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After their first show in São Paulo, the whole band makes a mad dash to the hotel. Each of them has an embarrassingly enormous suite in the Mercure Grand, taking up the whole penthouse floor and the two directly underneath as well, for entourage and security. Niall's in a bit of a huddle with Zayn and Louis when they come off stage, running down the back hall through the bowels of the stadium, peeling off wardrobe and chucking it at Preston as they go, listening for the familiar rumble of the buses out in the loading bay.

Zayn doesn't even bother going to his own room once they get to the hotel, just immediately falls in with Louis since they're not allowed to stay on the bus together tonight—safety precautions, says Paul, but Niall thinks probably Don just wants to fumigate Bus 1 and get it sandblasted or something. At this point, Zayn, Liam, and Louis are basically living in their own filth. Niall loves to hang out with them, but if he didn't have Bus 2 to go back to at night he'd go spare. He keeps it tidy most of the time, and Harry vents his peculiar anxieties through fits of cleaning there as well. Niall could literally eat off any surface in the bus—and has, if he's honest.

Niall goes to his own room, conscious of not overstaying his welcome with Zayn and Louis. Judging how much is too much is the first and most important rule of friendships, and Niall is nothing if not a good friend.

He puts away his clothes in the actual drawers and closet instead of living out of his suitcase. Next he tries some espresso from the swanky machine in the kitchen—the labels are in Portuguese and the instruction manual is in Italian, but he muddles through fairly well.

With a steaming hot cappuccino in his lap, he flips through thousands of channels on the telly. Eventually he leaves it on Panathinaikos versus Tottenham with the volume up so he can hear it as he shuffles through the other rooms—full dining room, sitting room, cavernous marble bathroom with gold fixtures. He snaps a picture of the toilet with the gold flush-handle and the gold-fauceted bidet next to it and posts it to Instagram. Brazil sure knows how t make ya feel welcome !

The room service menu is expansive. Not that he needs the menu—pretty much no matter where they are, One Direction can order anything they want from the kitchen, on the menu or not. He calls down for steak and chips, roast chicken, red Thai curry, and as many mozzarella sticks as will fit on a platter. There's an intercom next to the thermostat and security panel, so he doesn't even have to go looking for a phone.

He eats about three quarters of the curry and most of the steak before he texts Zayn—purposely not Louis, because Niall can play them against each other almost as well as he used to play his mam and da. Louis would turn down food, Zayn would never. Got too much room service gonna bust. Share ?

Zayn texts him back a leisurely fifteen minutes later while Niall is restlessly doing squat-thrusts in front of what appears to be Se Dice Amor, an Argentinian soap opera about incest and sham marriages, if Niall's Spanish isn't betraying him.

Bring it to louis' don’t want to move x

Niall pumps a fist and grabs the wheely-table, trundling down the hall to Louis's suite singing "Gorilla". He bangs the end of the table into Louis's door on the last note and attempts a cha-cha, waiting for someone to answer.

Zayn finally opens the door and tilts a sardonic eyebrow while Niall's still in mid-cha. "Hi," Niall says, grinning at Zayn's wild hair and red-rimmed eyes.

Zayn rubs a hand over his face and into his hair, lingering at the shaved sides. "They'll let any fuckin' div work in hospitality, won't they?" he mumbles, somehow not unkindly, and turns around, leaving the door open for Niall to follow if he can be bothered.

"Room service!" Niall sing-songs in a Brazilian accent. He gets up a good head of steam rolling along the polished wooden floor of Louis's suite, riding the wheely table even though he can't steer very well. Louis is sprawled indolently on an enormous sage couch facing the TV in the living room, so Niall skids to a halt right in front of him. The ceiling is high and sweeping, with huge picture windows looking out over São Paulo. The lights are all dimmed and the massive TV that takes up practically an entire wall is showing porn—weird, possibly-softcore porn—but it's muted. Niall wonders if anyone in the skyscrapers across the square can see in—if they can, they're getting an eyeful.

"Missed me too much, Neil?" Louis says in his approximation of Zayn's baby-voice. It's annoyingly cute. He's reading a comic book—looks like The Hulk, but Niall's not really sure.

"Always," says Niall, flopping down next to Louis on the couch and gathering his ankles up into his lap. He beams at Louis and squeezes them gently, guitar callus rubbing softly against Louis's screw. "Thinking of me while you jerk off to—" he gestures vaguely towards the telly "—whatever this is?" Louis clearly isn't watching the porn, clearly isn't hard or thinking about much of anything except his comic, but there's no better time for Niall to flirt than when Louis is happy and relaxed and content, like a sated cat.

Louis smiles back at him, silly and real. "Can't keep me hands off meself, mate." Today is a good day, then. Louis has them, but they're unpredictable.

Sometimes, Niall feels like a lab rat in a cage with a food lever and a sporadic positive reinforcement schedule. Gemma told him all about it last year in Australia one night when they were up together in the hotel bar, having consumed several more vodkas than was strictly recommended by the actual adults in charge.

