you’re going to tell me this isn’t really your natural hair color!”

Perrie twirls a lavender lock around her finger, her eyes finding Zayn again. "You know what him inviting you here means, right?"

Louis could say, he knows how much I needed to get out my flat? but Perrie's gray eyes have gone contemplative, so he just waits.

"It means he's not scared you'll run away," she says. "He keeps everything separate, all the pieces of himself, in case one of those pieces falls apart underneath him. That way, no matter what happens, a part of him will still have a foundation and he won't collapse." She licks her lips. "I've never met anyone he's been with in two years, because he thought if I met them and we all became a group, you know, there was a chance that when the relationship fell apart we might side with the other person, you know? That we might leave when he did." She shakes her head. "We wouldn't, of course, but that's just the way he thinks."

Louis stares at Zayn, at the way he laughs, the darkness in his eyes, the way he moves his hands. He thinks about how gentle he is, always gentle, and for the first time thinks about that as a carefulness, a need to not push too hard.

Perrie turns to look at him. "You're here, Louis, because he trusts you with his whole self. Both of you."

He looks at her, swallowing, and she raises an eyebrow, unsmiling. "I trust I don't have to elaborate on what happens if you let him fall."

Louis shakes his head, wordless, because anything he could say would sound to much, too reassuring, even though there's not a word strong enough for the never he means.

Perrie nods. "Good! Now. What happens when Harry gets back?" Perrie asks with the air of someone changing the subject, although she isn't, really, at all.

It's so different from how anyone else has asked the questions, though, coming from a place of worry, not assumption of tragedy, not certainty of break-up, and Louis is drunk enough that he kind of wants to kiss her for that.

He's also drunk enough to not quite know what to say, so he furrows his brow. "It is going to be kind of hard to figure out sleeping arrangements," he admits.

Perrie laughs at him. "Only kinda what I meant. You're not worried about it?”

Louis nods and leans back, staring at the ceiling. "I'm not," he says, “worried, exactly? But I don’t know how it’ll shake out and that’s not a feeling I’m used to.” He takes a sip of his drink, which is strong and lovely and Perrie should work at the bar, really. “Maybe Liam will decide he wants Zayn and him to be exclusive, and obviously I’d abide by that, you know? Or maybe Harry will come back and we’ll declare it all a grand experiment and the love will stay but the sex won’t.” He shrugs, fluid. “Dunno.”

“Or maybe,” Perrie says, wrinkling her nose, “it’ll be all boy-orgy, all the time.”

“Obviously my preferred option,” Louis avers, although it isn’t, really. Group sex is not a thing he’s ever done, beyond the kind-of-threesome with Niall, and it sounds nice in theory, and when he puts Zayn and Harry together with that theory in his head it sounds more than nice, so so so so so much more than nice, but he wouldn’t want it all the time. “I think I do get the compartmentalizing thing,” he says after a minute, “because that’s how it feels to me with Zayn, it’s like, Zayn and I have sex, and then separately, Zayn and I love each other. You know?”

He knows he’s in, like, drunken ramble mode, and Perrie nods with the look of someone who has just struck gossip gold, but like any intelligent miner she holds her tongue.

“But!” Louis says, and he is definitely drunk enough to enjoy the thought that he might be gossipped about, “But, with Harry.” He shakes his head, letting out a sigh. “God, with Harry the sex is all wrapped up in the love and the in love and it’s like a manifestation of, of.” He waves his hands, eyes vaguely in the direction of his drink so he doesn’t spill it. “Everything, you know? Like, when I touch him, it’s. It’s like every piece of me needs to know every piece of him, to show him what, what it means, what he means.”

“You’re such a romantic,” Perrie purrs, and sips her drink.

Louis rolls his eyes at her. “What about you? Got a boy?”

Perrie levels a look at him. “C’mon.”

He laughs. “Fine, fine, got a girl?”

She grins at him. “Three.”

He whistles. “Nice.”

She shakes her head. “I thought so too, ‘til you arrived on the scene. You’ve toppled the queen, Tomlinson.”

“Gonna have to expand your harem to keep up,” Louis says. The room’s started to clear out, people headed home or to different parties or out to bars where they can go from drunkish to very drunk now that they’ve pre-gamed. Ant looks like he’s about to fall asleep or possibly pass out. Zayn has leaned completely back into Liam’s chest and is playing with his fingers, apparently done with conversation. Liam’s got his lips in Zayn’s hair and he looks—he looks happier than Louis has ever seen him, and the sight makes his heart clench tight and delighted.

Perrie follow his gaze. “It’s so different,” she says.

Louis glances at her, though he doesn’t really want to turn away from his boys. “I thought you said you hadn’t met any of the others.”

She shakes her head. “I haven’t. I just mean…he’s so different, around Liam.”

Louis nods. “Yeah,” he says, “I know.”

Perrie looks at him sideways. “Hey,” she says. “Thank you.”

Louis blinks at her. “For what?”

She shrugs a little. “Making him happy,” she says, “and, and making this happen.” She gestures at Liam and Zayn. “It’s your fault,” she says, “I know it is.”

“They kind of have a say in it too,” Louis says drily.

She shakes her head. “It wouldn’t be enough, though, if you weren’t helping,” she says. “Zayn’s—he’s so scared of hurting anyone, or being hurt himself, he never does anything, even to make himself happier.” She sips her drink. “I dated him freshman year.”

Louis stares at her. “But—“

“He wasn’t out,” she explains, “and neither was I, it was freshman year, you know, and he was still getting over what Niall did to him and he thought maybe he’d been wrong about himself the way he was wrong about Niall and like.” She shrugs. “The thing about being a lesbian is that no one ever believes you’re not also secretly into dudes. Even yourself, for a while.”

Louis thinks about Harry and girls and how long it took for him to realize that Harry being into girls didn’t mean he wasn’t lying about being into Louis. “Yeah,” he says.

“So we were a thing because, like, he’s fucking fit, you know? Even I know that. And he’s the sweetest guy and a writer and a genius and I was a little bit in love, still am, and he was the first person I came out to for real.” She swallows against some memory Louis will never touch and for the first time all evening he’s a little bit jealous. “We came out to each other, actually, in the same night, and he still refused to break up with me, because he was scared I’d leave, or. That he’d hurt me.”

Louis shakes his head. “So you broke up with him?”

Perrie laughs a little. “Not even, really,” she says. “We just kept hanging out and I would hook up with chicks and he would hook up with dudes and everyone just kind of forgot we were supposed to be a straight couple.”

Louis laughs at her. “That’s amazing. So technically you’re still dating?”

Perrie raises his eyebrows at him. “I guess?”

“You know what this means, right?” Louis sighs woefully. “Zayn’s got a bigger harem than the both of us combined, because by the transitive property of harems your harem’s now his harem, and I think Ant’s in his harem anyway.” He nods to the kid, who’s now slumped against Zayn’s legs either passed out or desperate for Zayn’s attention. Zayn, however, has shifted downward in Liam’s lap so he’s staring up at him, reaching up to run his hands through Liam’s hair, completely lost to anything else.

“But if my harem’s his harem doesn’t that make my harem your harem and your harem my harem?” Perrie asks shrewdly.

Louis is too drunk for this shit. He pushes himself wobblingly up so he’s standing on the counter and announces to the room at large, “We are all queen! Long live the queen!”

“Yeah, man,” someone shouts, and someone else starts singing the national anthem off-key, and that seems to be the cue for everyone who isn’t passed out, Louis, Perrie, Liam, or lost in Liam’s eyes to leave. A lot of people come over to kiss Perrie on the cheek or hug her goodbye, and some of them give laughing goodbyes to Louis, too. He nods them all out with good cheer, collapsing down so he’s not quite so perilously perched anymore.

He’s happy. He’s really very happy, and the only thing that would make him happier were if Harry were here to help him down off the counter, pluck him up in strong hands and pull him in tight to his chest. He closes his eyes and imagines being wrapped up in him, Harry smiling at him like he only does when Louis is drunk, that my boyfriend is so cute and also pretty embarrassing smile he gets. He imagines kissing him and tasting alcohol on his lips, imagines meandering home under his arm and falling into bed and waking up to him in the morning.

He opens his eyes, and for a moment doesn’t remember where he is.

When he figures it out he takes Perrie’s hand. “I am drunk,” he announces solemnly, “and I miss my boyfriend, and that means it’s time for truth or dare.”

“Right,” she says, nodding back just as solemnly, as if that makes perfect sense, and helps him down from the counter.

It takes Louis clearing his throat six times, progressively louder each time, for either Liam or Zayn to look at him, and then it’s only so Zayn can smile at him, cheeky and crinkle-eyed, and ask, “your throat okay, Lou?”

“Shut it, Malik,” Louis says, and sits down in a tangle on the floor across from the couch. “We’re playing truth or dare.”

Zayn sighs and exchanges a glance with Liam, who shrugs a little, the corner of his mouth turning up a little. “Fine,” conceded Zayn, “we’ll continue our conversation later.”

Louis scowls at him. “What conversation? You’ve just been staring into each other’s eyes.”

“Yes,” says Liam, though he’s a little red. “We’ve developed telepathy behind your back.”

“Typical,” Louis mutters. “Typical. Liam! Truth or dare!”

“Hey, who says you get to start?” Perrie protests. “You’ve got an unfair advantage, anyway, because you already know everything about these two, and I only know Zayn.”

“I get to start,” Louis says imperiously, “because I am the oldest and the most drunk.”

“Truth,” says Liam, apparently agreeing, and Louis loves Liam a lot.

He thinks for a second. “As the only one here attracted to both lads and ladies,” he says, “is it, like, hot, in your head, if you imagine Zayn and Perrie making out?”

Liam goes redder. “Um,” he says. Zayn hasn’t moved from his lap, and he looks curiously up at him, apparently very invested in the answer. “Well,” starts Liam, “I mean, Perrie, you’re quite lovely.”

Perrie salutes. “Thanks, mate.”

“But, um,” Liam continues, “I think I’d just be jealous?”

Zayn beams at him, and Louis tsks. “Are you jealous when you see me and Zayn make out?” he asks.

“Hey,” says Perrie, “that’s a new question, it’s not your turn again—“ but Liam’s already shaking his head.

“Why not!” Louis demands.

“That’s definitely a new question,” Zayn breaks in. “Li, babe, it’s your turn.”

“Right,” says Liam. “Um, Perrie. Truth or dare.”

Perrie looks at him, eyes shining, and clicks her tongue behind her teeth. “Dare,” she says.

Liam’s brow furrows. “Um,” he says. “You have to…do a cartwheel.”

Louis rolls his eyes. “Lame,” he accuses, but Perrie’s already on her feet. She plants herself sideways and then puts her hands down way too slowly, flipping herself kind of sideways and kicking her legs up in the air.

“Uh,” says Liam, “that’s not really a cartwheel.”

Zayn’s cackling into his fist, and Perrie glares at him. “Malik,” she says with fake venom, storming back over to sit next to Louis. Louis pats her on the shoulder consolingly. “Truth or dare.”

Zayn settles down, still grinning bright at her. “Truth.”

Perrie shakes her head. “Oh, foolish boy,” she breathes, and then crosses her arms. “What did you say to me, when you came to class the day after you spent the night at their house—“ she indicates Louis and Liam, “for the first time?”

Zayn’s eyes go wide. “Perrie,” he protests.

“Rules of the game,” she says back, although she has the decency to look a little bit guilty about it. “Eat or be eaten.”

Zayn squeezes his eyes shut. “I, um, I asked you if you thought you could have more than one love of your life,” he says quietly.

Louis stares at him, and knows Liam is doing the same. No one is breathing except Perrie, who says gently, “and then?”

“Y-you said yes, and then,” Zayn swallows, “I asked wh-what you would say if I told you that I’d met two of them at the same time.”

“Oh,” says Louis in a small voice, at the same time that Liam breathes, “Zayn.”

Zayn covers his eyes with his hand. “God, shut up, both of you.”

Louis swallows against the heart that is suddenly in his throat and looks at Liam, who is tracing a hand down Zayn’s arm to pull his fingers away from his eyes. Louis turns to Perrie. “I have something very important to say to you that requires all of your attention be on my face,” he says.

It takes her a moment, but once she figures it out she plays along, turning to face him fully. “Right,” she says, “of course, we are having a very important, very absorbing conversation over here away from everyone else.”

“Very important,” Louis agrees. Out of the corner of his eye he sees Liam pull Zayn up by his hands, sees Zayn turn to face him, his face bright red, his eyes lowered. “It is probably the most important conversation I will ever have,” he says conversationally to Perrie.

“Indeed,” says Perrie, holding his eyes. “Concerning matters of national security, or something.”

“Parliament is out of control,” Louis says, to say anything, and on the couch Liam has both Zayn’s hands in his and is leaning forward into his space, his face singularly focused. He brushes his mouth against Zayn’s so gently it hurts to watch, the silent perfect tension of it seizing around Louis’ heart and squeezing.

“Yes,” says Perrie very seriously, but quieter now, like she doesn’t want to distract anyone who might be listening. “Yes, something must be done about Parliament.”

Zayn makes a tiny desperate noise into Liam’s mouth and then his hands are in Liam’s hair and he’s kissing him hard and needy, like he’s been waiting his whole life for this, like he can’t believe it’s really happening, like he’s afraid to stop or it’ll go away. Louis can’t blame him, really. He swallows and says, as quietly as Perrie, “the country’s going to shit.”

