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Zayn’s not staring. It’s just that Harry’s hard to look away from sometimes. Even more so on stage where he’s completely in his element, captivating. Zayn doesn’t think that he can be blamed for an opinion that he currently shares with fifty thousand other people.

They’ve moved on to the B stage section of the show and Harry grabs a water bottle and waves to some fans. As the stage rises, Harry stays by the edge, seemingly unconcerned. It sets Zayn’s teeth on edge just watching.

Harry catches his eye, and Zayn feels like he should look away, but he doesn’t. There’s something strangely intense in the way Harry’s looking at him.

He beckons Harry towards him, or just away from the edge of the stage, really. Harry either doesn’t understand what Zayn is getting at or is being purposely obtuse, because he just grins and shimmies his hips a bit in Zayn’s direction, breaking the moment. It’s probably the former, but it’s hard to tell with Harry sometimes. He likes to play up the spacey, slow-talking eccentric card when it suits him.

Zayn lets it go, but it irks him, puts him off his game a bit for the rest of the show.

Back in the dressing room after the final encore, Niall picks up on Zayn’s mood immediately, because he has a freakishly accurate knack for sniffing out intraband tension.

He looks between Zayn and Harry. “What happened?”

Zayn sighs, because he knows now that it’s out there that no one’s going to leave it alone until the supposed issue is resolved. It’s annoying as fuck in the moment, but a tried and true method of smoothing out the spats that are bound to arise when the five of them spend as much time together as they do.

“He was being an idiot again, getting too close to the edge of the platform.”

"Oh, that? I was fine." Harry says, irritatingly nonchalant as he shakes his hair out from its bun.

"Jesus, Harry, what are you, sixteen? You're not fucking invincible."

It's times like these that Harry drives him absolutely mental, brushing off Zayn's completely valid concerns with a shrug and a dimpled smile.

"If it bothers you that much, Zayn, I won't do it again." He says it like it makes no difference to him either way.

Zayn wants to shoot back that yes, the idea of Harry falling off a fifty foot platform bothers him a bit, but he bites his tongue. Choosing your battles and all that.

He doesn't say anything and Niall cracks a joke in the somewhat uneasy silence that follows. Everyone laughs and the tension in the room breaks just like that. Zayn lets himself laugh along with them, attempting to ride out what's left of his post show high.

 

Zayn's not exactly surprised when Harry only manages to keep his word for a couple shows before he's back at it.

Zayn tries a different tactic, because for all that Harry likes to believe that's he's mature beyond his years, Zayn knows that telling him not to do something often has the opposite effect.

"Babe, be careful." he says, a hand low on Harry's back. They're in...Tulsa? Toronto? They're somewhere in North America that that starts with a T, and Harry's just stumbled on the wrong side of the railing before catching himself with a laugh and hopping back over. It sends a shiver of fear down Zayn's spine before he rights himself.

Harry stops for a minute, still like he never is on stage, and just smiles at Zayn, sweet and unguarded like he only gets in private. He's off again as soon as the next song starts up, running around and waving to fans like he honestly never runs out of steam. Sometimes Zayn is exhausted just at the thought of stepping out in front of fifty thousand people.

Zayn keeps an eye on him even after the platform has lowered. There’s no reason to, really. At least not one that Zayn can rationalize away.

Louis barges into Zayn’s room later that night, bouncing on his toes, the way he gets after a really good show, like he doesn’t know what to do with all the pent up energy

“Come out with us.”

“Nah,” Zayn says, maybe a bit too quickly. It’s just that he really can’t be arsed with going out to some bar while people pretend not to stare at them. It’s tired, it really is.

“Fine,” he says, in a tone that suggests it’s anything but. Of course Louis would take his refusal personally. Maybe he has been a bit withdrawn lately, but he doesn’t think that pointing out to Louis that it’s not actually about him would help matters any. It probably wouldn’t kill him to make a bit more of an effort where the boys are concerned, though. Leave Louis alone too long and he starts to think you’ve grown bored of him, gets all prickly and sharp-tongued. It seems easier to give in then to explain the concept of needing to recharge alone after an evening of being in the spotlight.

“I just—“ He sighs. “Where are you going?”

Louis brightens instantly, knowing already that he’s won. “Don’t you worry about that, it’s all sorted. Now your hair on the other hand…”

Zayn chucks the object closest to him, which happens to be a surprisingly soft hotel pillow, at Louis’ head. Louis laughs and dodges it easily.

For some reason when Louis said ‘us’, Zayn just assumed he meant him and Liam and not the band, the 5sos boys, and, like, half the bloody crew. So much for trying to fly under the radar.

“This is ridiculous.” he says as they and their fucking entourage pull up to the bar. He’s trying to calculate just how long Louis would give him the cold shoulder for if he dipped right now and whether or not it’d be worth it. The car pulls away before he can make a decision one way or another.

