Work Header

Playing Pretend

Work Text:

Harry bends down to pick up Bella from her bed, her chubby arms already reached out to him with a huge smile stretching her face. He can't help but to grin back at her—she always makes him melt, with those big hazel eyes she got from her father and the bright smile that’s just hers—and picks her up while cooing, "How are you today baby girl?"

“Great!” Bella chirps, and tightens her arms around her neck. She’s getting almost too big for him to pick up like this, but he’ll hold her like this as long as he can, gently rocking her back and forth as the early morning sun washes over the pastel green walls of her room. He doesn't know what it is, but this is where he feels happiest, with the warmth of Bella in his arms and the quiet surrounding them. It's probably weird, a twenty-three year old uni grad feeling like being a nanny is his true calling. He loves every day though, all the mundane moments like feeding Bella her peas and windexing the windows to the patio while she takes naps.

Today Harry has planned a trip to the neighborhood park for them. So after a breakfast involving a lot of coaxing and airplane noises from Harry, he bundles her up in her thickest puffer jacket with the mittens and matching hat that her grandma knitted for her. He pauses out front as he rolls the stroller out, having to snap a picture of her with the January sun hitting her pink cheeks, covered in an adorable assortment of purple knitted items. His instagram is quickly becoming entirely dedicated to pictures of Bella but she's so adorable Harry doesn't mind. He’s pretty sure there’s something uncannily photogenic in her genes.

They spend a couple hours at the park, Harry pushing Bella on the swings and listening to her babble about the clouds while she sips grape juice. Harry sits on a bench chatting with Katherine, a mom that he'd become friends with during their park excursions, while Bella plays in the sandbox with Katherine's son Ezra.

Bella goes down for a nap when they get back to the house, and Harry uses the time to straighten up and chuck a load of laundry in. He settles down on the couch and pulls out his notebook when he finishes, getting lost in the story that he's been working on for ages.

He almost doesn't notice when the lock clicks and Zayn slips inside, muttering "'s freezing out there." But he snaps out of his reverie when he realizes just who came in and springs up to greet Bella's father in the hallway.

Zayn looks as gorgeous as always. Harry doesn't even know why he bothers being surprised anymore when he sees him, but Zayn still manages to take his breath away, even when he's just pulling off his thick peacoat and huffing into his pink fingers to warm them. His hair peeks out dark and slightly disheveled from the beanie he's got tucked on and his nose is red at the tip from the cold. Harry really just wants to envelope him in a huge hug to burn all the chill out of him, but resists. Instead, he goes for a huge grin and asks, "How was work?"

"Awful," Zayn replies, unwinding his scarf. That's always a special sort of torture and bliss, watching the skin of Zayn's neck being exposed, little by little; watching it emerge like unwrapping a gift, strong and smooth until it disappears beneath the collar of his button up. One day Harry will see the skin beneath that collar, the line of his collarbone, even just the nape of his neck, and he'll probably faint. Zayn wore a shirt without a collar once and Harry actually had to grab onto the wall to keep upright.

"As usual," Harry teases, and Zayn grins back. He loves what he does, Harry's almost certain. He just likes complaining about it more.

"How was she?" is Zayn's only answer, like it always is.

"An angel." They share soppy smiles. Zayn only gets that soft sort of smile when he's talking about, thinking about, or looking at, Bella. He’s never more handsome than those moments. Then Harry goes on, "There's some mac and cheese left, if you want it. I can warm it up while you check on her."

Zayn's face lights up, and it hits Harry like a thunderbolt, like always. "Thanks, Harry," he says, already heading upstairs. Harry waits for a second at the bottom of the stairs, hand clutched around the railing as he watches the long, lean line of Zayn's back, his slim hips underneath those well-fit dress slacks.

He's such an awful person. He knows that. He knew when he said anything about food that Zayn will sit down and groan over Harry's mac and cheese, groans that are almost as bad as the scarf-unwrapping, and then he'll say how there's too much, and ask Harry to sit down with him, and of course Harry'll accept and they'll eat together and chat about their day and Zayn'll have a beer and Harry will be able to watch his lips wrap around that bottle. He knew that when he said it and he said it anyway. And he still goes into the kitchen to heat up the leftover half of the doubled recipe of mac and cheese he made.

