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“D chord,” Niall says, adjusting Harry’s fingers on the fretboard. “And this,” Niall moves Harry’s fingers again, “is the E minor chord.” He waits for Harry to strum the guitar before continuing. “So it’s C, D, E minor, repeat.”

Harry sticks his tongue out in concentration, stumbling a bit over the D chord as he goes. 

“Yeah,” Niall says, his chest warm against Harry’s back, “and then C and D again before switching to a G5.” 

“G5 sounds like a car or something,” Harry snorts, but he strums when Niall moves his hand away. 

They're sitting on Niall’s living room floor: Niall’s impressive wall of guitars to the right of them and the rug soft beneath Harry’s bare feet. He curls his toes into it as he strums.

Today is the first time he’s seen Niall since tour went on break. Harry flew straight out to L.A. pretty much the moment they bowed off stage in Spain and has been spending most of his time blending in with the tanned crowds that make their way up and down Hollywood Boulevard every afternoon. He called Niall when the itch to practice guitar became too much, bought plane tickets that very same day.

Niall looks… good. Well rested for one, his hair soft and free from product, and he sounds good too, answered his door with an enthusiastic hello and a toothy smile. Harry missed him and mumbled so into Niall’s hair, Niall’s hands patting Harry good-naturedly on the shoulders as Harry enveloped him in a tight hug.

Niall’s hair smells like mint. It’s something Harry’s come to know about him in the past few years. His shampoo smells like mint, his neck almost always smells like Hugo Boss, and his breath either smells like beer or crest toothpaste depending on the time of day.

Sitting like this, on the floor between Niall’s spread legs, Harry can’t smell his hair or his cologne or his breath, but he can smell the oiled wood of the guitar in his hands and the freshly cleaned coffee table to the left of him. They’re good smells, smells he attaches to images of post-Sunday-morning-breakfast, his mother washing dishes in the sink and handing them to Harry for him to dry and put away.

Niall’s quiet all through Harry’s less than perfect chord changes, his breath coming in slow puffs against Harry’s ear, then he says, “First song I learned, this.” 

Harry raises his eyebrows in surprise. “Really?” He says.

Niall laughs. “Fuck, yeah. Most cliché 11 year old in the world but,” Harry feels him shrug, “it’s a good song and it’s pretty easy to learn, so.” 

Harry punctuates this statement by fucking up the bridge and he winces. Niall laughs again and it’s so warm and deep Harry can almost feel it—imagines it rumbling against his spine, radiating all the way down to his toes.

“If you did that on purpose I don’t want to know,” Niall says and clambers up off the floor behind Harry, raising his arms above his head as he stretches and yawns. “Want a drink?”

Harry cranes his head around and watches as Niall ambles towards his kitchen. The sock on his left leg is pulled up higher than the one on his right. It’s awfully endearing.

Harry blinks a couple times. “Yeah. Yeah, tea would be lovely.”

Harry turns the opposite way and leans the guitar carefully against the edge of the couch as Niall tinkers around in his kitchen, pulling out milk and sugar and flicking on the electric kettle. Niall hums to himself while he does this, an indiscernible melody that Harry doesn’t recognize, but it’s nice: the soft tones reverberating around the cold appliances of the kitchen, drifting back to where Harry’s resting on the living room floor. Harry pulls out his phone while he waits, scrolling absently through Instagram and liking a couple photos.

Niall pads his way back to Harry and hands him a steaming cup of tea before sliding down to the floor, back against the couch, his own cup clutched carefully between his fingers.

“Anything interesting?” Niall asks, nodding in the direction of Harry’s phone.

Harry shakes his head and turns the screen black, shoving it back into his pocket. “Nah,” he says and blows on his tea. They sit there for a few moments in comfortable silence, a cup of tea in both their hands, the sound of Niall’s fridge humming healthily in the background.

Harry rakes his eyes over Niall, taking in his old white t-shirt and cut off trackies. He clears his throat when his gaze reaches Niall’s casually bent knee. The long, raised scar there contrasts loudly against the surrounding skin.