“This is called having a good time, Malik. You should try it sometime.”

Zayn has to admit, a few hours later—though not out loud and not to Louis—that he’s not having the worst time, like objectively. They’re in VIP booths near the back of the club—which always feels like a bit of a douche move but is necessary to have some semblance of privacy—and the music is actually good, easy to move to.

Zayn heads to the bar for another round, although he could have just waited for their waitress to come back. He’s waiting for his drinks when a girl approaches him, chats him up with an easy confidence that Zayn envies. He’s almost always faking it, feels like a bit of a fraud whenever anyone calls him cool or mysterious when he’s really just awkward at best. He won’t pretend, though, that he doesn’t know how to work that to his advantage. He knows what he looks like and, yeah, he knows how to flirt. He’s never had any trouble pulling.

Zayn could hook up with her. She’s hot and doesn’t pretend to not know who he is, but at the same time she’s clearly not a fan. He’s not feeling it, though, and he doesn’t have to get too deeply introspective to puzzle out why. She looks a bit disappointed when he makes his excuses, gently but firmly pulling his arm back from where hand had been not so casually resting. She still gives him her number and says to call if he’s ever back in town, though.

As Zayn’s heading back to their table, he sees Harry on his way out with Lou, their heads bent close together like they’re sharing a secret. Zayn feels the inexplicable urge to call out to him, even though they’ve spent the night on opposite edges of the group. He doesn’t, though, and Harry doesn’t turn back.

Zayn doesn’t stay much longer, no longer in the mood to be social. Louis and Liam’s pleas for him to stay are half hearted at best.

 

The days blur together, as they tend to on tour. Tour exists in the same nebulous timeline as summer vacation before you’re old enough for real responsibilities. Zayn’s glad that someone else is in charge of getting the lot of them to and from each stadium. He’s sure he wouldn’t be able to keep it all straight in his head.

Zayn is sitting in Lou’s chair, trying not to frown into the mirror, when she says, rather out of nowhere, “You need to be careful, Zayn.”

“Um, alright,” Zayn says, thrown by the non sequitur. From where he’s standing, Lou is the one that needs to be careful what with the way she’s tugging none too gently on his hair. “But, also, what?”

“I’m just saying, sometimes you have to think about how your actions affect people other than yourself.” she says, which clears up exactly nothing. He has no clue why Lou’s narked at him, but clearly it’s his hair that’s going to suffer for it. He’s not sure how to tell Lou that the quiff is a bit 2011 without pissing her off more. Best to just wait for it to be over.

Zayn doesn’t want to admit that he’s in a foul mood because his hair’s fucked up, but Zayn’s kind of in a foul mood because his hair’s fucked up.

Louis lets out a cackle when he sees him. “Oh shit, did you drink Lou’s last craft beer again?”

“Fuck off, Louis.”

“Classic!” he says, snapping a picture before zooming away on his skateboard.

He has a bit of time to kill, so he heads to the lounge, where Harry and Niall are sat, waiting for their turn at hair and makeup.

“What’s up?” Zayn says, sinking into the couch opposite.

Niall holds his fist out for a fist bump. “Mate, this venue is sick.” he says, as he does every show. Zayn can’t help but smile at his enthusiasm; to Zayn, they all blend together like the days and weeks.

Harry looks up from his phone briefly, then back down without saying anything. He knows he and Harry aren’t exactly the best of friends these days, but it stings, perhaps more than he’d care to admit, the way Harry seems to look right through him sometimes as if he’s not even there. He wants to shout look at me I’m right here, but he doesn’t think he could handle it if he got the blank and blandly polite look that Harry puts on in interviews when the questions start to get a bit too personal.

He mumbles something about seeing what Louis and Liam are up to, and makes himself walk slowly to the door. He doesn’t want it to look like he’s running away, even though that’s exactly what he’s doing.

 

On stage, Zayn eyes Harry warily as the platform rises, Harry paying Zayn just as much attention as he was earlier. Which is to say none at all.

Zayn doesn’t have to hold his breath for long, because of course Harry doesn’t disappoint. He doesn't stumble, he doesn't even let go of the railing this time. He makes it back on solid ground without incident, but all the same Zayn has had enough. He's not going to worry himself sick just so Harry can have his thrill or entertain the fans or whatever the fuck he gets out of acting like an idiot.

Zayn waits until they’re back at the hotel. He and Harry are the only two that have made it back; Liam and Louis have fucked off to some after party or another, and Niall’s meeting up with a girl he met last go around. When the lift stops on their floor, he follows Harry into his room instead of continuing down the hall to his own.

Harry stops short, stumbles a bit over his own feet. “What—”

“Need to talk to you.”

“Oh, well, I was just going to pack up and then head to bed. Bit knackered to be honest.”

“Go on and pack, but I need to talk to you,” says Zayn, not allowing him the out.

