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“Hey, Styles!” Someone claps Harry on the shoulder, shaking him a bit, “Happy birthday!”

“Oh, yeah, cheers.” Harry clinks their glasses together in thanks, smiles as the guy slips off before Harry can figure out where he knows him from. Maybe Jeff would know -- he’s around somewhere. Last Harry saw, he was out back, by the pool, but Harry’s just done a lap out there and it was all faces he’d sort of remembered meeting once or twice.

“Harry!” He finds himself being pulled into a hug. “Are you having a nice night?”

“Of course, are you? Can I get you another drink?”

Ashley laughs. “It’s your party.”

“Just want to make sure everyone’s having a good time,” he says, shrugging.

“We are,” she promises, gesturing to the knot of people she’s standing with. They all nod, quietly saying things like how great it is, how nice the house is, how they want him to have a happy birthday.

“Thanks,” he says, smiling. “Jeff threw it all together, it’s amazing, yeah?” It’s sprawling, is what it is, somehow grander than anything Harry’d anticipated when Irv called him up and said they’d be throwing him a party. It feels like half of LA is milling about this house, which is sick but. It's more than he'd expected, is all.

“How’s the movie going?” he asks, because he knows Ashley’s doing another film with Zach, something that’s started up recently, and that’s easy enough to listen to.

“And you?” she asks after a bit, “you’ve been over here a lot, haven’t you?”

“In LA?”

She nods and Harry shrugs, thinking about it. He has been here for a while, he supposes. He went home for Christmas but only for a short go, just enough to see his family and the lads before he was supposed to be back in the studio.

“I guess, yeah,” he scratches the back of his neck. His fingers are cold and damp from his glass; he can feel a drop of water rolling under his collar, down his spine. “It hasn’t felt like a lot? A normal amount, I guess. Dunno, I’ve been busy so it doesn’t seem all that different.”

“Do you miss it?” one of her friends asks. Part of Harry wants to mark the time, see how long the conversation lasted before everything circled back to that. It always does, these days. Seems like people’ve been asking since the second they announced the last tour would be One Direction’s final one. He gets it, though.

“Not yet,” he says, laughing. “Feels like a normal break so far, you know? I’m sure it’ll sink in soon enough.”

It’s starting to already, honestly, but only in small ways. The kind that are easy to ignore, especially when things are as busy as Harry is lately. It really does mostly feel normal, like any day now he’s going to have to hop back on a plane and head to rehearsals.

“Well when it does, if you get bored, Serge here’s been writing a lot lately, you could always give him a call, try to work something out.”

“Oh yeah?” Harry turns, holds out his hand to the guy Ashley’s pointing to. “You’re Serge? Nice to meet you, thanks so much for coming.”

It turns out Serge has lots of opinions about the evolution of music and how his ideas are more in tune with its trajectory than anyone else’s. Harry nods along and tries not to feel disappointed that yet another person is trying to spin tonight into a networking event. It’s the nature of the game.

Still.

Harry hears him out, gets his number and promises to have someone see about arranging a meeting before he pulls away, back on his quest to refill his drink. He wonders if it sounds like bullshit to Serge, if he’s been around long enough to know when he’s being brushed off. It makes Harry feel guilty a bit so he pulls out his phone and makes a note to really arrange a meeting with him. Maybe he’ll be more tolerable when Harry’s not been drinking for hours.

That’s rarely the case, but it’s worth a shot.

Even after parting ways with Ashley and Serge and their friends, Harry doesn’t manage to get to either of the bars that’ve been set up for a long while, constantly waylaid by the exact same conversation.

“Excuse me, sorry,” he says to the girl chatting him up as they wait for their drinks, “I’ve got to take this. Sorry, it’s just --” he holds up his phone and grabs his drink and smiles when she nods, understanding.

Harry sneaks upstairs, looking for somewhere quiet for five minutes, feeling a bit shit for hiding out at his own party. His phone really had vibrated, though, so it’s not as if he’d been lying to get out of a conversation.

Thanks ! x he sends back to the latest text, Cal this time, and doesn’t let himself scroll through all the previous messages he’s gotten today, the ones from his family and friends, all people who couldn’t be here. No use in feeling homesick. He opens twitter instead, scrolling mindlessly through his feed and contemplating instagramming the picture of the cake he’d taken earlier, maybe cropping it so it’s just the candles.

He forgets about the picture when he sees Niall’s tweet from not that long ago -- @NiallOfficial: Happy birthday @harry_styles ! Hope your having a siiiiick party ! Love you bro !

Harry knows it’s mostly show; he’d gotten a text from Niall early this morning, and a gift that was delivered exactly at noon, like Niall’d paid UPS extra to sit at the end of the block so they could time things perfectly. That doesn’t stop the swelling of emotions as he rereads the tweet, the way he misses Niall -- misses all the lads, his family, London -- growing so strong he squeezes his eyes shut.

In the end he snaps a quick picture of his view: the garden all lit up, people and balloons everywhere.

@Harry_Styles: @NiallOfficial if a party happens and @NiallOfficial isn’t there to celebrate, does the party really exist? http://instagram.com/p/nR5UTMLjnQ/

He tucks his phone away and heads downstairs after that, back into the fray. It isn’t until much later, when he’s tucked into a car being ferried back to his house, that he sees Niall’s responded.

@NiallOfficial: @Harry_Styles haha it appears they do. Looks incredible, miss u bro have a pint for me !

Harry can’t think of anything to say back that isn’t something dumb like thanks or miss you too so he pockets his phone again and tilts his head back, closes his eyes and lets the hum of the car lull him to sleep.

**

Thanks to the party and the meetings he ended up agreeing to -- on top of the meetings that were agreed to for him, and the ones he’d already had on the books -- Harry goes through a stretch where his days are so busy he’s barely got time to catch up with his mum, let alone sit down by himself for five minutes.

“You were just in the studio with Banks, we heard,” a reporter asks him and Harry has to blink before he can remember that it was only three days ago. It’s good there’s no red carpet for this after-party. At first he’d been sad not to be attending the awards themselves but now he’s grateful for the lack of TV crews with video cameras.

“Yeah,” he fiddles with one his rings, “she’s great, we had a really great session. I can’t wait for the next one.”

“So you’ll be doing more with her? Would you say sparks were flying?”

“Creatively, yeah, like, creative sparks,” Harry laughs, knowing he sounds tired. He can’t help it, not when he can already hear the rumor mill starting. They’ll probably have to rearrange next week’s session so they get lunch delivered instead of going out like they’d talked about. “But yeah, we’ll be -- we’re definitely going to do a bit more.”

“Looking forward to it,” she says, winking, and then practically runs off because Hailee Steinfeld’s just gone past, leaving Harry to mingle as he pleases.

He doesn’t think much of it until the following morning, his phone chirping unnecessarily early. It seems he’s slept through a whole conversation’s worth of messages.

Niall’s the one who started it all, probably fucking about on twitter long enough to catch wind of his interview, because he’s sent Creative sparks? Really, Harry? Is that what we’re calling it now?

It’d been a while before Louis’d said no.

I like it ! Liam added.

Your vote doesn’t count

Haha fuck off Tommo ! 3 v 1 ! Hope your creative juices are flowin Haz There’s a winking emoji with it that makes Harry scoff.

Zayn remind Haz what creative juices lead to, would you please Louis sent, followed by a pause so long there’s a time stamp break in the messages. All that’s after that is a picture -- sent from Liam, not even from Zayn -- of the baby. He’s bigger now, Harry can tell even from the poorly cropped photo. He remembers when Laser’s head fit in his palm. Christ, the hols feel like they were yesterday.

That’s disgusting he sends back. And then (Juices not laser, Zayn) just to be clear. He wonders if he should clear more things up, say he’s not really shagging Banks, that they are only working together. He thinks the lads know that, that they’re just taking the piss, but it’s a gray area. Things get lost over text in a way they hadn’t when they were just slinging insults from the back of the bus.

He waits a bit, staring out the window with his phone on his chest. No new messages come through. He sighs and kicks his legs over the side of the bed. If he’s awake he might as well try to make it to yoga before he’s due downtown.

**

“What if these parts were switched?” Dan taps his pen on the table, humming something Harry doesn’t quite catch. “What do you think?”

Harry stares at the scraps of paper scattered in front of him, trying to focus on the verses Dan’s talking about.

“You liked it better the first way?” Dan sounds a touch disappointed.

“It’s not that I liked it better,” Harry says, pulling some pages closer so he can read them over while trying to mimic what Dan’d been humming. He tries it both ways, and then again. After a minute he shrugs. “What do you think?”

“Don’t turn this around on me,” Dan flicks a balled up straw wrapper, laughing when it bounces off Harry’s cheek, “I asked first.”

Harry frowns and reads through them again. He honestly hasn’t got an opinion. They’ve been at this for hours, feels like. It’d been fine at first, going smooth as ever, but now Harry feels like he’s hit a wall. He’s been hitting it earlier and earlier in these writing sessions lately. It’s frustrating and draining, the way it’s a bit like fighting an uphill battle.

“The second way.” He knows he sounds a touch unenthusiastic so he tacks on a smile. The second way is a bit better. More dramatic. Stronger build and all that.

“Solid.” Dan makes a note and then shuffles things around for a moment. “Think that’s a good amount to build off, if you want to call it a day.”

A glance at his phone shows it’s somehow earlier and later than Harry’d thought.

“No, think we should try for one more.” It’d been a struggle to even find the time for this, both their schedules jam-packed. Harry doesn’t want to walk out early and end up regretting it. “Maybe just like a five minute break so I can stretch my legs?”

“Works for me.” Dan slaps Harry’s back, already pushing away from the table. “Need to get my blood flowing again, that chair is uncomfortable as fuck.”

He’s halfway down the hall when he yells, “I’m going to grab a beer, you in?”

“Do you think they have the kind with the orange slices?” Harry calls back. He stands up and twists, breathing a sigh of relief when his back cracks loudly. It’s been a long day. He’ll take any old lager at this point. It doesn’t even have to come with citrus.

“Jackpot!” he hears from down the hall and Harry smiles to himself as he jogs after Dan. He doesn’t want to jinx it, but he has a good feeling about the rest of their session.

&&&

“Feel like it’s been ages,” Bressie says, slinging an arm around Niall’s neck. It’s hot in here, Niall feels flushed with it, and part of him wants to shake Bressie off but he doesn’t. He takes a long drink instead.

“Been busy,” he says, shrugging.

“Thought you were supposed to be less busy now,” Laura says, smiling. Eoghan drops into the empty seat next to her, pushing fresh drinks towards each of them.

“Less, yeah,” Niall tips his beer towards her, “it’s not like I’m retired. Sitting at home, watering the garden and reading the Times.”

He’d done a bit of that, actually, taken a real break after the last tour, one where he did shit all day. It’d gotten old real fast, felt too much like being laid up after his knee surgery, his fridge filling up too quick because he’d never remember to order less takeaway now that Willie’s moved out.

So yeah, he’s busy now but he doesn’t want to blow his brains out from boredom or sleep for seventeen years because he’s so exhausted he can’t see straight. It’s a happy medium or some sappy bullshit like that. Most of the time. Lately he feels like he’s forgetting to do something important, like he’s going to wake up to Paul pounding on the door, shouting that Niall’s made them all late for the airport again. It’s still taking a bit of getting used to, he supposes. He knocks back the rest of his drink to drown the weirdness settling in his stomach.

“You’re just avoiding us then, that it?” Laura arches her eyebrow, smirking like she wasn’t the one rescheduling their plans the last three times. They’ve all got their own shit going on; it’s easier than it was when Niall was flying all over the globe, but it’s not easy.

“Been trying t’ ditch you sorry lot for years,” Niall says, pulling a new pint closer, “can’t believe you’re only just getting the hint.”

He laughs before he finishes, sabotaging his own joke. Bressie shakes him a bit before finally letting go; the room feels instantly cooler, like Niall can breathe again. He clinks their glasses together before taking a sip. He hasn’t got anywhere to be in the morning; he reminds himself that it’s a good thing.

**

Having loads of time to work on new songs is one of Niall’s favorite parts of his new civilian life, as Louis’s taken to calling it, but there are still days where it’s a pain in the arse, everything feeling like pulling teeth instead of putting together a melody.

Today’s not hit agonizing just yet but Niall’s about an hour away from it. Tom’s even closer to his breaking point, going so far as to chuck his pencil on the ground before getting up.

“Think I need a break, Niall,” he says, scrubbing his hands over his head, “or else I’m likely to lose it.”

Niall doesn’t say anything as Tom leaves. They’ve been stuck on the same bit for so long Niall feels like his brain’s turning to mush, like he can’t even read the lyrics they’ve got down because his brain doesn’t think they’re real words anymore. He just knows he hates what they have, knows there’s got to be a better way to phrase it.

He fights through the song, picking out what they’ve got so far on his guitar. He groans at the end, strumming a minor chord that captures his mood.

It’s right there, is the worst part -- the fix for the shit verse is right there, on the tip of his tongue, but Niall can’t figure it out. He reaches for his phone, typing out What’s the word that’s like careless but meaner ? and sending it off to Harry before he can second guess himself.

Neglect ?? Harry sends back surprisingly quickly. Niall frowns, chewing on his lip. That’s not it.

No like bad gf lvl not abandoning kids lvl He should’ve asked Zayn; he’s better at this, has a weird knack for knowing the word Niall’s looking for.

Reckless ?

Niall stares at it for a really long time. It’s not exactly right but Niall’s not sure what word he’s even thinking of and maybe -- it could work, he supposes, humming to himself.

Maybe he sends, and then, Tks.

Do I get credit on this one Harry says. It’ll be a great story when it’s a hit we can tell everyone I wrote it while queued at Jamba juice.

HAha we’ll see Niall sends, twisting in his chair, reaching for the pencil Tom’d dropped earlier so he can test it out on the page. If nothing else it’s a better placeholder than the lyrics he’d angrily crossed out an hour ago.

“Thought of something while I was outside,” Tom says, surprising Niall when he walks back in. Niall finishes the message he’d been sending to Harry, a dumb joke about changing the song’s title to “Orange You Glad I’m Dreaming of You,” and chucks his phone onto the table.

“Take a look at this.” He hands the lyrics over while Tom’s reaching for his guitar, watches carefully as Tom reads them over. He feels antsy for some reason, reaches for his own guitar so he has something to do with his hands.

“What if it’s like --” Tom sits up and starts playing a slower version of the melody they’d been working with. He starts off humming and then switches to full-on singing and Niall has to blink, hard, before he can join in because there it is, what they’ve been chasing all afternoon. Fucking finally. Tom grins and Niall feels giddy and exhausted all at once, like his brain can’t keep up with itself, part of it running away with the melody, the rest of him lagging behind.

“One more time, yeah?” Tom says, right before he launches into it. It sounds fucking fantastic, though. Niall pumps his fist, laughing. He always forgets how exhilarating it is, the moment when it all comes together.

He repositions his guitar on his lap. Might as well pick out the harmonies since they’ve made it this far.

**

“Let me help,” Niall says, reaching for an empty dish only to get his hand swatted away by Perrie.

“We’ve got it,” she says while Zayn stacks up the plates, “you two can hang out here, yeah?” She nods her head towards where Laser’s sat in his bouncer, gumming at his fist.

“Yeaaaah,” Niall says softly as he taps his knuckles against Laser’s unoccupied hand, “Uncle Nialler time.”

Perrie and Zayn make off with the dishes while Niall scoots onto the floor, leaning over so he can free Laser from his chair. He kicks his feet out when Niall scoops him up, shushing him when makes a sound like he can’t decide if he’s happy or displeased.

“You’re alright, it’s just me,” he says, shifting back onto the sofa, feet up on the coffee table and Laser propped up on his knees. “See? All good.” Laser waves his hand around and Niall makes a game of catching it and then letting go.

He can hear Perrie and Zayn doing the washing up, moving about in the kitchen, and even though Niall’s been over loads of times since Laser was born it still throws him sometimes, how proper domestic everything is. Used to be he’d come over and Zayn’d have nothing but crisps and weed and maybe, if he’d been to see his mum, some leftovers. Now there’s burp cloths on every piece of furniture and all sorts of plastic toys he knows Laser’s too young to even play with. It’s jarring to think about, because Zayn hasn’t changed, not really, but he’s not the same, either.

The clatter of the dishes stops and Niall can hear Zayn’s quiet murmur and Perrie’s soft laugh that he recognizes all too well, too many years spent crammed on tour buses and sharing hotel walls. The more things change, Niall supposes.

“Oi, virgin ears!” he yells in their direction. It’s a moment before Zayn pops back around the corner, wet handprints visible on the hem of his shirt.

“Aw,” Zayn pouts out his lower lip, “you’ll find a nice bird someday soon, Nialler.”

Niall covers Laser’s eyes with one hand before flipping Zayn off. “I’m kidnapping your son,” he says, “he shouldn’t have to suffer like I did.”

“You’ll have him back as soon as he cries for an hour with no break,” Zayn says before disappearing again.

“You wouldn’t do that t’ me, would ya? No, because you like me best.”

Laser kicks his feet and Niall grins at him, taking it as a compliment. He’s still kicking his feet when Niall’s phone vibrates and it takes a fair bit of wiggling to get it out of his pocket without setting off a crying jag.

Listen to this I need an opinion Harry’s sent, with a video attached. They’ve been doing this a bit more frequently lately, sending up an SOS when they’re stuck on certain things. It’s good to have a sounding board, especially one that Niall knows will always give him an honest answer.

Can it wait ? I’m in the middle of a laser light show !! Niall snaps a quick picture of Laser to send along with it, knowing full well Haz’ll be jealous. He’s always whinging about Zayn not sending enough pictures.

It’s still a bit of a shock when his phone starts ringing; all he was expecting was the usual series of sad emojis, maybe an insult or two.

“Niall Horan, let me talk to that baby right now, Zayn never lets me!” Harry shouts as soon as Niall answers.

“Wrong number,” Niall says; he can feel the rage in Harry’s stuttering breath all the way across the ocean. He laughs before he can stop himself even though he knows it’s only making things worse. “Hang on, Haz,” he says, and then, “It’s for you.”

He balances the phone on his knee, doesn’t bother turning on speakerphone because he’s not really in the mood to listen to Harry ramble at Laser. He pulls a clean-looking burp cloth closer and uses that to play peek-a-boo with Laser while Haz talks. They’re still doing that when Zayn and Perrie finally reemerge, looking simultaneously better and worse for the wear.

“Disgusting,” Niall says, shaking his head at Laser.

Zayn takes one look at the phone and rolls his eyes. He nicks it before Niall can react.

“Please tell me you’re not teaching my kid it’s okay to eat food you find on the ground,” he says, his voice hard but his eyes crinkling with how he’s trying not to laugh, “he’s very young and impressionable.”

Niall can hear Harry’s indignant squawk from all the way across the room. Perrie laughs as she sets a fresh beer on the table next to Niall.

“Cheers,” he says, watching Zayn wander out of the room while he talks to Harry. Perrie hums and settles on the sofa, leaning over so Laser can grab her finger. She rests her head on Niall’s shoulder and he hates that it’s this sort of thing -- eating pizza on Zayn’s sofa, sitting around watching Laser try to get Pez’s hand in his mouth, the telly on low in the background -- that makes Niall feel like his own house is too big. He’s not even there right now. And he definitely doesn’t want a baby messing about. He doesn’t even want a dog. It’s so fucking stupid.

“Harry says you have two hours,” Zayn scoops Laser up before dropping Niall’s phone on his lap, “whatever that means. Said you’d know.”

Niall nods. When he checks his phone, Haz’s sent 2 HRS, BABY TRAITOR.

I let u talk to him ! Niall sends before putting his phone away so he can help Zayn veto all the programs Perrie stops on while flipping through the channels.

&&&

He’s tried everything he can -- headphones in, volume all the way up, shut the windows and made sure the telly was off -- but Harry can’t for the life of him hear anything in the latest clip Niall’s sent. It sounds like it was recorded under the sea or in a tunnel or --

Are you HUMMING in this?

HAHA y ! theres no lyrics yet does it sound ok ?

Harry gives it one last try. Now that he knows for sure he can sort of hear something but it’s still shit.

It doesn’t sound like anything, it’s too quiet Harry sends before slumping sideways on the sofa. He hates this one, it’s too firm and the leather gets too hot when the sun streams through the windows. The one in the sitting room is much better but that one faces the back and his landscapers had been out there mowing and the noise only made it harder to hear Niall’s piss-poor humming.

Are you home?

Yeah. Do you want to know what I’m wearing too?

Harry watches the dots while Niall probably erases and re-types whatever he’s thinking. That or he’s gotten distracted mid-response, gone off for a wee or answered another call or summat. It stays as dots for a long time. Long enough that Harry’s back starts to hurt from lying on the sofa.

No fuckface I’ll play it for you Niall finally sends when Harry’s in the middle of rooting through his pantry for a snack. Skype me it’ll be easier.

“Easier,” Harry says, scoffing, thumbing open the app while he tries to find the dried apricots he thought he saw in here last week. Did he eat them already? He couldn’t have.

“What the fuck is this?”

“Sorry!” Harry grabs his phone from where he’d set it on a shelf. “Just looking for a snack. This is the pantry.” He holds the phone so Niall can get good look. If Harry moves the phone really slowly and tries to look for the apricots some more, well. It’s just a really thorough tour of the pantry.

“‘S beautiful, Haz. Gonna show me your medicine chest next?”

Niall.” Harry knows he’s a bit whiny but he doesn’t much care. He turns the screen back to him in time to see Niall roll his eyes. It reminds Harry of standing in airport newsstands during their earlier tours, trying to pick out snacks for their flights. Niall and his smash-and-grab technique always getting exasperated waiting for Harry to decide what he was in the mood for.

“Christ,” Niall mutters, and then, louder, says, “pick something and then I’ll play this bit for ya. Got me guitar and everything so it’s not just hummin’.”

“Don’t rush me,” he says, frowning and moving some things around.

“Wouldn’t dream of it.”

Harry makes a face and Niall laughs. After a moment he starts strumming at his guitar while Harry pokes through the shelves.

“That’s nice, is that it?” Harry asks, reading the back of a bag of granola.

“Nah, that’s -- I think I sent it last week?” He plays it again, sings, “Now you’re here and I --”

“Don’t know what to say,” Harry joins in. He’d really liked that bit, had gotten it stuck in his head for a full day after Niall’d sent it. When he looks back to his phone, Niall’s grinning. “Going with crisps!”

Niall cheers quietly, gives Harry a small fist pump. He plays something else, something Harry doesn’t recognize, while he sorts everything out, gets himself settled on the much comfier sofa so he can lounge and still see Niall properly.

“That it?” Harry asks and laughs when Niall’s face twists into a scowl.

“Jesus, did you even listen to what I sent?”

“I couldn’t hear it! I told you! It was like,” Harry moves his mouth but doesn’t make any actual sounds except tiny puffs of air that Niall probably can’t even hear.

Niall curls over his guitar when he laughs. “It was not that bad, mate.”

“Niall, it was basically dead air.”

“You need to get your ears checked,” Niall says, reaching for his phone. “Maybe that bike o’ yours is ruining your hearing.”

Harry’s about to object when Niall cuts him off with, “Listen,” and presses something on his phone. Nothing happens. Harry watches Niall’s brow furrow and cracks up. “The fuck?”

“I told you!”

Niall’s quiet for a minute, hitting more buttons and holding his phone up to his ear. “Shit,” he says eventually. “Sorry, Haz. It’s probably better this way anyway. You ready?”

Harry nods. “Hit me”

“Alright, this is for that new band, 7 Floor Sanctuary? They wanted something slower but still like,” he wiggles his shoulders a bit, “y’know?”

“Got it.” Harry gives Niall’s a thumbs up and that’s all it takes for Niall to start into it.

“Jesus,” Harry says softly, unable to help himself when the first verse gives way to the chorus. It’s good -- really good, like, really good, the kind of song that makes Harry want to be on stage again. He feels a bit like he did when Niall first played “Don’t Forget Where You Belong” for everyone, proud and eager and jealous all at once.

Niall looks up, catching Harry’s eye, and laughs, just a little, his cheeks going pink.

“So?” he asks, once it’s over.

“Seriously?” Harry blinks at him.

“It doesn’t feel too -- I dunno, same-y? Like,” Niall sighs and plays the chorus and then the bridge again and Harry gets what he’s asking, sees the problem he’s having.

“Maybe if you like, did a drop? Before the bridge?” Harry scrunches up his nose and tries to suss it out. Niall plays it that way, tries a couple different versions. “No, maybe more like --” Harry starts humming.

“What?” Niall yells and leans in until his ear’s practically pressed against his computer screen, “I can’t hear you.”

Harry waits until he’s sat back in his chair to flip him off. Niall just cackles.

“But like this, d’ya think?” Niall asks, playing almost exactly what Harry was trying to convey.

It’s not until Harry’s other phone starts ringing that he realizes how long they’ve been at it. At least they’ve managed to solve the issue with the bridge, beef up the chorus a bit, Niall somehow conning Harry into tossing out ideas for lyrics as well.

“Oh shit,” he says, checking his messages. He’s supposed to be at a fitting in twenty minutes. He’s never going to make it. “Ni, I’ve got to go. I’ve got a thing --”

“A date?” Niall wiggles his eyebrows.

“No.” Harry sighs, getting up and going after his shoes and keys, sending an apologetic text that he’s running behind. “I need a tux for this party this weekend.”

“Oooh, black tie, so fancy,” Niall bats his eyelashes, “are ya gonna wear a tiara to this one? Maybe straighten your hair again?”

“Never again,” Harry says darkly, and Niall manages to get in a shouted, “Thanks again, mate!” before Harry’s ending the call and stuffing his phone into pocket.

Harry can’t stand still at all during the fitting and he’s not sure if it’s leftover energy from how well it went with Niall or because the new trousers are wool. Bit of both, really, he figures, apologizing to the tailor for the tenth time and shutting his eyes, trying to keep hold of the lyrics popping into his brain until he’s allowed to move and he can text Niall again.

**

The last thing Harry remembers clearly is Jeff laughing and shoving him into the back of a car, patting him on the cheek and telling him he’d see him soon. Harry thinks the party must’ve been winding down and that, at least, is comforting, even if the ride home’s done nothing to sober him up and now Harry’s left stood in his darkened hallway, wincing at the brightness of his phone as he tries to pull up Niall’s number so he can tell him about the lyrics he think might work for that 7 Floor Sanctuary song. They might be shit but he wants to tell Niall before he forgets.

He shrugs out of his jacket while the phone rings, ends up tripping into the wall when he tries to get his shoes off.

“Ow, fuck,” he says, rubbing his shoulder before undoing most of the buttons on his shirt. At least this party hadn’t been formalwear. There’s nothing like struggling out a jacket and bow tie only to have to fight with your waistcoat and cufflinks. Fucking cufflinks.

“Are you alright?”

Harry blinks. “Niall?”

“Harry?” Niall sounds just as confused as Harry feels. He can’t believe Niall answered. “You called me, mate,” Niall says, like Harry may have forgotten.

“I thought you’d be asleep,” Harry says, sliding down the wall so he can sit. It’s easier to get his shoes off this way. Socks, too.

“But you called anyway?”

“I was going to leave a message!”

Niall laughs. Harry pulls his phone away from his ear to check the time. It’s late, that much he knows, but the mental maths to figure out what time it is in London is too much.

“Harry?” Niall sounds far away. It takes a second for Harry to realize it’s because he’s got the phone in his lap.

“‘m here, sorry.”

Niall laughs again, quieter. “Havin’ a good night?”

Harry hums. “Not too bad. Jeff had a dinner… thing. Party. There were loads of people there but not like, too many, y’know? I met this woman who’s made a documentary about -- it was really interesting, actually, see there were these whalers --”

“Harry, for the love of god,” Niall cuts him off, “I don’t care.”

“It was nominated for an Oscar.”

He doesn’t have to see Niall to know he’s rolling his eyes. “Is that why you called? To tell me you met an Oscar-nominated documentary director?”

“No.” Harry shifts, feeling the pull in his muscles as he stretches out across the hallway. It feels good. “I thought --” he pauses, trying to remember why he’d called Niall in the first place. He was in the car and then he was walking up his drive and then, “oh, I thought of lyrics for your song. The 7 Floor Sanctuary one.”

“Yeah?” Maybe Harry’s imagining it but he thinks Niall perks up a bit.

“Yes. But,” Harry sighs heavily, “I forgot them.”

There’s a pause before Niall says, “I’m sure they’ll come back to ya.”

“Nope.” Harry shakes his head. “They’re gone, Nialler, lost forever at sea, just like the men of the Essex.”

“Harry,” when Niall speaks his voice is slow and careful, like he’s only just realized that Harry is very drunk, “were the lyrics about the bloody whale documentary?”

“Fuck off,” Harry says while Niall laughs hysterically. “It was about whalers, not whales, Niall.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Niall sounds a bit breathless after and Harry wants to be annoyed but he can feel his mouth curling up in an involuntary smile. “If you think of ‘em you’ll let me know?”

“‘Course,” Harry promises.

“Cheers.” It’s quiet for a minute and then Niall says, “Get some sleep, Styles,” and rings off.

Harry sits in the hallway trying to will the lyrics back into his brain, but it seems they’re well and truly gone. Eventually he gives up and clumsily heads off to bed. He’ll pick his clothes up in the morning.

**

“Jeff,” Harry scratches his stomach while looking through the cupboard, “remind me again where the salt is.”

The only down side to crashing at Jeff’s is that Harry hasn’t got a clue where he keeps things. It’s as if the housekeeper comes through and rearranges everything on a weekly basis. At least Harry’s kitchen is always the same, if a bit boring. He’s been trying to make it less cold, homier, but the problem is that it’s so… empty. Maybe he should get a cat. At least then he’d have someone waiting for him when he gets home.

“Do I have what?” Jeff asks.

“Salt.” Harry spins around and stops short when he sees Jeff’s already got his shoes on, his tie done up. Right. Harry always seems to forget he’s got like, regular hours to keep. “I was going to make eggy bread, but.”

“Calling it eggy bread makes it sound disgusting,” Jeff says, making a face as he opens a cupboard. He closes it and opens another, shrugs when there’s no salt in either one. “Call it French toast like a normal person.”

“You call it French toast like a normal person.”

“I do.” Jeff laughs and then curses when his eye catches the clock. “I’ve got a meeting first thing. You gonna be around tonight? Want to have dinner with me and Serena? We were talking about going to that new place at like, eight-ish?”

“Sounds alright.” Harry’s got a late meeting that’s probably going to run long but he’ll be done by eight. Hopefully.

“I’ll text you,” Jeff says, already heading for the door. “Let me know if you want me to bump the res up to four.”

“Will do,” Harry calls after him. He could probably call Alana or Taissa and invite them along and it’d be fun but Harry knows Electronika’s a paparazzi magnet and he’s not sure if he wants to deal with everything that comes after that. Not tonight at least.

He finds the salt in the pantry where he knows it wasn’t last week. He’s debating between eggy bread and regular scrambled eggs -- he’s already cracked the eggs into a bowl, so he’s committed to something, but there’s still time to change his mind -- when his phone chimes. He leaves it be, assuming it’s Jeff with dinner details before he forgets to send them at all.

Only his phone won’t stop, message after message coming through, so Harry finishes whisking the eggs and checks his phone while they cook.

Waited to send these hope your awake ! Niall’s sent, and then, in rapid succession, a whole series of Laser photos where he’s pretending to play football, someone holding him an inch above the grass so they can pretend like he’s kicked the ball. The last picture is someone holding Laser’s arms up like he’s celebrating; it takes Harry a minute to notice Louis in the background, sprawled in front of the goal, the ball gone past him. Future Derby captain fuck yeaaaaaah !!

Harry allows himself a few minutes of extreme jealousy while he scrambles the life out of his eggs. Why isn’t LA closer to London?

NIAAAAAAAALL he sends back once he’s plated his breakfast, sat himself at the table so he’s got a nice view of the spring morning. London looked gray in Niall’s pictures, so that’s one point for here.

“Laser kicked the ball himself,” Niall says as soon as Harry answers his phone, “and like, I know it was an accident, the kid can barely hold his own head up, but his leg moved and he hit the ball and I swear to god, Haz, it was like Tommo saw the face of god. He hasn’t shut up about it since. Keeps saying Laser’s a fecking prodigy.”

“Well he is.” Sounds like it, anyway. Kicking the football all on his own.

Niall snorts. “Alright, Zayn, it went like, five centimeters and then he sicked up on Eleanor.”

“Just like a real footballer,” Harry says.

“Yeah, if that’s what we’re calling Lou these days.”

“Heyyy,” Harry frowns. “Be nice.”

NIall’s quiet on the other end and Harry knows he’s rolling his eyes. Harry picks at his breakfast; he should’ve made toast to go with it. Cut up some melon. Something else. As it stands he’s got far too many eggs.

“I made too much breakfast,” he says. He should’ve waited until after he saw Jeff to get started. Should’ve known he wouldn’t have time for a proper sit-down.

“Thought you were doing a cleanse.” Niall’s rolling his eyes again and Harry rolls his right back.

“It’s over now.”

“I thought it was seven days? No,” Niall says, “no, I know it was seven days because you texted me about it non-stop. Hour one: ‘Feeling great, Niall!’ Hour two: ‘I can feel the toxins leaving my body already!’”

“Niall --”

“Hour six: ‘This is amazing, you have to try it!’”

“Niall --” Harry sets down his fork. The problem is, Harry knows Niall’s just reading Harry’s texts out loud.

“Here we go, hour nine: ‘Niall, send me a pic of your lunch, I am so hungry!’ Oh, hour ten was just every food emoji you could find.”

Niall’s flat out laughing while he reads everything Harry’d sent. Harry goes back to his eggs, determined to finish them now.

“‘I’m going to try meditating, maybe that’ll get rid of the hunger.’ Ten minutes later you just said, ‘It didn’t.’”

“I remember,” Harry says, not caring that his mouth is full.

“I should hope so.” Niall laughs again. “Because it was yesterday.”

“Niall,” Harry whines, “you can’t hold anything I said against me, I was starving.”

Niall laughs so hard Harry considers hanging up on him. He only doesn’t because of the football pictures from earlier. They’re even now, though, so next time Harry is definitely hanging up.

“You’re such a moron,” Niall says once he’s calmed down. The way he says it makes Harry miss London even more than he had been. Niall takes another deep breath and Harry wonders where he is, if he’s in the kitchen too, cracking open a lager or fixing a snack. “What’s on the agenda today, anything big?”

“Not really. Got a check-in at four, see where I am on different projects. Management stuff.”

“Ugh, the boring meeting bits.”

“I like the boring meeting bits.” Harry gets up so he can throw open the nearest windows and sit in the sun. Maybe he’ll go for a run in a bit, a proper one, outside.

Niall makes a soft sound. “I know.”

“How about you? I mean, I know you had your football match but what else? Spare no details, Niall, I almost starved to death.”

“New lease on life, yeah?” This time, Harry laughs when Niall does. He tips his head back against the wall and closes his eyes and listens while Niall starts on about his morning training session with Mark, who is apparently still a sadist, even after all these years.

&&&

“Sorry, mate,” Liam says, coming up behind Niall and squeezing him on the shoulder, “didn’t expect things to run over, we lost track of time.”

“S’alright.” Niall closes the email he’d been reading and pockets his phone so he can stand up and hug Liam properly. “Busy lads, you are.”

“Still.” Liam squeezes him tight before letting go. “Louis should be --”

“Louis is right here so if you’re going to shit-talk him you can fuck off,” Louis says, elbowing Liam out of the way so he can sling an arm around Niall’s neck, pulling him in close. “Please tell me you ordered a round already, Niall, this morning was torture.”

“‘Course I did.” Maybe Niall’s on round two himself, but that’s what they get for making him wait alone in a restaurant.

“It wasn’t torture,” Liam says, frowning as he takes his seat and starts carefully rolling up his shirtsleeves. It makes him look like a stodgy old grandpa and for a brief second Niall’s flashing back to their first tour, when Liam was all hair and straight lines. Sometimes it feels like it was yesterday and sometimes it seems like it was so long ago it was someone else’s life.

Louis pauses to glare at Liam before turning back and pressing a smacking kiss on Niall’s cheek. “Good lad.”

They make it three full minutes before Louis clears his throat and says, “Niall, quick question.”

“Christ, Lou,” Liam rubs his forehead, “don’t drag him into this.”

“Into what?” Niall has the distinct feeling he doesn’t want to know.

“It’s just a question, Payno.”

“It’s technically private, Louis.”

“So? It’s just Niall.”

“Thanks,” Niall says sarcastically. Neither Louis nor Liam notice. Niall pulls his phone out, uses his menu as a shield so he can get a picture of them glaring at each other over their menus. u owe me £10 he sends to Harry.

“It’s not like you even know what I was going to ask,” Louis says. “Maybe I just wanted to ask if I should get the fresco salad or the waldorf.”

No you owe me! Harry sends back. I had over 30 minutes, you had under

They were 25 min late.

“You were going to ask Niall for a salad recommendation?” When Niall glances up, Liam’s eyebrows are nearly disappearing into his hairline. Louis’s jaw is set. Niall knows their label is doing really well these days, that they’ve been busier than ever, even signed a couple new acts, but it’s hard to reconcile the work them with his dumbfuck best friends. Even now, with Liam dressed like a banker and Louis wearing a shirt with a cartoon dog that Niall thinks belonged to Zayn once upon a time, it’s hard to wrap his head around the idea of them as like, a professional entity. It’s weird, is all. “Really?”

“Yes.” Louis turns towards his menu. “The waldorf has apples but the fresco has steak and I’m not sure which I’m in the mood for.”

Now they’re fighting about salads he types while Liam says, “So you were going to ask Niall which salad you should order?”

“Yes, Liam, that’s what a recommendation is. Remember, we talked about this earlier, when I recommended that we amend the contract for My Past Arrogance.”

I had a kale salad last night, it was delicious Harry sends. Niall shakes his head. Ridiculous. Sometimes he wishes Harry lived closer just so he could slap him.

Cool deffo gonna interrupt to tell them that

“We are in public!” Liam hisses. Niall looks up in time to see Louis wave his hand dismissively.

“No one’s listening in, Liam, calm down. No one’s even heard of them, it’s not like we’re trying to steal Gambino from Glassnote.”

Niall catches the waiter’s eye from across the room and manages to signal that he needs a fresh pint.

“That’s not the point!” Liam says, clearly louder than he would’ve liked because his jaw snaps shut and he goes a bit red before crossing his arms and leaning back in his chair.

They’re silent fighting now Niall tells Harry as Louis and Liam glare at each other, their cheeks twitching as they have an entire conversation through angry eyebrow raises and jaw clenches. I have had 2 pints and no one’s taken our order yet. This is a nightmare

Lol :(

“Fine,” Louis says, throwing his arms down after a long stretch. Liam’s mouth twitches up into a smile so small Niall wouldn’t’ve seen it if he hadn’t know to look for it. “Forget everything you’ve heard, Niall. And stop texting whatever poor girl you’ve bagged this time, you’re here to see us, your best mates, not worry about getting it in.”

Niall rolls his eyes. “It’s just Harry, twatface.”

Louis hums and doesn’t look up from his menu. “Twatface. Wasn’t that what you tried to rhyme with ‘replace’ in that song last week, Payno?”

“I told you, it was a placeholder,” Liam cries while Niall cracks up laughing.

CRISIS averted ! he sends to Haz once they’ve ordered. £10 they’re not speaking again in 20 minutes

It’s a while before Harry sends back No bet. Long enough that Liam and Louis are glaring at each other over their hamburgers and Niall has to cover his snort with a cough.

**

Niall doesn’t bother looking at the clock before he answers his phone. He knows it’s late, he doesn’t need to know exactly how late it is.

“Jesus Christ, Haz,” he says, voice pitched low, “it’s been ages, how are you still unclear on the time difference?”

“Whatever, you answered.”

“You called.” Niall shifts, trying to stretch his legs without making too much commotion. “I swear, I’m putting you on my do not disturb list. For real this time.”

