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Take The Edge Off

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“It’s all your fault,” is the first thing that comes out of Niall’s mouth when Harry and Louis walk in on him wanking, naked and spread out on the bed with the Spanish sunshine coming in through the windows. He curls in on himself a bit, but he was really close, just a few tugs off finishing, and he’ll be goddamned if he’s going to stop now. Why aren’t they leaving, anyhow? Niall doesn’t think he’s ever seen Harry’s mouth so pink, all rounded in shock like he’s never seen a hard dick in his life, which is bullshit because the whole reason things even started to feel urgent enough to sneak off was how Harry and Louis were climbing all over each other in the sea, dragging each other under and then rolling around on the shore. It had been hot, and Niall wasn’t made of stone, and every minute had been so tense that all the feelings had just gone all jumbled in his head, and now they’re standing there staring at him like it’s a normal thing lads do, watch each other wank, which it isn’t, Niall’s pretty sure. “The two of you,” Niall continues, “all over each other out there.”

And all over each other in here, as a matter of fact. Louis’ arm is still looped around Harry’s waist, the two of them pressed up close together in the doorway in their swim trunks. Niall hadn’t even been aware that he’d had an interest in guys until a couple of weeks ago, and though figuring it out did make his Justin Bieber obsession suddenly a lot more understandable, it was sort of new and weird and still possibly situational. They were a cuddly bunch, this brand new band he’d found himself stuffed into, and it was hot in Marbella, and he’d had a lot more naked skin pressed to his own in the last week than he was normally used to.

“That’s for us, then?” Louis asks, gesturing toward Niall’s cock.

“What is this, a porno?” Harry says to Louis, turning to him with a look of disbelief like it’s the dialogue that’s really making this whole scene strange.

“Bit of one, yeah,” says Louis, inclining his head in the direction of Niall’s naked body. Niall finally lets go of his dick with a sigh. He sprawls back out onto the bed.

“Did you two want something or did you just come in here to stare at me?” Niall asks, fighting the urge to roll over onto his stomach and hide. Too late, anyway, they’ve seen it. He wonders what they thought about it.

“My robe’s gone missing,” Harry says. “We thought we’d see if you had an extra. Should I get naked too, so you don’t feel self-conscious?”

“You’re so thoughtful, Harry,” says Louis, looking at him with a fond smile. He squeezes Harry’s shoulder. Niall’s dick, which had mostly given up on this situation by now, begins to stir again. Harry beams back at Louis.

“What’s with the two of you?” Niall asks. “Am I wrong? Are you just flirting or are you a proper couple?”

“A couple,” Louis says, rolling the word around in his mouth like he’s contemplating the taste of it. He pulls Harry in closer to him, facing each other so their hips bump together. “I wouldn’t say we’re a couple, would you?” he asks Harry.

“We’ve only cuddled,” says Harry, shrugging. “We have to kiss to be a couple, don’t we?”

“You’ve already forgotten our night beneath the stars? The candlelight, the crying, the gentle sound of birds over the sea?” Louis says, raising a hand to his heart, giving Harry a stricken look. Niall rolls his eyes. He’s naked and now he thinks about it, he’s getting stressed out again. He needed that wank. He considers just asking them to stand there for a bit and not talk, maybe exchange a caress or two. That’s what mates do for each other, right, help out when someone’s having a sexual curiosity crisis? Something like that? Back in Ireland they’d get him nice and drunk and have a chat about it. He likes this a bit better, though, because Louis is quite weird but he’s fit, with the sort of stomach that Niall would like to have if he could be fucked to work for it. Niall likes looking at him, is the point, and Harry’s not bad on the eyes either. He gives up on getting any real answers from them and rolls over, shaking a bit of sand free from his hair.

Harry looks up at the ceiling like he might find answers there. “I think I’d remember the gentle sound of birds,” he says.

“Sweet young Harold,” Louis says softly. He rubs his thumb over Harry’s cheek. If this is only flirting, then Niall would like to see how they actually romance each other. It must be some Disney-level shit, bursting into song and animals chattering in joy and all that. Harry giggles a little, and Niall can perfectly picture little cartoon hearts popping up around his curly head.

“Still here,” Niall says, just in case they forgot. “Still naked,” he adds. He bunches up some of the comforter into a pillow for his head, and looks at them.

“Right, yeah,” Harry says, like he’d needed the reminder. He shrugs out of Louis’s grasp and then, like it’s nothing, just pushes his swim shorts down and off and walks over naked to the bed. Niall’s in the exact middle and he likes it there, so he doesn’t move, but there’s room enough still for Harry to lie down beside, which he does. Niall tries not to stare blatantly at his dick, but then gives up and decides to just do it, because why not? Harry’s clearly a bit mad, so it can’t hurt to get in a peek before whatever he decides to do next. Probably cartwheel off the balcony and fly into the sun, given how cracked he seems already. “There, now Louis’s the odd one out,” Harry says, like that had ever been the issue. “C’mere, you’re a bit stressed, aren’t you? It’s mad, like, all this pressure.” He opens his arms, and Niall edges closer to him. Harry’s skin is hot, like he’s absorbed some of the sun and kept it inside, and it feels quite nice to touch him, with the breeze coming through the windows, cool at Niall’s back. He slips a leg between Harry’s, and when Harry doesn’t object to it, he lets himself settle.

Louis’s still in the doorframe looking at them like they’ve both grown a few new heads, but that’s his problem. “Since when is naked cuddling on offer?” he asks finally. “I didn’t even know that was an option. I feel like you’re cheating on me.”

“Can’t be cheating if we’re not a couple,” Harry says. He sets his curled fist in the center of Niall’s back, a comfortable weight. Niall’s trying not to get hard, but he’s not really putting his best efforts into it. “Can’t be a couple if we’re not kissing.”

“Is that the rule?” asks Niall. “Does it work the same in reverse?”

“No, you can kiss each other and still not be a couple,” Louis answers. He’s stepped into the room and shut the door behind him, but his hand’s still hovering near the doorknob like he might bolt.

Niall feels fingers on his jaw, and lets Harry tilt his face up to look at him. This close Harry’s eyes are green and huge, and Niall figures this is as good a time as any to see if kissing a guy is nice or not. What’s the naked dude cuddling him going to do, anyway, push him away? He closes his eyes too soon, so their noses bump, but the kiss lands after a second, Harry’s lips warm on his. It’s not super different than kissing a girl. There’s a bit of salt sting when Niall opens his mouth, on Harry’s tongue like he’s swallowed seawater, but it feels alright. He moves against Harry, rubbing against him a little, and Harry sighs and kisses him a little harder.

