"How long is this flight again?" mumbled Niall, eyes half closed as he fought to stay awake. It had been a long and gruelling few weeks touring and doing promos across Australia, and while it had been fun, they were all glad to be on the way home.
"Counting or not counting the stop in Hawaii?" Harry grinned. "Nearly a whole day, basically. And that still only gets us to LA."
Niall groaned and screwed his eyes shut. Harry smiled. In the seat on the far side of Niall, Louis had already given in and curled himself into a ball, apparently fast asleep. They hadn't even left the tarmac of Sydney airport yet, he thought, amused.
The others probably had the right idea though. The early days when they'd all been ridiculously excited by long distance air travel were long gone. This trip was going to be nothing but endlessly dull. Harry put his iPod in, and settled comfortably back in his seat.
Harry wasn't sure what had woken him, but one minute he was asleep and dreaming that he was stuck in a north London pub and couldn't find the door, and the next he was wide awake, heart thumping. He looked to his right; Niall and Louis were still fast asleep. Craning round to look behind showed him Liam, too, asleep against Zayn's shoulder. Zayn caught his eye and gave him a little wave.
"Bit bumpy," he mouthed, laughing silently so as not to disturb Liam.
Harry frowned, not catching his meaning, until abruptly his stomach seemed to be trying to escape through his ears as the plane hit another patch of turbulence. He yelped. This, clearly was what had woken him, and he flicked up the shade on the window, peering out into the night.
For a while he could see nothing but his own reflection, frowning dimly back at him. Then, with a suddenness that made him jerk back in his seat, the night was ripped apart in front of his eyes by a bolt of lightning that seemed entirely too close for comfort.
Blinking the green after-images away, he turned, startled, to look at Zayn.
"Typical," Zayn grinned. "Weeks of touring in a bloody heatwave, then the night we could do with a bit of good weather, we fly out in the middle of a fuck-off great storm."
Harry smiled back at him, grateful for his cheerful demeanour. The lightning and the storm outside had shaken him more than he cared to admit. He looked at his watch, trying to work out where they were. The uncomfortable truth was that pretty much ninety nine percent of this flight was over the ocean and it gave him a funny feeling to think about it.
Outside, he could make out clouds now, lit in the distance by more lightning. Harry shivered.
"What's going on?" Niall's sleepy voice made him turn, and Harry shook his head.
"Nothing. It's okay. Go back to sleep." The words were barely out of his mouth when the plane hit another patch of turbulence and dropped what felt like feet but was probably no more than inches. Somewhere further down the plane a small child screamed in sudden fright, and the background murmur of voices got louder as people woke up and noticed the outside conditions.
The lightning was drawing closer again, and Harry pulled the window shade back down so he didn't have to look. Electrical storms had always made him nervous, and it was a stupid, stupid thing to be afraid of, but he couldn’t help it. He didn't want to look like the baby of the group, ever, but being trapped in mid-air in a big tin can when there was lightning all around was nudging him closer to freaking out than he could ever remember.
A hand squeezed his shoulder, and he looked up in surprise. Louis winked at him. He had his arm draped across Niall's shoulders and his fingers were rubbing Harry's arm reassuringly.
Had Harry ever told Louis about his dislike of storms? He didn't think so. But trust Louis to have noticed. Louis noticed everything.
Harry covered Louis' fingers with his own and smiled back gratefully.
They were all awake now, and Harry drew more comfort from the bantering conversation that struck up. Liam was trying to tie things to Niall's hair between the seats, and Louis was for some reason trying to balance his shoes on his own head, and for a happy few seconds, Harry forgot the fact they were hurtling through a tropical storm above vast expanses of shark infested ocean.
Oddly, the lightning strike when it happened, went practically unnoticed by the jittery passengers. In contrast to the dips and humps of the turbulence they'd been riding, the discreet thump out on one wing barely registered at all.
It was only when the studiedly calm voice of the pilot came over the intercom to request that passengers - as a precaution, only - please put on their lifejackets, but don't - repeat don't - inflate them - that people started to wonder if they should start panicking.
The stewards moved along the aisle helping people put their lifejackets on and reassuring the passengers that nothing was wrong, that it was just some minor engine trouble, that everything would be fine and this was merely standard procedure.
The five boys, normally so boisterous, had fallen into a tight silence, watching and waiting to see what would happen. Harry found in the strangest way, that he was almost relieved. As if the worst happening was actually better than worrying about it.
He had little idea then, how bad the worst was about to get.
Things on board had remained reasonably calm, right up to the point someone on the far side of the plane lifted their window shade up, and realised that the engines on this side were in fact on fire.
Begging for calm, and for people to return to their seats, the stewards' jobs immediately got immensely harder. Liam found four pairs of frightened eyes looking at him in mute appeal and shook his head helplessly.
"We sit tight. That's what we do," he said hoarsely. "We stay where we're told and we don't bloody panic, okay?"
"Why don’t they give us parachutes?" Zayn complained. "Life jacket's no fucking good if we plough into a mountain, is it?"
"I don’t think there are any mountains where we are," Harry pointed out, and Zayn scowled at him.
"You know what I mean."
"You really want to leap out of this plane into the pitch dark sea, do you?" Liam put in, and Zayn subsided into a sulkily frightened silence.
The plane struggled on through the night, limping through the storm on half its engines, forced lower and lower by the atmospheric conditions and the pilot's desire to be at low altitude just in case a forced landing became necessary.
They should have been alright. Even in this condition, the plane's robust engineering should have been enough to see them through the typhoon. But luck that night was against them, and driven by the hundred mile an hour tropical winds, a flock of half-dead seabirds shot through the remaining engines on the left of the plane like a battery of cannonballs, and all remaining power was lost.
The final descent was one they would never forget. Belted into their seats and wordlessly gripping each other's hands tight enough to bruise, the rest of the cabin was a mess of screaming in a disorienting babble of languages. Some of it was just screaming, wordless and primal. The urge to give in and scream too was almost overwhelming, and Harry bit his lip until he tasted blood.
The seconds dragged out, painfully, agonisingly slowly. Everyone knew the plane was going down now, and it would be down to the luck and judgement of the pilot as to whether they crashed or landed in the sea.
It felt dreamlike, as if time was slowing down around them. Harry wondered if this was it, if they were going to die. There were things they should say, surely, if that was the case. But the noise was too great for talking, and there was no time, and anyway Niall's hot hand squeezing his, and Louis' mad grin in the face of almost certain disaster told Harry that maybe nothing really needed to be said after all. And in the last second before the plane hit the water, he found himself thinking that if they really were about to die, he was perversely glad they were all together.
Working on instruments alone, the pilot had done his best to level out the plane, but with no engines and no visual contact on the heaving sea, it was an imprecise art.
The plane hit the water with a crash that half-stunned everyone on board. It bounced off the first enormous wave, hit the second and water poured over the engine housings, digging in and slewing the plane sideways. The strain was too much, and the tail section was ripped away. One moment it was there, the next it was gone, and water was pouring into the body of the plane. The cockpit drove into another mountain of hard black water, and suddenly the nose, too, was gone.
Harry was hammering at his seatbelt, panic-stricken. It wouldn’t release, it wouldn’t, he was going to drown - and then finally it sprang open and he was on his feet, shoving Niall in front of him, knowing he shouldn’t push, unable to stop himself.
Emergency lighting cast an eerie glow over everything, as if they were already in some kind of underworld. People were struggling towards the door, through water already knee deep and rising. With a shock, Harry saw that it wasn’t a door at all, it was a gash in the side of the plane, people were throwing themselves out into the darkness like lemmings.
He turned his head to see where the others were, nearly got pushed over. Back the way he'd come, he could see Zayn clinging to a seat, refusing to move, and Liam frantically trying to pry his hands loose.
"But I can't swim, man," Harry heard Zayn's voice wail over the sound of the water, terrified and unreasoning. Harry tried to make his way back towards them, but the flow of people desperate to escape was too strong. To his relief he saw Liam finally force Zayn into the aisle, pushing him along.
The water was waist deep now, and deathly cold. This was the tropics, Harry thought incongruously. It seemed unfair to survive a plane crash only to die of hypothermia.
Harry was almost there now, almost at the gap, when he saw Louis a few places in front. He was looking around him, frantic, clearly trying to locate the others. Harry opened his mouth to shout to him, and then watched in horror as the lady immediately behind him, impatient and panicky, shoved Louis hard in the back as she struggled past. Louis stumbled and disappeared beneath the water.
"Louis!" It seemed to Harry he'd never screamed so loudly in his life, but it barely registered above the noise around him. He tried to claw his way through the chest deep water to where he'd last seen Louis standing, but the crush of people made it impossible, and he was borne inexorably away towards the gap in the side.
People now were inflating their life jackets, afraid of drowning already in the surging water. As he made the transition from inside to outside, and the floor went from under him, Harry was vaguely aware of renewed screaming, the inflated jackets making people too buoyant to escape the sinking plane.
Eyes blurring with tears and having no idea if the others were alive or dead, Harry struck out away from the plane, from a vague fear that when it finally sank, it would suck anyone nearby down with it.
Harry swam until he could swim no further, arms and legs feeling like lead, and then, only then, did he pull the cord to inflate his life jacket, letting it bear him up like a cork on the waves.
Black water, lashing rain, and patches of oil, burning on the water. Harry let the tears finally come, and hide his nightmarish surroundings from view.
He had no idea how long he'd been drifting. In dazed shock, the minutes and hours bled past with nothing to distinguish them but the heaving of the waves and the sound of the wind. The storm though, having done its worst, was on its way out. Gradually, Harry became aware that the waves weren't as high as they'd previously been, and that the clouds were drifting apart, to give glimpses of a star-strewn sky.
Once he'd got used to it, the water hadn't been as cold as he'd feared, although prolonged exposure was by now making him shiver uncontrollably. He'd spent the first moments of immersion in an agony of fear that a shark would seize him from beneath, but the passing of time had dulled even that fear.
The worst thought now that was preying on his mind, was the idea of dying out here all alone. Harry had few illusions that a rescue team would arrive in time, or even if they did, that they'd find him out here in the middle of the dark sea.
No, he was alone, and he was going to die, and - was that singing?
Harry had a brief moment of wondering if he was dead already, or hallucinating, or even if he was about to meet a mermaid. And then he recognised the song.
He was so surprised that he accidentally ducked himself under the water in his attempt to turn in the direction of the voice.
"Hey!" Harry yelled into the blackness, spluttering water out of his face and trying to swim against the awkward constraints of the life jacket. "Hey!" He was too tired and too stunned to form a coherent sentence, all he could think was that in all the thousands of miles of ocean, it could only be one of four people likely to be singing those particular lyrics.
The singing faltered, and then a voice shouted "Hello?"
"Over here!" Harry splashed frantically towards the unseen voice. "Keep singing! I need something to aim for!"
He heard a laugh, rough with an edge of near-hysteria, then the voice - Zayn's voice, he was almost sure now - picked up again.
"You light up my life like nobody else..."
Harry thrashed his way towards the sound, determined and with a newfound strength. Suddenly, his outflung hand struck something hard and he cried out, getting a mouthful of salt water and another ducking. Before he could right himself, he felt a hand fisted in the collar of his life jacket, and his face was hauled back above the surface. His hands found they were scrabbling against a smooth hard surface, and with help from above, he managed to drag himself right out.
Chest heaving, he lay sprawled on a flat surface, low to the water and being washed over constantly by the waves, but after a couple of hours in the sea it felt like blessedly solid ground.
Hands were clutching him, keeping him in one place. "Careful," warned Zayn's voice from the darkness. "It's not very big. You can’t move about too much or we'll capsize."
Gingerly, Harry sat up. "Zayn? What is this?"
"Bit of the tail I think. It hit me over the head when I was going down for about the tenth time so I commandeered it. What do you reckon? Better than swimming, yeah?" Zayn broke off, as if he was afraid his voice would break on him. "I thought - I thought I was - " he started, in a lower voice, and Harry edged closer, put his arms round him.
"I know. Me too. But we're going to be okay, yeah?" Harry said, with more confidence than he felt. But it did help, to not be alone any more, and they clung to each other and to the fragment of aeroplane skin, and drifted on through the night.
Harry opened his eyes and realised two things. One, that he'd somehow against all the odds fallen asleep on their wreckage raft, and two, that it was daylight. He sat up, wary of upsetting them, and found Zayn curled round him, head on his arm and eyes closed. Someone had tied their lifejackets together, Harry realised. He didn't remember doing it, so it must have been Zayn. A smart move, to prevent one of them rolling off in the night and being lost.
He looked up away from the confines of the raft. Endless blue sea stretched away before him, empty and terrifying. He realised he'd hoped that in daylight, he'd be able to see other survivors, maybe on bits of wreckage like theirs. But there was nothing, as far as the eye could see.
Harry turned carefully to look in the other direction. The movement woke Zayn, and he sat up, groaning. His lips and eyes were swollen from salt spray, and Harry wondered what he looked like himself. He smiled. It hurt.
"Are we still alive?" Zayn sounded almost grumpy about it, and Harry laughed.
"Apparently so." The thought brought with it the memory of Louis disappearing beneath the water, and Harry realised with an aching heart he didn’t know if Louis had even escaped the plane.
"Do you know what happened to the others?" he asked, not sure he wanted to know the answer if it was bad. "Did they get out okay?"
Zayn sighed. "I was with Liam for a while. He got me out. I was - in a bit of a state. But when we were in the sea we got separated, and the waves were too fierce to get back to each other. So I don't know. I thought I heard Niall at one point, but I can’t be sure." Zayn looked up at Harry, then away, almost apologetically. "I didn't see Louis outside at all."
Harry bit his lip. He wouldn't cry. He wouldn't.
To take his mind off the prospect that their three best friends might be lost forever, he unhitched himself from Zayn and carefully stood up on shaky legs.
"What are you doing?" asked Zayn, snappishly. "You'll have us over."
"I figured I'd see further if I stood up," said Harry, ignoring Zayn's tone. They couldn’t fall out now. Not when they only had each other.
"I've seen all the fucking sea I want to, thank you very much."
Harry turned another slow circle, shading his eyes against the sun. It felt like it was early, but the sun was already hot, and he realised with a sinking heart that if they didn’t drown, they were now equally likely to die of thirst.
He was about to sit down again, defeated, when something caught his eye. A bird, flying into the rising sun. He followed it with his eyes until they watered painfully, staring now at a smudge on the horizon.
"What? Let me sleep."
"No. Come up here. Zayn!"
Grumbling, Zayn crawled to his knees, then climbed up Harry's body until he was standing precariously next to him on the wobbling raft. "What?"
Harry pointed. "Is that land?"
Zayn blinked, and looked where he was indicating. "It could be," he said, uncertainly. "Or it could be a cloud bank. Or a mirage. Or - "
"It's land. I'm telling you!" Harry grabbed him, eyes shining. "We're saved! There'll be people, and boats, and we can go back and look for the others!"
Zayn finally smiled back and returned Harry's excited hug, reluctant to point out that land it might be, but they were stuck miles out on a drifting piece of wreckage they had no means of steering.
The currents though, were kind to them, and little by little the distant smudge on the horizon emerged from the haze as a green-topped hill ringed by surf.
They watched hopefully as landfall gradually came within reach. Soon they realised it was more than just a hill - in fact a towering cliff face now loomed up out of the sea, lush green with vegetation on the top, while a narrow strip of white sand hemmed the base of it.
Harry eyed the pounding surf, where the long rolling waves carrying them ever closer were curling and breaking on the shore.
"If that's breaking over coral, we're going to get ripped to shit," he said worriedly, frowning as another fear occurred to him. "Do you reckon we should swim for it? If this thing flips over it could easily knock one of us out."
Zayn swallowed. "I can't swim, remember?"
"You've got your lifejacket though. The waves'll pretty much push us in, I reckon?"
"I guess," Zayn grudgingly conceded. "Stay close to me though?" As Harry nodded quick agreement, Zayn gave a brief laugh. "Shame Liam or Louis isn't here. They could have surfed this thing in."
Harry looked away. "Well all you've got is me I'm afraid," he said bitterly.
"Harry!" Zayn looked horrified. "I didn't mean it like that! I didn't!" He hugged Harry from behind, and after a second or two Harry let the tension sag out of his shoulders.
"I know," he sighed. "It just - hurts, right now. To think about them too much."
Zayn hugged him tighter for a second, then sat up, suddenly brisk. "Come on Haz. Let's do this if we have to."
Together they slipped into the water, blessedly cool against their skin after the baking heat of the sun. Overcoming their initial reluctance to let go of the makeshift raft that had been their salvation, they finally struck out for the shore with Harry alternately pushing and dragging Zayn along through the water.
Every second Harry expected his legs to slam into razor-sharp coral reef, but the water seemed clear and after a few minutes' struggle through the waves, he found himself hurled unceremoniously onto the sand with enough force to take his breath away.
He lay there panting in disbelief, the waves washing over his legs. They'd actually made it. Looking round hastily, he was relieved to see Zayn lying a few feet away, coughing but safe. They dragged themselves up the beach, away from the sucking waves that threatened to pull them back in, and collapsed side by side on the soft white sand.
After a while, Harry pulled himself into a sitting position. He had a raging thirst, the sun and wind had left him feeling practically desiccated. He had no idea how long it had been since he'd eaten or drunk anything, only that it had been hours and hours ago, and he was feeling dangerously weak.
He prodded Zayn awake. "We have to find water."
"Lemme sleep." Zayn rolled over and promptly got a faceful of sand. He sat up spluttering, looking surprised to find himself on a beach.
"Water," Harry insisted. "We have to go now. While we're not too weak to walk."
"That's a lot of W's," Zayn said vaguely, and looked as if he was about to settle back down to sleep. Harry grabbed his arm and pulled him up.
"You're mean," Zayn yawned, and leaned on him heavily, making them both stumble. Arms around each other for support, they started making their way down the beach.
On their left was the ocean, bright turquoise blue and stretching emptily away as far as the eye could see. On their right, the cliff face rose far above them, sheer and unscaleable. If they tipped their heads back, they could see a fringe of vegetation waving over the edge, but it was so out of reach it might as well have been on another planet.
They kept walking, tripping occasionally, helping each other along. They were barefoot, shoes hanging by the laces around their necks, and they'd wrapped their shirts around their heads to keep off the worst of the sun. There was no shade, no escape from the heat.
Half blind and dazed, they found the stream in the end by walking through it. Stopping in surprise and blinking stupidly down at where their toes were sinking into wet sand, it took a long second to register what it was. Tracking the snaking line of darker sand back to the foot of the cliff, they found a gush of water cascading down the rock, losing itself in the beach below. They could hear it now, over the sound of the sea, a merry splashing that was music to the ears.
They lost no time in cupping their hands to drink, eager and excited. It tasted vaguely of moss and rock, but to both boys it was the most heavenly thing they'd ever drunk. Finally sated, they flopped to the sand for a well-deserved rest.
Shading his eyes against the sun, Harry was the first to sit up again. "We should keep going," he said, making Zayn groan.
"Why don't we stay here? It might be the only stream," he countered.
"Three reasons," Harry said, fighting back a yawn. "One, we don't have any food. We need to find a way up into the forest, and find some fruit or something. Two, we need to find out if there's any people on this island, and get help. And three - " he looked up at the cliff face and grimaced. "Three, in case you hadn't noticed, the tide mark is about four feet above our heads. When the tide comes in, this beach is going to disappear underwater."
Zayn looked, and winced. "Shit." He dragged himself reluctantly to his feet, going to take another drink and splashing water over his face. "Pity we don't have a bottle or something, to take some of this with us."
"I guess there'll be other streams, with all those trees there must be plenty of water up there," Harry said, peering upwards. "If we can find a way up we should be okay."
They drank their fill, and moved on. The beach was gradually unfurling in front of them, following a gentle curve that meant they could only ever see so far ahead.
"What's that?" Zayn said suddenly, as a dark shape by the water's edge came into view.
Harry squinted. "Rock? Seal?" They walked on, faster by unspoken consent, because while the hunched shape could have been anything, it could also very well have been a human body.
Closer now, they realised at the same time that it was a person and broke into a run.
Louis, thought Harry in sudden fear and hope, but it wasn't, he realised a second later, it was -
"Liam!" Zayn's speed suddenly doubled as he recognised Liam's motionless form. Seconds behind him Harry skidded into the sand at Zayn's side only for them both to hesitate, struck by the horrible fear that it was too late, that he would already be dead.
It was Harry who finally reached out and rolled him over, feeling for the pulse in his neck.
"He's breathing," Harry said, feeling dizzy. "He's alive!"
He slapped Liam gently on the cheek, and to their immense relief Liam groaned and his eyes fluttered open.
He blinked, rapidly, and frowned. "If I'm dead, I don't think much of the angels."
Zayn slapped him on the arm, laughing and weak with happiness. "Welcome to Paradise," he smiled, helping Liam to sit up.
Liam swayed, and they both grabbed him. "You okay?" Harry asked anxiously, and Liam smiled.
"Yeah. Just a bit faint, that's all. Don't suppose there's any water?"
Harry nodded. "It's a way back though. Can you walk?"
Liam looked uncertain, and Harry and Zayn exchanged glances.
"We need something to carry it in," Zayn muttered, kicking through the debris left along the shoreline. Seaweed and sticks and broken shells, and -
"Ugh!" Zayn leaped backwards as something with entirely too many legs scuttled away from his foot.
Harry gave him a crooked smile. "It's just a crab." He picked up the thing that the crab had been hiding in, and waved it. "This'll do though. Coconut shell. I think." He looked back the way they'd come. "You stay with Liam, yeah? I'll be right back."
As Harry ran off along the beach in a scuffle of sand, Zayn helped Liam back from the water's edge. Sitting down beneath the cliff, Liam seemed shaky and disoriented, and was unwilling to let go of Zayn's hands again.
Zayn squeezed his fingers reassuringly. "You okay?"
Liam nodded slowly. "I think so. It's all a bit of a blur." He looked in the direction Harry had gone, then back at Zayn. "Niall?" he asked hesitantly. "Louis?"
Zayn shook his head. "We don't know."
Liam sighed, nodding resignedly. "I didn't think I'd ever see any of you again, to be honest." He managed a smile. "So I guess I'm not doing so bad."
Flopping back into the sand, Zayn blew out a breath. "Now we just have to - you know. Build a boat. Or a radio. Or a helicopter. Out of sand and crabs."
Liam lay down next to him, and took hold of his hand. "For a boy who can't swim, you just bested the ocean. I have full confidence a helicopter could be next."
Zayn giggled, and buried his face against Liam's still sea-damp sleeve. Maybe things weren't as bleak as they seemed.
After a short while Harry reappeared, trotting slowly over the sand with the coconut shell held carefully in his hands.
"Sorry I was so long," he panted. "I didn't want to spill any."
Liam drank thirstily. When the water was gone, he reached out and hugged Harry gratefully, feeling better already.
"So. Where are we?" Liam enquired, taking proper notice of his surroundings for the first time. "We're not going to run into King Kong or something are we?"
Zayn laughed. "Let's hope we do. We could steal his bananas."
When Liam felt strong enough to move, they began walking on down the beach. It was changing slightly in character, with more rocks breaking up the expanses of sand. Some ran the whole width of the beach, and they were forced to climb up and over them.
It was whilst perched on top of one of these outcrops, that Liam spotted something oddly out of place.
"Is that a suitcase?" he asked, perplexed. Harry and Zayn climbed up beside him and looked where he was pointing.
"Looks like it." Harry was already scrambling down the far side to go and investigate. "Guess it washed up from the wreckage." He jumped down from the final ledge to the sand, and promptly landed on top of someone who'd been curled up in the meagre shade thrown by the rocks, scaring the life out of both of them.
"Argh!" Harry and the flailing body that he'd fallen on rolled over in the sand trying to push each other off. By the time the others had reached them, they were both sitting staring at each other incredulously.
"Niall!" Liam cried, and pounced on him in delight.
Niall flinched, feeling that for a world that had seemed deserted of all life a second ago it was a bit much to expect a guy to suddenly be inundated with grasping hands, but he was soon returning everyone's hugs with relief and enthusiasm.
"Thought I was all on my own," Niall confessed, hoping they'd assume his red eyes were just sore from the sun and the salt spray. He looked them over, suddenly realising they weren’t all there. "Where's Louis?" he asked.
Three stony expressions looked back at him, and Niall's smile faded. He'd just assumed, somehow, that where the rest of them were together, Louis would have to be there too. But of course, there was no reason for that to be the case.
"We don’t know if he made it," Zayn admitted. "Nobody saw him in the water."
Niall stared back at them, miserably. "I saw him in the plane," he croaked, remembering. "He'd been pushed under the water. The level was going up all the time. He - he inflated his jacket. To get his head above water. I got pushed out then, I didn’t see any more. But - " Niall tailed off. He hardly needed to go on. The people that had inflated their life jackets early hadn’t been able to get out of the plane, the water level had been too high by then.
Harry gave a strangled sob and broke away from the group, running a short distance away before flinging himself face down on the beach. "No. No," he groaned, fingers clawing into the sand. He'd been sure, so sure, that now they'd found the others they'd find Louis too. He couldn't be dead, it was inconceivable. And yet - there was a growing emptiness in Harry's heart that recognised it must be true. He watched grains of sand scatter beneath his face, and realised distantly that he was crying.
Niall was on his feet, ready to follow Harry, but Liam and Zayn pulled him back down.
"Give him a minute," Liam advised.
"Tell us about you," Zayn said. "How did you wash up here with us? And is that your suitcase?"
Niall managed a smile. "I found it bobbing along in front of me. I don't know who it belonged to, but it must be airtight or something, because it kept me afloat. I kinda draped myself over it and eventually floated right up on this beach." He didn't mention the hour or so he'd spent miserably convinced he was all alone in the world and too afraid to move away from the spot he'd fetched up.
Liam and Zayn related their own stories in turn, and it was agreed they should keep moving. The tide looked to be on the turn, and they couldn't be sure how long it would be before the beach was inundated.
Zayn walked quietly over to Harry, who was muttering to himself under his breath, and drawing idly in the sand with his fingers.
"Come on babes. We have to keep going."
Harry looked up at him, tear-stained and miserable, and Zayn held out his hands. "Louis wouldn't want you to give up now, would he?" Zayn said softly.
Wiping his face, leaving dusty fingermarks in the trails on his cheeks, Harry let himself be hauled to his feet and rejoined the group.
It immediately became apparent that Niall intended on dragging the suitcase with them, and they stared at him.
"What?" Niall stared back, surprised.
"What's in there?" Liam asked.
"Don't know. Can’t get it open."
"Then why - ?" Liam shook his head. It was a big suitcase, hard plastic and unwieldy, obviously costing Niall a considerable amount of effort to drag it along.
"Might be useful. Anyway, it saved me, I'm not just abandoning it," Niall said stubbornly. The rest exchanged a combination of mystified glances and giggles, but no-one objected as Niall resumed pulling it along with them.
Tired and hungry, they trekked determinedly on through the sand.
When he'd found himself unexpectedly shoved under the water in the plane, Louis' immediate reaction had been one of indignance rather than panic. It was only as he tried to regain his feet that he discovered he might be in real trouble.
The water rushing into the section of the plane they were trapped in was getting deeper all the time, and he was jostled constantly by people shoving past in their desperate attempt to escape.
Louis managed to get his head above the surface long enough to gasp in a breath, grabbing at the back of a seat as he tried to stand up, but the plane pitched sideways and he found himself back under the water.
Thrashing his way back up for a second time, he was closer to the jagged gap in the side now, but still there were people pushing him out of the way in their frantic haste. His foot turned on an unseen obstacle and he ducked under once more. He was afraid now, afraid of the rising water, afraid that soon it would be too deep to stand at all.
He struck upwards, grasping for the surface with his hand and failed to find it. Panic set in. What if there was no surface, what if the section was completely immersed? No, it was too soon, he was just disorientated, surely. Was he even swimming in the right direction?
Louis realised there was one thing he could do to find the surface, and his hand groped for the rip cord on his life jacket. It inflated in a second, forcing him up through the murky water until his head broke surface and he heaved in relieved breaths.
It didn’t take long though, before he realised he'd made a mistake. The water level was now almost at the top of the hole in the side, to get out you would need to duck underneath - and with a fully inflated life jacket that was impossible.
After a few futile attempts, and seeing the increasingly terrified efforts of those around him who had done the same, Louis knew there was only one thing he could do.
The idea of being helpless in the middle of the ocean was horrifying, but clearly the only alternative was to stay here and drown.
Making up his mind, Louis unfastened his life jacket and slipped out of its comforting embrace. He slid down into the water, feeling oddly naked without it. He was already barefoot, and immediately found it easier to move. He took one last enormous breath, and ducked under the water.
Kicking hard, he swam down, under the passengers threshing about on the surface, and out through the hole in the plane. Lungs bursting, he swam strongly as far as he could before striking up for the surface.
He burst through the waves in the last seconds before he had to breathe in, and sucked in gasping, sobbing breaths of night air. Around him were the screams and shouts of the other passengers who had made it out of the plane only to find themselves in equal peril.
Things were burning, and in the light of the flames, Louis could see several people had clambered to relative safety on top of the actual plane wreckage. Hands reached down to him, and he almost let them pull him up, before the dire warnings of every disaster movie he'd ever seen started playing through his mind.
"No!" he yelled up to those perched on the wreckage. "When it fills up inside, it's going to go down! It'll suck you all with it!"
But either they couldn’t hear his warning or chose to ignore it, and eventually Louis was forced to think of himself and started swimming away as fast as he could.
He was some way out into the black water when there was a curious bubbling and creaking noise behind him, and the water started to churn. He felt a dragging sensation in the water, as if he was caught in a rip tide, and swam hard against it.
The screams came a second later, only to cut off abruptly, as if a door had been closed between them. Louis turned in the water, scanning the area where the huge sections of jet liner had been floating, but other than small bits of wreckage, burning patches of floating oil and the odd struggling survivor, the sea was eerily empty.
Louis felt sick. He wondered if he should have tried harder to get them to listen, whether it would have done any good.
For a long while he swam in vague circles, yelling out the names of the others, hoping that somehow, against all the odds, they would have made it. It was an impossible task. The storm, through abating, was still loud in wind and rain, and the waves were too high to see far.
Louis was tiring fast. He knew he'd had no choice to abandon the vest, but he missed it now. He floated for a while, trying to conserve his strength, wondering if he'd only consigned himself to a more protracted death by avoiding the final, fatal sinking of the plane.
He was almost at the end of his strength and endurance when the water before him suddenly surged upwards. Shark! thought Louis, terrified, but the dark shape that broke the surface merely settled down and bobbed silently along, offering neither threat nor clue as to what it was.
Cautiously, Louis swam closer and poked it experimentally. A hard surface met his finger, and further investigation revealed it to be a section of the plane's outer skin, perhaps a bit of wing. Gratefully, and with some difficulty, Louis hauled himself up onto its flat top and sprawled there, weak and shivering.
For an hour or so Louis drifted, his world contracted to the few square metres of wreckage that was keeping him alive, and the sound of the waves. He was thankful when the rain stopped and the temperature rose a little, and started stretching and flexing to try and stay warm.
He'd lost all sense of time and distance when gradually Louis realised he could see further than the edge of the makeshift raft. Dawn seemed to sneak up on him in fits and starts; at first he could see the water around him, then he could see for a greater distance, the world now grey rather than black and then finally, without anything as dramatic as an actual sunrise, Louis realised he could see the horizon, and the water had turned from black and threatening to a perfect blue.
Taking more of an interest in his surroundings now, Louis turned in a careful circle to see if he could spot anything - more wreckage, or an island, or even a rescue boat or plane.
What he saw was a vivid splash of red, and considerably closer than he'd expected to find anything. Louis stared, trying to work out what it was. It seemed to be a shirt, or towel perhaps, draped over something - more wreckage? Then, as he looked, Louis realised to his surprise that the thing bobbing next to it was a head.
"Hey!" he shouted, suddenly excited at the prospect of company. "Over here!"
The head turned, startled, and its owner lost purchase on the float and promptly disappeared under the water. Worried, Louis watched anxiously, and then had a further surprise as a second person appeared on the far side of the thing, and helped the first back up.
They were both staring at Louis now, in surprise and consideration. He waved vigorously, and they seemed to confer before striking out towards him, abandoning their small piece of plane in favour of Louis' larger raft.
As they got closer, Louis saw it was two men, older than him, and strangers. He fought down a brief feeling of disappointment. The odds of him seeing any of the boys, or even anyone that had been in their party were too huge to contemplate. Louis firmly suppressed the part of him wondering what had happened to them. It was too painful to deal with yet.
The men were up to his raft now, and Louis willingly helped them climb aboard. The fragment of aeroplane dipped alarmingly, but bore the new weight, even if it was now considerably lower in the water.
For a while, all was cheerful. They introduced themselves, and talked of the horrors of the crash, and of their surprise at finding themselves still alive. The newcomers - Craig and Brendan - turned out to be British as well, and Louis was so relieved at not being alone any more, that he failed to notice either the fact that waves were washing over the top of the raft more and more frequently, or the meaningful looks being exchanged by his new companions.
Exhausted by the traumatic events of the crash and the long night afloat, Louis found it hard to keep his eyes open. Trusting now, that there was someone to keep watch and prevent him rolling off the edge, he finally gave in to the pull of sleep and closed his eyes.
Cold water closed over his head, and for a confused, shocked moment Louis thought he was dreaming, that this was a nightmare, reliving the moment he'd first plunged into the ocean. Then he choked on salt water, and his eyes sprang open to discover he was wallowing once more in the sea, the raft slipping out of reach with every second.
"Hey! Help!" Louis yelled, thinking still that he'd only fallen overboard in his sleep. He swam hastily after them, grasping the edge only to falter at the hard looks they turned on him.
"Wha-what's wrong?" he asked, spitting water out of his mouth and trying to clamber back up.
Craig shook his head. "Sorry kid. This thing's going down and we need to lose ballast. That would be you, incidentally."
"Oh, come on!" Louis stared up at them disbelievingly, unable to take in the fact that after everything that had happened, someone could knowingly carry out such an act of cold-bloodedness. He groped upwards, still trying to climb on, and Brendan leaned over and hit him hard, a stinging blow to the head that made Louis lose his grip and fall back into the water.
"You can't do this!" he shrieked after them, as the raft bobbed once more out of his reach.
"You can't stop us," came the retort, with an ironic wave.
Treading water, Louis could do nothing but watch helplessly as the currents carried away his only hope of staying alive long enough for any hope of rescue.
Time passed, Louis unable to tell how much. The sun was higher now, and he was half-dazzled by the glare from the water. He moved slowly along, alternately swimming and floating to conserve his strength. The sea was warm and calm, amazingly so compared to the storm waves of the night before, but even so he found himself tiring.
Louis had no idea if he was swimming towards or away from potential rescuers, only knew that he had to do something. The idea of just waiting in one place until he was too worn out to keep himself afloat any more was too depressing to contemplate.
Having to float more and more often as his strength ebbed, Louis' mind started playing tricks. Time after time, he splashed his way upright, convinced he'd heard a plane go overhead, only for the sky to remain as stubbornly empty as before. Twice, he saw a ship sail into view and started swimming frantically towards it, only for the vision to disappear again between one blink and the next.
Consequently, when the island appeared Louis didn't take much notice at first. Convinced it was another mirage, he carried on with his slow stroke, expecting it to vanish again at any second.
When instead it grew larger and more solid looking, Louis finally paid attention, allowing himself to hope for the first time that he might actually be within reach of safety. He was still a long way out, but just the sight of it, reassuringly still there every time he looked up, gave him new strength.
It took far longer than he'd imagined, but Louis finally found himself crawling through the surf and up the beach. He was wrung out, legs wracked with cramp and shoulders burning, but he'd made it.
After a long while unable to do more than lie there in agony, the aches twisting his body gradually receded to a bearable level and Louis sat up to take more notice of his surroundings. He was on a strip of white sand that vanished into the distance in both directions, with a sheer cliff face rising up at the back of it.
Louis was cheered to notice that not far away from where he was sitting, a cascade of clear water was pouring down the rock face and he lost no more time in stumbling over to slake his thirst.
It was only once he was satisfied, turning away wiping his chin with the back of his hand that he noticed the footprints.
Louis stared. Apart from his own, there were several overlapping tracks of two or more people coming and going from the waterfall. He stared hopefully down the beach, but it was as deserted as before. Wondering if by some stroke of luck he'd managed to wash up on an inhabited island, or if this was proof of other survivors, he started following the tracks.
After a while the beach became stonier, and he had to start climbing over outcrops of sharp black rock. It was whilst scaling one of these that he suddenly had the nasty thought that the footprints might well belong to Craig and Brendan, and hesitated. He wasn't at all sure he wanted to run into them again, or that they'd want to see him. In a situation where there might be limited food available, he had little doubt they'd be as ruthless as they'd been on the water. They might even eat him, Louis thought with a chill.
Telling himself not to be so melodramatic, Louis continued following the tracks, if a little more cautiously than before. Reaching the sand on the other side of yet another bank of rocks, Louis saw that the tracks diverged, and frowned. He followed one set, only to find it came to a stop a short distance on. The sand was scuffed as if someone had been lying in it, and Louis was about to retrace his steps and follow the other trail when he saw something that made him stop so suddenly he nearly fell over.
His name, written in the sand. Louis stared at it, bemused. Admittedly he was by no means the only Louis in the world, but it seemed a hell of a coincidence, and for the first time he allowed himself to hope that at least one of the others had made it.
Frowning, Louis tried to work out the meaning. Had it been meant as a message for him? It looked like there'd been other words, but they'd been obliterated by footprints. He resumed his progress along the beach, with a growing hope in his heart.
Sitting in the lee of a huge heap of boulders broken away from the cliff at some distant time in the past, the boys were taking advantage of the dark patch of shade it threw and discussing their options. They were tired, hungry, and thirsty again.
"Well I think we should go back to the waterfall," said Zayn, rubbing his eyes. "It's the only source of water we've found so far."
"You want to spend all night swimming again?" asked Liam mildly.
"We don't know the beach gets completely flooded," argued Zayn. "It might only reach that tide mark once in a blue moon."
"Not sure I want to risk it," Niall said. "Besides, we've come so far, and it doesn't solve the problem of what we're going to eat, does it?"
Liam looked over at Harry. He'd become rather withdrawn since Niall's news about Louis, and had barely said a word for the last hour. "Haz? What do you think we should do?"
Harry shrugged, swirling his fingers in the sand, writing things and scrubbing them out again. "Does it matter? We'll probably all be dead soon anyway."
"Oh that's fucking cheerful," Zayn exploded, but Harry just shrugged again.
"Face it. What do any of us know about survival methods? We're just going to starve, or drown, or accidentally poison ourselves."
Niall went over to sit next to Harry and put his arm round him.
"We're not dead yet though. There's still hope. Don't give up Harry, please."
Harry sighed and rested his head on Niall's shoulder. Liam got to his feet.
"We should keep going. There's got to be a way off this beach somewhere."
"How do you know?" Zayn asked bitterly. "It might just circle the whole fucking island. You wait, sooner or later we're going to come across our own footprints."
Niall looked pained. "We can't just give up, guys! Come on, who knows, we might turn the next corner and find a whole holiday resort waiting there!"
"As long as there's a cocktail bar, I'll be happy."
It took a second for the four to realise it was none of them that had spoken.
Niall was the first to look up, and to his amazement saw a familiar figure sitting on top of the pile of boulders, grinning down at them.
The next few moments were a confused blur of shouts and hugs, as Louis slid down to the sand and promptly disappeared under a pile of bodies. When they finally released him, Louis looked over at Harry. He hadn't joined in with the other three's welcome, had just stayed where he was sitting, looking almost shocked.
Liam frowned, puzzled by Harry's lack of reaction, but Louis just smiled and walked over, holding out his hands. Finally Harry moved, launching himself out of the sand and throwing himself into Louis' arms with a force that nearly bowled them both over.
"Hey," murmured Louis, smiling into Harry's hair. He could feel Harry's heart beating wildly against his chest, and from the rapid breaths he was taking, Louis guessed he was trying not to cry. "Miss me?" he whispered, laughing.
"Fuck, Louis." Harry drew in a shaky breath and reluctantly let him go again, although didn't yet dare to take his eyes off him, in case this was somehow a dream.
Louis grinned at him, and looked round at the others. "Nice place you've got here. Don't think much of the facilities though."
"Where have you been, anyway?" Zayn grumbled, although he, too, was smiling. "You're late."
Louis grabbed him in a headlock and ruffled his hair. "Fashionably late, Malik. You wouldn't understand the concept." Zayn broke away, laughing, and dodged behind Liam.
In higher spirits now they'd been reunited, the boys resumed their trek along the sand. It was slow going, they were all at the limits of their endurance by now despite their cheerful determination, and the soft sand made progress harder.
When they came up against the biggest rock fall yet, one that blocked the entire beach, Harry let himself fall onto the sand, legs shaking with tiredness.
"I can’t climb that. I just can't," he said defeatedly.
Louis sat down next to him, their shoulders touching, and yawned. "So we rest for a bit. It's not like there's any rush," he said blithely.
Zayn looked scornful. "Pussies." He grabbed the lower ledges of rock and started hauling himself up. Liam looked up past him, and blinked.
"You know, I think this might actually go all the way up to the forest level," he said excitedly, and started to climb after Zayn. With an apologetic look at Harry, Niall followed, still awkwardly dragging the suitcase after him.
Louis frowned. "What's in the case?"
"We don't know," said Harry, and started to laugh, weakly.
Sensing Harry was on the edge of breaking down, Louis put his arm round him and hugged him close. "What's up?" he said quietly. "You've hardly said a word. It's not like you."
Harry looked at him, seemingly trying to find words. "I thought you were dead," he said finally.
Louis raised his eyebrows. "I'm not, though?"
"No." Harry managed a faint smile. "I'm sorry, I just - I'm being stupid." He sighed and turned away, staring out to sea.
Louis bit his shoulder gently, forcing Harry to look back at him. "Tell me," he insisted. "Tell me the rest."