He dishes the noodles out onto a plate, and cuts up an apple, tossing together a small salad just for good measure. There're already a few candles set on the table-- Harry had brought them over during his first week because he always loves having them around and Zayn had laughed but said they could keep them. Harry lights one of them and lets the scent of cinnamon spice swirl around him as he pulls out a chair and hunches over his notebook again.

Zayn slips in after a few minutes in that quiet, completely devastating way of his, and Harry focuses his attention on not letting his eyes trail down the V of chest that's exposed now that Zayn's taken his tie off and his shirt hangs open at the top few buttons.

"I don't know how you do it," Zayn says with a shake of his head. "She sleeps like a log when you put her down. I can never get her to sleep before 8 on weekends."

"Just call me the baby charmer," Harry dimples, tucking away his writing. "She's absolutely precious."

"That she is," Zayn agrees, and his face softens, the day's weariness falling from his features as he thinks of his daughter. Whenever Harry sees Zayn soften in that way, it's as though a balloon of warm air is threatening to burst inside of him, and he has to duck his head for moment so Zayn won't see the ridiculous expression on his face.

"Eat," Harry orders, pushing the plate in front of Zayn, watching expectantly with raised eyebrows. Zayn rolls his eyes but picks up the fork nonetheless and Harry takes that as his cue to start going over the details of his and Bella's day. They've long since established this pattern, Zayn eats and Harry talks, explaining about the sandcastle they built with water from the park's fountain and showing him the picture of Bella looking like an overstuffed knitted grape. Zayn just nods along, a smile hinting at the corner of his mouth, sipping a little wine between bites.

And it's sort of Harry's favorite part of his day, these little candlelit dinners, because it's so easy to imagine that the toddler sleeping upstairs is his, that Zayn's coming home to him every night. He wants this to be his forever so bad sometimes it aches in his gut when he lies in his too-cold apartment, staring at the ceiling and wishing he could roll over to kiss Zayn goodnight. So he takes what he can get, which is dinners with Zayn while he eats the food Harry made him and watches him with eyes lined with impossible eyelashes, the candlelight dancing over the slope of his cheekbones. Harry takes Zayn grinning when he tells him how he and Bella built a block tower in the afternoon, takes the slight crease in his eyebrows when Harry tells him how Bella won't eat carrots, takes the "these are really good" Zayn mutters when has one of the brownies Harry baked earlier. He takes what he can get, and it's probably pathetic, but it makes Harry happy and he wouldn't give up their dinners for anything.


The worst part is, he's not expecting it. Zayn never dates, has never gone on a date for as long as Harry's known him, which is more than a year now. Or if he has, he's gotten someone else to sit for him, but he thinks Zayn would have told him. Or Bella would have. Zayn's not dating is part of the problem, really, because it just feeds into Harry's daydreams. If he went out on dates a lot maybe Harry would be able to control it, to firmly tell himself that Zayn belongs to someone other than him and Bella. That he has a type and Harry isn’t it. But the fact is, Zayn doesn't go on dates. He comes home to Bella—and to Harry.

So when Zayn asks Harry to stay late that Friday, he thinks Zayn's just going out with Liam or someone, like he does sometimes. He doesn't expect for Zayn to reply, at his idle, "So where're you going?" when Zayn comes home to change for him to say, "I've got a date."

Harry has to grab onto the wall to keep from falling over. "What?" he demands, as Zayn goes upstairs.

"A date," Zayn calls back down. Bella won't wake up for hours, she's the soundest sleeper ever—gets that from her dad, Zayn told him, and Harry had absolutely not pictured Zayn asleep after that, his eyelashes fanned out over his cheeks, innocent and gentle looking as Bella—so neither of them care about making noise. "You really don't mind staying? I can reschedule if you've got somewhere to be."

"No, no it's fine," Harry manages to get out, then swears quietly. If he hadn't been so staggered he could have said yes and then Zayn would have had to reschedule and maybe it would never have happened. "Just—you go on dates?"

