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Uncharted Shores

Chapter Text

"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.

"Morning."

"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.

"Zayn. Zayn!"

"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.

Louis

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.

"Louis!"

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.

"What?"

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.

"Nothing."

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."

"Jesus Harry!""

"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.

"Lou."

"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.

"You?"

"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?"

"The boat."

"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.

"Where's Harry?"

"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.

"Come here."

--

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.

"What?"

"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.

"I won't."

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."

"What?"

"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.

"Hey!"

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.

"Okay…?"

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?"

"Yeah. Course."

"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."

"With benefits."

"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.

"Okay."

"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.

"What happened?"

"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!"

"What?"

"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 was?"

"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?"

"Yeah."

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?"

"Afternoonish?"

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.

"Maybe."

"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.

"Louis."

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."

"...sorry."

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?"

"No!"

"Then why?"

"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.

"Hungry?"

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.

"Where's Niall?"

--

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.

"You okay?"

"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.

"That's different."

"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.

"No birds."

Liam looked round to find Harry leaning over his shoulder, sniffing the air.

"What?"

"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.

"Something's different."

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.

"Harry?"

"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?"

"What?"

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.

"Dick."

"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.

-Part Two-

Chapter Text

Harry faithfully continued marking off the passing days, counting the scratches he'd made on the cliff and starting a new tally up near the cave. With no artificial timetable though, no appointments or holidays or imposed deadlines, time lost most of its meaning and the days gradually blurred into each other.

Other than sunrise and sunset, or the waxing and waning of the moon, they came to mark the passage of time by reference to events - the day the turtles came to the beach, the day they found a grove of banana palms in fruit, the night they saw a shower of meteors.

They talked less, these days, about the possibility of rescue, or of going home. No-one liked to say it aloud, but in their hearts they'd given up hope of ever being found, and to think too much of those left behind was painful. They had each other, and mostly that was enough.

By Harry's tally, they'd been there for almost a year.

Arguments came and went, much as they had before, but never lasted. They learned to share each other, and that helped too, sharing the burden of existence whenever things got too much for anyone. For the most part they kept cheerful, but there were times too when they were hungry, or cold, or just overwhelmed by the isolation. Those were the times they were truly grateful for the others' presence. A warm pair of arms and an unconditional hug went a long way to softening the occasional bleakness of outlook.

They still maintained the beacon, adding branches now and then, as bits were swept away by the wind. Lookout duty was rarely kept any more, but to do away with the fire itself felt too much like a final surrender.

--

It was Liam, who first noticed that Harry was having dizzy spells.

He'd been following Harry at a distance through the trees, having come out on the path some way behind him, too hot and tired to try and catch up. They'd both been making for the cave, Liam with a morning's catch of fish slung over his shoulder. Humming to himself, not really paying attention, Liam had rounded a corner and been surprised to find Harry bent half double, leaning against a rock for support.

"Oh come on, even I can get all the way up without stopping for breath," Liam teased. Harry managed a weak smile, and it was only then that Liam noticed the fruit scattered across the path where Harry had apparently dropped it.

"Harry? You okay?" Liam came closer, abruptly concerned.

"Yeah." Harry licked dry lips, forced himself to straighten up. Liam noticed he was pale, under his tan. "I'm fine. Just - tripped, that's all."

Liam frowned, but took him at his word, helping Harry gather up the spilled fruit and walking at his side the rest of the way.

Without really consciously thinking about it, Liam found himself keeping an eye on Harry. Maybe it was this that made him linger on the beach a few days later, waiting for Harry to dress.

They'd all been swimming - Zayn by now able to swim as well as the rest, and finding that the exercise helped strengthen his leg without making it ache. He'd fashioned a makeshift crutch to help him get around on land, and Louis had taken to calling him Long John Silver - although only when out of crutch-swiping range.

Zayn, Louis and Niall had started off across the sand to where they'd made a fire, intending to barbeque fish for lunch. Liam had hung back, waiting for Harry who was taking ages as usual, and thus witnessed the moment when Harry suddenly swayed drunkenly and would have fallen if Liam hadn't jumped forward to catch him.

Liam lowered him gently to the sand. "Harry? What is it? Are you alright?"

"I'm fine." Harry clutched at Liam's arm, looking disoriented and anything but fine. "Gimme a minute. It'll pass."

"What'll pass?" Liam demanded, considerably alarmed, but Harry didn't reply. All Liam could do was hold him close, wondering whether to yell for the others. Eventually Harry sat up, the colour slowly returning to his face.

"Thanks. Sorry. Didn't mean to scare you," he muttered.

"Harry? Has this been - happening a lot?"

Harry shook his head in instinctive denial, but Liam stared at him and he sighed. "Every couple of days or so. Sometimes it's worse than others."

"Why didn’t you say anything?" Liam demanded.

Harry took a couple of seconds to answer. "Nothing you can do, is there?" he said finally. "No point in worrying everyone."

"Oh, Harry." Liam put an arm around him. "So you've been going through this on your own? How is that better?"

Harry shook his head, looking suddenly tired. Liam hugged him. "You don’t have to suffer alone you know," he promised. "We might not be able to fix it, but we can be there for you."

"No." Harry stood up, a little shakily but resolute. "Promise me Liam, promise you won't tell the others. Especially Louis. They'll only worry, and it's not fair."

Liam nodded helplessly, and was saved further words by a scuffle of sand from the bank above them as Zayn limped back into view.

"What's keeping you? Food's ready. Niall will have eaten it all if you don't get a shift on," he grinned.

"Coming. I'm
starving." Harry smiled back and started up the beach. Liam didn't move from where he was still sitting on the sand though and Zayn frowned down at him, finally taking up Harry's earlier seat next to him.

"Li? What's up?"

"Who says anything is?" Liam muttered uncomfortably.

"Your face?" Zayn suggested cheerfully. "Did you and Harry have a fight or something?"

"He's not well," Liam blurted, then covered his face and groaned at the realisation he'd just spilled the world's briefest secret. "Shit. I promised I wouldn’t say."

"Whyever not? What’s the matter with him?" Zayn rubbed Liam's back and he leaned into him gratefully.

"He's having - dizzy spells. Fainting fits. I don't know exactly. I guess ever since he hit his head."

"Why wouldn't he want you to say?" Zayn asked, lost.

"Didn't want you to worry."

"Oh, but it's fine for you to worry on your own?" Zayn demanded.

"I thought it was going to be okay," Liam whispered miserably. "I thought he was better."

Zayn shrugged, at a loss. "I guess it was worse than we thought." He took Liam's hand in his and squeezed it. "I'm glad you told me. Now it's two of us, whether he likes it or not." Liam gave him a sad little smile and Zayn kissed him. "Come on. Or we really will have to catch our own fish."

Liam's smile widened, and arm in arm they made their way up the beach.

--

Several days later, Harry and Zayn were harvesting fruit on the northern cliffs. Harry was halfway up a tangle of twisted palms, shaking coconuts and various indignant insects down to where Zayn could gather them up.

Zayn picked a centipede off his arm and flicked it into a bush, stretching thankfully after a long time bending, looking idly out to sea. He frowned.

"Harry? Can you see that?"

Harry slithered back to ground level and joined him. "See what?" He squinted in the direction Zayn was looking without much luck.

"Out there. Something black. Could it be a boat?" Zayn asked excitedly, pointing impatiently as Harry still looked baffled. "Look, there."

"It's too hazy, I can't tell," Harry shrugged. Zayn gave him a funny look and he fidgeted. "What?"

"It's clear as a bell," Zayn said. Harry stared back uncomfortably as Zayn's eyes widened in realisation. "Harry! You told us your vision was back to normal!"

"It was. Is," Harry said defensively. "It just gets a bit - fuzzy, sometimes. When I'm tired. Anyway, is it a ship?" he asked, hoping to change the subject.

Shading his eyes, Zayn looked back out to sea, just in time to see the maybe-boat send up a spume of water and air before disappearing beneath the waves. He sighed. "Whale."

"Oh." Harry gave him a rueful smile. "Bugger." Zayn was still looking him over assessingly, and Harry sighed. "You know, don't you?"

"Liam told me."

"I figured."

"How?" Zayn looked surprised. He hadn't thought he'd acted any differently around Harry, had been careful not to let on.

"You've been watching me." Harry sat down on a fallen branch and Zayn sat next to him.

"Maybe I just like watching you?" he suggested, and kissed Harry on the temple, making him smile.

"And you've been - careful. More than usual. In bed."

"Ah." Zayn had to concede that point. "I was afraid I might hurt you worse."

There was a thoughtful pause, then Harry flashed a sudden grin. "Hell of a way to go though."

Zayn snorted. "Bit traumatic for me!"

"Think of it as how I would have wanted to go," Harry joked, although there was a tightness around his eyes that wasn't lost on Zayn. He put his arm round him.

"You're not going anywhere," he murmured. "We won't let you."

Harry buried his face in Zayn's neck and they held each other tightly for a long while.

"We should head back," Zayn said eventually. "If you're tired?"

"I'm fine," Harry protested, but Zayn shook his head.

"Well I'm knackered, and with this leg it'll take me ages to get there, so shift."

Harry surrendered, hands up and laughing.

--

"You know, I've always wondered why they didn't just eat the person that died first."

This pronouncement met with baffled silence, and four pairs of eyes stared at Niall over the campfire.

He stared back, surprised. "What?"

"Why didn't who eat whom?" Liam asked carefully.

"The people on the yacht," Niall explained, as if it was obvious. "I've been thinking about it right? One died first, we found the grave. They must have been short of food by then. Proper meat, I mean. So why didn't the one that was left eat them instead of burying them?"

The silence this time was rather stunned.

"Maybe they died of something contagious?" Louis suggested finally, drawing groans of disgust from the others. "What? It's a valid point."

"Maybe they were in love, and it would have been too traumatic," Zayn said.

Niall shrugged. "If it was me, I'd want to think I'd helped my loved ones have a better chance of survival. I'm just saying, if anything happens to me, right, you have my permission to eat me."

Liam and Zayn exchanged uncomfortable glances, feeling the topic was dangerously closer to home than Niall realised, but Harry just grinned at him.

"Do we have to wait for something to happen to you? You don't need both those legs do you?"

Niall gave him the finger. "If we're going down that road, we should eat Zayn's."

"I've got a leg you can eat," Louis volunteered, grabbing his crotch. "It's my third one."

"That wouldn't keep us going long," Niall shot back. "Be like trying to feed four people on a chipolata."

Louis' spluttering retort was abruptly cut off as Liam, in such desperation to change the subject to something less morbid than imminent death and starvation, rolled over to where Louis was sitting and proceeded to start sucking him off.

Sitting there with a startled expression on his face, Louis wondered what he'd done to deserve this and whether it was his birthday and no-one had told him. He caught Harry's eye and got a wink in response. His delighted laugh turned into a groan as Liam really got to work.

Louis was vaguely aware that Niall was watching with his mouth hanging open and that Zayn somehow appeared to have his head in Harry's lap, and then everything that wasn't Liam's mouth went a bit out of focus for a few minutes.

--

They slept late the next morning. Niall had demanded his turn from Louis, and then Harry had attempted and mostly succeeded to suck Liam and Zayn off at the same time. After that they'd all been so turned on nobody could sleep, and in a fit of enthusiasm had tried to form a daisy-chain with Louis at one end and Zayn at the other. While it hadn't really worked, what with people slipping out at inconvenient moments, or getting cramp, or someone's foot in their face, everyone came at least once more, so nobody really minded.

The sun was high when they finally stumbled out the next morning and set about washing in the stream.

"What's that?" Liam asked suddenly, standing up straight and peering skywards.

"Niall's cock," Zayn replied without looking. "Who knew they even came in that shape - ahhh!" he scrambled away from the wave of cold water Niall had splashed in the direction of his privates, giggling.

"Shut up, all of you, listen!"

Everyone fell silent in surprise at Liam's tone more than the words, and stared at him. And then they heard it too, a faint drone that was neither wind nor insect. Now five pairs of eyes were scanning the sky with intent scrutiny.

"There! Is it?" Louis pointed, and sure enough, the glint of sunlight on metal picked out the position of a small aircraft making its way across the blue.

For a second, unreasoning hope took over and they yelled and jumped and waved their arms, until it became apparent that not only would the aircraft's occupants have no chance of hearing them, under the trees they were probably invisible too.

"The beacon," Harry gasped, and they dashed up the hill.

"Niall! Lighter!" Zayn ducked into the cave and scrabbled for where he knew it was stowed on a rock ledge. He tossed it out quickly and Niall snatched it from the air. "Run!" Zayn urged, knowing Niall could move quicker than him right now, and followed as fast as he could.

When he caught them up the pyre was already flickering into life, and Harry and Liam were throwing armfuls of dried seaweed and damp leaves on top, making the smoke turn black and chokingly thick.

There was silence now but for the crackling of the flames as they took hold, scorching hot against five tense faces as they stared upwards. They held hands, not looking at each other, not daring to take their eyes away from the tiny speck in the sky, willing it to change course, to come and investigate the spiralling smoke.

The plane had passed the island by now, away to the south and east, but it was still in sight. Eyes watering with staring into the sunlight, they had just started to give up hope when the plane's previously arrow-straight trajectory curved into a gradual but unmistakeable turn.

"Oh my God," breathed Niall. "Is it - ?"

"Don't jinx it," Zayn muttered.

They watched, gripping each other harder than ever, as the plane came round in an agonisingly slow circle to approach the island from the other side.

"Fuck," Harry whispered, and felt Louis' hand clench in his.

The plane was coming in lower now, heading directly for the rising smoke, and finally the tension broke, all five boys screaming and waving their arms frantically as it passed overhead, turned a second time and re-crossed the island.

At the end of the next turn, the plane straightened out and headed back on its original course, leaving them staring after it, feeling abandoned and rather deflated.

"Well, they definitely saw us," said Liam, tentatively hopeful.

"And it's not like there's anywhere they could have landed," Niall added. It was true, they realised, even the longest stretch of hard sand at low tide was littered with large rocks.

"They'll tell someone, right?" Zayn said. "I mean - they have to."

"Someone'll come," Liam insisted. "They'll send a - a boat, or a seaplane, or a - a fucking submarine or something." He sank to the ground as his knees gave out without warning, and Zayn dropped down next to him so he wouldn't feel silly.

One by one the others sat down too, away from the hottest blast of the now roaring fire. Nobody knew quite what to say.

It was Louis, who finally started giggling. "Well we certainly gave them an eyeful," he said when they demanded to know what he was laughing at.

Looking round, they realised what he meant. They'd been interrupted in the middle of bathing, and over the months of hot weather and communal living, clothes had become more of an optional extra than anything. Of the five of them, Liam was wearing ragged trousers, Niall a pair of shorts and Louis rather holey pants. Harry and Zayn were entirely naked.

"Hell," Niall said. "Never mind a rescue party, they'll be selling tickets to come here at this rate."

--

For all of the next day, and the next, they remained in a state of excited anticipation. When the third day came and went with no new developments however, they started to lose heart a little.

"Maybe they didn't report us after all," Niall ventured gloomily that evening.

Louis patted his shoulder. "I guess it'll take a while to get here, if they're coming by boat?"

"Things take time to organise," added Liam. "At least there's a chance, now."

They'd spent the first day after the plane went over spelling 'HELP' out of rocks in huge letters on the beach, and then 'SOS' for good measure. Then because there was a bit of space left, and they were getting into it, they added '1D' at the end.

It was the morning of the fourth day since the sighting, and they were scattered over the hillside gathering food when a familiar drone of engines became audible and another plane was suddenly circling overhead. From their various positions they ran out into the open, frantically waving for attention.

This time, the plane - a smaller one than before - made three circuits of the island before changing course and heading off back the way it had come, as if satisfied with its survey.

They dashed back together to discuss the new development.

"Didn't hang around," Zayn said, sounding disappointed.

"Maybe they didn't have enough fuel to stay long," Liam suggested. "We don't know how far they came."

The appearance of a second plane at least meant their position had been reported, and spirits rose again. Two more uneventful days slid past, but this time they stayed optimistic.

A lookout was posted once more, and the hollow in the rocks at the very top of the island became their default gathering place, eating and talking and dozing in the sun there, where someone was always on hand to keep a sharp and eager eye on the horizon.

The moon rose, bright and full, making the night almost as clear as day. They were still out in the open, enjoying the cool evening breeze and listening to the scritch of insects in the trees. Below them, a shining moon-path lead out across the sea, as if showing the way home.

"I suppose they will come for us?" Zayn said sleepily, his head in Harry's lap.

"Sure to," Niall said. He, too was lying on his back, staring up at the stars. It would be strange, he thought, to be back in a city, where the stars were barely ever visible.

"It'll be weird," said Louis, echoing his thoughts. "After so long..." he let the thought tail off, and Harry turned to him, leaning over for a kiss.

"Aren't you excited?" he smiled.

Louis looked a little lost. "Honestly? I don't know. It - scares me. A bit," he admitted. "It's going to be intense."

"You'll see your family though?" Liam put in, looking up from picking bits of grass out of Niall's hair.

"Yeah." Louis sighed. "Ignore me, I'm just being - stupid," he muttered. Harry pulled him closer and kissed him again, softly.

"No you're not. It's a big thing," he said quietly. "We'll still have each other though. We'll be okay."

Louis looked at him with unhappy eyes, but he said nothing, and didn't object when Harry and Zayn pulled him down between them for a warm, slow, comfort fuck.

--

Harry opened his eyes and groaned, shading them from the unexpected sunlight beating down on him. He sat up, trying to shake the fuzziness out of his head. They'd all fallen asleep where they were, he realised, still out in the open.

Louis and Zayn were both flat out, snoring quietly, and on his other side Liam and Niall were curled around each other in a tangle of limbs and equally fast asleep.

He fumbled for his trousers, where they'd been thrown over a bush, and stood up a little unsteadily. His throat was dry, and his head ached, and Harry hoped it was just from the sun and nothing worse.

Turning round, intending to head down to the stream, Harry looked out to sea and nearly fell over.

"Hey!" he yelled, all thoughts of thirst forgotten. "Hey, wake up!"

"What's going on?" Niall mumbled, sitting up and rubbing his eyes. "What's the panic?"

"Ship!" Harry cried, unable to think of anything more coherent and desperate for someone else to see it, on the off chance he was hallucinating.

"What? Where?" Niall stood up and his eyes widened. "Fucking hell!"

Harry grinned wildly, and went to shake Louis and Zayn awake. "Lou! Come see this! We're being rescued!"

Blinking sleepily up at him, Louis let Harry drag him to his feet. He woke up quickly when he saw what the others were looking at, and Harry hugged him gleefully.

Liam joined them, yawning. "Bloody hell, have they come to rescue us or blow us up?"

The ship was huge, some kind of battleship, painted grey and bristling with guns. It had come to a stop some way out from the island, and as they watched a smaller boat detached itself from the side and started motoring towards them.

"Shit, we have to get down there!" Niall yelped, in sudden paranoia that if the crew didn’t find them waiting they'd leave without a search.

"I think we'll be okay," Liam smiled. He turned round, wondering why Zayn hadn't said anything, and discovered he'd fallen asleep again.

"Zayn!" Liam knelt by his side and shook him. "Wake up you idiot!"

"Wassit?" Zayn tried to bat Liam's hands away, and Liam caught hold of him.

"Zayn!"

"What?" Zayn sat up crossly. "I'm sleeping!"

"Time for that later. We're being rescued," Liam told him.

"What?" Zayn looked past him to where the others were standing and they nodded vigorously, pointing at the ship. "Well, fuck, why did nobody wake me?" he demanded indignantly, scrambling to his feet.

"We tried," said Liam dryly. "And you might want to put some trousers on before going down to meet them."

--

They stopped off at the cave, automatically moving to collect up their few possessions before faltering, realising that in fact, nothing they had would be needed now.

Zayn pocketed his lighter with a shrug. It could barely summon a flame at all any more, and they'd been increasingly paranoid about keeping the campfire burning, but now with an odd feeling of solemnity they scuffed earth over the flames, making sure it was well out. Somehow, that act above anything else made them realise they were truly leaving, that this was really it.

One by one they headed back out into the daylight, and started down the hill. It was only then Harry realised Louis wasn't following, and he walked back inside.

"Louis? You coming?"

Louis just stared at him miserably, and Harry took his hands, concerned. "Lou?"

"I don't think I can," Louis whispered hoarsely. "It's too much." He shook his head, struggling to articulate just how the thought of suddenly having to deal with people who weren't them filled him with horror, how the thought of going back to the world outside their island, once longed for, was now a bustling, clamouring threat that made his chest go tight, and what would happen to them all, and how could he ever make Harry understand?

But rather than laughing, or trying to argue, Harry just put his arms around Louis and held him tight, until slowly Louis found he could breathe again.

"Sorry," he whispered, and Harry hugged him close.

"We're going home," he coaxed. "Isn't that a good thing?"

"This is home," Louis protested.

"Well you can hardly stay," Harry told him quietly.

"Why not?" Knowing it was a stupid thing to say, but feeling obstinate. "You could stay with me."

Harry shook his head sadly. "I can't," he said. Louis shrugged, pinching his lips together, knowing it was true but still feeling obscurely rejected. Harry sighed.

"I can't stay," he repeated quietly. "Because - because I think I need a doctor."

--

Liam, Zayn and Niall reached the beach just as the boat carrying three men in naval uniforms bumped through the surf and up onto the sand.

"Ahoy there!" one of them called out in an Australian accent.

Niall grinned. "Do people really say that?" Zayn nudged him in the side, smirking.

"Don't take the piss, he's got a bigger weapon than you."

"Um, hello!" Liam realised he seemed to be standing in front, due to Zayn and Niall taking a sneaky step backwards. "Boy, are we glad to see you!"

"Did you guys wreck or something?" the man called out cheerfully. "We got a report of a fire, and possible castaways! Got diverted to come and investigate."

"We were in a plane crash," Liam explained. "We've been stuck here."

"A plane crash!" The men exchanged surprised looks. "We haven't had any reports of aircraft being lost in this area. Not since that jetliner last year."

"Yeah. That was us," Zayn said.

"We've been here ages," Niall added.

"You're winding us up, right?" one asked, dubiously. He took in their appearance - ragged clothes, wild hair, ingrained dirt - and shook his head. "Jesus. You're not, are you? Are there any more of you?"

Liam looked round, puzzled. "Yeah, two more, somewhere. They were behind us a minute ago."

"There." Niall pointed, as Harry and Louis emerged from the trees, hand in hand.

Liam turned back to the officer and smiled. "That's all of us."

"Right." He frowned, realising both the figures coming towards them were boys. "Well, if you're ready?"

"Never readier," said Zayn fervently.

--

The ship, it turned out, belonged to the Australian Navy, and had been on routine manoeuvres when it was diverted to the boys' aid.

"We were the closest vessel you see," their rescuer explained. "You've caused quite a stir actually. Turns out your little pimple of an island wasn't on our charts at all. Or the British admiralty ones," he added hastily, in the face of five indignant stares.

"It was on the French ones, oddly enough. Bit of cross-referencing and we managed to pinpoint you. Here we go, you can use these two cabins for the time being. Not very luxurious I'm afraid, but I guess after what you guys have been through you won't mind that. And it won't be for long, we'll transfer you off as soon as we're in range. I'll send some food down if you like?"

Before they could ply him with questions, like - where were they being transferred to, and did anyone outside the navy know they were alive yet - he'd hurried off again.

The cabins were windowless and utilitarian, with two sets of bunk beds in each. The mattresses were hard, but after a year sleeping on sand and brushwood, they seemed like a miracle in themselves.

They settled in, a bit stunned by everything that had happened so fast. It was a relief to be alone again for a while, giving them a chance to take it all in.

Before long, another man appeared bearing a container of what proved to be soup, and some rolls. He set down a stack of bowls on the fixed metal table and cheerfully wished them a good meal.

Ignoring his curious stare at their unkempt appearance, Harry shared out the soup and they ate hungrily. No-one had had any breakfast, and the novelty of something different to eat, however simple, meant not much was said until every last drop had been wiped up.

They'd been given some cans of coke as well, and Niall held his up, kissing the side. "I've missed you my darling," he grinned, making the others laugh.

There was a communal washroom next door, and when they'd eaten they all stripped off eagerly for the first hot shower in months.

"Fuck, that feels good," Zayn groaned, face turned into the spray and eyes closed.

"I'm looking forward to a bath, personally," Harry decided. "A nice long, warm soak."

"Room for two in this fantasy?" Louis enquired, resting his chin on Harry's shoulder and smirking at him.

"Room for five if we can get a hot tub," Niall suggested.

"With you in there we won't need a jacuzzi," Liam said and Niall cackled.

"I shouldn't have drunk all that fizz. You'll be regretting it later."

Dried off and dressed in the spare trousers and t-shirts that had been provided for them, they were slightly taken aback to discover they were to be formally interviewed by the commander of the ship.