Harry sighed helplessly. "I guess - I guess I just - didn't realise how much you meant to me. Until I thought I'd lost you. And I'm not - not quite sure how to deal with it."
"Did you write my name in the sand?" Louis asked. Harry looked up at him in shock, and Louis laughed. "I saw it when I was following your tracks. Couldn't read what the rest said though?" he added, gently enquiring.
Harry shook his head. "Nothing. It was nothing. Just - just random."
"Okay." Louis hugged him, guessing there was more, but unwilling to push it. They sat there for a few minutes, just watching the sea, and leaning peacefully against each other.
Their reverie was interrupted by a yell from Liam above.
"Hey! Hey Lou! Harry! You have to come up here and see this!"
Exchanging startled glances, they scrambled to their feet, and started to climb.
Fingers grazed from the sharp rock and out of breath, they finally made it to the top and joined Liam, Zayn and Niall in staring down the other side.
"Wow," said Louis finally, feeling that that didn't really cover it.
Spread out before them was an enormous lagoon, crystal clear and millpond calm. Away to the left, the sea was throwing breakers against the coral reef that formed the lagoon's edge. And to the right - from the edge of the water, the land climbed higher and higher, thickly wooded and ringing with birdsong. A sparkling stream emerged from the treeline, running over the rocks and pouring into the lagoon below. From where they were standing, they could see trees laden with fruit, and one by one they started to laugh with relief. Maybe they weren't going to starve today after all.
"It's a volcano," Liam said suddenly.
Zayn snorted. "Don't they generally involve more fire and less water?"
Liam shoved him, grinning. "An extinct one you doofus. Look at the shape of the hill, it's like - semi-circular. And all this black rock, it might be old lava."
"You think this is the crater?" Louis asked, peering over the edge, down into the almost circular lagoon.
"Maybe. That's how a lot of these places form, isn’t it? A volcano rises up from the sea bed, then blows itself to bits and settles down to become an island."
"What, like it retires?" Niall grinned. "Let's hope this one's definitely pensioned off then."
They were climbing as they talked, sliding hastily down the far side of the rocks, until soft sand was under their feet once more, and then they were running for the fruit trees, shouting and laughing.
They sprawled on a bank of sand in a patch of blessedly dark shade thrown by the closest trees, and ate their fill. Liam expressed reservations that they should be careful just in case the unfamiliar fruit was poisonous, but by this point both Niall and Harry had bitten into one anyway, and the others soon followed suit, too hungry to be cautious.
After the parching walk and the hours in the sea, the cool flesh of the fruit they pulled from the low hanging branches seemed to be the best thing they'd ever tasted, and soon a pile of discarded stones lay between them, and fingers and faces were sticky with juice.
"That's better," Louis sighed, flopping back to lie under the tree, staring up into the branches.
Liam still looked worried. "We can't survive on just fruit though. We need to find something else as well."
Niall looked over at him, frowning. "How long do you think it will be before we're rescued? Not that long, surely? They'll be searching, they must be."
"Course they are." Zayn rolled over and patted Niall's leg. "There'll be planes and boats all over this stretch of sea, any time now."
"Well, where are they then?" Liam argued. "What worries me is the fact they might think everyone went down with the plane. How long will they search for survivors if they think there aren't any? And the Pacific's a big place."
"But it's not like we're just anywhere," Harry objected, sitting up. "We were on a flight path yeah? They must have some idea of where we went down."
"In that storm?" Liam said gloomily. "We might have been miles off course."
"They can track the - the black box thingy though, right?" asked Niall worriedly.
"Some bits of this ocean are miles deep," said Liam bleakly. At this point Louis kicked him hard in the ankle and glared, with a meaningful jerk of his head towards Niall and Harry.
"They'll find us," Louis said, with a confidence he didn't entirely feel. "They've got satellites and radar and shit. We'll be okay."
Liam opened his mouth to argue, feeling pessimistically that they should be prepared for a long wait just in case, took in the wide-eyed anxiety of Harry and Niall, and Zayn's guarded front of indifference and closed it again. "Yeah," he conceded. "They'll find us."
He rolled over and got to his feet. "Still, we should think about finding food, making a shelter and stuff. It'll take our minds off the waiting if nothing else."
The idea was greeted with enthusiasm, making the whole thing seem more like an adventure than an exercise in actual survival, and once their immediate hunger had been satisfied they started to explore more of their surroundings.
First they walked out along the reef towards the point that the breakers were splashing over the far rim, glad of the cool spray on their faces.
"We can catch fish," said Niall hopefully, looking down into the still waters of the lagoon, where dark shapes flitted from rock to rock.
"Yeah," Zayn said. "Just dangle your rod in the water why don't you, see what fancies a nibble?"
Niall collapsed into giggles, and proceeded to chase Zayn back off the reef. The others followed, being a little more careful of where they were treading on the sharp coral.
Back at the beach, they continued walking up the incline, pushing through waist high grasses and ducking under the trees until they finally came out on an outcrop high over the beach. They could see back the way they'd come, the long stretch of shore curving out of sight, and in the other direction where it continued past the lagoon, fringed with palms where the treeline came down to the sand.
"This'd be a good place for a fire," said Louis, staring out to sea.
"Wouldn't we be better off down by the lagoon?" Zayn asked. "Where the water and the fruit is?"
"Yeah, no, I meant for, like, a beacon," explained Louis. "So if a ship or a plane or something goes by, we can light it up here, and they'll see the smoke and know we're here. See?"
"Or, they'll just assume the locals are having a bonfire," said Zayn. Louis stuck his tongue out.
"No, it's a good idea," said Liam. "Wouldn't it be better off higher up though?" He shaded his eyes, looking up towards the precipitous peak of the hill above them.
"If you fancy carrying a pile of wood up that cliff, be my guest," Louis grinned. "We should definitely explore the rest of the island tomorrow though. See what's on the other side."
"Why not now?" Niall asked, eager to see what else there might be now he was no longer hungry.
"Because the sun's going down," Harry pointed out. "I don't want to be stuck walking back in the dark with the tide coming in."
They made their way back down to beach level, to the spread of sand that in an odd way already felt like coming home. Perched in the middle was the suitcase that Niall had been dragging along. Louis gave it a kick.
"So are we going to open this or are we just using it as a table?"
"It's locked," said Niall. "I can't get it up." He rolled his eyes at the immediate sniggering. "The lid."
"Let's have a go." Louis dropped to the sand next to the case and started hitting the catch with a rock.
"Hey!" Niall protested.
"What? It's not like it's yours." Louis kept bashing at it until it gave, and the metal catch flicked up. "There you go," said Louis smugly. "Piece of piss."
They all crowded round eagerly as Niall opened the lid, and stared at the contents.
"Well I was hoping for diamonds at the very least," Harry grinned.
"Well done Nialler," said Zayn, clapping him on the shoulder. "You've managed to salvage the least interesting suitcase in the word."
Niall was pulling things out and examining them with a nose wrinkled in disgust. It was all perfectly clean, just not very exciting. It appeared to be an old man's clothes, plain shirts, a towel, and the longest pair of thermal long johns they'd ever seen.
"This could come in handy though," Zayn said, unzipping a smaller case. "Shaving kit," he added, showing the others.
"I think I'll just grow a beard," Liam announced vaguely.
"So will I," said Niall immediately. Zayn sniggered.
"Like to see you try."
"Oi!" Niall was on his feet again, and a scuffle ensued.
Louis rolled out of their way, grinning. "Dunno where he gets his energy," he said, fishing more items out of the case and sighing. "Oh well. Could have been worse. Could have been lingerie. That would have made headlines. Boyband rescued from desert island in ladies' underwear."
"How long do you think it will take?" Harry asked, watching Zayn and Niall continue to chase each other round the sand.
"Before we start cross-dressing?"
Harry slapped him on the leg. "Before we're rescued."
"Oh." Louis hesitated. "Soon, I guess." He caught Harry's sceptical look, and remembered Harry had an annoying knack of knowing when he was lying. "It will," he insisted. "Anyway, it's not so bad is it? People pay thousands for an island getaway. And at least we're all together."
"Yeah," Harry said softly. "There is that."
Louis put an arm round him and Harry wriggled closer, grateful for the comfort without having to ask.
Liam was pulling the final bits and pieces out of the case, and gave a triumphant squeak. "Hah! Shoes!" He tried them on and shuffled about the sand in them experimentally. "Not a bad fit."
"Only Liam," said Louis solemnly, "would walk around a desert island in shiny leather business man's shoes."
"Well it's better than cutting my feet open on a rock," Liam shot back. "We can't all have soles like concrete. I had to kick my shoes off in the water, they were pulling me down."
"Should have travelled wreckage-raft class, like the rest of us," Harry grinned.
"Wish I had," Liam sighed, sitting down again. "Thought that damn life jacket was going to throttle me after a while."
Niall and Zayn rejoined them, and they sat watching the sun dip towards the horizon. It was nearly down now, and a chilly wind had sprung up.
"We're going to freeze our arses off tonight, aren't we?" complained Zayn. "Once that sun goes, it's going to be pitch."
Niall, who'd been fidgeting for several minutes, suddenly stood up. "I need to go," he said. Then when everyone stared at him blankly, added "to the loo. Y'know. Properly."
"Um. Leaves?" suggested Louis, after the slightly horrified silence where they all took in the full unsanitary consequences of being stuck in the middle of nowhere.
"And make sure you're away from the stream," Liam added. "We've got to drink out of that."
"And don't sit on a snake," Zayn called after him helpfully, then cackled when Liam threw a fruit stone at him. "What?"
"Don't make him more nervous than he needs to be!"
"The more nervous he is, the easier it'll be to go," Zayn grinned, and Liam groaned.
While they were waiting for Niall's return, Harry got up and went over to the nearest expanse of smooth rock face. He looked at it consideringly for a while then bent and picked up a sharp stone, and made a deep scratch on the cliff. He returned to the others, looking satisfied.
"Day one," he explained. "So we can keep track."
With no other way of telling the time - none of the watches or phones they'd had on them had survived the long immersion in the sea - as soon as the light was completely gone they settled down to try and sleep.
Despite being bone tired, sleep didn't come easily. A tropical island by day might be all white sand and sparkling water, but lying in the open at night soon proved to be a different prospect. A sinister scritching of insects seemed to surround them, the wind hissed through the sand and the branches creaked alarmingly.
They hadn't been lying down long, when Niall shot to his feet again with a yell.
"What?" Next to him, Liam sat up in alarm. "What is it?"
"Something ran over my leg," Niall moaned. "Something creepy."
It was a while before he could bring himself to lie down again, and no-one was terribly comfortable. Every black shape seemed to be creeping along the sand towards them, and when a leaf fell on Harry's face, he let out a shriek that had everyone on their feet.
"Sorry," he muttered. "False alarm."
"Fuck's sake Haz," Zayn grumbled, as they settled down again.
Harry curled up, feeling silly, and was grateful when Louis' arm slipped round his waist. They'd been used to sharing a bed often enough, frequently falling asleep in each other's on tour, or even at home, when they'd sat up talking too late. It felt very comforting to be able to wriggle back against Louis' warmth now and close his eyes, finally feeling a degree of safety.
Afterwards, everyone agreed it was one of the most uncomfortable nights they'd ever spent. It was cold, and draughty, and the warm sand soon turned hard and damp underneath them. Strange hootings and whistlings came out of the dark trees, and small biting creatures appeared from nowhere to plague them, sand flies and ants and god knew what else.
They eventually fell asleep from sheer exhaustion, lying close together as much for moral support as warmth, in a protective huddle.
Harry was the first to wake, and discovered to his embarrassment he'd somehow rolled over in his sleep, so he was nestled against Louis' chest. He pulled back, clearing his throat, and wriggled out of Louis' arms, despite the fact they seemed to want to keep him there.
The morning sun was warm already, and Harry stretched, grateful for its cheerful brightness after the miserable night they'd spent. He felt stiff and cramped, and starving hungry.
As the others began to stir, Harry made a sling out of his shirt and went about collecting a pile of fruit for their breakfast.
The meal was received by eager hands, but everyone secretly wished for a decent fry up, or cereal, or even just a huge pile of toast.
It was funny, Louis announced, how quickly you could get bored with something that just yesterday had been the best thing you'd ever tasted. He brushed sand off sticky fingers and stood up.
"I'm going for a swim. Anyone coming?"
Harry nodded, and got to his feet, but the rest stayed lounging on the sand.
"I've spent enough time in the water for a lifetime, thank you very much," Liam said.
"It's too early for exercise," Niall added. Louis snorted.
"You have no idea what time it is. It could be late for all you know."
"I've just woken up, that makes it too early," Niall said with finality, and lay down flat again.
Shaking his head, Louis grabbed Harry by the arm and dragged him off towards the lagoon.
The others watched them go, idly flicking fruit stones across the sand.
"We need to find something besides fruit," Niall said, closing his eyes. "There must be something. Birds' eggs, maybe. Or fish, there's sure to be plenty of fish."
"How were you planning on catching it?" Zayn yawned. "Or cooking it for that matter."
"Shellfish then," Liam said, looking interested. "Mussels, or clams and stuff. We could just pick them off the rocks."
"Why don't we eat a few insects while we're at it?" Zayn said acidly. "I'm fairly sure whatever climbed over Niall last night could have done us a barbequed leg each."
Niall shuddered, and Liam looked crossly at Zayn. "Things are hard enough without you making it harder. Shellfish is an easy meal."
"And I suppose you want me to half drown again collecting the slimy little bastards?" said Zayn sulkily.
"Well pulling your weight wouldn't hurt," Liam snapped back irritably. "We're all in this together, remember? Getting wet again's not going to kill you."
"Oh - fuck you Payne, what would you know about it?"
Zayn stormed off, leaving Liam looking surprised. Their arguments never normally escalated quite so sharply, although he supposed they were all on edge.
"What's eating him?" he grumbled, throwing himself back down onto the sand.
"Withdrawal, probably," said Niall, and Liam looked at him, startled.
Niall mimed smoking a cigarette and Liam relaxed.
"Oh. Right. Yeah. That would explain the foul temper I suppose." He smirked. "Well he keeps saying he's going to give up, this is his chance."
Niall sniggered. "Harsh."
"But fair." Liam smiled up at him. "What about you? Not bothered?"
"Nah." Niall shook his head. "I don't smoke that many. Only when I'm drinking really, and given the sad lack of alcohol on this island..." he grinned.
Louis and Harry trudged back up from the lagoon, hair wet from swimming and wearing nothing but sopping wet boxer shorts, just in time to hear Niall's comment.
"Reckon we could ferment some of these fruit?" Louis said hopefully. "Gotta be worth a try, right?" He dropped down next to Liam, showering him in water drops, and picked up a fruit from the pile. "We seriously need to decide what these are," he added, biting into it and wiping juice off his chin. "It needs a name."
"Sidney," Liam suggested, and they looked at him. "What?"
"I was thinking more like guava or papaya," Louis pointed out, and Liam shrugged.
"It looks like a Sidney to me."
As the good-natured argument continued, Niall slipped away in the direction Zayn had taken. He found him not far away, sitting on a ledge above the lagoon, legs dangling over the edge.
"Hey buddy. You okay?" Niall sat down next to him, a little warily. Zayn could be prickly when he was in a bad mood. But Zayn just gave him a rueful smile and sighed.
"Yeah. Sorry I snapped at you."
"It's okay." Niall put an arm round his shoulders and Zayn leaned into him tiredly.
"It's alright for Liam, he swims like a fucking fish. The thought of getting back in even vaguely deep water's kinda horrible to me right now. I just - want to go home, y'know?" Zayn mumbled, resting his head against Niall's.
"I know. We all do. They'll find us soon. It'll be okay."
They sat together looking out over the idyllic South Seas paradise they couldn't wait to leave and sighed.
"So what's the order of business today then?" Harry asked, willing enough for Liam or Louis to take charge of things up to the point he actually objected to anything.
"We should explore the rest of the island," Louis said immediately. "See what else there is."
Liam shook his head. "I think we should try and make a fire first. It's probably not going to be easy, so if we manage it, we want to keep it going. It'll mean we can cook stuff, assuming we find anything, and it'll give us a bit of warmth and light at night too. I don't fancy another night like last night."
"And when we've performed this feat of magic, what then?" asked Louis.
"A shelter. So we've got a bit of protection against the elements, and things dropping on us and stuff."
"And will it have full indoor plumbing and a pool table?"
"Shut up Lou, you're not helping."
"Ooh, get her." Louis leaned back against Harry's legs and grinned. "You don't need to take everything so seriously all the time you know."
"Someone has to," Liam pointed out.
"Stop it." Harry pushed Louis off him and stood up. "Stop arguing. We need to stick together." He looked round. "Where's Zayn?"
Liam looked awkward and shrugged. "Somewhere around."
"Have an argument did we?" said Louis with a malicious grin and Liam sighed.
"Come on. Harry's right, we need to pull together. Help me find some wood, will you?"
They foraged around under the trees until they had a decent stock of twigs and dead branches, then arranged them in a neat pile and looked at them helplessly.
"You're supposed to rub sticks together, right?" said Louis uncertainly.
"I think there's a bit more to it than that," said Liam.
"You need to like - fit one inside the other and twist it," Harry said. "I saw it on a documentary once."
"Given that description, was it a documentary on the porn industry?" Louis asked, grinning, and Harry gave him a shove.
"Let's have a go anyway," Liam said determinedly, and sat down to select likely looking twigs.
After watching his fruitless efforts for a few minutes, Harry sat up. "I've got another idea." He went over to the suitcase they'd all largely lost interest in and came back clutching the empty cut-glass cologne bottle from the shaving kit. "We can shine the sun through this, right? It should set fire to the little bits at least." He sprawled on the sand and tried to focus the sun's rays on the shavings that Louis was striking off a branch for him.
A few minutes passed, during which they all got bored and frustrated. "We need to stick at it," insisted Liam, picking a splinter out of his finger.
Zayn and Niall reappeared and stood watching them curiously.
"What are you doing?" Zayn asked, sounding amused.
"What does it look like?" Liam demanded. He'd meant to make it up to Zayn when he came back, but he was hot and cross and his finger hurt. Zayn didn't seem to take offence though, just smirked down at him.
"It looks like you're failing to light a fire."
"Have you got any suggestions, or are you just going to stand there looking superior?" Liam said through clenched teeth.
"Well you could use my lighter," Zayn said. Everyone stopped what they were doing and stared at him accusingly. "What? I didn't know what you were doing, did I? Here, try this." He dug it out of his pocket and tossed it at Liam.
"Does it still work?" Liam asked dubiously.
"Yeah. Nothing stops that baby. Try it."
Liam flicked it on, and to everyone's delight a finger of flame burst upwards. Liam held it to the pile of wood shavings and they caught immediately. Carefully feeding in larger pieces of wood, they soon had a crackling fire going.
In the hot sun it wasn't exactly required, but it did give them a sense of achievement that cheered everybody up. Shored up with stones around the base and a quickly collected stockpile of heavier bits of wood to keep it going, it looked almost professional, and for a moment they felt ready to face anything.
"Right. Now for a shelter," Liam announced. "Who's best with their hands?"
"Harry," said Louis immediately with a smirk, because if there was a cheap sex joke to be made, Harry was inevitably going to be the punchline. To his surprise though, Harry didn't laugh, he just looked away uncomfortably, and Louis felt a bit embarrassed. He tried to sidle closer to see if anything was wrong, but Liam was in organising mood, and quickly had them divided up into two groups to collect branches and palm leaves.
They settled on a position against the rock face, on the basis it would protect them from the wind and also that the shelter would only need three sides. It took most of the morning, and a number of false starts, collapses and arguments, but eventually they had something they were reasonably happy with. It had two stout branches buried in the turf with a lattice of smaller, bendier twigs between them to make the walls.
Longer branches were lashed together with palm fronds to make a frame for the roof, and weighted down with long leaves and stones where it met the top of the rock. Whole palm leaves made the roof, and while they might not survive a storm, they certainly provided shade.
There was a crawl hole for the entrance, you couldn't stand up once in, and the whole thing was decidedly rickety, but they all fit inside, and were surprised how snugly protected they felt once it was done.
Liam draped an arm round Louis, Harry hugged Zayn and Niall and they all grinned at each other, arguments and tempers forgotten in the sense of achievement.
Hot and dusty, they abandoned their new home in favour of a cold plunge into the lagoon, shouting and laughing as they stripped off and jumped in, all of them stark naked on the grounds there was no-one but them to see.
Refreshed, one by one they swam back to where Zayn had stayed lying in the shallows and started a concerted search for things that might look edible. The rocks under the surface were encrusted in places with tiny clams, and crabs sidled to and fro across the bottom. In the deeper water, fish flicked through the shadows, for now out of reach. Food, it seemed, was within reach, the only question was how to cook it.
"Can you toast a clam?" Louis wondered, poking one with his finger. "Like a marshmallow?"
"We need something to boil them in," Niall said, and wandered off along the tideline, looking out hopefully for something suitable.
The others got dressed and fed the fire, eating more fruit to take the edge off the constant gnawing hunger.
"I'm going to catch a fish," Liam declared suddenly.
"What with?" Harry asked, laughing. "Are you going to charm it from the waters with sweet singing?"
"This." Liam held up a stick he'd been whittling into a spike with a sharp rock. "I'm going spear fishing."
"You do know you need a certain level of skill for that?" Zayn pointed out. Liam huffed.
"Well that's you not getting any."
"Story of my life," Zayn grinned, and Liam flushed, hurrying off towards the water.
At this point, Niall came scurrying back up form the beach, still naked from swimming and holding a strange object over his head, that turned out to be a turtle shell.
"Fuck me, it's teenage mutant Nialler turtle," Louis cackled. "What are you planning on doing with that, rowing home?"
"We can cook in it," Niall explained breathlessly. "It can go on the fire. We can boil water in it." He frowned. "If it doesn't crack. But it's worth a try. Isn't it?" He looked suddenly unsure in the face of Louis' mockery, until Louis leaned over and gave him a hug.
"You're a genius," Louis said, and Niall went pink. "Now we just need something to cook. Liam's off hunting for Moby Dick, so I guess that's us lot on clam collection."
Three of them drifted along the edges of the lagoon, prising off handfuls of the shellfish from just below the surface and passing them up to Zayn who was following along the top, collecting them in one of the shirts. At one point, Niall pointed down into the depths, laughing. "We should be thinking bigger. One of those babies would feed us for a week."
They looked where he was indicating and stared. On the bottom, a bed of giant clams was gaping up at them, each one looking at least as high as their knees.
"You'd have to boil it for a week," said Harry.
"And it'd probably have your arm off anyway," added Louis, and Harry shuddered.
"I think we're okay with the little ones," he said hurriedly. Louis made creeping motions up Harry's back with his fingers, and Harry glared at him. "Don't," he said, so fiercely that Louis dropped back in surprise.
When they had a decent haul they made their way back to the beach where they were joined by an empty handed Liam.
"No shark steaks for us tonight then?" needled Zayn.
Liam huffed. "I'm not giving up. I'll get one, you'll see."
Niall filled the turtle shell with stream water and set it carefully on the fire, burning his finger in the process and yelping.
"How long do we cook them for?" he wondered, once the water started to steam gently and watching the shell like a hawk in case it split.
"Not long, I think," Liam offered. "And don't put any open ones in. Don’t fancy getting food poisoning out here."
As they discussed the cooking, Louis noticed Harry had wandered a little distance away and was sitting on the edge of the reef alone, compulsively shredding a strand of grass between his fingers. He frowned. Harry had been acting oddly most of the day and it wasn't like him. He wondered if Harry was still shocked from the trauma of the crash, and walked over.
"Harry?" Louis sat down on the coral next to him and rubbed his back. "What's up?"
"Nothing," Harry objected, but he looked away from Louis' concerned eyes.
Louis sighed. "You know, I thought you could tell me anything," he said quietly, sounding a little hurt.
"Not this." It was Harry's turn to sigh. "Sorry Lou. Ignore me, yeah?"
"Is it me?" Louis asked, and Harry did look round at him then, startled.
"Have I done something wrong?" Louis continued, and Harry went from startled to alarmed.
"No! No, Louis, don't think that, ever." He threw himself on Louis and hugged him frantically, making Louis laugh in confusion.
"Okay, so - if I haven't pissed you off, why can't you tell me what's bothering you?" he asked, when Harry finally let go.
Harry groaned. "You don't want to know."
"Well - blatantly I do?" Louis pushed.
Harry dug in the sand with his fingers, trying to make his mind up.
"Okay. Fine. Look. You know I said - when we first found you again - that - " he broke off, searching for the words.
"You said - something about having to deal with how you felt?" Louis said. "But you wouldn't say what that was. I figured - look, we were all in shock, a bit, I think. What we went through - it's bound to make you re-evaluate stuff, yeah? Being alive and so on I mean and - ?"
"Louis, shut up," Harry cut in softly, and Louis blinked, but did as he was told.
"The thing is," Harry continued slowly, not meeting his eyes. "I think I love you."
Louis frowned. "I love you too. You know that?"
Harry shook his head, looking awkward. "I don't mean as a friend, Lou," he said, almost in a whisper. "I mean - romantically. Physically. I - I'm in love with you, Louis."
He risked a look up, found Louis staring at him. Harry winced. "Sorry. Told you you didn't want to know. Just - forget I said anything, yeah?" He scrambled to his feet and turned to leave.
Louis shook himself out of his startled immobility and shot up after him, grabbing Harry's arm.
"Hey! Don't - where are you going?"
Harry looked at him miserably. "I don't want to make things awkward, okay?"
"Harry - " Louis looked exasperated. "Don't be a prick. Come here." He pulled Harry back towards him and into his arms. Surprised and grateful, Harry clung to him thankfully.
"Sorry," he murmured into Louis' neck.
"You don't have anything to be sorry for," Louis assured him, holding him as tightly as ever.
Harry finally pulled back and smiled at him regretfully. "You don't feel the same way though, do you?" he said gently. Louis just looked at him in silence, and Harry shook his head.
"It's okay," he said, squeezing Louis' hand. "I won't make things difficult. Like I said, it's just something I've got to deal with. Thanks, yeah?"
Louis looked puzzled and Harry leaned forward, gave him the lightest peck of a kiss on his cheek. "For not hating me," Harry whispered.
Helplessly, Louis watched him walk away, still not knowing what to say.
Back at the camp, to Louis' frustration Harry waited until he sat down before settling himself on the far side of the fire next to Zayn. Louis kept quiet. Maybe it was for the best. He still had no idea what to say, and right now he had a lot to think about.
Both Harry and Zayn seemed subdued that evening, but Liam and Niall made up for everyone with bickering enthusiasm over the meal they were serving up. The question of how to get the shellfish out of the hot water again had been solved with a fragment of coconut shell, and they spread the hot clams out on a couple of broad leaves for everyone to pick from. More fruit, and fresh coconut as well added to the variety, and everyone's mood slowly lifted as they ate.
As the sun sank and the evening chill descended they were gladder than ever of the fire, shuffling closer and banking it up with large pieces of fallen wood so it would last the night.
When it was time to crawl into their new shelter, Louis hoped this would be his chance to at least make sure Harry wasn't fretting about his earlier revelation, and that nothing had changed between them. As he scrambled through the doorway however, he found Harry had already tucked himself into the far corner - with Liam in between.
Louis lay down a little sadly, although he didn't have long to dwell on things because a minute later Zayn threw himself through the entrance hole and landed squarely on top of him.
The scuffling and yelling that followed was only stopped by Liam shouting at them to bloody stop it if they didn't want to bring the whole thing down on them. They subsided, giggling quietly and united in their disgrace.
Peace fell once more, and despite his determination to lie awake and worry about things, Louis was asleep in minutes, head pressed against Zayn's shoulder.
On the other side of the sleeping space, Harry was curled into Liam who was stroking his hair gently, sensing that something was bothering him but not liking to ask.
They slept better that night, comforted by the flimsy protection the shelter offered and the faint flicker of firelight through the gaps.
When the sunlight falling through the doorway woke them the next morning, there was general disbelief that they were still here, and it hadn't all somehow been a dream. When Harry had scored the second day mark onto the cliff the previous night, there'd been laughter at the idea they'd ever lose track of the time, but waking to a third day with no greater prospect of rescue made them all a little gloomy.
A reluctance to get up and face things was abruptly overturned when Niall proudly let out a particularly evil fart, and suddenly everyone was fighting to be first out the door.
"I vote we throw him in the sea for that," Harry declared, trying to untangle his hair with his fingers.
"I vote we just wall him up in there and build another one for us," said Zayn, offering him a comb. Harry blinked.
"Where did you get that?"
"That suitcase. I thought I'd look after it," Zayn grinned, unabashed.
Laughing, Harry took it, wincing as he tugged it through his hair.
Louis dropped down next to them, poking the fire into life and putting more wood on. "We need to collect some more, or this is going to go out soon." He sat back, running his tongue over his teeth and making a face. "I'd kill for a toothbrush right now. My mouth feels like I've been snogging a dead badger."
"Well you spent most of the night drooling on my shirt," Zayn said, and Louis stuck his tongue out.
They washed as best they could in the cold water of the stream, and ate the last of the fruit they'd picked the day before.
"We need to get organised," Louis said when they'd finished. "We need wood - oh, shut up - and food, and are we going to make a beacon? And we need to see what else there is on this island."
"Well I'm going to catch a fish," said Liam, standing up and looking determined. "I was getting close yesterday. I think I'm getting the knack."
Zayn gave him a loopy twirl of his fingers and Liam stomped off in a huff. Louis sighed.
"Right then. Zayn and Niall on food duty, Harry, you want to help me collect firewood?"
"S'pose." Harry shook himself and made an effort to cheer up, giving Louis a smile. "Yeah. Come on then."
For the next couple of hours, the five boys roamed their section of island in pursuit of their tasks. The sunshine and hard work soon meant Harry and Louis were laughing together as easily as before, although they carefully avoided any mention of the previous day.
Coming back together, Liam still empty-handed and crossly defiant, they gathered round the campfire and discussed progress. Harry and Louis had laid in a good supply of firewood, and made a start hauling more up to the outcrop in case any ships or planes were spotted. Nobody brought up the depressing fact that the sky and horizon had remained stubbornly deserted the whole time they'd been here. The details of rescue might be shadowy and unconfirmed, but nobody yet doubted that they would be, and soon.
Niall and Zayn showed off their haul - more clams, fruit, coconuts, seaweed, and their proudest discovery, a clutch of seabird's eggs.
"We can boil them, yeah?" Niall said enthusiastically.
"Are you sure?" asked Harry dubiously. "They won’t have baby gulls in will they?"
Niall shrugged. "Worth a try isn’t it? And there’s more where these came from if they're okay. Bit of a scramble, but you can get up there okay. Just - pretend it's from a sea-chicken or something."
"What's with the seaweed?" Louis grinned, flicking a strand at Niall so it slapped over his face.
"It's good!" Niall objected, peeling it off and chewing it obstinately.
"How did you find that out though?" Louis persisted.
"Just goes to show Niall'll put anything in his mouth if he's hungry enough," Zayn sniggered. "It was probably one of Niall's ancestors who first discovered you can milk a cow."
Lunch was an altogether more cheerful affair than breakfast had been, although Zayn's constant fidgeting eventually resulted in Harry rounding on him in exasperation.
"Will you stop doing that!"
"What?" Zayn looked surprised.
"Jiggling your fucking feet all the time. Do you need the loo or something?"
Zayn shook his head. "I need a fag, is what I need. It's driving me crazy. I need a distraction, man." He resumed shuffling his feet in the sand and Harry gave a growl of irritation.
"Fine." He grabbed Zayn by the collar and yanked him forward, planting a hard kiss on his mouth.
When he pulled back, Zayn stared at him. "What - what was that?"
Harry shrugged. "You wanted a distraction."
"And that was the first thing that occurred to you?" Zayn grinned, incredulous.
"Well. Yeah." Harry started laughing. "Worked didn't it?"
Zayn shook his head. "You're a mental. And for the record, that was a crap kiss." He reached out and pulled Harry back towards him, daring him with his eyes. Harry, still laughing, leaned in and kissed him again, more softly this time. To his surprise, Zayn kissed back, and before he really thought about it somehow Zayn's tongue was in his mouth, and they were kissing for real.
When they broke apart, Zayn flopped back on the sand, giggling furiously. "Okay so maybe you're not that crap."
Flushed and grinning, Harry looked up just in time to catch the stonily unamused look on Louis' face. His smile faded and he would have called out, but Louis turned and marched off across the sand.
Liam followed in his footsteps, oblivious to Louis' bad mood but still hell bent on spearing a fish. He felt his pride now depended on being successful, and an hour or so standing alone in the lagoon was somehow preferable to watching Zayn and Harry fool around. He wasn't sure why it made him uncomfortable, and he felt vaguely that it shouldn’t, so taking himself off was probably the best thing he could do.
Following Louis and Liam's rather abrupt departure, the other three sat around finishing off the remains of the meal before deciding to explore the rest of the island.
Not far on past the edge of the lagoon, they spotted Louis sitting on his own up on the rocks. Harry sighed.
"I'm gonna see if he's okay, yeah? We'll catch you up."
Zayn and Niall exchanged glances but kept walking.
"Have they fallen out?" Niall said eventually, once they were safely out of earshot. "They're acting weird."
"I think we're all acting weird," grumbled Zayn, looking over his shoulder to where Liam's head was just visible across the reef, staring down into the water with a look of rapt attention and a sharp stick poised over his head. "Maybe it's the heat. Maybe we're all cracking up."
They walked on along the beach. It didn't take long before they'd passed the furthest point they'd come previously in search of food, and were into new territory. Unlike the stretch they'd followed when they first arrived, here the trees and rocks came right down to the beach, and they were able to walk in the shade for certain stretches.
They followed the curve of the shore round to the right, and the only sounds were the waves and the distant cry of seabirds overhead.
Niall shivered suddenly, and Zayn looked sideways at him, frowning. "You okay?"
"It's just so - lonely here," Niall said. "We might be the only people for hundreds of miles."
Zayn slung an arm round him and gave him a quick squeeze. "You never know, we might round the next bend and find a native village. Or a posh hotel," he amended, feeling he should set his fantasy sights higher.
Niall put his arm round Zayn's waist and leaned into him gratefully. "I wish," he sighed. "But I think it's fairly clear we're on our own."
Neither of them really believed Zayn's suggestion there might be other people on the island, so when they climbed a line of rocks to look down on a sheltered cove and saw the unexpected shape of a sailing boat at the furthest point they stood for a second in stunned silence.
Recovering themselves, the two boys started running across the sand, yelling at the tops of their voices to attract the attention of whoever might be on board.
Halfway across the beach when no-one had appeared, they slowed to a walk, out of breath and starting to sense something was wrong. As they got closer, they realised what it was. The boat wasn't floating at anchor, it was actually pinned on the rocks, listing slightly and with a broken mast.
Zayn and Niall stood before the wrecked ship in silence, feeling both embarrassed at their excited outburst and bitterly disappointed that their hopes had been dashed again so suddenly.
"Do you think anyone's aboard?" asked Niall in hushed tones as if he might be overheard.
Zayn looked at the peeling paintwork and the birdshit covered rail and shook his head. "I think this has been here a lot longer than we have," he sighed. "And looking at those rocks it's stuck on, I don't think we'll be sailing away in it either."
"We should still look inside," Niall suggested hesitantly. "There might be stuff we can use."
Neither of them moved. The unspoken thought - that the boat's crew might indeed still be aboard in a rather decomposed condition - hung heavily between them.
"Hey." Harry climbed up beside Louis and sat down.
Louis flicked him a look and nodded acknowledgement, but didn't say anything.
"Are you mad at me?" Harry asked, picking sand out from his fingernails.
"No." Louis stared out to sea, arms folded defensively.
"Then what's the matter?" Harry persisted.
Harry groaned. "Don't be a girl. Look, we're all in this together Lou, if you've got a problem with me we need to talk about it."
"Don't have to," Louis muttered obstinately. Then couldn’t stop himself adding, "Why make things worse?"
"Is it because I kissed Zayn?" Harry asked, knowing perfectly well it was, but still unsure of Louis' actual issue.
"No. Yes. Oh, I don't know." Louis sighed defeatedly and looked at him for the first time. "It's all just so easy for you isn't it?" he said bitterly.
Harry blinked at him in confusion. "What do you mean?" he asked. Admitting his feelings for Louis had been anything but easy, and he was a little hurt by the suggestion.
Louis snorted. "I mean - you suddenly decide you like boys and five minutes later you're snogging Zayn without a care in the world? How does that even work?" he demanded, a note of pleading entering his voice.
Harry gaped at him. "Louis - I've always liked boys," he said slowly. "I kinda - like everyone, I guess. I thought you knew?" he added desperately.
It was Louis' turn to stare at him in shock. "I had no idea," he said miserably.
"Well it's not like I've ever really hidden it," Harry said, starting to sound irritable. "What's the big deal?"
"Harry, it's a huge deal," Louis moaned. "And as for not hiding it - what?"
"What? Okay, so I've never spelt it out, I bet the record company would just love that. It's not my fault if the press assume I'm banging every girl I'm papped with but not the boys."
Louis went pale as he processed the probable implications of this. "Nick?" he croaked weakly.
Harry went red. "Yeah. Maybe."
"What? What do you want from me Louis? I don't get your problem with this. So you don't feel the same way about me, fine, I already promised I wouldn't make it an issue. You're the one flouncing off when I kiss someone else!"
They fell into a sulky silence, not looking at each other, but neither moving to leave.
"Come on," Zayn said finally, rubbing damp palms on his trousers. "Let's have a look."
He climbed up the rocks towards the boat's slanting deck, followed reluctantly by Niall. Clutching each other for balance, they moved towards the door leading below, slipping on the seaweed and birds' mess that covered the deck.
It took them a while to get the door open. At first they thought it was locked, but it proved to only be jammed shut, the wood having warped from the heat and water. Yanking it open, they eyed each other nervously.
"Ladies first," said Niall, gesturing for Zayn to go ahead of him.
Zayn sniffed. "Pearls before swine," he shot back, ducking into the doorway and moving cautiously down the steep set of steps into the interior, realising that Niall was a lot more scared than he was letting on. Zayn wasn't ecstatic about things himself, but he was buggered if he was going to show nerves.
The cabin of the boat was cramped but neat. In the dim light filtering through the encrusted portholes, they made out a small galley kitchen, some soft bench seating and a bunk area at the back. To their immense relief, it was deserted.
Niall gave a sudden laugh, loud in the small space and making Zayn jump. "Well this is alright! We can use lots of stuff from here. Look, there's blankets, and saucepans and stuff." He went round pulling open cupboards excitedly. "Maybe we should move in here, it's better equipped than our hut!"
"Long way to fresh water though," Zayn objected. "And it'd be cramped with five of us." He staggered suddenly, and looked at Niall in alarm, wondering if he'd gone dizzy or if the floor had actually moved. Niall was staring back at him, pale.
"I don't think this thing's as firmly stuck as it looks," he said, shooting a worried glance towards the sky still visible up the steps.
"It can't be that loose, or it wouldn't have stayed here so long," Zayn said. "Maybe it just lifts a bit at high tide."
"We should get out of here." Niall looked longingly at the items he'd been coveting. "We should take some stuff though. Maybe come back with the others at low tide, take the rest?"
They settled for stripping the bunks of the blankets and carrying out a selection of pans, mugs and utensils wrapped up in them. Staggering back up the beach with their haul, they sat down on the sand for a rest, watching as the waves lapped round the base of the stricken yacht. It lifted a few inches with the larger swell, but to their relief didn't seem inclined to shift any further. With the tide so high they found they couldn't explore on past the cove, so taking a corner of blanket each they started back for the camp with their prizes slung between them.
"So - are you and Nick - ?" Louis asked grudgingly, after they'd sat there for a while not speaking.
Harry shook his head. "We're just friends," he said.
"With benefits?" Louis guessed. Harry gave him a sheepish nod, and Louis sighed. "Wish you'd told me."
"Is it really such a problem for you?" Harry asked quietly. "That I'm bi?"
Louis looked startled. "No! No, Harry, that's not it, really it's not." He bit his lip, realising how Harry had taken his reaction. He made to take Harry's hand, then hesitated, second guessing himself. Harry though, caught the involuntary movement and slid his own hand across the rock between them, until their fingers were just touching.
"Then what is it Lou? You can tell me," Harry urged.
"I guess - I guess I'm jealous."
Harry looked confused. "Of Nick? Or Zayn? I thought you didn't like me like that?"
"Of you," Louis admitted softly. Harry looked more baffled than ever, and had just decided that Louis must be secretly in love with Zayn, when he continued. "It's not just you, you see," Louis said, avoiding Harry's eyes. "That likes boys as well. I guess the difference is that I've never - well, really wanted to, I suppose. I kind've ignored it, for years. And then I met Hannah, and I thought she was the one, and that was okay, right, that was going to be it, I never needed to worry about these weird feelings for other boys any more." He felt Harry's hand slide into his, squeezing his fingers comfortingly. Louis smiled faintly, without looking at him, and squeezed back. "And then - then the X Factor happened. And everything changed." Louis heaved a sigh. "So there you go. I'm jealous. Of the way it's not an issue for you."
"So - " Harry drew the word out, enquiringly. "So what changed, exactly?"
For the first time, Louis turned to him, and took a deep breath. "I met you."
Before Harry could reply they were startled by the sudden appearance of Liam who bounced up into their line of sight and dropped a large and ugly fish triumphantly between them.
"I did it!" he crowed, beaming at them. "I caught one!"
They stared up at him and Harry started laughing. Liam frowned. "What?"
"You have fucking epic timing mate."
"Eh?" Liam looked confused.
"Don't mind him," Louis said quickly. "Nice one Li. Never doubted you for a second."
"Yeah, now if you could just catch a couple more, there might be enough for all of us," said Harry a little sourly.
Liam looked wounded and Louis immediately gave him a hug. "You're amazing, okay? Ignore Mr Misery-pants over there."
Louis followed Liam back down the rocks, glad to escape for a moment and feeling he'd revealed more than he'd meant to.