“Rats in every basement,” Perrie says, and he can see in her face the same joy he feels, though neither of them can do anything about it without breaking the moment.

Zayn surfaces to breathe, his hands still tangled tight in Liam’s hair, and Louis isn’t supposed to hear it when he whispers against Liam’s lips, “don’t run, please.”

Louis is not drunk enough to avoid being horrifically embarrassed when fucking tears spring to his eyes. “It’s a disgrace,” he chokes out, and Perrie grabs his hands, both of them struggling not to start sobbing.

Liam brings his hands up to Zayn’s face. “I’ll never do that to you again,” he murmurs firmly, and kisses Zayn again, fiercer this time.

Louis scrubs the back of his hand over his eyes. “I don’t know what to do,” he says, and then amends quickly, “about the rats, I mean.”

Perrie takes a deep breath. “I think it’ll be okay, actually,” she says, and then adds inanely, “they’re going to introduce cat legislature soon.”

Liam kisses his way to Zayn’s ear and it’s only because Louis’ ears are fucking straining for any hint of noise that he hears him whisper, “I love you, Zayn.”

“Oh,” says Louis, and his brain’s gone blank and happy and disbelieving. “That’s good.”

Perrie grins at him, her eyes shining with unshed tears. “It really, really is.”

Chapter Text

Louis gives up and just hugs Perrie tight, because there’s nothing else to do, and she clings back and he is very drunk but he feels like he might have known her for years. He feels her sigh tearfully into his shoulder and lets go, sitting back, suddenly acutely aware of the silence. “I, uh, I’m very glad about the cats,” he says, but they’ve lost the thread of it and Perrie just shakes her head at him, caught still between laughing and crying.

There’s a pause, and then Liam says, “what the fuck are you talking about, Louis?” and that’s it, Louis and Perrie are cracking up hard, falling into one another, drunk on happiness and also, like, the normal drunkenness.

“Nothing,” Louis gasps, “nothing, Li, it’s fine.” He scrubs his face with his hands, hoping that Zayn and Liam won’t be able to tell how close he’d been to sobbing like a teenage girl watching her favorite TV couple finally get together. “Zayn, I believe it was your turn.”

Zayn is snuggled up into Liam’s side, his eyes shining, his whole face transformed with happiness. “Whatever you say, Lou,” he sighs, and Louis beams at him. “Truth or dare?”

Louis thinks about it, but dares are usually lame. “Truth,” he says.

Zayn bites his lip and thinks. “If you could have sex with anyone not in this room—“

Louis scoffs.

“—and also not Harry,“ Zayn specifies, before he can say anything else. “Who would it be?”

“Niall, obviously,” says Louis. He grins. “Harry can watch.” He raises an eyebrow at Zayn. “So can you.”

Zayn rolls his eyes. “Cheater, Niall doesn’t fucking count.”

Louis cocks his head at him. “And why’s that?”

“He’s, like, already part of the weird incestuous family,” Liam fills in. “Obviously Zayn meant someone else else.”

Zayn beams up at him and shifts to press a kiss under his ear. “Thanks, Li.”

Liam looks so happy Louis is afraid he might have a heart attack.

“Well, he didn’t specify that, did he,” Louis sniffs. “Now, Liam. Why aren’t you jealous of Zayn and I?”

“You didn’t even ask him truth or dare!” Perrie protests. “God, the country really is going to shit if we’re playing this fast and loose with the sacred laws of games for twelve year old’s.”

“It’s alright,” Liam says, “I would have said truth anyway, ‘dare’ would probably have made me move.” He tightens the arm he has around Zayn, who looks smug.

“Well?” Louis demands.

“Um,” Liam says. “I guess it’s like, I don’t see you as a threat?”

Louis’ mouth opens soundlessly. Perrie, next to him, starts laughing so hard it sounds like she might need CPR, and Zayn has a fist pressed to his mouth, his eyes dancing in amusement.

“You don’t think I’m a threat?” Louis repeats, his voice coming out high with indignation.

Liam stammers. “I, I didn’t mean that you weren’t fit, or whatever, you know that, Lou, of course you’re fit, and of course Zayn loves you, but that’s what I mean!” He waves his free hand, looking for the words. “He already—it’s like, you’re not a threat to what we have because what you have came first and I just sort of fit into that and it’s okay so it’s like I’m not taking anything from you and you’re not taking anything from me and it works.”

Louis knows exactly what he means, but he also can’t let something like I don’t see you as a threat go completely, his pride would never stand it. "I need to get my confidence back after that one," he huffs. "I’m taking another turn. Zayn! Truth or dare."

Zayn places his free palm against his chest dramatically. "Ask well, and strike me down if I am a liar."

Louis sucks his lower lip into his mouth. "What's you think when you first saw me?" he asks, because he's drunk and a vain asshole and he’s unbelievably happy for Zayn and Liam but he wants some attention back now.

Perrie collapses again into giggles for no reason that Louis can see, and he raises his eyebrows at her. She just shakes her head.

He turns his attention back to Zayn, who's looking surprisingly serious, staring at his knees, and Louis realizes with a start that he's actually blushing.

"I thought that it wasn't fair that someone so pretty should also be that good at footie," he says quietly.

Louis blinks. "What?"

"And then Harry came jogging over and he was awful at it but you kept grinning at each other and all I could think was, that's the most beautiful couple I've ever seen," Zayn continues, and when he looks up at Louis he's smiling a small, embarrassed smile.

Louis gapes at him. "You mean—that night in the bar—?"

"Wasn't even close to the first time I saw you, no," Zayn says, and Perrie's giggling again. Zayn shoots her a glare, but Louis rolls in front of her, intercepting it.

And?!” he demands, because this is brand new information.

“I might possibly have been crushing on you for like a year before I actually got up the nerve to say anything?” Zayn says in a rush.

Louis gapes at him. “Are you serious?”

Zayn ducks his head. “Kind of both of you,” he admits.

“Remember when I told you he never does anything, even if it’ll make himself happy?” Perrie says from where she’s propped up near Louis’ hips. “Guess who goaded him into flirting with you that night?”

Louis sits up enough to shake his head at her. “You are a goddess,” he says, “an absolute goddess. Why the hell did you wait so long?”

“There was kinda the relationship with Harry thing,” Perrie reminds him.

Louis wrinkles his nose. “Right, right. So why that night?”

Perrie shrugs. “Zayn was happy.” She looks past Louis. “Nobody can resist a happy Zayn.”

Louis watches Zayn watch Liam and is inclined to agree. “Your turn again, Zayn,” he says, and Zayn looks at him, surprised, like he expected to get a lot more grief, but Louis plans to hold it over him for the rest of his life, just pulling it out when he least expected it.

“Right,” he says, and narrows his eyes. “Perrie.”

“Truth,” says Perrie. “Too drunk for cartwheels.”

Zayn thinks for a second. “If you had to sleep with anyone here or, like...” He squints, looking for the right word. “Associated lovers? Who?”

Perrie hisses. She regards Louis for a minute, and he flutters his eyelashes at her. “You’ve got the hips,” she says, but continues on to look at Liam and Zayn. “You don’t count,” she says, pointing to Zayn with a thin, pale finger, “because, like, I’ve been there and done that, basically, and you’re the closest thing to an exception I’ve got but you already know that.” She grins at Liam, who’s looking a little wide-eyed. “It’s the cheekbones,” she confides.

Liam, to his credit, just grins. “It really is, isn’t it?”

Perrie laughs at him. “I like you,” she says, “but I’m sorry to say you’re much too much of a man for me.”

She turns to look again at Louis. “I’m gonna go with Harry,” she says decidedly.

Louis glares at her. “You don’t even know what he looks like.”

Perrie looks at him like he’s crazy. “You think I put up with Zayn crushing on you guys for a year without sneaking a glance? Even discounting the poems he wrote to Harry’s lips.”

Louis turns disbelieving eyes on Zayn, and so, for that matter, does Liam. “You’ve written poems about my boyfriend’s lips?” Louis demands.

Zayn coughs, almost too amused to be embarrassed. “Only really shitty ones,” he says, as if that makes it better.

“I’m just saying,” Perrie continues, as if she hasn’t been dropping bombs right and left and destroying Louis’ sense of reality, “not only would he actually be into me, unlike the rest of y’all except Li here, but have you seen his face?” She whistles. “God, he’d be a beautiful woman.”

“He really would,” Liam agrees, and Louis turns on him, feeling betrayed and off-balance on all sides.

He pouts. “Zayn,” he whines, “Zayn, Harry’s rugged and manly and handsome, right?”

“You don’t have to remind me,” Zayn laughs.

Louis sprawls flat on this floor in defeat. “You’re all conspiring against me,” he says to the ceiling.

“To what?” Perrie asks, poking her head into his field of vision. “To find your boyfriend hot?”

Yes,” Louis insists. “It’s awful. What did I do to deserve this?”

Perrie pats his stomach, consoling and drunken. “Poor baby,” she says.

“Liam, Zayn,” Louis calls, as if they’re not right there, “Carry me home, I have had enough of this mockery.”

There’s a small silence and then Liam goes, “alright,” and he’s offering Louis a hand up.

“Wait,” Louis says, taking it and letting Liam lift him bodily to his feet, “really?”

Liam shrugs, grinning at him, and offers his back. Zayn helps Louis climb up onto it piggy-back style, and Liam tucks his arms under Louis’ legs. Louis wraps his arms arms around Liam’s neck and this is far more comfortable than it has any right to be, really. “What did I do to deserve this?” he asks again, meaning it totally differently than he did moments before, and Zayn just grins at him, warm-eyed.

Perrie kisses each of them goodbye on the cheek and sees them out with promises to see them again soon. “You’re very strong,” Louis says to Liam, “and very warm.”

“Thanks, Lou,” Liam says, amused, and carries Louis down the sidewalk and home, Zayn smoking at their side.

Chapter Text

It’s a month and a half until Harry gets home, and it’s two weeks away from Zayn’s play opening, and Louis is pretty sure both of them are going crazy.

He barely sees Zayn anymore, relying on texts from Perrie (who he’s formed a fast friendship with) to know what’s even happening with him, because a stressed Zayn is like six times as unreliable as a normal Zayn, and a normal Zayn is pretty unreachable unless he really, really wants to be reached.

He tries to help, he really does, but the month-and-a-half of it all is getting under his skin and the waiting is so, so much worse than it used to be, because it feels so soon. He plans out the day that Harry comes home six hundred times in six hundred different ways. He’ll be the only one in the flat. No, he’ll throw him a party, with Zayn and Liam and Perrie and all of Harry’s uni friends that he hasn’t seen since Harry left. No, he’ll be there alone and stark naked, or he’ll make him dinner, or he’ll take him out somewhere, or he’ll just kiss him for hours, nothing but kisses, just kiss him and kiss him and kiss him.

“We should have a party,” he says to Liam suddenly one day, changing his mind again. “We should, right?”

“Louis,” Liam says tiredly, “take your panic elsewhere, please, I’m trying to study.” He’s sitting in a mountain of paperwork. He got the internship, to no one’s surprise but his own, but the amount of work it’s added to his already crazy academic schedule is really not helping the mood of the house.

“Youch,” says Louis, but he’s not hurt, not really. He goes to retrieve his laptop.

“If you’re gonna talk to Harry,” Liam calls, “can you do it outside, please?”

Louis frowns, more in worry than annoyance. “Sure,” he says, “Of course, Li.”

He slips outside. It’s a nice day, so it’s not exactly a hardship. He settles against he outside wall of the flat so he can still use the wifi and waits for Harry to come online.

When he does, Louis calls him. “Fifty four days!” Louis crows at him, beaming, and Harry grins back.

“1,296 hours,” he counters.

“Go snail trains,” Louis cheers.

Harry smiles softly at him, but he’s biting his lip. “I, um, wanna talk to you, Lou.”

“I always wanna talk to you,” Louis says, but he knows what Harry means.

Harry fidgets with the corners of his sleeves, and Louis waits.

"Someone called Niall my boyfriend today," he says after a minute, and then looks up to meet Louis' eyes. It's a deliberate move—he has to look directly into his camera—and the sudden eye contact hits Louis like a bullet. "I didn't, um. I didn't correct them."

Louis frowns. "Oh," he says. His stomach feels odd, heavy, but he can't look away from Harry's eyes, the little worried crease between his brows.

"I mean, it's like. It's true, right? That's. What we are, we're dating." Now that Harry's started, he can't seem to stop. "I like him a lot, Louis, like, a whole lot, and we've been sleeping together for a while now and. It feels like dating."

"Okay," says Louis.

Harry fingers are constantly moving, his hands shifting over his knees. "Okay?"

"Yeah." Louis swallows. He feels a little like he might cry, but he doesn't feel sad, just…displaced. Outside of himself, somehow. Harry looks like he might shatter if he so much as moves sharply, so he lets out his breath and concentrates on staying here, on feeling. This is important and he can't let himself be swept away, not yet, because Harry needs him. "Only, if he's your boyfriend, what does that make me?"

Harry's eyes widen. "You're still—I mean, obviously, we're still. We're still us, Louis, always." He makes an aborted motion towards the screen, flexes his fingers helplessly. "We could, um. You're my boyfriend too, only, only more, like, first. First-boyfriend?"

"Okay, President Styles," Louis says, and Harry laughs a startled, bubbling laugh and some of the tension between them eases.

Louis has managed to stop the weight in his chest from spreading to his lungs, and he keeps breathing normally even when Harry looks up at him through his lashes, his lips still curled in a half-smile, and asks, "Are you really okay?"

