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stay, stay, stay. . . (stay.)

 

Harry knows whatever Niall does isn't exactly legal.

It isn't as if he's going to ask Niall what it is he does that keeps them both off the streets. A roof over their head. Food in their stomachs. Harry'd lived that way for far too long. Seen too many things that nothing, no matter how much he'd drunk or fucked or snorted, would bleach the images from his mind.

He likes the fact that they have a shitty little flat that's just theirs. They share the loo with the two flats down a floor, and Harry can't quite stand at his full height because the roof is slanted, but it's better than nothing. Harry's lived with nothing. He's fought over cardboard box space in an alcove of an alleyway. He's slept with the dead, because it was winter and the dead didn't seem to care if he curled up into a ball on the cold floor of their crypt, chancing a small fire because it was snowing out and he was just so cold. He's stolen food, eaten out of bins, and fucked strangers for a bit of money. Let them hit him or worse for a few pounds more.

So, no, Harry doesn't ask how Niall makes enough to keep their small fridge filled with a bit of veg and fruit - but mostly take-out boxes, because only two of the four burners on their tiny stove actually work. He never questions the cash Niall’s stuffed in his wallet on occasion. The notes battered with wear and tear and sometimes - just sometimes - littered with dark stains in spots and splatters that weren't black enough to be ink.

The only time Harry ever worries about what Niall does to keep their bills paid (and Harry from standing on the corner trying to turn a trick or ten) is when it's written on Niall's face. Or on his body. The cuts and tears on his knuckles that can't be explained away like "walked into a bloody door," or "slipped on the ice out front, mind you be careful on your way out," or "don't ask, please don't ask" apparently could. The times when Niall would strip off when he thought Harry was asleep. Like this morning.

It's early. The sun hasn't risen yet, but the sky, already tinged lilac at the edges, hints that it soon will. Harry shifts out of sleep slowly with the sound of Niall moving about the room. He opens his eyes a little, enough to see Niall gingerly pulling his shirt off over the back of his head with a wince. A patch of moonlight reveals pale skin littered with dark shapes, blooming like ink dropped into a glass of milk.

Harry blinks awake properly with a "What happened?" slipping from his lips before he's even finished sitting up.

Niall freezes for a moment and steps out of the light, shrugging his shoulders in answer only to hiss with the movement. "Go back to sleep. It's early."

Harry rubs at his eyes and leans over to the side of the bed where the little lamp sits that barely gives out light, flicks it on. Niall's already tugging on another shirt, but he isn't quick enough. Harry still catches the dark red and purple hues on his side. Niall's breaths are short and sharp as he stumbles toward the sink in their tiny excuse for a bath area, indicating that he's hurt more than what Harry can see.

Harry rolls out of bed in nothing but thick socks on his feet and a pair of near threadbare pants. His skin prickles with the chill of the room and he rubs at his arms. It's summer, but it's always cold in their flat before daylight. They near live in every article of clothing they own in winter. Niall always says it's something to do with them being so high up. Or the building being old and the proper insulation being underneath in the main house rather than the attic.

Harry thinks it's more to do with their landlord being cheap and shutting off their heating more often than not.

He quickly crosses the room to Niall's side where he's splashing water on his face. Harry's fingers go straight to the hem of Niall's shirt and he lifts it up, ignoring Niall's hissed "Leave it." Harry doesn't listen but tugs Niall's shirt up, wincing like Niall did before at what comes into view.

"How'd this happen? There's . . . there's like dents where your bones should be, Niall," Harry whispers, his fingertips light over Niall's bruised flesh but not gentle enough judging by how Niall flinches when he runs them over one particularly dark spot.

Niall steps to the side, grabbing at Harry's hand and squeezing it tight in his own. "Don't ask me that," he answers, those ice-blue eyes looking straight at the floor.

Harry shook his head. "You - you’re not breathing properly, and your face . . . ." Harry leaves off, skimming his fingers over the red mess of blood and torn skin at the corner of Niall's mouth, a rosy line at the corner of his brow. Harry's stomach turns because he's seen Niall come home with wounds like this before but never . . . never so much that Niall's tried to hide it like this, hasn't even made up an excuse, isn't offering any type of answer. Fake or not.

"It's fine—" Niall starts, only to cough and cough, splattering blood into the sink. The bright red droplets spread out and turn pink as they swirl down the plughole.

"You're not!" Harry nearly shouts, his voice louder than it should be with their thin walls and the early hour. He grips Niall's chin and tilts his face so Niall has no choice but to look him in the eye. "We need to get you to a hospital or—"

“No!" Niall interrupts, his voice firm, and he grabs at Harry's wrist. "No, I can't. There'd be questions and - I'm fine, Harry. I just need to rest a bit. Just lay my head down for a little while."

"But—"

"I'm fine," Niall repeats, his smile one shade less than the one Harry had found himself reciprocating a year ago. Just two lads sitting across a dining table in a halfway house where Harry had managed to get a bed for the night. The smile that Harry'd meet again and again over the next two months, until Niall offered him a place to sleep. It was a safety net and a friendship that Harry hadn't felt he deserved. Not when all he could bring were the clothes on his back and the few belongings from before. Not when Niall expected nothing more for his troubles than a mate to watch football with on their tiny telly. Someone to chat to when he got home from whatever he did with Paddy and the lads, that he never actually told Harry about.

They were mates and nothing more . . . even if Harry had offered something extra in the beginning, to pay in some way for the kindness Niall had shown him, continued to show. Niall hadn't wanted it, had hugged Harry close after pulling him up from where he knelt on the hardwood floor. He’d stroked Harry's curls and told him again and again that he just wanted a mate, someone he could trust who didn't want anything in return. It was hard for Harry to understand after living on the streets since he was sixteen. He'd had two years then of learning that nothing ever came for free. People always wanted something. Always. Especially from a boy without a home. A boy with long curls, innocent eyes, and lips that were "made for sucking cock, sweetheart."

Niall wasn't like that, though. Niall just wanted Harry. And if perhaps Harry wanted Niall a little more, he was too grateful for what he already had to push for it.

Which is why he lets it go now. He steps back over to their bed, hunts beside their mattress on the floor for the shoebox he knows is there somewhere. It's stocked with bits and bobs that Harry's pilfered from first aid kits at various clubs and pubs around town. Things he could slide into one of the many pockets in his favourite black coat, for precisely this reason alone. He cleans Niall's wounds without another word, wraps his chest in what he hopes is the right way for possible broken ribs. Harry relies on what he's seen on TV as reference and he gets a bit squeamish when there's too much blood, so Christ knows if he's doing it right. Niall's eyes lose some of their tightness around the edges as Harry ties off the bandage, so maybe he's made it a little better. Niall's lips are cool as he brushes them against Harry's forehead. He slips into bed and Harry follows, gingerly curling up beside him. Watching, always watching, as Niall slides into sleep.

The sun's well into the sky before Harry can let himself rest once more.

 

/ / / /

 

He hears it from Zayn, who works at the little shop on the corner, about a fight at the L.I.C. two nights before. Harry's left Niall to rest in bed after redressing his bruised - or possibly broken - ribs and the cut on his brow that should have stitches. Harry wasn't able to hide the tears in his eyes at how much darker the bruising had become. Niall wiped them away with the edge of his thumb, another of those half smiles thrown Harry's way before he took a few more pain meds with the last of their milk. If it hadn't been the last, Harry wouldn't have left Niall's side. Niall liked to take tablets with milk, though, and Harry wanted him to keep taking the damn things so he'd sleep and get better.

"Big barney, it was," Zayn says as they stand outside the front of the shop. Zayn takes a pull on his cigarette before he passes it over to Harry. Harry isn't normally one to smoke, but when he and Zayn chat like this, he always ends up nicking at least one.

Harry takes in a lungful, minding how deep he does because he never can tell if his asthma will flare up, even if he's supposed to have outgrown it by now. "Nothing unusual there," he answers. "Niall says they're always breaking up fights. It is an Irish club and they do serve a lot of booze there."

Zayn cups his hand to his mouth, flicking at his lighter three times before it flares up. "Yeah, but this time they had guns," Zayn says around his newly lit smoke. "Was talking to Olly and he said your boy was holding one."

Harry shakes his head. That isn't his Niall. Niall might work for Paddy but he didn't . . . he wouldn't . . . . "No, Niall wouldn't do that. He just helps Paddy out. He wouldn't . . . ." Harry doesn't finish his sentence, unsure of where it can end anyway. It's not as if he knows exactly what Niall does for Paddy, only that Paddy is his boss and Paddy owns the London Irish Club where Niall spends a bit of time.

Zayn shrugs, blowing out a long, steady stream of smoke into the clouded grey sky above. "That's just what Olly said. Probably means naught anyhow, you know how Olly likes to run his mouth."

Harry sighs because he does know. Olly's this friend of Niall's who Zayn knows, too. He likes to think of himself as a wannabe hard man, as far as Harry can tell. He resells a bit of weed and hash that Niall deals for Paddy. Harry's met Olly at a few parties he's gone along to with Niall, but they never really have much time to talk. Niall never likes to stay long if he's doing a drop-off, and Harry isn't one for the type of party that Olly throws.

He stubs out the cigarette, barely smoked, and shifts the heavy plastic bag from one hand to the other. He tilts his head to Zayn in farewell and tries not to think about why Niall would need a gun, or what he does other than run a bit of weed and messages for Paddy O'Brien.

When he gets back he pretends he hasn't seen the bits in the paper that Zayn's been slipping into his bag recently, about bad blood following O'Brien from Dublin to London. He pretends that he doesn't overhear Niall on his phone as he steps inside the door, milk in hand. Niall telling Paddy that he’s fine and that he'll be there later. That he knows Paddy needs him.

He pretends right up until he feels Niall's fingers brush through his hair, tucking a wayward curl behind his ear, later that night. He pretends he doesn't understand or know what Niall might be doing, right up until he hears the front door open and softly snick closed.

He curls himself tighter in the blankets that smell of Niall's aftershave and sweat because they're two boys and they hardly ever remember to wash their duvet. He wraps himself up in what he does know about Niall, and hopes it'll be enough.

 

/ / / /

 

Harry judges how many days have passed by the colour changes in Niall's bruises. The one on his face disappears first. The tear in his lip heals a little slower because Niall tongues at it so often. His ribs bloom a rainbow of purples and near-blacks, fading into raw reds and greens and finally a garish yellow that reminds Harry of the marigolds in his mother's garden.

He spends his days the way he's done ever since Niall took him in. Harry busks at different places around town, sings because it makes his heart happy and reminds him of why he took off to London from Holmes Chapel in the first place. He takes the little he makes and gives half of it to the halfway house where he first met Niall. The rest he spends at the thrift store where he's friends with Caroline, who works there every other Friday. He likes Caroline. She puts aside coats and jeans that will fit his long frame, charges less than she ought to because she likes Harry's smile. He takes his wares home, guitar strung over his back, and makes dinner or picks up a curry and a few lagers on the way back to Niall.

Niall's usually rushing out when Harry's coming in. For a while there he mostly did stuff for Paddy during the day, the odd party at night. A week after Niall's bruises finally faded to nearly nothing, it shifted into night work. Harry doesn't mind all that much. Sometimes Niall will meet him for lunch and they'll busk together, Niall harmonising over songs he plays a lot better on Harry's banged-up guitar than Harry ever can. They head home together smiling and telling stupid jokes. It's times like these when Harry thinks there's something else simmering below the surface between them. This chance either of them could take to shift friendship into relationship, or something like it.

Sometimes their knuckles brush against each other's on the walk back from the tube. Harry's fingertips twitch at the thought of slotting their fingers together, filling empty spaces with touch, making two halves a whole.

He never does, and he ignores how Niall's cheeks will pink up whenever the moment comes and goes with neither of them doing anything about it.

There are only so many chances Harry can take with his life, and throwing away the one good thing he's finally found is something he can't bear to do.

So he plays his guitar and he buys Niall a new winter coat and some decent shoes from Caroline's shop. They have curry three times in one week because Niall came home on a Tuesday and pushed notes into Harry's wallet until it bulged and he couldn't get it closed.

He doesn't question Niall having a new phone every few days - sometimes two or three - that he tells Harry explicitly not to answer. He doesn't much question when Niall comes in one night, dressed to the nines in a suit that fits him perfectly and carrying a duffle bag filled with shirts and trousers that he tells Harry they'll have to get a bloody iron to press.

"Looking very cool, Nialler," he says as Niall sets the duffle down, pulling out suit after suit if the sheer amount of clothing inside is anything to go by.

"Gotta look the part, Paddy says," Niall replies when Harry asks where it all came from. The newest thing Harry owns is the secondhand band t-shirt Caroline threw in as an extra the last time he popped by the shop.

"What part is that?" Harry wonders softly as Niall whistles in the shower, Harry watching the suds shift thick and white down Niall’s torso where he hasn't pulled the curtain entirely across.

Niall doesn't answer, but it isn't like Harry expects him to.

 

/ / / /

 

A month or more passes and the sharp way Niall dresses is the least of Harry's concerns.

Niall doesn't smile anymore.

The papers are heating up about shootings and drug busts. There's even a spot on one of the news channels where Harry actually picks out Niall in the background. When he questions Niall about it he shrugs and kisses Harry's cheek before switching the channel to a game from the night before.

Niall keeps a gun by the bed now.

Harry doesn't think Niall knows he knows.

Niall isn't mentioned, but he's right there beside Paddy in grainy black and white on the front cover of one of the big newspapers in town. Harry doesn't stop to read anything else after seeing the words "Gangland" and "Sinn Féin" and "possible IRA links" in the byline.

He's not afraid for just Niall anymore.

 

/ / / /

 

Niall's been twitchy for days.