“How’s therapy been going?” He asks.

Niall’s fingers twitch against his cup of tea in what looks like an involuntary way, but he stretches out his leg for Harry.  “Good, good. Mark’s got me in the gym most mornings doing stretches and what not.”

Harry nods and then remembers the tea in his hand, taking a cautious sip.

“And Deo’s been on me back all month about meeting the lads from Chelsea. Getting right fucking annoying, actually,” Niall says and frowns, pulling the edge of his shorts over his knee. It only hides a good inch of the scar but Niall either doesn’t notice or care.

Harry smiles around the rim of his tea cup. “Surprised he wasn’t at the field waiting for you with how attached at the hip you are.”

Niall kicks out at Harry halfheartedly and Harry dodges it easily, leaning his body slightly to the right.

“And you? What has famous pop star Harry Styles been up to?” Niall asks him, cheeky.

Harry waves his hand around noncommittally. “This and that. Did a bit of shopping, met a few people for dinner. Nothing very exciting.”

Niall grins. “According to the papers, everything you do is exciting.”

“And according to the papers, you masturbate violently, so why don’t we take what they say with a grain of salt, hmm?”

Niall scowls at him, but it doesn’t last for long—partly because his mouth disappears behind his tea as he takes a sip and partly because he’s Niall, and Harry doesn’t think anything could make Niall scowl for too long.

There’s something about Niall that Harry’s always equated with warmth and happiness, like maybe his body just develops the good stuff more than other people. Niall burns bright in almost all of Harry’s memories of him. Even after his surgery, when Niall had to walk on crutches for what seemed like far too long in Harry’s opinion, Niall continued to be as upbeat as he’d always been. Harry’s never really seen anything shake Niall and, if he gets his way, hopefully never will.

Harry stretches over and places his half-empty cup of tea on the coffee table, cracking his knuckles on his thighs as he settles back down. Niall cocks an eyebrow at him.

“C’mon then. Thought I paid for a guitar lesson,” Harry tells him.

“You didn’t pay me for anything, you cheap shite,” Niall says, but mirrors Harry and puts his cup safely out of reach on the table.

“If you’re nice to me, I’ll pay you in kisses,” Harry says and leans forward, puckering his lips dramatically at Niall.

Niall grimaces and shoves Harry’s face away with his hand. “Don’t need your mouth anywhere near mine, thanks.”

Harry pouts. “I’ll have you know I’m a great kisser. Top of the class.”

Niall rolls his eyes. “Okay, Haz.”

“I’m being serious!”

Niall grabs the neck of the guitar and hands it over to Harry.

“Play,” Niall tells him. And Harry does.

But he thinks while he does it. While he switches from chord to chord, he imagines proving Niall wrong, kissing him and making him melt against Harry’s mouth. It’s a surprisingly pleasurable thought, and not because Harry likes being right all the time. Well, not just because of that. Harry likes kissing. He likes when people like his kissing. He wants Niall to like his kissing. It’s suddenly very important to Harry that he kisses Niall.

Harry watches Niall’s mouth while he practices, glancing back up at it every few seconds while he plays. It looks awfully soft, an objectively nice mouth to kiss. Harry could press him back against the couch, climb onto his lap, and tease his mouth open with his tongue. Or he could start with Niall’s ear, nibble on it a bit before kissing his way across his jaw towards his lips, make it all the more satisfying having to wait for it.

Harry’s kissed a lot of people; he knows what he’s doing, would make it good for him. That’s what mates do yeah? Maybe they don’t kiss but they… make them feel good in other ways, do their best, give them their all, yadda yadda yadda. Harry would just be making his affection a little more hands on than most. Hell, he kissed James Corden on national telly. It’s not like this would be weirder than that. At least this is private.

Actually, the fact that he hasn’t thought about kissing Niall before now is almost laughable. He’s cute. Harry likes cute. And it’s not like they’re getting any younger here. Harry should just do it now before he chickens out. He should—

“Harry.”