Harry watched them go, feeling more confused than ever and thinking that life was more than a little unfair. What had Louis meant by what he'd said? Was it only that Harry had shown him he didn't have to hide that side of himself? But Louis had said he hadn't known Harry was bisexual. So it had to mean Louis liked him back. Didn't it? Or did it mean that he'd liked him then but didn't now? Harry groaned. It was all too much, and for a moment he wished fervently that he'd never said anything at all to Louis about how he felt.
They speared Liam's catch on a stick over the fire, and after three had burst into flames finally worked out that if they soaked the stick first it didn't burn.
The by now rather sooty fish was starting to smell incredibly appetising, and just as it was ready Zayn and Niall reappeared over the dune.
"What the hell is that you've got?" Liam asked, as they all stared at the bundle Zayn and Niall were pulling doggedly between them.
"We went shopping," grinned Niall.
"Technically, we went looting," Zayn amended, and Niall looked shocked. "Okay, salvaging. Is that better?" He dropped his end of the blanket thankfully, and let the contents scatter across the sand. The others fell on the odd collection of items with cries of surprise.
"I never thought I'd be so happy to see a saucepan," Harry grinned. "Roughing it's okay, but I don't think I'm cut out for the Bear Grylls life."
"Just be thankful you don't have to drink your own piss," said Louis. "I don't suppose you found any bog roll in this place you appear to have burglarised did you?" he added hopefully.
Zayn and Niall looked at each other and made a face. "We didn't think to look," said Zayn. "We can go back tomorrow though. If we go in the morning, the tide should be down." He looked down at the fire for the first time, and grinned. "Fucking hell, did Liam finally catch something?"
"Yes," said Liam shortly. "And you're not having any."
Zayn's face fell a little, and Liam nudged him. "I'm kidding you pillock. After finding this stuff you and Niall should probably get the biggest bits."
Zayn smiled again and Liam gave him a hug that he quickly returned. They hung onto each other for a moment longer than necessary, both relieved that the tension between them of the last day or so seemed to have lifted.
As Liam divided up the fish into equal portions onto the tin plates retrieved by Zayn and Niall, Louis shared out the various bits and pieces left over from the morning's foraging to supplement it, and Harry went over to the cliff to scratch out the third day's marker. He sighed, feeling despondent again, and wandering back to the fire automatically dropped down beside Louis before he remembered there was technically awkwardness still hanging between them.
Louis smiled at him though, and Harry couldn't help but smile back. Maybe their friendship could survive all this turmoil after all. He leaned experimentally against Louis' shoulder, and his smile deepened as an arm immediately enfolded him with protective strength.
As they ate their supper in the last of the evening light, Zayn and Niall took it in turns to tell the story of finding the shipwreck, and then Liam related his epic battle of wills with the fish of the lagoon, twice, and with actions.
This time when they crawled into the makeshift hut for the night it was with the unaccustomed pleasure of having blankets to pull over them, and while there weren't enough for one each, everyone slept close enough together that it didn't matter. Cosy and fed, they drifted off to the sound of the nightbirds, and the waves on the distant reef.
Zayn woke with someone nuzzling into his neck and put his arm round them, assuming it was Louis again.
"Morning Lou," he mumbled, just as his fingers encountered a lot more hair than he was expecting. He opened his eyes to see Harry staring back at him, equally surprised.
Harry looked over his shoulder and realised Louis was on his other side, and that he'd rolled over in his sleep.
"Morning," he grinned. "Sorry. Wrong shoulder."
Zayn laughed. "You're welcome to mine as well you know. Share the love, I say."
"Tell me he's talking about something non-disturbing?" came Niall's sleepy voice from behind him, as he sat up picking leaves out of his hair. "Is our roof shedding? We need to re-tile."
Liam, Louis and Harry were all keen to see the yacht, so after a quick bite to eat they set off for the cove. The tide was way down, and the boat was perched high and dry on the rocks. Zayn and Niall exchanged a glance of silent agreement to never mention their initial excited confusion that they'd been about to be rescued.
They all climbed on board and thoroughly explored every inch of the ship. It didn't take long, had obviously only had a two-person crew and there wasn't much room.
Liam briefly echoed Niall's suggestion that they could use it as a base, but Zayn reminded him it was less than stable at high tide. No-one was too upset to drop the idea, the abandoned cabin had a strange atmosphere, slightly creepy, and they were glad to emerge back into the sunlight, carrying the rest of the loose items they thought might be useful.
"There is this about it," Louis mused, as they speculated on what had happened to the crew. "They're not still here, are they? So they must have been rescued, right? So boats must come by here occasionally?"
"Unless they drowned in the storm that wrecked them," Liam pointed out.
Zayn shook his head. "Everything in the cabin was stowed away neatly, like it had been left tidy. And there was no food or loo paper or anything like that. Kind've suggests they were stuck here for a while and used it all up."
"So where did they go?" Liam argued. "And why not come back for their stuff?"
They'd found a few items of clothing in one of the closets, male and female. Niall was currently wearing a pink sunhat.
Zayn shrugged. "I dunno, do I? Maybe a seaplane picked them up or something, and there was no room to take stuff? Either way, it's good for us."
"I wonder if they radioed for help," said Liam suddenly. "Did anyone see if they had a set?"
This was met by general blank head shaking, so Liam sprinted back across the beach towards the boat. Climbing back into the cabin he quickly found the boat's collection of navigational equipment and radio set in a niche under the stairs. Hopefully, with slightly shaking hands, he reached out and flicked a few switches. To his deep disappointment, nothing happened. No lights came on, no promising crackle of static came from the speakers.
Liam spent the next few minutes thoroughly examining the set, checking everything that looked like it should be plugged in was, and pressing every switch. Eventually, he had to conclude that the battery was long dead, and they wouldn't be summoning help this way.
He made his way back to the others, feet dragging reluctantly in the sand, hating the way their expectant and hopeful looks faded as he shook his head.
"Dead as a dodo," he said sadly.
"Never mind. We'll find another way," Niall assured him, giving him a hug.
"We should see what else there is," Zayn said. "There's still a bit of beach we haven't walked round. And there's still bits of the top we haven't explored. We found this boat yeah, there might be other wrecks and stuff waiting for us. We're salvage experts now," he grinned.
Leaving their collection of reclaimed treasure in a pile on the sand, they walked on past the edge of the cove, climbing the rocks that held the yacht in place and making a precarious descent to the beach on the far side. Here, the character of the land was much like the beach they'd arrived on, the cliff rising sheer to one side and the sand empty and featureless.
No-one was particularly surprised when after about half an hour's walking they came to a stream cascading down the rock face, and realised it was the same one they'd drunk from when they first washed up.
"Bollocks," said Harry. "If we'd walked the other way we'd have found food and shelter a lot quicker."
"We wouldn't have found Liam and Niall so soon though," Zayn pointed out, draping himself over their shoulders.
"Our footprints are gone," Harry noticed, casting his eyes over the sand. "The tide must come all the way up."
Having quenched their thirst at the little waterfall, they retraced their steps all the way back to the cove and divided up the spoils from the yacht to carry back to camp.
"I'm thirsty again," complained Louis after a few minutes of dragging his heavy load. "We should have brought some water with us."
"What in?" Liam jibed. "We don't have anything to carry it in. Not that wouldn't spill."
"Coconuts," said Niall suddenly.
"Same to you," Louis retorted.
"No, I mean, they're full of coconut water right? If we were going to be away for a long walk we could carry a coconut, then when you're thirsty you just jam a hole in it and drink the water."
"Boy's a genius." Liam grabbed Niall in a headlock and ruffled his hair until he yelled.
"Somebody find me a coconut," Louis demanded.
"How about we just find you a gag?" Zayn suggested.
The bickering lasted all the way back to camp, where they fell gratefully down by the stream and drank deeply from the cold water. They were starting to realise they'd have to be careful, in the hot tropical sun dehydration could easily become an issue.
Thirst slaked, hunger kicked in, and they realised nothing had been done about collecting any food for the day.
"This is no good," Liam groaned. "We need to get on this stuff. We need a rota or something, so every day everyone knows it's their turn to go foraging or get firewood."
"Are you planning on settling down here?" Louis asked sarcastically. "Sounds like you're in it for the long haul."
"He's already got the Robinson Crusoe beard," Zayn teased, leaning over and stroking Liam's by now fairly bushy chin.
"Bog off Malik," Liam waved him off, laughing. "Yours isn't all that and a bag of chips."
Zayn felt his face ruefully. "You're telling me. Where's that razor? I need grooming time."
"Only Zaynie would be stuck on a desert island and worried about what he looked like," Niall grinned, lying back in the sand.
Zayn shrugged. "There was a mirror in the boat. Confucius say - when your reflection make you jump, it time to shave."
Soon they were munching their way through a pile of hastily picked fruit and grumbling about it.
"I can see why no-one lives here," Louis complained. "There's fuck-all to eat."
"If you lived here you'd be growing stuff though," Harry pointed out. "Crops and stuff. And keeping animals."
"Very domestic." Louis keeled over and planted his head in Harry's lap. "Feed me, Styles."
Harry obligingly dropped pieces of fruit into his mouth, trying not to stare too hard at Louis' lips, sticky with juice, or think about the way they felt brushing against his fingers. He prayed especially hard that he didn't get a boner, because with Louis' head where it was he could hardly fail to notice.
Liam started tidying up, grumbling about the mess they'd managed to make in the space of a couple of days, considering there wasn't even any packaging to throw away.
"And look at these fishbones, just dumped here by the hut. They stink, we're going to get flies, someone needs to clear this shit up."
"You caught it, you bury it," Zayn yawned.
Harry had got distracted watching Liam fussing about and suddenly realised that Louis was now sucking on the fingers he'd left resting against his mouth. Soft lips and a warm tongue were subtly wrapped around two of Harry's fingers, and something like a hot chill shot through him. He shot to his feet, dumping a surprised Louis unceremoniously onto the sand before he could notice the way Harry's body had reacted.
"I'll do it!" Harry offered hastily, and started cleaning up the pile of food waste, keeping his back very firmly to the others. Liam looked mildly surprised at his enthusiasm, but shrugged it off.
"Zayn, you want to pick firewood with me? Niall, you and Louis round up something to eat later, yeah?"
"Yes Daddy," Niall grinned, saluting, and Liam gave him the finger.
They went their separate ways to carry out the tasks, occasionally calling out to each other between the trees and across the beach. They found at moments like this, when they were fooling around and the sun was warm and they had something to occupy them, that it was strangely easy to forget the depth of trouble they were in.
Instead it would sneak up on each of them at odd moments, when they were alone, or on the brink of sleep, or at the recalling of a certain memory, and the weight of it would come crushing down, making it hard to breathe. Quietly, each of them were dearly thankful for the presence of the others, arguments and all, because the alternative - to be stranded here alone - was so horrific as to not bear thinking about.
Food stocks in, Louis went in search of Harry, who'd disappeared, and Niall climbed the hill to join Zayn and Liam who were carrying more wood up to the beacon bonfire.
Zayn dropped his armful of sticks and threw himself into the long grass, panting. Liam laid his down more neatly, and started stacking them onto the others, while Niall sat down next to Zayn.
"Still got the lighter okay?" asked Liam anxiously. A lot depended on that lighter, particularly if they ever let the campfire go out. Part of him wanted to take charge of it himself, but he knew to suggest it would be massively insulting to Zayn.
"Yeah." Zayn produced it on cue, and flicked it on, pensively.
"Don't waste it!" Liam yelped, more sharply that he'd meant to. Zayn gave him a sour look and flicked it shut.
"Keep your knickers on."
"Sorry." Liam dropped down on the other side of him and sighed. "It's just - we don't know how long we'll need it for, do we?"
Zayn realised he was holding a thin twig between his fingers as if it was a cigarette and threw it down in disgust. "God I feel rough. Somebody distract me," he demanded.
Liam went faintly pink. "Where's Harry when you need him?" he joked, a little awkwardly.
Zayn laughed out loud. "Well I didn't necessarily mean like that." He eyed Liam speculatively. "But, y'know, I'm not gonna complain if you insist."
Liam went a darker shade of pink, and hesitated so long Zayn assumed he was going to say no, but then he leaned towards him nervously. Zayn moved to close the gap, and was half amused and half touched by the careful, serious kiss that Liam pressed against his lips.
Pulling back, he smiled, and Liam eventually smiled back, letting out a heavy breath, as if he'd been holding it all the while.
Zayn looked round at Niall, who was watching them with laughing eyes.
"What about you Nialler? Gonna distract me too?"
Niall nodded immediately, and planted his mouth willingly over Zayn’s. Figuring there was no point in half measures he slipped Zayn a bit of tongue, and was gratified when Zayn immediately kissed back with enthusiasm.
When they stopped they were both laughing. Zayn shot a mischievous look at Liam. "Now you two kiss," he ordered.
Niall looked up, amenable enough to do anything for a laugh, but Liam backed away looking suddenly awkward.
"I, um, sorry, I can't, I mean I'm not, umm - sorry." He got to his feet looking like he was terrified he was offending them. "Sorry, it's not you Niall, it's just - I can't. Sorry."
"Hey, it's okay - Liam? Liam!" Niall called after him, but Liam had already disappeared through the trees. He looked at Zayn. "Oops."
Zayn snorted with guilty laughter. "Oops," he echoed.
There was a short silence, during which they sneaked crafty looks at each other and wondered whether they could suggest carrying on where they left off.
"I, uh. Didn't know you were into guys?" Niall murmured eventually.
Zayn shrugged. "I'm not." He frowned. "I mean - I dunno. I just like kissing. Doesn’t really matter who it's with." He made a face as he realised what he'd said. "Shit. That wasn’t meant to sound - sorry."
Niall grinned. "That's okay. I know what you mean. And - yeah. Me too I guess."
Zayn looked at him. "Yeah?"
Niall nodded, fiddling with his shoelace, glancing up at Zayn and away again.
"You, um. Want to - ?" Zayn suggested, and Niall nodded again, this time not breaking his gaze.
They leaned in towards each other.
Louis found Harry down by the lagoon, bending over something and swearing quietly to himself. He jumped when Louis hailed him, and looked distinctly guilty.
"Whatcha up to Hazza?" Louis dropped down beside him, peering at the material stretched out on the reef by Harry's feet.
He sighed. "I had an idea. But I don't know if it'll work, so I wasn’t going to tell anyone until I knew."
Louis prodded him in the arm. "Since when am I anyone? Go on, tell me."
Harry gave in. "We want to catch more fish, right? Well I saw this thing once, on how they used to make fish traps, that they could swim into and not out again?"
"Nets," said Louis, and Harry gave him a look.
"No, like proper woven traps, made out of wicker and stuff. Only I haven't got much hope of making something like that, so I thought - I thought these might do. If I like, put a knot in the end. And put bait in the toe. I'm using the old fish guts and head and bones and stuff."
Louis made a face. "I thought you were rather stinky. I didn't like to say. So what is it you're - ?" he broke off as Harry held up his masterpiece and Louis realised what he was holding.
"Long johns. You're serious?"
Harry flushed. "It was just an idea. And no, it probably won't work, which is why I wasn’t going to say anything until I knew."
Louis held his hands up in surrender. "My lips are sealed. It's an incredible plan." He smirked, but kept quiet, as Harry carried the set of thermal underwear he'd retrieved from the suitcase over and dropped it carefully into the lagoon. He'd ripped out the fabric case straps to make a line, and wedged the clasp into a hole in the rocks. The gentle currents under the surface gradually smoothed out and filled the material until it looked like a pair of legs drifting in the water.
"You're going to frighten the shit out of the next mermaid that comes along," said Louis innocently.
"Oh - shut up."
They sat together on the rocks for a while, watching the dark shapes of fish darting curiously around the new woollen intruder, but much to Harry's annoyance, not actually swimming inside.
Apart from that, it was quite nice, just to be sitting there in peace with Louis. If only he knew if - Harry glanced over at him quickly. Louis had said no more on the subject of any feelings he might or might not have for Harry, and it was driving him nuts with speculation. Surely if Louis liked him, he would say? He already knew how Harry felt about him, after all. So maybe he didn't, and Harry would only fuck things up by mentioning it. On the other hand, Louis had been sucking his actual fingers earlier. That wasn’t the action of a casual friend. Was it? You could never be entirely sure with Louis, what he considered normal behaviour.
Harry took a deep breath.
"Yeah?" Louis looked at him, and Harry wondered if he imagined the tightness round the eyes, as if Louis was apprehensive about what Harry might say, and trying to hide it.
"I've got to know."
"Got to know what?" Louis hedged.
"If you like me back. Because - I don’t know, and I think maybe you do? But I don’t know if you're like - waiting for me to make the next move, or say something, and I don’t want to miss out because I didn’t speak up, but then I don’t want to screw things up between us if you don’t, and that's fine, and, it's just - "
Louis stopped his tumbling words by covering Harry's hand with his own. He looked away, measuring his response, but left his hand where it was, gently stroking Harry's fingers.
"I like you," he said, quietly.
Harry's heart leapt, but he still worried what Louis meant. "Like that?" he clarified.
"Like that." Louis turned back to him, looking faintly anxious. He nodded, to reinforce his words, and Harry smiled at him, a slow grin that gradually took over his face.
"Yeah?" he breathed, still hardly able to believe.
"Yeah," Louis echoed, and finally smiled back, as he realised how ridiculously cautious he was being. "Harry - I always have. I think I loved you from the first day I met you. I just never - never thought it could mean anything outside of my head."
Harry slid his fingers through Louis' and clasped his hand. "Well, that just goes to show you're an idiot then, doesn't it?"
Louis smiled vaguely, but he still looked troubled, and Harry shuffled closer. "What's wrong Lou? You do know I like you, right? I meant everything I said."
"Yeah," Louis said softly. "I believe you. I just - wonder if it's too late, that's all."
"What do you mean?" Harry demanded, as an uneasy worm of doubt started to uncoil in his stomach.
"Well - I'm with El now. I can't just - come back from being lost at sea and dump her." Louis closed his eyes. "I'm not even sure I want to."
"Oh," Harry said in a tiny voice, feeling rather like everything he'd ever wanted had been shown to him and whisked away in the same moment.
"I love her Harry. I really do. And the fact that I love you too - loved you first - I don't know. How that works. How to make it work." Louis looked at him, miserably. "Tell me what to do, Harry. Tell me how to make it right without hurting anyone."
"I don't know," Harry said quietly. "You could have us both? I'd share you, if I had to. If it only meant I could have you?" he added desperately.
"It wouldn't be fair. On either of you." Louis finally drew his hand reluctantly out of Harry's. "Maybe we should just forget the whole thing."
"I can't." Harry reached out and grabbed his hand back fiercely. "You can't do this Lou. You can’t tell me you love me and then expect me to forget it again."
They stared at each other in silence for a long moment, then Louis sagged in defeat. "I don't know," he whispered. "I want you so much, I just - I don't want to be that person, who cheats and lies and - it's not fair."
"Maybe they'll never find us," said Harry. "Maybe we'll be stuck here for the rest of our lives. You could love me then, right?"
Louis managed a watery smile. "Yeah," he breathed.
"So - we pretend this is it," said Harry. "The island, is home now. For keeps. As long as we're here, I'm yours, and you're mine, and that's all there is to it."
"And what happens when we're rescued?" Louis asked in an undertone. "How much worse does it become then, if we've let ourselves love each other?"
"How much worse is it if we never do?" Harry countered.
Louis gave a shaky laugh. "I might be no good. I've never - you know. Not with a boy. What if it turns out I'm crap?"
"I will take that chance," Harry smiled, confidence growing as Louis' resistance seemed to wane.
"Oh God, Harry." Louis leaned into him, giving in or giving up, he wasn't sure. Harry's arms came up to hold him, and for a long time they sat just hugging each other, cleaving to the other's warmth and strength, and the offer of unconditional comfort.
When they pulled back and looked at each other, Louis had a new determination in his expression. He nodded slowly, his eyes never leaving Harry's face. "Okay," he said. "Okay."
Harry leaned forward, asking the question with his eyes. Louis closed the gap, meeting him halfway, and their lips came together softly, without drama.
"Alright?" Harry whispered. Louis nodded, a shuddering breath escaping him with the release of tension. He nodded again, more decisively, and it was him that leaned in for the second kiss. This time it was lingering, warm and exploratory, and Harry's arms tightened possessively around him.
Louis had been worried, in the back of his mind, that after all this time repressing things he might freak out when he finally came to kiss another boy, or that he wouldn’t like it after all, that it would be weird, or too different. But Harry in his arms felt nothing other than perfect, and in that moment Louis wanted nothing more than to spend the rest of his life kissing him.
In the end it was Liam that brought things to an unexpectedly premature end by suddenly appearing in front of them on the rocks. They jerked apart and stared at him, as he teetered on the edge of the reef and gaped back at them in shock.
"Um. I. Shit. Sorry. I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to - sorry. Oh God." Liam turned and fled, slithering down off the rocks and haring back towards the camp. Harry's words of the previous day about his timing suddenly became a lot clearer, and he wondered with something of a damp sweat how many times he'd accidentally interrupted them, and if he'd been pissing them off.
He couldn't do anything right, Liam thought with a certain amount of anguish. First he'd probably totally insulted Niall by refusing to kiss him, and now he'd almost certainly pissed off Harry and Louis. And what the hell was wrong with this place, anyway? Four days without civilisation and suddenly they were all over each other? How did that work? And why did nobody want him?
Liam came to a sudden stop and prodded that last thought with a wary surprise, before deciding to ignore it as the product of a fevered brain.
Harry and Louis stared after Liam's retreating back, then turned to each other with guilty smiles.
"We'd better - " Harry said, waving a hand after him.
"Yeah." Louis sighed, and let Harry haul him to his feet. They walked hand in hand back towards the camp, and encountered Zayn and Niall coming down the hill, heading in the same direction.
There was a moment of mild surprise as everyone took in the fact that both couples were holding hands. Harry raised an eyebrow. Zayn shrugged. Louis went red, but made no move to pull away. Niall finally broke the silence with a grin. "What happens on the island, stays on the island, right guys?"
There was a general murmur of relieved agreement.
"I think we scared Liam," said Zayn, looking fairly unrepentant.
"Us too," said Harry. There was an exchange of mutually amused guilty smirks before they all continued on their way.
Liam was pacing back and forth in front of the hut, and when he saw them coming went bright red.
"Listen, guys, I am so sorry, I never meant to - "
Whatever he never meant, they never found out, because in one concerted movement all four boys pounced on him and hugged him tightly. When Liam emerged from the tangle of affection, he was laughing with relief.
Feeling they'd restored the peace, the boys ambled off again in pursuit of various tasks. Zayn though, hung back and fell into step beside Liam as he walked to the stream to wash.
Liam looked over at him, still a little worried. "I didn't piss Niall off did I? By not kissing him?"
Zayn shook his head. "Nah. He was cool with it. You know Niall, I don't think he knows how to be pissed off."
"I didn't want to be rude," Liam said sadly. "I just - I was afraid he was going to try and snog me, like he did you. And I know it didn't mean anything, but it just would have felt - like I was being unfaithful, yeah?"
"You kissed me?" Zayn pointed out.
Liam shrugged. "Bit of a difference between a peck on the lips and a full blown snog though."
"Yeah. S'pose." Zayn scuffed his feet in the sand, watching Liam splashing water over his face and shoulders. "You don't - mind, then?" Zayn asked cautiously. "That Niall and I kind've - hooked up?"
Liam looked flustered. "Um, no? Come on, since when have I been judgemental? I know you and Perrie have a completely different set up from me and Dani. Just cos I didn't want to doesn't mean you shouldn't. It's fine. Really." He gave what he hoped was a reassuring smile, and set off back towards the hut.
Zayn watched him go, and sighed. "Not - really what I meant," he muttered.
Waking early the next morning, Liam watched the play of light through the leaves that made up the ceiling and blinked away the shreds of his dream. He was vaguely conscious it had involved Zayn in some capacity, but in the last part he'd been being chased by a giant pineapple, and that had mostly blanked out the rest. There was clearly a point when too much fruit in your diet had a lasting effect.
He rolled onto his front and yawned. Niall was snoring gently in the corner, pressed rather closer to Zayn than he'd been the previous night. On Liam's other side, Harry was making quiet breathy snuffles because he was sleeping on his back, and Louis - Liam blinked. Louis wasn't there.
Carefully, without waking the others Liam crawled out of the shelter, folding his corner of blanket back over Zayn as he went. Outside the morning air still had a freshness to it, before the relentless heat of the day set in and he stretched, breathing in deeply.
He'd expected to find Louis sitting by the fire, maybe washing over at the stream, but he was nowhere to be seen. Yawning, Liam wandered down towards the lagoon, wondering if he'd gone for an early morning swim. He was wide awake now and would only get tutted at if he woke the others, so Louis was his best chance of conversation.
At the water's edge there was still no sign of Louis, and Liam frowned. He couldn't have gone far. There wasn't far for him to go, after all. He wandered on along the beach, and eventually caught sight of Louis perched up on the rocks, tucked carefully out of casual notice.
Liam walked over, not thinking for a moment that Louis might not want company, and it was only when he'd climbed level with him that it dawned on him something was wrong.
"Lou? Are you okay?"
Louis had watched Liam's approach silently, and turned away to stare down along the beach as Liam climbed up to join him. Now, he had no option but to look round, and saw the moment that Liam realised he'd been crying. He wiped his face with the back of his hand, crossly.
"I'm fine. I just - needed some time alone, okay? I didn't want anyone to see me like this."
Liam winced. "Sorry. Should I go away again?"
Louis shook his head with a sigh. "Here now, aren't you."
Liam sat down, looking concerned. "What's wrong Lou?" he asked gently.
"I - dreamt I was back home, last night. And when I woke up it - just kind've hit me, you know? It's been days. No-one could survive in the water that long. They must think we're dead, everyone thinks we're dead. My mum thinks I'm dead Liam. What must she be going through right now? What's she going to tell my sisters? I just - I couldn't - " Louis broke off, the tears starting to trickle down his cheeks again, and Liam pulled him into a hug.
"If anyone's going to hold on to the fact we're alive it's our families, right? They're not going to give up on us, not yet. People'll be looking for us, they'll make people keep looking." Liam rubbed his back soothingly, holding him tight. Louis sniffed gratefully, burying his face in Liam's shirt.
"You don't have to suffer on your own you know," Liam reminded him softly. "We're all in this together. If you were feeling down you should have said."
Louis sat up, wiping his eyes. "I guess I didn't want to break down in front of Harry," he murmured. "He's scared, deep down, I know he is. I wanted to be strong for him. I wanted to be the one he could come to." Louis gave a rueful laugh. "Turns out I'm weaker than everybody."
"Missing home doesn't make you weak," Liam said. "Nobody's going to think that. We're all scared, Lou."
Louis rested his head back on Liam's shoulder and leaned in to him with a sigh. "Thanks, yeah?" he whispered.
"Any time," Liam whispered back, holding him close.
When they returned to camp a while later, Harry was wandering around outside the shelter stark naked and whistling to himself, looking about as far from scared and homesick as it was possible to get. Louis wished briefly that the ground would swallow him up, after banging on about how he wanted to protect him, but Liam gave his arm a reassuring squeeze, and Harry gave a blinding smile as soon as he saw him approaching, and somehow for a moment things didn't seem so bad.
Leaving Louis to try and convince Harry to at least put pants on as protection against the sun, Liam found Zayn attempting to shave himself and failing miserably. He was squatting by the stream, razor from the salvaged washbag in his hand and already bleeding from several thin cuts on his chin.
He looked up as Liam came over and scowled. "This is hopeless. I'm going to have to go down to the boat, use the mirror there. I'm going to cut my own throat at this rate."
"You could let me do it?" Liam offered, and Zayn did a double take.
"Why not? I can see what I'm doing better than you can. If you wanted, I mean?" Liam said shyly.
"Yeah, no, I mean - would you? Please?" Zayn looked hopeful and held out the razor to him eagerly.
Liam took it, and considered. He moved behind Zayn and settled down against his back, leaning round and cupping his jaw delicately.
Zayn could feel Liam's breath warm on his cheek, and closed his eyes, trying to hold as still as he could. He felt the scrape of the razor across his skin, tentative at first, then with more confidence as Liam got used to what he was doing.
"Bloody difficult without shaving foam," Liam muttered, trying to keep his hands steady.
"You're doing fine." Zayn smiled, and immediately felt a sharp sting as the razor nicked his skin.
"Shit. Sorry," Liam groaned, and Zayn opened his eyes and turned to look up at him.
"Don't worry about it. I moved, it was my fault. Don't stop, please, you're doing amazing."
Liam dabbled the razor in the stream and resumed his task. He was flattered in a way, that Zayn would trust him to do this, and he was determined to make it as good a job as he possibly could.
A few minutes later he sat back and turned Zayn to look at him. "Hmmn. I think that's the best I can get it."
Zayn felt his face and grinned. "Feels much better. Thanks babe."
Liam blushed and ducked his head. "You're welcome."
"Hey, Li, would you do me?" Harry appeared, thankfully now wearing a pair of rolled up trousers.
"Sure." Liam gestured to the ground in front of him and Harry sat down obediently, cross legged and serious.
It was quicker, shaving Harry, he hadn't sprouted quite as much growth as Zayn, and Liam was getting better at this with practise. Harry was soon back on his feet, grinning with relief at losing his scratchy stubble.
"Thanks Liam. You're a star." Harry kissed him on the cheek as he scrambled up, and Zayn, who'd stayed idly watching them, wished briefly that he'd thought of that. There had been something about the way Liam's hands had felt against his face that made him feel somehow both restless and faintly sad.
An arm snaked round his neck, and Zayn looked up in surprise to find Niall draped over his shoulder.
"Hey." Niall had a dark blush rising up his neck, and seemed hesitant about something. "Did you - want to - maybe go for a walk or something?"
"A walk?" Zayn looked at him, wondering if he'd gone mad in the sun, until Niall stared meaningfully at him and gestured with his eyebrows over towards the beach.
"You know. A walk. Like - alone?"
"Oh. Oh, right. Um. Yeah. Okay. A walk." Zayn abruptly caught on, and Niall grinned with relief. Together they slipped away, while the others were distracted by Louis being convinced to take his turn with barber-Liam.
They wandered down onto the beach and found a soft patch of sand in the shade of a rock, where they could sit and watch the breakers foaming up on the shore. There was a certain amount of awkward prevarication and giggling, but they finally managed to get their act together enough to resume where they'd left off the previous day.
Their kisses at first were a little tentative, exploratory, as they reconvinced each other of the fact they actually wanted to do this. Niall kept breaking off and giggling, and Zayn finally snapped.
"I'll give you something to laugh about." He pushed Niall down on the sand and started tickling him, merciless fingers ferreting their way under Niall's shirt and tracking across his ribs, pinching his sides and digging into his belly. Niall was a squirming, choking giggling mess, unable to defend himself because he was laughing too hard.
Grinning wildly, Zayn straddled his legs, pinning him to the ground and continuing his assault of every ticklish inch of Niall's body.
"I surrender. I surrender!" Niall croaked, batting at Zayn's hands, tears of laughter beading on his lashes.
Zayn finally stopped, panting and laughing, sitting across him still, hands braced on Niall's shoulders. They looked at each other, wondering who'd be the first to mention the fact they were both blatantly hard. Without saying anything, Zayn gave an experimental roll of his hips, pressing his erection down against Niall's.
Niall gave a little hiccupping gasp, and pushed back instinctively. Zayn lowered himself slowly down until he was lying on top of him, still holding himself a little tense, ready to roll away if Niall objected.
"Zayn." Niall breathed his name, looking half-shocked at what they were doing, but not exactly averse.
"Alright?" Zayn whispered back, and when Niall nodded, he leaned in to kiss him again.
Okay, this was new, this was weird, this was better. Sprawled full length over Niall's warm body, feeling the swell of his cock pressing against his own, feeling him react to the way Zayn was rubbing against him. Niall's arms were round him now, and the kissing had somehow got fiercer.
It wasn’t long before they stripped off their shirts, Niall immediately pulling Zayn back down on top of him, flushing in embarrassment at the implicit admission he liked the way it felt. But Zayn kissed away Niall's fear that he'd laugh at him, unable to stop himself thrusting properly against him now, shameless and needy.
Niall groaned, shifting on the sand as Zayn moved against him, relentless pressure against his aching dick. He wasn't sure how far Zayn intended to take this, or what was allowed in this odd new element to their friendship. Kissing one of your mates was okay, right? And if you happened to pop a boner while you were doing it, well that was just a side effect, right? You could both safely ignore it.
Except Niall had to admit they weren’t exactly ignoring it. He wasn't precisely sure how he'd categorise what they were doing right now, but he had a feeling the word rutting would be in there somewhere. The most pressing question on his mind right now though, was exactly how awkward would it be if he couldn't hold on any longer?
A few seconds later, he realised he was going to find out.
He opened his mouth to gasp a humiliated warning to Zayn, but it was too late, he was coming in his pants. Warm wetness trickled down between his legs, and he let out a whimpering noise of shamed pleasure.
Zayn had gone still, watching Niall's creased expression with a suspicious amusement. "Did you just - ?"
Niall nodded, not meeting his eyes, and Zayn gave a snort of laughter, rolling off him. He saw the dark wet patch at Niall's crotch and laughed again. "Eww." He brushed at his own trousers, even though it hadn't seeped through. Then kept rubbing, because he was still hard as hell, and it felt good.
"Sorry," Niall whispered, not quite sure if Zayn was pissed off with him.
"Why?" Zayn reached out and gave him a one armed hug. "Don't be daft."
Niall leaned against him gratefully, and watched as Zayn gave in to the inevitable and unzipped himself.
One of the less obvious downsides to life on the island was the lack of privacy. There were no bathrooms to lock yourself away in, and the communal sleeping arrangements meant you couldn't have a sleepy wank at night either. Consequently, Zayn was all too ready to drop his inhibitions in front of the equally horny Niall, and started jerking himself off quickly, by now almost desperate to come.
Niall couldn’t drag his eyes away from the movement of Zayn's hand, from his stiff cock, from the way he squeezed and pumped and pushed into his fingers. Niall's own fingers twitched, suppressing the impulse to reach out and place his own hand on Zayn's dick. It might not be welcome, and he didn’t want to overstep the unspoken boundary. He couldn't stop looking though, and Zayn didn’t seem to mind that, at least.
Finally Zayn gave a stifled groan and came over his hand, wet spurts that coated his fingers and dribbled down his wrist. Niall realised with slight shock that he'd really quite like to just lean over and lick up the drops falling onto Zayn’s thigh, and bit into his lower lip, hard.
It was a strange sort of tight feeling in his chest, the realisation that he wanted to do stuff he'd never really contemplated before, stuff he was fairly sure Zayn might not object to, but - this was still new, and they hadn’t really talked about it, and so he sat there in silence and didn’t move while Zayn flopped back onto the sand, breathing heavily and grinning vaguely up at him.
"Fuck," Zayn sighed contentedly. "That was - I needed that." He held out his clean hand to Niall. "Kiss me?" he asked quietly.
Niall realised all he'd done for several minutes was just stare at Zayn in a mildly vacant manner, and shook himself. Zayn probably thought he was an idiot, or not interested, or something equally untrue. He lay down beside him, and leaned in hastily to kiss any such doubts away.
When it became apparent that Zayn and Niall weren't going to reappear any time soon, Liam, Louis and Harry decided they'd spend the morning climbing up to the top of the island, the only part as yet not fully explored. The tree cover afforded some shelter from the sun - they were all starting to get burnt and sore on noses and shoulders - but the going was steep and tricky, with no proper paths. They climbed from rock to rock, pushing through waist high grasses and ducking under tangled branches as they went.
Walking down a ledge between high rock walls, they rounded a corner and stopped in surprise. Hidden out of sight from the beach below, they were standing at the entrance to what appeared to be a fairly sizeable cave.
Louis shifted uneasily. "You don't think there's bears or something in there, do you?"
Harry snorted. "I think we'd have noticed if this place had anything as big as bears. More likely it's got spiders," he added, walking his fingers up Louis' back and making him squeak and slap him.
Liam was already walking cautiously inside. He had to duck to get through the entrance, but once through he found he could stand up. The slanting sun fell quite a way inside, and he was quickly joined by the others.
The cave proved empty but for windblown leaves and a surprised centipede that scuttled up the wall and disappeared into a crevice.
"We could live in here," Harry suggested. "It's bigger than the hut."
"Long way to carry water and stuff," Liam said. "Unless we can find another stream up here. I guess we know there's at least one other somewhere, that flows out over the cliff?"
"I vote for staying down on the beach," Louis said, looking around and shivering. "It's cold."
"We could make a fire," argues Harry. "And it's probably more sheltered."
"Let's see what the others think," Liam interrupted. "We should bring Zayn and Niall up here."
Despite his enthusiasm, even Harry was glad to get back out into the sunshine as they resumed their climb upwards. It was more of a climb now too, and they clambered from rock to rock until they emerged onto the summit of the little island. Pinnacles of splintered, weatherbeaten rock stuck up above the last of the vegetation, festooned with moss and creepers. The wind tugged at their hair, and for a while they were silent, staring out at the vast seascape laid out below.
"Nothing," said Louis eventually, in a small voice.
"What?" Harry looked round at him enquiringly.
Louis shrank in on himself a little, feeling suddenly very exposed and small. "Nothing," he repeated. "There's just - nothing, forever. No ships, no planes, no other islands. I thought there'd be something. But there's just - sea. Nobody's ever going to find us, are they?" His voice shook a little, and both Harry and Liam hurried to his side.
"Lou? It's okay, someone will come," Harry said earnestly. "They have to, right?" he looked up at Liam for support, and Liam made himself nod firmly to both of them.
"Course they will. You'll see."
Louis managed a watery smile, and Harry slid a hand into his. "Let's go back down," Harry said. "I'm hungry."
They slithered their way back down the steep planes of old volcanic rock, passing the cave once more, and descending to the lower slopes. Somewhere along the way they missed the route they'd taken up, and found themselves wandering through a glade of trees they'd never seen before.
"Shit!" Harry caught his foot in something and fell headlong to the ground.
"You okay?" Liam held out a hand to help him up, as Harry glared crossly at whatever it was he'd tripped over.
"Stupid branch." He reached out and tugged free what he'd thought was a bit of dead tree, only to realise the wooden spar was tangled with another post, and what he was in fact holding in his hand was - a wooden cross.
Everyone froze. Resisting the urge to fling it away from him in a panicked fashion, Harry forced himself to place it back down on the ground, skittering backwards and climbing to his feet, wiping his hand convulsively on his trousers and glad of Louis' reassuring warmth at his back. They all stared at the ground, slowly realising that what they'd taken as a natural rise in the earth was in fact a long, low cairn of stones, overgrown with grass and vines. A grave.
"Oh, fuck," Harry whispered.
"Let's get out of here," Louis whispered back, and they all started walking again, fighting the irrational urge to break into a run.
They finally emerged from the trees onto a strip of beach they recognised as being partway between their camp and the wrecked yacht. Thankful to be away from the oppressive atmosphere of the interior, they hurried back along the sand.
"Do you think it was one of the people from the boat?" Harry asked, after they'd walked in preoccupied silence for five minutes.
"Could have been," Liam shrugged. If the cross had ever had a name on it, it had long been obliterated by weather and plant growth.
"No escape," Louis muttered, depressed again. "No fucking escape from this place. I told you."
Harry gave him a shove. "One of them must have got away. There was only one grave, right?" Louis stared at him until Harry started to feel uncomfortable. "What?"
"How could there be two graves?" Liam pointed out gently. "Second one could hardly have buried themselves, could they?"
Harry went red. "Oh. Yeah. I knew that."
They were glad to reach the familiar ground of the camp, where Zayn and Niall were sitting waiting for them.
"Where have you lot been?" Niall asked as they walked over.
"Mountaineering," announced Liam. "We found a cave."
"And a corpse," added Harry darkly, and Niall looked startled.
"What? Of what?"
"More of who." Harry grinned, and flung himself down between them. "I thought it had got me for a second."
Between them they related the morning's events, and then enquired what Niall and Zayn had been up to.
They exchanged a shifty look, and Zayn hid a smirk.
"We found these?" Niall pushed forward a pile of yellow berries he'd picked, hoping to distract them.
"They're not poisonous are they?" Liam asked worriedly. "They look a bit - violent. We should be careful about eating things when we don't know what they are."
Niall looked sheepish. "Bit late for that, I've been eating them already. They're okay though. I mean - I'm not dead or anything, am I? Bit sour, but quite nice for a change."
On the basis that Niall didn't seem to be foaming at the mouth, everyone helped themselves. A meal of more shellfish and hard-boiled seabird eggs followed once they'd poked the fire up a bit, and the afternoon was whiled away in collecting firewood and games of tag on the sand. The pace of life had slowed for everyone, and they were already used to the rhythm of going to bed as soon as it got dark.
Lying in the cosy fug of the shelter, Louis curled into Harry's arms and tried to fall asleep. They'd kissed each other goodnight, lingering and soft in the darkness, until Liam had got tired of the wriggling and told them to go and fornicate outside if they had to. Both too tired and comfortable to move they'd desisted, giggling, and Harry had fallen asleep almost immediately.
Liam was lying back to back with Harry, with an arm curled round Zayn’s waist in front of him, who was in turn snuggled up to Niall.
Louis lay awake and listened as one by one the boys' breathing evened out and quiet snores filled the night. He wished he could turn off his brain, but now there was nothing to distract him it kept churning the same bleak thoughts over and over. He worried they wouldn’t be found. He worried one of them would get hurt. He worried the food would dry up and they'd starve. He worried about how his family were coping, and about how everyone would be reacting to their disappearance.
For good measure, he then moved on to worrying about what would happen if they were rescued, how he'd deal with what had happened between himself and Harry. And then there was Harry himself. Louis was all too aware that even though he was younger, Harry was more experienced than him when it came to boys. All they'd done so far was a certain amount of discreet kissing, and while this was fine for Louis, he worried Harry would get bored of him.
All the fretting must have eventually worn him out, because without really being aware of ever falling asleep, Louis was suddenly awake again. It was pitch dark in the hut and he couldn’t see a thing, but Harry's breathing was a comforting, regular sigh a few inches from his face, and he relaxed a little, heartrate slowing back down.
