Actions

Work Header

Orion's Belt

Chapter Text

Abstract fine art with pastels and light grays that give the feel of the story

ω

Harry wakes up on February first with a splitting headache and the desire to let his covers swallow him whole so that he might never see the sun again.

This is all Niall’s fault, he thinks to himself before shifting so that his forehead hits the cool side of the pillow. Bless. It’s Thursday, and the only class he’s got is Approaches to the Ancient World. It’s Thursday, and it’s his birthday, and Niall shoved an unnecessary number of shots into his hands yesterday so really, if he doesn’t show up to class today, it’s all Niall’s fault.

Harry’s not normally one to skip class, but he’s pretty sure if he moves too fast everything inside of his stomach is going to be outside of his stomach.

So he turns off the alarm on his phone with clumsy fingers, and goes back to sleep.

The next time Harry wakes up, he still has a headache and his mouth tastes rather like death, but he’s more alert, and no longer feels like he’s going to vomit if he moves.

(Well. He still rather feels like he’s going to vomit. But once he chugs water and possibly some gatorade he thinks he’ll make a full recovery).

When he grabs his phone from where it’s wound up under his thigh, he unlocks it and is greeted with a long list of birthday messages on various apps - along with a number of notifications of pictures he’s been tagged in which he’s not sure he wants to face just yet.

And then, finally, he remembers.

He’s eighteen.

Harry lunges out of bed, stumbling and tripping over the duvet still wrapped around him. The whole world tilts and sways for a moment as his body protests the movement, but he doesn’t hurl. The room is bright, light streaming in from the one window above his bed, and Harry makes it over to the sink in the opposite corner with the mirror above it, shedding his blanket as he goes like a king removing his cape.

I might not have one, he reminds himself, taking deep breaths. My soulmate could be younger than me, I might have to wait for them to turn eighteen.

Almost trembling with adrenalyn, he takes a look at himself through the mirror. No marks on his face, at least, that’s convenient. Generally he sleeps with just pyjama bottoms, but last night after he stumbled home he apparently hadn’t found it in himself to get undressed at all, and looking at the wrinkled, disheveled old Rolling Stones shirt makes him nervous. There could be a soul mark under this shirt. There could be nothing.

Secretly, he’s always hoped his soulmate would be older than he is. He doesn’t want to have to wait any longer, and he’s kind of into the idea of an older guy. He wonders about the secondary gender too; he tells himself that he doesn’t have any preference, but he also thinks that’s probably a lie. In his daydreams it’s always an alpha, with a gloriously rich scent he can bask in. That’s how it is in all the movies - an alpha and an omega, the perfect couple. He’d love them whoever they were, and whatever gender, he’s absolutely certain of that.

(He also does hope it’s a guy, but again, he’s open to whatever the universe has in store. That’s the mantra for the morning).

With shaky fingers he pulls up the hem of his shirt, searching his reflection in the mirror. His own mark is visible, as it generally is when he’s in short sleeves, a rope that wraps around his left bicep and curls around itself in a sailor’s knot. He’s replicated that knot in so many shoelaces and hoodie strings over the years, fascinated with the shape etched into his skin.

Taking the plunge and yanking the shirt above his head, throwing it to the floor, he looks to his reflection and feels his breath catch in his throat. There, following the line of his sternum, is an anchor as large as his hand, ornate and beautiful.

He traces the line down the centre of it. Oh God. His soulmate is out there somewhere, and today they’ve received his soul mark on their own skin. He wonders if they’ve noticed yet. He wonders who they are. Harry only looks away from the mirror long enough to look down at himself, seeing the anchor up close and dark against his white skin, before looking back and taking it all in through the mirror again. He has a somebody! Tears spring to his eyes and he brushes them away, feeling happiness and trepidation all at once.

It’s only when he turns to pick up his shirt off the floor (not that he plans on putting it back on and ruining this glorious view) that something in the mirror catches his eye, a flash of dark where there shouldn’t be.

Twisting around, he gasps, a choking sound coming from his lips. There, just as large as the anchor across his sternum, a sailboat sits just below his shoulder blades, dark and bold and impossible.

α

Louis is an early riser. He always has been, and it’s not that he doesn’t want to sleep till noon like Nick does after a night of partying disguised as industry networking, but here is is, like clockwork, laying in bed and counting down the minutes (two) until Nick’s alarm goes off.

Nick’s face is completely relaxed, eyes closed and mouth slack as he drools on the bed (and not on the pillow, because for whatever reason Nick’s pillow ends up on the floor by morning every day without fail). He drools in his sleep every night, and Louis wants to bring up seeing a doctor about his sinuses but then Nick would get offended because he feels like Louis is calling him old, and Louis would scoff and tell him that’s ridiculous, but he doesn’t want to exacerbate the issue, so he lets Nick continue to drool all over their clean linens.

Today Nick has to be on air by 1:30, which means getting there by 1:15, which means finishing lunch by 12:45, which means starting lunch by noon, (“Don’t rush digestion, babes”) , which means if he wants to get to yoga and soulcycle in the morning before a good shower and time to get his hair done…

Well, the point is, Nick’s first alarm goes off at eight.

When his alarm goes off, Louis snorts out a laugh as he watches Nick, without so much as opening his eyes, flails around until his hand makes contact with his phone, shutting off Despacito before the lyrics come in.

This is why Nick sets an army of alarms.

Louis is about to get up, go pour himself a bowl of Coco pops and and let Pig and Stinky out into the garden while he waits for Nick’s other thirty or so alarms to go off, but he glances over at Nick’s sleeping form and feels his blood run cold.

The blanket previously covering Nick’s torso had been pushed down to his waist when he had reached for his phone and now, clear in the morning light, Louis can see the black lines of a tattoo reaching around his collarbones. It’s a rope, thick and dark, with what looks like a sailor’s knot connecting it.

It’s a soulmark, no mistaking it.

Nick’s own mark has decorated his wrist since he was born, and Louis’ mark appeared on Nick’s skin only two years ago when Louis had turned eighteen but this-

What is this?

Louis doesn’t even realise he’s making some sort of noise, something akin to a feral animal probably, until Nick’s face is right in front of him, eyes wide and frantic.

“Louis?” he asks, gripping Louis’ arms. “What’s wrong, babes? You’re scaring me.”

β

Nick will never, for the rest of his life, forget waking up to that sound coming from Louis, almost like it triggered something primal in him, screaming your mate is in trouble, protect him!

“Louis, please,” Nick says, squeezing his arms in a desperate way. His mate, his little alpha should never sound like he’s in such pain. Should he dial 999?

Louis blinks, and his eyes focus, and Nick breathes a (shaky) sigh of relief. “Babes?” he asks. “What’s wrong? What’s happened?”

Louis reaches up a hand and places it against Nick’s collarbone. Nick would find it a very touching Tarzan sort of moment except he’s just been shocked out of sleep and his head is swimming.

“You- what’d you do?” Louis gasps, his nails scraping against Nick’s skin.

“What do you mean?” Nick asks, trying to twist and see what Louis is touching. “Did I get a tattoo last night? I’m pretty sure I didn’t- I mean, I was drunk but I wasn’t that drunk- Did someone draw on me?”

“This is-” Louis’ nails become painful now, digging into his bare skin. “This isn’t a tattoo Nick, this is a soulmark—”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Nick says. “Are you sleeptalking? Is this a nightmare you’re having? Should I pinch you?”

Louis scrambles backward, out of Nick’s hold and grabs his phone. He holds it up and uses both hands to snap a picture before handing it to Nick.

Of all the things that Nick might have expected to see, the soft morning light filtering in and directly onto his chest highlighting what is clearly a brand new soulmark around his collar would never have made the list.

“That’s-” Nick touches for the mark just below his neck, the black lines of a rope winding neatly around him, even though he knows he won’t be able to feel it. “That’s a soulmark.”

He looks up, feeling completely lost. “What does this- why do I have this?” and finally focusing on all of Louis for the first time since he woke up, he gasps. “And why do you?”

Chapter Text

α

“You’re not going to mention it on radio,” Louis says, pointing a finger at Nick.

“I’m not?” Nick asks, looking confused. Oh, sweet Nick.

“No, you’re not,” Louis says. He’s pacing the length of the kitchen, refusing to look at the new mark on his arm. It’s too confusing, he can’t handle actually seeing it right now. Knowing there’s a real person out there attached to it.

“Okay,” Nick says. “I’m not going to talk about it. What am I going to do, then?”

“You’re going to wear something with a high collar. Or- or something to keep it hidden.”

“Yes, I did assume,” says Nick. “But why? Wouldn’t a bit of publicity mean we can find them sooner?”

Louis scoffs, stopping in his tracks. “I’ve seen the sort of replies you get to your instagram posts,” he says. “I’ve seen the sort of replies I used to get on my instagram posts. Just because soulmark-imitation tattoos are illegal doesn’t mean I wouldn’t put it past people to fake it. Our marks are easy enough to find online, whoever it is should be able to reach out to us no problem without publicity.”

Nick doesn’t bring it up, but Louis knows they’re both aware he means whoever it is will be able to reach out to Nick. Louis’ social media lives in a state of perpetual lockdown.

“We’ll wait this out,” Louis says. “We’ll be patient.”

Nick holds out his arms and Louis willingly walks into them, relaxing as he’s pulled into a tight embrace.

“It’ll be okay,” Nick says. Reasoning.

“Of course it will,” Louis agrees, a bit of snark in his tone, stiffening in his arms. “Only this has to happen all over again now, and dating is so stressful. I hate dating.”

“You loved dating me,” Nick argues.

“No I didn’t, dating you was a nightmare.”

“Excuse you.”

“When I’m prime minister, I’ll outlaw dating. Only straight to marriage from here on out.”

“As Prime Husband, I’ll support you. But somehow I don’t think people will go for it.”

“Prime Husband?”

“Well I don’t know, do I? The States have the First Lady but I honestly don’t know what the PM’s significant other is called.”

“Prime Husband is literally the worst choice you could have made. Who let you on the radio?”

ω

The first thing Harry does is call Niall.

Well, that’s not chiefly true. The first thing he does is stare in the mirror and let out a very un-manly shriek. Then he turns a little and looks at his back again and lets out a louder, even more un-manly shriek. He might also hyperventilate a little. Then he collapses onto the mess of blankets he’s left on the floor and touches the marks on his torso very carefully, as if they’ll flake off if he uses anything but the lightest touches.

Then, one last time, he shrieks and scrambles for his phone.

Niall is literally the only person Harry can think of who would be willing to answer a call (excluding his family, of course, but he’s not ready to go to them about this yet). Niall hates talking on the phone, but Harry’s fingers are shaking and he’s fairly sure that he couldn’t text anything sensical.

The ringtone sounds and Harry tries to slow his breathing. It doesn’t work very well. He suddenly remembers he felt like vomiting earlier. Maybe that will happen now. That feels like a practical response to the situation.

“Who’s on fire?”

“Niall!” Harry yells, starfishing on the floor of his room. “Niall, I need you to get over here right now!”

“Are you on fire?” Niall’s snarky tone comes through. “I’ve just had to leave class. Not that I wanted to be in class. But for real, should we be dialling someone who knows first aid?”

“Niall, I’m eighteen!” Harry yells, and hears Niall’s faint cursing at his loud tone. “I need you! Something’s happened!”

“I’m hearing a soulmark, I think,” Niall says, sounding slightly less stressed out. “Fine, I guess that’s an adequate excuse. I’m next to the science building, so I’ll be there in like ten minutes. Do we need beer?”

“It’s, like, two in the afternoon!”

“You’re eighteen and you’re in university, the rules of drinking don’t apply right now.”

“No- no beer. Actually, maybe beer. No.” Harry puts a hand over his eyes and oh that does make him feel better. “But paracetamol, actually, if you have it. And- you’re close to that Pret. Can you grab me something so green it looks disgusting? I need something disgustingly green.”

“Harry, you’re an absolute monster.”

“I know. But please hurry! Niall! This is a problem!”

“Yeah, yeah, fine!” The sound of cars driving by is apparent, which means he’s hopefully right next to the Pret. “Soulmarks aren’t a problem though, you idiot. They’re all you’ve been talking about for weeks.”

They hang up and Harry rolls onto his stomach and moans. Soulmarks, plural, are a big problem, he thinks to himself.

When Harry lets Niall in, he still hasn’t donned a shirt. He feels like a weak victorian omega, on the edge of fainting from shock, and having to hide his soulmarks might just push him over that edge. He desires a fainting couch.

“Whoa,” Niall says, dark green smoothie in hand. “That’s a big one.”

“Uh-huh,” Harry says, letting the door shut behind him and taking the smoothie. He takes a sip. It tastes awful. He takes a bigger sip.

“So,” Niall kicks his shoes off and immediately makes himself at home on Harry’s bed. “Is this just the coming-of-age I-have-a-mate-out-there-somewhere freak out? Or do you recognize the soulmark from someone? Ooh is this going to be a teacher-student scandal? Is it another omega? Is it a woman? Oh Harry, tell me your worst fears aren’t coming true. I know you don’t have it in you to do it with a woman.”

A smile creeps onto Harry’s face despite his best efforts and the tremor still going through his bloodstream and making him jittery. “Shut up,” he says, throwing his blanket from the floor in Niall’s general direction. “You’re so full of shit and no I don’t know who they are!”

“Then what’s the issue?” Niall asks. “You only make me get you smoothies when you feel like the world is ending, and as far as I can tell this is a celebration! Is it just shock? Is this an omega thing?”

“It’s not an omega thing, Niall, what the fuck!” Harry looks for something else to throw at him. “You’re the worst alpha I’ve ever known, don’t just generalize about omegas!”

“Are you going to tell me or not? Because I have another class in twenty minutes that I need to know if I’m going to be skipping or not.”

“You-” Harry takes a deep breath. “This is the problem. Look.” He turns around, showing his back to Niall.

“Oh,” says Niall. “Oh shit.”

“Yeah!” Harry says, turning back around and climbing into bed next to him. “Niall, I’m a fucking- I’m part of a triad!”

“And you’re the youngest,” Niall points out. “So they’re probably already together.”

Harry squeaks. “What if I’m a marriage ruiner! What if they have a really great relationship and I’m just going to go in and ruin it!”

“What if they’re both omega women?” Niall adds, in an extremely unhelpful manner.

“Niall!”

“I’m just putting all the options out there!”

“That’s—” Harry hadn’t even thought of that. “I might become an old maid,” he says, rather faintly. “If someone’s not going to make it in a triad it’s gonna be the new person. I’m as good as dumped already!”

Niall pinches his arm and Harry jumps, slapping his hand away.