"Sometimes. Not often." Harry wishes he could see Zayn's face, that they weren't shouting from across the house, but he's never gone upstairs when Zayn's home, like that's some invisible line he can't cross, and now—now that line is in bright red and neon. "Having a kid doesn't actually make you celibate. Just makes it harder."

"I know!" Harry protests. Oh, does he know. "You just—don't."

When Zayn comes back downstairs half an hour later, Harry's glad he's sitting on the couch because he's not sure his legs would hold him up. Zayn's dressed in dark jeans with a crisp white v-neck over it. There's stubble lining his cheeks and it's perfectly groomed so that it makes the line of his jaw infinitely sharp, and Harry can smell a light, fresh aftershave on him as he walks into the living room. Harry tries to force his body to remember how to work and pulls his jaw back up, biting nervously on one of his lips.

"You look—really good," Harry manages, hoping his voice doesn't sound as weak as he feels. He shakes out his hair instinctually, suddenly feeling horrendous in his gray sweats and oversized plaid shirt. He hadn’t known he was going to be competing today. He would have dressed up. Would have looked so brilliant that Zayn wouldn’t have been able to leave.

"Thanks," Zayn mutters, looking down and rubbing the back of his neck. Harry thinks he can see a bit of a smile, but it’s sometimes hard to tell, with Zayn. He shifts on his feet awkwardly. "So you all good then? Make yourself at home 'n all that, y'know."

"Yeah," Harry answers and forces a smile on his face. "Have fun."

Zayn nods and turns to put his coat on, but pauses and looks back. "Hey--are you feeling ok? You look a bit peaky."

Harry's heart does a swoop at the concerned look on Zayn's face, the one normally reserved for Bella only. "Yeah, I'm fine," he answers, trying to brighten his smile up.

Zayn pauses for another beat, frowning a little at him. But then he just grabs his coat and disappears into the snowy evening, leaving Harry on the couch feeling much lonelier in the big house than he ever has before.

He bakes. He bakes because that's what he does when he's stressed, and because baking makes him happy, and because he knows Zayn likes his baking, and maybe if the house smells like Harry's special chocolate chip cookies that are Zayn's favorite it'll be like Harry's there even when he leaves. When it's just Zayn and this other person in Zayn's big bed. Because of course the person'll come back with Zayn, if it's an option; Harry can't conceive of anyone not wanting Zayn.

Maybe him having a kid will put this person off. Which is ridiculous, because if they think that they don't deserve him. Zayn's at his best around Bella, when he looks at her and just lights up like she's all that's good in the world, even with all the drama that went on with her mom before he could get full custody of her. Maybe they won't get Zayn's jokes, the quiet, sarcastic ones he makes when he thinks no one's looking. Maybe they'll just see the sharpness of him, those brooding dark eyes, and won't see how his eyes can sparkle when he's happy. Maybe it'll be awful and he'll come home and have to cry on Harry's shoulder and then Harry'll have to cuddle him and he'll look up with those eyes, like he's asking for something he doesn't know how to say, and Harry'll kiss him.

He's made two batches of chocolate chip cookies, a batch of blondies, and one pie by the time he hears a car pull up outside. He only hesitates a second before he darts to the window to see what's happening. Zayn's getting out of a sleek dark car, his lips curved into a self-satisfied smile Harry's never seen before. He looks so not like Zayn and still so fucking hot it's not fair, like some sort of rock star getting out onto the red carpet. Then the guy gets out the other side, and Harry does his best to set him on fire with his mind.

He's not hot enough for Zayn, is Harry's first thought. He's rather attractive, Harry has to admit, but not Zayn-level hot. Not even approaching it. He's got a nice body, neatly showcased in his suit, and Harry guesses his face is okay, but his ginger hair is close-cropped and Harry knows Zayn likes hair because he coos over Bella's a lot, and sometimes he pulls on Harry's curls when they tease and it makes Harry's heart stop.