“Alright,” Harry agrees, albeit a bit stiffly, no doubt annoyed at Zayn’s refusal to take his hint, but not willing to pick a fight over it. He hauls his half unpacked suitcase from the floor up to the bed.

Zayn sits on the bed opposite. He's hoping this will be a quick conversation, but he has the distinct feeling that he's gearing up for a fight.

“You need to stop fucking around on that platform. It’s not fucking funny anymore. I’m serious.”

It’s a bit more blunt than he was aiming for, but fuck it, he’s tired too. He’s always fucking tired, and Harry is doing his head in, like he’s determined to give Zayn a stress migraine.

Harry laughs, though it sounds a bit stilted. “You’re still on about that?”

“You’re still doing it, so yeah, I’m still fucking on about that. You said you'd stop.” he says, though it feels juvenile to remind him of a half promise he'd made likely only to appease Zayn in the moment.

"I didn’t think you would care," Harry says, offhand, like he's not properly paying attention to their conversation. But Zayn knows him too well and suddenly everything clicks into place.

"You've been doing all this to get a rise out of me?"

"Not everything is about you, Zayn." He's still walking around the room, collecting stray articles of clothing and folding them neatly before he places them in his bag.

Zayn doesn't rise to the bait. "No, no, but this is."

The tips of Harry’s ears go pink, caught out, but he juts his chin out defiantly. “And?”

And?” It amazes Zayn, almost, that after everything Harry still knows exactly how to set him off with just a single word or gesture. “You’ve been risking your life for—”

Harry has the audacity to roll his eyes. “I wasn’t risking my life, don’t be so dramatic, Zayn.”

Zayn has to laugh at that, sharp and humourless. “You've been prancing around the edge of a fifty foot high platform just to, what, piss me off, and in your mind, I’m the dramatic one.”

“It’s the only way you’ll even look at me anymore!” Harry bursts out, finally losing his cool.

That stops him short. “What?”

“I wake up one day and you’re engaged and then fucking unegaged the next, and it's like I don't even exist to you anymore.”

It stings a bit, to hear Harry put his break up in such blunt terms. It stings a bit in general to talk about, like a bruise you know you shouldn’t poke at. It puts Zayn immediately on the defensive.

"What, did you think we were just gonna pick up where we left off? Like you said, I was engaged, Harry."

"Yeah, and I was in love with you!" He turns away, his hands shaking slightly around the shirt he's still clutching. “Fuck.”

Zayn sucks in a breath, thrown off guard by the confession. Nothing about this conversation is going the way he thought it would. He figured they'd have a bit of a tif, that Harry would ask something of Zayn in exchange. Something like quitting smoking because he'd know Zayn wouldn't be able to hold up his end of the bargain. That he could have handled.

He supposes he's always known on some level, though, somewhere in a corner of his mind that he doesn't like to examine too closely, that Harry's feelings for him ran deeper than he liked to let on. It was easy to tell himself that he was doing Harry a favour by not mentioning a crush that he was bound to get over anyway.

“You never said.”

It's the wrong thing to say and it's not enough, and Harry knows it.

He snorts, gaining back a bit of bravado. “Yeah, well, I knew what it was about for you. Even if I didn't want to admit it to myself.”

“Harry, I…”

“You should go.” he says with a note of finality.

Zayn goes without protest, his head still spinning long after he’s made it back to his own room.

 

 

He finds Harry a few days later in the back lounge of Bus 2. Harry sets aside the book he'd been reading but doesn't say anything, waits Zayn out.

"I didn't mean to mess you about." Zayn says eventually. Harry stays quiet. He's on par with Zayn as far as being moody and unreadable when he wants to be. "I just—I thought I was doing the right thing for once."

"It wasn't really the right thing for anyone in the end, though, was it?" Harry points out, not unkindly. It's a fair point. Proposing to Perrie hadn't made their problems disappear, hadn't changed the fact that they just didn't make each other happy anymore.

“Anyway, it’s alright. I knew what I was getting myself into, I just ended up wanting more. I can’t blame you for not wanting the same.” The way he says it sounds like it’s something he’s had to convince himself of.

He waits until Harry is looking him in the eye to say, “I did, though, I did want that.”

“You...but you—”

“I made a choice. The wrong one. Like, I fucked up. Perrie wasn’t happy and she could tell I wasn’t happy, you know, that my heart wasn’t in it anymore. We had our, uh, understanding, but developing actual feelings wasn’t exactly in the fine print.”

Feelings, Harry mouths, eye gone a bit wide.

“And I think I have been avoiding you, like because I wanted to pick up right where we left off. Again, trying to do the right thing but fucking things up instead.” he says with a self-deprecating huff. “If I could go back and do it all differently, I would. I would have made the hard choice, but the right one. Easy to say now, I guess, with the benefit of hindsight.”

“God, Zayn.” He has a far away look in his eyes, like he’s reexamining everything he thought he knew.