“You’ve got someone’s soulmark,” Niall tells him, a touch more serious. “That means the universe says you should be together. Whether you choose to stay with them or not is something else, but you can make it work if you want. That’s the whole point of soulmarks!”

Harry groans, turning over and faceplanting into the mattress. “Soulmarks are mysterious and no one knows where they fucking come from,” he mumbles into the material. “You don’t know that.”

“Of course I do,” Niall says. “I’m a genius. Now hold still, I’m taking a picture of your back.”

“Sexy,” Harry says, voice muffled.

“I’m searching it! If you’ve already got a couple they’re probably not up on soulmark searching sites but they might have couple pictures out there somewhere. People love that cheesy shit, taking pictures with their marks together and all that.”

“People are the worst.”

“Yes they are,” Niall agrees. “Drink your smoothie.”

“I’ve found them.”

Harry’s zoned out, lying on the bed next to Niall and from time to time sticking his face over the edge to take a drink of his green monstrosity of a smoothie. He feels out of it, like nothing is real right now. He doesn’t actually have two soulmarks. It’s all just a crazy fucking dream.

“Harry.”

“Mm?” he mumbles, turning his head the other way to focus on Niall.

“Harry, I’ve found your soulmates and you’re not going to fucking believe this.”

“What?” Harry asks. “You can’t have found them already. There are like a trillion people in the world.

“Yes but many less than that on instagram,” Niall points out. “And even fewer than that who are relatively famous and have posted pictures together with their soulmarks out.”

“What do you mean relatively famous?” Harry asks, finally turning and sitting up. He grabs the blanket and pulls it around his middle. “I can’t have a famous mate, I’m not famous.”

“That’s definitely not how it works,” Niall says. “Did anyone tell you you’re terrible at this? No, here. Just look at this. You’re familiar with Nick Grimshaw and Louis Tomlinson, right? Posh and Becks of the modern age?”

Harry snatches the phone and stares at the picture. What.

They're incredibly good looking, is the thing. Harry feels intimidated just looking at the instagram post; two men with a small dog with a long snout between them. The one holding the phone is smiling wide, with tall dark hair that might be styled in a quiff or might just be natural bedhead. The other looks calmer, more composed, with a button nose and eyes that look like they would be blue no matter the filter used.

Of course he knows of Nick Grimshaw, he's heard to as much Radio 1 as any other university student taking a break in the canteen would, but he doesn't think he would have recognized him off the street. He only knows who is who because Louis Tomlinson, the calmer one in the picture, recently came out with a new music video that's been in various UK Top Ten lists for a good few weeks now.

"This can't be right," he says, still staring at Niall's phone.

"What do you mean, it can't be right?" Niall snatches the phone out of his grasp and scrolls to another picture before handing it back. "You're going to be a trophy wife and I'm going to be your sugar baby best friend whom you shower with gifts of takeaway and Spotify gift cards."

The picture Niall swipes to this time is just Louis Tomlinson, shirtless with football shorts and grass stained socks and trainers. The soulmarks are clear in this one - a ship and an anchor in bold designs. Harry's hand reaches up to trace his own anchor subconsciously.

"We still don't know-" he manages. "They can't be the only two with this combination of markings.

"So we contact them," Niall says, as if it's the easiest thing in the world. He takes back his phone. “But they’re the same. There’s a ripped sail on your boat and a chip in your anchor. Perfect match.”

"Right," Harry rolls his eyes. "I'll just message Louis Tomlinson, the famous singer who is also famously bad tempered, on Instagram.”

“He’s got that turned off,” Niall sticks his tongue between his teeth as he swipes across his screen. “But Nick doesn’t.”

"He's not going to be actually checking his DMs," Harry reasons.

Niall holds his hand out. "Give me your phone."

"Absolutely not!"

"If you're not going to be proactive about this, I will! Now give me your phone!"

"You can't just- This is my life!" Harry shrieks, reaching to protect his phone.

"And I'm making sure you're living it!" Niall lunges at him and makes short work of wrestling it out of his pocket. Boundaries. "Shit, Styles you really have to learn some self defense moves."

Harry grabs for it a few times but gives up when Niall puts a foot to his chest to keep him at bay. "Niall it's my birthday,” he whines. "You need to be nice to me!"

"I'm giving you the best birthday present you could ask for," Niall says, swiping to unlock his phone (Harry should really be more sneaky about his passwords).

Harry whines again but Niall pays him no mind, and hands his phone back less than a minute later. "You're welcome," he says.

"I'm not thankful," Harry argues. The phone in his hand feels hot, his hands suddenly clammy as he unlocks it to look at Niall's work.

It's a direct message to Nick Grimshaw.

@Harry.Styles: Did you wake up with a new soulmark this morning? Feeling like your stomach is maybe IN KNOTS over it? I might be able to help tie up some LOOSE ENDS if you know what I mean.

"Niall," Harry groans. He feels like he might be sick. He's feels like he needs time to process this, still. Maybe even a few days... or weeks.

But then a typing bubble appears from Nick's end of the conversation.

"SHIT!" Harry shrieks, and shoves his phone so far down between the bed and the wall that he hears it hit the floor when it falls through.

"Harry!" Niall yells.

"I'm sorry!"

"You're terrible at this!"

"I know! Shove off!"

Fuck, he thinks to himself as his heart pounds hard enough to jump through his ribs. Fuck fuck fuck, he is not ready for this.

β

Nick loves a good v-neck shirt. Even just a nice loose collar or a button up that can be buttoned down. He's also never really been one for scarves.

But Louis makes a good point - probably best to find the soulmate before broadcasting them to the world. So he searches through the closet, finding one white turtleneck that belongs to Louis and would definitely be too tight on him, and a button up from his last fashion campaign but god that would not look appealing buttoned up to his neck. Duds, the both of them.

Eventually he manages to unearth a purple silk scarf that will definitely get him mocked by his coworkers but he's not about to put in the effort to try to cover it up with makeup.

Louis’ still sitting at the table with his empty cup of tea when Nick re-emerges from their room, dressed like a posh fuck with a scarf around his neck.

“Hey,” Nick says. “Do I need to call in sick? Are you going to be okay?”

Louis snaps out of whatever trance he’s in. “What? No, I’m fine. You go, you call in sick too much as it is.”

“Want to come with me?”

Louis snorts. “I’m fine, really!” He stands, putting his hands at the base of his spine and arching forward in a stretch. “It’s just… not the way I expected my life to go.”

Nick huffs out a laugh. “Me neither,” he says, walking over and pecking Louis on the lips. “But hey, maybe whoever it is will have clothes I can actually steal and wear, because your tiny frame is just not doing it for me.”

Louis swats at him. “Not my fault I’ve got the curves most omegas only dream of,” he says. It’s a familiar line, one he’s said a million times before.

“Sexiest hips I’ve ever seen on an alpha,” Nick agrees. “If only I hadn’t gotten the traditional boxy beta form. We could have confused everyone we met.”

Louis rolls his eyes, but he leans forward to rest against Nick’s chest for a moment. “Hate to say it,” he says, “But neither of us smell like an omega. Would have given it away pretty fast.”

Nick chuckles. “And thank goodness! After all, I’m allergic to lavender. I don’t want to start getting allergy shots.”

Then it feels like it hits Nick all over again - that there’s a someone else now. It might be an omega. Maybe he will need to get allergy shots.

Out loud, he says, “We’ll be okay.” He’s said it multiple times this morning. He just needs to remember that it’s true.

“Wild horses couldn’t wreck this relationship,” Louis assures him.

“Do wild horses still exist?”

“Go to work.”

Nick kisses him one more time, on his fluttery soft hair this time. “Love you,” he says. “I’ll call if, you know, something happens.”

“Don’t show your bondmark to people,” Louis groans. “I know you’re terrible at secrets.”

“Love you too!”

Nick is antsy at work. He’s always a little keyed up (it’s what the listeners want), but it’s to the point where he’s bouncing all around the office and not paying too much attention to anyone.

“Nick,” Fiona says. “Nick, Christ. Look at me. Did you find some edibles on the way in or something?”

“Sorry,” Nick says. He’s got two coffees in his hands, because he was supposed to deliver one of them to someone else but he hasn’t a clue who. He tries to hold one out to Fifi, but she gives him a look. Probably not her, then.

“Look, do we need to have someone come in and cover for you? Should we do an Ali’s Plumbs segment? Are you still drunk from last night?”

“I’m fine,” Nick assures her. Just because he went and rearranged all the pens in the office by colour during the last break. Christ, he’s terrible at secrets.

“Are you?” asks Fifi, eyeing him. “Why have you got that hideous scarf on? It’s nearly nearly 25 outside.”

“Fashion waits for no temperature,” Nick says, staring at his phone and willing a message from Louis to come. Surely Louis will have located their soulmate by now. Magically. Because they have no idea how to find him. Or her. Please don’t let it be a her.

“You’re possibly deranged but you’re also on in five,” Fifi says. “And if you play the wrong track one more time, I’m going to have to get Scott in to cover for you.”

“Ta,” Nick says, slipping on his headphones. “-And that was Vampire Weekend, not The Wanted as I’d originally said, so sorry about that!” He laughs. “You know how it goes. Weekend. Wanted. Funny how words sound the same.” He can see Fifi making some sort of exaggerated hand signals to his left. “It’s almost time for Newsbeat, but before we get there I wanted to read out a couple messages from the listeners about my pure incompetence this afternoon! Nothing better than a bit of self-depreciation, am I right?”

He’s clicked over on his computer screen to the incoming texts and tweets page, but just as he’s reading out the first one, his phone on the desk in front of him lights up with a new Instagram message. He can only see the beginning of it, but-

“Actually, you know what? Self-depreciation is unhealthy, and I want to set a good example, so here’s the new Coldplay to get you all in the mood to appreciate yourselves. Newsbeat is up next! I’ll talk to you all next hour!”

As soon as his mic clicks off, Fifi is yelling at him again, but Nick is already unlocking his phone. Generally he doesn’t even have notifications for Instagram on because - not to brag - he does get quite a few. But he’s been waiting to see what photos he was tagged in last night on the off-chance they were after midnight, because he really doesn’t remember when they left but there’s the chance that their new soulmark appeared while he was still in the thick of it.

The little red notification isn’t from being tagged in a picture though, it’s from a DM. Someone he doesn’t follow, but who just followed him.

@Harry.Styles: Did you wake up with a new soulmark this morning? Feeling like your stomach is maybe IN KNOTS over it? I might be able to help tie up some LOOSE ENDS if you know what I mean.

Nick stares, trying to make sense of the message. Is this person implying something about alphas? With the comment about knots? He blinks. He taps on this Harry.Styles profile and is led to a page with a number of artsy-looking photos of plants and food and black and white outlines, but the latest one catches his eye - it’s in color, and it’s a round of pints that’s captioned “Sweet Eighteen and never been kissed”.

Eighteen.

Nick taps back to the chat screen and stares at the message again. Is this guy referencing his soulmark? The rope? This feels like a primary school riddle but Nick thinks he’s figured it out.

@NicholasGrimshaw: Hiyaaaaa I think I’m supposed to make some boat and anchor themed references now but I really don’t know any. Waves. Ocean.

He hits send and then nearly hits his forehead on the desk. What happened to quick witted Nick?

@NicholasGrimshaw: I’d like to discuss your message, but I’ll need some proof before we continue, yeah? Pics or it didn’t happen, as the kids say

He does hit his forehead on the desk this time. Fifi doesn’t comment. She’s clearly given up on him.

He has to wait a good five minutes for a reply - long enough to re-think what he wrote a good twenty times, and also to screenshot the conversation and send it to Louis. Newsbeat is halfway over by the time the little typing bubble appears.

Then, a picture comes through. It’s a guy with a mess of curls sticking up, who also seems very uncomfortable as he pulls the collar of his shirt down, revealing a large anchor - Grimmy’s soulmark, the one he’s seen since the day he was born. Then a second picture loads, and it’s his back, with the same sailboat that sits on Louis’ arm.

“Holy shit,” Nick says aloud.

The boy looks anxious, he thinks. Like a deer caught in the headlights sort of anxious. The photos might be fairly sexy otherwise.

@NicholasGrimshaw: Now that’s a horse of a different colour
@NicholasGrimshaw: I don’t actually know what to do now, so I’m going to freak out and go find Louis. Can I get your number so we can start a chat? Not to sound like I’m coming on to you. Except I think I probably am, now that I think about it.

What comes next from Harry.Styles is just a string of numbers. Then, almost immediately after, a call from Louis lights up his screen.

“Fi, I need to go,” Nick says, already swiping to answer. “Can you cover-”

“Ali’s already on his way over,” Fifi says. “Just text me if you’re coming back. But maybe don’t come back.”

“Ta!”

Chapter Text

Nick: Hiya Harry! This is Nick, the other number is Louis

Louis: Hello [nerd emoji]

Harry: Hi [waving emoji]

Nick: So
Nick: We should… meet?

Louis: Yes
Louis: Where are you located, Harry? Are you in London?

Harry: Um yes
Harry: I mean I live in Manchester normally but I’m in London for university. UCL

Louis: Smart lad

Nick: I never even graduated you know

Louis: Yes you did
Louis: Mostly

Nick: You’re too kind

Louis: I didn’t even start so you’ve both got me beat

Nick: We’ve nabbed ourselves a smart one then
Nick: Harry?
Nick: Oh fuck I’ve been too forward SORRY HARRY please don’t block us

Harry: I wouldn’t!!!!

Louis: You’ve scared him

Nick: I’M SORRY

Louis: Harry, how would you feel about meeting up? Introducing ourselves in person?

Harry: I could do that
Harry: Uhm
Harry: not to be inconvenient but can it be in public?
Harry: I know you guys are famous and all but my mum would kill me if she ever found out I went to someone’s house before I knew them

Nick: Of course! Safety first and all that

Louis: It couldn’t be, like, a coffee shop. But we know a few good restaurants. Could get a reservation for tomorrow night?

Nick: Not tonight?

Louis: Maybe don’t scare him off right away

Harry: I can do tomorrow! [hands raised emoji]

Louis: I’ll find somewhere and text you the address, yeah?

Nick: text me the address too!

Louis: We live together

Nick: [sad face emoji]

Louis: We’ll see you tomorrow, Harry! And it’s great to meet you!

ω

Harry’s fallen down a rabbit hole.

He didn’t mean to! It’s just that now he has a chat on his phone with his two famous soulmates whom he’s never met and he is apparently the only person in the world who doesn’t follow Louis on twitter judging by his follower number and he just wanted to be prepared for when he meets them, is all.

But now he’s sitting in his morning lecture and is paying absolutely zero attention. Instead, he’s got his laptop up and about fifty tabs open to news articles on Nick and Louis. He feels like he really shouldn’t be — it’s like googling your symptoms, isn’t it? But he just can’t stop. The further down the Google News page he goes, the more sucked in he becomes.