Feeling nervously like they'd done something wrong, they were escorted to a meeting room and there had to confirm again their names and nationalities, and go over the whole story of the crash and their subsequent survival on the island.

The officer who interviewed them, a serious grey-haired man in his fifties, gave no flicker of recognition at their names and they found themselves edging closer together, trying not to feel like this was somehow an interrogation.

They had no passports or paperwork to identify them, nothing but their word to explain how they came to be there, and it was a relief when he finally seemed satisfied and they were lead back to their cabins.

"Do you think we're in trouble?" Niall blurted out, once they were alone.

Louis put his arms round him. "Don't be daft. He was just doing his job. Never said he didn't believe us, did he?"

"I just want to be home now," Niall sighed.

They waited out the day, the cabin starting to feel unpleasantly like a cell. The door wasn't locked, but they'd been warned not to wander, and no-one was confident of being able to find their way through the maze of metal passageways in any case.

With no natural light they found it hard to judge the passing of time, until Liam finally pointed out with a sheepish laugh that there was a clock on the wall. So used to going by the position of the sun, no-one had given it a second glance.

They were starting to feel seasick too, the constant, barely perceptible movement of the deck beneath them hard to reconcile without a window. Their brief time in the meeting room several decks up had provided a view of the huge empty ocean they were ploughing through, and more than one of them was secretly glad they could no longer see it.

Towards evening another meal was brought down, stew and potatoes, and they ate it yawning. It was barely seven PM, but they'd been awake since just after dawn, and were used to sleeping out the darkness.

"We'll have to split up," Zayn said uncomfortably, looking from the four bunks to the five of them.

Louis slid his arm round Harry's waist. "We could share?" he murmured. Harry nodded, kissing him lightly. Ever since he'd confessed his dizziness and blackouts that morning, Louis had been a constant, worried, solicitous presence at his side, and Harry had been careful to reassure him.

They all climbed into bed, Harry and Louis crammed uncomplaining into one of the bottom bunks and talked quietly until one by one they fell asleep, wondering what tomorrow would bring.

--

Everyone woke early and it was just as well, because breakfast was delivered with the message they were to be ready for transfer in half an hour.

Escorted to the open deck, they looked around, eager to see where they were. No-one had the slightest idea which direction they'd been sailing in, and had assumed they would be making for Australia. It was something of a surprise to find they were still surrounded by empty sea.

Herded across the deck, wind plucking at their hair and making them shiver even in their new clothes, the penny finally dropped that they were to be taken off by helicopter.

"Where are we going?" Liam asked the least-scary looking person in their escort.

"Shafter."

Liam bit his lip to stop the giggle escaping. The man had been entirely straightfaced, and Liam suspected he wouldn't take kindly to being laughed at.

"Excuse me?"

"Fort Shafter. Army base rather than naval, but it's next to the airport. I guess they want to get you guys home quick, huh?"

"But which airport? I mean, where?" Liam persisted.

The man gave him an odd look. "Hawaii, of course. Honolulu."

--

So it was that something like twelve months after taking off on the first leg of a flight from Australia, they found themselves finally approaching the island of Oahu by air. Strapped into the back of a large military helicopter the opportunity for sight-seeing was limited, but they caught glimpses of the coastline as they came down, the specks of people on the beach, the tall buildings jutting up against the wooded hills beyond.

Soon they were being lead across the tarmac of an airfield, a little shaky-legged from the two hour-long flight in the noisy, juddering helicopter and sticking as close together as they possibly could without tripping each other up.

They were taken into a long, low building that had tinted windows and blessedly cool air-conditioning, and told there was someone waiting for them in the room at the end.

A little apprehensively they walked across, wondering if they'd have to go over who they were all over again. Maybe it would be the British consul or something, someone who could arrange for them to finally get home.

They trooped through the door, and stared at the man there, who got up from a sofa and stared back at them with the dazed expression of someone who was wondering if he was still asleep.

It was Harry who finally broke the silence.

"Simon?"

"It's you. It's really you," Cowell said faintly. "All of you. I didn't dare - " he broke off, expression of disbelief becoming a grin of amazement. "Oh my God."

They came together in a sudden rush, laughing and scuffling as he tried to hug everyone at once.

"But let me look at you." Simon stood back and peered from face to face. "How did you even - no, you must be exhausted, let's go somewhere more comfortable first, then you can tell me everything."

"We can just - leave, then?" Zayn queried, looking around at the military presence evident all around them.

"Of course." Simon looked surprised. "It's not as if there's any question over who you are," he laughed, and they exchanged furtively sheepish glances.

"But what are you doing here?" Louis asked as they made their way back into the sunshine and out to a big black limo.

"When your plane went down, it was assumed most of the passengers had gone down with it," Simon sighed. "Search and rescue was - brief, to be honest. I sent out a couple of teams myself in the end." He smiled, awkwardly, adding softly; "no-one wanted to believe you were dead. Least of all me. If it wasn't for me you wouldn't have been on that flight in the first place."

"Bollocks," said Niall succinctly, and there was a certain amount of nodding.

Simon laughed, gratefully. "Anyway. I kept in touch with a lot of the coastguards, had reports of anything unusual being sent through. Just in case, you know? It had been so long, that - well, I'd forgotten, to be honest, that I'd never cancelled the arrangement. And then a report was emailed through to my office of a charter plane pilot who'd recorded seeing possible castaways on an island not unfeasibly far from the original flightpath."

He sighed. "I followed it up, and discovered that nothing was being done about it. There was no record of an island at the position reported, and it was assumed that the co-ordinates were wrong."

"But something was done," Harry said, "there was a second plane?"

Simon nodded. "I chartered one myself. Sent someone to investigate. I figured I owed it to you - or, at least, to whoever might be down there. I didn't dare hope - " he fished in his pocket for something. "Until I saw your message."

He passed over a crumpled printout of a colour photo and they bent over it curiously. It had been taken from a plane, and clearly showed their beach, with the rocks spelling out HeLP SOS 1D.

Zayn elbowed Niall in the ribs. "One job. You had one job, Niall."

"I didn't know we were doing all capitals," Niall objected. "They were too big to read at that level!"

Simon laughed at Niall's indignant expression. "Well, it did the job. They contacted me again when you'd been picked up, and I came over from LA. And here you are." He sat back, marvelling at them, and they grinned back at him. They were travelling through the suburbs now, up into the hills.

"Where are we going?" Zayn asked curiously, looking out at the passing traffic. "Not the airport?"

"Thought you might want to unwind a bit before facing the world," Simon told him. "There's a villa I like to hire. We're going there. Private."

"Do our families know?" Louis asked, unable to keep it in any longer. "That we're okay?"

Simon shook his head. "Not yet. I wanted to see you for myself first. Make sure there hadn't been any - mistake, before getting their hopes up. I'll arrange for them to be told as soon as possible now. Arrange for you to speak to them."

The car pulled in between stone pillars and up a long driveway. They got out in front of a large, sprawling house, covered in flowers spilling from baskets and window boxes, and climbing up the walls.

"It's lovely," said Niall, admiringly.

"Make yourselves at home. My room's first on the right, you can use any of the others that take your fancy."

They wandered in, staring at the plush carpets and expensive furniture, wide-eyed and slightly nervous. It all felt like being on another planet.

"Like Judges' Houses all over again," whispered Zayn, and they nodded, knowing what he meant.

Just being indoors felt unfamiliar, and Harry crossed to the french windows in the living room, pushed them wide open, breathing in the sea air. They joined him there looking out at the sparkling water in the distance, arms around each other.

Nobody had quite felt up to the task of having to deal with things on their own, and it had been a relief, to find they had someone to take care of the details for them. When Simon came back in, followed by a woman pushing a trolley laden with tea and plates of cakes and sandwiches, they crowded round him eagerly.

"Thought it might have been a while since you had a decent cup of tea," he laughed, and Louis blew him an ostentatious kiss.

"Zayn, are you alright?" Simon frowned, taking in the way he was limping and occasionally leaning on the others for support.

"I did something to my leg. It's never really healed properly," Zayn explained, mouth already full of cake.

"He fell down a mountain," Niall elaborated, and Simon looked startled.

"We'll get you seen by a doctor," he said. "You could probably all do with a once-over, come to that. You look half-starved."

"Harry needs one," Louis interrupted quickly, despite an embarrassed glare from Harry. "He hit his head and he's not well, and he won't bloody say so."

"Right." Simon looked over at the woman standing by and she nodded.

"I'll make the arrangements sir."

As she went out, closing the doors behind her, Simon turned back to the boys and smiled. "So. Do you feel up to telling me everything that's happened? You must have quite a story."

--

By the time they'd finished relating their exploits, the sun was sliding down in the sky and they'd polished off a second round of tea. By unspoken agreement nobody had mentioned the physical side to their relationship. It was slowly dawning on them that discussions would need to be had, about what they told and what they kept quiet about.

Left to themselves to decide upon sleeping arrangements, they found a selection of clothes had been delivered for them to choose from.

Zayn held up a pair of trousers against himself in the mirror and sighed. "I'm not sure these will even stay up. I hadn't realised just how thin we'd got."

Liam came up behind him, put his hands round Zayn's waist. His fingers reached almost all the way round. "Eat many more of those cakes, you'll be the size of a balloon by morning," he teased, planting a kiss at the nape of Zayn's neck.

It was true though, it had been so gradual that none of them had really noticed how malnourished they'd become. Ribs were clearly visible on all of them, and their bodies were covered in scratches and scars, old and new. Seeing their own brightly lit, full length reflections came as a shock to everybody.

"I don't like it," Zayn whispered. "We all look ill."

"Well, we can at least tidy ourselves up a bit," said Liam briskly. "Have a shave and such. Harry, you can get that bath you wanted."

They dispersed between the two rooms they'd picked out on the basis there was a connecting door between them. Each had a double bed and its own bathroom attached, and was more luxury than any of them had ever thought to see again.

Harry was soon nose-deep in a hot bath, watching Louis shaving carefully over the basin. Through the open doors they could hear Niall singing in the shower, and Zayn complaining that Liam was pulling his hair, as he tried to comb out the knots out from it.

They all had hair almost to their shoulders, Niall's with a last remaining fringe of blonde at the tips, and while most of them had made an attempt at shaving at least occasionally, Liam had been sporting a beard for months.

Harry was climbing out of the bath when he slid sideways with a gasp, only to be brought up sharply by Louis grabbing at him.

"Are you okay?" Louis demanded, searching his face anxiously.

"I'm fine. It's just the heat, that's all. Made me go a bit swimmy. Louis, I'm fine. You can let go," Harry insisted, and Louis realised he was still gripping his arms.

"Sorry. I just - you need to be careful. I thought they were supposed to be getting a doctor for you?" Louis fretted.

"I'm fine," Harry repeated softly. "It'll be okay."

They were kissing, slow and comforting on both sides, when an alarmed yelp from the other bedroom made them look up in surprise.

Going to investigate, they found Zayn and Niall in hysterics on the bed, and Liam holding a towel over half his face.

"What's going on?" asked Louis, starting to laugh himself.

"Show him Liam," Niall demanded, but Liam shook his head vigorously.

"Liam shaved his beard off," Zayn said cheerfully. Except he's had it for so long the rest of his face is tanned and his chin isn't. Looks like he's been dipped in wax or something." He collapsed into giggles again and Liam glared at him.

"Thanks for the support guys," he muttered.

"Let's have a look?" Louis insisted, and Liam dropped the towel with a resigned sigh.

Louis and Harry tried not to laugh, but it was no good. Liam did look ridiculous, and eventually he too joined in with the laughter, dropping down into the middle of them all, cackling wildly.

--

Harry was lying on a towel, face down on the bed with the windows open to feel the breeze on his naked body. Outside, the sun was setting in a wash of pink, and nightbirds were starting to call mournfully to each other from the bushes.

In the bathroom, Louis was brushing his teeth. To be truly clean again felt more heavenly than amount of new clothes or soft pillows, and he was idly poking through the well-stocked cabinet to see what else was in there.

He picked up a box, and stared at the label. Opened it out of curiosity, and stood there with the little tube in his hand, considering.

--

Harry looked up as Louis came out of the bathroom and switched off the light, coming to sit next to him on the bed.

"Harry. Will you - will you make love to me?" he said quietly.

"You hardly have to ask," Harry smiled, sitting up and wondering if Louis was worrying that things would change now they'd been rescued.

"No - to me," Louis said, flushing a little. Harry's gaze lit on the lube Louis was holding, and let his fingers come to rest on it too, wonderingly.

"Are you sure?" he breathed, leaning forward to catch Louis' eyes.

Louis nodded. "I've - wanted to. For a while. I guess I was just a bit scared for my first time to be in front of everyone. In case - you know. I need to stop or something."

Harry took him into his arms and held him tight. "We could have snuck off somewhere," he said after a second's thought, and Louis laughed, relaxing a little.

"Well. Here we are, anyway. If - you want to, I mean."

"Of course I want to." Harry took his hands, eyes shining. "I love you. I want to do everything with you."

Louis nodded. "Me too. With you and the others. But I wanted my first time to be with you."

They leaned together, kissing softly, smiling against each other's lips as sounds of merriment drifted in from the room next door.

"Do you reckon Simon thinks it's weird?" Harry mused. "That we're all sharing just two rooms? Two beds?"

"Not as weird as if we'd all piled into one," said Louis with a smirk. "I thought he very carefully didn't ask, earlier, about how we'd got by on that front."

"Do you think he guesses?" Harry lay down in Louis' arms, nestling against him happily.

"If they don't shut up in there he won't have to guess," Louis said dryly and Harry laughed.

"We could join them, if you wanted?"

Louis shook his head. "Is it greedy, to want you just to myself for a night?"

Harry kissed him. "If it is, then I am too. We can be greedy together."

They stretched out, skin to skin, enjoying the novelty of a soft bed beneath them. They explored each other slowly, such familiar territory now and yet with a frisson of nervous anticipation at what they were going to do.

Nothing was rushed, Harry took his time to make sure Louis was hard and wanting, on the edge of panting desperation before he even turned his attention to what they'd been building up to.

Louis simply let Harry take charge, trusting he would take care of him. He'd watched him have sex with the others often enough to know Harry knew what he was doing. Louis wanted this now, unreservedly and passionately, and he sprawled beneath him, open and willing as Harry prepared them both.

When neither could wait any longer Harry finally pushed into him, slowly, gently, conscious that Louis' eyes were scrunched up in either concentration or pain, but also that he was gripping Harry against him for dear life, making it abundantly clear he didn't want Harry to pull away.

When Harry was all the way in, holding himself still, Louis opened his eyes and smiled raggedly up at him. "Harry," he breathed, sounding overwhelmed and aroused and astonished all at once.

Harry smiled back, kissing him softly. "Okay?" he whispered. When Louis nodded, shaky but determined, Harry started moving, carefully at first, shallow thrusts that made Louis clench and spasm around him, gasping for breath.

As Louis relaxed into it more and more, Harry's movements became faster, firmer, still deliberate and careful but with an intensity that left them moaning out each other's name.

Louis had hoped, trusted, that this would feel good, whilst being prepared for discomfort or even pain. What he hadn't expected was quite how emotional he would get. Lying there with Harry inside him, holding him, completing him, Louis swallowed around a sudden lump in his throat, blinking away the awful sense that he might cry. He wasn't somebody who cried during sex, he fucking wasn't, and he wasn't going to start now.

"Lou?" Harry trailed the backs of his fingers over Louis' lips, half laughing at the almost fierce expression on his face.

Louis kissed Harry's fingertips, arching up into the body pressed against him.

"I love you," he breathed, and Harry's smile split into a wide grin.

"I love you too." He kissed Louis' lips, his cheek, his jaw. "Forever."

They were both close to orgasm, Louis' legs hooked around Harry's thighs, Harry's hands now flat against Louis' back, holding him, bracing him, as they rocked against each other.

Louis came first, groaning wordlessly, his release splattering hot against Harry's chest. Harry wasn't long joining him, taking a last few deep thrusts to finish himself off, coming exultantly into Louis' tight, shaking body before slowing gradually to a still.

Wrung out, they collapsed against each other, Harry still hard inside him, until they could finally breathe properly again.

Harry carefully withdrew, whispering apologies as he caught Louis wincing.

"Was that okay?" he asked a little nervously, as they lay in each other's arms afterwards, kissing quietly.

"It was better than okay," Louis assured him, making Harry smile. "It was perfect."

--

They gathered in the living room the next morning, where breakfast had been laid out for them on the coffee table. Harry and Louis were the last to arrive, and found Liam curled in a ball on the sofa with his head on Zayn's leg. Zayn was stroking his back comfortingly, whilst using his free hand to stuff his own face with toast.

"What's up with Liam?" Louis poured them both tea, as Harry helped himself to a bowl of fruit salad.

"Stomach ache. Think the change back to processed food's done him in," said Zayn through a mouthful of crumbs. "He was up half the night."

Liam whimpered and pulled the rug over his head. Zayn rolled his eyes. "How about you two? Sleep okay?"

"Yeah, good thanks." Louis blushed, and hoped they didn't notice.

He was saved from further elaboration by Simon coming into the room, beaming widely.

"I remember that look," said Harry suspiciously. "You're plotting something."

Simon gave him a look of mock reproach. "You can go last, in that case."

"Last at what?" Niall asked.

"Your parents have all been notified you're okay," Simon announced, and held up his hands for quiet as they all put down what they were eating and started firing questions at him. Even Liam sat up, the rug falling to the floor, his aching guts forgotten.

"Shush! Bloody hell, I'd forgotten how loud you lot could be."

"Can we speak to them?" Niall asked hopefully.

"Better than that. We've got a series of Skype calls set up for you. You'll be able to see them as well." He smiled as the noise level rose once more in an indistinguishable clamour.

"Louis' first," Simon said, when he could hear himself speak again. "They're lined up now, if you're ready?"

Louis got to his feet silently, looking stunned. Harry gave him an encouraging nod, and he followed Simon out of the room in a daze.

Ten minutes later he was back, eyes suspiciously red and face streaked with dried tears.

"Lou?" Harry got to his feet, alarmed, but Louis smiled.

"They were all there," he said in a disbelieving whisper. "My mum. My sisters. I never thought I'd - " he broke off and Harry pulled him into a fierce hug.

"Zayn, you're up next," Simon said quietly, and lead him out of the room.

One by one, they were reunited with tearful parents and siblings, and by the end of the morning there wasn't a dry eye in the place. They ended up all huddled onto the same sofa, sharing moments and laughter, passing tissues and exchanging kisses.

That their ordeal was finally over was gradually sinking in, becoming a reality. Up to now it had felt like they barely dared accept it, as if they might wake up at any minute and find themselves back on the island.

When Simon came back in a while later, he laughed to find them all jammed together in the same seat.

"Your flight's fixed up. First thing tomorrow you'll be on your way home."

"Thank you," Harry said sincerely. "For doing all this."

Simon shook his head. "It's a pleasure. Just to know you're all alive - I can still hardly believe it."

"Was it - awful?" Niall asked quietly. "When everyone thought we were dead?"

"You can't imagine," Simon said, shaking his head. "It was like half the world was numb and the other half went crazy." He laughed, a little disbelievingly, and smiled down at them. "Not as crazy as it's going now, however."

"People know? Can we see?" asked Louis. There was no television in the villa, and Simon had kept them oblivious to the press storm building outside.

Simon shook his head. "It's going to be intense. Enjoy the peace while you can." He hesitated. "I have no right to ask this really, not before you've had a chance to acclimatise, but - I suppose you do want to carry on? As a band, I mean?"

"Yes," said Harry, at the same time the others came out with "Of course," "Yeah, we do," "Obviously," "Uh huh."

Harry smiled. "We, uh, haven't discussed it actually. But apparently yes, we'd kind've been assuming that we would. If we're not yesterday's news by now, anyway."

"Oh, trust me," Simon said meaningfully. "You thought you were big before. It's about to get insane."

--

That afternoon they were seen by a doctor, brought in by Simon from a private clinic somewhere on the island. A bedroom was pressed into service as an examination room, and they went in one by one.

Overall, he pronounced them all in astonishingly good health given what they had been through, prescribing only a vitamin supplement to build up their rather deficient immune systems.

Zayn emerged with a certain amount of strapping on his leg, and instructions to seek a referral to a physiotherapist once he got back to London. He rejoined the others grinning, relieved that the doctor didn't seem to think he'd done any permanent damage, and that he shouldn't need surgery.

Harry was the last to be seen. When he came out some time later, he hesitated in the doorway to the living room, looking bewildered. The others, waiting together for his diagnosis, jumped up anxiously.

"Harry? Is - are you okay?" Louis asked, scared to death that it was bad news.

Harry just looked at him helplessly and Louis scrambled over the coffee table in his haste to get to Harry's side.

"I'm - fine," Harry said faintly, letting Louis lead him over to sit down.

"Harry, you're not fine," said Zayn baldly. "What did he say?"

Shrugging awkwardly, Harry stared at his hands. "Just that. That sometimes the effects of a concussion can - be experienced for some time. That I seemed okay, and - and the dizziness might just be something I have to deal with for a while."

There was a startled silence, before Louis exploded indignantly. "Seemed okay? What kind of medical term is that? Is he a proper doctor? Shouldn‘t he be - I dunno, getting you scanned or something?"

"Did you tell him about the blurry vision?" Zayn asked.

Harry nodded. "He checked out my eyes, to make sure it wasn't a detached retina or anything. Said it would probably clear up on its own. Gave me some pills, for the headaches." He fingered the little silver strip uneasily, wincing as Louis started ranting again.

"Are we sure he's a proper doctor? Not just some botox-peddling quack?"

"Louis - don't," Harry protested. "Of course he's a proper doctor. Look - it's good, right? I'm okay."

"Well - yes. Of course." Louis faltered. "But are you? You don't seem all that convinced."

"I don't know any more," Harry mumbled. "Maybe I've just been making a fuss over nothing."

"Harry, no," Liam protested, taking his hand. "We've seen how you've been. Nobody thinks that."

"I want to believe it," Harry said in a small voice. "But part of me's still scared that he's wrong."

"We'll get a second opinion, yeah?" Louis promised. "Back in London. From a proper doctor," he added, raising his voice and making Harry flush with embarrassment.

Harry let Louis and Niall cuddle him between them, both relieved and unsettled that none of them thought he'd been overreacting.

--

They were finishing their evening meal when Simon came in with an armful of brand new coats and jumpers for them.

"Expecting rain?" Louis asked, raising an eyebrow.

"It's November," Simon pointed out. "The weather in London right now's a bit different."

"I've quite missed drizzle," said Harry dreamily, and Zayn snorted.

"Give it a couple of days. You'll be longing for the sun again when we've all got colds and a sore throat."

"I'll give you a sore throat now if you like," suggested Niall, and Liam elbowed him sharply as Louis had a suspicious coughing fit.

Simon shook his head, laughing. "I'm leaving tonight, to see to things at that end. You'll follow on tomorrow."

Zayn was already sorting through the pile of clothes speculatively and scratching his head. "Do we get a makeover too?" he grinned. "I'd kill for a haircut right now."

"Hang on a while longer?" Simon recommended. "At least for your homecoming."

"The sanitised, airbrushed version of shipwreck chic?" Louis suggested rather acidly.

"I wouldn't have put it quite that way, but yes, if you like."

"Shut up Louis. We'll do whatever you recommend," Harry nodded. "You know we will."

When Simon had gone, Louis stuck his tongue out. "We'll do whatever you sa-ay," he mimicked, and Harry punched him in the arm.

"Stop it!" Liam threw a cushion at them. "Harry's right, we either let him guide us or we don't. There's no point in making waves."

Zayn sat down again, fidgeting with the buttons on the coat he'd selected. "Anyone else not particularly looking forward to it?" he mumbled.

"What, to going home?" Niall asked, looking surprised.

"No." Zayn sighed, looking a bit queasy. "To getting on a plane again."

"Oh." Niall bounced onto the sofa next to him and gave him a hug. "It'll be okay. I mean, what are the odds against two planes going dow- "

Niall broke off with a squeak as Zayn slapped a hand over his mouth, looking horrified. "Don't even say it!" he hissed, looking embarrassed at himself.

"Bit of a long swim if you don't fancy the flight," Louis yawned, stretching.

"Yeah." Zayn tried and failed to summon a convincing smile, and Niall gave him a squeeze.

"You okay?"

Zayn nodded uncertainly. "You'll be there, right? If I freak out?"

"Right next to you," Niall promised warmly. "You can hold my hand if you want."

"You can hold my dick if you want," Louis offered, and Harry hit him in the face with Liam's cushion. "What?! Made him smile didn't it?"

Zayn was trying not to laugh. "What's got into you this evening Louis?"

Louis shrugged. "I dunno. I suppose - it's all going to change, isn't it? Tomorrow I mean. It's going to get nuts."

"We'll be the same though," Harry pointed out. "We just need to stick together."

They slowly got ready for bed, then sat around talking; all too wound up to sleep yet.

