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We're like thunder in the rain

Chapter Text

 

 

Zayn huffed as he pulled the small table out of his front door and set it on his porch, lining it with the armchair to make sure it was in the right position, exactly where the sun was still reaching the house.

Summer was basically over, with school already started two weeks earlier, but the weather was still merciful, so Zayn really hadn’t found it in his heart to slump on his living room couch to start grading the essays. He’d taken one look at the brightness outside, and decided he was going to be on his porch, enjoying the warmth with a cigarette and lemonade, while he corrected the horrendous grammar mistakes his students were surely bound to have made.

It wasn’t that they were bad students, especially not the seniors, Zayn thought with a fond smile as he rolled his eyes and underlined the first word of Tim Clarkson’s essay (‘Basically’) with his red pen. You can’t start an essay with ‘Basically’!!, he wrote in the margin of the paper.

Tim, mostly like all his senior classmates, was a very clever kid. His problem was that he had zero fucks left to give about English literature, which was just too bad, since it was exactly the subject Zayn taught at Thunder Hills High School. Zayn had even run into him and Jennifer Parker at a small café in the weekend, and had promptly ignored how Jen was just a breath away from kicking Tim in the bollocks for being distracted while she tried to explain Mark Twain to him. Tim was only distracted because he’d been nursing a boner the size of Jupiter for Jen, Zayn thought, but Jen was as oblivious as she’d been in Year 9 when they were fourteen.

The kids had caught sight of him in the café and had energetically waved at him, shouting “Yo, Mr. M” with much more emphasis than what normal students would have when running into a teacher out of school.

But well, Zayn sighed with a smile, there was hardly anything ‘normal’ in a town as small as Thunder Hills. In that kind of town, everybody knew each other, from the owner of the only drugstore to the priest of the small Catholic church by the square, from the coach of the football team to the extremely well known weed dealer who grew his own plants and sold the weed at a price that would have been ridiculously low in any other larger town. Zayn knew that for a fact, since he himself was one of the regulars, and he knew for a fact some of his senior students were too, although he was fairly sure they smoked kind of responsibly, because no fuss generated by stoned teens had happened in the town in years, and during school hours his students looked fine if not slightly hungover on Monday mornings. Zayn even shared the sentiment on some of those mornings.

Zayn lighted a cigarette and went over Tim’s essay, impressed that he’d just misspelled a handful of words, and the general content was so much better than his last essay at the end of the previous year. Maybe Jen was finally managing to have Tim actually concentrate.

Jen’s own essay was, of course, perfect. Zayn sighed proudly as he just rested the pen on the table, knowing that he wouldn’t need it for Jen, if not at the end, when he wrote Excellent, Jen! Extremely well written, and I like the way you took time to put your own research in the paper. He honestly thought Jen should apply in some fancy ivy league college, and they had to be fucking mental not to take her.

Zayn took a short break to refill his lemonade glass and look around a bit, enjoying the sun on his face and politely waving at Mrs. Thrapple, a lovely elderly woman who lived just on the other side of the street, and who seemed to always have a wicked timing to go out and water her plants just when Zayn decided to hang out on his porch with his top off.

He grinned. Sorry, missus, I’m afraid even if you weren’t in your seventies we would have had a problem when you finally understood I don’t play for your team.

Zayn’s phone buzzed with a text from Louis. Soooo, the text read, Apparently fucking Janine is pregnant and moved out of this shithole of a town on a two days notice.

Zayn arched his eyebrows. Janine as in, Janine Waters?, he texted back.

Yep, Louis answered, So she didn’t take time off from work ‘cause she was sick. Boyfriend knocked her up and they left Thunder Hills never to return.

And good riddance, Zayn replied with a zipped-mouth emoji. Janine was the music teacher at their school (well, ex music teacher now) and she’d always been a major bitch during the whole five years Zayn had spent in the school. Uptight, bourgeoise and mildly homophobic cunt, always looking at the students like they were particularly disgusting insects, thinking that her violin degree at the Royal Academy was just too good for her to be a music teacher in a town with a population of barely 1000 inhabitants. Zayn had never even fathomed how Janine had ended up in Thunder Hills, and had never cared enough to ask, because if he did, his next question would have been ‘Cool, and when are you leaving again?’.

So now what? Did Cowell already find a new music teacher?, Zayn asked stubbing his cigarette and waving again at Mrs. Thrapple as she was finally done ogling him and retreating back into her house.

Yeah, apparently some crazy motherfucker applied to come here OF HIS OWN FREE WILL, can you believe this

Zayn laughed. It was true, though. Zayn didn’t mind the small town, had even come to actually like it, because it was indeed boring, but cute, and the next big town was not that far with a car, so they could always get out for a while if they needed it. But neither he nor Louis had actually wanted to go there at the beginning, it had just been the only spot available to become real teachers at last, so they’d taken it. Zayn really couldn’t imagine applying for a job in Thunder Hills.

Cowell said the new guy is young and very well-mannered, and that he’s scheduled to come here this afternoon and he’ll start working tomorrow. Quickest replacement of a teacher ever, Zed, I feel like TH High has suddenly become Oxford

Zayn laughed and sent a series of ‘HAHA’s in caps lock to Louis, then placed his phone on the table and kept working on the essays.

He chuckled when he corrected Ollie’s paper, because it was really good, but she’d taken the liberty of adding a message for him on the bottom of the last page. Mr. M, you’re very cruel, giving us assignments on the second week of school already. I decided you’re not my fav teacher anymore. No, jk. U still are. But you’re cruel anyway. She’d completed it with a small heart, and Zayn laughed as he wrote down her grade and answered with a Sorry Ollie, being a teacher is a cruel job indeed.

As he lighted another cigarette, he heard the rumbling of a car engine approaching, coming from the ‘border’ where the welcome sign stood in its proud rustiness, mere feet away from Zayn’s place. Zayn raised his head from the papers only to be met with a shiny black jeep stopping right next to Mrs. Thrapple’s house, in the lot of the place which had been on sale for forever, since no one in their right mind would actually buy a house in Thunder Hills.

Oh, don’t tell me…

A blonde haired lad came out of the jeep’s driver’s seat, cracking his back and looking around. “What a shithole” he commented, and Zayn held back a snort.

“Oh, come on, it’s… suggestive?” another guy, a fairly ripped one with a buzzcut, answered getting out of the backseat and pulling two suitcases with him”

“Looks like those fake American towns where people get sucked into cults, Liam” the blonde guy replied.

“We drew the short straw, Niall, so suck it up and help me unload the trunk” ripped lad retorted.

“Yeah, and maybe you two should stop screaming how much this town looks like a shithole, just in case the people who already live here hear you and we start off on the wrong foot with all the other ten inhabitants” a third guy commented cheerfully, coming out of the passenger seat, and fucking hell.

Third guy had long, curly brown hair framing his face. They were kinda far from Zayn, but Zayn still noticed he had green eyes and lovely, rosy, full lips. His outfit was a bit disconcerting, with a yellow sheer shirt printed with purple leaves, and jeans so skinny Zayn felt his mouth suddenly water and fought it by gulping down the rest of his lemonade glass.

Yellow shirt looked around with half a smile. “Well, coulda been worse, right?” he said to the others “There’s a nice… park, over there, and we have neighbours!”

The ‘park’ was just the playground, with literally eight trees planted in a circle around a patch of grass which hosted a sandbox and a swing and a single bench.

“Park” ripped guy scoffed “Harry, that’s like, a vegetable garden”

Harry, huh?, Zayn thought with a smirk as he thumbed his phone open and texted Louis.

Did Cowell tell you the name of the new music teacher?

No, why?

Cos three guys just moved in the empty house in front of mine, and one of ‘em has to be the new guy at school. I hope it’s the extremely fit one, he’s got a nice arse and curls

Z you need to get laid like, yesterday

Zayn chuckled, because fair, and quickly wore his t-shirt again, going down the stairs of his porch to introduce himself. It was just polite, wasn’t it? It wasn’t like Zayn was acting like the stereotypical nosey neighbour in the tiny town, right?

Yellow shirt, Harry, was struggling with pulling out a blue suitcase from the trunk of the jeep while the other two snickered and watched him squirm.

“Hi?” Zayn said with a smile “Can I help you?”

Harry turned to look at him, and gaped for a second. His green eyes blinked three times, and the blonde guy kicked him in the shin before shoving a hand Zayn’s way. “Excuse him, zero social skills sometimes. I’m Niall”

“I’m Zayn” Zayn replied, shaking his hand.

“Liam” ripped guy offered with a smile. He had a tank top with the Batman logo, and Zayn grinned while repeating his own name and shaking Liam’s hand as well.

Harry stood straight from the crouched position he had in the trunk, and also shook Zayn’s hand. “I’m Harry” he said, unnecessarily at that point.

“Zayn” Zayn repeated for the third time, looking at Harry in the eyes and maybe squeezing his hand a bit more than actually necessary.

“We…” Harry said, his lips slightly chapped, which brought him to lick them, and yes I really need to get laid Louis’s right, Zayn thought.

“We just moved here” Harry completed his sentence, and then pointed at Niall and Liam “These two have been relocated as officers at the PD here”

“PD?” Zayn tried not to snort “Barely a police office with three cells, I’m afraid”

“Wonderful” Niall muttered, rolling his eyes “We, eh, drew the short straw. Our PD in Leeds was in a surplus and nobody wanted to be relocated here to be honest, so we drew straws. Me and Liam are not that lucky, apparently”

Harry punched him in the arm. “Are you seriously talking shit about this town to someone who lives here?” he hissed.

Zayn laughed. “’S all good. It is kind of a shithole” Zayn conceded “Big difference from Leeds I’m sure. But it has its perks, you’ll see” he added, eyeing Harry because if those two were not the new teacher, then…

“I didn’t feel like getting separated from these two shitheads so applied to the high school here for the vacant music teacher position” Harry offered, predictably, and raised his hands to scoop his curls up in a bun. The movement made his biceps look really really nice and for fuck’s sake Zayn stop staring.

Zayn smiled. “I teach English there” he revealed “So you’re my new colleague, ain’t you”

Harry gaped, and his lips were really fucking pretty. “Oh, wow, that’s… that’s cool, we’re like, colleagues and neighbours!”

“Incredible” Liam commented with a grin “I think everybody is everybody’s neighbour here, right? There are what, five streets?”

“Ten” Zayn laughed “And a main square, which is also the only square, and a church, a supermarket, a single pub, a bar, and even other amenities” he added just for the sake of throwing Liam and Niall off.

“Amazing” Niall laughed almost hysterically.

“It’s fine, you’ll be okay” Zayn said more seriously, because it had been five years, but he remembered the day he’d moved there and he’d almost had a coronary at the thought of being stuck there, before Louis had saved him and made him enjoy the place.

“I’m sure we will” Harry said, his voice low and drawling, and when Zayn turned to look at him, he found him staring.

It’s a nice start or something, I suppose, Zayn thought to himself.

Niall and Liam looked from Zayn to Harry and vice versa, and then they both rolled their eyes and started to drag the suitcases to the stairs of their new porch. “We gotta start unloading all our shit sooner or later” Niall said “See you around, Zayn! I guess it means we’ll see each other every three fucking minutes, yeah?”

Zayn laughed. “Yeah, that’s about right!” he shouted to Niall’s back as he and Liam climbed the stairs “Actually, I can help if you want” he said in a lower tone, to Harry.

Harry smiled. “That would be great, those fuckers won’t help me even if I pay them” he answered, trying to lift his blue suitcase and failing “Jesus, I never thought sheer shirts would be this heavy” he muttered.

Zayn laughed and moved to help him, but right then a high-pitched scream froze the blood in his veins and made the hair on the back of his head stand.

Chapter Text

 

 

 

Harry didn’t mind that the town was indeed a shithole, and even though he’d never tell Liam and Niall, he’d fucking celebrated when they’d been relocated to Thunder Hills, because them moving meant Harry had an excuse for moving the fuck away from Leeds as well.

He had completely unnecessarily freaked out until his application to the high school there had been accepted, because he objectively knew there was no way they could refuse him, but he still worried about it because a) if they didn’t accept him, it meant staying in Leeds and being separated from Niall and Liam, and b) because Harry Styles was the living, breathing personification of Unnecessary Freak-out.

Harry had had his shit already half-packed a week before the actual day of their moveout, not that he’d admit that. He thought that Liam and Niall kind of knew anyway, but they just cared about Harry enough to not mention it.

They’d left Leeds for-fucking-ever, and Harry’s happiness about it hadn’t been undermined by the rust-corroded, hand-written and askew sign reading ‘Welcome to Thunder Hills’ like some kind of ominous warning. Harry had always defined himself as a social animal, someone who felt at ease in throngs of people and sweaty crowds on the dance floors of high-profile clubs, but over the course of the last years, many things had changed, that included. Nick had made a lot of things change, and Harry couldn’t find a good one for the life of him. So really, saying fuck you to Leeds only meant saying fuck you to Nick, the fuck you Harry never managed to say out loud when the moment was right.

Thunder Hills was ridiculously small, but the houses looked cute, and if a shithole of a town came with this kind of neighbour, well, Harry should have thought of moving there ages ago.

His name was Zayn, a name Harry had never heard before and made him look even more special, like the perfect cheekbones and the long eyelashes and the stupidly chiselled jawline weren’t enough to make Zayn stand out probably even in a crowd.

Harry had thought people in a town that small would be suspicious of newcomers, but he’d been wrong, because Zayn had approached them with a smile, an eye-crinkling smile with his tongue peeking from behind his teeth, and had asked them if they needed help.

Liam and Niall might have a shitty luck, but Harry felt like he hit jackpot when Zayn told him he worked at the school as well.

He’d been about to suggest that Zayn give him his number and maybe show him around the city and possibly decide it was an extremely good idea to fuck the brains out of each other, when the scream sliced the air like thunder.

He barely had time to exchange a weirded-out look with Zayn before Niall and Liam ran out of the house. “Did you hear that?” Niall asked “Is that, like, normal?”

Zayn shook his head and pointed towards the ‘park’ Liam had called a ‘vegetable garden’. “It came from the playground” Zayn said.

Niall and Liam nodded, and they all made their way towards the playground. As soon as they reached it, they made out the silhouette of a woman crouched by a tree, her hands covering her mouth and her eyes wide open. She was shaking.

“Ma’am?” Liam gently called her “Are you okay? Do you need help?”

The woman didn’t even look at them. She just pointed to the tree in front of her.

Harry felt his insides churn when he saw what had made the woman scream. Lying in the grass under the tree was a body. It was a teenaged girl, with dark, long hair tangled with leaves. She was clearly dead, her tank top soaked in blood coming out from a big, nasty stabbing wound. Her eyes were… not there. They’d been gauged out, and Harry felt bile rise in his throat while he forced himself not to throw up.

“No no no no no” he heard the anguished murmur coming from his side. He turned to look at Zayn.

He was pale, so pale, and Harry held him up when Zayn stumbled backwards, at a loss of words. Zayn hit his back to the tree behind him, and the next moment he bent forward, throwing up.

Harry could clearly hear Liam and Niall make a decision to call the Sheriff, and he left them to that and to help up the poor woman. He kneeled by Zayn, who was heaving, his breath coming out in ragged huffs as he held onto the bark of the tree so hard Harry was afraid he was going to get splinters in his fingers.

“Zayn?” Harry called him, as gently as he could “Do you…” he didn’t complete the question.

Zayn had tears rolling down his cheeks, but he didn’t look at Harry. He kept staring at the girl’s body even as he answered the unasked question. “It’s Jen. Jen Parker. She’s my student”

Harry should have imagined it, since the girl was probably around seventeen and the town only had that one school. But it still hit him, like a physical punch to the chest. Harry had been a teacher basically since the week after he graduated, and he could not even fathom what he’d do if he ran into a corpse only to discover it was one of his kids. Zayn had probably known the girl for years, seen her grow up, and how do you ever recover from that?

Harry tried to subtly place himself in Zayn’s line of sight, to uselessly hide the maimed body from his eyes. Zayn certainly understood what he was doing, but he didn’t push him away even if Harry was practically a stranger. Harry felt Zayn’s hand grab his knee, squeezing hard, but he didn’t recoil from the contact, because it was clear Zayn needed it.

They didn’t have time to say anything more before the Sheriff and two officers arrived. The three of them, helped by Niall and Liam, carefully removed the woman from the scene, and Harry gently helped Zayn up to go after them. Zayn gave one last despaired look at the girl’s body, but he followed Harry obediently. “I just graded her paper” Zayn murmured, so low Harry had to strain to catch the words, and his heart constricted “I just gave her an A+ and I was thinking to talk to her, make her apply to some ivy league college and get out of here to fucking shine

Harry sighed, averting his eyes because he couldn’t stand to look at the pained expression on Zayn’s beautiful face. He kept holding him by an elbow, and they stopped walking when the Sheriff and the others did too.

The Sheriff, a lean man in his forties called Ben Winston, took the woman’s statement first. She didn’t have much to say, only that she was jogging and she’d almost tripped into Jen’s body. The Sheriff nodded and then had one of the officers escort her back to her house.

“Ben” Zayn breathed, his huge eyes staring at the Sheriff and his hands shaking “You saw her. You saw… how she looked. It’s… it’s like…” he didn’t finish, but the Sheriff seemed to understand what he meant anyway, because he nodded gravely.

“Yes, Zayn” he just said “I saw”

Zayn nodded, and the hand which was gripping Harry’s arm squeezed tighter. Harry didn’t care, to be honest.

“I’m sorry you had to see this, Zayn” the Sheriff added.

“She was in school today, Ben” Zayn said desperately “She was in school less than five hours ago

The Sheriff nodded again, sadness filling his whole face. “She was a good kid”

“Yeah no shit, Ben!” Zayn shouted “You gotta find this motherfucker, I beg you. I don’t… I can’t take it anymore, not again, not like…”

“Zayn” the Sheriff interrupted him sternly “Let’s try not to scare our new neighbours, okay? There’s a time for everything, and this is not it. Go home. Try to get some rest. I gotta go back to the station and notify the family”

Zayn didn’t answer when the Sheriff and the other officer said goodbye, telling Niall and Liam they’d see them the following day at the station.

None of them spoke when the four of them were left alone. Harry gently started to guide Zayn back to their houses, and when they stopped in front of Zayn’s, he really didn’t know what to say, but he was certain he didn’t want to leave him by himself in those conditions. Harry didn’t even know if he was really by himself, if he lived with someone, but he knew the thought of just leaving Zayn there was impossible to fathom.

“Louis” Zayn almost whispered “I gotta tell Louis”

He dug through his pockets to retrieve his phone, but his fingers were shaking so hard he failed to punch in his password three times.

Niall and Liam looked at Harry at a loss, and Harry sighed. “Zayn” he said, firmly but slowly “Please, I know you don’t really know us, but you’re in no conditions to do anything at the moment. Just come in with us, we’ll make you a cuppa, and then you can call your friend, yeah?”