Starting with Nick, it hadn’t seemed too bad;

NICK GRIMSHAW AND LOUIS TOMLINSON SEEN LEAVING GUCCI AFTERPARTY

NICK GRIMSHAW LAUNCHES NEW CLOTHING LINE

RUMOR: NICK GRIMSHAW IN TALKS TO HOST NEW VARIETY SHOW

NICK GRIMSHAW SEEN PARTYING WITH STAR STUDDED CAST

TWENTY HOTTEST NON-CELEBS

UNLUCKY IN LOVE FOR NICK GRIMSHAW? LOUIS TOMLINSON SEEN PARTYING WHILE HUSBAND IN SPAIN

But then when he switched over to Louis’ feed…

RUMOR: LOUIS TOMLINSON FIGHTS WITH RECORD LABEL

LOUIS TOMLINSON SEEN PARTYING WITH MYSTERY BRUNETTE. CHEATING ON NICK GRIMSHAW?

LOUIS TOMLINSON KICKED OUT OF CLUB, DRUNKEN BRAWL?

VIDEO: LOUIS TOMLINSON YELLS AT OMEGA FAN, MAKES HER CRY

LOUIS TOMLINSON THROWS HIS DINNER AT FANS

LOUIS TOMLINSON SEEN DRUNK AT CLUB, DANCING WITH MYSTERY BLONDE

MEANEST CELEBS TOP 10 LIST

CELEBS YOU WOULDN’T WANT TO ASK FOR A SELFIE

LOUIS TOMLINSON SICK IN AIRPORT. ALCOHOL PROBLEMS FOR POP STAR?

The pit of Harry’s stomach seems to have disappeared. This is the alpha tattooed on his skin?

When the professor dismisses them (Harry only notices because of the general migration of students going on around him), he slips his laptop into his bag and walks out in a daze, his mind a swirling muck of thoughts and confusion.

He only skimmed most of the articles, but the more he read the more anxious he became. Those articles didn’t paint a picture of a loving alpha, of someone he could depend on and trust for the rest of his life. They looked more like the bad boy alpha in movies that the omega starts with before they learn to love themselves.

The sun is shining bright outside his lecture building, and as Harry walks on autopilot toward the library (as he doesn’t have another class for an hour and a half), he pulls out his phone and texts the only person he can think of.

Harry: Send help I’m freaking out
Harry: Ni
Harry: Niaaaaaaaaall

Niall: Christ you’re needy lately
Niall: Your omega’s showing

Harry: Fuck you pls meet me in the library cafe

Niall: omw

He grabs a sandwich and tea from the overpriced cafe and drops his stuff at one of the tables, shedding his coat and scarf before collapsing into a chair. His fingers twitch with the despite to get out his laptop and go back to the newsfeed, but he resists, grabbing the mug of tea instead and leaning over it like it’ll absorb through the steam into his skin.

“You’re really doing the omega mood swings thing, huh?”

“You’re really bad at being a reassuring alpha, huh?” Harry answers without looking up.

Niall plonks down across from him and grabs a packet of crisps out of his bag. “Touché,’ he says, tearing it open and popping one in his mouth. “Alright, fill me in. This is about the loves of your life, yeah? You worried about living in too much luxury?”

Harry rolls his eyes and slides his laptop out of his bag, opening it and pushing it across the table.

Niall scans the screen, munching his crisps, then looks back up at Harry. “So what’s the issue?”

“What?”

“Look,” Niall says, sliding the computer back to him. “I know you’re not big into celebrity culture - which, by the way, you’re majorly missing out because the drama is prime - but this looks pretty par for the course. The media will do anything for a story.”

Harry frowns at him.

“I’m not saying he’s an angel!” Niall says, holding up his hands. “I’m just saying the media shits on everyone. Meet him first, maybe. Plus, Nick’s stuck around him, right? He can’t be that bad.”

Harry continues to frown, reflecting on what he’s said. “Will you come over if I end up bailing ten minutes into this thing tomorrow?”

“For yet another omega mood swing?”

Harry reaches out and slaps his arm.

Niall rolls his eyes. “Yes, okay,  fine.” He grins. “You know you can count on me. Until my soulmark appears, you’re my number one omega.”

“If your soulmate is a beta do I still get to be your number one omega?”

“Absolutely not. If my soulmate isn’t an omega, then both of us will go and find Rory McIlroy and convince him to make a non-soul triad with us.”

“Isn’t he married?”

“A quad, then. Quiad? Quuple?”

“Gross.”

“You’re one to talk.”

Harry grabs the packet of crisps from Niall’s side of the table and chucks one at him.”

α

Louis once wrote a list of things that make him happy.

(This list was written while drunk and sitting in Nick’s lap, on a napkin wet with condensation).

The list went as follows:

Louis’ favourite things:

 

  • Nick
  • Family
  • Writing music
  • Performing music
  • Nick’s hands (big)
  • Fans (the cool ones)
  • Tea (Yorkshire)
  • Vodka redbull
  • Sunflowers
  • People who aren’t assholes and don’t judge alphas who are smaller than their betas and happen to like sitting on their boyfriend’s lap.

 

He’d smushed the napkin into his pocket and forgotten about it until the next morning when it fell onto the floor while he was undressing. Reading it back, he’d laughed a little but also felt a pang in his chest, because drunk Louis so readily admitted what sober Louis didn’t like to think about. He’s small. He’s not ridiculously small, he’s actually the national average in height, but he’s a famous singer, and alphas who are famous singers are tall and manly and they’re supposed to engender every stereotype that exists out there about alphas (the good and the bad).

The fact that Louis isn’t always the stereotypical alpha, physically but also emotionally, meant that his management took it upon themselves to make him out to be what he’s not. To hide any soft edges he has and to broadcast anything that might fit better into what they’ve decided his “image” needs to be. It’s not a big deal. He doesn’t want to make it a big deal. His friends know who he is and that’s what counts.

But, he’s about to meet someone who’s outside of that circle of friends. Someone who could potentially become a mate, if nothing goes wrong. This person, this mysterious Harry, his opinion is important. And Louis is a bit scared.

He’s pacing the length of his recording studio, because hell if he’ll actually get any recording done today. He’s made a reservation for one of their regular restaurants, the ones where they have a nice and peaceful back exit without rubbish bins blocking the way that they have to squeeze through, and staff who know better than to run their mouths.

When he texted Harry the address, all he got back was a thank you! Not that louis thinks Harry should be blurting his entire life’s history over text, but there’s only so much he’s been able to find by stalking his instagram.

What he knows: Harry loves artistic photography. He likes to take ridiculously close up photos of mundane things, like grass and tea, and puts a lot of things in black and white. He also seems to be in an almost overwhelming number of clubs, by a cursory glance at his facebook (which is pretty locked down otherwise, Louis’ impressed).

But most importantly, out of all of that, Louis thinks he’s an omega. He’s not sure, it’s not directly stated anywhere, but he’s getting that feeling.

He keeps reaching up and putting his hand over his heart, tracing over the material of his shirt where he knows his new soulmark is.

“Louis, no offence, but do you want to get going?”

Louis stops in his tracks, glancing over at the sound booth. “Aw shit, I’m sorry Liam.”

Liam shrugs, leaning back in his chair. “You’re the one paying me, boss. I’m following your lead here.”

“Pretty sure my record label is paying you, actually.”

Liam laughs, a hearty laugh that looks so natural on his ruddy cheeks. “Whatever you say, I know who cooks my bacon.”

“I’m really sure that’s not the phrase you want.” Louis smiles. “But I might go home anyway. I have something big happening tonight.”

Liam waves him off. “You go ahead and get out of here,” he says. “Maybe I’ll work on mixing that one from last month, see if we can make it useable after all.”

Louis snorts. “Doubt it, but you’re welcome to try. Give my best to Zayn when you see him, yeah?”

Liam’s face lights up. “You got it! He’s taking me to Liverpool for the weekend, you know.”

“Only you guys would think that’s something to be excited about,” Louis says as he exits the room.

He texts his driver as he putters around gathering his things. It’s hours earlier than he normally leaves a recording session but that’s just how the day is going and he’s not one to fight it. Nick’s still at work (Louis saw the slew of disapproving messages yesterday that poured in from his team when he bunked off early), so Louis doesn’t really have anywhere to go in a hurry.

He wishes he did, really, because these thoughts might eat him alive soon. He’s so worried that Harry will already have a bad impression of him. What does he know? Is he a fan? Does he believe everything the press writes or is he the type to not even read articles? Maybe all he knows about Louis is his music, that wouldn’t be too bad.

When his driver texts him an affirmative, Louis takes the stairs and hops into the backseat, offering a quick greeting before unlocking his phone and texting Nick a string of nerd face emojis. Nick will figure it out. Probably.

He’s going to go home and pace around the house there instead of at the studio.

β

Louis’ hand is small, sweaty, and tightly gripped under Nick’s.

They’re in the back of the car, sitting and watching the scenery go by in silence, and if it weren’t for the fact that Nick can feel the way Louis’ hand is clenched, he might even assume that Louis was feeling rather nonchalant about the whole thing.

There are many ways in which Nick knows that the two of them are not the typical alpha/beta couple, but one of the ways that Nick is always reminded of what an alpha Louis is, is the way whenever he gets stressed, anxious, or any other sort of negative emotion, his response is to keep everything inside and try to hide it all. In some ways, it reminds Nick of his childhood cat, Gretchen, who would always hide if she got an injury fighting birds in the garden. He’s never told Louis that, of course, because Louis may not appreciate being compared to someone called Gretchen.

“Hey,” Nick says, leaning toward him. “We could give it a bit more time. If you need that. This did all happen very fast.”

Louis sucks in through his teeth. “Don’t be ridiculous,” he says. “He’s our soulmate.”

“Yeah,” Nick says, “But he’s also a soulmate we never expected to have, and usually it takes more than a few days to locate a soulmate. You haven’t exactly had a lot of time to decompress.”

“Decompress,” Louis scoffs. “Look at you and your fancy big words.”

Nick knows any bite that goes with Louis’ words isn’t directed at himself. He rubs his thumb over the knuckles of Louis’ hand.

“It’s better to get it over with, innit?” Louis continues. “I mean.” He pauses. But then he doesn’t continue.

Nick bends over and puts his nose in Louis’ neck. He doesn’t have the scenting capabilities of an alpha or omega, but inhaling Louis’ strong, blunt alpha scent of apple and cloves.

Louis lets out a deep sigh and slumps toward him, closing his eyes.

“He’ll be an idiot not to fall for you,” Nick says.

“For us,” Louis clarifies.

The car pulls up to the pavement and Nick and Louis make a quick exit, escaping a gentle drizzle to run under the awning of the rear door of the restaurant.

“Deep breath,” says Nick as he grabs the door handle.

“Deep breath,” Louis repeats, following the instruction.

Nick pulls open the door and they crowd inside, following down the dimly lit hallway to the host station.

The host, a petite woman named Natalie, greets them politely before taking them up the stairs to the second floor. “The other member of your party is already here,” she informs them, and Nick grabs for Louis’ hand.

It becomes clear which table she’s taking them to - the one in a less populated room with a single person at the table who’s been staring at them since they came up the stairway.

Harry smiles at them, and Nick takes in the nervous twitch of his lips, his wide eyes, his young face. He’s got his hair styled so that it curls straight up, and a dark blue shirt with white hearts that matches what looks like dark blue nail varnish on his hands that grip the menu.

Most obvious though is his omega scent, soft and warm hints of honeysuckle. Even as he’s taking a seat, Nick can smell it, and the anxiety that comes with it.

It’s a small circular table with a white linen tablecloth and three tea light candles floating in vases in the middle. Nick and Louis take their spots at the two empty chairs. When Natalie leaves them with their menus, Nick waves. “Hi, I’m Nick!”

Harry smiles, looking nervous. Definitely smelling nervous. “Hey,” he says, and Nick is startled for a moment at the tenor in his voice. “I’m Harry.”

“I’m Louis, of course,” Louis says. Harry turns and gives him a little wave too, twiddling his fingers. He seems to dim a little though, and Nick tenses.

“I’m afraid we’re at a disadvantage here,” Nick says, smiling at Harry. “Because, not to brag, but I am on the radio every day. My job is to make sure the whole world knows my business. You, on the other hand, have a very artistic instagram with very little information about yourself on it.”

“Whoops,” Harry says, laughing a little. “Sorry, um. Yeah. I mean. I don’t really know a lot about you guys either, if I’m honest. More of a Radio 2 kind of guy, really.”

Nick puts a hand to his heart. “You offend!” He says in mock indignation.

Louis laughs lightly from across the table. “You tell him!” he says. “Make sure his ego doesn’t get too big.”

A blush lightly colours Harry’s cheeks and Nick smiles. He feels proud of putting that there.

“I do hear you sometimes around campus though,” Harry says, looking at Nick obligingly. “Think you’re generally playing when I’m in the cantine.”

“Ah there we go,” Nick says. “That’s what I like to hear. Let’s all tell Nick how famous he is, yeah?”

“You’re full of yourself,” Louis says but Nick sees his smile. The playful friendly one that Louis always reserves just for him. He thinks about having to share that smile now, but pushes the thought out of his mind.

“You love me,” Nick clarifies just as Natalie returns to take their order.

Louis, as is expected for alphas to do, orders first. “Thai green chicken curry please.”

“And I’ll have the scottish beef burger,” Nick says, handing his menu over.

“Oh, uh,” Harry says when she turns to him. “I’ll have the thai curry too.”

“Certainly,” she says, taking their menus and departing.

Nick looks over at Harry. “Did actually look at the menu?” he asks, smiling.

Harry looks down. “I did,” he says. “Just forgot what it all said.” He looks up, eyes big, at Louis. “But you ordered the curry, so I thought it must be good, right?”

Louis smiles at him, that soft smile that makes Nick’s heart pang, and agrees. “I think so. But if you don’t like it, we can ask her to exchange it for something else.”

“Okay,” Harry says, in the voice of someone who definitely would never do any such thing.

“So, Harry,” Nick folds his hands together. “Not to be too forward here, but, am I correct in thinking you’re an omega?”

Louis coughs, probably out of surprise because, okay, there’s definitely more polite ways Nick could have asked.

Harry’s definitely red now, his ears especially. “Yeah,” he says. “I am. Sorry, do I smell?”

“Not at all!” Louis rushes, and then seems to backtrack. “Well, you smell like an omega, but it’s very nice smell.” He groans loudly and puts his hands to his face. “Not in a weird way, I mean.”

Nick laughs. “Oh look,” he says to Harry. “You embarrassed him!”