Neither bed was quite big enough for all five of them, and there was an unspoken feeling that tonight at least they didn't want to be apart. In the end, Louis fetched the duvet from the other room, and he and Niall curled up on the floor while Harry, Zayn and Liam took the bed.

With the lights off, they murmured to each other in drowsy conversation for another hour until finally sliding towards sleep, wondering how long it would be before they were again able to share the same space like this.

--

"That's - for us?"

Standing on the tarmac, shading their eyes in the bright morning sunshine, they stared across at the private jet in disbelief. Setting out from the villa, they'd assumed they would be taking a commercial flight, but apparently Simon had other ideas.

Escorted across, Zayn hesitated at the foot of the steps, and Liam paused with him, resting a reassuring hand at the small of his back.

"Okay?"

"Mmmn." Zayn was tightlipped and tense, and Liam smiled encouragingly.

"You were okay in the helicopter?"

"That was different. It was open, and - and not so high." Zayn flushed, knowing he sounded irrationally idiotic. The others had already climbed inside, and people were waiting for them to board.

"It'll be over before you know it," Liam coaxed. "We'll distract you, okay? Nothing bad's going to happen."

"I know. I know." But still Zayn didn't move, and Liam finally took his hand.

"Come on. We'll go up together."

Zayn made a face, but he took a deep breath, and let Liam lead him up the steps and into the plane.

Inside, the others gathered round, slightly shamefaced that they hadn't waited, and to Zayn's immense relief, not taking the piss. He took a seat, Liam on one side and Niall on the other, and closed his eyes firmly.

"Wake me up when it's over."

--

The next twenty four hours gradually passed in a mind-numbing, leg-cramping blur, as they seemingly inched their way home. They stopped in LA to refuel but stayed on the plane, and eventually even Zayn lost most of his nerves in the face of hours of tedious waiting.

At long last the journey drew to a close and they found themselves on the final approach to Heathrow. Niall slid his hand over Zayn's where he was gripping the armrest, white-knuckled. He took it gratefully, and concentrated on remembering how to breathe.

Despite Zayn's fears the landing was without incident, and after hours of waiting in limbo suddenly they were preparing to disembark.

"D'you think our families will be waiting?" Niall wondered hopefully.

Liam shrugged. "Depends what Simon's got planned. He might want to keep it low key, sneak us back in, like. I'm sure they'll be in London, anyway."

"Um. Guys?" Harry was looking out of one of the windows. "You should probably see this."

They gathered round, curious. Outside, confined behind barriers and what appeared to be a small army of police, was spread one of the largest crowds they'd ever seen.

"That can't be for us," said Louis, disbelievingly. "Can it?"

"Low key huh?" Zayn nudged Liam, grinning.

"I - could have been wrong about that," he conceded with a stunned smile.

Now the engines had been turned off they could hear the crowd, a dull roar of background noise that increased to screaming fever pitch as they appeared on the steps of the plane. It was overwhelming, and Niall would have turned around and fled back inside if Harry and Zayn hadn't grabbed him.

"I can't," he mumbled, going white. "There's too many, it's awful."

"Hey, it's okay," Zayn soothed, his confidence returning now he was on solid ground again. "They won't make us walk through them."

"How do you know?" Niall protested, but now Harry was pointing.

"Look! It is our families, they are here!"

They looked, and made out a group standing by the terminal building, waving madly. To the side of them was an enormous bank of reporters, cameras already flashing frenziedly as the boys carefully made their way down the steps.

"Oh my God." Liam flushed red, hesitating in sudden confusion. "Danielle's there."

"And Eleanor," said Zayn, staring across at the distant knot of people. "No Perrie though. Guess she got a better offer." Harry elbowed him, and he grinned, shrugging. "Hey. So did I."

Niall had pushed himself to the back, looking unhappy, and Harry took his hand. "We won't let you get hurt, okay?" he promised.

Zayn took Niall's other hand, and squeezed it. "Together, yeah?"

Niall nodded, a little of the colour returning to his face. Zayn looked up as someone else took hold of his free hand, and found Liam smiling at him, looking nervous. "Together?" Zayn repeated, and Liam nodded.

Harry reached out without looking, and felt Louis' hand slide into his. "Let's do it then."

A pale winter sun was breaking through the clouds as they made their way across the tarmac. They were grateful now, for the long coats and scarves that protected them from the temperature shock, and concealed the worst of their scarred, starved looking bodies from the baying press pack.

Hand in hand, they strode forwards in silence, rather serious-faced despite the occasion, each boy preoccupied with his own thoughts.

The image was captured by the waiting photographers and flashed around the world in seconds, becoming instantly and enduringly famous. Later, Simon would be accused of setting it up, of telling them to hold hands, but he just smiled from behind his sunglasses and said, "Some things you can't stage-manage, and some things you don't need to. Those boys are the real deal. And they're back."

Reaching their families at last, everything else was forgotten as they hurled themselves into waiting arms. Hugs and smiles and tears were shared as the five boys were reunited with the parents and siblings who'd thought they'd lost them forever.

After an emotional few minutes clinging to his sisters, Louis straightened up to find Eleanor standing there, waiting patiently for her turn to greet him, knowing his family had to come first. He swallowed awkwardly, mind going blank as he wondered what the hell to say.

Louis looked round, acutely conscious of Eleanor smiling up at him, of Harry standing at his side, of the masses of people and press following his every move and reaction. Liam had picked Danielle up and was swinging her round and laughing, and to Louis it felt like everyone in the world was watching him and judging.

In the end, he did the only thing he could do. He kissed her.

"Fancy a snog?" murmured a low voice in Harry's ear. He looked round and found Zayn grinning at him.

"I think Simon would kill us," he laughed, appreciating the arm that settled round his waist, and wondering whether Zayn was struggling with the same uncomfortable spike of jealousy that he was.

As if his thoughts had conjured the man up out of thin air, Simon appeared in the middle of their group. He'd tactfully hung back during the initial reunion, but now he was taking charge again, directing people here and there, and at his side was a familiar figure that made Harry forget all about the looming complications in his love life.

"Paul!"

At his cry, everyone looked round, and seconds later Paul had disappeared under a shrieking, bouncing mass of boys.

Laughing, he finally fended them off before picking Niall up bodily and lifting him up like a kitten, all waving legs and helpless giggling.

Once Niall was back on the ground, Paul smiled round at them all, looking rather emotional. "I thought I'd lost you all," he said, shakily. "I should have known you'd turn up like bad pennies."

"Good thing you weren't on the plane," Liam said soberly, reminded of those in their party that hadn't made it. "Best timed ear infection you've ever had!"

Paul shook his head obstinately. "I should have been there to look after you."

"Could have been awkward later," Niall whispered, and Zayn snorted with laughter, grabbing and squeezing Niall's hand behind his back.

Danielle was looking at Zayn, pushing her hair back nervously and exchanging a glance with Eleanor, who nodded encouragement.

"Um. Perrie said to send her love," Danielle began, then hesitated.

"Is she on tour or something?" Zayn asked, and Danielle bit her lip.

"Not exactly. Um - well the thing is - "

Zayn caught on quickly. "She's with somebody else now?" he guessed.

"We thought you were dead," Danielle wailed, and Zayn shook his head sympathetically.

"It's okay. Really. Hey, look, it's okay." He held his arms out and gave her a hug. "Really. It's fine. Trust me."

Danielle hugged him back, sighing. "Sorry. She was invited to come today, but - yeah. She didn't want to look like a hypocrite."

"Dani, it's fine," Zayn repeated. "I'm fine. It's not a problem." She nodded, relieved, and fled back to Liam's side.

When their attention was drawn away, Harry edged back to Zayn and stroked a quick hand down his back. "You really okay?" he asked, under his breath.

"Yeah," Zayn nodded. "Kind've expected it, to be honest. At least that's one awkward conversation I get out of, anyway," he added, looking over at Liam and Louis and wincing.

For a while, the five of them posed obligingly for the press, and despite the ear-splitting noise and sense of imminent riot even walked down along the line of the barriers so the assembled fans could get better pictures too.

After months of peace and solitude it was utterly overwhelming, and they were all heartily relieved when Simon announced that they wouldn't be answering any questions today and asking, however redundantly, for people to respect their privacy and let them settle in for a day or two.

In the bosom of their families, who were proving reluctant to let go of them for a single moment, they were finally shepherded into separate cars and driven away.

Outside, there were even more people lining the roads that hadn't managed to get access to the airport, and the cars passed between rows of screaming, waving people.

"It's mental," said Louis, staring out through the tinted window. "It's only us."

"You've no idea what it's been like," said his mother, softly. "When we all thought you'd been killed - well, it was hell for us, obviously. But it was like the entire country - the world - went into mourning. There were a few who were cruel and stupid, there always are. But mostly people were so kind. It was like nothing I've ever seen." She wiped a stray tear from her cheek, and hugged him fiercely. "And then you were found, and it was like some sort of miracle. It's been like an explosion, everyone's going crazy."

Louis looked at his sisters squashed into the seat opposite and realised he had a daft grin on his face. "I missed you," he murmured. "So much. I thought about you every day."

"We knew you weren't dead," insisted Phoebe.

"We told everyone," added Daisy.

"They did too," Louis mother smiled. "Maybe I should have listened harder." She pinched her lips together in an effort not to start crying again, and Louis took her hand.

"I'm back, mum. And I'm sorry, so sorry that I went away."

The cars moved on through the outskirts of London, taking different routes to throw off any reporters trying to tail them.

Niall looked out at the passing streets, frowning. It was wonderful to be back with his family, and it had been barely an hour since they set off, but he was missing the others already. It wasn't as if they'd spent every waking moment together, but this sense of separation was new and strange.

Miles away and slightly to the east, Zayn was leaning his head against the window, looking up at the same sky, feeling boxed in and restless.

Stuck in a traffic jam, Harry kicked his feet against the seat and tried to concentrate on the voices around him. Gemma was attempting to bring him up to speed with everything that had happened in the past twelve months, his mother and step-father frequently interrupting and talking over each other. It was hard to focus; he had a growing headache, and unconsciously clenched and unclenched his fingers, longing for one of the others to be there with him, and take his hand.

Liam was half-watching Danielle, reflected in the window glass, rehearsing and discarding words in his head. What had seemed a certainty just days before, a concrete forever-bond between the five of them, now seemed like an impossible dream. It was dawning on him just how little they'd thought it through, how the promises they'd made each other would be so hard to keep - at least without bringing a lot of people's worlds down around their ears.

"You okay?" Danielle covered his hand with her own on the seat, and smiled.

"Yeah." He sighed. "Sorry. It's - all a bit much, that's all. Sorry if I'm being weird."

"You don't have anything to be sorry for," she said, making him feel even worse. "I've got you back, that's all that matters."

--

After a journey through London that felt nearly as long as the flight from LA, the cars pulled into the drive of a north London house, arriving almost together. Heavy gates were closed behind them, and as the boys and their families climbed out they looked round in wonder at the high brick walls enclosing the property.

Instinctively they made a bee-line for each other, going into a huddle and reaching out to touch each other comfortingly, a hand on a shoulder here, an arm round a waist there, hips pressed together, a cheek brushed against another cheek. They barely realised they were doing it, only knew that being apart for however short a time had felt unsettling and they needed reassurance.

"Look at them," Danielle murmured to Eleanor, laughing fondly. "It's like they've formed a pack or something. They'll be sniffing each other's arses next."

A final car drove in and Simon emerged, smiling round at them.

"I'm afraid your homes are all somewhat under siege right now. I've arranged for you to stay here with your families for the time being. There'll be security outside all the time, and we'll monitor access."

"Wow. You have been busy," said Liam, and Simon patted him on the shoulder.

"I know it'll take a bit of getting used to, being back. I thought you'd be happier all together." They all nodded vigorously and he laughed.

"Also - I don't know if this is something that you'd want, but if you can feel it would help I can arrange a counsellor to talk to? I don’t think any of us can imagine what you've been through, and if talking to someone would help you adjust...?"

They exchanged glances, each thinking privately that there was quite a lot about the last year that they didn't necessarily want anybody knowing right now.

Zayn shook his head slowly. "I think we're okay thanks. I mean - we've got each other, to talk to. Who else is even going to understand?"

"That's fine. It's totally your choice. Just let me know if you change your mind, or if anyone wants to ask in private, you know where I am."

"Harry still needs a proper doctor," Louis insisted, making Harry blush red and elbow him. Louis gave him a stubborn face until Harry sighed and nodded reluctantly at Simon.

"Lou's right, I'd feel happier with a second opinion, yeah."

"Alright. Well, I know a good man on Harley Street, I'll set up an appointment."

Inside the house, and left alone to explore the rooms they'd been allocated, the boys were pleasantly surprised to find that various clothes and personal items had also been brought from their homes.

Niall bounced into Zayn's room, brandishing a new phone. "Look what was in my room!"

"Yeah, I've got one too. And an iPad," Zayn grinned, and Niall did an abrupt about-turn to go and check what else he'd been left. Zayn followed him next door, and sat on the bed. "Did your mum bring you clothes?"

"Yeah, loads. Not sure they'll fit any more though," Niall complained good naturedly, flinging himself down next to him. "Don't want me trousers falling down in the middle of a press conference do I?"

"You'll have to borrow some of Louis' braces," Zayn smirked. "Or we could probably buy you some string?"

"It's so cold in here," Niall grumbled, burrowing his hands under Zayn's jumper and making him squeak in protest.

"Heating's on. I think we just haven't acclimatised yet. A year of tropical sun's probably buggered our tolerance right up." Zayn shrugged, and wrapped his arms round Niall's body, rubbing his back to warm him up while Niall snuggled into him making approving noises.

In a room across the landing, Louis was standing in the window staring pensively out over the back garden whilst Eleanor wandered around the room, exclaiming over all the little touches.

"Isn't it lovely?" she joined him at the window and leaned against him. "Really romantic."

He looked over at the bed, a study in white flounces and deep pillows. "Give it till tomorrow morning, I'll have spilt tea on it and filled it with crumbs."

"Oh, you." She barged him teasingly with her shoulder and he took her hand, squeezing it absent-mindedly, then looking startled when she let out a little yelp.

"Shit, sorry, did I hurt you?"

"No, it's okay," she laughed, patting his hand with her other. "Just don't know your own strength, you!"

He folded her into his arms instead, feeling guilty. He'd got used to being with the boys, where a loving touch was frequently disguised as a slap round the head, and there could be a thin distinguishing line between group sex and a wrestling match.

"Are you staying here?" Louis asked suddenly, realising she hadn't mentioned a room of her own, and having the awful thought that Eleanor might be expecting to share. Not that that would be so bad, ordinarily - having her pressed up against him was reviving all kinds of memories, none of them bad - but with Harry in the next room, he just didn't think he could.

"I've been staying with Dani," Eleanor said, resting her chin on his shoulder and smiling flirtatiously. "But I could stay here if you're offering?"

"Would you - mind if we didn't?" Louis asked awkwardly. "I just - need to get my head round a few things. Sorry."

Eleanor hugged him. "Don’t be silly, of course I don’t mind. This must all be so strange for you." She kissed him on the cheek. "Take all the time you need. I'll leave you in peace for a bit, eh? Come back tomorrow?"

He nodded gratefully, and she kissed him goodbye, slipping out of the room to go in search of Danielle. Louis rubbed a hand over his face and sighed.

--

Harry looked round at the quiet tap on his door, and instinctively beamed in relief when he saw it was Louis. He'd been imagining all kind of things going on next door and trying desperately not to mind, but now here was Louis, alone, and somehow Harry had closed the gap between them without noticing and thrown himself into Louis' arms as if his life depended on it.

Louis kicked the door shut and held him back just as tightly, and for a while they just stood there and clung to each other without speaking.

Eventually, Harry pulled back and cleared his throat, running an embarrassed hand through his hair. "Sorry. Not like I didn't see you ten minutes ago."

"I'm not complaining," Louis murmured, and Harry smiled in relief, moving closer again to kiss him.

"Look, about El - " Harry hesitated, wondering how to say that he understood, that it was okay, that he knew Louis would have things to work out, and that he shouldn't worry.

Louis though, took the unfinished thought as one of impatience and sighed. "I know, I know. I'll tell her."

"You will?" Harry looked surprised. He'd been half afraid that now they were home Louis would choose to go back to her, regardless of his feelings for Harry and the others.

"Yeah." Louis took hold of Harry's hands and looked into his eyes. "I have to, don't I?"

"Well. You don't - have to," Harry conceded. He already shared Louis with three other boys, he was fairly sure he could accept Eleanor as well if that was what Louis wanted.

But - "Yeah. I do," Louis said softly. "It's not fair otherwise. I hate this - this - feeling like I'm cheating. I'll tell her. I just - don't know how yet."

Harry hugged him. "Take as long as you need," he said, unconsciously echoing Eleanor and making Louis laugh. "What?"

"Nothing." Louis buried his face in Harry's shoulder and sighed. "Sometimes I think I don't deserve either of you."

"Well, tough." Harry smiled, and kissed the top of his head.

--

It was a cheerful and rowdy evening, with so many people crammed into the same house. Harry and Niall's mothers cooked for everyone, and the boys were pressed to relate tales of their time on the island to an appreciative and open-mouthed audience. They kept it light, instinctively glossing over the darker and more traumatic moments in front of the younger children.

When it was time for bed they dispersed to their separate rooms, too embarrassed to discuss possible sharing arrangements in front of their parents. They were too shattered to think much of it, quickly undressing and falling into bed.

Some time later Louis awoke, staring into the darkness, disoriented and wondering where the hell he was. He reached out instinctively for the warm bodies he was used to being snuggled into, but his hand found only cool sheets.

Louis sighed, remembering. He rubbed his eyes, wondering what time it was, and what had woken him. Somewhere on the floor below a toilet flushed and a door opened and closed, then all was quiet again. He and the other boys had this top floor to themselves, and if everyone else had gone to bed, Louis reasoned no-one would know if he snuck in with Harry.

Feeling faintly silly that he couldn't manage even one night on his own, Louis got out of bed and padded to the door. Creeping out into the dark corridor, he pushed Harry's door open and stuck his head in cautiously.

"Haz? You awake?" There was no reply, so he tiptoed into the room, reasoning he could just slip in beside Harry without waking him up. The curtains were only half-drawn, and a shaft of moonlight falling across the bed showed it was empty, the covers thrown back.

"Oh." Louis frowned, at a loss. He walked out again, wondering if Harry had gone to the loo, and bumped into a warm body coming the other way.

They both yelped in alarm, clutching at each other and giggling.

"Zayn! Scared me half to death. What are you doing?" Louis demanded under his breath, laughing at himself and the way his heart was pounding.

"I was just - going to the bathroom," said Zayn, clearing his throat.

"Uh, yeah. Me too." They looked at each other sheepishly, knowing perfectly well they'd both been in search of company.

"I'll leave you to it, huh?" Zayn offered, inclining his head at Harry's door.

Louis shook his head. "He's not in there."

"You haven't lost him already have you?" Zayn teased. "Careless!"

"Do you think he's alright?" Louis wondered, suddenly worried Harry might have passed out on the loo or something. They pushed open the bathroom door, but it was empty.

"Niall's room?" Zayn suggested.

They snuck along the hall and carefully inched open the door to his bedroom. And there, fast asleep in each other's arms, were Harry and Niall.

Louis quietly closed the door again, and stifled another yawn. "Mystery solved."

"Guess we should go back to bed," Zayn muttered. Louis looked at him.

"Wanna come in with me?"

Zayn grinned. "Thought you'd never ask."

Soon they were tucked up in Louis' bed, side by side. Louis thought happily that with the warmth of a second body, and the comforting sound of Zayn's breathing next to him he'd soon be able to drop off again. But Zayn was fidgeting, and finally gave a loud sigh.

"Wha's matter?" Louis asked, face half-buried in the pillow.

"Not tired now."

Louis snorted. "Try."

Zayn's hand burrowed under the covers and slid up Louis' thigh. "Or I could just wake you up instead."

"No you couldn't," Louis muttered, but he didn't object when Zayn's hand moved up to his dick. He wriggled instead, somehow accidentally giving Zayn better access.

"Like that?" Zayn whispered, grinning.

"Nope. Doing absolutely nothing for me," Louis lied, his cock already hard under Zayn's fingers.

"How about now?" Zayn had shuffled closer, his breath warm on Louis' neck, his hand cupping Louis' balls, gently massaging. Louis gave a stifled moan and gave in, rolling over and pressing himself up against Zayn's body.

"Fuck." Louis kissed him, demanding and rough. He could feel Zayn's own erection jammed up against his stomach, and they quickly shoved their pyjama bottoms down around their ankles, pushing needily against each other.

They jerked each other off without ceremony, both knowing what the other wanted. It was fast and messy, the only sounds their laboured breathing and the quiet, wet noises of flesh on flesh. Louis came first, biting down on his lower lip to force back a groan. Seconds later Zayn followed suit, his teeth in Louis' shoulder, coming all over their hands and groins, already sticky with Louis' release.

Panting, they lay down together with matching grins, covered in sweat and spunk. Louis wiped them both off cursorily with his pyjama bottoms and tossed them to the floor.

Zayn was yawning by now. "D'you think Harry and Niall did this?" he murmured speculatively, snuggling into Louis' side and closing his eyes.

"If they had any sense," Louis smirked, settling down with a feeling of sleepy contentment. It passed through his mind that he probably shouldn't have done this before he'd straightened things out with Eleanor, but right now he was having difficulty bringing himself to care.

In just a few minutes' time, they were both fast asleep.

--

It was daylight when Zayn next opened his eyes, and he squinted up to find a surprised looking Harry standing by the bed, holding two mugs of tea.

"Hey Harry." Zayn wriggled into a sitting position. "Ooh, tea, thanks." He grabbed one of the mugs before Harry could object.

"That's Louis'. It's got sugar in."

Zayn made a face, and Harry sighed and handed him the other mug as well.

"Cheers babe."

Harry rolled his eyes and went out again, just as Louis stirred and sat up, yawning. Zayn handed him a mug, and he blinked.

"You made tea?"

Zayn blew across his mug, smirking. "Harry made tea. Technically I stole tea."

"Harry was here?"

"Yeah. I guess he went to make some more." Zayn looked up as the door swung open again and Liam stuck his head in, looking tousled and bleary.

"Morning." Liam wandered over and sat on the end of the bed, only now taking in the fact that they'd apparently spent the night together. "You two look cosy."

"Guess it felt weird sleeping alone," Zayn confessed. "Harry and Niall - " he broke off mid-sentence, realising it would look like they'd left him out.

"Harry and Niall what?" Liam looked at him, bemused.

"Harry and Niall are here!" Louis cried hurriedly, and as Liam turned to look at the door he exchanged a conspiratorial look of amusement with Zayn and crossed his eyes.

"Hi Liam. Cuppa?" Harry offered him one of the fresh mugs he was holding and Liam blew him a kiss. Niall came in behind Harry, hair wet from the shower, holding a towel up with one hand, sipping from a mug of his own.

"Hey guys. Sleep well?"

"Eventually," Zayn winked, and Louis spluttered tea everywhere.

--

They spent the morning with their respective families. Most were going to have to go home, returning to jobs and school at least until the weekend, and they wanted to spend as much time together as possible.

After lunch when most had gone, they were sitting in the living room feeling a little flat when someone arrived at the front door. They looked up expectantly, and Harry's face split into a grin when he saw who it was.

"Grimmy!"

Louis scowled. "What's he doing here?" he muttered, not entirely under his breath, and Harry flushed with embarrassment, hoping Nick hadn't heard. Already on his feet, he grabbed his friend's sleeve and pulled him into the kitchen.

Nick let himself be shoved along without complaint, laughing. When they were alone, he took Harry by the shoulders and just smiled helplessly at him. "I can't believe it's really you. I just had to see for myself. Oh my God, Harry."

Harry laughed, and flung himself into Nick's arms for a hug. "It's so good to see you," he said. "I was going to call you, but - yeah. I don't remember your number any more."

"Well we can fix that," Nick grinned. "God, you're so thin," he added, running his hands over Harry's sides and frowning.

"We can fix that too," Harry laughed. They were pressed up close, Nick's face just inches from his, and when he bent for a kiss Harry didn't move away.

He'd told Louis the truth about his relationship with Nick being just friends-with-benefits - but he'd possibly been less than clear on just how often those benefits were realised.

After a moment, Harry reluctantly pulled back, resting his hands on Nick's chest and sighing.

"We can't," he murmured.

"We can't?" Nick cupped Harry's face in one hand and gently made him look up.

"I'm - with someone now," Harry confessed. Nick just raised an eyebrow.

"Louis?"

"I didn't say that," Harry objected, and Nick snorted.

"I'm not daft. And I'm not deaf, either."

"Ah. Yeah. Sorry about that."

Nick shook his head, smiling. "It's okay. Hey, you're alive, I'll settle for that, yeah?" He pulled Harry back into a hug.

