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He finds out about it during late winter; when the snow is slowly starting to melt, and Kyra has convinced Harry to finally clean out his closet in the spare bedroom. It’s his closet because of the giant piles of clothes and boxes of god knows what from Harry’s childhood that he has kept with him for years. Kyra tries to be patient with him about it, but patience does run thin.

He’s sorted through most of it in a span of two hours (way faster than Harry ever thought possible with how many things are actually in that closet) and is finally into the last few boxes when it hits him. It doesn’t scream mate , doesn’t make him go into a frenzy like all the stories he’s heard. It is a warm feeling, though, gliding up his arms and legs, settling in his chest as he drinks the scent in. Harry lets himself bathe in it for a few minutes, slumped against the closet wall, when he realizes what this means.

Kyra takes it pretty well, considering. She asks Harry if he knows who it is, if the person was someone important from Harry’s past, or just a fleeting scent that Harry can’t recognize, but he doesn’t have any answers for her. He has a bad feeling about it, though, knows that whoever's scent that is is someone he used to know, someone who touched whatever object the smell is coming from a lot, or the scent would’ve been long gone by now.

So, with rigid postures and tight faces, Harry and Kyra start to sort through the last boxes, gingerly taking each item out until Harry can find the right one, the one with the scent of his mate .

Unsurprisingly, it’s easy to find; a small navy-blue school sweater buried at the bottom of one of the boxes. The scent coming off from it is weak, but still easily recognizable, and the realization makes Harry’s head spin.

Kyra doesn’t need an explanation, because she sees the number 23 on the front, the name Horan printed in block letters right below it.

-

Niall doesn’t answer his first few calls. It scares Harry, makes him think that maybe he’s changed his number since the last week that Harry had called him. But Harry’s worries diminish by a fraction as Niall finally picks up, an hour and a half after Harry first started to call him.

“Y’know i’s like three in tha’ mornin’ over here, right?” Niall’s slurred speech rings through the phone, lifting a three-ton weight off of Harry’s chest. It creates a happy feeling too - the groggy-tiredness of Niall’s voice - a tight little ball of content right in Harry’s stomach. But he ignores it, shoves the feelings aside for later. Because he knows he will have to deal with them later.

“Sorry,” Harry takes a deep breath, selfishly wishing Kyra could be there by his side instead of out at work, and continues, “Niall, can I ask you something?” There's a ruffled silence at the other side of the phone.

“Haz,” Harry shivers at the familiar nickname, “can’t this wait til’ mornin’? I ‘aven’t been gettin’ much sleep lately, and-”

“Niall,” he interrupts, “I need to talk to you.” Silence again, and Harry is about to sigh and push the end call button when-

“What do ya’ need?” Niall says, and Harry wants to roll his eyes, scoff and say I just told you, git , but instead his mouth involuntarily turns into a dopey smile. He tries to bite the inside of his cheek to keep the expression at bay once he’s realized he’s done it, but is grin at Niall’s sleepy voice doesn’t want to go away.

“So, Ni, what do ya’ know about mates?”

-

Harry doesn’t notice how long he’s been talking to Niall until he hears him yawn a few times into the phone. He takes a glance at the clock on the stove, and almost drops his phone when he sees the time. It has been two and a half hours since Niall had finally picked up the phone, and Harry can’t believe that this catching up that they’ve been doing has taken so long.

Niall took to the whole mate thing pretty well, considering. Harry had danced around the subject for a long time, taking until Niall practically forced it out of him to explain the situation. But Niall seems to understand, just coughed and said a forcefully cheerful yeah mate, we’ll talk more about it later, which should have been the first red flag, this avoiding the very fucking important topic at hand, but before Harry could respond, Niall had dove into another topic, and, two hours later, they still haven’t veered back towards the path of mates.

Kyra’s supposed to be home soon; probably just finishing cleaning up her desk at the bank she works at before starting the quick walk back to their flat, and Harry knows he should be doing something productive, like starting dinner or cleaning up the rest of the boxes that are still lying strewn around the guest room, but all Harry really wants to do right now is talk to Niall, and that makes a little puddle of dread start to form in his stomach.