Harry huffs. Niall listens to him breathing for a moment, the steady calm of it.

“Well, I’ll let you go back to sleep,” Harry says eventually, “I was just thinking about that one time we were golfing -- in Melbourne, I think? Or maybe the other one, right after, Add-something --”

“Adelaide?”

“Yeah, one of those. And we made up that song?”

Niall remembers it vaguely. More remembers how they’d sung it so constantly Zayn refused to ride in the same van as them and Louis had threatened to break Niall’s guitar and set Harry’s suitcase on fire if they didn’t shut up.

“How’d the hook go again?” Harry asks. “The rest of it was shit but --” Harry sings something under his breath that reaches into the deepest parts of Niall’s brain, pulling memories out like loose threads. What was the hook? It had been wicked, hadn’t it? Fuck.

“Fine,” Niall sighs, resigned, “I’m up.”

Harry cheers so loudly Niall wrenches the phone away from his ear. "Son of a bitch, Harry," he hisses, sparing a glance at the bed. Everything's sorted there, Emma still sound asleep, "Keep your voice down, would ya?"

There's a beat where Harry's quiet as Niall holds his breath and tries to slip out of bed while making as little noise as possible, and then Harry says, "Niall Horan, you slag, are you having a sleepover?"

"Harry --" Niall tucks the phone in between in his cheek and his shoulder so he can pull on his pants before heading into the hall.

"YOU ARE," Harry's laughing, "Why the fuck are you answering your phone?"

"What if you were dying?"

"I'm in LA and I'm dying and you think I'd call you?"

"Am I not your ICE, Haz?" Niall only turns on one light in the kitchen, leaves everything feeling dimly warm instead of too-bright at this hour. He pours himself a glass of water, trying to assess if he's still a little pissed or just fuzzy from being woken up.

"Who is it?" Harry asks. "Have we met?"

Niall shakes his head. "She's just someone I met last week. She's here on holiday from… Sweden? Finland? One of those."

"Niall, that is degrading!" Harry gasps and Niall can picture him shaking his head, knows what's coming before Harry even says it. "Send me a photo, yeah?"

"No."

“Niall, how’m I supposed to know how hard to high five you without a photo?”

Niall laughs despite himself, making his way to the fridge. Now that he’s up he’s feeling like he could eat. They’d left the restaurant in a bit of a hurry earlier. “Just have to trust me I guess.”

The buttons on Niall’s microwave seem to beep so much louder in the dead of night. Harry goes from grumbling to nosy in no time at all. “Ooh, are you heating up leftovers? What are you having? Is it from your date? You did take her to dinner, right, Niall? Did you take her to Nando’s?”

“Christ, Harry,” Niall says, laughing as he boosts himself onto the counter, watching his food spin slowly in the microwave. “I didn’t take her to fucking Nando’s, come on.”

“God, I miss Nando’s,” Harry says as if Niall hadn’t responded at all. Niall has to do a slight contortionist act to get his wings out of the microwave without unseating himself from the counter but he does alright.

The first bite is too hot; Niall curses as he burns his tongue, groping for his water.

“So,” Harry continues, oblivious, “what’s her name?”

“Emma.” He knows Harry wants a story but there isn’t one, not really. “We met at a party, hung out a bit. She’s going home tomorrow.”

“Proper romantic.”

“You know me.” Niall blows on his chicken before taking a bite this time. On his end, Harry’s quiet. When he speaks again his voice is softer, sounds farther away.

“D’you ever wonder if like,” Harry sighs, “do you feel like we should settle down?”

He’s timed it so Niall’s got a mouth full of food and no way of answering.

“Everyone else has, and --” Harry sighs again, louder this time. “I dunno. ‘m just…”

“Yeah.” Niall gets it. Probably more than Haz, he thinks, because at least Harry’s off in LA where he’s working his arse off, constantly telling Niall about some new hotshot he’s meeting with. Niall’s stuck over here watching his best mates get married and have babies and form their own companies while he does what? Fucks about with his guitar sometimes? Writes songs with the same old people and shags girls here on holiday?

“It’s fuckin’ weird,” he says eventually, because it’s not that he wants what they have, he just. He feels like he’s falling behind in a race he didn’t know he was in.

“Really fuckin’ weird.” Harry’s laugh sounds hollow. “Sorry, don’t know what’s wrong with me,” he talks so slowly Niall’s sure he could fall asleep to it, “I guess it’s really hitting me that we’re not going on tour again. Feeling a bit lost without it.”

“Me too.” It’s a relief to say it out loud. The rest of the lads have seemed so happy lately, all settled into their new routines. He didn’t think anyone missed it the way he does.

“It’s like…” Harry trails off. Niall waits. “I knew One Direction would end, yeah, I just… I don’t know.” Harry sighs again, sounding so weary something deep in Niall’s chest aches in sympathy. “I guess I never thought it really would.”

After a minute Harry laughs ruefully. “I really am talking some shit, aren’t I? That didn’t even make sense.”

“Sure it did, Hazza.” Niall’s own voice is so thick his throat hurts with it. He swallows against it. It’s a long while before it feels safe to talk again. “Well we’re a couple of broody bastards, aren’t we?”

“You’d never think one of us got laid tonight.” Harry’s laugh sounds wet. Niall digs his fingers into his thigh.

“Shut up, tosser.” His dinner with Emma feels like it was ages ago. When he looks at the clock, he can’t believe it’s so late. Early. Whatever. He hadn’t realized he’d been on the phone so long. He pokes his wings experimentally. Sure enough, they’ve gone cold. “We never figured out that hook.”

“Tomorrow,” Harry says, yawning even though it can’t be that late on his end. It sets Niall off anyway, his jaw cracking with it. He slides off the counter, dumps his food in the bin and sets his plate in the sink. That feels like enough effort for now.

“I’m going to call you at half three, y’know.”

“Heyyyy.”

“Payback’s a bitch, Styles.” He laughs at the way Harry’s still moaning on when Niall rings off. He makes sure to switch his phone to silent before crawling back into bed.

&&&

It’s only at the end of his latest session with Dan that Harry realizes his phone’s fucked.

“I really thought it was on here,” he says, pinching his lower lip as he taps open another folder. “I swear.”

“I guess we can -- do you remember enough of it?” Dan nods towards the piano and Harry wishes he did but he’s been working on so many different things lately he knows he’d fuck it up. It’s figures they’re supposed to meet with Crepe Chiffon later to play them the demos.

“Maybe,” he says, sitting on the bench. There’s a chance if he plays the beginning part it’ll just like, come to him. Divine inspiration. He plays the opening bit, trying to remember what Niall’ed told him to change it to -- “Hang on.”

He nearly falls off the bench, he spins around so fast.

“Toss me my phone, yeah?”

“Thought it wasn’t there?” Dan asks, lobbing it across the room.

“It’s not but I’ve been asking my mate -- Niall, you’ve met him, yeah? The Irish lad, blond hair, well it used to be blond, now it’s brown. It’s weird, took some getting used to.”

“I’ve met Niall, yes,” Dan says, cutting him off. “Does he have the song?”

“Maybe? Hopefully. I’ve been sending him some stuff, asking for his opinion. I’m pretty sure he has this one.” Harry mentally crosses his fingers and then pulls his phone back so he can check the time. It’s early enough that Niall’ll answer without complaining that Harry’s woken him up. As if Niall’s never forgotten and called Harry at the crack of dawn.

“Harry!” Niall shouts into the phone; there’s so much noise in the background it’s hard to hear him. “How are ya?”

“Oh,” Harry can hear the stress in his own voice when he laughs. “You know.”

“Did your meeting with the girls not go well?”

“That’s not ‘til later,” Harry says, half surprised Niall’s even remembered. He must've been complaining about it more than he realized, “but I’ve got a problem.”

“What?” Naill yells and then, “Hang on, no not you, love, hang on, Haz.” When Niall comes back it’s much quieter. “Sorry, this party’s madness, couldn’t hear for shit, what’d you say?”

“I’ve got a problem.” Harry turns because it feels weird to be staring at Dan. “Remember that song for the girls, the one with the four parts?”

“Yeah, “Gimme Some Accusations” or whatever? The one you sent me, right?”

“Do you still have it? Like, on your phone? Mine got -- I don’t know what happened, it’s gone.”

“Erm…” Niall says and then there’s silence. Or sort of silence; Harry can still hear the hum of street traffic, the noises of whatever party Niall’s at.

“Niall?”

His stomach bottoms out when Niall doesn’t respond. Maybe he’s got enough time to send someone to his house? There might be a version on his computer. Though who knows anymore because if the fucking cloud doesn’t have the right version.

“Sorry, ‘m a bit pissed,” Niall says, “took a minute to find it. I think I may have accidentally emailed it to someone named Harry St James. I have no fecking clue who that is.”

“Never heard of him,” Harry says, anxiously refreshing his email until it pops up. Thank Christ. He shoots Dan a thumbs up, grinning as Dan applauds. “You’re a lifesaver, Niall! Have a pint for me.”

“Always do,” Niall says, “Good luck with the Grape Shifters.”

“Crepe Chiffon,” Harry corrects, but Niall’s already gone and Dan is snapping at Harry to hand over his phone so he can hear the final version. He tosses it over, sagging against the piano as the relief rushes through him.

**

Harry’s making a smoothie so he doesn’t notice that his phone’s been buzzing until after he’s got a whole screen full of notifications, each an increasingly desperate message from Niall for him to sign onto Skype.

“Hiiiiii,” he says, waving when Niall appears on the screen. “Didn’t hear my phone over the blender, sorry.”

It only takes a second for him to realize something’s wrong, Niall looking pale and exhausted even though it’s still a decent hour in London. Harry checks the clock on his laptop. A decent-ish hour.

“Alright, Niall?”

Niall scrubs his hands over his face, digging his hands into his eyes. When he looks up, he seems even more out of sorts.

“I need you to tell me if I’m being a twat.”

“You’re being a twat,” Harry says dutifully. The look he gets would kill lesser men. Louis would be proud if he could see it. “Not the time, got it.”

“Remember that song from a while back, the 7 Floor Sanctuary one? It’s sad but still dance-y?”

“Yeah, of course.” Of all the songs he’s helped Niall with, he thinks that’s his favorite. Maybe even including his own stuff. “I love that one. I still think you should call it “You Bet Your Rider On It.””

“A) No,” Niall says, his face all hard lines. “And B) I love it too, which is the problem.” He takes a deep breath and exhales, staring somewhere above the camera the whole time. He carefully doesn’t look at Harry when he says, “I think I want to keep it.”

“You should.”

“Harry,” Niall looks so stressed Harry’s worried his skeleton’s going to find a way to break free from his skin, “I’m supposed to meet with them tomorrow. Fucking shitting arsing cunts, this is so fucking stupid.”

Judging by how quietly Niall says the last part, he’s talking to himself. Harry takes a long drink, savoring it while Niall continues cursing to himself.

“What if you write another song?”

Niall stops cursing to frown at Harry. “It’s too late.”

“No, it’s not.”

“Haz, the meeting’s at eleven, I just need you to tell me to suck it up and let it go.”

“Sharing is caring,” Harry says, hating the way Niall’s frown lines get deeper. “It’s stupid to give it up, though. Just like, bang out another one tonight. All they want’s a catchy pop song. I’ll even help.”

“Harry --”

“Come on, Niall, where’s your sense of adventure? You need to stop hanging out with Zayn so much, going to bed at ten and waking up at six.”

“Zayn doesn’t wake up at six.”

“Exactly,” Harry nods. “You’re even out-dadding Zayn.”

Niall rolls his eyes.

“C’mon, you must have loads of scrapped songs.”

“Yeah, but I scrapped ‘em because they were shit.”

“I’m sure you’ve got something salvageable. C’mon, I’ll get my notebook and see what I’ve got that we can repurpose and if we can’t get something together that you like then you can suck it up and give them “Bet Your Rider.” Win-win, yeah?” It’s not really win-win, technically, Harry knows, but that’s beside the point.

“Yeah, I guess,” Niall says, sounding defeated but somehow looking a little brighter.

“Great,” Harry grins, “just give me two minutes to find my stuff and then we’ll get cracking. We can go nuts.” He waits for Niall to crack a begrudging smile before running off to find the moleskine he jots most of his lyric ideas in.

The good news is he and Niall have a lot of scrapped ideas between them. The bad news is it takes forever to sort through them, trying to put them together piecemeal to find something they don’t hate with the fire of a thousand suns.

It’s nighttime before he and Niall have scraped together a workable song.

“This is awful,” Niall laughs, playing back the chorus. “It’s not saying anything, it’s just repeating words.”

“You don’t know it’s beautiful,” Harry says, deadpan, “that’s what makes it beautiful.”

“It’s a hit!” Niall manages before loses it laughing, ending up wiping tears away with the back of his wrist. The sun’s coming up in London; Harry can see daylight breaking through the window over Niall’s shoulder. Niall’s been up all night and even though it’s not that late in LA yet, Harry feels equally punchdrunk from sitting at the table with him the whole time.

“Try it one more time, just in case,” Harry says. He sings along on the chorus, getting louder and louder until they’re both belting it out.

“Fuck,” Niall says, shaking his head, “is it…”

“Turn it in,” Harry says firmly. It’s probably not as sad as 7 Floor Sanctuary’d been looking for but it is catchy. Stupidly so, probably because he and Niall had gone completely ‘round the bend by the time they found the hook.

Niall plays the chorus one last time, loudly, and Harry cracks up again. He wonders if it’ll ever stop being hilarious. He’s going to lose his mind the first time he hears it on the radio.

“I can’t believe it worked.” Niall sounds stunned. Harry rests his head on his arms, looking at the screen sideways as Niall clicks some buttons on his end, finalizing everything. “Thanks, Haz, it was,” he hesitates like he’s not sure what the right word is, “fun.”

“Should do it again some time,” Harry says, feeling sleepy just looking at Niall yawning.

“Or not,” Niall says. “No offense.”

“Offense taken.”

Niall rolls his eyes. Harry scratches at his knee through the hole in his jeans. His kitchen table is covered with dirty plates and bowls, balled up sheets of paper and his hoodie, all sorts of nonsense accumulating in piles around him. His arse has gone numb but maybe Niall was right when he landed on fun.

“You should come out here,” Harry says without thinking about it.

“When?”

“I dunno.” Harry stretches a bit, sorting some of the nearest debris into piles of garbage and not-garbage. “Tomorrow?”

Niall’s jaw works for a moment before he laughs, saying, “You think I’m gonna drop everything t’ come visit you? I’m a busy man, Harry, got loads of me own shit to do.”

“Obviously,” Harry scoffs, keeps pushing more things into the garbage pile. He was mostly kidding anyway. It’s been ages since he’s gotten to hang out with Niall in person but it’s not like -- he knows they’ve both got busy schedules.

“What about next week?”

Harry’s head snaps up. Niall’s got his phone out, his eyes looking more awake than they have in hours as he taps the screen. “Seriously?”

“I’d have to move a couple things, but yeah.” Niall bites his lip. Harry knows he should probably check his own schedule too but he doesn’t care, he’ll figure out how to cancel things later. Cram them all into one marathon weekend, who fucking cares if Niall’s coming to town.

“Book it. I’ll start cleaning the guest room now,” Harry says and he doesn’t know which is brighter: Niall’s grin or the morning sun glinting against the computer screen.

&&&

Niall leans back into Lou’s hands as she lathers him up, feeling exhausted already. He’s been meeting with Tom and the lads nonstop over the last weekend to make up for this impromptu trip, and he hopes he’ll be able to sleep on the plane otherwise Harry will have a lot to deal with once he lands.

“Gonna be a grumpy shit,” Niall murmurs, Lou laughing above him and tugging at his hair until he opens his eyes. Her hair is in a crazy knot atop her head, a disapproving look on her face like he told her she couldn’t try out whatever crazy idea she had for him on stage tonight. Lux’s laugh from the other room jolts him back to himself, though. He’s not on tour. Like he could fucking forget.

“My Niall would never,” Lou huffs out, pulling at something before curving her palm across his forehead as she rinses. “Water okay love?”

“Yeah, ‘tis.” Niall closes his eyes again against the warm pulse of the water against his scalp. “Thanks for this, know it’s been ages.”

“You’re a little shaggy,” Lou presses her fingertips into Niall’s shoulder until he sits up, some cool drips of water landing on the back of his shirt before Lou can catch it with the towel she starts rubbing vigorously over his head. “But nothing we can’t take care of right quick.”

“Don’t want to embarrass Harry, hair in a state,” Niall raises his eyebrows and waits for Lou to laugh but she just tsks at him instead, flashing her scissors around in that way that always makes him a bit nervous.

“It’s good,” Lou says as her scissors finally make contact, Niall looking down at the dark brown clump that falls down his chest, covered in the wildly colored cape she’d draped around him nearly the moment he walked through the door.

“What’s good?” Niall asks, hopes she doesn’t crop him bald as she sometimes does when she gets talking, especially if it’s been forever since he’s seen her, not just a daily clip and blow dry. Another snip, another chunk of hair falling.

“You goin’ to see our Harry,” Lou huffs out, sounding distracted as her scissors click steady and fast now. “It’s a bit weird, this, way past the time of year I’d be packing up house for a go.”

“Yeah.” Niall feels fidgety, finds a sort of odd comfort in Lou’s angry tuts as she stops to hold his head still every few seconds. “I figure someone better make sure he’s behaving himself out there.”

“Gem said you two’d been writing some,” Lou threads her fingers through Niall’s hair and tugs, her eyes trained on the ends and not meeting his, “working on anything with that?”

“Dunno,” Niall feels weird, lying to Lou, or maybe it’s not really a lie. It’s just been messing about anyway, him and Harry. And he loves Lou, but she’s not one to keep things to herself on most days. She’d have them releasing an album within a fortnight. “Think Harry’s got us some good tee times, that’s all I’m concerned with.”

“You two,” Lou rolls her eyes, ruffling at this hair so it falls down over his forehead, “want a dry? Know Lux is probably talking Gem’s ear off ‘bout now, since I told her they had to stay in there til we were done.”

“Nah,” Niall sits up, shaking his head like a dog ‘til he’s dizzy, grinning up at Lou when she jumps back to avoid the spray, holding up her hands, “I’m good.”

**

“I don’t know how well these will travel,” Gemma pushes the plate of cookies toward Niall, “but Lux and I made them for you to bring to Harry.”

“Cheers,” Niall takes one and crams it in his mouth, raising his eyebrows when Lux slaps at his arm.

“Niall, no!” She protests, holding out her little hands like she expects him to spit out a mouthful of chocolate chip cookie so she can salvage it for Harry. He starts laughing at the look of pure horror on her face, choking a bit and almost giving her what she wants. He swallows carefully, ignoring how Gemma’s started laughing at him now.

“Sorry Luxy,” Niall stops, clearing his throat before reaching out to take her hand gently, “I was just testing them. Best cookies I’ve ever tasted. Ever.”

“Really?” She asks, her face still clouded with distrust. It figures, Niall thinks, that even though she probably hasn’t seen Harry in person in about four months or so he’s still her bloody favorite. Glancing over at the gleam in Gem’s eyes, he knows that Harry will hear about this sooner rather than later, so Niall makes a mental note to send Harry the newest pic Pez took of him holding Laser, his face smiling up at him like it’s more than just gas, no matter what Zayn says. Preemptive strike.

“I consider myself an expert in baked goods, myself,” Niall puts on a French accent to make Lux laugh, rewarded when she giggles immediately, her hand squeezing at his fingers and her face screwing up like she’s hurtling toward a proper laugh, “and zeez were tres tres magnifique.”

“That’s good, right?” Lux is won over now, already climbing over the chair to settle in his lap as she hands him another, leaning back against his chest.

“Better than good,” Niall reassures her, smiling down at the top of her head before he realizes Gem’s got her phone out, snapping a pic before Niall can protest. “Oi, do I have to avoid the paparazzi in here as well?”

“Please,” Gemma rolls her eyes, leaning forward on her elbows so her multicolored hair brushes against the counter, “I’m instagramming it, Harry’s gonna go insane.”

“I think Harry will want ten of these,” Lux supplies at the sound of Harry’s name, talking with her mouth full.

“Harry will like whatever we give ‘im,” Niall reaches for another, “even if it’s just a lovely story I tell him all about what we ate.”

“Harry likes stories,” Lux agrees, and Gemma laughs, finally holding out her hand for Niall to place a biscuit in it.

**

It’s overcast with a bit of an unseasonable chill to the air when Niall joins Gemma out in Lou’s garden later, Lux asleep in front of some movie about princesses Niall couldn’t be arsed to follow along with.

“Hey,” he sits next to Gemma on the bench decorated with Lux’s handprints in a rainbow of colors, budging up next to her against the thin material of his shirt. “It’s fucking freezing out here.”

“You’re so weak,” Gemma snorts, knocking her shoulder against his, “you sound like my brother. Oh, it’s mid-June and time for me to wear wooly jumpers.

“We’re just a bit delicate, Harry and myself,” Niall stretches his legs out in front of him, wishing his knees didn’t still stiffen up at the mere hint of a drizzle. “A couple of delicate little lads.”

“Is that what you two are going to get up to out there, being delicate?” Gemma laughs at the expression Niall can feel cross his face before he can stop it, “Crying over what once was?”

“Having a big old brood,” Niall agrees, trying not to think of how that may be true, Niall never really knows when it comes to Harry. “Rivers of tears, between us.”

“He’s alright, then?” Gemma’s voice is softer now, that tone she gets sometimes that throws Niall entirely off because of how much it reminds him of Harry when he’s concerned about someone.

“‘Course he is,” Niall shrugs, glancing over at where Gemma’s biting at her lip like it’s a piece of chewing gum. “He’s Harry, isn’t he? Harry’s always alright.”

“You and I both know,” Gemma stops, clearing her throat before continuing, “it’s a bit weird, innit? This time of the year, you lot scattered about and not coming back together, months past the usual time.”

“We all knew it was coming,” Niall says, his voice coming out weak to his own ears, “and I’m just going out there to see his place, now that it’s all done up. Take a break.”

“Uh huh,” Gemma makes a noise like she doesn’t believe him.

“That’s it,” Niall feels something like frustration creep into his tone. “Nothin’ more.”

“Harry said you two’ve been messing about with some songs.” Gemma turns on the bench to face him, reaching up to tug at her beanie.

“Just on the side, like, or t’give each other a hand,” Niall runs his hand through his hair, wishing it wasn’t still a bit damp at the roots as he feels a shiver travel down his spine, “we’re both all go at the moment, it’s been sick to have that like, as an outlet, y’know? The other lads are a bit preoccupied, it’s a bit mad to get used to it. Think Hazza and I were both feeling a bit off.” Niall doesn’t know why it all spills out of him then, something about the fucking Styles kid big cow-eyed stare.

“Mmmm,” Gemma nods, looking down. “He called me the other night, Thursday? Fucking three in the morning. When I told him I was going to disown him as a sibling forever he told me it was just because you weren’t answering your phone. Been happening a lot?” She’s not staring at him at least, but it feels like she is even though her eyes are trained on her hands.

“Um,” Niall stalls while he tries to recall, going out with Eoghan and the lads and ending up at some girl’s nearby flat, passing out the second they were done shagging, his phone dying before he even got half that far. By the time he’d charged it and himself enough to check, there were a few texts from Harry, mostly a string of emojis, but nothing out of the ordinary, Niall’d called him later that day after he knew Harry would mostly be up. Harry’d never said anything.

“It’s not a big deal, Niall, I’m not your twitter followers you need to distract,” Gemma laughs when Niall huffs out a protest. “Just, you know Harry. Things have stopped, even though he hasn’t stopped.”

“Don’t know what you’re talkin’ about,” Niall keeps his voice light.

“Either way, I think he’s looking forward to seeing someone from home.” Gemma turns her phone over in her hands then, angling the screen so Niall can see Harry’s latest instagram.

harrystyles: LA L-aits you

“He’s getting real lazy there with his puns,” Niall chuckles at the picture of Harry’s giant feet next to his pool, “just a real lazy, miserable sod.”

“You’re one to talk now,” Gemma pokes at Niall’s knee, Niall ignoring her as he pulls his phone out of his pocket and takes a pic of the drizzly pond in front of them, instagramming it while Gemma laughs next to him.

niallhoran: like the showers that are british

**

Niall tries to sleep on the plane, knowing that he needs to chase the jetlag after years of practice. He manages a sad, restless sleep before he opens his eye to a girl eyeing him across the aisle. She’s young enough that she was probably a newer fan, with them at the very end, and even though his brain feels like a carton of leftovers he smiles and motions her over.

“Hey there,” Niall puts his fan smile on his face, realizing now after a real end stop that yeah, there is a difference, “what’s your name?”

After she stammers it out with his encouragement, he sends her back to her mother with a signed sick bag and some vague nonsense about why he’s on his way to LA, careful not to mention Harry. He knows they’ll probably get papped together soon enough with him a week out, but he’d like to avoid it for at least a day. It’s amazing, really, that there weren’t a million flashbulbs in his face at Heathrow.

Swiping at his phone, Niall looks at the time, squinting and trying to figure out what it is in LA. He’s either losing or gaining a day, he can never keep track especially as it’s been ages, and Harry was no help. About as little help as a person can get, just talking a load of bollocks over how he’s an expert and rambling off some plane sleep schedule he’s devised over the years to “fight it”. Fight what, Niall’s still not entirely sure, especially since Harry used to be an absolute child on tour if he’d pipped off to LA for the odd weekend if the dates shifted in his favor. Those were always the times when Paul would nod at either Payno or Niall, knowing that Zayn and Louis would either not feel like dealing with him or fucking break him down as a person, respectively.

Niall’s scrolling through the movie selection looking for something he hasn’t seen (seems like he’s seen them all recently) when there’s a distant ping and then the pilot’s voice announcing they’ve still got about six hours to go. He can watch a movie after he tries for a bit more sleep, pulling out his headphones and plugging them into his phone, thumbing through all the new pictures of Laser that he wants to show Haz in person until his eyes feel heavy.

Finally feeling like he’s on the edge of something promising, Niall pulls up the playlist of all the demos Harry’s sent him over the past few months, adding in the new stuff of his own from last week with Tom before hitting shuffle and settling back. The first song starts up, one of Haz’s slower ones that Niall helped him figure out the bridge for, and Niall waits to see if he can make it to that point before slipping under, wondering if the chord progression he talked Harry into still works.

**

LAX isn’t half bad, Niall getting through customs and out to find the car Harry ordered unnoticed. There was one girl who gave him a second look as he slipped on his sunglasses as soon as he got off the plane, a trick Harry said always worked because that’s basically a uniform there. He wasn’t kidding, Niall weaving his way through the crowds before nodding up at the bloke holding the sign that’s got “MR. DERBY” written on it in stark black scrawl, Niall dismissing the thought that it even looks like Harry’s handwriting, because he knows better than that.

“Sir,” the man nods, “I’ll show you out, we’re first out the door.”

“‘preciate it,” Niall nods, feeling tired suddenly, “what’s your name?”

“Al,” is the answer over the large shoulder as he crowds Niall behind him, Niall pushing closer when he realizes that this was why Harry insisted that he wouldn’t need security when he landed, “I’ve got my ways, Niall,” is what he’d said, and even though it was bloody 4 AM and Niall was pissed he could imagine the waggle of Harry’s brows as he spoke slow over the line.

Once he’s in the car, settled in the back and feeling warm in the closed off leather interior, Niall reaches up and fiddles with the control until cool, stale air filters out in a wave over him. He shifts his shoulders, free of his bag now, and tries to wake himself up.

“So Al,” he calls up to the front as the car starts to weave its way out of the airport. “You a car/security service combo?”

“Not exactly,” Al laughs, a low rumble, glancing up at Niall in the rearview, Niall wishing he’d let him sit in the bloody passenger seat. “Your friend Harry used us once a couple of years ago, and there were some real pieces of work trying to follow him, and I…” Al shrugs, then, and Niall nods, getting it.

“Comes with this line of work, sometimes,” Niall drops his head against the back seat, feeling tired again. “I take it Harry’s your regular client now?”

“He’s my only client,” Al stops at a red and glances back, smiling, “you’d think there wouldn’t be a lot of regular work in that, but he’s the best boss I’ve had. Great with my kids, too.”

“That he is,” Niall leans forward then, reaching around to grip at the edge of the sign Al had chucked into the passenger seat. Resting the back of it against his knees, Niall looks again at the lettering, careful in Harry’s handwriting, noticing this time the small ram he penciled in the corner with a bubble over it, “Hi!!” written inside. Niall rubs at it with his thumb, smearing the lines a little until it loses some of its deliberate line. “So, a couple years?”

“Whenever you boys were on tour,” Al says, clearly understanding what Niall’s asking, “and when Harry wasn’t in town for visits, I’d do a few side jobs for the Azoffs. Spend some time with my girls. You can go ahead and close your eyes if you want, I’m used to Harry snoring in my car. We’ll be there soon.”

“Cheers,” Niall murmurs, already closing his eyes against the weird rush of everything welling up in his head.

When he opens his eyes, the car’s already stopped, clearly in Harry’s garage. Niall shifts and leans down to pick up the sign that’s slipped off of his lap, adjusting his snapback and waving Al away when he makes to open his door for him.

“You can go on in,” Al pops the trunk, reaching in for Niall’s case, “I’ll leave this in the entryway and see you in a few days, probably.”

“Sorry I was a bit shit, not much for conversation.” Niall debates tipping him, hard to tell when Harry’s got the bloke on his personal payroll, finally deciding he can give it to him through Harry. His hand reaches out and Al starts laughing, taking it and pulling Niall forward to clap him on the back hard a couple of times.

“You were fine, Harry warned me not to ask you too much, said you get a little grumpy after a plane trip.”

“Fuck, I’m gonna kill him,” Niall rubs at his face, shaking his head when Al starts laughing, still laughing even as he’s pulling out of the garage, the door closing behind him. Niall turns then, punching in the code Harry gave him to let himself in.

It’s not the first time he’s been in Harry’s place in LA, but it’s the first since Harry declared himself done with all of his bloody changes and revisions and re-revisions like what left his London house in limbo for fucking ages. The first room he encounters is the kitchen, and Niall drops his satchel on the floor with a thud, tossing the sign on the large marble counter and trying to remember what Harry said he even did with the place, because it sure as shit looks just the same as it did when Harry had them all over a couple months after he bought it.

He’s running his hand over the table when there’s a rustle behind him, then only the hard crack of the floor, Harry a large weight on top of him.

“NIALL!” Harry yells, a split second after they hit, like he’s on bloody tape delay. Niall feels like he can’t breathe, the familiar spidery quality of Harry’s endless arms and legs rushing back to him as he pushes at Harry’s chest.

“Jesus Christ, Hazza,” Niall huffs out, “what the shit is wrong with you, this isn’t even carpet.”

“Oh,” Harry’s face is finally in focus in front of Niall’s then, slight concern flooding his face, “your knee?”

“No,” Niall tests it when Harry mentions it all the same, but it just feels tight like it usually does after a long flight, a little stiff, a little sore. “It’s the principle.”

“I think the principle should be not to be a dick when I was excited to see you,” Harry puts on a fake frown then, something glinting bright in his eye when he shoves off and over Niall, flopping on his back with a leg still tangled up in Niall’s ankles.

“Listen, fuckface,” Niall grumbles, poking his elbow at Harry’s side, hard enough that Harry huffs out a noise, “’m glad to see you too, but maybe next time wait a second.”

“Only ‘cause you asked,” Harry shrugs then, turning his head and knocking it against Niall’s before he launches into an endless stream of questions, “anyway, good flight? Al’s great, right? Are you hungry? I could juice something. Tired? Did you follow my sleep schedule or did you ignore it? I know you did. You need to learn to love yourself, Niall.”

Niall starts laughing. He feels less tired, listening to Harry babble next to him like they’re on a bus somewhere up all hours until it’s more nonsense than what Harry usually gets up to. His phone is buzzing distantly somewhere on the floor from where it got chucked after Harry’s tackle maneuver and he doesn’t make a move to answer it, considers giving it to Harry to hide for the whole fucking week.

&&&

Harry feels like he spent so much time while Niall was traveling to LA distracting himself and pushing down his nervous energy that now that Niall’s here, sitting in his kitchen, he can’t contain anything. Like the air is thick with it.

“This isn’t a normal color, Harry.” Niall spins the glass across the table slowly, passing it between his hands as he eyes the juice. “Looks like fucking alien jizz, or something.”

“Good, ‘cause I juiced an alien knob,” Harry rolls his eyes, tossing his head back to finish off his own glass. And yeah, sure, maybe he should have put an extra apple or a carrot in because it’s not the best taste, but it was hard enough with Niall perched up on his counter and asking if Harry was gonna man the international space station next, for all the complex buttons and settings Harry was punching away at with ease. Kept reaching over to switch something over and fuck it up so Harry had to start over again.

“‘m not doing one of them cleanses,” Niall lifts the glass at least then, sniffing and wrinkling his nose up before he takes a sip, the face he makes as he does setting Harry off in deep laughter that makes his stomach ache with it.

“C’mon,” Harry starts laughing again when Niall shoots him a look before grinning and downing the rest of his glass in one go. “See, not too bad.”

“Jesus.” Niall groans, swipes at his mouth with the back of his hand, “that wasn’t bad, Haz, but it sure as shit wasn’t good.”

“I can make it better,” Harry shrugs, tries to do his best Louis, “you were throwing me off my game. I’m just so so so excited to see you, Niall.”

“Can’t even make a vile juice less vile,” Niall shakes his head, “guess I should clear out then, fly on home and wait for your Niall, my juice is now my enemy call.”

“This isn’t a cleanse, Niall,” Harry reiterates, collecting both of their glasses and standing, notices how Niall scrapes back his chair right away to follow. Harry appreciates it, knows how he feels. Like it’s nice to have someone who knows all his ins and outs close. It’s a weird feeling, Harry making a mental note to jot it down later, try and figure it out. Maybe there’s a hook in it.

“Sweet fucking Christ, what the shit is that?” Niall takes a few steps back when Harry pops open the canister to dump out the fiber that’s left.

“The part that didn’t, you know,” Harry tries to think of how he wants to explain it, “become juice.”

“I thought I was eating proper like,” Niall screws his face up as he boosts himself up on the counter again, considering, Harry feeling like he’s looking into a mirror, “liquidated? Whatever the fuck, I thought we were drinking a whole fruit and veg.”

“Well, most of it,” Harry pokes at the dry blob with his finger, chuckling at how Niall swears under his breath as he does. “This stuff is pretty gross.”

“So what do ya do with it?” Niall kicks his legs out, fingers rubbing at his leg just above his knee. Harry wonders how he really feels, knows how even years after the surgery Niall still gets stiff, especially on planes. Harry also knows better than to ask, not wanting Niall to cuff the back of his head barely two hours after he showed up.

“Compost it,” Harry says, the duh in his voice evident to even his own ears.

“Compost it, of fucking course.” Niall leans back then, knocking his head back against the cupboard behind him and groaning. “What’s become of you out here, Hazza?” He says it lightly, but Harry can’t help but how he feels slightly stung, or something.

“I’d compost it even if I still lived full time in London,” Harry points out, running his hand through his hair and biting back the sigh that’s threatening to escape his throat. He feels almost a little cross with Niall, in the moment, and it unsettles him, feels like a weird weight somewhere in his throat. He doesn’t mean to, but the tone of his words hangs in the air between them, Niall quiet and staring at him, eyes slightly bloodshot. He probably hasn’t had a real sleep in a couple of days, and Harry feels wretched.

“Hey,” Niall says after a moment, after he finally blinks, “Harry. Hey.” He juts his leg out, knocking his shin against Harry’s side.

“Just.” Harry doesn’t know what else to say, angry at himself for fucking up what was gonna be a great day just by having a massive pout over Niall taking the piss like he’s been doing for years, like he’s been doing for the past few months over the phone and Skype. He doesn’t know why it’s different suddenly.

“‘s okay,” Niall shrugs, “I was kinda being a bit of a shit. Lemme try again, yeah? Whatsit, the dumb as shit replay thing, but better. Redo.”

“Yeah,” Harry relaxes, didn’t realize how tense he even was, relief flooding through his chest. “Anyway, Nialler, was thinking we could compost this piece of fruit and veg shit.”

“We gotta care for this earth, I agree. We’re just living in it, really.” Niall snorts then, hopping down off of the counter and reaching out to squeeze at Harry’s hip as he passes behind him, ducking down to open Harry’s fridge and pulling out a beer. He twists off the cap, taking a long pull before grinning at Harry.

“Nah, or we could just toss it,” Harry turns, flipping the lump into the trash and flipping the lid closed as Niall laughs again, deep and loud and echoing. Harry figures one juice he doesn’t compost is fine.

“Important question,” Niall yawns, Harry biting back his own as he watches him, “when are we teeing off tomorrow?”

“Early,” Harry searches Niall’s face, knowing that for Niall the earlier tee the better. “Like, early.”

“Good lad,” Niall yawns again, finishing off his beer in one long pull before setting it on the counter with a loud clink. “Now, show me the Nialler suite, and please don’t tell me what time it is so I don’t feel like I gotta power through, I’m too old for this jetlag fuckery.”

**

“FORE!!!!” Niall yells it so loud that Harry’s ears ring with it, and a part of him wants to remind Niall that it’s a Wednesday morning at 8 AM at the club and not like, a giant stadium full of screaming girls. But then Niall’s laughing when he whiffs it, a huge chunk of grass sailing through the air in Harry’s direction, and Harry wonders if he’d ever really want Niall to be less.

“Oi, you out of practice?” Harry laughs, kicking at the clump so it hits against the side of Niall’s leg, leaving behind a small circle of dirt on the white fabric.

“Meant t’ do that,” Niall shades his eyes with one hand, squinting over at Harry. It’s warm and sunny with a slight breeze, and it’s early enough that it’s not too hot. Harry changes his mind every month, but at this moment he’s pretty sure June is the best month in LA.

“Don’t try and suck at golf to make me feel better, Niall,” Harry watches the line of Niall’s back when he swings again, connecting with a strong thwack in a frustratingly straight drive down the green. “Wait, did you seriously do that on purpose?”

“Bet you wish you knew,” Niall winks over at Harry before nodding toward the golf cart a few feet away, “tell me, is it acceptable for me to have a pint now? Don’t wanna get you kicked out.”

“I’ll finish the last two holes myself and you can wait in the car,” Harry shrugs, “is what would really happen if your behavior warranted banishment.”

“Banishment, eh? Look at you, a regular Shakespeare. Anyway, it’s two holes and one pint and you told our caddies to fuck off an hour ago.” Niall grins at him as he passes on his way to the cart, rustling around in the cooler and coming up with a bottle of water instead. “Calm down, Hazza, I’m Irish, not a drunkard.”

“Giving them a big tip and telling them to take the morning to themselves is not exactly fuck off,” Harry protests, sitting behind the wheel and bumping the heel of his hand on top of it, waiting for Niall to settle next to him.

“Onward,” Niall waves his hand holding the water bottle next to Harry’s head, condensation landing on his cheek. It’s enough to startle him as he starts driving, the cart lurching forward and a little to the left before he rights it, steadying the wheel. “Fuck, Harry.”

“Oops?” Harry eases his foot as carefully as he can, the cart moving smoothly this time. “That was 90% your fault though. You and your water bottle.”

“Sounds like one of your bullshit song titles,” Niall leans back, propping one of his feet up, “you and your water bottle, a hidden track on Harry Styles’s debut solo album. All the girls going mad about it, tossing bottles at you from every direction.”

“The saddest of love songs,” Harry speeds up a little even though he doesn’t need to, turning quick and making Niall swear and laugh next to him. “A beautiful metaphor. Oh bottle, you were everything I needed when I had the thirst, and now you’re empty. Disposable.”

“Fuck’s sake,” Niall closes his hand over Harry’s forearm, either to encourage him to speed up or slow down. Since it’s Niall, Harry speeds up. “Only you could find deep meaning in a water bottle.”