"Thing is..." Harry took a deep breath. "It's not just Louis. It's all of them."

"What's all of them?"

"That I'm - you know."

Nick took a step back and studied Harry's face, trying to decide if he was being wound up. "No way are you're shagging all of them?" he demanded, with a sceptical expression of incredulous delight. Harry nodded sheepishly, and Nick cackled. "What, do you have, like, a rota or something?"

"It's more of a mutual thing," Harry muttered, glad at least that Nick didn't look appalled.

Nick was wheezing with hysterical laughter, trying to get a coherent sentence out, and Harry slapped him on the arm. "Shut up!"

"I can see the headlines now," Nick grinned. "Dirty Harry's Island Gangbang!"

"Shut up!" Harry repeated, more forcefully. "You can never tell anyone, okay?"

Nick shook his head, trying to arrange his face into something more serious. "I would never tell, you know that. Your secrets are safe with me."

"I know." Harry sighed. "Do you think it's - weird?" he ventured.

Nick sniggered. "Of course it's weird. But who cares? If you're happy, that's the main thing. Are you happy?" Harry nodded, and Nick hugged him close. "Then that's all that matters."

--

In the living room, Louis was saying final goodbyes to his mother. The rest of his family were already in the car waiting to be driven home, but she was reluctant to let go of him.

"I'll be back soon, okay?"

"Okay, mum." Louis ruffled her hair, grinning. "I'm not going anywhere this time okay? I'll be fine."

"I just keep worrying that I'm going to wake up and it's all been a dream," she sighed.

"It's real," Louis promised. "We made it. We beat the odds yeah? The five intrepid survivors."

"Yes." She squeezed his hand. "Well, you and the others."

"What others?" Louis looked confused.

"Those other two men." She took in his blank expression and shook her head. "There were two survivors, at the time. I thought you'd know, did nobody tell you?"

"No. Because, y'know, why would anyone bother to give us major information like that?" Louis asked sarcastically, and she gave him a little push.

"Look it up then. They were all over the media for months. Spencer and - Davis? Davies? I forget." She paused, biting her lip. "I used to feel guilty because I hated them, for surviving when you hadn't."

"No need to now though." Louis hugged her. "Love you."

When she'd finally gone, he dropped onto the sofa next to Liam and smacked him over the head. "Look it up dude."

"I am." Liam was already studying his iPad, scrolling through news stories dating back to last year. "Here it is, two men, Spencer and Davison, both British, picked up from the water the day after the crash. Thought to be the only two survivors..." he tailed off, skimming the rest that was an account of their own presumed deaths, then clicking a link to the next story. "Oh. Oh God, no."

"Liam? You okay?" Niall asked. Liam had gone deathly pale and the hand he was holding the iPad with was shaking.

"That's - no, that can't be true, that's - " Liam stood up, clapping a hand to his mouth. "I'm going to be - " he dashed out of the room.

"Liam!" Zayn ran after him, and Louis and Niall looked at one another.

"What the hell?" Niall said. "What did he read?"

Louis picked up the fallen iPad gingerly, as though it might bite him. Looked at the article Liam had clicked onto.

"Oh Jesus."

"What is it?" Niall came to look over his shoulder. "Oh. Oh."

The story described how in the wake of the crash, in separate incidents, two teenage girls in America had committed suicide when the search for survivors had been called off.

"Shit." Louis rested his head against Niall's, as they took it in.

"That's - awful." Niall curled up miserably, hugging his knees to him. "Those poor girls."

Louis put an arm round him, feeling sick. Clicked back through the browser history, looking for something to distract them and came to the previous article Liam had been reading. He scanned it briefly, then came to the photograph of the survivors. And sat up so quickly Niall fell sideways.

"Oi!"

"Have you seen this?"

"I don't want to."

"Not that, this. About the survivors. Fucking - " Louis checked the names. "It's them!"

"Who?" Thoroughly confused, Niall sat up and peered at the screen. "Who are they, I don't get it?"

"Craig Spencer and Brendan Davison," Louis read out. "They were the bastards who tried to kill me!"

--

Zayn found Liam in the downstairs cloakroom, on his knees by the toilet.

"You okay?" he asked gently, crouching down next to him in the confined space. "What's wrong?"

Wretchedly, Liam told him what he'd read, and Zayn put his arms round him comfortingly.

"It's not our fault. Not your fault. You do get that, right?" he murmured.

Liam shook his head miserably. "They did it because of us though. And their families, what must they - " his eyes went wide as an even worse thought occurred to him. "Oh God, how must they feel now? Now that - it was for nothing?" he bit his lip, fighting the urge to cry or throw up again.

"Liam! Listen to me, you can't blame you yourself for what crazy things other people do. Chances are they had other problems, you don't know that. If it wasn’t us it would have been something else."

"You don’t know that."

"And you don’t know otherwise," said Zayn stubbornly.

Liam leant against him sadly. "I wish we'd never come back," he whispered.

--

The kitchen door burst open and Louis walked in brandishing an iPad. "Harry have you seen - oh, for fuck's sake!" Louis did an abrupt about-turn and marched out again, cursing his own stupidity. In his indignant fit at discovering who the other survivors were he'd completely forgotten Harry was in there with Nick, and he'd just interrupted what looked like a fairly intense embrace. He flung himself back on the sofa and shook his head obstinately at Niall's questioning look.

In the kitchen, Harry and Nick pulled reluctantly apart. "Erm. Sorry, about that," Nick winced but Harry just shrugged.

"He'll get over it."

When Nick had gone, Harry went to find Louis, braced for an argument. He found him still in the living room with Niall and was taken aback by their gloomy expressions. Surely Louis hadn't taken it that hard?

He sat down cautiously next to Louis, and gave him a tentative smile.

Louis sighed. "Sorry about just now. I forgot you were with him." Telling himself sternly that he had no right to criticise Harry for anything when he was in exactly the same position with Eleanor.

"Lou - I told him. About us. That was a goodbye hug," Harry said quietly.

Louis looked round in amazement. "You did? I mean - shit Harry, I'm sorry, I just assumed - "

"I know how it probably looked." Harry slid his arm through Louis'. "But yeah."

Louis kissed him, but he still looked miserable, and Harry frowned. "What's up? Did something else happen?"

They told him about the suicides, and then Louis showed him the article on the other survivors and explained again who they were. Harry was horrified.

"But - can't we like - get them arrested or something?" he demanded.

Niall stared at him. "You need to see all the stuff on here. These guys have become like - national treasures. We can't just accuse them of attempted murder."

"Why not?"

Niall went red. "Well - it's just Louis' word against theirs isn’t it? And there's two of them."

"There's five of us," Harry objected.

"Yes, but we weren’t there were we?"

Louis looked round at him. "You do believe me?"

"Of course I do!" Niall looked more miserable than ever. "I'm just saying. It's not going to look good if the first thing we do is make that sort of claim is it?"

Harry and Louis exchanged glances. "If you want to, it's up to you," Harry said. "We'll back you."

Louis shuffled uncomfortably. "Niall's right. If they deny it - well not everyone's going to believe me, are they? They'll say it's - I dunno, a publicity stunt or something."

"We should tell Simon," Harry said. "See what he thinks."

Niall agreed with relief, glad to pass on the responsibility. Louis nodded too, more pensively, and Harry hugged him tight.

"We'll sort 'em out," he promised. "Let's face it, proven or not, one word on Twitter and you could make their lives hell."

Niall looked alarmed. "Don't!"

"I'm kidding," Harry grinned. "Dick."

Niall threw a cushion at him, and knocked two mugs off the coffee table just as Liam and Zayn came back in.

"Woah!" Zayn pulled a face. "Tantrums?"

"It's past Nialler's bedtime," Louis smirked. "I think he's jetlagged."

"I think we all are." Zayn stifled a yawn. "Everybody's on edge." He had his arm round Liam's waist, and kept it there even when they sat down.

"So." Zayn put his feet up on the coffee table, searching for a change of topic. "Did we find out who the other survivors were?"

--

Later that afternoon a car arrived to take Harry and Zayn away for further medical check ups. It was after dark when they returned, and the others rapidly appeared from various corners of the house to hear their news.

Zayn had had his leg re-strapped, and was tired and grumpy. "I've got to go back once a week for physiotherapy," he told them. "And they've given me a load of stupid exercises to do. And I've got to have it massaged regularly."

Niall sniggered. "That doesn't sound so bad. Depends if they get the right leg."

Liam grinned at him. "It's not going to be a sexy masseuse though is it? He'll end up with a hairy fat bloke called Barry."

"He might like that," Niall suggested, and Zayn gave them both the finger.

"What about you Harry?" Liam asked. "Everything okay?"

Harry shrugged. He'd been quiet for the whole journey back, and looked a little pale. "Yeah. He's referred me for a scan. Just to make sure."

"So - they're taking you seriously then?" Louis said. "That's good, right?"

"Yeah. I guess." Harry looked away. The part that had prompted the referral had been his confession just how many painkillers he was still taking, and he hadn't told anyone else about that, not even Louis.

"So when is it?"

"Dunno. I'll get a letter. Couple of weeks maybe."

"Weeks?!" Louis shrieked, making Harry wince. "What good is weeks?"

"There's a waiting list," Harry sighed. "It'll be fine Lou, leave it."

"But - well - can't you queue jump or something? Bet Simon could get you in quicker. Go private."

"This is private. It'd be months otherwise. And how would you feel if someone died or something because I took their turn? You'd hate it."

Louis subsided, and gave Harry a hug instead. "Sorry. I'm just worried about you. They obviously think there's something wrong still."

"It's just a precaution," Harry lied. "I'm fine."

They sat down for supper, all of them yawning as the change in climate and lingering effects of jetlag took their toll. Niall and Zayn's mothers had stayed behind in the house to look after them, and they all were heartily grateful they didn't have to fend for themselves any more.

"So." Zayn shuffled deeper into the sofa afterwards, nestling against Harry's side for warmth. "Who's sleeping with who tonight?"

"What do you mean?" Liam looked at him and Zayn winced as Louis kicked him in his good ankle.

"Don't like sleeping alone any more," said Niall, oblivious. "It feels all wrong. Lonely."

"Right. Yeah." Liam looked sympathetically awkward. "Um. I guess you can come in with me if you want?"

Niall beamed at him, and Louis and Zayn exchanged looks of surprise. Liam had been a little remote since they'd returned to London and they'd assumed he'd need a while to work things through.

"Just sleeping though, right?" Liam added, and Niall looked a little disappointed.

"Uh. Yeah, okay. Whatever you want."

--

The next morning they had a surprise visitor in the shape of Lou Teasdale, who squealed at them in excitement for a good five minutes, and then another five in distress at the state of their hair, before corralling them into an emergency hairdressing session.

"Got to look your best," she declared, as Niall tried to escape.

"Who's going to see us though?" he complained. "We don't really leave the house at the moment."

She looked surprised. "You've got a press conference tomorrow, didn't they tell you? Now, we're going to leave you looking a bit natural, which means no drastic cuts yet, we'll leave it long-ish..."

Liam groaned.

"...and Niall, no bleaching for you yet,"

Niall cheered.

"...but we'll smarten you all up a bit, and Harry, how have you got lumps in your hair?"

Harry looked defensive. "We had one comb. It's sort of turned into dreadlocks underneath."

Lou wrinkled her nose. "I think I'll have to cut bits out."

--

When Simon arrived later on, Zayn was submitting to the scissors and everyone else had been groomed to within what felt like an inch of their lives.

Having enquired after how they'd been getting on, Simon proceeded to outline what was in store for them the following day. They would be taking part in a brief open-forum press conference, sitting on a panel with Simon, and then spending the afternoon in a series of interviews with carefully selected newspaper, radio and television representatives.

"Don't feel you have to go into too much detail at this stage though," Simon warned. "I've got a book deal lined up and possibly a documentary. But people are clamouring for your story, and this is a good way of getting titbits out there to whet their appetite."

"Not sure I want to be eaten," Zayn muttered.

Niall nudged him. "Speak for yourself."

Louis cleared his throat. "Actually - there was something we - I - wanted to run past you. You know I told you back in Hawaii about the two guys who pushed me off the wreckage just after the crash?"

Simon nodded. "Exactly! That's just the kind of thing to grab you the headlines!"

"Yeah. Erm. Well, see, they were the ones who later got picked up. Craig and Brendan whatever-their-names-were. The survivors. They were the ones who tried to kill me."

"We can report them, right?" Harry put in, absent-mindedly sliding a hand over Louis' knee. "They can't just get away with it."

Simon looked taken aback. "Well, wait a minute. You can't just go accusing these people. What proof do you have?"

Louis made an exasperated noise. "Some days there's just never a documentary crew around when you want one, is there?"

"I didn't mean - look, Louis, you have to understand you can't just make wild accusations, there's libel laws and all sorts to think of - even if it's true..."

"It bloody is! I'm not likely to forget them am I?"

"...then they could still argue you slipped in accidentally and they couldn't rescue you. I seem to remember by your own admission you were asleep when it happened."

"But - but - " Louis groaned. "It's not fair. They just get off scot free?"

Simon spread his hands helplessly. "I'm sorry. I don't think there's anything we can do. I would strongly advise not making any rash statements, certainly not at this stage. Neither of them mentioned any such occurrence in their interviews, and to be honest it's only going to reflect badly on you if you're not believed. You would almost certainly be sued."

He eyed Harry, still absently stroking his fingers over Louis' knee and frowned. "Thinking about it, perhaps you'd all better draw up a list of things you're likely to bring up, and let me see it beforehand, hmmn?"

Harry belatedly realised what he was doing and made to move his hand away, but Louis covered it with his own and glared mutinously at Simon. "Trying to censor us?"

Simon sighed. "Trying to protect you."

They were interrupted at this point by the arrival of Eleanor and Danielle, and everyone took this as an excuse to disperse.

Left alone, Harry surreptitiously washed down a couple of painkillers with a bottle of water and lay down on the couch, dozing off within minutes.

Niall went to seek out his mother and pick up where they'd left off catching up.

Zayn went to his room and tried to work through a few of the exercises he'd been given to strengthen his leg, but they soon made it ache unbearably. He gave up and hauled himself upright, wincing. Liam and Louis were busy with the girls, which left Harry and Niall. He'd go and find them, Zayn decided.

He wandered downstairs again, limping slightly, and stuck his head into the living room. Harry was apparently fast asleep on the couch, so he made his way into the kitchen. A movement in the garden caught his eye, and Zayn slipped out of the door hoping it was Niall, only to find it was Simon, smoking a cigarette.

Simon turned and saw him, nodded a hello, then offered the packet politely. Zayn froze. It had been so long since he'd had one he'd imagined the cravings were long past, but suddenly being enveloped in a cloud of smoke brought it all back.

He shook his head, hesitantly. "I've given up."

"Oh, of course." Simon slipped the packet back into his coat, and Zayn followed the movement covetously with his eyes. "Sorry. God, yes, you must have gone complete cold turkey out there. How was it?"

"Hell," Zayn muttered, feeling suddenly unpleasantly prickly all over.

"Well, good on you. Stick to it." Simon ground his own out on the patio and gave him a smile before going back inside.

Zayn made to follow him, and found to his surprise Niall was watching him from the door. He smiled, a little guiltily. "Hey Niall."

"You okay?" Niall cocked his head to one side, looking concerned, and Zayn wondered what his expression had looked like. He rubbed his bare arms, shivering.

"Cold out here," he said, avoiding the question.

"Let's go inside then." Niall slipped an arm through Zayn's and led him up to his bedroom. Zayn flopped onto the bed groaning and Niall poked him in the stomach.

"What's the matter, misery-guts?"

"I want a cigarette. Like - really want one," Zayn admitted.

Niall looked troubled. "You shouldn't."

"I know that, dickhead," Zayn huffed. "I just - I thought I was done with all the cravings, y'know? That I'd got through it and that was that. Turns out all I fucking needed was to smell it again and - bam."

Niall lay next to him and propped himself up on one elbow. "You'd be daft to start up again."

Zayn gave him a half-hearted glare. "You're not helping. Distract me, can't you?" he demanded, and Niall leaned over to deliver a sloppy kiss.

"Better?" he smiled, his lips still brushing against Zayn's.

"Good start," Zayn said begrudgingly. "Could try harder though."

Niall grinned, and tweaked his nipples. "Talking of harder..." He shuffled further down the bed until he was in a comfortable position to start unfastening Zayn's jeans.

"So - exactly how distracted do you want to be?" Niall asked with a smirk, unzipping him slowly. "Mildly distracted?" He slid his hand inside and fondled Zayn's cock through his boxer shorts until he could feel he was getting stiff.

"Quite distracted?" Niall pulled Zayn's jeans down over his hips and leaned over to mouth at his growing erection through the cloth. Zayn gave an involuntary groan, and Niall laughed, pleased.

"Very distracted?" Niall hooked his fingers into the waist of Zayn's boxer shorts and inched them down teasingly slowly until Zayn's cock sprang free. He was fully hard now, and Niall ran the tip of one finger up his shaft, dropping a feather-light kiss onto the head.

"Fucking - " Zayn gritted his teeth and pressed his shoulders back into the bedclothes, determined not to give Niall the satisfaction of seeing him squirm or beg.

Niall sniggered. "Fucking distracted? Okay. I guess we can manage that." His tongue flicked out, drawing a wet line up the side of Zayn's cock. "Say please."

"Fuck off."

Niall licked a stripe up the other side, pulling away again before he reached the tip.

"Niall!"

"Say please." Niall drew a fingernail along the inside of Zayn's thigh, leaving a thin red line and making Zayn jerk in surprise.

"Please! Shit, fuck, please, okay, please!" Zayn gave in, choking out the words, half-laughing.

Smirking inwardly, Niall finally slid his mouth over Zayn's cock and sucked him deep. He hollowed his cheeks, working him with lips and tongue until Zayn had given up any pretence at nonchalance and was writhing underneath him, giving out little panting mewls of approval.

Niall wrapped a hand around the base of his cock, started pumping in time with the bobbing movements of his head, gasping in breaths whenever he could snatch them, rather than let up for a second. His free hand was splayed across Zayn's belly, stopping him from thrusting up with his hips and choking him.

Zayn's breathing was ragged by now, he'd abandoned himself to Niall's attentions and was riding waves of arousal rushing through him. He could feel his climax fast approaching, and tangled a hand into Niall's hair in warning. Niall carried on, patting Zayn's stomach with his fingers to let him know he understood. Zayn had wanted a distraction, and Niall wasn't going to wimp out at the last minute.

Seconds later Zayn's cock was pulsing between his lips and thick warm come flooded his mouth, forcing him to swallow convulsively, again and again.

When it was over, Zayn relaxed limply with a contented sigh and Niall sat up, wiping his mouth. "Marks out of ten for distraction?"

"Eleven," Zayn said generously, and held his arms out, grinning. Niall settled against him, Zayn immediately seeking out his sticky lips for a kiss.

"Thank you," Zayn said softly, after they'd lain there a while in sleepy silence.

"I love you," was Niall's simple and instinctive response, before blushing in embarrassment. But Zayn was smiling, and pulling him closer for another kiss.

"I love you too."

--

When the girls had arrived, Liam and Danielle had retired to his room, and as soon as the door was closed firmly behind them, she planted her hands on his chest and pushed him over to the bed.

"What's going on?" Liam laughed, falling back onto the covers and watching as Danielle climbed on after him, straddling his legs and smirking down at him through falls of dark hair.

"I'm going to give you a treat," she said mischievously, stroking a hand over his groin. "Can you guess what it is?"

Liam tried to form a reply, but she hadn't stopped moving her hand and his brain was refusing to co-operate. Soon Danielle could feel his body starting to respond and bit her lip, smiling.

She unbuttoned his fly and pulled off his trousers and underwear, before sitting back and peeling her dress off over her head. Underneath she was wearing a matching lacy purple bra and knickers, and Liam gave up on words entirely.

Danielle wriggled forwards, lace rubbing against his erection, and Liam moaned. Her smile widened to a grin.

"You must be so ready for this. I know I am. You poor thing, all that time and only boys for company."

"Uh." Liam felt he should protest somehow, confess all, or at least hint that he hadn't been all that faithful in the strictest sense, but now Dani had produced a condom from somewhere, and his mouth was too dry to speak and in any case his cock was telling him in no uncertain terms to shut up.

--

In the next room, Louis and Eleanor were sitting on the floor leaning back against his bed, looking out of the floor-length window at the winter garden. They were talking, or at least, she was talking, and Louis was answering mostly in distracted mono-syllables.

When something banged against the wall in the next room, they both jumped. When this was followed up by a sequence of filthy moans from what was unmistakably Danielle, Louis coughed awkwardly and turned the radio on.

Eleanor nudged him hopefully. "If you wanted, we could - you know?"

Louis sighed. "I'm not really in the mood."

She nodded, slowly, even though he wasn't looking at her. "What's up, Lou?" she asked quietly. "Because something is. Is it me?"

He did turn then, glancing at her with a pained expression then back out of the window, as if he could read the answer in the bare branches of the trees.

"It's not you," he said. "Don't ever think that. You're - amazing." There was a beat of silence, and he sighed. "It's me."

She sagged a little, confirmation none the less painful for having half-expected it. "Is there someone else?"

Louis hesitated, finally gave a jerky nod.

Eleanor twisted her fingers into the hem of her jumper, wanting to know but not wanting to ask. Curiosity finally got the better of her. "Is it Harry?"

Louis looked round as if he'd been stung. "What makes you say that?"

He looked so paranoid she laughed. "Louis, you've been stuck on a desert island for the last twelve months. In the absence of any hula girls, it had to be one of them." She shrugged. "Harry just seemed the most likely."

There was a renewed series of pornographic thumps and groans from next door, and they both blushed. "Well I guess it wasn't Liam anyway," Eleanor murmured, and Louis cleared his throat noncommittally.

"It's Harry," he confessed, figuring this seemed to be the lesser of two evils. "I'm sorry. You waited so long, and I've fucked everything up."

"No you haven't." She put her arms round him, and he buried his face in her hair, trying not to cry. "Thank you," she added in a whisper. "For telling me."

"I'm so sorry," Louis said plaintively. "Can you forgive me?"

She nodded, wiping her eyes and sniffing hard. "Course. We're still friends, yeah?"

"Always." He hugged her to him, and they stayed like that for a long while, as the noises next door reached a peak and finally subsided.

Eleanor finally pulled away and stood up, straightening her clothes. "I'd better go."

Downstairs, a bleary-eyed Harry came out of the living room just in time to see Eleanor run down the stairs and out of the front door, clearly fighting back tears. She was followed down more slowly by a stony-faced Louis.

"Louis? Everything okay?" Harry said uncertainly.

Louis shook his head. "I told her. About us. It's finished."

Harry caught his breath, hope mingling in his heart with uncertainty. He hadn't really believed Louis would go through with it, not so soon, but the grim expression on his face frightened him a little. He reached out, meaning to comfort, but Louis pulled his arm away roughly.

"Don’t. I don’t want to see anyone right now." He stalked off into the kitchen and Harry made his way back to the sofa, feeling like he'd just been slapped. He sat down, suddenly shaky.

Harry had no idea how long he sat there staring into space, but Louis finally reappeared, a little shamefaced. He sat down gingerly next to Harry although leaving a wide gap between them.

"I'm sorry." Harry whispered. "Are - are we okay?"

Louis closed his eyes briefly against the prickling of threatened tears. "I love you," he breathed. "I just hate myself right now." Harry shuffled closer, moving to kiss him, but Louis shook his head. "Don’t. I don’t deserve it."

Harry sighed sadly. After a while he lay down again, curling into a ball and hesitantly resting his head on Louis' leg, half expecting to be pushed off. But Louis let him be, and after a minute of two his hand came to rest on Harry's neck, fingers idly toying with strands of his hair.

They were still there an hour later when Niall and Zayn burst in in search of food.

--

Everyone was awake early the following morning, hyped up for the press conference. They'd had yet another delivery of new clothes arrive, and excitement mingled with nerves as they got ready. Everyone seemed a little on edge, and multiple arguments flared up and died away just as quickly. No-one could eat much breakfast, and they were relieved when the cars finally arrived to ferry them to the venue.

Marshalled in a room behind the main hall, they could hear the buzz of the assembled press on the other side of the doors. Simon gave them a few last minute pointers, advising them to stick to the positive things, with a sharp glance at Louis. He got a look of extreme innocence in return, and snorted.

"Five minutes guys, be ready." Simon hurried off to check a few last minute details and left them alone.

"You're not going to do anything stupid, are you?" Liam asked warily.

Louis was indignant. "What do you take me for? I might just give them a shock though. Serve 'em right."

"Who?"

Louis looked confused. "Who do you think? Mr and Mr Murdering Bastards of course."

"Attempted Murdering Bastards," Niall amended and Louis conceded the point with pursed lips.

"Oh. Right. Yeah." Liam cleared his throat awkwardly.

"Why, what did you think I meant?"