Zayn looked at Harry with an expression Harry didn’t know how to interpret, but eventually he nodded. “Okay. Okay. I’m sorry I’m losing it”

Harry shook his head. “You just…” saw your student stabbed and with her eyes gauged out. “You just had a very traumatic experience. It’s alright. I just don’t feel like leaving you alone, to be honest”

“I don’t wanna be alone” Zayn blurted out, nodding frantically “I… I…”

“It’s okay” Niall said, mustering a smile “Our house is unfurnished and needs a good clean-up, but we do have a kettle and tea. Come in”

Zayn nodded again, murmuring a thanks as Harry guided him towards the stairs and into the small house.

Harry hadn’t even had time to look at the insides of his new place before they got the worst welcome possible into the town, he realized as he saw the inside of the entrance hall and the naked walls of the living room for the first time. The colour of the house was a hideous ochre which Harry would think of changing once that weird, upsetting night would be over.

The kitchen was also mostly unfurnished, but it did have a nice wooden table with three chairs, a fairly new-looking stove and sink, and a small camping fridge which they would probably have to substitute with a real one the very day they would do their first grocery shopping.

For now, Harry only took care of having Zayn sit in one of the chairs while Niall got the kettle going and then sat on the counter, looking pitifully at Zayn’s back. Harry took a seat next to Zayn while Liam did the same.

“Zayn?” Liam called him warily when he’d taken a couple sips from the tea Niall had given him “Can… can you tell us what you meant, when you talked to the Sheriff?”

Zayn took a shaky breath. “This… this already happened. Two years ago” he said.

Harry felt his stomach churn unpleasantly. How the fuck could murders so brutal take place in such a small town, in broad daylight?

“What the fuck” Niall muttered.

Zayn nodded. “Yeah. It was… it was bad. One of my students. Meredith Grunge. She was… she was Jen’s age” he said like he was forcing the words out “We had another Sheriff at the time. He never found the murderer, never even got as far as to have a fucking suspect. It was declared a cold case, never reopened. Ben was just an officer at the time. He knows. He realized as soon as he saw the body, like me. You don’t fucking forget something like that”

No, I bet you don’t, Harry thought sadly, hating the hurt and the bewilderment on Zayn’s face.

“I have to call Louis” Zayn said after a moment, standing up.

“You can tell him to come here if you want” Liam said quickly, and Harry loved Liam for many reasons, but one of them was how selfless and understanding he always was “I’m sorry we’re all becoming friends in this horrible circumstance, but I guess none of us really wants to be alone tonight”

Zayn managed to produce a weak smile, so different from the smiles he’d given out like candies before they’d discovered the body. “Thank you, I really appreciate it” he said “Excuse me” he added, and dragged his socked feet across the kitchen to the living room.

“Fucking hell” Niall sighed when Zayn was out of earshot.

Liam nodded. “Poor lad” he commented “Must be fucking horrible. This looks like the kind of town where all the kids are everybody’s kids”

Harry nodded, his heart constricting for the umpteenth time.

Zayn came back to the kitchen when he was done with his call, and none of them spoke much in the time it took before someone was ringing their doorbell.

They all stood up, but they let Zayn answer the door.

A blue-eyed, thin man was on the threshold, his eyes already full of tears. He breathed Zayn’s name and they hugged, tightly, while Louis’s shoulders shook as he cried on Zayn’s chest while Zayn shushed him and bit down on his bottom lip not to start crying as well.

Harry briefly wondered if they were together, and then felt like a horrible person, because a kid had just died, and there he was, thinking about fit blokes and if they were single.

“These are my new neighbours” Zayn told Louis when they stopped hugging “Harry, Niall and Liam. They… were with me. Didn’t want to leave me alone”

Louis sniffled a little bit and composed himself before reaching out a hand for the three of them. “Thanks” he said first “I’m Louis, Zayn’s friend and colleague. Sorry to intrude”

“It’s all good” Liam smiled “I’m Liam. We have tea for you as well”

Harry had to hold back a grin at that, because yes, Liam was very selfless and understanding, but he was also shit at hiding when he thought someone was fit. Louis didn’t seem to mind Liam’s smiles and offerings of tea, to be honest, despite his eyes being still wet with tears and red-rimmed.

Louis introduced himself to Niall and Harry as well, but his eyes still flicked to Liam every once in a while, and Harry felt horrible again at being happy at the confirmation that no, Zayn and Louis definitely weren’t together, but there was it.

They all made their way to the kitchen. Liam offered one of the chairs to Louis, but Louis didn’t take it when he saw Zayn and Harry were already seated, which meant the third chair was the only one left. Harry watched Liam and Louis politely bicker while each of them tried to make the other take the chair, and he looked at Zayn, finding the first true smile on his face since when they’d met mere hours earlier.

“Oh, for fuck’s sake” Zayn muttered, a half-grin on his mouth, and Harry chuckled, winking at him.

Liam managed to win the match and Louis sat down with a steaming cup in his hands while Liam hopped on the counter next to Niall with a victorious smile.

“Thanks” Louis said, his cheeks red.

“No problem” Liam said cheerfully.

They all stayed there in silence, Zayn and Louis looking either at each other or down at their cups of tea, while Harry, Niall and Liam did the same.

“We’re really sorry for your loss” Harry offered after a while.

Louis smiled weakly. “Thanks. She was… she was a good kid. Top of her class and all. Really smart”

“I told them about Meredith” Zayn said in a murmur “Ben didn’t want to tell ‘em yet. But Niall and Liam are the new officers, and Harry’s our new colleague, so I guessed I could tell ‘em”

Louis sighed. “Meredith was also smart and top of her class. I dunno if it’s a pattern or summat. But I certainly think it’s very weird that another student ended up maimed and killed in exactly the same way two years later”

“It’s definitely suspicious” Niall nodded “We’ll do whatever we can, promise. It’s not gonna end up as another cold case”

Zayn nodded. “Thanks. Please do. We never had… justice, for Meredith, you know. If there’s a chance it’s the same murderer, then it means it can bring justice to both Meredith and Jen” he said in a defeated tone “The town was just barely recovering. It’s been a fucking mess”

“I can imagine” Harry commented “It’s kids. It would have been bad even in a bigger town. But here, I guess it’s like… everybody actively knows these kids, yeah?”

Zayn chuckled. “You have no idea” he said “Privacy is not a thing here, I’m afraid. Everybody knows each other. Just look out of the window, Mrs. Thrapple is already rejoicing in having more fit blokes she can check out when she waters her plants” he added with a wider smile despite it all “I think the poor things are about to drown for how much she waters ‘em”

Harry followed Zayn’s gaze to the window, and he could indeed perfectly see the shape of an old woman blatantly staring at them through the glass, smiling and waving at them.

She scared the shit out of Harry, but he managed to abort his squeal and wave back.

“You signed your own death sentence just now” Louis told him “Oh well, at least if you’re Mrs. Thrapple’s new man to objectify, it means Zayn is at last free to be on his porch with his top off without having to endure The Stare”

Harry had to use all his strength not to say out loud that if Zayn wandered around with his top off, then there was no way anyone would dream of not looking.

 

*

 

Harry was excited for his first day at work, but he knew it was not gonna be particularly pleasant, not after what had happened the evening before had surely already become public knowledge.

His phone buzzed as he walked to the school. It wasn’t exactly close to their place, but Harry didn’t really see the point of cars in a town so small, so he’d decided to walk and look around a little bit.

He opened the text to see it was from Zayn. They’d all exchanged numbers the night before. Hey, I’m already outside the school. I thought I’d wait for you, show you around a little bit.

Harry smiled. He’d thought Cowell, the principal, would be the one showing him around, but he figured the man would be too preoccupied with a student’s murder to have time to show the school to the new teacher. Hey, cheers, he replied to Zayn, I think I’m almost there? Google doesn’t have good maps for this place, but the streets are named very clearly and I have a good sense of direction. I’m going down Primrose St.

Yeah, we’re lucky this town even has a working data coverage, tbh. Turn the corner at the drugstore and you’ll see the school and me

Harry was already at the end of the street, and he saw indeed a small drugstore called Jensen’s. He turned at the corner like Zayn had told him.

The school was there. It was a fairly big building, all things considered, the façade all painted in the same hideous ochre Harry would have to deal with in his own house. It looked like a three-storey construction, with long stairs at the entrance and wide gates, which were closed.

There was no one in the yard in front of it, except Zayn, standing by a bench with a lit cigarette between his lips.

Harry thought Zayn didn’t look even slightly less beautiful in his work clothes. He was simply wearing black jeans and a dark red button up, his hair tied up in a topknot whereas it had been free the night before, and a backpack slung over one of his shoulders. He waved at Harry, crushing the cigarette under the tip of his sneakers.

Harry waved back and reached him. “Morning” he smiled.

Zayn smiled back. “Morning” he said “I… I have second period today but I thought I’d come here a bit earlier, just in case, you know… the kids come and need someone to talk to”

Harry nodded. “That’s very thoughtful of you”

Zayn chuckled sadly. “These kids are my responsibility, babe. I need to be here for them”

Harry’s heart raced a bit at the pet name that had rolled so carelessly out of Zayn’s lips, but he managed to hold his wits and clear his throat. “It’s cool, you know. That you care about them so much” he answered “I had people make fun of me for doing the same. Like they were not my real kids so it was weird that I bothered so much”

Zayn scoffed. “That’s why you’re a teacher and those people are probably not. Or if they are, they’re shit teachers” he simply said.

Harry smiled. “More like shit people in general, to be honest”

“Mr. M?”

Both Zayn and Harry turned at the shaky voice coming from behind them. Harry saw a blonde-haired kid, probably a senior, stare at Zayn with blue eyes full of tears and quivering lips.

“Oh, Tim” Zayn sighed, and covered the distance between them in a single step, hugging the boy and shushing him while he cried.

“It’s my fault, Mr. M”

Zayn sighed again. “Don’t even say it, Tim. It’s not” he said sternly.

Tim removed himself from Zayn’s hug and stared up at him, barely a couple inches shorter than Zayn. “It is, Mr. M. She… I finally asked her out for real. She was coming to see me. She would have been home if it wasn’t for me”

Harry felt his heart constrict like someone was squeezing it at the desperate tone of the boy.

Zayn put his hands on Tim’s shoulders. “Yo, kiddo. Listen to me, okay? It’s not your fault. Whoever did this probably just picked Jen at random” he said, although there really were no guarantees “So if Jen didn’t come out to see you, it would probably have been someone else, and all lives have equal worth, so nothing would have changed. Please, don’t blame yourself. Blame the killer. It’s their doing, not yours”

Harry didn’t feel like it was really the best call, to talk to a student so openly, but Tim just nodded and sniffled a bit, relaxing under Zayn’s hands still on his shoulders. There were dynamics between teachers and students that looked weird but just worked, Harry thought. He’d had his own with the students he’d left in Leeds. Zayn clearly knew what he was doing, so Harry didn’t find any reason to doubt his methods.

“Did she get a good grade on the Mark Twain paper, Mr. M?” Tim asked, sniffling “She was so scared it was shit. I know it wasn’t, though, Jen was fucking brilliant”

Zayn mustered a smile. “That she was, kid. I gave her an A+”

“Oh, man, she would have lost her shit” Tim whispered.

“Language” Zayn scolded him.

“Lost her shrimp” Tim corrected, and it made Harry snort a laugh, despite himself.

The kid turned to the sound, and only then he seemed to process there was someone else with him and Zayn. He stared at Harry with a small frown, but before Harry could open his mouth, Zayn was already speaking.

“This is Mr. Styles, the new music teacher” Zayn said “I think it’s still a secret, that we have a new teacher, but Tim knows how to keep secrets” he added, looking at Harry and then winking at Tim.

Tim raised his eyebrows. “So the cunt’s gone?”

“Language” Zayn reprimanded again, more sternly.

Tim rolled his eyes. “So is lovely, amazing, incredibly talented miss Waters gone?” he amended.

Zayn gave him another pointed look, but he was biting his lips not to laugh, and Harry was honestly doing the same.

“Yes, Timothy, miss Waters is gone forever, I’m afraid” Zayn said gravely.

Tim sighed. “The incredible losses we’re facing today” he commented, with the twisted, dark humour only teenagers could muster “By the way, Mr. S, my full name’s not Timothy, it’s Thomas. My friends in Year 3 thought it was hilarious to start calling me Tim instead of Tom, and then it stuck, I guess”

Harry smiled. “My name’s Harry” he offered “And my full name is Harry too. Not Harold”

Mr. S?” Zayn asked, arching an eyebrow “Already giving out my nickname to strangers? I might be offended, kid”

Tim rolled his eyes. “’S not your nickname though. Yours is Mr. M, his is Mr. S. To be an English teacher you sure confuse your spellings a lot, Mr. M”

Zayn chuckled and ruffled Tim’s hair, his mouth clearly enunciating “Little shit” without a sound while Tim ducked to avoid Zayn’s hand. Harry smiled at the whole ordeal, because Zayn really knew how to do his job, if the resurrected smile on the kid’s face was anything to go by.

“Will you actually teach us how to play instruments or are we gonna keep studying Beethoven’s biography until our bollocks fall off?” the kid demanded, looking at Harry.

“Tim” Zayn growled.

“Balloons” the boy corrected.

Harry laughed. “I do have plans of actually making you play, yes” he answered “Besides, I’ve never been that fond of Beethoven in the first place. I’m more a Beyoncé kinda bloke myself”

Tim barked a laugh. “We might just like you, Mr. S” he declared.

“What are you doing already here, Tim?” Zayn asked after a moment “School doesn’t start for another half hour”

Tim shrugged. “I knew you were gonna be early today”

Zayn looked questioningly at him, and Tim shrugged again. “You’re always here when we need you, Mr. M. I didn’t forget. None of us did” he added. Harry felt the ghost of the girl called Meredith like something physical on his shoulders.

Zayn’s lips trembled, but just for a moment. Harry watched him recollect himself in a second for the sake of the kid, and then he patted him on the shoulder. “I’m always gonna be here, kiddo” he assured.

Tim nodded. “Yeah, Mr. M. I know”

 

*

 

Harry didn’t start working right away, because Simon Cowell had cancelled first period and reunited the whole school, students and teachers and other personnel, in the auditorium. A lot of parents stayed as well, and Cowell seriously and concisely explained what had happened to Jennifer Parker, without indulging in details but without lying either.

Harry’s heart gave a painful uneven thump when he saw just how many students and even parents were crying. Tim, on the other hand, was not. He was staring at Jen’s picture hung on the wall behind Cowell, and he was just there, motionless and looking like a statue. Harry noticed from the pic that Jen’s eyes had been a bright green. He squeezed his own eyes shut to get rid of the image of her destroyed eye sockets.

These kids are my responsibility, Zayn had said. Well, they were Harry’s as well, now. I’ll help them recover, he promised to himself as he looked at most of them cry.

He looked for Zayn, and saw him sit right next to Tim, further away from Harry himself. Zayn looked like a statue as well, and Harry thought he was so different from the Zayn that had thrown up, crumbled and cried in his arms when they barely knew each other’s name. Harry knew he was being strong for the sake of the kids, because how could they have hope to find justice for their friend if their teacher, the person they looked up to, was not showing any hope himself?

I’ll help you recover as well, Harry promised to himself too.

“It’s a beautiful speech” a tiny voice murmured next to him “I’m sure she would appreciate it”

When Harry turned to look at the woman who had spoken, he found a fair-skinned, short lady with blue eyes and pitch black hair standing right beside him, her eyes concentrated on Simon Cowell who was still speaking.

“Did you know the girl?” Harry asked carefully.

The woman smiled a little, and nodded. “I’m her mother” she said.

Harry’s stomach flipped. Fucking hell, and I just asked her if she knew her. “I am sorry for your loss”

Mrs. Parker nodded again. “I never saw you here before”

“I’m the new music teacher” he murmured, reaching out a hand for her “Harry Styles. I moved in yesterday”

She shook his hand, but just smiled sadly, without replying.

“You seem like a nice lad” she said after a moment “Like Mr. Malik over there. Favourite teacher of my daughter, he was. It’s good to know the kids are in good hands anyway, you know?”

Harry forced himself not to sigh pitifully. Mrs. Parker was smiling and making awkward conversation, but he’d dealt with too many parents not to recognize how sad and wrecked she was. “I’m sorry none of us could do more”

Mrs. Parker shook her head with another weak, sad smile. “You couldn’t have. But I’m glad you care. It’s good, when teachers care at least. I don’t want my daughter to be forgotten”

Harry nodded. “She won’t. We do care” he assured.

Cowell was done speaking, and in the general fuss of at least a hundred students getting the fuck out of those chairs and back to class, Harry lost sight of Mrs. Parker, and couldn’t even say goodbye to her. He didn’t know if she had any other children in the school, but Harry doubted he would see her very often, at least for the moment.

When Zayn reached him at the door of the auditorium with Louis, Harry deemed it best not to tell them Jen’s mum had just been there, because both of them looked already completely spent.

Harry smiled and patted Zayn on the shoulder. “Show me around as promised?” he asked “Cowell’s being attacked by parents, I doubt we’ll ever see him again”

Louis snorted. “Believe me, fucking Cowell is everywhere. You’ll soon start to dread him coming out from under your bed to remind you to grade papers in time”

Harry shrugged with a grin. “Then good thing music teachers don’t assign any papers, I guess”

Zayn laughed. “Come on, let’s get the hell out of here”

Louis and Zayn guided Harry through the two corridors of the first floor, walking among students running to class. “Gordon, stop fucking running!” Louis shouted to a boy.

The boy grinned. “Language, Mr. Tomlinson!”

“I’ll show you language if you don’t get to class right now. I want to find you already at the blackboard with the first math problem ready and solved!”

Gordon waved at Louis, clearly not bothered by the threat, and ran into one of the classrooms in the corridor. “Year 7s. A fucking nightmare when they’re still that young” Louis sighed.

Zayn chuckled. “Like Year 12s are any different”

“At least Year 12s know that these floors are so shit that if they run they have the chance of splitting their heads open and getting tetanus” Louis shrugged.

“Year 7s don’t roll joints in your face and then pretend like they’re just cigarettes when you call them out on it” Zayn retorted “Like they honestly think their beloved Mr. M and Mr. T are not the first clients of Eric behind the square”

“The weed dealer” Louis told Harry, ready to explain.

Harry’s head was slightly swimming at the thought of having to deal with tetanus and joints, but Louis laughed and patted him on the shoulder. “It’s all good, dear Harold. They’re not that bad, I promise. A bunch of shitheads, but they’re alright”

“My name’s just Harry” Harry replied as a girl passed them by, her arms hooked under those of two boys, giggling and eyeing Zayn. Lovely, he thought, I also have to deal with concurrence in the form of fifteen-year-olds.

“Margaret” Zayn called her “Where do you three think you’re going?”