He can't sit still whenever he's at home but is constantly flitting from their sofa to the windowsill to the kitchenette, looking in the fridge and coming away with nothing after minutes have passed. His knee bounces all the time. It's bucketing down, so Harry can't head out and busk.

Harry tries to ignore it. Tries to find things for them to do, including play the bloody Playstation that Niall walked in with a week ago with no explanation. Niall only flashes Harry a look that says he wouldn't get one if he asked.

It works for a while. Niall returns to normal or close enough, cursing at Harry when he manages to knock Niall's cart off the track. They laugh and banter and it's after they finish all the beer in the fridge that Niall pulls out a bottle of whiskey he normally saves for when his bad knee plays up. They do shots and get even more giggly as time goes on. The flat darkens early with nothing but the bedside lamp and the telly giving them light. The banter goes up a notch, Niall's creative swearing shining through, and after he licks Harry's face he slips past Harry's Princess Peach to win. And then things get a little bit . . . different.

Niall's beaming, singing some made-up little tune about how he kicked Harry's arse, and it's so stupid that Harry can't help but laugh in return. Niall's prancing around in front of him dressed in nothing but what's probably the last pair of clean pants between them and the red polo shirt he had on after helping Paddy out at the club earlier. He's flipping his finger guns around like he's a kid pretending to be a cowboy and it's infuriating and cute and Harry's had way too much to drink. He grabs at Niall's hands and Niall pulls back, sending them both tumbling to the floor when Harry won't let go.

Harry lands on Niall and a loud "oof!" echoes between them. He's still got Niall's hands tight in his, pinned to the floor on either side of Niall's head as he raises up to straddle Niall's stomach and catches Niall's stare. They breathe for a minute and then they break into laughter that's so loud there are bound to be noise complaints from downstairs soon enough. Niall gets his breath back first and starts singing that stupid song again, and christ, Harry just wants to shut him up.

"When will you shut it?" he asks aloud between chuckles, grinning so hard his cheeks hurt and he wonders if he could actually sprain a dimple. Harry's drunk and the world feels wobbly, but it all focuses into one point when he gets a hand over Niall's mouth. He can feel Niall smiling underneath his palm as much as he can see it in the way his blue eyes crinkle up, nearly disappearing under the weight of it. Harry could blame what he does next on the whiskey. He could blame it on the weed they smoked between games, huddled together beside the window that only lifted a few inches at best because the landlord had a thing about smoking indoors. Harry could blame it on Niall being out a lot over the past week and Harry going stir-crazy at the flat and noticing Niall a lot more.

The curve of his shoulder where their blanket rode down in the night. The soft smile he always gave Harry if Harry woke up first, staring at Niall like the idiot that he was, wanting something he couldn't have. How good Niall looked in a suit when he did have to go to the club, or wherever it was, now that he's Paddy's driver. That's the one thing he'd had to say about his "job change" at the start of the week. He'd come home with a new bottle of whiskey and a coat for Harry that didn't smell like mothballs and have cigarette burns on the collar, smiling and tipsy on the congratulatory shots he'd apparently had with Paul after. Harry’s liked Paul, doorman at one of the other clubs Paddy owned, the few times he’s met him.

Niall has a new cologne, too, something a little lighter, a little crisper, with a citrusy scent to it that drives Harry wild.

It could have been all these things, or maybe Harry's had enough of sitting back and liking Niall from afar. Maybe he wants something a little selfish for his own and maybe he isn't thinking at all when he removes his hand from Niall's mouth and replaces it with his lips.

He kisses Niall with all the words he's wanted to say for months . . . maybe since the beginning. It's not gentle or soft in the least, this hard press that turns into something else the moment Niall becomes an active participant. Harry's heart beats to this unearthly rhythm as Niall's hand curls around his neck, pulling him in. He tilts Harry's head a little more, their mouths slotting together in a harsh kiss that becomes more teeth and tongue and passion as it goes on.

It's like Niall's touch ignites something in Harry. He fists his hand into Niall's shirt, pulls up and up until it gets stuck under Niall's arms. He wants the thing off but Niall's still got one hand threaded into the hair at the back of Harry's head, the other clutched at Harry's waist. Harry gets distracted from stripping Niall completely when he's faced with all of Niall's perfect, pale skin now on show. He shifts back, his arse sliding over Niall's crotch so he can sit properly over Niall's thighs. Niall whines, his hands rubbing warm circles over Harry's knees.

Harry's never been happier to have forgotten to do a wash. He's basically in the same amount of clothes as Niall, barring the fact that he has his socks on; his feet are always cold.

"I—" he starts, looking up at Niall and losing track of what the hell he was going to say with how Niall looks.

He's biting at his lip, cheeks pink and a rosy flush down his chest and Harry wants to see if it feels warm against his tongue. He leans in, teeth grazing over Niall's jaw before leaving trails of open-mouthed kisses down his throat. He can feel the rapid beat of Niall's heart under his lips and he sucks, bringing the staccato to the surface, and bites a little, just because he can. Niall makes this sound that could be Harry's name or a curse and Harry smiles, nipping at Niall's collarbone.

He kisses mark after mark into Niall's near-translucent skin, thinking about all the times he's patched him up, fixed bruises that fists or feet made out of anger. He wants to leave his own made from something entirely opposite. He looks up as Niall groans this choked-off sound, his shoulders rising from the cold floor as he tears the shirt up and off his head. Niall's fingertips slide into Harry's hair then, tugging lightly as they meet knots that Harry hasn't brushed out in days. It's not like he was going out anywhere and needed to attempt to look like he was worthy of someone's spare change.

"Harry," Niall whines, pushing down with a light pressure at the top of Harry's head. Harry's hips buck forward slightly because it's been so long since he's done this and he likes that. Likes Niall telling him what he wants. Giving Harry the go-ahead that neither of them can find a voice to speak at the moment.

His tongue presses lightly as he feels out every rib he helped heal with tape and care. He pushes out of mind how Niall's breathing sounded all raspy and short every night for weeks after the rainbow of colour on the outside had faded. Focuses on how Niall's already near panting now, the sound similar but a hell of a lot different from where Harry is now, perched on top of him.

Harry goes lower, nearly bends in half as he traces the tip of his tongue along the edge of the elastic that's holding Niall's pants up. When he looks up, checking again that what he's doing is all right, Niall's eyes are already dark, blown out. His mouth has dropped open and the quick pink flick of his tongue glides over ruby lips, red riding high on his cheeks, flushed crimson down his neck and chest.

Harry wants to taste every colour that Niall's capable of.

"Jesus fuck, Harry," he chokes out, and Harry grins, tugging at Niall's pants until they're just under Niall's knees. His dick slaps up at his stomach, filling fast.

Harry takes a moment to breathe and swallow, reaching a hand between them to adjust himself where his cock is already tenting the soft material out to an obscene level. He leans up, because Niall's lips look lonely and it's been a bit since he kissed him, and attacks Niall's mouth with his own, scraping his nails over Niall's chest. Niall's hands fit on either side of Harry's waist, thumbs pressing in hard enough to leave bruises of their own in the soft dip near Harry's hip. Harry pulls back and curls his fingers in a loose circle at the base of Niall's cock. He isn't too long, but he's thick enough that it makes Harry's mouth water. Makes him itch for the ache his jaw will have once he gets Niall's taste on his tongue.

"You looks so . . ." Niall starts, voice already raspy with want, but he gets nothing more out than a groan as Harry take a long lick of his cock from root to tip.

He tastes like boy and musk and sweat and it's just what Harry wanted. He closes his eyes as he slips the head inside his mouth and feels the weight of it, velvety soft and heavy on his tongue. Niall curses some more as Harry takes him down slow, savouring the feel of how Niall's cock is fattening up, and Harry's jaw opens wide to accommodate. He's never going to fit him in properly but he shifts his hands over what he can't fit inside.

"Oh Christ," Niall swears. A hand thumps the floor beside them when Harry pulls back, flicking the tip of his tongue against the slit. Precome is a bitter taste but he does it again all the same. He sucks at the head for a bit, loving the way Niall's fingertips feel against his scalp, lightly scratching one moment only to grip his hair tight the next when Harry does something in particular that must feel too good. Too right.

Harry's so bloody hard in his own pants and he's torn between shoving his hand down there for a bit of relief or seeing if Niall would be up for something more. Harry'd love to make Niall come like this, feel him pulse inside Harry's mouth and know that it was him that made Niall lose control. However, it's also been a long time since Harry's fucked anyone and the thought of Niall stretching him open wide and filling him up is so, so tempting.

He licks a slow swirl over the crown of Niall's cock, gazing up at him through a mess of dirty curls, and Harry nearly loses his nerve when he sees how close to the edge Niall is. He's got this layer of sweat beading on his brow, his cheeks are ruddy with colour, and he's biting so hard on his bottom lip the skin’s turned white. He looks so fucking hot and Harry crawls up over him, fits his fingers into Niall's sweaty hair and kisses him hard, fucks into his mouth with his tongue as their hips grind together. Niall's cock smears wet against Harry's hip with only the thin cotton of Harry's pants keeping him from feeling Niall in the same way.

"Fuck me," he whimpers as Niall guides the roll of Harry's hips with his hands that feel so warm on Harry's skin. "Will you? Want it so much, want you," he nearly begs. Niall's eyes have the barest of blue surrounding his iris but Harry still can't look away. Niall's got this hold on him that Harry was a fool to ignore for so long.

"Yeah," Niall whispers, his gaze softening into this fond but fierce look as he nods. His fingertips slide down, pushing Harry's pants off as he goes until he's gripping hard at Harry's arse, pulling him in. "Yeah, I could do that."

He blinks and his lashes look soft and dark, reminding Harry that this is his Niall. The one who laughs at his dumb jokes and makes him jammy soldiers when he's feeling poorly. The one who took a boy on the street into his home and his heart asking for nothing but friendship in return. He may be a hard man or an "associate" outside of this room, but right now he's just a boy that Harry wants to taste every part of, to learn all the things that will wind Niall up and break him apart because of Harry alone.

Harry aches with how much he wants him.

They grind against each other a little more, kisses turning slow and deep and fuck, Harry could stay like this forever. Then Niall's grip on Harry's arse changes so he's pulling Harry's cheeks apart, fingertips sliding in between and so close to his hole and . . . .

"We need lube," Harry says with a shake of his head, rolling away from Niall's touch as he sits up, wiggling out of his pants in the process.

Niall chuckles, rubbing at his lips with the back of one hand while he strokes his cock lazily with the other. He taps at Harry's ankle with his foot, a smirk on his face as his gaze drops down. "Get those socks off, too, I'm not fucking you with those on. Have a bit of self respect, mate."

Harry rolls his eyes, feeling his cheeks heat as he mumbles that he hates having cold feet, but he pulls his socks off anyway. He gets on his knees and is ready to stand when Niall stops him.

"Where d’you think you're going?" Niall asks, and Harry tilts his head to the side. He thought it was obvious.

"Niall, I know we don't usually discuss our sexual preferences, and we pretend like we don't know what each other is doing wanking off in the shower, but my lube's on top of the wardrobe."

Niall raises his brows, grinning lopsidedly. "Don't have to go that far. Put your hand under the sofa to the left there."

Harry does and pulls out a tube that is familiar, though this one is more than half used. He waves it around in front of Niall as he turns, crawling back over Niall's legs until he's straddling his crotch. "I thought we had a rule about no fucking on the furniture."

"We never said anything about a bit of self love," Niall says with a nod, looking far too serious for what they're doing. It cracks Harry up anyway. Niall reaches up to cup his hand at the back of Harry's neck and drags him in as he leans up, swallowing Harry's laugh as he kisses him.

Harry's pressed close against Niall and from this position his cock is finally getting some sort of attention as it rubs up against Niall's and maybe they don't need the lube after all. It feels so good as he rocks forward and Niall thrusts up, Harry whining into Niall's mouth as they kiss.

Niall's hands glide over Harry's sides, sweeping over his back and down to his arse once more. There's a little bit more intent there this time. Harry feels two of Niall's fingers skim down his crack, a dry drag over his hole, and Harry spreads his legs further.

"Lube, Harry," Niall says, biting at Harry's bottom lip. Harry shudders and pushes his arse into Niall's touch. Harry has to find it again, his hands having sunk into Niall's thick, bleached blond hair when he fell forward earlier.

The lube - thankfully - isn't too far out of reach as Harry makes to sit up but stops when Niall tells him no. "Want you close - like you like this."

This feeling he has in his chest for Niall on any given day feels like it swells with those words. It hurts almost, and Harry smiles all the harder for it. He kisses the tip of Niall's nose and flicks the lid on the tube, squeezing some onto two of Niall's fingers when he brings his hand up between them. Niall's staring at him with such intensity that Harry is nearly unable to look away, and he barely even blinks until Niall's got his fingers on Harry's hole again, this time slicker.

It's cool to the touch, but the way Niall's thick fingers rub circles against Harry's skin warms it up soon enough. Harry shudders, eyes fluttering closed as Niall presses a light kiss to his cheek, his chin, and the corner of his lips as he slides one finger in. It doesn't feel good yet - it's been far, far too long since Harry let anyone in, hasn't had a proper shag really since he started living with Niall. He's had and given the odd blowjob or handy to random guys in clubs, but as for fucking? It's something different, it means something more.

It means so much that it's Niall and he wants Harry like this. Like Harry's been wanting Niall for a long time now.

"You're so fucking tight," Niall says softly, almost reverently. He starts pressing in further. Harry's breath is harsh over Niall's cheek because he's resting his forehead against Niall's. It's a lot, and this is only the beginning.

He fits a hand between them, holding his cock in a loose grip because he's started to go soft and he wants this to feel good, doesn't want Niall to second-guess how much Harry wants this. Niall's movements become more sure and the intrusion starts to feel less like a burning ache and more like something Harry wants more of. He presses his lips to Niall's cheek, whimpers a little as Niall adds another finger and it's a lot but Niall is bigger, Niall will stretch Harry far more than this and Harry's utterly looking forward to it.