“That wasn’t a suggestion,” Louis says, sounder closer than before, and also much more irritated. Niall feels a cool hand on his ankle, and it startles him enough to pull away. Niall blinks at Harry, then up at Louis. He feels a bit drunk, like he got too much sun exposure. Harry’s a fine kisser. Niall could stand to go in for seconds. “You have a thing for Irish boys, is that it?”

“No, just boys,” Harry says. “You idiot. If you wanted to kiss me yourself, you could have said.”

Niall reclines onto his back, too warm now, mildly frustrated. He didn’t really sign up for gay drama.

“I didn’t even know - “ Louis starts, then cuts himself off, “fine, alright. But I’m keeping my clothes on, I can’t keep up with fast girls like you.”

“Well, I was naked already,” Niall points out, not really offended. Louis ignores him and leans down into Harry’s space. He kisses Harry hard enough that it seems like he’s trying to make a point. According to the clock they’ve got fifteen minutes until it’s dinnertime for everyone in the house. Niall needs to wash the sea salt out of his hair, and probably turn the water slightly cool to take care of his semi. Harry and Louis are full-on snogging now, a proper makeout, and Niall’s starting to feel a little like he’s intruding.

He moves to roll off of the other side of the bed, and Louis shoots out his hand to grab Niall around the wrist. “For fuck’s sake,” Niall says. Now that he’s remembered dinner’s nearly on, his stomach’s started growling.

“Bit of a matchmaker, are you?” Louis says, having pulled away from Harry, who’s fully hard and looks a bit like he’s been hit by a train.

Niall pulls away, still rather disgruntled. “I was just trying to have a wank,” he says. “Now there’s no time for one, dinner’s on soon.”

“Later,” Louis says. It’s barely a question, but it’s still the first time that Niall’s heard him sound even vaguely unsure. “Would you help me out with Harry, here? Seems like you know what you’re doing.”

“Mate, I haven’t got a clue what I’m doing,” Niall says, shaking his head. It’s true as anything he’s ever said at this point, though he thinks, at least, that this’ll be a hell of an interesting footnote to his X Factor time, whether they make it through or not.

“Stay, Niall,” Harry says. He reaches out and touches his fingertips to Niall’s collarbone, hooking in a bit like he means to pull him closer. It’s that still overwhelmed look on Harry’s face, the way he seems like he couldn’t quite handle Louis alone if Niall left, that does it. “Just kiss me a bit more,” Harry says, begging almost. Niall sets the backs of his fingers to Harry’s flushed cheek and gives him what he wants, kissing Harry warmly on the mouth. He can feel Louis near them, going to his knees at the bedside and starting to touch Harry’s cock, starting to jerk him off. It’s weirdly comforting, knowing he doesn’t have to go that far yet. Not that he doesn’t want to touch Harry like that, and Louis too, but it’s a bit much. This whole situation’s a bit much, but it’s nicer to think about Harry’s tongue in his mouth than it is to worry about whether or not they’ll get their song together well enough to advance.

This could be the only chance they ever have to do this, any of this, he realizes - he’s grown to like these lads so much in such a short span of time, he doesn’t want to leave them all behind just yet. Harry gasps out against his mouth, and shakes beneath him, and Niall tangles a hand in Harry’s curls and kisses his jaw, his throat, the hot skin over his pounding pulse.

“That’s right, Harry,” Louis says, and Niall pulls away to watch Harry come across his own stomach. He blinks at the sight of it. Doesn’t really seem fair that he came in for a wank and ended up watching someone else get off instead, but there are worse outcomes, he supposes. Harry’s coming down already, shivering as Louis traces fingertips over his stomach.

“All right?” Niall asks. Louis quirks an eyebrow at him. “I might have a shower.”

Louis nods, and he smiles suddenly, big and bright. The sight of it makes Niall relieved, somehow, though he hadn’t been aware he was worried before.

“Good idea,” says Harry. “Hey, do you’ve an extra robe I can borrow?”


Of course it hadn’t all come out of nowhere. That week in Harry’s stepdad’s place in Cheshire had been a grand idea, even though it had ended up being less about learning to sing together and more about figuring out each other’s quirks and whether they could all get along as bandmates. Getting the chemistry right, Niall supposed, that had been the important thing. And they’d definitely gotten it right, the chemistry. Too right, maybe, if there was such a thing. Niall reckoned that there might have been a place to draw the line with all the touching, but no one seemed to ever draw it, not the first night where they all got scared by a cow (or a murderer, jury’s still out) outside and dragged their mattresses onto the floor to sleep close together, or the third when Niall ended up bunking with Harry and discovering in short order that: a. Harry slept quite close to whomever he shared a bed with, and b. Harry slept naked. Very, very naked. And probably someone should have said no when Harry suggested they go skinny-dipping at midnight, but instead they’d just all ended up slipping into the water as bare as anything, huddling close until they got used to the temperature and then staying there, all bunched up in the corner, legs brushing when they kicked out to keep their circulation up.

Afterward they’d slipped their shorts on to dry off by the fire, but Niall had still felt naked, still felt the stars on him, as if they’d drifted down from the sky and landed on their bare shoulders like smoke from fireworks, clinging on. Liam had brushed some of the water droplets from Niall’s back, his fingertips a warm surprise but not his smile, familiar already. Liam’s hair had curled back up from the water, and that was the first time that Niall had noticed how good-looking he was. They were all a cute bunch, as teenage boys went, Niall had definitely gotten that impression from the judges, but Liam wasn’t obviously handsome like Zayn or Louis, or charming like Harry, so Niall had sort of missed it, Liam’s sweetness, the way it shown through in his smile. He was noticing it now, though.

“Right lads, back in before you all catch your deaths,” Liam had said, and once they all got into their pajamas or in Harry’s case back into his skin, Niall made it a point to crawl into Liam’s bed before Zayn got there and claimed the other side. In the morning Liam brought him tea without even making him get up first.

Harry and Louis had been particularly aggressive about making the whole business into a cuddle party with the occasional musical number. At first Niall thought that they were just trying to challenge each other to see who would back off first, like they were playing an intense and never-ending game of gay chicken. It went on and on, until it seemed like they spent most of their time spooning each other no matter if they were lying down or not. It was as they were waiting in line at KFC, Harry leaning back into Louis’ body as Louis nuzzled his neck, that it finally occurred to Niall that they might actually be flirting, that he might not be the only boy on the planet to ever think that he might like both girls and boys, or even, more to the point, the only boy in this band.

