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Only When I Look Into Your Eyes

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“Oh God, break it up,” Louis complains, as if he and Liam haven’t given all of them constant eyefuls for the last year and a half. “You act like you won’t see each other again for ages.”

Niall and Justin ignore him, huddled up to each other despite the late-spring heat with their luggage forgotten on the sidewalk. They’re talking so low only that they can only hear each other and they keep planting little kisses all over each other’s faces mid-sentence. Louis rolls his eyes and makes retching noises.

Zayn doesn't say it out loud, but he's kind of on Louis' side. He loves love and everything, but he hit his limit on disney-esque romance around the same time as Justin and Niall's third date.

They're a rom-com montage in real life, always curling up together on Justin’s bed during group hangouts and looking like they don’t even know other humans exist. They whisper in their own little world until they fall asleep in each other’s arms. They fight are over silly things like the merits of various action movies and what counts as a pizza topping abomination and they're always half-laughing when they do.

They make it hard not to wish for what they have, which is something he's been trying very hard not to do. But of course, he does. Suddenly, and with the force of a freight train coming through his window, he realizes that he wants that.

Maybe not all the corny jokes and public groping, but it would be nice if someone to clung to him the way they do to each other on move-out day. It’s only time to go home for the summer but they’re holding each other like they’ll be separated for a decade.

“Ah, leave them alone,” Harry says, a little more patient. Caroline isn’t there and none of them ask why, only because his eyes have been perpetually red for the last few days and none of them wants to be the one to make him break down. Zayn gives him an awkward side hug though, just to show his support.

Louis doesn’t take the chance to argue about his right to constantly roast people because Liam comes up behind him to wrap him in a surprise hug. Then they’re the ones causing retching noises because they have their tongues down each other’s throats.

“How did they find that,” Harry says, nodding to the two revoltingly lovely couples in front of them. He speaks so low only Zayn can hear. “I thought I found it, but I don’t think I did. Or if I did, I fucked it up and I’m losing it. I don’t know if I’ll find it again.”

Zayn doesn’t know what to say to that. He can’t say that he thinks Harry deserves someone who doesn't make him cry nearly as much, or at least someone who understands his jokes and doesn’t want to him to change who he is to fit their plan. That won’t help anything, it’ll just push over the tears that have been sitting on the edge of his eyes, so he searches for something else.

“Tell you what,” Zayn says as the taxis they called pull up. “You find a potential soulmate, bring em to me. I’ll hook up with them like I did with Justin, work my magic. Few weeks of drama and then you’ll be professing your love on stage and living happily ever after.”

Harry snickers at this lame attempt to lighten the mood, but it sounds a wet. Liam starts piling things into the backs of the cabs and Zayn thinks fuck it and pulls Harry in for a full hug.

“It’ll be okay,” he says into Harry’s curls, a sudden, bone-deep certainty coming over him. Harry just hugs him back, clinging for a brief moment. When he pulls away that redness is still there but his eyes are dry and he scrapes up a smile from somewhere.

They all go their separate ways. As they do, Zayn sends up a little prayer to whoever is listening that his best friends will be okay.

*

“It’s fine,” Harry is saying two weeks later. He’s off in some exotic local because that’s what his family does on break and Zayn is staring up at the ceiling of his childhood room, waiting for Harry to say what he really wants to say. “I mean, I’ve had a great time at home. Ate good food, caught up with the family.”

Zayn waits some more.

“Haven’t really talked to Caroline though,” he finally says. “She’s flying me back out next week. We’re supposed spend a month together and then I’m coming home for a bit before school starts up again.”

“Huh,” Zayn says, only because he knows Harry and Caroline haven’t spent longer than five hours together without a fight in at least six months.

Harry sighs. “Yeah,” he says.

Once again, Zayn bites his tongue. “You don’t have to worry about it yet,” he says. “Tell me about the island.”

“Oh, it’s lovely!” Zayn can practically hear Harry’s brain hop, skip and run away from the mopey, heartbreak path it was on. He smiles at his ceiling and settles in for one of Harry’s famous rambling stories. “It was funny, we were at this market-”

*

Three weeks later there’s a ping on Zayn’s phone as he’s starting to fall asleep. It’s the group chat, Harry’s name, and We broke up .

He calls.

Harry picks up, but at first there’s just stuffy, panicked breathing from his end. When he can speak, his voice is heavy and quiet and exhausted. “She says it’s over, for good this time."

“Did she say why?” Zayn asks, just as quiet.

There’s a whoosh like Harry’s pushing all the air he possesses out of his body. “She just...she gave up. Her whole family’s been saying I’m too young, I’m unrealistic, she needs a man with a real job...they’ve said it for ages, but it didn’t matter because we-.” His voice starts to get choked up again and Zayn clutches his phone as if his touch could transfer down the line. “...I guess she finally decided love wasn’t enough. Or maybe she decided she doesn’t love me. Just, it’s just over now.”

“What can I do?” Zayn asks in the hollow silence that follows.

“Just stay with me?” Harry asks.

Zayn nods even though Harry can’t see it. “Yeah, 'course.”

*

He and Harry talk on the phone every night, first so Harry can sleep and then just out of habit. As June becomes July becomes August, he starts to wait for those calls. Against his better judgement, he gets used to falling asleep with Harry's voice in his ears.

One night Harry doesn't call.

Zayn waits, like he always does, but his phone only buzzes with game notifications and the boys sending memes in the group chat. He doesn't want to care, but his sisters teasing about how he's usually off talking to his "secret admirer" by this time hits a spot he didn't know was tender. He ignores them and turns his phone over so he can't see it but he's painfully aware of how he jumps every time it vibrates.

Around one in the morning he starts to feel stupid.

He extracts himself from where his sleeping sisters have curled around him on the couch and heads into the kitchen. He can call Harry, he reasons. They're mates. If he wants to talk to him, he can call. Can't he?

He does, drumming his fingers on the counter top and not quite sure why he feels so jittery.

Harry's phone rings twice and goes to voicemail. Zayn hangs up as the message plays and feels even stupider.

It's no big deal, he tells himself as he heads up the stairs. He and Harry never said they would call each other every night all summer. Maybe Harry's completely over the breakup. Or maybe Harry's just tired of talking to him. Sick of laughing with him and talking about the things they believe in and what they think the universe is made of.

By the time he gets to the top of the stairs he's stomping. He throws himself onto his bed face first and admits to himself that, really, he isn't angry at Harry. Really, he's angry at himself. Angry at himself for expecting things, and wanting what he can't have. And, apparently, only being able to fall for his friends.

It takes him longer than usual to fall asleep, and when he finally does it's fitful and unsatisfying.

Hey Zayn, it's Harry. I'm sorry mate. I went out last night and drank...a lot. Maybe the whole pub dry. Feelin' like shit right now.  And um, these Australian lads I met, they took my phone, thought I'd call Caroline I guess. They might come to school with us, actually! I’ll introduce you. Oh, and Michael - you don't know Michael, great guy- he's the one that saw your call. Said  to tell you you're fit. And he said...well. Anyway, I um, I wanted to call you, promise. So, I'll definitely call tonight. Let me know if you've got this. Okay. Bye.

*

Zayn talks to the other boys too. He alternatively teases and comforts Niall when he freaks out about the possibility of meeting Justin’s grandparents. He and Louis stay up on Skype writing songs and sniping about word choice. Sometimes Liam joins them for this, but really it’s better if he doesn’t because of their inability to behave normally in front of other people. He even talks to Justin a little, bit by bit moving past the leftover awkwardness from the semester.

As August comes to a close he finds himself feeling settled and at peace. Harry is doing a lot better now, relieving him of his biggest source of worry. He knows he must look less stressed because his mother does too. He leaves for school with a feeling that the powers that be have answered the prayer he sent up back when summer started.

And if he's a little in love with someone who doesn't feel the same way, that's fine. He's dealt with it once this year, he can do it again.

* * * * *

Move in day is always Harry's favorite. The campus green is full of friends hugging and clubs recruiting. There's a general spirit of community that fills his chest with warmth and promise.

He spots Justin and Niall first. Of course, they’re adorable, greeting each other with a long, tight hug. Liam braces himself as Louis drops all of his luggage and lunges for him, despite the fact that they’ve only been two hours away from each other this whole time.

He turns away from their reunions because even though he’s doing better, it still hurts a little. He waits for them to detach before asking "Where's Zayn?"

"Oh, off somewhere being complicated and anti-social," Louis says. Harry follows the finger he's pointing past a family that doesn't know how to let go of their freshman. He sees him, amid the people hugging and lugging bags, smoking against the side of the hall with a book in hand and somehow, paint already on his jeans.

Harry never went through that whole "big-fat-crush-on-zayn" phase that the other boys did. He's always known Zayn is pretty, but it’s never really knocked him off of his feet and dragged him to crazy town the way it has for everyone else. But maybe it’s the memory of his voice on all those late night calls or the echoes of Michael's drooling that night at the pub. Maybe just old fashion absence making the heart grow fonder, but as he takes Zayn in now he finally understands it.

The wind has yanked one strand of hair from his perfectly coiffed style that he probably spent an hour in the mirror on. He isn't bothering to push it out of his eyes because he's so intent on the words in front of him. Or, illustrations. Because he's reading a comic book.

Of course he is.

He’s a giant dork in cool guys clothing and the kind of absolutely beautiful that makes people crash into things while they're trying to move.

And Harry, for the life of him, can't understand how he hasn't seen it before now.

 

Chapter Text

Harry wakes up in Zayn’s arms, in Zayn’s bed, and thinks to himself that he needs to work on that whole will-power thing.

He stares up at the dorm ceiling that Zayn has plastered music posters and art prints all over. Several of them are wilting and look as if they might float down and join him at any moment.

Those posters are lucky.

At least they have the warning, corners slowly peeling away from their anchor, weight shifting downward inch by inch. Those posters get to consider the fall. Make decisions, write up a will.

Him? He’s an anvil in a cartoon. He’s concrete shoes. He’s fallen so hard so quick he’s surprised it doesn't show physically, that he doesn’t have a split lip and broken bones.

He sighs, looking to his right at the focus of his poster-metaphor-inducing mental turmoil. Zayn is still fast asleep, left side of his face smushed into the pillow and drooling a little. It’s disgusting. It’s adorable. It’s making him melt into a human-shaped puddle and he has no idea what to do about that.

Zayn shivers in his sleep, sniffing and curling closer to Harry’s body heat. His nose nuzzles into Harry’s neck, which is completely counterproductive to Harry’s current goals.

Still, he snuggles back. No self control.

He flinches a little at the sound of a door unlocking, but it’s just someone next door. Louis’ bed is still empty and the door is firmly closed. Not that Louis would find anything strange about Harry and Zayn cuddled up together, but Harry is still glad that Louis is with Liam and Niall is with Justin and they’re all too preoccupied to wonder where he spent the night.

“Wazzat?” Zayn mumbles half into the pillow.

“Nothing,” Harry says with a fond smile. “Go back to sleep.” and Zayn does.

 

A few hours later Harry is halfway through reading one of Zayn’s poetry collections. It’s in a tattered notebook because it’s only the third one he wrote, back when he was fifteen. The handwriting is a disaster, his metaphors are heavy handed, and many of the lines stutter and stall and bump into each other instead of flowing smoothly. Still, it’s one of the first things Zayn let him read.

He’d been joking at the time, ha mate look at the shite i used to write as a kid. But Harry had loved the earnestness of his words, the yearning behind his sloppy rhymes. Harry smiles when he reaches the poem he’d been reading when he’d asked “Do you have more?” and Zayn’s face had taken on an expression Harry hadn’t seen before or since.

“Oh god," Zayn says next to him, voice still slow and heavy from sleep. “Are you reading that again ?”

Harry smiles, not looking away from the pages. “It’s my favorite.” he says.

“An insult to my recent work.” Zayn says, stretching his arms over his head and flexing his belly towards the ceiling. He’s horrible and cruel, Harry thinks, in no way curbing his instinct to stare. Zayn catches his eyes and smiles slowly, curling up on his side with every part of him possible pressed up against Harry. “What time is it?” he asks, kissing behind one of Harry’s ears.

Harry curses silently as his whole body perks up from just that touch. He feels Zayn’s lips stretch into a smile over his skin, because Zayn is absolutely a sadist. “Three in the afternoon, lazy,” he mutters. Lazy comes out less as a reprimand and more as a pet name.

“It’s Saturday,” Zayn says, as if that excuses his gluttony of sleep.

Harry gives up on the poems, placing the notebook carefully back in Zayn's nightstand drawer where he always finds it. He turns over in the bed and faces Zayn, slinging his thigh on top of Zayn’s and curling close to him until they’re practically nose to nose.

Zayn is stupidly beautiful with the afternoon light hitting him from above, his dark eyes shining and his eyelashes dipped in gold. Zayn stares right back at him, and Harry can see in his smile that he’s thinking things just as sappy and ridiculous.

And at the thought of sappy ridiculous things, the smile slides off of his face.