“The other day you said were.” Harry simply arches an eyebrow, though Zayn is pretty sure Harry knows what he's getting at. Zayn elaborates. “You said you were in love with me. As in past tense?”

Harry gaze turns sharp. “You don't get to ask me that.”

Zayn has the good grace to be ashamed. “I know. Sorry. I just mean, like, are you finished with me, or?”

Zayn is pretty sure he already knows the answer—Harry wouldn't be investing this much emotional energy into a lost cause—but the pause Harry takes before answering still feels like an eternity.

“Or,” Harry echoes, not quite a confirmation, not quite a question.

“I hope, uh, I mean I know I have no right to ask, but I hope you’ll give me another chance.”

Harry chews on his lip like he doesn’t know how to respond to that. “This is a lot to process.” he eventually lands on.

“I know. I could” —he motions towards the door— “clear out, give you some space to think.”

“No,” Harry says quickly. “Don’t go. Not after I just got you back.” He blushes like he didn’t mean to let the last bit slip.

“All right, babe, I won’t.” He hopes he’s not overstepping when he reaches over to take Harry’s hand. Harry stares down at their hands for a moment.

“Come here.” he says urgently, like he doesn't want to waste another second.

Zayn goes.

Next to him on the couch, he’s close enough now to smell Harry’s overpriced cologne that he would never admit he loves. He toys with a loose strand of Harry’s hair, tucks it carefully behind his ear and doesn’t take his hand back. “Hey, is this okay?”

Harry nods, says softly, “Yeah.” His eyes flutter closed in anticipation.

With a hand threaded through his soft hair, he pulls Harry in. When their lips meet, Harry’s part on a gasp. He lets Zayn guide him back on the couch so they’re laying side by side.

If Harry was tentative at first, he’s nearly frantic now, holding on tight, like he’s worried he won’t get another chance. Zayn presses on his shoulder to ground him a bit and he sighs shakily but settles.

“Hey, hey, I’m right here.”

Harry nods but doesn’t say anything, tucking his head against Zayn’s chest. This close, Zayn can feel the frenetic beating of his heart, hear the breathing he hasn’t yet managed to calm.

The couch is not exactly comfortable and not exactly meant for two people to lay down on, but Zayn doesn’t want to move. Not ever, if possible. It’s been a long time since they’ve been this close, physically or otherwise. Now that he has it again, Zayn doesn’t know how he went so long without. He forgot how much a simple touch could mean.

“Can I ask you something?” Harry asks after a while. He’s tracing a pattern on Zayn’s chest over his shirt, not meeting Zayn’s eyes.

“Of course.”

“Did you, um, like that girl from the bar? Did you—I mean, it’s none of my business—“

Zayn honestly has to think about it for a minute before it clicks: the girl from the club and what it must have looked like to Harry, how the timing of his departure may not have been coincidental. “That’s why Lou was being all cryptic and shit.”

Harry blushes. “I told her not to say anything.”

“Nothing happened, though.”

“Okay,” Harry says and he looks relieved but also like he’s trying not to look relieved.

“I’m sorry.” Zayn says. “I’ve been a real prick, huh?”

Harry attempts a smile. “It’s alright, it’s not like you were doing it with the intention of hurting me.”

Harry’s trying to let him off the hook, but it still makes Zayn’s heart sink. “I did anyway, though.”

“Zayn, really, it’s fine. I thought you were finished with me and that just felt like proof, that’s all.”

“I’m not.” he says fiercely. “I’m, like, whatever the opposite of finished with you is.”

Harry gives him a less wobbly smile. “You’re starting with me?”

“Yeah,” Zayn says, liking the sound of it, even though Harry was teasing, “exactly, I’m starting with you.”

“Okay.” Harry says. He takes Zayn’s hand and holds it to his chest. Zayn can feel his heartbeat under his palm. He feels more at home than he has in a long while.

 

Harry in the next few weeks is...careful would probably be the best word for it. He’s sweet and affectionate, and it’s the closest they’ve ever been, but Zayn can tell he’s holding back.

And Zayn gets it. He does. He just doesn't know how to convince Harry that he isn't going anywhere. After everything, just saying it doesn't seem like it would be enough.

 

They’ve been sharing hotel rooms, their tour manager raising an eyebrow when Zayn said he wouldn’t be needing his any longer, but otherwise not commenting. It’s nice, to have someone to share with, nicer still that this someone is Harry. It makes the perpetual stretch of hotel rooms feel a little less impersonal. Zayn still enjoys solitude, needs it at times, but even more he needs that feeling of home.

Harry has a habit of strewing his clothes around the entire room and he snores just on the wrong side of too loud, and Zayn thinks I want this.

It’s a bit early, probably, to be thinking about moving in together, but at the same time he doesn’t see why they should waste anymore time than they already have. He’ll put it on the back burner for now, though.

“Mind if I have the first shower?”