They walk up the driveway. The man's laughing at something Zayn's said hard enough that Harry can hear the rough guffaws, and their shoulders are brushing. Then they get to the doorway, and Harry freezes. He can't move, or they'll see him, peaking through the curtains; if they kiss he might just throw something through the window. So he closes his eyes, because he can't watch. He needs this, at least. Needs what they have now, where at least he can pretend.

There are murmurs, some words, then—nothing. A very distinctive nothing. Harry squeezes his eyes shut tight enough to hurt, digs his nails into his palms, and tries to breathe as regularly as he can.

Then there's the sound of more feet, and a car door opening. Harry reopens his eyes. Zayn is standing alone on the doorstep, his fingers pressed to his lips. Harry's not sure what the expression is on his face; it's sort of smiling, sort of fond, and sort of confused? He doesn't know. He doesn't really care. It just hurts, that Zayn’s been kissed by someone who wasn't him. He turns away from the window so he doesn’t have to look at that doorstep anymore. Maybe he’ll always use the backdoor from now on.

The door opens in the hall, and Zayn's voice rings out, "Harry?"

Harry freezes in the kitchen, where he's started spooning ice cream out of a Ben and Jerry's cup like a heartbroken teenager. He puts the spoon down quietly and considers just not answering and slipping out the back, but then he would get fired and Zayn would think he left Bella all alone, which is basically worse than death.

"In here," Harry calls softly, quickly shoving the container back in the freezer. Fuck it if his germs are over it, he hopes Zayn gets polio and dies. Ok, maybe not, but still. He's not going to tell him he ate out of the ice cream. It's Zayn's punishment for going on dates and looking soul-crushingly handsome and kissing people who aren't Harry.

Zayn rounds the corner, already pulling his blazer off and Harry feels a bit dizzy again as he watches Zayn's shoulder muscles stretch. He doesn't show it though, just lets out a breath and leans back up against the counter.

"Soo," he drawls. "How was your date?" And yeah, ok, there's a bit of a sneer in his voice and he's being petty, but it's because he kind of feels like bursting into tears.

"Okay, I guess." Zayn shrugs. He goes to put his jacket on the chair, the freezes when he sees the kitchen. "Are you sure you're okay? You only bake this much when you're upset."

"I'm fine," Harry insists. It's Zayn's fault anyway, for being so ridiculously pretty. Maybe he'll eat all of Harry's cookies and get fat and ugly. Except he doesn't think Zayn's capable of being ugly. "Where'd you go?"

"Some seafood restaurant." Zayn gives the counter another dubious look, and walks in. He picks up one of the cookies from the plate on the table and bites into it, and his eyelashes flutter in what looks like fucking ecstasy.

Harry grabs onto the counter so hard his knuckles are probably white. "You hate seafood," he points out.

Zayn finishes the cookie in another bite. "Yeah, well. He didn't know that, I guess."

"I knew that." He can't help it. He needs to say it, because it's true. He knew. If he was planning a date for him and Zayn—and maybe he's done it, a few times, figured out what he would do and where they would go and how the sex afterwards would happen—he would go on a picnic, he thinks. Maybe bring Bella along, but probably not, for a first date, because as much as Harry loves her—and he does, so, so much—on a first date he wants to be able to hold Zayn's hand and kiss him without worrying about her. Wants to be able to get Zayn who isn't Zayn-and-Bella, because he thinks Zayn forgets that that person exists a little too often.

So he would plan a picnic, and make finger food, probably, so they could feed each other, or maybe he could just watch Zayn lick sugar off of his fingers. And then, when they were just lying there on the red and white checked picnic blanket, staring at the clouds and making up silly stories about them, Zayn would lean over, lifting himself up on one arm and smiling down at him, with the sun behind him so he really was blinding, and then he'd drop a kiss onto Harry's lips, light as anything.

Or he'd go to seafood restaurants with people who don't know him at all.

"Clearly," Zayn says, and he's smiling a little, like he's laughing at Harry. "How was Bella?"

"Fine." And that's clipped too, and Zayn's eyebrows rise at that, because he's never talked about Bella like that before, not even when she was throwing tantrums for about a week straight.