“So,” he says softly, “We should probably talk about last night.”

Zayn nods, though he looks as if he wants to do the opposite. He turns over onto his back and contemplates the ceiling, and Harry watches his profile as he thinks.

“Which part?” he says finally.

Harry sighs, a little frustration creeping up in him. He doesn’t want to have the stupid talk either, but they can’t very well ignore it. “The usual,” he says lazily. “What it was, what it meant , how we feel about it.”

Zayn smiles a little, flopping his head over to look at Harry head on. “Sorry,” he says softly. “This is just...” he looks at the space between them. New? Strange? Awkward? Wonderful but probably not a good idea? All valid points that neither of them voice.

“But," Harry points out. "The sooner we get through it the sooner we never have to talk about it again.”

Zayn nods, turning his gaze back to the ceiling. “Right,” he says. “So...I don’t really know if it has to mean something. And I think I feel, I dunno, good about it, like.” He looks nervous now, all of his fancy words locked away in notebooks and Harry resists a sudden, urgent need to kiss him senseless.

“I feel about the same,” Harry says.

“Okay," Zayn says, with a nod that indicates the end of the discussion. Only it isn't. Because there's a thought that has been hovering in the back of Harry's mind on and off since he woke up, and when Zayn seems to think the conversation is over he can feel it pushing it's way to the forefront. He can’t help the twist his expression takes, which causes Zayn to go tense.

“I like you," he says. "You’re on of my best mates and you’re amazing. The way you helped me this summer….I don’t know what I’d have done without you. And last night was. I mean I’d love to-but. The thing is,” he braces himself for what his next words might elicit. “The way I feel about you...isn't casual. I couldn't just be like, a fuckbuddy or something, not with you."

Zayn takes that in, seeming to mull it over before he speaks. “I’d be alright with that,” he says eventually. Harry’s eyes snap to meet his. He can’t help the grin that splits his face without his permission. He wants more than anything to melt into the one Zayn gives him in return.

But the other part of that thought is back, loud and insistent, and he can’t ignore it. He sinks down until the sheets cover his head, groaning with his hands in his hair.

“I’m not over her,” he forces himself to say it, regret in every word. He peeks with one eye and wishes he hadn’t. Zayn is trying his best not to look disappointed.

“No, yeah. You just broke up,” he says, shrugging. “I understand.”

“We were together a long time."

“Yeah.”

“I just can't jump into something new,” Harry says, trying to explain something that he feels he’s already said, just not the right way.

“So we can't sleep together, and we can't date," Zayn recounts in a tone that doesn't betray any particular feeling. "What can we do?"

"We can try to go back," he says, hating the words as they come out of his mouth. "Just be friends, see other people."

Zayn is quiet. They both stare at the ill-fated posters for awhile.

“I know you’re right,” Zayn says eventually. “But I really hate it.”

“If it helps,” Harry says. “So do I.”

* * * * *

That night they go to dinner as if nothing happened, patting themselves on the back mentally for not tipping the other boys off. Then again, Zayn thinks, it might take a meteor falling to yank that pair of perfect couples out of each others assholes.

He’s not bitter, he tells himself. He isn’t. He’s only wanted Harry for a summer. And technically he’s had what he’s wanted. He can get over that, easy.  

He tells himself that, but he knows he’s lying.

* * * * *

In a perfect world, true loves kiss would be a real thing. A cure-all. Harry would just kiss Zayn and Zayn would kiss him back and everything would fall into place, automatically perfect. But this isn’t a perfect world.

Harry isn't a slobbering mess anymore, but that had taken him all summer to achieve. Every time he watches Louis and Liam smile at each other over everyone else’s heads, or Niall and Justin finish each other’s sentences, he sees her eyes in his mind. He traces her lips in his memory and the curves of her body. He’s only just taken the heart emojis off of her name in his phone.

Zayn doesn’t deserve to suffer through his post-breakup bullshit. He is so far from everything that has ever hurt Harry in the arms of someone else. Zayn doesn’t paint anything on to him, not unless it’s a representation of him on a canvas. Zayn doesn’t expect or torment or lie. Even when Harry confuses him, he tries to understand.

Zayn listens to him, talks with him. He is always creating something, always thinking up something new. He has notebooks full of poems that he’s never shown to anyone else. He makes the best chicken curry Harry has ever had.

Zayn has lips just the right shape to match his.

Over the next few weeks it becomes clear that going back to being friends its a lot harder than he thought it would be. For one thing, they touch each other a lot. He doesn't know how he hasn't noticed before. Zayn thigh is always pressing up against his while they eat, or they’ll be joined together at the hip as they walk across campus, arms around each other’s shoulders against the fall wind. Zayn always flops onto his bed when they all hang out in he and Justin’s room, and before he knows it they’re tangled up in a cuddle. Truly, he doesn’t mean to.

And when he notices how close they are, he notices every little thing about Zayn. His little twitches and tics, the melted marble of his eyes, the way a flick of his eyelashes should, scientifically, create some sort of breeze. 

And the memory of that night, far from quenching his thirst, only reminds him how badly he wants to drink constantly without stopping to breathe.

* * * * *

As the end of the first month of the semester comes closer, Zayn starts to panic. Just a little. Quietly, and to himself.

He had thought he could handle it, this in-love-with-a-friend thing, but he can’t. He’s not quite sure why he ever thought he could.

This is nothing like what he felt for Justin. Justin had been fit and unattainable. Harry is both of those things,true, but it's universes different. In Zayn's solar system, Harry has become the sun. That big smile and those dimples, the way his eyes light up when he sees something he loves. It makes Zayn’s heart squeeze into itself a little when he thinks about how he’s one of those things.

If this is anything close to how Niall felt all last year, Zayn suddenly has a whole new respect for him.

The fact that the feelings are mutual should be some kind of relief, but it isn’t. With their feelings declared and Caroline out of the picture, physically if not emotionally, Harry suddenly has a lot more time for him. They sit next to each other at their lunch table and he hopes it isn’t obvious that his body feels pulled like a magnet, that he craves being in Harry’s space.

He always takes a step back, reminds himself that Harry’s just been through a breakup. They’ve talked about this. It isn’t the time to pounce on him with a mess of feelings. He even thinks he should maybe have another Talk with Harry, as if a double dose of rejection would help him  muscle through and move on.

But every time he makes up his mind to do that, Harry will reference one of their late night conversations, or bring him his tea made just right, or look at him when Louis makes a joke so they can share the laugh. Then all he can see are Harry’s big eyes full of pity, his mouth forming the words “I still love her.” Then tension, then distance, then suddenly they’re just “acquaintances”. And he knows he can’t handle that

Therefore, the panic.

*

“Helllooooo, Zaaaaaayn,” Louis snaps his fingers in front of Zayn’s eyes, causing them to cross a little. It’s mid-september and  Zayn pulls off his headphones as Louis drops down onto the grass next to him. “What planet ya headed to, space boy?” Louis asks with a little smile. “You were light years away.”

Zayn shrugs, trying to look casual as he turns his sketchbook to a fresh page to cover up his embarrassing amount of Harry-inspire doodles. “Nah, not really.” he says. “What’s up with you?”

Louis shrugs. “Liam kicked me out of the library, said I was being distracting. Completely unreasonable if you ask me. Under-the-table blowjobs are known to improve test scores.” he ignores Zayn’s snort of laughter but one corner of his mouth tugs up in response. “So I had to find someone new to bother.”

“You could go to class,” Zayn points out.

“So could you.”

“I am in class,” Zayn protests. He nods across the green to where his Drawing III teacher is standing in her head wrap and shawl, saluting the sun in front of her pile of newspaper and charcoal. His classmates are littered around her in no particular formation, sketching or just staring out into space.

“God, you art types are strange,” says Louis.

“You’re one of us,”  Zayn points out.

“Exactly,” Louis says with a proud grin. Then, before Zayn can stop him, he casually slips the sketchbook off of Zayn’s lap and starts leafing through it the way he has a thousand times before. Zayn is too terrified to protest at first, and then he melts with relief as Louis unknowingly skips all of the Harry drawings.

What he lands on instead, Zayn realizes with a sinking heart, is a page full of Harry-inspired poetry snippets from the summer. Louis scans some of them and whistles.

“Damn,” he says. “I didn't know you had it this bad over Mallete.”

“They’re not about him ,” Zayn scoffs, realizing a moment later that it would have solved his problem if he’d kept his mouth shut.He reaches over and takes the book back, turning it to a fresh page and diligently beginning a sketch of the nearest tree.

“Ah,” Louis says, “A new obsession then. Who?”

“None of your business.”

“No secrets in the band anymore, remember?” Louis counters.

“Not a secret, just none of your business.”

Louis is quiet for a moment. Then he launches into a string of if guesses. “Girl? Boy? Gender unknown or unspecified?”

Zayn sighs. He knows he should keep shutting down Louis’ curiosity, but he’s dying to talk to someone else about how he feels. “Boy,” he says.

“Ooh,” says Louis. “Two boys in a row. Edging a little closer to my side of the kinsey scale there, eh?”

Zayn rolls his eyes. “Not how bisexuality works,” he says. Opening up was a mistake, he decides. It almost always is.

“I wouldn’t know.” Louis watches him work for a moment longer, his head tilted back to catch some sun as long as he’s out. “None of my business, but,” he says after a while

“Oh God,” Zayn groans.

“Just hear me out!” Louis protests. “From the little bit I saw in there, it looks like this is pretty hopeless.” Zayn winces. He knew it, of course, but it’s a lot harder hearing it out loud, stated as a fact. “I think this is the rare situation where we need to follow dear Harold’s favorite advice: get laid.”

Zayn can’t help laughing at the echo of the words he’d heard last year. Especially since getting laid has really only made things worse. “Yeah,” he says. “Maybe.”

 

And really, by maybe he’d meant “Yeah right”. He fully intends to drown in these Harry feelings until they consume him.

But that very night, he’s forced to reconsider. He’s In line for a drink at The Coffee Bar, a student favorite that mixes alcohol with caffeinated beverages in all  kinds of creative and sadistic ways. He’s got his cash out, head down to eye the flavored cheesecakes in the glass display, and as he approaches the counter he hears a woman’s low voice.

“Oh, it’s you,”she says, and he looks up in surprise. The baristas here are normally students so tired that they speak in grunts and chin pointing. “It’s okay, I know what you want.” She says.

He’s never seen her here before, a women several inches taller than him with a waterfall of honey blonde hair swept back under her Coffee Bar cap, warm blue eyes that sparkle at him, and long slender fingers that dance across the screen as she taps in his order.

“Erm, what?” He says, blinking and trying to catch up. “I’m sorry, I could swear I’ve never seen you here before?”

“You haven’t.” She says with a smile. And oh. That smile is something, lifting up high cheekbones and bringing even more light into her eyes. “I just started but the girls have me memorizing all the regulars. And you’ve got to be Z.”

“Zayn, yeah,” he says, a little dazed. She’s started making his drink and it occurs to him that he never confirmed to make sure his order is correct. As he watches her elegant hands flipping levers and pouring measurements, he decides he really doesn’t care. “So what, d’ya have pictures back there or something?”

“Nope,” She says, putting a ceramic mug that might as well be a bowl down in front of him. “They just told me skinny guy, lots of tattoos, British accent, and the most beautiful eyes I’ll ever see. So. I put two and two together when you walked in.”

He can feel that he’s blushing, even though half of those things aren’t even compliments. Her brightness and confidence have him wrong footed and entranced all at once.

He places the money into her open palm. “What’s your name?” He asks as their hands touch.

“Gigi.” She says. Gigi . He rolls the name around in his mind, letting it settle. Gigi. It fits her, he decides: absolutely too adorable to be real.

“Gigi,” he repeats.

“She gets off at ten,” comes a voice from behind him. “I’m sure you’ll have a great time then but for now, please, for the love of fuck, stop holding up the line. ”  

He grabs his bowl sized cup and backs away, eyes still locked with Gigi’s over the display case.

“Can I come see you at ten, then?” He asks, trying to sound casual but knowing his tone is a little too hopeful. She smiles again, so wide it presses her eyes into little swimming pool blue moon-halves.

“It’s a date.” She says.

“Okay, earth to Giii,” the loud person next in line speaks up. “You can flirt with Mr Cheekbone man on your own time, I need my caffeine and bourbon injection.”

* * * * *

Harry has had some time to adjust to this whole simultaneous-heartbreak-and-desperate-love-for-a-friend scenario, and he’s come to the conclusion it’s for the best. He’s made the best decisions he could, and so what if sometimes he almost goes cross-eyed with wanting for Zayn? So what if he’s cried over Caroline in the last five hours?

He’s mostly fine. 

And one day, after Caroline's name doesn't evoke strange feelings in his chest, he and Zayn might just drive off into a sunset together.

He’s thinking this as he does his warm up vocals, his voice drowned out by the rhythmic thumps of Justin on the drum kit, when the real life version of his cartoon-dream cloud popping out of existence walks through the practice room door.