“...even listenin’ to me Haz?” Niall laughs, a scratchy, high-pitched sound in the phone, and Harry’s chest tightens. He wants to see Niall, he realizes at that moment; he wants to see Niall again, wants to hug him and talk with him face to face and listen to him laugh like this in person, like he hasn’t in 7 years.

“Sorry, Niall.” Harry hopes Niall can’t hear the small tremor that has bled in his voice. “Gotta’ go; Kyra’s comin’ home soon and all.”

“Oh yeah.” Harry pretends he doesn’t hear the sigh that comes from the other end of the line. “‘Course, sorry, don’t want to keep ya’ from you’re girlfriend.” And Niall laughs again, but is sounds forced and dry and Harry wishes he could do anything to change it back to the boisterous, happy sound that he made earlier.

But instead, he says a murmured, “yeah, yeah, no problem. Bye Niall,” and hangs up the phone. In the last five minutes, the puddle in his tummy has become a pool, and it seems to pull Harry down, even as Kyra arrives at the door, and Harry walks over to greet her.

-

They talk about it later, as Harry is brushing his teeth in the en-suite bathroom and Kyra is lying in bed. She can tell something is wrong, has been able to read Harry like a book since the moment they met, but she doesn’t push. It makes it easier on Harry, somehow; knowing that she knows they need to talk about something, but also knowing that she’ll let him think it out before he brings it up.

“I think I like Niall,” he says finally, after he’s finished brushing his teeth. He notices Kyra out of the corner of his eye, looking at him quizzically, but Harry remains focused on his expression in the mirror.

“Of course you do, you were friends for years before he moved to the US,” Kyra states this slowly, like she’s waiting for Harry to interrupt. When he doesn’t, she continues with, “but that isn’t what you’re talking about, is it?” Harry hangs his head, a tremor starting in the tensed muscles of his shoulders.

Kyra knows what Harry needs, like she always does, and climbs out of the bed, walking to Harry and wrapping her arms around his waist. He slumps into her, exhausted but his brain moving a thousand miles a minute.

“You’re allowed to be attracted to other people, love,” Kyra whispers, and Harry reaches over to run a hand through her sleek black coils, resting it against her upper back.

“He’s my mate,” Harry groans out, “isn’t that weird? Is it weird, that I love you and that I like him and that he’s my mate?”

“I don’t think it’s weird, Harry. I just want you to be happy, and if that means Niall becomes a part of your life, or even, God forbid, you don’t want me to be apart of your life anymore, than I’m okay with it.”

“No.” Because fuck that. “You don’t just get to say shit like that, Ky. That’s not fair.” Harry wants to turn and face her and ask why she would ever say that, but just as he’s about to, she moves in front of him, a grin on her lips.

“And you wouldn't say the exact same thing if I was the one who found my long lost mate?” She asks, running a thumb up his cheekbone.

Harry scoffs and sputters, “it’s not the same!” Rolling his eyes as Kyra laughs at his exclamation. “Besides,” he sighs, “what am I even supposed to do about this? About Niall?”

“You’ll talk to him,” Kyra says, slowly, kissing Harry’s cheek, “and we’ll just go from there, okay?” And no, it’s not really okay, but Harry’s tired, has to work for ten hours tomorrow and just wants to sleep. So he nods, let's Kyra lead him back to their bed.

-

Harry gets another call from Niall a couple days later, while he and Kyra are making dinner. As soon as his girlfriend sees the caller ID she shoos him from the room with a shorted have fun as she wanders back into the kitchen.

“Wonderin’ when we were going to talk again,” Niall says after Harry’s picked up the phone. Harry chuckles at Niall’s perky tone, all anxiety built thinking about this conversation flushed away by the familiar lilt of Niall washed down Irish accent. Because Niall will understand what Harry’s about to say, will understand why they can’t do whatever it is that might have started, because Harry’s in a committed relationship, and things like this, they never work out.

“Actually wanted to call you sooner,” Harry admits, steels himself for the next words that’ll come out of his mouth, “but I think we need to talk. About something important.”