“It is deep though, when you really think about it,” Harry takes a sharp left, the jut of Niall’s elbow digging into his side, when he brakes hard. It’s his favorite part of the course, just off the green where the trees frame up this beautiful clear view over the water. It’s not the ocean, some manufactured lake that they landscaped in, but sometimes when it’s early enough and Harry squints, he can almost pretend. He swallows, hard, taking in the clear blue of the sky, missing the haze that the rest of LA gets most times.

“Huh,” Niall breathes out next to him, pressing his water into Harry’s hand, “I like this, Haz, off the beaten path. Or I guess it’s the, ya know, golfed path.”

“I like to come here if it’s early enough that I can get away,” Harry says, before taking a drink and finishing off the bottle, setting it down near their feet.

“It’s your Harry spot,” Niall shrugs, shifting in Harry’s peripheral vision, “like, how you’d do sometimes, find the best view of wherever we were and just go there. Got a radar for it or something.”

“Do I do that?” Harry’s surprised, thinking back to the last million years that he’s known Niall and wondering if it’s true. He just likes to look at nice things, he supposes, and when he turns his head, Niall’s looking at him, assessing.

“Yeah, like, even back to X Factor. Like, at the house? There was that one room that had that view, right, the-”

“Tree that had a branch like a knob,” Harry finishes, remembering. He’d thought it was funny, at first, pointed it out to Niall and some of the others as a joke before he realized he liked how the clouds looked over the top of it. It felt calm, in the middle of all the not calm.

“Right, the cock tree.” Niall laughs, hard, as he looks away. “Your tastes have gotten less like a prick, at least. Growing up.”

“I liked the clouds,” Harry groans, “the knob part was just what like, made me laugh.”

“Whatever you say, you big old knob lover,” Niall reaches out his hand to pat at Harry’s knee, and Harry elbows him hard in retaliation. “Oi, don’t ruin this beautiful view, arse.”

“I guess that I didn’t really notice I do that though,” Harry tips his head back, staring off at the line of the horizon. “Whatever would I do without you there to obsess over all the weird stuff I do?”

“Dunno,” Niall must be shrugging, for how the cart starts shaking. “It’d just be you and your water bottle. And the rest of the world that’s obsessed with you, Harry, for chrissakes.”

“It’s not just me they’re obsessed with,” Harry scoots down a little more, his knees crowding up against the front of the cart, “listen, you know I’d never, you know. Do the solo thing.”

“Harry,” Niall’s says his name in that quiet tone that makes Harry’s eyes close immediately, “if you wanted to have this type of conversation, can it wait until it’s bloody 3 AM and I’m propped up in my kitchen over some leftovers? I’m barely making it now, two cups of fair trade coffee and no beer and my body thinks it’s some other time right now.”

“Sorry, I know we’ve talked about it before, I just-” Harry stops when Niall snorts next to him.

“It’s so much easier for me when you’re calling me a massive knob than when you’re apologizing,” Niall says, after a moment, and Harry have to look at him to know he’s got a look on his face. “Listen, this break, hiatus, whatever, it’s not...I wouldn’t do it either, right? I couldn’t. Can’t.”

Harry listens to Niall breathe heavily next to him, it eventually slowing down like he’s falling asleep. And it’s -- when Harry turns his head, Niall really does have his eyes closed, his snapback tipped down a bit over his forehead. And it’s just, even though they’ve talked about this before, it’s always in the middle of a long call, Niall in the middle of a long night. It’s different, hearing him say it in person. Partially because it’s Niall, and Harry can count on one hand the number of times he’s heard Niall say some variation of I can’t, and the majority of those were in reference to someone trying to convince him to get some ink. So. It’s different.

“Did anyone ever tell you it’s fucking creepy when you watch ‘em sleep?” Niall says then, his eyes still closed.

“Think it’s creepier that you can see what I’m doing with your eyes closed, Nialler,” Harry starts the cart then, fast, backing out with a sharp turn of the wheel that has Niall spilling over next to him.

“I’m booking the first plane home, Styles!” he yells, Harry idling nearby while he waits for Niall to climb back in.

**

“FUCKING YEAH, GET IN!!!!” Niall’s yelling from the other room, whatever game he’s got on a low rumble through the wall.

“Harry?” Gavin’s asking on the other end of the line, and Harry shifts his phone so it’s pressed tighter to his ear. “I thought I heard-”

“Yeah, I’ve got a very loud Irishman visiting, you’ll have to give me a sec,” Harry mutes the call, hearing Gavin’s chuckle, when he walks into the other room. Niall’s spread out on the wider sofa, his leg propped up on one of the arms and a beer balanced on his stomach.

“Harry!” Niall grins, flicking the cap at Harry, it landing square in Harry’s chest. He doesn’t bother catching it. “Did you know you’ve got some classic games on demand here? Legend.”

“I’m not gonna be long with this call, Niall, and-” Harry rubs the back of his neck with his hand, trying to decide how much of a prick he could get away with being, Niall still grinning, looking relaxed and probably a little pissed. Harry wishes he didn’t have this quick call, that he could flop down on the other sofa and listen to Niall moan about the lack of Nando’s in California, why does Harry only have dried up fruit for him to eat?

“I turned it down, d’ya need it lower? I could mute it.” Niall reaches backward, fingers grasping at the edge of the remote he must have tossed over earlier in some footie fit.

“Mute yourself, more like,” Harry raises his eyebrows, and Niall starts laughing, turning the remote on himself and nodding with his mouth closed, going silent. “Perfect. I’ll be back, yeah?”

Niall nods again, winking sloppily before flopping on his back again, and Harry laughs and gives him a thumbs up when he unmutes the call. “Gavin? Yeah, so I was thinking-”

It goes on for longer than Harry means it to, Gavin talking for ages as Harry wanders through the echoing rooms of his house. He takes careful note of how for someone who’s relatively neat and who’s only been in town for a handful of days, it feels like Niall’s spread out in all his rooms. It feels more lived in, like, Niall insisting at every meal that they eat it in a different room. Unless you’re worried I’m gonna ruin your ballroom.

“Anyway,” Gavin’s finally winding down, “I really liked the changes you sent earlier, they work so much better.”

“Thanks, yeah.” Harry hums the bridge that he had Niall go over with him that morning, made a few suggestions that helped Harry get past the weird block he was having with it. “We might have to credit my mate Niall for that one, though.”

“Guess you better keep the loud Irishman around then, if he’s that useful.” Gavin says something else muffled, like he’s talking to someone else, and Harry shifts his legs, looking out the window overlooking his pool. It’s late evening, nearly, but it’s still light enough out that he might somehow convince Niall to go for a ride. Harry didn’t buy that extra helmet for nothing.

“Harry?” Gavin’s speaking to him again, and Harry tries to focus, “I’m on my way out now, but we’ll catch up next week, yeah? I’ll send the schedule.”

“Sounds good, Gav. Talk to you soon.” Harry rings off and makes his way back to Niall, surprised as he gets closer that he can’t hear the game at all, it sounds like-

“Niall, those are decorative,” Harry takes it all in, Niall sprawled out in the middle of the floor and all of the guitars from Harry’s wall spread around him. “My walls look so empty and sad.”

“Sad is the state of ‘em,” Niall speaks around the pick he’s got shoved in his mouth, tuning the guitar in his lap carefully. He doesn’t look up from what he’s doing, as always the most still and settled when he’s got a guitar in his hands.

“I thought they looked wicked on the wall like that,” Harry sits down slowly, arranging his legs so he doesn’t disturb what is clearly Niall’s tuning queue. He picks up the one nearest to Niall, figuring it’s the closest to tuned, and settles it in his lap. When he strums it once, it echoes a bit in the room, against what Niall’s doing, and he curves his fingers against the strings, tries to remember the thing Niall taught him ages ago, the last time they were both sat down with guitars. Must have been, what? Last year, middle of tour, maybe. Harry curves his fingers again, the sound that comes out almost like what he’s trying for.

“Heyyyy,” Niall says then, and when Harry looks up he’s grinning. “Cheers, Haz, you must’ve had a great teacher.”

“The student surpasses the master,” Harry says, solemnly, swiping the pick from Niall’s mouth before strumming softly, picking out the melody of the song he and Niall’d worked on for hours the other week, Harry missing dinner entirely and Niall yelling at him eventually that the sun was coming up and he was about to turn to dust.

“Remember the way you,” Niall starts singing softly, before stopping, “oi, Haz, pause for a sec, I’m almost there with this one and then we can do it proper.”

Harry flats his hand against the strings, watches Niall concentrate as he tilts his head and finishes tuning the guitar. It’s the one Harry likes best, with the dark stain on the wood that makes all its imperfections stand out but in a good way. They’re all just guitars he found wandering through some random garage sales in the valley one day, browsing with his hat tipped down over his face until the boot of his car was full up with tatty cases. Alexa had been in town the day after that, stopping over and telling him he should get them all refinished before he hung anything up on any walls, but he’d shrugged and put them all up himself the next day. They were a little crooked and Harry had a thumb twice the size as the other for about a week, but it didn’t matter because when Mum and Robin had come not too soon after that, they’d shown him how a level works.

“Get in, yeah,” Niall whispers, finally satisfied with his efforts. He plays a quick progression, and it does sound loads better.

“Ready?” Harry asks, and Niall nods, launching into the song again without preamble. He pauses for a few quick seconds when Harry shifts to balance the guitar better so he can follow along, and Harry loves how it sounds when their voices blend together. They play without speaking for a long, long time; the thing that’s the most calming about writing and playing with Niall is that it’s never a debate about what comes next. They take turns following each other, like. It’s not getting used to a new person you’re working with, it just is. It makes Harry’s back feel less curved, or something.

“That was our best one, I think,” Niall finally says, idly tapping his fingers and scooting back so he’s leaning against the sofa.

“It’s not bad,” Harry agrees, falling backward until his head hits the plush carpet, the guitar a heavy weight on his stomach. “Wonder how many of these we’ve even done, lately.”

“Probably a handful,” Niall’s voice sounds lazy, and Harry wonders just how long they really have been at it, because the shadows shifting in the room means the sun’s setting, means they should probably start thinking about dinner. “Or, dunno, maybe more. ‘s been a lot.”

“Maybe like, ten?” Harry tries to count in his head. “Or no, that’s not counting just the like, helper ones.”

“What the fuck is a helper one?”

“You know,” Harry wiggles his hips to move his body in the other direction so he can turn his head to look at Niall without raising it, “like, the what’s a good word here ones.”

“I’m counting them all, because it sure as shit wasn’t just one word,” Niall tips his head back, his throat working as he swallows. “I guess I didn’t realize how many it’s been. Like, even the just us dicking around ones.”

“The Niall and Harry demos,” Harry intones, and Niall starts laughing at that, this deep, tired sound that Harry feels more than he hears.

“Tommo and Payno better watch out,” Niall says finally, knock his foot against Harry’s leg. “Hey, did I ever send you that pic I took of Laser with the guitar I bought ‘im?”

“No, you did not, because just like everyone else you withhold pictures of him from me,” Harry sets the guitar on the floor next to him before he rolls over in Niall’s direction, Niall already thumbing through his phone.

“Fuck off, I send you more pictures than anyone, every time I see that baby it’s a bloody photoshoot for you. Here,” Niall holds out his phone, “thought Zayn was gonna have a fucking heart attack, that I was going to crush his son with a shitting mini guitar.”

“He looks so much like them both,” Harry takes it all in, the full cheeks and ridiculous eyelashes, “I wonder if he’ll remember me next time I’m able to see him.”

“Laser has a good memory,” Niall laughs, “Payno is constantly convinced that he’ll have a fit the second he picks him up, shitting himself that he might make the baby cry and Zayn’ll never let him hold him again. And Laser just bloody laughs right in Payno’s face, every time. He’s definitely related to all of us.”

“I don’t think I remember that happening with Perrie,” Harry scrolls through Niall’s camera roll idly, wonders how one person could possibly take so many selfies, “I think I’d recall an orgy that resulted in a baby.”

“Somewhere in London, Zayn is having an absolute strop and he doesn’t know why,” Niall laughs, “just in a fit.”

“And now Laser will never know his favorite uncle.” Harry hits a string of what appear to be shirtless selfies, snorting to himself as he flips through with a swipe of his finger.

“Nah, he’ll know his Uncle Niall just fine.”

“Fuck off, you-” Harry pauses in his scroll, something a bit off, “Niall James Horan, were you sexting someone?”

Jesus Fucking Christ!” Niall’s launched on top of him then, grappling for his phone, and Harry knees him in his side, hearing something crash off to the side when Niall finally wrestles the phone out of his hand, breathing heavily over him.

“You didn’t even put it in a different folder, Niall,” Harry laughs up at the ceiling, Niall still half on top of him. “You had a pic of your prick in the same album as Zayn and Perrie’s child.”

“It’s not even my cock, you piece of shit,” Niall kicks at Harry, but there’s no venom in it, his voice sounding defeated.

“Whatever it was, I think you need to do a bit of reorganizing there,” Harry palms the top of Niall’s head, threading his fingers through the strands there and tugging for effect, Niall swearing at him. “Who was it for, anyway? Hope I’m not keeping you from a shag.”

“I was pissed one night, puked on meself like an absolute child, and after I got out of the shower, I dunno, it felt like a good idea at the time.” Niall shrugs, laughing, “Christ, I forgot to delete that.”

“Wanna see one of mine to make it even?” Harry pulls out his phone from his pocket, amazed the screen isn’t cracked from their bit of a wrestle, “I think I might have something comparable.”

**

It’s crowded in the room, enough that Harry’s already feeling a little warm in his suit, wishing that Jeff knew how to throw anything other than some formal do. And it’s weird, because it’s the same house as the one Harry’s birthday was in, similar enough to give Harry this weird feeling of deja vu.

He tries to think back to that night and how he felt, taking a sip of his drink and making a face. Vodka soda. He’d accepted the drink that Jeff’s assistant pressed into his hand when they walked in, Niall laughing and asking where the pints were and disappearing immediately. He takes another sip because the only way out is through, and scans the room for wherever Niall ended up, figuring he’ll hear him soon enough.

This was the one event that Harry couldn’t get out of, one he promised Jeff he’d be at ages ago. He’d actually forgotten to mention it to Niall until after he’d finished trying to make him look at a pic of his cock on his phone for fairness, realizing that Niall had been wearing the same two shirts all week so he probably didn’t have a suit. For a party. The next night.

Luckily enough it’s Niall, and after he’d laughed for years he’d waggled his eyebrows and told Harry to call ahead to the shops, they’d do a post-close run and get him sorted. At the time, it had seemed hilarious for Harry to buy the same suit and shirt as Niall was, yelling at each other to the delight of the young clerk who was obviously a fan that it had been years since they got to match.

Now though, Harry finally spots Niall over in the corner, laughing animatedly at some bloke Harry knows he’s probably met more than once, a little upset at himself that he can’t remember his name. It makes him hold back, doesn’t want to have to go through the motions of a sly reintroduction that’s becoming more and more prevalent the more people he meets on a daily basis. Something about it makes Harry feel tired, even though it’s early and he knows that Jeff had asked him to talk to a few people and he’s pretty sure he can hear Niall’s laughter cutting through the crowd.

Downing the rest of his drink, Harry weaves his way up to the bar and smiles when the bartender pours him a shot and a pint. The shot is still burning in the back of Harry’s throat when he carries the beer as carefully as he can through the crowd, making sure he nods at anyone who makes eye contact with him, knows that sometimes all he has to do is be seen and it’s enough.

It’s a miracle, really, that he makes it upstairs with only being pulled aside twice, pretending each time that he had to take a call. Just so he doesn’t feel like a total shit, he pulls out his phone when he gets upstairs, settling in a chair and taking a long drink of his beer as he scrolls through instagram to pass the time.

Glancing about, Harry notices a large bear sculpture looming over him from the nearby corner, and he snaps a pic before thinking, posts it with the caption All the party animals are here. He’s only just finished his beer when his phone buzzes, a text from Niall popping up on the screen.

disappearing act !!?

just needed a break Harry sends back and watches Niall type a response right away, feeling fidgety.

drag me t a party and go off on a pout, gonna shift one of your friends for this !!

Harry laughs, typing back, bring her upstairs, 2nd door on right. could use a good show before locking his phone and leaning back, tipping his head back to look up at the sculpture. It really is well done. He makes a mental note to ask Jeff about it later, thinks something similar might look good in his garden.

“Ready for the show?” Niall’s voice is loud and sudden, his knack for making an entrance especially potent after he’s on the road to pissed. “Might be a solo act, turns out she was married.” He kicks at Harry’s leg and laughs, half sprawling across his lap with a groan.

“As much as I love some good wank theatre, I think I’ll pass,” Harry feels like he’s starting to perk up, this party already shaping up to be loads better than his birthday months ago. “Just got a bit tired.”

“We can bail,” Niall shrugs, shifting so his legs are more evenly splayed across Harry’s thighs. “I think I did enough networking for us both, turns out I was helping you write for bloody half the people down there.”

“Did you talk to the manager for Small Dogs and Cigarettes? Big bloke. His name starts with an A, like. Or something like that.” Harry tries hard to remember, feeling like the alcohol’s starting to settle in his veins.

“His name was Newton, and yeah, I did. Loved the one we did whatsit, last month? I only remembered when he said the dumbshit name I let you pick.” Niall’s chuckling, low in his throat, and his knee is digging into Harry’s stomach.

“For the record, it was a song I was writing for them, so I totally earned the rights to name it. And,” Harry pokes his finger at Niall’s chest, “‘Spheres of Influence’ is such a great name.”

“Or,” Niall pauses, for long enough that Harry has to poke him again, “anyway, or, it sounds like tits.”

“It’s a sick song, Niall.”

“Name still sounds like tits, Harry.”

“Your name sounds like tits.” Harry knows it’s a ridiculous insult, but he feels like he just gave it to Niall really good anyway.

“Your face looks like tits.” Niall retorts immediately, a challenge in his lazy tone.

“That’s must be why you love looking at it,” Harry turns then, flipping over Niall and shoving his face up close, smelling the alcohol on Niall’s breath and feeling the heated flush of his cheek when he pokes his nose against his skin.

“You are a child.” Niall screws his face up before rolling, landing on the floor with a thud and knocking Harry off balance. “With tits face.”

“Wanna get out of here?” Harry asks suddenly, feeling slower than he should after a few shots and a beer.

“Yeah.” Niall’s hand reaches up from the floor, patting awkwardly at Harry’s back. “Can I ask you something, Hazza?”

“Sure.” Harry reaches back, fingers drumming on Niall’s wrist at the cuff of his jacket.

“D’ya think Al will take us to get burgers? Been dying for some In n Out.”

“Fucking hell,” Harry sits up, knocking Niall’s arm down and grinning at him, “I will fire him if he doesn’t.”

**

“I know I was complainin’ about Nando’s,” Niall talks around the mouthful of burger, “but fuck, maybe In n Out makes up for it.”

“Niall Horan,” Harry reaches between them to grab a chip, “are you forsaking Nando’s, your holy savior? Giving up Peri-Peri for Animal Style?”

Niall shrugs. “I can love ‘em both. There’s enough of me,” he pats at his stomach, making Harry laugh, “for two true loves.”

“Yeah, I’ve known you for far too long to hear you narrow it down to just two,” Harry snorts, pulling out the last two beers from the six pack they’d picked up at the petrol station and opening them before pushing one into Niall’s already outstretched hand.

“Cheers, Harry,” Niall pauses, taking a pull and splashing his feet in the pool where they’ve got their legs dangling, matching trousers rolled up to their knees. “Actually, I think I’mma start calling you that. Animal Styles.”

“Please don’t,” Harry groans, carefully balling up his wrapper and setting it in the now empty container of chips, adjusting the paper hat he’d insisted Al ask for at the drive-thru for him, “because I know you’ll say it on Twitter and then I’ll be Animal Styles forever.”

“There’re worse things to be,” Niall starts in on his second burger, “than Animal Styles.”

“Can’t think of it off the top of my head,” Harry laughs, finishing off his beer and flopping on his back, staring up at the sky. It’s real clear, spinning a bit. But clear. “Lookit, Niall, I think I can see some like. Constellations?”

“Yeah?” Niall’s got his mouth full again, “which ones?”

“The uh, bear one. Or it’s an elephant.” Harry shifts, trying to make the hard poolside brickwork more comfortable against his back. “There’s no way to tell.”

“Looks like stars t’me,” Niall says, then, “fuuuuuck, I think I just ruined my suit. My style just got a little more animal.”

“Can’t take you anywhere,” Harry turns his head slowly, laughing when he sees how Niall’s got sauce all down his front, “I can have it sent to the cleaners, can keep it here so it’s like, clean. And here.”

“Plannin’ on me doing all your dos from now on? You hide and dick around and I use my charm on all the masses?” Niall laughs, looking down at his burger and shrugging before finishing it off. Harry watches as he finishes the beer as well.

“I could pay you a small fee,” Harry grins, spreading his arms out and poking at Niall, splashing his feet in the pool. The water is warm still from the sun even though it set a while ago.

“Well maybe,” Niall pauses, looking over at Harry and grinning, “I could save the money for a cleaning.” He grins then, tipping over into the pool with a splash, Harry sitting up and waiting for him to pop back up, sputtering a bit.

“Fucking Hell, Niall,” Harry leans forward, gripping the edge of the pool, “you could drown, you are compromised.”

“Better come save me then,” Niall laughs, and he’s pulling at Harry’s legs before Harry even registers what’s happening, suddenly surrounded by water.

“Shit!” Harry yells, shoving at Niall’s shoulder when they both surface, “that was uncool, Niall. Uncool.”

“Oh no, not uncool!” Niall laughs, running his hands through his hair and standing, “we’re at the shallow end, you twat.”

And it’s a bit true. Well, more than a bit true, because when Harry stands up the water is just at his waist, everything feeling wet and drippy and heavy.

“I should’ve got my kit off before I jumped in, this is mental,” Niall’s struggling to get out of his suit, tossing the jacket and shirt poolside with a wet sound.

“Thought you were trying to get it clean,” Harry laughs, wondering when buttons got so bloody hard as he tries to disrobe. It’s the trousers and pants that are the hardest, his legs not cooperating under the water even though he’s trying real hard to be careful.

“Jesus Christ,” Niall groans, and when Harry looks over Niall’s further out toward the deeper end, treading water, “how many times am I gonna see your cock this trip?”

“Why would I keep my pants on if we’re swimming? That’ll just have like, resistance.” Harry shrugs. It makes perfect sense. “‘sides, you’ll miss my cock when you’re gone.”

“I’ll make sure t’ send it a card,” Niall’s floating on his back now, and his voice sounds far away to Harry when he sinks down, doing the same. “No matter the distance, I’ll always love you.”

“There’s always Skype, Niall,” Harry moves his arms, almost tipping out of his float as he nearly bumps into Niall.

“Yeah,” Niall says after a moment, sounding far away even though he’s right next to him. Harry’s surprised he’s not making a smart arse comment. “There is.”

“Was thinking I’d go for a ride with you and Al tomorrow, to the airport.” Harry shakes his head carefully, trying to shift a wet curl on his forehead.

“If ya want,” Niall must move something, because there’s a quiet sound of the water shifting. “Don’t want you cryin’ at the gate, though.”

“I would never.” Harry doesn’t know why, but he feels sober suddenly. And tired. “Was thinking, dunno when I’ll be home next.”

“Aren’t you home now?” Niall sounds half asleep.

“Not like,” Harry tries to figure out what he’s trying to say, “here home. Like, London home. Sometimes I feel a bit like wherever I am, that’s it.”

“We’ve had a lot of homes in that case,” Niall laughs, but it’s quiet, unlike Niall. “All over.”

“Been a lot of places, Niall,” Harry says, slowly, “been all around the world.”

“Fuck off,” Harry can hear Niall breathing before he talks again, “you like it out here though, yeah?” His fingers brush up against Harry’s arm, and Harry startles a bit, trying to relax and keep floating.

“It wasn’t really like a thing I noticed, not ‘til I wasn’t about to go see a lot of different homes. But,” Harry squints up at the sky, at the back of his house where it looks like Niall left every light on in his wake, moves his legs in the pool he can’t remember the last time he’s been in, “it’s starting to feel more like it, lately.”

“Sick,” Niall whispers, and Harry closes his eyes. He knows that they’re likely to fall asleep pissed in the pool and drown in a freak accident, but he figures they can at least have a few more minutes.

&&&

“It looks real nice, Eleanor,” Niall says, earning a kick from Louis under the table for his sincerity.

“Thank you, Niall,” she smiles at him as she passes behind Louis, reaching over to set down another drink in front of them both.

“Don’t believe a word out of his mouth,” Louis glares at him, a wicked smile forming, “talked to him just last week about all the renovations, and he told me he didn’t care.”

“To be fair, Lou,” Liam chimes in from the other end of the table, typing away at his phone without looking up, “he said he didn’t care to look at every picture.”

“It’s just been months of paints and fabrics and these two cunts arguing about whatever Cherub Imagery’s been up to in the studio, that’s all El,” Niall sighs, “the end result is proper great.” He gestures around the dining area they’re sat in, having dinner.

“Niall, like I take him seriously,” Eleanor rolls her eyes before shooting Lou a look that Niall could only describe as soppy.

“You love me,” Louis singsongs, scooting his chair closer and leaning his head on El’s shoulder. She shakes him off, laughing as she stands and starts clearing up, shaking her head at Niall when he tries to get up and help.

“Someone has to,” Liam mutters, then, “Tommo, they signed the redlined contract.”

“Fucking finally,” Lou groans, looking up at Niall, “they’ve been whinging about these terms for weeks, I’m never taking a referral from anyone Hazza knows again.”

“It was a bit much, but some of their issues were perfectly reasonable,” Liam frowns, “and Harry was doing us a favor, because you know if he hadn’t written that song for them someone else would’ve snapped them up.”

“Who is it again?” Niall asks, setting down his fork and taking a drink of water.

“Fucking Everything Sounds Like Noise,” Louis snorts, “dumb as shit band name, but the song Hazza did for them was pretty sick.”

“Yeah,” Niall nods, humming the hook and nodding his head. He remembers helping Harry with it right after LA, getting off the plane to a string of texts asking for help.

“That’s the one,” Liam taps his nose with his finger, “he send it to you?”

“Helped him a bit with it, bout a month or so back,” Niall shrugged, “he was stuck on the hook.”

“Hmmm,” Liam nods, already picking up his phone again when Louis speaks up.

“Didn’t you say he worked with you on that one you did for Dan, too?”

“Yeah,” Niall pulls at the edge of his napkin, “or wait, which one? He only worked with me on the last two.”

“Shit, you go out there for one week and you’re suddenly taking the songwriting world by storm,” Louis leans back, “go on then, you trying to upstage me and Payno?”

“Nah,” Niall shrugs, “there’s nothing to upstage, there.” And there hasn’t been much on lately either. It’s like he and Harry have something bigger working against them, their schedules even more off sync than usual and harder to catch up. Niall’s slept through two of Harry’s middle of the night songwriting calls in the past couple of weeks, and even thinking about it now makes that nagging feeling like he’s been off his game feel a little bigger.

“Alright alright, twat, don’t think you can get away with that shit because Zayn begged off and there isn’t a Laser present.”

“That would not stop you, you fucking eejit.” Niall feels an annoyance that he normally doesn’t at this point with Lou, wonders if he should get out before he really angers him and he says something he fucking shouldn’t.

“Can we maybe have a dinner without everyone being hateful?” Liam interrupts then, setting his phone on the table face down and crossing his arms, a pout looming.

“No, because I hate you too much,” is Lou’s immediate response, and as he and Liam start bickering back and forth like children, Niall takes the opportunity to pull out his phone, making like he’s got a call he has to answer. They don’t even notice, Niall not bothering to do the mental math before he wanders into Lou’s redone home office and dialing Harry.

“Niallllllllll,” Harry answers right before Niall’s sure it’s about to flip to his voice mail, “was just thinking of you.”

“Yeah?” Niall asks. Louis’s got his and Liam’s profile in the “30 Most Influential Under 30” list that came out a few months back framed up on his wall, under a bloody spotlight to boot. He makes a mental note to take the piss later, opens his mouth to tell Harry about it when Harry’s speaking again.

“Well, okay, so it was really yesterday, but then when I saw you were calling it all came rushing back to me.”

“So….” Niall trails off, waits for Harry to clue him in.

“Sorry, I’m a bit tired, I stayed at Jeff’s for the night and their dog was on it all night long.” Harry does sound sleepy, now that Niall’s paying attention, his words drawn out and careful.

“Why’d you do that? To pissed t’ go home?” Niall sits down at the desk, still hearing Louis and Liam’s raised voices in the other room. Least it sounds like they’re laughing now.

“Oh, no reason in particular,” Harry says, after a long pause, “I was just on the phone, right, in my kitchen, and my voice was echoing, Niall.”

“Did you think the place was haunted, so you fled t’ Jeff’s for safety?” Niall laughs, because Harry might be the most fecking ridiculous person he knows.

“A ghost wouldn’t have my same voice, Niall,” Harry sounds so matter of fact, his voice dropping low before Niall can even start laughing, “no, it just felt so empty right then, I was like, crawling out of my skin or summat.”

“Shit.” Niall doesn’t know what else to say, his mind immediately thinking of Harry leaning against his counter and feeling lost.

“But it was just one night!” Harry says brightly, sounding back to cheer again. “I’ll go back t’mine after my meeting I have, get a little extra sleep. Which, I sent you something to look at for me last night, can you check it and call me when you do? I’ve been shit lately without my Niall nine nine.”

“You’re a bloody idiot,” Niall stands up, starts to make his way back over to the doorway and rejoin the others, “but yeah, I’ll call you later.”

**

“How many times do we have to go through this?” Niall adjusts his screen, trying to make sure his head isn’t cut off. “I don’t know why this song is so bloody hard.”

“This was supposed to just be fun, remember?” Harry makes a face, leaning forward toward the camera and poking his tongue into his cheek.

“Harry please do not check your spots on Skype, I do not give a shit.”

“Excuse you,” Harry continues to inspect his cheek, “but I think it’s because I had too much sugar yesterday.”

“Oh well in that case, please shove your spot closer so I can fully appreciate its origins,” Niall sighs, strumming his guitar once. “Hey, you been letting all my hard tuning work collect dust? Been months now, and you never show me your wall when we’re on here. Bit suspicious, that.”

“I have a cleaning service, so they’re not dusty at all,” Harry sticks out his tongue, then leans back and looks satisfied with himself.

“Anyway,” Niall knows a losing battle when he sees one, “this bit.” He plays the part again, then another time.

Harry’s being so bloody frustrating though, especially since he fucking Skyped Niall in the first place. He’s been humming and jotting things down while Niall plays for ten minutes straight, Niall keeping a strict watch on the time. He’s not saying one fecking word out loud. Not a one.

“Collaborating,” Niall says, knowing he’s yelling at this point but past the point of giving a fuck, “means we have to COLLABORATE.”

“Fuck, Niall,” Harry looks up then, annoyed, “now I lost my train of thought!”

“So sorry,” Niall stops playing, “but I don’t give a shit.”

“Don’t be a bastard,” Harry says, frustratingly calm again. Fecking Yoga. “Play that one part again.”

“Harry,” Niall says, slowly, “I literally just played like eight different things. Which one?”

“The one like,” Harry starts humming, leaning down close to his mic. It sounds nothing like anything Niall’s played in the past year. Or, ever. Niall tries to match him, though, playing along as Harry hums.

“Like this?” Niall plays it again, Harry shaking his head immediately and humming louder.

“Niall, no, what the fuck,” Harry’s eyebrows are all knotted up like he gets when he’s angry, and Niall can feel his own anger rising, tries to push it back down.

“I’m only doing what you’re doing,” Niall plays it again, this time because he knows it’ll really bother Harry. When he does it a little harder, a little louder, Harry sits back, looking like he’s thinking of what he wants to yell at Niall about next.

“Fine Niall, FINE.” Harry shakes his head before there’s the beep of the call ending. What in the actual fuck, did Harry just Skype hang up on him?

Niall tries to dial in again, but it just rings and rings, Harry never picking up. Niall gives up after three tries, not bothering to put his guitar away before he wanders in the direction of his kitchen. He needs some fucking whiskey, is what he needs.

**

“No, I haven’t heard from him,” Zayn already has that tone to his voice like he regrets answering his phone, Niall knowing he’s lucky he even did in the first place.

“It’s just fucking mental,” Niall sighs, sticking his feet up on the table in front of him, “you’d think we were Lou and Li, having a strop over some song and then not speaking for weeks.”

“Well,” Zayn stops, Niall hearing a high pitched squeal in the background, “I don’t know what he needs, Pez, I just gave him a teething biscuit and he threw it at me.”

“Laser can hit a high note better than both his mum and his dad,” Niall remarks, wincing when he hears Laser squeal again, it sounding sharp over the phone.

“Been teething for fucking months, Mum came round to help but now she’s left again and neither of us have slept in…” Zayn trails off, and Niall feels like a shit for calling to complain about Harry not calling or answering calls for a whole day and a half, no matter how much it’s been eating at him, making him go off with worry.

“Why don’t you go, I’ll come round later and hang out with Laser so you two can have a kip.” Niall pauses, hearing Zayn sigh on the other end, “Sorry I was being a twat about this.”

“‘s fine, Ni. If you want I’ll send him a Laser pic, try to flush him out?” Zayn sounds distracted, and Niall thinks that maybe he’ll stay for a good long while, let Zayn and Pez sleep for hours, maybe even go to dinner if they want.

“I want him to get over it, not have a heart attack because it’s the first time you send him a pic.”

“Ha.” Zayn yawns, the sound of it stretching over the phone and catching, Niall trying to swallow against it. He sounds about as hopeful as Zayn ever does when he speaks again. “If you came, though.”

“Give me a couple hours, I’ll be there.” Niall thinks about his plans, was gonna meet up with Marvin and Roch for a few drinks, but he can easily put them off to another night.

He rings off, leaning his head back on the sofa and sighing up toward the ceiling, feeling like a giant twat. Since he ended their Skype call, Harry’s gone totally off the grid, not answering any of Niall’s calls or texts. It’s driving him a bit mad, really, both because what the fuck, and also the fact that it’s bothering Niall in the first place. It’s not the first time he’s gone ages before talking to Harry, but it’s that feeling like there’s something wrong that Niall can’t figure out that’s just. It’s fucking mental.

He’s sitting there trying to think if he has some toys he got for Theo that never made it to him that he can bring over for Laser when there’s the buzz of someone at his gate. Niall’s not expecting anyone, and sometimes he’ll get some false alarms, so he sits for a moment to see if it’ll stop.

It doesn’t, in fact, it gets more insistent, Niall’s ears starting to ring as he makes his way to the entryway.

“Hello?” Niall squints at the screen, and it’s-

“Niall Horan, let me the fuck in, I’m dying for a wee.” Harry’s face is crowded in on the screen, sunglasses pushed up the bridge of his nose.

“What the fuck?” Niall pushes the button, swinging his door open and knowing he’s staring like a twat when Harry appears, carrying a bag and pushing past Niall, dropping everything on the floor in the hall and handing Niall his phone.

“Be right back,” Harry legs it down the hall to Niall’s bathroom, Niall left alone with Harry’s phone still in his hand. He glances down, looks at the pic Harry has set as his lock screen, the five of ‘em over last Christmas, Zayn beaming in the center and holding Laser. He was so small then, feels like it’s a pic from years ago instead of just under one.

“Alright,” Harry announces, stretching his arms above his head when he walks back in, “didn’t interrupt anything important, did I? Hiding a girl in one of the closets?” He opens the door to the closet in the entryway, looking over his shoulder and winking at Niall. He slings his arm around Niall’s neck as he walks over, pressing his face to Niall’s hair.

“And again, what the fuck?” Niall pushes at Harry’s shoulder, Harry making his way to Niall’s kitchen, Niall following him in a daze. “You fucking hang up on me because we have one argument, and then ignore me.”

“I didn’t hang up,” Harry helps himself to a glass of water, leaning against Niall’s counter and grinning, “I figured it was something that would be better to figure out in person.” He shrugs, “I would’ve been here sooner, but it’s Labor Day weekend over there so it took some juggling to get a flight out.”

“I’ve always wondered what Labor Day was for,” Niall tries to wrap his head around Harry being here, in his kitchen, standing like he just popped over from his place down the lane.

“It’s to celebrate, y’know, labor.” Harry laughs, “I didn’t realize until I landed that I’d never responded to any of your calls, Nialler, sorry if it seemed like I was being a pouty dick.”

“It’s okay,” Niall leans forward on his forearms, scrubbing at his face to try and wake himself up. “D’you need anything? Food? Nap?”

“Nah, I followed my schedule, I’m fine,” Harry reaches for his phone where Niall had set it on the counter between them, vibrating with a message. He swipes at the screen, his whole face lighting up before he looks at Niall, his eyes wide. “Zayn sent me a Laser. Niall. Have you seen this one?”

“Lemme look,” Niall feels like he’s laughing a bit hysterically when he takes Harry’s phone, the picture of a red faced Laser with a biscuit hanging out of his mouth. All Zayn said was Here. “No, I think that’s brand new, just for you Haz.”

“He’s so big,” Harry breathes, taking it back and gazing down at the screen. “Listen, I can only stay a couple of days, but after we figure out this song, we have to go for a quick visit, yeah? Oh, and we can’t tell anyone else I’m here.”

“Did you just fly here for one bloody song?” Niall shakes his head, this weird feeling rising up in his chest, “and I’m supposed to go watch Mr. Laser in about an hour, so today is your lucky day.”

The look Harry gives him is probably the most excited Niall’s seen him since they last kicked off a tour.

**

“Here, let me have a go,” Harry’s already reaching for Laser as he says it, plucking the fussy baby out of Niall’s arms and settling back on the sofa, cuddling him to his chest.

“He’s never been like this before, no wonder those two are like,” Niall waves his hand over his face, “zombies.”

“Laser is just dealing with a lot, right?” Harry stands the baby up on his lap, and Laser stops his whinging for a moment to stare at Harry’s face, drool dripping off his chin as he reaches out, closing his hand over Harry’s mouth and pulling, Harry talking against it. “Those silly teeth aren’t letting him rest. And if he’s like his Daddy, he’s not gonna stand for that.”

“My Da would say to try rubbing some whiskey on his gums,” Niall crawls across the floor, chucking all of the toys out of the bouncy chair, the one that vibrates that he knows Pez said calms Laser down usually.

“Ten months old, and you wanna already get him started on whiskey,” Harry shakes his head, bouncing the slightly happier Laser on his lap while Niall drags the chair closer. “This is a new low, Niall.”

“It’s not asking him to do a shot, you idiot,” Niall flips the switch to make sure it still works, and it does, coming to life with a low hum. Laser watches him with interest, his fingers still pulling at Harry’s mouth. “Alright, my main man, you ready for this?”

“I’ve got it,” Harry says when Niall reaches for Laser, the baby kicking out his legs excitedly as Harry sets him in the chair, strapping him in as Niall holds his teether toy at the ready to shove in his mouth.

They sit there for a moment, Laser staring up at them like he expects something, his face starting to crumple like he’s about to start in again. Niall tries to think, looking about the room for something that might help.

“Be right back,” Niall says, Harry humming under his breath and nodding, making faces at Laser and tickling at his feet. Niall makes his way down the hallway, ducking into the room where he knows Zayn and Perrie keep a guitar, grabbing it and a pick before walking back into the room, Harry sitting hunched over in front of the chair now, Laser still whining softly.

“Figured we could,” Niall holds up the guitar, raising his eyebrows, and Harry nods, grinning.

“Somebody’s gonna get a private concert from his favorite uncles!” He announces, and Laser rewards him with a wide smile, waving his teething toy in the air. Harry turns to Niall as he settles next to him, putting the guitar in his lap, “we’re his favorite uncles, by the way.”

“Great, I’ll alert the media,” Niall laughs, strumming once before nudging at Harry’s shoulder. “Wanna start with “Bet Your Rider”?” Niall makes sure to use Harry’s dumbshit name, Harry’s eyes lighting up as he nods.