She looks like Zayn’s opposite and equivalent, her tall graceful golden next to to his slight, sharp frame and dark features. They’re stunning standing side by side. She’s stunning all on her own. One by one, they all notice her, and all noise in the room stutters to a stop.

“Hey,” Zayn says with an I know, right? grin. “Everyone, this is Gigi. Gigi, babe, this is Louis, Liam, Harry, Niall, and Justin.”

“Good GOD ,” Louis says, sounding genuinely astonished. “Are you real?”

She laughs, and it’s perfect, then smiles, also perfect, and says “I like to think so.” Her voice is perfect too, low and warm and raspy.

Zayn looks at her like she made heaven and earth, and Harry watches a dream he didn’t know was so important skip, jump, and float down the river to somewhere too far away to aim for.

 

Chapter Text

Zayn and Gigi fall together thick and fast. She loves his paintings and insists that she would never laugh at his poetry. He loves her photos and her clothing designs and she’s the envy of her class when he agrees to be her model.

They hang out at her off campus apartment most of the time, getting high and listening to music, cooking together, making each other laugh.

They go out together, her dancing on tables and tugging him onto dance floors. With her by his side, the writhe of bodies is freeing and not horrifying. She’s mesmerizing, and when he’s caught up in her trance he forgets to be afraid.

He wanders by the coffee bar after classes when she has a shift, buying a coffee and sitting at the bar so they can chat about nothing while he sketches and she makes drinks.

Their little adventures are the things Zayn talks about now at lunch and in rehearsal, knowing his eyes are drifting off and filled with wonder and not caring at all. Sometimes she stops by and photographs them while they play. She and Louis talk about a photo book for their band memories.

Gigi is wonderful. They - Gigi and Zayn- are wonderful . They are young and bright and free and people turn to stare when they walk down the street hand in hand. It should be perfect.

Only, it isn’t. Because the panic is still there, arguably stronger than ever . Because of course, his heart can’t  just get the memo that he and Gigi are perfection. No, it absolutely insists on sticking to the whole “Harry” thing.

He wakes up next to Gigi in the mornings and feels as if nothing could be more incredible. But when he's walking back to his dorm room something silly and inconsequential will remind him of Harry, pulling a two-ton truck made of longing and regret out of the ether to barrel right through his chest.

It is a highly unpleasant feeling, and he’s starting to think it won’t stop.

*

October is coming to an end, Halloween quickly approaching, and the panic is thundering in Zayns ears when Gigi asks, as they sit at her dining room table covered in thread and scraps of cloth, “So why don’t we hang out with your friends?”

“Hm?” Zayn says, feeling suddenly focused on his costume preparation. He’s going to be Batman and she’s going to be Catwoman and he would much rather think about that than where this conversation is headed.

“I mean, we go out with Li and Lou sometimes. And I see Niall around campus, Justin’s with him a lot,” she shrugs one shoulder, her eyes on her sewing as she considers her words. “I guess the one I don’t really see is Harry. And so many of your stories are about him, you know? So what is it? He doesn’t like me?”

“What?” Zayn can tell his voice is coming out a tad too high, a little nervous. Obvious. He could shut down but then she’ll know something is wrong. He wishes he could act like Harry can. Harry can be feeling anything and still turn on the Everything’s Excellent charm. And now he’s thinking about Harry while Gigi weighs his silence across the table. “He likes you fine,” he says, although he isn’t sure that’s true.

Truthfully, he’s seen Harry looking at her during practice a few times in a way that implies he’s trying to think her out of existence. But if Harry can be obsessed with Caroline, Zayn has every right to adore Gigi. Harry is the one who shut them down, so he doesn’t have any right to be angry that Zayn has found someone else.

“Then why doesn’t he hang out with us?” She says, pulling his thoughts from Harry once again. And asking a perfectly reasonable question that he has no idea how to answer.

“Probably the breakup,” he says, thrilled that the solution has come to him at just the right moment. “He puts on a brave face but Lou told me he’s still really hurting about it.”

She stands up, knotting her thread and hanging up her finished costume. “I guess that makes sense. It’s probably harder for him to be around a straight couple than the guys.”

Straight couple.

Right.

Well, he decides, he might as well do it now. While he’s already acting suspicious.

“Since we’re, ehm, on the subject. Of straight couples,” he says, watching her face carefully for a reaction. “We, ehm , aren’t one.” She tilts her head, her eyebrows scrunching together in confusion. He finds that he’s suddenly nervous when, if you had asked him a week ago, he wouldn’t have expected to be. He can’t stop picking at imaginary lint on his Batman insignia. “I mean I guess we kind of are? But, uh, I’m not. I’m bi. So.”

He hears her move, but he doesn’t know for sure until her arms slip around his neck and her chin comes to rest on his shoulder. She smells like expensive perfume and earthy soap. “Babe,” She says. “That’s fine.”

And a tension he didn’t know he was feeling drains out of his shoulders. And then he knows he can’t lie to her about anything else either. “AlsoIsleptwithHarry,” He spits our, before he can overthink it. “I promise, it was before you and I even-“

“It’s okay,” she says softly. She presses her lips to his cheek, and he realizes that this is the least painful coming out experience he’s ever had. He turns his head and kisses her, hoping she can feel how grateful he is.

And then they and the dining room table are busy with other things.

 

That night, when they’re curled up under her covers with the lights off and a movie playing on TV, she asks “So Harry’s bi too?”

“He’s pansexual,” Zayn says, still amazed that he can talk about this with her. She’s in one of his t-shirts, sitting with her head propped on her hand and listening intently.The thought flits through his mind that he’s never seen anything on TV as riveting as the pale blue and white lights playing out across her face. “But Niall is bi. He mostly dates guys so a lot of people don’t know. Li, Lou and Justin are all gay.”

“So the people in your life are all really accepting then?”

“Yeah,” he smiles thinking about how afraid he’d been that they would find out his secret, when they’d all been freshman forced to be a band for a music class project.

Louis had thrown back his head one day during practice and just yelled “IM GAY” as loudly as he could. Then he’d stared down at his sneakers and given a speech about how they could fuck off if they didn’t like it. One by one, the other four boys came out as well, Zayn last and filled with relief.

“Well,” he thinks about the experience he had after that one and hesitates. “...now, anyway.”

“You don’t have to tell me about it.” She says quickly, and he doesn't want her to think she’s pushing too hard.

“No, I want to,” he says. She moves closer to him and presses up along his side. His mind tumbles back, briefly, to the beginning of the semester when he and Harry were in a very similar situation. He lingers there for a moment, but then he yanks himself back. “It was my ex. I don’t want you to think bad of her cause she’s really incredible. But she was going through her own kind of crisis. She realized she was a lesbian later on but at the time...she kind of freaked out on me. Told me I was messed up and...a bunch of other stuff. Anyway, After we broke up she apologized, told me she was really angry at herself and like, hated that she was gay. But still.”

“It stuck with you.”

“Yeah.”

Gigi rolls on top of him, straddling his legs and cupping his face with her hands.

“I know you know this,” she says softly. “But you are not messed up. And I think you’re wonderful the way you are.”

That’s the night Zayn realizes he might just be in love.

Again.

* * * * *

Harry is doing an excellent job with his handy-dandy Everything is Excellent mask. He’s faithfully ignoring the influx of messages on Facebook after he and Caroline changed their statuses to single and it’s been a week since his last real breakdown.

He’s even caught himself looking at other people. He’s been able to fall back into his normal routine, especially with Zayn. They’re acting like friends. Friends who are exceptionally physically close, but still. It’s better than letting himself desperately crave more than he knows he’s allowed to ask for.

But the morning of Halloween, he realizes maybe’s he’s started to believe his own mask a little bit, because there’s no way he’s okay.

It starts when Louis lets out a long whistle and Niall says “Damn ” in a tone that indicates whatever is happening is not to be missed. Harry looks up from his cereal to see what the fuss is about and nearly swallows his spoon.

Zayn and Gigi are standing at the foot of the table in head-to-toe Batman and Catwoman get up. Gigi’s outfit is skin tight black spandex, her hair styled in cascading curls around her cat-eye mask. But Zayn .

It’s all Harry’s brain can seem to process. Zayn zayn zayn zayn ZAYN.

He isn’t wearing bulky styrofoam pads to mimic superhero muscles the way Harry would have envisioned. Instead he’s in one of those all-in one suits that fits him like a second skin and has stripped away the corny factor of it by adding a cape and boots and clever little gadgets that Harry is sure he designed and carved himself. He’s beaming and blushing as he and Gigi steal the dining hall spotlight, striking poses and waving off catcalls. His eyes are bright, his smile is half his face, and Harry has an overwhelming need to re-acquaint himself with the taste of Zayn’s mouth.

He takes a deep, deep breath, a little forceful on the exhale as Zayn and Gigi sit down.

Right.

Zayn is a big lovable beautiful dork, he knew that. It shouldn’t be affecting his ability to breathe.

Still, When Zayn presses against him shoulder elbow  and thigh to make room for Gigi on their side of the table, he can’t help that it draws every bit of his attention. As if they haven’t spent the past few months so deep in each other’s space it ceased to belong to one of them individually. And yet he can't keep his mind from tracing every point of connection between them.

That might be why it's such a shock when Zayn pulls away.

He leans into Gigi instead, and Harry can’t stop his head from snapping around in a way he knows must look ridiculous. It should be a relief that no one is paying attention.

Especially not Zayn.

No, his focus is on leaning into Gigi and demonstrating his very bad Batman impression.

But Gigi. She was paying attention. No one else was, busy roasting Zayn’s Christian Bale impression, but she saw. Her eyes hold his briefly and he knows the look she sees in his eyes tells her everything she needs to know. Her eyes slide back to Zayn and she laughs at one of Louis’s jokes right on cue.

He decides then that he should cut breakfast short, otherwise he might say something he'll regret.

*

He knows it’s all in his head. And he knows he’s being stupid. So what if Zayn wants to touch his new girlfriend more than he wants to touch Harry now? That makes sense.

The logic of it doesn’t change the way his heart is hurt in a new way. He can barely stand to be in practice that afternoon and he definitely can’t stand to be in the room while Niall and Justin help each other into their costumes. He doesn’t understand why they have to kiss every five minutes to accomplish that. They don’t notice when he leaves the room.

When he steps off campus he tells himself he’s going to go down the street and get a drink. And he does. A few drinks actually.

He and the buzz in his body both know that Caroline only lives a block away.

When he turns down the crooked smile of a girl with blue hair and intricate tattoos, he knows there’s no going back. He pays and drifts toward her street in a soft haze, the sounds of the people around him feeling miles away.

When he knocks he almost hopes she's away. Maybe he’ll drink some more and come back, cry on her porch up and wake up sufficiently humiliated and able to start over from there.

But he hears her voice saying “Coming!” and then she’s there, bright smile reaching her eyes and a bowl of candy for the neighborhood kids.

“I needed to see you,” he says before she can close the door. Her eyes soften as she takes in his state, telling him softly to come in. They sit on her couch and she listens to him, cares about him the way she always has.

And he doesn't know when the concerned, friendly hug turns to kisses. He couldn't tell you how they got to her bed. Not that he drank all that much, but more that the shame tries to wipe it all away when she’s furious with herself the next morning because apparently she has a great new boyfriend who doesn't deserve this.

He finds himself on her front porch before the sun is even up, checking to make sure he has all the clothes he arrived with. It occurs to him as he starts his walk home that crying all night on her porch might have actually been less humiliating.

*

Ahem .” Harry realises with a start that this is the second time Justin has tried to get his attention.

“Hey Justin,” he says miserably. “Hi Niall.”

“Hey mate,” Niall says, dropping down onto the picnic table next to him. “How ya doin?”

“With the whole Caroline thing,” Justin adds. Harry blinks at them.

“Everybody knows,” Niall says in answer to the question Harry’s about to ask..

“About what?” Harry says. The sandwich he just had for lunch is starting to churn in his stomach though, and he knows the answer before Niall says it.

“About...last night. Her new boyfriend is a GA-”

Harry groans over the end of his sentence, sinking down into the nest of his arms on the table. “Did he tell everyone?” he asks.

“No, they uh, actually it was kinda funny - they had a huge fight in the middle of the English department.” says Justin. Harry can only see the blessed darkness of inside his eyelids but he knows Justin is shooting Niall a panicked look. He’s not the best at dealing with emotions.

“Oh god.” Harry says softly. He had noticed people looking at him throughout the day but he hadn’t paid much attention to it. As vain as it sounds, he’s used to that.

“Everybody’s mostly interested in the fight, if that helps,” says Justin. “It’s not like you were dating someone else, it’s not your fault.”

“I showed up on her doorstep,” he says, peeking up over his arms. Justin and Niall trade a look.

“Why the fuck would you…?” Justin starts, but Niall interrupts him.

“Never mind. Not the point, we’re here to cheer you up.”

“Right,”  says Justin. “We’re taking you out.”

That makes him feel a little better, and after making them promise there won't be drinking or talk of breakups, they set off. They ditch class and get on a the trolley headed into town. He leans out of the window so he can feel the sharp november wind through his hair.