He loves being fucked. Loves feeling filled and the exquisite stretch of it . . . the ache that his thighs and arse will have the next day from a good dicking. This will be different, though, because this is Niall and Harry wants more than just his cock up his arse. He kisses Niall again instead of saying stupid things to Niall about how much he likes him, how much he cares about Niall and how he wishes he didn't think he had to hide the gun and the money and the reasons that he's been so fucking edgy all week.

He wants all of Niall but he gets it . . . he understands that this, this is all Niall can give him.

"We can," Harry says, nipping at Niall's jaw. "I'm good, like. We can go now."

Niall laughs but it's this nervous, almost titter. "No, I'm a bit bigger than me fingers, Harry. Don't want to hurt you, is all."

Harry groans, slipping his hand between his legs and shifting a finger in beside the two Niall has there, still fucking into Harry slow and measured. He doesn't want that. His cock's full and when they both push in at the same time, Niall's knuckle rubs over Harry's prostate and he almost sees stars.

"Want your dick, not your bloody fingers," Harry gasps out because Niall's worked out where to bloody rub and it's maddening. He slides his finger out, wraps his hand as best he can around Niall's wrist and tugs.

Niall mumbles something and Harry's not too sure whether it was a curse or a promise but Niall removes his fingers anyway, wraps them around his cock instead. Harry watches the slow shift of his pale fingers sliding over his cock, and it's thick just like Harry knew it would be. Niall's cock is flushed red, darker than the blush on his cheeks and down his neck. Harry's never thought cocks were that pretty - he's seen enough when he had to fuck for money and a room for the night - but Niall's is. He's not cut, and his foreskin is tight at the tip, wet with precome. It makes Nialls' cock shine and Harry licks his lips, remembering how it tasted on his tongue. He wonders for a moment why he stopped sucking Niall off earlier.

"You said something about my dick?" Niall asks, and yes, that's what Harry wants. There's this emptiness where Niall's fingers were before and his cock would definitely fill more than that quota.

He leans in to capture Niall's lips again, a quick brush of lips on lips almost as if to say, "We're on the same page."

"Do you happen to have a condom under the coffee table or something?" he asks, remembering that he doesn't have any left himself. There were a few in his wallet but that's somewhere lost in the hamper with all their dirty clothes.

Niall shakes his head and frowns for a moment. "I'm clean - like, Paddy tells us to get tested and even has me drive the other lads to the clinic because of . . . well, the things we do."

"Me too - I mean, last month. They call me up and remind me to come in."

"Okay," Niall nods, his eyes crinkling, and Harry doesn't need to look any further to know that Niall's grinning.

"Okay," Harry gets out before they're kissing again and it's back to that passionate, deep snogging that had Harry wondering if he needed anything other than that to get off.

He can feel when Niall's dick starts sliding between his legs, the head barely catching on the rim of his hole. Niall's managed to put more lube on or something, because it's smooth and wet and oh.

"This'll get messy," Harry says, thinking about the cleanup and how unattractive and sticky it'll be with Niall's come sliding out of his bum later.

Niall brushes his lips against Harry's ear. "Not if I eat you out it won't."

Harry kisses him fiercely, gripping either side of Niall's face tight. "You can't just say things like that," Harry says between each brush of his lips on Niall's.

"You're getting lube in my hair, Harry, I can pretty much say what I want."

Harry opens his mouth to volley a retort, but it gets lost as Niall chooses that moment to line his dick up properly and raise his hips. It's not enough in this position to slide into Harry very far, but it reminds Harry of what they're doing and as much fun as banter always is between them, he really does want to fuck. He kisses Niall one last time all slow and wet, then gets his hands on Niall's chest, fingertips sliding through the patch of hair there as he raises up to settle on Niall's dick a little more.

It's better like this, he can start slow and feel the burn of Niall's thick cock stretch him open. He can watch as Niall struggles to stay still, struggles to even breathe as Harry sinks down. His fingertips press hard into Niall's skin, leaving half-moons from where his nails dig in. Niall is big and it's been a long while and it feels . . . it's enough to take Harry's breath away. Harry doesn't blink, just stares at Niall's face and concentrates until he's fully seated, finally releasing this sigh that's more a whimper because he feels so, so full.

"Jesus," Niall curses, his grip on Harry's thighs so tight it's bound to leave marks. "C'mere," he adds after a few beats when all Harry can do is stay still, let his body adjust.

He leans in though, because Niall asked. Niall's hand is a warm weight where it slides over Harry's body. He can almost feel the callouses on Niall's fingers as they play lightly over Harry's ribs, finally threading into the tangle of curls at his neck. Their panted breaths are loud between them as Niall stretches up, pressing even deeper inside Harry as he brushes their lips together. It almost feels like Niall doesn't want to stop kissing Harry now he's started. Harry's inclined to want the same.

He whimpers into Niall's mouth when Niall’s free hand wraps around Harry's cock. He strokes Harry a few times until Harry groans, hips rocking against Niall like he'd forgotten how the stretch from before wasn't quite pleasurable yet. This, though, this slow touch on his cock is awakening memories of how good being fucked has been before. Those rare times when Harry has done this because he wanted to, not because he had to.

"Feels good," Harry says, skimming his lips over Niall's jaw, always coming back to his mouth. It's as if he needs to remember that this is Niall, and for Harry at least, it means more than just staving off boredom.

Niall says nothing in return; the deep kiss he gives Harry and another thrust of his hips are enough. Harry starts moving properly then, sets his weight back and lifts his arse, fucking himself on Niall's dick slowly so he can feel every inch of him. He shudders as he rolls his hips. Niall is still cupping Harry's cock but he's not doing much now other than holding it. Harry bats his hand away as he straightens further. Who knows if this will happen again? He wants it to last long enough to get Niall off and then he'll worry about himself.

"You’re - fuck - too far away," Niall says, making grabby hands at Harry as he starts to build this rhythm between them. Harry's hands slide over his chest like he can't help it, thumbs rubbing hard over his nipples sending sparks through his body that only add to that incredible feeling building low in his gut.

Niall grabs at his hands, threading their fingers together and pulling Harry back toward him. Their kiss is more tonges touching outside their mouths than anything, but it's this closeness that Niall so obviously wants that keeps Harry from moving back just yet. Harry tries to keep fucking Niall like he was before, but he's too close now to do more than slowly rock against him. Nearly whimpering, because it's good but he needs a little more.

"Need," he gasps as Niall's mouth sucks particularly hard at Harry's neck, right over his pulse point. "Niall," he says on a shuddery sigh, turns his head, unable to get out anymore when he finds Niall's lips again.

Niall's fingers squeeze against his own for a second in answer before he releases his hold. He gets one hand on Harry's hip and the other at the middle of his back and does this weird twist thing that somehow has them rolling over, and Harry's back finds the floor.

"Okay," Niall says, his eyes focused on Harry's, and Harry isn't sure if he's asking him a question or not, doesn't really know how to answer, he’s so amazed at how that was. Niall nods a little, blue eyes searching over Harry's face, then he gets a hand curled under Harry's thigh, sliding it up under his knee and hitching it higher. "Okay."

That's when he starts dicking into Harry in earnest and just about the same time Harry loses his ever-loving mind. He can't get a word out; these puffs of air masquerading as sound are punched from his chest as he holds on to any part of Niall he can clutch. He can feel the near burn of friction on his back from how hard Niall is giving it to him, just fucking in hard and fast and hitting Harry in all the best places. Christ. Niall's got him wrapped like a bloody pretzel. Harry's knee is somewhere shy of his nose as Niall leans in to kiss Harry again.

They stay like that for a while, just sliding their lips slowly against each other and kissing until they’re nearly out of breath, only to repeat it all again seconds later. Harry's never felt so close to someone, so utterly lost in how he feels and how Niall looks and Niall . . . just Niall. He can see sweat pooling in the dip of Niall's collarbones. One of the marks Harry left there earlier looks like it needs to be revisited. Niall's grinding in all slow and sweet and Harry can feel every inch if him, the stretch so good and deep maybe he'll never be the same. Niall shudders against Harry's lips as he licks a long strip over Niall's skin before sucking at the bruise once more. Niall curses and pushes Harry's knees further apart and oh fuck.

It's been so long and it feels so good as his cock gets some badly needed friction as every shift of Niall's hips has it brushing up against Niall's stomach, just shy of his hip bone. He'd get a hand on himself if he could, it would probably make stars burst behind his eyes if he did, but he can't stop touching Niall. He's mapped the shift of muscles under sweat-dampened skin at his back. The thick mess of blond hair that Harry helped bleach a week ago feels coarse on his fingertips. He just wants so much, and having Niall finally give it to him is too much. Too much.

"Tell me you're close, Harry. Tell me," Niall says, all rough and ragged from where his lips have been skating over the thin skin at Harry's neck, his teeth nipping at the lobe of Harry's ear.

"Yeah," Harry nods, and fuck Niall's so lovely to look at. Niall's face is tense, the cords of muscle in his neck stand out in relief and his lips are bubblegum pink and so, so plump from how hard they've been kissing. Harry's skin tingles all over and he can feel his orgasm building like the pull-back of the ocean when a tsunami is about to strike. It's like waiting on a precipice - he just needs one final push.

"Yeah, just, just need." Even to his own ears he sounds like he's run a marathon, all raspy and barely there as he fails to say what he wants.

Niall must understand, though. He releases the hold he has on one of Harry's knees and slides his hand between them. When he gets Harry's cock in hand he fists the head, hard and fast and at a tempo just a bit off what he's doing with his hips. It's enough. It's enough to make Harry's eyes roll into the back of his head as he just lets go. These gasped "Oh, oh, oh," sounds leave the back of his throat and his fingers press in hard over Niall's shoulders where he's resting them. He's not quite sure if he's holding on or holding Niall up as Niall leans in closer, bending Harry in half.

"Haz," Niall says, his lips on Harry's chin. "Harry," he says again, this time with a bit more force, and Harry opens his eyes and looks straight into the pale blue of Niall's, and that's all it takes.

Harry's coming and Niall's fucking him through it as Harry moans long and loud - almost embarrassingly so - but he can't be embarrassed. He can't care about anything else but how fucking good it feels as his orgasm rips through him from the tips of his toes, making his back arch. He can feel Niall's thrusts start to lose their rhythm and Niall's cursing up a storm, these nearly unintelligible words with every thrust. He stops suddenly and it's with a loud "Fuck!" that Harry can feel Niall coming deep inside him. He continues to grind in, these sharp pulses of his hips, and Harry really wasn't too wrong about this being messy - Niall's filling him up to the brim. As he slows, Harry is sure he can feel some of Niall's come already sliding down between them.

They breathe and Niall's head feels heavy on Harry's chest, but he couldn't move if he tried. Niall's let go of his legs but they've fallen to the side, leaving Niall cuddled up and weighing a lot more than his skinny frame looks like he would as he lies on Harry. Harry wants to say something. Say anything about how good this was and how much he wants to do it again - even though they've just finished - and how Niall makes him feel, but . . . .

He can't. He can't ruin something like this with words. Niall pushed him away once; what’s to say he won’t do it again? What's to say Niall's not like all the rest that have come before, when Harry's let them in or finally got what he'd been chasing after? Then again, he's never waited as much as he has with Niall. Never thought that Niall might want him like this until lately and maybe, maybe.

"Stop, just - can't we fucking lie here for a minute before your brain kicks into gear?" Niall says. He's still out of breath so it comes out less harsh than the words imply. It's more teasing and Harry's used to that. Used to Niall giving him a bit of stick now and then, and it makes Harry laugh which has Niall chuckling after.

He rubs his hand over the knobbly line of Niall's spine and presses his lips against the damp warmth of Niall's forehead. There's so much bubbling under his skin and the back of his throat tingles with words unsaid. It doesn't matter, though, when Niall starts moving. He slides down Harry's body, tongue gliding over one nipple and then his teeth nipping at the other as Harry mostly just lies there. He's useless after coming like that. He makes flailing attempts to keep his hands on Niall as Niall's tongue swirls a circuit around Harry's belly button where Harry is sure he felt hot come land before.

Well, if that doesn't make his prick twitch with interest.

"What are you - what are you doing?" he asks, clearing his throat after his left leg kicks out at air when Niall bloody suckles on the head of Harry's prick for a minute. He's not exactly soft, definitely could get hard again if he tried. Or if Niall did.

Niall looks up from where he's got his head between Harry's thighs, his hands pushing up at the back of them so Harry's got to raise them again. Niall shuffles until he's slid one over his shoulder and he bloody winks. Winks.

"Said I wouldn't leave you messy, didn't I?"

The sound of Harry's head hitting the wooden floor isn't quite as loud as the moan that leaves his lips the minute Niall's tongue slides over his hole.

 

/ / / /

 

There are two voices Harry can hear as he puts the key into the lock of his and Niall's home.

One he knows, would know anywhere. The other he doesn't, and it makes him hesitate for all of a second.

Then Niall laughs and it's familiar and warm and, well, maybe it's not a foe as Harry's tired mind had first thought.

He turns the key and lets himself in, being a bit louder than normal as he takes his boots off at the door, lining them up against Niall's new selection of runners that haven't been run in at all.

Well, not for jogging or anything you'd do at the gym.

Harry pretends that the maroon spray that covers one pair of white shoes is something other than the blood he saw also on Niall's face the other night. Niall didn't have a scratch on him when Harry joined him in the shower after Niall stripped and made straight for it. He was going to . . . but then Niall did that bloody wink of his and slid down on his knees on their shamefully dirty tiled floor and sucked Harry's cock and that was the end of it.

Because yeah, they fuck now.

All the time.

They still haven't talked about what it means and whether they're more than just friends, but Harry's okay with that.