Harry snaps his gaze away from the lower half of Niall’s face where he’s gnawing at his cuticles.

“Yeah,” he says, startled.

“You’re playing the same chord over and over,” Niall says.

Harry looks down at his left hand. It’s stuck on E minor.

“Oh,” Harry says and grins sheepishly. “Right.” He takes his fingers off the fretboard.

Niall squints at him. “You okay?”

“Yes,” Harry laughs nervously. “Why wouldn’t I be?”

“I dunno, Haz, ‘s’why I asked.”

Niall’s staring at Harry in that unwavering way he sometimes does, his eyes clear and bright and honest. Harry’s weak for that stare. He can’t lie to it. Well, he can, he has, but then he spends the rest of the day feeling guilty, nausea turning his stomach inside out.

Harry bites the inside of his cheek, debating. He could just lean over and kiss him. That might be a bit rude though. And the guitar would most definitely get in the way; he’d have to move that first. Harry rubs at the back of his neck and then lifts the guitar out of his lap and onto the floor next to him. His palms are sweating. He takes a deep breath.

“Niall,” Harry says, then stops and clears his throat.

“Harry,” he says, clearly amused.

“I want to kiss you,” Harry says slowly and nerve-wrackingly honest.

Niall blinks at him. “What?”

“Kissing. I want to kiss you, put our lips together, do the mouth tango, play tonsil hockey—”

Niall interrupts him. “I know what kissing is, Harry.”

“Well, you asked,” Harry says, defensive.

“Yeah, I—” Niall rubs at his nose, obviously put off. He changes tactics. “Why?”

“What?”

“Why do you want to kiss me?”

A hundred answers run through Harry’s mind. Because you’re my best friend. Because I want to know what you taste like. Because your lips look soft. Because I need you to know I can make it good for you.

He settles on, “because I like you.”

“Oh,” Niall says. “Like mates?”

“Yeah,” Harry swallows. “Like mates.”

“Mates don’t normally kiss each other,” Niall points out.

“Not much else about our lives is normal,” Harry says. “Why does this have to be?”

He hopes he comes off as calm and sensible and not like his heart is beating a hard, fast rhythm against his ribcage the way it currently is.

Niall cocks his head like he’s considering what Harry said. Harry sweats some more.

“Okay,” Niall says after a long pause, “but don’t grab my junk.”

Harry’s heart stops. Or at least stutters. He can feel it.

“Seems fair,” he says, he might choke on it a little bit but he still manages to get it out.

Harry scoots forward until his knees are pressed against Niall’s.

“So I’m just gonna—”

Niall looks at him.

“Okay,” Harry says, mostly to himself.

He wipes his palms on his jeans before reaching up and cupping Niall’s face. His hands are shaking slightly, but he doesn’t think Niall sees.

In movies, moments like these are somehow always slowed down. Seconds become minutes, gaps between mouths seem farther apart than they really are, and ages pass before anyone’s face touches anyone else’s. In reality, however, it’s like time speeds up. One moment he’s not kissing Niall and the next moment he is.

For the record, Niall’s lips are just as soft as they look, which he knows because the bottom is currently caught gently between Harry’s two. The kiss is short and sweet and chaste. And Harry moves back after only a few seconds, hands dropping to his lap, and watches as Niall’s eyes flutter open, their faces much closer than he’s accustomed.

“So?” Harry whispers. He’s not sure why he whispers but it seems like the right thing to do.

“So what?” Niall whispers back.

“How was it?” Harry asks impatiently.

Niall shrugs. “’S’was okay.”

“Okay?”

“Yeah, felt like a kiss.”

This is not the reaction Harry was looking for. He makes a frustrated noise. “That’s not—”

He surges forward and kisses Niall again, this time proper, takes Niall’s mouth opening in surprise as an opportunity to slip his tongue inside. This time it’s much less sweet and not even close to chaste. The kiss is deep and bordering on indecent. He drags his tongue along Niall’s own, coaxing them both back into his mouth. Niall tastes like tea and little else.