A muffled tune they all recognize comes over the trolley speakers, and then they’re yelling along to Destiny’s Child because gay law states they must. The trolly driver happily ignores them.

They have a mini party as the trolley leaves behind the historic  downtown area where the school is located, crossing the bridge into the more modern side of town. There, they’re dropped off in front of bustling shopping centers with flashing lights. Niall takes the lead, bringing them straight to a giant arcade that is mostly empty on a Thursday morning.

They disappear into their own little world. Niall smiles gamely whether he wins or loses, more excited by all of the exciting ways he can die on screen. Justin concentrates, snapping like a starving perranna when he loses. Harry has no illusions about his hand-eye coordination, so he smiles and laughs his way through game after game that he has no hope of winning. He’s more than happy to be surrounded by the sounds of lasers and his friend’s groans of defeat.

When Niall has the bright idea to steal tokens from the machine, they’re almost immediately caught and thrown out, laughing all the way. But that reminds Harry of what Zayn would do if he were here, how he would say they were “pulling some white boy shit” and probably have gone outside to smoke and rolled his eyes at them when they came out.

Harry wishes he were drunk. Then not only would he feel good, but he could get some of these Zayn-y feelings off of his chest with no repercussions. Or, almost none.

“Stop it!” Justin yells, crashing into his back and propelling him down the street.

“Stop what‽” He screeches back, regaining his balance in time to keep from falling into the street skull first. “Being alive ?”

“Getting all sad,” Justin says, his face full of sincere earnestness. Harry sighs but he can’t stay mad at Justin and they both know it.

Niall calls out for them to hurry up, he’s found something. So they catch up to where he is, a little ally between two shops. There’s stomped down cardboard and cigarette butts and a shared dumpster and behind that, a rusted fence. And behind that fence shines the lake.

The lake their college town is built around is half owned by mansions on its shores, and the public half is frequented by toddlers and young mothers and watched by sharp eyed policemen who don’t want any funny business.

And of course, they want the opposite. As Justin takes the leap onto the lid of the dumpster the thought flits through Harry’s mind that it’s much too cold out to get even the slightest bit wet, but then Niall is laughing and following him, and Harry is always down to follow when the destination seems worth it. So the next thing he knows, he’s pushing off of the fence and falling gracelessly into the freezing water.

For a second, in mid air with the water headed towards him, he feels okay. He feels free.

Then he’s hitting the water and remembering why he’s been working on his self control.

“FUCK!” he screams as he re-surfaces, spitting water out of his mouth. Niall is already scrambling back onto shore and Justin is laughing.

Harry follows Niall, yelling over his shoulder “How the fuck are you still out there?”

“Canada born and bred, baby!” Justin yells, but after a second he heads to shore too.

“Okay,” Niall says as he helps pull Justin to his feet. “Well that’s on the list of dumb shit never to do again.”

“But you’re not sad anymore,” Justin points out, grinning at Harry. And Harry has to admit he’s right.

 

They duck into the first place with “coffee” in the name and take hardback seats out of the way so as not to soak any of the couches or create puddles in the walkway.

“So this fight Caroline had,” Harry begins while they’re waiting for their waitress.

“Sure you wanna talk about that, bro?” says Justin.

“I was just wondering if the whole school knows.”

“Pretty much,” says Niall with an apologetic smile. “I mean it’s a professor fighting with a hot girl, screaming at the top of his lungs about her sleeping with a student. Probably gonna be in the rumor mill for awhile.”

“The straight guys think you’re a legend,” Justin says, “If that helps.”

Before Harry can decide concretely on that, a woman’s low familiar voice is saying “Hi guys, what can I g--oh my god, hi!

“Oh wow, hi Gigi,” says Niall, immediately taken in by her effortless charm. Justin should probably be jealous, but he looks like he might be a bigger fan even than Niall is.

“I didn’t realize you worked here,” Justin says. “What’s good here?”

And Gigi rattles off a list of her absolute favorite drinks , a list that happens to include Zayns usual, and Harry finds that he has an uncomfortably tight grip on his silverware.

“Hey Harry,” Gigi addresses him directly as the other two go over their options, gracefully skating past his failure to say hi along with everyone else. Then, even more Disney-princess perfect, she rests her hand on his in a concerned gesture. “I’m really sorry you’re having a rough time right now,” she says.

Harry looks up and tries to feel grateful, but to his shame all he has is jealousy simmering in his gut. He smiles anyway. “Thanks Gigi,” he says.

She smiles at him, bright and sweet and beautiful, takes down their orders, and heads off with a promise of being back with drinks soon.

“Dude, what the hell was that ?” asks Justin when she’s barely out of earshot.

“What?” Harry asks, staring down at the tabletop.

“I think you’re gonna break that spoon, mate,” says Niall. Harry stretches his fingers, letting the silverware clatter to the table.

“I’m sorry,” he says. “She’s just-” he shakes his head, unsure where to start “-and I wish. Ugh. Shit, and I think she knows -”

“Knows what?” Niall says, all traces of joking long gone.

“Do you like Zayn’s girlfriend?” Justin says, scandalized and not quite as serious as Niall is.

Niall passes over his boyfriend’s commentary. “What does she know, Harry?” And he remembers that Niall doesn’t know, and he feels the guilt writing itself across his face. “For fuck’s sake,” Niall says, getting a little impatient. “You always tell us everything, what are you hiding?”

It’s then that Harry sees her, behind Niall and Justin cleaning up another table. She had blended in at first, but his eyes caught the moment that she suddenly went still. “No,” Harry says carefully. “Usually you lot drag everyone’s private business out into the street. It isn’t my fault you’re all too caught up in relationships to notice what i’ve been doing.”

“Which is what? ” Justin says, he and Niall sharing a look.

Harry glances behind them, just the barest moment before Gigi looks away. She wipes the table down one last time and moves away.

“Zayn and I hooked up,” he says. “And it was a little more than a hookup. Like, we talked about...being together. But I can’t, because I’m still hung up over Caroline, obviously,” he sighs, burying his head in his hands. “I suppose I’m a bit hung up over Zayn too.” he finishes quietly.

The table is quiet as Niall and Justin look at each other, processing this information.

“Hi guys,” says a new voice before they’ve broken the silence between them. A tall, thin woman with warm brown skin and close shaved red curls is standing next to them, uniform on and tray in hand. “Three hot double chocolates, right?” she says when they all look up.

“Yup,” says Justin as she looks between them. She smiles wide, revealing a flash of metal on her front tooth.

“Alright, here you go,” she says. She places their drinks on the table, speaking all the while. “I’m Adwoa, Gigi’s feeling sick so I’ll be taking care of you guys.”

“Oh,” says Justin, sliding a glance toward Harry, who thinks that this has to be his body’s capacity for the coexistence of guilt and embarrassment. “Can you tell G we hope she feels better?  And thank you.”

They all stare at each other over their hot chocolates when she walks away.

“Well,” says Niall, picking up his mug. “You’re just fucked all the way around, aren’t ya?”

Harry groans.

Chapter Text

“They want us to perform at the arts festival!” Louis barely gets through the rehearsal room door before the news burts out of him like a popped balloon. Liam follows him, dripping wet from a shower with a big grin on his face.

“He ran straight here after he got the call.” Liam says, watching fondly as Louis tackles Niall in celebration.

“Half the city’ll be there!” Louis says. “I mean we aren’t the main act or anything but still.

“Um,” Zayn says, looking sheepish.

“What ‘um’ ?” Louis replies, eyes narrowing. “Is there a problem with that?”

“Uuumm,” Zayn shrugs helplessly as Louis flops backwards in despair. “I have some paintings in with the other studio art students,” he says. “All of us have to be at the stand with them for a couple hours each.”

“Well that’s fine, Lou,” Harry speaks up. “We can work his shift around our stage time. And if it comes down to it, we can always stage a kidnapping.”

“Right,” Louis says, perking up and whipping out his phone to start texting. Zayn shoots Harry a relieved smile, and Harry grins back. Just then, the rehearsal room door opens and a tall blonde freshman Zayn has seen around the building pokes his head in.

“Louis?” he says in a strong Australian accent. “The boys and I are stuck on a couple of lyrics, we were wondering if you could--”

“Yeah, Luke, be right there,” Louis says, still texting. He heads out the door, calling over his shoulder that he thinks they should firm up some of their newer songs to see if they might work for this gig. This, Zayn thinks, is an excellent time to ask the question that’s been nagging his mind since a few nights ago, when Gigi had come home quiet.

“Hey, Haz,” he scoots his chair back so they’re farther away from the other boys, in the corner of the room. “Have you talked to Gigi?” he asks. Immediately, the guilt is evident on Harry’s face.

“Maybe a bit,” he says. “Why? Did something happen?”

“No,” Zayn says, his eyes not moving from Harry’s. “She’s just been acting weird.”

“Shit,” Harry says, instantly looking heartbroken. “I knew it.”

“Knew what?”

“So Justin and Niall and I went out, right..this was after the whole blowout with Caroline and her professor boyfriend or whatever. So we went out, took the trolly downtown-”

“Harry? The point, get to it,” Zayn says, rolling his eyes fondly.

“Well we ended up at her coffeehouse and, I dunno, I think she heard us talking.”

“About what?”

“About me and you…”

“She knows about that.”

“...and about how we didn’t tell the boys.” Harry looks down at his guitar as he says this, tracing the political protest stickers that are fraying at the edges.

Zayn falls back in his chair. “Well shit.”

* * * * *

“I’m sorry,” Harry says, the phrase falling out of his mouth automatically.

Zayn reaches back to pat his knee. “Nothin to be sorry about, babe.” he says. He’s staring off into the distance absently, probably trying to think of how to convince Gigi that he and Harry didn’t have some secret, torrid affair.

But while he does that, his hand lingers a bit too long and Harry can’t help but focus on it. His fingers trail listlessly over the guitar string. His mouth goes dry and his eyes just won’t unstick, following the circle of Zayn’s thumb as it presses a pattern into the skin under the rips in his jeans.

A jarring, uncoordinated note struck by his clumsy fingers breaks Zayn out of his stupor. He turns briefly, their eyes meeting. They just look at each other for a moment. Harry thinks his silly heart must be written all over his face, but for the first time in a long time he can’t read Zayn’s eyes.

“I’m gonna leave early,” Zayn says, turning back around and standing. “See you later?” he says, but he doesn’t look at Harry as he leaves, already scrolling through his contacts for Gigi’s name.

* * * * *

That night Zayn finds himself jiggling his leg anxiously under the coffee table at Gigi’s apartment.

She hasn’t said anything. She’s a little distant, a little less likely to snuggle up and hug him, but maybe that just means the honeymoon phase is over. It doesn’t necessarily mean she’s mad at him.

“So,” he says.

“Hm?” she glances up briefly over her glasses, then back down to the stitching she’s doing on a hand-embroidered bomber jacket.

“Does your family do Thanksgiving?” he asks instead of his real question. “I’ve always wanted to see what that’s about.”

Gigi flashes him a little smile. “Yeah, we do,” she said. “Turkey and everything. If you want, I can text my mom to set an extra seat at the table.”  

“Yeah,” he says. “Definitely.”

And just like that, he has plans to meet her family, and she’s curling a little closer to him as they sit with their backs to the wall where a couch would be if she could afford one. He puts his arm around her, careful not to disturb her work, and watches her loop fabric in and out as she tells him about a beautiful new girl at work that she just has to photograph.

The unsettled feeling in his stomach from when he spoke to Harry is gone. He said the right thing, disaster has been avoided. Everything is going to be fine.

*

Gigi does, in fact, photograph this beautiful new girl from work. Her name is Adwoa and she shrugs it off with a laugh when only Gigi can pronounce it. Zayn finds himself, inexplicably, in the photoshoot as they prowl around the theater wing in the dark. They lounge on the catwalks looking bored of the deathly drop below, and Gigi pronounces them expert models.

Adwoa and Gigi decide to come with when Zayn has to leave for practice, and even though Louis would murder anyone else who intruded, he allows Gigi to turn his vanity against him. Soon all the boys are her models, though Niall laughs every time she point the camera at him.

“Ooooh, Harry ,” Adwoa says at one point, her chin tucked onto Gigi’s shoulder. “You’re a proper model, aren’t you?” Everyone crowds around to see the photos, and she’s right. The ones of Harry are particularly striking. He preens, winking and slouching in exaggerated poses, He’s playing off the praise but Zayn can tell he really is pleased.

“Okay, lovely, we’re all supermodels now,” Louis says after all the boys want to see their pictures and Justin begs her to delete several. “Now we have to become passable musicians. Begone, ye mistresses of vanity.”

Gigi kisses Louis’ cheek and Zayn’s lips, calling over her shoulder as they leave “And Harry, text me! We’ve got to put a shoot together.”