From then on he kept an exceedingly close eye on the both of them, ready to notice if they so much as slipped off to be alone together and came back all mussed up, but they never did. At least he never caught them, anyway. Besides, he was increasingly feeling like if the two of them were fooling around, then they would do so in full and clear view of the rest of them, just the same as they openly serenaded each other with pop songs, Harry answering Louis’ stirring rendition of Coldplay’s Green Eyes with I Want To Hold Your Hand, a performance so teeth-achingly sweet that Zayn requested that Harry teach him how to be romantic and Liam offered to be their best man with far more sincerity than sarcasm.

Harry’s methods of teaching romance seemed to be limited to singing while being handsome, but Zayn didn’t seem to mind too terribly when Harry sat at his feet, his arms folded on Zayn’s knees as he gazed up into Zayn’s eyes and launched into a slow jams version of Girls Aloud’s Love Machine.

“Can I just be the best man at someone’s wedding?” asked Liam plaintively afterwards.

“You can be the groom in mine,” Louis said, giving Liam quite the cheekiest wink Niall had ever seen. “Since it seems mine has left me behind so soon.”

“I’ve just got so much love to give,” Harry said, as if were the most tragic condition. “I can’t help myself.” He hid his face against Zayn’s thighs, shoulders rising and falling in a deeply felt sigh. Zayn ran his fingers through Harry’s curls and then let his hand rest there atop Harry’s head.

That might have been the moment to have everyone sit in a circle and take turns rating their sexuality on a scale of straight as planks to gay as Christmas, but instead Niall decided to start singing The Cardigans’ Lovefool, which led to Harry and Liam joining him on backup vocals and Louis joining him on the floor, echoing an occasional line with his chin resting on Niall’s shoulder, so if nothing else they did get a good chance to work on their harmonies.


So it wasn’t like there hadn’t been a precedent already for a lack of personal space and a fondness for cuddling, but as far as Niall knew that had been the first incident of inter-band naked touching. Explicitly sexual naked touching, anyway, because that did have to be clarified. Dinner’s not awkward at all, which Niall hadn’t expected it would be, though he does find himself glancing sidelong at Liam and Zayn more than usual, wondering if they could tell something had happened, or even if they had something going on as well. The world had opened up, now he had proof that he wasn’t the only one who might like a bit of same-sex fooling around, and as far as he was concerned everyone was now at least a bit queer until explicitly proven otherwise. Zayn had been awfully irritable when Niall had dared to share a bed with Liam, now that he thought back to it. Who knew what secret gay feelings might be lurking about in the hearts of boys?

The sun’s gone down by the time it’s just the five of them again, the moon brightening by degrees above the beach where they’re sitting. They’d built up a fire to relax around after three hours of practice after dinner, and Niall’s methodically making his way through a sack of marshmallows, piercing each one onto a stick and toasting them to a perfect golden brown before plucking them off, the fingerprint burn worth it for each burst of hot sugar in his mouth. He’s the best at it, Harry keeps lighting his on fire and then lighting the stick on fire and then panicking and smacking the burning marshmallow into the sand and stomping it out until the danger’s passed and he’s got marshmallow innards all over the soles of his sandals. Liam requisitions the stick from him after one time too many, so Harry’s now making his way around the circle, nuzzling up against whomever has the nicest looking marshmallow. Niall’s in such a fine mood that he almost lets Harry take one from him, but then changes his mind at the last minute and takes it between his lips.

There’s this gleam in Harry’s eye, suddenly, that Niall doesn’t understand until Harry’s moving in and in and in, one hand on Niall’s shoulder as he grins and then sinks his teeth into the half of warm marshmallow still sticking out of Niall’s mouth and bites it away. It’s melty enough that the two halves don’t immediately separate, so Harry just loops a finger into the sticky sugar and winds it around until it breaks away. Niall swallows only to stop himself choking, but he sort of chokes on air anyway when Louis leans over Harry’s shoulder and sucks Harry’s finger clean.

On the other side of the fire, Zayn and Liam are staring at them, mouths open just enough to edge on comical. A wave crashes on the shore. Niall licks his lips. He takes another marshmallow from the bag, the rustling plastic loud in the quiet, and stabs it through with his stick.

“Questions?” says Louis. “Comments?”

“I’d like the marshmallows when you’re done with them, Niall,” says Zayn.

Liam scratches his head. “Was it just me, or did things suddenly get quite sexy?”

“I think that was about as sexy as usual, don’t you, Harry?” Louis says.

“No, that was definitely sexier than usual,” Zayn says. He’s got his hand out for the sack of marshmallows. Niall hands it to him, and lets their fingertips brush in a way that’s unexpectedly deliberate. “I think I’d notice if things had been that sexy before.”

“Yes,” says Liam, and then again, more emphatically, “yes.”

“So what you’re saying is,” Louis says slowly, “is that you’ve been keeping track of how sexy we are.” He points at Liam, and then at Zayn. Liam looks behind him, as if someone else might be standing there, taking notes on their varying levels of sexy. “Maybe keeping a running tally of sexy incidents.” He narrows his eyes. “A chart,” he says, like that’s the final straw.

“No - what?” Liam shakes his head. “No chart. I’d just noticed, you know, things. Like when we got scared at your stepdad’s place, Harry, and we all curled up together on the floor, I didn’t think that all the snuggling there was necessary - not that I didn’t enjoy it! I did! - but then when I woke up, Zayn was so close to me, and it was sort of, you know. And there were other times,” he rushes on, avoiding Zayn’s eyes.

“You were awake for that?” Zayn asks, his voice pitched higher than Niall had previously heard it.

“And while we were sleeping so innocently right next to you,” Louis says, shaking his head as if terribly disappointed by their heretofore unknown perversions. Now Liam had brought it up, Niall did vaguely recall looking over at one point and seeing Zayn and Liam’s heads awfully close together on their pillows. He’d thought it was cute at the time.

From the corner of his eye Niall sees Harry start to shiver a little in the cooling evening. When Harry moves closer to the fire, Niall taps his arm with a knuckle and spreads his bent knees, jerking his head to indicate Harry should join him. Harry flashes him a grin and shuffles over, tucking himself into Niall so his back is to Niall’s chest. Niall wraps his arms around Harry’s waist and rests his chin on Harry’s shoulder, sighing. It’s quite as nice as he expected it would be, sitting like this. He closes his eyes briefly, enjoying the warmth, and when he opens them again it’s to find the rest of the boys staring at them.

“What’s that, then?” Zayn asks, seeming still eager to get everyone’s minds off of any transgressions committed in Cheshire. “That’s sexy too!”

“More loving, really,” says Liam, frowning a bit. “I think it’s very sweet.”

“It is very sweet,” Harry confirms. He squeezes Niall’s knee. Niall turns his face a bit to kiss Harry’s temple and gets foiled by a face full of curls instead, but as he holds back a sneeze, he figures it’s the thought that counts.