“Bathroom, Mr. Malik!” she chirped.

“Not together, over my dead body” Louis raised an eyebrow “Matt, Dylan. Class. Now”

“But Mr. Toml…”

“Now” Louis repeated sternly.

They reluctantly parted ways with Margaret and slid into two different classrooms while Margaret giggled again and disappeared in the toilets. “Margaret Graham” Zayn told Harry “She’s a cool kid, only a bit… precocious”

“Christ” Harry huffed under his breath.

“Had to have our mandatory sex ed lecture with her class particularly early ‘cause of her” Louis added “That’s the student loo for this corridor” he pointed to where Margaret had gone “There’s another one in the other corridor, and same goes for all three floors. Teacher loo is at the end of each main corridor, Cowell forgot to give you Janine’s key I reckon, but you’ll find it in your locker in the break room, with the locker key itself. If Janine left anything inside it, cleanse it with fire” Louis explained “She was a supercunt. Like, being a cunt was legit her superpower”

“Louis” Zayn hissed as two kids went by them.

“Grunt” Louis corrected.

Harry snorted. “I see where Tim got his creative corrections for his swearwords”

“It’s a hard life, my Harold. That’s the auditorium, which you already know, and the one next to it is the gym”

“Harry” Harry corrected again, half-heartedly. Louis ignored him.

They climbed the stairs to the second floor. “Science lab” Zayn pointed to a room at the beginning of the corridor “If Year 8s are in there, you stay the fuck away from it, and from the whole corridor, if possible”

“Noted” Harry grinned at him, and Zayn grinned back.

Louis hummed, but when Harry turned to look at him, his eyes were scanning the corridor. “Art lab” he pointed at another room “Which is also the computer lab. It’s a mess with scheduling classes and times at the beginning of the year, but you lucky fucker escaped that” he added “And finally, your new kingdom. Music room right here. Wanna go inside?”

Harry nodded, feeling the familiar excitement thrum through his fingers as he pushed the door open. The music room was fairly big, and it featured a baby grand piano, some chairs, two acoustic guitars, a couple flutes and a drums set.

Harry gulped down. “That’s… that’s it?” he asked, abashed.

Zayn chuckled and patted him between his shoulder blades. “I’m afraid so, babe. ‘S not the Royal Academy, like the supercunt loved to remind us every single day. School doesn’t have a lot of money, to be honest”

Harry sighed. “It’s fine. I can work with this. I’m gonna be peachy” he said. And buy stuff for these kids so they can finally have a proper music class, he added mentally.

He took some steps inside the classroom and wandered around, hitting a couple keys on the piano just to see. The out-of-key, wailing sound that came out of the instrument made him start and cringe. “Fucking hell” he murmured “Who did this to you, huh?” he asked the piano.

Louis laughed. “Done eye-fucking the poor thing?” he asked “Supercunt never even used it”

“What did she do?” Harry asked, rolling his eyes.

Zayn shrugged. “Be annoying and disrespectful”

“I see” Harry sighed “Well, I pride myself on being very respectful and I also happen to love my fucking job. These kids will go out of school today thinking music is the best class they’ve ever had” he decided.

Louis cocked an eyebrow. “Slow down, Terminator. You have to teach ‘em how to play first” he snickered. Harry punched him in the arm and got out of the room.

They went to the third floor, which was only one corridor. “Third and last floor, only Year 12s here” Zayn explained “This is Cowell’s office” he pointed at a slim door “And this is our breakroom, where you’re cordially forced to make coffee for everyone every time you have first period”

“Oh” Harry felt his cheeks redden “I didn’t, today. I didn’t know that I was suppo…”

“It’s fine!” Zayn laughed, his big eyes crinkling “Of course you didn’t, it’s your first day, it’s honestly a miracle you even found the school”

“Well, I had a local to guide me via text, didn’t I?” Harry grinned.

Zayn grinned back.

“Lovely” Louis enounced, rolling the ‘l’s more than necessary “Wanna come see your locker or do you wanna keep flirting?”

“Lou!” Zayn exclaimed.

Harry’s ears were probably on fire, and he blessed his long hair that covered them. He also blessed Cowell for not really having a dress-code for teachers, if the multiple ear piercings, side shavings and hand tattoos Zayn was sporting were any indication (Harry had already seen his whole sleeves, and Jesus). Harry had dreaded being asked to cut his hair more than once, but Cowell had just shrugged and told him he could keep his hair if he could also keep the kids from being illiterate and untalented.

Harry smiled awkwardly at Zayn and joined Louis by the two rows of ten lockers each, placed against one of the walls, right next to the table with the coffee machine and a pile of mugs.

Harry’s locker still read Janine Waters, and Louis sighed in extreme satisfaction when he ripped the tag off, handing Harry a new one with a grin.

Harry chuckled and took a marker from the table, writing Harry Styles on the white tag. Louis peeled the sticker and slammed it on the locker. “Beautiful” he declared “Now let’s open it”

They did. It was unlocked, and like Louis had already predicted, Harry found the key to the teacher loo and the key to the locker itself inside. There were just crumpled papers and a book, apart from the keys.

The book was the most boring, horrible history of music textbook Harry knew existed. “Of course poor Tim said they were studying Beethoven until their bollocks fell off” he commented “This is shit. Out of date, too. What was that woman doing?”

“Complaining she ended up here from the Royal Academy” Zayn offered.

Harry rolled his eyes. “Poshest motherfuckers on Earth” he said, throwing the book in the bin “Goodbye, History of Music for Beginners. Nobody’s ever gonna miss ya” he told the book.

“Do you always talk to objects?” Louis mused, and Zayn elbowed him.

Harry laughed. “Yeah” he admitted “Most of the time I just bump into furniture and say sorry to it, though”

Louis sighed. “I knew you had to be a bit batshit to come here of your own free will”

It was this or staying in a town that I came to fucking loathe, my friend, Harry thought.

“Cool” Louis said at last “Now that you’re all set and all your questions have been answered, I have a question for you”

Zayn facepalmed. “Lou…”

“Does your friend Liam happen to be single and into dicks?”

Harry choked on his own spit, and Zayn snorted, patting him on the back to help him. “Oh, Jesus” Harry breathed when he finished coughing up a lung “Um. As a matter of fact, the answer is yes to both” he said honestly, because he knew he was doing Liam a favour.

“Excellent” Louis wiggled his eyebrows “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have young minds to shape. And Gordon better have done his maths homework”

He waved at them, and was gone in an instant.

“Louis is a lot. Sorry about that” Zayn offered, grimacing a bit.

Harry laughed. “I bet that’s why he caught your attention when you moved here”

“He came knocking on my door at two in the morning and asked me to go get pints because we were the only people in town over eighteen and under forty” Zayn revealed “Which is not even true. This town’s a shithole, but it’s not that small. Still almost 1000 inhabitants, after all. Anyway I agreed because he said that he was not gonna leave until I said yes”

“And the rest was history” Harry concluded dramatically for him “So, Liam, huh?” he added with a grin.

Zayn rolled his eyes. “Been talking non-stop about his biceps. A proper nightmare”

“Well, then don’t tell Louis that Liam’s been waxing poetics about his piercing blue eyes that look like he’s staring into your soul, Harry” Harry replied, imitating Liam’s accent and tone.

Zayn barked a full-belly laugh. “You’re a lot too, ain’t you, Harry Styles”

Harry winked. “You have no idea, Zayn Malik”

 

*

 

Harry had a break during second period, which he spent in the music room, tuning the old piano, mentally complimenting himself for always having tools in his backpack just in case.

When the bell rang, he waited in the classroom for more than ten minutes, but no student showed up. He frowned, looking at the minutes ticking, and eventually resolved to head out to look for them in their own class.

Cowell had told him, upon hiring him, that the school didn’t have much space, so the students were divided in kind of like the European system. Each group of students had their own classroom, and they didn’t move from it (except for art and music classes), so it was the teachers who rotated instead. His students for third period were Year 12 B, which if Harry remembered correctly, was Tim’s class. He was fairly sure they had Zayn before him, so he took a breath and knocked on their door, opening it when he clearly heard Zayn’s voice say “Come in”.

Zayn was indeed there, his lovely arse (which Harry was absolutely not paying attention to) rested against the edge of the desk. He was facing the class, fourteen students said the registry Harry had been given. Well, thirteen now, he briefly thought with a sad frown.

“Hey” Zayn smiled “We were beginning to worry you’d gotten lost in the new place”

Harry smiled too. “I was… waiting in the music room?”

“The music room?” someone exclaimed in a hiss.

Harry turned to the voice, smiling at a girl with long, brown Dutch braids and chocolate eyes. “Yes?” he said “You have music class now, don’t you?”

“Miss Waters probably didn’t even know where the music room was, to be honest” someone else muttered, a thin boy with a head of black dreadlocks.

“I have a feeling things are gonna change, Bryan” Zayn said “Everyone, this is Mr. Harry Styles, your new music teacher. Mr. Styles, this is Year 12 B” he smiled again at Harry and pushed himself away from the desk, gathering his notebooks and books.

Harry took some steps forward, only to bump the tips of his feet against one of the desk legs. “Oh, sorry” he said without thinking, but managed to look at Zayn to try and pretend he was apologizing to him and not the furniture.

He heard some snorts coming from the kids, but he ignored them.

Zayn smiled and sighed. “Be nice” he warned the class, and then patted Harry on the shoulder “Good luck, babe, see you later” he whispered, so low that no one apart from Harry could have heard him.

Harry smiled as Zayn left the room and closed the door, and then he took his place right where Zayn had been, bum against the edge of the desk. Harry didn’t believe in teachers sitting on the chair on the other side from the students.

“So” he said “My name is Harry Styles, as Mr. Malik already said, and I am very happy to be here”

“Are you though?” the girl with the Dutch braids said with a frown “This town’s a shithole. Crime scene too, now. Again” she added, defeatedly.

Harry didn’t really know how to reply. He took a brief glance around, finding eyes blinking at him, and then his gaze landed on a desk right at the front, next to Tim. The desk was empty, and a big sunflower was resting on it.

Harry sighed, and took a decision. In silence, he grabbed the glass vase on his desk, the one which for some reason contained sweets, and emptied it on the table. The kids frowned at him as he rummaged through his backpack, extracting his water bottle. He transferred the water from the bottle to the vase, and then went to Jen’s desk, delicately taking the sunflower and sliding it in the vase.

He raised his head and looked at the kids. “So it can be fresh and live a little longer” he just said, smiling.

No one replied, but they all smiled back. Tim chuckled, doodling something on his notebook.

“Now” Harry went on, settling on his own desk again “What do you say we briefly learn each other’s names, and then we get out of here and do some real music?”

The kids nodded. Harry smiled again, and ran his fingers through the small mountain of sweets on the desk.

“Those are Mr. M’s” Tim said with a half grin “He gives ‘em to us when we answer correctly”

Harry grinned back. “I’m sure Mr. M won’t mind if I take possession of his sweets”

Harry swore he heard someone murmur “Nah, he definitely wouldn’t mind giving you his sweets”, but he promptly decided to ignore that.

“So, one correct answer, one sweet” Harry mused, and then looked at Tim “What’s your name?”

Tim snorted. “Thomas Clarkson, Tim for friends” he said, and Harry nodded, throwing a sweet to him. Tim caught the sweet bumping it with his head, and it made a perfect arch, landing on his open palm.

“Football, huh?” Harry commented.

Tim gaped. “How did you…”

Harry shrugged. “Correct answer for me too” he just said, and blatantly slowly picked a sweet and put it in the front pocket of his shirt.

“Hey! The sweets are for students!” Dutch braids protested.

Harry arched his eyebrows with a grin. “Never said that now, did I?” he retorted “What’s your name?”

“Isabelle Marshall” she said, and Harry threw her a sweet. She perfectly caught it in the air with a swirl of her long, thin arm “Dancer” Harry offered.

Isabelle squealed. “Are you a wizard?”

“It’s the candy who chooses the wizard, miss Marshall” Harry recited.

They laughed. “We like you, Mr. S” a boy with a buzzcut declared.

Harry mentally fist-pumped. Buzzcut was called Andrew, he learned in the next five minutes. The kids all introduced themselves via sweets, cheering when Harry got their hobbies right and laughing when he was completely wrong, and by the time he had all their names memorized – his classes had been double that number in Leeds, so it was not that hard to learn thirteen names and faces now – he stood up from the desk. “Who knows how to read scores?” he asked.

Only five people raised their hand, and Harry sighed, mentally cursing Janine Waters. “Perfect” he said cheerfully, drawing five lines on the blackboard. The school had actual blackboards, with chalk, and not those fancy electronic blackboards he’d never gotten used to in Leeds.

He spent a good twenty minutes teaching all of them how to read in treble clef, and when they’d all gotten it right, copying the scores he’d drawn on the blackboard for further use, he smiled. “Okay. Now, to the actual classroom. We’ll directly meet there next time, okay?”

They nodded and shuffled out of the room in a very orderly fashion, Harry at the end of the line. He smiled at the clear excitement he could see on their faces as they went down to the second floor, and started doing a mental list of things he’d buy for their classes. He didn’t have any kids of his own, and he honestly didn’t mind spending a bit of his own money for his students. Did it make him lame and weird, as Nick had said? Maybe yes. Harry honestly didn’t give a fuck.

“Oh wow, this room is a health hazard” Isabelle commented, dismayed.

Harry chuckled, wondering what Isabelle would have said if she’d seen the room earlier that morning, before Harry had had to fucking clean it to avoid having an asthma attack.

“Okay, now” Harry clapped his hands twice “Who knows how to play any instrument?”

Isabelle raised her hand. “I… play the piano. A bit. I guess”

“Not a bit, she’s fucking sick!” Andrew corrected.

“Language” Harry drawled.

“Ducking” Andrew amended.

Harry rolled his eyes and then smiled at Isabelle. “Do you feel like taking the piano then?”

Isabelle sighed and nodded, sitting on the stool and waiting. Harry looked around some more. “Who else?”

“I play the drums” Bryan offered. Harry smiled and gestured to the drums with his head.

“Guitar” Tim, Ollie, Jason and Tracy raised their hands.

“Anyone else?” Harry asked.

A couple more students raised their hands, and Harry nodded. “Okay, so we’ll do it like this. Decide amongst yourselves who will take the first turn with the two guitars we have, and the rest will take the turns after”

He left the kids to discuss it between themselves, and focused on the rest of the class. “Who wants to sing?”

Some shy hands started to go up, and Harry tried to contain his excitement by just nodding and positioning the kids based on their kind of voices.

Once everybody had a role, he stared at them. “Do you have the scores I made you note down earlier?”

They nodded, showing him their scrap papers. “We’ll have real composing notes next time, I promise” he assured “Now. For those of you who haven’t figured it out yet, we’re gonna play Jingle Bells

Jingle Bells?” Tim laughed “Mr. S, it’s like, the beginning of September”

Harry shrugged. “It’s very warm outside. We’ll fight the heat by singing Christmas songs” he declared.

The kids were abashed and probably thought he was kinda batshit, but Harry didn’t mind.

He spent the rest of the time teaching them the song, showing them the right hand positions, how to release their breath and voice in the proper manner, and he understood they were all having the time of their lives, if he said so himself.

“What do you play, Mr. S?” Isabelle asked when they got the song mostly right.

“I play keyboards and guitar, Isabelle” he replied “But I am a singer, mostly”

“Ooooh, Mr. S, sing us something!” Ollie exclaimed.

Harry laughed. “Not today, Ollie. We still need to get this song right. You all might want to put all your energy into it, because you won’t be pleased to know that I will teach the same song later today to Year 7s, due to the lack of practice you all had before I came to make your lives better” he told them, playfully “And I don’t think any of you wants to be outclassed by the kids”

“Oh hell no” Tim muttered “I’mma play Jingle fucking Bells every day of my life if it kills me”

“Language, Tim”

“Plucking” Tim rolled his eyes.

Harry tried not to laugh, mostly failing. “One more thing. You will discuss among yourselves and come up with a song you wanna learn by the end of the year, and we will have a nice little show at graduation, so you can finish your high school like you started it. Very embarrassed and with your parents looking at you from afar”

The reactions were groans and excited squeals in equal measures, and Harry let them shout for a second before clapping his hands. “Now, where were we? Ah, right. Dashing through the snow

The kids resumed their positions and started the song again, without his help for the rhythm this time. Harry barely had time to look at them and realize, for the thousandth time, that he loved his fucking job, before the door was pushed open and Zayn and Louis stumbled inside, like they were leaning on it and the door had given in.

“Um, can we help you?” Harry asked, arching an eyebrow at them while they composed themselves and cleared their throats.

The kids were giggling.

“Sorry!” Louis exclaimed “We didn’t mean to spy. It was just, I thought I was finally losing it, I kept hearing Jingle Bells in the air on the 7th of September”

Zayn laughed. “We do apologize”

“The room’s apparently not soundproof, Mr. S” Ollie offered, gasping theatrically.

Fuck me. “I see” Harry sighed “We’ll take care of it. Any of you have eggs at home?”

“You wanna egg the school in a protest?” Andrew asked, jittery and hopeful.

“No, Andrew” Harry rolled his eyes “Egg cartons make excellent soundproofing material. Collect as many as you can, and we can plaster them over the walls so that your other teachers won’t be disturbed”

“You are really amazing, Mr. S” Isabelle sighed. Most of the girls and even some boys were nodding in agreement, Harry noticed.

“Yo” Zayn playfully scowled “I won’t have any of that under my nose. I am a jealous teacher”

“Don’t you worry, Mr. M, you can have Mr. S for yourself anyway” Tim said, grinning.

Zayn stuttered. Louis started to wheeze with laughter. Harry, on his side, wished a natural calamity would occur right that second so that the ground could swallow him whole. Possibly with Zayn, though.

“I meant jealous of my students” Zayn clarified.

“Right” Ollie smiled sweetly “Mr. S?”

“Yes, Ollie” Harry sighed.

“I’m so glad the supercunt’s gone”

Et tu, Ollie!” Louis shrieked “Language!”

“Supercouch?” Ollie winced.

Harry shook his head, because he perfectly knew just where the kids had first heard the word.

 

*

 

We miss you, Mr. Styles. We hope you’re having a nice time in the new school. New music teacher’s good, but he’s not you. Your new kids better know how good they have it now.

Harry smiled, feeling his throat constrict a bit with a teary knot, as he looked at the group photo his ex students in Leeds had taken and sent him with that lovely caption.

I miss you too, kids. I am actually okay. Be nice to your new teacher. All the love as always. -Mr. Styles., he replied.

“Hey” Zayn announced his presence outside the school, by the bench where they had met earlier that morning “Who is it that makes you smile this wide?” he asked, going for casual.

It was honestly a very lame attempt at investigating if Harry already had anyone, but Harry didn’t really mind, because he wanted Zayn to know he was in fact single as a fucking pringle, and possibly ready to mingle.