"Honesty honesty?" Louis asks, and Harry nods, always. "No. Not right now. I'm not okay." Louis takes a breath. This is important, he tells himself. He has to know what you mean. "I should be,” he says, “because, like, what makes it different than what I have with Zayn, you know? What right to I have to be upset about this at all, when we’re—” he waves a hand. “Whatever we are. But somehow, words, words really matter.”

Harry’s staring at him, looking soft and sorrowful. "Louis—“

He shakes his head, quickly, because this is important. "I want you happy," he says, and hopes Harry knows how much he means it, knows that it's more than he's meant anything in his life. "The kind of happy you are you're loved, when you're loving someone, and when you're here, I want that someone to be me, because I'm selfish and it makes me feel good to see your smile and know I caused it but I'm not—I'm not around you all the time right now." He raises his eyes to Harry's. "What kind of First Boyfriend would I be if I didn't want you happy anyway?"

Harry is staring at him, lips parted, and Louis knows, knows that everything would be fine if he could just kiss him because he means it, he really does, he needs Harry happy and there’s no way he’s going to begrudge Harry having someone like Louis has Zayn, even if it’s different, even if it makes Louis think about his role in Harry’s life differently, even if it hurts.

"You make me happier than anyone," Harry says in a small voice, and Louis knows he gets it, too. "If you wanted me to call it off—"

"I don't," says Louis firmly, and he’s a little staggered by the very idea. He’d end it with Zayn, obviously, if Harry wanted him to, but it would hurt, it would hurt so, so much, and the idea of Harry offering to make that kind of sacrifice for him brings him even closer to crying. "This was the point, right? Not to, not to limit ourselves." He wrinkles up his nose. "Who wants to love just one person, all through university?"

There's a timid smile playing at the corners of Harry's lips. "Yeah," he says.

Louis clears his throat. "Listen, Hazza," he says, and Harry visibly relaxes at the nickname. "Like I said, I will be okay, but right now I kind of need to—" cry my eyes out "—process, it's. Gonna take some getting used to."

Harry bites his lip, his smile fading. "Do you, do you wanna talk it out? I can skip work—"

Louis shakes his head. "No, no, don't do that, I made you do that last week, remember? We spent the whole time looking up romance horoscopes and watching each other have a wank."

"Oh, right," says Harry. "Should probably go, then."

Louis nods. "Yeah. I, um. I love you."

Harry's hands clench on his knees and Louis can almost feel them, moving soothingly up and down his back, sliding into his hair, pulling him close. Almost. "I love you too," Harry says with quiet intensity. "Most. Always."

Louis puts as much of his heart as he can into his smile, stares directly into the camera and pushes his love, his hope, his reassurance at Harry. Harry’s breath hitches, and he swallows against what might be tears, and if Harry starts crying there is no way, there is not a chance in the world that Louis will be able to hold himself together. “Bye, Harry,” he says, and kisses his thumb, pressing the pad of it to his camera, and then he hangs up.

He shuts his laptop and slumps against the wall. He could go back inside and Liam would still be there, studious, would make room for him if Louis really needed it. He could put an episode of Family Guy as background noise and laugh at Liam laughing at all the least funny jokes and none of the funniest ones and pretend that he was okay, that nothing had changed since an hour ago. He could swallow it down and be okay, he was good at that, and eventually it would be okay, he knew it would but right now—

God, right now Louis feels a little bit like his heart’s been snapped in half. It’s not even that he’s threatened, it’s not, because whatever Harry and Niall have is whatever Harry and Niall have and he knows it’s different than what he and Harry have, but they have it, and now it’s suddenly in the “boyfriend” sphere that had just been his and he’d never thought about how important that distinction was, the divide between him and Harry and either of them with anyone else. It’s not that Harry’s not any less his boyfriend but he’s no longer only his boyfriend, and that. That’s.

He knows he’s crying more from the heat of his tears than anything else. His throat feels like he’s been swallowing knives. He’s realizing now how much he hadn’t been thinking about it, about how when Harry gets back it isn’t going to be him-and-Harry the way it’s been him-and-Harry for two years, and he wouldn’t give up what he has with Zayn for anything in the world and he wouldn’t make Harry give up Niall but along with all that gain there was loss, too, the loss of the world that was just the two of them, always. Happily and forever, Harry had said, so early on and so sure, and it doesn’t feel like a lie, now, but it feels—redefined.

The worst part is that there’s no one to hate but himself, here, no one to be angry at. This is his fault, he opened them up to this and he knew it might happen and now it has, and he thought he’d been dealing with it but he’s just been swallowing it down and now it’s flowing out with his tears, and there’s a hard lump of frustration with himself, knotted in his stomach.

He can’t hate Harry. Hating Harry is impossible, like he said to Zayn. He tried, once, early on when Harry had made him mad about something. It was like hating beautiful weather or the sky or the feel of skin on skin, something so fundamental to joy that you have to tell yourself a whole network of lies before you can even conceive of it. The sun doesn’t feel good, the wind doesn’t smell of spring, the warmth and smell and heartbeat of another person isn’t the most comforting thing in the world.

And he can’t hate Niall for loving Harry—not only would it be impossibly hypocritical, it would be mean, because he really fucking likes Niall, Niall’s sweet and fit and makes Harry very happy and Louis isn’t the kind of person to hate a sweet-hearted Irish boy just because he happens to feel the same way about someone as Louis does.

So Louis is left with hating himself—hating himself for letting this happen but more hating himself for not being as okay with it as he thought he would be, as he should be. He just. He just, he just, he just.

He pushes his fists into his eyes and concentrates on breathing right.

“Lou?”

He takes a ragged breath and looks up, blinking the pressure-stars from his eyes. Zayn’s standing on the steps up to his flat, keys in his hand, concern writ large on his face.

“Zayn,” Louis says, hears his voice come out ragged. “What’re you doing here? I thought you were at rehearsal.”

Zayn approaches like Louis is sitting on thin ice. “I skipped out,” he says. “They don’t need me anyway, anymore. It’s out of my hands now.” He crouches in front of Louis, looks like he wants to touch him, but doesn’t. “Harry texted me.”

Louis laughs a little, chokingly, because of course he did. He hadn’t even known Harry had Zayn’s number.

“He, um,” Zayn says. “He said you might need someone to talk to.” He lifts his hands to Louis face, smooths his tears away with his thumbs, and it occurs to Louis that this might be the first time Zayn’s ever seen him cry. “Louis...are you guys...?”

Louis wraps a hand around his wrist, leaning into his palm and closing his eyes. “We’re okay,” he says, because it’s true. “We’re different, but we’re okay.”

“Thank god,” says Zayn, letting out a breath. “If you guys ever broke up I think I would need a shoulder to cry on.” He smiles a little. “You make me believe in love.”

Louis hides his face in Zayn’s fingers, helpless laughter making him shake. Zayn traces his fingers across his forehead soothingly. “What’s funny?”

“We’re not exactly a traditional couple,” he gasps out, pressing a kiss to Zayn’s palm and letting him go. Zayn curls in around him, pulling him to his chest.

“Fuck traditional,” Zayn says calmly, and Louis pushes his face into his collarbones, nodding, remembering Harry saying the same thing in such, such different circumstances. “I thought you were the most beautiful couple I’d ever seen, a year and a half ago, and I still think so today,” Zayn says, “whatever else you are to me or to each other or to anyone else."

Louis lets out a shaky, grateful breath, and Zayn pets his hair. “What happened?”

“Harry’s started calling Niall his boyfriend,” Louis says, and it sounds so simple like that, and that’s all it is, really, started calling him his boyfriend, because it’s like Harry said, they were already acting like it, everything was the same as it had been before except the label, but god, that label hurts.

Zayn’s arm tightens around Louis, but he doesn’t say anything, and that’s probably the thing Louis loves most about Zayn, he doesn’t assume, he doesn’t ever tell Louis how he should feel about anything. He remembers that first night in the bar, remembers Eleanor’s condescension and Zayn understanding, even then. Nobody knows anything about you unless you've expressly told them, and they shouldn't act like they do.

“It hurts,” he admits. “Not. Not the fact that he loves someone else, I already knew that, you know? We’re always honest and he’s been really clear how he feels, the same way I have, and that’s. Different, but fine, it really is fine. But there’s something about the word. Something about the idea that we’re. Sharing the same space, me and Irish boy, even if it’s only, like, fucking. Linguistically.”

He feels Zayn nod. “You need a better word than ‘boyfriend’ for you and Harry anyway. He’s more than that to you, and you’re definitely more than that to him.”

Louis smiles a little and sits up, kneeling in front of Zayn, still kind of curled into his chest. “He suggested ‘first boyfriend’,” he says.

Zayn makes a face at him. “He’s an idiot. Who is he, the U.S. President?”

Louis bites his lip. “S’what I said.”

Zayn smiles back at him. “‘Course it is.” He slides his hands up Louis’ neck, swipes his thumbs up his jaw. “Louis...”

Louis closes his eyes like a cat being stroked. “Mm?”

“We need a better word for us, too,” Zayn says, and when Louis opens his eyes he’s got a curious, intent look on his face. “You said you were honest with Harry about things you felt, too…?”

Louis opens his eyes expressly to roll them at him. “Oh, c’mon.”

Zayn’s expression is surprisingly fragile, though, and Louis’ smirk fades. “Zayn, I meant about you, obviously, you moron. I love you. You know that, you have to.”

Zayn ducks his head, embarrassed. “Sure, but like. We never—“ He gnaws his lip. “You said you told Liam I wasn’t in love with you, and like, I know why you did it but it’s not—it’s not really true, is it.”

Louis nudges him under the chin with his head, makes Zayn look at him. “No, it’s not,” he says, “and it fucking reciprocal, you idiot. I didn’t think we had to say it!”

“We probably didn’t,” mumbles Zayn, “but it’s nice to hear anyway.”

Louis kisses him slow. “I love you,” he says earnestly, when Zayn pulls away with a sigh. “I love you very much, in a completely and utterly different way than I love my boyfriend, and the fact that I can love you and that you love me is probably the one thing that’s keeping me sane while he’s gone.” He pauses. “That and Liam’s tea.”

“It’s pretty miraculous tea,” Zayn admits, his eyes going a little dreamy.

Louis nudges him, chuckling. “I’m not gonna call you my boyfriend, though,” he says, and Zayn looks back at him, his eyebrows raised. “Not my boyfriend...” Louis muses. Harry’s still got that spot, now and forever, as far as Louis is concerned, even once they find a new word for them. He can be both. “And we’ve already ruled out ‘very good friend’ and ‘friends with benefits’ and ‘lover’.” He twists his face up. “One of these days we’re gonna have to accept that there just aren’t words for people like us.”

“We’ll make new ones. A whole new lexicon of loves.” Zayn chews his lip, thinking. “Let’s start with….partner in crime,” he suggests cheekily, and Louis slumps into his neck, giggling. It’s perfect.

“Done! Done.” He wraps his arms around Zayn’s chest and hugs him tight.

“Love you, Lou,” Zayn mutters into his hair. “Love you so much.”

“You’re okay about it, right?” Louis asks, and he’s an asshole for not doing so earlier. “With, Niall and all.”

Zayn thinks first, but he nods. “I’m okay about it. In general, I’m okay about it. We were young, and it’s, it’s scary, you know? I don’t blame him, never really have.” He grins a little. “It’s been really nice, talking to him, seeing him again, even just through the screen. He really loves Harry, you know. Kind of a blow to my ego, really.” He pouts. “Lou, what’s Harry got that I don’t have?”

Louis pretends to mull it over, but there’s no way in hell he’s ever going to answer that question seriously. That way lies madness. “I know something you both have got.”

Zayn rolls his eyes. “Sap.”

Louis raises his eyebrows. “I don’t know what you mean, I was talking about big cocks.”

“Copy!” Zayn says delightedly.

Louis smacks his shoulder in mock horror. “Asshole!”

Zayn grins at him, unrepentant. “You’re right about boyfriends, though. I, uh, kinda have someone else in mind for that spot.”

Louis grins so hard he feels like his teeth might fall out. He stands up without letting go, pulling Zayn upwards with him, and Zayn squawks. “Let’s go see him!” Louis says happily. “I think there’s a new episode of Family Guy.”

“He always laughs at the least funny jokes,” Zayn laments.

“I know, baby,” Louis commiserates, and pulls out his phone as Zayn opens the door to the apartment. He opens a new text to Harry, considers. tell niall if he hurts you your other bf and his partner in crime will track him to ireland and murder him in at least 5 v creative ways xoxo ps i’m okay, really :)

He follows Zayn inside. Liam looks up from his books, brows drawn together in surprise. “Zayn? Thought you were rehearsing tonight.”

“He skipped out,” explains Louis, because Zayn appears to be in one of those moods where he goes silent at the very sight of Liam. He snaps his fingers. “Tea, Mr. Payne!”

“You’re a monster,” grumbles Liam, but maybe he sees how red Louis' eyes are or maybe he and Zayn really can communicate telepathically because he gets up anyway. Louis vaults over the end of the couch and snuggles into the pillows. Maybe he unlocks his phone with trembling fingers, maybe he smiles a little too much at the you’re amazing, you know that? text from Harry, maybe he’s a little too edgy-happy for it to last long, but he is happy and it is real, and if he needs to cry he need never cry alone. Zayn settles on the couch next to him, knees just touching, and Louis texts Harry back you know it, i’m the best and turns his attention to the TV.