“Yeah yeah Haz, about the mate thing-”

“No, Niall,” Harry holds in a sigh, “I wanted to tell you that…” That we should stop this, stop talking because someone’s going to get hurt and I love Kyra and I could love you but.

But.

But I don’t want to love you.

“That we should stop talking.”

Niall laughs a nervous chuckle, questions, “what’s that supposed to mean, H?”

And Harry sinks into the love seat, running a hand through his hair. He takes a deep breath, before forcing out the words, “means that I don’t think we should continue this thing we’ve started.”

Niall’s silent, and it’s almost worse that he’s said nothing. Harry would rather he yell and scream, throw a tantrum, anything to show Harry that he understands.

Instead, Niall, voice gruff and low, says a small okay and hangs up the phone.

-

Harry remembers watching Niall take this alpha boy to their end-year dance, remembers watching them holding each other while slow-dancing and feeling the air completely leave his lungs. Because teenagers can’t feel love, don’t understand it, Harry thinks, but he also knows his heart was squeezed so tight that night that Harry went home numb and emotionless, and if that’s not love, then Harry doesn’t what love is supposed to be.

-

He’s crying when Kyra finds him. She slides beside him on the couch, easing him with a small hand on his back, words of comfort sliding from her lips.

“Do you love him?” She whispers, and it’s soft, like she’s trying not to hurt Harry, but it only makes it worse. Because this pain is breaking him in two, this possibility of breaking someone else's heart while trying to find happiness himself.

And that seems to answer Kyra’s question enough, though he does say a small I think I did, before as a response. He can almost feel her slump beside him, and he wants to hug her and pull her close and say I’m sorry andI love you every way he can. But that wouldn’t be fair to either of them, especially wouldn’t be fair to Kyra, not after what he just admitted.

“But I love you too,” he croaks out, a small tear finally slipping from the corner of his eye. She tightens her hand on his back, twisted into his t-shirt, but stays silent, just for a minute.

“That’s okay, Harry, y’know?” She finally says, leaning against his shoulder, curling up against his side. He turns to her, breaking his own moral code by bringing her into his chest, rocking them both back and forth. Because it’s not okay, none of this is even close to being okay, but maybe, just sitting here, it can be, if only just for a few minutes.

Chapter Text

Despite the many missed calls and messages that light up Harry’s phone once every few days, he doesn’t talk to Niall for months. He tries to ignore the disapproving look that Kyra sends him whenever his phone chimes and he ignores the sound, but it’s hard. She’s the one who begs for Harry to talk to his mate, trying to convince him it will make him so much happier.

I am happy, he tells her, ignoring the large weight in his gut that grows with every lie that passes through his lips.

This thing, this whole mate business, is driving a small wedge between them, and not in the way that it should. Because Kyra is unimaginably supportive and loving; wanting Harry to continue with this thing he has going on with Niall (and it’s not really a thing, never was and never would be), whether it breaks her or not.

(And sometimes Harry hates that he is so in love with such an empathetic person. Knows it’d be so much easier if she hated him for wanting someone else, so he stores that part of himself away so neither of them have to see it. But Kyra knows; she always has.)

So it’s a fairly big surprise, enough that he uncontrollably drops the grocery bags he has in his hands, spilling pasta sauce all over the light grey carpet stretched throughout the living room, when Harry returns home from work to find Niall lounging on his couch. He can hear Kyra humming in the kitchen faintly, but it’s drowned out by the rushing in his ears, heart hammering in his chest as he and Niall lock eyes.

The first thing Harry notices about him is how different he looks from when he last saw Niall, over seven years ago. He sees old grainy photos of his old best friend on Instagram sometimes, arms around his mates at a bar, or smiling into the camera for a selfie. But none of those pictures can compare him in the flesh, staring right back at Harry.

He’s got brown hair now, dark against his flushed face and neck. It is a nice contrast; brightens up his eyes and the pale tone of his skin, fluffy at the top like it used to be when he was a blonde. Niall’s wearing a dark grey jumper and some skinny jeans, and, if Harry knew him better, he’d say that Niall has just pulled that outfit out of fifteen-year-old Harry’s closet. He looks good, like he’s filled into his own skin and the rush of anger Harry felt when he first saw his old friend dissipates with a few short breaths, no matter how hard Harry tries to keep the emotion prevalent.