“Alright,” Harry says with a wave. Zayn can suddenly see an image in his mind of Gigi behind her camera, snapping away with her hair escaping a bun and her eyes sharp behind her glasses. And all that single minded focus on Harry, with his soft curls and his pouty lips. The dance of photographer and model drawing his eye back and forth, never quite sure where to land...Zayn blinks the image away. He focuses on his bass, and on Louis’ reminder that the festival is next Friday, and there’s an audition for a weekly gig right after that. There isn’t any time for his inner romantic turmoil. He’ll be fine.

*

By that friday, Zayn’s vision has become a reality. The camera genuinely seems to love Harry as much as human beings do, or Gigi’s does at least. She’s delighted to have found someone that isn’t yet tired of changing outfits and locations and shifting their head to find the light.

Zayn sighs around his cigarette as Gigi catches a shot of Harry mid-leap over the courtyard fountain. It’s too cold for that shit, but he doesn’t seem to mind being soaking wet in mid-November when Gigi yells “I got it!”

“What are you over here brooding about,” Adwoa says, appearing next to him. She has Gigi’s camera bag hefted over one shoulder. Zayn knows from experience it can get pretty heavy, and then wonders when exactly that responsibility shifted hands.

“M’not brooding,” he says. “That’s just how my face looks.” She laughs. That’s something he likes about her, how easy her laugh is. The gold in her front tooth sparkles in the pale sunlight. He passes over his cigarette without her having to ask.

“If you’re worried about what she thinks of you and Haz,” Adwoa says, “she really doesn’t give a shit. All the girls at the shop got after her and called you a slag and said you’re really just gay, the usual. She completely didn’t care, told them all to piss off.”

Zayn can’t help but smile at the visual of Gigi defending him against the zombie-model hybrid horde of baristas at the shop. “She’s amazing,” he says.

“She really is,” Adwoa agrees. And if he could focus on something beyond Harry covered in towels chasing Gigi around the courtyard, he would notice that her agreement is a bit too strong.

*

The Arts Festival the next week turns out to be a big affair for all of their friends. Luke and his band, 5-something, Zayn always forgets the name, are competing in the battle of the bands. Some of Gigi’s work is being sold at the fashion student booth, so she’s more nervous about that than Zayn thinks he and the boys have ever been about a gig. The girls from Mixer turn out to be a big part of running the food stands and all the boys try to steal kebabs, but Jesy catches them and threatens sever physical harm.

After Gigi’s nerves, Louis’ relentless, irritated snapping during soundcheck, and several unsuccessful kebab missions, Zayn is more than happy to take up his shift at the fine arts booth. He’s had to trade with three people and take a double, but it’s worth it to get to play to essentially the whole town.

“This is beautiful,” Harry says when he stops by the booth.

Zayn tilts his head back just enough to see through his tinted visor. Harry looks orange and wiggly through it, the scarf around his head blending with his skin to make him seem alien. “What is?” Zayn asks. He takes a look around at the various prints and sculptures sitting on the tables and stacked along the side of the tent. He’s a fan of a lot of his classmates, though a few of them are just imitating their professors for brownie points.

Harry rolls his eyes. “Your painting, obviously,” he says. This is typical Harry. He thinks everything Zayn makes is beautiful. And thought he might be telling the truth, saying that because he means it, Zayn has always been awkward with compliments.

“Oh, right,” he says, “thanks.” Harry is already off inspecting the rest of the goods, coming back to buy one of Cara’s mini-portraits.

“I’d get yours,” Harry says as he hands over the cash “but it looks like someone already did.” he’s referring to the bright yellow “sold” tag tied on the the bottom of his frame. It makes him smile, remembering.

“Oh, yeah,” says Zayn. “That was Gigi. She said it’s my best work yet.”

“That’s really sweet,” Harry says. Zayn chances a glance up as he wraps up the tiny portrait and puts it in a paper bag, but there’s no hint of malice or sarcasm in Harry’s face or tone. Of course there isn’t, he says to himself, why would there be?

“There ya go,” he says as he hands over the bag.

“Thanks,” says Harry. “See you in...three hours? Yeah.”

And he ambles off with his little paper bag, leaving Zayn alone to wonder why, for a brief second, he had kind of wanted Harry to be jealous.

* * * * *

Harry knew Zayn had a long shift at that booth, but he’s surprised he’s still not done when the battle of the bands starts. Paul, beloved local pub owner, stands in the lakefront pavilion doubling as a stage and introduces the bands as the sun goes down. It isn’t until 5SOS is winning, the four boys losing their absolute shit with Louis doing the same in the crowd, that Harry spots him.

Zayn and Gigi have stationed themselves on the edge of the crowd, laughing between themselves and clapping as the boys almost fall off the stage with how excited they are. He averts his eyes quickly before than can sense his gaze, but his stomach settles knowing Zayn is here and he can focus.

“Okay,” Louis says once the crowd has settled down. “The Rushers are up next, we need to get backstage. Has anyone seen Zayn?”

“Yeah,” Harry says, “I’ll go get him.”

“Nah,” Niall says, and Harry just knows he and Justin traded a look before he said it. “I’ll go get him, you help Liam set up.”

Louis looks between Niall’s retreating back, Justin’s innocent expression, and Harry’s red face before he narrows his eyes at Justin. “More secrets?”

“Zayn and Harry had sex.” Justin says immediately. He insists that he isn’t afraid of Louis, but Harry notices that he tries a little too hard not to be alone with him and this sudden confession isn’t helping his case.

“Excuse me?” says Louis, turning to Harry in disbelief. He can see hurt in Louis’ eyes too. There was a time when they told each other everything. But that had been before they both fell in love and started giving their secrets to other people.

“It’s not a big deal,” Harry says, shrugging. Across the crowd, Niall has reached Zayn and Gigi and they’re all headed back.

“Then why didn’t you tell us ?” Louis says. Definitely hurt, then. Harry feels suddenly tired. Sorting out feelings is something he’s usually pretty good at, but Zayn and Caroline and Gigi are all their own balls of emotion tap dancing all over his mental stability lately.

And now Louis is looking at him as if he’s been betrayed.

“I’ll tell you everything later, Lou,” Harry says. “I promise.”

“Tell me right now,” Louis says, insistent, going on when he sees the reluctance on Harry’s face. “Is this going to be like last time?”

And then Harry sees it in his eyes. The fear. Remembering that night that a drunken mistake made them fall apart on stage. This is an even bigger stage, an even bigger crowd, and Louis’ dreams can only take so many hard knocks.

“No, Lou,” Harry says, and means it. They’ve worked so hard to be better, for things to be different, Louis has made sure of that. But he doesn’t know how to convince Louis of that.

Zayn and Gigi and Niall are approaching now, her wrapped up in his jacket and laughing at something he’s said. It doesn’t hurt as much now, he’s starting to get used to it. Now there’s less jealousy and more that feeling like his heart is a pat of butter over heat when he lays eyes on Zayn. If anything, the shot of adrenaline through him when they lock eyes will improve his performance, not destroy it.

Harry pulls Louis into a quick hug, the only thing he can think of to send more reassurance his way. He steps backwards as the little trio reaches them, because it hurts less but it still hurts. He flashes them all a quick smile, already walking away and calling over his shoulder “I’m gonna go help Liam set up.”

* * * * *

As showtime draws closer, Zayn practically sees the knots of tension curl up in Louis’ muscles. He tries to relieve it with jokes but it doesn’t really help. He trades looks with Niall and Justin, and from the hug he saw earlier Harry is already on board. They have to make sure this isn’t like their last big gig.

They have to do a kickass job for Louis, for themselves, they have to show they’re worth the dream. Worth all these people’s attention.

They step onto the stage with a mission. Harry and Zayn lock eyes and they both feel the love there, whatever it is, whatever it’s meant to be, whatever it will become, and the lack of definition feels less like uncertainty and more like hope.

They smile into each others eyes as Justin hits the count, leaning in simultaneously to blend their voices into the first note.

*

Louis is so proud of them he cries. They huddle together in a ball of love and adrenaline, shaking with the high of half the town roaring for them! Jesy, Leigh-Anne, Jade, and Perrie are backstage too since they’re on next, and they get swept up in the hug as well. It’s a whirlwind of whoops and cheers and tight embraces.

“FUCK YEAH!” Louis keeps yelling. “My fuckin BOYS!” And it seems like he’s crying a little but none of them will bring this up later.

“Okay, okay,” Jesy laughs as she untangles herself from their pile and the rest of the Mixer girls do to. “We’ve got a stage to shred.” She says. She steps out with Leigh Anne right behind her and the crowd cheers for them.

“Gotta wipe all that masculine energy off and show em what a real show looks like,” Jade says with a wink. She follows her band mates onto the stage.

“But after that,” Perrie promises, “we’re gonna fuckin party .”

Chapter Text

And the Mixer girls have never broken a promise. As the night falls deeper, the festival disappears and a town-wide party begins.

“SHOT! SHOT! SHOT!”

Zayn feels like a warm bowl of jelly waving back and forth in the crowd full of people. He catches Gigi’s eye a little down the bar and she’s flushed and laughing. On his other side, Perrie and Jade are crossing arms and throwing back their shots already.

They nod at each other, and at the same time, they throw their drinks back. There’s a roar around them and Zayn vaguely hears Niall and Justin’s voices.

He drifts through the jostling crowd until he’s next to Gigi, wrapping his arms around her and feeling her melt back into him.

“You’re amazing,” he says into her ear, because she is. She turns around, and maybe he’s just drunk but every part of her is glowing like she ate the sun.

“You’re amazing,” she says, leaning in to kiss him.

“Oh my god, okay,” says Adwoa. He hadn’t seen her standing there. “You’re both amazing, get a room. Go be amazing.”

And if Gigi wasn’t literally the sun right now, he would have something to say about Adwoa’s tone, but Gigi is tipping toward him with bright eyes. “Do you wanna?” she asks, and he very much does.

“NO!” Louis appears out of nowhere, jumping into Zayn’s side, thankfully. Usually his target is the back, and that would have ended horribly for everyone. “We just played the art festival. Someone’s grandma walked by singing my songs, ten people have asked me if we have demos! If we have merch! This is the night we become ROCK STARS!”

“HELL YEAH!” Justin screams. He’s standing on the bar now, and Paul looks five seconds form physically throwing him out. He’s done it before.

“You know I don’t approve of peer pressure,” comes the deep roll of Harry’s voice from out of the crowd. “But Louis’ right. You can’t leave yet, we’re just getting started.”

Maybe he’s just drunk, but as Harry politely edges his way out of the crowd to join them, it occurs to Zayn that if Gigi ate the sun, Harry must have swallowed a supernova.

“Well,” he hears himself saying. “I probably shouldn’t miss the night we become rock stars.”

* * * * *

Harry doesn’t know exactly what he looked like at that lunch table on Halloween morning, but he has to imagine it’s something like how Gigi looks now.

Lost, furious, topped off with an edge of heartbreak. He almost feels sorry for her, but he can’t really get there.

Sure, for the last hour Zayn has plastered himself to Harry’s side, drunk and handsy and smiling at him like he hung the moon. Sure they’ve danced together and sat on the same side of the booths and gone outside to smoke and Harry is pretty sure Zayn’s gone in to kiss him at least twice (which he’s dodged, because he’s a good person). Sure, drunk Zayn is soft and loving and seems to adore Harry beyond all reason, but the operative word there is drunk.

She catches his eye over Zayn’s head and he knows they both know that. Somewhere deep down, even Zayn knows that.

But that doesn’t seem to matter to Gigi. As the night goes on, her eyes get more and more narrow. She doesn’t keep drinking, starts to sober up, and her shoulders start to slump over.

Harry tries to propel Zayn her way a few times, but he keeps turning back around and finding excuses to touch him. Which is an unintentional source of torture for Harry, because he’s just gotten used to not touching.

And every time he pushes Zayn towards her and he doesn’t go, Gigi’s eyes get more and more narrow. Harry sees in her eyes the same lion he had - as if she wishes he would vaporize. Which is ridiculous because she HAS Zayn. He shows her his poetry, he takes her to that corner of the library, even though Harry was here first. She gets to hang his painting over her mantle and know he’ll see it every day. He may be a clinging koala now, but they all know whose bed he’s waking up in.

With that in his mind, he doesn’t feel very guilty as he turns back to Zayns shining eyes and lets himself be drawn into the dance floor.

They’re probably all going to feel like shit about this in the morning, but the morning isn’t here yet, is it?

* * * * *

Zayn wakes up upside down on a cold tile floor with his mouth tasting like roadkill and he knows instantly that this is Louis’ fault.

“This is your fault,” he hears from the lump of blankets on the floor that is Louis. From the looks of it, they stumbled back to their dorm room and camped out on the floor for some reason. And of course Louis stole all the blankets.

“Nope,” he grumbles. “Definitely your fault.”

“I’m going back to sleep,” says Louis. “But I’ll fight you when I’m alive again.”

Zayn wants to roll over and go to sleep too, but he and Gigi have a standing brunch date on Saturdays, so he drags himself out of bed.