"I'm an adult," Gemma had said, eyes glinting. That was enough for Niall.

The rats, Gemma told him, press the lever, and one of three things happens: one, food immediately comes cascading out the chute; two, food gets dispensed an indeterminate amount of time later; three, no food is dispensed at all. The rats get thrown into a tizzy, never knowing when they'll get food from the lever and when they won't, so they bang on it all the time, completely obsessed, way more than they would be if it were predictably, reliably linked up with the food, giving it to them whenever they pressed it.

Niall, in his laboured metaphor, is the rat. Sometimes, like today, he presses the lever with Louis and gets his food, no muss no fuss. But then other times, he can bang on the Louis lever for ages and nothing ever comes of it. Niall never knows which it's going to be. Sometimes he's over in the corner licking his balls and minding his own business when a rush of food randomly floods the cage, an embarrassment of riches as a result of a lever-pull from half a day prior that Niall's all but forgotten about.

The metaphor is getting out of hand, but certainly a food cascade is like when Louis moves to sit next to Niall during an interview and kicks at his feet and grins conspiratorially at him, telling the interviewer Niall is obviously the best at everything. It doesn't matter that Niall knows Louis is taking the piss, it still makes his belly swoop. It's also when Louis pulls Niall up into his little bunk with him during a lull on the bus and shoves an earbud in his ear, asking him in a close whisper what he thinks of the song Louis is working on with Julian.

So now, with Louis's feet warm and smelly but nevertheless pleasant across his thighs, Niall has given the lever a good hard push and is enjoying the spoils which rushed out into his lap.

They order up a case of beer and some vodka, and quickly demolish Niall's modest pile of leftovers. Niall smokes a bowl all to himself to catch up with the other two, and it's the wee small hours of the morning before he even notices time has passed. He's warm down to his toes, pleased and grateful that he can be here, that this is his life, that chilling out high and sated in a penthouse suite in São Paulo with two of his best mates—who are incidentally two of the coolest, richest, and most gorgeous fuckers in the world—is a generally unremarkable occurrence.

Zayn is slumped in a huge blue velvety-looking armchair in the corner and Louis is still curled up on the couch, now with his head on Niall's hip and Niall's hand in his hair. Niall's breath catches in his throat and he devotes his thoughts to the deep questions of the universe rather than to the feeling of Louis's hot, damp breath through the weave of Niall's joggers. He has to, because otherwise he's going to get hard and he doesn't really want Louis to smack him in the dick and push him off the couch while laughing in his face just now. He's too comfortable.

Zayn gets up with a groan and a feline stretch. "Goin' out," he says, and Louis just waves him off with a flip of his wrist. Niall fiddles with his phone and focuses on Candy Crush, trying not to feel anything.

"You're a skinny fuck," Louis mumbles once the door clicks shut behind Zayn.

"What?" Niall puts his phone down and smushes his chin to his chest, attempting to get a look at Louis's face.

"Not a very good pillow—you're all bones, aren't you."

Niall shrugs, feeling the weight of Louis moving with him as his body shifts. "Order me a steak pie and some pizza then, and I'll fatten up for you."

There's a strangely pregnant silence. "You'd do it, wouldn't you," Louis suddenly says, sitting up. Niall's thigh feels instantly cold.

Niall twists around to shoot Louis a mutinous look. "I would not. I have a very fast metabolism."

"No, I mean," Louis says, wiggling around to sit tailor-style, facing Niall, "you'd eat an entire pizza and a pie if I asked you to."

"Not exactly a hardship," Niall says. He doesn't know where this is going, but since it's Louis, it's most likely someplace embarrassing and weird involving bodily functions. The fact that he's tensing up and his stomach is flipping giddily is probably not normal, considering. Any attention from Louis is good attention—Niall freely admits his problem.

"Why is that?" Louis asks, eyes glinting.

"Because I like to e—"

"Get up. Off the couch, c'mon Niall, up you go."

Niall raises an eyebrow grumpily but gets up, holding his breath until Louis deigns to let him know what ridiculous scheme he's planning this time.

"Clear up." Louis has his elbows propped on his knees, now, chin resting on his fists.

"Huh?" Niall shuffles over to the dishes and rubbish strewn around the room and jabs towards the mess with his thumb, raising his eyebrows in a question.

"Yeah, it's a tip in here. Pull your weight, sunshine." Louis is smiling the eye-crinkle smile, so Niall shrugs and starts to tidy up, heaving a sigh. Might as well.

"Interesting," Louis says after a moment.

"What's interesting?" Niall says, adjusting himself sneakily through the pocket of his jogging bottoms with one hand, a bin bag of crisp packets and beer bottles in the other.

"Nothing."

Niall rolls his eyes. By all rights, Louis Tomlinson should make him want to smack the teeth out of his mouth, but for some reason he just doesn't. Yet, anyway. Never let it be said that Niall won't pitch a fit when Louis's frayed his last nerve, even if he is the person Niall wants to be around most. "You should stay here tonight," Louis adds, matter-of-fact, like Niall doesn't really have a choice.