“It’s romantic,” Zayn says, in a tone that Niall feels is unnecessarily accusatory. “Are you two in a romance? Is that what’s going on?”

“I’ve been getting that question a lot lately,” says Harry. “I’ve got to work on all this animal magnetism.” He shakes his head at himself, his whole posture radiating sorrow.

“I’m in a romance,” Louis announces. Niall raises his eyebrows at him, watching as Louis gets up, makes his way around the fire, and drapes himself around Liam’s shoulders. “Liam and I have something very special. Special and sexy. Incredibly sexy.” He slides his hand from Liam’s knee in further to his inner thigh, staring at Harry.

Liam’s gone still, like a man who’s locked eyes with a snake in the grass. Louis nuzzles Liam’s neck, and then bites down.

“Now wait a moment,” Zayn says. He flails his arms around a little, but when that doesn’t make Louis let go, he takes his marshmallow stick and hits Louis with it, square on the shoulder. Louis startles back with a cry and dives away, putting Liam between the two of them. He clutches Liam’s shoulder.

“Oi, let’s not have things get violent,” Harry says, making as if to pull forward. Niall doesn’t let him, just squeezes his arms tighter around Harry’s waist. Across the fire, Liam’s got one hand over where Louis bit his neck, and the other around Louis, comforting him.

Ignoring Harry’s wriggling, Niall says, “No, let’s see what happens. Early in the evening for bloodshed, lads.”

“Louis hurt Liam,” Zayn says, looking as offended as if he were the lovebitten party. He’s gotten back in close, pushing Liam’s hand away to examine the mark on his neck. It’s nothing, Niall can’t even really see it in the firelight. Still, Zayn strokes his thumb over it like it’s the crushed petal of a precious flower or something like that. He leaves his hand on Liam’s neck when he glares over at Louis.

“It was sexy hurting,” Louis mutters. “I’m sorry, Liam.” He puts his head on Liam’s shoulder, all dejected penitence. Niall rolls his eyes.

“It was a bit sexy, really,” Liam says. He sounds surprised to hear the words come out of his mouth. “No one’s ever done that to me before.”

“Alright,” says Harry. He claps his hands together, startling Niall out of his almost zoned-out focus on the ridiculousness in front of him. “I’ve a theory I’d like to test. Who here is a virgin?” He raises his own hand, and then looks expectantly at the rest of them.

There’s something about Harry’s complete lack of shame about it, the way he doesn’t even blush, that makes Niall fall in love with him a little bit, suddenly and briefly. The feeling passes, and then he’s just good-looking Harry Styles who Niall likes as a person and also is excited to kiss again, but Niall is left inspired. He raises his hand as well.

Zayn shrugs, after a moment, and raises his hand. Louis and Liam look at each other, and then at the rest of them. “I lost mine last year,” Liam volunteers.

“When I was sixteen,” Louis says, looking at the sand.

“Alright,” Harry says, nodding. “Who here likes boys as well as girls?” He raises his hand.

Well, this seems like a particularly pointless situation in which to lie. Niall raises his as well.

“Likes boys…how?” Liam asks.

“Like mates, yeah?” says Zayn, raising his hand. “Or like. Like maybe if you could say a guy is fit or not. Like you could see how a girl might like him.”

“Yeah, that makes sense. I could see how girls might like all of us.” Liam nods. He raises his hand.

Louis is still staring at the sand at his feet. Harry stretches his leg, and nudges Louis’ toe with his own. “Louis? Did you want to raise your hand as well?”

“I might,” Louis says slowly. “I might not like girls. I’m not really entirely sure, but. I think. Perhaps just boys.”

“Oh!” says Liam. “Do you mean you’re gay, then? Wait, this was a gay question?”

“More of a bisexual one, really,” says Harry. “The question swung both ways.”

“Good for you, Louis,” Liam says, hugging Louis close. “I’m glad you came out to us. We love you no matter what.”

“Yeah!” Zayn says. He moves in to hug Louis as well. “Sorry I hit you with a stick.”

“It’s alright,” Louis says, his voice muffled a little, buried in the hug. It isn’t another moment before Harry’s up, with Niall behind him, and they’re joining in the group hug wrapped around Louis. Niall closes his eyes, appreciating the moment. Once he does, it all hits him; he rather loves these guys already, all of them, and in this moment he can’t imagine anything more crushingly awful than not making it through to the live shows. Leaving this behind would be worse than failure. This is about Louis, though, so he doesn’t say anything, just lets the hug go until its natural conclusion.

Once they pull back, it’s not far. They all stay huddled close to Louis, to each other. Niall’s knees are resting against Harry’s and Liam’s, and all their hands are still on each other, keeping in contact, no one disconnected from anyone. It’s good, sitting this close, sharing warmth. Niall’s never had anything like this before.

“So that was a gay question, then,” Zayn says. It breaks the tension, and they all laugh. Liam hides his face in Niall’s shoulder, giggling.

“Bisexual,” Harry corrects him, grinning widely. “Curious, even. It’s a spectrum, human sexuality.”

“You’re quite smart,” Louis says, an edge of suspicion in his tone. “Where did you learn about all this stuff?”

“Wikipedia,” Harry says.

“A spectrum?” Zayn asks. “Like you might be somewhere in the middle? Not just straight or gay?”

“I knew some bisexual girls in school,” Liam says. “They were quite nice.”

“You’ll be LGBT Ally of the Year at this rate, Liam,” Harry says. He reaches across Niall and pats Liam’s knee. “It’s like, there are different ways you can be, right? Like you might be mostly straight, except sometimes you get a crush on a guy. Or you could mostly date guys romantically, but sometimes sleep with girls. There’s lots of ways to be, it’s very interesting. I’m not quite sure where I am yet, but I do know I like both girls and boys.”

“Me too,” Niall offers. He isn’t quite sure where he is on that spectrum either. Faced with a choice between Justin Bieber or Demi Lovato, he might just seize up and die.

“I’ve only really dated girls,” says Liam, after a moment. “But I think I might - I’d be interested to try, I suppose. Just to see.”

Zayn looks up at the stars, and keeps on staring at them as he says, “Me too. Except I did like a guy once.”

“I think we’ve all come out to each other tonight,” Niall says. “That’s really cool.”

“Yeah, it is,” says Harry.

They all go in for another group hug. It feels even better than the last one.

“Early morning tomorrow,” Liam says finally. “We should all go to bed, don’t you think? Rest up.“

They grumble but rise, gathering their things and snuffing out the fire. It’ll be another long day tomorrow, practicing and soaking up the sunshine. Niall’s getting quite a nice tan for a change, instead of burning up as usual. He chooses to take is as a sign that this trip is blessed, and that they’ll definitely make it through.