“My ex students in Leeds” he explained “Sent me a cute class pic and said that they miss me. I miss ‘em too”

Zayn nodded. “I bet they do miss you. It’s only been a day and I swear I’ve never seen the kids that excited. You’re fucking magic” he said “But you’re happy, right? To be here? With your new kids?”

Harry laughed. “I am, Zayn, don’t worry” he answered as they started walking away, towards their places “I honestly don’t mind tiny towns. I could have done without such a fucking tragedy, but kids are resilient. They’re gonna be okay. We’ll make sure of it”

Zayn sighed and nodded again, kicking at the gravel of the street with the tip of his boots. He had the sleeves of his shirt rolled up now that school time was over, and Harry let his eyes wander a little bit over his arms, studying the lines and lines of drawings and mandalas running up Zayn’s lovely skin.

“You would have loved Jen” Zayn offered as they went by the church, and he stopped by one of the benches surrounding the town square, sitting and squinting at the sun as he lighted a cigarette “She played violin. She was insanely good at it. I don’t say it just ‘cause she was a student of mine. She was just one of those kids that are good at everything they attempt”

Harry nodded and sighed a smile, sitting next to Zayn. He could see the priest trimming the grass of the church yard. He made a mental note to go introduce himself later, because he hadn’t had the chance yet.

“Father McKenzie” Zayn said, pointing at the priest with his head and grinning at Harry.

Harry snorted. “Really? Like…”

“Yep” Zayn nodded “Like Eleanor Rigby. Source of endless hilarity around here”

Harry was probably already crushing too hard over Zayn, but how could he honestly be blamed when Zayn was there, looking golden under the sun, and grinning at Harry making Beatles references?

“We should go out” Zayn blurted out. Harry froze, taken by surprise, but Zayn didn’t see it, because he was too busy looking at anything that wasn’t Harry. “Like. Out of Thunder Hills. One night in the weekend, maybe Friday or Saturday so we don’t have school the next day” Zayn added.

“Are you asking me out already, Mr. M?” Harry grinned, because he couldn’t fucking help it.

Zayn stuttered and choked a bit on his smoke, but didn’t deny it. “I mean. If you want. We could have fun”

Harry really wished Zayn would look at him while he basically asked him on a date, but he wasn’t gonna be that picky. He didn’t answer, but after a moment Zayn’s hand slowly snaked to his knee. Harry felt the weight of Zayn’s hand like it was his whole body that was pressed against him. Warmth radiated through his clothes, right in his fucking veins, and Harry was a bit ashamed to admit that was all it had taken for Zayn to make him already half-hard.

Zayn finally turned to face him. None of them spoke, but they were inching closer, and Zayn’s lips were so pink, so full, Harry wanted to taste them and possibly never stop.

He opened his mouth to tell Zayn he would love to go out with him, but he didn’t, because right that moment father McKenzie cast a shadow over them.

They turned to face him, behind the bench, but the priest didn’t have a smile for them. Zayn sighed, like he was expecting whatever the problem was. Father McKenzie looked only briefly at Zayn, and then settled his eyes on Harry with an angry tilt of his jaw.

You killed that poor girl” the priest told Harry.

Chapter Text

 

 

 

There were a lot of people in Thunder Hills Zayn was fond of. Old, bigot father McKenzie was not one of them.

The seventy-year-old priest had never been particularly fond of Zayn either, and Zayn had never managed to decide if it was because father McKenzie had never really warmed up to Zayn and still considered him an outsider to the town he’d been born and raised in, or just because Zayn was gay.

And now there father McKenzie was, not only interrupting what would have most certainly been a kiss with lovely, handsome Harry, but also accusing said lovely, handsome Harry of murder.

“Father” Zayn sighed when he noticed just how dismayed and speechless Harry was “Harry has nothing to do with this”

“Doesn’t he?” the priest replied coldly “What I know is that he comes here with his friends, and mere minutes later our lovely Jen is dead”

Harry stuttered. “I… father, I can assure you, I…”

“Harry’s got nothing to do with Jen’s murder” Zayn repeated, standing up “Because I was with him from the moment he crossed the town border to when we discovered the body”

McKenzie arched an eyebrow. “And that means what to me, exactly?”

Both Zayn and Harry looked questioningly at him, and the old man laughed bitterly. “He’s your new… friend, partner, whatever people like you call each other, so the fact that you of all people are his alibi means nothing to me”

“People like us?” Harry hissed indignantly.

“He means gay” Zayn explained unnecessarily “And that is exactly the reason he’s of course suspecting us of murder”

The priest didn’t answer, but it was clear as day that Zayn was totally right.

Harry was lightly shaking, and if Zayn had concentrated just hard enough, he could probably have felt the erratic thrum of Harry’s heartbeat. He didn’t think much about it, and grabbed Harry’s trembling hand, just to reassure him, to tell him most people had stopped caring about what father McKenzie said a long time ago.

It wasn’t the best of calls, though, because father McKenzie sent both of them a disgusted glance.

“It might mean nothing to you” Zayn said as coldly as he could “But luckily for all of us it does mean something to Sheriff Winston, so I suggest you stop going about and making random accusations just because we’re different from what you believe is right”

“It’s not a difference” the priest replied “It’s a sin

“I can’t believe I am actually hearing this” Harry muttered, his big, green eyes wide open and his head shaking.

“I can’t believe they even allow you to be a teacher” father McKenzie retorted, his eyes still fixated on Zayn “A… homosexual, and a… a… Muslim, to be in a school teaching the kids God knows wha...”

“Oh my God are you actually serious right now?” Harry shouted, interrupting him, his hand flying out of Zayn’s so that he could ball his fists “You’re prejudiced, and you’re just going against what your own religion teaches, you know that? Love thy neighbour and all that, you know? Zayn is literally your neighbour and you’re here judging his sexual orientation, his religion, probably even his race for all I can tell”

Father McKenzie took a step backwards at Harry’s outburst, although Harry hadn’t moved and hadn’t shown any signs of wanting to resort to more physical answers. For how little he knew Harry, Zayn was extremely sure Harry wasn’t actually able to hurt a fucking fly.

Zayn slowly took Harry’s hand again, and stared at the priest for a second before speaking again. “We’re gonna go and forget about this extremely unpleasant and Middle-Ages-sounding conversation” he said “Have a good day, father”

Harry looked at Zayn like he wasn’t done speaking to the priest, but Zayn knew it was useless. Harry had to learn how things worked in a town that small, how people felt basically entitled to voice all their thoughts out loud, and how even small figures of power sometimes felt like they were allowed to always talk and treat others like shit just because they were rich, or old, or had some kind of title.

Zayn gently pulled Harry away, and they turned their backs to the priest, walking out of the square and the whole deal. Neither of them spoke for a while. Zayn didn’t let Harry’s hand go, because it was still mildly shaking, and so were his lips and his eyelids.

Maybe it was the adrenaline still cursing through Harry’s – or both of them, really – body, or maybe it was just the chemistry they both had probably felt from the very moment they’d looked at each other for the first time. But once they made it to Harry’s house, Harry didn’t give Zayn time to do anything. He grabbed Zayn by the hips and slammed him against the outer wall of his house, knocking the wind out of him, and kissing him.

Zayn had been thinking about Harry’s lips, and eyes, and wide hands for forever, it felt like. So he didn’t even try to fight for dominance in the kiss. He just went pliant against Harry’s chest, his hands sliding through Harry’s loose curls while they both opened their mouths with a sigh. Harry slipped his tongue through Zayn’s lips, and Zayn held back a groan, barely sparing a thought for Mrs. Thrapple who was probably looking at them, because Harry’s smooth tongue against his own was already too much to think about. He tasted like mint and coffee and something deeper, something purely Harry, and Zayn fucking loved it, wanted to keep tasting it and tasting it until his lips were raw and swollen and numb.

“Inside” he managed to breathe against Harry when Harry slowly rolled his hips forward. He was hard, and so was Zayn, and the friction was very welcome, but they were in public and they were teachers and if anyone saw them like that they were gonna have Harry and Zayn’s heads on a silver plate.

Harry nodded, understanding Zayn’s point very well, because he grunted a sigh but removed himself from Zayn’s body in an instant. They looked at each other, and quickly climbed the stairs to Harry’s porch. Before Harry could even turn the key in the lock, Zayn was already moulded over his back, pressing his erection against Harry’s arse and slowly licking a fat stripe up Harry’s lovely, long and slightly sweaty neck.

“Fuck” Harry sighed, or better, moaned as he finally pushed the door open. He stepped over the threshold and then turned to face Zayn, something dark and lustful in his eyes.

If this is really a sin, then why is it so lovely?, Zayn barely had time to think as an afterthought before Harry was grabbing him by the collar and hauling him inside the house, slamming the door shut and shoving Zayn against the hard wood, attacking his lips again.

They both let out a shameless groan when their hips rolled against each other.

“Oh, no, don’t mind us”

Harry froze. He searched Zayn’s eyes, probably to see if Zayn had also heard the voice coming from the couch in the living room, and Zayn sighed, grimacing a bit and gently patting him on the chest, telling him Get off me, babe, we’re not alone with his eyes.

Harry frowned and then sighed defeatedly, and sure enough, when Zayn was able to look past Harry’s broad shoulders, he found Niall, Liam and Louis sprawled on the couch, PlayStation showing a paused game of FIFA and empty popcorn bowls on the small coffee table.

“What the fuck are you even doing here?” Zayn asked Louis, trying to set his crumpled shirt straight and willing his massive hard-on to vanish.

Louis arched his eyebrows. “If you’d waited for me after school I could have told you that Niall and Liam here invited us over for a mindless afternoon of games and junk food” he stated “But, alas, you vanished into thin fucking air, and dear Harold too”

“Weren’t you supposed to be at work?” Harry asked his two friends.

Liam grinned. “Got off early”

“Unlike these two, who didn’t get off at all and ain’t going to” Louis stated, and Liam laughed honestly a bit too hard for such a lame joke, Zayn thought. “Come have a seat. We’ve got more popcorn”

“And keep your erections pointed to another direction” Niall offered, resuming the game.

Zayn and Harry exchanged a look, but they knew there was no way they could resume their own game, so they just shrugged and sighed, taking their seat amongst the others.

Just you wait, Harry Styles, Zayn told him with a glance. I’ll make you forget your own name as soon as I have you on a bed.

Harry couldn’t hear his thoughts, but he shivered nonetheless.

 

*

 

Zayn didn’t get Harry on a bed, or on any horizontal or even vertical surface, the next day, nor the following three. It was like the universe, in the form of Louis Tomlinson, Niall Horan and Liam Payne, had devoted all its energy to cockblocking them at every turn.

First had been Louis deciding to drop by Zayn’s place unannounced as Zayn was straddling Harry on his couch.

Then it had been Liam calling Harry and telling him he only had that evening to go to the store and buy new paint for the house, and he didn’t want Harry to throw a strop if he bought the wrong colour, so Harry needed to go too.

Lastly it had been Niall, bringing up how they still had no leads for Jen’s case, and after the topic had been opened, neither Zayn nor Harry had felt in the mood to fuck anymore.

Apart from their pent-up sexual frustration for each other, things were going pretty great. Zayn and Harry talked a lot, in school and outside of it, and Zayn had come to understand very soon that Harry was, as Ollie and Isabelle had once told him during class, A Plucking Ball Of Sunshine, Mr. M.

It was true, though. Harry really loved his job, and didn’t seem to mind the enclosed area and closed-mindedness of Thunder Hills. He already had his favourite spots in the town, had already learned where everything was, and Zayn had seen him go jogging at a ridiculously early time in the morning, with a smile that made his dimples dig deep in his cheeks and his green eyes which Zayn really, really wanted to see darken in lust again.

Give time to time, he told himself.

On Fridays, Zayn knew that Harry had last period. Zayn was already done, but he convinced himself it was pretty normal for colleagues to wait for each other, so he slumped in the break room by himself, getting ahead with his paper grading in the meantime, until the last bell rang and he heard the shouting and chattering of the students through the corridor.

He knew Harry always stayed behind to collect music scores and put away the instruments, so Zayn went out of the break room and to the music room, rapping his knuckles on the door.

Harry was there, bent over to pick up a stray notebook, and Zayn briefly ogled him because he had apparently become a fucking pervert since Harry Styles had moved next door.

“Oh, hey” Harry huffed, straightening his back. His cheeks were pink, so pink. Zayn wanted to bite them.

“Hey” Zayn smiled “Thought you might still be here”

Only after Harry had smiled too did Zayn notice just how much the room had changed since the day he and Louis showed it to Harry.

The walls were covered in egg cartons, every single inch. The windows were spotless clean. The guitars were not two anymore, but four, and the new ones were shiny and of a lovely mahogany colour. The cymbals of the drums had been replaced. There was a tall stack of music papers on the small table, and even a couple of electric guitars propped against one of the walls.

“Oh, fuck” Zayn breathed “What even happened here?”

Harry chuckled, blushing, and scratching the back of his head. “I… I fixed it a little bit”

“I really don’t think Cowell gave you money for this” Zayn said in a scolding tone, because he already knew how Harry had made all that happen.

Harry shrugged. “It’s fine. I don’t mind spending a little bit of money for my students if they need it. And this room really fucking needed it”

“Oh, babe” Zayn sighed with a smile. He honestly felt a bit overwhelmed by just how much Harry loved his job. It was a good kind of overwhelming, though. Zayn perfectly shared the sentiment, and it only made Harry look ten times more appealing to him.

He slowly covered the distance between himself and Harry, and Harry sighed a breath when Zayn came into his space, their noses brushing. “You’re really something, ain’t you, Harry Styles” he whispered.

Harry, because he was A Plucking Ball Of Sunshine but also an incredible tease, darted out his tongue and kitten-licked Zayn’s upper lip. “You still have no idea, Zayn Malik”

“I will, though” Zayn answered confidently “I was about to ask you to finally go out as we’d planned, tonight, but Louis beat me to the punch and texted us on the group chat. He wants to go out with the lads tonight. I don’t think we can refuse”

Harry rolled his eyes and chuckled. “We have a group chat now?”

Zayn nodded. “Created this morning, you probably ain’t seen it yet ‘cause you were in class doing your actual job, unlike our three friends” he stated “It’s called Thunder Hills Sex Symbols: A Non-Geriatric Edition

Harry snorted. “So where are we going?”

“There’s a club not that far away, in an actual city” Zayn explained “We always go there when we want to get out of here”

“Actual city” Harry grinned “I might work with that”

Zayn’s stomach did something weird at the words, because what if Harry wasn’t that okay with the small town as he’d first thought? Maybe Harry was just too polite to admit it, but he actually loathed Thunder Hills and the lack of privacy and people always talking, and he wanted to get away as soon as the school year ended.

“Hey” Harry frowned “I was just saying. I moved away from Leeds ‘cause I fucking hated it. I like it here”

Are you a mind-reader or something? “Why are you telling me?” Zayn asked, trying not to be so easily readable.

Harry smiled. “You’re really easy to read, Zayn, despite your long eyelashes and perfect cheekbones and smouldering gaze”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about” Zayn said, batting his eyelashes just because.

Harry chuckled, and took a further step to reach Zayn. Their chests were plastered together, and Zayn thanked God that the students were all already out of school. “Does this mean we’re finally gonna have a little bit of time after we go out with the lads?” Harry asked in a whisper.

“Oh, babe, we’re gonna have time alright, and it’s not gonna be just a little bit” Zayn grinned “I really don’t think I’m gonna let you sleep much tonight”

“Don’t be too confident now” Harry arched an eyebrow, and then kitten-licked Zayn’s lips again. Before Zayn could grab him and make it into a proper kiss, Harry was giggling and escaping Zayn’s hands, heading for the door. “You coming?” Harry asked with an innocent smile “It’s already four. I need time to get ready if we’re going to a real town tonight”

 

*

 

Zayn thought that ‘real town’ might be a bit of an overstatement for Sharnwick. The town was a twenty-minute drive away from Thunder Hills, and Zayn knew in his heart that it wasn’t even that bigger, only it had a good night life, which allowed everyone to call it a ‘real town’ compared to the basically zero night life Thunder Hills had.

He didn’t know if Harry could ever be impressed, considering that he came from Leeds, which was times and times bigger and livelier. But either way, Zayn couldn’t really care about it, because Harry had really put effort in getting ready for the night, and he looked fucking edible.

As they parked Liam’s jeep and made their way to the club, Zayn eyed Harry again, ignoring the knowing grins Louis was sending him. Harry had his black skinny jeans on, the ones so tight they looked like someone had painted them on him. The ones he’d worn the very day he’d moved to Thunder Hills. His top was a sheer shirt on which he’d only bothered closing the last three buttons. It was black, short-sleeved, with white feathers printed all over. The gap in the shirt exposed his chest almost to his nipples, and Jesus, Harry had a fuckton of lame tattoos, but he pulled them off in a way Zayn (or any other human, most likely) never could. There were the ones on his arms, which Zayn had already seen before, and he also had a moth on his stomach, a discovery Zayn had made only an hour earlier when he and Louis had joined the lads outside their place and they’d decided to all go with Liam’s car. Zayn could also make out the shape of some ink under his collarbones, probably some birds but he couldn’t be sure because he couldn’t study Harry’s chest for too long without being noticed. Soon, he told himself with a smirk as they entered the club.

It was fairly early, so the club wasn’t in its full activity yet. The room was big and crowded enough, but no DJ had begun their set yet, and no one was dancing yet either.

“Might be a bit lame compared to Leeds, sorry about that” Zayn told Harry, Niall and Liam, with a nervous giggle. He didn’t even know why he wanted to impress them, it wasn’t like Zayn owned the club or anything.

Harry chuckled and patted him on the shoulder. “Believe me, at least the company is a thousand times better” he said.

Louis laughed. “Oh, Harold, you’re gonna make us blush if you keep complimenting us with your nipples out” he said.

Harry barked a laugh and playfully hit Louis on the back of his head. “I wanna drink”

They all agreed and proceeded until they sat at the bar, while Niall and Liam insisted to take care of the first round. “Do they have live music?” Harry asked Zayn, pointing at something.

When Zayn followed Harry’s finger, he saw a small, empty stage with a mic and some guitars propped against the wall. “Sometimes they do?” Zayn shrugged “Most of the time they just have the guitars there for anyone who wants to give it a go. I am not ashamed to tell you that Louis and I have ended up drunk on that stage one too many times”

Harry laughed. “You sing too?”

“No” Zayn quickly amended “I mean, not sober at least”

“You should sing” Harry lightly elbowed him “Properly sweep me off my feet with your voice and all”

“Or you could do that to me” Zayn grinned “Since you’re the real singer and all”

“I have many plans on what I could do to you” Harry retorted, making Zayn shiver at how low his voice was “But yeah. I could” he added, and then called one of the bartenders.

The guy was young, much younger than Harry and Zayn, but that didn’t deter him from sending a dirty glance towards Harry, eyeing his chest.