"Sure," Niall says, blinking, feeling confused and blank. It's like there's a huge inside joke he's not in on. Zayn's probably going to pop out of a closet and pour pig's blood on him when he least expects it.

"Good. Need a maid, don't I?" Louis smiles, and it's not even sharp-edged.

Niall swallows thickly. "Got a uniform for me?" he tries. Louis just stares at him, the cogs whirring in his head practically audible. He doesn't ever answer, letting the question go awkward and stale between them. Niall finishes cleaning because it gives him something to do besides hump Louis's leg, and after Louis gets tired of watching him and fidgeting, he puts Portuguese-dubbed episodes of Homeland on instead.

They fall asleep in the living room, Louis still sprawled across the couch and Niall folded uncomfortably on the floor where he slumped—he'd been sitting with his back to the couch, Louis's hand curled warmly at the back of his neck. He was starving for the touch, didn't want to move for fear of disturbing Louis and losing it, not unlike when a particularly finicky cat finally gets comfortable in someone's lap.

__

It's at least noon when they finally wake up. Zayn hasn't reappeared, but Niall has two texts from Liam that he and Louis need to be down to the bus by three or they're getting left behind.

"Stick your finger in a socket?" Niall asks, grinning up at Louis's puffy sleep-face and ridiculously matted hair, which is sticking up every which-way. Louis freezes for a moment, like maybe he wasn't expecting Niall to still be there, muscles obviously tense even though Niall's not touching any part of him.

"I'll stick my finger in your socket," Louis grumbles, and pushes Niall away roughly without looking at him. Not a good day today, then.

Niall brushes his teeth while Louis has a shower. Luckily the hotel stocked the expansive bathroom in Louis's suite, since Niall didn't bring any of his toiletries over. The shower's an alcove, large and open to the rest of the bathroom, with a big waterfall shower head done in gold just like the fixtures in Niall's suite, plus complicated side-jet things and three different hand-held bits bracketed to the walls.

Louis's back is to Niall, and Niall is facing the sink, but of course there's a massive mirror on the wall over it. Louis is completely visible where he's standing under the waterfall spray, framed by the wide archway of the alcove.

Niall would've thought that Louis would be fussing with making tea, staying out of the bathroom and anywhere else Niall went, considering his mood. He didn't—marched in with a towel instead like he had something to prove while Niall was rummaging in the drawers for dental floss, the upshot being that Louis's arse is now directly in Niall's eyeline. He's wet and soapy and singing "Sleeping with the Light On", and Niall is a filth cadet who wants to drown himself in the fucking bidet immediately.

Niall stares very hard at the gold faucet and the marble bowl of the sink. He's only human, though, and his eyes stray to the pornographic jiggle of Louis's arse and the sharp line of his spine and how much more slender his thighs are now than they were this time last year. His skin looks smooth and flawless with no tattoos visible at this angle, and the shadow of his dick is stupidly thrilling.

"You just love waving that arse about, don't you," Niall says, mouth full of toothbrush and foam. No sense leaving the awkward silence to grow and fester—he's going for cheeky. He's going for, You're doing this to me on purpose, aren't you? Louis is a confusing muddle, and Niall never knows when he's supposed to be paying attention and when he's supposed to be entertaining himself.

"You're the one looking at it," Louis shouts over the running water. He sounds genuinely peeved.

"There's an enormous fuck-off mirror in my face, mate, I can't not." Niall spits extravagantly down the drain.

"Should've just blindfolded you," Louis says. He looks over his shoulder pointedly, meeting Niall's eyes in the mirror. His tone is mean.

Niall coughs and chucks his toothbrush into the sink, not up to taking it from Louis when he hasn't even done anything, not really. "You'd have to catch me first." He leaves without washing his face.

___

They have to split up for radio interviews today, and Paul eyes them from the passenger seat of the people carrier. "Two groups," he says. Usually they arbitrarily split up based on who's sitting in the middle two seats of the people carrier and who's sitting in the back three. Niall is next to Zayn is next to Louis in the back, and Liam and Harry are in the middle.

"Zayn and me," Louis says immediately. "Group one. Liam, Harry, and Niall group two."

Niall scowls out the window. Louis is fucking impossible.

Harry twists awkwardly in his seat and plays the bongos on Niall's thighs over the divide. "Don't forget we have to talk about linguine and driving gloves," he says, referencing their assignment left over from a few days ago. Louis won't give them a new one for the game until they manage the one they've already got. Liam's winning in the overall bracket, so he won't help them even though they're in the same group. Niall's been working on a driving gloves story for three days now, and Harry's wearing two different patterns of flowered button-down and one of Gemma's silk scarves in his hair, and Niall can't stay grumpy.