On the way back in, Niall bumps Harry’s shoulder. “What was your theory, anyway?” Niall asks him.

“Oh,” Harry says. “Well, I had a theory that if I asked questions then you’d tell me the answers. I was right.”

Niall nods, because fair enough. “Yeah, alright.”

They exchange smiles, and before they all break apart to go to their separate rooms, Harry grabs Niall’s hand and squeezes it, just once. “Tomorrow, yeah?” Harry says.

“Yeah,” Niall says. Whatever Harry means, Niall agrees with it. Tomorrow. It’ll be a good one.


The next day, Louis gets stung by a sea urchin and has to go into the hospital, which is not a particularly good start. Harry comes back from the hospital looking like death. He repeats what the doctor said, that it’s not very dangerous and probably won’t even require an overnight stay, but Niall’s shaken by it, and so are the rest of them. They’re so close to this, they’re so fucking close, they’ve been getting better at practice every day and, and - Niall doesn’t even realize how long he’s been staring off into space, hiding in the empty workout room next to the window, biting his nails, until he feels warm fingertips on the back of his neck. He closes his eyes and hangs his head for just a second, taking in the unintended comfort of it, then looks back at Zayn.

“We have to try to practice,” Zayn says, looking uncomfortable. “In case it ends up just being the four of us.”

“I’m freaking out, man,” Niall says, the words bursting out of him, sudden and helpless. Once he says it he realizes he’s shaking a bit. He’s honestly not sure who starts it then, if it’s Zayn’s hand on the back of his neck pulling him in close or Niall just moving in on his own, but in a moment Zayn’s hugging him tightly, and Niall’s got his face buried in Zayn’s neck, holding on. It doesn’t even feel like it’s helping, though, it just makes nerves crawl up further into Niall’s throat, like he’s choking as he clutches at Zayn. It can’t just be the four of them, they can’t go through without Louis, and if they don’t go through without Louis they won’t go through at all, and then that’s it, that’s it, that’s it -

“Hey, hey, it’s alright,” Zayn says. With his fingers wound in Niall’s hair he pulls back a little, forcing Niall to look at him. “I swear, we can,” he starts, leaning their foreheads together, close and warm, and Niall loses focus on what he’s saying because up this close Zayn’s eyes are big and dark, as frantic as Niall’s own must be, and his face is hot against the palm of Niall’s hand when he touches it. Niall can’t look at him anymore, so he closes his eyes, and he can’t listen either, in case whatever Zayn says turns out to be lie, so he quiets Zayn with a kiss. Or maybe meets him in one, because Zayn doesn’t seem surprised at all, he just gasps a little and opens to meet him, going with it when Niall backs him up against a wall. Niall’s heart is still pounding, but this, this is what he needed, this is answering his pounding heart.

Zayn’s rougher than anyone he’s ever kissed, scraping his teeth over Niall’s bottom lip, and Niall thinks, suddenly, of what it would be like to kiss Louis, or Liam, how it would compare to this, how kissing Zayn compares to kissing Harry, how even though they were naked yesterday when he and Harry kissed, this feels so much more like kissing a boy, the slight rasp of stubble on Zayn’s chin, the press of his body against Niall’s. Niall pushes his hands beneath Zayn’s t-shirt to feel the hot skin of his waist and Zayn kisses him even harder, aggressively almost, his tongue pushing into Niall’s mouth and fingers tightening in Niall’s hair, holding him there so Zayn can kiss him like he wants. Zayn gets his hand under Niall’s shirt too, sliding upwards to cup the lower curve of his ribs, and and Niall’s not thinking of anything anymore, anything but this and how good it is, how hot he feels, the give of Zayn’s skin when he digs his fingernails in just the tiniest bit.

The door opens and Zayn jerks back fast enough that he bashes his head against the wall. Niall’s still staring at him, at his reddened, kissed mouth when Liam comes into the frame of his vision and puts his hand on Zayn’s shoulder and turns him a bit so he can see the back of Zayn’s head.

“Are you alright?” Liam demands, leaning in close and ruffling a bit of Zayn’s hair like he’ll be able to uncover an injury that way. “You really knocked yourself good there.”

“Yeah, fine,” says Zayn, though he looks rather dizzy. “It doesn’t hurt that - I’m lying, it hurts like hell.”

Niall straightens his clothes, then his hair, then touches his mouth, wondering how obvious it looks, then quickly takes his hand from his mouth because that probably makes it even more obvious. And does he have something going with Zayn now, or what, what does it even mean anyway to kiss somebody when you’re all rushed up on adrenaline? Niall’s no fucking good at this. He hates stress, stress is the worst, it’s so much easier to just not have anything to worry about, and just like that his heart’s up again and he doesn’t even know why.

“Well, you didn’t have to pull back like you’d been burned, I saw you two kissing through the window,” Liam says, so it least it solves that one, at least they don’t have anything to hide. “I mean unless you had been burned. Niall, did you burn him?”

“No.” Niall touches his mouth again. It does feel pretty warm. “I am quite hot though.”

He doesn’t realize what he’s said until Liam raises an eyebrow at him. “It seems Zayn would agree. Am I the only one not caught up in a romance now?” His words are casual but his voice betrays him, rising at the end into something like a squeak. It seems like he’s going for a huffy look, but instead he just looks sorrowful, like a puppy denied a treat.

“I don’t really know what’s going on, to be honest,” Zayn says. “Niall was upset because of Louis, and then we were - I don’t know, since last night I can’t stop thinking about how we’re all, you know.” He gestures at the air. “Like we are.”

DTF, Niall thinks, but doesn’t voice it, because it’d probably scandalize Liam beyond repair. And anyway it’s a bit crude, he’s not just thinking he’d like to fuck everybody (well, he is now, and now he’s picturing it, and that’s something that’ll need further consideration), but he really likes these guys, and he wants to kiss all of them, too, especially now. Just to see. And maybe it’d be nice to cuddle up a bit more, he could get used to being in close proximity to them all the time, sharing space and heat. He just wants to touch them, he wants to touch everybody now, he’s had a little bit and it’s not enough. It’s not enough.

“I still don’t even know if I’m like that,” Liam says. “How are you two already so sure? Zayn, I thought you’d only liked one boy before? Was it Niall, then?” He looks hurt, for some reason, and Niall blinks at him, not quite - oh.

“It wasn’t Niall,” Zayn says. Niall takes an involuntary step back, even though of course he knew that, of course. He’s just reminded, rather unpleasantly, that it had been Harry and Louis that had wanted each other first, too, and now it seems that Liam and Zayn have something as well that Niall would just be fitting in the middle of, there lurking around the edges. Just as Niall feels a bit of a sulk coming on, Zayn steps up, putting a hand on Niall’s arm. “I didn’t mean it in a bad way or anything, I do want - ah christ, I don’t know what I want.”