Zayn felt a surge of jealousy that really wasn’t appropriate, since he didn’t have any relationship with Harry. Except it wasn’t true, because Zayn wanted Harry, and he decided he had at least some right to feel jealous. Zayn arched his eyebrows at the bartender, and the guy cleared his throat. “What can I bring you?” he just asked.

Harry smiled. “Our friends are taking care of the drinks” he pointed at Niall, Liam and Louis a bit farther away “I just wanted to ask you how it works with the stage. Is there someone singing already?”

The guy shrugged. “Nope” he said “You just go and do whatever you want. That’s how things roll around here”

“Lovely” Harry smiled wider, flashing his dimples, and Zayn wanted to grab his face and make him direct those killer dimples at him, not the guy “Thanks” Harry added.

The bartender nodded and went back to his job, and Harry finally smiled at Zayn. “I’mma go and sing you one then” he said.

Zayn didn’t even have time to answer before Harry was stalking to the stage, sitting on the stool and embracing one of the guitars. “Um, hi?” he said in the mic “My name’s Harry Styles. I’ve been told I could sing”

Some tentative claps welcomed him, and a couple whistles as well, although Zayn highly doubted it had anything to do with Harry’s soon-to-happen performance. It had been a bad idea, going out. He’d much rather have Harry in his bed already, looking at him and him alone, with no one else eyeing him.

“This one’s called Two Ghosts, and it’s, um, an original” Harry said, briefly winked at Zayn setting the butterflies in his stomach on the loose, and then promptly started strumming the guitar.

The song was good, Zayn thought. It talked about people not being how they used to be, about not saying what you really meant, and it was generally sad, but Zayn loved it. He loved every second of it, loved the way the verses drawled out of Harry’s mouth and right to Zayn’s chest, dangerously near something in his ribcage that hadn’t been so involved in a long fucking time. He loved how Harry sung mostly with his eyes closed, but every time he opened them, they went to Zayn, assessing his face and his whole posture, trying to see if Zayn was liking what he was seeing and hearing.

Zayn smiled at him, because Harry might as well know just how much Zayn was liking it.

“A fucking gift to humankind, our Mr. S, I swear”

Zayn gasped and turned to one of the voices he heard on a daily basis, and sure enough, he found five of his students right next to him, blatantly staring at Harry and ignoring Zayn, although their grins made it impossible not to understand they’d perfectly seen Zayn as well, and how he himself was eyeing Harry too.

It was Isabelle, Ollie, Tim, Andrew and Bryan, some of them dressed in outfits Zayn had never seen them adopt to come to class. Isabelle and Ollie were wearing dresses, a tad too short for Zayn’s liking when it was about his kids, but they both looked stunning anyway. Tim was sporting a shirt that reminded those of Harry’s, with colourful polka dots and opened on his chest, while Andrew and Bryan were in skinnies and band t-shirts, much closer to what they wore to school.

“Language” he reluctantly said, forcing his expression to be more Mr. M and less Zayn Malik Having A Crush On Harry Styles.

Ollie and Isabelle giggled and finally turned to face him. “Oh, Mr. M! Didn’t see ya, swear”

“Like hell you didn’t” Louis commented, announcing his presence with the other lads “What are you doing here?”

Tim laughed. “You’re not the only ones with cars in Thunder Hills, Mr. T” he offered, toasting a drink in their direction.

Zayn felt his insides go upside down and opened his mouth, but Isabelle was quicker. “Chill out, Mr. M” she said, showing him some car keys “I’m the designated driver. Like always. ‘Cause I never drink”

Zayn relaxed with a relieved sigh, although he should have probably been concerned about underage drinking and just how they got the alcohol.

“Hello!” Harry’s voice cheerfully announced he’d also joined their little group “What are you doing here?”

“Not having as much fun as our teachers, clearly” Bryan grinned “That was gold, Mr. S! You’re like, super good! We were about to head home and then next thing we knew you were up there slaying it, being all crooning and sexy and with your nipples in the open air”

Harry had the decency to blush and stutter. “Um, thank you, I guess?” he said at last.

The kids laughed, clearly enjoying their teachers being embarrassed of being caught in a club just being normal adults, but they soon decided to put them out of their misery. “Well, I’m afraid it’s late and we need to leave” Ollie stated “But thanks for the performance, Mr. S. And Mr. M” she winked at him, and Zayn decided not to ever ask her what she meant.

They waved at the kids, shouting at them to drive safely and go straight home.

“That was awkward” Liam offered “Your students?”

Zayn nodded. “Last year. A fucking menace”

“They’re cute” Harry drawled, elbowing Zayn “Don’t tell me you weren’t going out and getting drunk at their age already”

“I didn’t run into my teachers, though” Zayn retorted.

Harry shrugged, downing his drink. “You like the song?”

Zayn nodded, and bit down on his lips. “I liked all of it” he admitted, ignoring the snorts and fake gagging sounds coming from the rest of their friends.

Harry smiled, dimples deeper than they’d ever been. “Come on then. Let’s dance”

Zayn would have normally declined the offer, but it was Harry, so of course he didn’t. He let Harry drag him to the dance floor, where the DJ had finally started his set and many other people were swarming. And when they started moving their hips together, Zayn blessed whatever divinity above for the fact that the kids had gone, because Harry was filthy.

Zayn almost had a heart attack when Harry’s hands landed on his hips, pulling Zayn flush against his chest, and the next moment their crotches were rubbing against each other, both of them already with a semi, and Harry’s hands were sliding up, under Zayn’s shirt.

“You’re so fucking beautiful, you have no idea” Harry growled with his lips against Zayn’s ear, sending shivers and shivers tumbling down his spine.

“You” Zay just replied, his breath uneven and ragged, his hands fisting the lapels of Harry’s shirt while he applied more pressure between their hips.

Harry’s breath hitched, and his hands squeezed Zayn’s sides, hard. “You’re making me lose my fucking mind, Zayn”

“We should have just stayed home. We could have been fucking for hours already now” Zayn retorted, and his lips were loose, a bit because of the alcohol, but mostly just because it was Harry.

Harry chuckled. “Patience, patience. The more we wait, the better it’ll be afterwards” he declared.

Zayn didn’t think he could wait much longer, but a part of him even wanted to, because it was nice and it felt so good even to just be there with Harry, mapping their clothed bodies with their hands in the throng of people dancing, and licking at each other’s necks, every swipe of their tongues a promise of later, harder, more.

They stopped dancing only every once in a while, to have another drink with the lads, before they went again to dance and grind and whisper. Zayn was very focused on Harry, but he didn’t miss Louis and Liam making out pressed against the edge of the bar like two teenagers, or Niall doing the same with a leggy brunette in a corner on the other side of the room.

“Your friends are having fun” Zayn told Harry with a grin.

Harry grinned right back. “Not as much as me, I’m sure”

“Stop flattering me, I already put out, didn’t I” Zayn rolled his eyes.

Harry stopped the grinding for a moment. “You should live just to be flattered, Zayn” he said, his voice impossibly low, and Zayn didn’t know how to answer, so he kissed him.

They kissed for ages, it felt like, and Zayn could feel his lips go a bit numb, but neither of them stopped. They kept kissing and groping and grinding, and Zayn was very close to coming in his pants like a thirteen-year-old, but luckily he didn’t, because they were interrupted.

It was Liam, a wide grin on his face, looking kiss-swollen even in the strobe lights flashing above them. “It’s pretty late. I think we should head home?” he asked, uncertain, looking at Harry like he was worried they would protest.

Harry snorted and grabbed Zayn’s hand. “Let’s” he just said.

 

*

 

Zayn was very proud of him and Harry for being able to make casual conversation with the lads on their way home even if their hands were roaming up and down each other’s thighs in the backseat of the jeep like they couldn’t bear to stop touching even for a second.

He was also proud that they managed not to jump each other in the street after they said goodnight to all their friends. Zayn just looked at Harry, and Harry smiled, gesturing to Zayn’s house with a tilt of his head. Zayn smiled back and nodded, grabbing Harry’s hand and gently pulling him inside, closing the door.

That was about where their self-control ended, because as soon as they blindly stumbled through Zayn’s dark corridor, he felt Harry’s hands come to rest on his hips, and the moment after he was being shoved against a wall, Harry’s hot tongue sliding down his pulse point. “What do you want, Zayn?” Harry growled, inhaling his scent and sucking on his collarbone like it was a fucking lollipop, and Zayn’s brain short-circuited.

“I want you to fuck me” he answered, and well.

It wasn’t that Zayn functioned only the other way round in bed. It was just something that he didn’t do on a whim. But nothing about Harry was on a whim, and he knew that, so he didn’t feel like he was rushing, and God, he wanted it. The last time he’d done it that way had been with Ben, and more than a year had passed, and even if Zayn had wanted it, begged for it, he hadn’t wanted it even half as intensely as he wanted it with Harry now.

Harry nodded. “Okay, babe” he just said, his breath ragged.

By the time they reached Zayn’s bedroom and Harry had Zayn splayed on the mattress and his mouth on Zayn’s dick, Zayn’s brain wasn’t even working properly anymore. He looked down at Harry, crouched between his legs and greedily slurping while bobbing his head up and down, and he thought he’d never even looked at something so perfect.

“We need stuff” Harry said upon releasing Zayn’s dick from his mouth with a sound that should have been disgusting, and not so hot. Zayn nodded, scrambling for his bedside table and tossing lube and a condom behind him, almost hitting Harry in the face.

Harry dodged the items and laughed, hard. Zayn found himself laughing too, even if his dick was so hard it hurt, even if every inch of his core was shaking in the anticipation of having Harry inside of him.

He barely managed to hold it together and not come when Harry covered his fingers in lube and started stretching him, one finger, then two. Zayn clenched at the intrusion, but willed himself to relax when Harry placed his lips on Zayn’s hip, kissing it and whispering sweet nothings to him while he opened him up at a torturously slow pace.

“Please Harry please please babe please” Zayn heard himself moan.

“Just a little bit more, babe” Harry murmured against his hip, adding a third finger.

Zayn endured it, the slight pain and the desperation for more, because Harry was concentrating on making it good for both of them. He could have just cared about his release, but there he was, not wanting Zayn to feel even the slightest discomfort, and in that moment Zayn realized how far gone for Harry he really was.

Zayn strained to sit up and just kissed him, because what else was he supposed to do?

Harry took a deep breath when he started breaching Zayn, inch by slow inch, and Zayn felt the familiar discomfort, the pain of the intrusion, and squeezed his eyes shut, waiting. When Harry finally bottomed out, he stayed very still, scanning Zayn’s face with his green eyes.

The pain subsided quicker than Zayn was expecting, and he tentatively grinded his hips down, already seeing stars in pleasure. “Move, Harry, please move” he breathed out.

And Harry did. Zayn thought Harry would start slowly, but he didn’t. He slammed his hips forward, hard, and Zayn shouted a curse, because he hadn’t known that was exactly what he needed, but Harry somehow knew already.

“You’re so tight, babe” Harry panted on his lips “You feel so fucking good”

Zayn nodded. “You too, babe, you too, I wish we could never stop” he replied, meaning every single word.

Harry moaned a little bit at that, quickening his pace even more, his big hands settling on Zayn’s hips and pressing so hard Zayn would surely have marks. He found out he hoped they stayed long, for Zayn to remember every single day.

Harry raised Zayn’s knees a bit higher after that, slightly changing his angle, and Zayn swore loudly again, his vision going white. His nails dug in Harry’s shoulders, and Harry hissed, but kept hitting his prostate until Zayn came untouched, come streaking between their chests. He clenched on Harry, because he couldn’t help it, and Harry came as well, muttering Zayn’s name over and over again until they were both spent, collapsed on top of each other with come drying on their skin.

“Can I go in your bathroom and look for something to clean us both?” Harry asked when they both recovered their breath just enough.

Zayn chuckled, lying down on his stomach with his cheek buried in the pillow. “You were just inside me, and you’re asking permission to go in my bathroom?”

Harry laughed. “It’s just polite, I guess”

“Yes, Harry, you have permission to enter me and my rooms whenever you want from now on” Zayn declared.

Harry giggled a bit, and leaned down to kiss Zayn long and hard before standing up and going out of the room.

Zayn was feeling sore in all the best places, and he hissed a little bit as he turned to lay on his back. He was fairly sure Harry had scratched his back at some point. He didn’t mind, to be honest.

Harry came back with a damp, warm towel, and started meticulously cleaning Zayn’s chest and stomach. When he was satisfied, he let the cloth fall to the ground. “Sorry, I’ll pick you up later, I swear” he told the towel, and Zayn had a fit of laughter at that.

“Stop” Harry drawled, hitting him in the chest, but he was laughing too.

When they calmed down and laid together in bed, Zayn didn’t know what to do. But Harry dissipated all awkwardness by just sighing and grabbing Zayn by an arm, pulling him closer until Zayn’s cheek was resting on his chest, and his arms were around Zayn’s shoulders.

Zayn thought he could get used to being in bed with Harry like that, and the thought was sweet, but also scary, because he’d never wanted that before. He did want it with Harry, though.

“This is nice” he tried.

Harry nodded, but didn’t reply.

“Do you…” Zayn cleared his throat “Maybe we can… do this?”

Harry huffed a breath that sounded a little uneven, but when he answered, his voice was steady. “Whenever you want”

No, no, I meant I want to fucking date you, not just keep fucking you, Zayn thought frantically. “I was talking about…”

“Why’s Thunder Hills called Thunder Hills?” Harry asked abruptly.

It was such a random change of subject that Zayn didn’t even answer for a moment. Harry was clearly not willing to discuss the topic of going steady at the moment, and Zayn didn’t know if it was just because he was spent and tired, or because he simply didn’t want. Either way, he decided to let it go for now.

“You never been to the other end of the town?” Zayn asked, trying to fix his voice to something remotely normal.

“No, I don’t think so”

Zayn smiled. “That’s why you don’t know. The Hills of Thunder are at the other border of the town”

“What are they?”

Zayn started to draw imaginary circles with his finger on Harry’s chest. Harry’s left pec contracted when Zayn’s nail caught on a nipple, but Zayn kept going. “If you go to the hills at the end of the town, and you stand right on the top of the tallest one, you can see a whole valley underneath” he explained to Harry “It’s like, this giant forest, meters and meters below this town’s level. Whenever there’s a storm, the thunders reverberate through the valley. It’s never dangerous, but it sounds like fucking Doomsday, I swear”

“They say there’s gonna be a storm tonight” Harry commented.

Zayn raised his head. “Do you wanna go to the hills?”

Harry nodded. “I wanna hear the thunder”

Zayn looked at the clock. It was almost three in the morning, and the storm was indeed coming, because the sky looked full and ready to burst outside his bedroom window. “Okay” he just said, sitting up “We need to go with the car though. It’s not that far, but if the storm gets too intense, we’ll be soaked in three seconds”

Harry nodded. They silently got dressed again, and while they wore their jeans, Harry stumbled right on Zayn, their foreheads bumping. Zayn laughed, and kissed him without even thinking.

He was irrationally scared Harry would push him away for a second, but Harry didn’t. He just laughed in Zayn’s mouth and kept kissing him as they pulled up their jeans and buttoned them.

 

*

 

The Hills of Thunder had scared the shit out of Zayn when he’d moved to the town, but after barely a year, they’d become his favourite place on Earth.

When he and Harry got out of Zayn’s car and Zayn carefully grabbed Harry’s hand to guide him to the third hill, the tallest one, he didn’t immediately look at the beautiful valley.

He looked at Harry seeing the valley for the first time. And Zayn wasn’t disappointed. He saw the wonder and the amazement in Harry’s beautiful eyes, in the little ‘o’ of his lips, in the way one of his hands stayed in Zayn’s while the other clutched at his own chest, like his heart was about to burst.

It was the right feeling, it was what Zayn had also felt the first time Louis had brought him to the hills. This is a place for people who deserve to see beauty, Louis had said while Zayn gaped at the valley.

“This is a place for people who deserve to see beauty” Zayn said out loud, to Harry.

Harry slowly turned his head to face him. His eyes were big, and perfectly clear even in the darkness where the only light came from the clouded moon. “I don’t know if I deserve to see all this beauty” Harry said in a whisper.

And Zayn didn’t know for sure, but he decided to think Harry was referring to Zayn himself as well, because he was staring at him in that way that made his limbs tingle, and he didn’t want Harry to ever stop.

“You deserve this, and some more” Zayn said, averting his eyes, because the moment felt too charged, and it wasn’t the smell of the storm in the air, or the electric wind caressing his skin which still felt too hot from what he’d let Harry do to him less than half an hour earlier.

Harry didn’t reply, and Zayn felt the first drop of rain hit his nose. “It’s coming” he just said.

“Is it safe to stay here?” Harry asked, his hand gripping Zayn’s a bit harder.

Zayn chuckled. “We’ll probably catch a cold” he said “Other than that, we’re fine”

Harry nodded, his eyes swimming over the valley as the rain started to really pour down.

The first flash of lightning made Harry’s eyes look like liquefied silver. “Ready” Zayn whispered.

The thunder sliced the air like a bomb was being dropped right on their heads. Zayn flinched at the deafening noise, and Harry jolted, his mouth completely open and his eyes wide in his beautiful face. “Fucking hell” Zayn heard Harry mutter over the echo of the thunder.

They stayed like that, under the rain, for three more thunders. Then Zayn convinced Harry to go back to the car, with the promise that they’d stay a little longer to listen to the thunders, but at least they’d be covered from the rain.

They went back to the car, but Zayn had barely time to sit on the driver’s seat before he had a lapful of Harry, shirt and hair drenched in rain. Harry kissed him, and Zayn’s hands wrapped around his waist almost of their own free will.

As they kissed without making a sound while the storm roared and exploded around them, Zayn thought that if they kept it just like that, they could become part of the hills, part of the valley. We’re like thunder in the rain tonight, babe, he told Harry without speaking.

Harry understood, and nodded, kissing him harder.

 

*

 

Zayn had first period with Year 12 B that Monday, and he made sure to school his features into neutrality before coming into the classroom. “Good morning” he said, and was awarded with a string of sleepy and hungover ‘Good morning Mr. M’s.

Zayn had to try his best not to giggle, because for the first time, he was slightly hungover as well, but he was also well-fucked and consequently in a great mood. He and Harry had spent the whole Sunday, after they came back from their little late-night trip to the Hills, fucking and showering and eating and fucking again, and although Harry seemed to always turn a little tense whenever Zayn tried to open the subject of what the fuck they were doing, Zayn didn’t want to complain.

Because most of the time Harry shut him up with his wicked tongue running over the underside of Zayn’s dick, and Zayn would stop functioning enough to stop talking.

The ghost of Harry’s reluctancy was still there, but Zayn was trying not to let him dampen his mood.

“How are you today?” he asked the class.

Tim frowned at him. “You’re too cheerful today, Mr. M. It’s Monday morning. What happened to you?”