“I’m sorry!” Harry says, eyes wide. “Um, you smell good too!”

Louis puts his head down on the table and Nick laughs harder.

It’s not the easiest night of conversation, for sure, but with Nick trying his hardest to banter along as normal and ease the tension. They get through the basics - Harry’s a student at university studying anthropology, Nick does afternoons on Radio 1, and Louis writes music - by the time dinner is served.

Natalie brings their food and pours a white wine (Louis’ choice) for each of them. Harry eyes it warily.

“Not a fan?” asks Louis. “I can bring her back and get a red. Or beer.”

“I’m more of a red person, myself,” Nick offers up.

Harry takes a sip of it and puts it back down. “I like white,” he says. “I was just wondering if it tasted different because, you know, it’s ten times as expensive as any wine I’ve ever bought.”

Nick bursts out laughing. “That’s quite the callout!” he says. “Posh wine’s not really any different than regular, honestly.” He takes a sip of his own. “Just comes in a fancier looking bottle.”

Harry nods, taking another sip.

“Also,” Louis adds, “It’s a lot older. Could have been made by dead people.”

Harry snorts into his glass and has to put it down. His laugh is startlingly loud and Nick loves it.

“You’re not nearly as intimidating as I thought you would be,” he says, and Nick’s on edge again.

“Oh?” asks Louis, and Nick can see the way the mask goes up, the one that happens when he’s about to talk to someone who sees Popstar Louis and not Just Louis.

“Yeah,” Harry says, his hands moving about as he tries to get words together. “I mean like, I thought you were gonna be really scary, see,” he hangs on the word scary longer than necessary, “because, um-” At this point Harry seems to realise that he shouldn’t have gone down this road, but it’s too late for that.

“What?” Nick asks, turning to face Harry. “Are you trying to suggest something? Because-”

“Nick,” Louis cuts him off, hands bunched in his cloth napkin. “It’s- it’s fine-”

“No it’s not,” Nick says, frustrated. “I know the whole fucking media shits on you all day long but that doesn’t mean that people have to believe it when you’re so clearly the nicest and gentles fucking alpha I’ve ever met-”

“Nick, stop,” Louis snaps, and Nick does, because suddenly he can feel the way the air around Harry has shifted, his scent subtly shifting as tears spring to his eyes.

“Oh shit,” Nick says, eye wide. “Shit, no, I’m so sorry Harry. I didn’t mean to imply anything about you. I’m so sorry, I wasn’t thinking.”

Harry sniffs, resolutely looking down at the table and his half-eaten meal. “No,” he says. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t’ve…” he trails off.

“You’re fine,” Louis says, voice firm. “Really, it’s fine. I have… a complicated relationship with the media, and a lot of what they write about me isn’t strictly true. But I can’t expect everyone to come to the correct conclusions, even as much as Nick here seems to think it’s possible.” He shoots a smile at Nick that Nick interprets as I love you, but shush. “But seriously. We’re strangers, and we’re in a strange situation. We can all admit that, can’t we? Triads aren’t a typical thing, and while I’m excited to get to know you, it’s asking a lot of you to get to know two people who are in the spotlight so much.”

Harry nods, wiping at his eyes. Nick feels like shit. “It’s really, I mean, any relationship would be tough, right? But I got lucky enough that you two didn’t reject me as soon as the soulmark appeared. That happens a lot, apparently, so I’m already doing pretty good, right?”

Oh, Nick wants to hug him so bad. “We would never have done that,” he says. “I’m sorry. I’ve spent a long time seeing people who have the wrong idea about Louis and I’m… protective.”

“He babies me,” Louis says, speaking up.

“But I shouldn’t have judged you,” Nick continues. “I’m sorry, really. It’s a learning curve.”

“But hey,” Louis adds. “I’ve got a rope in a knot across my heart so I think I’ve got a good feeling about all this, yeah?”

“Across your heart?” Harry asks, eyes lighting up. “Could I- can I see?”

“Yeah, of course,” Louis says. He looks around (the few others in the room are far away and paying no attention) and then pulls his shirt down low enough that the mark is visible.

Harry looks transfixed at the mark. “Wow,” he breathes. “That’s me.” Nick feels hot under the collar - both because that’s where his own new mark sits and because collared shirts are terribly stifling.

“Yours are a little big to show off here,” he jokes.

“Yeah,” Harry agrees. “And they show through my favourite Rolling Stones shirt.”

“Nick here’s had to wear a shirt with a collar to hide his,” Louis says.

“I wasn’t made for this much clothing,” Nick jokes.

“Oh,” Harry says, turning to him. “I… I’m sorry mine is so obvious.”

Nick pulls down the collar of his shirt so Harry can see. “It’s not your fault, don’t be silly. We just wanted to keep this between the three of us until you’re sure you want it to be a known thing. Of course everyone knows Louis and I have been together, but once this gets out you might get thrust into the spotlight online rather fast.”

Harry nods, looking serious.

“But we don’t expect an answer tonight,” Louis clarifies. “Just maybe, a promise of a second date?”

“This was a date?” Harry asks, voice growing high.

“Or… meet-up?” Louis tries.

“I- It could be a date!” Harry plays with his fingers. “I just would have dressed better, is all!”

Nick and Louis both laugh and this time when Harry blushes it seems like a good thing. “How about a first date next time?” Nick asks.

“Sure,” Harry says, a tentative smile on his face.

It’s a get-to-know-you sort of dinner as they finish eating, and the more Nick watches both Louis and Harry the more he thinks maybe, possibly, this could really work.

Later that night, after they’ve given Harry a lift home (he sat in the front seat with the driver so as to not be too close too fast), when Nick and Louis are draped over one another in bed, Louis buries his face in Nick’s neck and Nick thinks about what life would be like, the three of them.

He wonders if it’s possible. He hopes it is.

Chapter Text

α

“Zayn, I’m going to need to rework every song on my album.”

“If you rework every song on the album I will quit and also sue you for emotional abuse.”

“You do not understand,” Louis says, dropping his bag on the couch in the recording studio. “My entire life situation has changed and now if I publish this album the way it is, it won’t make any sense.”

“It makes perfect sense,” says Zayn. He’s in the sound booth doing something technological with the computer setup. Louis has no clue what any of those buttons mean, he just sings when Zayn tells him to. “Did you and Nick get in a fight? Because I’m not going to rework the album for that. I might also call you a temperamental princess and side with Nick.”

“We didn’t,” Louis says. “Well, we did get in a fight this morning because he tried to wear my turtleneck and split a seam in one of the sleeves but that’s different.” He rolls over a second chair and sits backwards on it, leaning over the back of it. “Turn that thing off. I need all your attention. Treat me like Liam when he’s being needy.”

“Nick would object to that,” Zayn says with a smirk and Louis gives him a flat look.

“Fine, maybe I’m not telling you.”

Zayn shrugs. “Okay.” He turns back to his equipment.

“No, Zayn, shut up. Look at me.”

Louis waits until he’s turned back and then he pulls up the sleeve of his shirt. The rope soulmark curls there, below the ship and above the anchor.

Zayn looks at his arm, and then does a double take. “Louis- fuck, what the fuck is that?”

Louis lets the sleeve drop. “That’s a soulmark,” he says. He’s been dying to tell someone, but there’s few people who’d be able to keep this a secret. Zayn and Liam are about the only ones on the list. “That’s Harry.”

“What- you’ve met him?” Zayn gapes at him. “And you didn’t tell me until now?”

“It happened fast!” Louis argues. “It’s been four days! That’s what happens when you splash your soulmarks all over the internet for everyone to see!”

Zayn snorts. “A text would have been nice.”

“You didn’t text me before you found Liam!”

“You’re right. Because I was sleeping on your couch that month.”

“Touché.”

Zayn sits back. “But shit man, that’s big. Who is he? How is he? How are you… all doing?”

Louis’ smile slips a little bit. He’s honestly not entirely sure about that second one. “His name’s Harry. He’s an omega in his first year at university and he’s studying cultural anthropology? I’m not even sure what that is, had to look it up while he was talking to Nick.” He shrugs. “He’s only eighteen, man. I know I’m only twenty but it’s a big difference.”

“Nothing compared to Nick.”

“I know,” Louis says. “That’s actually more the issue. Nick was already a bit… prickly about our difference in age, you know? I’m worried about him taking this weird. Plus, he got a little protective at one point yesterday during dinner and just straight up snapped at him in my defence?” Louis rubs the back of his neck. “I dunno. It’s just new.”

Zayn nods. “And a triad… man that’s a big life difference.”

“Exactly,” Louis says. “Which is why I need to rewrite the whole album. I can’t publish an album full of songs about a single guy and then have it come out I’m in a triad. That won’t look good, as much as management might want to put a cheating scandal out there.”

Zayn makes a face. “I do see where you’re going there,” he says. “But I want it known I hate it.”

“Noted.”

“And next time a soulmark appears on you, I want to be the first one informed.”

“Sure,” Louis says flatly. “Soulmate number three will be any day, I’m sure.”

β

The second date is less awkward than the first, Nick thinks.

It is awkward, of course. The first few generally are, even in the best of relationships, and that’s only compounded by the fact that they’re a triad where two thirds of them have previously been in a monogamous relationship.

After the first date, when they went home and got into bed, Louis had given Nick a look that meant many things, chief among them I don’t need protected you know, and you sort of really fucked up, and Nick can’t really disagree.

It’s not that omegas are as ‘delicate’ as news stories would lead people to believe, but to just snap at Harry, an omega, on their first date… Well, he’s been rightly ashamed of himself ever since.

So this time he’s determined to do better.

Over the group chat this week they’ve talked about giving it a while before breaking the news to the public. Long enough to give everyone time to tell their parents, and long enough to at least start to get to know one another, get comfortable with one another.

Especially considering Harry’s barely been out in the adult world any time at all, and has no experience with celebrity culture.

Thus, why their second date is taking place at Louis and Nick’s house.

When the doorbell buzzes to let them know Harry has arrived, Louis kisses Nick on the lips before pointing at him with a stern finger.

“You will not mess this up for us,” he tells Nick.

“You will not quote Brooklyn 99 at me,” Nick says, waving him off. He’s in charge of cooking tonight, and has made an excellent dinner of… spag bol. Because he was going to make chicken parmesan except he’d left the chicken in the sink to thaw and when he came back Pig had gotten into it. she hadn’t eaten any of it, exactly, but she’d gone and sat on it and really that was just as bad.

So it’s spaghetti bolognese tonight and Louis isn’t allowed to laugh because last time they ate in he made the most terrible stir fry.

“And this is the living room,” Nick can hear Louis saying as they come in. “It’s very fancy looking and that’s all Nick. It’s not really my style - except that table. That’s my table.”

Nick snorts, focusing on plating. Louis’ table was moving-in gift from Zayn and Liam from their own apartment, and it had not occurred to Nick or Louis to open any of the drawers until they were informed that the movers had tilted the table and one of the draws had slid open, spilling a few hundred condoms on the pavement.

“-and this is Nick,” Louis says, voice growing louder as the two of them make their way into the kitchen. “You might remember him. You’ve met.”

Harry laughs, and Nick looks up just in time to see dimples appear in his cheeks, oh gosh.

“Hiya!” Nick says. “Good to see you found the place okay!”

“Actually got quite lost,” Harry says, smiling. “But I left almost an hour early to be sure.”

Louis rolls his eyes, but he’s got a fond look on his face. “If that’s the kind of person you are, let me assure you, Nick is going to drive you crazy eventually.”

“Hey,” Nick argues. He doesn’t actually have anything to argue, though. Louis has a point.

They sit down and eat at the fancy table, the one reserved for special guests, and not for when friends come over with Stella and Tesco wine. It’s good, and feels much more natural than Nick thinks it should. Still awkward, but not in the same way dinners with work acquaintances are.

It’s also reassuring, in a way, that Louis is louder than he is when Nick brings him to work dinners. More boisterous and ready to come out of his shell. This is the side of Louis that Nick sees when he’s comfortable, not afraid of being watched. It says something that Harry’s already at that point.

When he leaves, Nick is the one to walk Harry to the Uber (it’s only fair, since Louis greeted him at the door). At the bottom of the steps, Harry turns to him.

“I had a good time,” he says, looking through his lashes at Nick. “Thanks for, you know, making dinner.”

Nick blushes like a ten year old school child. Harry’s sweet honeysuckle scent (thank god it’s not lavender) wafts through the air between them. “I’m glad you came back,” he says sincerely, “after last time.”

Harry’s eyes widen. “Of course I did,” he says. “I mean. I looked up those articles again afterward, and they’re even worse after meeting you guys. I can’t imagine how that must be.”

“It’s tough,” Nick says, “but it’s onlu really bad if it’s his fans that believe that stuff. Louis’ got a thick skin until it comes to them.”

“Yeah,” Harry says, nodding serious. “I would hope anyone who met him would see how wrong they are.”

Nick laughs. “They all do eventually,” he says. The Uber takes that moment to pull up, and Nick, acting on instinct, holds out his hands for a hug. Harry hesitantly accepts, going inf or only a moment. It feels amazing, though, and Nick knows his beta pheromones are soaking up the scent.

When Harry’s securely in the Uber and on his way, Nick walks back into the house where Louis greets him just inside the door with a bone crushing hug.

“I knew you wouldn’t be able to resist hugging him,” he says and Nick scoffs.

“I could have! I just… didn’t want to.”

“Mmm,” Louis pulls back just a step. “You smell like him now. Come cuddle.”

“Hey!” Nick argues as he’s pulled to the couch. “What, you don’t love my scent on its own?”

“Not tonight I don’t,” Louis teases. “Tonight I love our scent.”

Nick sits down and finds his lap full of Louis. It’s practically perfect in every way, as long as he ignores that little voice in the back of his head that wonders whether Louis only wants him right now because Harry’s scent lingers in his own.

ω

Harry has been on five dates now, and he is practically bursting with the need to tell people.

“People” of course don’t include Niall, who already knows. “People”, in this instance, actually refers to his family. He should have told them a long time ago, like possibly before the first date, but the idea of saying “hey mum, I’ve actually got two boyfriends now look at that” has been a bit intimidating.

Which is why he’s settled on an even crazier plan. He’s been invited to dinner up in Manchester, and he’s bringing both of them with him.

“Are you sure your mum is going to be okay with this?” Louis asks for what is at least the fourth time. “If Mrs. Styles hates me at the end of tonight I’m going to be very pathetic and whiny about it.”

“I’m sure,” Harry says (he mostly is). “I told her I’m bringing two friends! She’s just probably expecting Niall.”