“I want to win,” Niall says truthfully, meaning it in every way he can. “C’mere Liam, let’s get you sorted out,” he says, and brings Liam in with a hand on his waist. He gives Liam a moment, the smallest moment to consider what’s about to happen, and then kisses him firmly on his startled mouth. Maybe it’s petty, getting in there before Zayn like he got to Harry just before Louis, but Niall will take what he can, and he wants to take all of it.

Liam doesn’t quite relax, but he does kiss back, his hand rising to touch Niall’s cheek. He’s a good kisser, hesitant but sure once he’s got going. Good enough that for a moment Niall forgets they’re not alone. Liam’s a better kisser than Harry, probably because he’s had more practice.

Niall pulls away first, before he really feels like he’s done with the kiss. He’s gotten what he wanted, for now anyway, and Harry’s probably looking for them. “How was that?” Niall asks Liam. Out of the corner of his eye, he can see Zayn staring at them, mouth parted in shock. “You officially in our ranks?”

“What?” Liam asks, blinking at him. He touches his own mouth, like he’s checking to make sure it’s still there and in good shape.

“He wants to know if that convinced you either way,” says Zayn. He looks at Niall, but there’s less jealousy in it than Niall had expected. He looks grateful, almost. Like he’s glad he didn’t have to be the one to go for it. “If you like boys for sure or not.”

“Well, I liked that,” Liam says, blushing deeply. His voice is steady though, and Niall grins at him, wide and sudden.

“Good lad,” Niall says, slapping him on the back like a teammate who’s made a particularly fine shot. “Let’s go find Harry then, we need to practice in case Louis can’t make it in time for the performance.” He’s no longer particularly worried, though. Somehow, the good bout of snogging had drained away most of his fears.


Unfortunately for Harry, he hadn’t been in on the calming makeout session.

“This is going to be a disaster,” Harry announces morosely, throwing himself down onto the couch in the practice room. Harry’s generally quite cheerful, but with Louis gone it’s like all the sunshine’s left Harry’s smile. He’s not wrong, either; they’ve gone through Torn a good half dozen times, and while Harry and Liam sound good as usual, without Louis’s voice in the mix Niall and Zayn’s harmonies are utterly lacking. They’re like a cake with a big slice taken out of it, nobody’s going to buy that cake. Louis’s going to be trapped in the hospital with acute sea urchin poisoning and Simon’s going to send them all packing, and Niall will never find anybody to kiss him ever again, basically.

Niall sits heavily down next to Harry. He opens his mouth to say something comforting, but there’s nothing to say. He closes it again, and puts an arm around Harry instead. Harry burrows gratefully into it, and as if that was their cue, Liam and Zayn sit down on the couch around them, stuffed in close. Zayn leans into Harry’s side, throwing an arm around his waist, and Liam reaches across Niall and puts his hand on Harry’s knee, shaking him a bit.

“It’ll be alright, Harry,” Liam says. “Louis’ll come back in time. It’s not even evening yet, I’m sure they’re just making sure he’s absolutely alright and then he’ll be back with us. Everything will be fine tomorrow, we’re good together, right guys?”

“Right, yeah,” Niall says, unable to resist Liam’s optimism. He tightens his arm around Harry’s shoulder. “We really have something, you know? Even if they have to keep Louis overnight, they can still get him back to us tomorrow. The audition’s not ’til the afternoon, we’ll have time to get it together. Don’t worry.”

“Yeah, don’t worry, Harry,” Zayn echoes. Harry looks a little teary now, which makes tears threaten for Niall too, because it’s the worst when people cry around him. He’s no stranger to a manly weep on occasion, but this is a lot, jesus, a lot to deal within a short span of time and he’s not sure he can even - he wriggles a little uncomfortably, wishing for an escape. Harry looks at him with big sad eyes and Niall wants to collapse like a house of cards.

“Maybe we all just need a drink,” Niall says weakly. Of course, they can’t have one, not with the cameras about and most of them underage. For the first time that week Niall misses Ireland badly. “Or something to eat, we can just relax for a minute. I’m going to the kitchen, do you guys want anything?”

“I’m okay,” says Liam. “Think I might go sit on the beach for a little bit. Throw some rocks at the sea urchins, if I can find any.”

“Yeah, me too,” Zayn says.

Harry looks up at Niall, eyes green and shining, but not quite as despondent as they were before. Niall breathes a sigh of relief. “I could go for a snack,” Harry says. “I’ll come with you, Niall.”

Not quite the escape that Niall was going for, but he doesn’t regret having Harry at his side once they’ve split up. Harry sticks close by, their knuckles brushing as they walk, bumping into Niall from time to time. The walk feels longer than it is, Niall more and more aware with each passing second how much he just - god, he just wants Harry, is what it is. Yesterday hadn’t been enough, and now he’s thinking of Harry’s promise last night, that today would bring something. It wouldn’t do to just go in for a snog now, not with Louis gone and everyone so on edge, but Niall can’t help but want to anyway.

In the kitchen they convince the cooks to put together a few sandwiches, and Niall has his half gone by the time they’re back in the hallway. “Come back to mine, would you?” Harry asks. Niall’s probably imagining it, but his tone seems awfully sultry and low. Around a mouthful of turkey and lettuce Niall agrees to go with him, aware suddenly that he’s not at his sexiest, but probably that’s not even what it’s about. Probably Harry just doesn’t want to be alone. Niall finishes his sandwich at the speed of light, anyway, naught left but crumbs on the plate by the time they’re in Harry’s room. Harry shuts the door behind them and locks it, and Niall chokes a little on his last bite.

Harry’s hand is warm on his back, patting him as he coughs, and Niall gratefully accepts the water Harry hands him off the bedside table. He drinks from it for longer than is strictly necessary, actually, until Harry’s sat down on the bed and giving Niall a considering look. Harry’s barely touched his sandwich. Niall thinks about asking if he can have the rest of it.

“Sit down with me,” says Harry. Niall does. Harry crawls closer to the center of the bed, and Niall does too, until they’re mirroring each other. Harry tilts his head, his lips quirking at the corner. “Take your shirt off,” he says, like this is an experiment. Niall’s got the creeping suspicion that this might be another situation like last night. He wonders what the endgame is with this one, if there’s something else Harry hopes to learn.

Niall shrugs and takes his shirt off. Harry does the same, then, looking Niall in the eye, takes his shorts off too. Niall watches him do it, helpless not to. When he stares too long at Harry’s pants, Harry gets his thumbs into the elastic waistband and pushes them off as well, leaving him naked.