“Just what I was thinking,” Harry sticks out his hand, Laser grasping at his finger immediately and looking distressed for a moment. Harry speaks out of the side of his mouth, “Niall, any minute now, we’re losing our audience.”

Niall starts before it can turn into a full cry, playing softly in case Zayn and Pez’ll hear, and Laser’s eyes get wide immediately, him regarding them seriously as soon as Harry starts to sing. By the middle of the song, Niall notices, he’s kicking his legs and smiling, and Niall thinks for not the first time lately that there’s just something different about all the songs they’ve written, how it sounds when they’re singing together.

**

“Okay, fine, that was much easier in person,” Niall sets his guitar to the side, snagging his beer from the floor and walking over to sit behind his drum kit, twirling one of the sticks in his hand as Harry stretches from where he’s laid out on the floor.

“Told ya,” Harry yawns, “even without bonus Laser, was worth it to come, figure it out.” He laughs, eyes widening, “and to see you too, of course.”

“Yeah, I was about to start crying,” Niall rolls his eyes, “but it was nice, to finish it. Who was it for again?” He realizes he can’t remember, wonders if Harry ever even told him.

“No one, actually,” Harry shrugs, propping one leg up on the side of the sofa. “Dunno what to do with it, just something I started.”

“Huh.” Niall’s sort of glad, thinks that there’s probably more and more of songs they’ve been working on lately that’s just. It’s not something they’re doing on purpose, Niall surprised it even happened at all.

“Was nice today,” Harry says, interrupting Niall’s thoughts. “Fun.”

“He’s a great baby,” Niall agrees, thinking about how by the end of it Laser had kicked and laughed himself to sleep, Zayn and Perrie showing up for the end of the Laser Set, as Harry called it, Zayn looking still tired and a bit confused and Perrie asking a ton of questions.

“No, not Laser,” Harry sits up, turning so his back is against the sofa and he’s facing Niall. He screws his face up, looking lost in thought, “meant like, playing together. The concert.”

“Oh.” Niall had been trying not to think of it, because for some reason it makes him feel idiotic and sad about the fact that Harry’s leaving in a day and he’s not sure if they’ll ever play together in a band again. “D’ya ever think,” Niall says, feeling open and relaxed, like it’s one of their late night calls, “that it’s a bit sad, we missed that bit?”

“What bit?” Harry tips his head back, swallowing.

“The like, small shows bit.” Niall tries to think of what he’s trying to say, “I dunno, playing for Laser today, it felt small. I barely remember what small feels like.”

“Same.” Harry’s eyes widen, and he opens his mouth and closes it, like he’s struggling to speak, “what if-”

“What?” Niall’s wondering what Harry’s about to say, wonders if it’s along the same lines of what he’s thinking. It was just fun today, that’s all. Easy. Comfortable. Niall misses comfortable.

“We could do a,” Harry leans forward, “like a, small show? Or shows? Like, not a full tour. Not that we’re like, going to record or anything or change anything about our hiatus. But, we’ve got the songs?”

“Just a small thing,” Niall could slap himself for how light his voice comes out, clearing his throat and meeting Harry’s big eyes with his own, “just a bit of fun.”

“And not just to a really great baby,” Harry laughs, rubbing at his face, speaking through his hands, “fuck, Niall, could we really do this?”

“Could we?” Niall asks. Harry doesn’t say anything, just stares over at him, chewing at his thumbnail. He stands up, walking over to slump down next to Harry, pressing his shoulder against Harry’s to ground himself. He wants to do it. He wants Harry to say it.

“I think-” Harry says after what feels like fecking years to Niall, “I think we should.”

Fuck,” Niall breathes out, “Fuck. Yeah.”

&&&

Part of Niall wants to get everything sorted immediately, riding so high on the idea of touring again that he and Harry stay up for hours drinking and tossing out ideas, Harry writing the best ones in his moleskine. It’s not that easy, though. Harry’s got to get back to LA and it’s not like Niall’s schedule’s completely open, either.

“Next week,” Harry says, standing in front of Niall’s open fridge, eating cold chips while scrolling through his phone.

“At least shut the door, heathen.” Niall nudges Harry out of the way so he can close the fridge. “Next week what?”

Harry sets his phone down so Niall can see. “Think I can come back in a week and we can figure out the specifics. Y’know, if we’re still serious about it then.”

Niall’s been serious about it since Haz first floated the idea; he can’t imagine hating the idea come Friday. But at least this way gives them some time to process things.

“You, me, a guitar, don’t know what more specifics we need.” Loads, honestly, but those’re the boring bits.

“Coming soon to a street corner near you!” Harry says, bumping their hips together, Niall laughing and feeling lighter than he has in weeks.

**

It’s halfway through the week when Niall gets a text from Harry. Think we have to clear it w the others before we do anything

Obviously he sends back, already adding it to the spreadsheet he’s keeping of important things they need to figure out, bumping it all the way up to #1.

In the end it’s easiest to get everyone over Niall’s, claiming a lads night like they haven’t had in ages.

“You’re back already?” Louis asks, frowning when he sees Harry. “Didn’t you just leave?”

“You did leave, didn’t you?” Liam looks confused. “Or have you been crashing at Niall’s this whole time.”

“He left,” Niall says while Harry fidgets with his shirt hem. He thinks Haz must have a similar knot of guilt forming in his stomach, the reality of what they want to do slowly sinking in. When they’d decided to split up the group they’d all talked about it, agreed that if anyone wanted to go solo they were welcome to try. No one had put a ban on anything, so Niall doesn’t know why he’s suddenly dreading this conversation. It shouldn’t be something that makes him worry he might be sick, and yet.

“We’ve already lost Zayn,” Liam says, pointing to where Zayn’s conked out on the sofa. Niall feels bad for dragging him over here for this, knows Laser’s teething’s not gone away in the past few days. Zayn jolts awake when Louis kicks him in the ankle.

“Look alive, Malik, Harry’s back in town.”

“Saw him last week,” Zayn says, holding his hand out for one of the beers Louis is holding.

“Guess you can leave then, Haz, Zayn’s reached his quota.” Louis shoos him away as he settles on the sofa, Liam taking the empty space next to him. “Nevermind that the rest of us didn’t get to see you.”

“Stuff it, Lou,” Zayn says. His eyes are already drooping closed again. Niall nudges Harry; they’ve got to get this over with sooner than later. Their window of opportunity is closing rapidly.

“Right,” Harry nods, looking over at Niall once before drawing in a deep breath. He leans forward in his seat. “I’m sure you’re wondering why we’re here.”

“Nialler promised us steak and beer,” Liam says.

“Still waiting on that steak,” Louis says.

Niall rolls his eyes. “They’re marinating.”

Harry glares at all of them. “The thing is,” he starts, “obviously I’ve been in LA a lot, and I’ve been seeing some people while I’m there -- not like that, Louis, just like. You know.” He waves his hand as if that explains it.

“Anyway,” Harry stands up and starts pacing.

“Oh, great, here we go.” Louis pinches the bridge of his nose. Liam chugs a third of his beer in one go. They both look resigned to Harry’s rambling.

“I’ve been feeling run down,” Harry says. “For a while now, really. So like, I talked to some people to get like, second opinions --” he turns to Niall, “sorry, I meant to tell you.”

“S’alright.” Niall shrugs. He regrets not going over this with Harry, because he’s gone from rambling nonsense to making it sound like he’s dying.

“And everyone says the timing’s right, that it’s a bit of a risk but now’s the best time to start. There’s no guarantees or anything, but like, there never are, yeah? Life is short, we all know how you have to capitalize when you can.”

Zayn’s dead to the world again but Louis and Liam look wrecked. Liam’s got a death grip on his bottle and Lou looks as if he’s seen a ghost, gone completely pale, his mouth hanging open. The more Harry talks, the worse things sound. Niall would find it hilarious if Liam didn’t look like was seconds from bursting into tears or vomming on his own trainers. Or both.

“I wanted to tell you guys first, obviously,” Harry says, sounding so tentative that Niall’s mouth drops open. He’s really shitting the bed here. “Because if everything goes smoothly it’ll start in a month or so and I just -- I really hope you guys will be supportive.”

“Oh my god,” Niall drops his face into his hands and groans. “HE’S FINE,” he yells, the words coming out muffled. When he looks up, Harry looks like he’s legitimately upset that Niall’s interrupted his speech. The fucking idiot.

“We’re going to tour together,” Niall says, gesturing between himself and Harry. “That’s all. Everyone is healthy.”

“Jesus FUCKING Christ,” Louis says, throwing a pillow at Harry.

“I…” Liam starts and then stops, his whole body sagging.

“You’re a massive knob,” Niall tells Harry, laughing.

“Hey!” Harry has the nerve to look insulted. Louis chucks another pillow and Harry falls when trying to dodge it.

“You deserve so much worse than that,” Louis says darkly, knocking back the rest of his drink and then reaching over to steal Zayn’s.

Niall reaches his arm out to help Harry up. “‘Second opinion?’ ‘Life is short?’ It did seem like you were actively trying to make everyone think you had cancer, Haz.”

“I wasn’t!”

“Alright,” Liam leans forward, some of his color coming back, “so let me get this straight. You two want to tour? Together?”

Harry and Niall nod.

“And you brought us all here --”

“And made us think you were dying,” Louis adds helpfully, not looking up from where he’s trying to get his empty bottle into Zayn’s lax hand.

“Because --”

“We want your blessing,” Harry finishes for him.

“Stop it, Lou, fuck’s sake,” Zayn says suddenly, shaking his hands and trying to pull away from Louis.

“I mean, I say zero points for execution but bonus points for style,” Louis says, turning away from Zayn to look at Liam.

“What’s going on?” Zayn asks.

“Harry doesn’t have cancer,” Louis says, grinning.

“What? Are you,” Zayn blinks, “are you alright?”

“He’s fine,” Liam says around the neck of his beer. Zayn doesn’t look convinced.

“Go back to sleep.” Louis goes a bit soft around the eyes as he ruffles Zayn’s hair. “I’ll wake you up if anything good happens.”

“What?” Zayn still sounds confused but he’s already curling in on himself. Niall rolls his eyes and goes to fetch more beers.

“Are you really going to start soon?” he hears Liam ask.

“Doubt it,” Niall says, ducking back into the room. “We just decided to last week, haven’t really done anything about it. S’why Haz came back.”

“Just you two then? Have you been working on stuff together?”

“Yeah, loads,” Harry says, and Niall leaves for real this time. He moves slowly, taking his time. He feels cautious, like he shouldn’t be getting his hopes up, but it’s hard not to.

“Need a hand?”

Niall jumps. “Jeez, Lou, scared me.”

Louis smirks, walking to the drawer where Niall keeps his bottle opener and pulling it out, motioning for Niall to pass him the beers.

“Sorry ‘bout Harry,” he says. Louis laughs.

“Feels like ages since we’ve had a good Hazza ramble,” Lou says, rolling his eyes. “We were due for it, I guess. Really had me going.”

“It kept getting worse!” Niall laughs. “Your faces were priceless.”

Louis doesn’t say anything, just laughs and slides an open beer to Niall, clinking his own against it before taking a pull. Niall can hear the low rumble of Liam and Harry’s voices in the next room. He feels a bit bad for abandoning Haz to Liam, who’s surely got a thousand and three technical questions that they haven’t even considered yet.

“You guys are really gonna do this?” Louis asks after a minute.

“If we can, yeah.” Niall nods, picking at the beer label with his thumb. “I miss it a lot, Tommo. We both do.”

He doesn’t look up. He doesn’t want to see Louis’s face, the soft sound he makes in the back of his throat hard enough to hear.

“Well,” Louis slings his arm around Niall’s neck, tugging him close, “it sounds like you don’t have any of your shit in order so if you need a label to handle the details for you --”

“No shit,” Niall’s jaw drops, “seriously?”

“I may know a bloke or two.” Louis shrugs, the corners of his mouth tugging up like he’s fighting back a grin.

“Fuck,” Niall breathes out, pulling him in for a real hug, laughing into Louis’s neck, the sudden probability of it all seeming so overwhelming that Niall feels slightly hysterical.

&&&

“No,” Harry says, trying his hardest not to yell, “I told Louis that we don’t want to announce it yet. I said -- no, you know what? Have him call me.”

Harry feels bad for hanging up on Marcus, who he’s never even met, but he hates feeling like he’s being strung along. When they first sat down, him and Niall and Louis and Liam, and agreed to work together for this, he and Niall set very specific parameters for this whole thing. If they’re doing it, they want it to be on their terms: small, low-key, acoustic. He knows Lou and Liam are just doing their jobs, that they’re not trying to screw them over in any way, but.

Lou still wants to announce it next weekend. I think Marcus is going to cry on the phone soon he texts Niall, hating that they’re stuck planning this from opposite sides of the world.

NOOOOOOOO he gets back and then his phone’s vibrating with Niall’s incoming call.

“I thought tickets weren’t going on sale until next month,” Niall says immediately. “We don’t even have a name yet.”

“They aren’t,” Harry says, “and I know. They’re not happy about that, either. Liam’s sent me like, sixteen emails about it already today.”

“You know I’m cc’ed on those, right?”

“Nialllll,” Harry whines, kicking the wall. He’d walked out of a writing session with John to take Marcus’ call, he has better things to do than stand around while Niall takes the piss out of him.

“Are you gonna call Lou or should I?”

“I told Marcus to have him call me.” Harry sighs.

“Good,” Niall says. “Think he’s still pissed at me for shouting at Liam about an opening act yesterday.”

“We don’t need one,” Harry says.

“That’s why I was shouting!” Niall takes a deep, calming breath. “Whatever, they stopped looking for one, so Lou’ll probably listen to you about the announcement.”

“I know.” It’s just shit because he and Niall have such a clear vision of what they want to do and everyone else is coming at it from like, a business standpoint. If Marcus tells him about the bottom line one more time, Harry probably will end up making him cry and then everyone’ll feel like a twat.

Harry’s phone vibrates. “That’s him now, I’d better --”

“Let me know how it goes, yeah?”

“Probably hear Lou yelling from your house,” Harry says, chuckling and switching to Lou’s call. “Hiiiiii.”

“I swear to god, Harry, it’s like you think we hate you.”

“Louis, we don’t even have a name.”

“Which is another problem.”

“I know.” Harry stands up straight. They’ve made it this far into the planning, it’s not like Louis is going to start calling venues and canceling. “Listen, I’ll be back in London in like, a week and a half --”

“Harry, tickets go on sale on November first.”

“I know, this still gives us time. I’ll come back, meet with Niall --”

“And us.”

“And you and then we’ll announce it after that.”

Harry can hear Louis typing. After a minute he sighs. “That’ll do, I suppose.”

“Okay,” Harry rests his forehead against the wall. “Good. Tell Marcus I’m sorry for hanging up on him?”

“Happens every day, Haz,” Louis says.

“It does not!”

“No, not -- I know you don’t hang up on him, you’re not our only clients, you know.”

“Who else is hanging up on Marcus?”

“Oh my god,” Louis groans. “I was called out of a meeting for this, you tosser.”

“Eleanor making you roleplay again? Is she still having you be the secretary?”

“I swear to god, Hazza,” Louis says, sounding annoyed even as he’s laughing. His voice is muffled; Harry would bet anything he’s got his head down on his desk. “You need to have a name in two weeks or I’m picking it.”

He’s gone before Harry can even pretend to salute. Bought us 2 weeks! :) :) he sends to Niall before heading back inside.

**

“So,” Liam starts and Harry lets himself go boneless, slumping so far down that he’s practically slipping out of his seat.

“Nooooo,” he says, not caring that he sounds like a petulant child. They’ve been trapped in Liam and Louis’s conference room for hours now, for so long that it’s gone from day to night. The only consolation is that Liam revealed his secret alcohol stash once the sun set, so Harry’s well on his way to pissed.

“Not no,” Louis says, gesturing for Liam to pour him another vodka soda. He’s got his feet up on the table, a paper plate of lo mein balanced on his chest. Harry’s still having trouble reconciling this Louis with the one in charge of his new tour. “You need a name, Harry.”

“You said we had two weeks.”

“I said that a week and a half ago, let’s hear some ideas.”

Harry sighs, glaring at Niall, who’s apparently pretending he’s gone deaf, shoveling chicken into his mouth and flipping through one of the folders filled with dates and venues that Liam had handed them earlier.

“We can’t keep Harry & Niall on the mock-ups,” Liam says, always so stupidly logical, “we need an answer so we can start printing things.”

“Or tell the venues before tickets go on sale.”

“November first,” Niall says, looking up when he’s met with dead silence. “Thought it was like, a test.”

“You failed,” Louis says. Niall shrugs. Harry pushes his feet until his chair scoots around the table so he’s next to Niall, Liam and Lou on the opposite side. Of course, that means the vodka’s farther away so Harry has to get up and fix himself a new drink. Louis watches him, shaking his head in disbelief the whole time.

Once Harry’s re-settled he elbows Niall.

“Ow, what the shit, Haz?” Niall rubs his side, frowning.

“They want a name.” Harry nods across the table while taking a drink, frowning when some of it sloshes out of the glass and onto his shirt. Maybe he’s a bit drunker than he thought.

“What was the one we said the other day?” Niall spins his chair side to side. “The one you sent me?”

“Sent you loads.”

“No, the good one, not the dumb ones.”

Harry sets his drink down before spinning his chair to face Niall. “Excuse me, none of the names I’ve sent you have been stupid.”

“Yeah, Antique Fish Tank was a real winner.”

Behind him, Louis makes a dying noise.

“We can always leave it as Harry & Niall,” Liam whispers. Or tries to. He’s drunk enough that he’s a shit whisperer.

“I heard that,” he says, glaring at Liam over the back of his chair. “And I saw that,” he says when Louis rolls his eyes.

“Empty Bottles,” Niall reads off his phone. He makes a face. “No, nevermind, I don’t like that one anymore.”

“How do you say London in Spanish?” Harry asks. “Because, like, Los Angeles and London.” He points from himself to Niall.

“Isn’t it just London?” Liam looks confused.

“I kind of like Antique Fish Tank,” Harry says, just as Niall yells, “Cocks and Robbers!”

There is a brief, shining moment where Louis looks truly delighted and Harry knows it’s not because he’s come ‘round on Antique Fish Tank but it’s fine because Niall’s suggestion is brilliantly hilarious.

“Erm,” Liam scratches the back of his neck, coughing when Harry and Niall are too busy high fiving to pay attention.

“No like, write it bigger,” Harry says while Niall laughs and sketches the name onto the back of one of Liam’s itineraries. “Make the C like Zayn does, with the big --”

“Lads,” Liam says, coughing again, “I don’t want to burst anyone’s bubble but I think it sounds a bit too much like a porno.”

Louis sighs heavily, like he knows Liam’s right but he’s upset about it. Niall is still laughing to himself, concentrating on turning the ampersand into a dick.

“Could always leave it as Harry and Niall,” Louis says quietly, like he’s mostly talking to Liam.

“That’s dumb.” Niall shakes his head, still shading in his drawing.

“Let me guess,” Louis’s voice is completely flat, “you prefer Niall and Harry?”

“Stylan,” Harry says, half as a joke. He doesn’t miss the way Niall’s eyes go wide, the corners of his mouth twitch up.

“Stylan,” Niall echoes. When they turn to Louis and Liam, it’s almost in sync.

“No,” Louis is shaking his head even as Harry and Niall are nodding theirs, “absolutely not. Go back to Old Fish Tank, I don’t care.”

Liam looks at each of them carefully before sighing. “I’ll tell the design team in the morning.”

&&&

“Look alive,” Louis makes a trumpeting noise as he comes into the room, “the birthday boy’s finally here.”

He’s got Laser held above his head like Simba. Everyone claps and Laser’s face crumples. Louis winces, tucking him into his chest before Perrie can get up.

“Alright, too much too soon, that’s on me,” he says, bouncing a bit as he walks through the room. “Just another Malik who’s a bear to wake up.”

Zayn kicks at Louis as he goes past, ignoring the way his mum frowns at them both. Niall can’t get over how many people are here for the party, Zayn’s sisters and Perrie’s nan, all and sundry coming in to watch a baby smash some cake into his face.

“I bet Louis twenty quid Laser would take after Zayn, manage to keep the cake off his face,” Liam tells Niall.

“And unlike Uncle Liam, I have seen the Laser beam as he positively destroys a mashed banana.” Louis punctuates his sentence by holding Laser’s fist, making him punch Liam’s arm, Laser laughing when Liam pretends to stagger backwards from the force of it.

Louis turns to Niall expectantly.

“Oh, I’m with you,” he says, tapping Laser’s nose, “cake all up in this face.”

“Fantastic, put you down for how much, two hundred? More, since you’re doing so well lately.”

“Louis,” Liam says warningly. Niall bites the inside of his cheek. Louis’s been on his arse all the time lately, trying to get him and Harry to add more dates since they’ve already sold out everything else. Liam’s for it too, Niall knows, but he’s letting Lou take point on it. Niall’d honestly been hoping for a reprieve today.

“Twenty sounds plenty, Tommo,” Niall says, holding Louis’s gaze. They’re saved when Laser tries to hurl himself forward, shrieking as Zayn approaches.

“Careful,” Liam says, earning a glare from Louis even though Liam’d clearly been talking to Laser. Zayn takes him from Lou, letting him hang upside down for a minute before swinging him up, Laser still shrieking and waving his arms happily.

“I’m gonna,” Niall gestures toward the kitchen with his empty glass.

“Niall.”

“Do you need one, too, Payno?” He figures if he acts like everything’s fine, then Liam’ll let up. For now, at least. It mostly works because Liam waves him off, waiting a whole five seconds before poking Louis and chastising him for being a prat so early on in the day. It ends with the telltale grunt of Liam getting dickpunched. There are days when Niall honestly can’t believe they run an entire company.

All Niall means is to grab a fresh pint, maybe shoot of a text to Haz complaining about Louis putting the pressure on again, but he ends up getting pulled into a conversation with Jonnie and Ant about the upcoming tour. It seems like everyone’s psyched that he and Haz are going back on the road, even though the whole tour being in America means it’s near impossible for everyone here to come see it.

“Sounds like it’ll be wicked,” Ant says.

Niall shrugs. “Hopefully.” They’ve still got a couple months before they actually start, had decided to wait until well after Christmas hols so they go do the tour all in one go. He and Haz aren’t even going to try to rehearse something until the new year.

“Hopefully,” Perrie scoffs, sneaking up on them and pinching Niall’s side. “They sold out in what, a day?”

Less, technically, but whatever. People are just excited to see two-fifths of One Direction. Niall’s sure Zayn and Louis could announce a tour where all they do is sit on a couch and stare at each other for ninety minutes and it’d sell out in under a day.

“Good on ya,” Jonnie claps him on the shoulder while Perrie laughs.

“Gonna regret it when you open the gifts and everything is Stylan babygros.”

“Don’t lie, Horan,” Louis says, “I went through the gift pile already and your name is noticeably absent.”

“Why would his name be on the card?” Zayn pushes past the knot of people in the doorway so he can help Perrie replenish a tray of cheese and crackers.

“His handwriting, then.” Louis rolls his eyes and Niall knows this is his way of smoothing things over so he lets it go. “Didn’t see it anywhere. Rude to show up empty-handed, innit?”

“Louis, honestly,” Perrie says, shaking her head as she heads out of the room with the food, “as if that child needs any more toys.”

“He should have so many toys he’s in danger of drowning, Pezza,” Louis yells after her. “It’s his birthday!”

“Was too big to fit in me car,” Niall says, shrugging, “‘s being delivered tomorrow.” He winks at Laser, snugged up on Liam’s hip, chewing on one of the strings from Liam’s hoodie.

Zayn goes very, very still. Liam pats him on the shoulder, digging his thumb into the muscles at the base of Zayn’s neck until he relaxes.

“It’s not,” he bites his lip and hesitates like he’s not sure he wants to know the answer, “it’s not like, alive, yeah?”

“Yeah, Zayn, I got Laser a pony. Surprise!” The color actually drains from Zayn’s face before he cottons on, shaking his head and flipping two fingers at Niall while everyone laughs.

Louis seems better, leaning over to ask Laser if he wants a pony, nodding so Laser’ll say yes.

“It can live at Uncle Lou and Aunt El’s then,” Zayn says. “Uncle Lou loves mucking stables.”

“Uncle Lou loves something that rhymes with mucking stables,” Louis says, still making faces at Laser.

“Ducking tables?” Liam suggests.

Niall laughs. “Bucking labels?”

“Sucking… raybles?” Liam makes a disappointed face at his own suggestion while Zayn cocks his head at Louis.

“Are we meant to be calling El ‘Mabel’ now?”

“Disgraceful,” Louis says to Liam before turning to Zayn, “No.” It’s a shame his ire gets lost in how hard everyone’s laughing. They’re interrupted by Zayn’s dad popping his head in, knocking his knuckles on the door and waving for Zayn to follow him.

“Oi, is there a Mabel Tomlinson out here?” Zayn asks the next room, just loud enough so Louis hears.

“It’s a shame he won’t be alive for your next birthday,” Louis says to Laser, tickling under his chin.

Louis.” Liam twists, hiding Laser from Lou.

“He knows I’m kidding.”

“Still.” Liam tosses Laser into the air and catches him. “It’s not nice to joke.”

Louis huffs but doesn’t say anything. Liam keeps at his toss-catch until Laser’s laughing hysterically. Niall manages to catch a bit on camera so he can send it to Harry later in a Laser’s Greatest Hits compilation of the day. He figures it can end with the inevitable cake-on-the-face montage. Harry’ll probably want to play it as their intro video on tour.

“Listen.” Louis sidles up to Niall, and fuck, Niall knows that voice, knows the difference between work Lou and regular Lou. “It’s just that your dates are so spread out. It wouldn’t be hard to add more.”

“No,” Niall says, not even trying to be diplomatic.

“You already sold out, though, people clearly --”

“No.”

Liam stops throwing Laser; it makes the room seem that much quieter.

“Your --”

“No, Louis. We want it small!”

“You can KEEP it small.” Louis sounds as frustrated as Niall feels; it makes Niall even angrier. “Your schedule is so spread out now, there’s days between so many shows.”

“Because that’s what we wanted!” Niall can’t believe they’re still arguing about this. Since before tickets went on sale even, Louis and Liam wanting to add more dates even though Harry and Niall have repeatedly said they only want one-and-done’s.

“It’s so bloody stupid though! Liam --”

Liam takes a deep breath, looking like he regrets not sneaking out of the room when he had a chance. “Honestly, Niall, it makes sense --”

“Are you fucking kidding me?!” Niall shouts, his voice going shrill.

“From a business standpoint!”

“But what about from a band standpoint?”

“Jesus Christ, Niall,” Louis rolls his eyes, “we’re not trying to work you to death, it’s eight more shows.”

“That we don’t want to do!” Niall can feel his face going red. He’s distantly glad it’s only them left in the kitchen.

“He has a point,” Liam starts and Louis spins on his heel.

“WHOSE SIDE ARE YOU ON?”

“Everyone’s!” Liam yells back.

“We talked about this on the drive over, Liam --”

“You PLANNED this?” Niall fumbles for one of the stools by the bench so he can sit down. He can’t fucking believe this. He needs to talk to Harry.

“You can’t hit me in the junk, Louis,” Liam says, “I’m holding the baby.”

“Haz, I don’t know what the fuck you’re doing but --”

“Oh my god,” Louis stops acting like he’s going to hit Liam to gape at Niall, “are you seriously calling Harry?”

“Yes.”

“It’s EIGHT SHOWS.”

“Are you hearing this?” Niall asks Harry’s voicemail. He turns back to Louis, feeling like he’s vibrating with how angry he is. “WE SAID NO.”

Lou looks like he’s ready to scream. Liam’s still holding Laser in front of him like a shield when Zayn comes rushing into the room, whisper yelling, “What the shhhh-ifting farts is going on?”

Everyone’s silent as they stare at Zayn.

“Hang on,” Louis says. “Did you just --”

“Shifting?” Liam scrunches his nose up.

“Farts?” Niall finishes for them.

Zayn’s going red around the ears as he points at Laser, hissing, “He’s repeating things now!”

“Shifting farts!” Louis can barely contain his laughter. Liam and Niall aren’t doing much better, especially not when Zayn’s blush is spreading down his neck.

“No,” Zayn shakes his head, “You three are in here shouting like maniacs, you don’t get to --”

“Is it too late to change the band name?” Niall asks over him.

Zayn scowls, practically stomping over to Liam. “Give me this.”

“This? He has a name.” Liam blows a raspberry on Laser’s neck before hoisting him high over his head, just out of Zayn’s reach.

“Are you fu -- LIAM.”

“Oh yes, Laser keepaway!” Louis climbs on top of his stool and holds out his hands. “Over here, Payno!”

Niall only realizes he’s still leaving a message for Harry when he goes to take a picture Zayn’s outraged face as Liam pretends to toss Laser to Louis.

**

“You sort it out?” Zayn asks later, walking Niall out to his car. Niall shrugs.

“We will.” He knows he and Haz aren’t going to budge no matter what Lou and Liam say. They’ve said from the beginning they want to do this their way, that’s it. “Liam’s already coming ‘round. And you know Lou.”

Zayn huffs a laugh, his fingers tapping where he’s still got a grip on Niall’s elbow.

“Just do it soon, yeah? Can’t take the four of you calling me to bitch about each other.”

“Don’t you mean witch?” Niall pokes his tongue out.

“Get off my property before I call the police,” Zayn says, dropping Niall’s arm and gently shoving him away. Niall laughs and pulls Zayn into a hug. “Help, this man is trespassing,” Zayn yells, wrapping his arms around Niall and hugging back so tightly Niall’s bones creak.

**

“Listen, Niall, listen.” Harry touches his computer screen, leaning in so close that everything goes blurry.

“Haz?” Niall asks after a minute of total silence.

Harry moves away suddenly, his limbs extra floppy. They’ve got a list of things to finalize for the tour and Niall’d refused to work through it without a drink in his hand. He’d underestimated how much piddly shit there was left to do, Liam and Louis’s list going on and on. They’re almost to the end, rapidly losing steam because he and Harry are pissed as fuck.

“I was thinking about what you said before.”

“Which time?” It’s been a long night. He’s said loads of things.

Harry rolls his eyes like it should be obvious. “About the groping.” He adds a demonstration, reaching out of frame to palm his junk.

“I just think they have a point, it’s an acoustic tour and we’re not fucking eejits, running around some stadium anymore --”

“I know,” Harry says, “which is why I’ve decided to allow it. But --” he holds up one finger, “on two conditions.”

“Hit me.” Niall slaps his hands on his desk, accidentally upending a mostly-empty bottle onto his notebook. The ink smears when he tries to mop it up and Niall curses, hoping Haz was taking notes this whole time, too. He probably was. Niall saw him with a pen before.

“If any accidental grazes occur --”

“Accidental?”

“And Liam and Lou get mad at us --”

“At you, you mean.”

“At either of us, then you handle the fallout.”

Niall laughs, indignant. “That seems un-fucking-fair to me, Haz.”

“Should’ve thought of that before you ducked out of the conference call after Laser’s birthday,” Harry says. Niall narrows his eyes. “I lost precious hours of my life that day, Nialler.”

“Lost years off my life at that fecking party,” Niall mutters even though he knows he won out in that one; Harry’d been on that call for ages, refusing to negotiate. “Alright, what’s the second condition.”

“If I agree to this, I get three freebies.”

“Absolutely not.”

“Niall! What am I supposed to do?”

“Control yourself?” Niall suggests. Harry doesn’t seem amused. He’s also in the mood to bargain and eventually Niall gets tired of arguing.

“Fine,” he says. “ONE. One freebie, Haz.”

“I’ll be sure to use it wisely,” Harry says solemnly, and then he makes Niall touch his little finger to the screen, sealing it with an almost-pinky-promise like they’re making a pact. It makes Niall want to check the countdown app on his phone, check exactly how many days they have until they’re on the road. Whatever the number is, he’s sure it’s too many.

&&&

@NiallOfficial: It’s so soon can’t believe it’s actually happenin ! instagram.com/p/zdoearODrf/

Niall’s been live-tweeting his packing for the tour, doing all sorts of social media promo while Harry sits in on meetings in LA. It seems an uneven trade. Especially when Niall’s tweets are like, carefully cropped pictures of a tiny foot in one of Niall’s suitcases captioned with Think we might have a stowaway on tour.

Harry’d gotten the full version of that pic, Laser trying to climb into one of Niall’s neatly-packed bags, and it had made him jealous even though he’d just been home for Christmas, had come back with a whole album of Laser pictures he’d taken himself. He’s been antsy since getting back to California, restless and itching to get on tour, stop fucking about with the details of it and just get to it.

“Mr. Styles?” Brett asks and Harry jolts, remembering that he’s on a conference call trying to find a rehearsal space for when Niall gets to town. They need something to mimic the acoustics of a real venue. It’s proving more difficult than Harry would’ve anticipated. No one seems to understand what he’s looking for, everything taking five phone calls when one should suffice.

“Yeah, I think, uh --” Harry taps out a quick response to Niall’s latest tweet while trying to remember which space they’d been talking about.

@Harry_Styles: @NiallOfficial: Nicely done, looks like you’ll be STYLAN

“Sorry.” Harry closes Twitter before he can see any of the replies start coming in, “What was wrong with the one in East Hollywood, was it?”

He thinks if he listens hard enough, he can hear Niall’s groan from all the way across the globe.

**

“Hazza!” is all the warning Harry gets before Niall’s behind him, hugging him so hard Harry’s feet lift off the ground, Niall belatedly realizing that Harry was in the middle of a conversation. “Oh, fuck, sorry.”

“It’s alright,” Courtney says, her mouth twisting like she’s not exactly being truthful.

“Niall, this is Courtney.” Harry pats Niall’s arm where it’s still around his waist, Niall’s chin on his shoulder. This close he can smell the whiskey on Niall’s breath.

“Sorry,” Niall says again, shaking Courtney’s hand, leaning further into Harry as he does so, talking animatedly about the tour kickoff.

He’s only been in town a couple of days, their rehearsal schedule already fucked because they’ve ended up trying out new things, dicking around in the studio a bit instead of actually rehearsing together. Niall keeps insisting they’ll be fine, that they know the songs as well as they know anything else. Harry’s inclined to believe him.

“I’ll let you guys,” Courtney starts, eyeing them both strangely as Niall rushes to detangle himself from Harry.

“No, I’ll just be --”

“It’s fine.” She smiles, slightly more genuine this time. “It’s late, anyway, I really should be going.”

Harry’s sure this party’s got another few hours left in it but he lets it go. “It was nice chatting with you.” He kisses her cheek, feeling better about the way they’re leaving things when she kisses his back. Lets her tits push into his chest a little like she’s showing him what he could’ve had.

“You comin’ to Haz’s party?” Niall asks.

Courtney shrugs with one shoulder, keeping her face carefully blank when she says, “We’ll see.”

She’s barely five steps away when Niall says, “Fuck, Haz, I’m really sorry, I didn’t realize. Al said he was ready when you are and I thought -- dunno, wasn’t thinking, I guess. She was fit.”

“I know,” Harry says darkly, following Niall toward the exit, still thinking of the farewell shag he could’ve had in his bed before everything’s strange hotel duvets and unnecessarily fluffy hotel pillows. He snakes his hand under Niall’s jacket, twisting his nipple without breaking his stride.

“Ow, motherfucker.” Niall twists his torso away from Harry, holding himself at an odd angle even as they climb into the car. There’s no sense in staying longer.

“You deserved it.”

“So sorry I cost you a fuck,” Niall says, one hand cupped protectively over his chest, still turned away so Harry can’t see the face he’s making, if he’s rolling his eyes. Harry laughs despite himself. “Tell me, please, how can I make it up to you?”

Harry bites back another laugh so he can sound right lecherous when he says, “I have a few ideas.”

“What’s that?” Niall slides closer across the back seat to rest his hand on Harry’s knee. When Harry looks over, he’s leering exaggeratedly. Harry raises his eyebrows, waiting for the moment where Niall breaks. It never comes.

“D’you really need directions?” Harry spreads his legs pointedly. The movement sends Niall’s hand sliding up his leg, his palm hot against Harry’s thigh.

Harry refuses to break eye contact, even when Niall’s fingers flex, digging into his leg for the briefest second. He bites his lip to keep quiet, feeling like they’ve entered into a competition he has to win. There’s no way he’s backing down, not even when Niall’s hand inches further up his leg.

It’s not as funny as it was a few minutes ago. Harry feels like the air is trapped in his lungs. Niall’s pinkie is millimeters from his dick when the partition rolls partway down, shattering the silence.

“Did you want to stop for burgers again?” Al asks.

Niall pulls his hand away from Harry’s leg, touching his own stomach. “Could do,” he says tentatively, pausing like he’s waiting for Harry to agree. Harry’s brain’s gone sluggish, though, stuck like a record player trying to process what just happened. He feels drunker now than he had at the party and he’s rocking a semi that’s -- what the fuck. He should’ve tried to get Courtney to stay; apparently he’s harder up than he’d thought.

Niall slides back to his side of the car easily, seeming oblivious as he clears his throat, his voice sounding loud when he says, “Yes, definitely stop for burgers. You’re a mind-reader, Al.” He not-so-subtly adjusts himself, catching Harry’s eye after and shrugging. It’s too dark to see anything except the flash of his teeth, the bright of his eyes when he smiles and says, “Stomach-reader?”

Al laughs appreciatively. Harry forces himself to laugh along until it feels less stilted, until he feels like he can breathe normally again.

**

It’s strange, Harry thinks, only half-listening to what Jeff’s saying, how it feels like he and Niall’ve been working on putting this tour together for ages, when really it’s been less than a year.

“Happy birthday, Harry!” yet another person yells across the garden, Jeff pausing so Harry can wave and yell his thanks back.

“Thanks for all this,” Harry says quickly, worried he might not get another chance tonight, the odds of him getting pulled away so high. Last year he’d barely had any time to talk to Jeff, “you really didn’t have to. It’s --”

“Oi, Harry,” Niall comes bounding over, pressing another sloppy birthday kiss to Harry’s cheek. He’s not shaved since flying in, a couple weeks’ worth of stubble rough against Harry’s skin. Harry feels like he’s fighting back a full-body shiver that Niall doesn’t notice, his fist already out to bump Jeff’s, “sick party, Jeff. Did you see the ice sculpture?”

“What?” Harry lifts his glass to keep from touching his face, draining the very last of his drink, looking around for the nearest bartender. It’s his party, they really should bring the drinks to him. It only seems fair.

“On the table! In the room with all the white?”

“The dining room,” Jeff supplies.

“Cheers, yeah.” Niall bounces on the balls of his feet, his cheeks already going flushed from drinking. “S’like, your face in ice.”

“What?” Harry’s jaw drops. He reaches for Niall. “Show me.”

He turns on his heel when Niall doubles over, cackling. Harry hates that he’s disappointed when he says, “there’s no sculpture, is there?”

“There is,” Jeff says because Niall’s too busy killing himself laughing, “it’s just notes. Like, music notes.”

“Your face!” Niall clutches his stomach, laughing harder when Harry shoves at his shoulder, Jeff laughing at both of them.

“Jesus, you were so excited,” Niall says once he’s calmer.

“You’re supposed to be nice to me,” Harry frowns, Niall coming in close to wrap his arms around Harry, trapping his arms at his sides so he can’t fight back, can’t wiggle free, “it’s my birthday.”

“That what this is?” Niall pulls back the slightest bit. “Thought all these people were celebrating finally getting rid of ya for two months.”

Harry starts to glare, knowing Niall’s teasing and more than willing to play along. Only when he turns, Niall’s so much closer than he expected, his face right there, and it stuns Harry for a second. The delay makes something in Niall’s face go soft, a chuckle rumbling low in his chest just as Harry glares at him, Niall untangling their limbs to pat Harry’s arm.

“Time for birthday shots?”

Niall’s been asking since two in the afternoon, ignoring Harry’s insistence that this party is more work than, you know, actual party. Harry really only knows a handful of people here, everyone else coming for the chance to see or be seen.