It was gradually dawning on Louis that he felt a bit sick. There was a grumbling in his belly that threatened bad things, and as he tried to shift into a more comfortable position, a spike of pain shot through him. He groaned under his breath, curling in on himself. A cold sweat broke out all over his body, and he tried to breathe deeply.
The misery eventually became too much to suffer alone, and he prodded Harry in the darkness. There was a rustle of blanket and Harry grunted. "Wha'ssg'n on?" he muttered, still half asleep.
"Haz?" Louis whispered, guiltily glad he was awake.
"Louis?" harry blinked a few times, before realising it was still the middle of the night and his vision was never going to get any clearer. "What's the matter?" he whispered back.
"Don't feel very well," Louis confessed, feeling ridiculous but too sorry for himself not to say it. Harry immediately reached out for him and pulled Louis into his arms.
"What's wrong?" Harry's lips brushed his cheek as he tried to find Louis' ear, and he turned it into a kiss.
"Cramps," Louis muttered. "Feel like I'm going to be sick or get the shits or something."
Harry frowned in the dark, suddenly realising he didn't feel all that great himself. "Ngh. Oh God, think I've got it too. Balls."
Louis was panting now, trying to fight down the increasing feeling that he needed the loo. He knew outside would be almost as dark as the inside of the shelter, and finding your way to a convenient bush and back was no easy matter. Abruptly, he couldn't wait any longer and flung the blanket back, scrambling out of the doorway in a panic.
"What's going on?" Liam's voice came out of the dark in sleepy protest at the way he'd just been climbed over.
"Lou's not feeling well. Neither am I, come to that." Harry sat up, clutching his belly. "Ugh."
Liam groaned. "I was afraid this would happen. No soap, no proper facilities. It was only a matter of time."
"I don't think it's that. I think it was Niall's shitberries," Harry said. "Ohh, God. I gotta go." He followed Louis out of the door at a fast crawl.
By now everyone was awake, and in varying degrees of pain and discomfort. It wasn’t long before there was a general exodus out of the shelter and blind shuffling and yelping in the darkness. There was hardly any moon, and other than the dim orange glow of the fire to show them the way back to the hut it was almost impossible to see.
Niall stumbled away from the camp already pulling his trousers down, only for Louis' voice somewhere near his knees to make him jump.
"Oi! This one's occupied, find your own bloody bush!"
For nearly an hour, they suffered the indignity and discomfort of being stuck crouching in the undergrowth while what felt like a large percentage of their insides became their outsides. The initial embarrassment was lessened to an extent by the fact they were all in the same trouble, and a certain amount of jokey banter was tossed to and fro, but by the end they were thoroughly cold, miserable and disgusted. It was too dark to wash properly and they were too tired to make more than a cursory effort before they piled back into the hut and fell into an exhausted sleep.
They all woke late the next morning. The sun was high in the sky when they reluctantly crawled outside, wincing in the daylight, to mostly collapse again on the ground.
"What I wouldn't give for a hot shower right now," Niall groaned.
"All your fucking fault anyway," Zayn grumbled. "I said those berries looked evil."
"Shouldn't have fucking eaten any then, should you?" Niall muttered irritably. He'd suffered the worst in the night, probably because he'd eaten the most.
"Girls," chided Louis, flopping on his back on the sand and groaning. "Play nice."
"Fuck off Tommo," Zayn said, burying his face in his arms and refusing to get up from where he'd settled, right in the way.
Liam stepped over him and went to fill the huge turtle shell with water, before setting it on the glowing coals of the fire. Fairly soon the water was steaming gently.
"Right. Washing. Everyone. Hot water." Liam prodded Harry in the side with his toe until he dragged himself up and helped Liam lift the shell off the fire.
They all stripped off and did as they were told. Gradually, stiff limbs and grumpy faces relaxed into better humour, and soon they were flicking water at each other and laughing again. They finished with a plunge into the lagoon, shrieking at the shock of the cold water, and splashing each other enthusiastically, before wading back out to lie on the sand and dry off in the sun.
"I'm hungry," Harry announced after half an hour or so of dozing.
Zayn made a face. "How can you even think about eating after what we went through?"
"Easily, given that I'm fairly fucking empty now," Harry retorted. He got to his feet and when it appeared everyone else was too knackered to move, wandered off by himself along the reef. He chewed idly on a string of seaweed, looking for clams and watching the tiny jewelled fish darting into the coral as his shadow passed over them.
Eventually he got to where he'd sunk his fish-trap, and peered into the depths without much hope to see if anything had become ensnared.
Lying on the beach with his eyes closed, Louis heard a distant splash and wondered vaguely what Harry was up to. He was too tired and dozily warm to sit up and look though, so when about ten minutes later a large cold wet fish slapped down across his stomach, he sat up with a horrified scream of surprise.
"What - the - fuck - " Louis pushed the offending fish off him and looked up at where a streaming wet Harry was doubled over in tears of laughter.
"Your face!" Harry dropped to his knees and retrieved the fish, waggling its head at Louis cheekily.
"Where did that come from, Harry?" Liam asked, staring at the fish in astonishment and some envy, given that it was quite a lot bigger than the one he'd caught.
"I made a fish trap," Harry said innocently.
"Out of thermal underwear," Louis supplied, sourly. "You are not fucking telling me that worked?"
Harry shrugged. "Okay, no, not exactly. Fish were supposed to swim in, right, and get stuck? I think this one tried to get at the bait by chewing through from the outside. It must have choked or something, it was all tangled up in the wool. Still," he added defensively, "it got us a fish didn't it?"
Liam ruffled his hair. "Nice one Harry."
"None for me thanks," Zayn said faintly, turning a delicate shade of green.
By the time it had baked on the hot stones surrounded by a bed of raked out coals, Zayn had recovered his appetite somewhat, and they all made a hearty meal of it. The hot food did them good, and afterwards they felt a bit less weak and irritable, although not terribly inclined to do anything very energetic.
Towards evening, a chilly wind blew in, making them shiver and blowing sand into the fire that hissed and spat. They banked it up with large pieces of wood, and pulled the blankets out of the shelter to wrap around them as they sat as close to the crackling flames as they could get.
"Thought this was the tropics," Niall complained, burrowing into Zayn's side until he wrapped an arm round him. "It's not supposed to get this cold."
"Have you forgotten the storm that wrecked the plane?" Louis pointed out. "If anything, the weather can be worse." He looked up at the gathering clouds, and wrinkled his nose. "I just hope it doesn't rain."
"Oh you had to go and say that," Zayn moaned, as in the next moment big fat drops of water were peppering the ground around them in little puffs of sand.
They scurried into the hut, huddling together for warmth and watching the rain come down outside. It wasn't long before it was coming down inside as well, as it turned out their roof was more sun-and-draught proof than rain-or-high-wind-proof.
Swearing and flinching, they piled out again, trying to repair holes in the roof with big leaves that got blown away as soon as they were dropped in place. Wet and cross, they gave up and crawled back inside, debating whether to make a run for the cave. They finally decided against it, the light was fading fast and no-one was a hundred percent certain they'd be able to find it again straight off.
Instead they resigned themselves to a damp night in the shelter, tucking the blankets around them to keep off the worst of the rain and bundling together to share body warmth as best they could. It wasn't very comfortable, with too many knees and elbows for the available space, but eventually they fell asleep, thinking longingly of their soft warm beds lying empty at home.
They woke cramped and tired to find the rain had passed and the sun was as strong as ever. Wearily, they hung the now soaked blankets out to dry and stared with resignation at the cold black smear of ash that had been the campfire.
Zayn patted his pocket. "We can light another one. It's not the end of the world."
"If we can find some dry wood," Harry said dismally. Louis wrapped his arms around Harry's waist from behind and kissed the back of his neck. It was enough to make Harry smile again, and he covered Louis' hands with his own gratefully.
"We need to do something about the hut," Liam sighed. "We can't go through another night like that. We'll all die of pneumonia. Maybe Harry's right, maybe we should move up to the cave."
When they'd finished a disappointing breakfast of fruit and cold water, Zayn tugged at Niall's hand and jerked his head. "Come with me?" he mouthed.
Niall got to his feet willingly and they slipped away from the camp. Niall had assumed that Zayn had a necking session in mind, so when Zayn didn’t stop as soon as they were out of sight but carried on walking determinedly down the beach, he hung back in protest.
"Where are we going?"
"What? Why?" Niall had to jog to catch up with Zayn, who hadn't stopped.
"Got an idea. Need a hand though."
When they got there a short while later, Zayn climbed up onto the deck without hesitating. It was covered in seaweed and bits of debris from the previous night's high seas and wind and the going was treacherous underfoot, but he picked his way across until he reached his goal.
"Hah! Nialler, come up here, quick."
"What is it?" Niall reluctantly hoisted himself up onto the slippery craft and made his way over. He'd assumed Zayn was after something in the cabin, but he was tugging at something wet and heavy behind the wheelhouse.
"The sail. We can use it as a roof. It'll keep the rain out. But it's all tangled up and weighs a fucking ton, so come and help me."
Together, after much struggling and slipping and swearing, they managed to cut the sail loose from the remains of the rigging with the knife Zayn had brought along - originally from the cabin below - and manhandle it down onto the sand.
Spread out, it was a tattered thing, a fragment of its original size, but it was plenty big enough for their purposes. They encouraged the variety of small crabs and snails that had made the damp folds of canvas their home to vacate the premises, and studied it proudly.
"Now all we've got to do is lug it back," said Zayn, with less enthusiasm than he'd shown up to now. He hadn't bargained on it being this heavy, and was starting to wish he'd asked everyone to come along, rather than hoping to spring a surprise on them.
Niall sat down and held his hand out. "No rush is there?"
Zayn took it and dropped down next to him, starting to smile. "None whatsoever."
When Zayn and Niall trailed back into camp some time later dragging the sail between them, they found Louis and Liam playing hangman in the sand.
"Look what we've got!" Niall crowed.
"New hut roof," explained Zayn as they dropped it in relief, obliterating Liam and Louis' latest game in the process.
Together they scrubbed off the accumulated slime with handfuls of sand and rinsed it in the stream. It dried quickly in the heat, and they draped it carefully over the frame of the shelter. The walls needed shoring up under the weight of it, but this was managed, and they pegged it down with sharpened sticks and small rocks.
When it was done, they stood back and admired their handiwork, panting slightly.
"That's really good," said Liam, throwing congratulatory arms round Zayn and Niall. "Almost want it to rain again now, so we can try it out."
"You could sit inside while we piss on the roof?" Niall suggested and giggled at Liam's look of pained disgust.
"Wow, where did that come from?" Harry suddenly reappeared behind them and Louis rolled his eyes.
"Trust you to miss all the hard work. Where have you been?"
Harry looked indignant. "I've been doing something else." He glanced round to make sure the others weren't paying attention and slid his hand into Louis'. "Come with me, and I'll show you," he smiled.
Louis let Harry lead him away, curious as to what he'd been up to. He'd disappeared earlier without a word, and Louis had originally assumed he'd gone with Zayn and Niall.
They climbed the steep slopes of the island's interior, and before long Louis guessed they were making for the cave. Sweating and panting from exertion they finally made it to the entrance, and Harry drew Louis inside.
"What do you think?" he asked, a little shyly.
Louis blinked. Harry appeared to have spent the morning sweeping the dirt and debris out of the cave and carrying in armfuls of brush wood and leaves to make a bed in the corner, draped with one of the blankets fro the boat. He'd even decorated the ledges around the walls with hibiscus flowers and sprays of bougainvillea.
Harry sat down and patted the space next to him. Louis joined him, laughing a little uncomfortably.
"Trying to seduce me?"
Harry smiled. "Do I have to try?"
Louis looked down at his hands and didn't answer. Harry's smile faltered a little. "Lou?" He slid a hand over Louis' knee. "What's wrong?"
Louis gave him an awkward smile. "I just - I don't know, it's just - you're a lot more experienced than me and - "
Harry flushed. "Way to make me sound like a slut," he muttered, withdrawing his hand. Louis flinched defensively.
"I didn't mean it like that! I just meant - you've been with guys, right? Well I haven't. At all. So that makes you more experienced, okay? By definition. That's all I meant, I swear. I just - don’t know if I'm ready to - you know. This is all a bit - " he tailed off, fidgeting and uncomfortable.
Harry was by now bright red in the face. "I just wanted to spend some time with you," he said in a wounded tone. "That's all. Away from the others. We don’t have to do anything. That's not - I just wanted to be with you. You don't think I'd make you - ?"
Louis gave an embarrassed cough, feeling stupid and relieved and a bit guilty at the same time. "Sorry," he muttered. "I just thought - when I saw the bed and all - "
Harry shrugged, not looking at him. "Is that what you think of me?" he asked in a small voice.
"No - Harry, no!" Louis took his hand and made him look round. "No," he repeated, quietly insistent. "I promise."
Louis leaned in for an apologetic kiss, and Harry slowly untensed, letting Louis hold him close and relaxing into his body.
They kissed for a long time, lying fully clothed on the makeshift bed in each other's arms. After a while they both got hard but neither of them said anything, just pressed a little closer than before.
When they finally sat up, the sun had slid beyond the cave mouth and they realised they could hardly see each other in the gloom. Venturing outside they blinked in the last of the afternoon sunshine, and made their way back down the hill, hand in hand.
They were nearly at the camp when Harry stopped. "Bollocks. We left the blanket behind." He looked back up the hill in the gathering dusk, and groaned.
"Leave it," Louis said, squeezing his hand. "It's not like it's going anywhere. We'll be warm enough tonight if we cuddle up close. "
Harry smiled happily and kissed him for good measure. "Okay. Listen, you go on ahead, I just need a wee." He disappeared into the bushes and Louis carried on to the campsite, where he was greeted with sniggers and wolf whistles.
"Where've you been all afternoon then you dirty bastard?" Zayn grinned, assuming it had been spent in much the same manner as his morning with Niall, minus the salvage operation.
Louis shuffled uncomfortably. He was self-conscious about the fact he'd essentially come out by default, as well as painfully aware that he wasn't technically single, and was sensitive to their teasing.
"Up in the cave," he muttered, hoping they'd let it drop.
"Is that a euphemism?" Niall enquired, making Liam laugh until he snorted.
"Still haven't seen it," Zayn said. "What's it like?"
Louis shrugged, wary of their reaction and overcompensating. "Harry's turned it into a boudoir," he said, more dismissively than he'd meant to and oblivious to Harry's approach behind him. "Seriously, he had fucking flowers all over the place and everything." He laughed uneasily in the sudden silence.
"What?" Louis spun round to find Harry regarding him with a look of hurt betrayal. "Harry! I - "
Without a word, Harry turned and ran.
"Shit!" Louis fisted a hand in his hair, tugging painfully and torn over whether he should follow him.
Harry vanished into the sand dunes and sank miserably down into a hollow as soon as he was out of sight and hearing of the others. He felt like there was a giant hand squeezing his insides until he couldn’t breathe. To hear Louis talking about his efforts so callously after what he'd thought had been a lovely afternoon left him weak and in knots, his heart pounding as wildly as if he'd run a race.
He heard footsteps approaching, swishing through the sand and braced himself, angrily swiping away a rouge tear from his cheek with the back of his hand. But it wasn’t Louis that appeared a moment later, it was Niall.
Without speaking, Niall sat down next to him, tactfully ignoring way Harry's cheeks were glistening suspiciously.
"I'd be really chuffed if someone picked me flowers," Niall said eventually. Harry glanced up and gave him a quick, grateful smile.
Niall traced the back of Harry's hand with his finger. "You know no-one was laughing at you, right?"
Harry had to swallow twice before he could form an answer. "Louis was," he whispered.
Niall sighed. "It's Louis. Boy doesn’t mean half the things that come out of his mouth. He just doesn’t manage to get his brain in the way first." He put an arm round Harry protectively. "He'd never mean to hurt you."
"How do you know?" Harry sniffed, wiping his eyes on the hem of his shirt.
"Because he'd never hurt any of us on purpose. None of us would. Would we?"
Harry shook his head reluctantly and Niall smiled at him. "Come back to camp?"
"I need a minute, okay? I left something in the cave, I'm gonna go and fetch it. Just need to be alone for a bit."
They stood up and hugged each other. "Thanks, yeah?" Harry whispered.
Niall watched him disappear up the hill and shook his head helplessly. He hated it when any of them argued even when he wasn't involved, it made him unsettled and anxious.
When he returned to the others Louis looked up eagerly, then frowned as it became apparent he was alone.
"Gone back to the cave. Said he was going to get something," Niall said shortly, sitting down pointedly between Zayn and Liam.
"Oh." Louis looked up towards the island's peak, still bathed in the last of the light. "We left the blanket," he said vaguely, by way of explanation.
Evening crept on, and Harry didn't return. Louis looked at his wrist, and sighed. His watch hadn't worked since the crash, but he still hadn't broken himself of the reflex. "Why's he taking so long? Do you think he's alright?"
"Of course he's not alright. You really upset him Louis," Niall blurted.
Louis winced. "Do you think I should go after him?"
"You really want my opinion? You should have gone after him twenty bloody minutes ago," Niall retorted, hating the conflict but feeling somebody had to say it. Zayn quietly slipped an arm round him and Niall leaned into him gratefully, afraid Louis would snap back at him and feeling queasy.
Louis though just gave a frustrated sigh, and started up the hill after Harry.
By the time he reached the cave the daylight was almost entirely gone, and the black opening in the cliff seemed far more sinister than it had that afternoon. Louis hesitated on the threshold. Surely Harry wasn't really inside, sitting alone in the dark?
There was a faint rustling, and Louis froze, suddenly irrationally afraid that some hitherto unseen wild animal had taken up residence. But no slathering beast rushed out at him, and Louis gradually relaxed. He realised too that he was probably silhouetted against the entrance.
"Harry?" he called out quietly. "Are you in there?"
There was silence for a moment, followed by more rustling, as if someone was sitting up on a bed made of leaves.
"Yeah." Harry's voice finally came out of the darkness, sounding reluctant. "Yeah, I'm here."
Louis edged his way inside, hoping his eyes would adjust and making for where he thought the bed had been by memory alone. He came to it quicker than expected, and toppled forward as it caught him across the knees.
"Shit!" He landed sprawled across startled limbs that pushed at him in affront. "Sorry." Louis fought his way off Harry's legs and managed to sit up mostly straight. As reunions go, it had had slightly less dignity than he might have hoped for, but at least it had broken the ice. "Um."
Harry was a darker shape against the black of the cave, just visible beside him. He stayed silent, waiting for Louis to speak first.
Louis took a deep breath. "I'm sorry, okay? I didn't mean to hurt your feelings. You weren't meant to hear that."
Harry gave a choked laugh that might have been a sob. "But saying it behind my back's somehow okay?" he asked incredulously.
"No! That's not what I meant." Louis sounded irritated, and Harry felt miserably that wasn't fair, that he was the injured party here.
"I just - " Louis sighed, his voice becoming softer and more hesitant. "I guess it all just felt a bit much, that's all. What with the flowers and the bed and - and knowing what the others were probably thinking we were doing. I was over-sensitive about it, I know that, and I should have kept my mouth shut, it just sort of came out without me meaning it to. I suppose I just - felt it was a bit girly, y'know?"
"What?" Harry stared at him in the dark, both wishing he could see Louis' face and glad Louis couldn't see his. "What the fuck?" Louis squirmed uncomfortably, and opened his mouth to try and explain again, but Harry was already talking over him.
"You know what? I picked those flowers because I liked them. Because I thought they looked nice. It wasn't some stupid seduction attempt Louis, I just wanted to be with you. I thought you wanted to be with me. But, what, you get to take the piss behind my back because - I don’t know, because you think being with me's somehow not - what? Manly enough? Fuck you Louis. Fuck you to hell." Harry wrapped his arms around himself tightly, trying to force down the feeling that everything was falling apart.
For a long, horrid moment they sat in silence, both afraid the other would get up and storm out. When neither of them moved, the tension gradually eased a notch, and eventually they started sneaking glances at each other.
"Sorry," Louis whispered.
Harry made a 'hmmph' noise in his nose, and Louis bit his lip. "I never meant to upset you," he added. "I'm a twat."
"Can say that again," Harry muttered, but his tone had thawed slightly.
"Sorry." Louis inched closer until their arms were just touching. Harry didn't move away, and Louis let out a quiet breath of relief.
"Why didn’t you say?" Harry asked, bewildered. "If you didn’t like it, if you didn’t want to be here? Why didn’t you say something?"
"I did want to be here though," Louis said. "I did."
"You were just ashamed of people knowing about it?" Harry said bitterly.
"No." Louis groaned. "Harry, I - I'm sorry, okay? I'm sorry. I don't know what else to say."
Harry blinked furiously, determined he wouldn’t cry again. "Do you want to leave it then?" he asked under his breath, afraid of the answer. "Would you rather we stopped?"
"No. Harry, no." Louis reached out finally, groping for his hand in the dark. "I love you," he said shakily. "I love you, and I don't care who knows it. Don't say I've fucked it up Harry, please. I don't want to lose you."
There was a pause. "I don't want to be your dirty little secret Louis."
"You won't be. You're not," Louis said desperately. "I'm new to this Harry." He rested his chin on Harry's shoulder, gazed up at him pleadingly despite the fact Harry couldn’t see his expression. "It doesn’t excuse what I said, but I promise I'll never be that stupid again."
Harry gave a little snort of laughter that loosened some of the twistiness in Louis' stomach.
"You'll never keep that promise," Harry muttered, but there was a hint of a smile in his voice that hadn't been there before.
"Probably not," Louis conceded ruefully. "But right now I mean it, and that's the important thing, right?"
In answer, Harry turned and buried his face in Louis' neck, and they clung to each other in mutual relief.
Hugs turned to kisses, and by the time they fumbled their way out to the open air night had fallen completely, and the trees and rocks merged into one dark blur.
"Guess we're staying here for the night," Louis said. Harry wrapped an arm round his waist and pulled him back into the shelter of the cave.
"I know a way we can keep warm."
Back down at the camp, the fire had been relit and the others were grouped around it, eating boiled crab and flicking bits of shell at each other.
"Do you think they're alright?" Zayn wondered, staring off into the blackness beyond the circle thrown by the flames. "Should we go and look for them?"
"If they're having make-up sex, I for one am not volunteering to walk in on them," said Liam, yawning. "If they were lost or in trouble they'd yell, right?"
"I guess." Zayn let Niall pull him down to lie by the fire and rested his head on Niall's chest sleepily. Liam was yawning again by his feet, and soon they were all dozing off, worn out by their lack of much sleep the previous night.
Waking in the early morning, for a second Harry couldn't work out where he was. Something sharp was digging into his back and something heavy was wedged across his stomach and the feeling of disorientation made him struggle up, shaking off sleep like a heavy cobweb.
As his surroundings swam into focus, Harry relaxed in relief. He'd been lying on a twig, poking up through the blanket, and the weight across his middle had been Louis' arm.
Louis. Harry looked down, half-afraid that now it was daylight, the confessions and declarations they'd whispered to each other as they fell asleep might again be embarrassing or shameful to him. But Louis was blinking up at him sleepily, smiling, and the dread in the pit of Harry' stomach eased.
"Do we have to get up yet?" Louis murmured, and Harry lay back down, pulling him close.
"Not yet." He kissed Louis softly, mapping the shape of his lips with his own, teasing between them with his tongue, licking into his mouth. He felt Louis' fingers tighten their grip on his clothes, felt their breathing speed up together. He felt a spike of guilt at the knowledge of how much he wanted Louis right now, how much he'd like to take things further, to explore the rest of Louis' body, to make him writhe and gasp and come.
Harry bit his lip, pulling away and swallowing hard. "We should probably get back. They'll be worried about us."
"Harry?" Louis sat up too, looking unsure. "Did I do something wrong?" he asked, confused by Harry's sudden about-turn and worried that he'd somehow screwed up again without meaning to. Harry shook his head.
"I'm more worried that I will," he admitted, with a sheepish laugh. Louis pressed himself against Harry's back and wrapped his arms around his chest, kissing him on the cheek. From this angle he could see perfectly well that Harry had an erection, and the reason for his reticence suddenly dawned on him.
"I don't mind that you want me," Louis whispered, smiling into Harry's hair. "As long as you're okay to take things a bit slow. I might need to work up to it, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to eventually. You don’t have to hide. I won’t freak out, I promise. I trust you, Harry."
Harry turned in his arms and looked at him wonderingly. Louis smiled, blushing, and Harry laughed.
Liam stumbled yawning out of the hut and dropped to his knees by the embers of the fire, stoking them into a semblance of life and dropping more wood on. They'd have to collect more today, he realised. The fallen branches and dead twigs were dwindling as they tried to keep the fire going all day, and they'd soon have to go further afield. He lay down, enjoying the fire's warmth in the early morning chill, and wondering if they could somehow manage to actually fell a whole tree. That'd keep them going for ages.
Closing his eyes, he was aware of scuffling in the background, and wondered if it was Niall or Zayn getting up. A few seconds later there was the sound of a quiet fart, and Liam sniggered.
"Morning Niall," he said, without opening his eyes.
"Hey Liam," came Niall's reply, and Liam smirked to himself. Feet shuffled closer, then came to an abrupt stop.
"Jesus! Liam, don't move!"
At the sudden panic in Niall's voice, Liam opened his eyes in alarm. For a second he was dazzled by the sky, then his vision was filled with the sight of a huge knife blade flashing down towards his face.
Liam gave a strangled squeak and in contravention of Niall's instructions rolled hastily to one side. There was a dull thunk, and then silence. Liam sat up gingerly, wondering if Niall had gone mad, and whether he still had both his ears.
Niall was sitting next to him, breathing hard and looking a little light-headed. Liam was taken aback to notice the blade of the knife Niall was still clutching was red with blood. His gaze dropped to the sand, and he scuttled further backwards in horror. Next to him was the body of a huge snake, its head mostly detached but none the less terrifying for that.
"What the fuck?" Zayn was standing over them, looking down at the snake carcass in shock.
"It was about to slither over Liam," Niall said weakly. "I thought if he moved it might bite him."
"Thanks Ni," Liam said feelingly. "Nice one."
"I'm just glad we found all this stuff on the boat," Niall said, cleaning the knife on a handful of grass. "Or I'd have had to whack it to death with a shoe."
Liam picked up the dead snake cautiously by the tail end, and was about to fling it disgustedly into the bushes when Niall stopped him.
"Hey, don't do that. It's a waste." He grinned. "What we've got here boys, is breakfast."
It was a measure of both how hungry they were and how bored with their diet, that other than a few token grimaces, nobody really objected to the idea. By the time Harry and Louis emerged from the trees some time later - apparently in good spirits, to everyone's relief - it had been skinned and impaled in chunks to roast over the fire.
"Snake kebab?" asked Zayn cheerfully, holding one out.
Louis gave him a dubious look, but accepted it anyway and took a cautious nibble.
"Tastes like chicken."
"That's what she said," Zayn smirked. Louis gave him the finger, but carried on eating. "Hey, Harry, you want some?" Zayn called.
Harry looked round from where he was standing by the cliff. He seemed distracted.
"Did someone mark off the day last night?" he asked, waving a hand at the lines scored on the rock face.
Everyone shook their head. "Never thought about it," Liam said. "It's been your thing."
"What's up?" Niall asked, as Harry made a new line and came over, looking troubled.
"Seven days. We've been here a whole week guys."
There was a startled silence.
"We can't have been," Niall argued. "No way."
"Well I've been marking off a line every evening," Harry said. "Apart from last night when I - yeah. So I just did it. Seven lines. Today's day eight."
"Day eight, on the Big Brother Island," Zayn intoned, poking the fire viciously. "Some of the housemates - "
"Islandmates," Liam interrupted.
"Islandmates have gone native," Zayn reached out and tugged at Liam's ever-increasing beard. "Some have gone sex-crazed - " Harry went red, but it was Niall that Zayn leaned over and groped with a grin. "And the others - "
"Oh shut up! It's not funny!" Louis yelled, and stormed off in a sudden fury.
Zayn blinked. "What did I say?"
Harry stared after Louis, feeling sick and wondering if it had been Zayn's crack about sex. He was getting to his feet ready to follow him when Liam put a hand on his shoulder.
"Let me," Liam said quietly. "I think I know what the matter is."
Harry sat down again and watched as Liam went after Louis, feeling like it should have been him but too confused to argue. He clamped firmly shut lips that threatened to tremble and breathed hard through his nose.
Zayn and Niall exchanged glances and moved closer to him, hugging him between them.
"I'm alright," Harry protested, but he didn't push them away.
"Well maybe it's us needs a hug, eh Styles? Did you think about that?" Niall said, and Harry laughed gratefully.
"Okay then." He hugged back, and the three of them sat in a warm and increasingly giggly huddle until Niall noticed the rest of the snake was burning and leaped up to rescue it, spilling Zayn and Harry backwards onto the sand.
"He loves food more than us," Zayn complained, smiling at him.
"Can't fault his priorities really," Harry nodded, accepting a charred lump of snakemeat with a frown. "Er - thanks. I think."
"Tastes better than it looks," Zayn said. "Bit like Niall really." He smirked as Harry promptly choked on his mouthful of snake.
"Lou?" Liam walked up behind Louis where he was sitting on the reef, staring out to sea. "You alright bud?"
"Yeah. Sorry." Louis sighed. It felt like he was saying nothing but sorry lately.
Liam sat down and put an arm round him. "They'll find us. Okay?"
Louis shook his head slowly. "I'm really starting to think they might not."
"Louis." Liam turned his face towards him with his free hand. "They will. A week's nothing, okay? There's a lot of sea to search. A lot of islands, probably. Somewhere out there, somebody is coming for us, alright? And in the meantime, we've got each other."
"Feels like I keep fucking that up too," Louis said wretchedly.
Liam hugged him closer. "However many times you fuck up, we'll still be here. And when we fuck up, you'll still be there for us. That's how it works. That's how it's always worked. No different if we're shut in a tourbus together, or stuck on a desert island. Okay?"
Louis finally relented and leaned against him, smiling. "Okay," he whispered.
When they returned to camp Louis was braced for scorn, but other than a few curious glances the other boys said nothing about his huffy departure. Harry smiled in relief when Louis made a beeline for him and sat down next to him, deliberately taking his hand.
"You okay?" Harry whispered.
Louis nodded. "Just had a bit of a freak out," he confessed. "Better now." He smiled tentatively, hoping Harry wouldn't be jealous that it was clearly Liam who'd calmed him down. But Harry smiled back and nodded.
"Liam's good like that," he said.
Louis scrubbed his hands through his hair and groaned. "I just feel so shite all the time. What's the matter with me?"
"Withdrawal probably," Liam said, then waved away Louis' indignant look impatiently. "I mean, we're all like - properly detoxing here. No processed sugar, no caffeine, no alcohol. It's gonna have an effect."
"Well I don't like it," Louis announced. "I'm all achy and on edge."
"Should theoretically feel better soon?" Liam offered optimistically.
"If we haven't actually starved to death by then," Louis glowered.
Zayn snorted. "You think you've got it bad. Feels like there's ants under my skin."
"Probably sitting on a nest," said Louis, unsympathetically, and Zayn gave him the finger.
"You should keep busy," Liam said. "Take your mind off it."
"Oh, right, I'll just pop to the gym or something shall I?" Zayn drawled. "Maybe take a drive to the shops?"
Liam stood up and held out his hand. "Come on. Stop being a miserable fucker and do something about it."
Zayn glared at him, but allowed himself to be pulled to his feet. "What are we doing?" he asked suspiciously.
"Beachcombing. See if anything handy's washed up, maybe collect a bit of driftwood for the fire yeah?" Liam was looking at him so hopefully Zayn couldn't bring himself to snap a rude reply and settled for a sulky shrug, but he followed him nonetheless.
They wandered off along the shore, and after a while the tension left Zayn's shoulders and he started to enjoy himself. It had been a while since he'd had Liam to himself, and soon they were laughing and joking together like this was just a day out at the beach, like they weren't abandoned and fighting to survive.
Liam smiled as he saw Zayn's spirits rising, and was glad he'd pressed him into it. They walked along the tideline, scuffing through the debris washed up by the sea in the hope of finding something of use, but not really paying that much attention.
They came to the cove with the boat, and sat for a while on the wider crescent of sand, throwing pebbles into the water and discussing what the first thing they would do when they were rescued was. Zayn's thoughts immediately turned back to cigarettes, and Liam kicked himself for bringing up a stupid topic.
"Come on." He hauled Zayn upright again. "Let's keep going."
Zayn grinned, knowing it was a distraction but not minding. Somehow Liam was right, the cravings were less when he was occupied, or maybe it was just being with Liam. Zayn watched him scramble up over the rocks leading out of the cove, and let his eyes linger on the muscles in Liam's legs, and the tight curve of his arse. Although they'd always been emotionally close he'd never really thought about Liam in a physical way before, but the last few days with Niall had opened his eyes to new possibilities.
"Are you coming?" Liam looked enquiringly down at him from the top of the rocks.
"Chance'd be a fine thing," Zayn said under his breath, then grinned up at him and started climbing.
The potential pickings were less on this side, but they persevered. Liam was carrying a bundle of driftwood for the fire and Zayn's prize find had been an actual fish hook, tangled in a shred of plastic netting and seaweed, and patiently worked free.
They reached the waterfall and took a long and grateful drink. Liam shaded his eyes, looking upwards. The cliff stretched as sheer as ever above them, to where greenery waved high up over their heads.
"What are you looking at?" Zayn followed Liam's gaze, but as far as he could tell there wasn’t much to see.
"Trying to work out where that cave is from here. We were talking about using it to live in, but water would be an issue. If this stream comes out somewhere nearby though?" Liam squinted up at the rocky island summit, but it all looked different from this angle and he soon gave up.
"Go back, or keep on?" Zayn asked, looking up and down the length of beach.
"Might as well carry on and do the whole circuit?" Liam suggested. He couldn’t remember exactly how long it had taken them to walk this stretch that first day, but the island wasn’t that big and it was nice being out here with Zayn and he wanted to prolong their time a while longer. When Zayn was away from the others he tended to be a calmer person, and Liam secretly loved that about him, loved the fact that he was the one Zayn could just be peaceful with.
They walked on, sometimes talking, sometimes in companionable silence. The curve of the beach unfolded before them, golden sand flecked with tiny shells that gave under their feet like the crunch of fresh snow.
It was Zayn who first noticed there seemed to be less of it than before. He became gradually aware that each wave seemed to be lapping slightly closer than the last, and looked anxiously at Liam to see if he'd realised.
"Tide's coming in," Liam said offhandedly, aiming for nonchalance. "We should - maybe go a bit quicker, yeah?"
"Shit." Zayn swapped sides, so Liam was between him and the water, as if the waves were suddenly going to snatch him up, or that the couple of feet further in would make a difference if they were.
"It's fine," said Liam, calmly. "We've got plenty of time."
They hurried on, Zayn setting a rapid pace and despite his words of reassurance, Liam didn't argue. The going was heavy on the soft sand at this speed, and they were soon panting with the effort. Liam discarded his burden of firewood to make better progress, but despite gaining ground, the tide was coming in just as quickly.
Before long there was just a narrow strip of sand left between the advancing waves and the base of the cliff. They were running in earnest now, and a lack of available breath was the only thing keeping Zayn from outright panic. Even so, as the first creeping tongue of water lapped at his bare feet, he let out a yelp of alarm that startled Liam.
"Keep going," Liam panted. "We must be nearly there, it'll be okay."
"Easy for you to say," Zayn glowered. "You can fucking swim the rest of the way if you have to."
"Come on." Liam wasn't at all sure swimming would be an option, the waves rolling in from miles of open ocean were more likely to dash them against the cliff. He grabbed Zayn's hand and they kept running, hand in hand, kicking up spray now with every step. They could feel the tug of an undertow even in the few shallow inches of water, and it spurred them on even faster.
A wave, bigger than the others, broke further in and the wash took Liam down. He staggered and fell to his knees, spluttering, Zayn's grip on his hand the only thing keeping him upright.
"Fuck!" Zayn screamed it at the sea, hauling Liam to his feet with a frantic strength. They sloshed the final few yards to a low rocky outcrop and climbed quickly out of the water.
The view on the other side was enough to make them go pale. Some distance beyond was another, higher bank of rocks that they recognised. On the other side of that lay the lagoon, the camp, and safety. A way off the beach. Separating them though, was a final stretch of beach - or what had been beach a moment earlier. Now it was completely awash with the incoming tide, and although it had to be reasonably shallow, the level was rising all the time.
They were cut off.
Liam stared at the water swirling beneath them in shock. "Shit. We'd better hurry. We should just be able to make it." He started to scramble down the other side of the rocks, before realising Zayn hadn't moved to follow.
"Zayn? Come on!"
Zayn didn't reply. He was frozen, looking down at the incoming tide with an expression of horrified disbelief. Liam hastily climbed back up and grabbed his arm, giving him a shake. "Zayn, come on, shift it! It'll be okay, but only if we go now!"
"You go," Zayn said hoarsely, not taking his eyes off the water.
"Leave me here. I'll be alright. I can’t do it Li."
Liam looked around at their precarious footing and shook his head. "It's not high enough," he said, sounding desperate. "Even if the water doesn’t come this high, the waves'll break over the top. And even if by some miracle you didn’t get washed off, you'd be stuck here for hours."
"I don’t care. The alternative's worse. I can’t do it Liam, I really can't."
"I'll be with you," Liam promised. "Every step. I won't let go of you Zayn, I swear. I am not leaving you here." He cast an increasingly worried glance down at the foaming waves. They were running out of time.
Zayn hadn’t moved, couldn’t move, was rooted to the spot with unreasoning fear, barely conscious of Liam's words.
With an exasperated groan, Liam cupped Zayn's face in his hands and turned him, kissing him hard on the lips.
Zayn blinked, shocked out of his paralysis. "What - what was that?"
Liam shrugged awkwardly. "Seems to be the only way to get your attention," he muttered.
Speechless, Zayn gaped at him, but when Liam took his hand he offered no resistance and let himself be pulled to the edge.
Liam had to let go to climb, but to his immense relief Zayn followed him down. Standing thigh deep in the sea, he reached out and took Zayn's hand again the minute he screwed up the courage to join him in the water.
Zayn stared at him for a beat. "Don’t let go?" he mouthed, and Liam squeezed his fingers tightly.
Together, they struck out for the distant rocks. Progress was slow, the sand underfoot gave little purchase and the waves that curled so prettily against the more sheltered stretches of shore hit them with the swell up to their armpits on the way in, before breaking against the base of the cliff and crashing back over them from the other side. Battered from above, the current tugged at them from beneath, and they were soon exhausted. No breath left for talking, they could only struggle grimly on.
Liam kept a death-grip on Zayn. His fingers were going numb with tension and cold and he had to keep looking down to check they were still hand in hand, but he was determined he'd drown before letting go. They kept each other upright through repeated duckings, and gradually, inch by inch, the far rocks got closer.
The water was chest deep by now, and they had to jump with every wave just to keep their heads above the surface. Liam kept his eyes fixed on their goal, the line of rocks was so close now, but still just out of reach.
"We can do it," he yelled, hoping it was true. "We're nearly there!"
Zayn stayed silent, concentrating on not getting yet another mouthful of seawater, but he too took strength from the fact they'd nearly made it. One last push and they'd surely be there.
The wave seemed to come out of nowhere, twice the size of those that had gone before. Before Liam knew what was happening Zayn's hand had been torn from his grip and he was being bowled over and over in the water until he had no clue which way was up.
Solid land reasserted itself with a bang as Liam was flung against the cliff hard enough to slam the air from his lungs and leave him half stunned. His feet dragged in the sand and he fought his way back upright, head breaking the surface with frightened relief and frantically wiping water out of his eyes.
"Zayn? Zayn!" For an awful second he couldn't see him, then the foam of the wave washed back out and he caught a glimpse of dark hair and frantically flailing arms. He flung himself forward, half wading, half swimming and thrust his hand out, grabbing Zayn by the hair and yanking his head above water.
"Ow! Fucking - " Zayn spluttered indignantly at him, sinking his fingers into Liam's shirt at the same time and clinging to him fiercely.
Liam laughed, almost hysterically glad that Zayn was okay enough to object about the manner of his rescue, but they were being pulled into deeper water, and there was no more time for talking.
"Will you let me pull you?" he asked quickly.
Zayn, arms now locked around his neck with the determination of the half-drowned, gave a wild cackle.
"This is hardly the time to make a pass at me, Payne."
Liam's initial flustered response was lost as a wave slapped into his face. Spitting out seawater, he shook his head. "I meant swimming, you tit. If you let me tow you I can get us there faster. But you need to trust me, if you fight me you'll have us both under."
Zayn huffed. "Fine. But if we drown I'm blaming you."
Liam rolled his eyes. "Turn round."
"I need you on your back - and don't say it!"
Zayn sniggered, but turned round obediently. He immediately wished he hadn't, because facing this way he was looking out to sea, and there was nothing in front of him but miles of open water. He would have turned back, but Liam's arm was round his chest and his other hand was cupping his jaw, and somehow Zayn’s feet were no longer touching the bottom.
He started to panic and struggle, until Liam yelled repeatedly in his ear to stop wriggling. Gritting his teeth, Zayn made himself go as limp as he could, and felt Liam start pulling him through the water.
With the water in his ears, for a second Liam didn't realise the shout hadn’t been Zayn, but when it came again he risked screwing his head round to look behind him. To his immense relief, not only had they nearly made the sanctuary of the rocks, but slithering recklessly down towards the waterline was Louis.
He gave one last desperate kick and then barnacle encrusted rock was tearing at his shoulder, and welcome hands were reaching down as Louis hauled Zayn bodily out of the water.
Retching and swearing, Zayn clung to the rockface as Louis reached down again, grasping Liam's wrist and helping him scramble out of the sea.
Liam hung on to Louis' shoulders, taking heaving breaths that shook both of them, as Louis stared at him in amazement.
"What the fuck were you doing down there?" he demanded.