__

After the radio interviews, they have a video interview, all five of them together. It's for Simon's YouTube channel, not any actual TV show, so the space is a bit cramped

Louis starts off on the far right, the opposite end from Niall. Niall's happily moved on from earlier, per usual, pretending nothing ever happened, content to flirt with the gorgeous Brazilian interviewer and sit half on Liam's lap on the tiny couch. They have a bit of a scuffle trying to fit everyone in, and Louis ends up coming round to sit on Niall's right, bumping at him with his hip to shove everyone over enough so he's not falling off the side of the couch.

Niall lifts his arm to put it around Louis's back, pull him in tight and keep him on the sofa, but Louis sits back too far, just out of Niall's reach. He grabs Niall's wrist and pushes it into Niall's lap, crossing his ankles primly and putting his own arm around Niall's shoulders instead. The line of his thigh is pressed along Niall's hip and Louis's armpit is a bit sweaty over Niall's sleeve. Niall just shrugs at the interviewer.

Louis's thigh feels tense.

"All right?" Niall asks, turning to smile at Louis.

"Spectacular," Louis says, not looking back at Niall, but squeezing him a little.

The interview is fairly run of the mill, and Niall manages to say that he loves Italian food, particularly linguine, which earns him a happy pinch to the nipple from Louis. Niall laughs and hisses in pain at the same time, but luckily the interviewer doesn't ask any follow-up questions. Louis pats over Niall's chest, and Niall doesn't react even though it aches, but he doesn't push Louis's hand away, either. Louis isn't done yet, apparently—he pulls Niall into a waltz before they leave the studio, and Niall goes with it eagerly, beaming and trying not to trip over his own feet.

Dancing like an idiot with Louis is always weirdly easy—no fighting over who's leading like with Liam, no inevitable crash and burn like with Harry. Just a perfectly matched dance with Louis's hand warm at the small of Niall's back and the soft curve of his waist under Niall's fingers. It's over as soon as it's begun, and Niall laughs and claps Louis on the back when they part. "Gonna buy me dinner now?" he asks, cheeky. He nudges Louis in the side with his elbow, other hand clenched damply in his pocket.

Louis narrows his eyes. "Dinner comes before dancing, Neil. You've missed your window." He smiles a half-smile as he leaves, though, looking back at Niall for a moment while he's reaching out to grip Liam's arm and tug him along. Niall watches them get into a different car than the one Basil's ushering him into, without even a wave. Always hot and cold with the Tommo.

__

The second night in São Paulo ends with an after-party at the club in the hotel. There's rivers of booze and sequins everywhere, catwalks and back rooms all clogged with people laughing and rubbing against each other. Niall only knows about a quarter of the guests, but he's buzzing, dancing like an idiot and making the rounds. He starts feeling claustrophobic after a few hours, though, and slips out a side door to take a break. The private lifts to the penthouses are down a long hallway, which seems even longer than usual to Niall's pickled brain.

He texts Basil that he's gone up to rest for a minute so he won't worry, but that he'll be back down when he's gotten some air and dried out a little.

There's someone else in the corridor when Niall gets off the lift on the top floor, and he feels the flutter of panic starting in his chest before he realises it's Louis, fumbling with his card key. "Hey," Niall says, trying not to sound too drunk.

Louis points at him with the edge of his card. "Oh my god, it's Neil!" he says shrilly, and Niall laughs.

"Taking a breather?" Niall asks, leaning against the wall next to Louis. It's more from necessity than from nonchalance, although he's going for the latter.

"Yeah," Louis says softly, looking down at his hands as he tries to get the card key to work. "You done for the night?" He's gone a bit sweaty at his hairline, curls forming at the back of his neck where it's longer. He's wearing a new short-sleeved button-up, faded red with a black pattern of triangles all over it—it suits him. His trousers are rolled up to his shins, tats showing, no socks and brand new black Vans with Tipp-Ex doodles on them that look suspiciously like Zayn Malik originals. When he looks up at Niall again, his eyes are clear and bright, cheeks a little flushed from the heat in the club. Niall swallows thickly and doesn't try to hide that he's staring.

"I dunno, maybe. Was getting claustrophobic. Too drunk." He shrugs, and Louis nods. It's dangerous to get locked at parties like that. Pictures show up everywhere in an instant. Niall licks his lips, still meeting Louis's gaze. He doesn't ask why Louis excused himself—he's taken to needing alone time more often these days, ever since early in the year when he and Eleanor called it quits.

Louis smells like Armani Code and amaretto and deodorant, and Niall blinks slowly, weighing the pros and cons of just pushing him against the door and kissing him. He'd probably get kneed in the gut, but he'd also get to kiss Louis Tomlinson.

"Wanna come in with me?" Louis asks, sounding concerned more than anything, and the door finally clicks, LED going green and Niall's thoughts dissolving.

Louis has always been particularly careful with Niall when he's feeling anxious, letting Niall grab onto him, or doing the grabbing himself, warm and comforting at Niall's back, a hand curled at Niall's hip, guiding him through a crowd and onto the bus or to Paul. Niall nods, smiles gratefully. There's a pleased twist in his gut when he follows Louis inside the suite.