“Haz,” Niall sing-songs, shaking Harry lightly, his face splitting into a full grin when Harry nods just once. “Yessssssss,” Niall breathes out, his hand sliding all the way down Harry’s arm so he can grab Harry’s hand.

“Just one, Nialler,” Harry holds up a finger to show how many one is, not liking the way Niall’s already cackling, dragging Harry towards the nearest bar.

“Live a little, Styles!” Niall shoots a grin over his shoulder, squeezing Harry’s hand, and Harry can already feel himself surrendering to two. However many it takes for the burn of the alcohol to erase the feeling that’s been creeping back in ever since the car ride home last week.

**

“Found ya,” Niall says, tapping Harry on one shoulder and then coming ‘round his other side.

“Been here awhile. Was just saying goodbye to Dan.”

“He was here?” Niall drops onto the sofa, sitting so close he’s nearly on top of Harry, his elbow digging into Harry’s side. “Wish I’d known, didn’t even get to say hello. Christ, there’s so many people here, Haz.”

“Yeah,” Harry agrees, feeling a bit like saying told you so but biting it back.

“Fuck off.” Niall laughs like Harry’s said it anyway, tugging on the sleeve of Harry’s jumper, Harry hyper-aware of the callouses on Niall’s fingers where they brush the underside of his wrist. He’s felt hyper-aware of everything lately.

There’s a cluster of people across the room, talking low about something. Harry doesn’t think they’ve noticed anyone else is in here, him and Niall slumped low on the sofa. He watches them, straining to hear what they’re saying, but all he can make out is their laughter and something about a screenplay, maybe.

“Haz.” Niall taps Harry’s wrist to get his attention, Harry’s head lolling against the back of the sofa when he turns. The flush in Niall’s cheeks makes his eyes that much bluer, makes Harry wonder how many shots he’d done after Harry left him at the bar. If the loose-limbed sprawl he’s got going on now is because he’s pissed or because he’s just being Niall. If he’s even aware that he’s still smoothing his finger over Harry’s pulse point.

“Hmm?”

Harry can’t help the way his eyes drop down when Niall licks his lips. When he looks back up, Niall’s watching him, eyes slightly glassy. Harry feels like he’s holding on to a rope, waiting for the last bit to unravel before he falls. It’s fucking mental. He forces himself to blink.

Niall’s still staring but it feels less claustrophobic, somehow. It seems like he’s forgotten what he wanted to say. Harry huffs a laugh, ducking in to kiss Niall’s cheek. “‘m glad you’re here.”

Niall snorts, pushing Harry away, scrambling until they’re both sitting upright. “Like I was just gonna sit alone in your house all night, get pissed with that fecking ficus in your entryway.”

“I meant --”

“I know, Haz,” Niall cuts him off, his hand curled around the nape of Harry’s neck, fingertips digging in gently as he reels Harry back in. Their foreheads aren’t touching but it’s close. “Can’t believe how fucking soon it is.”

Harry doesn’t know what he wants to do, settles for curving his fingers around Niall’s elbow, anchoring him there.

“‘m bricking it, if we’re being honest.”

Harry closes his eyes as he chuckles, Niall’s whispered confession coming out probably louder than he’d intended. “We’ll be great,” Harry says, mostly believing what he’s saying.

Niall drops his hand, Harry feeling its loss acutely even as Niall laughs, grinning brightly while he shrugs. “Or it’ll be a shitshow and Louis and Liam’ll murder us and then we’ll be dead.”

“Exactly,” Harry nods, feeling his balance coming back slowly. “Win-win.”

&&&

“Harry, what are you wearing?” Judging from how withering Louis’s tone is, Niall can guess that Harry decided that the see through black shirt was a go, after all. He rounds the corner into their dressing room at the El Rey, laughing already when he sees that Harry went with the hat with the bow on it, too.

“I am wearing something….” Harry pauses, catching Niall’s eye and winking, Niall knowing what’s coming before he continues, “Stylan.”

“Oh, sweet fucking Christ,” Louis’s already got his fingers pinching at the bridge of his nose like he’s got a massive headache, and they haven’t even got on stage yet. Harry owes Niall twenty quid. Shaping up to be a great evening already.

“It’s alright Tommo, we’re full indie now, it’s acceptable.” Niall takes off his snapback, running his hands through his hair, “besides, it’s not like we’re known for being well together on stage, style wise.”

“Speak for yourself,” Harry sniffs, adjusting his hat and grinning, “I am the winner of many style awards. I am the style in Stylan.”

“You realize that those awards were all either for pity or because someone wanted your cock, right?” Lou asks, kicking at the back of Harry’s knee, Harry looking precarious for a moment as he wobbles at the contact. Fecking great, Louis’s gonna take Haz out before they’ve even started, Niall looking ahead at a very lonely nine week solo tour. As Stylan without the Styl.

“Heyyyy,” Harry pouts, shoving back at Louis, “be nice.”

“Can you two just bloody shut it,” Niall sighs, grabbing a bottle of water from the table next to Harry’s bowl of bananas before sitting and chugging it.

“Watch what you’re drinking, Nialler, because if you have to go for a wee on stage you’ll leave me all by my lonesome.” Harry continues fussing about in front of the mirror, buttoning and unbuttoning the same top two buttons over and over again.

“Yeah, don’t be like someone else we know,” Liam says as he walks in the room, shutting the door behind him, “it’s mad outside, they’re letting the queue in and already turning people away trying to sneak in.”

“Shit, seriously?” Niall touches at his own knee when it starts up, feeling that same nervous energy he used to get before the start of tour well up in his gut. It’s not even a thousand people, and he can’t remember the last time he felt so bloody nervous. More than at Croker, even. Mental.

“Back up,” Louis stands up from where he was sat in the corner by Harry, typing at something on his phone, glaring at Liam, “replay, Liam.”

“The thing about people trying to sneak in?” To his credit, Liam looks genuinely confused, and Niall snorts, meeting Harry’s eyes in the mirror and shaking his head.

“No, you massive twat, the thing you said before.” Louis folds his arms, glaring at Liam. “That was twice, and it was fucking years ago. The memory of an elephant, is what you have. The grace of one, too.”

“Oi,” Liam sounds genuinely wounded, “I was just making a joke. You’re so sensitive, Tommo. You know I-”

“Oh, I know you, it’s okay Liam.” Louis relaxes then, Niall sort of disappointed because if those two have a massive fight, at least he’ll be distracted by the fact that he and Harry are due to be on stage in less than fifteen minutes and he’s scared shitless that they’ll cock it up.

“Good,” Liam beams, looking pleased, and then his face gets that serious business face that makes Niall groan, “alright lads, it’s an easy enough stage setup, but I’ll give ‘em the playlist to put out there.”

“It’s all up here, Li,” Harry points to his hat, or his head, and walks past Liam to the table, picking up a banana and peeling it, Niall wondering how he looks so bloody calm.

“Fucking hell,” Louis sits back down, shaking his head. “You two are going to crash and burn so spectacularly after this show without us, and I’m the most sad about not being there and missing it.”

“Or preventing it,” Liam corrects, smiling at Niall before turning into serious businessman Payno. “But, what did I tell you two about a setlist? We agreed.”

“We like, talked about it,” Harry speaks around a mouthful of banana, kicking his legs out, “so we have a general idea.”

“But we’re not starting with “General Idea”, that’s like, mid-set.” Niall adds, trying to remember. He and Harry tend to go with wherever the other leads next when they play together anyway, and it’s not like there’s choreo or pyrotechnics to worry about. Their only cues are each other, really.

“You have the most fucking stupid titles, thank Christ you’re not releasing any of this,” Louis groans, his head back in his hands.

“We are still debating that, Tommo,” Liam sighs, reaching into the pocket of his jacket and coming out with a bit of creased up paper and a biro. “I figured I’d need this, so just tell me what’s in your minds and I’ll get it down.”

“Is this really-” Niall starts, but a look from Louis stops him cold. “Okay okay, Harry, what did we say we were doing first?”

“I don’t remember, was it-” Harry starts humming, and Liam starts tapping the biro on the table hard, like he does when he’s working up to proper annoyed.

**

Ten minutes and a hastily scribbled setlist later, Louis and Liam are in better moods, crowding Niall and Harry to just behind the stage, the dull roar of the crowd feeling much too loud for only 800 people.

“Hey,” Harry whispers in Niall’s ear, his chest pressed against Niall’s shoulder and his hat bumping against Niall’s snapback, “we can always stop now, I don’t think Lou and Li would mind much, right?”

“Right,” Niall laughs, feeling like he’s relaxing a bit already, the excitement starting to rise in his veins, “wouldn’t care at all, those two are chill.”

“We know you’re talking about us,” Louis says from where he and Liam are talking to one of the stage managers, Al lurking somewhere off to the side and giving Niall and Harry a thumbs up. “So shut the fuck up.”

The lights dim, causing the tenor of the audience to immediately go higher, and Harry grabs at Niall’s hand suddenly, squeezing hard. It’s just.

“We’re really doing this,” he whispers, his eyes wide and bright even in the dim lights backstage.

“We are,” Niall holds up their linked hands, bumping his fist against the side, Harry nodding solemnly and doing the same. “So.”

“Yeah, something feels off,” Harry agrees, nodding over at Lou and Li, “lads, c’mere.”

“For fuck’s sake, what now?” Louis walks over anyway, dragging Liam alongside him, “Decide you want to add a drummer at the last minute? Name change?”

“No, you cunt,” Niall rolls his eyes, dropping Harry’s hand and moving so he can pull Liam and Louis into a proper huddle with them, “pre-show, let’s do it right. Hands in.”

“Don’t tell Zayn,” Harry adds quickly, and Niall laughs, leaning solidly into his side and trying not to notice how Louis’s hand is shaking a bit when he shoves it in, all of them steadying each other as the crowd gets louder in the darkness.

**

Even despite the low effort rehearsals Liam and Louis insisted upon, Niall had wondered how it would really feel to be on stage again with Harry, really in front of a crowd who wasn’t actively teething. And it’s nothing like Niall had ever thought of, nothing like he remembers, nothing like anything but in the moment it starts, Harry nodding over at him and very deliberately covering the setlist with the toe of his boot, Niall laughing on the edge of hysterical while the crowd simmered down to almost a Japan-level quiet, Niall knowing that they’re all wondering what’s going to happen next.

Niall nods back, down at the guitar Harry’s got perched on his lap, and Harry grins back at him brilliantly before starting “Everything to Me”, one that Niall’s sure isn’t on the list at all. Harry’s playing the intro carefully, Niall ignoring how he’s pretty sure he can hear Liam cursing offstage when he joins in. Waits for Harry to start singing.

It’s like it hits Niall, all at once, how clear Harry sounds, how much he loves all these songs they wrote together, how tethered to this moment he feels with Harry’s knee pressing against his, how they’re playing to a small audience on their own terms and how even though it’s small, it’s not.

It’s new and it’s a rush and really bloody comfortable, how easy it is to go back and forth with Harry and play off of each other like they’d do every other night. Niall’s face hurts with it, can’t remember the last time a show went by so quick, he and Harry grinning like eejits at each other.

The crowd is going crazy by the time they’re done, Harry tossing the ineffectual setlist off into the front row past the long line of security Niall knows that Liam and Louis paid extra for and crowding Niall, caging him in with his limbs as he pushes them backstage, the chant for an encore already starting behind them.

Niall, fuck.” Harry says, leaning into Niall before anyone else can crowd around them, wrapping his arms around Niall’s back, so tight Niall’s right on the edge of wondering if he can breathe.

“Hazza,” Niall can hear himself whisper, into the skin of Harry’s neck, damp with sweat. He knocks his snapback off when he tips his head against Harry’s shoulder, trying to make his legs steady enough that they can go back out there, do it again.

**

Niall finishes off his pint and nearly chokes, yet another person coming up and clapping him on the back, hard, some bloke he met back last summer in LA at that party Harry drug him to. He’s already on his way out, though, just yelling Niall’s name and moving on. It’s mad, this do. Niall’s right on the edge of pissed, knows he needs just a pint or two more to get there, but the rush of the show itself makes everything almost feel too raw, like he’s a big nerve. Twitchy.

“Niall,” suddenly Payno’s in front of him, his eyes gleaming like when he and Niall are doing a crawl and it’s time for Funky Buddha. Louis’d dragged him off as soon as they got to the place, some abandoned warehouse or whatever that one of Harry’s people knew of, yelling that it was time to get Liam some alcohol as a reward for their hard work dealing with those two twats.

Niall tried not to take it too personally.

“Liam,” as he says it, Niall slings his arm around Liam’s waist, tipping his head so they can hear each other and don’t have to bloody yell, Niall suddenly recognizing the music as a playlist Harry had asked him to make the other day as they were sprawled out by the pool, smiling and saying no reason when Niall’d asked him why. “I’m the DJ, Liam.”

“What?” Liam looks confused for a moment, shaking his head as Niall laughs, shrugging it off, “anyway, I’ve got some notes for you. Y’know, about the show.”

“People went mental, Payno, don’t think we need notes,” Niall knocks his temple against Liam’s, trying to keep it gentle enough not to split both their heads.

“I know, but-” Liam starts, Louis’s voice suddenly coming out, loud, his hands pulling them apart.

“This is our one night away, Liam, we have a fucking meeting tomorrow right after we land, and you’re still working?” Louis’s slurring a bit, more pissed than Niall’s seen him in ages. A small wave of feeling bad sinks in his stomach, just briefly, that the two of them have been working so hard on this whole thing, that they all have been, but then again, Niall knows that he and Harry just wanted to finally have a tour where they had the say. The whole say. Even if the people they would be conceding to are Liam and Louis. Not on.

“Sorry, Lou,” Liam murmurs immediately, looking contrite, and Niall starts laughing, loud. The two of them, he’ll never get it.

“Liam, let’s go get another drink, Pharrell was looking for you,” Louis’s eyeing Niall now, Niall knowing he’s making a right arse of himself, here in a corner at his own party, but he doesn’t care, feels better than he has in he can’t remember. Or maybe for almost the past year he’s just hitting new highs. Something like that. Anything.

“Do you think he’s reconsidered our offer?” Liam’s asking as the two of them fuck off, Niall already hearing Louis laugh in response.

Niall’s about to go see if he can track down Katy when his phone buzzes in his pocket, a picture message from Zayn when he checks. Laser either hadn’t gone to bed or just woke up from the looks of it, his hair a mess and wearing the Iron Man pajamas Niall knows Liam got for him. He’s chewing on the edge of the sign Perrie’s disembodied hand is holding as he’s propped up on her lap, her head cut out of the frame. Go “Stylan”!! is written on it in Zayn’s exaggerated handwriting. Something pricks at the back of Niall’s eyes when he runs his finger over the screen, laughing at Zayn’s use of quotes. He needs to find Harry, needs to show him.

Niall weaves his way through the crowd, hugging people as he goes, finally tracking down Harry by one of the bars, deep in conversation with Ash, the girl from that new show who’s friends with someone else Harry knows. Something about the tilt in Harry’s head as he laughs at something she’s saying twists weird in Niall’s gut, enough that he wants to push it down immediately so he doesn’t think about what happened the night before, sat there at Harry’s party and so close. Harry had looked down at his lips, Niall knows he wasn’t imagining that. He’d been so focused on the show so he wouldn’t be focused on Harry, that thing that quirks up odd in the back of his neck when he thinks about him.

“Niall!” Harry’s saying then though, having spotted Niall as he stands there struck bloody dumb over something he’s not even sure matters yet.

“Haz,” Niall smiles, holding up his phone, “got something to show you.”

“Oooo, what?” Harry’s reaching for Niall’s phone immediately, unlocking it before Niall can even ask how he knows the code, Laser’s pic coming up immediately. “Nooooo.”

“You guys sounded great,” Ash says, sort of awkwardly, Niall feeling like a tit for interrupting, Harry absorbed in staring at the phone now with a dopey grin on his face.

“Cheers, it’s sick that so many people were able to come out for this as well,” Niall nods around the warehouse, at the turnout.

“It’s great,” Harry’s still grinning when Niall looks over at him, “Ash, could you excuse us for a bit? Gotta talk to my bandmate here.”

“Sure,” Ash smiles as she walks away, “see you later.”

“Later,” Harry echoes, holding Niall’s phone up to his face, Niall realizing that Harry must have had a few more than he thought, “Niall. We have to do celebratory shots. Laser shots.”

“Does Laser have shots?” Niall asks, not putting it past Harry to already have something devised.

“Dunno,” Harry stands there for a second, his hand coming up to rest on Niall’s shoulder, “hold on.” He moves then, going around the bar and grinning at the bartender, some girl around their age who blushes immediately, clearly thrown entirely off by Harry.

“Start with whiskey,” Niall leans against the bar, “no, Harry, whiskey.”

“Shhhhh, don’t interrupt.” Harry fumbles with the bottles, filling two shot glasses with vodka, then adding Fireball before Niall can realize what he’s doing.

“Hazza, no, that is not the whiskey I meant, it’s-”

“This is going to be so incredible, and it should be red.” Harry tops them both off with grenadine, and Niall feels a bit hysterical that this is something he’s about to drink, laughing his arse off when Harry snaps a pic with Niall’s camera and sends it to Zayn with the caption “Laser Shots for Laser!!”

“Niall,” Harry hands him the glass, then raises his other hand like he’s shooting a gun. Niall realizes what he’s doing immediately, raising his own hand until the tips of their finger guns touch, raising their shots in the air.

“Pew pew,” Niall says, fighting to keep his face serious in his best version of a laser sound.

“Pew,” Harry echoes, his lip twitching at the corner and nearly throwing Niall off before they both knock them back. It tastes disgusting, so disgusting that Niall’s actually proud of it, of them both. Harry’s still holding Niall’s phone in his hand then, when it starts vibrating, him answering right away.

“Zayn!” He yells, Niall nodding at the still blushing bartender for a pint, “what? No, it was in his honor, like. Yeah, I know he’s just a baby. Well, I’ll keep that in mind next time I try to give him a shot. Yes, I was kidding. We are celebrating!”

“Tell ‘em we killed it,” Niall whispers, taking his pint and a long drink from it immediately.

“We were so sick Zayn, like, you don’t even,” Harry looks up at Niall then, rolling his eyes, “yeah, okay, cranky, listen. Okay, you know what? Niall’s done way worse, you don’t even want to know what he keeps in the same album as Laser on his phone.”

“CALL OVER,” Niall yells, ripping his phone out of Harry’s hand and yelling “LOVE YOU ZAYN” before hanging up, putting his phone in his pocket for good measure.

“I don’t think Zayn gets enough sleep anymore,” Harry says, leaning across the bar and crowding his elbows against Niall’s forearms, their foreheads knocking together.

“Tell me more, Haz,” Niall laughs, shoving up a bit closer. “It’s really starting now, innit?”

“Oh yeah,” Harry pokes his finger at Niall’s hand where it rests on the bar, exhaling shaky cinnamon breath between them, “it’s all beginning, Nialler. Let’s go.”

&&&

“So you’re in a band?” The bartender is an older bloke, Harry not sure what his name is, realizing a second later that it’s because Harry hasn’t asked yet.

“Yeah,” Harry says, after a second, “well, a band, and a duo. Do I look like a rockstar to you?” It’s been a while since someone had no clue who he was, Harry wanting to revel in it a bit, adjusting his jacket. There’s something about meeting new people when both of you have no idea who the other is that Harry misses. It’s more exciting, like. Doesn’t follow a set schedule.

“One of the girls who just left said something,” the bartender puts another drink in front of Harry, winking, “she seemed real excited. Think she took a picture of you with her phone.”

“It’s nice that she didn’t interrupt me,” Harry feels a little floored that she didn’t, wonders if it’s because they decided to stay two extra days in Denver after the show, their third, Al asking around for them what the most out of the way bar would be, apparently having found a good one.

“She seemed a bit too excited to ask, to be honest,” the bartender shrugs, “her boyfriend was laughing at her, I think.”

“Well,” Harry laughs, “I would’ve taken a picture with her if she’d asked.”

“Nice of you,” the bartender shrugs, “let me know if you need anything else. Keep the tab open?”

“Yeah,” Harry takes a sip of his drink, realizing that Niall never came back from the loo, “my mate’ll tell me when it’s time to close out, trust me. What’s your name, my good man?”

“Mike,” he takes Harry’s hand when Harry holds it out to shake it.

“Nice to meet you, Mike.” Harry finishes his drink and spins around on the stool, catching his balance as he trips over to the bathroom, nodding at Al where he’s sat in the corner, keeping a careful watch. This little hidden bar in wherever they are in Denver makes Harry feel like he can breathe.

There’s a little hallway that leads back to the loo, Harry having watched Niall stumble back that way probably a half hour before. Knocking open the door, Harry looks around and it’s empty, him bumping into a tall bloke when he turns to go back out.

“Sorry,” Harry says, stepping back to let him pass, “hey, you wouldn’t have seen an Irishman around here, would you? Probably holding at least two pints?”

The guy gives Harry a weird look, and Harry holds back his laugh as he trips back out into the hallway, wondering where the fuck Niall’s got off to. When he walks down the hallway a little further, he notices a door that’s cracked open a little, a cool draft hitting his skin when he pushes at it a little, seeing a small alleyway, and-

“Hey!” Niall’s eyes light up with his grin when Harry steps outside, pulling his coat tighter around himself. Niall’s leaned up against the brickwork, his hair everywhere and a cigarette in his hand. Judging from the red of his cheeks and the bright of his eyes, plus what looks like an empty pint on the ground, Harry’s sure that Niall’s been standing there a while.

“Was getting a bit worried,” Harry steps closer, watching as Niall drops the cigarette and grinds it out with the toe of his trainer, waving his hand about like he’s clearing the air.

“Sorry, it’s just-” Niall exhales, coughing a bit, his eyes going wide, “been forever since I’ve been able to wander about when we’re out on tour, was just takin’ advantage.”

“A pint and a cig in a dark alley is an advantage?” Harry asks, laughing, but he gets it. It’s so cold that whenever the wind blows by a shiver goes up the back of his neck, but a part of him doesn’t want to go back inside, ever, simply because it’s true. They’re on tour, out, with only Al to keep an eye out, and even though it’s a bit smoke and mirrors because most people think they’ve already moved on to the next city and it’s an out of the way place, it still feels good.

“Take whatever I can get,” Niall says, his smile bright when Harry meets his eyes. “Oi, you cold? C’mere.” He’s reaching for Harry then, Harry letting him wrap his arm around his shoulder, rubbing a little too hard at Harry’s arm to warm him up.

“I know we’re not too far into it,” Niall’s saying, still rubbing at Harry’s arm absently as he talks. Harry feels himself leaning into the touch.

“Three shows,” Harry can hear it, how soft his voice comes out. He lets his neck relax so he can rest his head on Niall’s, slumping them both back against the wall.

“Oi, it’s my job to keep track of that,” Niall laughs, it echoing around them before he continues, murmuring, “anyway, ‘m so glad we’re really doing it, this tour.”

“Me too,” Harry sort of can’t believe that they are, like maybe it’s not all happening.

“It feels right, ya know?” Niall squeezes at Harry’s arm, once, before dropping it back to his side between them, Harry surprised when his fingers poke at Harry’s. Harry gets it, turning and opening his hand so Niall’s fingers can slip between his.

“It does.” Harry spins slowly, turning so that his forehead is pressed against Niall’s and they’re facing each other. It’s not the first time they’ve held hands in the forever they’ve known each other, and Harry knows it won’t be the last, either. It’s different, though, like he’s trying to hold onto Niall in a way like he’s gonna lose him. Like he wants him closer, so used to time zones and distance and fuck, Harry wishes he knew what to name this feeling that’s welling up inside him.

Fuck,” Niall breathes out, Harry going cross eyed when he tries to see what look Niall’s got on his face as he does, Harry unable to tell just from the sound of it. “Hazza, I-”

“It’s cold,” Harry says, aware of how whenever one of them speaks, their lips could almost brush up together. Not like a snog, like. Maybe more than a snog. Whenever Niall breathes, he smells like cigarettes and pints and the gum Harry had offered him earlier, the sweet mint one he likes. Like Niall. It flips over in Harry’s gut, makes him want to write a song about how sometimes it’s scary when you know someone so well, not even sure if he could write without Niall anymore. Or if he wants to.

“Think I’m going mad,” Niall whispers, squeezing at Harry’s hand before leaning back, Harry feeling even colder than before until Niall’s eyes meet his.

“This tour was supposed to help with that, the going mad bit,” Harry tilts his head, Niall mirroring his movements to keep eye contact. Niall keeps his eyes on him, a slow smile blooming on his face.

“Funny thing, that,” Niall laughs, grabbing at Harry’s lapels and kissing his cheek sloppily. “C’mon, let’s go find Al.”

Harry exhales so forcefully at the moment breaking that he starts coughing, Niall having to double back and pat as his back until he stops and Niall can lead him back into the bar, the tip of his nose numb from the cold and his palms sweaty like he’s just gone down the lane with some girl.

**

“WHAT MAKES YOU BEAUTIFUL!!!” It’s some girl from the front of the crowd that yells it, her looking pissed when Harry squints out past the lights.

“I don’t know,” Harry shrugs, looking over at Niall, “Niall, what makes me beautiful?”

“Hmmm,” Niall adjusts his guitar on his lap, settling back against the settee they’ve got in their stage setup. “Dunno, Harry, probably your lovely curls, yeah?”

“Hey,” Harry says once the crowd dies down again, going a bit wild at Niall’s words, “not my eyes, Niall? My beautiful smile? Look at these dimples.” Harry smiles wide, walking slowly across the stage while Niall laughs behind him, it sounding extra loud to Harry.

“I’m the one with the killer dimple,” Niall taps his finger against his chin, “let’s get this thing straightened out.”

“Why don’t we all agree that we’re both beautiful and play another song then,” Harry settles behind the keyboard near Niall, dancing his fingers across the keys and mouthing “Regrets Road” at Niall, Niall nodding and adjusting his mic.

“Sounds fair enough, Harry,” Niall starts playing then, Harry joining in. It’s been a couple of weeks now, and at nearly every show someone’s yelling out One Direction requests. They’ve managed to play them all off without issue, because they had agreed early on that it would only be their songs, everything they worked on together. A clean break, like. Be fair to the other lads.

“They sent another email about recording,” Niall says after they get backstage, encore over. They’ve learned that if they wait around for a bit after each show, different lengths of time each go, then it’s easier to get out afterward. Much easier for Al, anyway, Harry hoping that he’s napping in the crew’s dressing room.

“Well,” Harry reaches for his own phone, flopping down on the sofa next to Niall and swinging his legs around into Niall’s lap. “They are persistent.”

“Louis will never leave us alone until we give in,” Niall’s hand comes down to rest on Harry’s shin, his touch light, and Harry shifts into it, “so I think that means we should ignore him until he goes absolutely mental.”

“Niall, you are a little shit,” Harry laughs, reading the email aloud, “you two twats need to get over yourselves and record or we will be forced to ruin your lives. That Louis, always a charmer.”

Maybe a live album, if the problem is spending time in the studio? Payno is a shit good cop, just complete shit.” Niall pokes at Harry’s foot when he laughs, “how long do you think we could get away with ignoring this before one of them flies out to destroy us?”

“Louis’s probably already en route,” Harry tips his head back against the arm of the sofa, staring at the ceiling and hoping that isn’t really true.

“I’m just gonna respond, tell ‘em we’re thinking about it.” Niall sounds distracted, like he’s already typing it out, his hand off of Harry’s shin then. Harry closes his eyes, pushes down his inclination to whine for Niall to put his hand back.

“That’s gonna buy us a whole day Niall, that’s great.” Harry can’t help it then, digging the heel of his boot into Niall’s thigh.

“Oi, get your dirty boot off of me leg,” Niall must get it though, because then both of his hands are wrapping around Harry’s leg, sighing, “and a whole day’ll be nice, so I’ll take it.”

“Maybe two, if you were nice and put a please in there,” Harry shifts down further, bending his knees and contorting a bit so he can reach down and grasp at Niall’s elbow.

“Fuck, I knew I was forgetting something.” Niall laughs, moving to scoot over under the crook of Harry’s knees, letting his hand rest on top of Harry’s, feeling heavy and grounding.

“Too tired t’ go out tonight,” Harry murmurs.

“We’ve got a couple of days before New Orleans,” Niall shrugs, “let’s stay, go out tomorrow?”

“Yeah,” Harry turns himself so he’s huddled in closer to Niall, “wake me up when Al comes.”

**

“Al’s got the car ‘round the back,” Niall’s whispering sloppily into Harry’s ear while the girls are in the loo, “if you still wanna.”

“They said,” Harry feels the thrum of the beat that’s playing vibrating in his bones, “they wanted to get out of here.”

“‘s like so long ago, right?” Niall’s mouth drags along the shell of Harry’s ear when he talks, Harry already feeling on edge from spending the night dancing and talking to Alisha, her friend Carrie half sitting on Niall’s lap before they’d even been there an hour. They haven’t pulled together for ages, years even, the two of them trading off brief relationships as they toured the last couple of goes.

“Better,” Harry holds Niall’s wrist tightly, swaying slightly and keeping his eyes open against the contact of Niall’s lips on his skin. Harry doesn’t remember feeling this way about how Niall feels against him back then, chalking it up to all these months of buildup with no release. Been ages since either of them have shagged anyone, things are just getting confused.

“Hey,” Niall says then, over Harry’s shoulder when the girls return, pulling away to wrap his arm around Carrie’s waist. “Harry and I are gonna go out first in case, our security guy says it’s clear but just wait until you get my text, right?”

“We’ll wait,” Alisha pushes her hair out of her face, Harry’s heart racing a bit when she tugs on his belt until he’s next to her. “Your hotel is close, right?”

“Ten minutes,” Harry breathes out, glancing over at Niall, how his eyes look dark, seems like they’re getting even darker under Harry’s gaze.

“I think we can handle that,” Carrie laughs at something Niall’s whispering in her ear, his eyes still on Harry. Harry shifts, feels like he’s gonna shoot out of his skin at any moment.

“We’ll see you in a few,” Harry presses a kiss to Alisha’s cheek, pulling at Niall’s elbow and feeling like he’s dragging him away as they weave through the crowd, finally hitting the back hallway out to the back door. Al’s already there, his face beaming at them as he shakes his head at their state.

“No one around, there wasn’t anyone out front, either,” Al opens the door, Harry pushing at the weirdly silent Niall until he’s tumbling into the backseat, Harry turning back to Al before he follows.

“We’ll tell ‘em to come,” Harry holds up his phone, “A blonde and a redhead, they look like this.” He pulls up the pic the four of them took after the third round of Kamikazes, he and Niall in the middle and looking at each other as the girls laugh on either side. Something about it makes Harry’s gut twist up weird.

“I’ll wait here until they arrive,” Al says somberly, his mouth twitching like he’s about to start laughing. Harry makes a note to give him a bonus after tonight, hopes he’ll remember in the morning.

“I already told them it was all clear,” Niall’s sprawled out on the seat, skinny legs everywhere and hair falling over his forehead, Harry reaching out to push it away as he settles next to him. “Hey, watcher Harry, my eyes are precious.”

“Sorry,” Harry mumbles, “didn’t think the night was gonna end this way.”

“Yeah?” Niall’s eyebrows go up, his smile lazy as his fingers land on Harry’s knee. “How’d you think it was gonna end then?”

“Dunno.” Harry rolls his head along the back seat, feels like he’s swimming underwater. “You?”

“They’re nice girls,” Niall’s fingers go a little higher, Harry thinking back to the car, all those weeks ago, “and fit. There’s nothing wrong with a shag, Hazza.”

“That’s like our, y’know, life philosophy,” Harry pushes his knee up, makes Niall’s hand slide a little higher, watches the grin on Niall’s face go wicked. “Nothing wrong with a shag.”

“Harry-” Niall starts, but then the car’s door is opening, the girls and a gust of cold air coming in.

“No one saw us leave,” Alisha sounds breathless as she climbs over Niall and settles next to Harry, taking Harry’s hand and moving it so it presses into the skin of her thigh. He feels pulled away from Niall and into this present moment, looking over at how Niall’s tangled up with Carrie, himself, the four of them pressed up together in the backseat as Al starts driving.

“Sick,” Niall says, low, “we’ll let you two off at the back of the hotel, here’s a card to get in,” Harry watches as Niall presses his key card into Carrie’s hand, tilting his head when she whispers something into his neck, giggling.

“What rooms are you in?” Alisha asks, her voice a whisper like they’re all sharing secrets.

“708 and 710,” Harry pulls her so she’s even closer, his fingers digging into the skin of her thigh, “next to each other. Here’s my extra,” Harry twists, trying to get it out of his back pocket.

“Here,” Alisha reaches behind him, her fingers deftly rescuing the card and driving him mad in the process, his cock already half hard in his jeans that feel tighter than ever. “Got it.”

“Yeah,” Harry breathes out, tipping his head up to mouth at her neck, “you got it.”

“Oi,” Niall’s lazy tone feels like it’s echoing in the back seat, “save it for the room.”

“Stuff it, Niall,” Harry laughs, Niall grinning back at him when Harry’s gaze looks down and he realizes that Carrie’s already got her fingers tucked into Niall’s jeans, his hips bucking up slowly.

The car stops then, Harry realizing that they’re already at the back of the hotel, Al opening the door and rolling his eyes at the state of them all. A big, big bonus, Harry reminds himself. Huge.

“Alright, ladies?” Al raises his eyebrows, Harry taking in the state of both himself and Niall, who’s flushed and trying to adjust himself in his jeans as the girls gingerly climb out.

“Al?” Harry asks, leaning out and checking the time up in the front of the car. It’s nearly 3 AM. “Anyone out there?”

“No, it’s pretty deserted.” Al leans into the car as the girls walk in, Harry seeing them let themselves in the door with their key cards.

“Goin’ off protocol, I like it,” Niall laughs, pressing the heel of his hand on his crotch and reaching up to squeeze at Harry’s shoulder.

“I think we’ll be fine,” Harry whispers, meeting Niall’s dark eyes with his own.

“I think we’re both desperate for a shag, so.” Niall laughs, loud, “let’s go for it.”

“Wicked,” Harry laughs, “get in.”

“Trying to,” Niall mumbles against Harry’s cheek as they try to stumble out of the car, his lips feeling hot and soft against Harry’s skin.

“Fuck.” Harry somehow gets out, let’s Al laugh as he herds them into the hotel and then the elevator, he and Niall on opposite sides.

“Harry,” Niall says, quiet.

“Yeah?” Harry takes a slow step toward him, the doors opening before he can figure out what to do next.

“Nothing,” Niall closes his eyes, looking tired or sad or pissed or all at the same time, looking more like Niall when he grins suddenly, “enjoy yourself. Don’t do anything I would do, because it’s all pure filth.”

“Ha,” Harry lets himself into his room, keeping his eyes down on the door when he can hear Niall do the same, the beep of the lock followed by him yelling Carrie! as the door swings shut behind him.

“Hey there,” Alisha’s already got her kit off and is draped over the duvet, Harry not that surprised from how eager she’s been all night. Makes him feel good, in a way. It’s a weird feeling, he and Zayn trying to talk about it once back during their first US tour. Zayn had a word for it then, something shit he made up that Harry can’t remember. He’ll have to text him in the morning to ask. Zayn’ll love that.

“What’s so funny?” Alisha asks, Harry not realizing he was laughing, anything funny dying down as her fingers find his belt.

“Nothing, just something my mate said,” Harry mumbles, gripping at her shoulders when she starts working on his shirt.

“He’s so funny, Carrie loves funny guys,” Alisha nips at his chest when she pushes his shirt open, just below his left swallow. Harry doesn’t bother correcting her.

“Niall’s the best,” Harry says instead, thinks he can hear them laughing next door. He knew the hotel walls were thin, him calling Niall the night before to tell him to turn down the volume on the game, but they seem extra thin now that he’s wondering just how much he’ll end up hearing by the end of the night. What Niall might hear, himself.

“I think you’re the best,” Alisha helps him step out of his boots and jeans, Harry left in his pants, “so why don’t you show me I’m right?”

“Shit, yeah,” Harry pushes at her shoulders so that they’re laying back on the bed, him hovering over her and kissing her, soft at first before licking into her mouth proper. She has that waxy lipstick taste that lingers in his mouth, so he keeps kissing her until all he can taste are the shots they all did earlier, letting his mouth trail down her neck and over her breasts, her breath catching when he lingers there, swipes his tongue down over her nipple.

“Yeah,” she whimpers, her fingers threading through Harry’s fingers and tugging a bit before pushing his head down. Harry grins, at what she’s doing, respects her game as he kisses a trail down her stomach.

“This okay?” He asks, to be polite, seeing her nod before he ducks his head down to lick a stripe over her, tongue circling her clit as he palms her thighs, spreading her open a little wider for him to eat her out proper.

Fuck,” she chokes out, her hips moving up into his face when he does it again, “fuck me.”

“Give me a sec, love,” Harry speaks against her, keeping his voice low so it’ll vibrate against her, “gonna get you to come like this first.” He teases two fingers against her, just pushing the tips in, and she shifts, trying to get him deeper. He smiles.

“No, now,” Alisha laughs, “I seem so thirsty right now, but just. Condom?”

“Yeah yeah, okay.” Harry licks at her clit once more to make her gasp before reaching over the side of the bed, getting out his wallet and the condom he has in there. He usually likes to get a girl off before he fucks her, thinks it’s nicer when he can get her to come again during or after, but she’s panting for it, grabbing the condom from him and ripping it open before she rolls it on, Harry hearing himself hiss out a breath when she strokes his cock a couple of times before falling back and pulling him forward so he can settle between her legs.

“You good like this?” Harry asks, reaching down to rub the head of his cock against her before lining himself up.

“So good,” Alisha huffs out, biting her lip when he does it again. “Just, fuck, fuck me.”

“Since you asked so nicely,” Harry pushes forward, sinking into her slowly as she moans. He gives himself a moment when he bottoms out, getting his bearings as he suddenly realizes what he’s hearing on the other side of the wall, a low groan followed by a gasp, the rumble of Niall’s voice saying something that sends a shiver down Harry’s back when he reaches down to hook Alisha’s leg over his hip, pulling out and thrusting back into her deep. She makes a loud noise, a moment of silence before Harry hears an echoing sound from Niall on the other side of the wall. Fuck.

“Feel good?” Harry whispers, palming her hips to pull her closer as he thrusts into her, his mouth hovering over hers. He tries to concentrate on that, on how she feels around his cock, instead of whatever’s happening beyond the thin wall.

&&&

Harry sounds the same after all these years.

And it’s. Niall wonders if it’s weird that he knows that, Carrie’s hair tickling at his chest as she rides him, slower than he usually likes but it feels good all the same, the roll of her hips punctuated by the sounds coming from Harry’s room, making him feel like his cock’s swelling up inside her every time it happens.

“Hey,” Niall looks up, reaching up his hands to palm at her breasts as she moves before pressing his hands into her hips and urging her on, “little faster, yeah?”

“Ask and you shall receive,” she leans down then, the angle of his cock inside her shifting as she rocks her hips slow, once, before starting to move faster, really riding him this time, her hands braced on the wall above the bed.

“So formal,” Niall laughs, it ending on a gasp when he hears Harry’s low groan on the other side of the wall, Harry saying something muffled after that.

“Classy,” Carrie corrects, reaching down to rub at herself as she moves, Niall realizing and batting her hand out of the way so he can get his fingers on her clit, make her make a noise like - that, yeah, something he knows Harry will hear.

Shit,” Niall grits out through his teeth, planting his feet on the bed so he can thrust up into her deeper, knows that he’s close.

“Keep doing that,” Carrie grinds down onto his fingers as he works his hips up into her, “just like that.”

“Yeah,” Niall knows he’s fucked off his rocker, gone full mental, but when he hears this long low groan like Harry’s coming on the other side of the wall he thrusts up into Carrie once, twice more before he’s coming, holding her hips down while he gasps, biting his lip so he won’t make a sound, knows distantly that he’s not sure what he’ll say.