Chapter Text

Louis loves April Fool’s day. Louis loves April Fool’s day because Louis is an asshole who thinks mean tricks are funny, but this year Louis also loves April Fool’s day because it means that there’s only one month, just four weeks, until Harry comes home.

He also loves April Fool’s day because it marks the one-week anniversary of Liam and Zayn fucking for the first time. He’d gotten the text just before getting out of work, a quick, mind if we have the flat tonight? ;) from Liam.

He’d shaken his head at the concept of Liam, Liam, texting him winky-faces, and gone to Perrie’s. He showed up on her doorstep pouting. “I’ve been sexiled,” he complained, “out of my own flat, by my own partner in crime.”

She pet his head and let him in. “You mean someone gets to have sex in that place without you involved?” she’d asked, mockingly. “You poor, poor baby.”

Louis had scowled at her. “I hate you.”

“Sure,” Perrie’d said, “which is why you’re here.”

Louis narrowed his eyes at her. “I’m only here because you have good booze.”

Perrie put her hand on her hip, cocking her head. “What makes you think I’d share said good booze with you?”

Louis spread his hands. “Did you miss the part where someone’s having sex in my flat without me involved?” he’d teased, and she’d laughed at him, and they’d had really a quite lovely night being drunkenly overjoyed about Zayn’s love life, which. Pretty much describes the basis of their friendship at all.

“Thanks for being my friend,” he’d said, at like two am, when his mind was nice and liquid.

She’d grinned at him. “Couldn’t help it. Transitive property of harem.”

Louis was lying on her couch with Perrie leaning against it at his feet, her empty glass at her side. She was staring around at her flat, examining it like she’d never seen it before, and Louis followed her gaze, admiring the art and photographs on the walls. There was a collection of snapshots along the wall above the table, similar to all the ones Louis has on his wall. They were mostly of three girls, group shots or intimate, artsy portraits, but some were goofy selfies with Perrie herself and there were a few of someone Louis recognized with a jolt as Zayn, a younger, strangely vulnerable Zayn with soft, unstyled hair and no tattoos.

“I’m glad,” Perrie said softly, “I got to meet you before I go.”

Louis nodded, feeling warm and welcome here among Perrie’s things, like she’s given him the gift of familiarity by welcoming him in or by getting him drunk, and then he blinked away from the photographs and focused as best he could on her face. “Hang on,” he said.

She rolled her head to look at him, eyebrows raised. “Yes, Tomlinson?”

“Go where?”

Perrie’s expression flickered from contentment to something just a little more insecure. “I, um.” She squinted at her empty glass. “I think I’m going to transfer.”

“Nope,” said Louis. “No, I don’t think so.”

Perrie wrinkled her nose as she laughed. “You forbid it, huh?”

“I forbid it because it would make Zayn sad, and everything that makes Zayn sad is automatically forbidden forever.” Louis said firmly. He sits up so he can look at her more fully. “Why? Where?”

“University of East Anglia.” Perrie frowned at her hands. “I hate being here alone,” she said softly. “I miss my girls and I miss my family and it was okay when I had Zayn in my pocket all the time, but now.” She shrugged, a little jerkily, and her lips are twisting like she’s upset. “You’re the best thing that’s ever happened to him, all of you, but it leaves me out, doesn’t it? And so I should move on, I should go back to the people who need me like you need him.”

“But he needs you, too,” Louis said desperately, “and, and I’m starting to, too, why do you think I came here tonight? You’re our friend, Perrie, you don’t have to go away—”

Perrie smiled at him, a little wistfully. “I like you a lot, Louis,” she said, “but I’m not one of your lost boys.” She stood to get herself another drink. “Besides, they’re offering me a lot of aid and they’ve got a comic book writing program.”

“Okay, that’s fucking awesome,” Louis allowed, and Perrie grinned at him over her shoulder, like, I know, right?

“Have you told him?” Louis asked, accepting the drink when she handed it to him.

She shook her head and joined him on the couch. “I’m waiting until the play’s over,” she said. “The last thing he needs to do now is stress about how he’s made me feel abandoned and he’s ruined my life and driven me away.” She rolled her eyes, but it’s fond. “I know I said I felt left out but it’s not…I’m not jealous of the family you’ve forged,” she said, looking at Louis clear-eyed. “I’m just really fucking missing the one I have.”

Louis nodded. “He’s not going to take it well,” he warned.

She cocked her head at him. “He might take it better than you think,” she said cryptically.

Louis narrowed his eyes at her. “What do you mean?”

Perrie shook her head. “Drink,” she said, and he decided not to press.

On April Fool’s he wakes Zayn up with a blowjob, which he figures might maybe be crossing some line considering that Liam’s sleeping in the same room, but he’s kind of too jazzed up to care, and if it causes problems he and Liam will talk it out. They’ve gotten really good at that, actually, and really Louis should add Liam to his honesty, honesty list in his head (Zayn’s on there with an asterisk, because Louis is allowed to lie to Zayn if he thinks it’ll be funny, and also lies of omission like the Perrie thing).

Liam wakes up as Zayn’s kissing his own come out of Louis’ mouth, and his eyes go a little dark but that’s not really a sign of distress, and Louis stores it away for future reference.

Despite his love of April fool’s, he hasn’t really had time to do much planning for it, so the morning is a little bit lackluster. He replaces Zayn’s hair gel with vegetable shortening, but he notices as soon as he opens the jar and just gives Louis an unimpressed look. Liam puts salt in their tea, which is simultaneously the most perfect and most predictable prank for him to pull ever. Zayn doesn’t do anything at all, just sits on the edge of the couch and texts all day, and by mid afternoon Louis is bored out of his mind. It doesn’t help that he can’t call Harry, because Harry’s doing some kind of field trip to New Zealand and will be either on a plane or internetless for all three times he’s normally able to talk.

“Let’s do something,” he says, flopping across his housemates, sticking his head between Zayn and his phone. “Let’s go see a movie or something.”

Zayn’s face freezes, which, okay, weird. “We can’t,” he says quickly, and swallows, a quick bob of his throat. “There’s, um, there’s nothing good out.”

Louis scowls at him suspiciously. “What’re you talking about? That new Batman film came out this weekend, you’ve been talking about going for months.”

Zayn casts a helpless glance at Liam, and there’s absolutely definitely something going on here. “We saw it already,” Liam says at the same time as Zayn mumbles, “it’ll be packed today, Lou, let’s wait,” and then both of them freeze.

Louis smirks at them. “Alright, what the hell are you guys planning?” He twists, making a snatch for Zayn’s phone. “And who the hell are you texting all the time today?” he demands.

Zayn fights him off, scowling. “Just Perrie,” he snaps, “and people from the play, we’re just talking about rehearsal stuff—“

“Right,” Louis says sarcastically, “I bet it is Perrie, but if it’s rehearsal stuff I’ll, I dunno, I’ll, I’ll do dishes for a month.”

“Better get gloves for those lily-white hands of yours, then, because—“ Zayn starts, but Louis wrests his phone from him with a cry of victory and all the blood drains from Zayn’s face. “Liam,” he says desperately, “Liam, please—“

Liam tears the phone out of Louis’ hands and stands, holding it above his head and fighting Louis off when he tries to pull at Liam’s arm to get it down. He’s unfairly tall and unfairly uncompromising. “Jesus, you guys are persistent,” Louis says. “Must be some surprise.”

“Lou, just sit down, I promise it’s nothing,” Zayn pleads, wrapping his arms around Louis from behind him and trying to pull him back onto the couch.

“If it was nothing you wouldn’t care so much about me seeing,” Louis reasons, and starts trying to climb Liam like a tree to get to the phone.

There’s a noise like a key turning in a lock from the front door, and they all freeze, Louis’ brain trying to catch up with his ears. The only thing he can think of is that it’s the landlord, that he forgot to send the rent or something and so he was coming to make sure they weren’t dead, and then the door swings open and Harry’s standing on the doorstep.

He’s tan and so tall and he’s got sunglasses perched in his ridiculous hair and a duffel bag at his feet and his key in his hand and he grins his slow, perfect grin, giving them all an aborted wave, though his eyes are fixed on Louis.

“Um,” he says, “April Fool’s?”

Chapter Text

Louis nearly passes out.

He can’t breathe. His vision goes grey at the edges and his whole body hurts with shock, a happiness so intense it doesn’t feel like happiness yet, just emotion in its purest state, and then it breaks like a wave against Louis’ heart and he lets it out his mouth in a high keening noise that he has no room left to be embarrassed about.

He drops his hands from Liam’s chest, and Zayn must have already let him go because he’s free to stumble forward into Harry’s arms. Harry drops his keys to catch him, his arms wrapping perfect around Louis’ waist. “Hey,” he’s murmuring, “hey, Lou, hey, babe.”

“Harry,” Louis says into his shirt, and breathes him in, his arms so tight around him that he thinks he might cut Harry in half but he doesn’t care because he’s here, he’s here and close and in Louis’ arms and Louis can smell him and feel his heartbeat against his cheek and he’s dizzy with it, with shock and pure joy and Harry and he literally can’t do anything but breathe.

Luckily Harry doesn’t seem to want him to, crushing him tight against him and just holding on, and he’s shaking against Louis and somehow that helps, to know Harry’s just as insensible as he is, that he’s just as desperate to be close. Louis wants to be kissing him and he wants to be staring into his eyes and mapping out his beautiful fucking face with his mouth and his fingertips but he also never, ever, ever wants to be any further away from Harry than this too-tight bone-crushing fused-together hug.

“I love you,” Harry’s saying, and Louis can’t breathe for it, it fills him up so full.

Harry,” he says in response, and Harry laughs, helpless, into his hair. Louis hears the rumble of it in his chest and the sound makes his legs give out from under him and Harry’s pulled down with him, sprawled painfully on the floor in a tangle, neither of them loosening their grip for a second.

“Ow,” says Harry, and Louis laughs like he hasn’t laughed since Harry left, his whole body wracked with it.

“God,” he breathes, when he has any room for anything but giggles, “I think my legs gave out from pure joy.” He’s dimly aware that Zayn and Liam have vanished off somewhere—hell, they might even have told him where— which is good, because he is being very embarrassing and also Harry, Harry is here and he needs to be here with Harry and not anywhere with anyone else.

Harry pulls back just enough that he can look Louis in the eyes. “Who needs legs?” he says, absently, his eyes trailing hot over Louis’ face. He’s ended up on top, by dint of Louis being the one to go down first, and, god, to have Harry over him again, holding himself up on his hands, his eyes dark and warm and perfect, to feel his chest rising and falling against Louis’, to have his breath ghost over Louis’ mouth, it’s, it’s too fucking much, it’s something Louis didn’t think he’d get for another month.

He tries to breathe without shuddering but fails horribly and laughs at himself, shoving a hand into his hair. “God, Haz, I am literally swooning, this is what swooning is.”

“Good,” says Harry, sounding way, way too proud of himself, and he leans down to kiss Louis.

No one in the world kisses Louis like Harry kisses Louis, and the reminder of that hits him like a bolt of fucking lightning. Harry kisses Louis like he never wants to do anything else. Harry kisses Louis like it’s the most important thing he will ever do. Harry kisses Louis like he needs him in order to breathe, and right now, Louis is pretty sure he does. He shoves his hands in Harry’s hair and surges upwards, injecting all his pent-up need, all the daydreams and longings and desperate loneliness into the kiss, biting at Harry’s lips and sucking at his tongue and showing Harry how much he missed him because words are unwieldy and slow and involve not enough of Harry touching him, not enough wet heat and Harry’s perfect fucking mouth.

Harry pulls back, gasping, and swallows hard. “Jesus fucking Christ, Lou,” he breathes, awed.

Louis is too happy, too turned on, too overwhelmed to pause. “Need you,” he says, twisting desperate hips. “Harry, please, want you to fuck me.”

“Yeah,” Harry breathes. “Yeah, god,” and then he’s scooping Louis up from the floor, carrying his easily with one arm under his ass, and Louis wraps his arms around Harry’s neck, kissing his throat and his jaw and his lower lip, anything that he can reach as he clings. He leans over and sucks the earlobe of Harry’s ear into his mouth, grinning around it with a scrape of teeth as he hears Harry’s breath stutter.

“Fuck,” Harry says, and doesn’t stop, a steady litany of “fuck, fuck, fuck,” until he’s dumped Louis unceremoniously on the bed and is curling over him again, staring down at him like he’s never seen anything in the world he wants so badly.

Louis squirms under his gaze, reaching down to tug at his t-shirt, to pull it over his head, but Harry stops him. “I, I want, let me,” he says, and then he’s sliding down Louis’ body, pushing the hem of his shirt up his chest slowly, his eyes on the skin it reveals, drinking Louis in. Louis watches his face, panting, and buries his hands in Harry’s hair, tugging and pulling at it, trying to speed him up. He needs, he needs, he needs Harry in him.

Harry starts kissing his way up Louis’ stomach as it’s uncovered, and it’s already on the edge of overstimulation, Louis is so turned on he’s pretty sure he could come just from Harry’s lips on his skin. “Haz,” he cries, and it comes out broken. “Please.”

Harry’s mouth stutters against him, his hips grinding hard against the mattress, and he takes one look at Louis face and groans. “Christ,” he says, “I, I’m not, you keep looking at me like that, Lou, and it’ll be over embarrassingly fast.”

“For me, too,” Louis assures him, “god, I’m close already, babe, just, just having you fucking touch me, just, just having your mouth on my skin and, and you, here and mine, it’s.” He shakes his head, out of words.