Mostly.

"Haz, Harry? You home?" Niall calls from the living room, which really is just the space between the telly and the sofa as much as the kitchen is the space between the sofa and the sink. They don't even have room for a dining table of any sort.

Harry calls back, "Yeah," wondering if it's imagination or not that he hears a soft metallic click in the leftover quiet. He tugs on a new, cleaner pair of socks that he’d thrown by the rack when he left in the morning. The sky had looked like rain and he hated having wet feet when he got in. It was easier to leave something dry by the door. He stumbles a little further into the flat, looking up with a grin that slowly fades when he catches sight of this other fellow beside Niall. He's a little stockier than Niall, wearing one of those shiny jogging suits that Niall used to wear back when he first started out with Paddy. He's shoving something in the back of his trackies and Harry knows what it is. Knows that Niall has another box full of bullets for something similar that they still haven't talked about.

So that's what the metallic sound was, then. Just who had they been expecting?

"So you're Harry," the other lad says with this thick Irish accent and a gap in his smile where one or two teeth should be. When he steps forward with his hand out to shake Harry's, there's a familiar looking tattoo of Paddy's club on his wrist and some girl’s name in thick ink wrapped around his neck.

Proper hard man this boy is, or maybe thinks he is, from the way he squeezes Harry's fingers like they're sausage meat. "'m Eoghan, but friends call me Duffy."

"Duffy," Harry says in reply, trying hard not to show how painful Duffy's grip is.

He squeezes Harry's hand some more before letting go with this glint in his eyes that Harry really doesn't like. "Ah, mate, don't think you’re a friend yet."

Harry feels his face heat and he hates that, hates that Niall is around this type of people and that Niall hasn't said a word yet.

"Eoghan, then?"

"Only me mam calls me that. How bout you don't call me at all?" He turns to Niall and they grip each other's forearms before having one of those laddy one-armed embraces, and Niall looks serious when they part.

"I'll see you in the mornin'. Don't forget what we talked about," Eoghan or Duffy - or whoever the fuck he is - says as he heads toward the door.

Niall nods, avidly avoiding Harry's stare as he follows. Harry stands there frowning and wondering what the hell he might have interrupted as he listens to Niall turn not one but all the locks on the door. They usually just bother with the catch when they're both at home. It isn't like there's anything of worth to steal from their little shithole.

He's still standing there when Niall gets back and drags Harry into an almost too-tight embrace before he gets Harry's face between his hands. His blue eyes are bright and his lips are thin as he gives Harry this serious look that he's never seen before.

"Never open the door to him, Harry. If you see him in the street you turn the other way and you run and you don't come home til I call you - not text, call. Do you understand, Harry?"

Harry opens his mouth to ask why or who this obvious wanker is, but Niall's hands tighten to an almost painful level. His fingertips pinch at Harry's cheeks and his thumbs are hard at the hinge of Harry's jaw.

"Promise me."

Harry winces. "You're hurting me, Niall."

Niall squeezes tighter, his brows drawn into a thin line. "Promise me, Harry."

"I promise - fuck, Niall, I promise!" Harry nearly shouts. He's ever seen Niall like this. His eyes are wide and his nostrils are flaring. He looks wild and it's completely different from how cool he looked seconds before he locked the door.

Niall's grip lightens and he's breathing harshly as his head drops to sit against Harry's shoulder. "Promise me," he says again and again, and Harry echoes it. He continues to echo it as he backs them toward the bed and tucks them both under the covers.

It's only later when he's watching Niall sleep, deep grooves marring his forehead with worry even in slumber, that he recognises what he really heard in Niall's tone before.

Niall's scared.

 

/ / / /

 

Harry spends a lot of time smoking with Zayn out front of the little shop his cousin owns down on the corner. Zayn works there most nights and every other weekend. He doesn't earn much but he likes to help out. It gives him time to study for his English degree and faff about under the illusion of writing papers and such when he's really just doodling in the margins.

Harry's always liked Zayn and Zayn's never asked anything about Niall or Harry or what they are. He's just taken them both at face value and Harry appreciates that. Even more so lately.

Niall hasn't been home in a week.

Harry would be worried, but Niall had said it might happen. That he might have to join Paddy and fly back to Dublin to sort things. Niall said that he might not be able to get a message to Harry in time, but if he wasn't home for two nights then he was probably busy and Harry was not to call.

Harry's called twice this morning. Both times have gone to voicemail.

Harry doesn't leave a message.

He's trying so hard not to freak out; keeping busy with busking during the day is one thing, but he's become used to having Niall for some part of the night. He's become used to Niall sliding into bed beside him and either curling up for a cuddle or getting a grip on Harry's cock that leads to rather impressive - and exhausting - shagging. Harry feels Niall's absence like a piece of him is missing, and it's why he turns up at Zayn’s shop at stupid hours, because he can't handle the quiet anymore.

"You heard from your boy yet?" Zayn asks from where he sits behind the counter. He's avidly inking in what looks like either Spongebob or some type of yellow cheese in one of the colouring books he uses when business is slow. Harry can't be sure what it is; he's tired and he is looking at the book upside down.

Harry shakes his head around a yawn. He just can't sleep without Niall around. It's stupid, because Niall works nights for Paddy and Niall isn't usually there when Harry falls into bed - but Harry just can't.

The papers have been oddly silent, too.

Harry knows. He's scanned more than just the odd one that Zayn continues to slip into his bag when he buys anything from the shop. There's been nothing. It's great for the area and all, but . . . the silence eats at Harry more than his phone, which feels like a dead weight as the days linger on.

"Better no news than bad news, isn't that how the saying goes?" Zayn says. The tip of his tongue pokes out at the side of his lip as he concentrates on adding green to what could be the pineapple under the sea.

Harry'd rather have something than this type of nothing any day. He's never done well with waiting. A nervous stomach, his mother always said, and Harry's not been able to keep much food down in days either. Niall would be less than impressed with the fruit growing mould in the bottom of their fridge and the near-toxic level of leftovers in containers that Harry should throw out, but that was always Niall's job - eating whatever it was after nuking it in the microwave until it steamed. "Cast iron gut I have," he always said when Harry would mime throwing up, holding his nose.

Fuck, he just wants Niall home.

He heads off after a bit. Zayn's thrown a few bags of prawn crisps and a bottle of milk in a bag for him and it slaps against his leg as he traipses up the four flights of stairs to their flat. He's tired, but he can still see clearly that the door's open when he knows he left it closed. It makes him pause and his heart starts beating too fast and too loud, and even breathing feels like he'll cause a disturbance.

He listens at the door. Hears nothing for a moment, then a curse that settles everything because he knows that sound. It's the same one Niall makes when he stubs his toe getting into their shower because he never remembers that the lip is a little higher on the left than the right and hits it every time he gets in without fail. Harry rushes in then, peeling out if his jacket and dropping the bag on the floor. He's calling out Niall's name as he kicks the door closed with his foot.

Niall's face peers out from behind the shower curtain and he's smiling with suds in his hair and fuck, Harry's missed him so much.

He's charging across the room without so much as getting his shoes off, grabbing at Niall's face as his feet carry him forward.

"Hiya," Niall begins, but he doesn't get to say anything else. Harry's kissing Niall before he can register that he's gone and bloody fallen into the shower with him, tripping on the same tile that Niall constantly stubs his toe on. The sound of the shower curtain ripping from above only adds to the clatter and shocked noise coming from Niall.

"Ow," Niall says between kisses. Harry is holding his face and covering every inch of skin with his lips like he's afraid if he doesn't Niall will disappear again. That he'll wake up and the whole thing will be a dream, although there's a shooting pain in his shoulder from where he hit the soap dish that says otherwise.

"You're home," Harry whispers against Niall's neck, tasting mostly water and shampoo instead of Niall's skin.

Niall's got a hand on Harry's back. Their legs are tangled half in and halaf out of the shower and Harry is straddling one of Niall's thighs, their chests pressed tight against each other. Harry's soaked to the bone and he should move, should stand at least so they're not so squashed, but it's been a week.

"Did ya miss me?" Niall asks, turning his face so Harry has to close his eyes and the stream of water from above rains down right on him.

Harry somehow manages to move his hips and maybe his knee or the fleshier part of his thigh slides in the right way against Niall and has him groaning. "Yes," Harry says, or hisses rather, because he has and he does and Niall's licking the sound from his mouth.

They shuffle their bodies a little, tongues sliding together in a filthy kiss as Niall pulls and tugs at Harry's shirt until he gives up. Harry's too worked up to give a shit about getting as naked as Niall, and his shirt is drenched so it's stuck on his body like a second skin. Niall slides his hand down between them instead and manages to get his fingers under Harry's joggers, and he finds Harry's dick for his hand to curl around. Harry hasn't done a wash since Niall left and he's been without pants for two days now. It suddenly feels like the best decision he ever made to go without when he ducked down to Zayn's earlier in the morning.

Niall's teeth nip at Harry's jaw as Harry curses softly, his hips stuttering forward as he rides Niall's leg. The material of his sodden joggers twists between his legs and rubs in the best ways over his hole. It pinches where it's cutting into his thigh, but he can't care when it feels so good. Their situation is ridiculous, they've barely uttered a handful of words between them, but Harry just needs to touch and be touched and feel how here Niall is.

It's such a tight squeeze where Niall's got his hand curled around Harry's cock, tugging him off quick and fast, focusing mostly on the head but that's fine because there's not enough room for much else. Harry grips at Niall's arms, rubbing over the tight muscle that his small frame doesn't do justice for how strong he really is. He moans softly as Niall sucks a bruise at Harry's neck and tips his head back to give Niall room. Harry’s mouth falls open against the spray of warm water above them that'll be gone soon enough. They have the shittiest water pressure, let alone time for the water to actually stay anywhere near hot up here.

"Fucking missed you, too," Niall says as he bites at Harry's lips. Harry pinches at Niall's skin when he's unable to help the whines and breathy sounds he makes from Niall's touch and Niall's proximity alone. He says nothing in return, just kisses Niall again as best he can, sucks on his tongue while trying to remember to breathe as Niall's quick handwork has him close to the edge. He hasn't had even a cheeky morning wank since Niall's been gone. Hasn't been in the mood, what with worrying whether Niall would even return after two days turned into more nights alone. Watching the sun rise and set in their little flat, waiting for some sign that Niall hadn't disappeared forever.

Niall's thumb keeps swiping over the tip; his hangnail is catching on the slit and it hurts a little but not enough to make Harry tell him about it. It's good, that little bit of pain, because it stops Harry from shooting his load embarrassingly fast. As it is, he has to keep tasting Niall's skin with his mouth, let his lips survey Niall's jaw and throat, his tongue lick the water from where it's still raining down from above. His orgasm's approaching fast, he knows it by the way his toes keep curling up and the muscles in his legs and stomach are jittery and tense. Niall bucks his hips up and tugs Harry's joggers to one side and the whole thing is producing this friction against Harry's hole that’s driving him mad. He wants more and he wants Niall to keep wanking him off and he wants to keep kissing Niall and he just wants, because Niall is home.

"C'mon, Harry. Fucking come. You look so fucking good when you come." Niall's voice is all raspy and deep in Harry's ear. Harry drops his head to the side, chin on Niall's shoulder as he rocks back and forth into Niall's touch. He's riding Niall's leg and his hands are useless, sitting lightly on Niall's chest as everything rolls together steamily and Niall urges him on and on.

He comes, biting at the juncture of Niall's neck and shoulder, this strangled sound echoing off the tiles as he fucks up into Niall's grip.

He doesn't even give himself time to catch his breath before he's slipping and sliding back between Niall's legs. He toes his shoes off as he goes; his feet are mostly dry, which gives him a bit of grip on the floor. He bends down, his come mostly bitter on his tongue as he cleans up what the spray hasn't washed away on Niall's stomach while Niall curses above him in Gaelic. Harry doesn't understand a word but smiles against Niall's twitching muscles under his lips.

"Christ, Harry, your fucking mouth," Niall says, fingers sliding mostly over Harry's hair where the cold water from above has plastered curls to his skull as he directs Harry down.

Harry's fingers press in deep on Niall's thighs, skirting where he can see a faded bruise on his hip as he gets his mouth on Niall's cock, and wastes no time taking him down. Niall doesn't last long, not with how Harry's letting him fuck his mouth. He's never been that good with deepthroating, but Niall knows his limits after all the stuff they've done in the past two months and Harry's pulling out all the stops anyway. He wants Niall to feel just as good as he does.

When Niall comes, it's without giving Harry a chance to pull off - not that he would have - these harsh grunts falling from his lips that Harry only sees blurrily through lashes thick with drops of water. Harry stands on shaking legs, hauling Niall up with his hands, and they stumble back toward the bed, wet and sated and not giving a fuck about anything else. They're shivering from how cold the water had turned as Harry tucks Niall in, pulling up the blanket until it covers both their heads, cocooning them in soft warmth. They tangle together, Niall's lips brushing Harry's forehead in a way that Harry's missed every night falling into bed alone. They're asleep before they stop shaking, Harry utterly content that his boy is finally home.

 

/ / / /

 

"We're good, right?" Niall asks him one night, curled up together on the sofa with three blankets that Caroline gave Harry earlier that week when the cold really started to set in.

Harry just snuggles further into Niall's side, tucks himself under Nialls arm. "Yeah, of course we are. What makes you ask that?"

He feels Niall shrug and it takes a while before he answers. Harry waits patiently, rubbing his thumb over Niall's knuckles where he's holding Niall's hand under the covers.

"We haven't talked about . . . what we are, what we're doing. I was gone for a week and I can't—" He cuts himself off, sighing. and Harry looks up and sees how big and blue and sad Niall's eyes look. "It's a lot to ask of you, with who I am. It was fine before, but then things happened and I can't control them, but . . . it's a lot to ask."