They stay there like a second, her collapsed on top of Niall with his hand trapped between them, before he pulls out of her and lays her over to the side, tying off the condom and dropping it over the bed on top of his vest, hopes he remembers it’s there later to get rid of it, wrinkling his nose up at the thought.

“Here,” Niall fumbles his fingers over where she’s still hot and throbbing for him, “lemme.” He fucks his fingers into her slow, only needing to circle his thumb once before she’s coming, tightening over his fingers as she moans.

“So,” she says, a moment later, Niall moving his hand and wiping it on the duvet, “thanks.”

“Thanks t’you,” Niall replies, feeling like you’re welcome is not the way to go, ever.

“Do you want me to stay, or go? I’m cool either way.” Carrie’s already reaching over the side of the bed for her bra and pants, putting them on and glancing at him over her shoulder.

“Whatever you prefer,” Niall shrugs, normally on tour it can go either way. “I can call a car.”

“Alisha’s already downstairs with one,” Carrie’s looking at her phone, “so I’m gonna go meet up with her. But,” she leans over, kissing Niall softly on the cheek. “Thanks. If you’re ever in town again?”

“Definitely.” Niall watches her finish getting dressed. “Be safe, yeah?”

“Of course. Bye Niall.” She closes the door behind her, and Niall stretches his arms behind his head, staring at the ceiling and trying to hear if there’s anything going on in Harry’s. He could do for a lot of things, a shower, a sleep, but he finds himself reaching for his phone on the nightstand instead, dialing Harry and listening carefully.

He can hear the ring, the Irish national anthem he’d programmed for himself ages ago, then silence. It goes to voicemail a moment later, and Niall realizes that Harry must have silenced the call. Niall doesn’t allow himself to think any further than that, closing his eyes and deciding that he’s exhausted. A shower can bloody wait for the morning.

**

“Zayn says hello,” Harry walks into the dressing room where Niall’s sprawled out on the couch, eating an apple and thumbing through twitter absently.

“Cheers, you got him to answer his bloody phone,” Niall pumps up his fist once, still holding the apple, before dropping it back down, taking a last bite and chewing. He feels like he’s in a shit mood, been that way for a couple of days, since the morning after he and Harry pulled. Harry’s been grumpy too, the both of them enough of a nightmare that Al even said something, mumbling under his breath that he’s never seen two guys in such bad moods after getting laid.

“Laser’s had an ear infection,” Harry flops down on the chair opposite Niall instead of what he’d normally do, shove Niall over and have a cuddle on the couch. Niall can’t help but notice. It’s shit.

“Is he on the mend?” Niall feels bad suddenly, thinks he’ll send them over something, those biscuits Laser likes and Pez’s favorite flowers, maybe a new comic for Zayn, something he doesn’t already have.

“Yeah, guess what they gave him made him even crankier, Zayn sounded dead.” Harry snorts, “well, or maybe I woke him up, there’s really no way to tell. He says hi, by the way.”

“No he didn’t,” Niall laughs, knowing better. “He told you to fuck off and call at a better time, is what happened.”

“Well,” Harry starts, Niall laughing at the conflicted look on his face, “he would’ve said hi, if he wasn’t tired.”

“‘s okay Harry, I never doubt Zayn’s love for me,” Niall rolls his eyes, remembering to pull up his email when Harry doesn’t say anything, “by the way, did you see Payno’s email?”

“Last offer of live album, record our last show in New York,” Harry’s voice comes out slow, him looking up at the ceiling when Niall glances over at him, “limited release, no promo. Not a bad deal.”

“Dunno though,” Niall shrugs, “thought we were sticking to our guns.”

“I guess I just wonder if we should, sometimes.” Harry’s looking at Niall now, his eyes looking tired like he’s not slept in days, “or it’d be nice to have a record of all this, yeah?”

“Go t’ youtube, you’ll find it all up there.” Niall laughs, but he gets it. Like all of this is happening but it’s not at the same time. But. “‘s gonna be more planning though.”

“Nah,” Harry smiles then, looking more like himself, “we’ll just make them do it.”

“They’ll put a cock on the cover,” Niall protests, thinking of all the possible things that they’d do if left to their own devices.

“They’ll tell us they are, but they won’t actually do it,” Harry leans back, pointing at Niall like he’s some great orator, “at the end of the day, Louis is just as serious about the label as Liam is.”

“I…” Niall trails off, realizing what Harry’s saying is true. “That’s…”

“Yeah, so.” Harry shrugs, “the tour was one thing, because we’d have ended up on a One Direction tour sequel, we had to keep on them, but this will work in our favor.”

“All we have to do is show up and play,” Niall says, slowly, what Harry’s saying dawning on him fully, “and they’ll do the rest.”

“We might not like a few things, or they’ll sneak a little cock somewheres hidden, but,” Harry grins, “they won’t do a bad job.”

“You wanna reply, or should I?” Niall swings his legs down, sitting up and feeling more awake than he’s been.

“Neither of us will, what I’m gonna do,” Harry grins, reaching into his pocket and pulling out a square of paper, Niall recognizing it as the fake setlist Harry had written using his back when they had a very silent round of golf earlier, “is take a pic of this and send it to Liam, then let them stew for a bit. We’ll tell them in a couple of days.”

“Now who’s being a little shit?” Niall starts laughing, tilting his head to look at the list. “That looks terrible.”

“Course it does, you weren’t holding still,” Harry takes a picture carefully, the tip of his tongue sticking out.

“I was holding still, fuckface,” Niall argues, tossing his apple core on the table.

“Then why does it look so terrible?” Harry frowns at this phone, Niall hearing the swoosh as he sends the picture to Liam.

“I don’t know,” Niall starts laughing, “your terrible handwriting?”

“That hurts, Niall,” Harry frowns, but his eyes as he meets Niall’s look like he’s fighting back a smile.

“Sorry to insult your shit handwritin’,” Niall relaxes back into the sofa again, “hey, Harry, I-”

“We’ve got to go on stage in a few,” Harry says lightly, looking away, “better look over this set list again.”

**

Niall’s expecting it when his phone rings in the middle of the night, only half asleep when his pillow vibrates under his head. There was something about the show that night, like they’ve been playing at it for weeks and everything really gelled. Harry had looked at Niall after the encore, backstage, given him a hug that felt too tight and not tight enough at the same time, Niall feeling like a prat for the wellspring of feelings it dredged up.

“Do I have to remind you about the time difference?” Niall answers instead of hello, knowing that it’ll annoy Harry.

“Same time difference, Niall, which means it’s late for us both.” Harry takes a deep breath, “can pretend, though. Niall, it’s so sunny here, in California. So beautiful.”

“It’s so the middle of t’night here,” Niall fake yawns, annoyed when it turns into a real one a moment later. “So maybe you need to go to bed.”

“Can’t.” Harry’s breathing so bloody loud, Niall wondering if he could ever do anything quiet.

“Why can’t you?”

“Because,” Harry pauses, “think we’ve finally hit our stride, Niall.”

“Tonight felt different,” Niall allows, reaching back to adjust the pillows behind his back.

“Right? It was like,” Niall can picture how Harry’s waving his hand about in the air like he’s trying to find the words, “felt like we were back in separate places, writing together over Skype or summat, but on stage.”

“Whether we’re together or apart,” Niall feels like a twat for saying it, but knows that Harry will think it’s hilarious.

“Just like that,” Harry does start laughing then, in earnest, making Niall relax against the pillows. “Hey, can you hear me laughing right now?”

“Yeah, my phone appears to be working fine,” Niall snorts, scratching idly at his stomach.

“Yes thanks for clarifying,” Harry’s rolling his eyes, Niall can tell, before Harry’s voice drops low, “no, uh, I mean like...through the wall.”

“Oh.” Oh, fuck. “I don’t think this hotel is set up the same way as, y’know, the last one.”

“So you don’t hear this?” There’s a knock on the wall on the other side of the room, and Niall starts laughing.

“Yeah, but I’m not over on that side of the room.”

“Oh.” Harry sounds almost sad for a moment before continuing, “heard you, though. Sounded like you had a good time.”

“It was a good shag, she’s a nice girl,” Niall says carefully, unsure for the first time in as long as he can remember what to say to Harry.

“They were both very nice girls,” Harry’s voice is so low, Niall presses his phone to his ear to try and hear him better, “is it weird that hearing you, it was like-”

“Yeah,” Niall can feel his cock stirring in his pants, reaches down to cup his hand over himself and squeeze lightly, not sure what he wants to do, “heard you too.”

“Did you now?” Harry sounds breathless, Niall wondering exactly what he’s doing on the other side of the far wall.

“Yeah, you were bloody loud,” Niall laughs then, giving himself a lazy stroke through his pants and biting his lip as he remembers, “couldn’t help it.”

“Don’t want you to think that,” Harry’s got this apologetic tone to his gasp, “I was just using Alisha, but-”

“But what?” Niall can’t help himself and interrupts Harry, stilling his hand on himself and biting back a groan.

“Think that if they hadn’t come back with us,” Harry pauses long enough that Niall feels like he might pass out, “I still think we’d have gotten a shag in.”

“You meet someone else and not tell me?” Niall gives in, reaching down into his pants to grip at his cock properly, gathering the wetness already at the head and stroking down.

“Just some bloke, he’s okay with a guitar,” Harry’s voice is teasing, with that gravelly tone he gets sometimes, “didn’t realize how much I thought about him.”

“Jesus fuck, Hazza,” Niall lets go of his cock, tucking himself carefully back into his pants and searching for the shirt he’d pulled off earlier, finding it and his joggers on the floor and getting dressed while he leaves Harry on speaker on the bed, laughing and breathing hard all at once. Niall shoves his feet into his trainers, not bothering with socks, before grabbing his card and taking Harry off of speaker. “Harry,” he says.

“Yeah?” Harry asks, after a moment.

“Come and open your bloody door before someone sees me in the hallway in this state,” Niall hisses, knocking quietly.

“Wait, that’s you?” Harry sounds confused and fucked out, and Niall knocks again, harder.

“Yes, Harry,” Niall tries to keep his voice even when he hears Harry fumbling with the door, opening it open with a wild expression, still holding his phone to his ear, “you can’t start something and not finish it.”

“Um,” Harry steps back for Niall to step in, and once the doors closed, Niall finally gets a look at Harry, hair wild and boxers pulled tight over his cock, what looks like precome streaked over his abs. Shitting fuck.

“D’you really know how you look right now?” Niall takes a step forward, pushing Harry until he’s backed up against the wall, pressing his hips up so he can grind into Harry.

“Um, I look great?” Harry grins, his eyes dark.

“Hot mess,” Niall mumbles, laughing when he licks into Harry’s mouth, finally. Harry’s head knocks back against the wall when he does, him making a sound into Niall’s mouth that makes him pause. “You okay?”

“Yeah, just,” Harry rubs at the back of his head, “didn’t really feel it, to be honest.”

“You’re such a knob,” Niall laughs, pulling at Harry’s hips and trying to walk them down the hallway toward Harry’s bed, nearly tripping arse over ankles.

“Correction, I’ve got such a knob,” Harry laughs, fumbling for Niall’s hand and pressing it to his prick. “Such a knob.”

“That as well,” Niall gets the breath knocked out of him when his bad knee hits the edge of the bed, toppling over with Harry on top of him, his arms bracketing Niall’s head.

“D’you really,” Harry starts, looking down at Niall and licking his lips, “gonna kiss you again, yeah?”

“Just do it, stop monologuing,” Niall challenges, tipping his head up when Harry’s lips brush against his, soft at first with Harry’s hand trailing down Niall’s chest and under his shirt, his fingers pressing into Niall’s skin as he runs his tongue along Niall’s bottom lip.

“Off,” Harry pushes at Niall’s shirt, speaking against Niall’s mouth before he leans back, his eyes tracking Niall as he pulls it off the whole way, kicks off his trainers and joggers for good measure.

“Bossy,” Niall huffs, starts to laugh when he realizes that while he was getting his kit off, Harry’s wiggled out of his pants, cock hard and curving up between them. “In a rush?”

“Don’t laugh, Niall, it’s rude,” Harry leans down to kiss him again, threading his fingers through Niall’s hair as he deepens it.

“You make me laugh, can’t help it,” Niall gets a hand between them to wrap around Harry’s cock, getting used to the weight of it in his hand, different from his own. He’s surprised by how much he wants it, wants Harry, wants his prick, wonders how long he’s felt that way.

“You gonna laugh at this, too?” Harry gasps into Niall’s mouth, reaching a hand into Niall’s pants and stroking once, his hand tight and making Niall’s hips shoot off the bed.

“No, I’m gonna,” Niall pushes at Harry’s hand, flipping them so he’s sitting back on Harry’s thighs, “do something else instead.”

“What are you…” Harry starts to ask, trailing off with a groan when Niall leans down to tongue at the dumbshit laurel leaves and nip at Brasil on his thigh before licking up the side of Harry’s cock, planting a firm palm on Harry’s hipbone to hold him still. “You’re sure?”

“You’re gonna say no to me sucking you off?” Niall laughs against Harry’s hip, stroking Harry lazily as he looks up at him. “Prefer a tug?”

“As you were,” Harry says shakily, meeting Niall’s eyes, “but c’mere first.” He grasps at Niall’s shoulder, pulling him up and kissing him slow. It makes Niall ache, makes his cock twitch in his pants before he pulls away and runs his tongue down Harry’s chest for good measure before planting a sloppy kiss to the head of Harry’s prick, getting his bearings because he wants this to be fucking great for Hazza.

“Lemme know when,” Niall warns, Harry rolling his eyes and nodding once before Niall ducks his head down again, tonguing over the head of his cock and sucking gently, thinking about all the stuff that drives him mad during a blow job. He keeps his hand in a loose fist around the base of Harry’s cock, squeezing in time with his mouth, swirling his tongue until his jaw starts to ache a bit and Harry’s babbling nonsense and thrusting shallowly.

“Fucking great, shit, Nialler, fuck,” Harry’s voice is low and fucked out, and it’s the hottest thing Niall’s ever heard, him close to rutting off against the bed as he pulls off Harry’s cock for a bit of a break, stroking him in time with the movement of Harry’s hips and licking around the tops of his fingers as Harry’s hand finds its way back into Niall’s hair.

“Good?” Niall asks, his voice coming out rough to his own ears, pressing the heel of his hand into his own cock when he takes Harry in his mouth again before he can answer, the rhythm of Harry’s hips going off beat.

“Niall, I’m so bloody close, I’m,” Harry pulls at Niall’s hair, hard, and Niall pulls off just in time as Harry comes with a low groan, catching Niall’s bottom lip as Niall works him through it, glancing up to sneak a look at Harry’s face, his eyes open and staring down at Niall. Niall sits up after Harry goes still, raising his hand to his mouth without realizing, licking his lips and tasting the drop of Harry’s come that landed there. He could swallow next time, he thinks, it’d be easier.

Shit, Niall, what are you-” Harry’s watching him intently, his fingers coming up to push at Niall’s. Niall drops his hand and Harry runs his thumb over Niall’s bottom lip, his mouth working like he’s trying to figure out what to say.

“Dunno, Harry,” Niall says, feeling out of sorts and harder than he’s ever been in his bloody fucking life, “s’alright, though?”

“Don’t ask stupid questions,” Harry laughs, “and I know that no question is stupid, but that fucking was.” He does something and Niall’s on his back suddenly, feeling how Harry’s hooking his fingers into Niall’s pants and easing them down his legs. Niall braces himself for whatever’s gonna come next, hoping it’s himself.

“Hazza, would you please,” Harry’s face is over his then, Harry licking into Niall’s mouth before Niall can finish whatever the fuck was gonna come out. Harry’s kissing him thoroughly, his hand working at Niall’s cock between them, Niall sure he could come at any moment.

“This’ll be more than alright,” Harry grins when he speaks, before taking Niall’s prick in his mouth. Harry’s always had a wide grin, mouth seeming too big for his face, and Niall suddenly feels bad for every single joke he’s ever made about it, his cock twitching in that wet heat as Harry sucks him down.

Harry does something with his tongue under the head, and Niall can’t speak at all, just makes frankly embarrassing groans when Harry starts humming, Niall pushing against the weight of Harry’s hand pressing hard on his hipbone.

“Har, I’m gonna,” Niall can feel it building, tangling his fingers in Harry’s curls and tugging as a warning, Harry making a muffled noise around his cock and looking up at Niall under his eyelashes before Niall’s coming, can feel Harry’s throat working as he swallows. It feels like ages before he’s spent, Harry sitting up and crawling back up to lie down next to Niall, curling around him. Niall can’t remember the last time he’s felt so good after a shag.

Shitting fuck,” Niall exhales, turning his head and bumping his nose before kissing him gently, licking at his lips and tasting himself. “I’ll try that, next time.” He doesn’t know what he’s saying, but, suddenly all he can think about is the next time and the time after that. Great, now he’s gonna be blowing Harry on stage, probably, by the end of the fucking tour.

“Yeah, I’m covered in jizz, it’s not the best,” Harry wrinkles his nose before laughing, “I need a shower.”

“Go ahead, I’m not moving,” Niall scratches his nails down Harry’s back, Harry making a contented sound into Niall’s neck.

“Me neither, in the morning we’re gonna be full of regrets,” Harry laughs, then sounds a little concerned when he continues, “about needing a shower, to be clear. Because this,” Harry gestures between their cocks, Niall laughing, “is happening again. To be clear.”

“Nah, I would never want a repeat of the best blow job of me life,” Niall deliberately makes his accent thicker, feeling exhausted. “Don’t get a big head, over that.”

“Too late, it was big to start with.” Harry sighs, his breathing already evening out, “maybe if you’re lucky I’ll wake you up real nice.”

&&&

“Harry Styles,” Al sounds about as mad as Harry’s ever heard him, “what do you think you’re doing?”

“Sitting?” Harry’s confused, Niall playing behind him on stage as he sits on the edge, his legs dangling down.

“Get back!” Al looks real serious, so Harry does, scooting back and almost falling over while Niall laughs.

When they get backstage after the show, Harry tracks Al down, tugging at Niall’s wrist so he’ll follow.

“What was that?” Harry gestures at himself in a wide circle, because Al was yelling at his whole person.

“There is no barricade in front of that stage,” Al looks at him like that’s supposed to mean something, finally shaking his head, “Harry, someone could have snatched at you, knocked you down or worse!”

“Oh.” Harry feels sort of bad, Al looking shaken. They’ve only had a few instances of some of the crazier aspects of their fans so far in the first few weeks of the tour, and Harry’s starting to feel like even though he and Niall both feel like it’s a breath of fresh air, so much better, he probably didn’t prepare Al enough.

“Yeah, oh.” Al shakes his head, “your label didn’t get extra security for every venue, so I’m just looking out for you.”

“I’ll make sure to yell at Louis and Liam,” Niall shrugs, pulling out his phone as everyone bustles around them backstage, the crowd still dying down out in the venue.

“Besides,” Harry says, stepping around Al to swing his arm around Niall’s waist, Niall immediately snapping his head up at the contact, “Niall would save me, in that moment. And I believe that, Al.”

“Uh,” Niall’s voice sounds like he’s a bit choked when he replies, Harry knowing he’s not being entirely fair, Niall having told him earlier that he can’t touch him so bloody much when they’re out in public, said it was driving him mad.

“You would,” Harry repeats, poking at Niall’s side with his finger as Al watches.

“I would try?” Niall asks, before starting to laugh, “to be honest though, I might be holding my guitar and laughing me arse off.”

“See?” Al throws his hands up. “Gather up your things, I’ll be in the car.”

“We won’t be cleared up for ages,” Harry says weakly, Niall still laughing.

“I won’t leave without you,” Al rolls his eyes, Harry wondering if he’ll put up with them through the rest of the tour.

**

The back seat feels so wide, too wide almost, with just him and Niall in the back, pushed to the opposite sides. It’s been a bit of a struggle since they started this whole thing, getting off with each other, to keep it quiet. Especially around Al, who’s there bloody almost all of the time.

Harry widens his legs, shoving over just enough so that his knee is digging into Niall’s thigh. He can hear the sharp inhale coming from the other side of the car, and when Harry looks over Niall’s staring out the window, a small smile playing over his face. Harry does it again, then one more time until Niall drops his hand down to his own knee, the tips of his fingers dragging over the top of Harry’s thigh.

“Do you boys want me to stop for food?” Al yells suddenly, Niall dropping his hand to Harry’s disappointment, wondering how far he would be able to push it.

“I’m full, actually,” Niall calls out, turning his head to wink at Harry, and Harry starts laughing, wondering if he’s ever heard Niall say such a thing before they’ve had dinner.

“That’s new,” Al remarks at the next light, about to turn down the road to where their hotel is, “you going out tonight, or can I get some sleep?”

“Catch up on your sleep, Al,” Harry licks his lips over at Niall, “think it’s time for an early night.”

“Such a idiot,” Niall says in a low voice, a smile on his face. Harry takes the opportunity to launch himself across the back seat, kissing Niall’s cheek sloppily. “Oi, get off!” Niall says, for Al’s benefit, Harry knows, because right after he leans forward and whispers in Harry’s ear, “gonna get you off the second we’re inside.”

**

“Liam sent over some possible album art,” Niall’s leaning against Harry’s side, backstage at whatever city they’re in, a couple of hours before they have to be on stage.

“Great, no one cares,” Harry continues frowning at the lyrics for one of the songs Niall had dug up the other day, one that they had started months ago but never finished. Harry’s determined to make it work this time, feeling more inspired lately.

“Good attitude, that,” Niall laughs, “you still working on those?”

“Yeah, I just can’t figure out if I want this to rhyme or not, or if I like the word.” Harry crosses out the last sentence he wrote, feeling like the whole thing was rubbish.

“What word?” Niall turns his head so it’s resting against Harry’s arm, trying to look down at what he’s writing, Harry elbowing him so he can’t take the piss. He’s in process, Niall should know better.

“Erm,” Harry doodles a smiley face under the lyrics, “happy.”

“So you’re unhappy with happy?” Niall looks up at Harry.

“Fuck off,” Harry laughs, “this is not helping.”

“Suit yourself,” Niall moves to get up, “was gonna tell you that I think they had Zayn do something for the album, and then pull you off before we went on, but if you’d prefer.”

“Hold on hold on,” Harry can’t decide which part of what Niall just said he wants to address first, deciding to go with Zayn, “how do you know?”

“Because,” Niall knows what he’s talking about, pulling out his phone and swiping at the screen to pull up the art, “I know.”

Harry takes the phone when Niall offers it, zooming in on what Liam’s sent, shifting his hips when Niall’s hand lands on his inner thigh, finger tracing the zip of his jeans.

“This is sick,” Harry can see what Niall means, able to pick out Zayn’s style right away, “think we should just tell Liam to go with this one.”

“Good, it’s settled then.” Niall’s already pulling down the zip, hand on Harry’s cock before Harry can even set his phone down. “This angle’s shit, sorry Haz.”

“Could always move,” Harry laughs, not really caring about the angle when Niall’s working him over so well, Harry already wet at the tip when Niall finally leans up to kiss him. “Be careful though, gotta go on stage in a few and don’t have another pair of - ah - jeans with me.” He looks at the door, wonders if Niall bothered to lock it when he came in earlier.

“Don’t worry, I’ve got a plan,” Niall kisses Harry again before pulling back and sticking his tongue out into his cheek, “been practicing real well lately, doncha think? We’ll see how I do with it, better than throat coat, I bet.”

“Fuck, yeah,” Harry feels close already at the thought, “top of the class.”

“A levels,” Niall says, grinning at Harry, “think you can give me a good warning, yeah?”

“Get down there now,” Harry groans, feels like his hips have gone out of control, “if you wanna get an A.”

“On it,” Niall speaks against Harry’s lips before kissing him quick and ducking his head down, hand gripping at Harry’s knee as Harry goes over the edge.

It’s gonna be a great show tonight, Harry can already tell.

&&&

“They work Harry, seriously.” Niall leans back against the head of the bed, setting his guitar carefully to the side of him as he looks at where Harry’s sprawled out, his notebook open across his chest.

“You sure?” Harry scoots over, pressing his forehead against Niall’s shin.

“Yeah, it’s like,” Niall tries to explain it, “it’s happy? The lyrics are happy but the music we wrote is...it’s slower, like a love song that’s sad. It’s a good, what’s the word?”

“Juxtaposition,” Harry supplies, “it was bothering me that I couldn’t figure it out while you were in the loo earlier.”

“Looked it up, did you?” Niall laughs. “Listen, though, I think it’s good, think we should test it tomorrow.”

“This is what’s so great about this whole thing,” Harry sounds so excited, Niall grinning down at him, “that if we finish a new song, we can try it out in front of people at the next show if we want, don’t have to follow the same setlist and marks or whatever every night.”

“Yeah,” Niall breathes, shivering a bit when one of Harry’s curls brushes against his scar. “You sure that’s the only great part of this whole thing?”

“Well,” Harry glances up, his pupils already looking blown out, “I guess I count it all as the same thing. Trying out new stuff, every night.”

“In front of people,” Niall nods, laughing at the look on Harry’s face.

“Listen,” Harry knee walks up the bed, taking Niall’s guitar and leaning over to set it on the chair, Niall feeling keyed up already, “if I thought it was safe at all, I’d be filming you when we’re in it, yeah? Should see how you look.”

“Imagine if that ever leaked,” Niall laughs, “I think I’d like to keep our streak of no leaked videos intact, those poor other sods.”

“Let’s not talk about that though,” Harry leans forward, catching Niall’s mouth with his own, kissing him with a purpose Niall’s gotten to know pretty well lately.

“What do you want to talk about?” Niall asks, recognizing that gleam in Harry’s eye, it making his stomach flip over in anticipation.

“Testing something out for an audience,” Harry raises his eyebrows, pushing forward to kiss Niall again. “Get your kit off,” he murmurs, Niall wishing his hands weren’t shaking as he does, Harry already half naked and watching him with interest.

“What are we testing?” Niall asks. He trusts Harry totally, is the thing, but that doesn’t make him any less concerned when Harry’s sitting up on the edge of the bed to fumble with the nightstand, taking a swig of water from his glass and already looking flushed when he looks over Niall.

“Getting started without me?” Harry laughs, nodding down to where Niall’s already got a fist curled loosely around himself, stroking slowly.

“Just preparing myself for whatever you’ve got in mind,” Niall gasps a little when he twists his fist over the head of his cock, watches as Harry slowly removes all of his rings. “What do you, Harry, I-”

“Gonna finger you,” Harry shrugs, “thought it’d be fun to try? It’ll be great, I think.”

“Fuck,” Niall didn’t know what he was expecting, but that - the way Harry says it, all low and nonchalant - Niall’s a little embarrassed by how much wetness spreads across his palm when he strokes back up over the head of his own cock.

“Is that a, ‘yes Harry, I would like you to finger fuck me’ or a ‘fuck no’?” Harry’s laughing, but there’s something in his eyes that’s pleading.

“Why do you think I’d say fuck no to that?” Niall asks, realizing that he’s unconsciously already spread his legs out, realizes how now it’s something he really wants to try.

“Dunno, but,” Harry smiles, pushing Niall’s hand away and replacing it with his own when he settles next to Niall, “figured it’d be something to like, have a talk about first.”

“‘preciate it,” Niall says, into Harry’s mouth when he’s already started to kiss him, “now just do it.”

“Patience, young Niall,” Harry slows his hand on Niall’s cock, kissing him even slower. He nips at Niall’s bottom lip like Niall likes, Niall wondering how Harry is how he is, able to figure out exactly what someone is into immediately, makes them feel like he knows them better than anyone else. Wonders if it’s just him or if Harry’s like that with everyone.

They kiss for ages like that, Niall relaxing into Harry as he strokes him lazily through it, hips shifting sort of restlessly on the bed until Harry’s reaching over to the nightstand, producing a small tube of lube.

“Did you plan this?” Niall asks, laughing as he watches Harry slick up his fingers.

“I had some anyway, I didn’t buy it special,” Harry shrugs, kissing Niall again as he settles between Niall’s legs, nudging them farther open, “I did put it there though earlier, for like, ease of access.”

“I knew my plan of bending over in front of you on stage would work out eventually,” Niall chokes out, surprised when Harry’s already reaching down to circle his fingers against Niall slowly, it already feeling sensitive before anything’s even happening, Niall’s hips going clear off the bed.

“I’m easily swayed,” Harry laughs, kissing Niall again before regarding him seriously, “you okay like this? Just relax, I’m gonna make this so good for you.”

“I am relaxed,” Niall hears how choked his voice sounds when Harry’s pushing forward, the slow press of his finger shutting Niall up entirely. Niall tenses for a second, Harry’s other hand finding his way back to Niall’s cock and stroking it slowly until Niall relaxes into his touch, feeling a tad overwhelmed for a moment when it starts to feel good, Harry adding in a second finger.

“I’ve only done it a few times before, to girls before we did anal,” Harry whispers, his voice dropping when he continues, “but that was different, they never...I tried it on myself a few times, it’s just. It’s easier, when I do it this way, yeah? Don’t feel like my wrist is about to break, for a start.” He sounds thoughtful, at that, and if Niall wasn’t concentrating on the stretch of his fingers he’d laugh. “Have you?”

“Not to meself,” Niall gasps out, “and yeah, maybe a handful of times, Barbara and I tried it some. She wasn’t into it though.”

“If at first you don’t succeed,” Harry says slowly, suddenly crooking his fingers and grinning when Niall curses, his hips shooting off the bed. “Try, try, try, ah, again.” He punctuates his words with the steady press of his fingers, and Niall’s not sure how much longer he can last, his cock smearing wet over Harry’s hand as he moves it in the same rhythm as his fingers.

“You could, ah,” Niall’s pushing back into Harry’s hand now, squeezing his eyes shut as he speaks, “try one more?”

“Fuck, okay,” Harry lets go of Niall’s cock, Niall whining at the loss, “hold on, just wanna make sure.” The cold shock of more lube makes Niall’s eyes snap back open, just in time to see Harry looking down as he works a third finger in next to the other two. It’s almost too much, Niall not sure, but then it feels good surprisingly quickly, Niall right on the edge again when Harry surges forward, kissing Niall in the same rhythm as his hand and fingers. It’s too soon and not soon enough when Niall can feel himself pushed over the edge by the firm curl of Harry’s long fingers, coming in long, hot pulses between them, Harry moaning against his mouth so loudly that Niall wonders if he already got off, just from that.

“Shit,” Niall’s breathing heavy, looking down at his chest covered in come and sweat, sighing loudly when Harry slides his fingers out slowly. “That was, shit.”

“Told you it would be great,” Harry sounds smug, full of himself, and Niall would belt him one if he hadn’t just made him come the hardest he has since they first started this.

“Do you,” Niall starts, feeling Harry still hard in his pants, pressing against Niall’s hip, “want me to, like, do it t’you?”

“Shit,” Harry hisses, eyes snapping open wide as they meet Niall’s. “If you want? I mean, I want, but I’m not forcing anyone.”

“I just don’t want to like, fuck it up,” Niall laughs at himself, “I’m being an eejit, c’mere.”

“I can talk you through it!” Harry sounds so Harry in that moment, but when his eyes meet Niall’s they’re dark, and his voice sounds almost like begging. It stirs something deep in Niall’s chest, makes him need to kiss Harry immediately.

“I think I can manage, Hazza,” Niall reaches for the lube where Harry had tossed it on the bed, turning to see Harry making quick work of his pants, his cock flushed and leaking on his stomach already.

“So you start,” Harry regards Niall seriously, “by putting your finger in my arse.”

“Listen, do you want to do this yourself?” Niall has to bite his cheek to stop laughing as he slicks up his fingers, amazed at how awake he feels after coming so hard.

“No,” Harry shakes his head, eyes wide and a grin on his face when he says, “and then, you put another one in.”

“Listen,” Niall feels on the edge of hysterical, “I can’t do a good job if I’m laughing at you being a massive knob.”

“Niall,” Harry props himself up on his elbows, kissing him quickly, “please touch my massive knob. Plus the extra.”

“You are so stupid.” Niall’s kissing him back though, pushing forward with two fingers to start, knows that Harry will tell him if it’s too much.

“I think you’re stupid too,” Harry breathes out, his cock twitching in Niall’s grip. “So we’re even.”

**

“I feel a bit bad,” Harry says around his mouthful of orange, watching Niall set up the iPad.

“What do you feel bad about?” Niall feels distracted, checking the time. They got to the venue early enough so that they could catch Zayn when he’d agreed to be available for a Skype, and Niall knows that if they’re either too early or too late it won’t be on.

“Don’t think we’ve been hanging out with the crew enough,” Harry shrugs, looking downright pitiful when Niall finally looks in his direction, the whole room smelling like the bleeding oranges Harry’s been eating since they got there.

“They’re good lads,” Niall agrees, “but we just went out for drinks with them last night, so I don’t know what you’re talking about.” They’ve only got a handful of people with them on the road, Niall constantly amazed that Liam and Louis were able to set something up so small that actually works.

“Dunno,” Harry shrugs, “Kyle, you know, the one with the hair?”

“They all have hair, Harry, but yeah, I know who you’re talking about.”

“Yeah, he told me this morning,” Harry pauses, poking his foot at Niall until Niall meets his eyes, “that he had a good time last night. A good time.”

“It was a good time,” Niall shrugs, “so.”

“Just, he’s a young lad, I don’t know if we’re showing him a proper tour experience.” Harry frowns, and Niall finally gets what he’s trying to say.

“Not every tour is this crazy go,” Niall tries to think of how to put it, “you know? And we’re 24 Harry, we’re still young lads, ourselves.”

“It’s different, and you know it,” Harry points out, Niall knowing that he would.

“I guess what I’m tryin’ to say,” Niall swipes to open the iPad again, the screen having locked while they were speaking, “is that we’ve never even had a tour like this, we’re figuring it out ourselves.”

“We haven’t had a tour like this,” Harry agrees too quickly, and when Niall looks up he’s cupping his junk with his hand, making Niall swallow hard involuntarily. “Don’t you agree, Niall?”

“Christ.” Niall can tell that Harry’s already moved onto this new topic, one that Niall is infinitely more interested in. “We can’t right now, Hazza, unless you don’t want to….” Niall holds up the iPad, reaching down to adjust himself in his trackies. Bleeding Christ, all it takes is one look from Harry and he’s already got a semi.

“Yeah, alright,” Harry moves his hand, moving so he’s shoving at Niall’s shoulder and sitting next to him as Niall props the iPad up with its case on the table in front of them, waiting for it to connect to Zayn.

Laser appears on the screen first, eclipsing Zayn’s face and grinning widely when he sees Harry and Niall. Niall’s not going to lie, it feels amazing to get such a reaction, can tell from how Harry looks at him with a face lit up like Christmas that he feels the same.

“Laser!” Harry says loudly, his voice echoing in the dressing room, “are you having a nice day?”

“He’s getting ready for bed, more like,” Zayn appears then, settling the babbling Laser in his lap and reaching down to hand him his blanket, the one Niall knows is necessary for his sleep. Laser grabs it, saying blankbo, shoving it in his mouth immediately.

“Okay, I know I just saw you not two months ago, Mr. Laser,” Niall announces, “but you are so big now, just massively big.”

“Big!” Laser yells, and Harry grabs at Niall’s hand like his life depends on it.

“Zayn, he’s talking so much now,” Harry announces, something like wonder in his voice.

“Oh, he never stops,” Zayn sighs, grinning down at the top of Laser’s head. He’s such a Da now. It’s a weird thing, that, that someone like Zayn is still himself while being this entirely new person at the same time.

“D’you think you would reconsider bringing him to a show?” Harry has a whiny edge to his voice, Niall knowing this is not the first, or last, time Harry would ask.

“Dunno, mate, d’you think you’ll do a show around here so I wouldn’t have to bring ‘im on a plane?” Zayn gives Harry a look that’s withering even on the small screen.

“Maybe,” Niall interrupts before Harry can start in, “we’ll do a one off after this tour in London, just for you to come to.”

“We’ll see,” Zayn looks down at Laser again, who’s leaned up against his chest now, clutching his blanket and looking glassy eyed, that stare he gets right before he’s off for a kip. “Sorry lads, I thought maybe he’d be up a bit more for this.”

“It’s alright,” Niall nudges at Harry, who nods next to him, still leaning forward and making faces at the screen. “Hey, thanks again for doing the art.”

“It’s whatevs,” Zayn shrugs, a smile playing at his lips like he’s well pleased. “Anything to get Lou off my back.”

“Or because you love us so much, right,” Harry shakes his head, poking at Niall’s knee when Laser smiles back at him, slow.

“That too,” Zayn looks like he’s about to say something else, but he stops himself, knowing that Zayn’s probably in full Laser censor mode. “I better get him to bed, though, so-”

“No wait,” Harry looks at Niall, “why don’t we sing Laser a lullaby?”

“Do we know a lullaby to sing?” Niall asks, hearing Zayn groan in front of them.

“Well, a song. Any song’s a lullaby if you sing it to a sleepy baby.”

“That is absolute rubbish, Harry, but-”

“So if you two are just gonna argue, I’m going to put my son t’ bed?” Zayn interrupts, and when Niall turns he’s got his hand curved over the top of Laser’s head, Laser’s eyes drooping even further.

“No, we’re gonna sing him a song,” Niall looks about the room, “Harry, get my guitar.”

“No guitar,” Zayn says, “now or never, lads.”

“‘s fine, we don’t need it,” Harry starts humming, under his breath, “we’ve got a new slower one, Zayn, we’ll do that. It’s got happier lyrics.”

“It’s-” Niall starts to interrupt, rapidly trying to think if there’s anything Zayn would object to them singing to Laser, but Harry’s already singing at that point, so Niall joins in, watches as Laser’s eyes eventually close, his little mouth going slack as they sing.

**

Niall’s sitting in his pants with his guitar in Harry’s hotel room, still damp from his shower and dicking around, when Harry comes out of the bathroom in a billowing cloud of steam.

“Niall,” Harry’s got his hand on his hips, a towel wrapped around his head and nowhere else, Niall very studiously trying not to look at his prick. “Why’d you run out of the shower? I had plans.”

“I know you had plans,” Niall laughs, playing a quick riff while Harry glowers at him, “but you were taking so long that I was pruning up, thought I was going to choke on the steam in there.”

“I was enjoying our lovely hot shower,” Harry frowns, “see if I take a shower with you again.”

“Harry,” Niall points out, trying not to laugh, “you made me wash and condition your hair, all with the promise of making me come so hard I’d forget my fecking name, I believe is what you said.”

“I can’t help it if Lou told me it’s better if I leave the conditioner on for a few minutes,” Harry’s got his arms fully crossed over his chest now, Niall unable to take him seriously.

“I was all ready for ya,” Niall shakes his head, “hard and leaking just for you, and you told me to wait.”

“Patience is a virtue, Niall,” Harry at least takes off the ridiculous towel from his hair then, rubbing it vigorously so it falls in his eyes. Niall hates how the sight of it, Harry with his kit off and dripping hair, makes his dick twitch in his pants.

“If I get too soggy it makes my callouses weird,” Niall shrugs, playing again when Harry bends over his case to get a pair of pants. “If this room was burning,” Niall starts singing, turning the synth into a folksy riff, “I wouldn’t even notice.”

“Hold up,” Harry stands, dropping the pants and coming to sit on the edge of the bed, “Niall.”

“What? It was a compliment,” Niall tries to play it again.

“It sounded wicked.” Harry’s eyes are wide, “maybe if you-” he hums a bit of the first verse, Niall picking up what he’s saying and playing it back. “Shit, Niall.”

“Sick, yeah,” Niall straightens up in the chair, scooting closer to the edge so he can lean forward into Harry’s knees. “What if we added a like,” he plays the beginning again.

“Yeah, and we could even rearrange it so it sounds like,” Harry’s fully excited now, his hair dripping onto Niall’s arm as he leans forward, humming again.

“If we did something like this,” Niall strums carefully, “we could finally add a direction song to our set, give the people what they want.”