“Yeah,” says Harry, “I know,” and he does, and Louis loves him so fucking much

Harry strips out of his clothes and it’s a shame how quickly it’s done but then it hits Louis that is doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter how embarrassingly fast this is over because they’re not limited by time, they don’t have to sign out of skype so Harry can sleep or Louis can go to work, Harry is home and home forever and they can do this as many times as they goddamn want, Louis gets Harry any time he wants, and that’s a fucking incredible thought.

“You’re home,” he breathes, as Harry slides the drawer by the bed, their bed, open, and Harry looks at him. “This, this is real,” Louis breathes, “I’m not dreaming and you’re not dreaming and you’re home.”

Harry retrieves the lube and a condom and scrambles back onto the bed, settling between Louis’ thighs. “I’m home,” he agrees, his face incandescent with happiness.

He strips Louis out of his trousers, pressing kisses to the insides of his thighs, Louis arching and gasping at the touch of his fingers. “Go slow,” he says, hearing his voice come out slurred. “It’s, it’s been a while.”

Harry stills. “You haven’t—not with Zayn?”

Louis shook his head. “I fucked him but not—no one but you, Haz,” he breathes, “wanted, wanted you to know I’m yours.”

Harry lets out a strangled noise and slips a finger into him, and Louis surrenders himself completely to sensation.

When he wakes up the next morning he’s in his bed and there’s a warm body curled around him and for a moment of blind panic he thinks he’s fucked up and let Zayn sleep in his and Harry’s bed, and then he takes a breath and remembers.

He opens his eyes to find Harry smiling down at him, face half smashed into the mattress still, one eye regarding Louis, warm and mischievous. “Hello,” he says, muffled, and Louis kisses him on the eye, it being the closest thing and he’s too absolutely, perfectly content to move any further than that.

“Told you you weren’t a dream,” he says to Harry.

“So you did,” Harry agrees, as if that makes any sense at all.

Louis kisses him again, on the lips this time, and then again, a couple dozen times, for good measure. “Hey,” he says, pulling back between kisses, and Harry pouts at him. “You lied to me.”

Harry’s eyes go guilty. “Only a little,” he says. “And, and it was worth it, right?”

Louis pretends to consider that, and Harry’s eyes widen because he’s a total fucking idiot. Louis pulls him back in, breathing against his lips. “When I saw you walk through that door,” he says, half-kissing him with every consonant, “it was literally the happiest I have ever been, my whole goddamn life.”

“Oh,” says Harry, more a sigh than a word. “I did good, then.”

Louis’ heart beats in his throat and in his palms and through every vein of him. “You did good, Haz,” he says, a little choked. “You did so fucking good.”

He blows Harry lazily before they get out of bed, and Harry returns the favor in the shower, and then Louis rims him against the bathroom sink, and by the time they even make it to the living room they’re both boneless and sex-drunk, collapsing onto the couch in a tangle of limbs and tight-held-hands, both of them unwilling to ever not be touching the other.

“What about Niall?” Louis asks, when it occurs to him that other people besides him and Harry do, in fact, exist in the world.

Harry beams at him. “He’s here,” he says, “I told him to get a hotel for a few nights.”

Louis shifts guiltily. “You didn’t have to do that,” he says, but he’s so, so grateful.

Harry looks at him with knowing eyes. “Yes I did,” he says, “and anyway, he basically volunteered to, to give us the space.”

“Good lad,” Louis says, “I approve,” and Harry grins bright at him.

“Who knows,” he says, “Maybe he met up with Zayn and Liam and went to see Batman.” He gnaws on his lip. “Although perhaps not, he’s kind of been freaking out about seeing Zayn again for real.”

Louis raises an eyebrow at him. “Oh?”

Harry nods. “Turns out my boy wasn’t quite honest with your boy,” he says, “all those years ago. First heartbreak went both ways.”

Louis blinks at him. “But Niall turned him down.”

Harry nods, but it’s slow, like he’s figuring it out in his head. “He was having a lot of trouble at home—he ran away, did I tell you? Stole money from his parents and ran away to Australia, to do good works.” He shakes his head, like he’s not sure Niall’s even real, and Louis can’t really blame him, honestly. “I think he knew he was going to be leaving and he didn’t want to start something with Zayn and then just leave him behind, you know? It was easier to just play the straight card, even though even at the time he was pretty sure it wasn’t fully true.”

“Christ,” Louis breathes, and thinks about how Zayn would react to that news. “I can see why he might be nervous to see him again.” He laughs a little. “Our lives are fucking complicated, Haz.”

Harry nods, but he’s smiling. “’Least we can work them out together now,” he says, and Louis beams at him, leaning over to kiss him all over the face.

There’s a knock on the door and Liam shouts, “We’re coming in, please don’t be fucking!” and then a key in the lock, and Harry bursts out laughing.

“How dare you,” Louis says to Liam once he’s inside, Zayn at his heels. “The very suggestion.”

“Speaking of suggestions,” Harry says, “I hear you make a mean cup of tea, Liam Payne. Also hello, it’s nice to meet you.”

“Hello,” says Liam, “and how do you take it?”

“Just cream, thanks,” says Harry, and Louis presses a kiss to whatever part of him is easiest to reach, which happens to be his elbow.

“He’s sweet enough,” he says, over-saccharine, but everyone in the room hears how much he means it anyway. Liam rolls his eyes and vanishes into the kitchen, leaving Zayn standing, a little bit awkwardly, facing the tangled force of Harry-and-Louis.

“Hello, Harry,” Zayn says, and smiles his warm-eyed smile.

“Zayn,” says Harry, and stands up, despite Louis’ protestations. He’s got a peculiarly intense look on his face, and Zayn looks like he might be about to burst out laughing, and Louis is just starting to get suspicious when Harry says, “I suppose I haven’t properly said hello yet,” and grabs Zayn by the waist, bending him in a full dip and kissing him, hard, on the mouth.

Zayn’s laughter, which starts to bubble up when Harry grabs him, slides into a surprised, pleased sigh against his mouth. His hands come up to bury themselves in Harry’s curls and Harry hums happily, a sound Louis is so familiar with he can almost taste it against his own lips. He sees the shift of Harry’s jaw as he nips at Zayn’s lip, and the little shock of motion in Zayn’s hips as he reacts, and then Harry’s pulling back, Zayn’s straightening up, their gazes lingering on each others’ mouths for a moment before they turn, in perfect tandem, to stare at Louis.

It makes Louis’ stomach twist with jealousy but at the same time is, without question, the hottest thing he’s has ever seen. He’s pretty sure he’s forgotten how to breathe, and it really doesn’t help when Harry blinks slow at him and murmurs, “Christ, Lou, your face.”

Zayn, of course, bursts out laughing, and Louis is grateful for it, he really is, because he’s pretty sure the only other course of action was to have both of them fuck him immediately and, like, Liam’s here, somewhere, and they haven’t talked about boundaries, and it would have just been awkward. But he kind of hates Zayn anyway, for breaking up that tension.

“I hate you both,” he says, face burning, and he covers his face with his hands because he is not fucking blushing in front of his fucking boyfriend and his—and Zayn, of all people, he’s just not. “I hate you so much.”

A warm weight settles on the couch next to him and he knows by the smell and the warmth and the everything that it’s Harry. His boyfriend slings an arm around him. “Didn’t look like you hated it,” Harry says in his ear, and Louis shivers at the heat of his breath. Closing his eyes was a terrible fucking idea because with his eyes closed he can just see it over and over, the way they pulled apart, the way they turned to look at him, both slick-mouthed and wrapped around each other like they were just waiting for him—

More weight on his other side and Louis thinks, this is it, this is how I’m going to die, because if he has both of them whispering dirty in his ears and that image playing over and over against his eyelids, he. Fucking Christ. But when Zayn speaks his tone is much more conversational, and he’s not even talking to Louis but over his head. “I didn’t think he’d take it so hard,” he says to Harry.

Harry laughs a little, thankfully pulling away a fraction so he isn’t just teasing Louis with his every fucking breath. “I think, my dear Zayn, you underestimate our combined hotness.” He sighs. “I have to say, though, I’m a little worried, he seems to have gone catatonic. I thought he’d at least want to tear my clothes off, after.”

Louis drops his hands and opens his eyes. “First of all,” he says, “you have no idea what I want to do to you right now, either of you, and second of all, you fucking planned this?” He stares from one to the other. “When? How?

“Texts,” Harry says, a tiny bit guiltily. “I knew I was coming back early to surprise you, and I needed Zayn to make sure you’d be here when I got in, so we texted a bit to plan that out and it just kind of.” He shrugs, looking at Zayn for help. “Developed?”

Zayn nods, looking way, way too amused for Louis’ comfort. He slings an arm around Louis’ shoulders, and this time does put his lips to Louis’ ear, mirroring Harry of a minute before. “Just so you know,” he murmurs, “that was only phase one of the plan.”

“Oh, god,” groans Louis, and this time both Harry and Zayn crack up, and this is not to be fucking stood for. Louis shoves both of them off of him leaps to his feet, yelling, “Liam!”

Liam emerges from the kitchen, looking wary. “Er,” he says, “yes?”

Louis spins on Zayn and Harry. “You two. Up.”

They obey, looking bemused but standing up from the couch and moving back from it.

“I know this will only work as revenge for Zayn,” Louis says, “but hopefully you’ll appreciate the point, Hazza, and we can always repeat the performance once Niall’s here.” He marches over to Liam, fists his hands in his shirt, and pulls him over to the couch. Liam, bless him, goes with it, following him and even collapsing obligingly onto it when Louis shoves lightly at his chest. “Lou, what—”

Louis climbs onto the couch, straddling him, and looks him in the eyes, speaking very quietly and very fast. “Li, I promise I am only doing this to prove a point to your idiot of a boyfriend and my idiot of a boyfriend and if you want me to stop all you have to do is say so, but I would totally appreciate your backing me up on this because they’re being insufferable pricks and I refuse to lose to them in the teasing game.”

It takes maybe half a second for Liam to process that, and when he does he gets a tiny, mischievous smile in his eye and nods, just slightly, and Louis grins back and swoops in to capture his lips.

Liam kisses back with surprising eagerness, his hands coming up to rest gently on Louis’ hips. He tastes like tea and milk, and his lips are wide and warm and it’s really quite a lovely kiss, Louis admits to himself, soft and just intense enough. Someone behind him makes a strangled, choking noise. Louis is 99% sure it’s Zayn, and apparently so is Liam because Louis feels him smirk into his mouth and then the intensity is turned way up, Liam licking into his mouth, his fingers tightening on Louis’ hips. Louis makes a surprised noise that is only half calculated, his hands coming up to play with the hair at the base of Liam’s neck.

A warm hand settles on his shoulder and Harry says in his ear, “Okay, break it up.”

He pulls back, a little reluctantly, and Liam—Liam—winks at him. “My,” says Louis breathlessly, and then tilts his head back to look at Harry upside-down. “Jealous, Haz?” he teases.

Harry quirks an eyebrow at him but doesn’t deny it. “It’s not me I’m worried about.” He jerks his head at Zayn.

Zayn, who is all but swaying on his feet, his eyes flicking from Louis to Liam and back. “Jesus,” he finally says, his voice coming from very far away.

Louis hops off Liam’s lap into Harry’s arms, satisfied. “Tommo takes his revenge,” he announces happily. “Sorry we never had that threesome?” he needles Zayn, his arms slung around Harry’s neck. Harry’s hands are settled in the small of his back like its made for them, and really, Louis isn’t about to claim it isn’t.

“Who says it’s off the table?” Liam asks, and everyone in the room turns to stare at him. He blushes and spread his hands. “I’m just saying.”

“What have you awakened, Lou? Can this be our Liam?” Harry asks incredulously, as if he hadn’t only met Liam face to face 24 hours before.

Louis’ heart warms. Our Liam. It feels right, like home, but he looks around at the four of them and frowns a little. “Niall should be here,” he says to Harry.

Harry’s eyebrows fly up. “We hadn’t even broached the foursome idea, Lou, and now you’re opening it up to five?”

Louis rolls his eyes and very carefully doesn’t think about that, yet. “Not for sex,” he says, as if he hadn’t just had Liam’s tongue in his mouth. “For dinner.” He pokes Harry in the stomach. “You’re cooking.”

Harry swings him around in a circle. “Happily,” he murmurs, and Louis kisses him, soft and grateful and right.

Chapter Text

Harry makes a shopping list for dinner. “Liam,” he says, “you seem like you’re useful, you stay here. Lou, Zayn, I’m sending you out for ingredients.” He looks between them. “No one’s a vegetarian or anything, right?”

Louis snorts. “We’re uni kids, babe, we can’t afford to be.”

“Right,” Harry nods, “good, I’ve been cooking for a bunch of hippie volunteers for too long,” and he’s wearing an apron and looking solemn and stupid and Louis steps into his space, squinting up at him, his cheeks sore from smiling. “I can stay,” he offers, “help you cook.”

Harry smirks down at him. “You can’t cook to save your life,” he says gently. “Besides.” He curls down to whisper in Louis’ ear. “If I send you out to get food you also go get Niall, and it seems to me that you and Zayn are the right combination for that, huh?”

Louis bites his lip. “Yeah,” he says fondly, “I suppose we are.”

They end up picking up Niall first, actually. Zayn’s quiet on the ride over and when Louis pulls up outside of Niall’s hotel he looks across at him. “Are you ready for this, babe?”