Harry slides his hand up over Niall's chest, cupping his jaw and tilting his head down so he'll meet Harry's eyes. "You sorted it, didn't you?" he asks, because that's what Niall said they were doing and Niall hasn't had any blood on his clothes for the past week. Harry thinks that's a good sign. He's not had bloody knuckles or scratches on his body, either, which Harry thinks is even better.

Niall hums and nods but Harry can still see the worry in his furrowed brow and Niall doesn't need to be worried. Not with him. He stretches up further and uses his thumb to push the little crease out and the corner of Niall's lips twitch as he does so. "Then I'm fine with it. With us. With you and me."

"You and me," Niall echoes, and he's staring at Harry but the worry is nearly gone, replaced with something warm and fond. Perhaps even a four-letter word Harry won't let himself think about when it comes to what he feels for Niall.

"You and me." Harry presses his lips to the underside of Niall's jaw once, twice, then settles back down in his arms, pulling the duvet that had slipped down up a little higher.

 

/ / / /

 

They're at a party a month later when it happens.

Niall's invited by Olly or maybe he's checking up on Olly - Harry can't remember - only that Niall throws clothes at him when he comes home and says they're going out. Harry pulls on his skinny jeans and a few shirts followed by a jacket and a scarf he has to wind around his neck three times because it's the middle of winter and it's fucking freezing out. He heads downstairs with Niall and they must be doing something for Paddy, because Niall's got the car.

"Does Paddy know we're—" he starts as they walk up to the impressive and intimidating looking black Range Rover.

"Yeah," Niall says, "Gotta do a thing. It's fine."

Harry's a bit concerned because they don't normally take Paddy's car anywhere. Even when they do a bit of a shop down at Tesco's, it's usually them catching the bus and leaving Paddy's behemoth of a thing parked out front of their flat. He must stand there looking at it for a bit too long because Niall is already inside, the electric window sliding down for him to call out to Harry to get in. Harry shakes his head and follows. It's fine. Niall's always done right by Paddy and Paddy's looked after him and in turn Harry, even if he doesn't know it.

Still, even as they drive through back streets and end up in a shoddier part of town than Niall would usually take Harry to, Harry still can't shake this feeling that something isn't quite right.

There are a few kids out front when they pull up at the estate. Two of the little shits give Niall the finger but they run when he gives them a few choice words, and one of them mentions Niall by his first and last name. It's weird, because Harry hasn't seen that side of Niall before - one where he's known. It makes him stay by the car, fiddling with a hole in the cuff of his jacket. Niall must realise Harry's still nervous because he turns and pushes Harry back against the car. He kisses Harry hard and fast and mostly makes Harry forget what he was worried about.

"You better now?" he asks, hands still tight on Harry's upper arms where he's pinned him to the door. Niall's eyes search Harry's face and his smile is the one Harry likes best.

Harry nods and leans in to press his lips to Niall's all soft, his fingertips gripping at Niall's leather jacket, shaking it a bit. "I'd rather be at home, I think."

Niall steps in between Harry's legs so there's hardly any space between them, they’re joined hip to knee. "We're always at home. It'll be fine, Harry," he says softly, looking straight into Harry's eyes and Christ, sometimes Harry forgets how pretty Niall is. The clear blue of his irises almost glow from the streetlight above, the bleached blond of his hair shifts in a bit of wind. It's starting to grow out properly and Harry loves the difference between the dark and the light. A lot like how Niall is himself. This happy-go-lucky sunshiny thing with Harry, and whatever he turns into that Harry's never properly witnessed when he's Paddy's.

"Just you and me," Niall says with the softest smile on his face, and it's that right there that Harry loves.

Harry swallows around the words lumped in his throat, says what he considers their own brand of endearment back at Niall anyway.

"You and me."

Niall grins and his hand slips down to slide over Harry's, joining their fingers together as he steps backward, tugging Harry along. "Come on, now. I think Zayn said he'd be here and that fucker owes me a quid."

They head inside the building and Niall waves and slaps hands with a bunch of different people as they head up the stairs. The music is loud and there must be several parties going on from the variety of sound Harry can hear. They're headed to a small flat on the fifth floor, and by the time they get there Harry is beginning to wonder if there's anyone in the city that Niall doesn't know.

They get drinks and Niall stands close to Harry, hands still linked, as they find Zayn and Niall keeps an eye out for Olly. The only time he lets go of Harry is when Olly walks up and slaps Niall on the back in one of those laddy one-armed hugs and ruffles Harry's hair for good measure. It's a bit annoying, and Harry's never been overly fond of Olly, but Niall's got a job to do so he says nothing. Zayn laughs behind his beer as with a tilt of Niall's head, he and Olly head off back out the door and onto the landing. Harry elbows Zayn in the side and they get into a bit of a tickle war that's only interrupted by a voice Harry hasn't heard in months.

"Well, if it isn't Niall's boy," and Harry stops. Zayn slows down his giggles when he notices how quiet and still Harry's become.

Eoghan's here.

Eoghan who, Harry has pieced together, is part of the reason Niall went with Paddy back to Dublin.

Eoghan, who Niall told Harry to run from, and Harry is frozen to the spot.

Eoghan smiles. He's lost another tooth, from what Harry can see. Gained another teardrop inked at his cheek, and half his ear looks to have been torn off. Eoghan’s forearms are huge as he sweeps his jacket back from his waist, hands on his hips right above where Harry can see a gun sticking out of his joggers. Harry can't breathe. Zayn asks him if he's all right and he's not. He's not.

He's even less than all right when he hears Niall call out from the door and Eoghan smirks, fingertips on the handle and jesus, when had his life become a fucking movie?

Eoghan doesn't turn, keeps his eyes on Harry as he answers back. "Horan, see you've still got your boy around. Does O'Brien know you’re fucking a bloke?"

Harry's fingertips press hard into his thigh and Zayn's hand tightens on his shoulder. Harry knows that Paddy isn't a big fan of Niall's life choices - Niall told him when they were drunk one night - that Paddy doesn't approve, but as long as he doesn't see or hear about it he's fine. That Niall's fine. That Niall's a good lad and does a good job. Harry hushed him up after that, not wanting to know more than he should, considering Niall had kept him mostly in the dark for so long, probably to protect him more than anything.

He doesn't feel very protected now.

Not with Niall on the other side of the room and Eoghan in front of him with a fucking gun. Even if Niall has his on him . . . Eoghan is right there.

"Why don't we call him up? Ask him what he thinks about his top man being a fucking—"

"He's my fucking boyfriend, not Niall's," Zayn says, pressing his lips to Harry's cheek and Harry turns into it more out of shock than anything else. The party's gone dead quiet - someone must have noticed what's going on and has turned the music off. It's not like places like this haven't seen this type of thing before. Harry knows what this estate’s reputation, in particular, is for.

This is possibly any other Friday night for this lot.

Not for Harry, though. Not at all.

"Let's take this outside, shall we, Duffy?" Niall calls. Harry's eyes flicker to where Niall and Olly are standing in the door, and he doesn't . . . he doesn't look anything like the Niall Harry knows. Like the Niall Harry's in love with.

He's got this hard look that has wiped any of the constant happy-go-lucky that Harry's used to seeing off Niall's face. He's pulled himself up properly, none of the slight slouch he gets sometimes when his knee is playing up from an injury he told Harry was sports-related when he was young, but Harry's seen the scars. He's watched enough TV to know what a bloody bullet hole going through and through looks like. Olly's pulled the zipper down on his jacket and Harry knows without there being enough light that Olly will have a gun, too. It's like a fucking scene from The Bill that his mum always watched. All they were doing was coming out for a few drinks, maybe to smoke a few joints and get horny and hopefully have a good long fuck when they got home.

It wasn't meant to be like this.

Things were supposed to be sorted.

Eoghan nods, leans over and pinches Harry's cheek hard before winking at him. "G'bye, Harry."

He turns and walks out, slamming his shoulder hard into Niall as he follows Olly down. Niall looks at Harry once, blinks, and then he's gone. Harry stands up to follow, stopped only by Zayn's hand tugging on his arm.

"You're not fucking following him!" Zayn says, holding Harry's hand tight as Harry tries to shake him off. The party sounds start up around them once more.

"I can't let him bloody go down there with him! You don't know Eoghan, he's not . . . ."

Zayn pulls at Harry again and Harry curses at him to let him go.

"Let Niall sort it. He'll only worry about you if you’re down there. You’re better off waiting."

Harry knows he's right, knows that Niall would want him to stay safe, but it's so much harder when he knows what Niall might be in for. He struggles against Zayn's hold a little more and then breaks free entirely when he hears it.

There's no other sound quite like gunfire.

He's out of the room and rounding the landing to the staircase before Zayn can even yell "Stop!" He can't, though. He vaguely hears some girl scream and there are more people rushing inside, then going out to help. Better to actually know nothing than anything if the fuzz comes around. Zayn's boots echo behind Harry's as they get to the bottom. His hand on Harry's shoulder is the only thing that stops Harry from running right out into the street, not knowing what he'll find when he does.

Zayn's got them both up against a brick wall as the sound of sirens fills the air. It's quiet apart from that, and Harry isn't sure if that's good or not. His heart is loud in his ears and his breathing is this harsh rush in his lungs because no sound isn't all that good.

"You’re a fuckin' dead man, Horan," he hears Eoghan call through a cough and a splutter just before an engine starts.

"Not if you’re dead first, you stupid cunt!" Niall says back, and just at the sound of his voice something settles in Harry and his shoulders drop.

A car peels out, tyres squealing. Harry doesn't wait for Zayn once he hears the car turn the corner. He's out and running straight to Niall, who's already got a phone pressed to his ear as he kneels beside a body on the ground. Harry almost feels bad that it's Olly lying there, a pool of blood spreading out around his side, but the fact that it's not Niall in his position prevents that. Harry wants to reach out and touch, to drag Niall into his arms and check for himself that he's all right, but Niall's holding a hand up at him and cursing down the phone.

Zayn's at Harry's side within a blink. His arm is a heavy, reassuring weight across Harry's shoulders as he tries not to stare at Olly's lifeless form. He hears words from Niall's side of the conversation about it being Duffy, something about a hit on the club, and Olly's name is mentioned so much he must be more important than Harry had thought. The sirens get louder and Niall is off the phone a few seconds later, dragging Harry against his chest. He grips the back of Harry's shirt hard, just holding Harry tight. Harry does the same, Niall's shirt nearly cutting into his fists where he's grabbed at the material at the small of Niall's back.

"I'm fine - I'm fine, Harry," Niall says at Harry's ear. "You can stop askin'. I'm not hurt."

Harry takes a deep breath, realising his little mantra of "Are you okay?" was actually out loud. He's just so thankful to hear Niall's heartbeat that nothing else seems to matter. He lets the familiar scent of Niall's cologne and the cheap fruity conditioner he washed Niall's hair with earlier calm him some.

"You have to go. They'll be here soon," Zayn says, and Harry almost jumps. He’d forgotten that Zayn was even there, he was concentrating on Niall so hard.

He snuggles into Niall's chest further and this feeling of dread slides over his body from his head down, like cold paint. Slow and syrupy, and freezing as it goes. Where do they go? Where can they possibly hide?

"You'll look after him, yeah?" Niall says, and Harry tightens his grip as Zayn answers a quick "Of course" behind him.

"I'll let you know when it's fine to come back."

"No."

"I wasn't askin', Harry. It's not gonna be safe and I can't worry about you and look after meself."

"No," Harry says again, with force and right against the crook of Niall's neck. He can't let go. Won't.

The sirens get louder and Zayn is tugging on Harry's hip, arm mostly around his waist as Niall tries to break free of Harry's hold.

"No!" Harry shouts. Niall has nearly torn his shirt in his effort to free himself because Harry can't make his hands work. Doesn't want to. "They'll find you, Duffy will find you, and I can't . . . you can't end up like Olly! I won't let you!"

"Harry," Niall says, blue eyes pinning Harry with his stare after scanning the street. "Darlin', you don't know half of what I've done. I'll keep on my own." He smiles but it's not right. Nothing about this is right.

"I can't - I can't be on my own any more. I need you. We're better together. Let me stay. I'll-—" Niall stops Harry with a bruising kiss, knocking the breath from Harry's chest. He pulls away before Harry's ready and skips backwards out of reach, keys in hand.

"Listen to Zayn, do what he says an' stay safe for me. I'll come for you when I can, I promise." He looks so serious as he climbs into the car. Harry can see flashes of blue and white out of the corner of his eye.

"Niall!" he shouts - nearly screams - but Niall's already spinning the car down the street, wheels screeching as he goes.

Harry doesn't even get to stare at the space Niall left as Zayn drags him bodily further down the road. Zayn shoves him along, opening the door to this little shitbox hatchback thing. Niall would probably laugh because of how Harry has to scrunch his legs up near his ears to get in. But he doesn't because isn't not here and Harry might not see him for a long while. Ever.

Even if Niall did promise.

 

/ / / /

 

Harry doesn't notice where they're going until they're already there.

He'd assumed they'd head back to Zayn's - he knew it wouldn't be safe at home - or maybe even some friend of a friend’s. What he's not prepared for is the longer drive. The sky is starting to lighten, warm apricots and creamy yellows making the leaves of trees glow along the side of the road. Harry's not paid a lot of attention on the drive, mostly focused on worrying about Niall and what's going to happen next. He's ignored the little conversation Zayn tried to make when they first got in, even ignored the music Zayn put on as background noise.

This, though. This has his heart thumping for a different reason and he sits up a bit better, his knees creaking with the movement.

"That's . . . that was my school, that . . . where exactly are you taking me?" Harry asks as the little bakery he worked at for a year before he fled to London comes into view. He can't be going home. Niall can't have meant this when he said to keep Harry safe.