Zayn’s been itching for a shower since he stepped off stage, sweating more than he usually does due to the suffocating southern heat, but he waves Harry ahead.

“Go on, babe.”

He switches on the TV, only half watching some true crime program. He’s texting his mum about his plans for the upcoming break when an idea starts taking root in his mind. He’s turning it over in his mind and doesn’t notice Harry’s done with his shower until he’s standing next to the bed with a towel wrapped around his waist.

“Shower’s free,” he says, shaking his hair out a bit to catch Zayn with the droplets.

“Alright, alright, I’m going.”

Harry’s already tucked into bed when Zayn’s finished in the bathroom. It gives Zayn a silly rush of affection. Harry’s outgoing and charismatic, the perfect popstar, Zayn had said, but at the end of the day he’s a homebody same as Zayn. He likes watching an episode of whatever show they’re currently on and being in bed by ten.

“You’re such an old man.” Zayn says as if he’s not about to crawl into bed and join him.

“Excuse me, Zayn.” Harry says, playing at being offended. “It’s nearly midnight.”

“The Harry I used to know would have been raring to go right about now. Ready to paint the town red.”

“I’d rather be here with you.” he says, the teasing gone from his tone.

“Me too.” Zayn says quietly, sliding into bed next him. He doesn’t say I’d rather be here than anywhere else, hoping it’s understood.

They’re silent for a few minutes as Zayn settles into bed, psyching himself up. He knows Harry will say yes, but he's nervous all the same. "Hey, so d'you wanna come home with me next week?"

"Mm," he hums sleepily, "yeah, just have to pop back to mine and check in first and then I can meet you back there."

"No, I meant home home. Bradford, like."

That gets Harry’s attention, has him sitting up a bit in bed. It's not like Harry's never been home with him, but it's been a long time. Back when they were just starting out, young and all five too codependent by half.

"Yeah, I mean, sure. Is everything okay?"

“Yeah, babe, everything’s fine.” He still looks an adorable mixture of sleepy and confused and Zayn just has to kiss him, tongue flicking out briefly but keeping it soft and chaste.

It seems to click a moment later, Harry's eyes going bright. “Oh, okay, that's—yeah, I'd like that.”

They make out for a bit with no real end destination in mind, Zayn’s hand in Harry’s curls, still damp from the shower. The last thing that Zayn sees before he switches the light off is Harry smiling, hiding it in his pillow like he doesn’t mean for Zayn to see. It makes Zayn’s chest hurt a bit, to think that he spent so long making Harry sad, when really it’s the easiest thing in the world to make him happy. He just wants to know that he’s cared for.

“You're so sweet,” Zayn says as he lays down next to Harry. This time Harry hides his smile in the crook of Zayn's shoulder, and they fall asleep just like that, tangled up.

 

It's not a thing, but Zayn kind of just—doesn't tell his parents that he and Harry are coming. Or perhaps more pertinently why they're coming. It's his first foray into the dating world since he and Perrie broke up and it feels fragile. He wants to hold it close to his chest so it doesn't break, like a baby bird that hasn't learnt how to fly yet.

He means to tell Harry, but he also means to tell his parents before he has to tell Harry he's chickened out. The problem is he doesn't end up doing either.

 

Zayn phone rings through the Bluetooth connected to his car. Home. He clicks answer before he can think better of it.

“Hello?”

“Hi, love,” his mom answers.

“Hi, Trisha!” Harry chimes in. Zayn doesn't thunk his head against the steering wheel but it's a near thing.

“Oh, is that Harry? How are you, dear? It's been so long.”

Harry's not stupid and he registers the surprise in her voice. Zayn sneaks a look at him out of the corner of his eye and holds his breath. Harry's face falls, but he keeps his tone light when he replies, keeping up an easy banter until Zayn wrests back control of the conversation.

It's silent for a long moment after Zayn hangs up.

“You haven't told them? Fuck, Zayn.” He sounds more resignedly disappointed than angry, and it hurts that Harry expected this from him and he delivered. “Should we just turn around? If you're not ready for this, you shouldn't have asked me ‘round.”

You shouldn't have got my hopes up, he doesn't say.

Zayn smacks his palms against the steering wheel in frustration. “No, fuck, I am, I just—”

“Don't do it just because you think it's what I need.”

“I'm not.” he says, even though he is a bit. They both need this. Harry needs to know that Zayn is serious this time, that he's not fucking him about, and Zayn needs to tell his family to let this be real.

“Is it…” Harry trails off like he's thought better of what he was going to say. He licks his lips and starts again. “Is it because I'm a boy or because I'm me?”

Harry, neither.” Zayn’s family knows that he's bi, but it's always been more of a theoretical knowledge. Harry is the only guy that Zayn’s ever been serious about. It's new and nerve wracking, admittedly, but it's not the reason that Zayn’s having trouble with this. “I just—I really fucked up with Perrie, you know? I really hurt her, and you as well. I don’t know…I think I’m just scared that I don’t know how not to fuck things up. And, like, everyone who doesn’t know is one less person to be disappointed in me.”