"I just thought you might be planning on - " Liam glanced at Harry. "Never mind."

"What? Coming out to a room full of paps? No ta."

Harry looked rather hurt. "Would it be that bad?"

Louis stared at him. "Maybe you'd like me to declare the fivesome, while I'm at it?"

"I didn't say that." Harry sighed, wishing he'd thought to bring more painkillers with him. The couple he'd taken before breakfast were already wearing off.

Liam was looking increasingly alarmed. "We're not going to mention any of - you know - are we?" he demanded. "That needs to stay between us."

Louis gave him an acid look. "Would cramp your style with Danielle if she found out, huh?"

"What's that supposed to mean?" Liam snapped.

"Very. Thin. Walls."

They glared at each other, while the others looked at them, confused.

"Liam? Do you not - want to carry on with us?" Harry asked in a small voice. "Like we were, I mean?"

Liam gave a groan of exasperation. "Can we not do this here?"

"He's already back sleeping with Dani," Louis blurted.

"Really?" It was Zayn's turn to look hurt and Liam looked like he was a second away from punching Louis.

"Why shouldn’t I? She's my girlfriend." he hissed.

"I thought we were your boyfriends," Harry muttered, then flinched as Liam rounded on him.

"Are you actually crazy? You really think we can pull off a five-way relationship in the real world without being found out?"

A protective arm slid round Harry's shoulders and he thought for a second it was Louis, but Zayn hugged him and glared at Liam.

"Leave him alone."

Liam threw his hands up. "You're all mad."

"Everything alright?"

They all jumped, not having Simon's approach.

"Yeah," said Louis, quickly.

"Fine," Liam muttered, and they all moved slightly closer together, instinctively closing ranks. They might be fighting, but it was their fight, no-one else's.

"Well, they're ready for us. Shall we?"

They filed into the next room and took their places behind a long table, Simon at one end. The rest of the floorspace was crammed full of reporters, and the immediate onslaught of camera flashes left them blinking, half-blinded.

Harry swallowed nervously, feeling increasingly sick and dizzy. He was between Simon and Liam, and wished briefly that he'd hung back long enough to sit next to Louis.

A reassuring hand squeezed his shoulder, and Harry looked up in surprise.

"You okay?" Simon murmured, turning his face away from the rest of the room. "You've gone ever so pale. We can stall things if you need a moment?"

Harry managed a tight shake of the head. "I'm okay. Thanks, though."

Simon nodded cautiously, wondering if he'd pushed things too fast. It was vital to catch the crest of the wave of interest in their return, but Harry really did look ill, and there'd been an odd tension in the air between all of them. He sighed and turned a confident smile back to the waiting press.

To the faint surprise of those involved, the next half an hour went relatively smoothly. A little tentative and hesitant in their answers at first, the boys gradually recovered some of their old confidence and were soon fielding questions with ease, even laughing and joking with the reporters.

The story of how they survived after the crash was the hottest topic of interest, particularly the way they'd found each other again. Harry looked tearful as he re-lived how he'd felt on the island, finding Liam and Niall and not yet knowing if Louis had made it.

Much to Simon's discomfort, this lead into Louis seizing the opportunity to tell his story. The room listened to his depiction of being trapped by his lifejacket in sympathetically horrified silence, but when he reached the part where he was pushed into the sea by his raft-mates, the audience erupted in consternation.

Louis sat back, unable to be heard over the hubbub, looking both impressed with the reaction and slightly taken aback.

"But who were they?" demanded one reporter at the front. "Do you know?"

Simon cleared his throat. "We're getting short on time, perhaps we should move on - "

Louis though, leaned forward and addressed the questioner, making sure he was in good view of the nearest television camera.

"I - " he paused deliberately, waiting for the room to quieten a little. "I never got their names, sorry," he said ruefully.

At the end of the table Simon visibly relaxed and Harry shot him an apologetic smile. "Drama queen," he mouthed, and Simon smiled back tightly.

"Have you met the other survivors yet?" another reporter was asking, and Harry was fairly sure he caught Simon mutter "Oh for fuck's sake," under his breath.

"Not yet." Louis beamed down at them brightly. "Someone should set that up. Can we make that happen?"

"Well I'm sorry ladies and gentlemen, but that's all we've got time for," Simon announced, getting to his feet hurriedly. "If those of you that have one to one interviews would like to make your way next door, and everyone else, thank you very much for coming."

He gestured to the boys and they got to their feet, waving and smiling for a final photo before making their way back into the anteroom.

They were more cheerful now, buzzing slightly, the differences of earlier put aside. It was slowly sinking in just what an achievement it had been to survive at all; seeing it reflected back in the faces of other people made them realise how amazing their story must seem to outsiders, when to them it had only been day to day life.

"What the fuck was all that?" Simon demanded, having stormed in after them.

Louis raised his chin defiantly. "I didn't say anything! But now they know I know. And I know, they know I know. And - "

Simon held up a hand to stop him. "Can we perhaps drop the game playing? You might think it's funny - "

"Funny! I could have died!"

" - but you're toying with things best left alone, Louis."

As the argument went on, Harry drifted away to the buffet table, picking up a bottle of water with a hand he was vaguely surprised to find was shaking. He unscrewed the cap and took a drink, leaning against the edge of the table for support. Adrenaline had got him through the press conference but now it was over, reaction was kicking in and his head was thumping worse than ever. He was sweating, his shirt sticking unpleasantly to his back, and the voices behind him were a blur of noise.

He went to set the bottle back on the table, and took three attempts to get it down safely. The patterns in the carpet seemed to be swirling round his feet, and Harry wondered if he was going to throw up.

"Louis?" He'd meant to call out, was fairly certain his lips had formed the right shapes, but couldn't be certain that any sound had come out. Tried again.

"Louis - I don't feel - I think I'm going to - " Harry was bending over now, holding onto the tablecloth with both hands to keep himself on his feet, but the others were still talking to Simon, and nobody heard his whispered plea for help.

Harry blinked hard, spots encroaching on his vision like after-images from a camera flash, but there were no cameras in here, and he couldn't call out any more because it was taking all his concentration just to remember how to breathe.

It seemed to be getting darker, and Harry's last clear thought was to wonder who'd turned the lights down before he crumpled silently to the floor.

Most people had their backs to him, but Niall saw him fall and cried out in alarm.

"Harry!"

Everyone spun round, and there was a general shout of alarm. In seconds, Louis was on his knees next to Harry's still form, grabbing his hand in shocked fright.

"Harry? Harry! What's wrong, what - please wake up. Harry?"

"Give him some air." Simon herded the rest of them back, but Louis refused to move. Simon looked across at the huddle of assistants and staff staring at them in frozen surprise and snapped, "Call an ambulance!"

"Is he - ?" Liam sounded frightened, but Louis didn't look round, wouldn't take his eyes off Harry.

"He's breathing," Louis nodded, folding Harry's hand more securely between both of his own. "It's going to be okay," Louis whispered down to him, pressing his lips together when they threatened to tremble. "Please be okay."

When the ambulance arrived ten minutes later, Harry still hadn't regained consciousness. The paramedics loaded him onto a stretcher, and when Simon tried to usher Louis out of the way he wrenched his arm free and retreated to Harry's side.

"I'm going with him," Louis said firmly.

"Louis - they'll do all they can, you need to - "

"I'm not leaving him!" It came out as half a scream, and Louis forced down his panic as he took in the shocked faces around him. "I'm going with him," he repeated more calmly. "Somebody has to."

No further objections were raised and the others watched silently as Louis followed Harry into the ambulance, departing in a wail of sirens moments later.

"He'll be okay - right?" said Niall shakily, feeling like he'd got stuck in a recurring nightmare. It should have been better this time round, Harry had all the medical attention he could need, but somehow it felt even worse.

"Sure." Zayn's hand found its way into his, for his own reassurance as much as Niall's.

Liam was standing a little apart from them, looking sick. When they turned to include him, he moved away, shaking his head.

"Fine time to be worrying about cameras," Niall muttered. They were outside on the pavement, and the legions of gathered press were watching them intently. He hadn't meant Liam to hear, but a break in the traffic noise meant he caught it, and walked even faster towards the waiting car. To know that Niall thought that was the reason he was reluctant to accept comfort was like a knife in the heart, but Liam wasn't ready to voice his actual feelings yet.

--

At the hospital, Harry was whisked off by a team of medics and Louis was abandoned to hard plastic seating and his own troubled imagination. In the ambulance he'd told them the history of Harry's accident, and could only hope that this had been passed on to the next group. Everything was happening too fast for him to cope with, and now suddenly he was alone again. He settled down for a miserable wait.

--

In light of events the scheduled interviews had been postponed, and it was a sober group that returned to the house. Liam didn't speak at all in the car, and hung back when they reached home. Zayn and Niall still had their mothers there, and he disappeared into the living room rather than join in with the explanations and comforting hugs.

After a while Zayn and Niall came in alone and settled on the sofa. Liam had curled himself up in an armchair and ignored the curious looks they gave him. He'd half hoped they'd call him over, but his spiky body-language suggested he wanted to be left alone, so they did just that.

Liam squeezed his eyes shut, fighting the urge to burst into tears. He prided himself on being the strong one, the sensible one, but sometimes he envied the way people like Harry or Niall found no shame in openly crying and accepting comfort.

Across the room, despite being cuddled up in quiet conversation, Zayn had been watching Liam worriedly over Niall's shoulder. When he saw a tear slide down Liam's cheek, angrily dashed away, he sat up.

"Liam? You okay babe?"

Liam looked round, face scrunched up and miserable. "It's all my fault," he said wretchedly.

Zayn frowned. "What are you talking about?"

"Harry. It's my fault, everything's my fault."

"The fuck are you on about? Is this about this morning? I hardly think you yelling at him made him collapse, it was going to happen sooner or later. Li - two doctors saw him and didn't notice anything wrong enough to admit him straight away, how can it be your fault?"

Liam shook his head. "Didn't mean that. Meant - everything. I was there, Zayn, when it happened, I should have - stopped it somehow. I shouldn't have let him go up on those bloody rocks, or gone with him, or done more when he fell, or something - " Liam was crying in earnest now, and Zayn was on his feet, horrified.

"Is that what you think? Liam - nobody blames you?" Zayn dropped onto the arm of Liam's chair and took him into his arms.

"I do." Liam snuffled into Zayn's shoulder, holding him tightly back, feeling Niall's arms settle round him too.

"Well - you're an idiot then," said Zayn helplessly, stroking Liam's hair and rocking him.

Liam's shoulders were shaking and he couldn't stop the sobs breaking out of him.

"I just keep fucking everything up," he said dejectedly. "And now you all hate me, and - "

"We don't hate you!" Zayn objected. He sighed. "If you'd rather be with Dani, we understand. Nobody's going to hold it against you."

"I don't, though." Liam's voice was muffled against Zayn's shirt, and at first it wasn’t clear what he'd said. Zayn and Niall exchanged puzzled glances.

"You don't?" Zayn said carefully.

Liam shook his head. "I want to be with you." He looked up, wiping his eyes. "Of course I do. I just - I didn’t see how it could work, I thought it'd all go wrong, but you were all - just ploughing ahead with it, when all I wanted to do was be careful." He sniffed, and Niall handed him a tissue. "Thanks. I dunno, maybe I'm just a coward."

"You're not a coward." Zayn kissed him on the cheek. "You're just the only one with any sense. That's why we need you, Liam."

"You still want me?" Liam looked disbelieving, and Zayn kissed him again, on the lips.

"Course we do, you twat."

Liam managed a watery smile. "I love you. All of you." He looked round and Niall grinned back at him, gave him a kiss as well.

"It's going to be okay," Zayn said, hugging Liam close. "We'll figure it out. All five of us. I promise."

They slid together until the three of them were occupying the same seat, tight in each other's arms, blocking out the world.

--

It felt to Louis like he'd been sat there for hours before anyone came to see him. Maybe he had. Finally a nurse came to find him, a tired but cheerful looking West Indian woman, who escorted him to another waiting area in a different department, this time with blessedly cushioned seating, and left him again.

Another hour dragged past, then another, even slower. People came and went, some crying, all looking preoccupied and worried. It was calmer up here than the main waiting room he'd been in at first, but the quiet itself intensified the fear growing within him.

Eventually the nurse walked back through, and Louis leaped to his feet, afraid of making a scene in this place of hushed voices, but more afraid of not knowing.

"Excuse me. Harry, is he - can you tell me anything?"

To his relief she paused, looked at him with compassion. "You're with the lad who came in with the head trauma, aren't you? Styles?"

"Yes." Louis was taken aback to hear it put like that, but supposed it was true.

"Are you family?"

She didn't look particularly suspicious, but for a second Louis was lost for words. He was so used to people recognising them that he didn't quite know what to say. A mad urge to tell her he was Harry's brother rose to his lips, in case she refused to tell him anything. He bit it back, realising that to lie would be the worst thing he could do. And anyway, he had a reason to be here, didn’t he? The best reason of all.

"I'm his - his boyfriend," Louis told her, swallowing anxiously. It was the first time he'd said it to an outsider, and it both scared him, putting it out in the open like this, and at the same time filled him with a sense of warmth.

The nurse just smiled, and nodded understanding, and Louis felt some of the tension go out of him.

"He's in surgery just now," she said. "We won't know more for a while."

"But - he's going to be okay, right?" Louis blurted, sensing she was keen to get away to wherever she was going. She turned back and patiently started to explain the issues more fully, but it was full of terrifying phrases like 'hairline fracture' and 'relieving pressure on the brain', and Louis' own head seemed to be full of static, the words slipping away from him as he tried to grasp them.

"Do his parents know he's here?"

This last phrase finally penetrated the turmoil of Louis' thoughts, and he blinked in shock. One of the others surely would have called Anne, wouldn't they? He fumbled his phone out of his pocket, then had second thoughts, looking up guiltily. "Am I okay to use this in here?"

The nurse nodded. "You're alright in the circulation areas. If you go into intensive care or theatres at all, turn it off." She moved on, leaving Louis staring at the phone in his hand and feeling sick at the thought of the call he had to make.

--

More time crawled past. It was dark outside now, and he was the only person left in the waiting room. Louis had started to wonder if the world outside these four walls still existed.

He'd phoned Anne, and found to his relief that Niall's mother had already called her. She'd been desperately grateful for anything he could tell her, which wasn't much, and thanked him profusely for being there. She would come down, as soon as she could.

After that he'd texted Zayn, letting him know Harry was still in the operating theatre, and that he'd let them know as soon as there was news. He'd been grateful to get an immediate reply, and they'd sent messages back and forth for a while. Now though, he was back to staring at the wall and trying not to imagine all the things that could go wrong.

Noise in the corridor spurred him to get up and look out of the door, in time to see a bed going past surrounded by a group of staff. There were drip poles and wires and all sorts of things attached to it, and Louis' heart leaped into his throat as he looked down at the figure in the bed and recognised Harry.

"That's - can I - I mean, I'm with him," Louis stuttered, as a male nurse gently but firmly ushered him back into the waiting area.

"Give us a chance to get him settled eh? Someone will come and get you shortly," he was promised.

"But is he okay?" Louis cried after them, but the party had vanished through a secure door and didn't answer.

Louis couldn't face sitting down again, and paced back and forth anxiously. 'Shortly' turned out to be almost another hour, but eventually a doctor came to find him.

"Your friend's stable," she explained, "but he'll be unconscious for a while yet. You've been here a long time, if you wanted go home for a bit, take a rest - "

"No," Louis interrupted. "I'm staying until he wakes up." He hesitated, almost afraid to ask. "He - will wake up, right?" To his relief, she nodded.

"We've done everything we can, and the operation was a success. It's up to him now really, how long his body takes to recover." It was her turn to hesitate. "There is - always a possibility of complications, I should warn you. I can't promise you that he'll be okay, but it's looking hopeful."

"Can I see him?"

"Yes, of course. Don't be intimidated by all the kit, okay? Most of it's just monitoring him now, not keeping him alive. It's worse than it looks."

"Okay." Louis swallowed, wishing he wasn't on his own as he followed her into the unit. It was split into individual bays around a central desk, each with a single bed in it, one side open to the main floor. He carefully sat in the chair next to Harry's bed, despite her reassurance still terrified of knocking something vital out of a socket.

Harry looked pale in the dim light, dwarfed by the machines around him and his head was swathed in bandages.

"We had to shave his hair," explained the doctor, seeing Louis' rueful expression.

"Guess that's a fair price to pay for keeping him," Louis smiled, plucking up the courage to reach out and take Harry's hand. He'd been afraid it would feel cold, or lifeless, but it was warm and dry and he squeezed it gently.

"He'll probably be disoriented when he does come round," the doctor was explaining. "And it's not uncommon for there to be some short-term memory loss."

"What?" Louis looked up, startled. "How much?"

"It varies. He probably won't remember events leading up to his collapse. It may be more extensive. There's a chance he will have lost everything from the accident itself onwards, I understand that was actually some time ago?" Louis nodded, looking stricken, and she smiled sympathetically. "On the other hand, he may remember everything. Like I said, it varies. The important thing is a friendly face when he wakes up, right?"

Louis smiled and nodded again, inwardly queasy. She showed him how to operate the nursecall system in case he needed help, and finally left them alone.

Louis lifted Harry's hand to his lips and kissed it. "You're going to be okay you little sod, you hear me?" he whispered.

He settled back, resigned to another long wait. Realised he should tell the others Harry was out of the operating theatre, then remembered guiltily he shouldn't have his phone on in here at all. Sent a fast text to Zayn, then turned it off hastily, expecting to be yelled at at any moment.

The doctor's words were churning round and round in his head. If Harry didn't remember anything since the accident - well, he'd be confused waking up here, for a start. Louis' lips twitched slightly, until he realised that that would mean Harry wouldn't remember making love to him in Hawaii either, and his face fell.

The important thing was Harry being okay, Louis told himself. Everything else they could rebuild. The nasty thought occurred to him that Harry might not remember anything - what if he didn't know who he was? Who Louis was? He shook himself crossly. No point in worrying about things until they happened.

--

Louis was half asleep, and thought at first he'd imagined the twitch of fingers in his hand, until it came again. He sat up hurriedly and leaned forward.

"Harry?" he said hopefully. Harry had a little frown crease between his eyes, and Louis could see his eyes flickering behind the lids. "Harry, wake up," Louis urged softly.

Harry's lips were parted slightly, they looked dry and cracked, and Louis longed to kiss them. His eyelids fluttered, and Louis clutched his hand harder. "Harry?"

For a second his eyes flickered open, distant and unfocussed, and Louis caught his breath. "Come on Harry, you can do this. Wake up now."

After a long moment, Harry opened his eyes again, blinking weakly. He looked up at Louis' worried face, and frowned slightly, licking his lips and swallowing painfully.

"Lou?"

It was barely a breath, but Louis broke into a broad smile.

"Yeah. I'm here Harry. I'm not going anywhere. Ever. It's going to be okay."

As Harry's eyes drifted shut again, Louis kissed his fingers and although his eyes stayed closed, as Harry fell back asleep this time there was a slight smile on his lips.

Louis took a shuddering breath, feeling like a weight had been lifted off him. He realised he should tell someone that Harry had woken up, however briefly, and pressed the button he'd been shown.

Someone was quickly at his side, and Louis smiled nervously, hoping he hadn't done wrong.

"He woke up. Just for a second."

The nurse went to check Harry's monitors, nodding. "How did he seem?"

"He knew who I was. That's good, right?"

The nurse gave him a smile. "That's good," she confirmed. "Let me know if he wakes again, okay? Are you alright? You've been here ages, you want a cup of tea or something?"

Louis looked uncertain. He'd tried the tea from the vending machine outside and it had borne as much resemblance to tea as to puddle water. She seemed to guess his thoughts, and winked.

"We have real teabags in here, and everything."

--

Niall, Zayn and Liam were asleep together in Niall's bed when the buzzing of Zayn's phone woke them up. Zayn reached out blearily, accidentally smacking Niall in the face before he found it.

"Well?" Liam asked impatiently as Zayn squinted at the text.

"He's come round," Zayn read with relief. "Just for a bit."

"Oh thank fuck." Niall flopped face down in the pillow, and Liam hugged him.

Zayn quickly sent a reply, telling Louis to let them know when they could come and see Harry, or to tell them if he needed anyone to relieve him for a bit.

They knew Harry wasn't necessarily out of danger yet, but it was definitely three happier boys who went back to sleep.

--

Louis got back from a hasty trip to the loo and from texting the others, to find Harry still sleeping peacefully. He resumed his seat, stifling a yawn. Every second he'd spent away from the bedside had been one of heart-thumping paranoia, but nothing had changed and he realised this might be the case for a long while to come. He settled down, resigned to another long wait.

Some hours later, Louis became aware of several things at once. It was daylight, he appeared to have fallen asleep slumped face down against the bed, and there were fingers in his hair, trying to get his attention.

He looked up, fuzzy and disoriented, and found himself looking into Harry's matching expression of confusion.

"Harry!" He sat up with a jerk, and stared at him with his mouth hanging open. "You're awake."

"What happened?" Harry's voice was low and rough, and he looked bewildered.

"You passed out," said Louis. He pressed the button for a nurse, realising he should let someone know Harry had come round again.

Harry's gaze flicked around, taking in the machines and the hospital bed, then back to Louis. "Guess it was a bit more than just passed out, huh?" he said quietly, finding the tubes taped into his right arm, and discovering the bandages round his head.

Louis captured his roaming hand in his own. "Yeah," he admitted softly. "They - had to operate. I'm not sure what they did, exactly."

"I'm okay though?" Harry looked frightened and Louis nodded quickly.

"Yeah. Course. You're going to be fine."

Harry nodded cautiously. "You wouldn't lie to me?"

"No!" Louis pressed Harry's hand tighter and shook his head. "I wouldn’t. I swear. Not about something like that." Harry still looked worried, and Louis nudged him. "Only thing - no matter how hard they looked, they still couldn’t find any trace of a brain."

Harry gave a coughing laugh, then winced, and Louis felt immediately guilty. "Sorry."

"No. It's okay." Harry smiled at him, and Louis couldn’t help himself, he leaned over and kissed him softly on the mouth.

"Hey now. Kiss it better isn't a medical term you know."

Louis turned guiltily to find the same nurse from the day before smiling at him.

"So you're awake are you?" she said to Harry. "How are we feeling?"

"Been better," he rasped. "I'm so thirsty."

"I'll get some water." She went out again, and Louis caught Harry's eye, blushing slightly at having been caught kissing him.

"I told them I was your boyfriend," he confessed in a low voice.

Harry smiled, brushing his knuckles against Louis' cheek. "You are."

When the nurse came back, Louis had a daft grin on his face, and she gave them both a speculative look as she helped Harry sip from the water.

"I looked you two up you know."

"You did?" Louis looked startled.

"Uh huh. I get in to work this morning, there's about two hundred teenage girls blocking the ambulance bay. And somebody says it's because of who we've got up here. So yeah, I looked."

"Oh God." Louis closed his eyes. "Sorry."

She shrugged. "You should maybe tell them he's okay, huh? Get them to move on."

"They never listened to me yet," Louis said ruefully. "But I can try. Although if I confirm he's here, it'll probably just make it ten times worse." He thought of something else. "I should probably tell the others you're awake though," he said, looking back at Harry. "And your mum. She should be on her way here."

Harry nodded, and Louis got to his feet, then hesitated.

"I'll take good care of him," promised the nurse, and Louis flushed.

Before he left, he bent down and kissed Harry again, just in case, then looked nervously at the nurse. It had been different when they'd just been two random boys, but now -

"Go on." She shooed him away. "I need to take a look at your friend here, and it'll be easier if you're not getting in the way."

"Um - " Louis started and she rolled her eyes.

"Far as I'm concerned, anything that happens in my ITU is confidential, okay?"

"Thanks." Louis shot her a relieved smile and disappeared.

He was back barely a quarter of an hour later, having bolted down a roll for breakfast, and made a couple of calls.

"Hey." Harry reached out for his hand, and Louis clasped it tightly, glad he was still awake, and that some of the colour had come back to his cheeks.

"The lads send their love," Louis said. "They want to know when they can come and visit."

"He can have two visitors at a time," the nurse said. "No set hours in here, but don't wear him out."

"We won't," Louis promised. "Oh, and your mum's about half an hour away."

"Have you been here all night?" Harry asked. Louis nodded awkwardly.

"I wasn't going anywhere till I knew you were okay."

Harry watched him fondly until Louis met his eyes again, then smiled. "Thank you," he said softly. "I'm glad you're here."

They were talking quietly when Harry's mother arrived, shown in by another nurse.

Louis moved back out of the way to make room, but as soon as Harry had hugged her hello, he reached out for Louis' hand again.

"Hello Louis," Anne smiled. She looked tired, and he realised she must have been up all night to get here.