"We need to be somewhere they won't look. They won't look here," Zayn answers, eyes on the road, pointedly avoiding Harry's stare.

"No," Harry says, turning to face Zayn. "This isn't . . . I can't be here. I haven't—"

"She's your mum, Haz. She'll be so happy to see you she won't ask why," Zayn interrupts, his golden eyes flashing toward Harry's with a look that quiets Harry some.

He knows this. He knows he's always been welcome back here. He's not exactly stayed out of touch . . . postcards when he could and a phone call once when he turned eighteen, just so he could hear her voice. He knows she'll take him back with open arms. He's just not so sure whether she'll ever let him go again.

"I need to be back at home, though. Niall might need—"

"No."

"I won't even leave the flat. I'll wait there until—"

"Harry."

"I'll stay at yours, even. I can't be away. He needs—"

Harry doesn't get any more of his argument out. Zayn swerves the car to the side of the road, coming to a stop in a cloud of gravel and dust. He turns on Harry then, eyes sharp and lips thin.

"Fuck, Harry, you don't get it! You can't be back there. They know who you are and they know what you mean to Niall and they'll—" He stops, closing his eyes and breathing out slow. "Look. Olly wasn't just some weed-selling wanker, all right? He was Paddy's cousin’s son, which means he's related, which means it's going to be fucking open season on anyone who isn't on Paddy's side, all right?"

Harry nods, trying to take in this new information, but it's not sticking. He just hears how Niall's in even more danger and Harry can't do much - but he can't do nothing here, either. "I don't want him hurt," he says in a small voice, pulling his knees up to his chest as much as he can in his cramped side of the car. Christ, his eyes are stinging and his throat is all tight and he doesn't want to cry.

"I know. But you have to think about this, Harry. He's got to think clearly right now and Duffy knows where you live. Duffy and Niall go way back. There's some serious bad blood between their families. This is the best thing you can do for Niall, all right?" He puts his hand on Harry's knee and Harry lets his head tip back against the seat, eyes closing on unshed tears.

Everything hurts. He just wants it to be yesterday, when they were happy and he was testing Niall's concentration behind the wheel, teasing him with the notion of a little road head on the way to the party.

"I know," he says over a shuddery breath. "I know it's for the best. Doesn't make it any easier, though."

Zayn sighs and tugs at Harry's shoulder, bringing him awkwardly to his side and slipping his arm around Harry's neck. "It doesn't. I'll stay with you, though. Think your mum will mind an extra guest?"

Harry shakes his head slowly, turning into the warmth of Zayn's chest. The familiar scent of cigarette smoke and that cheap cologne he always smells on Zayn's clothes when they share a fag out front of the shop eases his heart some.

"Think I could turn up with a circus and she'd welcome them all in with open arms."

Zayn chuckles quietly and holds Harry close for a few more minutes before he lets go and shoves Harry gently back into his seat. He smiles brightly but a little bit sad around the eyes when he restarts the car, getting it to chug into life after a few turns of the engine.

"Well then, let's see how she feels about you bringing just me, then. I could try my hand at juggling."

 

/ / / /

 

Harry's right. His mum does welcome them both with tears and tea and her arms so tight around Harry with that first hug it's like she's trying to hold him together by holding him close. She doesn't stop touching him when they get in the door, her hand on his or her foot against his own under the table as her eyes shine. Harry gives her a brief overview of what's happened in his life since he last sent her a postcard. She doesn't ask about Niall because she doesn't know about him.

He has mentioned being happy, being happy living with someone, but he never mentioned who. Never really gave up too much of his personal life because it was his; he hadn't shared that much when he was young and lived here, either.

She doesn't cry in front of him, but when he and Zayn have settled down for the night in Harry's childhood bedroom he hears her. He hears her sobbing and it's almost as if she's trying to keep quiet but she's feeling too much to hold it in. He understands that. He's feeling a lot himself right now. He can't get comfortable even though Zayn's sharing the bed with him. Harry can't stand the thought of being alone right now. Not with whatever Niall's doing back home. Not with the thought that Duffy's out there and he's apparently got a vendetta against Niall.

He can't stop thinking about the little that Zayn said in the car. The way Zayn sounded as if he knew a lot more. He turns on his side, making out Zayn's profile in the little light from the streetlamp outside his window, and lets his mind wander. He doesn't know all that much about Zayn. Just that he works for his cousins and he's mates with Niall. He knew Niall before Harry did, but then again, Niall lived in that flat alone way before Harry joined him. Niall was probably buying crap at the corner store before Harry made it a near daily chore to pop down and visit, sometimes buying things, sometimes just to talk with Zayn for company when Niall was out and Harry didn't feel like busking.

Zayn always popped a few things into Harry's hands or bag, extras like milk and bread or sometimes a pack of the Haribo bears that Harry loves. It's never been a lot and not all the time, but the papers . . . the papers have been a near constant over the past few months. Any time there was a story about Paddy or the club or anything like it, Zayn made sure that Harry saw it. Harry's got no idea what that means, but from the extra Zayn said in the car and the way he looked at Duffy at the party . . . maybe he does know more than he's ever let on.

"Zayn," Harry whispers, probably too soft for Zayn to hear even though there's a little space in the double bed between them. "Are you awake, mate?"

"No," Zayn answers, eyes closed. He reaches out a hand to Harry's side under the covers, hitting him on the hip twice. "You shouldn't be, either."

Harry curls his legs up further and makes himself small, tucking his hands under his cheek. He waits a few more minutes before he speaks. "You know more about this - about Niall - don't you?"

Zayn doesn't move, but he does breathe out long and slow before he answers. "Go to sleep."

"He talks about you sometimes. Said you knew each other back in Ireland, back when you were small," Harry nearly whispers, because this information is something he thinks that Niall doesn’t know he's aware of. Niall was drunk, really drunk, one afternoon when Harry'd come home from a particularly good day busking. He'd picked up Niall's favourite curry and two six-packs of the lager that Niall loved. They'd gone untouched. He'd walked in the door and found Niall lying on the floor, an empty bottle of whiskey at his side and one hand wrapped around another that was half empty. Harry ended up with Niall's head on his lap, fingers brushing through the fresh bottle-blond hair Harry'd bleached for him the night before.

Niall wouldn't tell him why he was drinking, at the start. It took the rest of the whiskey and most of the lagers before he started saying more than "You're such a pretty lad, aren't ya?" and telling Harry stupid jokes that he'd laugh at because they were worse than the ones Harry usually told. Then his bleary eyes looked past Harry to the ceiling and he put a hand over Harry's on his chest, patting it lightly while he spoke all soft and sad. Even then he didn't say much, just a little about how his mum and Zayn's had grown up together. That Zayn was like a brother. That Zayn was good. Zayn was a good, good lad.

It was only after Niall had passed out that Harry found out what he had clasped in his fist and wouldn’t let go. It was a photograph, old and worn from being folded over and over. Two boys about the ages of five or so and their mothers, sitting on a low rock wall. Written on the back was "Cousin Trisha and Zayn Malik" with the date.

Zayn doesn't move, but he does breathe out long and slow before he answers. "We did. Our mums were cousins, so that makes us related or summat. She was my Aunty Maura, anyways." He smiles all soft before he speaks again. "She always smelled like roses, some perfume Uncle Bobby always bought for her. At least, that's what I remember most."

"Was?" Harry asks, swallowing hard because this is something he doesn't know. Neither he nor Niall gave up too much about their families. The most Harry had ever said was the town he'd come from and that he had a sister at Uni in Scotland. Niall mentioned a brother and his Da once, but that was all.

"Aunty Maura was killed a year after my Dad moved us to England. She was just one of those ‘wrong place, wrong time’ things, but it changed something in Uncle Bobby. He'd always been vocal about the IRA and taken part in a few things that even as a young lad I can remember. After he lost Aunty Maura, though . . . things changed."

He rolls over on his side, blinking into the light. "We kept in touch, Niall and me, letters and phone calls on our birthdays and things right up until we were thirteen or so. I thought it was the same for him as it were for me, school and girls and all that stuff that happens when you're a teenager. I hadn't even thought about him much for years until I was working at Danny's parents’ store and he just walked in. Came up and gave me that big grin of his and asked me what was the craic like it hadn't been nearly ten years since I'd seen him last." He chuckles and Harry wriggles closer, needing to feel some of the warmth that exists in Zayn's eyes and the smile he can see, even here in the shadows.

"I didn't realise right away that there was anything different. He seemed like the same lad I'd grown up with and thought I’d known, even if it were from letters and things. And he was, for the most part. Then we got smashed one night at Danny's and he told me who he worked for. Who had sponsored him to come over. The links he had with shit that's too heavy for me to even talk about."

Zayn pauses as they hear a sound out on the stairs. It's probably just Harry's mum using the loo, but it makes them both freeze, holding their breaths until they hear the bathroom door being closed. It's so like being a teenager again, like this is some sleepover and they're pretending to be asleep while reading comic books under the covers, that Harry can't keep the giggle in. Zayn snorts and then looks so surprised that Harry has to cover his mouth just to stop his own loud guffaw from echoing in the dark of night. They manage to control themselves until they hear the toilet flush, the hallway creaking again as Harry's mum heads back to bed.

They smile at each other once the house has become quiet once more, and Harry closes his eyes because his mind is full. He's learned more about who Niall is from these few minutes of conversation with Zayn than he has in two years of living with the man. It's strange and leaves Harry with more questions than answers, but the effects of the day are catching up with him and he can't stifle a yawn.

"He's not the man you think he is," Zayn says, startling Harry back to the surface of a sleep he'd only just started to sink into. "He's done a lot of things he isn't proud of, that you wouldn't—"

"I love him," Harry interrupts, that fire in his chest flaring up as it does when it has anything to do with Niall. He knows Niall’s not the most of honest of men, that there are reasons for the blood on his clothes and the bruises on his skin that mean he's not the only one who has them. Harry knows all of these things but it doesn't change the way he feels. The way Niall has filled more than just his heart.

"I love him and that's all that matters."

 

/ / / /

 

It takes four days before Niall calls.

Four days of Harry's mum plying him with tea and biscuits, all the meals he loved when he lived at home, and letting him watch whatever he wants on the telly. She doesn't let him out of her sight. It's not as if he can look to Zayn for help; she dotes on him just the same.

Harry's mum may or may not have the idea that they're together.

Zayn and his ability to fall asleep anywhere which, as it happens, is mostly on some part of Harry. It's always at inopportune times and Harry's mum will stop by, sighing with a fond smile on her face. It doesn’t really help when Zayn plays up to it, either. Kissing Harry's cheek in thanks when he passes the salt, leaning on Harry while he stands at the fridge drinking out of the carton instead of a glass. Harry keeps telling him to stop it, but it makes Harry's mum smile and - as Zayn reminds him - stops her asking too many questions.

She does, however, give him a funny look when he jumps up off the sofa where they'd been watching a rerun of Gavin and Stacey the moment Zayn's phone lights up with Caller Unknown. It could be anyone. It could be those annoying telemarketers who always seem to find your number even when you haven't given it to anyone at all. Zayn holds his hand up, though, as he heads outside, throwing his jacket and boots on, unlaced, with a smile to Harry's mum. Harry waits, bouncing by the door.

He watches Zayn stomp his feet a little at the cold, his breathe a foggy blast of white. It's when he starts pacing, gesticulating with the hand he's smoking with, that Harry starts to worry.

"You'll chew your hand off, love, if you keep doing that." His mum's voice is gentle as she shifts his hand away from his mouth.

Harry glances to his side. His mum's kind eyes are filled with concern as she rubs her thumb over his knuckles. "I love having you here," she starts, looking back out the window to where Zayn is stomping out one cigarette only to light another. "Both of you, really, and I don't know why you chose now but I'm glad you did. I'm glad you still feel like you can be safe here."

Harry turns his hand over, twines his fingers with his mother's and squeezes lightly. He doesn't know what to say. Doesn't know how to explain that it wasn't his choice. If anything, he'd be back in the line of fire, which is probably an actual thing right now. Not that they've heard much. There's been nothing in the news, but if Paddy's doing this in the way that Zayn's hinted at, there wouldn't be. He misses Niall like crazy, and even though being here with his mum and having her dote on him has been wonderful, he just wants to go back.

"I've seen you looking at the news and reading the papers. You've never done that before, and maybe things change in nearly three years, but . . . if you're in trouble—" She trails off and Harry knows what she means.

Zayn turns around and smiles at Harry and it warms his whole body from the ground up.

"I'm not. We're not," he says, grinning stupidly back at Zayn in return. "Not any more."

 

/ / / /

 

They don't go back that day. Niall says they should wait until the weekend, once the funeral for Olly has been held. There's been a hold on the funeral until Olly's family arrive from Ireland and the police finally release the body. There's no link to Niall - not that there would be - because it was Eoghan's gun that killed Olly anyway. Not to say that the police haven't been all over Niall. He's been in and out of questioning as quick as Paddy's lawyers can basically walk in the door and utter "no comment" and "either charge him or we'll sue."

Eoghan has gone to ground - that's the official word - but from what Paddy's discussions with Eoghan's family have uncovered, it's likely to be quite literal. A tenuous peace has been brokered between the Duffys and the O'Briens. It was the reason Paddy had gone back to Ireland months ago, and apparently Eoghan wasn't happy with the outcome. It was years in the making, and Eoghan's family were furious that he'd gone out on his own. The only reason they hadn't given Eoghan up to Paddy and his crew was simply that he was Connor Duffy's son. Connor being head of the Duffy family that had, until recently, issues that had crossed back and forth across the Irish Sea.

Niall said it was sorted for certain now. A truce had been declared again on both sides and business was to go back to normal as soon as they'd buried Olly.