“It’ll shut Louis and Liam up as well,” Harry’s eyes are so wide, it makes Niall’s chest go tight.

“It’s all upside,” Niall plays the beginning again, “alright, let’s figure this out.”

It’s hours later when they finally find it and play it over a few times, like they turned “Little White Lies” into a slow folk song that sets Niall right on edge. He realizes suddenly when they’re halfway through playing it one last time that Harry’s still got his kit off, sprawled out on the bed with his legs spread wide, singing at the ceiling It makes him fumble on what he’s playing, Harry grinning over at him when he picks it back up.

Niall hopes that he doesn’t damage his guitar when he chucks it to the side the second they finish, crawling on top of Harry and kissing him before he can say anything else, take the piss or tell Niall some story about a day dream he had in the shower. Harry groans into Niall’s mouth when he licks inside, rocking up and running his hands down over the curve of Niall’s arse, pulling his pants down in the process.

“Off,” Harry orders, his eyes dark and a smile playing on his lips when Niall looks down, kicks at his pants so they fall on the floor. It’s mental, how much Niall wants, not sure if he wants to suck Harry off or drive him mad with just his hand, or if-

“Hold still,” Niall whispers into Harry’s neck, rocking down into him so their cocks slide together, “gotta get some stuff.”

He stumbles off the bed, digging through Harry’s suitcase for the lube he knows Harry put in his bag. It feels like it’s taking forever, especially when he glances over his shoulder at Harry, who’s stroking himself lazily, fisting tight over the head of his cock.

“Got it,” Niall stops himself from pumping his fist, like finding the bloody lube is a sign of victory. He climbs back on the bed, Harry’s hand and the head of his cock bumping against Niall’s abs when he stretches out over Harry to kiss him.

“Hiiii,” Harry says, his eyes half closed and a dumbshit smile on his face. “What d’you got planned for me?”

“Something you’ll like,” Niall wants to see Harry fall apart, is the thing, having spent the last couple of hours building up to something big.

“Good, ‘cause there’s a lot of things I like,” Harry looks down as Niall drizzles some lube over his fingers, “and that is my favorite, right now.”

“‘s only your favorite because it’s what’s happening right now,” Niall mumbles, nudging Harry’s thigh to the side and stroking him a couple of times before he teases his fingers against Harry’s arse.

“Doesn’t make it any less important, ‘m just living in the moment,” Harry gasps, his hips rotating slowly when Niall presses forward, going slow. “It’s a good moment.”

“Stuff it,” Niall mumbles, leaning forward to push Harry’s still damp curls off of his forehead so he can press his lips there as he works him open, Harry pushing back against his fingers as soon as Niall curls them, trying to find the right angle to drive Harry mad.

“Wait,” Harry says, when Niall’s three fingers in and about to wrap his hand around Harry’s prick.

“Is it okay? Did I-” Niall stills his fingers, Harry still pushing his hips against his hand.

“No, I just,” Harry shakes his head, laughs, “was thinking, you could fuck me, maybe?”

“Do you want me to?” Niall tries not to think about how tight Harry feels on just three of his fingers, afraid he might black out if he dwells on it too much.

“Why not?” Harry shrugs, then laughs again, sounding slightly broken, “I mean, I’m asking you to, Niall.”

“Fuck,” Niall curls his fingers again just to hear Harry gasp, make him relax a bit. “I, okay.”

“I feel like,” Harry takes a deep breath, spreading his legs wider, “I feel like, ready for it.”

“Shit, I’ll get-” Niall doesn’t move his hand, “you’ve got condoms in your case?”

“No, I used my last one when we pulled,” Harry shakes his head, grips at Niall’s forearm to press his fingers deeper, eyes looking wild.

“I have some in my room, I could,” Niall starts, trying to figure out how he could possibly make himself decent enough to go out into the hall, “maybe I make you come like this, finish, and I can fuck you later?” Niall could laugh for ages at how hopeful his own voice sounds to his ears.

“It’s okay, like,” Harry takes a deep breath, sounding shaky, “I’m okay without? I trust you.”

“Fuck, are you-” Niall doesn’t know how, but he’s already leaning forward then, kissing Harry slow and deep, fucking his tongue around Harry’s until they’re both breathless.

“Do it,” Harry whispers, and Niall forces himself to take a deep breath and collect himself, pulling his fingers out carefully and watching Harry’s face as he runs a lubed up hand over his cock, Harry’s eyes meeting his. Harry nods, giving Niall a grin suddenly, and Niall lines himself up with Harry’s leg wrapped around him, pushing forward before he says something odd.

It’s tight, Niall not sure how it’ll even work, but then he leans forward out of instinct to kiss Harry softly and something gives then, maybe they both relax at the same time, but then he’s pushing in properly, Harry biting down on Niall’s bottom lip hard once Niall’s hips settle fully against Harry’s skin.

“Niall, shit,” Harry’s looking up at him, mouth working like he’s not sure what to say, so unlike Harry that Niall presses a comforting hand to the side of Harry’s chest, feeling his ribs expand as he breathes, slowly. Niall’s not sure how he manages, but he waits for what feels like a bloody eternity before Harry’s nodding, Niall starting to move.

“You’re so,” Niall says, pulling out almost all of the way, experimentally, before thrusting back in, doing it a few times from different angles before he finds the one that’s got Harry reaching for his own cock, pulling himself off in time with Niall’s thrusts. He’s so hot like this, tight and clenching heat around Niall’s cock, and Niall knows he’s not about to set any world records as he speeds up, paying attention to the timing of Harry’s hand, trying to match it so it feels as good as possible for him.

Harry’s gone completely silent, his mouth falling open and his hair falling in his eyes, and he doesn’t make a sound until it’s like his whole body seizes up for a second, Niall feeling him coming at the same time Harry says his name, so loud that Niall covers his mouth to muffle it, because hearing the tone of it feels like too much.

It’s overwhelming, and Niall thinks for half a second about pulling out so he can come on Harry’s stomach when it’s too late, his thrusts gone erratic by half as he pushes in twice more, coming hard, a feeling like it might not end.

“Harry, jesus,” Niall whispers, unsure what to do as he holds himself carefully over Harry, Harry’s hands rubbing small circles over his back. It’s too much, Niall feeling too sensitive, so he pulls out carefully, Harry swearing softly under his breath when he does.

“Well,” Harry says, his voice low, as he tangles his fingers in Niall’s hair, “that was a success.”

“How do you...you alright?” Niall’s not sure how to ask, wants to laugh at how good he bloody feels.

“It feels,” Harry shifts, face screwed up like he’s figuring out how he feels, “weird. But good?”

“That’s good?” Niall’s not sure, but then Harry’s turning to him, kissing him open mouthed.

“Help me think of a better word for good, would you?” He laughs into Niall’s neck. “Christ, I feel disgusting though. Shower?”

“Yeah, give me a sec.” Niall stares up at the ceiling, reaching for Harry’s hand and tangling their fingers together.

“Oh, I meant like, the very near future, don’t think my legs’ll work at the mo.” Harry laughs again. “If you ask me real nice, Nialler, I’ll wash your hair this time.”

&&&

“Felt rushed on that last one,” Niall’s saying as they leave the stage, his mouth right against Harry’s ear. Harry’s shirt’s soaked through at the back, the heat in this venue cranked all the way up. The snow’s halfway up his shins outside and still falling; Harry can’t believe anyone’d come to the show tonight.

He strips off his shirt before they’ve even made it to their dressing room, grinning at the way Niall stumbles over what he’s saying.

“Sorry,” Harry says, chucking his shirt on the floor and closing the door behind them, “was a bit distracted, I think.”

Niall’s shirt’s soaked through, too, clinging to his chest in spots, the collar wonky from where he’d pulled at it during the show. There’s a faded mark just on the inside of his misshapen neckline that Harry hasn’t been able to stop staring at, all sorts of memories surging up at the most inopportune times.

“That so?” Niall smirks and Harry realizes he’s gotten distracted again, nodding dumbly as Niall crosses the small space, crowding him up against the wall. This whole place is cinderblock, too hot and too cold at the same, Harry gasping at the contrast. “Timing is everything, Haz.” Niall’s voice is low and rough, enough to make Harry want to whine at the way Niall’s holding himself so carefully, caging Harry in but still refusing to touch him.

Harry pictures Niall above him, fucking him, and even though it was only in the last city it feels like it’s been longer. Harry hasn’t been able to stop thinking about it since, everything else fading into the background.

“Ni, c’mon.” Harry tugs Niall’s waist, relieved when Niall stops resisting and kisses him, slotting their legs together as he presses Harry against the wall, both of them getting lost in it. He’s squeezing Niall’s shoulder, angling for a quick post-show BJ to take the edge off, when there’s a knock on the door, louder and more insistent than usual.

“Sorry, boys,” Al says, “but the roads are getting bad. Time to get a move on.”

Niall palms Harry’s cock, laughing cruelly at the desperate noise Harry makes. “It’s like, a ten minute car ride to the hotel.”

“Al’ll spot us five minutes,” Harry thrusts his hips a bit, still hoping.

“Tell you what.” Niall takes his hand away, drags his fingernail along the outline of one of Harry’s fern tattoos instead. “We leave now, I’ll make it worth your while.”

He looks up at Harry, one eyebrow raised, lip caught between his teeth, and suddenly Harry doesn’t care, he’ll go out in the snow dressed like this for fuck’s sake, anything to be back at the hotel as fast as humanly possible, doing whatever the fuck it is Niall has in mind.

**

“That was not ten minutes,” is the first thing Harry says, Niall pulling him into his hotel room, hanging the Do Not Disturb sign and flipping the latch.

“So sorry about the cockblocking snowstorm,” Niall says, not sounding sorry at all. “What did you want me to do, get out and drive the plow meself?”

“I wanted you to blow me at the venue.”

“Was that what you were getting at?” Niall feigns surprise, his fingers already undoing Harry’s flies. “Should’ve been less subtle.” Niall leaves his fingers hooked into the waistband of Harry’s pants when he leans in, his mouth so close to Harry’s ear it’s like they’re on stage. It sends Harry’s heartbeat into a frenzy, the slow drag of Niall’s knuckles against his skin, Niall’s lips brushing Harry’s earlobe. “Could’ve multitasked, blown you in the back of the car. Al was real focused on the drive, he probably wouldn’t’ve noticed. You would’ve had to stay quiet though, and I don’t think -- could you do that, Haz? Stay completely silent?”

“Jesus fuck, Ni,” Harry grits out, hearing how ragged his breathing sounds. He can feel the curve of Niall’s smile against his jaw and even that is maddening, everything hanging in mid-air between them. Harry’s half hard and Niall’s not even touched him. “Would you just --”

“What?”

Harry kisses Niall to get rid of his shit-eating grin, loving the way Niall groans into his mouth. Niall’s hard, too, and Harry hauls him closer, trying to fit their hips together so he can finally get some friction, only Niall’s hands are still trapped between them, half tucked into Harry’s pants, and everything goes tits-up and tangled, Niall laughing uncontrollably.

Niall.” Harry tries to get their limbs sorted, pushing Niall backwards until he’s splayed on the bed, pulling his kit off. That’s better. Forward progress. Harry shucks his own clothes before settling mostly on top of Niall, guiding Niall’s hand around his prick as he kisses him.

“Promise to make it worth my while and then torture me,” Harry says, biting at Niall’s shoulder, careful not to leave a mark.

“Things -- fuck,” Niall’s hips jerk when Harry circles his thumb around the head of Niall’s cock, “things got a little off-course. Was gonna -- “ Niall sucks in a sharp breath.

“What?” Harry asks, when it seems like Niall’s stalled.

“Wanted to fuck --”

“Yes, brilliant,” Harry says immediately, sitting up, trying to remember if he chucked the lube in the nightstand drawer yesterday, Niall laughing quietly when Harry finds it and tosses it in Niall’s direction, a condom following right behind.

“Was gonna say me,” Niall says, “but this works, too.”

“Wait," Harry freezes, looking back over his shoulder at Niall.

Niall shrugs. "It's cool."

"Niall," Harry feels like he's losing it a little, his cock twitching at the thought.

“No, it's fine," Niall says as Harry tries to take the lube back, "if you want it --” Niall twists, trying to squirm out of Harry’s reach, the two of them grappling until Harry gets the advantage, his knees digging into Niall's sides, Niall's arms pinned over his head.

"I win," Harry says, leaning down to kiss Niall, licking into his mouth, swallowing any response Niall might have.

"Fuck, Haz, c'mon," Niall says eventually, squirming under the weight of Harry's body. "I don't care anymore just -- fuck."

Harry scoots backwards, settling between Niall's legs, pushing his knee out a bit for a better angle. Trying not to think of this as anything different from any other night, Niall making the same sounds as always when Harry pushes his finger in.

"Shitting fuck," Niall stutters out, his hips twitching when Harry adds a third finger at the same time as he readjusts his position so get his mouth on Niall's prick. "That's -- fuck, that's unfair, Haz." Niall's hands land in his hair, fingers tugging slightly, but Harry knows the difference between Niall's regular grip and his you-gotta-pull-off hair pulling. Harry fights the urge to rub his cock against the sheets, not even to take the edge off.

"Harry, c'mon," Niall's babbling soon enough, his fingers digging into Harry's scalp, his thighs trembling a bit.

"Yeah?" Harry asks, pulling off.

Niall nods, squirming back against Harry's fingers, his mouth opening and closing like he's forgotten all words. Harry stretches all the way up to kiss him, feeling like he's half a second from falling off the edge of a cliff, needing something to tether him.

"C'mon," Niall says again, breathless, and Harry kisses him one last time before shifting back, carefully sliding his fingers out and reaching for the condom.

"It's easier, yeah?" he says as Niall watches, "less..."

"Haz." It sounds loaded, wrecked and yet fond in the way Niall rolls his eyes, Harry finding himself chuckling as he slicks himself up, shuffling a bit and then Niall's pressing his lips together, holding his breath as Harry pushes in. Harry holds his breath, too, trying to stay still despite the urge to fuck deep into Niall.

"Jesus," he breathes out, watching the way Niall clutches at the sheets, remembering exactly how it felt in the first minute of Niall fucking him, feeling so overwhelmingly hot and full and desperate that he was sure he was going to pass out. It feels like a lifetime before Niall shifts, giving Harry the go-ahead to move.

"Motherfucker," Niall arches when Harry finally finds a good angle, his hand flying to his cock so he can jack himself off in time to Harry's thrusts. Harry doesn't know where to look, feels overstimulated by everything, Niall's head thrown back, the bright red spreading across his chest, his hand fisting over his prick. It's all too much. Harry's coming before he knows what hit him, thrusting deep into Niall as he does. Niall curses again, makes this desperate sound that has Harry's cock twitching one last time, and then Niall's coming, too, and Harry's sure he'll never get his breath back.

Harry moves slowly in the aftermath, everything feeling like slogging through jelly, Niall wincing as he pulls out.

“D’you want,” Harry starts, tying off the condom, but Niall’s swatting at him, making a shushing noise.

“‘m never movin’ again,” he says, his accent thick, “just -- “

It takes Harry a moment to figure out Niall’s not swatting him away but trying to get Harry to come closer, lie down for a cuddle. Harry fishes someone’s shirt off the floor and wipes at the spunk on Niall’s chest before curling up next to him, all the life draining out of him as soon as Niall’s fingers scratch at the base of his skull, never moving seeming like the second best idea Niall’s ever had.

&&&

“We have a special treat for you guys tonight,” Harry says, catching Niall’s eye as a gasp goes through the crowd. “It’s not like, I know what you’re thinking and it’s not anything like that --”

“No special guests,” Niall tells them, shading his eyes so he can see the front rows, not too many people looking disappointed to hear it.

“No, just us Stylan lads,” Harry laughs at himself while Niall tunes his guitar, “and a new song -- well, not a new song, some of you’ve probably heard it before -- it’s not a guessing game,” he yells, one hand on his hip as people start yelling One Direction songs at them. “Anyway, we’ve not played this one in public before so it’s a first for us. And you as well. The world premiere -- “

“Haz,” Niall interrupts, certain that if he doesn’t Harry will go on for another ten minutes, playing the opening chords to “Strong” just to throw everyone off, the stage vibrating when their excitement kicks up another notch, “Shall we?”

He winks when Harry nods and then launches into their new version of “Little White Lies,” the audience so floored the changes that they go nearly silent at the start. They’ve picked it up by the second pass at the chorus, though, and Niall thinks maybe that’s his favorite thing, having a room full of people sing his songs with him. He almost wishes they’d saved this for New York, let Liam and Louis hear it live for the first time, instead of through Twitter or YouTube or wherever, so they could feel this bursting pride, too.

Maybe it’s because he’s lost in his own head, caught up in the moment, but he doesn’t turn to Haz until the bridge, and even then it’s only because he notices Harry turning out of the corner of his eye.

“I know you want it,” Harry’s singing, slow and low just like they’d planned, opposite of the way Zayn used to, Harry’s lower register sparking a fire deep in Niall’s gut. He looks at Niall directly, a gleam in his eye as he slides his hand down his torso, fully palming his cock as he sings, “I know you feel it too,” his whole body moving with it.

It’s muscle memory that keeps Niall playing while Harry winks at him, the screams from the audience so deafening it drowns out the rest of the bridge. Niall sends up a silent prayer that he’s got his guitar in front of him. The videos that end up on the internet are going to be bad enough, he doesn’t need people speculating about whether or not he’s sporting wood.

They should’ve saved this for the fecking encore. He doesn’t want to be on stage any longer.

**

“That was unreal,” Harry says, still laughing as Niall leads him into the dressing room by the open sides of his button-down, “we should play that every night.”

“I swear t’ God, Hazza,” he kicks the door shut, locking it just in case, “s’like you’re tryin’ to kill me.”

“But,” Harry starts, only to stop when Niall surges forward so he can kiss Harry exactly the way he’d wanted to on stage, licking into his mouth without any preamble, loving the way Harry goes pliant immediately, moaning into Niall’s mouth. Niall’s not been hard since the song but it’s come back with a vengeance, Harry gasping as Niall rocks into him.

“Knew you’d like that,” Harry says, palming Niall’s cock the same way he’d done his own.

Niall can only curse in response, his hips jerking as Harry squeezes, a smirk on his face that Niall loves and hates in equal measure.

“Haz,” he says, not caring that he sounds pathetic as Harry’s teeth scrape along his pulse point. He really feels like he’s losing it, liable to shoot of in his jeans at this rate.

“Yeah,” Harry says, pushing him a bit, spinning them so Niall’s the one up against the door, Harry kissing him as he makes quick work of Niall’s trousers.

They’ll have more time at the hotel, he knows, and he take his time when they get back there, open Haz up, maybe fuck him, who knows, the world’s their oyster and all that, but now. Now they’re here, and Niall feels like he’s burning up from the inside. It’s a relief when Harry gets his mouth on Niall’s cock, Niall practically sobbing with it, his head thunking back against the door as he tries to breathe, to keep quiet.

His hips jerk and he grits out, “Shit, sorry,” waiting for Harry’s hands to settle on his hips, holding him back. They never do, Harry holding himself still until Niall gets the hint. “Fuck, seriously?”

Harry’s hum is enough to shatter any willpower Niall has left, his hips jerking again and Harry holding steady, his mouth hot and slack. With a shaking hand Niall reaches out, pushing the fringe back from Harry’s face, careful not to pull. “Fuck,” Niall’s control is slipping, they both know, but all Harry does is hum again, that fecking bridge if Niall’s ears aren’t shot to hell, a look in Harry’s eyes that makes Niall’s stomach drop like he’s on a rollercoaster. He curls his fingers tighter in Harry’s hair, a sick sense of glee shooting through him when Harry’s tune breaks into a regular moan. Niall has to shut his eyes against it, try to find his bearings for a brief second, even as his hips keep snapping forward into the slick heat of Harry’s mouth.

“Arsing fu-- “ Niall chokes out, glancing down again losing all sense of the English language. He’s sure it’s only the door keeping him up when he realizes Harry’s got a hand in his own pants, wanking himself. That’s all it takes really, his hips going erratic as he watches, “Hazza, I’m --” and then he’s coming, Harry moving back just enough so he doesn’t choke.

It’s a fucking debilitating sight, Niall ending up slumping against the door as he tries to recover, Harry’s forehead tipped against his knee while he finishes himself off.

“Like I said,” Harry’s voice is hoarse, muffled because he’s speaking into Niall’s thigh, making Niall want to twitch away because he’s still sensitive, “we gotta play that every night.”

Niall clumsily pats Harry’s ear, sound wrecked himself when he says, “Too bad you used your one grope.”

Harry laughs, kisses Niall’s leg, his lips grazing the top of Niall’s scar as he says, “Saved it just for you.”

&&&

The call comes early, both their phones buzzing before the room phone starts ringing, too. Well that’s bloody fantastic, that.

“You didn’t disconnect it?” Niall asks, pillow creases on his face. The room phone stops. Their mobiles don’t; Harry groans, reaching for his, dread filling him up when he sees the screen chockablock with notifications.

They’re all the same, too, STAY IN YOUR ROOMS. CALL ME. from Al every fifteen minutes for the last hour and a half.

“Yours from Al, too?” Niall’s nose is wrinkled up as shows Harry his phone.

“Yup.” He unlocks his phone so he can call, feeling like he owes Al some peace of mind. This is his first time at the rodeo, he’s bound to be bricking it.

“Morning,” he says as soon as Al answers, the room phone starting to ring again.

“Don’t answer that one,” Al says, sounding stressed beyond belief. Harry wonders what time they found out, when they started lining up outside. He can’t hear them yet, so maybe the crowd’s not that large.

“I know,” Harry says, Niall already climbing over him to disconnect the phone. “It’s a bloody miracle this hasn’t happened yet, Al. We almost made it the whole tour.”

“Apparently someone in the hotel tweeted after we checked in?” Al sounds disgusted by the invasion of privacy. “I’ve already spoken with your label. Mr. Payne said they’ll arrange a few more people to come help out but that you two should lay low until the show. Think we’re gonna try to move to the next city tonight instead of tomorrow, but that’s dependent on a few things. They’re working on it.”

“Yeah, alright.”

“Do you want to let Niall know or should I?”

Harry turns to where Niall’s mostly asleep again, his face mashed into the pillow. “I will, we’ll probably just hang out in one of our rooms today, it’s no big deal.” Al’s quiet and Harry feels bad for him, how clearly upset he is that they’ve been found. “Seriously, it used to happen all the time, we’re used to it.”

“I’ll be at the end of the hall by the elevators if you need me,” is all Al says before ringing off. Harry shoves his phone back under his pillow.

“Full lockdown, Ni,” Harry says, Niall’s eyes blinking a few times before he reaches out, taking Harry’s hand, tugging until they’re sharing a pillow. Niall never says anything; Harry falls back to sleep surprisingly quickly.

When he wakes up again it’s slower, like coming up from underwater, Harry needing time to process everything. Like the fact that Niall’s mouth is on his cock. It’s --

“Are there people screaming outside?” he asks, still feeling dopey with sleep, smoothing Niall’s hair over his ears. “I dreamed I was on a train again.”

Niall snorts, a not-entirely unpleasant sensation, if a bit odd, but then he keeps laughing, his teeth scraping, making Harry hiss.

“Ow, careful, pay attention, Niall.”

Niall pulls off completely, sitting up so the blankets off his back and Harry shivers in the sudden cold. “I can’t when you’re being an idiot.”

Harry thrusts his hips up, hopeful, but Niall’s mouth is too far away. Harry’s not sure which end is up right now, caught in that space before he’s fully awake where everything still feels slow and fuzzy.

“Was supposed to get a new tattoo today,” he says sadly, hoping someone’s remembered to call the shop and cancel. He sighs when Niall takes pity and wraps his hand around Harry’s cock.

“Guess you’ll have t’ go tomorrow. Sure they have tattoo shops in Boston,” Niall says, his hand moving so slowly Harry can’t take it, planting his feet on the bed so he can thrust up into Niall’s grip. “Can I get back to business, now?” he asks, pushing his tongue into his cheek obscenely. “You okay to focus?”

“Are you?” Harry grunts, loving the way Niall laughs before ducking down again, guiding Harry’s prick into his mouth, the screaming in the background blending with the rushing in his ears, the quiet noises Niall’s making, everything fitting together like a song.

**

“Thank god we bought more in Detroit, was it?” Niall stretches, arching his back while Harry bins the condom. They’re certainly making the best of this forced isolation, eating room service and shagging like it’s the end of the world. Harry’s legs feel unsteady, like they’re brand new.

“Cleveland, I think,” he says, resisting the urge to bend over and touch his toes. He does it in the shower while Niall has a kip, feeling the burn in his hamstrings as the water beats down on his back. It’s been awhile since he’s done any yoga, he realizes, he’s been too busy doing other things. Doing Niall, really. He laughs to himself, the sound bouncing off the tiles. The acoustics are amazing in here. If they get bored later maybe they can try out one of the newer songs they’re working on. Or maybe Niall can bend him over the sinks and they can both watch in the mirror.

Niall’s still dozing when Harry gets out so he tries to keep quiet as he rifles through his suitcase for clean clothes. Mostly clean clothes. He texts Al while he dresses, lets him know what’s going on.

“All clear?” Niall still sounds completely fucked out, his words slurring.

Harry shakes his head. “Gonna go down, sign some stuff. Maybe they’ll leave.”

Niall blinks at him for a minute, weighing his options, both of them knowing it’s easier on security if they go down separate.

“Put on a better shirt, at least,” Niall says, scrubbing his hand over his face before nodding at the holey vest Harry’s pulled on, “people are gonna know what you’ve been up to all day.”

“Who cares, Niall,” Harry laughs, shrugging at Niall, whose eyes are still at half-mast. “Maybe I want them to,” he says as he’s changing into a new shirt anyway, knowing deep down it’s easier this way.

There’s a knock on the door shortly thereafter. “That’s Al. Back soon,” he says, Niall waving, mostly asleep again as Harry opens the door, pasting a camera-ready smile on his face as he goes.

&&&

“Niall,” Harry beckons him over with just a twitch of his fingers, Niall going easily, “how’s it look?”

Niall tilts his head, watches the tattoo artist work for a moment, Stylan appearing in small block letters on Harry’s skin.

“Sick, Hazza,” he says, watching it take shape, feeling stupid that Harry getting another dumbfuck tattoo is making their whole tour seem more real somehow. For a fleeting second he wants one, too, wants something to commemorate what started as a lark and turned into an actual, full-fledged success. They’re recording a bleeding album for it. It’s mental.

Harry’s fingers twitch again and Niall reaches out, tangling their fingers together. He wasn’t even supposed to go with Haz, but things got all cocked up with the leak and they got bundled off to Boston before they could blink, really. Not that it’s been bad. Niall’s glad to be here. He never really went with the lads when they got inked on tour, only tagged along once in a while if it was everyone going.

“Alright?” he asks, a bit stupidly because it’s nearly done, but Harry’s eyes are glazing over. Part of Niall wants to lean down and kiss Harry right now and he doesn’t know what to do with that feeling, stomps it down and focuses on the way Harry hums instead, squeezing his fingers and holding his breath until the N is finished, wondering how long before it’s okay to take the bandage off and have Niall trace the letters with his tongue.

**

“Everything alright?” Niall asks, watching Harry make increasingly distressed faces at his phone.

“It’s just --“ Harry drags his hand through his hair, the flash of bandage under his gaping collar distracting Niall for a hot second, “you’ve got it, too. It’s about New York.”

Niall rests his hand on top of his phone, trying to decide if he wants to check now or later. Or at all. Harry can respond for both of them, probably, about whatever it is. Niall reaches for his pint instead. They’d stopped in for a drink after Harry’s ink was done, finding the pub empty except a handful of older businessmen on lunch. It’s so deserted Niall’s got an inkling they’ll be staying for a while.

“They’re still looking for a set list,” Harry says eventually, his phone going dark before he sets it down. “It’s like they don’t get it.”

“Probably just want it for like, levels or whatever. Something technical.” Or because Payno’s got mild control issues, but Niall’s feeling kind today. All the way down to how he ignores the sour look Harry shoots him.

“We haven’t ever had a set list.”

“No shit. And we can either tell him that or we can send Payno one and let him figure it out for himself. Excuse me,” Niall stands up, leaning over the back of his seat into the booth behind him, ignoring the way Al’s glaring daggers from across the way, “do either of you have a pen we could borrow?”

One of the men pats his suit pocket before producing one.

“Cheers! Just need it for a minute or so,” Niall grins and sits back down, grabbing a spare cocktail napkin from where they’ve been stuck between the ketchup and mustard. “Ready? I say we start with the Stylan classic, “Bet Your Cock,” yeah?”

He glances over, watching Harry’s blank face, gently kicking him in the shin until he looks up and laughs.

“Next?” Niall asks, eyebrows up while he waits for Harry’s suggestion, the two of them in hysterics as they make up an entire set’s worth of songs with cock subbed into the titles, Niall carefully printing them on the napkin and snapping a photo to send once they’ve finished.

“Lou’d love this if we weren’t his clients,” Harry says while Niall taps out a quick message.

“Pretty sure he still has a list of all our songs with cock in the title somewhere,” Niall agrees, certain that he’d heard him and Zayn cackling over it before a show or twenty. “Had it saved on his phone back in the day.”

Harry laughs, a hint of dimple coming through as he slumps down his seat, finally seeming to settle in, his knees bumping Niall’s under the table. Niall knocks one of Harry’s legs out of the way, stealing back his rightful leg-space and grinning as both their phones light up with new notifications.

Is this real???? is all Liam’s sent back and Harry bursts out laughing, Niall shaking his head.

“Think I should tell him that last one’s a typo, we’re really planning on covering “Story of My Cock?”” Harry asks, grinning.

Niall’s cock fills up at that and he reaches for a drink, downing the rest of his pint before leaning across the table, careful to keep his voice low as he says, “Think we should get the check so I can do that one in person.”

**

“We have one request for this next song,” Harry says at their next show, taking his place at the piano, playing a few notes, “and that’s: if you are going to upload this song anywhere on the internet --”

“We don’t mind,” Niall adds, laughing, already having an idea where this is going.

“No, of course not,” Harry says, laughing too, his back already hunching over the keys like he’s rehearsing the first few bars of the song in his head. “We just ask that you make sure to note the correct title of this song --”

“Put a whatchamacallit in, there, one of those star thingies --

“An asterisk, yes,” Harry shoots Niall a thumbs up over the piano, grinning, and Niall feels too far away from him, “put an asterisk in so it doesn’t get deleted. Hello.”

“Hi,” Niall sits next to Harry on the piano bench, facing backwards so he can still play his guitar when they finally get around to this bleeding song. “Got lonely over there, wanted to have a sit down.”

“Welcome.”

“You done with your speech?”

The audience is laughing at them, a quiet kind of rumble through the crowd.

“Just about.” Harry smiles warmly and Niall has to resist the urge to scoot closer to him. Later, he tells himself. They’ll probably have to wait ages for the crowd to die down, people getting desperate now that the tour’s almost over, making it nearly impossible for him and Haz to duck out early and head to a bar. Now they wait it out for a while and take roundabout drives to their hotels. Niall and Harry have shagged in their fair of dressing rooms lately as a result. It’s… there are silver linings.

“As I was saying,” Harry’s voice booms out, filling the space, “please make sure to note that this song is dedicated to Big Payno. We call it, “Bet Your Cock.””

Niall knows it’s coming but he still can’t help the cackle he lets out as he and Harry start in on the song, the audience laughing right along with him.

**

“That’s you,” Harry pauses their room service order to nod at where Niall’s phone’s buzzing on the floor.

It’s nothing exciting, Niall feeling disappointed as he swipes to his email, finding a request from Tom to move their session from Wednesday to Tuesday. Niall checks his calendar and gets halfway through his response before it hits him: they’re talking about next week.

“Is it bad?” Harry asks, his giant foot prodding Niall’s side to get his attention.

“No, just --” Niall waves his hand, feeling a bit shellshocked, losing his train of thought as he stares at his calendar. There’s a part of him that’s constantly aware of their last show -- they’re recording it, for fuck’s sake, practically every email these days is travel itineraries or info about New York. It’s unavoidable. And yet it hadn’t seemed real, either, this tour going by so fast Niall feels like it’s been no time at all. Usually he’s begging for to end, dead on his feet for the final third.

“Oi,” Harry says, too loud for a whisper, “what room is number is this?”

“604, sir,” Niall hears the bloke on the phone say before Harry apologizes, thanks him, and hangs up.

“Forty minutes. Think that’s enough time?” Harry’s already pulling his kit off, his pants the first thing to go.

“Forty?” Niall asks, feeling like he’s on a delay, his body reacting to Harry wanking while his brain’s still stuck on next week. He shakes his head trying to clear it, watching Harry slick his fingers. That only makes things worse, foggier. “Or fourteen?”

Harry bites down on his own lip hard, hissing as his body contorts. “Forty. C’mon,” his voice goes a bit high on it, “you know the rules, team effort.”

“Forty minutes is a lot of time,” Niall says, leaning over so he can slick his fingers, too.

“S’what you said last time and --” Harry’s mouth falls open as Niall presses one of his fingers alongside Harry’s.

“Still say we won that round,” Niall smooths his free hand over Harry’s ribs, “Came as they were knocking, didn’t I?”

“Doesn’t count,” Harry’s breathing’s getting ragged already, “it’s closest without going over. Price is Right rules.”

They’ve only lost to room service once, Harry refusing to let Niall take his hands off the headboard the whole time, determined to see if Niall could come untouched. Niall’ed barely been able to eat his chips after, he was so boneless. Harry doesn’t count it as a win but Niall sure as fuck does.

“Falling behind,” Harry says, dragging Niall back to the present, a challenging look in his eyes like he really doesn’t think they can do it. Or like he’s playing Niall, trying to rile him up. Either way, it’s working. Niall crooks his finger, grinning at the noise Harry makes, his free hand clutching his pillow.

Niall checks the clock, marking the time just in case. Forty minutes seems like all the time in the world.

&&&

“Nialllllllll,” Harry draws it out, knowing he’s being annoying and not caring. They’ve been sitting in traffic for ages, Niall replying to emails on his iPad while Harry’s forced to stare out the window because his phone’s dead and his iPad’s in the trunk. “Let me use your phone.”

“It’s at six percent, Haz.”

“So?”

The look Niall shoots him is bordering on withering, Harry knowing he’s working Niall’s last nerve.

Harry sighs, scooting over until he’s close enough to rest his head on Niall’s shoulder. They’ve been traveling for hours, feels like, and all Harry wants is a salad, some telly, and a bed. Not necessarily in that order. Niall absentmindedly pats Harry’s knee as he reads what looks like his schedule for the next month.

“Looks like you’ll be busy.” Niall’s got so many emails flagged as important Harry wants to know if there’s any unimportant ones.

“Yeah,” Niall sighs, Harry feeling it instead of hearing it. “You too, right?”

“Jam-packed.” Harry pokes at a rip in Niall’s jeans, watching the way Niall’s skin prickles when he drags his fingernail across it. “Gonna make this tour feel like a right vacation in comparison.”

Niall’s chuckle falls apart when Harry rakes his nails down Niall’s thigh, wondering if Niall’s got a trail of goosepimples all the way down his leg now. He lets the heel of his hand bump Niall’s dick, humming when Niall rocks into it the tiniest bit. He wants to look at Niall’s face, study his reactions, but he doesn’t trust himself with it, keeps his gaze straight ahead as he moves his hand, feeling how Niall’s already half-hard.

“One for the books,” Niall says, so much later that Harry’s forgotten they were even talking. Harry chances a glance sideways, taking in Niall’s bitten lip and the way he’s holding his entire body so rigid. When Harry moves his hand again, Niall’s eyes flutter closed and he shivers.

He wonders how long Niall’ll let it go on for, if Niall’s only allowing it because he’s feeling as reckless as Harry is.

Harry turns back to the window, grinding his hand down as he does. Niall doesn’t make a single sound. Harry doesn’t know if he’s proud or disappointed.

**

New York feels like an entirely different planet, leaves Harry so high-strung that he’s practically vibrating with it. Knows it’s got Niall all revved up too, the two of them bouncing around like it’s 2012 and they’re playing Madison Square Garden.

“Fuck, there, Niall, just like that,” Harry’s panting, his arms shaking with the effort of holding himself upright. Niall pulls his hair as he thrusts in, Harry’s whole body moving with it, and he makes a sound he’s never heard before.

“Jesus Christ, Haz,” Niall says, sounding awed letting go of Harry’s hair so he can reach around and pull Harry off. It’s dry, just this side of painful, and Harry makes that same dying noise when he comes, Niall fucking him through it, everything going sharp and sensitive.

It’s the only thing he can think about when they’re soundchecking, Niall’s eyes going dark when Harry tentatively sits at the piano. He opens his mouth to make a joke about Niall being next, how turnabout is fair play, but then he remembers that there’s no show after this and his jaw snaps shut.

“Alright?” Niall mouths and Harry forces a smile when he nods before turning to ask a sound tech about the microphone placement for the recording.

**

Even the crowd seems more energetic, their pre-show excitement echoing through the bowels of backstage.

“This is it!” Niall yells, drumming on Harry’s back, Harry knowing it’s a concerted effort to psych them both up. Their Philly show a few days ago had been weirdly sedate and while it was a good show, it wouldn’t translate well to an album.

“Three minutes,” someone yells. Harry turns so he can get his hands on Niall’s shoulders for a two-man huddle.

“This is it!” Niall whisper-shouts, his nose centimeters from Harry’s. Harry can smell the mint of his toothpaste. “Last one.”

It’s the first time either of them’s acknowledged it; it makes Harry want to rock back on his heels but he holds steady.

“Best one,” he says, grinning, knowing deep in his bones that this probably will be their best show.

“Best one,” Niall echoes, his eyes sparkling. Harry wants so much in that moment that he can’t pinpoint one thing, just a tidal wave of emotions washing over him as the crowd gets louder and Niall’s thumbs tap on his collarbones.

“Ready?”

Harry and Niall break apart, nodding. The crowd gets even louder.

The show flies by in the same whirlwind as the whole tour, Harry finding finding himself buoyed by the crowd’s energy, by Niall’s energy. It’s the kind of feeling Harry wishes he could bottle, wishes he could put into words so he and Niall could have a song that describes this entire fucking experience.

As soon as it’s over Harry launches himself at Niall, who catches him easily, his arms going around Harry’s waist and spinning them both as they laugh, Harry feeling drunk on it, his ears ringing like they’re never going to stop.

**

The shower in the dressing room was shit, Harry still feeling overly warm as they duck into the car for the afterparty.

“Great show, guys,” Al says, “really knocked it out of the park with that one.”

“Cheers, Al.” Niall sounds tired already. “Can’t believe --” he stops himself.

Harry tugs on the sleeves of his jacket, wanting Niall to finish his sentence and not wanting it in equal measure.

“Can’t believe we go home tomorrow.”

When Harry looks over, Niall’s staring out the window.

“It’s,” he starts, fumbling when Niall turns to look at him, his movements sharp, “it’ll be good to be back. Home, I mean. You know.” He offers Niall a wry smile, trying to make the best of it.

Niall raises his eyebrow sceptically, or maybe it’s just a trick of the light because it’s gone as quickly as Harry thought he saw it appear, Niall’s face normal. Harry has to look away, the vestigial high of the show draining away, leaving him feeling off-kilter.

“Haz?”

When Harry looks over, Niall’s mouth’s twisted sideways and he’s shaking his head like never mind. Like he doesn’t know what to say. Harry doesn’t either, is the problem, doesn’t trust himself not to cock everything up by saying the wrong thing. Everything was going so well and now. Now they’re here and he can’t believe it. Doesn’t know how he never thought this far in advance, that one day they’d have to figure out how to be apart again.

The car stops and they step out to the blinding lights of cameras before they’re ushered inside, Niall getting pulled one way while Harry’s dragged another, John pressing a flute of champagne into his hand.

Harry looks back, hoping to catch Niall’s eye, raise his glass in toast. Someone notices him looking, stops talking to Niall to point in his direction. He lifts his glass, half-smiling, and watches Niall huff a laugh, the corner of his mouth twitching up before lifting his, turning away before he takes a sip.