He gets them both glasses of water which they down while Louis puts on the kettle for tea. The kitchen is spacious, open-plan and separated from the living room by a black granite breakfast bar. All the appliances are brushed chrome and look like they've never been touched, which isn't surprising considering anyone who'd be staying in this suite would be more than capable of footing the bill for room service instead of having to cook. Niall's one of those people now.

He tries to hop up onto the counter and manages to crash into the refrigerator when he misses. "Legless," Louis says, laughing and pointing. "Drink more water."

"You are," Niall says. "Shut up." He refills his glass, though. Louis watches him pointedly as he drinks.

After Louis's made the tea, he takes his into the living room and curls up on the sage couch again. Niall makes to follow him, but Louis stops him. "Uh-uh-uh," he singsongs, waggling his finger.

Niall sighs. "What?"

"It's hot lava," Louis says with a smirk, and tosses one of the dozen black and white throw pillows native to the living room onto the floor in front of Niall. He chucks another one a few feet away from the first. "Don't spill your tea, Niall. Wouldn't want to make a mess." His whole face has lit up, clearly pleased with himself for coming up with a fun game. He looks really good.

Niall can't say he's surprised—they don't have much time in the show these days for Louis to make Niall do forward rolls or star jumps or crab walks. Those parts of the concerts last year were some of Louis's favourites, if the post-show recaps he gave on the bus were anything to go by. "But Lou, there's not sixty thousand people here to watch me make a complete twat of myself." He can't help smiling—he loved every second of it.

"I'm here," Louis says primly. "That's enough." He wriggles a bit, settling down into the couch cushions, making sure he has a good view of Niall perching on the first throw pillow. "I mean it about not spilling the tea." He tosses a few more pillows out—enough to get Niall started, but he's going to have to actually do some work to pick up the ones he's already walked over. He'll need to reuse them if it's going to make it all the way to the couch. And he'll have to do it one-handed, holding his scalding tea in the other hand. He's also still far too drunk to be able to balance on the pillows without thinking about it.

It takes him about five minutes, all-told, to get across the room and around to the front of the couch where Louis is sitting. "C'mon, almost got it," Louis says. He's pulled his feet up under him now, crouching on the couch like he sometimes does when they watch football together, too excited to sit on his bum, ready to jump up and cheer at any second. His tea sits forgotten on the end table.

One big jump will get Niall onto the couch, but it's a risk with the tea in his hand. "Do it Niall, come on!" Louis shouts, and Niall does, kicking his way onto the couch with a grunt.

The tea sloshes onto the white carpet with a splat at almost the exact moment Niall lands. Niall watches it like it's happening in slow motion, horrified. "Augh!" he shouts, gripping tight around the cup in his hand. "Fucking shit." He chucks the cup onto the ground after, laughing. "I was so fucking close I can't even fucking believe—" he trails off. Louis hasn't said anything at all, is just looking at him with a mischievous quirk at the corner of his lips.

Louis yanks at the cuff of Niall's jeans, toppling him onto his bum on the couch. Before Niall can even catch his breath, Louis smacks him dead in the face.

It's not a play slap, either, the sharp sting of it sudden and surprising. "Jesus Christ, Louis," Niall yells, immediately on-edge. He covers his cheek with his palm, pressing on it like he would if he'd stubbed his toe to ease the needling pain.

While Niall is staring right at him, Louis's other hand snakes out to crack one on the opposite cheek, bold as anything. It doesn't sting quite as much as the first smack, but Niall twitches all over and his breath catches in throat, muscles so tense he's shaking.

"Fuck, that hurt," he breathes. It does hurt, even around his eye socket and over his nose, places Louis's hand never touched. Niall's shivering and somehow his dick is half-hard, everything muddled and weird. He presses his hands to his face, both this time, breathing in heavy pants. The cocky grin on Louis's face melts away.

"You spilled your tea," Louis says, apparently by way of explanation. He looks kind of lost now, lips pressed into a thin line, looking up at the ceiling instead of at Niall. "That was the forfeit."

"You didn't—I didn't know you'd do that. Before." He could argue that the tea didn't spill until he'd already made it to the couch. He could slap Louis back. He could chuck the broken cup at Louis, or grab a handful of his hair and yank it out. Each scenario flashes through Niall's mind but he doesn't do any of them. He finds he's not actually angry, just—confused. "It's okay." He leans forward, compelled to try and pat at Louis's thigh.

"Sorry," Louis says, jerking away. His hands are in his lap, twisting awkwardly, and when Niall looks at them, Louis brings his knees up to his chest. "You should probably go. I'm—I'll call housekeeping to clean it up."

Niall nods. "Sure, Lou." He gets up slowly, not sure what to do. "See you back down there later, maybe."