Zayn picks at the edges of a tear in his jeans, thinking.

Louis puts the car in reverse. “I can drop you off somewhere, just get him myself, if you need a minute—“

“No,” says Zayn, shaking his head, “no, it’s okay, I should do this, I wanna do this.”

Louis examines him. His eyes are lowered, staring at his hands, but he’s not panicking, he’s not frantic-worried-pacing Zayn or even slowly-dying-inside Zayn, like he’d been after Liam kissed him the first time. It seems more like he’s just…waiting to see what’ll happen.

“Okay,” says Louis, and finds somewhere to park.

He lets Zayn knock on the door, hanging off to the side, clearly there but also clearly not in the way in case there was a way to get in. Niall opens the door and he’s even more compact and energetic and adorable in person, beaming at them like they’re his best friends dropping by for a pint. He’s wearing a sleeveless shirt that Louis is pretty sure is six sizes too large for him, the neck and arm holes so big that the actual fabric of the shirt barely covers his nipples, and he’s freshly showered, his skin clean and soft. He looks like a cross between a porn star and a rap star, and Louis is pretty sure he likes it.

“Hey, man,” Niall says to Zayn, who’s staring at him with an expression halfway between nonchalant and thunderstruck.

Zayn scratches the back of his head. “Uh, hey.”

Niall hesitates, laughs at himself a little, and then pulls him into a quick, fierce hug, and Louis watches with interest as it deflates Zayn entirely, making him into something young and vulnerable and wondering.

Niall pulls back, slapping the back of his hand against Zayn’s chest with a fond expression. “You got tall, mate,” he observes casually. “Hard to tell shit like that over skype.”

“Yeah,” says Zayn automatically, but Niall’s moving past him, light-footed, to clasp hands with Louis and pull him in for the bro-est of shoulder checks that Louis has ever experienced in his life. Louis goes with it, laughing, because what the hell.

“Louis,” Niall greets him, without letting go of his hand, and Louis grins open-mouthed at him. Niall tries to school his face into something less purely joyful, but if Louis didn’t have firsthand (secondhand? Third eye?) experience he’d be pretty sure he had no other expressions. “Is it weird,” Niall asks as seriously as he can manage, “to have seen me naked before you ever saw me in person?”

Zayn makes a tiny choking noise behind him, and Louis sees Niall hear it, the corner of his mouth curling further upward just the slightest bit.

Louis bites his lip at him, grinning. “I dunno,” he says, “Is it?”

Niall grins. “Only if we make it weird,” he announces, and lets go of Louis’ hand, though maybe more lingeringly than is strictly necessary, and Louis remembers the shift of muscles in his back, the freckles on his hips. His mouth’s a little dry.

“Just gotta grab my stuff,” Niall calls, and vanishes back into the hotel room. Louis raises his eyebrows at Zayn and Zayn stares back at him like a deer caught in the headlights.

Was he always like this? He mouths, and Zayn shrugs helplessly. He’s—he starts to mouth back, and then Niall interrupts them, a backpack slung over one shoulder and his guitar case in his hand. “Alright,” he announces, “let’s go.”

They pile into Louis’ tiny car and head to the grocery store. Niall settles down a little once they’re on their way, staring out the window at the city. “I haven’t been in London in years,” he admits, “since I last saw my dad.”

Zayn’s in the back, Niall’s guitar case across his legs. He’s running a hand over the neck of it, his writing face out in full force. Louis glances at him in the rearview and smiles. It’s a strange feeling, to realize you’re in the middle of a poem being composed.

“I’m glad you’re here now,” he says to Niall.

Niall looks at him, surprised. “Yeah?” he asks. “I wasn’t sure, like. It’s not like Harry could’ve asked you, with the surprise and everything.”

“You were worried I wouldn’t want you around?” Louis asks carefully.

“Just didn’t want to be in the way,” Niall says, no trace of self-pity or bitterness, just a statement of fact. “You two are you two, you know, and I’d never want to get between that.”

Louis is touched, unsure of what to say, so he says, “Except sexually, of course.”

Niall laughs loud in the quiet car. “Obviously.”

Louis grins at him, quick and bright, and then turns back to the road. “Thanks,” he says quietly after a minute, and Niall leans over and squeezes his knee.

“Should be me thanking you, mate,” he says, but doesn’t go on. Louis is grateful for it, because hearing him say for letting me date your boyfriend would be weird and, like, he’s not letting Harry do anything, Harry’s his own person, but they both know he could very easily make this very, very hard for Niall.

He just shrugs and says “Of course,” because. He’s not sure how it’s going to be, when they get back to the flat. He’s not sure how it’s going to feel, seeing Harry be Niall’s boyfriend, whether Harry was going to be Niall’s boyfriend or Louis’ boyfriend or somehow both. He’s not sure how it’s going to feel to see Niall kiss Harry for real, not as Louis’ proxy. But if it’s not okay, if it’s painful, then he wants it to be painful for him, not for them, because they don’t deserve that shit.

Niall’s watching him, and when he glances in the rear-view so is Zayn. He makes a face. “What?”

“You’re just…” Niall spreads his hands. “Impressive, mate.”

“Selfless,” Zayn fills in, “more than anyone I’ve ever met.”

Louis squirms in his seat, pleased, though he’s pretty sure they’re wrong. If he were selfless he wouldn’t wish so very intensely that Niall and Harry had never gotten to this point, that they’d stayed just sexy fun and left all the feelings for him. “Bullshit,” he protests. “You know both Harry and Niall, and they just spent five months building playgrounds for underprivileged children.”

Niall snorts. “Yeah, in exchange for room and board in one of the most beautiful places on earth,” he says. “Harry, maybe, because he really did give up a lot to be there, but me?” He glances out at the window at the darkening streets. “Heading to Australia was probably the most selfish thing I ever did.” He glances just lightning-quick back at Zayn. “Second-most.”

Zayn stares at him, eyes huge and bewildered, and they pull into the grocery store parking lot.

“Alright!” Louis announces. “So. We need chicken, brown rice, coconut milk, chili powder, asparagus, lemon juice, and onions.” He checks the list again. “Oh, and beer.”

Niall claps his hands, the guilty cast to his face disappearing. “Excellent. Food and brew, my two favorite things.”

Louis sends them off in opposite directions, himself headed to find chicken and rice. He squeezes Zayn’s hand before sending him off, smiling when Zayn looks at him, a little glassy-eyed and overwhelmed.

Niall tracks him down in the bread aisle, a six-pack under one arm and a can of coconut milk in the other hand. He slouches up casually, but he’s vibrating with the same nervous energy that he has been since they picked him up. “Um,” he says, and Louis raises an eyebrow at him and leads him further down the aisle to the rice and pasta.

“What does he think of me?” Niall asks in a rush while Louis sorts through organic rice to find one that isn’t too shitty but also won’t cost him half his rent.

“I just,” says Niall. “He’s so different, so pulled back from things, and when I knew him he was so…open with himself, and I look at him now and I can’t tell what he’s thinking, and I think did, did I do that, is that distance my fault, and it makes me feel worse than anything in the world, and.” He shoves a hand into his hair. “I wouldn’t blame me if he hates me for it.”

“He doesn’t hate you,” Louis says, because that’s something he can be sure of. “He’s really glad that you guys have been talking, and he’s very happy for you and Harry.”

Niall glares at the floor. “Okay,” he says after a minute. “Yeah.”

“As for what you did to him,” Louis says coolly, and Niall flinches a little, but takes the bag of rice when Louis hands it to him, “yeah, it did change him. I’m willing to bet he withdrew into himself as a reaction to it. But I don’t think you should look at that as necessarily a bad thing.” He shrugs and moves down the aisle, thinking. “Nobody can know what he would have been like without you, you know? And the Zayn we have is reserved, yeah, but he’s not broken. That distance is what makes him able to write the way he does, and that’s the thing that makes him happiest in the world.” He ruffles a hand though Niall’s hair. “If you want to blame yourself, blame yourself for having a hand in who Zayn is now. And then learn how fucking wonderful he is.”

Niall shakes his head. “Yeah, I. Alright.”

Louis tugs at his hair, gently, to get him to look up from the floor. “Yeah?” he asks, to make sure.

Niall licks his lips and nods.

Louis lets him go, satisfied. “By the way,” he says in a low voice, not moving backwards at all, just the slightest bit too close for a normal grocery-store conversation, “if you ever break his heart again I will kick you through a wall, Harry be damned.”

Niall stares at him for a long moment, and then starts to laugh, a genuinely amused laugh, gesturing helplessly from Louis to himself.

Louis looks offended. “What? I’ll have you know I’m a champion kickboxer.”

Niall shakes his head. “No, mate, you’re not.”

“Fine, I’m not," he says. “But I play football very well, you have no idea what my feet can do.”

“I’m scared enough of the rest of you,” Niall says, and he’s still laughing, but there’s a note of sincerity in it that takes Louis by surprise. He would ask about it, but Zayn rounds the corner and finds them.

He’s fetched a basket, which really just confirms that he’s the smartest of them, not that they really needed it, and has collected all the ingredients he was sent for. He looks at Louis questioning, but doesn’t press when Louis just shakes his head.

“You two are useless,” Zayn says instead.

“I thought I was impressive,” Louis pouts, and links his arm through Zayn’s.

Chapter Text

At first it’s fine. At first it’s more than fine, actually. At first Louis feels more at home than he has in any group of people, ever, in his life. They’re all sitting around the living room (they kitchen table is lovely but way too small to fit all five of them) and eating Harry’s curry chicken off Louis’ cracked plates, and Zayn is leaning against Liam’s legs and Louis is halfway in Harry’s lap, stealing bits of food off his plate. Niall’s on Harry’s other side, shoving food in his mouth with a surprisingly endearing single-mindedness.

“Real food,” remarks Liam, staring at his plate with a wonder that Louis feels is quite pointed, and pointed towards him. “Amazing.”

“Careful, Mr. Payne,” he warns.

Zayn tilts his head up so he’s looking at them. “I’m sure all Liam meant was that it’s nice to eat something not out of a can,” he says mildly, his eyes crinkled up at the edges.

“Or a box,” Liam interjects. “Or a takeout container.”

“Ungrateful!” Louis mutters, glaring at both of them. “Ungrateful ruffians, get out of my flat!”

“S’not your flat,” Niall points out around his chicken. “Technically it’s Harry’s, too.”

“Yeah, Harry wouldn’t throw us out just for enjoying his cooking.” Zayn glances up at Harry, all pleading eyes. “Would you?”

Harry laughs. “If I say I might, will you keep complimenting me?”

“We’ll probably keep complimenting you anyway, babe,” says Niall, shoveling the last of his chicken into his mouth.

“True,” Louis says, tracing his fingers under Harry’s jaw and up to his ear. “You’re the returning monarch, after all.”

“King or Queen?” Liam asks, and everyone chuckles at him, Zayn pressing a kiss to the side of his knee.

“Or like a monarch butterfly,” says Niall, leaning comfortably against Harry’s side.

“Pretty apt, actually,” Zayn says, without really taking his mouth away from Liam’s jeans. “He spreads his wings and a thousand miles away, a thunderstorm gathers.”

Harry shakes his head. “Such a bloody writer, Zayn,” he says, admiring.

“I’m just saying,” says Zayn, “I’ve been struck by metaphorical lightning a couple times in the last months, and I don’t think I’m the only one.”

He tilts his head back and smiles sideways at Louis, who smirks back at him. “I can think of a few times,” he says.

“Me too,” says Niall, and when Louis looks at him he’s locked eyes with Harry and Harry’s grinning scrunch-nosed at him.

Louis drops his eyes, something flipping over on itself in his stomach. Zayn’s turned away, reaching up to play with Liam’s hair, and for the first time since the two of them started dating Louis feels like a third wheel. Before, he always had Harry, if only conceptual Harry, far away and otherwise occupied but still Louis’ perfect other half, and it doesn’t seem fucking fair to have him back and not sealed into that perfect fit.

The problem, of course, is that he knows he’s not being fair. Harry is his other half. Harry is his and just as much his as ever and it is totally ridiculous for Louis to feel left out when Harry’s still got a hand fit perfect on his waist, his thumb running absent over his hip, but he does, and he doesn’t know what to do about it. He swallows and concentrates on not showing it on his face, because tonight is important, tonight sets the scene for days to come and he’d gladly feel this way forever before he’d ruin it for the rest of them.

Harry clears his throat. “I, uh, I have stuff for you guys,” he says, a little awkward in the intimate silence.

Louis blinks, surprised out of his self-pity if only momentarily. “You do?”

Harry beams at him. “Mhm,” he says, nodding, his curls falling over one eye, and Louis aches with how beautiful he is. “Hang on.”

He gets up, disentangling himself from Louis and Niall both, and there’s a moment where Niall’s awkwardly hanging sideways into the space he leaves behind and then he lets himself collapse, ending up with his head on Louis’ knee. He smiles up at Louis, soft and appreciative, and Louis has to look away because he’s being unfair but he can’t quite make himself stop.

It’s like. It’s not that he doesn’t know who Harry is to him. It’s that he can’t quite convince himself to take his place in Harry’s heart and arms and lap like he would otherwise, because his place leaves no room for Niall and he wants to make sure that Niall knows that there is space for him. But leaving space for Niall makes Louis linger awkwardly, hovering just above the place he long so much to let himself fall back into, and he hates that feeling, hates feeling not-quite-home when Harry’s home at last.