They spend the rest of the night orbiting each other, like opposite poles of a magnet, Harry acutely aware of Niall’s presence in the room but never getting close enough to touch. Never getting close enough to say anything at all. Harry doesn’t do it on purpose, but he doesn’t do anything to stop it, either. It feels easier this way. Safer.

&&&

Niall’s surprised they manage to stay silent even once they return to Harry’s room, Harry holding the door for Niall to pass by, his hand lingering on Niall’s back as he closes the door, Niall watching him slip the Do Not Disturb on the handle before he does.

“I’m exhausted,” Harry says, crowding Niall up against the wall, next to the bathroom. “Gonna take a shower, try to wake up.”

“Yeah, okay,” Niall takes a look at the time, does the mental math to when they’ll have to leave for the airport in the morning. Wishes that they had thought to change it. He thinks about how Harry’s got a meeting already in two days, how he’s got one himself at the same time.

Harry’s already in the bathroom, flipping the light on and then dimming it when Niall trails behind him. Harry starts the shower and Niall makes quick work of his clothes, his shirt sticking to him as he tosses it to the floor, fumbling with his flies when Harry’s already got his kit off, stepping in to lean back under the spray, leaving the shower door open.

“Harry,” Niall says it once, as he climbs in and presses himself against Harry’s back, reaching around to press his arm against Harry’s chest. Harry tips his head back, his hand pressing at Niall’s forearm. Niall shuffles them so that they’re both equally under the spray of the hot water, tilting his chin up to catch Harry’s mouth with his own, once. Harry kisses him back, his mouth soft, before reaching around Niall for the bottle of shampoo, pouring some into his own hand and then Niall’s, both of them lathering up.

It gets in Niall’s eyes, stings a little, but he turns his head under the water until he can blink clear again, until Harry comes into focus. It’s mad, really, how the two of them are silent and washing themselves separately, Niall used to splitting his head against the wall and the two of them laughing so hard they almost fall over, all tangled up.

After, they both stand in front of the sink, towels slung low over their hips as they brush their teeth. Niall can’t remember the last time he’s felt so in sync with Harry not on stage or when they fuck, following Harry back into the room. When Niall walks up to his case to grab a pair of pants, he stands there for a second, holding the fucking things in his hands, starting to laugh.

“What’re you laughing at?” Harry asks, from across the room. When Niall looks up, Harry’s standing there in the towel, hand rifling through his own case.

“I just,” Niall shakes his head, feeling like he’s gone mental, “my case, it’s here. Never even made it to my own room. Been here for days. Never got there.”

“Niall,” Harry whispers it, his eyes wide and his mouth hanging open.

“Don’t even know if I could tell ya my room number, not even if me life depended on it.”

“Niall,” Harry says again, striding across the room this time and standing so close to Niall they’re not touching, but almost. He takes Niall’s pants from his hand, tossing them back into Niall’s case before his mouth is on Niall’s.

Niall follows Harry’s mouth when he backs up, nearly tripping over their towels when they drop to the floor around their feet, Harry surprising him by spinning at the last minute so Niall bounces with his back flat on the bed, Harry hovering over him, his eyes bright in the dark of the room.

Niall stares up at Harry, waits to see what he’s going to do next, what he might say next, but can’t help himself when he reaches up, arching his back to make contact all the way down their bodies, pressing his fingers carefully to Harry’s chest, running his fingernail lightly over the Stylan there, smiling to himself when Harry groans and drops down onto Niall fully, licking into Niall’s mouth the way he likes.

They kiss for ages like that, slower than Niall thinks they’ve ever done, Harry’s big hands all over the damn place and driving Niall absolutely mad. And where normally Niall would urge him on, tell him to get moving or he’d go wank in the shower or reach for Harry’s prick or flip Harry on his back and get his tongue moving down over his arse, Niall lets it be. Doesn’t want him to stop, doesn’t want him to finish, no matter how hard he gets every time Harry rocks his hips down slow.

And Niall’s not sure why he can’t talk about it, why Harry can’t, why they can’t just get to it. It’s either been a fun fuck over tour, back to business as usual living in places halfway ‘round the world. Or. Niall can’t fecking wrap his head around it all, just wants to move his head to the side so Harry will run his teeth over his collarbone again, shit.

It’s a relief when Harry finally reaches between them to fist Niall’s cock, Niall making a noise he’s not sure he could even identify as his own when Harry runs his thumb over the head, pushing the foreskin back and sweeping it through the wet that’s gathered there already. Niall’s hips jolt off the bed, and he reaches for Harry’s prick so he’ll have something to hold onto, a thought that’s so literal he’s sure that now is the time he’ll break and laugh, ruining whatever’s happening between them.

Harry reaches for the nightstand, coming back with the lube and slicking up his fingers, keeping his gaze on Niall the whole time. It’s unsettling, Niall feeling like he’s about to fucking explode out of his own skin the second Harry touches him again, stretching himself over Niall’s body and hooking Niall’s leg over his hip. He kisses him deeply the second his fingers catch over Niall’s arse, sliding them up and down before he presses them in, Niall moaning into Harry’s mouth.

He’s going slow with the stroke of his fingers, careful, kissing Niall slowly in time before adding a third finger and crooking them, thrusting shallowly until Niall’s got to pull away from his mouth, reaching down for his own prick. Harry’s other hand stops him though, takes his wrist and holds it to the side, circling his fingers to gently cage Niall in his grip.

“Going mad,” Niall finally says, “‘m close.” Harry’s eyes are dark and his movements gentle when he pulls out his fingers. He reaches for the nightstand again, but there’s something in his eyes like he’s hesitating, and Niall gets it, starts nodding and twisting his hand in Harry’s grip. “Go on, Hazza,” Niall says, quiet. “Go on.”

Harry looks over at the clock on the night table. “It’s two in the morning,” is all he says, squeezing his eyes shut against something, Niall’s not sure, but then he’s gathered both of Niall’s wrists in one big hand, Niall raising his arms so Harry can stretch them up, leaning over Niall when he reaches down to slick himself up and push in, Niall urging him on by moving his hips since Harry’s still got his hands held up over his head.

“C’mon,” Niall whispers, “it’ll be half two soon.” Then three, then five, then their alarms will go off and they’ll be in security and Niall will need to get pissed before he can even get on a plane at all, let alone fly back to London. Back to home, he supposes.

Harry nods, pressing his forehead against Niall’s as he thrusts in deep, pushing them both up the bed further. It’s an odd position, closer than they’ve done, tried it a few different ways, Harry draped across his back, both of them on their sides, but this is new, Harry pressed into Niall so close that he’s more rocking into him than a proper fuck, it giving Niall enough friction from having his cock trapped between their bodies that he wonders if he could just come from this. It’s different, having Harry bare inside him, haven’t felt it from this way round, knows now why Harry had hesitated, had wanted it this way.

Harry lets go of Niall’s hands when Niall squirms under his grip, wanting to get his hands on as much of Harry as possible, running his fingers down over Harry’s back, feeling how his callouses catch against Harry’s smooth skin, finally landing at Harry’s arse. He palms it then, feeling the muscles shift under his palms as Harry’s thrusts pick up speed, Niall arching up into the friction of it.

He can tell Harry’s close from the sounds he’s making against Niall’s neck, and Niall lets go of his arse with his left hand, tangling it in Harry’s hair before bringing it round and pushing at Harry’s face until he’s looking at him, thumbing along Harry’s bottom lip until Harry smiles through a groan, finally reaching between them to awkwardly squeeze at the head of Niall’s cock, it all Niall needing to trip over the edge, not prepared for how hard he comes or how it feels when Harry does too, shoving in right on the line of too deep, his prick twitching in pulses inside Niall.

“Jesus,” Niall whispers, really feeling it when Harry slips out of him, not sure how to move or where to go.

“Just Harry,” Harry grins then, sounding breathless, “should get some sleep.”

“Like this?” Niall gestures to the mess on his chest, twists his hips a bit to the side, knowing Harry will understand.

“Hold on,” Harry drags his fingertip through the come on Niall’s chest, looking thoughtful. “Only for you.”

“What-” Niall starts, wondering if Harry’s about to lick him clean, not sure what to do with the fact that the mere thought makes his pulse fucking race, dirty bastard that he is, but then Harry’s rolling off the bed and stumbling into the bathroom, coming back with a damp flannel and cleaning Niall up, careful where Niall’s sensitive before tossing it on the floor and cuddling close.

“Can always sleep on t’ plane,” Niall whispers in the dark, suddenly wishing he hadn’t been a broody fuck and had done their regular post show rundown.

“You won’t properly, so try now for a little,” Harry murmurs into Niall’s shoulder, sounding half gone, “wake me up if you can’t, I’ll sing you a lullabye.”

“Hey Harry,” Niall says, ready to tell him to wake up immediately, like a twat, but Harry’s already drifted off, leaving Niall alone with his thoughts and the ache that’s left inside of him.

**

It’s probably for the best that they have to leave from entirely different terminals, Niall going international and Harry domestic, because it’s been a fucking terrible morning. Both of them back to silent, packing their last minute odds and ends together and waiting for Al at the lobby of the hotel, signing a few autographs for the small group of fans waiting outside.

Al’s got the car waiting at the kerb, Niall standing and facing Harry while he waits for Harry to say something, aware that he thinks he spotted a pap driving slowly by. They’re both standing there like eejits, Niall rocking back on his heels and about to just go inside when Harry reaches out, catches him by the wrist to pull him into a tight hug.

“We did it, Niall,” he whispers, “it really happened.”

“‘course it did,” Niall presses his lips into Harry’s neck as much as he dares, bringing his arm up to cover it a bit, “see you soon, yeah?” The fecking thing is, Niall’s not so sure how soon that will be. It feels like a lie. He’s not used to telling Harry lies.

“Yeah,” Harry pulls back, looking absolutely wrecked, “lemme know when you get in, yeah?”

“I will,” Niall promises, not trusting himself to say any more when Harry nods, walking away quickly and getting in the car, not looking back.

Niall shoulders his bag and heads inside, following the concierge to get fast tracked through security, wonders how soon he’ll be able to get a pint in his hand. His head is throbbing.

**

Niall always forgets how sad his house feels when he comes back from a tour, no matter how long he was gone; it’s worse, now, that Willie’s not around to keep up the house for him. It’s only been a couple of days but Niall still feels like the whole place smells closed off, laying in bed and wondering when the fuck he’s gonna get over his bloody jet lag when his phone goes off.

Even if it wasn’t 3 AM, he’d know who it was.

“Harry,” Niall answers, feeling miserable and excited that he called. Feeling broody as fuck.

“Heyyyy,” Harry sounds way too chipper for someone who just got off of a two month tour, someone who - whatever, Niall can’t think about it because Harry’s already launching into some bullshit story, “so I saw this dog today, right? And it wasn’t that weird because I was having lunch near a dog park, but this dog reminded me a bit of that one Zayn wanted, that one time, and he came right up to me, and-”

Niall sighs, thumbing at the screen so Harry’s on speaker, resting the phone on his chest so he can lay his head back and close his eyes, not paying attention to Harry’s words but letting them wash over him, like, almost like he’s next to him in the room.

“Harry,” he interrupts, once Harry passes the five minute mark, “it’s three in the fucking morning.”

“I know,” is Harry’s response, barely pausing before continuing, something about this bleeding dog and how he tripped over it or something. Niall lets him continue, waiting for that point when he’ll be able to tell by the tone of Harry’s voice that he’s near the end.

“Anyway, so it turns out the dog was fine the whole time!” Harry’s voice drops then, catching Niall off balance, “I miss your fingers, what are you doing right now?”

“Jerking it to your story about a dog,” Niall snorts.

“Really?”

“No.”

“Oh.” Harry pauses. “If you were, though. Not to my story, but like. To my voice.”

“Say something worth jerking it to, and then we’ll talk,” Niall misses him so much it hurts, his dick already filling up at the thought of Harry.

“Found one of your picks in my case,” Harry says, slowly, “got it resting here on my chest.”

“You are a big sop, Styles,” Niall fights the urge to blink, lets himself feel it, give in because he’s alone and Harry’s somewhere in his house in LA and not just in the next room.

“Never said I wasn’t,” Harry’s breath catches on the phone then, and Niall recognizes it, reaching down to free his cock from his pants, running his palm slowly over the head before taking himself in his hand proper, wanking it with purpose.

“What about my fingers do you miss the most?” Niall asks, stilling his hand while he waits for Harry to answer.

Later, when Niall’s wiping jizz off of his stomach and Harry’s snoring in his ear, Niall realizes that he had wanted to try and talk to Harry, figure out what’s going on. He doesn’t bother hanging up, figures he’ll fall asleep better anyway with the noise.

**

“Harry, you paying attention?” Dan’s asking him loudly, jolting Harry from his thoughts.

“Yeah, I’m just,” Harry laughs, shaking his head and not thinking about the selfie Niall’d sent him earlier, him shirtless after a shower, promising more later if ur lucky HAha !!

“It’s hard to get used to life again after tour, I get it,” Dan shrugs, “but you were also gone, so we’ve got a lot to catch up on.”

“Right,” Harry straightens his shoulders, “I’ll be better, I promise.”

“Making me feel like a schoolteacher, when I just wanted your opinion on this,” Dan mutters, Harry laughing.

Later, Harry gets a Jamba Juice and wanders around, enjoying the warm weather after being so cold whenever he was outside for the past few months. He pulls out his phone as he finishes his juice, opening up his weather app to see if it’s cold in London. He dials Niall before he realizes what he’s even doing, a warm breeze ruffling his hair.

“1 AM, should I mark this down as improvement?” Niall’s voice sounds low and tired, it twisting in Harry’s stomach.

“Can’t believe you were sleeping when I was promised another picture.” Harry waits for Niall to laugh, keeps waiting.

“Sorry, I fell asleep,” Niall’s speaking slowly, like he’s choosing his words carefully, “went out with the LIC tonight, might be still a little pissed meself.”

“Seems like as good a reason as any to send me something special,” Harry sits down on a bench, adjusting his sunglasses and hoping that no one spots him while he’s begging Niall for a dick pic.

“I was knackered, Harry, and I have an early meeting,” Niall yawns.

“So do I,” Harry’s starting to feel frustrated, knowing that Niall’s being sulky because of this open ended thing, because Harry’s where he is and Niall’s where he is.

“Have you talked to Lou or Payno?” Niall says then, his breathing evening out a bit.

“No,” Harry reaches over to toss his empty cup in the bin next to him. “Been avoiding it, don’t really want to know what they’ve got planned next.”

“Probably have to sign off on the recording, I’ll give it a couple of days and take care of it.”

“I can do that from here, Niall.” Harry feels too warm now, his phone feeling too hot against the side of his face.

“Know you can,” Niall’s voice is gentle, “but it’s easier if I just stop in and do it, will shut them up quicker. Did you figure out yet, when you’ll have a break there?”

“I’m still sorting things out, to be honest,” Harry hates how his voice sounds, everything quiet on the other end. He wishes he hadn’t rearranged his schedule like this, stacked up for ages, feels like he can’t get out of anything without disappointing a wide range of people.

“Okay.” Niall yawns again, and Harry knows it’s Niall’s fake one he gives when he wants to cut an interview short. “I’m passin’ out over here, though, so we’ll talk tomorrow, yeah?”

“Oh, you have to go?” Harry’s voice breaks, but he covers it up with a cough. “I mean, me too, I should go. Tomorrow.”

Niall’s rung off already, Harry shoving his phone in his back pocket before wandering off to where he left his car.

When he looks at it again, hours later when he’s already about to climb into bed, he sees the message from Niall, a pic with dim lighting like he took it in bed as soon as he rung off.

cock selfie for ur eyes only. destroy after u finish

**

“How did I know that you’d be back to making me breakfast sooner rather than later?” Jeff is laughing at Harry, leaning on the kitchen counter while Harry fries eggs.

“Your guest room missed me, I feel like,” Harry flips an egg onto a plate, just the white for Jeff, “tuck in, I know you said you had to go.”

“What do you have going on today?” Jeff peppers his egg before eating half of it in one go, Harry looking down at his own plate, suddenly feeling less hungry than he did when he woke up and wasn’t alone in his house. How when he turned his head, there wasn’t a handful of Niall’s picks scattered about on the table.

“I’m free this morning, actually,” Harry shrugs, “it’s my like, one day I’ve got this month.”

“Surprised you’re not out at the course,” Jeff finishes his eggs, coming around the counter to set his plate in the sink, Harry waving him away.

“Not in the mood,” is all Harry says, not adding that he feels like it would just make him feel more out of sorts. That, or he’d be a moody sod and end up driving the cart to his place and staring out at nothing.

“Suit yourself,” Jeff shrugs, “hey, you staying again tonight?”

“Dunno,” Harry knows he should go to his house, a part of him hoping Niall will randomly show up there, even though he knows that Niall’s just as booked as he is, not a free day between them for ages.

“Well, just text me and let me know,” Jeff grabs his keys from the table, pausing and looking back at Harry. “You’re alright?”

“Yeah?” Harry hears how it comes out as a question, correcting himself, “yeah, I’m just still winding down after tour, I guess. Was a bit of a weird one.”

“Okay,” Jeff steps out then, calling a farewell over his shoulder as Harry’s left there standing with his cold eggs. He lets out an embarrassing noise, alone in Jeff’s kitchen, when his phone starts buzzing on the table, Niall’s face lighting up the screen.

“Niall Horan,” Harry answers, keeping his voice steady, “to what do I owe this pleasure?”

“Not my prick, for a start,” Niall laughs, and Harry can tell he’s sort of pissed.

“No, because it’s very far away from me,” Harry feels the pout creep into his voice. Knows that he and Niall are couching every conversation about this in some sort of sad long distance love affair between their cocks, but. It’s not totally untrue, really. It’s just not getting a lot done in terms of figuring things. Easier.

“Yeah, it misses you too.” Niall sounds sad, Harry hoping that it’s for show on behalf of his prick and not for himself. He wonders if Niall called for a reason.

“So.”

“Oh,” Niall laughs. Definitely pissed. “Was calling to say, I heard a quick listen of how we sounded, when I went to the offices today.”

“Yeah?” Harry’s been waiting for Louis to send him the tracks, figuring they were still being mixed.

“Rough cut, but yeah.” Niall goes quiet for a moment. “We sounded good. Good together.”

“Well,” Harry weighs his words carefully, looking down at how he’s white knuckling the counter. “Tell me something I don’t already know, Niall.”

“Dunno,” Niall pauses, “it made me wish we hadn’t been such arses about not recording.”

“We didn’t say never,” Harry hopes that Niall doesn’t remember the email they had collectively sent to Liam and Louis stating exactly that.

“I think we did say that, but you can always unsay things, like.” Niall’s voice drops off, sounding muffled.

“Is someone there?” Harry asks, wondering if Niall’s talking to someone else.

“No,” Niall sighs, “erm, I’m on my way out the door though, Eoghan’s organized another do. Think they want to properly celebrate my return to the land of the living.”

“Yeah,” Harry doesn’t know why he says it, “I’m going for a few rounds, got a meeting later with some new production company.”

“It’s a bit later than you normally go, yeah?” Niall sounds hesitant when he asks, and Harry wonders if he’s seeing through his shit lie, swallows against how he knows his voice is going to sound when he speaks again, thick in his throat.

“Was just how it worked out, but,” Harry feels like he needs to ring off immediately, like he’s losing his grip, “have a great time, go celebrate.”

“Yeah,” Niall says, sounding quiet again, “you too.”

Harry hangs up and tosses his phone on the counter, leaning forward and taking a deep breath.

&&&

Niall holds his phone in his hand for a moment after Harry rings off, only setting it down when his microwave beeps at him angrily, reminding him that his bloody leftovers are ready.

**

“You alright, Niall?” Liam’s looking at him with that concerned brow furrow he gets.

“What?” Niall laughs it off, leaning back in his chair and putting his feet up on Liam’s desk, arching an eyebrow when Liam gives him a look. “Listen, you turned this office into a comic book, and these trainers are new. Don’t act all posh.”

“Fine fine,” Liam holds up his hands in surrender. “Really though, you’ve seemed like, I dunno, distant or something lately.”

“It’s post tour, Payno,” Niall lets his head loll back against the slope of the chair, pasting a grin on his face even though he knows Liam will be able to see through it, “you get that.”

“Yeah,” Liam takes a deep breath, steepling his fingers like a prat, “but it’s been a month, and you’ve been avoiding us.”

“Only ‘cause you’re annoying,” Niall keeps his voice light, “and I’ve been busy. Plus,” he gestures to himself, running his hand up and down the length of his legs, “I’m here, aren’t I?”

“Niall,” Liam sounds like he’s on the edge of a lecture, Niall really not in the mood. “Seriously.”

“Seriously,” Niall repeats, rolling his eyes.

“I thought you two had a great tour, is all.” Liam looks put out, Niall feeling bad a beat later.

“We did,” Niall drops his feet from the desk, leaning forward and running his hands through his hair.

“Maybe,” Liam’s hesitant, “it was too good? It’s harder when you’re not wanting it to end, like before we started doing the ones that lasted for ages?”

“Yeah, that’s it,” Niall doesn’t look up, speaking into his hands over his face. It’s the closest he allows himself to saying something to Payno. “Didn’t want it t’ end.”

“You know I could help with that,” Liam’s smooth, that fucker. Niall sits up at his tone, to see him grin as he continues, “UK/European leg?”

“Fuck off,” Niall starts laughing at how Liam’s face falls immediately. “Don’t get me started, Payno.”

“I’m just trying to help,” Liam shrugs.

“Yeah, help yourself.”

“You and Harry,” Liam rolls his eyes when Niall shoots him a look, “fine, Stylan, are a very profitable enterprise for Louis and I. But,” Liam’s gone sincere again, “even if it wasn’t, we’d be, y’know, with you.”

“You are such a twat,” Niall shakes his head, tries not to think about anything Liam said about a tour. “C’mon, let’s go get some lunch.”

“Okay,” Liam comes around the desk, slinging his arm around Niall’s shoulder, “but promise me you’ll talk to Harry about it. You can convince him to do anything.”

**

Niall’s halfway through fixing a song that Danny’d sent him when he hears his phone go off with a message in the other room. He thinks it might be Harry, and when he looks at the clock and sees how late it is he knows for sure, because Harry’s the only person sending him anything at half three, ever. Niall hesitates, his fingers paused on his guitar, torn between not wanting to disrupt his flow and seeing whatever Harry’s sent. It’s been harder the last week, feels like he and Harry are on completely opposite schedules even worse than usual. It’s driving him more than a bit mad, to be honest.

Fuck it. Niall sets down his guitar, stretching and adjusting his pants as he walks over to where he’s left his phone in the middle of his bed. When he picks it up, he sees that Harry sent a video with the message new song! send all opinions!!

Niall tries to find his earphones so he’ll be able to hear it, knowing that Harry’s shit at recording a video, somehow always managing to cover part of his mic with his hand. He’s been meaning to ask Harry the last couple of times they’ve talked if it’s been weird for him too, not writing together. How he’s gotten used to a certain way.

Finally finding and plugging in his earphones, Niall settles back on the bed, thumbing at the video and pressing play.

“Hiiiiiiii,” Harry starts, the camera angle awkward as he holds it up, all Niall can see is his mess of hair and the tops of his shoulders, not surprised that it looks like Harry’s missing his vest. It’s been long enough since he’s seen him that it stirs up something in Niall’s stomach, makes him shift his hips. The camera moves again then, and Niall thinks he can see a guitar in Harry’s lap.

“This is a song,” Harry’s saying very seriously into the camera, “that I wrote just for you, so don’t share it with anyone, ‘kay? I didn’t even put it in the cloud, Niall.”

Niall laughs to himself because Harry’s such an idiot, nodding his head when Harry strums, once, then leaning forward to press at something, their version of “Little White Lies” suddenly playing in the background.

“What the fuck?” Niall says, out loud, then struck dumb when Harry’s face is in the camera again, sticking his tongue out to the side before the screen is angled down, the guitar out of Harry’s lap, and - oh.

Harry’s kit is off and he’s hard already, his hand coming down to stroke his cock firmly, the head looking shiny in the dim light of the video. Niall’s hips shift down the bed immediately, doesn’t realize he’s got his hand in his pants until he almost drops the phone, gasping as he mirrors Harry’s movements. Shit.

It seems like Harry was having the same problem as he filmed, the angle sometimes cutting over too hard as Niall knows he’s getting closer, getting a glimpse of Harry’s thigh for a second before his cock comes back into view. Niall’s almost there, gritting his teeth against it, when the camera swings around and Harry’s face is back on the screen, looking flushed with his lip caught between his teeth.

“First time director,” he gasps, eyes closing briefly as Niall squeezes at the base of his own cock, trying to hold out until Harry’s done, “so I’m sorry if I’m not up to Oscar nominated best documentary status yet.” He grins then, biting at his lip again before the camera angles back down, Niall’s vision blurring when Harry comes, Niall following him over and nearly coming all over his phone when he drops his hand, tossing it over on the other side of the bed to save it.

It takes him a minute, laying there and catching his breath as he listens carefully. He can’t hear anything, figures Harry ended the video in much the same way. Fuck. When he can trust his legs again, he pads over to the bathroom, cleaning himself up and looking at how pale his face looks in the mirror, ruined completely by some dumbshit wank video.

He grabs his phone as soon as he’s back in the room, dialing Harry immediately.

“Got some opinions for me, Niall?” Is how Harry answers, and Niall can tell that he’s by his pool, can hear the splash of the waterfall in the background.

“I think that it’s the best movie I’ve ever seen,” Niall laughs, unable to stop himself at Harry’s cheeky tone, “The Wanktanic, coming soon to a theatre near me.”

“And only you,” Harry’s tone goes dark. “I was super careful.”

“You better be, your face was all over that.”

“Was that your favorite part, Niall?” Harry’s tone is teasing. “My face?”

“Your face was a great supporting part,” Niall walks his fingers up and down his thigh, “but your cock is what really gets all the awards.”

“It’s really pleased to hear you say that, Niall.” Harry’s grabbing at it, Niall can tell by how his breath catches at the end, “but. I dunno. Something I wanted to do.”

“Good instinct, that.”

“Yeah.” Harry’s voice has gone soft now, and Niall can feel the frustration creep up despite the fact he just came.

“We need to,” Niall starts, as Harry’s talking at the same time. “No, go ahead.”

“Was just gonna say, Niall, that I miss you.”

“Not my prick?” Niall holds his breath, tracing at his scar now.

“Well, it’s part of you, so like. It’s a package deal. But if I’m being honest,” Harry laughs, “I can talk to you over the phone, but you can’t fuck me over the phone.”

“Jesus fuck, Haz.”

“What? It’s just a fact!”

“You know what?” Niall’s at the end of it, knows that they’ll never figure anything out at this rate past being desperate for a shag, “Maybe I can switch some shit around, come out t’ see you. This is mad, what we’re doing now.”

“No.” Harry says it so immediately that Niall’s stomach sinks.

“Oh.” Niall can’t hide the disappointment that creeps into his voice.

“Oh!” Harry’s talking fast then, “I don’t mean, no, I mean, I already booked a ticket, I’ll be there next week.”

“What the fuck, Harry, were you planning on telling me?” Niall knows he sounds cross, feels even crosser.

“I did, which is why I just told you?”

“That is not what I meant, you knob.”

“I figured,” Harry says evenly, “that it’s better for me to come to you, since we have some stuff to finalize with the album.”

“Right,” Niall echoes, “the album.”

“Don’t have a strop, Niall,” Harry laughs, “I know something you can watch anyway, to make you feel better?”

“Already deleted it,” Niall says, feeling himself smile when Harry sputters on the other end.

&&&

“Please don’t tell me you’ve got your knob out in the back of a cab.”

“You make it sound like it’s every call, Niall. What kind of girl do you think I am?”

“The perverted kind,” Niall laughs, the same half-hearted one he’s had since they were in New York. Harry hates it. “You’re still coming straight here, yeah?”

“Unless you’ve got plans.” Harry drags his finger the condensation on the car window, London still wet and cool even this late in the spring.

“Don’t be a twat.”

“‘m not!” Harry rubs his fist over the stick figures he’d drawn. “Just feel badly, flying into town without checking your schedule first.” He doesn’t want to say that he’s dreading this visit a little, Niall probably understanding that already. They just left everything open in New York and then their time apart was such shit and now, well. Harry’s back to not knowing what to say.

“Oh, now you feel bad? After years of friendship and complete disregard --”

“I always had some regard, this is slander.”

Niall snorts. “I’ve got some shit to do, unexpected house guests and all --”

“I gave you a week’s notice.”

“It was four days, but ta. Buzz me when youre here, same as always, yeah?”

“Yeah.” Harry’s sure it’s not the same as always but, “Shouldn’t be long now.”

Niall rings off without saying anything else and Harry’s left with that knot in his stomach that he’s had ever since he boarded the plane.

**

The knot gets smaller when Niall lets him in, Harry dropping his bags and hugging him immediately.

“How was the flight?” Niall asks, his mouth mashed into Harry’s shoulder.

Harry shrugs. “Fine, you know. Long. Slept a bit.”

Niall nods and motions for Harry to follow him, them ending up in the kitchen as Niall pulls out a couple lagers. It’s nine AM in LA but Harry takes one anyway, grateful for something to do with his hands as he and Niall stand at opposite ends of the island. This was the part Harry was dreading. The waiting and the quiet. He watches the way Niall’s holding himself, trying to take his cues from him. But Niall is so, so still and that makes Harry fidget even more.

“Liam wants us to do a second tour,” Niall blurts out.

Harry nods. “Okay.” He assumed they would.

“Europe this time.”

“Same conditions?”

Niall shrugs. “Probably. Don’t know how much we can fight them on like, not recording. Or no press, but.” He drums his fingers on the bench and Harry can’t stop looking at them, thinking about the way Niall’s callouses feel.

“When?” Harry can’t believe they’re talking about this, out of everything. It feels like a farce.

“When our schedules --”

“I think we should do it,” Harry cuts him off, Niall’s jaw snapping shut.

“What?”

“I -- why not?” Harry sets his bottle down and spreads his hands out, staring at his rings. “The last tour was... I dunno Niall, you were there. I never wanted it to end and now you’re here and I’m back in LA and,” Harry takes a deep breath, trying to reign himself in. When he looks up, Niall’s mouth’s open like he’s floored. Harry laughs quietly, shrugging. “If a second tour gets us and our pricks in the same time zone for a few months then I think we should do it.”

“What if our dicks are in one time zone and we’re in another?”

“That sounds like a tragic accident and I hope the authorities are investigating.”

Niall laughs, his real laugh and something in Harry’s gut swells up like a balloon.

“So we’re doing this?” Niall starts walking around the island, Harry moving to meet him halfway.

“Which this? The tour? This?” Harry points between the two of them. “Walking around your kitchen in a circle?”

“Jesus,” Niall shakes his head, “Can’t believe I let you put that mouth on my cock.”

“You loved it.”

Niall runs his thumb along the swell of Harry’s lip. “Most of the time.”

“Oi!” Niall kisses him before he can protest any more, licking into Harry’s mouth, kissing him until he’s dizzy from it, his hands fisted in Niall’s shirt like it’s the only thing keeping him upright.

They’re both panting when they break apart, a flush high on Niall’s cheeks. Harry missed him so fucking much.

“Should we call Zayn and see if we can go see Laser now?”

“Shut the fuck up,” Niall says, laughing, Harry already sliding his hands into the back of Niall’s pants, pulling Niall even closer.

&&&

Niall’s still stuck on Harry being in London, Harry agreeing to a new tour, Harry in his fecking bed. It’d give him whiplash if things hadn’t happened so slowly Niall was already going out of his mind with it.

“Honestly, Niall, you can’t find anything in this drawer. What would Maura say?”

“I’d hope to fuck she never looks in that drawer, Haz.” The thought alone is mortifying, Harry pointing and laughing when Niall flushes. “Jesus Christ, would you get a move on?” He elbows Harry out of the way, sending him sprawling on his back on the bed, still damp in spots. The sight alone makes Niall’s cock twitch; he’s basically been half-hard since Harry walked in the door. Had had to fight with every bone in his body not to drop to his knees and blow Harry in the shower, the only thing getting him through the promise of this.

He finds everything in the mess Harry’s made of the drawer, dropping it on the bed before crawling up, settling astride Harry’s legs and kissing him, trying to take his time with it. They’ve got nowhere else to be.

“Missed this,” he murmurs, Harry humming. “Missed you.”

Harry’s hands sweep over the planes of Niall’s shoulders, his hips rocking up, making Niall realize just how much he’s missed everything. His hand isn’t enough, no matter how many visual aids he has. He ducks his head so he can mouth at the Stylan on Harry’s chest and then keeps going, scooting backwards so he can trace his tongue along the outline of the moth.

“Fuck, thought about this all the time, Nialler.”

“Yeah?” Niall hooks his fingers into the waistband of Harry’s pants, easing them over his cock and down his legs, Harry helping kick them off. “Thought about my tongue on your tattoos?”

“And other things.” Harry lifts his hips pointedly.

“Like what?” Niall plays dumb, avoiding Harry’s cock to lick over the Brasil! on Harry’s thigh, smiling when he feels Harry’s whole leg twitch.

“My elbow,” Harry says sarcastically, grinning when Niall laughs despite himself. Niall scrapes his teeth against Harry’s thigh, rakes his nails down Harry’s opposite leg in a way he knows drives Harry crazy. Sure enough when he looks up, Harry’s got his palm circling the head of his cock like he’s about to start wanking himself. Niall bites back a groan, digging the heel of his hand into his own cock for a second before he recovers.

“I thought patience was a virtue,” he says, catching Harry’s wrist and pinning it to the mattress.

“Been patient for weeks,” Harry says, his voice low, mouth red from where he’s been biting his lip.

Niall takes pity, “That ye have,” swallowing him down as best he can, things going sloppy because Niall’s own cock is aching so much it’s distracting. “Ow,” he pulls off when Harry smacks his shoulder, hard, and belatedly realizes Harry’s got the lube in his fist.

“C’mon, Ni,” he hits Niall’s shoulder again, a dull thud this time, “it’s been ages.”

Niall scrunches his nose up, pretending to think about it, laughing when Harry gets fed up and rolls them, nearly taking Niall’s eye out because they hadn’t been lying even. Niall goes from laughing to feeling like he’s going to explode in three seconds flat, Harry on top of him, their cocks trapped between their stomachs.

“Not so funny from this angle, is it?” Harry’s sounds hoarse, rolling his hips, grinning when Niall gasps, his hand scrabbling down Harry’s back.

“S’not bad though.” He slides his hand along the curve of Harry’s arse, watching as Harry’s eyes go dark when Niall presses the tip of his finger in dry. “Fuck,” Niall shoves at Harry, feeling around in the sheets. “Where’d it go?”

“What?” Harry’s voice comes out all muffled because he’s landed face-down in the pillows, hips rutting into the mattress.

“Jesus, Harry,” Niall feels like his heart’s going to explode out of his chest. “Stay like that, yeah?”

“Really not planning on going anywhere.”

Niall doesn’t bother responding, spotting the lube in the sheets and then changing his mind at the last second, tracing the swell of Harry’s arse before bending so he can lick Harry out, Harry’s whole body jerking at that first touch of Niall’s tongue. The sounds he makes are unreal, echoing off the walls as Niall works him open with his mouth and fingers, Niall knowing he can’t keep it up long, that Harry’s already close to coming. That they both are. Fuck.

“C’mon,” Niall barely recognizes his own voice, “you gotta flip over.” Harry goes easily enough, a dopey half-lidded look on his face as Niall slicks his fingers again, adding another, Harry groaning until all the air’s out of his lungs. He looks properly ruined already, like he’s barely hanging on, and Niall loses his breath, hand stilling when he asks, “Think you can make it? I can wait, if...”

He really doesn’t want to, though. Feels selfish for how badly he wants to fuck Haz.

“No,” Harry’s a sweaty mess, his hair sticking to his forehead, and Niall knows he’s probably a sight, too, red lines all over from Harry’s nails. “C’mon, Niall, I’m good, just --”

“Yeah?”

Harry nods and Nail feels like he’s falling apart, losing all hand-eye coordination as he fumbles for the condom.

“Been awhile?” Harry jokes, laughing hoarsely when Niall scowls. Niall’s so focused on getting the condom on he misses Harry moving, is fully surprised when Harry knocks Niall onto his back and straddles him, his smile a mile wide. “Hi.”

“Motherfu --” it dies in his throat as Harry sinks down, so hot and tight Niall feels like he might black out from it when Harry’s plants his hands on Niall’s chest as he starts to move his hips. It takes all Niall’s reserves to pull him off, his hand sloppy and completely off-time with Harry’s pace. Harry covers Niall’s hand with one of his own, their fingers fitting together around his cock.

“I’ll --,” Niall feels like a tit for making Harry do all the work but he can’t, “shit, Haz.”

“You’ll what?” Harry flicks his hair out of his eyes, grinning down at Niall, reminding him of that fucking video he’d sent, and apparently that’s all it takes, Niall’s hips going erratic, his free hand clawing at Harry’s hip to hold him still as he comes. Harry spills over their joined fists a moment later, clenching as he comes, setting Niall groaning like he’s dying all over again.

“Just like, five minutes,” he says when Harry’s fallen into the space next to him, their skin still too hot for touching, “then a shower.”

“Then round two.”

“Leftovers first,” Niall says. “Got Nando’s in the fridge, I think.”

He turns to see Harry’s face light up, a sleepy smile spreading across his face. “I’ll allow it.”

Niall reaches across the empty space to tangle their fingers together, his eyes drifting closed as he waits for his heartbeat to return to normal.

&&&&&

“When do you leave again?” Alexa asks, stealing a chip from Harry’s plate. They’re sat outside one of Harry’s favorite cafes in Malibu, the sun beating down on them.

“Well, I’m going over for rehearsals next week, then it’s a three month leg.” Harry shrugs, tries to calm his knee from going mad under the table, can’t wait to get back to it.

“What’ll be after that,” Alexa laughs, aiming her phone at their empty plates and snapping a pic, “Australia? Asia?”

“Antarctica,” Harry says with feigned sincerity, “Lex, the world is Stylan’s oyster.”

“Guess so.” She’s still buried in her phone, not looking up when she asks, “and are you recording this time?”

“Yeah, we’ve actually done some already,” Harry digs his phone out of his pocket, “Niall sent me the studio version we did of “Little White Lies” earlier, actually, I should see how it sounds.”

“Go for it,” Alexa waves her hand in his general direction, still involved in her phone.

Harry opens his email, finding the one from Niall easily and pressing play, holding it close to his ear as it starts. Immediately he knows something is off, his face burning hot when he hears his own voice moan Niall’s name, scrambling to stop the recording before Alexa catches on. He remembers, now, them recording for hours in Niall’s new home studio before Niall’s eyes had gone dark, him bending Harry over the piano. Harry had joked afterward that they should have recorded it as a secret track, not realizing it was actually fucking recording.

“You okay?” Alexa’s asking, giving Harry a weird look when he meets her eyes.

“Yeah, I just.” Harry waves his hand in the direction of the sidewalk, “gotta make a call.”

Alexa nods, a smile playing at her lips that makes Harry wonder if she did hear anything before he cut it off.

“I was in public, with Alexa, when I listened to what you sent,” Harry whispers into the phone as soon as Niall picks up.

“Oh.” There’s a pause before Niall starts cackling on the other end. “Seriously? That is classic.”

“I can’t believe I am voluntarily spending the next three months with you,” Harry mutters, shaking his head and waiting for Niall to stop laughing long enough that he can speak again.

“Sorry,” Niall says, sounding the very opposite, “but not sorry. You should listen to it though, later. Think you find a new range you never even knew you had. I bring out the best in you, just admit it.”

“I admit to nothing,” Harry presses his lips together to stop himself from laughing. “I’ll see you soon, Nialler.”

“Yeah,” Niall says, “soon.”