"Okay, seriously. Harry. What's wrong?"

"Nothing." Harry pauses, then throws caution to the winds. "Why'd you go on a date with him?"

"What?" Zayn clearly wasn't expecting that.

"Why him? You've never dated before, why'd you start now? And why with him? You've never mentioned anyone." Harry crosses his arms over his chest, leans back against the wall for support. It feels oddly like a domestic, given that the whole problem is they aren't.

Zayn's eyebrows rise slowly. "Liam's been worried I'm lonely. He set us up. Don't worry, I'll be careful introducing him to Bella, if I even do—"

"You better," Harry snaps. And there's another thing. Bella already loves him. What would Bella think of this other man? "Are you lonely?"

Zayn shrugs again. "No. I've got Bella, and—" he cuts himself off shakes his head. "But you know Liam. Always worrying."

"And who?" If there’s been a secret somebody, who sneaks into the house while Harry's gone...

Zayn shakes his head. "Nobody. Bella's enough for me. Even if I go on dates, or whatever, she'll always be the most important."

"So the dates are what, just a convenient excuse to get laid?" It's mean, again, but—that's almost worse. Harry is right here. He is right here every day, helping Zayn tie his ties and giving him comforting shoulder rubs sometimes and letting Zayn ruffle his hair. He's already in his house, how much more convenient does Zayn want?

But Zayn's eyes sharpen at that, like they do at Bella when she's being unreasonable. " It's been a long time since Bella's mom. Maybe they are."

"Then what about me?" It bursts out of Harry before he can keep it back, before he can think not to say it, and it almost hurts coming out, because that's not what he wants. He doesn't want to just be convenient. But it's something and that seems to be all he can get with Zayn, a lot of somethings that might almost add up to a whole.

"What?" Zayn's blink is long and slow and deliberate.

"What about me?" Harry demands, and shoves off the counter. He's mad now, almost, the jealousy and want turned into anger. "If you just want to get off, why not me? I'm already in your house when you get home, it's not that far to your bed!" Like Harry hasn't pictured that a thousand times, Zayn coming home with Bella already in bed and greeting Harry in the hall with a kiss that turns into Zayn pushing him into a wall, or just being in Zayn's bed when he comes home, naked and grinning up at him so Zayn stops for a second at the door, then smiles that slow, happy smile he gets whenever he looks at Bella at the end of a long day, until it very much isn't that smile.

"I am right here, every day, and you wouldn't have to introduce Bella to anyone else," he's nearly shouting now, or maybe he actually is shouting, but he can't not, when Zayn's looking at him with big, shocked eyes, "And I know what you like and it would be so easy and simple and I—" he chokes on the admission of just how much he'd like it. "And you wouldn't have to go out with subpar guys who take you to fucking restaurants you don't like and—"

"Harry—" Zayn cuts him off, his voice low and hoarse, and Harry can't look at him anymore. Can't bear to see his face as he lets him down easy, as he gives him a quiet, measured explanation for why not. For crushing all the castles in the air Harry has built. "Harry," he says again, even slower.

But then— "Daddy?" They both freeze. As one, they turn to the doorway. Bella's standing there, her blankie clutched in one hand, the other pudgy hand wiping sleep out of her eyes.

And Harry can't help but look, now, because he loves this moment of every day. This moment of watching Zayn look at his daughter and utterly, utterly melt, until it's like he starts to glow with just how much he loves her.

"Hey, baby," Zayn says, and his voice is soft again. It’s like the whole argument didn’t even happen, and Harry can’t even begrudge him that. He kneels down so he's at her level, and holds out his arms for her. She goes willingly, wrapping her arms around his neck and burrowing into his chest, "What are you doing up?"

"I heard your voice so I wanted to see you," she announces, and Harry can't help his grin, even through the bone-crushing fear that's suddenly struck him. Zayn is going to fire him over this. Zayn is going to fire him and then he'll lose everything, Bella and Zayn and the daydreams he's made. But she's got the most adorable pout on, like she's just daring Zayn to say something.