"Oh, we just fancied a paddle," Liam told him, starting to laugh helplessly. He fell forward against Louis' shoulder, hoping it was only him that thought his laughter sounded dangerously close to sobbing.
Louis hugged him close, still unsure what had happened but sensing he'd witnessed the end of a bigger drama.
Drawn by Louis' yelling, Harry and Niall appeared at the top of the rock and quickly came down to join them.
"What happened?" Harry asked, bewildered, as Niall prised Zayn's fingers gently off the rock and held him tight.
"I nearly killed both of us, that's what happened" Liam said, shuddering in reaction, and gazing guiltily at Zayn, who had his face buried in Niall's neck and was shivering violently. He pulled back from Louis and made his own way up the rocks, shrugging off the surprised looks of Niall and Harry.
They made their way back to camp, where Harry dragged blankets out of the shelter to wrap around the two soaking boys.
Zayn had got some colour back in his face by now, and smiled shakily at Liam. "What was all that bollocks back there about nearly killing us?" he asked softly.
Liam looked shamefaced. "It was my idea to walk the full circuit rather than turn back. And my idea that we could make it across that last stretch. I'm sorry," he said, looking miserable.
"We did make it though?" Zayn poked him in the leg. "And you just saved my life, you dick."
Liam looked faintly stunned. "I risked it in the first place though. I thought you'd blame me. I blame me," he muttered. Zayn elbowed him through the blanket.
"We're alive, Liam. Thanks to you. Take a fucking compliment, yeah?" Zayn leaned back in Niall's arms and smiled across at him. Liam ducked his head and sighed in relief. He closed his eyes for a second, letting the tension of the last half hour drain away and trying to ignore the unworthy stab of jealousy that after everything that had happened it was still Niall who got to comfort Zayn properly. But then he opened his eyes and found Zayn was still looking at him, and even as he gave a startled smile, Zayn winked at him.
Blushing, Liam was saved from having to consider an appropriate reaction by Harry dropping down next to him and putting his arms round him affectionately.
"You okay?" Harry murmured, rubbing his arms and nuzzling his ear. Liam smiled, suddenly feeling lighter. He was bruised and grazed from being thrown against the rocks and aching in all his limbs, but Zayn was right, they were alive, and that was what mattered.
"Yeah. Yeah, I am," Liam promised, and as Harry hugged him comfortingly, somewhat to his surprise, he found he meant it.
By the next morning they were mostly recovered from their ordeal, although Liam had been left with a few painful grazes on his shoulder and arm, and Zayn with an increased reluctance to go anywhere near the water.
When he declined to even join them in the warm, calm lagoon for a morning splash-about, Liam eyed him worriedly.
"You should come you know. You don't want to get a thing about it. You're not going to get into difficulties in waist-deep water are you, not with us there," he said in what he considered a reasonable and coaxing tone. "Why don't you let me teach you to swim? Then you wouldn't be scared."
Zayn made a face. "I am not fucking scared," he retorted defensively.
Liam winced. "Okay, wrong word." He gave Zayn puppy-eyes. "Offer still stands though?"
Zayn sighed, resting his head briefly on Liam's shoulder. "Thanks. Maybe tomorrow, yeah?"
"Right. I'll hold you to that," Liam warned with a smile. With a squeeze of Zayn's shoulder, he turned to follow Harry and Louis down to the lagoon, where judging from the splashing, they'd entered the water like a couple of depth-charges.
Niall hung back still, with a sympathetic look tinged with hope that Zayn might yet change his mind.
"Don’t let me stop you swimming," Zayn sighed. "I just - don't feel like it today, yeah?"
Niall shrugged philosophically. "No biggie. I'd rather stay with you." He smiled, as an idea occurred to him. "Hey, you want to see the cave?"
Zayn smirked. "What, Harry and Louis' cave of lurve?" he drawled, making Niall giggle.
"Yeah, that one. They showed me where it is yesterday when you were off with Liam."
Zayn waggled his eyebrows suggestively and Niall shoved him, giggling harder. "Not like that! So go on, do you?"
"Yeah, go on then."
They made their way slowly up the hillside and in amongst the rocks, watching the pink geckos that skittered out of their shadows and the slow, ponderous stick insects that crawled through the foliage. The size of some of the insect life had been rather horrifying at first, but after a week of exposure, to their surprise they'd all become largely accustomed to it.
For a while, faint laughter drifted up to them from the boys far below, but soon the only sound was the call of the seabirds wheeling overhead.
Niall lead Zayn into the dimness of the cave and spread his arms theatrically. "Well? What do you think?"
Zayn looked round the interior. The low bed of brushwood and leaves with its red blanket took up one corner, the tongue of sunlight from the entrance just reaching its foot.
"Don't I get flowers?" he smirked. Niall laughed.
"Never happy, you."
"Oh, I wouldn’t say that." Zayn held his arms out and folded Niall into them. "Although if I find you've dragged me all the way up here without intending to seduce me, I'll be sorely disappointed."
Niall grinned, going red. "What did you have in mind?"
Zayn kissed him. "Depends." He shuffled closer, so that he was pressed up against Niall's body and kissed him again.
"On?" Niall prompted.
"On how far you're prepared to go," Zayn teased.
Niall swallowed a little nervously. So far they'd done a lot of kissing and a certain amount of jerking off in front of each other, but despite Zayn's boastful claims around the campfire, not much else. The thought that Zayn might actually want to - what? Touch him? Fuck him? left Niall with a growing problem in his trousers.
Zayn could feel Niall's dick stiffening against him and laughed. "Does that mean you’re up for it?" he murmured.
Niall nodded, eager and shy all at once. "Whatever you want," he agreed in a whisper.
Cupping his hands around Niall's face, Zayn kissed him again, deep and possessive. He was getting hard himself, and let his hand trail suggestively over Niall's groin, eliciting a stifled gasp.
"What if I want disgusting things though?" Zayn murmured teasingly against Niall's ear, laughing at his expression of mingled arousal and embarrassment.
Niall wrapped his arms round Zayn’s waist and squeezed his arse. "Filthier the better if you ask me," he said boldly, not entirely sure if he was calling Zayn’s bluff or agreeing to getting fucked up the arse, but willing enough to go along with things for the moment.
Zayn gave a low laugh, and ruffled Niall's hair. "See what happens, yeah?" he said more gently, butting their noses together and making Niall giggle. They sat down on the blanket and started kissing each other, slowly at first, with occasional fits of laughter as twigs jabbed into them from beneath, or their roaming hands found a ticklish spot.
Niall traced Zayn's returning fuzz of stubble with his fingers and Zayn turned his head to kiss Niall in the centre of his palm, before moving down to lick a wet strip across the inside of his wrist. Niall shivered, feeling his cock stir with interest. He lay down, reaching up invitingly and Zayn lowered himself deliberately on top of him.
He could feel Niall's erection through his trousers and rubbed against it slowly, feeling him get harder and thicker from the touch. Niall's hands were under his shirt now, blunt nails scraping across his back, and Zayn bucked into him instinctively, hips thrusting forward with a mind of their own.
His mouth was crushed against Niall's, their tongues tangling together with an uninhibited pleasure. Niall started making moaning noises in the back of his throat and Zayn pulled back and grinned at him.
"Off?" he suggested, tugging at Niall's shirt. Niall immediately stripped it off and threw it away, making Zayn laugh loudly.
"You too," Niall insisted, and Zayn followed suit. He was straddling Niall's legs, their groins brushing up against each other with every movement. Zayn let his fingers trail over the bulge in Niall's trousers, before unzipping him.
They'd all given up wearing underwear almost as soon as they'd given up on shoes, and Niall's cock sprang out immediately, stiff and proud. With a smirk up at Niall's wide-eyed look of anticipation, Zayn wrapped his hand around him and started stroking.
"Uhh, God," Niall pushed into his hand unselfconsciously, loving the way Zayn's rough fingers felt around him.
"Feel good?" Zayn murmured, rubbing his own crotch absent-mindedly with his free hand.
"Incredible," Niall said, breathless and laughing.
"I know what'd feel better," Zayn teased, and leaned over to take Niall into his mouth. Judging by the strangled noises Niall made, this met with considerable approval and Zayn smiled around him.
Zayn sucked down with an exploratory tenderness. He'd never done this before, but enough people had done it for him that Zayn figured he knew what felt good. He concentrated on using his lips and tongue to reduce Niall to a whimpering mess, before he sat back, lips shiny with saliva.
"Don't stop there," Niall groaned. "Not fair."
Zayn snorted, and started pulling his own trousers down. "Why should you have all the fun?" he demanded, and threw himself back next to Niall, stealing a kiss. Niall reached out for him, a little more hesitant than Zayn had been, watching his expression carefully in case he did something wrong. But Zayn hummed with pleasure at Niall’s' touch and stretched like a cat, arching his back and pushing needily into his grip.
"Should I - ?" Niall asked him after a while, carried away by his success and the noises Zayn was making.
"Sure." Zayn looked hopeful. "Hardly going to say no am I?"
Niall giggled nervously, and Zayn kissed him again. "Only if you want, though?"
"I do." Niall nodded firmly. "Don't know if I'll be any good mind you."
"Amount of time you spend putting things in your mouth, you should be an expert," grinned Zayn, and Niall pinched him in the leg.
"Oi! I can change me mind you know!" Niall grumbled, but he was smiling still. He took a deep breath and leaned over, steadying Zayn's cock in his hand and sliding his mouth carefully over the head. He was trying not to think too much about what he was doing, but he knew when Zayn had done it to him it had felt amazing, and he wanted to return the favour.
Niall took him further in, his tongue pressed to the underside of Zayn's hot, hard cock, his lips stretched around him. He went too far, and had to pull back, gagging.
"Shit. Sorry." He coughed, eyes watering, and Zayn rubbed his back reassuringly.
After a moment Niall tried again, careful not to go quite so deep. He wished he could see Zayn's expression, wished he'd done this before, wished he was better at it, but after a while his worries faded and he started enjoying himself.
Once he'd got used to the new sensations, Niall realised just how much it was actually turning him on having Zayn's cock in his mouth. The pulse of blood under the skin, the taste, unfamiliar and exciting on his tongue, the coarse hair under his fingertips, the quiet groans Zayn was giving out with every dip of his mouth.
Niall sucked harder and faster, bobbing his head in an intent rhythm that made Zayn’s breathing go ragged, his fingers clawing at Niall's bare shoulder in a warning that Niall ignored.
Seconds later, Zayn came helplessly hard with a stifled groan of profanity. Niall found his mouth suddenly full of thick warm spunk and swallowed convulsively around him.
"Fuck, Niall." Zayn laughed weakly, disbelievingly, as Niall sat up and grinned at him. "You're - "
"Yeah?" Niall lay down beside him, licking his lips unconsciously.
"Unbelievable." Zayn pulled him into a hug, still laughing.
They kissed again, heated and greedy, Niall's erection pushing against Zayn's stomach, leaving sticky trails over his skin. Zayn cupped him in his hand, fondling his balls as he squirmed round to take Niall back into his mouth. Alternately working him with lips and fingers, Zayn let his other hand explore deeper between Niall's legs, stroking over his hole in time with the rhythm of his mouth. As he felt Niall start to come, he pushed harder, sliding his finger inside Niall's tight heat, buried to the knuckle as Niall spasmed around him.
Niall flopped back against the bed, feeling dazed and sated and already missing the guilty pleasure of Zayn's finger inside him. He looked up at Zayn who had a conflicted expression and his mouth clamped shut.
"I swallowed," Niall pointed out smugly. Zayn crossed his eyes, slithered off the bed and went to spit loudly in the bushes outside.
"Pussy," Niall called, cackling loudly.
"Nobody ever told me it would taste that disgusting," Zayn complained, coming back to join him on the blanket.
"You never did it before?" Niall asked, sounding surprised.
"Well, no. Did you?"
"No." Niall shook his head. "You were just - I assumed you had, that's all."
Zayn smirked. "Are you saying I was that good?"
"No," Niall lied, grinning.
"Are too." Zayn tackled him back to the bed and kissed him hard.
They stayed there for some time, idly talking and occasionally kissing, both glad that things hadn't become awkward between them.
It was hunger that finally drove them to get up and find their clothes, and they made their way unhurriedly back down the slopes, bracing themselves for the inevitable mockery that would follow their suspiciously long absence.
As they came in sight of the camp though, it became apparent that something was wrong. Louis and Liam were bending over Harry who was curled on the ground, anxiety and tension apparent in every line of their bodies.
Exchanging worried looks, Zayn and Niall broke into a run.
"What happened? What's going on?" Zayn demanded. By now Louis was on the ground, cradling Harry's head in his lap and looking frantic. Harry himself was writhing in agony, giving stifled whimpers of pain.
"We think he got stung by a jellyfish," Liam explained.
"What?" Niall put a hand over his mouth in shock, staring at the livid red marks running up Harry's calf, as if he'd been whipped. "Oh my God. What do we do?"
"Aren't you supposed to pee on it?" suggested Zayn. There was an awkward silence.
"Well I think that should be Louis' job," said Liam finally. Louis scowled.
"Shut up. That's just a myth."
"Who died and made you the doctor?" Zayn retorted and Louis glared at him.
"Hello? Sea urchin sting anyone? They told me the whole urine thing's bollocks. You're supposed to use vinegar."
"Oh, I'll just pop down the chippie then shall I?" Zayn shot back.
"Stop it!" Niall pleaded. "Both of you. You're not helping him. Louis, did they say anything else?"
"I don't know, I was in a massive amount of pain, not taking notes." Louis stroked Harry's hair, racking his brains to remember what he'd been told over two years back. "Hot water. Salt water."
Niall and Liam hurried to fetch some sea water in the large shell while Zayn stoked up the fire. Louis rocked Harry in his arms and whispered soothing things to him. There were tears of pain in Harry's eyes, and he gripped Louis' hand with a fierceness that gave away how much it was hurting.
Harry hadn't seen the jellyfish drifting towards him, the first he'd known of it was a lashing pain down his leg as if he'd been electrocuted. He'd yelled and gone under, feeling a second set of stings spike through him. Thrashing wildly he'd made it to the edge, where Liam and Louis, finally realising he wasn’t mucking about, had helped him out and back to the campsite.
Now, he was starting to shiver, and the pain was getting steadily worse. It was like nettle rash only a thousand times worse, tiny knives stabbing into his flesh over and over. Harry felt sick, dizzy and disoriented. Uncomfortable thoughts of the number of deadly jellyfish in the world kept plaguing him, and he was grateful for Louis' comfortingly tight embrace.
"Come on, come on," Louis muttered, as the water seemed to take forever to heat up. Finally it started steaming, and Liam carried some over to where Harry lay.
"Are you sure?" he asked, biting his lip nervously.
Harry nodded, eyes unfocused and hair plastered to his forehead with sweat. "You can’t make it worse," he said through gritted teeth. "I'll try anything right now."
"Okay. Here goes." Liam tested the water with his finger to make sure it wouldn’t scald him, then poured some of the water gently over the sting marks.
Harry let out a strangled yell of agony, panting fast and shallow, fighting the feeling he was going to pass out. Liam poured the rest of the water over him, fetched more, did it again. Gradually, to Harry's immense relief, the pain shooting through him subsided a notch, and his breathing became easier.
"Harry? Should I stop?" Liam asked worriedly, not convinced he wasn’t making things worse.
"No. No, it's good," Harry said weakly. "It's fading a bit."
Liam carried on until the steaming sea water was all used up, and Harry had regained some of the colour in his face. While Liam fetched more water to start heating it up again, Niall brought a blanket out of the hut and wrapped it round Louis and Harry together.
Worn out from pain and fear, Harry finally dozed off in Louis' arms. Louis held him carefully, wishing he could take the frown creases away from his sleeping face, and make everything better.
Zayn came to sit next to them and offered Louis a sheepish smile.
"Sorry if I was a prick earlier," he said softly.
Louis shook his head. "Nah. I was just being touchy." He tightened his hold on Harry, unconsciously protective. "I hate it here," he confessed to Zayn. "I am so done with it. It's like - everything's out to poison us or drown us, or just, starve us, you know? I want to go home."
"He's going to be okay," Zayn reassured him. "If it was - worse, he'd be - we'd know by now."
Louis shook his head. "This time. What if next time he's not so lucky? Or someone else isn't? Face it Zayn. We don't know what the fuck we're doing, and if something serious happens we've got no way of getting help."
Zayn sighed. "We've made it this far. It surely can’t be much longer before they find us. Chin up babes, we're doing okay."
"You've changed your tune," Louis muttered, and Zayn gave him a guilty smile.
"Guess I had a good morning."
Louis snorted. "With Niall?" Zayn nodded, looking embarrassed but self-satisfied and Louis couldn’t help probing further.
"So what were you - doing, exactly?"
Zayn looked more embarrassed than ever. "Just - stuff. You know. Same as you and Harry I guess?" Louis looked away, shrugging uncomfortably and Zayn frowned. "Sorry, I didn’t mean to - I just kind've assumed you were - on the same page, yeah?"
Louis checked Harry was still sleeping, and gave Zayn an unreadable look. "Do you love him? Niall, I mean," he asked suddenly.
Zayn looked surprised. "I dunno. As much as I love all of you, I guess? It's not - we're just - " he shrugged. "It's just sex, yeah?"
"If you say so."
It was Zayn's turn to look curious. "You mean - you and Haz aren’t - ?"
Louis shook his head. "It's a big step."
Zayn snorted. "No it isn’t. Come off it Lou, I know you've had sex before."
"Not with a boy."
"What's the difference?"
Louis looked at him and Zayn spread his hands. "What? So Harry's got a dick. There's still other holes on offer, right?" He grinned. "You're not telling me he wouldn't oblige?"
Louis sighed. "No. It's not him, it's me."
"So get over yourself and have some fun," Zayn advised.
Louis bit off his reply as Harry stirred and woke with a groan, and they both turned their attention to carefully bathing his leg again.
Throughout the rest of the day and the restless night that followed, with Harry tossing and turning next to him, Louis dwelled on both Zayn's words and his own feelings.
The next morning, tired but relieved when Harry seemed to be much recovered, Louis made up his mind.
"Can we talk?" he asked quietly.
Harry looked up from where he was sitting by the fire eating his share of the breakfast. "Sounds ominous," he said, smiling hesitantly.
Louis shook his head. "Wasn't meant to," he promised, and Harry relaxed a little.
Louis gestured with his head away from the others, and Harry caught on. "Oh, right. Help me up?" He held his hands out and Louis hauled him to his feet, slipping and arm round his waist. The swelling had gone down on Harry’s leg, but you could still see red lines dark against his skin, and it hurt him to put his full weight on it.
"We're just going to - check the line," Harry called to the others. Zayn snorted and Niall elbowed him, making him spill coconut water down his front.
Harry and Louis hobbled slowly out along the reef. Once recovered from the shock of nearly drowning, Zayn had discovered that the fish hook he'd found on the beach had still been threaded through the material of his pocket, and Louis and Liam had spent the evening unravelling blanket wool and plaiting it into a fairly strong line.
Baited with clams, they'd fished without success in various locations, before getting bored and leaving it to its own devices. The end of the line had been secured round a outcrop of coral and weighted with shells, the idea being if a fish was hooked, the noise of the falling shells would alert them. The fact that it was too far away to really hear such a small noise hadn't occurred to them, but as Harry and Louis walked up now, it was obvious that nothing had yet taken the bait.
They sat down on the warm coral and leaned against each other.
"So what's up?" Harry prompted eventually.
"Can I ask you something?"
"You've - been with guys, yeah? I mean - actually had sex with them?"
Harry went pink under his tan. "Yeah."
"Did you - I mean, how did - did they - were you - " Louis faltered, and Harry gave him a sidelong glance, bright-eyed with amusement.
"You mean you want to know if I was on top or bottom," he guessed, hiding a grin.
"Yeah. Suppose I do," Louis agreed, smiling apologetically. "Tell me to fuck off if you want."
"No, I don’t mind." Harry wriggled closer, taking Louis' hand. "My first time? I was, uh, bottom. Then with Ni - with the second guy, I've erm, done both."
Louis smiled faintly. "You can say his name you know."
"Sorry." Harry gave a quiet laugh, rested his head briefly on Louis' shoulder.
"Are you and Nick - like - seeing each other?" Louis asked, not sure that he wanted to know the answer, and not sure what would hurt more, if the answer was yes, or that Harry had been in a relationship he hadn't felt he could tell him about. But Harry shook his head.
"No, we're just - friends."
"Yeah." Harry laughed. "You know what it's like. You go out, you get pissed, you come home horny...it's just sex."
Louis sighed. "Sometimes I think you should be seeing Zayn rather than me."
Harry looked at him enquiringly, but Louis shook his head. "Never mind. I just mean - it's a bigger deal for me, you know? I generally only want to - make love to someone - if I'm in love with them."
"I understand," Harry said quietly. Louis looked at his suddenly miserable face and kicked himself.
"No, I don't think you do." He squeezed Harry's fingers urgently. "I'm saying I love you Harry."
Harry's face brightened in surprise. "You do? I mean - you want - "
"Yeah," Louis breathed, feeling a ridiculous smile spread across his face in return. "I am. I‘m ready."
Harry kissed him, a lingering press of the lips that tasted of salt spray and sunshine. "We don’t have to rush things though?" Harry murmured. "We can take things slow, you know I don't mind."
Louis shook his head, thinking of Harry the day before and the long panicked minutes when he'd thought he might lose him. "I want to be with you," he insisted. "Properly." Harry grinned happily.
"There is one thing though," Louis added, when they'd stopped kissing again. "Would you mind if - if I - um."
"You want to go on top?" guessed Harry with a snicker. Louis nodded awkwardly and Harry nudged him.
"You don't mind?" Louis asked, guiltily relived.
"No. I like it," said Harry quietly, hiding his face against Louis' arm. Louis wrapped it around him and kissed him firmly.
"Really? You're okay with it?"
"Yeah." Harry nodded. "You don't mind? That I - prefer it that way?"
"Why would I - ?" Louis recalled his less than complimentary reaction to some of Harry’s previous behaviour and felt suddenly guilty. "No, Harry, don't ever think that. You're perfect, okay? Absolutely fucking perfect."
Harry smiled, leaning back against the reef and pulling Louis down on top of him.
"In that case, come here and kiss me again," he ordered. "It takes my mind off my leg hurting."
Louis obliged with enthusiasm, and it was only the uncomfortably sharp coral they were lying on that stopped things getting very heated very fast. Louis felt like a weight had been lifted off him, and no longer felt self-conscious about pressing in against Harry's body, kissing and caressing him eagerly.
He'd finally realised last night, how much of his hesitation had had nothing to do with the fact Harry was a boy, and how much with his own preconceptions of what it would entail. Previously, every time he'd pictured them together, he'd imagined that Harry - now taller, heavier, more experienced than Louis, for all that he was younger - would want to fuck him, and the subsequent anxiety over whether he could do it, whether it would hurt, had coloured his feelings. It hadn't been until Zayn's blithe suggestion that it had actually occurred to him that things could be the other way round - and he'd then promptly spent the night feeling guilty for needing it to be like that.
Harry's unconcerned agreement had been a turning point, and Louis felt recklessly like he could almost fuck him right here, regardless of the fact they were out in the open.
They were disturbed by a nearby clatter and sat up quickly, assuming one of the others had followed them over. Puzzled, they found the reef still deserted.
It was Harry who worked it out, catching a movement in the corner of his eye.
"It's a fish!" Ignoring Louis' protests, he clambered over to where the line was jerking vigorously amidst a pile of spilled shells. "Here, give me a hand."
Together they pulled the line carefully in, wary of losing the fish from the hook and afraid that the line would break at any second. It held though, and a moment later they hauled in a huge fish that flapped vigorously on the coral.
"Do something," Louis urged, not liking to see it suffer but also afraid of losing it back over the edge. Harry picked up a lump of coral and dispatched it efficiently with a sharp blow to the head. Louis blinked. "Remind me never to piss you off," he murmured.
Having re-baited the hook, they carried the fish triumphantly back to the camp.
Zayn's eyes widened when he saw what they had, and he laughed. "Fuck me, you got one. I assumed 'going to check the line' was a euphemism for getting jiggy with it."
Laughing, Louis still slapped him in the face with the fish.
Two days slid by comparatively peacefully, and the shooting pains in Harry's leg gradually subsided until he was left with nothing but a speckled pattern of red marks up his calf.
The incident had made Zayn more reluctant than ever to go back in the water, but Liam was insistent he keep his promise, and so the next day had found him wading nervously into the lagoon. With Harry watching from the rocks, promising to yell if he saw any marauding wildlife heading their way and Liam, Louis and Niall grouped around him providing a teasing level of encouragement, he submitted to a swimming lesson.
Wary at first, by the end Zayn was slightly surprised to discover he was enjoying himself. While he hadn't magically transformed into an olympic level swimmer, neither had he drowned, and so when Liam announced it was time for another lesson the following day he submitted with good grace.
While his self-appointed teachers took every opportunity to take the piss out of his tentative strokes and constant duckings, at the same time they understood his genuine level of fear and Zayn soon found that every time he went under there were reassuring hands immediately there to bear him up.
By the end of the second lesson Zayn could swim a handful of strokes, launching himself away from the rocks and splashing frantically forward into Liam's arms, laughing when everybody cheered his achievement, but pleased nonetheless. With Harry clapping manically from his perch on the reef, Liam and Niall hugged him hard, while Louis launched himself onto Zayn's back, plunging all four of them into the water.
That evening, another summer storm blew in and they were confined to the hut, huddling under the new sailcloth roof and watching the fat drops hammer into the ground outside. The temperature dropped sharply as the sun went in and the wind rose, and they tried hanging a blanket over the entrance to keep out the worst of the weather.
They passed the time telling each other tall stories and increasingly appalling jokes, grateful that they were protected from the rain. Trying to keep their spirits up though, got harder as the hours passed. Supper was only fruit, the fire having been swiftly doused by the downpour, and anyone who needed the loo came back bedraggled and shivering.
Night fell, cloud cover making the darkness total, with only the occasional flash of lightning to illuminate their surroundings. Conversation became sporadic and strained as the atmosphere began to affect them. With nerves on edge, more than one argument broke out until barely anyone was speaking for fear of provoking another disagreement.
Things got worse with the discovery that water was coming in one side of the shelter, apparently running off the rocks behind them. Much blind shuffling and swearing ensued, as they crawled over each other in an attempt to find a dry patch in the dark, with too many elbows and knees for such a confined space.
Forced to bundle closer together, gradually five tense and awkward bodies relaxed against each other. In the pitch dark it was hard to tell at first who was who, and all conflicts were forgotten as each boy drew comfort from the simple proximity of the others. Being stuck here was tough, but as long as they still had the others to share the misery with, it was somehow bearable.
By morning the storm had passed, and they awoke to a world that seemed to be gently steaming. The top of the island was shrouded in layers of mist, and everything had a look of being freshly washed.
Niall stretched the kinks out of his muscles from the cramped sleeping position, and blinked happily into the sunshine. Each new day seemed to bring with it the possibility of rescue and somehow they always greeted it with the same unwavering hope.
He kicked over the remains of the fire, wishing they'd thought to put the wood they'd collected under cover before the rain started. Behind him, Harry emerged yawning from the shelter and scrubbed his fingers through his hair.
They were all beginning to look unrecognisably unkempt. Harry's hair was starting to resemble a tumbleweed, Niall's dark roots were already stark against his scalp and Liam, who'd refused to bother shaving at all, had developed a surprisingly respectable beard.
Louis was next to emerge, crawling out on his hands and knees and groaning. "Ugh. Are we still here? I was hoping it had all been a horrible dream."
"All of it?" Harry asked softly as he got to his feet, and Louis' frown cleared into a smile.
"Not all of it," he confirmed, and took Harry's hand in his, leaning in to give him a peck on the cheek.
"Oi oi!" Zayn appeared behind them and slapped them both hard on the arse. "Get a room already, I haven't had me breakfast yet."
"You're not likely to get it either, unless you go and find it," Louis pointed out, deciding it was best to ignore the teasing. Harry squeezed his fingers though and looked mischievous.
"What do you reckon?" he whispered. Louis looked puzzled, and Harry grinned. "Wanna get a room?"
Louis laughed. "You feeling better then?" Harry nodded, and Louis pulled him closer, slipping his arms round his waist. "Alright."
"Yeah?" Harry laughed in delight, and Louis kissed him again, ignoring the wolf-whistles coming from Zayn and Niall.
"Yeah. You know what? I do. Away from this bunch of tossers," he added, causing Zayn and Niall to crack up laughing and Liam, who'd only just come outside, to look surprised.
"Sorry Li." Harry gave a low laugh. "Not you."
"Charming." Liam smiled, unoffended.
"Think we'll skip breakfast," Louis said with a smirk, and to a barrage of cat-calls he and Harry walked out of the camp, hand in hand.
Once out of earshot of the others, Harry gave Louis a sideways glance, wondering if the overt teasing would have got to him. Louis caught the look and smiled enquiringly.
"You okay?" Harry murmured. Louis nodded.
"Yeah. It's funny, it's like - it's not bothering me any more. I mean - they don't mind, do they? And you don't. So why should I?"
Harry grinned, and kissed him, and for several minutes they didn't move any further from that spot.
Back at the campsite, the boys had split up in order to gather something to eat. Niall had wandered into the trees, happy to discover the storm had provided a lot of windblown fruit just waiting to be picked off the ground.
Liam and Zayn had gone in the other direction, out along the reef. Liam stripped off and slipped into the water, picking shellfish off the rocks from below the water line and handing them up to Zayn, who was following along the top with one of the pans.
As they moved further out, the water deepened as the bottom shelved away, and the sunlight sparkled on the surface. The lagoon was crystal clear, and looking down they could see fish flicking to and fro beneath Liam's paddling feet, and once the sinuous dark ribbon of a huge eel faded back into the shadow of the reef wall.
Liam stopped for a rest, treading water and rubbing his fingers. They were covered in tiny cuts from prising the rough shells from sharp coral, and the salt water was making them sting.
"You alright?" Zayn sat down, dangling his legs over the side and setting the pan of shellfish carefully next to him.
"Yeah. It's just dull and fiddly," Liam said. "Hurry up and learn to swim so you can take over."
Zayn stuck his tongue out and Liam laughed, and splashed him.
"Hey!" Zayn picked a tiny clam out of the pile and bounced it off Liam's head, making him yelp.
"Do you mind? I worked hard for that," Liam objected, grinning.
"It was hardly a mouthful," Zayn countered. "Pick bigger ones."
"Yes mother." Liam held onto the coral with one hand and looked down through the water. "Pity those aren't a bit closer, they'd feed us for a week!"
Zayn leaned over to see what he was looking at. Far below on the sandy bottom, a bed of enormous clams gaped up at them.
"Wow. Those babies are fucking huge. Do you think they're edible?" asked Zayn doubtfully.
"Don't see why not." Liam looked thoughtful. "Do you think I could get one?"
Zayn shuddered. "Not unless you've discovered how to breathe underwater."
"It's not really that deep," Liam said. "I reckon I could get down and back easily enough." He smiled up at Zayn's worried face. "Look, if I run out of breath I can just come up again, right? Hey, who knows, I might even find a pearl!"
With that, he took a deep breath and ducked under the water, swimming strongly downwards. Zayn followed his progress anxiously.
"If it was pearls you wanted, I could've given you a necklace," he muttered. By now, Liam seemed to have reached the bottom and was struggling with one of the giant clams. Zayn found he was getting breathless just watching, and mentally urged Liam to come back.
Eventually, to Zayn's immense relief Liam came shooting back to the surface, taking huge gasping breaths. He wiped the water out of his eyes and grinned up at Zayn.
"They're gigantic! Like, this big," Liam gestured with his arms. "But I think I've loosened one. I'm going to have another go."
"Just leave it," Zayn urged, but Liam had already duck-dived again, and with a flash of feet was swimming back down.
In a couple of seconds Liam had reached the bottom and was groping for a hold to stop himself floating back up. With no diving belt or other weighting, the natural buoyancy of his body made it difficult to stay down, and he hooked his foot under a tangle of seaweed to anchor himself.
Grasping the shell firmly, he heaved and twisted in a renewed attempt to wrench it out of the sand. It seemed to be almost there when his foothold ripped free, throwing him off. Blindly Liam felt around with his foot for another anchor point, still struggling to uproot his prize before he ran out of breath.
Suddenly a sharp pain shot through his ankle, and Liam almost breathed out in shock. Assuming he'd scraped his foot on a rock he instinctively recoiled - or tried to. To his alarm he discovered that his foot was stuck. Twisting round, trying to see through the sand he'd stirred up from the bottom with his movements, Liam's blood ran cold as he realised what had happened. He wasn't tangled up in seaweed or wedged under a rock - in his bid to find a toehold he'd inadvertently placed his foot right inside one of the giant clams and the shell had slammed shut on his ankle.
Trying not to panic, Liam tried to yank his foot free, and only succeeded in scraping the skin from his ankle. He tore frantically at the lip of the shell, trying to prise it open, but his efforts were in vain. A stream of bubbles escaped his mouth as he gave a frightened whimper, before clamping his mouth shut firmly. His lungs were starting to burn and he fought the urge to breathe in.
On the surface, Zayn was staring worriedly down into the water, trying to figure out what was going on. Liam had already been down far longer than the first time, and Zayn hopped nervously from foot to foot, willing him to return.
"Come on, come on, what the hell are you playing at down there?" he muttered, trusting that Liam knew what he was doing and trying not to freak out at the time he was taking. And then some of the swirling sand settled and he got a clearer view of what was happening, even as a trail of bubbles broke on the surface.
"Liam? Liam!" Zayn yelled uselessly, knowing he couldn't hear him and that it wasn't doing any good. Whatever had happened, Liam was clearly trapped down there, and running out of time.
Zayn looked back up the beach, desperate for someone to come and help, but it was deserted.
"Niall!" he yelled at the top of his voice, "Niall, help!"
A distant figure appeared on the edge of the trees and Zayn waved furiously, but his heart sank at the same time. Niall was much too far away, it would take him at least a minute to get here - precious time that Liam didn't have.
Zayn looked down into the water and swallowed. "But I can't swim," he wailed faintly to himself, knowing he didn't have a choice. And anyway, he didn't have to swim did he - all he had to do was sink. Surely even he could manage that.
Taking a deep breath and closing his eyes, Zayn jumped off the reef into the water.
Pressure in his ears, in his face. Zayn risked opening his eyes, peering through the water. Without goggles everything was strangely blurry, but he could make out Liam just below, still struggling with his foot. After the initial momentum of his leap, Zayn was horrified to find he was starting to float up again, and flailed hard with his arms and legs to stay down. He succeeded in turning himself so he was upside down, and wasn't at all sure this was an improvement, but he was closer to Liam now, and holding the thought in his head that Liam needed him was just enough to stop him from losing it.
Liam seemed to have heard Zayn's entry because he looked up and reached out, grasping Zayn’s hand just before he bobbed back up out of reach. Zayn used Liam to pull himself down, had a brief impression of wide, terrified eyes, and then he was hauling himself lower until his hands were clamped round Liam's leg.
When Zayn first saw how firmly Liam was trapped he had a moment of despair. Liam had to be nearly at the end of his endurance, Zayn was already struggling and he'd been down barely any time at all. He tried to force the clam shell open with his fingers, to no avail. Looking round desperately for inspiration, Zayn snatched up a long fragment of rock and jammed it between the jaws of the clam. With every last inch of his strength he twisted it, fear and anger lending him force and preventing him feeling the way in bit into his hands.
It provided the leverage that hands alone hadn't been able to manage, and the edges were finally prised slightly apart, just enough for Liam to wrench his bleeding foot free.
Zayn clutched at him, kicking off from the sand and together they shot towards the surface. They'd almost made it when Liam's willpower was finally overcome by sheer physical compulsion and he breathed out, water flooding into his mouth. Zayn felt him jerk in his arms and kicked harder in a last desperate push. He had no idea how he was going to get Liam out of the water on his own so when they broke the surface a second later it was with weak relief he saw Niall leaning out over the edge staring down at them in consternation.
"Help him," Zayn pleaded, trying to bodily heave Liam out of the water. Niall caught on quickly, grabbing Liam's wrists and hauling him up to sprawl face down on the coral. To his relief, Liam immediately coughed up a gush of water, spluttering and groaning but mercifully conscious. Niall turned back to help Zayn climb out too, grabbing his sodden clothes and shaking him.
"Twat got stuck." Zayn flopped to the reef beside Liam, hardly knowing whether to laugh or cry. "I had to go in after him."
Liam finally sat up, panting hard and looked at Zayn with something like awe.
"You were amazing. I thought I'd had it."
"Would have served you right. Who even does something that stupid?" Zayn said roughly, punching Liam hard on the arm and then pulling him into a fierce hug. Niall joined in, and for a long moment they stayed locked together in emotional relief.
Between them, Niall and Zayn helped Liam hobble back to the campsite. Once Liam and Zayn were both back in dry clothes, Niall set about relighting the campfire while Zayn saw to Liam's ankle.
"I wish we had some antiseptic cream or something," Zayn said. He'd torn up one of the old shirts from the suitcase to make bandages, and was winding strips of material around the nasty wound.
"It'll be alright. Salt water's kind've antiseptic, right?" Liam said hopefully, trying not to show how much it was hurting.
"It won't stop bleeding," Zayn muttered fretfully.
"I'll live. Thanks to you." Liam smiled at him.
"All for a bloody stupid clam," Zayn huffed, and then frowned as a thought struck him. "Bollocks!"
"We left the rest of them out on the reef."
"I'll get them," Niall offered. "You two sit tight. And no getting into trouble whilst I'm gone this time," he added, mock sternly.
They watched him go, shuffling closer together for warmth and comfort.
"Seriously," Liam murmured. "Thank you. What you did - I can't imagine what it took."
Zayn gave an awkward laugh. "Yeah, well. Didn’t really have time to think about it. Hey, I get to skip my swimming lesson today now, right?"
"Never mind lesson, you should get a medal," Liam said warmly, and Zayn blushed.
"Oh, shush. You'd have done it for me. You did do it for me. Forget it."
Liam smiled, surrendering. "Okay. But I'm hardly likely to forget it."
Zayn held Liam's gaze. "I'd do it again," he said softly. "If I had to."
"My hero," teased Liam, but he didn't look away. Zayn leaned slowly closer, expecting Liam to move back at any second, but he held his ground as Zayn kissed him gently on the mouth.
For a second, two, three, Liam let the kiss linger, then pushed Zayn away apologetically.
"We can't," he whispered.
"Why not?" Zayn protested, just as quietly.
Liam sighed. "What about Niall?" he pointed out, looking out to where he could still be seen walking out over the rocks.
"He won't mind," Zayn said.
"Well what about Perrie then?" Liam added, and Zayn shrugged. Liam shook his head regretfully. "It's not that I don't - look, I'm with Dani, okay? I can't do what you do. Sometimes I wish I could, but - I'm sorry."
"Don't worry about it." Zayn wrapped his arms around himself, and Liam sighed.
"Look, I'm going to go and have a bit of a sleep, okay? It's - all been a bit much this morning." Liam got up and limped across to the shelter, hating the fact that after everything he'd ended up hurting Zayn’s feelings and knowing he was running away.
When Niall returned to the camp bearing the pan of shellfish, he found Zayn sitting alone staring into the fire.
"You okay?" he asked, sitting down and instinctively wrapping his arms round Zayn's chest.
"I'm a bad person," Zayn muttered. "Apparently."
Niall frowned. "You're not telling me Liam said that, because I don’t believe it."
"He didn't have to."
"What are you talking about? What's got into you?" Niall hugged him tighter, bewildered, and Zayn felt even worse.
"Oh, I don't know. The fact I can't seem to be faithful to someone for five minutes maybe?" he muttered bitterly.
Niall laughed, taking Zayn by surprise. "What if it was the other way round?" he asked, and Zayn looked at him, confused.
"What if it was Perrie and the others stuck here? Would you mind if she got with someone else?"
"Oh." Zayn experienced a brief guilty relief that Niall hadn't caught on fully to what he meant, then got distracted by the image. "What, like if she slept with Jade or someone?"
Zayn stared dreamily into the distance. "Not as long as she told me about it afterwards."
Niall giggled. "See? Practical. You both are."
Zayn finally laughed, and wrapped his own arms around Niall. "So should I tell her about us?" he teased, and Niall considered.
"Er, no. Maybe not."
They laughed again, and laughter somehow became kissing, and for a long while there was peace in the camp.
Wrapped up in each other, they both missed Liam looking out of the hut and quickly ducking back inside when he realised what they were doing. Drawn by the laughter he'd been going to rejoin them, thankful that Zayn had quickly cheered up, but the sight of him kissing Niall in a remarkably passionate embrace had sent him hastily back into the depths of the shelter.
Liam bit his lip, trying to ignore the feelings both bad and guiltily good the sight had provoked. The trouble was, he reflected miserably, everyone seemed to be going stir-crazy. They'd been here barely two weeks, but already the others had all managed to become somehow romantically involved. It was all very well, but what happened when they were rescued? Liam wondered what the fall-out from this would be, how they would cope with their changed situations back in the real world, with girlfriends and media and family back in the equation.
He struggled too, with his own feelings. He was attracted to Zayn, he'd always known that. Equally, he'd always known nothing would ever come of it, and there was no way he was going to be unfaithful, extenuating circumstances or not. And then there was Niall. Liam felt tremendously protective towards him at the best of times, and the thought that Zayn might ever hurt him made him angry and conflicted, and more determined than ever to never be the cause of it.
He didn't even know where to start where it came to Harry and Louis. Thinking about them, it occurred to Liam they were quite possibly making love to each other somewhere on the island at this very moment, and was slightly shocked by the shiver of arousal that the image sent through him.
Ankle aching dully, Liam lay back down in the dim warmth of the hut and wasn't sure if he prayed for rescue, or dreaded the thought of it.
Oblivious to the events about to unfold below, Harry and Louis had made for the cave, stopping frequently along the way each time the urge to kiss each other became too much. Once there though, the enormity of what they were about to do seemed to dawn on them and they spent a stupid amount of time brushing windblown leaves out of the place, shaking small wildlife out of the bed pile and bulking it up with armfuls of new material.