He’s not unknown around campus, but way more people than usual greet him or wave or simply take notice. It’s a strange feeling, being recognized because of the thing he and his boys have been working on in their practice room for so long. It’s hard to believe other people actually want to hear it.

It makes him feel a little less silly about the secret dreams he has, it feels a little more real. So he’s smiling when he walks into their usual place, The Stuffed Skillet.

Gigi is on her phone at their favorite booth, her hair threaded through with the sunlight from behind her. He slides in next to her, putting his arm around her waist and kissing the sun spot on her temple in greeting.

“Hi,” he says softly.

“Hi,” she says back. But then she pulls away, not smiling. She isn’t quite looking upset but everything doesn’t seem just fine either.

“What’s wrong?” He asks. Had he done something? Maybe while he was drunk? He watches her for clues as she clicks her phone screen dark and stuffs it into the pouch of her hoodie.

“I just have some things I need to say,” she says slowly. He waits, his heart thudding and his limbs tensed.

“Okay,” he says, his voice coming out with a bit of gravel in it.

“My mom has this thing she says,” she begins. “That if it’s the right person at the wrong time, it’s the wrong person.”

Every part of his body goes still and cold. “You’re breaking up with me,” he says.

“I don’t know, Zayn. I really don’t. I just - I promised myself that I wouldn’t be anyone’s second best ever again.”

“Second be-what are you talking about?” Now he can feel himself panicking, watching her slip away. She’s been looking at her hands, but now she turns to face him, folding one leg underneath her.

“I promised myself that if I was ever getting caught up in jealousy or not feeling like enough in a relationship, I would just dip out. Because- you know most things don’t get to me. But that does, it really does for some reason. So I make sure I don’t put myself in situations where I might feel like that. And I didn’t think it was like that with you, until last night.”

He’s scouring his memories, turning his brain upside down but he can’t remember anything that might have triggered this, he just remembers hanging out with his friends, laughing, dancing, taking shots.

“I’m sorry,” he says “I don’t know what I did but Gi but I’m so sorry, I won’t do it again-“

“Zayn.” The tone in her voice stops him. “I don’t want to be with someone who wants to be with someone else, that doesn’t work out for anybody. Can you honestly say that’s not what’s happening?”

He takes a second, looking down into her eyes. She’s hurt, but determined.

“Are you talking about Harry?” he says slowly. She doesn’t have to answer, it’s clear from the look she shoots him. “But we talked about that,” he says slowly. “You said it was fine, you didn’t care that I was bi-“

“I don’t care that you’re bi. Not that way, anyway. I’ve actually been thinking about my own sexuality since we talked-“

“Wait, you have?”

“That’s besides the point though,” she waves that thread of conversation away like she does his cigarette smoke. “The point is, I don’t care that you’re bi. I care that you spent all of last night drooling over someone else. I mean just, you were like this obsessed puppy dog. You couldn’t leave his side!”

“Okay, so? How is that new?” He feels defensive now, like she’s changed the rules without telling him. “That’s how I always am around him and you haven’t cared before.”

She pulls back and stares at him. “You think that’s how you always are around him?” She shakes her head, settling back into the leather of the booth with even more confidence. “That just proves my point.”

Zayn can feel himself starting to distantly panic. “So you want to just end us?” He asks, aware of the shake in his voice but unable to stop it.

She’s looking down at her lap now, her hair obscuring her face as she tugs at a loose string in her pants.

“It’s not what I want,” she said “it’s what I can handle. I mean, he showed up and it was like I stopped existing to you. I can’t do that. Ever again. I just can’t. And you still don’t even realize how bad it was, so it’s not like you can genuinely promise me it won’t happen again.”

The pause after she speaks is the perfect opportunity to say something. Anything. To convince her to hang in there as desperately as he wants too. But he doesn’t have anything. So she nods, gathers her things, and says “We can talk about it later if you want. But I think maybe we should just think about it for now.”

She kisses him on the cheek and then she walks away.

*

Zayn wants to ask the boys if she’s right. Was he different around Harry that night? Did he really treat her the way she says he did?

He remembers drunkenly draping himself over Harry, wanting to be around him, resisting the urge to kiss him, but those are just his run-of-the-mill Harry-induced behaviors. He’s had a cap on them for over a month now, so even when they’re at their strongest he’s been able to pretty much ignore them and focus on other things, like Gigi.

But he’s afraid that if he asks, he’ll learn a truth he isn’t ready for, so he doesn’t. Besides, when Niall asks why he’s back to hanging out with them more often and he says that he and Gigi had a fight, the boys all trade looks. So no. He definitely, definitely doesn’t want to know what they think.

*

On thanksgiving day a notification pops up on his phone calender, an excited bubble that exclaims Meeting the Hadids!!!!! With stress and panic emojis next to it. He dismisses it and spends the American holiday in bed. No one finds this suspicious, because Zayn would nearly always rather be in bed, but Louis does bring him a slice of pie from dinner.

“Aw, Lou,” he says. “How’re you gonna keep up your reputation as a stone cold bitch?”

“By using my pie deliveries to poison annoying little shithead roommates,” Louis replies.

*

He and Gigi should probably talk about this some more, he thinks when she comes home from Thanksgiving break and actually answers his late-night text. But that talk should probably happen at a different time. A time when he hasn't’ walked across campus to be in her bed at midnight. Or at least when she’s not on top of him.

But they never do, even as November slips into December and finals come rushing towards them. And they both know that not talking about things only makes situations worse. Burt they both also know why it’s such a popular choice despite the risks: it’s the path of least resistance. And it’s the path that lets Zayn stay in her bed without having to address the elephant in the room.

If he had any hopes that this arrangement might lead back into their relationship, those hopes are disappointed the night they first hook up.

“I think we probably shouldn’t stay the night,” she says when they’re still warm and boneless afterward.His brain has barely come back online and he hardly registers as she continues. “Just to cut down on confusion.”

“Okay,” he says, too tired to argue. “Quick nap though.” She does let him nap, but she enforces the rules with a bittersweet firmness. When he looks too long, he sees the hurt in her face and he wonders what he can do to change it. But all he can think of is to do what she asks, so he leaves.

Friends with benefits isn’t quite the term, but it’s close. A hurtful arrangement might be the best one, but dropping out of each other’s lives - and beds - cold turkey would hurt even more, so they keep on.

Zayn notices Louis notice that he spends more time in the dorms than he used to, but in the rush of finals and demo set ups and holiday arrangements, he doesn’t have time to pry.

*

By the time they’re all back in January, Zayn does his best to make it feel so much like business as usual that Louis forgets something is amiss. He doesn't talk about it, and no one really asks.

Chapter Text

Harry works up the courage to talk to Zayn, once, late in January.

He’s in his room playing sad music from the 70s and wallowing in his feelings. His feelings about Caroline, her new guy, and their inappropriate amounts of happiness. His feelings about the irrational anger he feels any time those two swan around in public looking perfect. His feelings about how he screwed it all up with Zayn and how they’ll never be together.

But that gets him to thinking about Zayn. About how no matter how much they misunderstand each other or make each other angry, they always seem to be able to work it out in the end. About how Zayn always makes him smile, even when he doesn't mean to. About how much better he would feel, right the fuck now, even in the midst of a miserable mope about the very person, if Zayn were to walk through that door and give him a hug.

It’s actually less working up courage and more letting his desire thoroughly fuel him, but he rolls out of bed and into the hall without a second thought. And he keeps up the policy of not thinking about it all the way down the hall to Louis and Zayn’s room. Til he gets to the door, raises his fist to knock, and it swings open before he can.

Gigi is standing there, a stunning embodiment of all the very good reasons he hasn’t done this before.

“Hi,” she says. She’s wearing a hoodie and legging and holding her car keys and phone in one hand. It’s nearly one in the morning, and he’s clearly just interrupted something.

“Hi,” he says. He casts a look between her and the room behind her but she just smiles, although it looks a little sad.

“Early shoot,” she says by way of explanation. “See you later, Harry.”

She heads towards the elevators, letting Zayn’s door swing shut behind her. He watches it close, waits until she turns the corner, and takes the lonely walk back to his room.

*

Harry is disoriented when he wakes up. His body is being rocked back and forth and the side of his face feels wet.

“Harry?” Justin’s face comes into the focus as he opens his eyes, his roommate's expression matching the worried tone of his voice.

“Yeah?” he says. He knows what Justin is worried about. He’s passed out top of his covers with what must be puffy red eyes and a tear-stained pillow case. By the looks of the sun through the blinds he didn’t set his alarm and probably slept through breakfast.

“Are you-?” Justin stops short of the word ‘okay’, instead throwing himself over Harry’s torso in a desperate attempt at a hug. It almost makes Harry laugh, seeing how far they’ve come from the wariness of their first meeting.

“Justin,” he says, his voice muffled by the shoulder crushing his mouth. “I’ll be fine.”

“Yeah, okay,” Justin sounds doubtful as he pulls back. He places the back of his hand over Harry’s forehead like a worried mother, and that does get a laugh.

“Mate, really-”

“I don’t think so, man. You’ve been kinda off for awhile but...hold on, I’ll be right back.”

“No!” Harry knows Justin’s plan by the shifty look in his eyes and grabs onto his shirt hem to chain him down. “Don’t get Louis!”

“Why not?!” Justin protests, tearing his shirt out of Harry’s hands.

“He’ll meddle!”

“Well yeah, but he’ll help .”

Harry knows this is true. He doesn’t like it, but he knows, so he stops fighting.

 

After Justin leaves, Harry pulls himself together. Maybe if he’s dressed and a normal color by the time they get back he can pass it off as a run-of-the-mill bout of the Carolines and once again escape giving voice to the cavern of unresolved feelings in his gut.

That’s the plan, but it’s calibrated for a jovial fun-and-games Louis who will breeze in and make fun of him for his disastrous “bout of heterosexuality”. What he gets instead is Louis’ quiet voice outside saying “No, you two stay out here.”

Then Louis walks in, closes the door, and crosses to sit next to Harry on his bed. He looks into Harry’s eyes and says quietly, “You alright, Haz?”

Harry crumples. He would have thought that after crying himself to sleep he would be fresh out of tears but out of nowhere they bubble up and spill out. Louis holds out his arms and Harry curls up into the much-too-small space between them, half ashamed and half relieved.

They stay that way until Harry feels certain he really is out of tears, and then a little longer until Harry feels like he won’t fall apart without the support of Louis’ arms. He pulls away, gratefully accepting the tissues Louis seems to pull out of thin air.

Louis waits for him to gather himself, seemingly unbothered by the loud, excessive sneezing and snotting.

“Okay,” Lou says when the sniffling has slowed down a little. “Now do you wanna tell me that “everything” you promised last semester?”

“Ohhhh....em....right,” Harry says. He’d forgotten that promise.

“Yeah,” Louis says, and waits.

Harry lays back on his bed, pulling Louis with him and curling into his neck and shoulder. “So...the beginning of last semester,” he explains. “Zayn and I had been talking all summer. We started getting really close. Like, closer than we used to be. And when I got back to school and I saw him...I dunno, I guess I realized what you used to ramble on about. About like, his eyelashes and stuff.”

“What, you’re telling me you never had a Zayn phase before?”

“Not really. I mean I can see him, obviously, but this was different. It was like, I couldn’t be away from him for one more second. So...I walked right over to him, told him I had to talk to him and it couldn't wait."

Louis, nosy man that he is, is absolutely on edge now. "And?"

“And...we went to his room. And we...didn't talk."

"Didn't waste any time, I see."

"Shut up."

Louis laughs at him. "And then?"

"And then...I told him it couldn't be casual, that I was gonna fall for him. And he said he wouldn’t mind that."

"Oh my god."

"...but we decided not to. I wasn’t over Caroline, so we said we'd be friends. But we were still, like, interested in each other. We both knew that. So it didn’t really feel like it was over, if that makes sense. It felt like...we were just...And I know we never said that, but. I don't know, when he walked in with Gigi...He was never mine but it felt like I lost him, you know? And ever since then I've had...not the best time."

“Oh, Haz."

"I’ve just been so confused. I’m over Caroline now, I think. I mean, I still hate to see her with her jock professor, but...I don’t want her back. And I guess I knew, on some level, Zayn wasn’t just going to wait for me but...at the same time...”

“If he hadn’t met Gigi he might’ve.”

“Yeah. And that’s a shit thing to want, isn’t it?”

“Maybe, but I get it.”

“Thanks.”

“No problem.” Louis squeezes him in a sideways hug. “Now then, what’s this fresh bout of tears about?”

Harry shrugs. “The same shit.”

“He’s been dating Gigi for months now mate. You’re telling me nothing else brought this on?”

“Just...trying to get over him...knowing how much better I would feel if I talked to him-”

“--Was just going to suggest it--”

“I tried! But he was with her. And it hurt all over again like it was brand new. First I didn’t get to be with him, even though I like him so much. And now I don’t even have my friend.”

Louis was silent, which Harry knew meant he had a lot he wanted to say but knew all of it was insensitive.

Finally, he said “Remember last year. when the other boys were being stupid and we had to track them all down and make them talk? Do you remember what you told Zayn?”