Harry doesn’t want Niall to be here; he doesn’t want to have to try to explain to him why he has been ignoring him, doesn’t want to tell Kyra why his heart is starting to beat frantically out of his chest, why he’s producing pheromones like a horny teenage boy, doesn’t want to have to think about his past feelings for this stupid boy who seems like he’s just here to ruin Harry’s life.

And with that, Harry’s anger comes back full-force, a growl slipping from his mouth like fire, making Niall flinch into the couch.

“What the fuck, Harry?” Distantly, in the back of Harry’s mind, alarm bells signal to him how bad this situation is if Kyra’s willing to swear at him, but all he is really focused on is the intruder inside their house, slowly rising from the couch.

“Get out,” Harry orders, deepening his voice in warning. He notices that the omega doesn’t seem scared at all by Harry’s actions, weirdly concerned, concern, the alpha notices, that is directed at Harry , rather than his own well-being. This makes the anger claw up Harry’s chest in a rage, causing him to tense, ready to lunge onto the intruder.

Kyra shoves him a few steps over, making Harry lose his focus. He stares at her, confused at the interruption. It gives him a bit of time to clear his head, and it gives the omega, Niall , his name is Niall, time to skirt out of the room and into the bathroom, the sound of the wood slamming seeming to shake the building.

 

-

 

It only takes Kyra a few minutes to coax Niall from his hiding place. Harry is sent away to the opposite side of the flat, staring silently at the back of Kyra and his bedroom door, a flush of guilt and embarrassment staining the apples of his cheeks.

He finally rises from the bed he is sitting on when he hears the front door closing, Niall’s scent, though dampened, still clinging to the house.

Kyra gives him a look when he enters the kitchen, watching as she cleans up the burnt remains of their dinner. Another knot forms in Harry’s stomach, seeing his girlfriend throw out the food. Although the twisting and turning of the last twenty minutes has left Harry less hungry than he should be, it’s uncomfortable for him to think of the work Kyra put into the roast and twice-baked potatoes, now lying in a dark heap in the bottom of the trash, is all ruined because of Harry’s reaction.

“I’m sorry,” Harry says, taking a few hesitant steps towards Kyra where she is standing at the kitchen sink.

“I’m not the one you should be saying sorry to, Harry.” She doesn’t turn away from the dishes, though she doesn’t sound mad. “You had him worried to death, and then you go and try to jump him?”

“I wasn’t going to-”

“Harry.” Kyra turns, raises an eyebrow at him. Harry shrinks back against the island, hanging his head a little at the rebuke.

“I wasn’t going to attack him,” Harry says earnestly, groaning when Kyra doesn’t change her expression. “He doesn’t even deserve an apology, really. He was the one who came into our house…”

“He’s your mate, Harry…”

“So why the hell would you even let him in here then?" Harry blurts, furry settling deep in the pit of his stomach. He tries to push it away, because Kyra isn’t the one who deserves this anger. Then who does , his mind reminds him, you? Niall?

"Well, what did you want me to do, Harry?" She questions him, the calm to Harry's storm. It’s frustrating sometimes, how utterly perfect Kyra is, to Harry. "I wasn't just going to leave him out in the rain; he came here to see you."

"It doesn't matter, Kyra, I don't want to see him,” he grumbles.

"And when did you decide that?" Kyra asks. The words would sound condescending if she wasn’t so curious, stroking a hand down Harry’s back.

It makes Harry suddenly deflate. "I stopped talking to him a few weeks ago," he admits softly, leaning into her, "I didn't think it was good for him, or for us if I kept that up."

"He's you mate, Harry," Kyra lifts her hand to his head, curling it through Harry's hair. "And your oldest best friend. Even after seven years of not seeing him you two still kept in touch. And now you're going to throw it all away because of what? Of insecurities you aren't even sure are going to come true?"

"I don't want him to come between us, Ky," Harry murmurs, nudging his head up into her hands. Kyra hums, pulling Harry so his head rests against her chest.