Finally, Harry caught Louis' arm as he went past and smiled at him shyly. Louis laughed and folded him into a hug. They both knew they were procrastinating.
"We don't have to do this?" Harry said softly.
Louis smiled. "You keep saying that, I'll start to think you don't want me."
Harry shook his head vigorously. "I do. More than anything."
They sat next to each other on the blanket and started kissing again. It was still new and exciting and made them feel like they never wanted to stop. Finally having permission to touch and kiss and explore each other, to give into their mutually suppressed longing without fear, was the best feeling in the world.
Before long, Harry sat back and peeled off his top, then promptly wriggled out of his trousers too until he was curled in front of Louis completely naked. This was hardly an unprecedented sight as far as Louis was concerned, but the fact that Harry had a semi was distractingly new.
Louis imagined he was being discreet in his glances, until Harry snorted with laughter and waggled his cock at him lewdly. Louis creased up, the remaining tension melting away.
"Want some?" Harry grinned.
"Oh trust me, you're going to get some," Louis said, and set about taking his own clothes off as fast as he could. In a matter of seconds they'd joined Harry's in a pile on the floor, and before he could let his brain take over again Louis had gathered Harry into his arms and borne him down against the bed.
"Mmn." Harry immediately wrapped his all limbs around Louis and craned up for a kiss. Louis obliged, hungrily. He was half-kneeling astride Harry's thighs, and as he settled forward over him could feel Harry's cock swelling rapidly against his stomach. It sent a thrill through him, a flush of heat that made his own cock stiffen in response.
Harry felt it and smiled against his lips, groaning encouragement. At first they spent a long while just discovering each other, gradually getting used to being with each other like this.
With hands and lips and tongues they mapped each other's bodies, bringing each other almost to the edge time and time again, before pulling back, laughing and panting and gazing at each other with something like awe.
Finally, Harry cupped Louis' face in his hands and delivered a lingering kiss, before capturing Louis' lower lip between his teeth and biting gently. "Take me, Lou," he whispered.
Louis swallowed, nodded, let out a breath. "Do I just - how do I - " he faltered, aware they had nothing to use as lubricant and afraid of getting it wrong.
"You want me to show you?" Harry breathed, stroking his hands down Louis' arms, loving the feel of the muscles under his skin, wanting more than anything for that strength to hold him down and possess him.
Louis nodded, unsure but eager to learn, and trusting in Harry completely.
Harry pushed him off a little and lay back, drawing his knees up and wide. He held a hand out to Louis, his fingers splayed. "Suck them," he directed softly, resting two fingertips on Louis' mouth.
Obediently, Louis parted his lips and let Harry's fingers slide into his mouth, sucking around them wetly, playing over them with his tongue. It was erotic and heated, and when Harry finally slid them back out Louis was harder than ever. He watched, hardly breathing, as Harry placed his hand between his legs and without further ado pushed the tip of one finger inside himself.
Harry let his head fall back, concentrating on what he was doing by touch alone. He slid his finger further in, closing his eyes, relaxing his body. It felt good, he was so turned on and ready for this he had to resist the temptation to just bring himself off there and then.
Louis watched with wide eyes and an aching cock as Harry fingered himself, thrusting one long finger in and out, adding a second, stretching himself around them. Harry opened his eyes and smiled breathlessly up at Louis.
"Awkward question, but can you spit on my fingers?" he asked, with a quiet laugh.
"Oh, right, yeah." Louis blushed but did as he was asked, bending over and letting a string of saliva fall onto Harry's fingers. Louis wiped his chin with the back of his hand, unable to tear his gaze away as Harry pushed his glistening wet fingers back into his hole, fucking himself on them slowly and methodically, easing himself open.
Finally Harry gave a tight nod. "Okay," he said. "Go for it."
Too turned on to be nervous now, Louis climbed back between his splayed legs, spitting into his hand and stroking himself to Harry's smile of approval.
"Do I just - ?" Louis hesitated, and Harry arched further back, spreading himself invitingly with his fingers.
"You won't hurt me Lou," he murmured. "I promise."
"Fuck." Louis swallowed, throat suddenly tight. He lined up against Harry's entrance, the head of his cock sticky with pre-come as well as saliva. Fighting the urge to ram himself inside in one violent motion, Louis pushed forward, his thighs trembling with tension. He felt soft resistance give way to tight heat and slowly, inch by inch he buried his aching cock inside Harry's body.
Harry closed his arms around Louis' chest, and settled more comfortably beneath him, wrapping his legs around Louis' hips and driving him further in than he'd believed possible. Harry was giving quiet moans of pleasure with every movement of Louis inside him, and Louis soon gave up his attempts to be careful, starting to thrust into him harder and faster.
It felt more incredible than Louis had ever imagined, Harry was so tight, clenching and rocking around his shaft, taking everything that Louis could give with breathy moans of encouragement. Louis had already been close to the point of orgasm at least twice before they'd got this far, and he suddenly realised with a creeping sense of embarrassment that he wasn’t going to be able to last long.
The sensations were just too much, and it felt like they'd barely been fucking for any time at all before he gave a groan of helpless surrender and came hard, spilling his load deep inside Harry as he shuddered bodily against him.
"Fuck. Fuck. Sorry. Oh God." Louis mumbled against Harry's chest, too mortified to look up. He slid out of him, painfully aware that Harry hadn't come yet and burning with embarrassment. It took him a second to realise that Harry was laughing.
"Hey. Hey." Harry pulled Louis up to face him and kissed him quickly on the lips. "It's okay. Don't be silly."
"Sorry," Louis muttered again, automatically. "I'm not usually so - fast."
Harry giggled. "Louis. It doesn't matter, okay? Did you like it, that's the main thing? I'm kind've guessing - yes?" he grinned up at him hopefully, and Louis gradually relaxed and started laughing too.
"You noticed that, huh?" Louis let himself fall against Harry's side and hugged him. "It was amazing," he whispered.
"Good." Harry kissed him again, snuggling into his arms. "So we can do it again then?" he said smugly.
"Repeatedly," Louis promised, sliding a hand down between them and wrapping his fingers around Harry's cock. "Until I get it right," he added, and Harry burst out laughing.
"Practice makes perfect," Harry agreed, smiling lazily as Louis stroked him to a belated climax. Fingers firm around him, Harry finally spurted his release in sticky trails over his stomach, groaning Louis' name.
"Can we stay here forever?" Harry murmured later, locked in Louis' arms as they lay watching the play of light and shadow through the leaves outside the cave mouth.
"We'll need to eat at some point," Louis said, conscious that his stomach had started to growl and remembering they'd missed breakfast.
"I meant on the island," Harry yawned. "Things seem - simpler here, somehow. Food. Shelter. Sex. What else is there?"
Louis sighed. "Tea? Chocolate? Hot showers? Proper plumbing?"
Harry rolled his eyes. "No romance some people."
"What's romantic about typhoid?" Louis retorted. He let his fingers trace the remaining dark blotches on Harry's leg left by the jellyfish, and shook his head. "I'm scared Haz," he confessed. "Scared that the longer we stay here the higher the chances of something awful happening to one of us are."
Harry sat up and hugged him. "We'll be okay. We're doing alright so far aren't we?"
Louis sighed again and didn't answer, but neither did he object to Harry's ensuing attempt to cheer him up by snogging him breathless.
Louis' good mood lasted until they returned to the camp, where news of Liam's accident seemed to confirm all his worse fears. Ignoring the protests of Zayn and Niall that he was fine, Louis crawled into the shelter, needing to see for himself.
"Liam?" he called softly, not sure if he was asleep. Liam sat up, rubbing his eyes groggily.
"What time is it?"
Liam groaned. "I didn't mean to fall asleep." He took in Louis' worried face and sighed. "You heard, huh?"
"Are you okay?" Louis sat next to him, concerned. Liam seemed a little vague and disoriented, although perhaps it was only that he'd just woken up.
"It was just a scratch." Liam tugged the blanket more snugly round himself, so Louis couldn't see the bloodstained bandage.
"Zayn said you nearly drowned," Louis objected.
"It was my own fault." Liam shrugged. "Guess I was showing off, really. Should have known better." He rubbed his eyes again, swaying a little. "Don't know what's wrong with this place. Everything's upside down. Since when did you and Zayn become the most responsible ones?"
Louis gave a quiet laugh. "I don't know about that." He picked at a fingernail. "Can I tell you something?"
"Is it something that's going to make me go eww?"
Louis laughed louder, and Liam smiled.
"Go on then."
Louis looked at him, then back down at his hands. "I slept with Harry."
"Yeah?" Liam put his arm round him, sensing that Louis was more shaken by his injury than he was. "That's good though, right?"
Louis nodded, and leaned against Liam's shoulder. "Yeah," he said softly.
"What's wrong babe?" Liam asked, guiltily wishing Louis would go away and let him go back to sleep. His head felt unpleasantly swimmy and his ankle throbbed painfully every time he moved.
"I don't know," Louis sighed. "I should feel on top of the world, but I just feel terrified that someone's going to take it all away again. What's the matter with me?"
"Paranoia? Idiocy?" Liam suggested helpfully, and Louis raised a faint smile.
"Sorry. I shouldn't be laying this on you when you're feeling rough."
Liam lay back down and held his arms out. "Come here," he said softly. Gratefully, Louis lay down next to him and let Liam hug him close, feeling his eyelids start to drag.
When Harry looked in a while later, puzzled by Louis' disappearance, he found them both fast asleep, heads together on Zayn's rolled up shirt. He backed out again, quietly.
"Are they okay?" Niall asked, looking up.
"Asleep," Harry smiled, sitting down and poking at the fire. "I guess I wore him out."
Niall smirked. "We're going to have to hang a red light outside that cave at this rate. So we know when it's occupied."
"Could always make up another bed," Zayn suggested, and shrugged when they both spluttered at him. "What? You're telling me that wouldn't be hot?"
Harry and Niall exchanged glances and Harry cleared his throat. "I think that might be a step too far for Louis at the moment."
"And we could hardly all piss off up there and leave Liam alone," Niall added loyally.
"He could come and watch," Zayn said, grinning.
"You're awful," Harry told him, but he was smiling.
It was late afternoon when Louis and Liam crawled back out of the hut, finally roused by hunger. Louis wondered apprehensively if Harry would be angry at his abrupt disappearance so soon after their morning together, but Harry only smiled at him and set about bringing them both something to eat.
At the combined urging of Zayn and Niall, Liam eventually consented to them unwinding the bandage and looking at his ankle. Averting his own eyes, he winced at their muted intake of breath.
"Is it that bad?" he asked. "It was just a scratch, right?"
"It looks really sore," Niall said and Liam snorted.
"That would be because it is."
"It's still bleeding," Zayn said, touching the edge of the wound hesitantly with a fingertip. "I don't know what's best, bind it up again or let the air get to it."
"Bind it up for now and let him sleep?" Niall suggested. "Then tomorrow leave it open?"
"I am here you know," Liam protested.
"You're too squeamish to even look, therefore you don’t get to make the decisions," Zayn told him. Liam made himself look down and flinched quickly away again. There was a weeping red band around his ankle where he'd tried to wrench his leg free from the clam shell. It seemed to hurt worse now he'd seen how bad it was, and he clamped his teeth into his lower lip in an attempt not to whimper with pain.
Louis slid an arm round him. "You'll be okay," he said with a confidence he didn’t feel. "It'll heal soon enough. Just be careful to keep it clean, yeah?"
Harry poured another helping of hot clams, seaweed and coconut flesh into Liam's bowl and kissed him on the shoulder. "Eat. Keep your strength up."
"I'm not taking anyone else's am I?" Liam asked worriedly, and was met with four determined faces. He sighed, and made himself eat. Harry was right, eating and sleeping was the best thing he could do when he felt this weak.
Liam cursed himself for his stupidity at getting injured like this. His shoulder was only just recovering from hitting the rocks when they got caught by the tide, and he had to go and do something like this.
"I'm sorry," he mumbled to no-one in particular, staring down at his empty bowl and struggling with a tiredness that threatened to overwhelm him. Over his head, the others exchanged worried glances, and Niall gave him a hug.
"Bed," Niall ordered, and Liam nodded, feeling too fuzzy to argue.
"Go with him," Zayn mouthed, and Niall nodded, sliding an arm round Liam's waist and helping him back inside.
"Is he okay do you think?" Harry asked softly.
"I was wondering if he's in shock," Zayn said, equally quietly. "We should keep an eye on him. Don't leave him alone till he feels better?"
"It's not right," Harry said rather sadly. "Liam's supposed to be the one who takes care of us. It feels horrible seeing him like this."
Louis and Zayn moved to sit on either side of him, comforting Harry with simple proximity as they ate what was left of the meal.
In the morning, Liam was noticeably feverish, although he insisted on getting up and coming to sit outside with the others. His ankle remained a matter for concern, showing no inclination to dry up or start to knit back together. They bathed it in salt water and re-bound it up in clean strips of linen, hoping for the best.
While Harry took a turn sitting with Liam, despite his protests that he was okay, the others roamed further afield looking for food. Comparing their meagre hauls on the way back was a sobering experience.
"Maybe we should move the camp," Zayn suggested. "We've already eaten a lot of what's easily available in terms of fruit and stuff. Maybe go round to the beach where the yacht is? Start on another patch?"
"We're right by fresh water here though," Niall argued. "We'd have to lug it all that way every day. And the lagoon's good for fish and shellfish."
"I think we should move up to the cave," said Louis. "Find the water source higher up. It would be better shelter when it rains."
"We should see what Liam and Harry think," Niall sighed. "Take a vote."
"We've got to do something." Louis dropped to the ground tiredly. "We've got to face up to it, we're not getting enough to eat. It's making us weaker by the day. We're not healing like we should."
It was true. Apart from Liam's leg wound, they were all peppered with smaller cuts, grazes and insect bites that were a constant source of irritation and fatigue. The marks of the jellyfish sting still visible on Harry's calf were a daily reminder they'd been lucky so far, in an environment populated with venomous creatures that passed largely unseen. It was easy to forget to be careful, and the more tired they got the less vigilant they were.
Niall held out a hand and helped Louis reluctantly back to his feet. "We've got enough for a meal at least," he said encouragingly. "One day at a time, that's all we can do. It's enough."
Gathered round the campfire later, they discussed the matter again. It was Harry who summed up the underlying problem.
"We need to change the way we're going about things. We only ever collect enough to feed us for a meal, or a day. We complain when the hut leaks. We argue about whose turn it is to fetch water. And it's because none of us want to face the fact that rescue doesn't seem to be coming." He broke off as there was a clamour of objection, and waited until there was a lull to continue. "I'm serious," Harry said slowly. "We need to start believing that we might be here for a long time. We need to think about how to live here, not just how to survive."
"They'll come though," Niall said obstinately. "They have to."
"And who exactly is 'they'?" Harry asked gently. "It's been two weeks Niall. How long do you think they searched the water? Three days? A week? 'They' think we're dead. If - no, okay, when - we're going to be rescued - I don't think it's going to be someone searching for survivors any more. It's going to have to be a passing ship, or a plane. And I think we should be more serious about keeping a watch for anything on the horizon. We've just been pissing about here assuming someone's going to rock up on the beach with a fanfare. Well - face it. They're not fucking coming." Harry scrambled to his feet, sounding choked up, and ran off down towards the beach. After a second, grim-faced, Louis followed him.
A shocked silence followed Harry's words. Finally, Zayn sighed. "He's right. I hate to say it, but he's right."
"So what do we do?" Niall said in a small voice. Liam put an arm round him, and leaned against Zayn on his other side.
"We adapt," said Liam. "And we stick together. I know when we get hungry and tired we start falling out. Well we need to watch that. No going all Lord of the Flies, okay?"
Nodding, they hugged him back, and each tried not to think about how long they might be stuck here.
"Harry? You okay?" Louis came up behind him and put his hands on Harry's shoulders. Harry spun round and threw himself wordlessly into Louis' arms, and for a long moment they just clung to each other.
"I'm sorry," Harry whispered, when they finally pulled apart. "I had to say it though. We're all just - pretending that everything's okay, and it isn't, and I can't stand it any more."
Louis nodded, looking bleak. "I've been trying not to think about it. But you're right, we have to face up to the fact we're stuck here." He gave a short laugh. "Shouldn't have joked about wanting to be marooned here with you for good, should I? Bloody jinxed us."
"Don't be daft," Harry said softly, and kissed him.
They were still kissing when the others came slowly down the sand towards them, Liam limping along with his arm round Zayn's shoulders.
"Hey." Harry smiled a welcome, and their embrace somehow naturally expanded to become a five-way hug.
"This is us sticking together," Zayn explained with a grin. "Apparently."
"We get privacy to go to the loo though, right?" Louis enquired. "Because bonding is good, but that could be awkward."
Zayn shoved him and a good-natured scuffle broke out, ending abruptly when Liam sat down suddenly on the sand, having exhausted the little strength he had. Immediately contrite, the others helped him back to the camp, ignoring his apologies and protests.
More days slid past. Harry continued to carefully mark them off every evening on the cliff, and it was a source of constant shock to everyone just how long they'd been here.
Liam's fever finally passed, after a string of sleepless, sweaty nights, and days spent in a state of helpless anger at himself that he couldn't pull his weight in sharing the search for food and firewood. His ankle healed slowly, too slowly for his impatient expectations, but eventually he was left with just a ragged pink scar running around his leg.
They kept the camp where it was in the end, but made a more organised approach to their existence. Mornings were for gathering food and firewood, afternoons were for repairs and modifications to the hut, cleaning the campsite and washing their increasingly ragged clothes. They added beachcombing to the list of activities as the tide allowed, extra vigilant now never to set off around the isolated stretch unless the tide was just starting to retreat.
Experimenting with food sources, while subject to a few mis-steps and dodgy stomachs, meant they found a few more things to supplement their diet - small bitter bananas that were good once cooked in the fire, another type of fruit that proved edible only once cooked, a type of wild bean that cooked down into a tasty enough mush. Fish were a frequent and welcome item on the menu, thanks to the fish-hook and the subsequent discovery of not just a second hook but also a length of proper fishing line washed up along the tideline.
Scouring the beaches one day provided an amount of plastic sheeting which provided a shelter for their firewood store, to protect it from the occasional rainstorms that blew over. They also stripped the yacht cabin of everything useful, and hoarded their stock of possessions carefully.
The fire they kept going with almost religious fervour. It formed the heart of their camp, provided warmth and light in the pitch darkness of the nights, cooked their food, and the smoke kept away the worst of the mosquitoes.
They mounted a lookout, too, and laboriously relocated the beacon bonfire to a higher spot, where whoever was on duty could see the horizon in both directions. Long, tedious hours were spent up on the volcanic peaks, but no ship or plane ever came into view.
On the whole, life was fairly hard, but imposing a structure made it bearable. Everyone felt like they had a place, a responsibility to the group, and by and large they made it from day to day with only minor and occasional fallings out. Having to rely on each other for their literal survival drew them even closer than before, and whenever the sense of isolation and homesickness got too much for someone, there were always four willing pairs of arms ready to offer comfort.
Their relationships continued to develop in a more physical sense too, and whenever the communal living got too much, Harry and Louis, or Niall and Zayn would occasionally disappear up to the cave for a night or two.
Things continued in this vein for a while, and two weeks became four, and then six, until somehow two months had passed and still there had been no sign of rescue.
There were things that were so valuable to them as to be cherished with an almost paranoid care, and of these the lighter, the fish hooks and the large knife they'd recovered from the boat were the most precious. So when one day the knife was nowhere to be found, and Zayn sheepishly suggested he might have taken it with him up to the cave and left it there the previous day, the tirade of abuse he got was enough to send him scurrying out of the camp, flushed and irritable.
Zayn was almost at the cave when he ran into Harry, coming down from lookout duty, and persuaded him to help search.
"What were you doing with it up here anyway?" Harry demanded, as they felt along the likely ledges and crannies of the dim interior. "Or shouldn't I ask?"
"I was cutting palm leaves for the gaps in the hut walls," Zayn said indignantly. "Then - well, Niall sort of - interrupted me. So I suppose I carried it up here without really thinking about it."
"Sounds like you're getting on well," Harry sighed, and Zayn looked surprised at the mildly envious tone in his voice.
"Aren't you? I mean - I thought you and Louis were well into each other?"
"Oh, don't get me wrong, being with Louis is - great. Really great. It's just - " Harry sighed. "Sometimes it'd be nice if he took the initiative, you know? It feels like it's always me who's making the first move. And I know he's kinda new to the whole - "
"Gay sex thing?" Zayn suggested, kicking through a pile of leaves and keeping his eyes peeled for the knife.
Harry giggled. "Yeah. I suppose I'm just used to it a bit more - not used to it, that makes me sound like a slut - " Harry broke off and glared as Zayn had a suspicious coughing fit - "but, well, what I'm trying to say is - "
Zayn abandoned the search and came over, smirking. "That you'd like it rougher?" he supplied innocently.
Harry sagged. "Yeah." He smiled, embarrassed. "And Lou's lovely, he's gentle and caring and considerate, but sometimes I just - "
"Want to be pounded into the sand?"
"Mmmn." Harry averted his gaze as Zayn tried to get him to look him in the eyes. "Oh, stop teasing!"
"Who says I'm teasing?" Zayn's voice had dropped a little, and suddenly he sounded more serious. Harry gave a shiver that had nothing to do with the cool of the cave.
"What are you saying?" Harry finally looked at him and Zayn stared back, assessingly.
"Just that - if you wanted - we could - maybe - ?"
"I - I can't," Harry protested, although there wasn't much strength to it, and he felt his dick give a guilty twitch.
"He doesn't need to know?" Zayn murmured non-committally. Harry licked his lips, half nerves and half arousal.
"You're crazy," Harry said. "And it wouldn't be fair."
"Tell me to stop then," Zayn whispered, and bent to kiss Harry's neck. When Harry gave no more protest than a quiet intake of breath, he kissed him again on the other side, then along his collarbone, letting his hands drop to Harry's waist and taking firm hold of him.
"Zayn - " Harry's protest was soft and Zayn ignored it. Harry wasn't pushing him away, which he considered pretty much counted as a come-on. Harry's hands were on him now, sliding round his neck, and Zayn bore him down to the blanket, pinning him beneath him and kissing him again, on the mouth this time.
Harry yielded willingly, letting Zayn's tongue invade his mouth, and pressing up into the heat of his body. They were both already hard, illicit excitement rushing through them and drowning out any thought of guilt or discovery.
They pushed their clothes out of the way, too impatient to undress completely, and Zayn spat loudly into his palm, slicking his cock as best he could and straddling Harry's thighs. He and Niall weren't exactly unadventurous, but there was something about this rushed and unexpected hook up that let him act without having to think, to take what he wanted - what Harry wanted - without the usual niceties, the kisses and caresses and tender words that slowed things up.
Harry was pressed face-down on the blanket, trousers tangled round his ankles and shirt discarded on the floor. He closed his eyes and let Zayn take him, moaning in delight at the force with which Zayn pushed inside him.
"Yes. Fuck yes," Harry breathed into the wool prickling his face, as Zayn held him down and started thrusting roughly into him, hot and hard and relentless. His own cock was trapped beneath him, swollen and throbbing as he rocked bodily with the almost brutal pounding he was taking.
Zayn felt oddly like he was watching himself from a distance, as he let all the frustrations and pent up anxieties he'd been harbouring spill out, fucking Harry into the blanket with a fury he hadn't known he had in him. He marvelled at the way Harry was spread so willingly for him, the way he was stammering breathless encouragements for Zayn to go harder, faster, deeper.
Burying his face between Harry's shoulderblades and sinking his fingernails into Harry's wrists, Zayn came in a sudden violent rush, plastered against Harry's back.
At the warm, sticky feeling of being filled up inside, Harry felt himself start to come and closed his eyes, groaning in exhausted pleasure at the heat of climax shuddering through his body.
He heard a panted laugh and above him Zayn slowed his thrusts until he was finally still. "Fuck you Haz."
The cold realisation of what he'd just said dawned on him, and Harry wriggled round in mortification. "Shit. Zayn, I'm so sorry, oh, God. Sorry, I - "
Zayn stopped his frantic apologies with a kiss and a rueful smile. "Don't sweat it, eh?" he murmured, and felt Harry relax against him.
"Sorry," Harry whispered contritely. Zayn kissed him again, hard, Harry now pliant in his arms. They knew they should get up before people started to wonder where they were, but they were warm and sleepy now after the initial frenzy, and it was too nice just to lie there and continue kissing.
Harry didn’t know how long they'd slept, but the sun was much lower in the sky. He was left in little doubt as to what had woken him though, as the cave mouth was filled with a very pissed off looking Louis.
Struggling to sit up, Harry realised he was still half naked, and that Louis had just found him sleeping next to an equally dishevelled Zayn, fingers entwined above their heads, and probably covered in each other's spunk.
"Louis," he croaked, not knowing what to say. Next to him, Zayn was sitting up too, equally speechless.
Louis stared down at them for a long moment. "Fuck you, Harry," he said finally, and turned on his heel to march off back down the path.
Harry jumped as Zayn clapped him on the shoulder. "You seem to be getting that a lot today," he observed, and Harry moaned, dropping his head onto his knees.
"What am I going to do?" he wailed.
"Apologising would probably be a good start," Zayn suggested, pulling his trousers up quickly against the dropping temperature. "Then maybe a lot of sucking cock?"
He left Harry in the cave getting dressed and made his own way back down to the camp. There was no sign of Louis, but he eventually found him sitting on his favourite bit of cliff, staring bleakly out to sea.
Zayn climbed up to sit next to him, unsure of his welcome.
"Are we okay?" he asked cautiously, after a pause.
Louis shrugged. "Yeah. S'pose."
Louis glared at him, stung out of his sulk. "What do you want me to say? That it's okay? Bollocks."
Zayn gave him a sheepish smile. "If it helps, it was your name he called out when he came."
"I do not need the details, thank - really?"
Zayn nodded. Louis considered this, and a small smile finally tugged at his lips. "Ouch."
"Guess I deserved it," Zayn conceded, relieved that Louis didn't seem as angry as he had every right to be. "Look, Lou, I'm sorry yeah? I shouldn’t have done it. I just - have difficulty saying no, when it comes to sex."
"He shouldn’t have given you the chance to say yes," Louis growled.
Zayn winced. "Technically - it was my suggestion."
Louis shook his head. "I don’t care. And you know what, I don’t want to talk about it. Can we just forget it happened?"
"Okay." Zayn nodded warily. Under an uneasy truce, they made their way back to the camp.
Harry was waiting by the fire, and leapt to his feet when he saw them coming.
"Louis - I - "
Louis stopped him, pressing his fingers to Harry's mouth. "I don’t want to hear it, okay?"
"But - "
Louis stopped him a second time, this time with a kiss, and Harry finally shut up, looking surprised. Louis sighed. "I forgive you, alright? But that doesn’t mean I'm not pissed off right now. I just don’t want to listen to a load of excuses."
Harry nodded, looking miserable. "I love you?" he whispered. Louis scowled.
"Don't. We're okay, yeah? Just - don't push it." He walked away and ducked into the shelter out of sight.
Harry looked helplessly at Zayn who made frantic 'follow him' gestures. Biting his lip, he crawled in after Louis.
Inside it was dim, and Harry took a second to make out Louis lying on his side in one corner. He was facing the door, but said nothing as Harry crept closer. Harry gingerly lay down next to him, following Louis' lead and staying quiet.
After a while, Louis' arm slipped round him, and Harry burrowed closer, wrapping his own arm round Louis' waist in thankful relief. They lay there for a long time, not speaking, but gradually relaxing into each other's warmth and space.
Outside, Niall came to join Zayn sitting by the fire, and looked at him curiously. "What's going on?" he murmured, confused. "What happened?"
Zayn sighed, resigning himself to a bollocking. "I - slept with Harry," he said shortly.
Niall's gaze flicked across to the hut and back. "And - he told Louis?" he asked incredulously, trying to make sense of the scene he'd just witnessed.
"No." Zayn scrubbed at his hair awkwardly. "He walked in on us."
"Oh. Shit." Niall looked at him consideringly. "Are you okay?"
Zayn stared at him in mild surprise. "Aren't you angry with me?"
Niall shrugged. "Do you want me to be?" He slid an arm round Zayn's waist and leaned against him. "We never said we were exclusive, did we?"
"Well, no, but - " Zayn blinked at him, finally returning Niall's hug warmly. "You really don’t mind?"
Niall shook his head. "I always figured you'd end up going with one of the others as well." He laughed quietly. "I guess I just always kind've assumed it would be Liam."
Zayn bit his lip and kissed Niall hard on the side of the head, making him laugh.
"I don't like drama," Niall told him. "Life's too short. I don’t mind if you want someone else, as long as you still want me as well. You do, right?" he added, looking uncertain for the first time, and Zayn kissed him again, on the mouth this time, and kept kissing him until Niall started giggling.
"Okay! Okay, I believe you." He slid his hand into Zayn's and they sat together watching the fire quietly.
Neither Harry or Louis emerged from the hut, and when some time later Liam came back from where he'd been fishing off the end of the reef, proudly bearing three fat fish, they stopped him from going in.
"Why not? What's going on?" Liam asked, and was sheepishly given the facts in a low voice by Zayn.
"Oh you - tosser," Liam said disgustedly and Zayn hung his head, although the fact that Niall was digging his fingers into the most ticklish part of his side at the same time made it very difficult not to laugh.
Liam eyed them both disfavourably. "The sooner we get away from this place the better."
"Oh, lighten up," Niall told him, and tried to change the subject. "Those fish look amazing, do you want a hand to gut them?"
Inside the shelter, the low voices outside woke Harry from a doze, and he blinked up to see Louis watching him. When he saw Harry was awake, Louis looked quickly away.
"Louis? I'm sorry," Harry said contritely. Louis sighed.
"Why Harry? Why did you do it? Why didn't you at least say something?" he asked finally, sounding miserable.
"We didn't plan it!" Harry told him urgently. "It just sort of - happened," he added. Harry sat up and tried to hug him. Louis refused to hug back, although he didn't push him away.
"How do I make it better?" Harry pleaded in a whisper. "I can, right? You said we were okay? Tell me you meant that at least?"
Louis finally looked at him, expression tight and drawn. "I love you Harry," he said shakily. "The idea of losing you is - I don't even want to begin to think about it. I've gone from wanting to be rescued to wanting to live here with you until I die. I guess it never dawned on me that I might risk losing you to one of the others."
"You won't - you haven't!" Harry insisted. "It was just sex," he added awkwardly, knowing Louis would never see it that way.
"Is he better than me?" Louis asked miserably. "Is that it?"
"He's just - different, that's all," Harry said, trying to find a way of putting it that wasn't going to piss either of them off. "I love you Louis."
Louis let some of the stiffness go out of his posture. "Promise?" he muttered, although couldn't disguise the shake in his voice.
"Promise." Harry risked a smile, faintly hopeful, and Louis finally returned his hug.
"I'm just - so scared of losing you," Louis muttered into Harry's shoulder. "And I look at Zayn and - yeah, why wouldn't you want that? He's sexier, better looking, more confident than me at this sort of thing. He has the same approach to sex you do. I can see why you like him, I really can, I guess what I don't get is why you like me."
Harry considered various responses to this slightly petulant plea for reassurance, and kept running up against the same fact.
"You think Zayn's sexy?"
Louis looked up and huffed. "Thanks for the massive confidence boost, I needed that."
"Oh shut up, you know I love you." Harry took Louis' hand in his and squeezed it. "I'm never leaving you, you massive cock. Happy?"
Louis' lips twitched, mostly against his will. "Tell me again what I see in you?" he murmured.
"Your dick, mostly," Harry couldn't help replying, and Louis gave a snort of laughter.
They embraced again, in earnest this time, and Louis finally relaxed. From outside came the appetising smell of roasting fish, and Harry nudged him.
Louis sighed. "Yeah. Guess I am. Come on then."
They crawled out and went to join the others, ignoring their curious stares. Seeing they clearly wanted to avoid any mention of what had happened, Niall and Liam immediately started talking about the food, and the weather, and anything else they could think of with a slightly strained brightness. When they faltered for a second, and were obviously trying to think desperately of another topic to fill the silence, Harry cut in slowly.
"It's okay," he said, without needing to say what was okay. "We're all - okay, yeah?"
Louis met Zayn's questioning eyes and nodded, and everyone heaved a quiet sigh of relief.
The slightly awkward silence was broken by Zayn, who suddenly spotted the missing knife by Niall's feet, where he'd obviously been using it to clean the fish. "Where the hell did that come from?"
"Oh. We found it stuck in the trunk of a palm tree over there. Turns out you left it behind after all," said Niall.
Louis gave a humourless laugh. "I was, er, coming to tell you. That we'd found it. When, er - yeah."
Zayn groaned. "Fucking thing." He flopped back onto the ground and pretended to go to sleep to avoid having to talk to anyone.
Harry looked over at Niall and offered him a hesitant smile. "Um," he said, and then faltered. He'd been so pre-occupied with the way he'd upset Louis that he hadn't really spared a thought for how Niall might be feeling, but the other boy returned his smile surprisingly warmly with only a tinge of resignation.
With Zayn still feigning sleep, Harry took it upon himself to clear up the remains of the meal in self-imposed penitence. What couldn't be eaten had to be buried to avoid attracting flies, and it was everybody's least favourite job.
He looked up after a minute to find Niall had followed him over, and flushed awkwardly. "Hi."
"Hey Harry." Niall sat down nearby and watched him work. "I just - wanted to say it's alright, yeah? Zayn and me - we're fine. I didn't want you to be worrying."
Harry patted down the sandy earth of the pit and scrambled over to him, smiling in relief. "I was afraid you'd hate me," he said in a low voice. "It was a stupid thing to do."
"Nah." Niall shrugged. "It's not like I don't get what you see in him. Or what he sees in you, for that matter," he added, and blushed. Harry blinked and grinned at him, surprised.
"You're a cutie, you know that?"
Harry hugged him and Niall giggled. "Get off, or Louis'll hate me too."
"He wouldn't dare. Nobody could ever hate you," Harry smiled, and kissed him on the hair. He looked thoughtful. "He doesn't seem to be holding it against Zayn either, for that matter. Just me who's in the shit."
"He'll forgive you," Niall said loyally and Harry sighed.
"Hope so. I acted like a twat." He looked sideways at Niall. "Tell you what though, you're a lucky bastard," he murmured, and Niall went red to the tips of his ears.
"He's good, right?" Niall said, without looking at him. "I mean - I haven't got a lot to compare it to."
"Why does everyone always assume I'm a massive slut?" Harry complained good-naturedly, and Niall snorted.
"Possibly because you're not doing a lot to dispel the image?"
"Point taken." Harry sighed. "Come on. Let's get back. I need to wash, I smell of fish guts."
Via the stream, they made their way back to the camp, where Niall proceeded to tickle Zayn until he gave up pretending to sleep, and Louis reached out and took Harry's hand without a word and lead him back into the shelter.
They lay down together, listening to what appeared to have become a three-way tickle fight outside, and Harry was surprised to find Louis was smiling.
"What?" Louis said, catching Harry looking at him.
"Nothing." Harry drew him closer and kissed him, softly and slowly. When the others came in once the sun had set and the light nearly faded, they found them wrapped in each other's arms, fast asleep.
For a day or so the atmosphere was not exactly strained, so much as careful. Everyone seemed to be tiptoeing around each other for fear of saying the wrong thing, whilst making out that nothing had happened.
Liam spent his time feeling by turns fretful and snappish, worried that their fragile existence might become unbearable and at the same time trying to quash what felt like an unworthy jealousy that he kept firmly hidden from the others.
Harry, feeling that the whole situation was his fault, took to volunteering to spend longer and longer hours alone on lookout duty, heedless of both Louis and Niall's entreaties for him to come back down and rejoin them.
Wandering further than usual on his daily search for food one morning soon after, Niall gradually became aware of a low buzzing sound. He shook his head, wondering briefly if it was in his ears, but the sound persisted. Puzzled, he tracked it further under the trees, pushing his way between low hanging branches and picking carefully along the sides of the stream, which up here rushed between deep banks in the rock.
He reached a small clearing where the sound seemed loudest, and looked around for the source of the noise. Perhaps he never would have spotted it, but for the lone bee that zipped past his nose, making him step back with a yelp. Following its progress with his eyes, Niall tracked it to a pale brown hive hanging from a branch of one of the trees.
Humming like a quiet motor, the papery nest looked both sinister and threatening, and Niall resisted the urge to turn and run away. Instead, he crouched down and watched the to-ing and fro-ing until he was quite satisfied that they were bees and not wasps.
Bees meant one thing, if you ignored the possibility of being hideously strung to death, and that was honey. If you'd asked Niall eight weeks previously if he'd consider risking life and limb to steal honey from a swarm of wild bees, he'd have laughed in your face. But two months without anything sweeter than a slice of fruit had changed his outlook on life, and the thought of presenting his currently gloomy friends with such a prize made it all the more tempting.
Making a careful note of the location, he slipped away considering his options. He couldn't just climb up and break off the nest, he'd be stung all over, with potentially fatal consequences. He needed a plan. Smoke was supposed to sedate bees, right? He had a vague mental image of beekeepers in netting hats puffing smoke into bee hives to make them sleepy.
Returning to the camp, Niall kept quiet about his plans, on the grounds Liam would forbid him from trying at all, Zayn would laugh at him if he failed, and Louis would insist on helping and thereby put himself at risk as well. Harry was absent entirely, and Niall felt a twinge of sadness, as Harry had been the only one he'd considered confiding in.
As soon as he could, Niall sneaked a branch out of the fire and hurried off back into the trees. Making his way as stealthily as a puffing and panting man carrying a burning twig could go, he retraced his steps back to the nest, and studied it carefully.
It hung just above head height, and was surrounded by a haze of bees coming and going with a constant background hum. It was a drowsy, purring noise, but Niall knew they would turn on him in a flash if the nest was threatened.
He pulled his shirt up over his head for some measure of protection, and inched forwards. When he was right underneath he held his breath in alarm as first one bee then another alighted on his shirt in curiosity. He forced himself to stay still until they took off again, and he let out a shaky sigh of relief.
"This is the stupidest fucking idea you've ever had, Horan," he muttered under his breath, holding the branch up until it was just beneath the nest. Not a lot happened, and he realised it wasn't smoking much, and the only thing in danger of happening was setting fire to the nest.
Hastily, he withdrew to the relative safety of the stream and thought about it. He needed something that smoked more. Wet wood? He looked about in the grass and found a dead branch that was damp from dew and spray from where the stream splashed over the rocks. Holding his glowing brand to the end of it, after some minutes he finally got it to catch and was holding a spitting, crackling, smoking torch.
He re-approached the tree, holding the branch carefully below and upwind of the nest, so that the smoke billowed over the surface of the hive.
Arms aching, he held his position for as long as he could stand, until the noise of the bees noticeably lessened and barely any were circling the tree. Those that were seemed drunk, weaving about in circles, or crawling disoriented on the trunk.
Niall lowered the branch, which was nearly burnt out. Now, he just had to figure out how to get the nest down. He climbed gingerly into the lower branches until he was just above the nest and reached down. He had the knife in one hand, and his aim was to sever it carefully from the tree, and somehow carry it to the ground while the bees were drowsy.
He sawed through the layers of papery gum that stuck the hive to the bark, trying not to flinch as random bees landed on the back of his hands, or buzzed past his face. As long as he made no sudden movements he seemed to be safe, and he had his shirt wrapped round the hive to catch it.
Suddenly, there was a tearing noise and the weight of the nest tore itself free faster than he could react. It was much heavier than he'd anticipated and Niall watched in horror as the whole thing crashed down to split open on the ground. Frozen, he watched as an angry whine came from the shattered hive, and far from being stunned or sleepy, a black column of furious bees issued out of the remains.
High on the peak of the island, Harry would spend a few minutes scanning first one horizon, then the other, eyes searching the skies in between times. He was starting to like it up here, away from the complications of life down below. There was no shade, but at this height a cooling breeze made it bearable.
Briefly, his gaze dropped to the land spread out before him. A thin white column of smoke rose from the campsite, hidden by the trees. Far out on the end on the reef, a lone figure was just visible. Harry squinted, he thought it was Liam, probably fishing again. They'd found pickings out of the sea were often larger than what could be found in the lagoon.
Eyes trailing over the tree canopy, Harry frowned as he thought he saw a second line of smoke issuing from further up. He scanned the spot where it seemed to have come from, but it had gone now, if it had ever been there. He shrugged, wondering if he was seeing things. His eyes ached from the glare of the sun and sea, and he rubbed them.
Looking outwards again, he stared in disbelief. Far, far out in the haze of the horizon, a grey blob stuck up from the line of the sea. A ship? Could it be?
Harry blinked furiously, trying to get rid of the after-images of sun spots in his vision. The blob was still there. Had it moved slightly to the right? Hands shaking, he picked up the lighter and slithered down the rock face to where the beacon was. It took his several goes to get the fire to light, but when it caught it went up with a fierce crackle that made him jump backwards.
Soon it was a roaring blaze, the weather had been bone dry for days, and they'd fed layers of grass and wood shavings in with the branches to make sure it would burn well. Finally, the dried seaweed on top caught and gave off a choking plume of black smoke that would be visible for miles.
Harry scrambled back to the top, searching frantically for the same position, frightened that the ship would have gone. To his immense relief the shape was still there, further along than before and surely in that case a vessel of some sort. He wanted to yell and wave, but knew there was no point. The only hope was the signal fire, that they would see it - and, more importantly, either investigate or report it so somebody else could.
Pretty soon he heard shouts from below, and knew the others had seen the smoke and come running. Before long, Louis, Liam and Zayn were climbing up to his perch, hopeful and questioning.
"It's a ship!" Harry blurted. "I'm sure of it!"
"Where?" they demanded eagerly, and Harry pointed to the speck on the horizon. There was a palpably disappointed silence.
"Where?" Liam asked again, rather confused.