Harry emerges from the bedroom with two precisely wrapped packages. He takes the larger of the two and hands it to Liam, who stares at him.

“But,” he protests, “I’m not—I barely even met you yesterday.”

Harry shrugs. “So?”

Liam frowns, like Harry’s an idiot but he doesn’t know how to point out why, and opens the present.

It is, in proper Harry Styles fashion, very thoughtful and utterly bizarre. It’s a small statue of a turtle, carved out of some green stone. Liam stares at it for a long moment, his eyes bemused. “It’s quite beautiful,” he says after a minute. “I love turtles.”

Harry winks at Zayn. “I know,” he says.

Zayn looks between him and Liam with eyes so, so fond.

“As for you,” Harry says, and hands Zayn the other package, “I’m afraid I’ve been a bit unoriginal.”

Zayn takes it from him with a smile, and Louis feels Niall shift on his knee to look at him, anticipatory. Louis watches as Zayn carefully peels back the wrapping paper to reveal a notebook, the cover stamped with a silver Z.

There’s no package for Louis, and for no reason at all that’s the thing that tips the twist in his stomach over the edge to unbearable.

“Back in a sec,” he mutters, and Niall lifts his head obligingly. He weaves his way through Zayn and Harry, not meeting either of their eyes, hears Zayn say, “Harry, it’s beautiful,” behind him.

“I expect it to be filled with poetry about my mouth within the next week,” Harry says expectantly, and Niall laughs, loud and delighted, and then Louis closes the door to the bathroom.

He sits down on the floor, trying to steady himself and shove down the weird angry displacement in his chest. He’s being unreasonable and he knows it. He wanted this, all of it, he opened them up in the first place and he shoved Liam and Zayn together as hard as he could and he encouraged Harry to date Niall and he even invited them all here tonight but he didn’t invite them to be, to be bright and shining and happy without him, to not notice when he withdrew, and it’s totally ridiculous to blame them for that because he was fucking hiding it, wasn’t he, he was fighting to not show any of it so it’s not like it was their fault for not seeing—

But not even Harry, his brain whispers, nor Zayn, shouldn’t they know, shouldn’t they know you better than anyone?

And they do, he knows they do, but neither of them are going to be able to help him now because it’s his problem, it’s all inside his head, and the only way to fix it is to just. Just suck it up and fix it. He runs a hand through his hair and digs his phone out of his pocket. Chewing his lip, he texts Perrie, what do you do when you get jealous? and then slides his phone back into his pocket.

There’s a knock on the door but Harry doesn’t wait for Lou to answer before he’s slipping inside, closing it behind him and sitting in front of Louis, taking both his hands. “Hey,” he says.

Louis swallows, because he doesn’t ask if he’s alright and he doesn’t ask what’s going on because he does know him. “I’m jealous and I can’t stop being jealous,” he says, “and it’s stupid and hypocritical and unfair.”

Harry quirks his lips at him. “So you’re being hard on yourself about it, too.”

Louis shrugs a little. “Why wouldn’t I be?” he asks wearily. “It’s stupid.”

Harry shakes his head. “It’s not stupid.” He looks down at their hands, his smile rueful. “When you were kissing Liam I wanted to punch him in the mouth, and he definitely doesn’t deserve that.”

Louis blinks at him. “Yeah?”

Harry nods. “Yeah.”

“It’s not that I don’t trust you,” Louis says, because that feels important, “when you say that nothing’s changed in how you feel about me. And nothing’s changed in how I feel about you, so. I guess I just don’t—“ Louis takes a breath. “I don’t know the rules, you know?” He turns Harry’s hands over and over in his, examining his broad, flat palms, his stupid long familiar fingers and all their unfamiliar calluses, born from shovels and ropes and the strings of someone else’s guitar. “When you’re just with one person, everyone knows the rules. You don’t sleep with anyone else, you don’t fall for anyone else, you don’t do, you know, boyfriend things, or it’s over, that’s it, you must not love them.”

He can’t quite look Harry in the face, because he doesn’t know what his face will be doing, and he’s not sure he can take finding out. “And there’s a part of me that thinks that’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard, you know? It’s, it’s even most of me, probably, like, 60, 70%. But the rest of me, I.” He slides their fingers together, interlocking tight. “I miss this, Haz.” You and I and no room between.

“It’s not gone,” Harry says softly. “It’s not, it’s just we got rid of our old edges and never made new ones, so how can we match up properly?” He leaves one hand clasped tight in Louis’ but trails the fingers of the other along Louis’ jawline, tilting his face up so he has to look at him. “We’ll make new rules, Lou.”

His face is…it’s concerned and fond and hopeful all at once, but it’s not worried at all. Harry’s not doubting. Harry’s not regretting anything, and knowing that robs Louis of some of his regret, too. “Okay,” he says, blowing a breath out. “Okay. Um.” He thinks for a moment. “No one sleeps in our bed but us, and, and no sex there, either, except you and me.”

Harry smiles at him. “Done,” he says easily, and thinks for a moment. “All our anniversaries,” he says after a minute, “it’s just us, those days, we kick everyone out and just have it like it used to be.”

Louis nods vigorously and then looks at Harry sideways. “All our anniversaries, huh?”

Harry’s smile softens into something so sweet it hurts Louis’ eyes. “First day we met,” he starts, “First date, first kiss…” He licks his lips. “And April Fool’s.”

Louis makes an embarrassed, squirming kind of noise and curls in on himself, and Harry curls in, too, curling around him until Louis is more than half in his lap, their faces inches apart. Louis knows he’s blushing and tries hard to chalk it up to how unused he is to actually having Harry here and touching him and real. “You really want to coop yourself up with me on a day when the whole point is to be an asshole to people?”

“What better way to spend the day than with my favorite asshole?” Harry asks, which would be sweet except that he wags his eyebrows, and Louis gapes at him, too flabbergasted to say ‘copy’, too flabbergasted to even laugh.

“You didn’t just say that,” he breathes, disbelieving.

“I might have,” says Harry, his lip trapped between his teeth. “Jury’s out.”

Louis shakes his head. “Case’s been thrown out for flagrant inappropriate behavior in the courtroom, court is adjourned,” he says, and slips a hand up into Harry’s curls, tugging at them. “No one ties you up but me,” he says all of a sudden. “Except if we’re like reenacting the Niall thing.”

Harry blinks slow at him. “Mm, done.”

Louis grins and tugs harder, pulling Harry’s head back to expose his throat, and Harry’s lips part, his eyes going dark. Louis closes the gap between them, sucking Harry’s lower lip into his mouth. “Did you like it?” He asks, keeping Harry’s lip between his teeth, and Harry squirms under him. “Did you like it when I had him fuck you ‘til you couldn’t move?”

“Y-you’re an idiot,” Harry says, but it comes out a little shaky and unclear. Louis hasn’t let go, yet. He bites down just a little harder than necessary and pulls back, but not far.

“That was a mean prank you pulled,” he breathes, “with Zayn. I don’t know if kissing Niall would really drive home how mean, do you?”

Harry’s eyes are dark and he keeps swiping his tongue over the place Louis bit him. “Um,” he says.

Louis shifts so he can get a hand between them, trailing his fingers playfully over the zipper of Harry’s jeans. He leans in again and says, a hair’s breadth from his lips, “would you like to see me fuck him?”

Harry’s hands flex on Louis’ back and he twitches upwards into Louis’ hand. “Lou—“

Louis stops, pulling back further and adopting a thoughtful face. “Hang on, what are the rules here? Is it just, like, cool to do whatever, sex-wise? Could Niall and I have sex without you?”

Harry looks very much like he wants Louis to stop talking about rules and go back to doing the thing with his hands, but that stops him. He blinks at Louis. “Do you want to?”

Louis thinks about it. “Not, like, actively?” He shrugs a little. “He’s fit, he’s clearly good at it, it’d be fun, but if I’ve got you and Zayn I don’t think I’ll be so starved for sex that I’ll just go with “fun” over someone I really love, you know? Not that I don’t love Niall but.” He waves his hands, frustrated. “You know.”

“I don’t think “starved for sex” will describe any of us ever again,” Harry says drily. “We’ll put that down as a clear maybe. What about Zayn and me?”

“No,” says Louis immediately, and then feels bad about it. “Is that okay?”

Harry rolls his eyes. “Of course it’s okay.” He smiles at Louis. “There’s gotta be stuff we can’t do, or they’re not really very good rules, are they?”

Louis twists his lips. “I mean like—maybe you could if it was—I—“ he stammers, and Harry laces his fingers around the back of his head and shakes him gently until he stops talking.

“You’re allowed to not like things,” he says gently. “Literally the point of doing this is that I know what you don’t like and you know what I don’t like and it’s all fine.” He shakes his head. “S’a shame, though, he’s fucking fit.”

Louis smirks at him. “I know,” he says, and leans in again, “That way,” he breathes, “I can use him as a reward.”

Harry stutters forward to kiss him again, and then pulls back with an “mm” of something remembered. “I never gave you your present,” he says when Louis looks at him questioningly.

“Oh,” says Louis, and drops his eyes. “I figured, like.”

Harry blinks at him. “What?” He frowns a little. “Lou, did you think I didn’t bring you one?”

“I guess I kind of.” Louis stops, and licks his lips. “You were my present, Haz, and that’s so much more than enough, I just thought.”

“Well, you’re an idiot,” says Harry, and pulls an envelope from his back pocket. Louis tears it open in the minute space between their bodies, his fingers fumbling, inexplicably nervous.

It’s a drawing. Well, two drawings, really, the first being a beautiful, intricately detailed ship, sailing full tilt, rendered in precise pen-and-ink. The other, in the same style, is a compass, the needle pointing home.

Louis looks at Harry over the top of the paper. “What—?”

Harry swallows. “Tattoos,” he says softly. “Because I’m your ship and you’re my north star.”

Louis’ mouth gapes, and then he kisses Harry hard, half-laughing with the joy of it. “We should get Zayn to ghost-write all of your romantic lines,” he says into Harry’s mouth, and Harry laughs with him until they’re too breathless to kiss, just laughing against each others’ teeth.

“I did okay for a few years,” he protests, once they’re able to speak again.

Louis raises an eyebrow at him. “My favorite asshole?” he reminds, and Harry drops his head into his hands. Louis pulls him close, his fingers in Harry’s curls, his laughter fading to contented breath.

“Haz,” he says, quiet into the echoing bathroom silence, “Thank you.”

Harry turns his face so his lips are in Louis’ cheek, sort of near his ear. “You’re okay, right?” he asks. “This wasn’t a bad idea? We shouldn’t just call it off and go back to being you and me?”

Louis thinks about it and isn’t even really tempted. “No,” he says. “You’ll have to be patient with me, but this is what we are, now.” He kisses Harry’s nose and eyebrows and everything he can reach, punctuating his sentences. “We just have too damn much love for two bodies.”
He’s too close to see Harry’s smile but he can feel it against his throat, and he lets it rest there, against his adam’s apple, a stamp of happiness that he can call back to his mind whenever he needs it.

“C’mon,” he says finally, “the others’ll be missing us.”

He’s leading Harry out of the bathroom by the hand, back to where Niall’s flipping through Zayn’s empty notebook and Liam’s made them tea, when his phone buzzes in his pocket.

I remember how fucking amazing I am, Perrie’s texted back, and how fucking much I am loved.

Chapter Text

Zayn takes Niall on a date to his play.

Harry and Louis and Liam will go with them the next night, but for opening night he wants it to be just the two of them—a kind of closure, he says, and Harry says “of course, go,” before he’s even finished his sentence. Liam, too, understands, though maybe a little more worriedly, and Louis is gonna have to talk to him about jealousy one of these days. He knows Liam’s alright with him and Zayn, because Liam basically lived with him and Zayn for months, but he’s not sure what Liam would think should Zayn and Niall want to rekindle—whatever it was they had.

Tonight’s not the right time, though, because Liam’s gone off to study with his debate partner, who is, according to Zayn, the most intensely boring person to ever exist. Which means it’s just Harry and Louis in their flat, for once. Three rooms split by five people is…well, “chaotic” seems a bit of an understatement, and even with just the two of them it feels crowded, like there’s too much stuff, too many emotions going on even when the people whose emotions they are are gone.

He sighs and curls into Harry’s chest, leaning up to press a kiss in under his jaw, still kind of marveling that’s he’s actually here, but the here that they are is stressing him out. “Let’s go out,” he proposes. “It’s Friday night, let’s do something!”

Harry looks down at him, fond. “Yeah,” he says. “We can go to a club and pick up boys.”

Louis laughs, startled and sharp, and Harry laughs with him, shaking his head. “I don’t think I could do it, Lou,” he says. “I want to be the only boy looking at you tonight.” He trails absent fingers up and down Louis’ arm. “I want to be the only one who can look at you and think, mine.”

Louis shivers a little. “Yeah,” he says into Harry’s chest. “But.”

“But you don’t want to be here,” Harry says for him. “So where can we go where I can stare adoringly at you without interruption—“

“—and we can also get drunk?” Louis finishes, and then hums to himself. “I think there’s an introduction that is long overdue.”

Harry raises his eyebrows at him as he pulls out his phone, watches him scroll through contacts, and laughs when he gets to “P”.

can harry and i come get drunk and make out in your kitchen he taps out to Perrie, and then turns to sling a leg over Harry’s lap. “Gonna ask her if she can do our tattoos,” he murmurs, and Harry kisses him, slow and thorough.

A few minutes later Perrie texts back, have i tapped into zayn’s daydreams circa a year ago?