"Do I look worried, love?" She chuckles. "I will say it as many times as a need to: I love you, and because of that I know you're not happy. I live with you Harry, I've seen the way you've been these last few months. Annoyed and frustrated easily and snappy." When Harry's guilty expression meets Kyra's, she shakes her head.

"Don’t look at me like that. You want to talk to him, to be near him, even if you are trying to convince yourself otherwise. And I know how you feel about our biology and instincts, but it's more than just you, as an alpha, wanting to be with your mate. This is you as a person. And being Harry; irritable and moody because you want to talk to your best friend.

"And, hear me out, Niall doesn't have to be anything more than your best friend, love." Harry makes a noise of protest, but Kyra shushes him. "I know you said you used to have feelings for him, and I know some of those feelings might still be there, but that doesn't mean that mates have to be lovers, Harry. You two could be the closest human beings in the world as mates and still just be best friends."

Harry ponders his girlfriend's words for a moment. He knows where she's coming from, and understands the concept she's trying to explain to him, but the words don't quite resonate within Harry. He tries not to think it's because he would never be able to be best friends with Niall again without it turning into anything more.

Kyra seems to recognize his feelings right away, and says, “we can take it with baby steps, alright? Just have a talk with him, and see what happens next.” The words are said softly, comfortingly, hoping they'll ease Harry's rocky mind. But Harry still has doubts stirring, rocking deep in the pit of his stomach.

“I’ll talk to him,” Harry says. Kyra smiles, big and wide with her teeth, and Harry pulls her close, buries his face into her dark, thick hair so she doesn’t have to see his grimace.

 

-

 

He finds Niall underneath a giant oak tree hanging over their old secondary school, picking away at the small tufts of grass under his fidgety hands. Harry goes to him, awkwardly standing a few feet away from his old best friend, rocking on his toes. Neither speaks for a long moment, even though both are aware of the other’s presence.

Harry wrings his hands together, struggling to come up with the words to say, when Niall breaks the long-winded silence.

“Do you remember when I climbed this tree when we were eleven?” Niall asks, running a thin hand up the trunk of the tree, peering his eyes up at Harry through his lashes. Harry can’t seem to force words from his throat, so he nods silently and tries to avoid catching Niall’s eye again.

“I remember being so mad that day, when my brother and his dick friends were pickin’ on you,” Niall sighs, digging his hands into the dirt as Harry studies the long, twisting branches above them. “Tried to sock his stupid face, but the other two grabbed me and threw me around a bit. Said I was a weak bitch who was too clumsy to hit a fly.”

Niall laughs humorlessly, throwing the uprooted grass behind him and sliding until he’s stretched out on the grass, head tilted up so he can look at the thick branches swaying in the slight breeze.

“Of course I argued, the stupid kid I was, said I could beat my brother at anythin’ that he did. So when he told me to climb the tree, to the very top, I said I would agree if he’d promise not to pick on you anymore.” Niall pats the spot beside him, gesturing Harry to sit without looking at him. Harry complies, hesitantly lowering to the ground as Niall continues his story.

“So I climbed the stupid tree. What my idiot brother had forgotten to tell me was that we were not allowed to climb the tree farther than the first few branches, because it was old and fragile and-”

“The branches at the top tended to break off,” Harry finishes, staring down at his hands, while Niall stares up at the tree.

“Yeah,” he says, “and when I was just about at the top, the branch under my foot snapped, and I fell a few feet onto a lower, steadier branch.

“I remember my brother and his friends just cackling down on the ground, but I was so terrified.” Harry looks at Niall, watches his Adam's apple bob as he swallows, and Harry mimics the motion. “Eventually they got bored and ran off, leaving at the top of the fuckin’ tree, crying and too scared to move.

“But you didn’t run away,” Niall says, “you stayed and tried to calm me down, and when I wouldn’t stop cryin’ you climbed the fucker and convinced me to come down with you.”

“I wasn’t gonna’ leave you on the top of a 40-foot tree.”

Niall shifts his head to stare at him, and Harry tries not to squirm under his gaze. “No, I guess you weren’t,” he sighs.