Harry groans. “I take it back.”

“You told him that it didn’t have to be that complicated. And now I’m telling you the same thing.”

“I was wrong,” Harry says. “It is that complicated. I don't have a right to say anything. I rejected him, and he went and found someone better than me in every possible way-”

“Oh please,” says Louis. “I’m not going to physically hurt you, because you’re going through a lot. But that’s an absolute load of bollocks. Sure, she’s pretty enough to be a supermodel, but that doesn't make her better than you . You can angst over boys all you want but what I won’t put up with is you talking shit about yourself.”

Harry is quiet.

Louis takes a deep breath. “Now, my two cents is that you should tell Zayn how you feel.” Harry feels humiliated at even the thought, groaning involuntarily with preemptive embarrassment. Louis ignores him. “Even if he doesn't feel the same way, it’s better to get it out into the open. Bottling it up is clearly not working for you.”

“You don’t know that.” Harry says.

“I’m pretty sure I do,” says Louis. But he arms have never left Harry, and he doesn't press.

“Promise me one thing,” Harry says eventually.

“Maybe,” says Louis.

“Promise me you’re not gonna tell him, or meddle, or rush me.”

“Now you know that’s a promise I can’t keep.”

“Make it anyway.”

Louis sighs. “I won’t tell him, promise.”

“And?”

“And I’ll try not to rush you.”

And ?”

Now Louis does pinch him. “Be reasonable, Harry,” he says, “there’s only so much I can do.”

*

Harry is trying not to be a human pile of misery. He and the boys have started working feverishly on the demo and they killed the audition for the weekly gig. Sure, they’re an opening act, but still. It’s hard work, and it’s only Justin’s scholarship that forces all of them to abandon the idea of dropping out. Between trying to build their dream and avoiding the threat of academic suspension, there’s plenty to focus on.

Still, he finds Zayn running through the back of his mind. He thinks about their relationship, and how odd it's always has been. When they first met Harry found Zayn cold and intimidating, then larger than life and overbearing. He found out later that Zayn had seen him as full of himself and over-sensitive. But when they had finally bonded and overcame those differences, they went from zero to one hundred.

It’s been that way ever since. Their relationship has never really had a middle ground. Really, looking back on it, Harry thinks he should have guessed they’d fall for each other at some point. He’s never had any relationships as intense as the ones with his boys, but things have always been different with Zayn.

He feels Louis watching them now and he makes every effort to be normal. Their stage chemistry is just fine, they smile and laugh and joke during rehearsal, they’re friends. But it’s nothing like the friendship they’ve shared the last few years. It’s surface level, social. Zayn’s name has sunk to the bottom of his text threads, it’s been so long since they really spoke. Even more fragile than their first meeting, because this time there’s so much to lose. More than he’s already lost.

 

February first is his birthday. His family calls, his classes give him shout outs. He’s got texts and facebook notifications, free cookies and cupcakes and flowers. But Zayn is still at the bottom of that text thread. He shouldn’t be surprised, he tells himself. It’s not as if he got Zayn anything for his birthday, after all. He’d felt too strange and unsure.  And it wasn’t like Zayn was the type to break the ice.

This is what he’s thinking, trying his best not to feel disappointed, when he flips on the light in his dorm room and his eyes fall to the package on the bed. It’s a plain manila envelope. As he drops his piles of gifts onto his desk and approaches it, he hears a voice say:

“Right? I’ve been staring at it all day,” and nearly jumps out of his skin.

“Justin,” he says, breathing out slowly. “You scared the shit out of me.”

“Sorry,” Justin says. He sits up in bed, clearly deeply interested in this gift, and Harry sees the still lump of Niall tucked under the blankets next to him.

“Mind your boyfriend,” Harry says, concealing Justin’s view of the present with his shoulders. He knows he can’t keep a secret forever in such a tiny room, but he wants this moment to himself. He hates the stupid hope in his chest, but if it’s about to be crushed the way he’s almost certain it will, his lie that all is well won’t play unless Justin can’t see his face.

He flips the envelope open before he can think about it any more and two things fall out. A tattered red and black composition notebook, one he’s known since he was sixteen. And on top of it, a scrap of white paper. It reads:

Sorry I’m so broke. When I’m famous, you can sell it on e-bay. Haha ;) -Z

Harry curls over the little pile on his blanket and just sits for a second. He stares down in the blackness of his arms, feeling the cool cardboard notebook cover under his forehead, the unshakeable stretch of the grin taking over his face.

“Well, what is it?” Justin asks.

“It’s um, just this dumb joke I have with Zayn,” Harry says without turning around. He tells himself it’s partially true but knows he’s mostly lying. “It’s just some poems he wrote when he was fifteen. We laugh about them.”

Justin is quiet. The ooh, lemme see Harry had expected isn’t forthcoming. When Harry turns around, still grinning because he can’t stop himself, Justin has a soft smile on his face. Next to him, Niall is awake and wearing a dopey smile too.

“Okay,” he says, rolling his eyes. “Enough of that.”

But neither of them stop smiling, and he finds that he really can’t either.

Chapter Text

Zayn isn’t quite sure what to do as Valentine's day approaches. Gigi says she doesn't think it’s a good idea for them to spend the fourteenth together. And although he’s still halfway hoping they’ll get back together, the longer they’re broken up the more he understands why she did it. So he agrees.

But that little halfway hope springs to life when he gets a call in the middle of the day and it’s her. “Hey babe,” he says when she answers.

He hears a smile in her voice as she responds. “Hey, listen. Meet me at the Coffee Bar. We need to talk.”

His heart is beating a half step quicker as he makes his way to the restaurant, his mind pinging back and forth as he thinks of the possibilities. Does she want to get back together? Has valentine's day made her change her mind? And most importantly, if she does want to get back together: does he ?

He still hasn’t settled on an answer when he sits down across from her. “What’s going on?” he asks, his tone a calm and collected lie. She looks up from her phone, and she’s grinning. He doesn't think he’s really seen her this happy before. Her eyes are so bright they’re like sunbeams, even nearly obscured by the crush of her grin.

“Adwoa likes me,” she says. Her voice is blocked by emotion but she gets the words out. “And I know maybe I’m like, acting totally inappropriate but. God, I just can’t help it, she makes me so happy. Wow. Okay,” she takes a breath, grabbing his hand over the table. “We can’t keep sleeping together. We have to be broken up for real. I’m going to be with her, like for real.”

He just blinks at her for a few moments. “Wh-how. When? What? Since when do you even-”

“This morning she came by my place. We were supposed to go around with Cara and Bella and some other girls for a Galentines day. But she had this basket, and it was full of all of my favorite foods, fresh made. We sat down and had breakfast and just talked. She ended up telling me she’s had feelings for me for awhile.

And Zayn, I realized...now don’t get me wrong. That night with you and Harry...that made me feel like shit. And I’m not saying I’m okay with that. But I think...half of why I had so many feelings about that - not just you being so clearly into someone else. It was also that I’d had feelings for Adwoa for awhile, but I’d been totally repressing them and ignoring them. And you two being so blatant about it made me feel kind of complicated about that.”

He stares at her. “Wow. So you…”

“I think I’m pan, maybe? I think I like a lot of different kinds of people, I’ve just never really let myself explore it.”

“Um,” he sits forward, trying to process this. Her big grin is gone now, but she still has a soft smile on her face. She’s as relaxed as he has ever seen her, so clear in what she wants now. He finds that any hurt or protest in him gives way to the surety in her eyes. “I’m happy for you Gigi,” he says.

He means it. Even the part of him that still wants her bows to the irrefutable fact that she has never been this happy with him. And it was only moments ago that he was debating whether or not they should be together at all. Clearly, the debate has been settled for him.

As he walks back to campus that night, he feels a little bit of a pang at the thought of Adwoa occupying the space in Gigi’s bed that he used to. But it’s muted, more like a feelings of nostalgia than real longing.

He’s going to be fine.

*

Liam: DINNER IN THE COURTYRD! 2NIGHT! Very important! B their or b dead!

Zayn rolls his eyes when he sees that text from Liam, but Li rarely calls them all together, so he forces himself out of his studio and shows up.

“What the hell are you wearing?” Liam says as soon as he sees him, horrified.

“I’m wearing regular people clothes. What are you wearing?” Zayn eyes Liam up and down. He’s all decked out in a suit and tie with a white rose pinned to his lapel.

“Aw, leave him alone,” Justin says. He’s dressed up too, just in a nicer version of his usual jeans and t-shirt, but Zayn still feels suspicious. Liam and Justin always know about each other’s schemes first. It’s all that time they spend in their gym cult.

Zayn leaves them behind so Justin can fuss over Liam’s tie (“Bro, trust me, I know my way around a Windsor knot.”) and settles at the picnic table with the other boys.

He’s surprised by how many people are there. Of course the boys, and he’s not surprised to see Jesy, Leigh-Anne, Perrie, and Jade. Even Luke and his rowdy band of Australians have started to show up enough that it makes sense. But he rarely sees Aiden and the others from Louis’ theater clique, or Josh and the other guys from any number of Liam’s sports teams.

With the fairy lights that come on after dark strung up in the trees and almost everyone dressed a little nicer than usual, he starts to feel a little less confident in his paint-splattered jeans.

“What the hell is going on?” he asks Niall, who is wearing a sweater vest for fuck’s sake.

Niall grins. “Lemme guess, you remembered at the last second and came straight from the studio?

“Remembered what ?” Zayn hisses. Niall frowns at him.

“Did you not get the invitation? Liam put them in the mail weeks ago.”

“Put them in the mail? Since when do we have mail ?”

Niall looks as if the effort of not laughing might actually be hurting him. “Oh God, you’re too much mate. It’s junior year, you’re tellin me you’ve never checked your mail? First floor, row of metal on the wall? One of those is yours.”

“To be fair,” Harry speaks up “you probably didn’t miss much. Liam’s invitation might be the only thing in there, seeing how it’s the twenty-first century and all.”

“Thank you!” Zayn says. Harry laughs, every movement he makes accentuating the glitter on his cheekbones that Jade probably put there. He looks stunning, if Zayn is honest. He’s dressed like he went on one of his vintage shop binges, 70s glamour from head to toe. Zayn tries not to stare too long.

Ever since his peace offering on Harry’s birthday things have been better between them, if not perfect. It will probably take time to find a normal after their almost-romance, and Harry hasn’t indicated any desire to revisit it, so Zayn counts his blessings that he seems willing to work towards being good friends again.

“So what was the invitation for?” He asks as Justin approaches the table.

“He wanted to do something special for Lou for V-day,” Justin says as he drops down across from Zayn. Niall passes him a drink he’s been safeguarding and they kiss over the table. Zayn instinctively rolls his eyes.

“Yeah, but why does that involve all of us?” he asks.

“I think Lou’s been so busy he hasn’t really had time with friends in a while,” says Harry. “Li wanted him to have a night with everyone. His family’s even on skype over there.”

“Jesus, that’s romantic,” says Niall. “All we did was- OW!” He stops talking when Justin kicks him under the table, no doubt saving them all from an unnecessarily explicit story that Niall wouldn't have realized was making everyone uncomfortable.

“The point is Liam is the best boyfriend ever and none of us could ever compare,” Justin says, his cheeks bright pink as he takes a sip of his drink. Niall nods in agreement with a dumb grin on his face.

“This,” Zayn says. “Is worse. Whatever you were about to say could not possibly be worse.”

“I would agree,” says Harry, “but d’ya remember new years?”

“Oh God .” They all jump in with examples of Niall’s accidental oversharing, which eventually turns into a roundtable roast. They’re still laughing about the first time they all met and got Justin drunk on a truly pathetic amount of beer when there’s a shift in the crowd.

They turn with everyone else to see that Liam is standing because Louis has arrived, red faced and panting. “Sorry, sorry,” he says to Liam. “everyone at the shop was being an idiot and--oh.”

He finally sees past Liam, taking in the small but substantial crowd of his closest friends and the screen  by Liam’s side showing his family in England. “Oh my,” he says, his face transforming with a grin of pure joy. “Hello everyone.” he says. He chokes a little on the last word.

“Happy Valentines day, love,” says Liam softly.

“Oh my god, Li ,” says Lou, and Zayn is sure that his mother’s presence live on screen next to them is the only reason he doesn’t ravage Liam right there.

Liam beams at him. He takes his hand and guides him around the table so that they’re standing in the center of the courtyard. “The food will be here in a second,” he says. “But before that, I wanted to do one thing.”

And then he goes down on one knee.

“Oh my god,” Louis says. Zayn feels his eyes widen as he and the boys trade astonished looks. Clearly, this hadn’t been in the invitation.

A hush falls over the gathering as Liam pulls a tiny black velvet box out of his suit jacket and begins to speak.

“Louis Tomlinson,” Liam says, his voice shaking. “I don’t really know how to do this, but I figured I had to hurry up and lock you down before you get all rich and famous.” They all laugh, but silent tears are streaming over Louis’ smile. “Lou, the truth is I love you more than anything. I like you more than anyone. Before I met you I had no idea how amazing life could be. You make me so much better and so much happier, even on our worst days. I want our whole lives to be like this, next to each other and surrounded by the people we love.