“Zayn…” Harry starts, sounding sad. Zayn’s not sure he wants to hear what comes next.

“I'll tell them this weekend, I will.”

“Okay,” Harry says softly, sounding less than convinced, more like he's just agreeing to end the conversation. It stings even though Zayn can't exactly blame him.

I love you. It would be easy to say it now, and Harry deserves to hear it, but it's not the right time. Harry's upset even if he's pretending not to be and Zayn has to sort his head out before he goes making any declarations.

He reaches over to rest his hand on Harry's thigh. Harry doesn't turn from where he's looking out the window but he covers Zayn's hand with his own for a moment before drawing back. Small victories.

The rest of the drive is spent in silence, and although it's not exactly awkward and they're not exactly fighting, there's a definite edge to it. Zayn wants to crack a joke, make Harry laugh and set things to rights, but it feels like it would be cheating, like he should have to work a bit harder for it.

The first thing that hits Zayn when they step into the house is the smell of his mum’s cooking, and he gets that bone deep feeling of contentment that comes with being back home. The sound of their arrival prompts his entire family to crowd into the foyer, attacking him with hugs from every angle. The hugs they give Harry are a little more civilised but no less warm. Harry holds court with ease, complimenting Waliyha’s haircut and remarking on the tempting aroma coming from the kitchen.

“Alright, alright, let’s let the boys settle in. Harry, I’ve freshened up the guest room for you.”

Zayn’s sure he’s the only one who notices the way Harry’s smile flickers ever so slightly. “Oh, Trisha, you really shouldn’t have gone to any trouble for little old me.”

She laughs, charmed, and waves them upstairs. Zayn was just going to set Harry up in his room, but there's really no way to argue when there's a perfectly good guest bedroom already made up.

“It's okay,” Harry says as they're climbing the stairs with their suitcases in tow, before Zayn can say anything.

And it really isn't a big deal, they can survive a few nights without sharing a bed, but it feels symbolic. It's over dramatic probably, but he just wanted Harry to have a nice weekend, and so far he's done a wonderful job of mucking everything up.

 

Zayn loves his family more than anything, he really does, but he also hates them a little bit when the topic of his dating life somehow comes up over dinner.

“Oh but she was such a nice girl.”

“Mum, please,” Zayn grits out.

“Oh, alright, I'll leave you be.”

Safaa clearly has made no such promises. “Do you think she'll be coming over again? She promised to let me paint her nails.”

Zayn laughs awkwardly, says, “I don't know,” hoping the non answer will change the subject.

It's a terribly stupid thing to say, not least of all because he does very much know. Most of all for the look that passes over Harry’s face before he can smooth it out.

Harry is quiet for the rest of dinner. He’s not rude, but it’s uncharacteristic enough that he gets a few concerned glances from Zayn’s mum.

Harry heads upstairs after Zayn’s mum waves away his offer to do dishes. Mum, dad, and the girls are going out for ice cream, and Zayn declines the invitation for both of them. He follows Harry upstairs, closing the door of the guest room quietly behind him. Harry doesn’t look up from his phone.

“If you're angry, just say it. For once, just say what you really wanna say.”

He sets his phone down next to him on the bed.

“I'm not angry.” he says evenly.

“Bullshit, you're not. You won't even look at me.”

“I'm not angry, Zayn. I'm fucking scared! Okay? I'm terrified that you're gonna realise that this isn't what you really want.”

He doesn't say again but he doesn't have to.

“I'm just gonna head out, alright?” he says before Zayn can even work through the tangle of his thoughts to formulate a reply.

Zayn feels abruptly sick. “Harry, don't.”

“It's alright, I have to get back anyway. I have a meeting tomorrow.”

It's the first time he's mentioned any meeting and Zayn has an inkling that he would have just rescheduled had things gone well.

“I wish you wouldn’t go.” Zayn says and means I wish I could be better. He can’t think of a single thing to say to convince Harry to stay.

Harry smiles sadly. “I have to.”

He hasn’t even unpacked yet; Zayn tries not to think of that as a metaphor for their relationship.

 

Zayn’s still in the guest room when his family gets back a while later. His mum finds him sitting on the bed and comes to sit next to him. He knows that she knows without him saying that something is wrong.

“Where’s Harry, love?”

“He, um, he left. He had to get back to London.”

“Oh, is everything alright?”

“Yeah, just a meeting he couldn’t get out of. He said to say thanks for dinner and sorry to run out so soon.”

“Is that all?” The question is innocuous enough, and he knows she’d let him get away with an innocuous answer, but he needs to stop being afraid.

“Mum. Harry and I are together, like.”

“Oh,” she says, expression unreadable for a moment, “that's rather...sudden, isn't it?”