"Mum." Harry took a deep breath. "There's something you should know." He looked at Louis and raised his eyebrows a little, and Louis realised with a pounding heart what Harry meant to do. He nodded immediately, and Harry relaxed a little, looking back at his mother.

"Louis and I - are together, now."

Anne took in their two anxious faces and their joined hands, and smiled at them, understanding.

"Well. I'd say welcome to the family Louis, but you were already a part of it."

Louis sagged in relief, and she hugged him.

"Seriously. Thank you for being here for him Louis," she said. "I mean that."

"No problem." The way Louis felt right now, he thought maybe he could face anything after all.

--

As soon as he set foot in the door, Louis was pounced on by the others, eager for news.

"He's okay," Louis promised, fending off the torrent of questions. "At least, he will be, now. It might take a while. His mum's with him at the moment, I'm going back this evening."

"What about you?" Zayn asked, taking in Louis' red-eyed exhaustion. "Are you okay?"

Louis nodded tiredly. "I just need a few hours' sleep, I'll be fine."

Zayn put an arm round him. "We're here for you too you know. Don't shut us out," he murmured, meaning to comfort, but Louis flinched, looking stricken.

"I didn't mean to - I'm not - " he stumbled, suddenly conscious that the others might think he was implying they weren't as invested in Harry's recovery.

Zayn hastily waved away his concern. "Hey, I didn't mean it like that. It's right, okay, that it was you, went with him. I'm just saying we're here, if you need us? All of us," he added meaningfully, and Liam nodded sheepish agreement.

Louis smiled. "Thanks, guys." He sagged a little, and they clustered round him, hugging him tight. For a while Louis let himself just lean there in their arms accepting wordless comfort, then pulled reluctantly away.

"I'd better get some rest." Turning down offers of food, he dragged himself upstairs to his room, kicked off his shoes, and crawled under the covers fully dressed.

Exhausted to the point of collapse, Louis had imagined he'd pass out straight away, but as soon as he closed his eyes his brain decided to go into overdrive. He tossed and turned, trying to shut out torturous thoughts of Harry having a relapse, or how things could have turned out so much worse.

After about half an hour, the bedroom door inched open and Niall peeped through the gap. Seeing Louis was awake, he smiled.

"Hey. You okay?"

"Can't sleep," Louis sighed.

"Zayn said not to disturb you, but I figured I'd check if you were alright." Niall came right in and sat on the bed. "You want some company?"

"Yeah," Louis admitted softly. "Wouldn't mind. You wanna come in?"

Niall climbed into the bed, then before Louis could object, rolled him over onto his side and spooned up behind him, one arm wrapped protectively round Louis' waist.

"Better?" Niall smiled hopefully.

Louis slowly relaxed against him, breathing out with a sigh. "Yeah. Yeah, it is."

Warm and drowsy now, and lulled by the rhythm of Niall's breathing, Louis finally slid into a peaceful sleep.

--

The next couple of weeks were hard for everybody. Harry remained in the hospital, and while they all took turns at sitting with him, Louis took by far the lion's share, and went about in a constant state of fatigue.

Liam, too, was distracted and pensive. Harry's collapse had shocked him into admitting to himself he wanted to be with them still, and the subsequent mutual need for comfort had lead to him resuming a physical relationship with Louis, Zayn and Niall - but he still hadn't told Danielle, and was being slowly pulled emotionally apart.

Simon was sympathetic but insistent that they continue with their press engagements despite their reluctance to appear without Harry, and so they had to endure a seemingly endless round of interviews and appearances as a foursome. It felt all wrong, unbalanced, but they had little choice. They couldn't even use the sessions as a distraction, as the first questions were invariably about Harry.

He was making progress, slow but significant. After a week he'd been moved out of intensive care into a side room, and ten days after that had been moved to a private hospital closer to the house.

It was a few days after he'd been admitted here that Louis arrived at the ward reception only to be told Harry wasn't accepting visitors.

"What? He wouldn't mean me, though?" Louis said to the sister in charge, taken aback.

"No-one at all, those were his instructions," she told him. "He was very clear there were to be no exceptions."

Louis stared at her, confused and a little hurt. After the hours and hours he'd spent at Harry's bedside, to be told he wasn't wanted was more than a little upsetting. And more than that, he was worried, wondering what was behind it.

At that moment the phone rang, and as the nurse turned to answer it, Louis eyed the door to Harry's room across the corridor. He looked at the nurse who was busy writing something down, her back to him, and made his mind up. Slipped quickly across the hall.

--

Harry had spent a long time with his system full of intravenous painkillers and various other medications that had left him sleepy and disinterested in his surroundings. For a while now as he healed they'd been reducing his dosages, and this left him both physically unsettled and more aware of his situation. He was weak from lying in bed so long, and increasingly embarrassed that he needed help with everything down to and including going to the toilet. Especially that.

Today, to cap off his misery, the final dressings had been permanently removed and he'd spent most of the last hour staring dismally at his own reflection. He had a livid red scar across the top of his head, and dark stubble instead of hair. They'd kept shaving it in order to keep the area around the incision clean, and he thought he looked like some kind of repulsive alien. The thought of anyone else seeing him in this state had been just too much for him to handle.

The sound of the door opening made him spin fast enough to make him dizzy, and he flinched in mortification when he realised it was Louis.

Louis stared back at him, hesitating just inside the door. Harry's appalled expression at seeing him was like a knife in the heart, but he offered a tentative smile.

"They said - you didn't want to see me?"

Harry blinked, belatedly realising how it had come across. "Oh. I - no, I didn't mean - not like that. I just - I'm tired, that's all," he mumbled. "I didn't really feel up to visitors."

"Oh." Louis relaxed in relief, coming right in. "Well, I won't stay long then." He took in Harry's tense expression, and frowned. "What's wrong?"

Harry swallowed. "So? How do I look?" He didn't want to know, but on the other hand couldn't not ask. Louis didn't hesitate.

"Beautiful."

Harry gave a reluctant laugh. "Liar," he said, but his lips curled into something approaching a smile.

Coming closer, Louis reached out to take Harry's hands as he finally realised what this was all about. He shook his head slowly, holding Harry's gaze, eyes shining with emotion.

"Harry - I thought I'd lost you," he breathed. "You will never look anything other than beautiful to me."

He folded Harry shakily into his arms, and they clung to each other in a fierce embrace that became a hard, passionate kiss.

"God, I'll get thrown out," Louis laughed, as they finally pulled apart, sitting side by side on the bed.

Harry tangled his fingers into Louis' and smiled. "I won't let them."

--

One night after dinner the following week, Louis' phone buzzed in his pocket, and he found a text from Harry. "Hey, listen to this - Harry's says the consultant's just told him he can go home on Friday!"

"Finally!" Zayn grinned, as Niall drummed jubilantly on the table.

"We should make him a cake or something," Liam said seriously then looked hurt when they laughed. "What? Everybody likes cake."

"Have you ever even made a cake?" Zayn enquired, and Liam shrugged.

"Okay. So we could buy a cake..."

The four of them spent the next morning flitting in and out of Harry's room, putting on fresh bed linen and arranging a small proportion of the epic quantity of flowers he'd been sent, whilst trying to pretend they absolutely weren't doing anything that remotely soppy.

They were on their own again in the house by now, although random family members tended to drop in at weekends with casseroles and a critical eye for the lack of housework being achieved.

After lunch, Louis set off for the hospital with a lighter heart than he'd had for weeks. He arrived at the same time as Anne, and Harry greeted them both excitedly.

"I just can't wait to get out of here," he said feelingly. "I'm going nuts."

"It'll be good to have you home," smiled his mother.

Louis, about to tell Harry how they'd been getting things ready for him, faltered. It honestly hadn't occurred to him that Harry might go home to his family to recuperate, and he closed his mouth hurriedly, feeling silly.

From the expression on Harry's face, it looked as though it hadn't occurred to him either, and he glanced from his mum to Louis and back. "Oh. Er. I kind've assumed I'd be - um."

"So did we," Louis said quickly. "We're all ready for you to come home."

Anne looked surprised. "I don't think that would be right. Louis, you're welcome to come too, of course you are. But Harry's going to need a lot of help at first," she explained gently.

"I know that," Louis said, feeling stung. "We've talked about it," he added, turning back to Harry. "Everybody understands. We're all up for it."

"Louis, I understand you care about him, but he needs to be with his family," Anne protested, shaking her head with a touch of suppressed irritation.

Harry reached out and took Louis' hand. "I will be," he said quietly. "Mum, I know you want me home, but - well I'm not a kid any more. I'm staying in London with the lads."

"Harry - "

"No. It's not up for debate." Harry swallowed, looking upset but resolute. "I need to be with them right now, okay? I just - I just do."

"We'll look after him," Louis said quietly. "I promise."

Anne gave in, looking troubled. "You better had," was all she said. Harry hugged her, apologising again, and Louis could tell he was wondering whether to come clean about their whole five-way relationship. In the end though Harry kept quiet, and although the mood was strained for a while the fact he was well enough to be discharged was enough to raise everyone's spirits again.

The following day Louis was back, and found Harry dressed and waiting nervously.

He smiled. "Ready?"

"Yeah." Harry nodded, looking suddenly unsure of himself. Louis remembered something.

"Oh, hey, I brought you something." He dug it out of his coat pocket and handed it over. Harry looked at the woolly hat in grateful surprise.

Louis shrugged. "Well, it's cold out there," he muttered. "You've got to keep warm." He watched as Harry thankfully pulled it on, concealing his scars and cropped hair.

"For the record, you're still beautiful, okay?" Louis added under his breath. Harry smiled, and kissed him on the cheek.

"Thank you," he whispered, and Louis held him close for a moment, in shared understanding.

--

Louis drove him home, and as soon as he pulled up outside the house the others poured out of the front door to help Harry inside.

"I can walk you know," he laughed, as willing and conflicting hands all tried to hang onto him at once. "I'm just a bit weak, not broken!"

They ushered him quickly into the warmth of the house, and he hugged them all in turn. Liam was last, and he held back a little, looking guilty. Of all of them, he'd spent the least time at the hospital with Harry, and finally burst out with long-festering self-reproach.

"I'm sorry. I'm so sorry, Harry," he blurted.

Harry looked blank. "Okay? Um. What for?"

"The way I yelled at you, the day you collapsed. It's haunted me ever since, like, what if I made it worse, or brought it on, and, yeah, I'm so sorry."

Harry shook his head. "I don't remember." Liam frowned, and he shrugged. "Don't really remember much from that morning, to be honest. They said it's quite common apparently. So yeah, don't worry, okay?" He held his arms out for a hug, and Liam cuddled him close in relief.

Behind Liam, Louis frowned a question. As far as he knew, Harry hadn't suffered any memory problems at all in the end.

Harry caught his eye, and winked.

--

Later that evening, they gathered in Harry's bedroom. Harry had tired quickly, and despite protesting that he wanted to stay up had been overruled by the overly protective boys. As a compromise, they'd all come up with him, and Louis and Niall were tucked up on either side, while Liam and Zayn perched on the end of the bed.

"Aren't you hot?" Zayn asked, looking askance at the hat Harry was still wearing even in bed.

He hesitated, and Louis stroked his hand. "You've got to take it off some time you know."

Harry nodded reluctantly, and pulled it off with a sigh. There was a moment's awkward silence, and he winced.

"Somebody bloody say something then."

Zayn grinned. "Well - I'd still fuck ya."

Harry burst out laughing, and Niall leaned over and planted a kiss on the side of his shaved head.

Louis nudged him. "See?"

Harry smiled back at him, then looked up in surprise. Liam had leaped off the end of the bed without a word and hurried out. Everyone exchanged baffled glances, but could only conclude he must really have needed a piss.

Ten minutes later, Liam reappeared in the doorway. Harry was the first to notice him, and clapped a hand over his mouth in amused surprise. Zayn turned round to see what he was looking at, and cracked up laughing.

Ignoring him, Liam came back to sit on the bed, smiling self-consciously. He'd shaved his head to match Harry's, down to the shortest fuzz.

"You've been dying to do that since we got back," Zayn needled. "Don't make out it's all some big solidarity thing."

"Ignore him," Harry smiled. "Thank you." He kissed Liam softly on the mouth, making him blush.

"Shall we all do it?" Niall suggested. "I'm game."

Zayn groaned. "Harry, I love you, but a man's gotta draw the line somewhere. Right Lou?"

Louis looked at Harry, smiling reluctantly. "I'll do it if you want me to?" he offered, to a groan of protest from Zayn.

Harry laughed. "Nobody has to do it, okay? It's fine. You're all lovely though. Insane, but lovely." A yawn caught him by surprise, and Niall hugged him.

"We should let you rest." Niall slid out from under the duvet, and jerked his head at Louis. "Come on you, leave him in peace."

Louis hesitated, and Harry took hold of his hand under the covers. "Stay?" he said quietly, and Louis nodded immediately.

"Don't wear him out," Zayn ordered sternly, from the door.

"No, mum," Louis answered meekly, and Zayn rolled his eyes.

"If we hear fornicating, we're staging an intervention," Liam warned, as the rest of them left the room.

"Jealousy's a terrible thing!" Louis called after him, but when they'd gone he turned out the light and lay down quietly with Harry in his arms.

They kissed each other, soft and lingering, savouring the moment, of being able to do this again. They pressed together, half-hard but not going anywhere with it, just holding each other close in the darkness and finally letting themselves believe that maybe, after all, everything would be alright.

--

A few days after Harry's return home, Simon arrived at the house with a mysterious envelope. He'd been in LA for a couple of weeks, and was keen to hear how they'd been getting on.

In between the interviews and various press engagements, they'd been working on writing down all the songs they'd composed on the island, and on material for the planned book about their ordeal.

A ghostwriter had been arranged to develop it with them based on their experiences, and many afternoons had been spent telling their story over and over into a tape recorder. They had a tendency to talk over each other, not to mention contradict each other, and the sessions tended to end with irritation on the part of their writer, and a laughing scuffle between themselves.

No-one liked to admit they'd been stalling for time until Harry could join them, that having to tell his side of things had felt wrong. Some progress had been made though, and they explained this hurriedly to Simon, in case he was cross about the time it was taking.

Simon though, had come for a different purpose. He opened the large padded envelope he'd been carrying and spread across the table before them a set of high quality aerial photographs. It took a moment or two to realise they showed the island, and everyone pored over them in fascination.

"There's the lagoon," Zayn said, pointing eagerly. Liam pushed his hand out of the way.

"Don't get fingermarks all over it. Look, that must be where the cave was, in those rocks."

"And the beacon. And that was where the boat was," Niall added, nose hovering a few inches above the picture until he, too, got pushed out of the way.

"The wreck is partly why I'm here," Simon explained. "The navy want to go in and retrieve the two bodies that you mentioned. See if they can be identified. Do you think you can pinpoint exactly where they were?"

There was a certain amount of humming and sighing and loud disagreement, as five fingers promptly pointed to five different spots.

"It's tricky," Louis said apologetically. "Both sites were under the trees, and it all looks different from above."

"Take your time," Simon said. "It's not that big, they should be able to track them down anyway, but any help you can give will be appreciated."

After a further few minutes' debate, and close scrutiny of the shots taken from different angles, they finally reached a consensus.

"The skeleton was here," Zayn said, pointing. "I'm almost certain. I was heading towards those rocks when I fell, and I think that dark line is the ravine."

"And the grave site was about here," Harry added. "Just back from the cove."

The others nodded agreement, and Simon carefully marked the points they'd indicated.

"Thank you. Much appreciated." He slid the identifying pictures back into the envelope. "You can keep the rest, if you want?"

"Yes please." Louis was still staring at them, tracking events in his mind, remembering. It was an odd feeling, seeing the place spread out before him like this. Their time there had started to feel rather dreamlike, and the pictures had unexpectedly brought it all back into sharp relief. It also felt strangely intrusive, to know other people would soon be tramping across their island, as if it shouldn't actually exist for anyone else.

"There was one other thing," Simon said with uncharacteristic hesitation. "This house - well, I'm sure you agree it's larger than you need, it was rented so all your families could stay together, and now that it's just you here - " He held his hands palm upwards apologetically. "I left you all to it while Harry was ill, with all the media attention it was much more private for you, but, well, I expect you'll be keen to get back to your own homes by now, won't you?"

"I - I guess so, yeah," Liam said, as Simon appeared to be expecting an answer.

"That's good." Simon stood up, putting his coat on. "The lease has been arranged to the end of the month. That should give you plenty of time to move back to your own places. Let me know if I can help with anything? I'll be in town for a week or so."

When he'd gone, they exchanged rather stunned glances. Nobody had really given any thought to the fact this was only temporary accommodation, and the idea that they might be split up again so soon after being reunited was an uncomfortable one.

"But we can still stay together, right?" Harry said. "I mean - we can all go to mine or something. It's big enough for all of us."

"Won't it look a bit weird?" Liam sighed.

"Who cares?" Harry shot back. "Do you want to go back to living on your own?"

Liam shook his head, but said nothing.

"End of the month?" Niall mused. "That's like - immediately after Christmas though?"

"Bloody hell, I'd forgotten it was December already," said Harry, startled.

"Well some people spent most of the last month lazing around in a hospital bed," Zayn teased.

"Niall's right though. We need to start making decisions," said Louis, sighing. "We've avoided talking about this, and maybe we shouldn't have."

"What is there to talk about?" Niall asked plaintively. "We stick together don't we?" There was an awkward silence, and his face fell a little. "Don't we?"

"Yes." Harry looked stubborn. "Of course we do."

Zayn put his head in his hands. "How though? I mean - yeah, no, I'm not saying I don't want to - but honestly, practically, how can it work? The five of us just move in together in one house, permanently? Liam's right, it'll look well weird."

"We could - go back to all having flats in the same block?" Louis suggested, and Harry threw him a grateful look. He'd been harbouring a worry Louis was going to agree it wouldn't work, or suggest that he and Harry break off by themselves. He loved Louis, but he loved the others too, and Harry wasn't prepared to give them up willingly.

"Yes!" Niall seized on the idea hopefully. "No-one'll know what we do behind closed doors. And it makes sense, people'll just think it's for practical reasons, being close to each other and stuff."

"And we hide it, is that what you're saying?" Zayn asked, sounding tired and defeated. "For the rest of our lives, or careers, or whatever. Or until someone slips up and it's a massive scandal. You're saying we hide the fact we're in love, and nobody's ever going to think it's peculiar that we don't date anyone else, and where we get to the point where we're terrified to show affection in public in case someone guesses?"

Niall shrugged, helplessly miserable. "What's the alternative? We can't just stop loving each other. I can't, anyway."

Zayn grabbed him roughly, yanking him into his arms. "I will never stop loving you," he forced out through gritted teeth. "I never fucking said that."

"Then why don't we do it?" said Harry. "Come clean. Tell everyone. What's the worst that can happen?"

"You're not serious?" Liam sighed. "Can you even imagine the shitstorm that would create?"

"No such thing as bad publicity?" Harry ventured. Liam scowled.

"That's bollocks and you know it."

"We could at least ask Simon?" Harry persisted. "See what he thinks?"

There was a hesitant silence as they considered this.

"You really want to tell Simon Cowell his entire band are screwing each other?" Zayn asked dubiously.

"To be fair, he's probably heard worse," Louis smirked. "I vote it's worth a shot. Toe in the water, sort of thing."

"You're all mental," Liam groaned, but he didn't object further, and the decision was made.

--

It was a nervous group that sat facing Simon the following afternoon. They'd called him back over, saying they had something important they wanted to discuss without saying what, but now he was actually here, everyone was having second thoughts.

Zayn nudged Harry in the ribs, prompting him. They'd decided Harry should be the one to break the news, on the grounds Simon seemed to be the most fond of him, and also given his state of convalescence he was least likely to be shouted at.

Harry swallowed nervously, and looked round at them all, getting reluctant nods of confirmation from everyone, even Liam.

"There's - something you need to know," Harry said carefully. "About us. Um. Because it might come out at some point, and you should probably know first."

"Go on." Simon kept a studiedly neutral expression, bracing himself for the worst.

"We're - together. As in - like - " Harry floundered, looking desperately round for support.

"Sex," Louis supplied helpfully. Liam covered his face, and Niall gave a nervous giggle.

Harry blushed. "Yeah. Um. Sexually. We're - sort of - in love, you see. All of us. With each other."

"Is this some kind of wind-up?" Simon asked, and five heads shook vigorously.

"It's been a while," Harry went on, sounding apologetic. "I mean - it's not something we've just suddenly decided. We're serious about it. About each other."

Simon shook his head slowly. He'd been afraid they were going to tell him they didn't want to continue as a band, so this was both a relief and a shock. If it had been just Harry and Louis he wouldn't have been particularly surprised, and it would even have been manageable to an extent, but with this - he wasn't sure he knew where to start.

"Just so I'm clear - you're telling me this why, exactly?"

"To see what you think," Harry said. "What the reaction would be, if we - if we came out."

"You really need me to tell you that?" Simon drawled, and Harry flinched uncomfortably.

"Would it be so bad?"

"Harry - look, one gay member would be fine, it's practically traditional. Two would be manageable. Three unthinkable. All five of you? You'd be throwing away everything you've worked for."

"We're more like - bi, though," Zayn offered. "Wouldn't that mean we'd just appeal to twice as many people?"

"Nice idea." Simon sighed. "Sadly the world doesn't run on ideals. And anyway, if you're telling me you're in some kind of relationship, you're essentially saying you're all now unavailable."

They all looked uncomfortably at each other and Simon softened his tone

"You must know it would be a publicity disaster. There'd be some positive support, of course there would, but the major part of your fanbase, the casual listeners, the ones that aren't die-hard supporters? They'd inevitably slip away, move on. And then you've got to think of the press, the entertainment networks, the labels, the promoters, the radio broadcasters. For every station that thinks it's funny, or not of consequence, there'll be ten that find it an issue, particularly in more conservative countries. They might not make a big fuss about it, you might just find they've quietly stopped playing your records. We're talking about embarking on a major comeback here guys, an album, a film, a book, a tour. You really want to jeopardise all that?"

"We don't want to screw anything up," Louis said quietly. "But we can't change the way things are."

Simon pinched his eyes shut, feeling a headache coming on. "Look, what you get up to in private is your own business. You asked for my advice and I'm giving it. To go public on this would almost certainly be professional suicide."

There was a shifty sort of silence, and he groaned inwardly. "Tell me nobody else knows about this - arrangement?"

Harry bit his lip. "I - might have told Nick," he confessed. Simon's head shot up incredulously.

"Grimshaw? Jesus Harry, that struck you as a good idea did it? Telling a national radio DJ with a penchant for celebrity gossip that you're part of some kind of perverse boyband orgy?"

"He won't tell," Harry said, feeling embarrassed and all too conscious of the startled looks the others were giving him as well.

"Oh, because he's known for his discretion," Simon snapped back sarcastically.

Harry fidgeted. While most people had been trying fiercely to protect Harry's privacy while he got his strength back, only the previous day Nick had tweeted a picture of him curled on the sofa, sporting a bobble hat and palm-tree patterned onesie.

"He won't," Harry insisted.

"You seem very sure of him, that's all I can say."

"Well he didn't say anything when it was him fucking me, did he?" Harry blurted angrily.

Simon looked like he needed a drink. Liam nudged Niall next to him, frowning. "Did you know that?" he mouthed, wondering if he'd been left out of the gossip loop, but Niall shrugged and shook his head.

"Anyone else?" Simon asked exasperatedly. "Zayn?"

Zayn shook his head. "No. I ain't told anyone."

Simon looked at Louis, who gave an apologetic smile. "Eleanor knows, but only about me and Harry. And, um, the nurses at the hospital know. Sorry."

"Fine," Simon sighed. "People will believe what they want to believe. The thing I'm trying to get across is that it's what you do or don’t confirm to the press that's the important thing." He moved on, looking enquiringly at Niall.

"I told Sean," Niall muttered, and went red as everyone stared at him. "What?"

Simon rolled his eyes. "If you're not even open amongst yourselves about who knows what, how the hell do you expect to carry this off?" He looked at Liam, exasperatedly. "I suppose Danielle knows as well?"

Liam shook his head defensively. "No. She doesn't know anything." Simon looked relieved, but Liam wilted a little in shame, and Niall put an arm round him.

"Well at least there's a couple of you that haven't taken leave of your senses," Simon declared. "Seriously, think about what I've said, for your own sakes if nothing else."

The silence stretched out for a long time after Simon had gone.

"Well. That's that then," said Louis flatly.

"What's that supposed to mean?" Harry looked near tears, and Louis moved quickly to his side, catching hold of his hand reassuringly.

"Just - that it has to stay our secret."

Liam sighed. "Part of me wonders if it's all worth it," he said. Scandalised and indignant faces looked back at him, and he smiled sadly. "I don't mean that I don't love you. I do, I always will, that's forever. I just - love and sex are two different things. Are we just making things difficult for ourselves trying to keep it physical? Things were different on the island. Everything was different."