He shuffles out of Louis's suite trying to make his boner go down. The mirror in the hall shows him how little point there is in it, though—his cheeks are a hectic, slapped red, and that's something he won't be able to will away. He tilts his head in the light, studying the tapered shape of the mark Louis's hands left on the pale skin of his face, angry-looking and obvious.

He goes back to his room instead of to the party and has a wank over the gold toilet, fingers pressed to the cold tile behind the cistern. At first he's not thinking of anything at all, but it's not long before Louis is riding him on the floor, telling him to be still, giving him a smack when he shivers too hard from the chilled marble on his back.

When he flushes his load, it's with a weird, unsatisfying lack of closure. He's had a crush on Louis for years, has been stupid and obviously into him since the very beginning, and this sudden acknowledgement is throwing him for a loop.

The bed in his room is vast, with a thick, downy duvet that puffs dramatically when Niall takes a running leap onto it. He rolls around for a minute, getting comfortable, wishing he were looser-limbed considering he just rubbed one out. He tries to sleep, but he's thinking too much.

Louis is, has always been, a serial monogamist, both in his relationships and friendships. He and Harry were inseparable, once upon a time, and after that got weird, he and Liam spent all their free time together. Lately, Zayn has taken over as Louis's go-to, the two of them constantly disappearing to their van or each other's hotel rooms.

The one constant in Louis's serial friendship monogamy is that Niall doesn't get to play.

Niall doesn't know why Louis is immune to him, particularly when he's using all his best moves maxed out at 11, every single one utterly genuine. Every raucous laugh is real. Every compliment heartfelt. Niall can't get enough of being around Louis, wants to wrestle with him on stage and have stupid inside jokes with him and play football with him and hug him tight and kiss him and feel his body under his hands and make him dinner and suck him off and bring him tea in bed and ride his dick all in equal measures. It practically oozes out of Niall's pores every time he's near Louis.

Niall knows him well enough to be baffled that basically worshiping the ground Louis walks on isn't enough to endear himself. Usually, under any other circumstance, there's nothing in the world Louis loves more than adoration and attention. He just doesn't seem to want it from Niall.

Niall finally falls asleep thinking about Louis with his knees drawn up to his chest, telling Niall to leave.

__

The next few shows are difficult. Louis is stiff in Niall's arms when he hugs him on stage and breaks out of it as quickly as he can. He shakes off Niall's hands when he tries to start a conga line, and just barely plays along with their usual shenanigans. He smiles and laughs, but when he runs around with a water gun or leaps on someone for a piggyback ride, it's not Niall.

Niall doesn't let it change anything—just keeps pressing the lever like he always does, waiting for the time the food will come down the chute again.

The next time, it turns out, is in Dusseldorf two weeks later. Louis hangs back instead of sprinting onto Bus 1, tweeting something rude from Mark's phone to occupy himself while Niall is talking to Alberto. "Hey," Louis says, tugging on Niall's arm once his phone's back in his pocket, "you should come to my room. I need a hand with something."

Niall grins and claps Louis on the back. "Any time, Tommo. You know I long to feel helpful."

The hotel is less ostentatious this time, but still luxurious. Niall is frankly surprised that Louis even knows where his own room is, but he had disappeared for a while earlier in the day while the rest of them were engaged in a rousing game of Live-Action Fruit Ninja, so maybe he'd been investigating then.

Louis doesn't look at him as they ride the lift to the top floor. He's leaning against the mirrored wall, body a sweet little curve. He's wearing a purple vest and rolled up jeans that Niall's pretty sure used to be Liam's, his thighs curving into his knees with a soft fold that Niall unabashedly wants to lick. He whistles instead, a mockery of their silence, and he can see the sly tilt of a smile under the brush of Louis's fringe.

Louis's room looks like he's been living in it for a week. All of his clothes are unpacked from his suitcase, piles everywhere—Niall didn't even know Louis had a suitcase. Some of the clothes don't even look like Louis's. Niall blinks, nonplussed. "Woah."

"You're so good at packing," Louis says, and if Niall didn't know better he'd say he sounded almost shy. "Tidy and that. Figured you could help me."

"We've been here one feckin' day, Louis, how did you—" Niall trails off, the pieces falling into place. "Oh." Louis obviously recognises the light bulb that's going on for Niall, watches to see if Niall will choose to play along. "Yeah, Lou. I'll—I'll help you pack. 'Course I will." His chest is tight and his skin goes hot in the crooks of his elbows, and he's smiling like a fucking idiot. There's no point in trying not to. Louis would know it was there anyway.

Louis clears his throat, like what he's about to say is particularly weighty. Niall grabs his wrist between his thumb and first two fingers, rubbing over the card suits, biting his bottom lip but still grinning through it. "Make sure you put everything where it's meant to go," Louis says deliberately. He snaps his mouth shut after, pointedly not elaborating, raising his eyebrows like he's waiting for an answer to a question he didn't ask.