“You too,” Harry says, gesturing at Niall’s shorts. It would be useless, probably, to ask Harry what he wants. Niall takes a wild stab at guessing: probably this will get sexy. Well, sexier. Harry’s naked, so that’s a good foundation already for a sexy encounter. Niall shucks the rest of his clothes before he loses his nerve, but can’t keep his eyes open for it, not with Harry looking at him like he is. He keeps his eyes down once he’s naked, until Harry gently cups his chin and lifts his face up so they’re looking each other in the eye. “You can say no, you know,” Harry says. “If you don’t want to.”

“I’m not going to say no,” Niall says. He’s still not sure what he’s saying yes or no to, really, but he can’t think of anything in particular that would be very terrible in this situation.

“Then say yes,” Harry says. He leans across the bed, closing the distance between them, and stops with his lips close to Niall’s, so close. Niall licks his lips, and his tongue nearly touches Harry’s mouth. “Say yes so I can hear it.”

“Yes,” Niall says. It comes out almost a growl, and anything else Niall would have said gets swallowed up Harry’s kiss. It’s better than yesterday’s, more assured, and that assurance awakens something in Niall, something that lets him wind a hand into Harry’s hair and hold him there, kissing him hard. Once he starts, it feels like he can’t stop; like if they just keep on kissing, then he can stay here forever, with Harry and with everyone, teetering on the edge of something huge instead of taking that step off the cliff, not knowing where they’ll land. Niall thinks about trying to go on without Louis, and bites down on Harry’s lip. It pulls a noise out of Harry, a desperate little sound, and he kisses Niall harder, pressing close enough that Niall’s knocked backwards a little bit. Harry gets a hand on his hip, his fingertips digging into Niall’s back, and suddenly he can’t get close enough, neither of them can, and Harry’s kicking the sheets to the foot of the bed and they’re shifting until they’re lying down.

It’s when they’re facing each other, naked in the sunshine, that Niall realizes he’s only ever done this much with Harry, the morning before, that Harry’s the only one he’s ever lain down naked with, kissed like that, without anything between them. Louis was there yesterday, and for a moment Niall feels the absence of him and wonders if Harry feels it too. Niall was just kissing Zayn a few hours ago, and Liam right after, and it feels wrong not to have kissed Louis yet. Yet. As if this might be something he can have.

Harry shuffles closer to him, and pushes his fingers round the back of Niall’s neck, cupping it with a warm hand. He moves in but stops close of kissing him, and Niall’s just leaning in to close the distance when Harry says, “I’m scared, aren’t you? I’m not finished with this yet.”

Niall’s nodding before he even finishes. He sets a hand to Harry’s shoulder, then slides it down, touching Harry’s waist, the flat of his stomach, his hip. “We have to make it through.” He shakes his head. There’s no other course for them. He can’t even contemplate having this, any of this, and then stopping. He doesn’t want to think about never having this again. “We have to,” he repeats.

“No other option,” Harry agrees. “We’re too good together, all of us.”

“All of us,” Niall echoes. He looks down the length of Harry’s body, tanned except for the line of his shorts. Harry’s cock is hard, like Niall’s is, and Niall wants to touch it. He doesn’t though, not yet. “This thing between us, it’s a bit strange, isn’t it? How everyone’s, you know.”

“Good at singing?” Harry says. He touches Niall’s side, lightly at first, with his fingertips, then with more pressure, until he’s caressing almost, a warm, settling touch. Niall swallows. “Terrible at dancing?” Harry says, a grin tugging at the corners of his mouth. He slips a leg between Niall’s, and brings them chest to chest. When their cocks bump against each other, Niall thinks, distantly, that he might die.

Niall forgets the point he was trying to make. It wasn’t important anyway.

“Sexually curious?” Harry says, that teasing edge still there but fading fast. His hand slips down, further and further, until he’s got one of Niall’s arse cheeks in his hand.

“Christ, whatever,” Niall groans, and rolls onto his back, tugging Harry the rest of the way over. Harry goes with it with a laugh, hauling Niall closer with a hand round his thigh, and then it’s just right, Harry on top of him, Niall looking up at Harry and then craning his neck up to kiss him. It’s perfect like this, Niall’s always liked being on his back when someone’s kissing him, liked the feeling of someone over him, body pressed to his. The pressure’s delightful, Harry’s heavy but it’s just enough to leave Niall a bit breathless. Niall thrusts up against him, and it’s clumsy with the way their legs are tangled together but that’s just right somehow. Niall bites at Harry’s jaw and Harry moans and moves against him, and they could get off like this, Niall’s sure of it, they could come just thrusting against each other’s stomachs but fuck if Niall isn’t going to get a hand on Harry’s cock right now, he’s never been naked with a boy and he’s not leaving this one without at least some handjob experience on his sexual C.V.

Harry makes a startled little sound when Niall curls a hand round his cock, like he genuinely didn’t see this coming, and it honestly makes Niall feel a little better, like Harry’s not the master of all things gay and sexy like he sort of came off last night. Then again, Harry is a virgin just the same as Niall, so who knows what he’s done or how far he’s gone. “What is virginity when it’s two lads anyway?” Niall asks, looking down between them to Harry’s cock in his hand. It’s quite nice, and Niall could stand to see it up close. He shifts his hips up a little so his own dick bumps against Harry’s stomach.

Harry gives him a rather frantic look, like he’s not really sure how to answer a question when someone’s giving him a handjob. “Uh,” he says, “I guess it’s like, blowjobs maybe? D’you think it’s fucking?” He looks back down between them, and then wavers and tumbles over onto his side, finally tired of holding himself up to considerately keep most of his weight off of Niall.

Niall licks his lips, shuffling back over so they’re pressed close again. “Fucking might be interesting,” he says, trying to sound cool about it. It doesn’t really work, his voice wavers. “But then what is it for girls, like, lesbian virginity? They don’t have anything to fuck with.”

“No, I don’t suppose they do,” Harry says. He’s staring at Niall’s cock, and right when Niall’s about to ask if there’s something grossly wrong with it, Harry grasps him firmly and starts to stroke him and Niall’s question dies in a sort of squeak. “Virginity’s an outdated concept, anyway. It doesn’t really mean anything.”

“Right,” Niall gasps. He’s so glad they had this chat. He’s going to die if he doesn’t get off in the next thirty seconds. “Harry, kiss me again,” he demands, and Harry looks delighted and does it.

Niall comes first, spilling over Harry’s fist and then redoubling his efforts, loving the way that Harry thrusts up into his grip, the bit-off way he says Niall’s name when they pull apart to breathe. In the last moments Harry can’t keep his hands away, touching Niall’s chest and smearing Niall’s own come there, shoving up as close as he can so Niall can barely maneuver at all but he pushes on anyway, desperate to see Harry come, desperate, fucking desperate to have this moment if he never gets the chance again. “God, Harry,” he says, like he’s the one still on edge, and maybe that’s what does it, the sound of his name on Niall’s lips that sends Harry over, burying his face in Niall’s shoulder and biting down just hard enough that it almost hurts.