"No it wasn't." Zayn folded his arms. "We were the same. And we still need each other, maybe not in an actual survival sense any more, but just as much."

"Maybe we just need to remind him what he'd be missing," Niall said slyly. "I mean - sex is so much more - " he searched for the right word, " - comfortable, now."

"Comfortable?" Louis sniggered.

"Yeah." Niall shrugged. "I mean - proper beds instead of a pile of branches and a manky blanket. And, y'know. Lube." He went red as the others sniggered, but Louis at least was nodding.

"He's got a point you know."

Liam shifted uneasily, as four pairs of eyes turned to look at him speculatively.

"What?"

"So how about it?" Zayn said bluntly. "Wanna fuck?"

Shocked into laughter, Liam broke into a genuine smile and immediately felt somehow lighter.

"You're awful," he whispered, but he let Zayn take his hand and pull him to his feet. Niall seized the other hand, and with Harry and Louis pushing from behind, he found himself being propelled up the stairs.

They piled into Niall's bedroom because it was closest and fell on the bed in a tangle of limbs, Liam giggling helplessly by now. Despite the serious mood of a moment before, sex between more than two of them at a time was rarely anything but ridiculous and this was a case in point.

Somehow Louis' head had ended up between his legs, or at least Liam's knee was hooked round Louis' neck, and Louis was wearing a surprised expression like something that had just popped its head out of a burrow. Niall appeared to have become trapped in his own t-shirt, Harry was draped over Zayn's shoulders trying to pinch his nipples, and Liam himself was half-upside down with someone's toes tucked under his arm trying to tickle him.

Eventually they managed to extricate themselves and took off the rest of their clothes rather more sensibly, before less sensibly trying to fit everybody under the same duvet.

"Now I'm cold!" Zayn complained, as Harry pulled most of the covers off him. "We need bigger beds!"

"You'll soon warm up," Harry smirked, pulling Zayn back underneath him. "Gissa kiss."

Niall straddled Liam's lap and cupped his face between his hands, kissing him deeply. He could feel Liam's cock pressed hard against his own and rocked against him with an eager enthusiasm.

No-one had particularly felt like having much sex while Harry had been in the hospital. Louis had been flat-out exhausted most of the time for a start, and Liam too conflicted to want to do much more than cuddle. The four of them had slept together for comfort and reassurance, and there'd been a certain amount of sleepy fondling and the occasional morning blow-job, but little else.

Since Harry had come home, all he'd managed to talk Louis into letting him do was a single night of slow and tender love-making, and he felt impatiently ready for something a little more boisterous.

Seemingly having given in, Louis had produced a thing of lube from Niall's bedside cabinet and insinuated himself between the two couples, where he was currently working both Liam and Zayn with slick fingers and a look of amused concentration.

Liam lay back with a startled smile on his face, firstly as Louis stroked him, firm and fast, and as then Niall crawled back over him and with a minimum of fuss, lowered himself neatly onto Liam's straining cock.

"Fucking hell," Liam managed faintly, reaching up to steady Niall's hips as he started to move purposefully astride him.

"Yeah, baby!" Niall snickered, briefly pretending he was riding a horse until Liam tickled him into desisting.

Next to them, Louis had his arms round Harry and was helping him lift himself into a matching position on top of Zayn. Zayn was sitting up, his arms around Harry's waist to brace him, Louis staying plastered against his back, all three of them moving now in a haphazardly matching rhythm.

Thighs already aching with the unaccustomed effort, Harry closed his eyes and let himself get lost in the feeling of having Zayn inside him, hot and hard, in having two sets of arms round him, two mouths on his skin, kissing and biting with gentle teeth.

The bed was bouncing and squeaking alarmingly beneath them, mostly from the exertions of Niall who seemed intent on screwing Liam right through the mattress, and Harry couldn't keep the grin from his face.

It was good to be home.

When it was over, and everybody had collapsed together in various states of sweaty stickiness, Harry nuzzled up to Liam and bit him on the chin.

"So - is it all worth it?" he asked, innocently.

Liam looked round at them then slowly and deliberately kissed them all, one by one, on the lips. "Thank you," he said quietly. "For reminding me not to be a twat."

"As long as you're our twat," Zayn yawned. "That's all that matters."

--

"Lou? Can I talk to you?"

Louis looked up from pouring out a bowl of cereal to find Liam hovering in the kitchen doorway. "Yeah, course. What's up?"

Liam wandered over, looking distracted. "You told Eleanor, right? About you and Harry?"

"Yeah."

"How?" Liam sighed. "I mean - I have to tell Danielle, but I just don't know what to say. And I figured - well, you've been there."

Louis made a face. "To be honest, she pretty much guessed something was up. All I really had to do was say 'yes' and 'sorry' a lot. Which doesn't really help I guess?"

"Not really." Liam forced a smile. "She doesn't suspect a thing."

"I suppose - you don’t have to tell her?" Louis ventured, although he fully sympathised with Liam needing to. "Simon would probably prefer that you didn't, at least."

Liam shook his head. "I can't go on like this," he admitted. "It's pulling me apart. And it's not fair on her. It just makes me a dick."

"Whose dick?" Zayn wandered into the kitchen, looking interested.

"One track mind, you," Liam jibed, and Zayn grinned at him, patting his bottom. "I need to tell Dani," Liam explained reluctantly. "And I need to figure out how. And - who."

Zayn caught on. "Oh, right. Do you need to say it's anyone though? Can't you just - you know. Dump her?"

"Charming." Liam shook his head. "I'm going to need a reason. A convincing one. She's not just going to take it lying down - oh, shut up," he complained as both Louis and Zayn sniggered at his choice of words.

"Sorry." Zayn slung an arm round him "So - who're you gonna pick?"

Liam looked miserable. "That's the problem, isn't it? I can hardly tell the whole truth."

"What about Harry?" Louis suggested, and Liam looked surprised. "I mean - it'd make sense, his collapse making you realise your feelings and all that?" Louis went on. "And let's be honest, out of all of us Harry's the one least bothered about people knowing he's bi."

"Won't that sound odd?" Liam frowned. "With some people knowing that you're with him?"

Louis shrugged. "On the other hand, it keeps down the numbers of people involved if it comes out. So to speak."

Liam considered this, then shook his head. "Nah. Too complicated."

"It's me or Niall then," Zayn said, and Liam looked guilty, realising he had yet another hard choice ahead of him.

"Yeah. Um."

Zayn guessed his dilemma, and gave him a hug. "I promise not to get pissy if you want to pick Niall."

"Pick me for what?" Niall came in with Harry at his heels, and looked enquiring.

"Liam needs to tell Dani he's with someone," Louis explained before Liam could open his mouth.

"And you want me to take the rap?" Niall grinned. "Okay."

Liam immediately looked awkwardly at Zayn, and Niall hesitated.

"Sorry, was that wrong? Are you picking Zaynie?"

"He hasn't decided yet," Zayn smirked, as Liam looked increasingly uncomfortable. "I think he wants us to fight over him."

"That's not what I - " Liam looked mortified, then slumped in annoyed relief as he realised Zayn was taking the piss. "I just didn't want anyone to think I was - you know. Picking someone over anyone else."

Niall slung an arm round Zayn's shoulders and they both grinned at him expectantly.

"I hate you both," Liam declared huffily. "You're not helping."

"I did offer him you," Louis told Harry solemnly. "But he turned you down."

"Louis!" Liam spluttered indignantly, as Harry gave him a mock-hurt look, before dissolving into giggles.

"It's just a story," Niall said, taking pity on him. "Nobody's going to mind if you pick someone else."

Liam sighed. "Then I was going to say - Zayn?" he muttered tentatively. To his relief, everyone just nodded. Niall came over and gave him a hug.

"Stop looking so worried," he whispered in Liam's ear. "We've got your back, okay?"

Niall, Louis and Harry filed discreetly out of the room, leaving Liam and Zayn alone.

"You don't have to do this you know," Zayn murmured, taking in Liam's tense expression.

"Yeah. I do."

Zayn nodded slowly, coming to lean next to Liam against the counter, their arms just touching. "Want me to be there when you tell her?"

Liam looked startled. "No. That'd be awful for both of you. Thanks for the offer though," he added, and Zayn squeezed his hand.

"It'll be okay," he reassured him. "I mean - she's a reasonable person right? And Eleanor took it pretty well. You'll be fine."

"Yeah." Liam sounded unconvinced. "Sure. Now I just have to figure out - how."

--

"Liam! Hi!" Danielle's smile of pleased surprise at finding him on her doorstep made Liam feel more of a heel than ever. He hadn't admitted it to himself, but he hadn't phoned first in the hope that she'd be out, and then he could legitimately put it all off. But here she was, and now Liam was being ushered into the living room of the flat they'd briefly lived in together, what felt like a lifetime ago.

"So what's new?" She bustled round making two mugs of tea, and he followed her into the kitchen.

"Not much." He searched for a neutral topic of conversation, not wanting to leap straight in. "Been told we've got to move out of the house though. End of the month."

"Does that mean you're coming home?" Danielle turned to look at him hopefully, and Liam inwardly winced.

"Um - we were - kind've thinking about all staying together," he said cautiously.

Danielle shook her head, smiling. "I know you boys are close, but there comes a limit. You need your own life back," she urged. "You're welcome to move back in here you know. Any time you like. I miss you." She insinuated herself into his arms, leaning up for a kiss and Liam bit his lip.

"Dani - I can't."

"Can't move in?"

Liam sighed, stepping back a pace and she looked confused. "Li?"

"Can't do this. I'm sorry."

"What are you talking about?"

Liam took a deep breath. "Us. This. I - I'm really sorry, but - it's over, Dani."

Danielle was shaking her head in vigorous denial. "No, what are you saying? Liam, this isn't funny."

"I'm not joking. I'm so sorry - " Liam made to take her hands and she jerked them out of reach, angrily.

"What the fuck? What even brought this on? I saw you two days ago, you were fine. We were fine."

"No." Liam wished he was somewhere else, anywhere else. The look of hurt betrayal on her face was like a punch to the gut, and he hated himself.

"Are they making you do this?"

"They - ?" Confused and guilty, Liam thought she meant the others, but Danielle was scenting a higher conspiracy.

"Bloody Cowell and that lot. Are you not supposed to have a girlfriend now, is that it? Bad for sales?" She softened her tone. "We can hide it, if you want? I don't mind if you have to tell people we're not together?"

Liam almost laughed. Little did she suspect how exactly the opposite was true, and that right now Simon was the keenest supporter of them staying together.

"It's not that," he said quietly, "and it's not you. It's - it's me. I guess I've - changed, that's all. Being away - I've realised things that maybe I wasn't completely honest about, before."

"What are you saying?" Danielle looked half baffled and half angry. "I mean - there can't be anyone else right? You haven't had time for one thing! Liam, don't do this, I'm not just letting you give up on us!"

Liam sighed inwardly, wishing she'd stop arguing, stop making it so much harder. He'd hoped to get away without explaining further, hoped even that she'd get angry and throw him out, but it wasn't going his way.

"It's - Zayn," he admitted. Danielle frowned at him.

"What's Zayn?"

"I'm - in love with him."

For the first time, Danielle's conviction looked shaken. "What? Don't be stupid. How can you be? He's - well, he's a he."

"I know." Liam sighed. "It doesn't change anything."

But - does he know?"

"Yes."

"Yes?" Danielle echoed, incredulous. "Well - doesn't he think it's weird?"

"He feels the same way."

"What?" Breathless, a whisper.

"I'm - sorry."

"Have you been fucking him?" Danielle demanded, face flushed with sudden anger. "Is that what you're telling me? All this time, since you've been back? You've been sleeping with me, lying to me, and all the time you've been screwing him behind my back?"

Liam nodded, hesitant and shamefaced, still trying to apologise in the face of her rage.

"That's - disgusting," Danielle spat. "You've been sticking yourself in both of us? Oh my God."

"No, Dani, listen, I - " Liam protested, trying to explain, desperately wanting her to understand that he hadn't meant to hurt her, that he was hurting too. But she was too dismayed to spare any thought for him, too furious to care.

"Get out. Get out!"

As Liam hesitated, still trying to explain, she picked up the closest mug of tea from the counter and hurled it at him.

--

Louis and Zayn were in the living room when they heard the front door open and close with a discreet click, as if whoever was coming in didn't want to be noticed. They exchanged glances, and immediately popped out of the door to see if it was Liam returning.

They caught him in the hallway, creeping towards the stairs. He stopped when they called out, and sighed.

"Woah. What happened to - " Louis started, seeing Liam's shirt was drenched down one side. Liam turned to face them and they both did a double take,

"Liam! What - ? Are you okay?" Zayn hurried forwards, reaching out in concern. There was a long cut above his eye. Liam had obviously tried to stem the bleeding, but only partially succeeded, and there were trails of dried blood down the side of his face.

He let Zayn pull him into a hug, feeling sorry for himself.

"What happened?" Louis demanded. "Did someone hit you?"

"Dani."

"Danielle did this?" Zayn pulled back to stare at him in guilty horror. He realised they'd pushed Liam into making his confession without any real concept of how it might go.

Liam shrugged sheepishly. "She threw a mug at me. She missed, but it smashed on a cabinet, and one of the bits caught me on the rebound. Not the world's most macho injury."

"Oh God." Louis joined Zayn in hugging Liam apologetically. "Sorry."

"Not your fault," Liam mumbled into Zayn's shoulder. "Had to be done."

Niall and Harry appeared on the landing above, leaning over the banister and calling out in alarm at the sight of Liam's blood-streaked face looking up at them.

"I'm fine," he protested, half-laughing as they hurtled down the stairs and flung themselves on him as well. "It's just a scratch."

"Fed up with Harry getting all the sympathy huh?" Zayn grinned, rubbing his knuckles through the fuzz of Liam's close-cropped hair. "She's not going to come after me with the rest of the tea-set is she?"

Liam shook his head. "I hope not," he said, looking doubtful. "She was pretty upset though. Oh God I've made a complete balls-up of it, haven't I?"

"None of us thought she'd take it this hard," Louis said contritely.

"Guess you must be worth keeping, huh?" Niall smirked, arms wrapped round Liam's waist from behind.

"As long as you still want me?" Liam said, hating himself for fishing for the reassurance but feeling battered inside as well as out.

"What d'you reckon lads?" Niall mused, winking.

Harry nodded, seriously. "A Liam is for life, not just for Christmas," he announced, and Liam laughed, kissing him fondly.

Zayn plucked at Liam's damp sleeve. "You should get out of these wet things," he murmured, wiggling his eyebrows suggestively.

Liam let them lead him upstairs, bickering and teasing the whole time, and finally let himself relax. For weeks he'd been haunted by indecision, by the fear of doing the wrong thing - but now the choice was made, and whatever might come out of it, right here, right now, he was knew it had been the right one.

--

Christmas was fast approaching, and they started looking forward to going home for a few days. Previously, the idea of being parted for however short a time had unsettled them, but Liam's commitment had somehow left them all feeling more secure.

In the short term, they all moved out of the rented house and straight into Harry's. As far as the world outside was concerned they were all back in their own places, but in practice it was a far more communal affair.

Coinciding with the move, a flurry of rumours circulated in the press. As well as the usual suggestive articles about Harry and Louis there were also rather more barbed comments appearing about Liam and Zayn, quoting an unnamed source 'close to Danielle'. They all assumed that these stemmed from Danielle herself, but for the moment at least she had held back from putting her name to it, and as just one more piece of anonymous gossip it was mostly ignored.

At the same time it was announced that they would be performing a come-back concert in February. Initially just one show, it was expected this would lead to a full tour later in the year once they were all back to full strength and had had time to record some of their new material.

Excitement over this effectively eclipsed the relationship rumours and provided a timely distraction for the press, one that Simon steadfastly refused to admit he had orchestrated.

Before they knew it, Christmas had snuck up on them and everyone dispersed to their families with varying levels of enthusiasm. Last year had been a miserable time for those at home, with the holiday coming soon after the boys had been presumed lost and all searches called off, so this time everyone wanted to make it a huge occasion.

It was hard to explain to friends and family so pleased to see them back how all these social gatherings could feel daunting, but at least they had the comfort of knowing that an understanding voice was only the press of a button away, and between all the parties and reunions and present giving, they frequently snuck away to call each other.

Harry and Louis were the first back in London, travelling down together the day after Boxing Day. They cited birthday celebrations for Louis as a reason for their escape, but after a week at home were both longing for some peace and quiet.

They were joined a day later by Zayn, and by New Year had acquired Liam as well. Niall took longer to extricate himself from both his family and an inconvenient snowfall, but eventually turned up a week later in a Christmas jumper, carrying the biggest tin of biscuits any of them had ever seen.

Gradually life in the city began to feel more natural to them again. Physically too, they were stronger, and while Harry still tired quickly, they all felt like they'd been handed a new chance at life. They were aware it wouldn't last, that they would slide back into taking things for granted, but for the moment they still took amused pleasure in just being able to turn on a tap, or an electric light, or a television.

Half-heartedly, they looked for new houses and apartments where they could move closer together, but no-one had started to quiz them on their arrangements, and for now they were all happy to stay settled at Harry's. He had four bedrooms, but they could almost always be found sharing in one combination or another. Meals were mostly communal. So were showers.

'It won't last,' people said, even those in the know laughing at their stubborn determination to remain together.

'It won't end,' they promised each other in whispers, holding each other close in the dark.

--

Mid-January, and the evenings were still dark from an early hour. Louis was walking home from the shop one night, swinging a carrier bag from one hand and texting with the other when he became aware of a looming figure in his way.

"Sorry mate." Louis sidestepped, but the man moved with him. Louis gave an apologetic laugh, thinking they'd both made the same attempt to get out of the way and stood still, waiting for the man to go around him. But he didn't move, and Louis was abruptly conscious of a second figure coming up behind him.

"Alright lads?" Louis edged towards the wall, trying not to look nervous. Appearances could be deceiving and they probably just wanted an autograph for a daughter or something. On the other hand, there was a definite sense of menace, and Louis wondered if it was more likely his phone they were after.

"Little shit doesn't even recognise us," said the first man, and Louis squinted through the gloom, frowning.

Realisation came like a bucket of cold water, and he stepped back sharply, coming up short against old bricks.

"Now he does." The second figure gave an unpleasant laugh. "Not pleased to see us then? Bit of a survivors reunion and all?"

"Not so brave without the TV cameras, are you? Or your little friends?"

"What do you want?" Louis asked. He'd meant it to sound tough, dismissive, but his throat was dry and it came out raspy. He knew them now, with a chill that ran the length of his spine. Craig and Brendan. Last seen drifting away on a piece of plane wreckage, having pushed him into the sea.

"That very much depends on you." Brendan said, folding his arms. "We were rather - disturbed, by your veiled little threat the other day."

"It wasn't - " Louis stammered.

"Oh, I think it was. And I think you need to learn to keep your mouth shut, do you hear what I'm saying?"

"How did you even find me?" Louis was edging along the wall, trying to keep them talking. He wasn't that far from home, the front door was round the corner but somewhere along this wall was an iron gate into Harry's back garden.

Craig snorted derisively. "Are you kidding? Turns out there's entire fucking websites dedicated to tracking you little twats down. Didn't take a detective."

Behind him, Louis' fingers encountered rusty wrought iron and he turned, quickly scrabbling for the latch. It refused to give, and he realised with a sinking heart that - of course - it would be locked.

"I don't think he likes us." Hands grabbed Louis' shoulders and yanked him backwards, unbalancing him. He braced himself for a punch, or worse, but they just flung him back against the wall.

"Like you? You tried to fucking kill me!" Indignant anger pushed back the fear for a second, and Louis glared at them.

"Now, see, that's the kind of nasty false rumour we don't want appearing anywhere, you get me?" Brendan murmured. "It was just - survival of the fittest. And you apparently need a lesson in holding your tongue."

They advanced on him slowly, and Louis swallowed. He wasn't a coward by any means, but they were a lot bigger than him, and looked like they meant business. "You're making a mistake," he stuttered.

"And what would that be?" Craig smirked, cracking his knuckles and making Louis wince.

"Assuming he was on his own, for a start," said a voice from behind them, and both Craig and Brendan spun to face the newcomer.

It was Liam, scowling from one to the other. Louis thought he'd never been gladder to see him, and wondered how long he'd been there.

"Walk the fuck away," Brendan spat. "This isn't your problem."

"Can't do that."

Louis realised they probably had no idea who Liam was, with his shaved head and bulky coat he looked a million miles from the grinning boy in the magazines. He looked older, and angrier. People tended to forget Liam had a temper on him, and that could be a mistake.

"Well we'll just have to sort the both of you then," Craig snapped. "One on one. Piece of piss. You're nothing but fucking toddlers."

"How about three on two? Still feeling brave?" From another direction the flare of a match lit up Zayn's face, all hard lines and dark stubble. Louis wondered incongruously when he'd started smoking again.

"What the fuck? How many of you cunts are there?" Brendan demanded, but he moved closer to Craig, and it wasn't lost on them.

"More of us than you," Zayn said quietly. "I suggest you fuck off. Or you'll find out."

They looked at each other, then back at Louis, clearly undecided. Louis stepped forward, braver now that he had back-up.

"I won't say anything. Okay? I don't want to spend the rest of my life looking over my shoulder. So let's just - forget this happened, yeah? We're all alive, we all made it, let's - leave it that way."

A long, tense pause, then Brendan nodded. "You just keep your mouth shut, you hear?" he growled with the remaining shreds of his bravado.

Louis nodded, sensing Zayn and Liam take up positions either side of him. They all watched the two men walk quickly away, and only when they were out of sight did the others turn to Louis, alarmed and solicitous.

"I'm fine." Louis was angry more than anything, angry that he'd been so scared. His legs felt like they wanted to give way and he was grateful when Zayn slipped an arm round him without saying anything. He leaned into him, taking steadying breaths that tasted of frosty air, of the scent of Zayn's leather jacket, of cigarette smoke.

"How long have you been - " Louis nodded at the glowing cigarette between Zayn's fingers and he shrugged, looking guilty.

"It's this show," Zayn finally admitted, taking a last drag before crushing it out underfoot. "Just so fucking nervous about it. Don't tell Niall?" he pleaded. "He'll kill me."

"No he won't." Liam slid a hand across Louis' back, squeezed Zayn's shoulder.

"He'll be disappointed then. That's worse," Zayn muttered.

"I'll do you a deal," Louis said. "I'll keep your secret if you keep mine. Don't tell Harry and Niall about this? I don't want them to freak out."

"Don't you think we should warn them?" Liam asked dubiously. "If those two clowns are going to hang around...?"

"I don't think they will," Louis said. "I think they wanted to beat the crap out of me with nobody looking. If anything happens to me now, they'll know you guys will come forward."

They let themselves into the house, all relieved to be able to shut out the night behind them.

That evening, Louis couldn't settle. He felt like he should be grateful to Liam and Zayn for their timely rescue, but he just felt silly that he'd needed them, that he hadn't been able to take care of himself. It made him prickly, and he fidgeted and paced about the house until even Harry snapped at him.

Louis finally threw himself down onto the sofa, sighing. Zayn wandered across, leaning over the back and whispering into Louis' ear.

"Wanna come in with us tonight?"

Louis looked up, startled. For a moment he wondered if Zayn was suggesting he still needed comfort, and had a scornful reply on his lips until he met Zayn's eyes and saw the understanding there.

"Come and take it," Zayn murmured. "If you want." He sauntered off, throwing a suggestive look back over his shoulder as he followed Liam out of the door.

For a minute, Louis stayed where he was, jiggling his feet restlessly. Hauled himself up and went over to hover where Harry was attempting to watch tv.

When Harry looked up, he gave a quick smile, almost nervous. "Do you mind if I - go in with Zayn and Liam?" The nights he hadn't spent in Harry's bed once they'd got back could be counted on one hand.

Harry shook his head, reaching out for him. "You okay?" he asked. "Something on your mind?"

"Nah." Louis kissed Harry's fingers. "Just - need it hard tonight."

Harry smirked. "Am I not hard enough?"

"You know what I mean."

"You can be rough with me you know," Harry murmured, pulling him down for a hug. "If you want."

"Don't want to hurt you," Louis protested. "Need to - to not have to worry, if I am or not," he sighed.

Harry kissed him. "It's okay. I know. Go on." He gave Louis a little push, and he slid off the arm of Harry's chair and threw him a grateful smile.

Liam and Zayn were waiting for him in Zayn's bedroom, stripped down to their boxers already.

"Weren't sure you'd come," Liam smiled, as Louis closed the door behind him and leaned on it.

"About earlier - " Louis hesitated.

Zayn shook his head. "You'd have been there for us. We look out for each other yeah? It's what we do."

Louis came closer, rubbing his arms and still looking troubled. "I hate this. Just - the way those bastards left me feeling."

"Come here." Zayn lay back, kicking off his underwear. "Come and take it out on us."

"Sure?" Louis watched as Liam leaned over and started lazily palming Zayn's cock. He felt a reciprocal twitch in his own pants, and bit his lip. "I'm not feeling very loving right now."