Harry thinks back to that day, can remember it clearly, like it was only last week that he carried Niall home on his back, offering comforting words to the blonde boy in hysterics. Later, after Bobby Horan rushes his youngest son to the hospital, they discover Niall had two broken ribs and a fractured humerus.

Harry also remembers Greg, Niall’s prat brother, looking up at his only sibling in malice, grinning wide from ear to ear as he left the screaming boy in the tree. From what Niall has told him, Greg has a wife and a baby on the way now, and sometimes Harry wonders if people like that can really change, if Greg ever dreams about that day, or if it’s a memory that he forces himself never to think of again.

“You can see the stars through the branches up there,” Niall says, pointing up to the hidden sky. “Look.”

Harry cranes his head up to look into the darkness of the tree. “I can’t see anything.”

“Well come here then,” Niall says and pulls Harry down beside him. After an uncomfortable amount of squirming, Harry finds a semi-comfortable position beside Niall, pressed together from the shoulders down. Niall’s so warm he feels like a heater, has been this way since they were kids, and it takes all of Harry’s effort not to pull him close and bury his face against his neck, like he used to do whenever they had sleepovers.

The thought sends heat through his cheeks, and Harry’s glad that it is so late that Niall can’t see the redness of his cheeks. Harry’s mind is so jumbled that he misses what Niall says entirely, and only is startled back into attention when Niall’s pointy elbow makes a jab at his side.

“You’re not listening to me,” Niall whines, shoving Harry’s shoulder so he a few centimeters away from Niall’s bare skin. It makes it easier to breathe.

“Sorry,” Harry says, finally turning to look up to the sky. To his amazement, stars shine through the breaks in the leaves like twinkling lights, and Harry gasps.

“It looks like a Christmas tree,” he says in wonder, and he hears Niall scoff beside him.

“That’s what I just said .” He rolls over so his chest is against Harry’s arm, stopping another train of thoughts from flowing through Harry’s mind. “You don’t like to listen to me, do ya’?”

Harry can feel the slow rise and fall of Niall’s chest, pressed tight to Harry’s side. He listens to Niall’s soft breath against his neck, almost drowned out by the frantic beating in Harry’s chest. So Harry moves away, sits up and apologizes and slips away from Niall knowing gaze.

“Niall…” Harry starts, trying to build up the shaky courage he needs to have to get through this conversation.

“You didn’t come here to re-live our old childhood, did ya’ Harry?” Niall asks, and Harry can feel his eyes on the back of Harry’s head. He wants to tell Niall that that is an unfair question, that he should just let him explain , and maybe he’d understand.

But, instead, Harry says, “you shouldn’t have come back to London, Niall.”

“What the fuck is that supposed to mean?” Niall’s voice has that sort-of defensive strain to it, that always happens when he’s upset. It sends Harry’s stomach rolling, and he makes sure to keep his eyes focused into the darkness, away from Niall, when he continues.

“‘Means that I have a life here, Niall, and you have a life somewhere else,” Harry sucks in a shaky breath, “and I think, if you stayed here, if you...came back into my life again, it would do more bad than it would good.”

Harry can feel Niall freeze behind him, and that’s good, because Harry feels like he’s frozen in his place too. More apologies whirl around his Harry’s thoughts, but his mouth doesn’t seem to want to let them out.

“So that’s it then?”

Harry turns back to look at his old friend, notices the dim light reflecting off of two long streaks that highlight Niall’s face. He feels his throat tighten once he realizes that he is making Niall cry. “Niall, I’m sorry-”

“You’ll tell Kyra sorry for me for ruinin’ her dinner, won’t ya?” And it feels too much like a finality, when Niall refuses to look at him, like this could be the last time he ever sees Niall.

“Yeah,” Harry answers, because what else is there to say?

“Good,” Niall mutters to himself, wrings his hands together and shifts his eyes back to Harry’s. “You have a good night, Haz.” He smiles like it’s painful, and Harry mirrors his expression back.

It only takes a few minutes for Niall to walk away from him, back turned as Harry watches him disappear.