"There!" Harry said urgently, wrapping an arm round him and pointing along the line from Liam's nose.
"Oh. Are - you sure?" Liam peered at the distant dot, which Harry had to admit seemed smaller now than it had been.
"I can't see anything?" Zayn said.
"Well maybe you need glasses!" Harry snapped, feeling near to tears. He'd been so sure, so confident that rescue was close at hand. He looked again, determined to identify its position to Zayn, and stared in dismay. Whatever it was - if it had ever been there - had gone.
He slumped down on the rock and put his head in his hands. "It was there," he muttered. "It was!"
Louis sat down and put his arms around him. "We believe you," he said gently. "It's okay."
"Let's hope they saw the smoke," Liam said, unable to hide a sigh. "Maybe they'll report the position?"
"Yeah, maybe," Zayn said, sounding unconvinced. "Hey Harry, maybe you should come down for a bit of a rest, eh?"
"I'm not seeing things!" Harry yelled, and Zayn held his hands up.
"I didn't say you were. But if it was there - "
"It fucking was!"
"Well it's not any more. Or am I missing something?"
"No," Harry said in a small voice, and Louis glared at Zayn.
"Leave him alone can't you?"
Zayn huffed in annoyance. "What? I'm just saying. Did anyone other than Harry actually see it?"
"I saw - something," Liam said, then looked at Harry apologetically. "Although it could have been a cloud."
Harry looked up miserably and Louis hugged him tight. "Ignore them," he said. "It's a chance, yeah? A chance we didn't have before, and a chance we wouldn't have had at all if you hadn't been up here."
"Louis' right," Liam said. "If nothing else it's a sign that at least some shipping comes past here? Where there's one boat, there's bound to be others."
Zayn reached out and patted Harry on the shoulder. "I didn't mean to sound unkind," he said. "I guess I just hoped we were somehow on our way home, you know?"
Harry nodded and gave him a watery smile. He looked round, realising for the first time something wasn't quite right.
Niall half-climbed, half-fell to the ground in his haste to get down from the tree. The air was full of bees, and he was vulnerable and terrified - his shirt was tangled in the wreckage of the hive, and all he had on was a pair of trousers.
As he ran he felt a sharp pain between his shoulders, and then a second on his arm. He would have screamed, if it hadn't been for the likelihood of getting a bee in his mouth. In a blind panic he hurled himself over the bank of the stream, splashing into the water and banging his hip painfully on the rocky sides of the channel.
It was narrow but quite deep here, deep enough for him to go right under, and Niall held his breath and prayed that the bees would give up and go away before he had to breathe. The water was freezing cold after the heat of the sun, and
he fought the urge to leap up again immediately.
When he couldn't last another second, Niall wriggled round and cautiously put his head above water. Immediately, a stabbing pain drove into his cheek and he plunged back beneath the surface with a gasping breath.
He lay there in a world of pain, clutching the sides of the channel to stop himself being washed down into the shallower stream bed and thinking furiously. The bees were still swarming above the water and he was trapped.
Bits of him were starting to go numb with cold and his lungs were burning with the need to breathe. He opened his eyes and tried to see up through the turbulent water. There was a haze of green and blue, in front of which shapes seemed to be moving constantly, and he gave an inward groan. His choices at the moment appeared to be between being stung to death or drowning.
Three more times he had to snatch a breath, breaking the surface only long enough to fill his lungs and duck back under, before the air seemed clearer. The fourth time he kept his head above water a fraction longer, face scrunched up in anticipation of the stings that might follow. But this time, nothing happened, and slowly and carefully he hauled himself out onto the bank where he lay panting.
Across the clearing, the remains of the hive lay in a sticky, shattered mess. A couple of bees circled forlornly, but the rest appeared to have gone. Shaking with reaction, it took Niall a good few minutes before he could manage to get to his feet.
By now he was starting to despise the very idea of honey, but he made himself go over to the tree and cautiously examine the nest. To his delight, most of it was lying on his shirt, and he was able to gather it up in the folds to carry it back.
As he walked, the pain in his face, back and arm steadily increased. The cold of the water had numbed it temporarily, but now it felt like there was fire in his veins. Niall wondered with belated fear if tropical bees were more venomous than British bees, and if even three stings could be dangerous.
Reaching the camp, in thankful hope of congratulations and sympathy, he found it strangely empty. Puzzled, Niall dropped his bundle and looked around, calling out for the others.
When he caught sight of the column of dark smoke rising from the top of the island, his heart gave a jolt. For a sickening second, he pictured a scenario where a boat had arrived to rescue them and left without him.
"They wouldn't," he told himself out loud. "Don't be stupid." But the pain from the bee stings and the cold drenching he'd had made him pessimistic and he couldn't shake the horrible feeling of abandonment.
It was with knee-weakening relief that a few minutes later he saw all four of them emerge from the trees and come running towards him.
"Niall? What happened to you?" Liam cried in alarm.
Niall wondered what he looked like. Soaking wet for a start, and he was having difficulty seeing out of his left eye, which suggested his face was swelling up.
"What's with the smoke?" Niall asked instead, the hope of rescue over-riding everything else.
"There was a boat," explained Louis. "But it was too far away."
"Oh." Niall swayed a little, disappointment draining the last of his strength.
"Hey, are you okay?" Zayn put a concerned arm round him then stood back in shock as Niall recoiled with a yell of pain. "Niall?"
"I got stung," Niall panted, going hot and cold in flushes. "On my back, and my arm. By bees."
"And your face," Louis added, hovering a finger in front of Niall's puffy cheek. "How?"
"And why are you all wet?" Harry added.
"I hid in the stream," Niall explained, sitting down carefully before he fell down.
"How did you manage to piss off a load of bees?" asked Liam, wincing at the painful looking stings.
"Nicked their honey," Niall explained, indicating the sticky mess in his shirt.
"What?" Louis dropped to his knees and opened up the fabric, giving a yelp as a lone bee flew out indignantly and disappeared over the beach. "Bloody hell Niall!"
Niall gave a faint smile and wondered if he was about to pass out. He leaned his good side against the person next to him which turned out to be Zayn, and rested gratefully in the circle of his arms.
Louis, Liam and Harry had all tasted the honey by now, and were looking up at him with a slightly incredulous admiration. Niall was made to tell his story, with frequent interruptions, and related the events of the afternoon.
"Seriously?" Louis demanded. "And that was your plan? To cut down the nest and hide in the stream?"
Niall shrugged, and then grinned. "Not exactly. That was more like Plan Bee."
They gorged themselves on the sweetness of the honey that night, dipping in fruit and coconut and even just sucking it from each other's fingers. By sunset they were thoroughly sticky and feeling faintly sick, but moods had risen to a level of cheerfulness they hadn't experienced for days.
Even Niall, despite his pain, was basking in the somewhat teasing admiration of the others and felt it had been worth every sting he'd endured. He still couldn't see out of one eye, but neither did it seem to be getting any worse so he was optimistic he hadn't sustained any lasting damage.
Lying on his front on the hut that night though, it proved difficult to go to sleep. Every position he tried was uncomfortable and never had the ground felt so hard and unforgiving. He was fairly sure everyone else was asleep, so Zayn's quiet voice beside him made him jump.
"Yeah. Just can't get comfy. Sorry, did I wake you?"
"Doesn't matter." Zayn wriggled closer and Niall felt a hand slide under the blanket to stroke down his side. "Does it hurt a lot?" Zayn whispered.
"Not as much as it did. But yeah, I'm just like - sore all over." Niall muttered.
"I could kiss it better?" came the quiet offer, and Niall smiled in the darkness.
"I'd settle for a hug," he confessed. There was a rustle of blanket and Zayn folded Niall carefully into his arms, wary of hurting him.
"Are you really okay?" Zayn whispered, conscious that Niall rarely asked for comfort, and that he must be feeling low. He felt Niall nod against his chest, and stroked his hair softly.
"I thought you'd gone," Niall said after a while, under his breath.
"Gone? Gone where?"
"All of you. When I got back and there was nobody there, and I saw the signal fire." It came out in a whispered rush, helplessly. Niall hadn't meant to say anything, knowing it was all silly and unfounded fears, but no matter how hard he tried he couldn't get rid of the sinking feeling he'd experienced. The darkness and Zayn's warm embrace seemed to invite confessions.
"You mean you thought we'd left you behind?" Zayn's voice rose, and Niall shushed him hastily.
"No. Yes. Maybe."
"Oh, Niall." To Niall's relief, Zayn didn’t laugh at him, just hugged him tighter until his stings were hurting again, but he didn't mind.
"We would never go without you. You do know that right?"
"I know," Niall murmured. "I just - it was stupid. But I was scared. Just for a second."
"I swear, I will not go anywhere without you, okay?" Zayn promised, kissing him.
Niall nodded, happier already, and settled back against him. Lying in Zayn's arms, draped comfortably across his chest, Niall finally fell asleep.
They rebuilt the beacon. For a week after the distant ship sighting, they mounted an eager watch all the hours of daylight, in case their pyre had been noted.
As each day slipped by though, with nothing more than seabirds and the occasional breaching school of dolphins to break the monotonous view, their hopes gradually faded again. Rescue, it seemed, wasn't coming.
Lookout duty slipped to a more sporadic coverage, as each of them slowly lost faith in the point of it. They turned their energies instead to adapting the hut, making it bigger and stronger until they could actually stand up inside, and to digging proper latrine pits and constructing a shelter that could be moved each time a new location was necessary.
They found ways of weaving creepers and palm fibres to make nets and ropes, letting them descend previously inaccessible cliff faces to collect eggs, and to pull down branches to reach fruit up to now out of reach. They were thin, by now, painfully so, but also hardened by their outdoor life and the day to day physical exertion of their existence. Food was, if not in abundance, at least plentiful enough to keep them alive, and they found enough time to relax and fool around to keep things from being unbearable.
As Niall pointed out one evening, gathered round the fire and composing what amounted to a fourth album of new material by this point, as far as being marooned on desert islands went, they could have done a lot worse.
Stumbling out of the hut one morning, Harry stood yawning in the open air, and shivered. Frowning, he looked around him. The sun was shining, but there was an unaccustomed chill in the air and he ducked back into the shelter to retrieve his by now rather tatty shirt.
Liam joined him outside and rubbed his hands together, going to stoke up the embers of the fire. To his surprise it had gone out completely.
"Weather's changing," he said to Harry, who was heading over to the stream to wash.
"Thought it was supposed to stay hot in the sodding tropics?" he called back.
Liam shrugged. "S'pose we don't actually know where we are. I guess the further south from the equator, the more likely we get seasons?"
"What's all the shouting?" grumbled Zayn, emerging from the hut and squinting at him.
"We're not shouting, we're conversing over a distance," Liam grinned. "Have you got the lighter?"
"Yeah, course, why?"
"Fire's gone out."
"Oh, what? Bollocks. Whose job was it to bank it up last night?" Zayn went to fetch more wood from the store as Liam raked out the ashes.
"Yours," Liam said pointedly, and Zayn snorted.
"Was not. It was Niall's. And thinking about it, he did, I was watching."
"Yeah." Liam sighed. "I think it's just gone weirdly cold overnight."
Niall and Louis joined them as Zayn was coaxing the fire back into life, and Niall looked up, frowning. "What's with the birds?"
They looked up. The sky was full of wheeling seabirds, their cries filling the air.
"Something's upset them," said Louis. "Snake on the cliffs maybe?"
They huddled round the fire, glad of the slowly increasing warmth it gave off as the sun seemed paler and less fierce than usual. After they'd breakfasted, Harry announced he was going up to the lookout point to see if he could work out where the birds were all coming from.
He was back within half an hour, looking worried.
"That was quick. What's up?" Liam asked, and Harry made a face.
"I think there's a storm coming. There's a massive bank of clouds on the horizon, and the water looks all choppy and grey. There's birds coming in from out to sea all the time, I think they know something's up."
"We've had storms before," Louis shrugged. "Hut's pretty much weatherproof by now. We'll be okay."
As the day went on, the light deepened into a sickly yellow, and the tops of the palms started tossing restlessly as the wind got stronger.
"I don't like this," Zayn said finally. "I think it's going to be a bad one. I think we should go to the cave for the night."
"That means carrying everything up there," Louis complained. "It'll take ages."
"Better than waking up in the middle of the night to find you're over the flaming rainbow," Niall said. "I agree with Zayn."
"You would," Louis retorted, and Niall stuck his tongue out, making Louis laugh. "Alright. Fine. Cave it is. But if it doesn't so much as rain you're doing my next bog-digging duty."
They bundled up their possessions and set off up the hill. The climb at least warmed them up, and they set about piling up a second bed's worth of brushwood and dry leaves and grasses to sleep on. A second trip back down to the campsite to fetch the rest of their stuff, and with the blankets spread out and their small collection of pans, plates and utensils stacked neatly with their food stocks, by the time they'd finished it looked quite homely.
The angle of the entrance, with the sheltering rocks outside meant the worst of the winds by now battering the island were deflected away, and as Liam and Harry staggered in with armfuls of firewood the first fat drops of rain began to fall.
"See?" said Niall smugly, and Louis threw a fruit stone at his head. "Oi!"
"It's getting wild out there," Harry said, pushing his hair out of his face. It had got to the stage where he wore it tied back most of the time now, plaiting braids out of long grass to hold it out of his face, but the wind had snatched them away.
"Good call to come up here, I think," Liam said and Zayn smiled at him. Liam's next words though, made the smile vanish as soon as it had come.
"Where's the lighter, let's get this fire going."
Zayn felt in his pockets frantically, to no avail. Liam was looking at him expectantly, and he gave a weak laugh. "I think I left it by the fire."
"Oh, great," Liam groaned. "You twat."
Zayn winced. "Sorry. I'll go and get it."
"You can't go out there," Harry objected, looking out at the sky. "It's nearly dark, and pissing it down. You'll get soaked."
"We'll just have to huddle together for warmth," Niall suggested. "It'll be okay."
Liam looked anxious. "I'm thinking more about the lighter. If it gets too wet in the rain, or lost in the sand if the winds get too high - if we can even find it tomorrow it may not work any more."
"You can't send him out there!" Louis said, joining Harry at the entrance and taking in the thrashing trees and rapidly fading light.
"Fine, then I'll go," Liam sighed. "Can you imagine how grim life would be without the ability to make a fire? No cooked food, no hot water, no heat or light after dark?"
"No." Zayn put a hand on his arm. "I left it behind, I'll go. I know where it is. Don't worry," he said to Louis. "I'll be back in no time." With that he slipped out of the cave, head down against the lashing rain, and ran down the increasingly slippery path.
When he'd gone, Liam looked uncomfortably at the others. "I would have gone," he protested. "I wasn't blaming him."
Niall gave him a quick hug. "We know. It's okay."
They sat down to wait, dividing up some of the food for a quick meal while there was still light to see by.
"He should have been back by now," Louis said after twenty minutes or so had passed. "He only had to run down and back."
"Maybe it wasn’t where he thought," Harry said. "Maybe he's searching. Give him a chance."
Minutes ticked by, and the storm outside got steadily worse. The wind howled over the cliffs with an eerie roaring, and the trees bent and creaked before it. Distantly, the pounding of the surf far below could be heard as the sea was driven into the cliffs, and the rain beat down relentlessly.
It was almost full night by now, the cloud cover bringing darkness early. Liam paced anxiously back and forth by the entrance. At least an hour had gone by, and there was still no sign of Zayn.
A crashing noise close at hand made them all jump, and Louis ventured out a short distance to investigate. He stumbled back in shortly afterwards, gasping and drenched.
"A tree's come down. I think it just snapped right off. I could hardly stand up out there, it's insane!"
"Oh where the fuck is Zayn?" Liam groaned. "He's in trouble, I know he is. Why the hell didn't I go with him?"
"He's probably holed up somewhere," Niall suggested. "Maybe when it got too dark to see he decided to stay in the hut?"
Liam shook his head. "He'd have tried to come back, he knew we needed the lighter. What if he missed the path in the dark? What if he got lost? What if he's fallen over the cliff?"
"Liam! Calm down!" Louis grasped his arms and gave him a shake. They could hardly see each other by this point, and the flash of lightning that lit up the cave made them all jump. "He'll be okay," Louis said more kindly.
"What if something's happened to him?" Liam persisted. "We have to go and look for him! We have to!"
Louis looked out at the pitch dark night and the howling storm and shook his head firmly. "No way. Anybody else who goes out there is going to end up lost too. There's flying debris and all sorts. We have to hope Zayn's somewhere under cover. He's not daft."
Liam gave a despairing moan. "But I sent him out there!"
"It's not your fault Li," Louis told him. "Zayn wouldn't want you risking your life for him."
"If it was Harry out there, you'd go," Liam muttered. Louis froze for a second, and gave an uncomfortable laugh.
"No. It isn't."
They stared at each other, neither willing to back down.
"Look, there's no way you're going to get ten feet from the cave in this wind," Louis said finally. "Why not wait till it's light? If he's not back by then at least we'll be able to see what we're doing. And we'll all go. I want to find him as much as you Liam, but it's just not possible in this. You have to see that."
Liam stayed tense for another few seconds then wrenched himself away with a groan. To Louis' relief, he didn't try and leave the cave, just stumbled to the back and sank down on one of the beds. After a second, Niall moved over and sat next to him, pulling him into a hug that Liam returned with a desperation that was close to tears.
Feeling like a bastard even though he knew he'd done the right thing, Louis went to sit on the other bed with Harry. It was almost totally dark in the cave now, and only the frequent flashes of lightning let them see where anything was.
Louis burrowed into Harry's side and let him hold him tight, feeling miserable.
"Zayn'll be okay," Harry murmured. "He has to be."
"What if he isn't?" Louis whispered, wretched. "What if something happens to him because I wouldn't go and search?"
Harry's hold on him tightened. "You were right Lou. Nobody could move out there in this, it'd be suicide even to try. We'll just have to wait it out and hope that Zayn's safe wherever he is."
Louis was quiet for a while, then sighed. "Liam was right though. If it was you out there - I wouldn't have let anyone stop me from looking for you."
"Just goes to show Liam's more sensible than you then," Harry whispered against his ear, but Louis could tell he was smiling, and it made him feel a bit better.
They settled down in preparation to wait out the long, cold night.
By now there was a fairly well-trodden path between the lookout point, the cave and the camp and Zayn had made it back to the camp site in good time. The rain was coming down in earnest now, and leaves and bits of twig kept hitting him in the face.
Coming out of the shelter of the trees, the full force of the wind hit Zayn for the first time, and nearly blew him over. Doubled up, he ran across the open space to the camp, rain and blown sand beating against his skin with stinging ferocity.
To his relief he found the lighter exactly where he'd left it, on a flat stone by the fire. He shoved it hastily in his pocket and looked around. The sail was flapping loose from one side of the hut roof, and he spent a good few minutes trying to tie it back in place.
It crossed his mind to wait out the storm in the shelter itself, but by now he was soaked to the skin, and realised his only chance of drying out was to get a fire going up in the cave where the others were waiting.
Giving one last look round, Zayn headed back towards the hillside. He was almost under the trees when something shot past his head and smashed against the nearby rockface like a cannonball. Shocked, he bent to pick up a fragment of the missile, and realised it was a coconut.
Another sailed over his head, and he was sprayed with coconut water as that, too, smashed against the rocks. Properly scared now, Zayn dashed for the trees, gambling that the chances of things dropping on his head would be outweighed by the shelter they would give from the force of the wind.
He was right, in that the awful pressure dropped a little once under the canopy, but it was darker under here too, and he could barely see where he was putting his feet. Zayn realised he'd missed the path and weaved between the trunks in the direction he was fairly sure it lay. The alternative was going back out in the open and looking properly, but the rain of coconuts swept up by the hurricane made that an extremely unattractive option.
The ground was wet and slippery, and more than once he fell over concealed tree roots, swearing and muttering the whole time. The daylight was nearly gone, and the rain seemed to re-double its efforts, bringing with it thunder and lightning that made him flinch with every bolt that tore open the sky.
The way was getting steeper as he climbed, and although he still hadn’t found the path Zayn took comfort that every step surely brought him closer to the others. Going up was the key, the cave was close to where the rocks broke out above the treeline, and once he reached that level it would surely just be a case of working his way along and yelling until they heard him.
It was a sound theory, but in the fury of the storm every inch of progress was a struggle, and in the dark and rain everything looked different. Away from the tested path the ground undulated over folds in the rock, and Zayn found himself having to slither down as many slopes as he was climbing. A horrible suspicion that he might be going in circles took hold, and he forged ahead faster, yelling out for the others in a voice that was snatched away by the wind as soon as it left his lips.
Hurrying along and half-blinded by the rain, Zayn didn’t realise the ground ended until suddenly there was nothing beneath his feet. There was a split second of realisation where it felt like he was hanging in space like a cartoon character and then he was falling, branches snatching at him as he passed, too fast to grab hold. Rocks battered him as he fell, and his fingers were soon torn and bloody from trying to stop his dizzying descent.
It wasn't a vertical drop, and that probably saved his life, but he slid down an unforgivingly steep slope and fell the last few feet into empty space. Zayn hit the ground with enough force to drive the air from his lungs and for a moment he blacked out entirely.
When he came round, for a second Zayn had no idea where he was. It was dark, and he was cold, and someone was flicking water onto his face.
"Stop it," he protested, or tried to. His voice came out as a mumble, and as he shook his head to try and stop the ringing in his ears, his whole body seemed to explode with pain.
It did at least clear his head somewhat, and Zayn realised that he was in fact lying alone at the bottom of a ravine, and what he'd taken for someone dripping water onto his was just the relentless rain.
He groaned, and tried to pick himself up. It felt like he'd been hit by a train, but at least he was conscious, and seemed to have managed to avoid spearing himself on any of the branches sticking up around him.
As Zayn tried to pull himself to his feet, his right leg gave under him and he screamed in agony. Lying with his cheek pressed into wet leaves, he panted hard, fighting the urge to throw up.
Right. So he'd either broken his leg, or twisted it too badly to walk. Which meant he was stuck here, which he supposed was as good a place as any, because he was at least out of the wind and the worse of the rain, and given that he didn’t know where 'here' was exactly, getting out again wouldn’t necessarily do him any good.
These were the thoughts that passed quickly and rather hysterically through his mind, as he tested his leg again, and confirmed that there was no way on Earth he was going to be able to even drag himself along.
"Could be worse," he told himself. "Still alive. And they'll find you. Eventually. Just hang in there." Talking out loud to himself made him feel slightly better, and he took a deep breath, suppressing the urge to panic and scream the place down.
And then a flash of lightning lit up the world for a split second, and he saw the skull lying a few inches from his face.
Liam woke from a restless sleep to find daylight falling through the cave mouth and a strange hush over the island. He lay there for a second, Niall's quiet snores tickling his neck, and wondering why there was black rock above his head rather than palm fronds and dirty-white sailcloth.
"Zayn!" Liam sat bolt upright as memory of the previous evening came flooding back. Beside him, Niall snuffled into wakefulness, and across the cave Harry and Louis blinked sleepily over at him.
Liam was already scrambling out of the bedding pile. He staggered to the opening and looked out. Outside the sun was shining, but the air felt strangely dead. Debris littered the ground, shredded leaves and bits of twig and branch, and it was as if everything was paused, waiting for something to happen.
Liam looked round to find Harry leaning over his shoulder, sniffing the air.
"No birdsong." Harry stepped outside, looking at the palm trees that hung limply in the stillness, and the oddly flat quality of the light.
Louis and Niall joined them at the entrance and they fanned out cautiously, looking around them.
"Eye of the storm?" said Louis. "I guess - maybe it's not over?"
"How long?" Liam demanded.
"How should I know? An hour? A few? Depends how big the hurricane was. Is."
"Then there's no time to waste. We have to find him. Now."
This time there was no arguing. They hurried down the path and fanned out, calling and searching for Zayn. Louis ran straight down to the campsite, quickly discovering that he wasn't there.
The sight that did meet his eyes left him startled and breathless. The shelter had been ripped to pieces, branches were strewn across the ground as far as he could see, and of the sail roof there was no sign.
He retraced the route he assumed Zayn would have taken, up the path and under the trees, until he met the others coming down. They looked at each other helplessly, having found no sign of him.
"What do we do?" Niall moaned, and Harry squeezed his hand.
"We keep looking. It's not that big an island, we can do this."
They kept searching, spreading wider and calling out Zayn's name continually. They found the going hard, the ground wet and boggy after the rains, and the way blocked by fallen trees and branches.
Eventually, having nearly given up hope, they caught what might have been a faint answering cry.
"Zayn?" Liam yelled, and after a second they heard a distinct reply, weak but clear.
"Hey! Over here!"
Everyone dashed towards the sound, and narrowly avoided plunging headlong down the same ravine Zayn had.
"Zayn? You down there?" Louis called hopefully.
"Yeah! Louis, 's that you? I need help, I've fucked up my leg."
As they looked around for a way of descending the slope, and Harry and Niall debated returning to the cave for one of the woven grass ropes, Liam swung a leg over the edge and slithered downwards, ignoring their shouts of alarm.
"Liam! Are you crazy?" They stared downwards as Liam half-climbed, half slid out of sight.
Lying chilled and numb on the leaf litter, Zayn was surprised to hear the sound of a rapid approach so soon after making contact. A second or so later, Liam shot into space and landed next to him with a thud.
"Hey." Zayn grinned. "Nice of you to drop in."
Liam coughed, trying to regain his breath. He gave Zayn a hasty once over, relieved to find him apparently in one piece.
"Are you okay?" Liam sat up, shaking the feeling back into his hands.
"Can't walk, but other than that, yeah, peachy," Zayn told him. Liam frowned. Zayn was pale and shaking with cold, and in obvious pain.
"I'm sorry," he blurted. "I should never have made you go out again last night."
Zayn looked surprised. "It's not your fault, you dick. It was me chose to run off the edge of a cliff. I'm just glad you found me."
"You had to spend the whole night out here alone!" Liam said miserably.
"Not quite alone. Meet m'friend," Zayn smirked, and nodded towards where Liam was sitting. Puzzled, he looked round, and saw the sinister grin of a human skull leering up at him.
"Fuck!" Liam leapt to his feet in alarm while Zayn lay there laughing at him.
"Liam? You okay?" Harry's voice yelled from the top of the ravine.
"Yeah," Liam called back, a little shakily. "Gonna need a hand though." he looked back at Zayn, who grinned.
"Meet Boney. He's pleased to meet you"
"What the fuck?" Liam sat down again, a little further away from what he now made out to be a whole skeleton.
"I'm guessing it's the other person from the yacht," Zayn said more soberly. "Guess they fell down here same way I did, and either weren't so lucky in the landing, or didn't have anyone to come for them." He gave a hopeful smile. "Talking of which, you are going to get me out of here, right?"
Their conversation was abruptly interrupted by the appearance of Louis, who slid out from the cliff and landed between them with a yell.
"Woah, fuck!" Louis spotted the skull straight away and tried to crawl over himself in his haste to get away. "What?"
"Can I be pissed off yet, that of the three of us, I'm the only one to slide down here and hurt myself?" Zayn demanded, ignoring Louis' yelps of alarm.
"You did do it in the dark," Liam pointed out. "Louis, shut up, it's just a skeleton," he added, covering his own momentary fear with an air of superiority.
"Huh." Louis sat up, eyeing the bones with deep misgivings. "Where did that come from?"
"The boat, I'm guessing?" Zayn said, and was surprised by Louis' immediate look of misery. "What?"
"Then that means - they never got rescued," Louis said bleakly. "We've been assuming that the second person got away - was picked up. But they didn't. They've been here all the time. Nobody ever came for them."
There was a chilled silence, filled only by the wind in the trees. It was Zayn, who, having already had a lonely night to contemplate the presence of the skeleton and decide that on the whole he didn't much care as long as he didn't end up the same way, pushed them into action.
"So are you going to get me out of here, or are we planning on sitting down here till we end up like Boney?"
Liam and Louis scrambled quickly to their feet, and set about heaving Zayn to his. He winced and cried out, unable to set any weight in his leg at all, and they pulled his arms around their shoulders to support him.
"We're never going to get him back up there," Louis said, peering up the way they'd descended so quickly. "I'm not even sure we could do it."
Shouting up to Harry and Niall to let them know what they were doing, Liam and Louis set about helping Zayn along the bottom of the ravine. It was slippery and narrow, and awkward going, but they persisted and eventually the walls on either side lowered more and more, until Harry and Niall could jump down to join them. Together they lifted Zayn up out of his damp, dark prison of the previous night.
Gritting his teeth against the pain, Zayn barely noticed the journey back to the cave, it was all he could do not to pass out. Now he'd been rescued, reaction was setting in and he couldn't stop shaking.
They settled him carefully on one of the beds and wrapped blankets around him tightly.
"How do you feel?" Niall asked worriedly. Zayn was shivering uncontrollably, and trying not to look like he was in massive amounts of pain.
"Cold," Zayn said, then something occurred to him. "Oh, hey." He fumbled under the blanket in his pocket and drew out the lighter. "I found it."
He handed it to Liam, who gaped at him slightly, then darted forward and kissed him hard on the mouth. Startled, Zayn blinked at him and gave a quiet laugh. "You okay babe?"
Liam shook his head, biting his lip. "I thought I'd lost you," he confessed in a low voice. "I thought you were dead and it was my fault."
Zayn frowned. "It was me left the bloody thing behind. Don't be daft. I'm okay."
"You're not though, are you?" Liam looked him over, worriedly. "What if you've got hypothermia or something?"
"Oh you're a great morale booster you are. Come and warm me up then."
Niall took the lighter out of Liam's hand and went to coax the carefully laid fire into life, while first Liam and then Harry climbed onto the bed with Zayn and plastered themselves up against him to share their warmth.
Once the fire was crackling merrily, Niall looked out at the scudding clouds and swaying trees and then back into the cave. "The wind's getting up again. I'm going to go and see what food I can find before it gets too bad. God knows how long we'll be stuck in here."
"I'll come with you." Louis followed him out, ducking instinctively as the wind snatched at his clothes and hair, already noticeably stronger than a few minutes before.
They picked their way through the devastation. Everywhere, branches and even whole trees lay across the path and it was a sobering reminder of how lucky Zayn had been in surviving his night of exposure.
Louis related the state of the campsite below, then looked sideways at Niall, suspecting he wasn't really listening. "You okay?"
"Yeah. Why wouldn't I be?" Niall carried on picking up windblown fruit.
"Just thought you'd be on Zayn-cuddling duty, that's all," Louis said carefully, watching him with a slight frown.
Niall shrugged. "I needed to be doing something. Besides, he's got Liam, right?"
"Er..." Louis sat down on a fallen tree trunk and looked at him. "Thought you were supposed to be his boyfriend?"
Niall fidgeted for a while, then came and sat next to him. "That's just it. We've never - you know. Said anything. It was just supposed to be a bit of fun, while we were stuck here."
"But?" Louis prompted, and Niall sighed.
"I think I'm in love with him."
"Well isn't he with you? He seems to be. Does he know how you feel?" Louis looked at Niall's blank expression and frowned. "What's the problem? Is this because Liam kissed him?"
Niall stared out through the trees at the troubled sea, and took a while to answer. "I didn't mind you see, when it was - when it was Harry," he said with an apologetic glance at Louis, who tilted his head to show no offence had been taken. "Because it was just sex. I even told him, I didn't mind sharing him. I don't mind. It's just - I think secretly he loves Liam. And if Liam suddenly changes his mind and decides that he wants him after all - where's the room for me in that?" Niall asked plaintively.
Louis sighed, and put his arm round him. "I think telling Zayn how you feel would be a good start."
"Why would he pick me though?"
"Why wouldn't he? You're amazing," Louis told him indignantly.
"I'm not." Niall blushed. "Do you really think so?"
"Yeah. Fucking right." Louis looked at him, still holding him close with a protective arm, and before he really thought about it, had leaned in to kiss him.
Niall gave a start of surprise, but didn't pull away and the kiss deepened into something fiercer. Both felt in a way they had something to prove to each other, and that they both deserved a measure of revenge for what Zayn and Harry had done.
After a long minute they pulled apart, laughing in faintly amused horror at themselves.
"Shit," whispered Louis, with a guilty grin.
Niall punched him on the arm and got up. "Come on. We're supposed to be responsible hunter-gatherers right now, not hunter-fornicators."
Louis laughed, and let Niall pull him to his feet.
They struggled back to the cave in rising winds, clutching armfuls of bruised fruit. The fire was smoking fitfully in the swirling gusts that blew in, and Louis set about stoking it up.
Niall wandered hesitantly to the back of the cave and looked down at where Zayn was sleeping peacefully, held close between the protective bodies of his friends. Liam, too, was asleep, having barely snatched any rest the night before through worrying too much.
Harry opened his eyes, sensing Niall's presence, and smiled up at him, sliding carefully backwards off the bed.
"Your turn," he whispered, and Niall hesitated. Harry gave him a little push. "Go on, he needs warmth more than anything right now."
Giving in with an odd reluctance, Niall lay down in Harry's place, sliding his arm round the blanket-swaddled shape of Zayn's body. Once settled, Niall found he felt happier after all, and cuddled up to his sleeping partner.
Harry wandered over to where Louis was fiddling with the fire and yawned. "Storm's coming back."
"Yeah." Louis avoided his eyes and started sorting through the fruit they'd brought back. Harry sat down opposite and watched him.
"Lou? You okay?" he murmured after several minutes had passed and Louis hadn't looked up at him once.
Louis sighed. He glanced over to the bed, where all three seemed to be asleep and bit his lip. "I have to tell you something," he muttered in a low voice.
"Yeah?" Harry crawled over to sit next to him and put his chin on Louis' shoulder. "What's up?"
Louis rested his head against Harry's for a moment. He didn't want to tell him, but secrets had a way of coming out, and better it came from him.
"I kissed Niall," he whispered.
Harry sat up. "Oh." He studied Louis' face, seeing the tension in his expression. "Kissed him - kissed him?"
Louis nodded, staring into the fire, too afraid to look and see what Harry's face might hold.
Harry blew out a breath. "Right. Well. S'pose I can't say anything really, can I?" he said resignedly.
Louis did look up then, a sharp glance of surprise. "You're not angry?" he ventured.
"Should I be?" Harry put an arm round him, and Louis hugged back in relief.
"I would have been," Louis confessed. "I was."
"That was a bit more than a kiss though, wasn't it." Harry leaned in to him, sighing. "It's funny," he mused. "If it had been some girl, I'd probably be well hacked off. But Niall?" He nuzzled Louis' neck, light kisses that made him shiver.
"Should have let me watch," Harry whispered.
Outside, the weather worsened. They waited it out with varying degrees of patience. Confined together in the cramped space of the cave, various spats were played out as nerves and worry took hold, but none of the arguments lasted long. The tension of the previous night had gone at least, and there was a comfort to be had in knowing they were all together, when it could so easily have been different.
Zayn slept through most of it, waking occasionally, disoriented and fretful, to be immediately reassured by whoever was currently lying next to him. They all took turns, ensuring he was kept warm and comfortable, although no-one else managed to sleep through the noise of the storm.
The only one to venture outside was Harry, declaring towards the end of the afternoon that he couldn't hold on any longer and if he didn't have a piss there was going to be an accident. He edged his way cautiously out of the entrance, accompanied by helpful advice from Liam to the effect he should make sure he faced downwind. He scurried back in a couple of minutes later, with hair that looked like it had been put on backwards and his expression irritable as a ruffled cat.
Eventually, as the light faded from the day, the wind dropped from a shriek to a bearable level once more. Liam and Harry helped Zayn stagger out to relieve himself, arms locked round him and tactfully looking the other way.
Louis and Niall made a run for fresh drinking water. They found the stream doubled in size, pouring angrily over the rocks in a swollen torrent. Squalls of rain blew into their faces with every other gust of wind, and in the distance they could see the retreating storm, an almost solid line of grey far out to sea.
When they got back, Liam and Harry were trying to coax the low fire into accepting fresh wood that was far too wet, and coughing in the billows of smoke.
"Trying to suffocate us?" Niall asked cheerfully, sloshing water over Harry's feet as he placed the pan down on the floor.
"It's that or freeze - oi, watch it!"
"Getting dark already," Liam said with a sigh. "I'm starting to forget what the sun looks like."
They were wearing all the clothes they had left - tattered and thin by now - and taking turns with the one blanket that wasn't wrapped around Zayn. Huddled together, they shared out the last of the fruit and ate in silence. At least when the sun was shining they could pretend all was well - cold, wet and miserable it was harder to forget how precarious their survival really was.
Turning in for the night early, in the hope the following day would present a more cheerful start, Liam and Niall climbed in next to Zayn while Harry and Louis settled down on the second bed.
Some hours later, Liam woke up and realised he was desperate for a wee. He rolled carefully off the bed, thankful he was on the outside, and made his way out by the faint glow of the fire. Coming back in, feet cold and having stubbed his bare toe on the rocks, he discovered Niall had rolled over and sprawled out in his space.
"Move over you bastard," Liam whispered, giving him a light push, but Niall was dead to the world and didn't stir an inch. Liam sighed. He considered seeing if there was room to climb in with Louis and Harry, but didn't quite like to without being invited. He set about wriggling into the narrow gap Niall had left between himself and Zayn. Once wedged in the middle, Liam relaxed. It had the bonus of being warmer than sleeping on the outside, and he was quickly asleep again.
An hour passed. The wind rose and fell, sighing across the entrance and tossing the trees outside. The fire gave a final smoky puff and died out completely, leaving the inside of the cave pitch dark.
The bedding pile rustled as Niall woke up and yawned. It was utterly black, so he clearly had plenty of sleeping time left. He nuzzled into the warm body next to him, and then realised two things. One, he was wide awake, and two, the sleeping figure he was cuddled into appeared to have a massive erection.
Niall grinned in the dark. It had been a while, and Zayn was clearly getting frustrated. He let his hand rub lightly over the bulge he'd discovered, feeling it stiffen further under his touch. It didn't occur to him for a moment that it might not be Zayn, he distinctly remembered falling asleep with his arm round him after all.
Niall wriggled carefully down under the blanket and peeled down the restricting clothes, cupping the hard cock in his palm. Zayn had had a rough time he reflected, what with his ordeal of the previous night. Time he had a nice surprise instead. Niall smirked, and slid his mouth over the tip of the swollen shaft.
For the second time that night Liam woke with a start and stared into the blackness, heart pounding. For a moment he thought he was still dreaming. It had been a good dream, involving Zayn and not many clothes, which now he was definitely awake made him feel rather guilty. And more to the point, if he was definitely awake, who the fuck was that with their mouth on his cock?
Liam bit his lip hard in an attempt not to make any noise, or let the unseen sucker know he was awake. For a second he wondered if it was Zayn, except with his leg it was unlikely he'd be able to bend round like that, and anyway, he was on the other side. Which meant it was Niall, although why he should decide to do it was beyond Liam's comprehension.
Liam swallowed convulsively, digging his fingers into the blanket and trying to steady his breathing. It felt fucking incredible, and the urge to cry out was overwhelming. Liam gritted his teeth, but a strangled whimper still escaped his lips as Niall's mouth worked him relentlessly, smooth and deep and wet. He felt a hand slide up the inside of his leg, teasing and steadying at the same time, and felt a prickle of heat shudder up his spine.
The darkness conveyed a strange sense of intimacy, but the knowledge that three other boys were lying close by - and in one case right next to them - made Liam hot all over. Before he could get his thoughts in order it was already too late, and one particularly lascivious suck from Niall had him coming without warning, helpless and shuddering as Niall swallowed him down without a murmur.
Liam lay there weakly, thoughts racing. Niall clearly knew he was awake, should he offer to return the favour? He wasn't even sure he could, he'd never done it before. But he felt Niall give him a reassuring pat on the thigh and then settle down to sleep again, nestled against his arm.
This time, it took Liam a long while to drop off.
The new day dawned with a brightness that seemed almost taunting after the bleakness of the previous two. Liam was first awake, and after dozing for a while and wondering why he felt quite so relaxed, the events of the previous night abruptly came back and he sat up with a start.
He stared down at the still-sleeping Niall with a look of wonder. Why would he have chosen to do something like that for him, when he was supposedly seeing Zayn? Liam looked from one to the other, and a cold realisation slowly crept over him. At no point last night had anyone spoken aloud, and Niall had fallen asleep with Zayn on his right, not Liam.
"Oh, fuck." Liam scrambled out from between them in a panic, tripping over the blanket in his haste. He half-walked, half-crawled to the entrance and staggered outside, taking in huge gulps of fresh air to force the dizzy feeling away. Maybe they'd never know, he thought desperately. Maybe Niall wouldn't say anything.
"Should have known better," he muttered bitterly. "Why the hell would you think they'd be interested in you, Payne?" He rested his head back against the rock face, closing his eyes against the sunshine.
Liam knew he couldn’t hide out here forever though, and eventually forced himself to go reluctantly back inside before he was missed.
The others were all stirring, and Liam set about relighting the fire, concentrating on stacking the thankfully now dry wood, and trying not to listen to the conversations going on behind him.
Niall stretched sleepily and looked over at Zayn. "How ya feeling?" he asked with a sly smile.
Zayn sat up cautiously and flexed his leg, wincing. "Not so bad. I don't think it's broken, thank fuck."
"You were certainly frisky enough last night," Niall said in a low voice.
Zayn laughed. "Frisky? Chance'd be a fine thing, I don’t think I stirred all night. Feel better for the sleep though."
Niall frowned. He'd been certain Zayn had been awake by the end. "You don't - remember anything?" he persisted hopefully. Not that he really minded if Zayn had slept through the whole thing, but he'd been damn good if he said it himself.
"Remember what?" Zayn gave him a puzzled smile.
"I sucked you off!" Niall declared, managing to coincide with the exact moment that Harry stopped talking, so everyone heard what he said.
"What do you want, applause?" Louis called over, and Niall went red. Zayn still looked baffled.
"No you didn't. Did you? I'm fairly sure I would have remembered! Did you dream it?" Zayn teased, and it was Niall's turn to look mystified.
"Well I certainly sucked someone off. I can still taste it for a start."