Zayn grinned. "Think you can break me, do ya?"

Louis sank down onto the edge of the bed as Liam stripped off his own boxers and lay back next to Zayn. He patted the space between them invitingly.

"Lou?"

With a jerky nod of decision Louis hauled his shirt off over his head and started unbuckling his jeans. Normally there would be eager hands willing to help at this stage, but both Liam and Zayn suspected any attempt at assistance would be met with irritation.

Naked now, Louis knelt before them, stroking himself stiff. Both Liam and Zayn were already hard, and casually keeping each other that way without taking their eyes off Louis.

Louis was moving his hand faster on himself now, breathing getting heavier, and Zayn let his legs fall apart, beckoning Louis in between his drawn up knees. He sat up to meet him, sliding his arms around Louis' neck and laying biting kisses along his jaw.

Growling something inaudible, Louis shoved him back down on the bed, hands tight on Zayn's shoulders. Liam was behind him now, Louis could feel the press of his cock against the small of his back, blunt fingernails down his spine. Beneath him Zayn was squirming, not trying to get away, just pushing up against him, provoking and teasing.

Louis slapped Zayn's knees further apart and pushed him back against the pillows, pinning him down with his body. Zayn's erection was a warm pressure against his stomach and Louis shoved his own between Zayn's legs, making him grunt.

"Should I get lube?" Liam muttered, mouth wet on Louis' neck, fingers kneading his buttocks greedily.

"No." Zayn met his eyes, gave a breathless laugh. "Louis wants it mean. Don't you Lou?"

Louis didn't answer, just bit down on Zayn's shoulder, hard.

"Uhh." Zayn drove his head back into the pillow, arching his back. "Go on then. What are you waiting for?" he goaded. "Fucking take me."

"I'm not sure that's - " Liam began, but Louis had already accepted Zayn's offer and slammed inside him with no warning.

"Fuck." Zayn screwed his eyes shut, gritting his teeth as Louis thrust roughly into him. He curled his fingers around the metal bed frame above his head, bracing himself against Louis' continued angry pounding.

Louis snapped his hips forward, driving himself deeper and harder into Zayn's body, letting his frustrations pour out in a frenzied, liberating onslaught. With no preparation Zayn was amazingly tight, and while part of Louis knew it must be hurting, that same guilty knowledge turned him on more than ever.

He'd lost track of Liam, barely knew where he was himself any more, the world had contracted to nothing but the skin dimpling under his fingers, the soft heat around his cock, the sound of his own laboured breathing and the occasional gasping groan from Zayn.

Louis felt his orgasm building, a hot tension that coiled up through his stomach and groin until he ached to scream out loud, wordless and exultant. In the end it was Zayn who cried out first, taking everyone by surprise by coming suddenly all over Louis' chest.

Seconds later Louis followed suit, pumping his release into Zayn's shaking body with a drawn out moan of satisfaction. When it was over, he slumped forward weakly, and felt Zayn pat him reassuringly on the back. Zayn was still shaking, and Louis had a moment to worry he'd taken things too far before realising he was laughing.

"Fuck, Louis." Zayn pushed ineffectually at his shoulder.

Louis tried to move and couldn't find the strength, but then Liam's arms were round him, lifting him off. He slumped against him, relieved that Liam was holding him close rather than berating him.

"You alright?" Liam's voice was oddly tight, and Louis raised his head, about to reassure him that yeah, he felt a lot better thanks, only to realise he was talking to Zayn.

"Yeah. Fuck." Zayn looked slightly dazed. His legs were still splayed apart and he had come streaks glistening on his thighs. He blinked a couple of times to focus, and realised Liam was staring at him. "What?"

"That was - " Liam swallowed. "Fucking hot."

Louis realised Liam had one hand clamped around the base of his dick, as if he'd been sat there in an agony of not letting himself come until he knew if Zayn was really okay with it all.

"I think he wants a go," Louis smirked, suddenly feeling much more well disposed towards the world in general.

"Yeah?" Zayn held out his arms, but Liam hesitated. "You might as well," Zayn grinned. "It's not like I'll be able to walk tomorrow anyway."

Liam crawled forwards, and settled between Zayn's legs. He took him into his arms and kissed him until Zayn started laughing again and wriggled pointedly against him. Liam took the hint, and positioned himself carefully. Louis had left Zayn wet and open, and Liam found he could slide inside him with barely any resistance.

He was a little embarrassed at how turned on he'd become watching Louis fuck Zayn so brutally and conscious that even now Zayn must be sore and tired, but Zayn was softly encouraging and Liam soon started thrusting in earnest.

The knowledge that Zayn was already full of Louis' come made him harder than ever, and he was already close, so it wasn't long before Liam's climax hit him like a truck. With a strangled gasp of completion, his face buried against Zayn's shoulder, he came in hot, thick, spurts that trickled over Zayn's skin to soak the sheet as soon as he pulled out.

It was Louis' turn to guide Liam gently back and hug him, whilst Zayn attempted to wipe up the sticky mess as best he could. It already hurt to move, and he knew he should probably shower or bathe to ease the inevitable stiffness, but it was too easy just to roll into the welcoming arms of the other two and fall into a thoroughly sated sleep.

--

 

Mid-way through a rehearsal for their comeback show, they received an unexpected visitor. A smartly dressed lady was shown in to where they were taking a lunchbreak, and smiled round at their curious faces, looking a little shaky.

"My name's Mary. You don't know me," she said, "but in a way, you met my parents, and it's thanks to you that I now know what happened to them. You see - when they gave up work ten years ago, they bought a yacht, intending to spend their retirement sailing round the world. And one day they sailed out of a port in Tahiti, and just - disappeared. It was like they'd sailed off the map. We thought we'd never know what happened to them, but now - " she broke off and dabbed her eyes with a handkerchief. Harry sprang up and ushered her into his seat.

"We're so sorry," Liam told her, embarrassed. "To have brought you such bad news."

Mary shook her head vigorously. "No, no, I came to thank you. If it hadn't been for you boys, they'd still be lying out there, and I'd never have known. But then out of the blue somebody contacts me, and says they've been identified, and now - " she sniffed, trying to hold back tears, then laughed as three tissues of varying degrees of cleanliness were offered up. "Thanks, er, I'm fine. Now they can at least have a proper burial. And I wanted to ask if you would maybe come? To the funeral?"

"We'd be honoured," Louis said. "If it wasn't for the things we salvaged from their boat, we'd have found surviving out there a lot harder - maybe impossible. Thanks to your parents we had blankets, and knives, and cooking pots, and a roof and, er - yeah. We should probably pay you for that or something."

Mary laughed again. "No, really. I'm glad. They would have been pleased, to know they helped you. I guess I'll never know exactly what happened to them out there, but it's enough, to finally have closure now." She got to her feet, and they all shook hands. "I'll send details, if that's okay? Of when it will be?"

"Of course." Niall gave her a hug instead of shaking hands, and Mary left looking more cheerful than when she had arrived. Conversely, they sat back down feeling rather subdued. An anonymous grave and a skeleton had suddenly become actual people to them and it was an uncomfortable feeling, not to mention a reminder of how close they'd come themselves to not making it at times. They still bore the scars, literally and emotionally of their time on the island, and even now some days were harder to get through than others.

"Could have been us," Zayn said softly, finally voicing what everyone was thinking.

"Wasn't, though." Harry put an affectionate arm round him, and Zayn leaned into him gratefully.

"True. I guess we were lucky."

"We still are," Harry smiled, and kissed him to prove his point.

--

The show was scheduled for Valentine's Day, in the O2 arena. It had sold out within seconds of tickets going on sale, and as the big day approached they got more and more nervous.

Niall finally bowed to pressure and agreed to get his hair bleached again. Harry's was growing back to the point of unruliness, and Liam had shaved his off again.

Louis and Zayn went out and came back with matching blue streaks in the front, which they were promptly ordered to get rid of.

To top this, Harry went out and came back with a tattoo of a giant squid all the way down his calf, and pointed out smugly that nobody could tell him to get rid of that.

Lying in bed the night before the show, sick with nerves and in need of distraction, Louis traced the curving lines of its tentacles with his fingertips and realised for the first time that Harry had done it to disguise the red scars that still speckled his skin.

"That was a jellyfish, not a squid," Louis pointed out, but he pressed a kiss to Harry's leg anyway.

"Squid are sexier," Harry yawned, and on the other side of him, Zayn snorted.

"Don't want to know what comics you've been reading."

Muffled noises from the next room suggested Niall and Liam had found their own method of staving off the nerves. Zayn nuzzled into Harry's side, turned on but too tired from rehearsing to do anything about it.

--

The day of the show dawned bright and cold, a crisp February morning that raised their spirits after preceding days of relentless rain.

Backstage, they could hear the roar of the assembling crowd, and felt a thrill of nervous excitement.

"Think I'm going to throw up," Harry muttered, looking queasy. Liam gave him a hug, as much for his own comfort as Harry's.

"Where's Zaynie?" Niall complained, looking round. He could have sworn he'd been there a few minutes ago, but he'd been concentrating on checking over his guitar for the sixth time since they'd arrived, and now Zayn was nowhere to be seen.

"Loo?" Louis suggested non-committally, knowing perfectly well where he'd gone. Niall slipped out of the door to go and look for him regardless, and Louis and Liam exchanged glances.

"What?" Harry caught the look and frowned. "Where is he?"

Louis sighed. "Having a fag."

"Louis!" Liam objected, but Harry just nodded understanding.

"Doesn't Niall know?"

"You mean you do?" they looked at him in surprise, and Harry shrugged.

"Well, yeah. You can taste it when you kiss him." He looked faintly embarrassed. "I quite like it."

--

"There you are!" Niall turned a corner and ran right into Zayn coming the other way.

"Hey babes." Zayn turned their awkward collision into a hug, trying to hide the flustered expression on his face.

"Where have you been? We're on soon." Niall wrinkled his nose. "You stink of smoke."

Zayn coughed. "Walked through a cloud of it outside. Bunch of the roadies are smoking out there." He made to move on, but Niall caught his sleeve.

"What were you doing outside in the first place?"

"Er..." Zayn groped for a plausible answer, but Niall just shook his head disgustedly.

"Don't bother." He turned away and it was Zayn's turn to grab at him.

"Hey! Wait. Look, I'm sorry, I - it was the nerves, okay? It was just the one."

"Do I look like I was born yesterday?" Niall pulled out of his grasp, folding his arms defensively. "Look, I don't give a shit if you want to start smoking again, it's your body you're screwing up. But don't fucking lie to me about it. I thought I meant more to you than that."

He marched off down the corridor, leaving Zayn to kick the wall furiously.

"Fuck!"

When Zayn re-entered the dressing room, Niall was curled up with his legs over Liam's lap, and turned his face away when Zayn tried again to apologise.

Fifteen minutes later, they were lined up beneath the stage waiting to go on. The past quarter hour had been uncomfortably tense and not just from the nerves; but now it was almost unbearable. Every one of them was convinced he'd forgotten every lyric he'd ever learnt, or that he'd fall over on stage, or despite compulsively checking, would get out there to find he'd somehow forgotten his trousers.

Niall glanced sideways through the dim light at Zayn's profile, face taut with stress, and sighed. Without speaking, he reached out and slid his hand into Zayn's.

Zayn looked round in surprise, and smiled at him, squeezing his fingers. Niall smiled back, and around them up and down the line the others relaxed a fraction too. And then the waiting was over, and they were being launched into a maelstrom of screaming, of flashing lights and the opening strains of a song that flowed back to them with relieved familiarity.

--

Afterwards, it felt like the maddest show they'd ever done. The time flew past in a blur, all of them carried through on a rush of adrenaline, spurred on by the screams of the crowd and sheer unmitigated joy at just doing this again.

As they stood in a line to take a bow, having played three encores before the noise level dropped enough to let them even think about leaving, they stared out at the vast crowd with matching expressions of stunned and disbelieving happiness.

Arms around each other's shoulders, as Harry and Louis straightened up from the bow they turned to each other, grins of delight softening into a lingering smile of simple pleasure at being alive, and at having the others to share it with.

Harry could feel his legs starting to tremble with reaction and exhaustion, knew he was going to pay later for the exertions of the last couple of hours. Louis' arm tightened around him supportively as if he knew what Harry needed even without asking, and in that moment Harry experienced a pang of intense longing. He wanted so much to kiss Louis, here, now, in front of everybody, to let everyone know beyond a shadow of a doubt what he meant to him.

Louis met his gaze, eyebrow quirking slightly in response to Harry's rather intense expression. He studied Harry's face for a moment and guessed what he was thinking. It was easy enough to do. He was thinking it himself, after all.

Fuck it, Louis thought, and gave a slight nod in response to Harry's searching look. He'd let Harry decide. But he would go along with whatever that was, without hesitation.

Feeling like he was teetering on the edge of a precipice twenty times higher than the actual stage, Harry leaned in towards him. He faltered as he got close, afraid he'd read Louis' nod of consent wrongly, and so it was Louis who finally closed the gap, who angled his face up and kissed Harry on the mouth.

It felt like they stayed like that for a lifetime. A chaste press of lips only, but long enough for there to be no ambiguity about what they were doing. Not whispering in the other's ear, not hugging, not pretending.

The stage flickered bright as day as thousands of camera flashes went off at once, and the noise level reached a staggering new peak they hadn't believed possible.

Hardly daring to look round, they finally broke apart and faced the crowd. It was a feeling of weak relief, to realise that the screams were after all screams of approval.

A few feet away, Zayn caught Liam's eye and gave him a wicked grin. He'd watched Harry and Louis' little display with something between amusement and shock, but there was a rebellious streak in him that it definitely appealed to. He raised his eyebrows, a direct and silent dare that he didn't imagine for one second Liam would take him up on.

Liam bunched his fist in the front of Zayn's shirt and pulled him forwards, kissing him so hard on the mouth that their teeth clashed with a jolt. He let him go just as quickly, looking horrified at what he'd done, and Zayn starting laughing helplessly, slinging an arm around Liam's shoulders and hugging him close.

Louis and Harry were grinning too, having turned around just in time to catch it, and Niall was actually fucking clapping. Zayn stuck his tongue out and Niall cracked up laughing, bouncing on the spot in sheer glee.

The crowd, that had screamed in delight for Harry and Louis and reached an even more deafening pitch for Zayn and Liam, now appeared to be chanting something, and it took them a few seconds to make out the words.

kiss niall, Kiss Niall, KISS NIALL!

Laughing in disbelief as they heard the demand, Louis stepped forwards and waved his arms at the crowd.

"Who?" he yelled out over the sea of heads, then cackled as everyone screamed a different name at the same time.

As the closest, Zayn reached out and pulled Niall to him, kissing him firmly on the lips before pushing him towards Liam who kissed him too, before guiding him onwards.

The now furiously blushing Niall was seized by Louis and Harry who planted simultaneous kisses on his cheeks because he was giggling too much to get near his mouth.

The five of them linked arms and took a final bow, feeling physically buffeted by the noise coming from the audience now, ears ringing and half-dizzy with shock at what they'd done.

Eventually escaping backstage, they piled into the dressing room and locked the door hastily behind them. Everyone felt drunk on the adrenaline and they fell into each others' arms, kissing and hugging and laughing.

"Fuck," Louis spluttered, hanging round Liam's shoulders, his other arm round Harry's waist. "What have we done?"

"We've told the truth," Harry said quietly. "Just for a second. To the people that matter."

"I daren't even think what's going to happen now," Liam groaned. "Simon's going to kill us."

"At least we went out with a bang," Zayn smirked.

Niall laughed. "Now that would have been a hell of an encore."

"Well it's not too late," Harry suggested with a grin. "Although maybe it should be more of a private show." He slid both arms round Louis' chest and kissed his neck. The performing high had left him horny, and he'd been uncomfortably hard for what felt like hours.

Louis turned willingly into his embrace, seeking out Harry's mouth with his own, and Harry realised Louis was just as hard. He fumbled with Louis' trousers, unzipping him clumsily because he was unwilling to break the kiss. Niall was helping now, Louis laughing against Harry's mouth as two pairs of hands conspired to drop his trousers and underwear round his knees.

Harry grinned at him, still buzzing from the earlier rush, and slid his arms around Louis' waist, cupping his arse. As he took the strain, Louis realised what he was going to do and batted at him with protesting hands, yelling at him in laughing indignation.

"Don't you dare Styles! I am not a fucking Barbie doll! Put me down!"

Harry ignored his objections and hoisted him up bodily, walking him over to the dressing table and planting him on it, stepping in between his kicking legs. Louis' trousers were hanging off one foot, his cock pressed against Harry's fly, and his continuing protests at being manhandled like this in front of everyone were abruptly muffled by Harry's mouth closing over his again.

Niall appeared to have adopted the role of wardrobe enabler for the night, and his nimble assistance meant Harry's trousers were soon pooled around his ankles. Louis' continuing grumbles turned into a much more approving moan as Harry's cock slid warmly against his own.

The dressing table shuddered as Zayn shoved Liam up against it next to Louis and kissed him hard. Pulling at each other's clothes they ground against each other, sending small items rolling to the floor all around them.

Harry was bent forward over Louis, his arms around Louis' neck, bracing them while Louis jerked them both off. Behind Harry, Niall had loosened his own trousers and was plastered up against Harry's back. Harry groaned into Louis' kiss as he felt Niall's finger push inside him, spreading his legs obligingly wider.

Beside them, Zayn had dropped to his knees and was sucking Liam's cock with a messy eagerness that made Liam's knees go weak and forced him to grab Louis' arm for support.

Niall had two wet fingers inside Harry now, thrusting and scissoring in a rushed and haphazard attempt at working him open, his cock leaving smears of pre-come on the hem of Harry's shirt.

Harry was pinned between the two of them, Louis pumping him hard, fingers slippery now, his own erection pressed hot and firm against Harry's. A moment later Harry gave a sharp gasp, lurching forward and throwing Louis off stroke, as Niall's cock finally pushed up hard inside him. Stretched, filled, kissed, held, he abandoned himself to the sensations and let Louis and Niall take everything they wanted, rocking between them in a dazed blur of happiness.

By now Liam was thrusting helplessly into Zayn's mouth, heedless of Zayn's guiding hand, pushing between his lips greedily until he made him gag. Coughing, Zayn pinched Liam's leg hard in revenge, and Liam grabbed him by the hair, tipping his head back until Zayn opened his mouth again, accepting Liam's cock without protest.

Harry came first, unable to withstand the two-sided assault any longer. He spilled over Louis' fingers, shaking bodily while Louis held him up and covered him in kisses. Niall came soon after, the feeling of Harry's body spasming around him in orgasm enough to push him over the edge and he lost his load moments later, fingers gripping Harry's hips hard enough to bruise.

"Fuck." Liam was struggling for breath, for control, but the sight and sound of Harry and Niall climaxing just inches away from him had left him on the edge, and when Louis half-screamed his own violent orgasm seconds later, Zayn found his mouth suddenly full of Liam's hot, thick come.

He sat back on his heels, trying to swallow and half choking, wiping his mouth with his wrist. Liam reached down and hauled him up into his arms, settling Zayn on the table between himself and Louis.

Louis reached over, transferring sticky fingers from Harry to Zayn and starting to stroke him, firm and fast. It didn't take long before Zayn too found his own completion, his cock pulsing in Louis' hand as he added unrepentantly to the filthy condition they'd all ended up in.

Panting, groaning and laughing, they managed to climb off the increasingly rickety dressing table before it collapsed beneath them and make it as far as the couch, where they all collapsed in a happy, exhausted heap.

--

For several days after the show, they barely left the house. For one thing they were all shattered, and for another there was an army of tabloids camped outside. In the absence of any instructions to the contrary they'd stuck to Simon's previous advice and refused to confirm - or deny - anything put to them, leaving the initial frenzy on interest to burn itself out.

Various representatives from their label and management company had spoken to them, but it seemed they too were at a loss as to how to address such an unprecedented event, and finally they received a message to say that Simon himself was coming to see them.

While they were waiting rather nervously for him to arrive that evening, Harry took a call on his mobile and came back in grinning.

"That was Grimmy. He's just seen the mid-week charts - apparently both our albums have shot back up to number one and two."

Zayn punched the air triumphantly. "Yes! Not a total fuck up then?"

"Apparently not." Harry jumped as the doorbell rang, and scurried out again. A moment later he came back in with Simon, who looked round at their sheepish expressions and shook his head slowly in exaggerated disbelief. To their relief, he looked more like he was trying not to laugh than actually angry.

"That was your idea of keeping it low profile, was it?" he asked.

"We didn't plan it," Harry said apologetically. "It just sort of happened. And then - kept on happening."

"Nobody really seemed to mind?" said Liam, hopefully.

Simon sat down with a sigh, rubbing his face. "The general response has been more positive than I'd have predicted, I'll grant you that. But I'd leave things unclarified if I were you," he added quickly, as they started to exchange triumphant looks. "Let people believe it was just a publicity stunt."

"You're not mad at us then?" Louis asked cautiously.

Simon shook his head. "You took a gamble. Luckily for you, it paid off. Demand for tickets for your summer tour has apparently now trebled."

"Fuck, yes!" Niall exclaimed, then clapped a hand over his mouth.

Simon snorted. "Yes, well, I wouldn't push your luck. Let's all just move on, eh?"

"Thing is...." Louis let the sentence trail off, looking round at the others for support. "My twitter feed right now is full of people who couldn't get tickets for the show we just did, demanding that we do exactly the same thing on the tour."

"He's right," Zayn said, as Simon looked disbelieving. "Nobody wants to feel like they missed out."

"We are trying to maintain a clean-cut image for you here," Simon protested. "Sometimes, it feels, despite your best efforts."

"Maybe it's time for a change," Louis suggested. "We're all older now than we were. Let everybody else see we've grown up."

"It could be our thing," Niall said. "End the concerts with a kiss?"

Simon opened his mouth to argue, then closed it again without saying anything, looking thoughtful. Louis nudged Harry and smirked, caught Zayn's eye and winked at him. Niall poked Liam in the leg and grinned. They waited patiently for the verdict, and after a moment's consideration, Simon finally sighed.

"Well, I suppose it's something we can discuss," he conceded.

"We still need a name for this tour and album you know," Zayn pointed out to mask their badly suppressed jubilation. "Are we just picking a track name, or what?"

"How about 'Love Will Out'?" suggested Harry, smiling innocently when Simon gave him a sharp look.

"It's our comeback tour right?" Louis said, looking mischievous. "What about 'Can't Keep A Good Man Down'?"

Niall stifled a giggle, and Simon got to his feet. "Maybe keep working on that one, eh?" He looked down at where they were all crammed onto the same sofa and hid a smile.

He was conscious they had all changed in subtle ways from the largely carefree boys of a year ago, but it was inevitable their experience would have affected them. The surprise was perhaps the degree to which it hadn't, and that, he now realised, was down to the bond between them. There was a genuine mutual devotion there that shone through everything they did, and if anyone could convince a cynical world that this was a good thing, Simon was starting to think it just might be them.

He'd noticed watching their performance back, how they seemed more aware of each other on stage than before, not in a conscious or choreographed way, but instinctively. Simon wondered how much of that was down to the fact they were sleeping together, having to co-ordinate five bodies in close proximity, then quickly pushed the thought away again as if they might guess what he was thinking.

For a while he'd been worried that the level of co-dependence they seemed to have developed would ultimately be bad for them, but as time went on his fears in that respect had eased. A year of isolation would have driven some people crazy, but they had met it head on, drawn it into themselves and become stronger because of it. While they were still five distinct, determined personalities, they were also now more than ever the five equal, stable points of a star.

As he said his goodbyes, it occurred to Simon that while they were still adjusting to being back, there was a self-sufficiency there now that meant, however unlikely it had seemed, that to a certain extent part of the world was having to adjust to them.

When he left, they waved from the window, then turned back to each other in suddenly high spirits.

"We should celebrate," said Niall immediately.

"Celebrate what? Not being fired?" Louis demanded, and Niall stuck his tongue out.

"Being right?" Zayn suggested, sliding a hand down the back of Liam's jeans and squeezing his bum.

"Being alive?" Harry offered, then laughed at Louis' stricken expression. "What?"

"Hate being reminded," Louis muttered, but he let Harry kiss away the clouds from his face and was soon smiling again.

By mutual consent they gravitated towards Harry's bedroom, unhurried but bright with anticipation. Harry had taken delivery of a custom-made bed the week before, a huge thing that finally they could all fit into comfortably. Bedding had proved an issue, but with five conflicting opinions on sleeping position, three separate duvets had turned out to be a solution rather than a compromise.

This thing between them, it was about comfort and proximity as much as sex, it always had been. As they lay down together, Harry had a second of clarity, glimpsing for a moment the truth, the shape of this thing that had let them survive first the isolation of exile, and now the isolation of being home again, which in many ways was so much harder.

They'd become their own island.

--