“I am always cheerful, Timothy”

The kids snorted, but Zayn was sure it wasn’t because he’d called Tim Timothy. He ignored the weirded-out glances of the kids and sat on the edge of his desk. Pain jolted up his spine in a moment, and Zayn remembered Harry holding him down against the mattress while he fucked him on his hands and knees less than six hours earlier.

He cleared his throat. “Did you finish the book?” he asked the kids.

They nodded, taking out their books and notebooks from their backpacks in the slowest motions Zayn had ever seen. “Today, guys” he arched an eyebrow.

They sighed dramatically and opened their notepads. “So” Zayn started “What would you answer if I asked you what the theme of The Sorrows of Young Werther is?”

“That they’re both stupid” Bryan replied instantly.

Zayn chuckled. “Care to elaborate on who’s ‘they’ and why they’re stupid?”

Bryan shrugged. “Lotte and Werther. It’s like, they clearly love each other, but they have to make it complicated”

“I could argue that there’s the slight detail of her having a boyfriend” Isabelle arched an eyebrow.

“Yeah, well, she doesn’t love him, does she?” Bryan answered “So why not just dump him and put them all out of their misery?”

“Maybe she does love her boyfriend” Isabelle said, crossing her arms.

Zayn frowned at the two of them, because their tones were extremely more agitated than normal, and it didn’t take a degree to understand the problem wasn’t really Lotte, Werther and Albert.

Tim looked at Zayn and rolled his eyes, making a discreet throat-cutting gesture with his hand at him.

“Wonderful” Zayn interrupted Isabelle and Bryan’s bickering “I am very glad you managed not only to read the book but also to have strong opinions about it”

“What do you think, Mr. M?” Ollie asked with a frown “Because, like, I don’t think the point of the book is the love story, to be honest. I think the point of the book is just Werther’s love, and how he struggles with it, because he doesn’t really know how to handle it”

Zayn felt something dangerously close to really feeling those words in his stomach. “Keep going, Ollie” he smiled.

Ollie sighed. “Like, I dunno, it’s like he blames himself all the time, so much that he pushes her away even when she looks like she’s this close to dumping her fiancé for him”

“That is a very good point” Zayn conceded, and shit.

Zayn felt all the talking about pushing people away and not being clear in how to handle relationships like a puncture wound to his lungs, because it was just a book and they were just kids, and yet there he was, struggling with the same things, only it wasn’t Werther, it was Harry Styles.

“Sometimes it’s just extremely difficult to let people in, I guess” Zayn tried.

Tim slammed his pencil on the book. “Yeah, and then you decide to let them finally in, and then you die without being able to tell ‘em how you really feel” he said, and then stormed out of the classroom.

Zayn gaped a little, because Tim was always polite in class. Smart-mouthed, yes, but he’d never stormed off like that before, and Zayn was sure it wasn’t just about the book.

“I’ll be right back” he told the class, and followed Tim.

He hadn’t even gone that far. He was just in the corridor, by one of the windows, gripping the sill with his knuckles whitening. He was shaking.

“Tim?” he said, warily.

He shook his head. “I’m sorry, Mr. M, I didn’t mean to be rude” he said, his voice shaking with tears “It’s just… it’s been more than a week, Mr. M. And still no leads”

Of course it was about Jen. Zayn hadn’t wanted to assume, but honestly, every time he stopped to think about it for a second, the same anger he read on Tim’s tear-stained face cursed through his own body, because how can kids die in such a horrible way and no one gets punished for it?

“I’m just scared it’ll be like Meredith, Mr. M” Tim said, sniffling “I’m just scared they’ll forget about her and she’ll be another cold case no one cared enough to solve”

“She won’t”

Zayn hadn’t spoken. It was Harry, who had joined them in the corridor, probably early because he wanted to do something in the music room before second period.

Tim looked at him. “How can you be so sure, Mr. S?”

“Because I have faith that the police will do their job, and because I am sure no one here will forget Jen. You won’t. Zayn won’t. And I didn’t know her, but I won’t forget her either”

Tim’s shoulders seemed to deflate. “I’m sorry I’m throwing a strop. It’s just… it’s her birthday today. And I had this whole thing planned for months already, and now she…”

He didn’t finish the sentence. Zayn pulled him in a hug, and the kid went willingly. He felt his own eyes swell with tears as Tim buried his face in his chest and cried, harder than he’d probably done since the girl he loved had been killed.

Tim couldn’t see Zayn’s own tears, but Harry did. They stared at each other for a moment, and the next Harry’s fingers were stroking Zayn’s lower eyelids, collecting his tears for him, wiping them away because he needed to be strong for the kid.

He managed to smile at Harry. “Cheers” he mouthed.

Harry smiled, only one dimple showing.

 

*

 

“You’re so… so fucking…” Zayn panted, riding Harry at a pace that was making his calves burn with the strain.

Harry chuckled, digging his thumbs in Zayn’s V line. “So what?”

“So fucking… frustrating” Zayn blurted out, rolling his hips deeper on Harry’s dick tearing his insides apart.

Harry frowned. “Are you…”

“No” Zayn shook his head “Not now. Later” he added, defeated, because if Harry didn’t want to talk about them in normal circumstances, there was no way he would cave in while Zayn rode him.

And, to be honest, Harry probably knew what Zayn’s problem was, only he had some reasons for not wanting to do anything about it. Which frustrated Zayn even more.

Harry stared at Zayn for a while as Zayn bounced on him, his hips moving in endless eight figures while he tried to find his own prostate in that position, failing.

Harry smirked and slowly sat up, wrapping one of his long arms around Zayn’s waist. “Let me help, babe” he whispered on Zayn’s lips, but before Zayn could kiss him, he’d flipped them over.

Zayn was lying on his back now, and Harry slid out of him just to slam back in, hard, hitting Zayn’s spot dead-on.

Zayn screamed. “Oh, fuck, yes, yes, right there”

Harry chuckled. “Yeah? You like it? You still frustrated?”

Zayn, despite the situation and the whole ordeal between them, laughed. “Make me come and then I’ll tell you”

“At your service” Harry declared, and repeated his sliding out and slamming in, only even harder.

Zayn’s vision went white after three thrusts, and he came, untouched, as it almost always happened with Harry while he pounded inside him so hard and deliciously.

Harry stared at Zayn while he came, fucking him through his orgasm only to follow him shortly after. Zayn felt him spill inside the condom, and then slowly and carefully pull out of him.

Harry tied and threw the condom away, and then took care of cleaning them both up.

Zayn opened his mouth to speak after that, when Harry was climbing in bed again, because he really couldn’t keep everything in anymore.

Harry looked at him, and he probably knew he had a whole speech coming, even if Zayn wasn’t usually one for big talks. But Harry deserved that and more, Zayn wanted Harry to see just how good they were.

And Harry looked like he was just about to let Zayn finally talk. Zayn took a breath, but he never spoke.

Someone knocked heavily on the door, banging on it in a way that wasn’t really appropriate for almost one in the morning.

Harry sighed, Zayn couldn’t tell if it was relief or frustration. He sighed too, throwing on his sweats and going out of the room while hearing Harry following him.

“If it’s Louis I swear…” Zayn muttered upon opening the door.

It wasn’t Louis, though.

It was Ollie. Lovely Ollie, with one strap of her tank top torn off and her blonde hair a tangled mess. She had two big cuts on her face, one on her forehead and another on her cheek, and both wounds were leaking blood. She was panting and crying. “Mr. M?” she said, and then collapsed on her knees in front of Zayn.

Chapter Text

 

 

 

Harry came back from the vending machines with a steaming paper cup of shitty tea, and handed it to Zayn. Zayn was slumped on a chair, staring at the closed door of Ollie’s hospital room. He took the cup from Harry’s hands, thanking him with a smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes.

“Ben’s been in there forever” Zayn muttered, gesturing to the closed door with his head as Harry sat down next to him.

Harry sighed and squeezed Zayn’s shoulder, trying to reassure him. “Ollie’s in shock. She’s not speaking. Ben’s just trying to get a name or something out of her”

Zayn nodded. “I know. But she’s scared and hurt. She said someone tried to fucking kill her, Haz, and now she’s in shock. Ben shouldn’t make her even more uncomfortable”

Louis was also there, as were Liam and Niall who had come to the hospital in their uniforms, in Ben’s tow. “Sheriff Winston knows what he’s doing, Zayn” Liam told him gently.

Zayn scoffed. “Does he? Jen’s been dead for more than two fucking weeks, and he’s got nothing” he answered, angrily.

Louis sighed. “Zayn, I know things are weird between you and Ben, but…”

Harry’s attention perked up at that, but Louis didn’t finish the sentence, because right that moment, they all heard Ben shout from behind the closed door. “Ollie, you have to talk!” he was screaming “I need a name! You said you saw the person who hurt you, so talk!”

“What the fuck” Zayn said coldly “Okay, that’s it, I’m gonna fucking end him” he added, and was storming off towards the room before any of them could think of stopping him.

Zayn opened the door with a loud bang, without even bothering to knock. “What the fuck, Ben?” he said. Harry could see the tense line of his back, and his hands. They were shaking.

He looked at Niall and Liam, and together with Louis, they quietly reached Zayn. Zayn went past the threshold, and so did they. Louis closed the door behind them.

Ollie was sitting in her bed. She had bandages on her forehead and one of her wrists, and she was very pale. As when they’d brought her to the hospital, she had a scared expression on her face and she wasn’t speaking.

“Get out” Ben said coldly “I am interrogating the victim and you should get out”

“Not a chance, Ben” Zayn replied “I won’t let you scare my kid even more than she already is. She doesn’t want to speak right now. Leave her the fuck alone. You went two weeks without doing anything, I’m sure you can go one more day”

Harry winced when he saw just how angry Ben Winston looked. For a second, he was scared Ben would punch Zayn in the face right in front of Ollie, scaring her for good.

But Ben just took another look at Zayn, and then gestured to the door with his head. “Out. I have to talk to you. In private”

Zayn averted his eyes from Ben and slowly patted Ollie on the leg she had under the covers. “I’ll be right outside, sweetheart, okay? You’re not alone”

Ollie let a tear roll down her cheek, but she nodded at Zayn. Zayn smiled, a pained smile that tore Harry’s heart out of his chest, and then they all followed Ben out of the room. Louis closed the door again once they were all out.

“Undermine me in front of a victim again and I will have your fucking head, Zayn” Ben said in barely a whisper.

Zayn sighed, frustrated. “You were shouting in her face, Ben!” he hissed “She’s seventeen, she’s traumatized, she’s my responsibility. I won’t let you ruin her already more than she is”

Ben took a step forward. His nose was almost touching Zayn’s when he spoke again. “I could have you arrested as a suspect, you know that, don’t you, Zayn?” he whispered “You were the one who found Meredith’s body. You were first on the scene for Jen’s body. And now you’re the one who brings an assaulted kid to the hospital. Why are you always involved, Zayn, huh?”

Harry felt bile rise up in his throat. Zayn had talked about Meredith, the first student who had been killed two years earlier, but he’d never even mentioned that he’d been the one who found the body. How much more can he take?, Harry thought in a pained sigh. He’s seen two of his kids maimed and killed, and now Ollie…

“What the fuck are you even trying to say, Ben?” Louis exclaimed, taking a step towards him and Zayn.

Ben didn’t even acknowledge Louis. He kept his eyes on Zayn. “I could have you suspected” he told Zayn “But I won’t, because you might be a shithead and you might never care about anyone else, but you care about those kids, and I know you’d fucking die for them. So I know in my heart that you’ve nothing to do with this. But you don’t come in my space and tell me I’m not doing my job right, ever again. Am I clear?”

Zayn didn’t answer. Harry was honestly abashed. How could Ben think Zayn didn’t care about anyone? Zayn cared about everyone, for fuck’s sake.

“Am I clear, Mr. Malik?” Ben asked again, louder.

Zayn let out an angry sigh. “Yes, Sheriff Winston” he said at last.

Ben smiled victoriously, and Harry thought the expression didn’t sit well on a face that was objectively handsome. “Good” Ben said “Now I’m gonna go away, because the kid is not talking. I’ll leave officers Horan and Payne here. I want you to call me as soon as the kid starts to speak, if she ever does”

Niall and Liam nodded, and Ben went away after giving Zayn another angry once-over.

“Fucking hell, was it really necessary to get Ben Winston on your bad side, again?” Louis exclaimed as soon as the Sheriff was out of earshot, punching Zayn in the arm.

“Fuck off, Lou” Zayn retorted in a snarl “I don’t fucking care what he thinks of me. He can be cross with me all he wants, it’s all good until the second he touches one of my fucking students”

“Why’s he even so cross with you?” Niall asked, frowning.

Zayn stuttered, and then he shot a glance at Harry before closing his mouth.

Harry wasn’t stupid, though, and that was just the confirmation to what he was already suspecting. As if it wasn’t enough, Louis had no regrets answering the question.

“Ben and Zayn shagged last year, and then Ben wanted to go steady but Zayn is a shithead and was too scared of the commitment so he never spoke to Ben again” he said curtly.

Harry felt something unpleasant sit at the bottom of his stomach.

There went all his attempts at getting himself ready for a relationship. Harry had been a dickhead to Zayn since they started fucking, interrupting him every time when Harry just knew Zayn was about to bring up the subject of having a proper relationship. He was scared, and Zayn wouldn’t blame him if he knew about Nick and how low he’d always put Harry and their ‘relationship’, but again, Zayn didn’t know about Nick just like Harry hadn’t known about Ben.

Harry had come to terms with it, though. He’d been ready to let Zayn finally talk and he wanted to have a real relationship with Zayn even if he scared the shit out of him.

And yet there they were, now, and Zayn was another person who was scared of commitment. Another person bound to hurt Harry eventually. Another person who would ask Harry to go steady only to get tired of him when things would start getting too serious.

Harry knew Zayn was looking at him, and probably so were Liam and Niall and Louis. He couldn’t bring himself to look back at Zayn, though, not in that moment.

Someone else spared him the effort. He heard rushed steps coming towards them, and when he pointedly looked at the end of the corridor, he saw Ollie’s parents running.

“Ollie’s parents” he said to no one in particular, and strode to meet them halfway, because even telling them their daughter was close to catatonic was better than facing Zayn, whom he probably loved, to whom he didn’t know how to talk now.

“Mr. Styles?” Ollie’s mother, Lexi Hampton, grabbed his hands.

I’m good at this. I’m good at reassuring parents. “Ollie is okay” he said first “She’s fine. The doctors fixed her up, she has no major damage”

Peter Hampton sighed. “What the fuck happened to my daughter?”

Harry sighed. “We don’t know for sure. She knocked on Mr. Malik’s door an hour ago and she said someone attacked her” he raised his hands “She’s fine though. She’s just a bit in shock now, and she doesn’t feel like talking. I can bring you to her room”

They nodded and Harry lead them to Ollie’s room. He knocked, and opened it. “Ollie, sweetie? Your mum and dad are here”

Ollie’s eyes filled with tears. “Mum” she said “Dad” she added, and cried.

Good. Good. Cry. And speak. Harry didn’t waste time and removed himself from the door. Once Mr. and Mrs. Hampton were inside, he closed the door again to let the family have some privacy.

He had to face Zayn and the lads again at that point. “I think she’s safe for now. I’m… I’m gonna go home. I’m tired” he announced.

“Harry…” Zayn said warily.

Harry forced out a smile. “It’s all good. I just really wanna sleep. I’ll see you at school tomorrow night, for the parent-teacher thing. Goodnight”

He left before anyone could reply, and walked out of the hospital.

They’d gone with Zayn’s car, so Harry was bound to walk now. It was okay, though. He could use the time to clear his mind a little, to try and figure out what the fuck was really happening in his heart and brain.

 

*

 

Harry didn’t come to a conclusion the next day, and he wished it wasn’t his free day from school, because he’d much rather be in the music room teaching than at home being miserable.

Zayn hadn’t knocked on his door or even texted him, which Harry kind of understood, except he didn’t. Because if Zayn wasn’t texting him or wanting to see him, then maybe it meant that he wasn’t really that interested in Harry, despite the many times he’d tried to talk about dating. And that was a downward spiral of thoughts, because Harry was utterly gone for Zayn, and the fact that maybe Zayn had lost interest in Harry after the umpteenth time he’d tried to talk and had been met with a wall, the fact that it was just Harry’s fault, that fact was threatening to split Harry’s head open with regret and worry.

The problem wasn’t Ben, never had been. Because yes, Zayn had never talked about him, but why should he, if Ben hadn’t even been a real relationship for him? Harry hadn’t spoken about Nick either, had he? And well, Nick had been a real relationship. So Harry couldn’t really blame Zayn for hiding a shag from him. They’d known each other for two weeks and had been fucking for even less, so Harry didn’t really think he had the right to feel entitled to get angry about Zayn not laying down his whole life for Harry to discover yet.

As evening approached, Harry stared at himself in the mirror, getting ready for the parent-teacher meeting at the school, and decided he would talk to Zayn afterwards. He would tell Zayn everything, starting from the reason why Harry had been scared of commitment, and ending with how much he was willing to give it a try again with Zayn.

His phone, which had been utterly silent the whole day, buzzed on the breakfast bar of the kitchen.

“Um” Niall said when he handed Harry’s phone to him “I didn’t wanna look, my eyes just fell. It’s Zayn”

Harry chuckled, despite himself. “Niall, when have we ever had secrets? Don’t worry about looking at my phone, not after we’ve literally eaten from the same plate and slept in the same bed more times than we can remember”

Liam laughed, and Niall did too, shrugging. “You’re right. It’s just… you really fancy this bloke, don’t you? And you’ve been miserable the whole day. I’m just worried about you, Haz. I don’t wanna have another Nick, ever again”

Harry felt the impellent urge to hug Niall, an urge that was even stronger than the one of opening Zayn’s text. So he did hug Niall, inhaling the familiar citrus scent. “I love you” Harry just said.

They were attacked by Liam a second later, his arms wrapping around both of them. “I really like Louis” Liam offered when they disentangled “But if Zayn hurts you, I won’t care that he’s Lou’s best friend. I’ll arrest him”

Harry laughed. “Liam, you can’t arrest people for hurting someone’s feelings”

“I will try” Liam assured confidently.

Harry laughed again, feeling insanely better than he was an hour earlier, and finally managed to thumb his screen open to read the text.

Hey, Zayn had written, I haven’t looked for you because I thought you might want some time to yourself. But I wanna talk to you. When you feel like it. We can go to the meeting together if you want. And we can talk afterwards. If you want. If not, I’ll wait.

Harry sighed a smile. Zayn had never written texts half that long before, and maybe, just maybe, it was a good sign. That he cared. We can go together. And yes, we can talk, he answered.

He had literally just sent the message when someone knocked on the door. He snorted a laugh and went to open it. Zayn was there, clad in all black with skinnies and a button down, his hair tied in the topknot he always had when he was at school. “Hi” Zayn said, shifting his weight from one foot to the other “We, um, live very close to each other”

Harry chuckled. “I kinda figured that one out” he said.