Louis isn't telling him where anything is meant to go, isn't telling him if there is going to be a forfeit, or if there is, what it's going to be. Niall can practically feel the slap from last time, can see it in Louis's expression, and it makes his guts clench and his dick twitch. "I'll try," he says, and lets go of Louis's wrist, turning to the piles of clothes and random stuff strewn around the room.

He sorts and folds, rolls and tucks, all the clothes and objects and everything packed away the best Niall can manage. He's really trying, thinking about what's the logically best way to pack a suitcase. If he weren't feeling the spirit of the task, if he weren't trying, what would the fun in this whole arrangement be? Niall would never want to watch a football team play whose heart wasn't in the game; he hates when players just phone it in. And Louis is watching attentively, Niall can feel his eyes. He wants Louis to be pleased more than anything. He wants Louis to feel like he picked a good a task, like Niall cares about doing it right.

It takes maybe twenty minutes for Niall to get everything sorted and packed up. There's a pair of Louis's football boots he's left out, sitting next to the suitcase. There's enough room for one of them in the suitcase—Niall did it on purpose, and Louis hasn't said anything at all.

He tucks the right shoe in with the rest of the clothes, then zips the big case shut with two expansive pulls. In the outside pocket, Niall tucks the left shoe, and zips it, too, with a flourish. "There we go, all packed up," he says, and pats the suitcase, kneeling next to it.

"No," Louis says sharply, "that doesn't go there." He eyes the outside pocket of the suitcase, arms crossed purposefully over his chest.

Niall gets up off the floor, facing Louis, ready for it this time, anticipation thrilling through him. "Oops," he says, bolder than he feels. "What are you going to do about it?" He's not asking in a bratty way, genuinely looking for an answer. His dick is fattening up in his briefs, his heart pounding.

Louis doesn't do anything at all, at first, just looks at Niall with sharp eyes, breathing quick and shallow. His pulse is visible in his throat. He's deliberating, maybe, but Niall is expecting it when Louis's hand snaps out and he smacks Niall across the face, open-palmed, determined. Niall gasps and clenches his hands in the hem of his t-shirt, and as soon as he's caught his breath, Louis slaps him again on the other cheek, harder this time. Niall's toes curl as the pain digs into his skull. He feels heat blooming all over his skin, the prickles of it blending the planes of his face together.

Louis is flushed, eyes wide. He's closing and opening his fist, like maybe his fingers are tingling from how solidly he hit Niall. "Try harder," he says, barely more than a breath.

Niall kneels down, takes Louis's shoe out of the pocket and jams it into the suitcase with everything else. He's painfully hard now, dick pushing at his flies and leaking into his pants. He's never in his life wanted someone to fuck him more, can feel his balls throbbing like maybe if he thought too much about Louis's cock in his arse, he'd come without even touching himself. It's agony, and he squeezes his thighs together, purposely trapping his balls, trying to calm himself down. "Like that?" he asks, looking up at Louis, feeling out how far he's supposed to go.

"Good, that's good," Louis says, nodding. "C'mere." He's got a smug expression like he's expected Niall to do it properly in the end, like he's pleased, or even proud. Niall scoots closer, starts to get up, but Louis puts a hand on his head, gripping gently at his hair, scritching behind his ears. Niall stays where he is then, on his knees, glad he left his brace on after the show. He wraps his arms around Louis's knees and rubs his hot cheek against Louis's thigh, wants to do something to show how pleased he is, to tell Louis he likes it too, even if he can't get up.

"Wait," Louis says. "There's one more thing." Niall sits back, folds his hands in his lap over his aching dick. His knees are open around Louis's feet, sockless in his plimsolls. Louis sets his shoulders, takes a deep breath. "Suck me off."

Niall huffs in a surprised breath through his nose—it's obvious they're both turned on, that they've been dancing around each other for ages now, but he'd never have thought Louis would come out with it like that. He shifts his hips against Louis's legs, bites down on a moan at his hard cock rubbing up against his damp pants, the roll of Louis's trousers digging in under the head of his dick.

He fumbles at Louis's button, peels his flies apart and takes out his dick, holding his breath until it's staring him in the face, thick and perfect and wet at the tip. Louis's hand is stroking gently in his hair, a calm pace, but Niall can feel how his fingers are trembling.

"Fuck," Niall breathes, and lets his eyes slide shut, tongue darting out to taste the drip welling up at Louis's slit, his dick flexing invitingly around it. He humps against Louis's leg as he gets his mouth around him, tongue working against the spine of it, up under the soft flare of the head, thick and plummy, then edging under his foreskin. Louis's precome tastes rich, a little sour, and Niall swallows it gladly.

"Don't come," Louis says suddenly, stepping back to break the contact between Niall's dick rubbing up against his shin through their jeans.

Niall whimpers, holding his hips still using every ounce of determination he has. He lets Louis pull away, distracts himself from the loss of pressure by shoving his mouth down on Louis's dick, letting it push through his embarrassingly reactive gag reflex. Louis's cock slides over his tongue, down his throat, every contraction from a swallow or a breath pulling a huff from Louis. Sometimes he even lets out a moan, half-muffled, lighting Niall up from inside.