"And I'm very happy to see you," Zayn agrees, pressing a kiss to her temple. "But now I think it's time you went back to bed, okay?"

"Mm-hm," she agrees. She's nodding off already into Zayn's shoulder, and he stands, hefting her easily onto his hip with the hidden strength that sometimes makes Harry go a little weak at the knees. "Can you tuck me in?"

"Of course." He strokes a hand down her hair, so very, very gently, then looks over her head at Harry. "Stay here," he orders, and there's the sharpness again. Then Zayn carries his daughter out of the kitchen.

Harry's always been shit at following orders. He waits a second, then goes up too.

He's as quiet as he knows how to be, and while usually that's not very quiet, he's had a lot of practice in this house. He knows this house better than his own flat, probably. So he's pretty sure neither of the Maliks notices him when he lurks in the hallway outside Bella's room, watching as Zayn slowly lets her down into her bed.

"Daddy?" she asks, and it's a little slurred with sleep. "Is Harry mad at you?" Shit. If he scared Bella, he'll never forgive himself, and neither will Zayn.

"Why would you think that?"

"I heard him yelling." He can almost hear her blink as well, those heart-stopping Malik eyelashes feathering over her cheeks. "Is he going to leave?"

Zayn sighs, and he runs a hand over her hair. "What do we say when people go away?"

"That we're happy we knew them as long as we did," she recites, like it's written on her heart. It probably is. Zayn's strict about not promising her anything or that anyone's not going to leave—doesn't want to get her hopes up, he's always said. It's always made sense, really. It's never hurt like this.

"That's my girl." He leans down to press a kiss onto her forehead. "Good night, baby"

"Night, Daddy." Harry presses himself back against the wall, but Zayn doesn't leave, so he peeks forward again. Zayn's still standing over the bed, just looking down at Bella's curled-up form. His lips are curved up in a smile despite the fact that he's biting his lower lip, like he's nervous, but his hand as he reaches down to brush a lock of hair away from her face is soft and sure. Harry's breath catches in his throat. As hot as sharp, well-dressed Zayn-on-a-date is, as endearing as tired-from-work-Zayn is, this is the Zayn he fell for first—the Zayn who loves his daughter more than anything, who would always spend as much time as he could getting the play by play from Harry about her day despite how much he has to work, who always looked at her with this expression of joy and awe like he couldn't believe anything so special could be his.

He can't give this up. Can't give up those two beautiful people in that room, who've somehow become the most important people in the world to him. Or at least he won't without a fight.

And maybe it's stupid, and reckless. But he's probably going to be fired anyway, and he's not leaving without a taste, without sometime to tide him over. And Zayn likes that he's reckless, had told him once that that's the reason he hired him. Bella needed to be taught to have fun, to be spontaneous, he had said over dinner one night, teeth worrying at his lower lip like it always did when he was afraid he was somehow messing up Bella's life, but which also made his lips pink and kissable enough to kill Harry. Because Zayn was too cautious, usually, and he didn't want Bella to grow up like that. Harry needs to be reckless for both of them.

So once Zayn's closed the door to Bella's room, and is far enough down the hall she probably won't hear, Harry grabs his hips and yanks him in, kissing him with everything he's got.

Zayn doesn't respond, at first, just freezes up beneath Harry's hand. But that could be shock, could be that Harry kind of ambushed him in the hall of his own house, so Harry just keeps going, trying to pour everything he has, everything he wants, everything he's been dreaming about for a year into this kiss. Trying to memorize how Zayn's skin feels beneath his fingers, how his lips feel on Harry's because this could be the only time he gets this so by god he is going to take everything he can. It is going to be his taste that lingers on Zayn's lips, not that other man's.

And then—and then Zayn makes a growling sound, low in his throat that vibrates right through Harry, and his hands are in Harry's hair and he's pulling him even closer, his teeth digging into Harry's lip and then licking away the hurt with his tongue. Harry's fingers tighten compulsively on Zayn as he dives into the kiss, until Harry can't breathe with astonishment and lust and love.

Then Zayn lets go, pulls back. "Harry," he says, his voice rough and pained. "Harry?" he says again, and it's a question this time.