Zayn gaped a little when Harry smiled, and then he chuckled too, scratching the back of his head. “I… I didn’t want this to become awkward. Between us, I mean. I really care about you”

Harry sighed. “I care about you too, babe. It’s fine. Let’s just be done with this meeting and then we can talk. I have shit to tell you as well, it’s not like this was your fault or anything” he said, because they needed to have time and privacy to talk that out, but Zayn needed to know at least that.

It was the right call, because Zayn relaxed a little. “Shall we, then?”

Harry nodded and then turned towards the kitchen. “I’m going!” he shouted “Do you both have a night shift?”

“Yes!” Niall screamed back “See you tomorrow morning! Tell Zayn he’s dead if he hurts you!”

Zayn winced, but he was laughing as well. “I’ll be good!” he yelled.

“Oh shit he heard” Harry heard Liam hiss.

He laughed and followed Zayn out of the house.

They didn’t talk much on the way to the school, except for an awkward “You look good” that Zayn muttered looking at the ground, and an even more awkward “Thanks, you too” with which Harry answered, trying not to giggle like a teenager at the thought that maybe, maybe, things would work out.

The parent-teacher meeting was held in the auditorium, and Harry noticed that every teacher had a desk to which parents could go if they wanted to speak to them. Harry found the desk to be just another thing that put distance between him and the families, so he chose to use it like he always did in class. He sat on it, pointing his feet against the floor and resting his ass on the edge of it, and if he exchanged glances with Zayn in between meetings while they suffered through the whole thing, well, nobody had to know.

It was a quick affair, at least. Most parents just wanted to have news about Ollie, or to be reassured they would take care of their kids and make sure they were safe at least in school, to which Harry promptly did his best to promise that there was no way anything would happen to their kids in school.

Most kids came with their parents at the meeting, probably wanting to be present to know what their teachers told their parents, and Harry was delighted to see the impressed expressions on the parents’ faces when they realized what a good relationship he’d already built with the students after less than a month since he’d moved to Thunder Hills.

It was almost at the end of the evening that the whole Year 12 B class (Ollie excluded, of course) reached Harry at his desk. They were all wearing tentative smiles on their faces.

Harry frowned. “Guys? You okay?”

“Mr. S, we…” Isabelle started “We came up with a song for the Graduation Embarrassment Show”

Harry chuckled at the name, because it just sounded like Isabelle was capitalizing the letters while speaking. “I’m listening” he grinned.

“Well, it’s not a song, not yet” Tim offered.

“We want you to write one for us” Bryan explained.

Harry gaped. “Really?”

They all nodded. “You’re crazy good, Mr. S” Andrew said “And it’s just fitting, you know? That we’re the ones who will get to spend the less time with you, since we’re leaving soon, so you’ll write a song just for us

Harry felt his stomach, heart, and probably every other organ, constrict. “Oh, guys” he sighed, doing his best not to be overwhelmed by their request.

“Will you?” Tim asked, his eyes wide in his face.

Harry chuckled. “Of course I will” he easily replied “Give me a week or summat. And then we’ll start rehearsing it”

They cheered and attacked him, sending the desk tumbling away while they hugged him.

“Yo!” Harry heard Zayn’s voice “None of that, I’m a jealous teacher”

The kids laughed. “You’ll get to keep Mr. S after we’re gone, Mr. M, so shut up” Isabelle replied.

Zayn gasped and brought a hand to his chest while the remaining parents were watching the whole scene with smirks on their faces. “Et tu, Isabelle?” Zayn sighed.

The kids and their parents left in a blur after that, and most of the teachers as well, which left Zayn, Harry and Louis to take care of piling up chairs and desks to get them out of the way.

When Harry was done with his part, he noticed the two pictures hung on the front wall of the room. Zayn was next to them, studying them with a sad smile, and Harry joined him, because he’d already come to terms with the fact that he couldn’t bear being away from Zayn for too long.

The first picture was Jen, laughing and with her arms thrown around a man’s shoulders. “Her father” Zayn told Harry, pointing at the man “A good man. I spoke to him the day after Jen was killed. He’s devastated”

Harry sighed. “Her mother was wrecked as well. She came here the next day, when Cowell made the speech. I didn’t tell you ‘cause you were just as wrecked, didn’t wanna upset you” he confessed. He’d honestly almost forgotten about Jen’s poor mother, but seeing the smiling girl with her father in the picture had brought Mrs. Parker back into Harry’s mind.

“What are you talking about?” Zayn asked.

Harry frowned and took his eyes off the pictures to stare at Zayn. Zayn was frowning right back at Harry. “What do you mean?” Harry asked.

“You said you talked to Jen’s mum?” Zayn asked “That’s impossible, babe. Jen’s mum died when she was fourteen”

Harry stuttered for a moment. “But she said she was her mum?” he said, not knowing why someone would even lie about that “She was, like, a short woman with blue eyes and black hair? I asked her if she knew the girl, and she said she was her mum. That she was glad we cared, that her daughter shouldn’t be forgotten. She even said you were her favourite teacher, Zayn”

Zayn’s eyes were reduced to slits. “I wasn’t Jen’s favourite. Louis was”

Harry didn’t think that was the main point on which they should focus, but Zayn was clearly upset, so he decided to roll with it. “Babe, I’m sure Jen liked you just as m…”

“Harry, that’s not the fucking point!” Zayn almost shouted. It attracted Louis’s attention, and Harry heard him walk towards them to see why Zayn was throwing an unnecessary strop.

Zayn grabbed Harry’s arm. “Louis was Jen’s favourite” Zayn repeated “I was Meredith’s” he pulled Harry in front of the second picture “Haz, is this the woman you spoke to?”

Harry wanted to complain that Zayn was fucking hurting him, digging his fingers so hard in his bicep, but he didn’t speak, because Zayn was right. When he looked at the second picture, he saw a girl with a long French braid, and next to her, a woman was smiling at the camera. She had the same blue eyes and black hair, the same laughter wrinkles around her eyes, the wrinkles Harry had noticed were there even when she wasn’t really smiling.

He nodded at Zayn. “Yeah. That’s her. Is she… is she Meredith’s mum?” he asked “Why would she even…”
“Oh, fuck” Louis hissed “Zayn?”

Zayn nodded. “Harry, that’s Meredith’s mother, Melissa Grunge. She… when Meredith was killed, she never recovered. She started being weird, even violent sometimes. Especially after our last Sheriff declared her murder a cold case. She threw a fit so violent that she almost killed her own husband. She screamed that we were forgetting Meredith, that we didn’t care, that we had to keep looking”

Harry felt his stomach churn. “Zayn, she was devastated by her daughter’s death, this doesn’t necessarily mean…”

“No, babe, you don’t understand” Zayn frantically shook his head “She became dangerous. Her husband took her and they left the town. He told me he was bringing her somewhere safe, somewhere where she could get help”

“She went batshit” Louis explained with less words and more politically incorrect terms “Her husband had to literally drag her away while she screamed that we never cared about her daughter, that we were forgetting her”

Fucking hell. “So you… you think it’s her?”

“She’s here and she’s hiding” Zayn said “Nobody’s seen her. You know how this town works by now. Everybody knows everything. Melissa Grunge returning from the loony bin wouldn’t have gone unnoticed if she didn’t hide on purpose”

“She came to the school, Zayn. If she’s hiding, then why…” Louis said.

But Harry knew how to answer that question. “She wanted to see you” he told Zayn “She was looking at you all the time. Said that you were her daughter’s favourite teacher, and that you always care about the kids. She said ‘it’s good to know that at least someone cares’. She’s here making sure everybody cares now”

“We have to call Ben” Zayn said quickly “Ben needs to know, because if we’re right, it means that Melissa is about to try and kill every fucking kid in this town just to make someone mention Meredith’s name again”

“I’ll go talk to him in person” Louis said “Zed, you need to go home now. You and Harry. If Melissa thinks you’re important to the case somehow, hell, if she killed Jen right next to your place ‘cause she wanted you to find that body too, then it means you might be a target as well”

Harry wholeheartedly agreed. He felt his hands go sweaty at the thought there was a crazy woman wanting to make Zayn part of her absurd plan of killing teenagers, and the thought that he’d even talked to her and then forgot her made him feel even sicker. “We can go to mine” Harry said “Niall and Liam are at work, but Melissa probably knows where you live. She might not know where I live though”

Zayn looked at Harry. “Don’t you two think you’re being a bit extreme? It’s not like I’m in danger. The kids are”

“You are too until further notice” Louis said sternly “Now go home with Harry. Maybe use the time to talk your shit out too, ‘cause I’m tired of the pining, to be honest. I’ll tell Ben, and we’ll make sure the kids are safe”

Harry felt his ears go a bit warmer at the mention that he and Zayn still had petty problems like dating to figure out, but Louis was right anyway. He risked it, and took Zayn’s hand. Zayn let him.

“Let’s go home, babe” Harry said.

Zayn was a bit abashed, but he nodded and followed Harry out of the school.

Harry couldn’t help it. He started accelerating his steps as soon as they came into their street, because now that he knew there was literally a killer on the loose around, he was scared.

“Haz, fucking hell, stop fucking running!” Zayn shouted, pulling his hand away from Harry’s when they reached the stairs of Harry’s porch. He was panting. “You go fucking jogging every day, I don’t, and I smoke. If I have to die, I wanna be killed by a serial killer, not by running”

Harry, despite it all, laughed. “Sorry” he said. Zayn smiled, and they climbed the stairs.

“It’s alright, Haz” Zayn whispered to him, running his fingers up Harry’s forearm while he unlocked the door “It’s gonna be fine”

Harry shivered. He’d already been missing Zayn’s hands. “Zayn, Louis’s right. Can we talk? I need to talk, I feel like you’re slipping through my fucking fingers ‘cause of something that is just stupid”

Zayn smiled again. “Yeah, babe. Same here. We should talk”

“Mr. Malik?”

The voice made Harry start. He dropped the keys, which thumped on the wooden floor with a cling. Zayn was digging his fingers in Harry’s bicep again as they both turned.

There was a woman on the steps. It was Melissa Grunge, and she had a big kitchen knife in her right hand.

 

*

 

“Where are you taking us?” Zayn asked the woman as she urged both him and Harry to keep walking, through the empty streets. No one was around, because Ben had issued a curfew after Ollie had been assaulted.

Melissa was blatantly pointing the knife to Harry and Zayn’s backs, but no one was around to notice, and Harry felt cold sweat beads run down his temples. They passed the square and the church, and Harry thought it was only fitting, that he could see a light turned on inside the church. The only person who could do something was also the one who would probably just be glad if the world got rid of Zayn and Harry. Besides, even if Harry wanted to scream for father McKenzie’s help, he couldn’t risk it. One wrong move, and Melissa could plant her knife in his side. Or worse, in Zayn’s.

“You should remember the place, Mr. Malik” Melissa replied. She had the same calm voice with which she’d talked to Harry in the auditorium on his first day.

“The Hills of Thunder” Harry realized when they passed the small grid of trees “You’re taking us to the hills”

Zayn sighed. “It’s where I found Meredith’s body”

Harry’s throat constricted in a knot. Of course Zayn had been the one to find the body if Meredith had been killed there. Zayn loved the hills, went there at least once a week. Harry wondered how long it had taken Zayn to love the place all over again after he’d found one of his kids murdered in it.

“Yes” Melissa said coldly “I’ll bring you there, because then you can remember how it was when you found my poor baby’s body in a pool of blood. I thought you’d remember, Mr. Malik. But you forgot as well”

“He didn’t” Harry replied as they finally got out of the trees.

The hills were as beautiful as the first time Zayn had showed them to Harry. “He didn’t, Mrs. Grunge” Harry said slowly “He always remembers Meredith. She was the first thing he spoke about when I met him”

Zayn took in a ragged breath. “It’s true. I always think about Meredith. It never leaves my fucking mind, to be honest”

Melissa shook her head. “You think about her, but you don’t speak. That speech Cowell gave at the school the day after I killed Jennifer? Very beautiful. But he didn’t even mention my daughter, and you didn’t stand up to make people remember, Mr. Malik”

Zayn recoiled from her, and Harry grabbed his hand to steady him. “You did kill Jen, then” Zayn said shakily.

Melissa shrugged. “Yeah. I thought if I killed someone else in the same way my baby has been killed, people would remember her”

Harry slowly raised his hands and tried to approach Melissa. “Mrs. Grunge, that’s not the way to make people remember. You killed an innocent girl. And you tried to kill a second girl, didn’t you? Ollie was afraid to speak because she knows you, she knew your daughter”

“Yes” she replied “I used to love those kids as well, you know. But they also forgot. I watched them all for a day before starting to act. Jennifer was Meredith’s best friend, and yet there she was, talking to a boy and setting a date with him, instead of grieving for Meredith, like I am”

Harry squeezed his eyes shut for a moment. He’d been at least right about one thing. Melissa Grunge was wrecked, so wrecked it had messed her head up, because how can you blame anyone for finally trying to carry on? He didn’t know what to tell her. He just wanted her to calm down enough to drop the knife, because she was still pointing it at Zayn, very close to his throat, and Harry’s hands were shaking in fear.

Zayn was calm and collected when he spoke. “I didn’t forget. I never did. I have something to prove it to you, if you let me take my wallet”

“I’m not stupid, Mr. Malik” Melissa chuckled.

“Then you take it. It’s in the back pocket of my jeans. There’s a picture inside. Look at it, and that’ll be proof I didn’t forget your daughter and I never will. Not her, not Jen”

Melissa wavered, but she believed Zayn in the end. Harry watched her circle around Zayn and stop behind him, still pointing the knife at his throat with one hand, while searching his pockets with the other.

She retrieved Zayn’s wallet, and Harry shifted just barely, because while Melissa opened the wallet and started to cry, Zayn nodded at Harry, and Harry understood.

Melissa was distracted. Harry couldn’t attack her, but he could do something else. He slowly retrieved his phone, keeping his eyes on Melissa to be sure she wasn’t looking at him, and his heart started to painfully thump in his chest as he dialled Niall’s number and slipped the phone inside his pocket again.

“Melissa” Harry said as clearly as he could “We should go back. The Hills of Thunder can be dangerous”

Please Niall, listen listen listen. Zayn smiled at him while Melissa was still behind Zayn, still crying.

“I can’t” Melissa muttered “I can’t go back. I never could. Not since my baby died”

“It’s okay” Harry replied, taking a step towards her and Zayn “We’re not gonna leave you alone. I just want to go away from the Hills of Thunder. I’m… scared of them”

Melissa frowned. “Scared of the hills? It’s just thunder, Mr. Styles. It’s not dangerous”

Harry forced a laugh to come out. “I know, I’m being stupid. I’m a foreigner, you know. Still haven’t gotten used to the beauty of it, I guess”

“If you’re trying to distract me or to make friends with me, it’s not gonna work” she said, pressing the knife harder against Zayn’s throat.

“No!” Harry shouted “No, please, please, don’t hurt him. I love him, don’t take him away from me”

“I loved my daughter too! And someone took her away from me anyway!” Melissa screamed. She let Zayn’s wallet drop to the ground.

Harry knew there was a big hole in his plan as soon as he heard the sirens.

Fuck fuck fuck, she’s gonna hear, she’s gonna lose it.

Melissa jolted, straightening her neck. “You called them!” she screamed.

Harry raised his hand. “No, I didn’t! I was here talking to you!”

Harry saw her hand press the knife to Zayn’s throat again. He felt horror race through his veins when he saw the rivet of blood coming out from under the tip of the knife, and Zayn hissed in pain.

“Please let him go” Harry tried again, defeated, feeling tears come out of his eyes.

Melissa shook her head.

And then there was a loud crash, and she fell down, the knife flying from her hand.

Zayn screamed and turned, and Harry gaped. In front of them was father McKenzie, with a shovel gripped between his hands, and staring at Melissa’s unconscious frame.

He had come out from behind her and hit her on the head.

He’d saved Zayn, and Harry too.

“Father?” Zayn muttered, abashed, and then his legs gave out.

He fell on the grass, on his knees, just as Niall, Liam and Ben came out of the trees. Harry kneeled next to Zayn, pressing on the small cut on his throat from which blood was still leaking.

“You’re okay, it’s nothing, it’s nothing” Harry reassured him, feeling his own body tremble and shake with the aftermaths of the adrenaline rush cursing through his system.

“Here” they heard father McKenzie’s voice.

Harry looked at him, astonished, as the priest ripped a stripe from his robe and tied it around Zayn’s throat, tight enough to stop the flow of blood, but not enough to choke him.

“Thank you” Harry said, and he burst out crying.

Zayn grabbed his hand.

The priest sighed. “What you told me that day” he said slowly “It made me think. You were right. I’ve been an intolerant, prejudiced, racist piece of shit”

Harry squealed indignantly. “I never said that!” he protested.

He heard Zayn huff a laugh, and it was the best sound in the world. “I still have issues with your… lifestyle” the priest assured “But that doesn’t mean I’d let you die. I saw you walk with Melissa Grunge pointing a knife at your back. I called Sheriff Winston and then I followed you. It was the right thing to do. We’re different, it’s true. But I don’t want to hate. It’s the worst feeling in the world”

Zayn smiled, and he patted the priest on the shoulder. “Thank you, father. We might even be friends some day”

McKenzie arched an eyebrow. “Hold your horses, now, young man” he said, and then handed Zayn his wallet “You dropped this”

Zayn took the wallet from the priest’s hands, and opened it with a sigh.

Harry’s heart gave an uneven thump when he finally saw what had made Melissa cry. It was a small selfie of Zayn and Meredith, right there at the hills, and they were both smiling widely. Under the picture, someone, certainly Meredith, had written To my fav teacher ever. Luv ya, Mr. M xxx

Harry sighed. He held Zayn close without speaking, because what do you say after something like this?

They stayed there on the grass, watching Ben, Liam and Niall take care of cuffing Melissa who was slowly regaining consciousness but still looked disoriented and aghast.

Ben came up to Harry and Zayn while Niall and Liam escorted Melissa away. He looked at Zayn and offered him a hand. Zayn took it with a scowl, and Harry stood up too, offering his own hand to father McKenzie who was still kneeling in the grass with them.

“I reopened Meredith’s case some days ago” Ben told Zayn “I didn’t tell anyone because I still didn’t have any leads. I’m telling you this because you never found your peace, much like that girl”

Zayn nodded, and didn’t reply.

“Sheriff Waleran did have a lead” Ben said “Only he wasn’t able to do anything with it. They found DNA on Meredith’s body. It was a no match at the time, because the person had no criminal record. I ran the search again, less than an hour ago. The person does have a criminal record now, and I was able to identify him. He’s been filed for a robbery at the supermarket a year ago, right here, under our fucking noses”

Harry watched Zayn recoil. He stumbled backwards, like Ben was punching him, and Harry grabbed him by the hips, scared that Zayn would fall to the ground again. “Jensen?” Zayn hissed “William Jensen?”