"Ewww!" Louis cracked up laughing, and buried his face in Harry's shoulder.
"Too much information there Nialler," Harry agreed, giggling.
Niall shrugged, unrepentant and still fairly sure Zayn had just slept through it - until his gaze fell on Liam. Liam couldn't meet his eyes, and his cheeks were burning.
"Erm." Liam cleared his throat. "I think - it might have been me," he confessed.
"You think?" Louis shrieked with laughter and Liam felt like he was going to pass out with embarrassment. He forced himself to look up at Niall and Zayn, who were both staring at him with matching expressions of surprise. "Um. Sorry," he managed.
Niall shook his head, and gave a sudden laugh. "Oops." He grinned, and Zayn punched him on the arm.
"That was mine! I demand a replay. No I don't, not replay, rematch. Me, anyway. I know what I mean." He started giggling, and Niall joined in. Liam relaxed a little, and edged back to sit on the end of the bed.
"Sorry," he said again, and Niall reached out and took his hand.
"I should be the one apologising. Forcing my attentions on you and stuff." He sniggered. "Why didn’t you stop me?"
Zayn cackled. "Why would he stop you? He's not mental."
"Fair point." Niall was laughing again, and Liam managed a shy smile. He couldn't believe things hadn't all gone to hell, or that neither Niall or Zayn seemed to mind what had happened.
"Why does nobody ever accidentally suck me off?" Louis was complaining in a loud voice. "It's not fair." He felt faintly disappointed that he'd missed all the goings on in the night, and thinking about it had given him the beginnings of a hard-on.
Harry gave him a wicked grin and planted a hand squarely in the centre of Louis' chest, pushing him flat.
"What are you - ?" Louis started, and Harry shushed him with splayed fingers across his mouth.
"Just relax. And stop moaning." Harry's fingers were unfastening Louis' flies now, and rubbing encouragingly against his cock.
"Harry! You can't!" Louis cried in amused alarm.
"You asked for it," Harry pointed out. He had his hand curled round Louis' erection now, stroking him firmly and blatantly in full view of the others.
Niall, Zayn and Liam watched in horrified admiration as Harry took Louis into his mouth, kneeling between his legs and head bobbing determinedly over his groin.
Zayn gave a quiet groan, and reached for Niall's hand. Niall squeezed his fingers, only now realising that he was still holding Liam's hand in his right. They stared, transfixed, as Harry proceeded to blow Louis with skilled enthusiasm, spit-slick and messy, holding Louis down with firm hands braced on his thighs.
Every instinct screamed that they shouldn't be watching this, but Harry was clearly putting on a show and the sounds Louis was making could hardly be described as protesting.
By the time Louis had been reduced to a moaning, writhing wreck, spilling his load into Harry's eager mouth, all three silent voyeurs were painfully hard and still fiercely gripping each other's hands.
As Harry sat up, wiping his mouth and smirking, they gave a mutual sigh of released tension and relaxed a little, exchanging guilty glances and pretending not to notice the spreading wet patch on Niall's shorts.
Niall gave a sheepish cough and climbed awkwardly off the bed, disappearing out into the sunshine. Louis gave a satisfied yawn and pulled Harry down into his arms, determined to have another snooze.
Zayn and Liam exchanged looks. Liam was ready to bolt, suddenly not knowing where to look or what to say, but Zayn held out his arms and to his amazement, Liam found himself settling into them like he'd belonged there all his life. A few minutes later, Niall sauntered back in with his shirt tied round his waist and minus his shorts, and climbed back in to snuggle unselfconsciously up against Liam's back.
"Nice day out there," he murmured.
"Shh, we're asleep," Zayn told him, and after an answering snort from Niall, all was quiet again.
As soon as it was properly daylight they ventured out in search of fresh provisions. The sun was shining now out of a clear sky and only the devastation on the ground still told the story of what had passed over them.
Zayn still couldn’t stand on his injured leg, and at his insistence Harry and Liam carried him up to a convenient vantage point where he could sit on lookout duty. This way, as he said, he was at least contributing something vaguely useful whilst the others went further afield.
Everywhere was covered in a layer of shredded leaves and small branches; in places entire trees had come down, uprooted or even splintered in two by the force of the wind. Stretches of beach had changed shape entirely, remodelled in the space of a day and night by the surging waves.
Their campsite was barely recognisable. Not a stick remained of their shelter and a layer of windblown sand covered even the black smudge of the hearth. Their initial intention had been to rebuild the hut, but the discovery of such utter ruin made them lose heart. A quick decision was made to stay in the cave for the time being, feeling now that it had become their sanctuary.
Scattered in the surrounding undergrowth they found various utensils and possessions that hadn't been taken up to the cave. Liam started retrieving them, while Harry, Louis and Niall went foraging for food.
Sometime later Liam was sitting taking stock of all he'd managed to salvage when Louis reappeared, weighed down with an armful of fruit. He spilled them gratefully onto the sand and threw himself down next to Liam.
"You okay?" he asked cheerfully. Liam had been rather quiet that morning for Louis' liking and he was determined to jolly him up a bit.
Liam sighed. "Bit confused, to be honest," he said quietly.
"You seem to have become the filling in the Malik-Horan sandwich," Louis observed with a grin, making Liam blush furiously.
"Yeah." Liam picked at the frayed hem of the t-shirt he was wearing, which Louis recognised was Harry's.
"Is that a bad thing?" Louis persisted. "You seemed happy enough with it.
"Nooo." Liam risked a glance at him, drawing the word out uncertainly. "Don't you think it's a bit - weird, though? I mean - being with both of them?"
Louis shrugged. "Not really. Everything's weird here, anyway." He gave the matter some thought, and was slightly surprised to realise that it was true, the fact that the three of them had hooked up felt like nothing other than a natural progression of where they'd been heading.
"It's nice," Louis added. "That no-one's left out."
Liam nodded cautiously. "I didn’t want to be unfaithful, you know? To Dani. But - well. It's been so long. I'm starting to believe that we're never going to be rescued. That this is it." He frowned, conscious of how that might have sounded. "I don’t mean - that they're second choice or anything. Just that - I'll probably never get the chance to explain to her, so - I should stop letting it stand in the way."
Louis smiled. "It's funny," he said softly. "Not long ago the thought of being stuck here forever would have freaked me out so much. And I'm not saying I'm happy about it. But it does make things so much simpler. We can do what we like. Be who we like. And never have to explain or justify ourselves to anyone."
"Don't you miss home though?"
"Of course I do. But it's like - a dream or something. Another life. Home is here now. Home is you guys."
"You've changed," Liam smiled, remembering the way Louis had been so upset when they'd first arrived.
"I think we all have," Louis said. "This place has changed us. Either we've grown up, or this is just who we are when we don't have to be someone else."
Liam laughed. "You should put that in a song."
"Maybe I will." Louis nudged him. "Am I wrong though?"
"No." Liam shook his head, smiling. "I just never imagined I was someone who'd end up in a relationship with two boys, you know?"
"Me neither. But Harry's the best thing that's ever happened to me." Louis took Liam's hand. "We've got your back you know. All of us. Trust me, I know how it feels, admitting what you want, when it's something like this. I know it's not easy."
Liam squeezed his fingers gratefully.
"It is what you want, right?" Louis added.
"Yeah. Yeah, it is," Liam said immediately. "I love them both. I mean - I always have, I just - never imagined it would become physical I guess." He frowned. "I love all of you," he added. "I mean - "
"I know what you mean," Louis interrupted. "Maybe better than the others. Love first, sex second, yeah? That's how it works, for some of us."
Liam nodded, pleased that Louis seemed to understand. "Exactly."
They looked at each other, smiling as they realised they were still holding hands.
They came together slowly, and the kiss that followed was soft and comforting, affirming rather than heated. When they broke apart Louis grinned and gave Liam a little push. Liam gathered up his armful of their belongings, giggling, before disappearing up the hill.
Louis was about to follow when another figure appeared from the trees behind him and crossed to sit next to him. Louis stiffened anxiously, but Harry put an arm round him and kissed him on the cheek.
"You're adorable, you know that?"
Louis felt a hot flush of relief and turned to take Harry into his arms. "How long were you listening?"
"Long enough." Harry smirked. "And for the record, I loved you before I screwed you too, okay?"
"I - I didn’t mean - " Louis floundered, embarrassed, but Harry kissed away his confusion.
"Besides," Harry added as they made their way back up the hill together. "As far as I'm aware that now means the only person on this island you haven't snogged yet is Zayn. So that actually makes you the biggest tart on the island in my book." He grinned, starting to run, and Louis chased him all the way back to the cave.
As the days passed, Liam gradually came to terms with his newfound state of being part of a threesome, discovering that actually, nothing had changed in his relationship with them other than the fact that rather more orgasms were involved.
A rather surreptitious game of voyeurism developed in the cave, where the occupants of one bed would frequently wake in the not-quite-dawn to subtle noises of lovemaking emanating from the other bed. This inevitably lead to the other parties getting turned on and following suit, and if Zayn and Louis were clearly competing to see who could make the filthiest noises from their respective sides of the cave, certainly no-one ever made reference to it in daylight.
It wasn't long after this new arrangement had been struck, that Liam and Harry decided to walk the tideline in search of anything useful that might have been washed up after the storm - their sail, for a start. They were working their way across a particularly littered stretch of beach, sandhoppers and tiny crabs flicking and scuttling away as they poked through the seaweed, when Harry looked up and frowned.
Liam looked around. A lot of the shoreline felt changed by the storm that had ripped through it, but Harry was right, there was a sense of something missing.
"Oh my God - the boat's gone!" Harry cried in sudden realisation. He was right. The rocks where the wrecked and slowly disintegrating yacht had lain pinned were empty, a dark tangle of palm trees rising beyond.
"It must have lifted off in the storm," Liam said. "I guess the seas were so high it got swept right away."
"Glad we didn’t make it our home then," Harry muttered darkly. "We'd be at the bottom of the sea by now."
They stared at the place it wasn’t, in slight shock. Today the sea was calm and blue and sparkling, giving no hint of its passing violence.
"I wonder if it's down there," Harry mused, climbing up onto the rocks. "It can't have floated far, it must have been mostly hole underneath."
Ignoring Liam's pleas to be careful he made his way out to the end of the promontory, picking his way across the uneven sprawl of old lava and coral, treacherous with seaweed and hidden pools.
He made it to the end and stood there, peering into the water. "I think it might be over there," he called back, pointing. "There's a dark shape against the sand. Might be just more rocks though. We should swim out and see."
"Another time," Liam shouted back. "We're supposed to be beachcombing, remember?"
With Zayn still unable to hobble more than a few steps unaided, there was more pressure on the rest to provide for them all, and foraging took up nearly all their time.
Harry gave a last longing glance at the tempting water and started making his way back.
Watching from the sand, Liam never knew exactly what happened. One second Harry was upright, leaping from rock to rock, against the sun, and the next his feet went from under him and he fell backwards, all too fast for him even to cry out.
"Harry!" Liam went rigid with alarm, shading his eyes and waiting for Harry to get back to his feet, bitching and moaning. But seconds passed and he didn't sit up, and all Liam could hear was the seabirds wheeling overhead, and the thump of blood in his own ears.
"Harry? Are you okay?" he shouted, more anxiously. Still no reply, and Liam hurriedly climbed up the rocks, taking care not to slip himself.
He found Harry lying flat on his back, eyes closed and ominously still.
"Harry?" It came out as a whimper. Liam dashed over the last few yards with no thought for his own safety whatsoever and dropped to his knees beside him.
"Harry, stop mucking about, it's not funny!" Liam snapped, but Harry didn’t move and he knew in his heart that Harry wasn’t faking, that this was bad.
Half afraid to touch him in case he made it worse, Liam reached out and patted Harry's cheek gently. There was no response, but he this close he saw to his deep relief that Harry was at least still breathing.
"Come on, stop lazing around," Liam coaxed, cradling Harry's head in his hands. His fingers came away wet, and he thought for a second Harry had landed in a rock pool, until he saw the smear of red on his fingertips.
Liam nearly passed out himself. Feeling shaky, he groaned, wiping his hands on his shorts and taking Harry's hand.
"Oh God Harry, what have you done? Please be okay, please."
He looked back across the deserted beach, praying for Louis or Niall to appear. There was no way he could carry Harry back on his own without potentially hurting him, and he couldn’t bear the thought of leaving him to fetch help, in case Harry woke alone.
Instead, Liam sat next to him rubbing Harry's wrists and talking, hoping the sound of his voice would be enough to bring him round, and that Harry hadn't done himself irreparable damage.
After what felt like years but could only have been a few minutes, Harry's eyelashes fluttered, and he opened his eyes.
"Harry?" Liam leaned over him, shading his face from the direct sun. "Are you alright?"
"What happened?" The words were barely audible, just a whisper of breath across Harry's lips.
"You fell. Hit your head. You're going to be fine though," Liam said fiercely.
"Liam?" Harry blinked up at him, confused.
"Yes. I'm here. It's going to be okay. Can you get up?" Liam asked, wondering if that was the wrong thing to do, to make him move, but on the other hand what was the alternative? Leave him lying out here in the blazing sun, on a shelf of rock that judging by the pools would be covered at high tide?
Harry stared at him uncomprehendingly for so long that Liam started to be afraid he'd really done something awful, but finally Harry blinked with a little frown of pain and reached out for Liam's hands.
Liam hauled him carefully up and stood there supporting him as Harry swayed alarmingly. "Okay?" he coaxed, hoping Harry wasn’t going to collapse again.
Harry gave a non-committal noise of discomfort and gripped Liam’s arm fiercely. He took a few unsteady paces, then went a disturbing shade of greenish-white and crumpled back to his knees, throwing up his breakfast over the rocks.
"Sorry," he muttered weakly, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand and swaying even on his knees.
Liam crouched beside him, rubbing Harry’s back helplessly. "It's okay. It's okay," he repeated, as much for his own reassurance than Harry's.
After a moment Harry managed to get up again and with Liam's help staggered the rest of the way back across the rocks, bent double with dizziness and nausea. Liam managed to help him down onto the sand, then Harry's legs gave out and they both ended up sitting on the beach in a heap.
Harry lay back against the rock, breathing fast and shallow. "Liam?" He sounded lost and more scared than Liam had ever heard him.
"Yeah. Yeah, I'm right here." Liam took his hand and held it tightly. Harry looked at him, brow furrowed.
"Everything's blurry," he confessed in a whisper.
Despite the heat, Liam shivered, but managed to give him a reassuring smile. "You're going to be fine. It was just a shock, that's all. Bit of a knock. It'll wear off. Just rest for a bit." He chewed his lip, torn. "Look - will you be okay if I go and find the others? We can carry you back, look after you properly."
He was about to get up when Harry's fingers closed round his wrist. "Don't leave me?" Harry pleaded faintly. "I don't - I don’t want to be on my own. I feel - really weird."
"Okay. Okay." Liam settled back beside him, cradling Harry against his chest. They sat there for some time, Harry seemingly drifting in and out of consciousness, Liam shading him from the sun as best he could and fretting.
Finally, a movement at the edge of his vision made Liam look up and there was Niall just emerging from the treeline.
"Hey!" he yelled, startling Harry awake. "Hey, Niall! Over here!"
Niall looked round in confusion, then finally spotted Liam’s frantically waving hand. He started trotting across the sand towards them, smiling.
"Hey, what have you guys been up to? I've been looking - " he faltered, taking in Harry's condition and the blood staining Liam's shirt. "Jesus, what happened?"
"He fell. Hit his head," Liam explained tersely. "Help me with him."
Together they managed to get Harry upright, and began the arduous task of walking him back to the cave. It took a long time, Harry mostly too disoriented to help and clearly in pain. Finally they staggered in to be met by an alarmed Zayn.
"What happened?" he demanded, as Liam and Niall lowered Harry carefully to the bed beside him.
Liam explained, as Niall fetched water to bathe Harry's head wound.
Once they'd washed the blood out of his hair, the cut itself wasn’t as bad as Liam had feared, but he still wasn't sure how hard Harry had hit himself. They bandaged him as best they could with strips of old linen - most of their clothes were in rags by now anyway, and laid him down to rest, tucked between Zayn and Niall.
Reassured by the comforting touches and promises of the three boys, Harry slid thankfully into sleep, escaping the painful, blurred, confusing world again as quickly as he could.
They'd debated the wisdom of letting him pass out again, but finally voted in favour of sleep being the best thing.
"He'll be okay, right?" Niall asked quietly, stroking Harry's hair away from his face.
"Course he will," said Zayn immediately. "Right Li?" They both looked to him for reassurance, and Liam nodded.
"Yeah. Yeah, of course." Replaying over and over in his head the sudden, shocking moment Harry had gone down, and the way he'd looked lying there on the rocks so still, and the awful, awful second he'd been convinced Harry was dead.
Zayn looked closely at Liam's pinched, worried face, and wordlessly took his hand. Liam gave him a brief smile of gratitude and squeezed back.
"Where's Louis?" he asked, trying to distract himself from the worry of what they'd do if Harry wasn't alright. "He should know what's happened."
"He went down the other side," Zayn said. "Should be back soon."
It was another half an hour before Louis appeared in the entrance, carrying a line of fresh fish and a sling of green coconuts.
"Am I the only one doing any work here?" he asked indignantly, seeing them all seated together in the cave. Then he took in their solemn faces and hesitated. "What is it? What's wrong?"
"It's Harry," Niall said. "He's hurt."
"What?" Louis dropped his haul on the floor, forgotten, and dashed across. "Harry? What happened?"
"He hit his head," Liam told him, feeling like he was somehow doomed to repeat the same sentence for the rest of his life as punishment for letting it happen. "He slipped on the rocks."
"Harry? Harry, talk to me!" Louis tried to shove Zayn out of the way, making him yelp as a twinge of pain shot up his injured leg.
"Careful!" Liam protested, putting a protective arm around Zayn. "Louis, stop it, he's sleeping," he added, as Louis shook Harry's arm.
"Is that wise? Is he concussed? What if he throws up in his sleep?"
"Louis, we've got this, it's okay," Niall said quietly. "We're looking after him."
"He's my boyfriend," Louis snapped. "I think I know what's best for him."
"Fuck you Louis," Zayn shot back before he could stop himself, stung by the hurt look on Niall's face.
Louis drew back as if he'd been slapped. He looked at Niall for support of his position, but Niall shook his head.
"Zayn's right. We care about Harry just as much as you. The only difference is that you get to screw him. Doesn’t mean we love him any less than you do."
Temporarily speechless, Louis could only stare at them. Niall's face was flushed but determined, Zayn's stony. Liam looked away when Louis tried to catch his eye, and Louis felt suddenly like he was standing on quicksand, that everything he thought he knew was in doubt. He backed up slowly off the bed, and got to his feet. When no-one called out for him to stay, he turned miserably away and left them sitting there to flee into the open air.
It wasn't much later that Harry opened his eyes again, groaning. He looked up into the concerned faces of his friends and tried to blink them into focus.
"How ya feeling?" Niall asked.
"Shitty." Harry tried to sit up and three pairs of willing hands helped him. He looked around, automatically seeking the comfort he was most used to. "Where's Lou?"
The others exchanged shifty looks, and Harry frowned, wincing. "What? Where is he?"
"Sulking," said Zayn.
"We - had a bit of an argument," Liam confessed. "He seemed to think we somehow didn’t count as much as him when it came to looking after you. So we put him right on a few things."
"We might have - sort of - told him we loved you," said Niall, blushing.
Harry looked at them all and sighed. "Did you tell him you loved him too? Or did you make it sound like you only meant me, and he wasn't included?" he guessed.
Guilty looks were exchanged, and Harry shook his head slowly. "So is he really sulking? Or actually massively upset?"
There was a sheepish silence. "Shit," said Niall finally, in a small voice.
Harry made to get up, only to slump back as his head swam sickeningly and they pushed him gently back down. "Stay where you are," Zayn chided.
"I'll go." Niall stood up. "It was me that said it."
He found Louis at the lookout point, staring out to sea. At Niall's approach he wiped a hand hastily across his face, but stood up anxiously to face him.
"He's awake," Niall told him quickly. "And asking for you."
Louis visibly sagged with relief. Niall came right up to him and smiled in awkward apology. "I'm sorry Louis. I made it sound like we didn’t care about how you felt, and that's not true."
Louis bit his lip and smiled back. "I'm sorry too. I know you care about him. I guess I was just - scared, that's all."
In response, Niall darted forward and hugged him hard. Louis hugged back in relief. None of them liked falling out, and out here where all they had was each other, it felt a thousand times worse.
They returned to the cave together and Harry managed a weak smile as Louis took him gently into his arms.
"What the bloody hell have you been doing to yourself now, you muppet?" Louis muttered, holding him close. "I can't leave you alone for a second."
"Sorry," Harry whispered, closing his eyes and drawing comfort from Louis' embrace. "I fucked up."
One by one the others moved in and added their arms to the cuddle-pile, and held him tight in a warm knot of love.
For the rest of the day, Harry drifted in and out of sleep. The others made sure someone was always with him, watching anxiously, ready to switch to a reassuring smile whenever his eyes fluttered open again. He refused food, saying he felt too sick, and many muttered conversations went on outside the cave as they wondered what to do.
It was a subdued group that went to bed that night. Despite Harry's protestations that he was fine, he couldn't stay awake for more than a few minutes, and when pressed by Liam confessed that his vision was still blurry. They'd faced accidents and injuries before, but this scared them more than anyone wanted to admit.
"He'll be okay, right?" whispered Niall, nestled between Zayn and Liam in the darkness.
"Course he will," Liam reassured him, for his own benefit as much as Niall's.
"Harry's a bonehead, he probably broke the rock," Zayn added, and Niall giggled gratefully.
Across the cave, Louis listened to the faint whisperings in the dark, and felt a brief pang of loneliness. They were only feet away, and if they'd known he was awake he knew he could have joined in, but he'd made the point of being the one to climb in with Harry, and after the earlier tensions he didn’t quite like to. He closed his eyes instead, listening to Harry’s quiet breathing beside him, snuggling up against his warmth and refusing to think for a second about what it would mean to ever lose him.
No-one slept well that night, plagued by troubled dreams and restless minds. Zayn still woke every few hours with cramps in his leg, and Harry drifted through disorienting dreams, hardly knowing if he was awake or asleep.
When the very first faint grey light of dawn lifted the pitch black of the night, Niall yawned, thankful that in a short space of time he'd be able to give up on trying to sleep.
He felt an arm snake round him from behind, and Zayn's warm breath fluttered across the back of his neck.
"You awake?" Zayn whispered.
"Yeah," Niall admitted. "Can't sleep."
"Me neither," came the quiet murmur from Liam, and they all stretched and wriggled gratefully into more comfortable positions, glad to know they weren't disturbing anyone.
Somehow this shifting had brought them all closer together, and Niall stifled a giggle as he felt Liam's dick pressing into his side. He let his hand come to rest on it, stroking him through the fabric of his shorts.
"Morning," he murmured teasingly.
"Sorry." Liam hid his face in the blanket, grinning with embarrassment.
"What's going on?" Zayn's hand quested around Niall's waist until he encountered Liam's erection, and he sniggered. "Oh, hello." He shuffled forward himself, and Niall gave a quiet squeak of surprised mirth as he felt Zayn's cock nudging up against his arse.
"Do you two want to be next to each other?" he offered with a laugh.
"Maybe you just need a helping hand," Zayn said, moving his hand from Liam to Niall and groping his dick shamelessly until he felt it start to swell under his fingers.
"Mmngh." Niall pushed back into Zayn's body approvingly, and pulled Liam closer. Zayn was pushing against the back of Niall's thighs and the curve of his arse, rutting against him in earnest now, but he was behind him, so Niall kissed Liam instead.
Liam made a soft noise of delight, licking into Niall's open mouth, his fingers tangling with Zayn's where they were moving on Niall's cock. Liam pushed his shorts down far enough to free his own, and Niall's fingers were soon working him with enthusiasm. It was all awkward angles, but nobody minded the occasional elbow in the ribs or faceful of someone else's hair because it felt so amazing.
Liam was fairly sure that prior to his inclusion, Zayn and Niall had been having actual sex, but so far everything they'd done together had been like this, mutual handjobs and blowjobs in the cloaking dark. Not that he was objecting. At first the idea of going all the way with them had made him nervous, particularly with Louis and Harry almost certainly listening in, but as time passed he found himself hoping they might work up to it after all.
"Gonna come." Niall muttered a warning through clenched teeth, and Liam and Zayn promptly squeezed him harder. "Fuck, you bast- " Niall broke off, his cock pulsing under their fingers as he came hard all over Liam's stomach.
"Eww." Liam buried his face in Niall's neck, giggling, as Niall got his breath back.
"Messy fucker," Zayn whispered in his ear, starting Niall giggling all over again. He'd flopped onto his back, denying Zayn the friction he'd been building and Zayn gave a whine of disapproval, until Liam reached over and took him in hand.
Across the room, Louis was lying on his back, palming his swollen cock where it was sticking out of his shorts. It was still too dark to see more than vague outlines, but the noises coming from the other bed had got him so hard it was impossible not to touch himself.
Normally at this point he would have woken Harry and not so subtly demanded he do something about it, but he could hardly do that while he was injured. Besides, Louis felt a vague pang of guilt at the knowledge that his erection came from imagining what the other three were up to.
There was a sharp gasp, quickly stifled, that suggested Liam had gone the same way as Niall, and Louis closed his hand tighter around himself. They'd both be touching Zayn now, he thought, judging by the rustling of the bedding pile and muffled laughter. He'd found himself wondering more than once, whether Zayn had more stamina than the other two, or just found it harder to get off. He'd noticed Zayn was usually the last to come, and felt guilty for paying that much attention.
Louis bit his lip, his hand moving faster on his cock as he felt his orgasm building. He heard Zayn groan, loud and shameless as he finally climaxed, and Louis caught his breath, knowing he was almost there, just a few more strokes and he'd -
"Uhh." Louis couldn't stop the sound escaping him as he came, pulsing wetly over his fingers. He sank back, breathing hard, embarrassed at the thought the others might realise he'd been wanking over them.
Harry stirred at his side, and Louis felt warm lips pressed to his jaw.
"Starting without me?" Harry whispered, amused.
Louis snorted, hastily wiping his hand and folding Harry into his arms. "I thought what with the massive concussion and all, you might be less than up for it." He let his hand slide between them, just in case, but Harry was still soft.
"Later," Harry smiled, nuzzling against him.
"How do you feel?" Louis asked, kissing him gently.
"Bit achy still. But clearer. My head's not as fuzzy," Harry told him. "Sorry if I gave you a scare," he whispered.
Louis just held him close, and gave silent thanks to whoever was listening.
"You know what I think?" Harry asked sleepily one evening.
The others looked at him, with varying degrees of interest. You never quite knew with Harry, whether he was going to come out with something deeply profound, or suggest the equivalent of a cactus juggling competition because it had struck him as a good idea.
They were gathered around the campfire, just inside the cavemouth. The night outside was still the indigo side of black, but all they could see was the crackling flames and the shadows playing over their own faces. It had been three days since Harry's accident, and while he was still a little quiet and prone to headaches, to everyone's relief there seemed to have been no worse effects from it.
"What do you think?" Liam prompted eventually, when it appeared Harry might have fallen asleep again. He was lying against Louis, one of the blankets tucked round them both, with his feet in Niall's lap.
"There's a divide. Between us. And - and there shouldn't be."
"What do you mean divide, babes?" Zayn reached over to tickle Harry's bare foot and he twitched, nearly kicking Niall in the balls.
"Sorry Nialler." Harry sat up a little straighter. "I just - since we moved up here, you know? When we used to sleep on the beach we'd all pile in any old how, in any order, and now - well, it's me and Lou on one bed and you guys on the other side."
"Yeah, but we were just sleeping then," Zayn pointed out.
"Is there a difference?" Harry persisted. "It's not like we can't hear each other now."
This statement prompted a certain amount of eye-avoidance and throat clearing from the others. Sure, it was an open secret that both sides were getting off on being able to hear the others going at it, but certainly no-one had ever intended to admit it.
"It's not good," Harry persisted. "To be split like this. We should be together."
"Not everyone might be comfortable with that," Zayn said cautiously, looking at Louis and wondering exactly how much of a merging Harry meant to imply.
Harry caught the direction of Zayn's glance, and smirked. "Kiss him."
"What?" Zayn stared, caught off guard.
"Excuse me?" Louis demanded, in a slightly higher tone than he'd intended.
"Go on. Then I can shout 'bingo'. Because that'll mean Louis'll be the only person to have snogged everyone in the room. Cave. Whatever."
It was Niall and Liam's turn to chorus "What?"
Harry grinned, as Louis gave him a squinty look then laughed in defeat.
"Fine. Whatever. Who needs secrets anyway." He glanced over at Zayn. "I'm not quite as much of a prude as you seem to think, Malik."
Zayn shrugged. "I never said you were. I guess I just thought you only wanted Harry. And that Harry should only want you," he couldn't resist adding under his breath.
Louis looked down at his hands, embarrassed. "It's just - when you're growing up and stuff - it's not supposed to be okay, is it? To want more than one person, I mean."
Harry slid a hand over his. "It's okay if it's what everybody involved wants," he said quietly.
Louis nodded slowly, looking up at Harry for reassurance he meant what he said. "Then I guess - I guess I do," he admitted. He risked a glance at Zayn, and was surprised to be flashed a sudden grin in return.
"So - how about it guys?" Harry said slowly. "We share everything else. How about each other?"
"Are you seriously suggesting we have a fivesome?" Liam asked, sounding scandalised.
Harry stared at him, lips slightly parted as he lost track of what he'd been about to say. As Liam watched, the tip of Harry's tongue crept out to moisten his lips and he felt a guilty twitch of interest down below.
"Well," said Harry. "I'd actually been assuming an open combination of couples. But I like your idea better."
Liam went bright red and Zayn snorted with amusement. "How would a fivesome even work?"
Niall sat up, abruptly wide awake. "I say we find out. Hell, I'm up for it if everyone else is. Zaynie?"
Zayn grinned. "I've been up ever since Harry told Lou to kiss me, to be honest. Which, incidentally, you still haven't done," he pointed out to Louis.
Glancing at Harry for permission and receiving an immediate nod of encouragement, Louis took a steadying breath and crawled across to where Zayn was sitting.
"Hey." Zayn smiled in welcome, and Louis leaned in to kiss him.
It got heated fast, Louis finally acknowledging to himself just how much of his anger at Zayn sleeping with Harry had been jealousy. There'd been a slight antagonism between them ever since and right there and then it boiled away in a hard, passionate, almost furious kiss. Louis made a desperate noise in his throat, clinging to Zayn's shoulders and being kissed back just as hard.
When it was done, they broke apart, Louis fighting for breath and control of his emotions, faintly aware that Zayn was laughing. He looked up as Zayn ducked back in to kiss him again, this time fond and sweet, dissipating the tension of first embrace.
It suddenly hit Louis how it must have looked, and his eyes went wide. "Sorry - sorry!" He froze, but somehow Harry was there next to him, squeezing his hand.
"It's okay Lou. It's good. It's all good."
"You really don't mind?" Louis said in a disbelieving whisper.
Harry shook his head, and smirked. "As long as I get to do it too?"
Louis nodded hastily. "Of course." Harry kissed him quickly on the lips, and grinned over his shoulder at Zayn, who stuck out his tongue.
"So - are we doing this?" Niall put in, adjusting himself surreptitiously under the blanket. "All of us, I mean?"
They all exchanged glances and subtle nods of agreement, before realising no-one really knew where to start.
"Niall. You first," Zayn demanded. "Tell us what you want."
"I - " Niall swallowed, looking round at them from under his lashes. It had to be something different, and he knew what he wanted to say, as long as he wasn’t going to piss anyone off by saying it.
"I want Harry to fuck me. If - if that's okay I mean," he stammered.
"Okay by me," Harry said immediately, grinning.
Niall looked at Louis, who nodded. "And me."
Harry shuffled over to sit beside Niall who draped his legs over Harry’s lap, snickering quietly when he found Harry was hard already.
Zayn looked at Louis. "You want to fuck me Lou? And - and I'll suck Liam?"
Liam nodded vigorous silent agreement and Louis laughed. "Yeah," he said softly. "Okay."
They moved back to the larger of the two bedding piles, combining their blankets to try and accommodate five bodies in reasonable comfort. There was a moment of awkward hesitation, then Harry said "Fuck it," and stripped all his clothes off. Zayn and Niall followed suit, and with a little more self-consciousness, so did Liam and Louis.
It wasn't as if they weren't used to seeing each other naked, but this felt different, loaded with intent. It was both an embarrassment and a relief to realise they were all already hard, and they settled down together with a building sense of anticipation.
Niall smiled up at Harry, shyly hopeful, wondering how this would go. Harry slid a bare arm round his shoulders and pulled him in for a kiss. It was slow but not hesitant, felt comfortably natural to both, and went on rather longer than they'd intended. Harry took Niall right into his arms, large hands flat against the planes of his back, holding him against him.
Louis felt a nudge in his ribs and realised he'd been staring. He looked round to see Zayn raise an enquiring eyebrow. "Okay?" he mouthed. Louis nodded.
"Yeah," he said under his breath. "They look - beautiful."
Zayn smiled, and held out a hand. Louis took it, and let Zayn pull him in for a kiss of his own. He let his hands run over Zayn's body, down his arms, over his back, feeling the scratch of Zayn's stubble against his cheek, teeth nipping gently at his skin. Louis felt more hands on him and looked up as Liam and Zayn shared a kiss over his shoulder. He turned his head, kissed Liam as well, and they grinned at each other.
Niall was pulling Harry down on top of him, eager and demanding, making him laugh.
"How do you want to do this?" Harry murmured, running a firm hand up Niall's cock and making him shudder with pleasure.
Niall flicked a look over at where Louis and Liam were snogging while Zayn appeared to be sucking Louis' cock and groaned. "I wanna be able to see them too," he said. Harry rolled off him and patted his knees.
"All fours then?"
Niall beamed, catching on, and scrambled into a crouch in front of Harry, resting on his forearms and lifting his arse so obligingly that Harry couldn't help laughing. He bent over, pressing kisses to the small of Niall's back.
When Zayn first took Louis into his mouth, Louis nearly hiccupped with surprise, distracted as he was by the fact Liam was turning out to be a more amazing kisser than he'd ever anticipated. He broke off for a second to gape at the dark head bobbing over his lap, trying and failing to form any appropriate words. He settled for a fairly filthy moan, which seemed to sum up everything he was thinking and certainly appeared to encourage Zayn.
Louis assumed that Zayn had settled on a blow job rather than sex, not that he was complaining, but then Zayn pulled back and sat up, wiping strings of saliva away from his mouth and grinning at him. "Ready?"
Zayn smirked, and shuffled forwards, wincing as his leg gave a protesting twinge of pain. "Liam, give us a hand babes?"
Liam nodded, not entirely sure what was expected of him but entirely willing to do whatever they wanted. Zayn held out his hand and Liam helped him lift himself up into a kneeling position over Louis' lap.
"Holy shit," said Louis faintly, as he realised what Zayn intended. Liam had caught on too by now, and had Zayn's arm round his shoulders, bracing him up on his weak side.
"You might wanna hold it," Zayn grinned, and Louis wrapped a hand round his cock hurriedly. He was slick with Zayn's spit, and achingly hard. Zayn, one hand on Louis' shoulder and one arm round Liam, lowered himself slowly down onto him with a hiss of pleasure.
Louis realised his mouth was hanging open and closed it with a snap. Zayn was sitting right in his lap now, Louis' cock buried inside him, and Liam let go, allowing Zayn to wrap his arms round Louis' neck. He started moving up and down on Louis' shaft, grinning at Louis' pole-axed expression.
"Good?" he breathed.
Louis swallowed. "Fuck, yeah. Doesn't it hurt?"
"Not if I keep my weight on the other leg."
"I meant - " Louis realised Zayn was teasing him and snorted. "Shut up and fuck."
Zayn threw his head back and cackled, clenching his muscles around Louis' cock and making him gasp.
Niall and Harry had watched this play out, Harry pressed up against Niall's thighs with an arm round his waist, stroking him slowly. They were more aroused than ever, and getting desperate to come. Niall pushed back against Harry's cock pointedly, and Harry got the message.
He spat into his hand, rubbing it over his cock as best he could, then turned his attention to Niall, pressing wet fingers against his hole, easing him open. Niall moaned encouragements and Harry slid a finger right inside, fucking him with it, stretching him gently. He was fairly sure Niall had done this with Zayn at least, but he didn't want to make any assumptions and there was also the quiet guilty desire to be better at it.
Harry spat discreetly into his hand again, worked it into Niall's hole, wet and messy and warm. He lined up carefully, his cock hard in his hand, and pushed slowly in. Niall's wordless groan of approval sent a shudder of lust all the way to Harry's toes, but he still took it gradually, resisting the urge to slam all the way in at once.
It had been a while, since Harry had done this, and he'd half forgotten how amazing it felt. He liked being fucked by Louis, loved it, adored it, but he'd taken him at his word and never pushed for them to switch it round.
"Okay?" Harry murmured, stroking Niall's back with one hand, enjoying the play of the muscles under his fingers.
"Fucking amazing," Niall said, sounding choked. "And you ain't gonna break me," he added.
Harry grinned, taking the hint, and started thrusting into him harder and faster, forcing little mewling sounds from Niall's throat with every stroke.
Zayn was still riding Louis, pumping himself vigorously on Louis' cock, his own slapping against his stomach with each bounce.
"Hey, Liam," Zayn panted. "You want to kneel up so's I can reach you?"
Liam blinked. He'd been sitting curled back on his ankles, stroking himself and trying to watch both couples at once. "Are you sure? I don't mind watching," he offered.
Zayn snorted. "This is supposed to be a gangbang, remember? Get that cock over here."
Blushing, Liam knelt up until his erection was bobbing in front of Zayn's face, and then slapped him with it for good measure, breaking Zayn's composure and making him giggle.
"Thought that was what you asked for," smirked Liam. "You going to suck it, or just talk to it?"
Zayn gave him a look, then grinned and leaned forward, sliding his lips around the head and taking it in as deep as he could. Liam let out a huff of breath, steadying himself on Louis' shoulder as Zayn licked and sucked around him, still fucking himself on Louis' cock.
Breathless and close to losing it, Louis looked over at Harry and Niall, and they grinned back at him. Watching them, he felt an unexpected spike of jealousy, not at seeing them together, but at realising what he'd been missing out on. He'd harboured a lingering discomfort at the idea of being fucked himself, but watching Harry taking Niall so carefully, now he was half-wishing he'd been first.
Louis shook himself, delivering a mental slap. He had everything he'd ever asked for, if there were things he hadn't asked for, it was no-one's fault but his they hadn't been offered. He turned his attention back to Zayn, wrapping his hand around his neglected cock and started to jerk him off.
At his touch, Zayn moaned around Liam's cock, bringing a hand up to help him along, sucking and stroking until Liam drew back, clamping his own hand around himself and breathing hard.
"I'm - shit, I'm going to - "
Zayn pulled him closer again, letting Liam's cock slide back between his lips. He licked up the underside, hollowing his cheeks in a last deliberate slow suck that broke Liam's remaining control.
"Zayn!" It came out as a gasping groan as Liam spilled helplessly into his mouth, Zayn swallowing around him again and again. "Shit." Liam sank back down, shaking slightly, glad of Louis' arm round him. "Wow."
Wiping his mouth, Zayn smirked at Louis only to be taken by surprise as Louis kissed him. It was Zayn's turn to groan, squirming on Louis' cock, his legs burning with the effort of the last few minutes, taken almost to the edge by the way Louis was licking into his mouth, tasting Liam's come on his tongue while grinding up inside him.
Louis came without warning, surprising himself as much as Zayn, abruptly unable to hold on a single second longer. It felt like every muscle in his body was in spasm as he shot load after load into Zayn's body, rocking against him.
"Shit," Louis whispered when it was over. "Sor-"
Zayn kissed him, cutting off his apology. "Don't you dare," he whispered. With Liam's help he lifted himself off Louis' softening cock, and collapsed between them.
"Uhh." Harry's fingers dug into Niall's hips, his rhythm breaking down as he felt his own orgasm building. He didn't want to come first, had wanted to make this last as long as he could for Niall, but watching Zayn being filled by first Liam then Louis had been more than he could withstand.
He made one last effort, driving up into Niall's hot, clenching body, thrusting deep and hard and fast until Niall was spasming around him, coming violently all over the blanket beneath. Harry let himself go, his own climax hitting him even as Niall was still shaking with his, spurting into him in a hot wet rush, still thrusting, the friction drawing out his orgasm until his come was dripping down the backs of Niall's thighs and they were both gasping for breath.
Zayn was lying back with both Louis and Liam licking up his cock. He looked over their bowed heads at where Harry and Niall were collapsing in a messy heap, and then closed his eyes, savouring the moment. His leg hurt like hell, his arse was a red throbbing ache, but as far as Zayn was concerned, right now, everything was utterly perfect.
He opened his eyes again, looking down the length of his body at where Louis and Liam were apparently competing to see who could bring him off first. He grinned, a bubble of laughter rising up within him, fighting for escape.
Ten seconds later, he managed to hit them both in the face when he came.
When everyone had recovered enough to move, and the blankets had been rearranged enough that no-one had to lie in a wet patch, they snuggled together in a tangle of sated limbs. They were almost on the floor, their exertions having been enough to practically destroy the piled twigs, leaves and grasses that made up their bed, but no-one had the energy to rebuild it.
"Well," said Liam, yawning. "I think that went well."
Niall sniggered. "I reckon."
"You got the short straw though," Harry said to Liam and Zayn flicked him indignantly.
"I hope you don't mean me."
Harry giggled. "Nothing short about you," he promised.
"I don't mind," Liam said sleepily. "It was amazing." He kissed Niall and Louis, who happened to be closest, on their temples. "I love all of you."
There was a sleepy chorus of "me too's" and another exchange of kisses.
Outside, the night had fallen properly and the warm, comforting glow of the firelight seemed to be echoed within each of them as one by one, they fell asleep.