Louis and Nick both met Niall on date three, when he had more or less elbowed his way into their dinner at a private club near the O2. He had sat right down between Harry and Nick and had said, “Hello, I’m Niall. Please buy Harry two of everything so that I can have one.” Harry had been mortified, but Nick had laughed and Louis, after it was clear Niall wasn’t about to leave, had offered to pay for his dinner.

“If this goes badly, I will need an escape plan,” Nick says. He’s driving, which apparently he insists on doing because the driver controls the music. Louis mocked him when they got in the car, saying that that’s literally his job. Nick had said something back about how that meant he was good at it. Harry’s just glad they have a car.

It’s a long drive, but it passes too fast for Harry, mostly because around halfway there he starts questioning his choices. He should have just skyped. He should have told Gemma first, to warn her. He should probably call her and say that he’s sick.

“I think we’re here,” Nick says, slowing the car to a stop. Christ, when did that happen?

Harry looks out the window at his childhood home. His sister’s Fiat is parked on the road, which means she’s already here. This was a horrible idea.

“This was a horrible idea,” Harry moans.

“Nope,” says Nick in a chipper voice. “It wasn’t, because I’m definitely not driving back to London on an empty stomach. Come on now! They’ll love us. I’m charming.”

“Oh I know they’ll love you,” Harry says, unbuckling his seatbelt. “Mum listens to you every afternoon until the Archers comes on. It’s everything else I’m worried about.”

“Your mum’s a fan?” asks Nick, looking flattered. Harry probably shouldn’t have said that.

Suddenly, his door is opening and Louis is there on the other side, having already gotten out. “Come on,” he says, holding out his hand. “Now or never, babycakes.”

Harry knows something weird goes on with his mouth when Louis says that nickname, but he pretends he didn’t hear it, taking Louis’ hand and getting out.

Louis and Nick follow behind him as he gets to the door and rings the bell. Right, he should just go in. It’s still his house, really. Even if his mum is using his room to store her cat figurines.

“Mum, Dad!” he calls as he slides open the door. “Gemma!”

“Harry!” his mum calls. “In the kitchen!”

“I brought friends!” Harry yells.

“I know!” his mum yells back. “I’m feeding them!”

Louis snickers.

Harry sighs. “Alright, come on,” he says.

They follow him through the front hall back to the kitchen where he finds Gemma sitting at the island reading something that looks like a textbook written in Greek. It probably is. Anne has her head in the refrigerator, so Gemma is the first to notice them.

And by notice them, Harry corrects himself. She notices the two men behind him, and then shrieks.

“What is Louis Tomlinson and Nick Grimshaw doing in my kitchen?”

“Your kitchen?” Anne asks incredulously, pulling her head out of the refrigerator.

Gemma points at them while looking at her mum. “Nick Bloody Grimshaw, mum!”

Anne looks past Harry. “Ah, Grimmy!” she says. “I’m quite the fan. This is rather odd, though. Are you okay with fish?”

“Love a good fish, I do,” Nick says obligingly. Harry wrinkles his nose trying not to smile. He’s got his lady charmer voice on, Harry’s already figured out what that sounds like.

Harry watches as Anne walks over and shakes his hand (Gemma seems rather in shock), and then moves on to Louis, on Harry’s other side. “And I think Gemma called you Louis, didn’t she?”

Louis smiles. “She did,” he says, taking her hand. “Pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Styles.”

“Oh, call me Anne,” she says, giggling. “Well now, I was expecting Niall but I suppose Harry never does really tell us anything.” She turns to him and Harry takes the opportunity to wrap her up in a tight hug. “Oh you’re especially cuddly tonight!”

“Mum,” he whines. “You’re being embarrassing.”

“It’s my job, love,” she says, pulling back. “Now come on, set the table and fetch your father for dinner while I interrogate your friends.”

“Make Gemma set the table,” Harry argues. “I brought guests!”

“And they will love to see you demonstrate your manners,” Anne says, handing him  a bowl of salad. “Go on, the faster you go, the less questions I can ask while you’re gone.”

Harry lets out a strangled sigh and runs for the dining room. This isn’t helping. He should have just announced it when he got in. The longer he’s here the more he feels it’s obvious just how young he is, especially compared to Louis and Nick.

“Dad!” he shouts into the hallway on the other side of the dining room. “Please come to dinner before mum asks too many questions!”

“Welcome home, Harry!” is the response he gets. Well that’s unspecific.

After hurrying to put out the plates, bowls, and silverware in a rush, he hurries back to the kitchen where Anne is pouring drinks for everyone.

“Harry!” Louis says cheerfully. “Anne was just telling us about the time you told her your sister was a drug dealer.”

Harry glares at his mum. She smiles cheerfully. “Milk, I assume?” she asks.

“Yes please.”

It’s by the time that they’re all sitting around the table for dinner that Harry realises Gemma’s been near silent since they appeared. He frowns at her across the table, but she’s intent on eating. He kicks her under the table. She squeaks and glares at him. He can smell her alpha scent change, ever so slightly, as she makes a pissed off face at him. He mouths what’s wrong? But he’s terribly bad at mouthing such things, and her confused expression confirms that.

“So, Harry,” Anne speaks up, apparently done with her converastion with Nick about what it was like meeting Alan Partridge. “This was a nice but unexpected surprise. How did you all meet?”

“Well, there’s a funny story about that actually,” Harry says. He suddenly feels like he’s going to vomit. This was the worst idea. “See, remember last month when I turned eighteen?”

“Yes,” Anne said, looking shrewd. “And I did assume that if something important happened to my son that he would remember to call his mother.”

Harry’s dad laughs and places a hand on hers. “Let him speak,” he says. “You’re never going to get the story out of him if he’s died of fright first.”

Harry squeaks out a laugh. “Uh, about that. Yeah. I kind of… Did get a soulmark? Except I got two soulmarks? And-it’s-both-Nick-and-Louis-mum-I’m-part-of-a-soul-triad-I’m-sorry-I-didn’t-tell-you-”

“Take a breath, dear,” Anne says, her voice strong with alpha timbre. Harry takes a breath.

Louis and Nick are silent beside him. Oh God, they’re going to leave right now. This is too awkward. He couldn’t blame them.

It’s silent all along the table, but only for a moment before Anne speaks again. “Well, I guess we have more of a celebration dinner than I anticipated! Gemma, can you go set the oven for me? I’ll whip us up an apple crisp for dessert!” She smiles wide at Nick and Louis. “Well this does make a difference, doesn’t it? It’s good to know my boy will be well taken care of at the very least.”

“Of course,” Louis promises immediately.

“Spoil him rotten,” Nick adds.

“Gemma?” asks Anne, looking over to where Gemma still sits in her seat. “The oven, love.”

Gemma is frowning. She’s frowning at Nick and Louis. Harry gulps.

“I’ve seen what the gossip rags say about you,” she says, and Harry’s heart sinks. Shit.

Louis purses his lips and nods.

“It’s not okay,” she says, her voice firm. “I don’t want you treating Harry like that.”

“Gems,” Harry hisses. “It’s not like that!”

“You’ve known him two months,” she hisses back. “You can’t know that!”

“Yes I can-”

“It’s okay,” Louis cuts in. Harry looks over and can see as clear as day the way Nick is holding his tongue, and the sad look in Louis’ eyes.

“Gemma,” Louis says, turning to her. “I will do everything in my power to make Harry the happiest omega in the world, and if you hear anything that makes it sound like that’s not happening, you have my full permission to go to the gossip rags about it, and then to come to my home and beat me up.”

“You don’t have my full permission for that,” Nick cuts in. “But we can work something out.”

Gemma scoffs but sits back against her chair.

Anne purses her lips. “Are you done, darling?”

Gemma doesn’t say anything.

“Then go and light the oven.”

As soon as the doors to the car are all closed and Nick is turning the key, Harry starts with his string of apologies. “I’m so sorry, you were both right, this was a terrible idea, I should have spoken with them first-”

“Harry,” Louis cuts in. “It’s fine, honestly. I definitely never would have expected a first meeting with family to go smooth, especially not with how the press writes about me.”

“Our mums met the other of us before all of that started,” Nick says. “So honestly just one painful meeting out of three so far isn’t bad!”

Harry sinks into his seat. It certainly doesn’t feel like a win to him.

“Hey,” Louis says, reaching over and covering Harry’s hand with his own. It feels nice and lightly electric. “When we get home, do you want to stay the night? It’ll be late and I don’t want you to have to be navigating around campus alone.”

“You can take his bed!” Nick calls from the front.

Louis smacks the back of his head. “You can take our bed,” he says, “or the spare room bed, which would be much more reasonable.”

Harry laughs. He’s glad it’s dark in the car so they can’t spot his pink cheeks. “I mean, if you don’t mind,” he says.

Nick and Louis very much don’t seem to mind.

Chapter Text

ω

Harry’s heat is coming.

Being on suppressants, Harry’s heat only comes every six months, and even when it does it’s a pseudo-heat, only lasting two days and being terribly uncomfortable but not bad enough to be begging for an alpha.

Still, Harry’s heat is coming and he’s not sure how to tell Louis and Nick. He’s not sure what to tell Louis and Nick. This isn’t something he’s prepared to deal with, especially not with everything else going on.

They go public about their relationship on a Sunday night, with an instagram post where Louis and Nick’s soulmarks are fiercely on display, Harry between them with his rope proudly on his arm. When he suggested taking off his shirt so that they could see his own soulmarks, both Nick and Louis shot the idea down very quickly, which he would have been offended by except that it became clear that it was out of jealousy. There’s been more jealousy lately from both of them, and when Harry complained about it to Niall (who else?), Niall told him it’s probably a pre-bond forming.

“That’s something that happens in courtships that have gone on for years though,” Harry says.

“Or ones where you actually like one another,” Niall argues. “Plus, there’s three of you. That’s a lot of emotions and pheromones and shit all in one place. You don’t fucking know what’s gonna happen.”

“Gross,” says Harry.

But he’s inclined to agree about the idea of a pre-bond happening. After that first night sleeping over at Louis and Nick’s, it becomes routines terribly fast and terribly easily. Every Friday night’s a date night (unless Nick has a work function), and every Saturday finds Harry waking up in the spare room bed at their house, and making breakfast for the three of them using Louis and Nick’s real kitchen instead of the shitty dorm one.

It’s so domestic and so lovely and feels so natural, being back in his dorm later that day always feels empty in comparison.

But they go public about their relationship on a Sunday night, with an instagram post showcasing their soulmarks, and even though they drop the post at a time when a lot of the world is going to sleep and to be ready for the work week, the number of follower requests Harry gains on every social media he owns is mind boggling.

Louis and Nick had spent a long time preparing him, Louis showing how his social media is locked down securely, Nick getting him verified and showing him the importance of being friendly while not actually giving any information away. They’d done this cuddled on the couch, Louis on one side and Nick on the other, and at the time it had seemed so easy.

Really, the general public and their massive amount of follower requests aren’t the big problem. It’s the press themselves.

He’s gotten request after request for interviews, either over the phone or in person, and even had to duck inside his lecture hall when a pap was outside waiting for him. This can’t be real, he had thought, paps don’t actually wait for people to show up. But he’d waited until he was sure they were gone anyway.

Nick and Louis, though, are going through a whole host of different problems. Mostly - that interviews and paps and invasive questions are par for the course for them, so they can’t avoid things the way Harry’s been able to. Every time it comes up, they text the group chat to make sure the others know what they said. It’s never anything bad, but it’s surprisingly off putting to know your boyfriend has been talking about you on the radio but not to know what he said, so. The group text is a good idea.

The group texting has actually become quite frequent, which Harry thinks is a major plus. He can’t count the number of times he’s been in a terribly boring recitation, only to sneak his phone out and see the pictures Louis has taken of the studio he’s working in, or Nick has sent quotes from what celebrities have been saying off air (mostly a lot of curse words, it turns out). Knowing about their day gives him a sense of calmness.

So, life is busy right now, and maybe he’s sort of forgetting to tell them about his upcoming pseudo-heat, but maybe he also just doesn’t want to complicate everything else more than it already is.

α

Louis’ rut is coming.

His rut happens every three months, and the last time it came was before Harry had even slept over for the first time, so he hadn’t even mentioned it. Now, though, is a different question.

Ever since he and Nick got together, his rut has been not just something annoying that throws him off schedule four times a year, but something actually enjoyable. Nick is sweet and caring during his rut, the sassiness he usually has replaced with the instinct make sure Louis is doing well, to care for him. It’s not the same kind of care an omega would give, but it’s not by any means worse, it’s just different. Where omegas are sweet, betas are practical. They’re not so different, the way the media makes them out to be, but Louis often wonders if Nick thinks that he’s not good enough because he’s not an omega.

Now, though, with his rut coming soon and Harry part of their relationship, they might need to have a serious talk going forward.

It’s been a little hectic, with their relationship going public and the media gettings stirred up about it (okay, triads are uncommon in and of themselves, but celebrity triads are virtually unheard of, so it makes sense), but Louis thinks they’ve been handling it pretty well, all things considered.

Which is why, when he brings up the subject during dinner, he’s not prepared for the response he gets.

“Oh,” says Harry, like he’s genuinely surprised by the question. “Um.”

“It’s not a big deal,” Louis says. “We can wait until the next one. But I didn’t want to leave you out of the discussion.”

“It’s not that, exactly,” Harry says. “It’s just that, actually, my heat is coming up soon?”

“Oh, right,” says Nick.

“Oh, I see,” says Louis.

But I’ve been, well.” Harry takes a breath. “I’m just not sure I’m ready to spend them with… someone else?” he looks down at his plate. “I’ve always sort of thought, well, that I wouldn’t share my heat with someone until I was bonded to them, you know? And I… I think I still want that.”

He looks anxious, not meeting their eyes. Louis is quick to reassure him, that it’s perfectly alright, but he’s thrown by it, honestly. He hadn’t realised how much he was assuming that Harry would be okay with it. He didn’t really have a back-up plan.

“So that’s perfectly alright,” Nick says (ah, thank goodness for Nick and his beta senses). “It just means we need to discuss Louis’ rut. I’ve spent it with him for the last two years, but I want to know if you’re comfortable with that continuing.”

Harry thinks about it for a moment. “Yeah…” he says. “I mean, I think that’s reasonable.” He looks uncertain, but doesn’t rescind. “Just, um, call me as soon as it’s over?”

“Of course,” Louis says, pecking him on the cheek. This feels weird. It doesn’t feel like it’s how it’s supposed to go. But he wouldn’t ever want Harry in an environment that would make him uncomfortable, so he accepts a weird situation over a bad one.

It’ll be fine, his ruts don’t last longer than a few days at most, especially with Nick helping him through.

β

One week later, after Louis’ rut has started and ended again, Nick is a mess.

The rut was bad. It was really bad. Louis never explicitly said it, he never said Harry’s name out loud, but Nick could tell from the second it started that Harry’s absence was going to be a problem.