Louis's other hand runs tenderly over Niall's cheek—it's still hot from the slap where Louis's thumb is brushing, pressing in just enough to feel his dick pushing at Niall's mouth, Niall's throat catching and shifting under Louis's fingertips.

Niall breathes heavily through his nose, mouth filling with spit, gulping frantically to keep from having to pull off. He wants to be good, wants to take everything Louis is giving him so maybe Louis will want to give it to him again. He works his tongue under the fat head of Louis's dick, uses the precome blurting out to get Louis all slicked up. He grips his free hand at the base, thumbing the drippy mess trickling into Louis's pubes, spreading it all over his dick, working everything he can't reach with his mouth.

Niall's desperate to come, the weight of Louis's cock on his tongue and the taste of him in his mouth, the gentle tugs on his hair more than enough to make him jizz in his pants. He has his other hand clenched in a fist though, knuckling into his own groin, as painful as he can make it so he won't fail at following Louis's instructions. "C'mon," he murmurs as he grabs a breath. "This okay?"

"Doing so good," Louis manages, eyes hooded and face flushed. "Niall, fuck, this is—" He doesn't even finish his sentence before he's coming in Niall's mouth, down his throat. The thick cling of spunk is hot and bitter over Niall's gums, his tongue, but he loves it, takes it with barely a flinch and swallows, sliding his hands around to Louis's hips, gripping him tight, holding him close so he won't miss a drop.

Once Louis starts going soft in his mouth, Niall pulls off with a slick, obscene pop. He rubs at Louis's thighs, looks up at him with a tight smile. His dick hurts, everything in him screaming for release, but he won't touch, not until Louis says.

Louis's eyes are closed, breaths measured and even like he's trying to get a grip, muscles shivering. "Fuck," he breathes, and sinks to his knees. He's straddling Niall's lap, and Niall can't help but whimper, panting as Louis rubs a palm over his back, his hip, eventually finding the aching bulge of his cock in his trousers. "That was good," he says again. "Niall, I'm—shit."

Niall's balancing on the edge, every nerve in him screaming to come in his pants. He won't, though, refuses to ruin this when it's been such a long time coming. Louis is looking at him with a light in his eyes like Niall's never seen before, and he'll never willingly give that up, not ever. It's like every organ in his body has diverted its attention to his dick, like every other function he needs to survive—the beating of his heart, breathing—takes a back seat to making sure he doesn't nut all over himself while Louis looks on, disappointed. It hurts. His eyes are welling with tears, and he doesn't even have the wherewithal to hide it from Louis.

"Nialler," Louis says, finally, a tender brush of fingers over Niall's jaw saying just as much as his gentle tone. His other hand works its way into Niall's trousers, tucking under the waistband of his briefs like it's nothing. "You can come. Been so good. Such a good boy." He sounds hoarse but soft.

Niall can barely parse Louis's words, every cell in his being letting go at once in a full-body sigh. Louis is jerking him, still straddling his lap, solid and efficient. His smallish hands are perfect around Niall's cock, slimy with precome and hot everywhere their skin touches. He leans in for a kiss, licking at his own jizz in Niall's mouth, swallowing down the taste of it with guttural noises, sweet nasal moans, every sound he makes the only thing Niall can even process. "C'mon," he says again, and everything in Niall focuses down to that one moment. "Come for me, Niall."

Niall chokes on a sob, Louis's hand wicked and perfect on his cock. He can't hold off anymore; there's no reason to, with Louis's lips pressed against his ear, asking him to come. Niall's never been disobedient, and he's not going to start now.

He comes with a whimper against Louis's lips, his whole body trembling, gripping onto Louis like if he let go he'd shake completely apart. The pull of it through the base of his spine, through each of his limbs, is so intense it's like he's coming apart at the seams and the only thing holding him together is Louis.

Louis works at his cock as he comes, gathers him up and holds him close through his limp, shivering aftershocks. "Such a good boy," he murmurs, sweet against Niall's sweaty temple, one hand pushing up under Niall's t-shirt to rub soothingly against his spine.

Niall tucks in close to Louis, gripping at his sides. "Bed?" he murmurs, and they both manage to get themselves under the duvet, kicking off errant clothes without letting go. Niall kisses Louis, winds their limbs together like it would cause him physical pain to let go, now that he finally has the chance to do it. Everything in him, post-orgasmic and needy, wants Louis's approval. Louis's hands and body are pressed up against Niall until they're nothing but the places where they meet.

"Gonna have to find something new you need help with next time," Niall says, honest as always and craving the validation of Louis acknowledging what they're doing.

Louis presses a hand against Niall's cheek, still heated from his earlier slap. "I'm a creative guy," he says, lips brushing Niall's jaw. His voice is sweet but barely a whisper. "We'll work it out."