He's not sure what Zayn's asking, so he answers how he wants. "Why not me?" Harry repeats. He doesn't let go of Zayn. He doesn't think he ever can. "God fucking dammit Zayn, why not me?"

"So you want—"

"Anything." Harry doesn't even let him finish. It might be horribly unhealthy, probably is, but he doesn't care. It's the truth. He'll take anything, do anything, to stay with these two lovely people. "Anything," he swears, "I'll be anything, Zayn, I'll—"

Zayn is taking a long, deep breath, and Harry knows the careful, thoughtful look in his eyes. It's the look he gets when he's thinking of making a change to Bella's life, when he's trying to figure out if he's okay with something Harry did with her, or wants to do. When he's trying to impress on Harry the seriousness of whatever policy he's explaining. It's the face Harry always listens to, because he is reckless with a lot of things but not with anything Zayn makes that face about, because it's usually his daughter. So he stops talking and waits for whatever words Zayn's thinking of come out.

"Harry," Zayn says, and oh, Harry loves the way his voice lingers on his name, on those thick rs, like no one else. "I can't mess up Bella—"

"It won't, I promise," Harry's nearly in tears now, but he pulls them back, tries to make the rational argument because that's what Zayn listens to, the rational side of things. It's the part Harry's bad at, but he can do this. This is the most important thing he’ll ever do. "It's why I'm the logical choice because it'll disrupt her the least, it'll just be after she's asleep or like—"

"I can't mess up Bella," Zayn repeats, cutting Harry off, and he swallows his words, because there's something a little fond and a little scared in those dark eyes. His hands drop down to land on Harry's waist. Harry can feel them like a brand. Zayn's touching him. Zayn's touching him. "For anything less than serious, you know that. Especially since she loves you. Especially since I—especially since you're such a big part of her—of our—lives."

"Then I'll be serious," Harry says instantly. "I can be, Zayn. I want to be." Because he can, because he thinks he's allowed, because a light is sparking in Zayn's eyes that is almost like how he looks at Bella, Harry lets go of him to stroke across Zayn's cheekbone. "With you, I want to be. With both of you."

HIs finger is already on Zayn's cheek, so he feels his smile grow, slow and soft, until it takes over his face and Harry's breath catches again. "Really?" he breathes, and his hand moves up to push a curl away from Harry's face. "Really?"

"Really," Harry agrees. He's grinning hard enough to hurt.

"Thank fucking god," Zayn swears, and then his hand is on Harry's and he's pulling him back in.

And that night Harry doesn't have to leave, doesn't have to go home and leave Zayn sitting at the table and go back to his too empty flat, doesn't have to go away. That night, Zayn pushes Harry onto his bed, and Harry doesn't actually faint at the sight of Zayn's collarbone, though he almost does when Zayn unbuttons his shirt and all that skin is exposed, and the ink that swirls over it like a secret. Zayn sees Harry looking, and chuckles something about his job not approving, but Harry just makes a whining-groaning sound and pulls him down to lick and taste each inch that was hidden for so long. That night, Harry falls apart to Zayn's fingers, just as gentle as they always looked, and the burning in his eyes which is so much better than Harry could ever have dreamed.

And in the morning, he makes breakfast for three while Zayn and Bella sleep, mixing pancake dough and singing quietly enough not to wake the Maliks. When they stumble in—or Zayn stumbles in, Bella on his hip—they eat breakfast, all three of them at the table, like they always do in the mornings when Harry gets there early enough, Harry cutting food into pieces for Bella and Zayn gulping down coffee as if his life depended on it, and sparing the odd smile or word for his daughter.

But then Zayn gets up to leave with a groan that makes Bella giggle, and he drops a kiss onto Bella's forehead and whispers to her to "Be good, baby girl," which she grins at and promises she will. And that's usually when he tells Harry good-bye and leaves. But this time, he drops a kiss onto Harry's forehead as well, and whispers to him, "Be good babe."

And Harry grins back, a little cheeky, and shoots a glance back to make sure Bella's not paying attention, before he retorts, "Only ‘til you get back."