Ben nodded. “We got him. We’ll take care of it. He already confessed to killing Meredith because she… refused him. Twice”

Zayn took in a ragged breath. “Filthy motherfucker” he muttered “She was a kid. Just a kid”

“Both your kids are getting their justice tonight” Ben just replied, and then walked away.

Jensen was one of the first people Harry had spoken to when he’d moved to Thunder Hills, Harry thought as he and Zayn made their way back home. He was the owner of the drugstore right by the school, a man in his fifties who was always very kind and thoughtful, always asking Harry how he was, how he liked the new town.

Very kind, and with a murdered kid in his closet.

Zayn was utterly wrecked when they finally reached Harry’s house. Harry didn’t even ask anything. He just lightly pushed Zayn past the threshold, and guided him to the kitchen.

 

*

 

Zayn had only been to Harry’s place a couple of times, because whenever they met, they preferred having the privacy of Zayn’s house instead.

He couldn’t care to look around to see the changes the lads had made to the house since they’d moved, though. He felt like his limbs were made of water after all that had happened so fast, so madly. The thought that in less than an hour he’d risked his life, risked Harry’s, found Jen’s killer and gotten notice that Meredith’s killer had been found too, was overwhelming.

So he just let Harry manoeuvre him towards the kitchen, where he had Zayn sit on a chair and then started rummaging under the sink cabinet. He retrieved a red first-aid box, setting it on the table.

Zayn didn’t speak as Harry dabbed at the wound on his neck with a cotton ball. The disinfectant burned, and he couldn’t suppress a hiss.

“Sorry” Harry whispered, like if he spoke too loud, Zayn would break “We need to clean this. I wouldn’t mind taking you to get a tetanus shot, even. That knife was nasty”

“I’ll do whatever you want, babe” Zayn said easily, feeling his eyelids droop “After how you helped tonight, it’s clear that you know best”

“I didn’t do shit, Zayn” Harry retorted, opening a squared band-aid and sticking it on Zayn’s neck.

“You did” Zayn said “You distracted Melissa. You called Niall”

Harry smiled. “There was no need though. Father McKenzie took care of everything in the end”

Zayn chuckled. “Who would have thought, right?”

“Sometimes all it takes is people risking their lives and all differences become stupid” Harry answered “You’re all good now. Let’s go sleep, okay?”

Zayn didn’t want to go to sleep. Or better, he really wanted to, but talking to Harry was more important. “No. We need to talk”

“I’m not going anywhere, Zayn. Let’s get some rest. We can talk later”

Zayn let Harry and his husky voice convince him. They slowly climbed the stairs to Harry’s bedroom and slid under the covers only in their underwear. It wasn’t like they were strangers to each other’s naked bodies, but Zayn felt exposed and vulnerable nonetheless as Harry pulled him closer and spooned him. “I thought you liked to be little spoon” he said.

He heard Harry’s chuckle gush warm air against the nape of his neck. “I’m gonna be the best big spoon ever tonight” Harry declared.

“You told Melissa you love me” Zayn said.

It wasn’t a question, because he’d heard it right, and he wouldn’t probably ever forget it. But he desperately wanted to know if Harry had really meant it, or if he’d just said it in the attempt to distract Melissa and make her feel pity for them so she’d let them go. Zayn didn’t know if he would bear it, if it was the latter.

“Yes” Harry just said, barely mouthing the word against Zayn’s neck.

“Did you mean it, Harry?”

It took a moment for him to answer. “Did you want me to mean it?” he asked.

“Yes” Zayn said in a second, before he lost the courage and the will.

“Okay” Harry answered “Because I did”

“Okay” Zayn repeated.

He fell asleep a minute later.

 

*

 

They were still in the same position when Zayn woke up. He could see the sky start to brighten outside Harry’s window, and he could feel Harry’s arm wrapped around his chest, while the other was under his body.

That position couldn’t be comfortable for Harry, so Zayn slowly sat up, freeing Harry’s arm. Harry blinked three times before slowly sitting up himself, his hair looking like a rat’s nest, and Zayn had honestly never seen anything more beautiful than Harry like that, rubbing his eyes with the heel of his hand while he shook his other arm to wake it, because it had probably gone to sleep, trapped under Zayn’s body for hours.

They didn’t speak, not right away. Zayn looked at Harry as they both leaned their backs against the pillows, Harry sending a tentative smile in Zayn’s direction. Their hands took mere seconds before looking for each other under the sheets, their fingers entwining in silence and dim light.

“I had a boyfriend in Leeds” Harry said after a while, not even introducing his speech in any way, just talking, and Zayn didn’t want to have it any other way. “His name was Nick. We were together for three years, and I really loved him. He’s the real reason I decided to move here with Liam and Niall. I mean, I love them, and I didn’t wanna lose them to a shithole of a town. But it was also an excuse. An excuse to get away from Leeds, and Nick”

Harry’s voice was sad and grim, and Zayn hated it. “What did he do to you?” he asked, cursing himself for his possessive and jealous tone.

Harry chuckled. “Nothing. Not really. And that was the problem. I wanted him to do something” he answered “He was the one asking me to go steady. I met him at a club, we started shagging. I didn’t realize I wanted more, not until he asked me to properly date. So of course I said yes. It was good. I had him, I had Niall and Liam, and I had my students. Then… Nick got bored of me. There’s honestly no other explanation, it is what it is. He kept me there, because the sex was good, because having a stable relationship was convenient. But he didn’t love me, not really. He started telling me a lot of stuff, and it got to my head eventually. He said that I could be better off than being a music teacher, that it was kinda lame that I spent so much money and energy for kids that weren’t even mine. He found my attachment to my job pretty ridiculous, which eventually turned into him finding me pretty ridiculous. He said that I was plain, no ambition. He broke up with me, with a text. I still have it memorized. Sorry, Haz, I can’t make it tonight for dinner. By the way, I honestly think we should stop seeing each other

Zayn felt his insides turn upside down. How could anyone feel entitled to treat anyone else like that? And especially Harry, lovely Harry that loved his job and smiled and cared. “What did you do?” he asked.

Harry shrugged. “I told him okay. I wanted to die, honestly, I was so heartbroken. But I didn’t want to be the lame ex-boyfriend crying and asking for explanations. So I said I agreed, and I swallowed down the fuck you he deserved. I never saw him again” he told Zayn “I’m okay now. But the thing is that after the stunt Nick pulled on me, I became kinda scared of the commitment I myself was looking for. So that’s why I never let you ask me to go steady. I knew you wanted to, I could see it in your eyes and your smiles. But I was scared it would end up like with Nick. So I pushed you away”

Zayn should have been even offended, that Harry would deem him capable of being as much of a dickhead as his ex, but he couldn’t find it in his heart to blame Harry, because he knew just how much that kind of people could mess with your head. “Thank you. For telling me” he answered “But Haz. I don’t care how we end up starting tomorrow. I just want you to know that there’s nothing even remotely plain about you. There’s no job that is less than others, and the passion you put into teaching is something to envy, not something to judge poorly. I want you to understand it. Right now, and for the rest of your life”

Harry’s eyes were a bit teary when Zayn finished speaking, and Harry smiled, his thumb stroking the back of Zayn’s hand where they were joined. “I’m sorry. For thinking you could ever think less of me for loving my job. After all, I know that you love this job just like I do. You’d always understand that”

Zayn nodded. “I do” he assured “And I want you to understand everything about me too”

So Zayn took his turn to talk, and told Harry about Ben. There wasn’t much to tell, honestly, but Harry needed to know that Ben had never meant to Zayn as much as Nick had meant to him, that Ben had literally been just a month of fun, and that if Zayn hadn’t wanted to become more committed to him than that, it was just because they didn’t work together, not in ways that were deeper than sex and fun and games. “You’re different from him, babe” Zayn told Harry at last “And I’m sorry if you jumped to the conclusion that if I didn’t want to be serious with Ben, then I wouldn’t be serious with you on the long run either. Because it’s just wrong. I wanna be with you, and I know we’ve just known each other for a short time, but what I see in you makes up for all the years we spent apart before meeting. And if I’m sappy and lame for saying this out loud, then so fucking be it, because I want you”

Harry gaped a little. “It’s… it’s not sappy. It’s… Jesus, this is all I ever wanted to hear” he let out a teary chuckle, and Zayn kissed him, because he was done speaking.

Harry huffed a surprised sigh when Zayn attacked him, but he smiled on Zayn’s lips.

Their kiss turned heated in the span of a breath, just the time it took for them to collapse on the sheets on top of each other, Harry underneath Zayn with his long fingers through Zayn’s hair.

“Fuck me, Zayn” Harry whispered in their kiss.

Zayn’s breath hitched, because they’d always done it the other way round. “Are you sure, babe?”

Harry nodded. “Please. I need you” he mewled “I love you, I love you so much”

Zayn kissed him again. “I love you too” he replied, and it felt like a thousand things together.

Like relief, like fear, like commitment, like permission.

Zayn chuckled and made a quick work of rustling through Harry’s bedside table, knowing he’d find lube and condoms in there even if Harry hadn’t said. He’d been right, though, and he kept kissing Harry while he blindly coated his fingers in lube, squeezing more than necessary out of the bottle and making a mess of it on Harry’s stomach while he tried to wipe it away and Harry laughed.

Harry’s eyelashes fluttered and he stopped laughing when Zayn finally solved his coordination problems and slipped a finger inside him. Harry bit down on his own bottom lip, slightly rocking his hips against Zayn’s hand. “Another” he moaned, and Zayn obliged.

By the time Zayn had three fingers in him, Harry was panting and squirming. “I’m ready, I’m ready, please, Zayn, please”

Zayn kissed him to shut him up. “Don’t be too impatient” he whispered on his lips, but proceeded to roll the condom on anyway.

Harry smiled and panted some more, and he closed his eyes when Zayn started to push inside of him.

He was tight, so fucking tight Zayn had to close his eyes as well to avoid coming on the spot. “Fuck, Harry”

Harry nodded. “Please”

Zayn nodded too. “You’re… so tight” he hissed, and Harry just wrapped his legs around Zayn’s hips, his calves digging in the small of Zayn’s back, pushing him forward until he bottomed out.

Harry flung his head backwards on the pillows, muttering Zayn’s name like a curse and a prayer all at once.

He buried his face in Harry’s neck, and rocked his hips for a little while in that tight heat, until Harry started mumbling nonsense among which Zayn heard the words ‘harder’ and ‘please’ and ‘more’.

And because Zayn had been fucking weak to Harry’s green eyes and pink lips from day one, he obeyed. Harry’s nails dug in his shoulders while Zayn slammed his dick back and forth inside him, sucking a mark on Harry’s neck at the same time.

Harry moaned louder, and Zayn changed his angle just barely. He was rewarded by Harry’s pretty voice becoming the filthiest thing he’d ever heard, so he kept that angle until Harry grabbed his shoulders even harder. “I’m gonna come, Zayn” he groaned, and Zayn closed his hand around Harry’s neglected dick and tugged.

It took barely a couple strokes for Harry to moan Zayn’s name one more time, and then he was coming on both their stomachs, clenching almost painfully around Zayn, and that was what brought Zayn over the edge as well.

He came biting Harry’s neck, seeing his bruise stand there purple, and he collapsed on Harry’s chest.

“I love you” Zayn murmured with his lips still roaming on Harry’s neck.

He heard Harry smiled. “I love you too, Zayn” he answered “We’re gonna be okay. We’re gonna be great”

Like thunder in the rain, Zayn thought, remembering the night he’d brought Harry to the hills and had looked at his green eyes widen in amazement, because if he was honest with himself, that had been the very moment he’d understood just how much he loved that man.

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

Tim is very excited for the Embarrassment Show, although he’d never say it out loud for the life of him.

He’s hiding behind the curtain on the makeshift stage Simon fucking Cowell has had built in the yard of the school for that very purpose. Maybe the old man cares about music more than he lets on, Tim thinks.

“Are there many people?” Izzie asks, coming to peek from behind the curtain next to him.

Tim chuckles. “The whole town?”

“Shit” she mutters “This better be good, or I’ll have Mr. S’s fucking head on a spike

Someone hugs her from behind. It’s Bryan, of course. He kisses her on the temple. “It’s gonna be just fine, babe”

“I preferred you when you were pining for each other” Tim informs them, rolling his eyes.

They laugh, a bit awkwardly, and Tim just laughs too. They’re cute. “You seen my bird?” he asks Bryan.

He points backstage with his thumb. “She’s talking Mr. S’s ears off about all the things that can go wrong, as per usual”

Tim chuckles and goes backstage. Ollie’s indeed there, a notebook clutched to her chest and her big eyes widened at Mr. S. “But Mr. S, what if the curtain collapses on our heads and we all die?”

Mr. S just smiles. “Ollie, dear, if any of you dies because of Cowell’s shitty curtain, I’ll make sure to have him arrested forever” he tells her, seriously.

Ollie doesn’t seem to realize their teacher has just admitted someone might die during the show, because she sighs in relief. “Oh. Okay” she concedes.

Tim is officially already out of school for good, so he doesn’t feel guilty in the slightest to haul Ollie by the hips and kiss her right in front of Mr. S. “We’re gonna survive, babe, promise”

Ollie squeals and pushes him back, her cheeks a lovely pink. “I’ll dump you if you pull shit like this in front of a teacher again”

“Language” someone growls behind them.

They turn. It’s Mr. M, of course, with a grin on his lips and his arms crossed on his chest. Tim can understand why all the girls – and some boys too – in his class have a crush on him. He’s fucking fit, with his hair all loose and pretty and his sleeves rolled back to expose two sleeves of tattoos.

“You have tattoos all over? I thought it was just your hands!” Ollie exclaims, her cheeks even redder.

“Yo” Tim rumbles half-heartedly “Your boyfriend. Me. Right here”

Ollie blinks. “He’s got tattoos all over” she hisses, like that’s an explanation.

Mr. S snorts. “He does” he says, like he understands Ollie’s point, which of course “What are you doing back here?” he adds, talking to Mr. M with an arched eyebrow.

“Wanted to make sure no one’s gonna die under the shitty curtain” Mr. M retorts.

Ollie sighs. “Mr. M, you are a saint

Tim arches his eyebrows, because maybe he should be more concerned about his girlfriend having such a shameless crush on their teacher, but he honestly can’t really blame her. They’re all a little gay for Mr. M, after all.

He drags Ollie away, and they settle by the wall, where the others are revising the lyrics of the song like they haven’t had them memorized for months.

Tim briefly gives a glance to Mr. M and Mr. S, talking and fucking undressing each other with their eyes like nobody’s gonna notice.

“They’re so hot” Izzie comments with a deep sigh.

“Right?” Andrew agrees, nodding and gaping a little “It’s like, I’m not even mad I have no chance with either of them if they’re together

“This whole deal feels too much like High School Musical” Ollie remarks looking around “Jen would have lost her shit”

They all smile. Jen’s sorely missed, like the very first day, but after months, and with their two fit teachers’ help, they’ve all healed. And Tim wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

*

 

Tim starts to feel the nerve only when they’re all lined on the stage, facing the crowd. He spots his mum and dad in the audience, waving at him like he’s still five and playing the tree in the school’s final recital, and he rolls his eyes, waving back reluctantly because they just look so happy.

In the front row, Mr. S is sitting between Mr. M and Mr. T, smiling brightly.

“I’ll never get over his dimples” Andrew sighs.

“Shut up, mate, we’ve got mics right here” Tim warns him, but it’s too late, because Mr. S is facepalming and Mr. T is laughing his arse off. Mr. M arches an eyebrow at Andrew, and Andrew grimaces, waving at him.

Ollie clears her throat and steps towards one of the mics. “Okay, welcome to the Graduation Embarrassment Show, First Edition, issued by Mr. Harry Edward Styles, our music teacher” she announces “We’re gonna play you a song. Mr. S wrote it. Mr. S is Mr. Styles, we call him Mr. S”

“Ollie” Izzie growls through her smile “Inside voice”

Ollie laughs nervously, and Tim is probably fucking in love with her, honestly. “Sorry. Anyway. This song talks about us. About ending a journey, just to start another one. Mr. S dedicated it to us, and we’re dedicating it to Meredith Grunge, and Jennifer Parker. Because we do have a lot of history, and we can make some more. This is History” she announces.

They all take their positions after her intro, and Tim has the first solo, because Mr. S is a little shit. His lovely music teacher winks at him, and Tim rolls his eyes, placing his lips to the mic.

You’ve gotta help me, I’m losing my mind

Keep getting the feeling you wanna leave this all behind

Thought we were going strong

I thought we were holding on

Aren’t we?

He smiles when he’s done, looking at Clyde, who has the second verse. Clyde has gone a long way from being the shy kid he was five years ago, the kid no one noticed when he was there.

Now everybody knows Clyde’s there. He winks at Tim, and sings.

No, they don’t teach you this in school

Now my heart’s breaking and I don’t know what to do

Thought we were going strong

Thought we were holding on

Aren’t we?

When they’re at the chorus, people have already started clapping the tempo. Mr. S looks like his usual self, A Plucking Ball Of Sunshine, and Mr. M is staring at him instead of looking at his students sing, but Tim can’t really blame him.

They all sing the chorus.

You and me got a whole lot of history

We could be the greatest team that the world has ever seen

You and me got a whole lot of history

So don’t let it go, we can make some more, we can live forever

They reach the bridge, sung by Izzie because Izzie might be the pianist, but she’s got the best voice of them all, and no one has any doubt that Mr. S has written that bridge especially for her.

Izzie smiles, and sings into the mic Tim has personally set up on her piano.

'Cause the truth is out, I realize

That without you here, life is just a lie

This is not the end

This is not the end

We can make it you know it, you know

By the time they’re at the last chorus, the crowd has already learned the song and they’re all singing with them. Tim is utterly shocked to see Simon Cowell stand up and clap at them even if the song’s not finished yet.

When they’re done, they bow. They get the whole bowing together thing wrong, because Mr. S is an amazing teacher, but there’s just no way Year 12 B can be that coordinated.

The crowd stands up and claps.

In the general clamour, Tim clearly sees Mr. M pull Mr. S by the lapels of his awesome shirt with the pineapples, and he kisses him, right on the mouth, right there in front of all of them. Tim even sees a swipe of tongue, and really.

“Lucky bastards” Andrew comments.

The mics are still on, though, so even that comment doesn’t go unnoticed.

Mr. M arches his perfect eyebrow. “Language” he mouths at them.

Andrew winces. “Mustards?” he tries.

Mr. S bursts out laughing so hard that he bends over and tumbles forward, his face in the grass, while Mr. M doesn’t even help him, he just stares at him, abashed, still trying to understand how that even just happened.

Tim grins, and he thinks, You can say he’s fit all you want, I still think he’s just A Plucking Klutz.