Louis felt distant, at a time that’s the most intimate in the relationship. He didn’t seem satisfied, no matter how much he tried to hide it. Nick hated it.

Now that they’re back together though, it’s a whole different sort of insecurities.

Nick can’t manage to turn his brain off. He can’t stop thinking about how all that louis wanted during his rut was Harry, wasn’t it? Something in the back of his mind, in the dark corners of his heart, tells him it’s because he was never supposed to be a part of this relationship at all. Louis needs an omega to satisfy him - one who’s his own age. Nick feels like a placeholder. He wonders if, if Harry and Louis found each other first and he came later, if he would have become part of the relationship at all.

The first date night after Louis’ rut everything feels stilted. The conversation dries up fast, Nick looks at Louis and the way Louis looks at Harry. He knows, logically, part of it could be because Louis’ alpha just wants to make sure his omega is okay, after being apart for such an important time. But he also wants to scream. He wants to say, don’t leave me behind!

Louis is quiet all night, not offering up his usual running commentary about the people eating dinner around them and the secret lives they probably lead.

Harry, on the other hand, has gotten loud. He’s been drinking the wine they ordered, which always makes him speak a little faster. It seems like whatever comes to mind is coming out of his mouth, and where usually Nick would be endeared, tonight it puts him on edge.

“So how,” Harry takes another sip, “how was it? Was it okay? Your rut, I mean. I’m sorry, if you don’t want to talk about it, that’s okay too.”

Louis frowns. “It was- fine. Right, Nick?”

Nick doesn’t want to talk about this. “Sure.”

“Really?” asks Harry, not looking too convinced. “Are you sure? I’m sorry I couldn’t’ve. You know. Next time, though! I think.”

Nick isn’t sure he could take another rut like this one.

Harry is still talking, and he feels almost frantic in his need to keep a running commentary. Like it’s hurting him to even consider a silence.

Louis is still staring into space, probably thinking of all the ways in which Nick isn’t Harry, and could never be Harry.

Nick isn’t sure what is the final straw that makes him say it, he’s almost not aware that he has said it until it’s out of his mouth.

“Maybe we need to take a step back.”

Chapter Text

ω

“Maybe we need to take a step back.”

There have been many times over the past few months where Harry has seen something in a passing shop window, or heard a song lyric, or even read something in a textbook that reminded him of Nick or Louis. There hadn’t ever been a moment of hesitation, when he’d stumbled across such things, before sending them screenshots, texts, videos.

But now here he is, laying in bed and listlessly watching Parks and Rec on his phone, and all he wants to do is message the group chat a quote from Jean Ralphio that reminds him of Nick. It’s all he wants to do but he can’t, because the group chat has been silent for two days, and he can’t be the one to break that silence.

The Deliveroo app notifies him that his order is being dispatched, momentarily covering over Tom’s face on the screen. He thinks about how Deliveroo always reminds him of Louis because all of Louis’ friends like to buy him rabbit-themed merchandise as a joke, and the Deliveroo mascot looks like a rabbit (even though he knows it’s not).

(He knows this because he mentioned Deliveroo to Louis in this context, and Louis had laughed at him and informed him it was a kangaroo).

(Harry misses them so much).

There’s a message from Niall on his phone as well. He hasn’t read it, but he thinks it’s an invitation to hang out. Harry doesn’t feel up to answering it yet. He worries if he spills everything to Niall, it’ll feel too real. It’ll feel like the end, instead of what Nick had said. A pause. A break. A step back.

He should have spent more time loving them, Harry thinks, because he needs to think something else in order to get those words out of his mind. He should have spent more time loving them, giving to them, being a good, proper omega. He thinks about every missed opportunity. In retrospect, there are so many. So many times he could have done better.

He should have just shared his heat with them. Maybe then-

Harry shivers. He feels a little ill. He’s probably coming down with something.

Are you still watching? His phone asks.

He clicks yes.

β

A million times over, Nick wishes he could take back those words.

“Maybe we need to take a step back.”

He didn’t mean them with the sort of finality they came out with. He didn’t mean them at all, not really. He had just- he hadn’t known how to do what needed to be done. He’s a beta, after all, the whole role of a beta in a relationship is to be the rational one, the reasonable one, the one who keeps alphas from getting too hot and omegas from getting too cold.

If he can’t even save the best relationship he could ever be given, what use is he?

Nick clicks send on the text to Big Boss Ben, saying that his plus two were no longer able to attend the event this weekend. They’ve been RSVP’d for a month.

Already once this week he’s been the cause of a “team meeting’ at work. Apparently he’s been overstepping boundaries. He’s been asked to calm down a bit. That they love his radio personality, but he’s been getting a bit, well, harsh with the listeners.

Nick can’t blame them for bringing it up. He feels harsh. He feels like his skin is covered with glass shards. Every move he makes could hurt someone, but it hurts him more.

“Ellie, darling,” Nick drawls, throwing his arms around her. He’s at Ellie’s party after all. Shouldn’t even be sending work emails.

“Nick, love,” Ellie drawls in return. “Are you shit faced already? You’ve only been here an hour.”

Has it finally been an hour?

Nick grins at her, reaching one hand back and touching the base of his neck. He drops it to his side.

“It’s never too early for a few rounds of mimosas,” Nick says, pleading with his eyes that she’ll accept that comment at face value.

Ellie fluffs her hair. “I’m afraid it’s often too early for mimosas, but I do like your way of looking at it,” she says. “If only there were more betas like you out there, Nick, every party would be a bit more lively.”

She draws back from him and Nick sways, but only a little.

“Hows about you and I grab Maya and head over to the pool to get some nice shots for Insta, yeah?” she asks.

“Ellie you do know I can never resist a glamour shot,” Nick agrees, opening the camera on his phone. He does his hardest not to notice that there are no new messages.

Louis hasn’t texted in days. He’s not much of a texter on his own, but between the three of them he’d begun to blossom, shooting off snarky remarks and a barrage of happy smilies that maybe didn’t mean what he thought they meant. But now…

Their house is quiet. Louis’ home, he hasn’t left. Every morning when Nick wakes up and Louis hasn’t walked out the door he breathes a sigh of relief. He hasn’t left, but he doesn’t feel there the way he did. It’s like Harry’s taken a part of him, and now that Harry’s not coming round, the rest of Louis has disappeared somewhere into himself.

Nick tries to fill the silence. He talks more, and Louis sits and listens, but it only makes the silences more present.

In the late hours of the night, after Nick has come home from a party or a work event or some combination of the two, he lays in bed and puts his hand over Louis’ arm - over his own soulmark - and blinks back tears. The fears that he’s kept at bay all day rise to the surface, and he wonders how long until Louis leaves him.

They’re perfect together, Nick thinks to himself under the cover of darkness, the only time he can think those words. I wouldn’t blame him if he left me for Harry.

He’d never recover, but he wouldn’t blame him.

“Fiona,” Nick calls. “Grab Becky, we’re going to get some shots in the water and I know you’re proud of that new bikini.”

His fingers graze against the mark around his neck. It feels hot to the touch. He’s sure he’s imagining that.

α

When Nick comes in at night, generally hours after Louis has gone to bed, and places his hand on Louis’ arm in the same motion that he’s done a million times before - that’s when Louis feels himself breaking.

He has one song left to complete the album. A million to choose from, a million that he’s already written and that the fans would love. But that one last space on the album sits empty, because everyt ime Louis thinks about it he freezes. His mind goes blank. He’s spent days just pacing the studio, those anxious looks from Liam and Zayn making him feel like the caged animal he knows he resembles.

Liam had asked him what was wrong, just a day after it happened, when it was all still a swirling mess in his mind and in his heart. Louis hadn’t known what to say, hadn’t been able to form the thoughts for himself, so when Liam had asked…

Louis had gotten two strangled words out before his throat closed up and his eyes grew wet and he had just walked out of the studio.

An hour later, an hour that’s a blur in his memory, when he walked back into the studio Liam hadn’t said anything at all. He’d given him a look that said he could see right through Louis, but he had remained silent, and for that Louis was grateful.

So, work has been a mess. His creative outlet blocked. Home has been… possibly worse.

Every time Louis looks at Nick, he’s reminded of what a failure of an alpha he is. He should have stepped up to be the one to hold them all together. He shouldn’t have let his emotions get the best of him. He should have spent every moment comforting Harry and reassuring him, telling him that it was perfectly okay if he wasn’t ready to share his heat with them.

It feels too late now.

“Maybe we need to step back.”

Those words feel more permanent than they have any right to. They feel etched in stone, and however hard he scratches against them, all he does is break his own nails in the process. He knows he doesn’t have a right to be the first one to reach out. The second Harry is ready, the first message he sends, Louis will be at his door, offering him the world in apology. But until Harry is ready, all Louis can do is sit and think and drown in his guilt. He should have been better.

He stalks Harry on social media. His Twitter and his Instagram and even his Pinterest, that he only uses for dessert recipes. Except for one black and white photo of a mug of coffee on the second day, Harry hasn’t posted on any of them.

He should have been a better alpha. For both of them.

Because now, every night when Nick comes in at night and touches him so gently, Louis’ skin heats up and his hands clench and he is reminded, again, that Nick is here with him and not with Harry. If any of them are to be alone, Louis doesn’t want it to be Harry. He wishes he could take himself out of the equation, that he could flip some sort of switch so at least Harry and Nick would have each other to lean on. He knows how useless he is. He knows at least that way the two of them could have some comfort.

But, then again, every morning when he wakes up and Nick is still fast asleep beside him, Louis moves a little closer and blinks back the unshed tears and is terribly, horribly grateful that Nick hasn’t left yet.

Chapter Text

ω

Harry had known his whole life that he would be an omega.

With some people it’s unclear until they hit puberty, so it can be considered rude to ask children their secondary gender.

Harry had never had any doubt, thought, and that meant that he spent his childhood zealously seeking out information about what his future held in store - what his someday relationship would be like and what he should expect from that secretive adult thing called heats.

After his first mini-heat caught him somewhat by surprise the weekend before his first school disco, he’d immediately gone on suppressants. So besides that starter, he has yet to experience a full one, having decided to wait until after the bonding to go off of them.

In all his research and all of his excitement, he’d learned about how some omegas - omegas in a bad place - had gone into touch deprivation, being away from their bonded partner for one reason or another.

He’d felt sorry for those omegas, in an abstract sort of way that you feel sorry for the citizens of Pompeii or survivors of the Great War. But he’d never lingered too long on that point because he wasn’t bonded, and when he finally would be, he was sure it would be to someone who would never dream of leaving him.

Which might be why he missed the little footnote to these stories. That it’s not always bonded couples that this happens to.

It can happen with pre-bonds as well.

Harry wakes up to the beeping of his alarm. He doesn’t have it set to Radio 1 right now. He just can’t handle it.

He taps blindly on the face of his phone until the alarm stops blaring, and then rolls over with a groan, pulling his phone off the charging cord and unlocking it.

No new messages.

There haven’t been any in near two weeks at this point. He no longer wakes up with hope for otherwise.

The only reason he doesn’t simply bury himself in his covers and go back to sleep is that he has to meet with his professor to go over the second draft of his term paper. Not that he’s made the changes they talked about last time.

But Christ does he wish he could go back to sleep. He’s had a headache building for three days now, and as he sits up he feels the increased pressure behind his temples pounding and causing him to shield his eyes from even the low light of his screen. Paracetamol has done shit but he reaches over to his bedside table and feels around until he finds the box anyway, popping them and swallowing dry in the hopes for a relief that’s so far escaped him.

He gets up and heads for the showers, not even bothering to grab clean clothes on the way. Everything hurts and all he can think about is that hot spray soothing his muscles.

He feels like he’s run a marathon. Every muscle in his body is screaming of lactic acid, even though he’s done the bare minimum in just about every area of his life in the last week.

It wakes him up a little when he finally manages to get under the cleansing spray of a showerhead. Maybe, he reasons, he’s low on iron. He’s been vaguely anemic in the past, has he been eating well?

...No, he’s been eating like shit. His last three meals have been cheese toasties made on the little burner in his room because he hasn’t had it in him to go across the street to the canteen. It may have been a full two days since he’s had a vegetable.

Harry doesn’t particularly want to go buy vegetables. He doesn’t particularly want to do anything, really. He wants to lay back in his bed and pull the covers up over his face and turn up the sound on his phone so that if someone were to actually text him, he’d hear it.

Not that anyone would text him. Not that they would even want to. He’s too much for them and he knows it. They’ve had two years alone with each other to fall in love and adapt and form a life together. After that, Harry’s just an unwanted intrusion. They tried to include him but Harry knows what they really think. He’s too young for them, too needy, too inexperienced. Maybe if he had told them he didn’t want to wait, that he was going off of suppressants, maybe if he had tried harder to be the housewife omega that his mum is…

But it’s too late for any of that now. It’s been a week of nothing, and Harry knows the breakup text will come any day now. The only question is which one of them will send it. Probably Grimmy. After all, he’d rather take on a thousand difficult moments than let Louis get hurt.

Harry would’ve too, he thinks, if ever given the chance.

This is the first time he’s let himself truly think about it since the week started, and now that he’s allowed himself, the floodgates are open. Tears mingle with the hot shower water running down his face, his whole body shaking with sobs, with misery, with the idea that this is probably the end. Everything he’s ever wanted, and he held it in his hands for a few precious months. He’ll love them forever, he knows that. It’s written into his DNA, inked onto his skin.

His chest constricts, and suddenly it’s not just sadness bearing down on him, but a physical pain that wracks his insides. Harry gasps, feeling suddenly like his lungs have shrunk, that they’re too small for the amount of air he needs to take in.

He shuts off the shower in an attempt to clear the steam, to get more air. It helps a fraction, and he slides to the floor with a hand clutching his chest. He feels lightheaded even as the headache he woke up with continues to pound, and the thought occurs to him - is this what people mean when they talk about dying of a broken heart?

There’s a haze to his thoughts, making him sluggish in his movements. He can’t… figure out if dying of a broken heart is a real thing. Is that what’s happening? Is he…

Some instinct more primal than he would have thought existed inside of him screams to get help, be visible, and Harry takes that cue, vision going dark as he drags himself on elbows and knees out of the shower stall, below the flimsy curtain that the university for some reason thinks is more practical than a door.

This is embarrassing, he manages to think as he hears the voices of people around him. Being naked and all.

But the last though he has before he passes out isn’t about his current state of undress or the cold tile below him, or anything of the sort.

I hope they know I love them.

abstract drawing from a sketch book, waves like mountain ranges in a variety of colors

β

Nick gets the call when he’s in a meeting. He’s been obnoxious all day, he knows, and can almost feel the relief in everyone when he excuses himself.