Harry's buzzing to get back. He can't sit still and even his mum says something about how fidgety he is, which makes Zayn laugh. Harry dances around the kitchen to some horrid pop song on the radio and spins his mum around and round until the worry on her face changes into laughter. He's just so happy that it's over. That he can go home and go back to Niall. The life they have together isn't perfect, and it probably won't ever be, but it's theirs and he wants it.

He's going to tell Niall, too. Tell him what he's been thinking for months now and not let whatever it is that makes Niall hold back stand in his way. He doesn't even care if Niall returns those three little words. He knows Niall feels it. He wouldn't have shipped Harry home in Zayn's care if he didn't.

Finally, Niall calls Harry himself. Harry's sitting on the couch, curled around his mum with Zayn's head on his shoulder. His phone has mostly sat on the coffee table untouched since they walked in the door over a week ago. He knew Niall would call when he could, and after he'd rung Zayn and explained what was going on Harry hadn't really expected to hear from Niall again. It wouldn't be long before they'd be home and Harry would have his Niall back.

So it's more than explainable when he jumps up from the sofa, dislodging Zayn and scaring a shriek out of his mum when his phone lights up with "Unknown Caller." It ends after only two rings, only to start ringing again.

That's Niall's code. Harry has it memorised seeing as Niall never has a proper number any more. The phone slips out of his hands when he grabs at it, sliding across the floor and nearly under the entertainment unit. Harry has to bend down low to grab at it, nearly getting clawed by Dusty, the family cat, for his trouble when he disturbs her rest in a ray of sunshine on the floor.

"Harry!" his mum scolds as his long legs kick out at the coffee table, sending one of their mugs of tea in various stages of being drunk straight to the floor.

"Sorry, Mum!" he calls back as he hops on one foot toward the door. The house is a bit like a black hole when it comes to reception, but standing out in the front garden it's as clear as a bell.

"Hi, hi," he pants, rubbing at his elbow where he hit it on the door frame on the way out, and pulling on a jacket. Zayn's laughter echoes in his ears as much as his mum's "What the bloody hell's got into him?"

"Harry?" Niall's voice echoes a bit down the line and Harry's entire body lights up just from the sound of Niall's voice.

He makes his way over to the little garden bench his mum put in when his grandparents passed, nearly throwing himself down. He's smiling so hard his cheeks hurt. There's no snow today but it's fucking freezing out.

"Harry?" Niall asks again, a touch of worry in his tone, and Harry puts a hand to his heart, willing it to slow so he can speak properly.

He takes a long breath and releases it slowly before he answers. "Yeah, it's me. I had to come outside to hear you."

"Oh." Niall chuckles and it's warm and christ Harry’s missed his voice. His laugh. His Niall. "Thought something was wrong!"

"No," Harry says with a shake of his head, although Niall can't see it. "Might have left a bit of a mess trying to get out, though. Possibly broke a mug and my arm."

"Your arm?" Niall scoffs with even more laughter. "Can't leave you anywhere, can I?"

"No, you shouldn't leave me at all." He means for it to come out jokingly but there's a touch too much seriousness to his tone. He frowns at himself when Niall sighs on the other end, and picks at a stem of what was probably some lovely plant in summer. Now it's just another bit of wood for Harry to take his anxiety out on.

"The funeral is tomorrow. I'll be expected at the wake so I won't be any good until the day after," Niall says, and Harry wraps his free arm around himself, pretending it's just the cold that makes his chest hurt. Not the fact that Niall's basically telling him not to come home.

"So you'll be needing someone to fix you a fry-up, then," Harry asks tentatively, a blast of wind messing with his curls so he's nearly eating his hair. He shoves them back behind his ear as he waits for Niall to answer.

"Zayn says your mum is really happy to have you back."

Harry swallows hard. "A bit. Think she likes Zayn better now. He knows a lot about books and things that she's read. I just make the tea."

"Everyones mum's always like Zayn," Niall says with a dry laugh that doesn't sound at all like the Niall Harry knows and misses. "He says the old ducks down the bakery have offered you your old job back?"

"I don't want my old job back," Harry answers, but Niall is still talking.

"And that your stepdad spoke to you about going back to school, that he'd found a way for you to do your GCSEs and—"

"I don't want to go back to school."

"—and your sister is coming home for Christmas and—"

"I'm not staying for Christmas, Niall."

"-—and that you're happy there. Like, really happy."

"I'm not!" Harry shouts, and this bunny he didn't even know had popped into the yard bounds off toward the neighbour’s fence line. His face feels hot and his stomach is in knots. Niall can't be saying this. Saying that Harry shouldn't come home.

"I'm happy enough, and my mum and Robin have been great but, this isn't home. This isn't home to me any more," he says, swallowing over the lump in his throat.

"Darlin'," Niall starts, but Harry cuts him off quickly.

"Don't darlin' me, Niall Horan." He stands, stamping his foot as he goes. "You don't get to call me that when you're basically telling me to stay away. You don't get to say that. Not like this."

Niall is quiet and Harry is, too. His breath comes out loud and harsh in the still of the afternoon. The sun's weak rays are not doing much to keep him warm and the jacket he pulled on on the way out has a broken zip. Harry's got one arm wrapped around himself to keep it closed but the cold air is still getting in, making him shiver.

"You told me you'd come back for me. You told me this was to keep me safe, and I am. I have been. But I want to come home, Niall. I want to come home."

"Christ," Niall mutters, but it’s muffled, like he's turned his face away from the phone. "I can't. I can't offer you anything back here. I can't—"

"I don't want anything. I just want you," Harry says, kicking at a few errant stones on the path, his eyes glazing over a bit as his heart feels like it might tear in two if Niall continues saying no.

"Harry," Niall whispers, and fuck, he's going to break Harry's heart like this. They've been through too much to just let it all go now.

"I miss you," Harry says, his voice breaking over the words. An errant tear rolls down his cheek, and then another, as Niall's silence echoes down the line.

"I miss you and I think you miss me, too, or you wouldn't have called. You would have told Zayn to leave me here or something and you wouldn't . . . you wouldn't have cared enough in the first place to make sure I was gone, to make sure I was safe."

The silence continues and Harry feels his stomach start to turn. This isn't how he imagined this call going at all. He never once thought that Niall wouldn't want him to come back. Wouldn't want Harry at all.

"You promised, Niall. You promised."

There's another voice in the background and what sounds like Niall covering the phone as he answers. Then there's nothing again but the sound of Niall sighing, and Harry can imagine him running his fingers through his hair, rubbing back and forth over his forehead like Niall tends to do when he's stressed or worried. He knows Niall. Shouldn't Niall know him in return? Know that Harry won't give up? Not like this. Not on Niall.

"That was Paddy. I need to go pick up some relatives at Heathrow and then I have to go do some stuff at the club after," he says, and Harry can hear the slight catch in his voice. Hear the tiredness in his tone.

Harry bites at the corner of his mouth, chews at his lip while he thinks about what to say. What he can say to change Niall's mind.

"I just don't know what I can give you. My life isn't . . . it isn't going to change, Harry. It's not going to get any worse, I hope, but it's not going to get better, either. It is what it is and I can't - I can't expect you to come back for this."

Harry squeezes his eyes shut, more tears rolling down his cheeks because this is Niall giving up. This is Niall saying they don't have a chance at all.

"I'm not coming back for that. I'm coming back for you," he whispers, because the lump in his throat has grown and he can barely swallow around it, let alone make words. He knows Niall wouldn't be saying this if he were there. He'd be wrapped around Harry and they'd be looking after each other instead of being all alone.

Niall curses under his breath before he answers. "Just . . . just give me a few more days, right? Let me handle the funeral and get business back up and running for Paddy and then we'll talk."

Harry rubs at his eyes with the heel of his hand, pushes hard at the tears that won't stop falling. This feels like a goodbye and a brush-off and he can't believe Niall would let it end like this.

"Yeah. Yeah, okay," Harry answers, sniffling because his nose has started to run. He clutches the jacket closer to his chest but it's not enough. It's not enough to keep his insides from feeling like they're falling apart. Harry stares up at the white of the sky but it has no answers. Nothing about this makes any sense.

"I—" Niall starts, like he's going to say something else, but he just ends with a huff of breath that could mean anything, and then there's nothing but dial tone in Harry's ear.

He wanders inside in a daze, ignoring his mum and Zayn as he shuffles up the stairs to his room and curls into a ball under the covers he and Zayn had only thrown back earlier. He feels empty. All the happiness and excitement from the moment he recognised Niall's call is gone, leaving this . . . nothing in its wake. He kicks his boots off and rubs his feet together and cries without making a sound. It hurts in his chest and he can't understand it. He can't think why Niall would do this now. Not when everything is supposed to be back to normal.

There's warmth at his back and a hand at his shoulder, pulling him around. He collapses into Zayn's arms, buries his face in Zayn's chest and the familiar cigarettes and tea and cheap soap that Harry's mum put in the bathroom for them to use. He pats at Harry's back as Harry cries and clutches at Zayn's shirt.

"He told you, didn't he?" Zayn says, his voice soft and accusatory at Harry's ear.

Harry nods but says nothing, sobs still tearing harshly from his throat.

"Fuck . . . I told him. He can be so fucking stupid and stubborn sometimes." Zayn curses again, tugging Harry closer. Harry keeps trying to breathe but his nose is stuffed up and he can't stop.

"He - he promised. He promised," Harry stutters, shaking his fists against Zayn's chest. It hurts so much. He never thought Niall would push him away like this. Not after everything they've been through.

Zayn pulls him closer until Harry can't move his hands. His palms make warm circuits over Harry's back above his jacket.

"He's so stupid to think . . . think I wouldn't want him after this. That I wouldn't want to come back." Harry's voice is strained as he speaks mostly to Zayn's neck, curling in close to the one comfort he has now.

Zayn shushes him some, one hand tugging through Harry's curls. "What do you want to do, Haz?"

Harry chest shudders with every other breath. He's feeling so much and it hurts. He can't stop his heart from breaking and he can't stop wanting what he wants, no matter what Niall thinks.

"I want to go home."

"Well, then," Zayn answers, his lips a cool press at Harry's brow. "We'll do that."

 

/ / / /

 

They leave the next morning in the quiet of dawn. Harry's mum sees them off in silence, her eyes filled with tears as Robin holds her tight from behind. They've both told him he's welcome back at any time, that this will always be a place he can return to. Harry knows that and he's thankful but he doesn't think he will. Not if he has to come back alone.

They drive with no small talk made between them, just some rap CD of Zayn's playing on repeat because it got stuck in there and he can't figure out how to remove it without stripping the car. It's nice that they don't have to say anything, but the closer they get to the city and to Niall and Harry's flat, the more nervous Harry becomes.

His knee is bouncing when they turn into their street. He knows the funeral is today, that Niall probably won't be in until the next morning - or afternoon - so that gives him plenty of time to sort out what he wants to say. What he can say to make Niall see that he doesn't care about anything else but what they have together. He's hoping that just showing up will be enough. That Niall will remember what it’s between them and forget the rest.

His heart beats double time when he sees Paddy's car out front. It means Niall's home, because Paddy doesn't let anyone drive the thing except Niall. Zayn idles the car by the side of the road and wishes him luck when Harry gets out. He takes off in a cloud of smoke, because the oil in that thing is for shit. Harry takes a deep breath before he does anything else, needing a minute to settle his nerves. He's so near to Niall and after two years of virtually living in each other’s pockets, it's like a thrumming under his skin that only gets louder, more vibrant, the closer they become.

He takes two steps and the ugly green door with the paint mostly chipped off, revealing dark blue and brown of previous paint jobs, opens. Two more, and Niall's blond hair comes into view. Another, and Harry can see that Niall's lost weight. The heavy jacket Harry picked up from Caroline hangs off his frame as he puts his gloves on. He looks one way down the street and then the other, and Harry knows he's been spotted when Niall's eyes slip straight back to where Harry's standing.

Harry's lips turn up at the corners - not quite a proper smile - because he doesn't know what Niall's thinking right now. Then Niall grins and his lips take the shape of Harry's name before his eyes, his bright blue eyes, widen like he's shocked and he's spinning to the left and then to the right, his hair shifting with how fast he's turning. He's falling backward and Harry's about to move but he hears his name and "Get down!" yelled so he falls to the ground. He doesn't take his eyes from Niall. He blinks, and sees Paddy above Niall, gun in hand and shots being fired somewhere over Harry's shoulder. He blinks again and Paddy's up and bending over Niall.

That's when sound comes back in and he can hear Paddy calling Niall's name and "Come on, son!"

That's when Harry finds his feet again and moves.

Paddy's opening Niall's jacket when Harry falls to his knees beside Niall, and oh.

"That's blood," he says, and there's just so much and Niall's white shirt isn't so white any more.

"Put your hand on it," Paddy says, and Harry keeps watching as Niall's eyes search above and around as he coughs and wheezes. This is worse than anything Harry's heard before.

"Your hand, Harry," Paddy says again. He grabs at Harry and pushes his hand down right over where the blood is still staining Niall's shirt. It's warm. It's so warm and wet and it's Niall pouring out of his side and oh fuck. Fuck.

"Thank fuck he only grazed his shoulder," Paddy says with a shake of his head. He moves Niall's jacket, his finger poking through a hole there that no moth could have made.

"Harry?" Niall coughs, and Harry stops staring at the red rising between his fingertips and focuses on Niall's face instead. He smiles but it's weak, and Harry's own is just as bad. Watery even, he realises when Niall reaches up with his hand, shaking as he points at Harry's face, saying, "Don't cry."

"I'm not," Harry says. Niall smiles and sputters and Paddy's telling him to stay right there while he checks something. Harry doesn't want Paddy to leave but he's gone in the next second and Niall's fingertips are crooked, calling Harry in.

He leans in and Niall cups his face, brushes his thumb over Harry's cheek, pulling back enough so Harry can see wetness left behind. He laughs and Niall coughs again . . . but this time there's blood on his lips after.