Louis laughs into Harry’s collarbone and texts back one-handed, his other hand buried in Harry’s curls,it’s possible and then did his daydreams include you giving us tattoos inspired by him

they would have if he was more creative she answers. also yes you can, bring pictures of tats

Louis does. Louis would have anyway, because they’re folded up in his wallet next to the poem Zayn wrote him like maps to his heart in case he loses his way.

(He’d shown the poem to Harry over skype, and Harry had looked at him with eyes gone a little liquid, a little wondering, and said, “God, Lou, he’s amazing.”

“I know,” Louis had replied, soft.

“Got you dead to rights,” Harry had muttered. “Laughter in the throat of the world, jesus.”)

Perrie lets them in, pulling Louis into a hug and then standing toe-to-toe with Harry, her arms crossed. She’s comically short in comparison, a tiny, immovable force of nature. “Styles,” she greets him.

“Perrie,” says Harry, half-smirking, half wary.

She examines him a minute more, and then shakes her head. “It’s a damn shame you weren’t born a woman.”

Harry blinks at her. “Thanks?”

She grins at him. “You’re welcome. Nice to meet you.”

“You too,” says Harry, and she steps out of his way.

“So,” she says, leading them to the kitchen and gesturing for them to sit on the bar stools. “Tell me about your tattoos.”

Harry watches her as she gets glasses for them and starts to mix drinks. “Well, they’re—do, do you want help with that, I feel bad making you—“

“Shh, Haz,” Louis says, squeezing his arm. “Let her work her magic.”

Perrie flashes them a smile. “You’re a sweetheart,” she says to Harry, “but listen to your boy.” She turns back to her tumblers and bottles. “Tattoos.”

“Tattoos,” says Louis, hopping up onto the bar stool. He pulls the drawings from his wallet, unfolding them carefully and returning the poem to where it came from.

Perrie takes the sheet of paper. “Wow,” she says. She bites her lip. “You’re sure you want to trust me to do these?”

Louis raises an eyebrow at her. “You mean you’re not the best tat artist in London? Someone’s led me wrong.”

Perrie sticks out her tongue at him. “Ass,” she says, and then looks back at the drawings. “Zayn’s let me practice on him but. These are kind of important, no?”

Louis glances at Harry, who nods. “Yeah,” he says. “But if Louis trusts you…”

"I'm not saying I won't do it at all," Perrie says, "but it's a bit beyond what I've tackled so far."

Louis shrugs a little. “Maybe we won’t do it yet. Maybe.” He bites his lip. “Um, we'll start with these?” He takes out his wallet again and removes two smaller pieces of paper, torn from the page from a notebook.

He starts to slide them across the bar but Harry grabs at them before Perrie can. He stares at them wide-eyed. “Lou?”

Louis squeezes his eyes shut. “Yes, I kept them,” he says, “and yes, it makes me the biggest sap who ever lived.”

Harry stares down at the two scraps, tracing his fingertips over his own handwriting first and then Louis’.

“What’s this, then?” Perrie asks, leaning over as far as she can to try and see them.

Louis bites his lip. “Harry, explain,” he orders, feeling himself go red.

Harry’s staring at Louis like he’s done something amazing. “It’s the first words we ever said to each other,” he says. “Or, wrote, I guess. Notes in class.”

Perrie slides them out from under his hands. “Oops,” she reads, “Hi.” She grins. “Eloquent,” she says, but there’s no malice in it.

Louis stares at the bar so he doesn’t have to meet Harry’s gaze because this is so fucking embarrassing. “It’s a long story,” he mutters, even though it really isn’t, and clears his throat. “But my point is—we practice with these now and then when you come back all brilliant at it you can do the ship and compass.” He looks up at Perrie. “That way you have to come back at least once.”

“I wanted to talk to you about that, actually,” Perrie says, and hands them their drinks. “I have a proposal.”

“Sorry, I’m taken,” says Harry immediately. “Twice over, in fact.”

Perrie rolls her eyes. “As am I, Styles.” She drops her eyes and then looks sideways at Louis. “I want you guys to move in here.”

Louis blinks at her. “What?”

“All of you,” she says, “or however it shakes out.” She sips her drink, looking around at her flat. “I love this place. I want it in the hands of someone I trust and I want to be able to come back and visit and it’s not like you can feasibly continue to squeeze the five of you into your tiny place.”

Louis looks at Harry and then back at Perrie. “I, um. Wow. You’re sure?”

“Yeah,” says Perrie. “I’ve been thinking about it a lot.” She smiles sideways. “I think Zayn’ll take it better if I can convince him you’re all just house-sitting for me.”

Louis shakes his head. “Zayn’s going to take it hard no matter what, Perrie.”

Perrie pushes her hair out of her face. “I know,” she says softly, and then smiles at them. “Why don’t you stay here tonight? See how it feels?” She gives Harry a significant look. “Why aren’t you drinking that?”

“Oh,” says Harry, “uh, sorry, right.” He sips his drink. “I really—wow.” He stops and blinks at his glass. “This is awesome.”

“Told you,” Louis says, smirking at him.

Perrie sighs a little and straightens up. “I can definitely do these tats,” she says, “but we’ll do it as a going-away present, yeah? I’ll go to Ant’s tonight, you two get a feel for the place.”

“You don’t have to leave,” Harry protests.

“I already had plans with him,” she admits, and then grins at them. “This might’ve been an ambush.”

Louis shakes his head at her. “Conniving, you are.”

Perrie shrugs. “Wanted to make sure you’d take me seriously.” She snags her keys from the counter by the door. “Enjoy yourselves, boys.”

“Nice to meet you,” Harry calls after her, and she blows him a kiss before closing the door.

For a moment they sit in silence, drinking and drinking in the flat around them. “Well,” says Louis, running his eyes over the spacious kitchen, the living room with two windows, the closed bedroom doors. “What do you think?”

Harry sips his drink. He’s not looking at the flat but at the bar, where Perrie left the two scraps of paper. “I think you’re incredible,” he says, and Louis drops his eyes, trying not to smile like an idiot. “I can’t believe you kept them,” Harry continues, retrieving the notes.

Louis remembers that first day of class. He remembers the professor, in some gesticulation, spilling coffee all over his desk. He remembers laughing at him in perfect tandem with a beautiful boy—babyfaced and with too many curls, but then the smile, the smile that made Louis feel like he was staring into the sun. He remembers the boy meeting his eye and leaning over to scribble something on Louis’ page.

He remembers having nothing at all to say, but wanting to say something anyway, so he responded to Harry’s Oops with an inane Hi, just hoping to continue the contact.

“Of course I kept them,” he mumbles. “They changed my life.” Suddenly he’s seized with a kind of wild energy, a reaction, maybe, to surprise and embarrassment and the newness of possibility. He clambers onto the counter and stands up, beaming down at Harry. “Lift me down,” he says.

Harry laughs up at him. “What?”

“Lift me down,” Louis say again, and spreads his arms.

Harry wraps his hands around Louis’ waist and picks him up bodily. Louis laughs and marvels and laughs more as he’s lowered into Harry’s chest like a gymnast. He kisses him slow and soft, tasting the alcohol on his lips, taking his time. He tilts their foreheads together when he finally needs to breathe. “I have a list of daydreams,” he says, sing-song, “and I’m checking them off one by one.”

Harry grins so wide that suddenly Louis is kissing his teeth. “What’s next?” he asks into Louis’ mouth. He’s still holding Louis up, because at some point someone, definitely not Louis, wrapped Louis’ legs around his waist.

“I think you take me home,” Louis says, trying to remember. He laughs a little. “But I guess maybe we’re already here.”

“Yeah,” says Harry, “Maybe we are.”

Louis slides further down him so he’s standing on the floor. “Want to check out the bedroom?”

“I thought you’d never ask,” says Harry, slipping his fingers through Louis’ belt loops and tugging.

They fuck in the spare room, because Perrie had said “Enoy” but it would still be a little weird to have sex in her bed while she was still, y’know, living here. Harry’s perfect and pliant under his hands, pulling Louis close and murmuring obscenities in his ear as Louis fucks him slow and thorough. He buries his face in Harry’s collarbone when he comes, anchored by the slow, absent slide of Harrys’ hands along his spine, just firm enough not to be too much sensation.

They lie in silence for a moment, and then Louis says, “Haz, go get my drink.”

“Lou,” Harry protests, squirming underneath him.

“Go on, sweaty,” Louis says without moving from on top of him. “You heard me.”

Harry groans in protest but obeys, rolling Louis off of him to splay flat on his back, sated and happy. He vanishes off to the kitchen for a moment and then returns, their drinks in hand. He pauses in the doorway and Louis props his head on his hand to look at him.

His hair, wild from Louis’ hands, has settled rakishly over one eye. He’s fully naked and Louis runs his eyes over him appreciatively, the bare planes of his chest, the deep V of his hips. He’s put on muscle in his time in Australia, become something slightly more sculpted and toned than the Harry Louis had seen off at the airport, and somehow that more than all the dramatic, life-changing relationship developments is what drives it home to Louis that the life they’re living is forever altered, is something totally new.

“Get over here,” he orders.

“Didn’t want to interrupt your staring,” Harry teases, but crosses to him, handing him his glass and climbing back into bed next to him. “See anything you like?”

“Mm, very much,” Louis says, kissing him. He pulls back, taking a sip of his drink. “For example,” he says, looking around at the room. “The, uh, drapes are very nice.”

“You didn’t even know there were drapes until two seconds ago!” Harry accuses.

“So?”

Harry shakes his head at him and looks around the room, at the photographs on the wall. He sips his drink. “Does Perrie really have three girlfriends?”

“Impossible to imagine, right?” Louis mocks him.

“Hot,” Harry counters, and Louis smacks him in the chest.

Harry grabs his hand, smirking at him, and Louis scowls back. “I’ll pour this drink over your head, Harry Styles,” he warns.

Harry smiles and link their arms, lifting his drink to his mouth, and Louis mirrors him in a move reminiscent of weddings and honeymoons and commercials for champagne.

He’s not drinking champagne, though, and takes too big a gulp, wincing at the burn of alcohol. He settles happily into Harry’s side, idly tracing fingers over his throat and chest. “Do you miss girls?” he asks, purely curious. “Are you sad you didn’t sleep with Claire from Lost when you had the chance?”

Harry, to his credit, thinks about it. “No,” he says. “Or I guess…not often.” He takes a sip of his drink. “I miss having such a clear picture of who I would be at forty, you know? The cliché married-with-house-and-kids thing. But I halfway gave that up when I realized I liked boys.” He presses a kiss to Louis’ hair. “Fully, when I met you.”

Louis smiles at that, his heart warming. “It’s even farther away now,” he points out. “I guess we’re just not meant for the cookie-cutter life.”

Harry laughs. “Yeah, I don’t think they make gay polyamorous cookie cutters.”

“Well, they should,” says Louis, and curls around so he’s facing Harry, laying against his side, hands on his chest. “Where do you want to be at forty, Haz?” he asks, tilting his head to the side.

Harry smiles at him over the lip of his glass. “Next to you.”

They eventually get out of bed again, wandering the flat and examining it. It’s really quite a lovely place. Louis loved it at first glance and he loves it now, and the more he imagines the five of them living there the more he adores the idea.

“Liam and Zayn could have the other room,” he says, because the idea of Zayn sleeping in Perrie’s bed isn’t nearly as weird as them doing so. “Niall can be wherever, like, we’ll make a bed for him in the main room but if we want he can be with us or with Zayn if that’s, y’know.”

“Do you think it will be?” Harry asks in his ear, wrapping his arms around him from behind.

Louis leans back into him, tipsy and happy. “Do you really think he’s going to come out of Zayn’s incredibly romantic play about him just wanting to be friends?”

“I don’t think anyone could hear any of Zayn’s writing about them and just want to be friends,” Harry says softly.

“Then he better not fill up that notebook with odes to your mouth,” Louis counters, but he’s mostly joking. The idea of Zayn and Harry is something he refuses to think about just because his brain can’t hold it, it’s too big, it’s too much, but somewhere in the back of his head he thinks it can’t not happen, and he’ll deal with that when it comes.

“How’s Liam going to feel about it?” Harry asks, and Louis laces their fingers together on his stomach.

“I don’t know,” he says, because he really doesn’t. “But he’s going to have to figure it out. I think Zayn’s half in love with everyone he meets.”

“Or maybe he just meets people worthy of being in love with,” Harry murmurs, and Louis turns around in his arms to kiss him.

He gives Harry a lapdance on the couch and they drunkenly wash out their glasses in Perrie’s sink and by the time they’re curled up back in the guest bed the flat feels practically like home.

"Hazza?" Louis mumbles into Harry's side, sleep already tugging at the backs of his eyes.

"Mm?"

Louis slides his hand up into Harry's curls. "Nobody else, okay?"

Harry shifts, turning on his side so Louis is pressed to his chest instead. "Not even Niall?" He says into Louis' hair, voice teasing.

Louis blinks his eyes open. "Well obviously Niall—"

Harry fits his fingers into the dents between Louis' ribs, his touch light enough to tickle. "And you said yourself you were going to use Zayn as a reward—“

Louis hums happily. “He doesn’t count.”

"So you’re saying if Liam finally gave into his secret desire to fuck me into the mattress, you wouldn’t—“

"Harry," Louis interrupts, exasperated. "I meant no one else. Just us."

He feels Harry smile into his hair, and the fingers by his ribs still, pulling him minutely closer. "Just us."