“Hiya.”

“Yes, hello, am I speaking to Mr. Grimshaw?”

“That’s me,” Nick says, frowning. “Who is this?”

“This is St. Mary’s. We’re calling because you’re one of the emergency contacts listed on the phone for a Harry Styles?”

It’s at this point that Nick feels like he’s not breathing anymore. “What?” he asks, reaching out a hand to steady himself against the wall. “What’s happened? I should get there. I can come, right? I’m on my way.”

“Please do be careful, Mr. Grimshaw. Mr. Styles has been brought in for what we believe are minor symptoms of deprivation. According to his contacts you are listed as a bondmate, is that correct?”

“No- I mean, yes. I mean.” Nick fumbles as he rushes for the stairs, unwilling to wait for the glass lifts that take centuries to get anywhere. “We’re pre-bonded. It’s not official yet. Does that- matter?”

The woman on the end of the phone seems to pause for an aeon. “Yes Mr. Grimshaw, that should be fine,” she says finally and Nick relaxes only a smidgeon. “That being said, an omega with depri is a serious condition. He’s stable at the moment but we do need you to get down here as soon as possible.”

“Yes, of course,” Nick pants, taking the stairs two at a time. “I’m on my way.”

“There is a second emergency contact listed,” the woman continues, her tinny voice echoing in the stairwell. “Also as a bondmate. Should this person be contacted as well? Is this a former bondmate?”

“Fuck,” Nick curses. Louis. Yes. “That will be our third,” he says. “We are a soulmark triad so he’s got the pre-bond as well. I’ll get ahold of him.”

He’s out of the stairwell and on the bottom floor now, rushing past so many people he usually would engage in hours of mindless chit chat with. You couldn’t pay him to run this hard for anyone other than, well. Harry.

Harry, in a hospital bed because of deprivation. Nick feels like he’s going to vomit.

He’s not paying attention when the woman on the other end terminates the call. She might have tried to tell him something else, but it’s all static in his ears at this point. He knows basically where St. Mary’s is, and part of him thinks that he could make it there fastest just by running, but another part of him knows that he has never willingly jogged in his life so this would be a terrible decision. Instead he goes in the direction of Great Portland Street and prays for a train when he needs it.

Louis - he has to contact Louis. Louis will need to - Harry will need him. Still running (although flagging), Nick dials Louis’ number, and every second that he doesn’t pick up the weight in Nick’s heart grows heavier. Harry needs an alpha. Everyone knows that alphas are better for omegas than betas are when it comes to things like depri. They work faster, omegas feel more comforted by them, the hormones are just different.

Just another way Nick will have failed him.

“Come on come on come on,” he chants, cursing when it goes to Louis’ voicemail. He dials again.

The third time he dials, Louis finally picks up.

“What’s going on?” Louis asks, and Nick could cry with relief. “I’m in the middle of something, is there any way this could wait?”

“Harry’s at the hospital,” Nick gasps out. “He’s got depri. Louis we gave him depri.”

“Shit. What hospital? I’m on my way.”

“St. Mary’s,” Nick says. He’s close to the station, and knows that means he’s probably going to lose signal. “I’m fifteen minutes away if I can get there fast, but-”

“Fucking shit,” Louis swears. “That’s at least half an hour from me.”

“No— Louis, Harry needs you,” Nick pleads, as if saying so could open the oceans for Louis to get there faster.

“He needs us,” Louis cuts in. “You’re half of us.”

“Yeah, but it’s not the same!” Nick shouts, his breathing laboured. “You’re his alpha, you were always the one who was closer to him, you’re the one he’s going to need in there!”

“That’s complete and utter shite, Nick,” Louis growls back at him. “He needs you, and you’re going to get there before I do and right now our omega is hurting and needs his mates, plural. That’s us! I love you so much and I know you want to protect me from the world and give me the world and most of the time that’s the sweetest thing I could ever ask for but you can’t just do that with Harry! He doesn’t need me, he needs us. He needs you.”

Nick fumbles for his oyster card as he approaches the turnstiles. “I- I need to go,” he says. “I’m about to lose reception. I’ll see you there.”

“Promise me you won’t wait for me,” Louis interrupts before he can end the call. “Promise me, Nick! Harry needs you.”

“Fine,” Nick grits out. “I promise. Of course I promise.”

“Good,” Louis says. “I’m on my way. I love you. I love him.”

“I love you too,” Nick says.

The line goes dead.

I love him too.

Nick takes the stairs two at a time down to the platform.

It feels like a million years of waiting, sitting in a stuffy car with no reception and an ache in his chest. A million years is just enough time for Nick to go over everything that had happened in that past two weeks. The way he had picked up the phone a million times to text Harry and then put it down again. The way he had thought that maybe this was for the best, maybe they weren’t meant to be, maybe they should just let the bond fade and, worst of all, maybe Nick should just step aside and let Louis and Harry be together.

He had felt miserable the whole time, of course, barely speaking to Louis and getting radio silence from Harry. But he had never considered that the pre-bond had become so strong. A case of depri from a pre-bond wasn’t normal. For all intents and purposes this might as well have been a permanent bonding. It was permanent in every sense of the word except for the lack of marks on Harry’s neck.

Harry must have been suffering in so many ways, but he never reached out to them. Why didn’t he reach out to them?

The ugly something inside of him tells him that maybe he wanted to, but maybe he only wanted one of them - the one his own age, the one that he seemed destined to be with.

But the part of him that has just been yelled at by Louis, the part that might still be talking sense, tells him that the pre-bond is to both of them, and that Harry didn’t reach out to either. Probably because he was waiting for one of them to do so. Harry hadn’t wanted to take a step back, it would make sense that he would wait for Louis and Nick to make the first move.

There are many times that Nick has cursed his beta status, always having been a bit of a secret romantic who longed for one of those fairytale  a/o stories with an instant and deep connection that would last forever. Now, looking at it all, he wonders if that’s blinded him to the one thing he should have been the best at as the beta of the relationship; keeping a level head and holding them all together. Isn’t that what a beta is best at? How has he failed at even that?

Keeping a level head and being a public defense. A public face of the relationship, that’s what betas are best at. And that’s what Nick had always been for Louis. But he had been so busy being that for Louis in the beginning that he hadn’t done the same for Harry.

And now… Now Harry is in the hospital and Nick is on the tube and Louis is still at least twenty minutes away and everything is fucked.

The ding signalling the approach to the station has never been such a relief in Nick’s heart. He jumps up and stands at the door even before they’ve started to slow down.

The hospital is jarringly quiet after the noise of the outdoors.

Nick tamps down every instinct that screams at him to just wait for Louis, that Louis is what Harry really needs right now. He’ll do until Louis gets here, he reasons with himself. He just needs to be enough until Louis is here.

The hospital is also a fucking maze and seems to have a number of reception desks and Nick has no clue which one he’s supposed to be at.

He picks one at random and gets sent to another floor, and on that other floor he’s directed down a hallway. He’s half convinced he’s not even in England any longer by the time a severe older woman who smells faintly of being an omega leads him down yet another hallways to room 328. “He’s got an I.V. in so you’ll have to be a little careful,” she instructs. “And the normal thing for omegas with depri is to hook them up with nasal tubes but once you’ve been here a few minutes and he feels comfortable, you can ring us to have them taken out. Don’t let him take them out himself, we want to be able to monitor him as it’s done.”

Nick felt like he was prepared right up until the moment when the woman opened the door and he found himself looking in at his soulmate, curled up on his side in a hospital bed with tubes running from him.

“Harry,” Nick croaks out, rushing to his side. “Harry, babe, I’m-”

As soon as Harry seems aware of his presence he starts struggling, trying to get up. He mumbles something, chanting, and it takes Nick a moment to realise it’s his own name. “Nick, Nick, Nick, Nick…” His voice is quiet, faint among the sounds of the hospital around them.

He scrabbles forward, though, and Nick has to catch him before he falls off the side of the bed. “I’ve got you,” Nick says, trying to get him back onto the mattress. Harry’s intent on him, though, and intent on nothing else. He gets his hands wrapped around Nick’s arms and his grip like iron, a sharp contrast to how small and weak he seemed only a moment ago. Still seems, in the way he’s pliant as Nick gets him back onto the bed - as long as Nick doesn’t take a step away.

“Okay, it’s okay,” Nick tries to comfort, having no choice but to climb into the bed with him. Harry’s chant has turned into a mumble now, sounding like nonsense. Nick has a moment of nearly falling onto Harry as he tries to climb into the bed with him (because Harry’s hands have a death grip on him and that’s clearly not about to change), but as soon as he’s in, he finds his lap full of Harry.

“Please Harry,” Nick begs, his voice cracking. “Tell me what you need. I don’t know how to help you.”

He’s never been taught this, or at least he’s never paid attention. Depri isn’t something that’s supposed to happen, and if you see it happening to someone else’s omega you’re taught to phone for emergency services. No one talks about what happens next, or what happens if it’s your omega.

Harry is shaking, but not from cold. He doesn’t seem to be lucid, either, his eyes not focusing on anything and his pupils unnaturally large.

Nick keeps talking, because god that’s the only thing he’s good at, even while he feels his own helplessness like a demon looming over him.

“Louis’ on his way,” he promises. “He’ll know what to do, of course. Louis always knows. Not like me. I manage to muck everything up all over the place. I’m sorry, Harry. I’m so… so sorry.” The tears that have been gathered in his eyes for so long finally fall, and he hugs Harry tight to him. “You deserve better than me,” he chokes out. “Louis’ almost here, I promise. I won’t- I can’t get in the middle of you two anymore. I’ve fucked this up right from the beginning but I won’t let that happen anymore. I’ll stand aside so that you two can—”

“No.”

It’s weak, but it’s Harry’s voice. Nick looks down and sees Harry staring back at him, his pale face and nose tubes in sharp contrast to the wild look in his eyes.

“What?” Nick asks, shocked.

Harry seems to have trouble forming words. “Need… you,” he gets out.

Stunned, Nick has no response. Harry apparently has nothing more to say, instead concentrating on getting closer to Nick, finally letting go of his arms and instead clumsily digging his shaking hands below Nick’s shirt and placing them against his stomach.

Nick takes the opportunity to wrap his arms around Harry’s shoulders. He feels so lost but at the same time Harry - or whatever bit of Harry’s subconscious is at play right now - seems so certain that Nick is where he’s supposed to be.

And then, in a moment, the peace is broken as Harry starts to struggle in his arms, something like a feral growl emanating from him.

Nick’s instinct is to hold onto him tighter, confused as to why it’s happening until he realises a nurse has just entered the room.

“Hello,” she says cheerfully, standing just inside the doorway.

“Um,” says Nick.

“Don’t worry,” the nurse says, taking just one step further into the room. She smells like a beta, a similar clean and simple scent to his own, with hints of the omega that she probably goes home to. “This is all perfectly normal for an omega in depri. Being reunited with his mate, he’s going to keep you as close to him as possible until his body has fully recovered. To him, I’m seen as an enemy right now because his first priority is you.”

“Ah,” says Nick.

“I’m just here to make sure everything’s going smoothly, and to inform you that once he’s regained full consciousness, you can tap that little buzzer on the side of the bed so that we can come run some tests and check that his recovery is headed in the right directions. Do you have any questions or concerns?”

Harry’s growls have gotten louder. Nick runs a hand continually through his greasy curls, unsure if what he’s doing is at all reassuring to Harry - although it sure is to himself. His boy. “Will he be okay?” he asks. “How long will it take for him to recover? Is this something that’s going to come back?”

The nurse tilts her head, giving him an empathetic look. “Once he’s fully recovered he’ll want to stick close to you for a bit, and that’s totally normal. Other than that, there are no long term effects that we know of. Depending on how severe it is, his recovery can take a few hours to two days. Certainly by the weekend I’d estimate him to be right as rain.”

The guilty feelings in the pit of Nick’s stomach are rising up and he does his best to tamp them back down - at least until the nurse has left. “We have another one in our, um, bond. We’re a soulmate triad? He’s on his way and I don’t know how to get him to the correct room?”

He says it as a question because as the words tumble out of his mouth they sound so bad to him. There are two of them taking care of this omega and they still weren’t able to keep him safe.

The look on the nurse’s face slips for only the barest of a second, showing the surprise that Nick is used to seeing on people. But then she’s back, happy and helpful. “I’ll leave a note down at the front desk to have him sent here as soon as he’s arrived. Which one of you was added to the bond last? That’ll make a difference in recovery time.”

Harry’s growls heighten again. His fingers, claw-like, have begun to dig into Nick’s chest and he struggles not to yelp.

“We’ve, uh, actually not bonded Harry here yet. It’s just a pre-bond so far. Were looking for the perfect moment and all that.”

“Oh wow,” the nurse says. “He must really love you, then.”

Nick freezes.

The nurse freezes.

“Uh,” she says. “I’m so sorry, that’s terribly unprofessional of me. I’ll see myself out and let them know down at the front desk. What is your mate’s name?”

“Louis,” Nick says. “Louis Tomlinson.”

α

Louis put on a pretty good show while he was on the phone to Nick. Doesn’t sound too panicked, by any means.

Right after he gets off the phone, he barely makes it outside to a bin before the entire contents of his lunch end up outside his body.

Harry. Their Harry. He feels sick with guilt and shame. He’s the alpha, he should have known that this would happen. He should have demanded that they get together and work things out.

He barely remembers to send a text to Liam and Zayn to let them know he’s left, already running down the street as he tries to calculate the fastest route to the hospital. The sound of his feet on the cobbles of the pavement echo like his heartbeat. Harry, Harry, Harry. He’s never leaving that omega’s side again.

At least Nick will get there first. Nick, who’s proven that he’s nothing if not overprotective. There’s no one in the world that Louis would entrust Harry to besides Nick.

He just hopes Nick realises that.

With no direct path there, he hops on a bus and feels his heart beat through his chest every time they slow or stop. My mate is in the hospital, he wants to scream (but he doesn’t, because he doesn’t want to end up on the front page of The Sun again).  

In retrospect a taxi might have been faster. Or an Uber. Or even calling for an emergency vehicle and faking an injury. These are all things that he thinks about as he sits on the bus and waits and breathes and taps his fingers and takes his phone out of his pocket and puts it back in his pocket and thinks about Harry and thinks about Nick and wonders if this bus could possibly move any slower.

It’s almost twenty minutes on the bus until he reaches the stop nearest the hospital, and Louis has so much time to think. He feels sick still, once or twice thinks he’s about to vomit again. It’s not something that ever occurred to him as something that could happen from fear or panic, but here he is. His breath is rank and he wishes he had one of those little mints that Harry always keeps in his pockets.