Zayn tries not to let anything show on his face, pauses to figure out how to word it without giving too much away. “Uh, no not really. A long time coming, actually.”

“Hmm,” she says slowly. Zayn doesn't suppose he's really put one over on her. “Well as long as he makes you happy then I’m happy for you.”

“He does, he really does. Don’t know if he can say the same, though.” Zayn says, and he’s horrified to realise he’s on the verge of tears.

“Oh, honey, why would you say that? I’m sure that’s not true.”

Zayn shrugs, trying to swallow the lump in his throat. She pulls him into a fierce hug, the kind only a mum can master.

“Do you love him?”

He answers without hesitation. “Yeah. I do.”

“You should go home and tell him.”

Zayn wants to say that it's not that simple, but maybe it is. Maybe it always has been.

 

Are you still up? Can I ring you ?

Zayn keeps himself awake by scrolling mindlessly through Twitter, but Harry doesn't reply, and eventually he can't keep his eyes open any longer. Maybe he's really fucked things up this time, but he'll have to deal with it in the morning.

 

Zayn wakes up early the next morning, putters around the kitchen making breakfast and coffee. He calls Harry as early as he dares, not wanting to wake him.

Harry answers after the fourth ring. “Hello.”

He sounds tired, wary, like maybe he thinks Zayn is ringing to break it off. There’s a trust that desperately needs to be restored and built back up, and Zayn wants to see that through.

“I told my mum.” Zayn says, in lieu of hello.

“Oh, you, um, about—”

“That we're together, yeah.” Zayn pauses. He should wait until they're face to face, but he’s waited long enough, hasn't he? Harry's waited long enough. “That I love you.”

Harry draws in a quiet breath. “Zayn.”

“I love you and I want this. I know I haven’t made it easy for you to believe that, but I really do, and I want to be better about the ways I express that. I'm coming home, okay?”

“Okay.” He sounds a bit dazed. “But what about your family?” Zayn hopes it’s not wishful thinking that it sounds more like a token protest than an actual desire to talk Zayn out of his plans.

“They’re gonna fly out for the last few weeks of tour. Really, you’re doing them a favour taking me off their hands. One less head crowding in front of the bathroom mirror in the morning.”

“Pretty selfless of me, hoarding you all to myself.” Harry says, and Zayn can hear the smile in his voice. He feels a heavy weight ease from his chest.

“Yeah, exactly. I mean it’s a tough job, but someone has to do it. Hey, so I’ll be home around 7, will you come over?”

Zayn’s heart is pounding in his chest, like he’s a teenager asking someone he fancies out on a date for the first time. It feels more monumental than the innocent invitation warrants.

“Okay.” Harry says, not quickly but not hesitantly. Like he considered the question, considered Zayn and didn’t find him wanting.

“Okay, I’ll make dinner.”

Harry laughs. “You mean you’ll order takeaway and put it out on plates.”

That is admittedly Zayn’s go to, but he wants to make that effort, do things right. Wine and dine him, so to speak. Maybe it’s going about things a bit backwards, but their entire relationship has been in a way. It hasn’t exactly been smooth sailing, but Zayn doesn’t think it’s an accident that they’ve ended up here, together. It feels inevitable. It feels right.

“Nah, not this time.”

 

 

Tour ends, and Zayn can’t say he’s entirely sad to see it go. He’s not like Niall, still in awe that this is their job, or Harry who thrives under the pressure of the spotlight. He feels exhausted in a way he doesn’t know he could articulate, ready to sleep for a week straight, finally in his own bed.

“Fair warning,” he says to Harry on the plane, Harry’s eyes still a bit misty from the goodbyes at the airport, “I’m not gonna be too entertaining. Like, I think I might actually pass out before I make it through the door.”

Harry’s coming straight back to his, and Zayn doesn’t want to talk him out of it, but there’s an undercurrent of insecurity there that feels too real to touch on. That’s the truth, isn’t it? He’s not entertaining, painfully ordinary underneath the shiny veneer, and now that their world has finally stopped spinning maybe he’s scared Harry will realise that.

He tries not to think like that, though. After all, Harry’s given Zayn his trust. It feels wrong not to do the same.

“That’s alright, I’ll be there to make sure you’re safely tucked in.” He chucks Zayn under the chin affectionately.

Both true to their word, Zayn winds down in the next few weeks and Harry is there beside him. Louis complains that they’ve both become recluses, but Zayn knows that’s just his way of saying that he’s happy for them. You have to learn to read between the lines with Louis.

Harry goes to his mum’s for a few days, and Zayn doesn’t want to be that person, but he misses him, has to stop himself more than once from texting him to come back home. He keeps himself busy by working on songs that he already knows won’t fit with the band’s sound. For now, they’re just for him, and that’s alright.