"You came," Niall says, blue eyes searching Harry's face. God, he's so pretty, so beautiful to look at. Harry's memory while he was away didn't do him justice at all.

Harry shrugs, presses his hand on Niall's stomach a little harder when he feels another warm rush of Niall's blood coat his knuckles, slipping down over his fingers. It's too much, Harry knows this. "I did," Harry answers with a laugh that's pathetic even to his own ears. "Zayn just dropped me off—"

"Zayn's back?" Paddy asks as he drops down to the other side of Niall. He rips off the sleeve of his shirt and folds it into a pad that he gives to Harry. "Stick that there and keep the pressure on," he tells Harry with a nod. His jacket is on the ground and Harry can see he's got his gun at his back when Paddy gets his arm under Niall's shoulder.

"You going to be right to help me here, lad? We need to get him to Malik." He looks at Harry dead in the eye and Harry doesn't know. He saw the way his hand shook, covered in blood when he took the material from Paddy seconds before. "You good?" Paddy asks again, and Harry says it out loud this time. "Yes."

"Get your arm under him. We've got to do this quick and it's not going to be gentle." He looks at Niall then with a grimace, highlighting a deep scar that runs from the side of his nose to his jaw. "But the faster we get you to Malik, the faster we can get you fixed up."

"Y'know me, Paddy," Niall says with a grin, his face looking paler than Harry's ever known it to be before. There are still a few droplets of blood staining his lips as he licks them. "Always up for a bit of rough."

Paddy nods and looks back at Harry, which obviously is a sign Harry should be getting ready to lift Niall up. He positions his arm under Niall’s back and Niall grabs at Harry's shoulder, fists Harry's jacket tight, dragging it almost painfully to the side.

"You keep a tight hold on his gut there, Harry," Paddy says. That's the second time he's heard Paddy use his name. He didn't think Paddy even knew who he was. "On three."

He counts and they lift Niall onto his feet. He curses so loudly it nearly deafens Harry in one ear. Niall turns his face into Harry's neck when they pull him up.

"It's okay," Harry says as they start walking down the road. "It's going to be fine."

Niall moans, his feet shuffling on the ground. They make their way as quickly as possible, Niall stumbling as they go. Harry’s hand on Niall's side is slipping because it's so wet and warm. This can't be good. There's something lying in the street when Harry looks to the side and he recognises Eoghan's face, even with his eyes as vacant as they are now. He knows what type of hole a bullet leaves in the middle of someone’s forehead.

It takes minutes that feel like hours to get to the corner shop where Zayn works. The bell on the door rings loudly but Paddy's voice calling out Zayn's name when they get in is louder. It takes seconds for Zayn to appear - he lives above the shop - but he walks out from the back with a bloke Harry's seen maybe once or twice before. He's sort of short, with swoopy dark blond hair, curvy hips and bum. He's got blue eyes that are different from Niall's. They flash sharply whenever Harry's brushed past him before. Harry's always felt like he was being judged. It's not particularly reassuring now.

"Tommo, call your mum," Zayn says. He starts shifting a couple of boxes that were obviously for restocking from the freezers onto the floor. The other lad is on his phone within seconds as Paddy and Harry get Niall up, Zayn pulling his feet up until Niall's lying flat on the glass. He winces and curses and Harry's hand slips a little; Niall's eyes bulge when Harry overcompensates and pushes down harder.

He can vaguely hear Paddy giving Zayn instructions, and the other fellow - Tommo - saying his mum is on the way, that she'll be ten or so. There's just so much blood and they're talking in words that Harry can't understand because all he can see is this red blooming between his fingers and this can't be good. They should be taking Niall to the hospital.

"Too many questions, darlin'," Niall says with a shaky smile. His lips are paler than they were before.

"And his mum?" Harry asks, nodding over his shoulder to where Tommo is now standing at the door while Zayn pulls the shutters down out front. There are sirens again and Harry shivers. He knows why he heard those the last time. He can still see the colour of Olly's hair, darker than normal, wet with what wasn't water at all.

"Tommo's mum's a midwife," Niall says, eyes fluttering toward closed.

Harry laughs. "A midwife? You're not having a baby, Niall."

"She's a nurse, too." This voice from behind calls and Harry doesn't look, knows it'll be that Tommo bloke. "She's taken out bullets before. You just need to hang on, you little Irish fuck, you still owe me a pint."

He's teasing and Niall cracks a smile, coughing up more blood. Even with Niall joking as he is, cracking back at Tommo about it being the other way around, coughing blood isn't a good sign. Harry hears him speak to Paddy, telling Paddy to go before the police show and that Tommo's mum knows to use the back door. She'll park in the alley and it'll be fine. Paddy's got a friend on the force and he'll give them more time. He can't look anywhere but at Niall, though. Niall, with his bright blue eyes that seem to glow because of how gray his skin’s become. Niall, whose lips are usually a bright pink but now are nothing but a faint stain of colour, more so by contrast with the blood that's on his chin, sliding down his jaw. He's got his arm resting against Harry's, his hand a soft touch at Harry's cheek that Harry can't help but turn his face and press his lips against.

God, he loves him so much and he's losing him. He's covered in Niall's blood and he can see it forming a pool on the glass below, covering the row of Fabs and a few mini tubs of that expensive ice cream Zayn only stocks for the weird old bird in the building opposite who buys some every Wednesday like clockwork.

"Niall—" Harry starts, but Niall's fingertips still over his lips, making him stop.

"You and me," he says instead, and Harry knows he's crying now, knows it by how blurry Niall gets when he answers in return.

"You and me."

They're quiet after that, just staring at each other as Harry feels Niall slipping away beneath his fingertips. He doesn't think Niall's going to last until the midwife or nurse or whatever she is arrives. And if he doesn’t, then Harry doesn't want to waste a second making Niall talk or say things they should have done weeks ago. Months. He just wants to look at Niall and memorise every single detail. He wants to remember Niall's eyes and the way he's looking at Harry now.

Niall blinks, the time between his eyelids fluttering open and closed lasting longer and longer until they don't open at all.

Harry calls Niall's name loud and that has Zayn appearing on the other side, shaking Niall's shoulder.

Niall opens his eyes then and Harry starts breathing again. His pulse is racing and he feels sick, like his stomach is getting squeezed, but he can't focus on how ill the smell and sight of all the blood is making him feel. He can't worry about that because Zayn is telling Niall to hold on and telling him that Jay will be here soon and she'll fix Niall right up. How he'll have another cool scar to add to his collection and maybe Zayn'll convince Jay to make it look like a lightning bolt.

Niall smiles but it's weak, barely there. Harry grabs at his hand where it fell from the side of Harry's face before. He holds it back there, pressing kiss after kiss to his palm as Zayn tells some story about when they were young back in Ireland. There's a bit about poking at a dead cat they found at the side of a creek and falling into the creek in shock when it wasn't quite so dead and not actually a cat but a sleeping fox. He reminds Niall of stealing chocolates that his mum hid only to get violently ill because they were those cherry liqueur things that Maura loved.

Niall's grin grows weaker and weaker and his eyes start falling closed again, shutting just as Tommo's mum busts in through the back door. She pushes past Harry, shoving a bag up on the glass and thanking him with a quick, efficient, "You've done a good job, love, but I can't see what needs fixing here if you're in the road."

He moves to the side and this small woman with a belly round enough that she looks like she's ready to give birth herself bustles in. She smiles at Niall and in a loud voice demands that he wake up. She says it again and Harry shifts up closer to Niall's head, brushes a shaking hand over Niall's hair and presses a kiss to the corner of his brow. "Open your eyes, Nialler, the lady—"

"Jay, love. Can't be a lady when you're working on babies six and seven."

He smiles at her kind-looking face, only to look away again when she cuts away at Niall's shirt. He can see nothing but blood covering Niall's skin. A hole in his side that looks deep and oh Christ, he's not prepared for this.

"Keep talking to him," Jay says, and Niall's eyes focus back on Harry's. Harry's seen that look before. He knows when Niall's scared and he's pretty sure that Niall can see that same feeling echoed in Harry's own eyes.

"Because this," she says with a pause, and Harry stupidly looks back and feels faint because she's got a needle and she's filling it up with liquid and Harry really isn't good with needles at the best of times. "This is going to hurt. A lot."

Niall says nothing when she pushes the needle in, but Harry doesn't look at anything other than Niall's face once he sees her do that part. There's nothing but the shaky bubbled sound of Niall's breathing and the racing of Harry's heart in his ears. Vaguely, he can hear Zayn and Tommo - or Louis as his mum called him a few seconds before - talking quietly on the other side of Niall. He knows Louis is holding a torch up above Niall's body and that Zayn has had to go and get more cloth to soak up the blood, but he really tries not to pay any attention to them at all.

He just keeps looking at Niall, and when Niall's eyes close and don't open again no matter how Harry says his name, he starts to freak out. He tugs at Niall’s hair instead of stroking it like he was, only to be shushed by Jay.

"It's okay, love. That's just the medicine kicking in. He'll not want to be awake when I dig the bullet out."

Harry sways where he stands and knocks over a stand of crisps, which startles him back to his feet. Jay's gloved hand is soft on his wrist as she asks him if he's going to be all right.

"I don't need two patients today, young man," she says with the tiniest bit of a hard edge that has Harry standing properly upright.

She gets back to work and Harry keeps his vigil at Niall's head, running his fingers through Niall's hair, the pad of his thumb over Niall's bushy brows. He doesn't know how much time has passed before he hears Jay say she's got it out and then a distinct metallic ping as the bullet hits wherever it is that Jay's put it down.

He feels his shoulders sag in relief only to tense right back up again when he hears Tommo curse.

"His heart’s stopped."

And Harry's stops too.

Then Zayn's up on the icebox and he's pushing at Niall's chest while Jay stitches Niall up as fast as she can. Louis is talking about calling an ambulance anyway and Zayn's telling him no. Harry grabs at Niall's hand, bringing his fingertips to his lips and kissing each one over and over.

Zayn breathes into Niall's mouth and then he's counting again, pushing at Niall's chest so hard Harry's afraid he'll break through the glass top of the freezer.

"Just call them!" Jay says, and Zayn tells them to wait. All Harry can do is watch as Niall slips further and further from his grasp.

"Stay," he whispers to Niall's knuckles. "Stay, stay, stay. Stay."

 

/ / / /

 

Niall wakes up on a Tuesday.

He's groggy and he can't remember much. Doesn't remember greeting Jay at all when he came back around after Zayn finished his third cycle of CPR. Niall slurred at Zayn to try a bit of tongue next time he kissed him on the mouth.

He doesn't remember Harry barking out a laugh that made Niall smile. He doesn't remember calling Harry gorgeous, his gorgeous boy.

He does smile at Harry when he opens his eyes, shaking Harry gently awake. Harry'd fallen asleep from where he'd been sitting by Niall's bedside in Zayn's cramped flat that made their own look like Buckingham Palace, it was so small. He smiles and pats at the side of Harry's face, and he says nothing when Harry cries.

"You can't make me go. You can't," Harry says, working himself up into a tizz that Niall would still want him gone when he woke. Afraid that what happened more than anything would make him push Harry to go.

"No," Niall says with a smile, his eyes blue and clear and warm as they focus in on Harry's own. "I don't think I'd let you."

"You and me," Harry whispers.

"You and me."

 

fin

Chapter Text

I think Niall would have continued working for Paddy. It’s the life he knows and he wouldn’t think he could do much different. Paddy would give him some time off to recuperate and I think Niall would have been easily convinced to do so back at Harrys mums. Niall would probably think it would give Anne and Robin more time to convince Harry to change his life. Gemma would probably come out too and maybe over an early cuppa when Gemma had taken Harry out to the shops or something, Anne would question Niall. Niall would tell her that he’d never ask Harry to stay, but it’s up to Harry if he’ll go on his own. He won’t push him again. It has to be Harrys decision and he’ll do everything possible to keep Harry safe if he decides his life with Niall is what he wants. It’s not exactly the answer Anne is looking for but she can see how much they love each other, how much they need each other, so she’ll let it go.
Eventually they go back and Niall continues on as paddys driver and they move back into their flat as shitty as it is.
Harry hides things from Niall. A few months in he has a break down, never having let himself really go through what happened with Niall because he was so focused on making sure Niall was fine. He has nightmares and panic attacks, won’t let himself sleep when Niall’s at home, pretends to pass out on the sofa and in the end just leaves a lot. He avoids Niall more and more because he thinks Niall will make him go if he sees how badly Harry is coping and as much as he doesn’t want that he can’t be around Niall either because then Niall will know. It gets to a point where they have a yelling match about it just before Niall has to leave for work and once he’s gone Harry ghosts.
Louis is the one that finds him, drugged out and fucked up in some hovel and Louis takes him back to his mums to sober up. Harry begs him not to tell Niall, and Louis doesn’t because he’s sort of got to know them all since they’ve got back. Has known of Niall anyway and through his mum and a quiet word with paddy, they get Harry someone to talk to all under paddys money. Turns out his soft spot for Niall extends to Harry for the way he coped during the shit that went down and how he’s looked after Niall. Kept him level headed.
Eventually Harry and Niall run into each other somewhere and Niall chases Harry down, makes him talk because it hurt when Harry left. As much as he thought he could cope with Harry not choosing him, he hasn’t. Drinks too much, gets into too many fights that he shouldn’t (has the tail end of a black eye that Harry can see and his knuckles are ragged and bruised). Harry tell Niall EVERYTHING and they decide to work it out, Niall going to paddy and ending up not quitting as such, but taking over one of the LIC pubs that isn’t in such a bad area and has a much larger, nicer flat above it for Harry and Niall to use.
Harry still has bad days and Niall still has to do things he can’t talk to Harry about for Paddy but they make It work