How could they have been so stupid? How had they not seen something like this coming? Sure, it’s a pre-bond and not a bond, but after his rut… They should have been more careful.

God, will Harry ever forgive them? Louis isn’t sure he’ll be able to forgive himself.

By the time it comes to a stop a thousand years have passed, and Louis has aged at least a decade. He stumbles off after a group of girls in school uniforms who are definitely bunking off on their lunch. They might recognize him, but he doesn’t care. He’s two blocks from the entrance to St Mary’s and he needs to see Harry now.

The woman at the front desk recognizes him as soon as he says his name, out of breath and huffing, bent over the desk.

“Your mates are upstairs, I can have someone take you straight there,” she says, before paging for someone else. Louis can’t concentrate on much, he couldn’t say the first thing about the decoration of the front room or what directions they turn down in the hallways. All he knows is that as soon as they get to the right floor he can smell Harry. He can smell Nick too, more faintly in that way a beta’s scent is an undercurrent that lifts up the scent of their mates. He knows they’re here and he feels more keyed up and calm at the same time.

At some point in the hallway he leaves behind the person directing him, but he doesn’t even notice. He runs for the door that he knows his mates are behind, near frantic with the need to be with them, and the first sight of Harry and Nick curled up together on that hospital bed is something that he’ll never forget. It’ll be burned into his retinas until his last day. The day that he met Nick was the first day he felt true peace, and the day that he met Harry he knew it was the beginning of something good, but today…

The feeling that hits him like a punch in the gut is that these boys are his mates and his home and there is nowhere in the world that will ever matter in comparison to them.

Harry’s head snaps up as soon as he’s through the door, and there’s something unsettling about him - as Louis runs to the bed he sees the dilation of Harry’s pupils, his wide eyes and tense posture.

“Harry,” Louis whispers. It feels like asking permission, forgiveness.

Harry blinks. Nick, underneath Harry and with one hand buried in his hair, smiles at Louis with watery eyes.

Harry blinks again.

“Alpha,” he says, finally, his voice slow and deep.

And then, like a dam bursting, he reaches out fast as lightning and takes ahold of the front of Louis’ shirt, throwing him off-balance and into the pile of HarryandNick, the whole time a string of “Alpha-Louis-Nick-Louis-Louis-Alpha-Nick-Home-” falling from his lips. It’s broken and gravelly and sounds like a plea and a request and a desperate, desperate prayer that they’re as real as they feel underneath where Louis has fallen.

“I’m here, Haz,” Louis chokes out, trying to steady himself and not crush Nick in the process, his knees going very close to dangerous places. “I’m here, Baby, I promise, I’m not leaving.”

And at the same time Nick, with “I told you, Harry, I told you he’d be here, I told you he’d fix everything,”

And, “Louis-Nick-Louis-Louis-Nick-mates-Nick-Louis-mine-”

And nothing makes sense for a while but Harry feels like a glowing ember in his arms and as Louis navigates to a place somewhere between the two of them, he feels Harry’s spark grow to something more substantial.

Omegas in depri apparently get special accommodations, Louis thinks, considering no nurse has tried to come in and get Nick and Louis out of the bed yet.

One nurse has visited briefly, and as soon as she entered Harry had sat up and begun to growl, which shocked Louis although Nick had immediately started to soothe him, running a hand up and down his arm and saying soothing nonsense.

“I see you’re both here,” she had said, noting something on her chart. “That’s excellent. We’d like to keep the three of you overnight and then check his vitals in the morning, especially considering I wouldn’t be able to get near him right now.”

Harry cocks his head, staring unblinkingly straight past Louis at her. His pupils are large and dark again, and Louis feels his alpha take some sort of deep satisfaction from that, the way Harry refuses to let anyone else near them. That feeling battles with his own emotions of guilt for letting Harry get to this state, but overall everything is just covered with relief. For the first time in two weeks he feels a sense of peace deep inside of him, a feeling that everyone he cares about are close enough that he can protect them. That he can let them know how much he loves them.

“It’s okay,” Nick was still whispering as the nurse left. “She’s not going to do anything. We’re right here. We’re not leaving.”

Once Harry’s omega apparently deemed it safe again, he laid back down, wormed between the two of them and went to sleep. Louis watched him and then met Nick’s eyes. Nick’s tired but relieved expression had told him everything he needed to know.

They were both where they needed to be.

Louis blinks awake the next time to a much brighter room, the fluorescent lights having been turned on. He’s not sure when he drifted off, but the analog clock on the wall now reads 7:30. He assumes it’s evening (hopes its evening) but at this point he’s just not sure.

It takes a moment before he realises why he’s waking up - Harry, still curled between them, is trying to sit up and not having very much luck with it the way the three of them are piled upon each other in order to fit on a hospital bed meant for one.

Louis tries to crowd against the side panel of the bed, giving Harry the chance to shift up to a sitting position. Nick makes this harder, still clearly out for the count and with one arm draped over Harry’s midsection.

“Louis?” Harry asks, blinking heavily like he can’t figure out what he’s seeing. “Nick? Where am— Oh.”

Harry puts a hand to his face and discovers the oxygen tubes that go up to his nose. He touches gingerly, like they’re an open wound. “Oh— my god, I,” his face crumples, “I’m so sorry-”

“Hey,” Louis says, cutting Harry off as he now also struggles to sit up and get closer to him. “Hey, don’t you dare.”

“No, I’m- I’m so sorry,” Harry says again, voice getting louder as he wraps his arms around himself. “I had a- an attack of some kind in the shower and-” he seems to be putting it all together as he speaks. Louis sees the horror as it dawns on him.

“And they must have called you because you’re listed as my emergency contact.” Tears spring to his eyes. “I’m sorry, you didn’t ask for this-”

“Harry, no,” Louis tries to cut in. “You couldn’t be more wrong-”

Nick is clearly awake now, his arms tightening around Harry’s middle.

Harry is clearly caught in a whirlpool of his own thoughts. “I’m sorry,” he repeats, tears growing. “Sorry, I’m so— you guys have moved on and I- I can’t, I’m so sorry- I’m so selfish, but-”

“No, Harry-”

“Please-” he sobs. “Please don’t leave me again.”

The sound that comes out of Louis is like that of a wounded animal. “Never,” he cries, at the same time that Nick starts to struggle to get up.

“I’m sorry,” Harry says again, like he can’t even hear Louis (maybe he can’t). “I know I’m immature and too much of- of a baby for you guys, but please- I miss you so much, please don’t break up with me.”

Finally in the position to do so, Louis turns and puts his hand on the  back of Harry’s head, gently but firmly guiding his face down into the crook of Louis’ neck.

He worries that Harry’s oxygen tubes will keep him from being able to properly scent but it seems to be enough - Harry stops begging and his sobs begin to slow to a whimper.

“We’re here,” Nick says, and Louis moves as much as he can to allow Nick closer. It feels the most natural thing in the world, making space for him here, with their omega in between.

“We’re here, babe, we’re not going anywhere. We’re never going anywhere.”

“You’re in depri, Haz,” Louis says, his thumb moving in soothing circles at the nape of Harry’s neck. “We fucked up. We never should have let it get this far.”

Harry’s still shaking slightly, but otherwise doesn’t move, doesn’t even try to take his face out of Louis’ neck (not that Louis minds). Over his head, Louis makes eye contact with Nick.

“Babe,” Nick says, softly. “We wouldn’t break up with you. If someone were to end this relationship, I can promise you now it would never be me. I promise. If I could, I would go back in time and make sure I never said what I did. I shouldn’t have.”

Louis gives Nick a watery smile. He breathes in deeply, the smell of Harry’s curls filling his senses. “It’s been the worst two weeks of my life,” he says. “I don’t want to ever leave you alone again.”

He sees the way Nick looks down, and frowns. Reaching out his free hand, he pinches Nick’s arm to get a reaction. “Either of you.”

Nick looks embarrassed, but he returns Louis’ look.

Harry makes a noise, a soft whine in his throat. Louis loosens his grip to allow him to sit up. His face is puffy and eyes red, but he’s making eye contact.

“Depri?” he asks, voice small. “That’s for, um, bonded omegas.”

“Usually,” Nick says, and thank God for Nick because Louis is going to cry if he tries to speak while Harry’s looking like that. “But sometimes it’s also for strong pre-bonds. The nurse says we’re about the most solid pre-bond she’s seen.”

Harry’s lips turn down and Louis resists the urge to just wrap him up and soothe.

“I’m sorry,” he says.

“It’s not your fault,” Nick says. He says it with authority. Certainty.

“Are you-” Harry takes a slow breath. “Are you just here because of that?”

“No!” Louis and Nick both shout.

“Absolutely not,” Louis growls, his alpha coming to the surface in defence of his omega. “Don’t you ever think that. We’re here because we’re your mates. And I can swear to you right now that we will always be here for you.”

“Harry,” Nick says, and Harry blinks at him, tears wet on his face again. “I don’t think you’re in any sort of condition to be talking about this right now. But we’re not going to leave your side, for as long as you want us. But I also don’t want the nurse to come in and start yelling at us for getting you all worked up. So would you be willing to just rest for a bit? We’ll be her when you wake up,” he says when Harry looks momentarily doubtful. “Promise.”

Harry nods, his face in a pout that Louis wants to kiss away.

“Can I-?” Harry asks, looking at Nick.

“What?” asks Nick, and then, “Oh, ‘course, come here.”

Still with one hand tangled in Louis’ (when did that get there?), Harry leans over and puts his nose in Nick’s neck, scenting the beta in long, drawn out breaths. Where alpha’s scents are strong and dominant and meant to comfort, beta’s scents take on those of their mates, with mellower notes that don’t overwhelm a space in the same way. Louis’ taken comfort from Nick’s scent so many times, and the last few weeks with Harry’s own scent faded from Nick’s it’s been difficult. They’ve felt emptier.

They sit in tired silence, until Nick’s eyes grow wide and he points down at Harry, collapsed against his side. “Sleeping,” he mouths, eyes bright.

Louis stifles a laugh, because it feels too serious a time to laugh. But he’s so happy. SO happy they’re all together. So happy they’re home.

Chapter Text

“Hey, I’m Niall.”

“Zayn.”

Harry giggles into Louis’ shoulder. “He’s trying to act all cool,” he whispers. “Niall’s not cool at all.”

“Neither is Zayn,” Louis says. “He’s one hundred percent made of nerd.”

“Are you two done gossipping?” Nick asks, straightening his bowtie in the mirror.

“Nope,” Harry grins, popping the ‘p’. “Hey Niall!”

Niall looks over at him. “Yeah?”

“Tell Zayn about that one time you found Diplo in a pub and then vomited on him.”

“Oh shut up, asshole.”

Zayn snorts. “Sick, I’ll ask him if he remembers you next time I see him.”

Harry watches Niall’s eyes grow wide. “You know Diplo?”

Zayn shrugs, grinning. “I’ve worked with him a few times.”

Just then, the door to their dressing room opens and Liam runs in, a garment bag in his arms. “I found it!” he shouts, then stops. “Oh hi, I didn’t realise everyone was here already.”

Harry twiddles his fingers in a wave. “Thanks, Liam!” he says, walking over and unzipping the bag. Inside is the shirt he left next to the door at home when Louis had started freaking out about them being late and had hurried the three of them into the car.

Draping the bag over the back of the chaise lounge in the centre of the room, Harry moves to strip off the shirt he has on.

“Whoa, whoa!” Nick calls from where he’s lounging on the wingback with a glass of white wine in his hand. “I will not have my omega undressing in front of strangers!”

Harry rolls his eyes and in one fluid motion loses the shirt. “Because Zayn, Liam and Niall are strangers, yes.”

“Ah!” says Liam, turning to Niall. “You must be Niall then, Harry’s told us all about you.”

“Terrible things, I’m sure,” Niall says.

“Yes,” Liam admits. “But sometimes he lets a bit of truth slip in.”

Niall throws back his head and cackles. “Oi Harry, I like him!”

“That’s good,” Harry yells back as he dons his new shirt and ties on the cream pussie bow. “Considering he’s in our mating ceremony too!”

Louis comes up behind him and, pretending to straighten the bow, runs his fingers along Harry’s neck. “You ready?” he asks, breath warm on Harry’s ear.

“Always,” Harry says, turning and nosing at his cheek.

“Excuse me!” Nick yells from his chair. “I want some of that sexy over here!”

“Oh God!” yells Liam, covering his eyes. “I don’t want to see sexiness, please don’t do that in front of me!”

“You haven’t seen sexiness until those three forget they’ve invited you over for dinner and not one of them had the decency to lock the door before getting nasty,” Niall says, voice flat.

“That happened to you too?” Zayn asks. “Wow, they’re dumbasses.”

“Excuse you,” Louis says, glaring at him. “I pay your bills.”

“Still a dumbass.”

The door creaks open and all three of them turn to see who it is. Harry feels Louis’ hands curl around his middle protectively and rolls his eyes.

“Uh, guys? The music is about to start so if you’re not ready to walk down that aisle, I’m going to need Niall to go fake a fight with me and buy you more time.”

“We faked a fight earlier when the photographer was here stressing about Harry not having his shirt,” Niall says, walking over to Shawn and pecking him on the cheek. “There’s only so many times they’ll buy it.”

“We’re ready,” Harry says. “I’ve got my shirt! Nick isn’t drunk yet! Let’s go!” He makes herding motions that seem to convince almost no one to move. “I swear to God, Nick, if you’re not up and out of that chair and walking down the aisle in the next thirty seconds you’re not seeing me naked tonight.”

“Alright, I’m up!” Nick jumps to his feet and drains his glass. “How dare you threaten to withold sex from me on my wedding night.”

Harry grabs him by the arm as he strides by and pulls him in for a kiss before pushing him forward. “You too,” he says to Louis, kissing him on the cheek before pushing him towards the door as well. “I’ll see you on the altar!”

Liam takes Nick’s arm and they leave the room, matching their steps to the classical music filtering in. Zayn takes Louis’ arm and follows him after a minute.

Niall holds out his hand to Harry. “You ready for this?”

“Why does everyone keep asking me that?” Harry huffs.

“Because I’ve known you since you were young enough to think if you could get a net tall enough you could catch a star,” Niall says. “I’m not sure if I’m ready.”

Harry takes his hand and then holds his other one out to Shawn, who smiles and grabs hold. He’s only known Shawn for a few months at this point, but the stalk of corn for a soulmark that runs up his leg is the same one that now grows down Niall’s arm, so as far as Harry’s concerned they’re already family.

As he steps through the doorway and out into the church, given away by his best friend and his best friend’s mate, with three sets of parents in the front row looking tearfully on, Harry knows everything they’ve gone through has been worth it.

And it’s time to go home.