Harry’s left hand comes up and cups the base of Niall’s skull while his right tangles itself in Niall’s hair. Niall makes a low, guttural sound in the back of his throat at this and wraps his own hands around Harry’s hips, kissing him hungrily back. Goosebumps pop up along Harry’s arms when Niall’s fingertips skim just barely under his shirt.

Harry pulls back, a little reluctantly. His face feels like it’s on fire.

“Better?” he asks, chest heaving.

Niall’s mouth is red. He licks his bottom lip, eyes still closed.

“Yeah,” he says.

“Want me to keep going?”

“Yeah.”

Harry smooths down the hair at the back of Niall’s neck, feeling much surer of himself now he knows Niall’s into it. He leans forward and nudges Niall’s nose with his own, gently, almost playfully before brushing their mouths together. It’s a tease. He can tell Niall knows it’s a tease by the way he makes an annoyed noise and tilts his head, searching for more. Harry leans back, mouth just out of reach and then makes a decision. He dips down and drags his lips, pliant and open, along Niall’s jaw. Niall shudders.

A sharp feeling shoots through Harry’s stomach; it’s a mixture of arousal and power and satisfaction. Harry takes a chance and bites down on the hinge of Niall’s jaw. Niall’s fingers turn to claws around Harry’s hips, his barely-there nails digging into Harry’s waistband. Inside his head, Harry does a little dance.

He rubs at the now red spot on Niall’s jaw with his thumb, wiping away saliva and enjoying the indents of his teeth on Niall’s skin.

“Gorgeous,” Harry murmurs and Niall flushes beneath his hands, cheeks and ears going rosy.

Harry kisses Niall’s mouth again, tugging his bottom lip between his teeth before letting it go. Niall likes that. He kind of… falls forward a bit before catching himself when Harry stops kissing him.

“I want to try something,” Harry tells him, voice still pitched low and soft.

“Okay,” Niall says. His own voice sounds like there’s something stuck in his throat.

Harry cradles Niall’s face and neck in his hands again, humming before leaning forward and pressing his lips gently to Niall’s eyelid. He feels Niall swallow under his fingers, his Adam’s apple bobbing. Harry brushes the pads of his thumbs back and forth against Niall’s pink cheeks and presses his lips to Niall’s other eyelid. The skin is thin and fragile under his mouth.

He moves on, kissing Niall’s cheek bones and brow bones and even his ears before making his way back towards Niall’s mouth. He kisses the corner of it, lets his tongue trace the soft curve of his cupid’s bow.

“Love this,” he whispers against Niall’s skin. “Love kissing you. Love that you’re letting me kiss you.”

Niall lets out a shaky breath, “Oh.”

The way he says it, it’s like an admission. The whole thing, kissing Niall, feeling him slowly come apart under his mouth, is a lot headier than Harry expected. He wants to drown in the smell of him, kiss his mouth until their lips are raw and red and chapped.

“Oh,” Harry says, when he realizes. He rests his forehead against Niall’s. “We may have to redefine the definition of mates,” Harry says softly, and he and Niall burst into quiet laughter, their shoulders shaking.

“If it means we can do that again, then whatever the hell you want, Haz,” Niall says, his eyes finally opening again, pupils contracting as he blinks Harry and the room into focus.

Harry smiles at him, dimpling. “Yeah?” He asks hopefully.

Niall pushes at Harry’s shoulder. “Yeah, you dope.”

Harry's grin stretches so wide it threatens to cover the entire width of his face. “Wicked.”

He moves in to kiss Niall again but Niall has him beat, pushing at his chest until he’s lying flat on the floor and crawling on top of him.

“Mmm, my turn,” Niall hums and kisses Harry warmly, his body melting completely against Harry when Harry wraps his arms around him.

Harry smiles into the kiss. “Okay,” he whispers, and let’s himself come undone.