When Harry comes back to London a few days later than planned, staying to catch up with old friends, Zayn tries not to be too dramatic, but like he’s gotten used to having Harry close by. So what if he’s on Harry before he’s even properly in the door? Sue him.

“Missed you.” he says, arms wrapped tight around Harry, kissing him, his lips gone a bit slack with surprise. He catches on rather quickly, though.

Harry laughs, though he sounds pleased. “I should go back home more often if this is the reaction I get.”

“Mm, no, don’t do that. Anyway, I’m always nice to you.”

“You are.” Harry agrees, still sounding amused by the way Zayn will barely let him go long enough to get his coat off. It was a long week, alright? Zayn may like his solitude, but he likes being a boyfriend more. Doing something sweet just because you know it will make them smile, the scary yet exciting intimacy of knowing someone completely and letting yourself be known.

Zayn sticks close to Harry for the rest of the night, borderline clingy in a way he doesn’t usually let himself be, Harry seeming bemused yet pleased by the attention. He knows whenever Harry leaves, whether it’s to his own place or visiting his mum, he’ll always be back, but Zayn thinks he’s had quite enough of missing Harry.

In the morning, Harry is quiet through breakfast. Zayn can tell something is weighing on his mind, but he doesn’t press, let’s him gather his thoughts.

“So, I’ve been thinking.” Harry says eventually. Zayn pauses the tv and turns to face Harry, sensing the importance. Harry seems a bit flustered now, like he wasn’t expecting the full extent of Zayn’s attention.

“What’s up, babe?” Zayn prompts gently.

He visibly gathers himself, and Zayn feels the faint stirrings of unease, wondering what has Harry so keyed up.

“Well, I’ve been thinking, like, I’m here most of the time, and it seems silly to go home only to grab some clothes or just for the sake of saying I still live there. And I don’t know, maybe, if you want, I could just be here all the time?”

Zayn is quiet for a moment, trying to process Harry’s rambling. “Are you asking me to move in together?”

Harry’s cheeks are a bit pink. “Well, yeah.”

Zayn’s quiet for a beat too long, and Harry’s face falls before going carefully blank. “Sorry, sorry!” Zayn says quickly. “Just, you beat me to it. Kinda stole my thunder.”

“Oh,” he says, pleased. “So you want to?”

“I want to.” Zayn confirms. “I don’t think I wanna go home if you’re not there.”

Harry gets that soft look on his face when Zayn says something sweet that he’s not expecting.

“Good, okay, so should I get my things?”

Zayn wants to poke fun at Harry’s eagerness, but it’s not like he’s much better. Now that it’s out there, it’s all he can think about, all he wants. Not just him in his too big house that his real estate agent assured him would be a good investment, but a home to share with Harry. He wants to wake up in the morning knowing Harry will be there next to him, wants to see Harry’s shoes lined up next to his by the door, wants to invite their friends and family around to a place they call theirs.

“Uh, no, you should definitely not move from this couch for the rest of the day. Like unless it’s to our bed. Can’t you text your assistant?”

“Zayn,” Harry says, looking mildly horrified, “that’s not her job. We can go by tomorrow.” Harry’s clearly not about to be put off by Zayn’s desire to hibernate until their next work obligation.

“Hang on, how have I got roped into this? I maintain that we leave it to the professionals.” Zayn doesn’t actually want strangers poking around in their lives, but sometimes it’s just too easy to wind Harry up.

“Uh, you’re my boyfriend, it’s kind of in the contract. Especially when it’s your house I’m moving to.”

Zayn’s stomach does a funny flip when Harry says boyfriend. Ridiculous, considering they’re moving in together.

“Hmm, I didn’t sign anything legally binding, but I’ll allow it. Turns out I’m a bit fond of you.”

Harry’s nose scrunches up, like he can’t decide whether or not he’s offended. Zayn kisses his nose before standing up.

“Drink?”

“Please.”

When Zayn comes back out to the living room juggling a couple beers and bag of crisps, Harry’s sat there smiling to himself. It’s objectively a bit funny, but it also makes Zayn’s stomach swoop pleasantly. He pokes at a dimple. “What are you grinning about?”

He shrugs, going shy. “I don’t know, I just never thought I’d get to have this. I’m just happy.”

“I am too. Really happy.”

Harry shuffles closer on the couch, wraps his arms around Zayn’s waist and rests his head in the juncture between his neck and shoulder. He mumbles something into the soft fabric of Zayn’s sweater.

“Hmm?”

Harry looks up at him, holds his gaze. “I love you.”

Zayn knows that, or at least he was pretty sure, hopeful. He’s been respecting Harry’s need to go at his own pace, though, so it is the first verbal confirmation he’s had of something that Harry shows him every day with the care and tenderness with which he treats him. Zayn won’t pretend, though, that it doesn’t give him a thrill of happiness to hear the words.

Zayn pulls him closer, holds on tight. He’s not going to make the mistake of letting go. “I love you too.”