So...will you marry me?”

Louis takes a deep breath, and shouts “FUCK, YES ! OF COURSE!” He tackles Liam so that they sprawl backwards onto the cobblestone.

The crowd around them erupts, his family going staticky on the screen as his mothers and sisters jump up and down. There’s whistling, cheering, and pounding on tables as Louis and Liam untangle themselves, barely able to stop kissing long enough for Liam to put the ring on Louis’ finger.

And then, almost shyly for a man who just tackled his new fiance in public, Louis pulls out something Zayn knows he’s been carrying next to his heart for at least half the year. It’s a cheap silver ring, but it’s molded to Liam’s exact size. They all go crazy again as Liam starts to cry, slipping the ring on and kissing Louis like the world is about the end.

As they join into the raucous around them, rushing to surround the couple in love and congratulations, Zayn feels Harry’s gaze on him and turns to catch his eye. They smile at each other, their hands catching and taking hold for one moment, before they fall into the dogpile of love being created around Liam and Louis.

The food delivery person is deeply confused.

Chapter Text

Louis doesn't even seem to miss a step after the engagement. He isn’t slowed down, but motivated. He adds “wedding planning” to his massive to-do list, appoints Jade as his maid of best man because he can’t decide which he wants, and kicks into an even more terrifying work overdrive.

It gets to the point where they have nearly weekly interventions. Really, holding him down and forcing him not to work is the only way Louis doesn’t feel guilty for not running around being super-manager.

His number one project is finishing their demo, and all the boys pitch in to help make it a reality. They always do, but with Lou’s intensity on eleven, they do as much as they can to lift the strain off of his shoulders.

Between the Louis Project, school, and being a best man Harry finally feels busy enough that the situation with Zayn doesn’t hang so desperately in the corners of his head. He does carry Zayn’s notebook with him everywhere, wrapped protectively in a blanket and tucked into the side of his backpack, but he tells himself it would have been the same if they had never had an “almost”.

He’s reread it several times now, so many times that he’s memorized the feeling of his fingers pressing over the grooves of creased cardboard. It isn’t uncommon to walk up to Harry staring into space with his fingers absently following the patterns on the sides of a tattered old notebook. It’s a bit of an embarrassing habit, but it isn’t crying himself to sleep at night either.

As his birthday month comes to an end, the demo they’ve been working on is nearly finished. They have one last recording session at the cheap studio in back of the music shop where Louis works. It’s on the way to this recording session that two very important things happen.

They’re all in the van, Justin and Niall loudly singing a mix of the Canadian and Irish national anthems, Zayn trying to beat them into stopping. Liam doesn’t even yell at them to calm down while he’s driving, instead he hums along. Louis has his binder out and is going over a schedule of the next week, but every time things start to die down in the back he turns around to instigate a revival.

Harry isn’t the one to cause a ruckus, though he isn’t known as the quiet on either. But today he’s content to sit back and smile at them. He’s curled up in the far corner of the back row, one ear on the shenanigans and the other on his earbuds.

This is when the first important thing happens.

“ZAYN WHAT THE FUCK ?!” Justin yells. And while Justin is the type to yell, it isn’t usually directed at any of them in particular. Harry takes out his one earbud as the scuffle dies down, Zayn poised on one side of the seats while Justin and Niall stare at him from the other.

“What’s wrong?” Louis says. “Did somebody get hurt?”

“Gigi broke up with Zayn!” Justin says, still looking at Zayn in utter betrayal.

“What?” says Liam “When?”

“A few weeks ago,” Zayn says. He isn’t really looking at any of them, more at the crumbs between the seats and the hem of his t-shirt. “Well,” he reconsiders. “That’s really just when she broke off the sex. She broke off the actual relationship, like, back in November.”

They all look at each other, then back at him. “What the hell,” says Louis, for all of them. “Why wouldn’t you tell us that?”

“It wasn’t that bad,” Zayn says, his eyes downcast in a way that means he’s clearly lying.

Oh ,” says Louis. “Well. If it wasn’t that bad then of course, yeah, hide your heartbreak from your friends.”

“What is with you and keeping secrets?!” Justin exclaims.

“I think,” Harry speaks up, feeling himself frown in that way the boys make fun of him for, “that we’re saying we wanted to be there for you. You should’ve let us.”

Zayn only catches Harry’s eye for a brief second, but his shoulders creep down from his ears. “I guess,” he says. “I mean, I’m sorry. I just wanted to deal with it alone.”

“So smart,” Niall says fondly. “But so, so dumb.” He pulls Zayn in by his neck and envelopes him in a heavy hug. “That’s why you’ve been so weird,” he muses as an afterthought.

“Have I?” Zayn asks his shoulder.

“You always are. But yeah, more’n usual.”

“Okay,” says Justin. “That’s great. But also-” here he begins viciously poking Zayn until it makes him twitch, using his finger to emphasize every point. “Don’t. Hide. Things. From. Your. Friends. We’re here to help . You dummy!”

And then Louis throws a pen at his head. But he’s smiling when he does it, and Justin eventually takes over hugging duty from Niall.

Harry, a tiny bit forgotten in the back, watches them hug it out and tries to sort out how he feels.

Zayn and Gigi aren’t together. He hasn’t decided he’d rather be with someone more female and more beautiful. At least, not that someone in particular. He’s single.

But.

He didn't tell them. He had still been sleeping with her that night Harry met her in the hallway. He hadn’t run to Harry with the happy news that they could finally be together.

He doesn’t even need the look Louis throws his way. He knows they need to talk.

Throughout their time in the studio, unloading and loading the van, he tells himself that it’s not the right time. He pretends Zayn isn’t avoiding him too, and smiles innocently at Louis - and now, Liam’s - pointed stares.

He will talk to Zayn, he thinks. Just not right now.

It’s when they’re back in the van for the trip back to campus and he’s settled thoughtfully back into his corner that the second important thing happens.

It’s a thoughtless gesture, just reaching down to untangle his earbud cords from his blanket fringe with a little yank, but it causes an avalanche. His backpack, halfway unzipped, tips forward with the movement of the blanket stuck to it’s zipper track and spills its contents all over the seat.

Harry looks at it for a moment, debating whether or not the cleanup is a future Harry problem, before begrudgingly letting go of his blanket cocoon to gather his things. It’s as he’s doing this that he sees Zayn’s notebook, one of it’s pages hanging crookedly outside of the binder in a way it shouldn’t be. It isn’t devastating, but it makes his heart a little sad to see something so precious retain any more damage.

He finishes stuffing everything back into his backpack, leaning it against the seat, zipped tight this time. He carefully inspects the pages of the book, looking for the one that has been damaged. But it isn’t a page, he realizes as he opens it. It’s a seperate sheet of paper, folded neatly and tucked into the back. In all his rereads, it hasn’t occurred to him to look past the big block words The End that young Zayn had scribbled in like a comic book title.

Apparently, he should have. He unfolds it, expecting young Zayn’s fifteen year old handwriting, and instead sees the more refined scrawl he’s grown into. This is from Zayn now, the one sitting one row up, being sat on while Niall and Justin sing more Canada/Ireland mashups.

He’s been reading the old poems so long he’s forgotten how different Zayn’s new words are. More complex, with jarring rhythms and abstract imagery. But unlike Zayn’s other recent work, this poem isn’t about politics or conspiracy theories or inner turmoil.

It’s about green eyes and his, quote, “favorite set of lips”. It’s a page of attempts to explain how love feels, the descriptions painting clear pictures of their time together. He describes the sacred silence they’ve enjoyed together in his corner of the library, the tension and joy in how much they differ and how they are the same. He speaks of dimples and brown curls and tattooed skin the way some poems speak of religions, of enlightenment. It’s about wanting.

Harry can’t stop staring down at it, barely blinking as if the words will disappear. He can’t stop himself from grinning like a lunatic. His heart rate skips forward into a jog and he feels the prick of tears rushing to the corners of his eyes. He feels the van come to a stop but he doesn’t look up.

“Harry,” Liam calls back as the other pile out of the van. “You alright?” When he looks up he knows he must seem deranged, his eyes wet and a smile stretched over his entire face.

“Yeah,” he says. “Great.” Liam looks at him strangely but doesn’t pry. Harry folds the paper up, slips it into his pocket, and climbs out to help unload.

Zayn continues to stay clear of him as they go back to the music hall. Harry knows it must be intentional, but it doesn’t hurt because he knows Zayn. Hell, he knows himself. Just a few minutes ago he was avoiding Zayn right back. A few weeks ago, it might have deterred him completely, but with this little slip of paper in his back pocket he just feels more determined.

He doesn’t really have to do much conspiring, as it turns out. He’s dropping off his last armful of things in the equipment closet when he hears a rattle at the doors. He looks towards them, and realizes Zayn is backing in.

“You’re good,” Liam is saying from the doorway, guiding Zayn’s blind journey backward. “Just don’t bump into Harry.”

“Actually, speaking of Harry,” Louis says, appearing in the doorway. “You two should probably have a little chat, don’t you think?”

“What?” says Zayn.

“We’ll just give you two some privacy.” Liam says. And then he shuts the door, leaving them in semi darkness.

“We’ll be down the hall,” Justin says cheerfully from the hallway.

“I was already going to talk to him,” Harry calls back with a scowl. “Thank you very much!”

“Great,” Niall says, “then go ahead!”

* * * * *

“Fuck off!” says Zayn to the doors. To himself, he hears I was already going to talk to him echo back and tries to think of a reason they really shouldn’t talk right now.

“They’re so fuckin nosy,” he says in an effort to change the mood from urgent to orginary. But Harry doesn’t answer, and the air just goes more taut between them. He turns on the single naked light bulb with a yank of the tiny chain, as if seeing him will sweep the stiffness away.

But when the yellow light spills over them, Harry is just standing silently, holding up a folded paper square. Zayn feels his eyes widen as he recognizes his own handwriting on this piece of sketchbook paper. He feels his eyes get stuck and his gut go sour.

“Where did you get that?” Zayn asks softly.

“Um,” says Harry. “It was in that notebook you gave me, the one with your old poems?” he looks confused now, and Zayn feels the same way. His mind runs back to his idea to give up that old notebook, so inspired at the time. Then it find the place that this page belongs, in a sketchbook full of drawing and poems all about the gems of Harry’s eyes. He feels the world tilt a little and Harry reached out a hand to steady him.

“I gave you that notebook,” Zayn says quietly. “But I didn’t put that in there. God,” it hits him all at once. He glares at the doors “Louis...he was all ‘Don’t worry about, I’m going there anyway, I’ll drop it off, no problem’. I should have known…

“But,” says Harry. “You wrote this?”

Zayn closes his eyes, feeling the prickling heat of utter embarrassment rush through is body. “Yeah,” he says.

“About me?” Harry says. “I mean, unless you’ve got some other six foot tall bandmate with green eyes.”

“Yeah,” Zayn says, smiling weakly at the joke.

“...but you weren’t going to give it to me? Or tell me how you felt?”

“I thought...you wanted to be, like, just friends.”

“And I thought you had a girlfriend.”

Zayn find himself looking anywhere but into Harry’s eyes. “Right. I’m sorry. I think I thought that, like, if you didn’t know, I wouldn’t have to deal with it. Like it couldn’t get messed up that way.”

He feels Harry’s hand on his, not quite holding it, but gently touching. “Okay,” Harry says “if this is going to work, we need to  communicate a lot better.”

Zayn feels himself starting to smile. “What, like me and you?” he says. “For real?”

“Yeah,” Harry says softly. Zayn looks up. He can see in Harry’s eyes that he means it. He grins, pulling Harry gently forward by his hips. At the same time, Harry’s hands drift up to settle around his shoulders, on his neck. They pull at each other until they can’t be closer, sight disappearing behind eyelids as they fall into the sensation.

Zayn feels his heart beat dancing in his chest, feels the heat of Harry’s body all around him. He curls his fingers tight into the flannel of Harry’s shirt and the skin underneath, sways forward to melt into him. Harry’s lips are soft and warm as they press into his, though they find themselves quickly falling into open-mouthed kisses that pull their tongues into a slow, languid dance.

They stay that way, kissing softly, until the need to really breathe drags them apart. They don’t go far, staying  curled into each other’s space with their foreheads resting against each other.

“Fuck,” Zayn says, laughing a little into the space between them. “Our lunch table is going to be so fuckin annoying after this.”

He feels Harry’s cheeks lift in a smile. He leans forward and plants a feather light kiss on Zayn’s lips, then leans forward and stays for a little while. “I don’t care if it does,” he says when he pulls back. “Do you?”

Zayn has to take a moment blink away the hazy spell Harry’s put on him to respond, but when he does he knows he’s grinning like a maniac. “You know,” he says, leaning back in for more of what he can’t believe he denied himself for so long. “I really fucking don’t.”