Harry shakes through it, and keeps shaking afterward, trembling all over his whole body as Niall holds him close. He doesn’t want to let go, and neither does Harry, apparently, clinging just as tightly to Niall as Niall is to him. Niall presses kisses to Harry’s hair, then his mouth, needy little kisses that he can’t stop stealing and giving back, and Harry holds him tightly through it all.

It finally dawns on Niall that they’ll probably be wanted back someday, that Zayn and Liam might be finished menacing Marbella’s sea urchin population and on their way to grab them for more futile practicing. He pulls away just enough to see Harry’s face, and the wrecked, devastated look there makes him wish he hadn’t. “Hey, hey, Harry,” he says, shaking him a little. “You alright?”

“Yeah, yeah,” Harry says. He shakes his head, then shakes it again, like he can shake the thoughts away. “Just, Louis.”

“I know,” Niall says. He exhales heavily. “I mean - because he’s not back yet, right? Oh god, you don’t think he’ll be upset about this?” Niall feels himself start to panic, and he knows it can’t help but show in his face. “Jealous, or something? Oh christ.” He goes to pull away, and Harry stops him, winding his arms tightly back around Niall’s waist.

“No, no. That’s not what I meant. I mean he probably will be jealous.” Harry frowns. “I didn’t really think about that.”

“I kissed Zayn and Liam too,” Niall blurts out. In the moments leading up to saying so, Niall had thought that confession might somehow mitigate the situation; now it’s out in the open, it just sounds like he’s rather - well, slutty isn’t really a nice thing to say about anybody, but nothing else is coming to mind. “Just, because. I don’t know. I was upset, and Zayn was there, and then we were kissing, and then Liam was there, and he hadn’t kissed a boy before, and it just seemed like it would make sense to kiss him too so he’d know for sure. I think there’s something in the water here. Some kind of, I don’t know, sex poison or something,” he trails off feebly.

Harry looks stunned. “Well, that changes things.”

“Yeah,” Niall says, nodding. Then he shakes his head. “Well, how?”

“It doesn’t have to be just the two of us then, does it?” Harry asks.

Niall’s mouth is hanging open, he’s sure of it, because he’s seventeen, and he just got off with a boy for the first time, and, and - now group sex is on the table? Is that what Harry’s suggesting is an option? Niall won’t lie, he’d thought maybe being a pop star might offer a better sexual future than remaining in Mullingar, but he didn’t really factor in four boyfriends as a possibility. Oh god, is that a possibility? Boyfriends? Group sex? Niall’s head hurts. Also, he’s rather sticky.

There’s a knock at the door, and then the doorknob rattles, and Niall’s panic evolves instantly into something that can express itself only as an undignified sort of squawking sound. “Oi, Harry, you in there?” Liam calls from outside the door. “I can’t find Niall, we need to get together! They’ve let Louis out of the hospital, he’s coming back!”

The joy on Harry’s face must certainly be reflected on Niall’s own; they grin at each other stupidly for a moment before Harry thinks to call out, “Yeah, we’re in here! Give us a minute, we’ll be right out!”

“Both of you?” Liam asks. “Why’s the door locked?”

“What are they doing in there?” comes Zayn’s voice, joining Liam’s in the outside-the-door party. Niall tucks his face into Harry’s chest for just a moment, trying to smother his giggles, but then Harry’s laughing too, loud and bright, so Niall sets his own laughter free.

They’re practically howling by the time Harry’s gotten up and gone to the door, unsnapping the lock and peering out to ask, barely able to get in a steady breath of air, if they’d like to join the two of them in the shower. Harry opens the door wide then, revealing himself and Niall in their sweaty, come-smeared glory, and takes a bow.

“You were having sex?” Liam says, his voice starting off a shriek and ending in a scandalized whisper. “Louis will be back any minute!”

“We couldn’t keep our pants on,” Niall says. “They just wouldn’t stay on.” His laughter’s got a hysterical edge to it at this point, but he no longer cares. Zayn’s blatantly staring at him. He waves, friendly-like, and then kips off to the bathroom.

Harry joins him in the shower a minute later, hustling him out of the way. Niall tries to fight him on it, but it only goes for a second before his brain catches up to the fact that his hands are slipping over Harry’s wet chest and that’s probably not a productive way to go about getting anything done. He grabs a kiss though, since Harry’s mouth is pink and wet and right there for the taking.

“Wow, Niall,” says Zayn, which is when Niall notices that Liam and Zayn have followed them into the bathroom and are standing wedged in the doorway, watching them in the big open shower. “Can’t go a minute without it, can you?”

“I can,” Niall says, a touch belligerently. “Why should I, though?”

Liam considers that, then looks at Zayn. “Man’s got a point.”

“He kissed me earlier, you know,” Zayn tells Harry. “He kissed Liam too. There’s been all kinds of kissing.”

“How many kinds of kissing are there?” Harry asks. He nudges his knuckles against Niall’s chest, guiding him around and then washing his back for him. It’s quite nice. Harry is a lovely person to share a shower with, Niall decides.

“All kinds,” Zayn says weakly, watching them. “Loads of them.”

“I like first kisses,” Liam offers.

“Those are good,” Harry agrees, smiling at Niall when Niall urges him around to wash his back in turn. “Have the two of you kissed each other?”

“What?” Zayn asks, his voice gone high-pitched. “Why? Why would we do that?”

Harry shrugs. “Why not? Look at the two of you.” He does. “You’re fit,” he says, nodding appreciatively. Zayn and Liam look at each other, but don’t object to the compliment, which Niall finds charming.

“I think you’d like it,” Niall tells them. “You’re both quite good at kissing.”

“Thank you, Niall,” says Liam with a genuine smile. “That’s very sweet of you.”

Zayn scratches the back of his neck. “Yeah, that’s quite nice. Thank you.”

“Just being honest, lads,” Niall says. He reaches around Harry to shut the shower off, and then puts a hand to his back, guiding him out. Harry hands him a towel, taking one for himself. “We ought to head out, right? They’ll want to get us on camera when Louis gets back.”

“Louis,” Harry says happily, apparently not needing a verb when the subject pleases him so.

Niall grins as well. When he brushes past Zayn and Liam to get his clothes, he gives Zayn a kiss on the cheek, just because.

They get Louis back, and Harry won’t let go of him. It’s a team effort to get Louis back into the house, the lot of them carrying him inside, first toward his room and then to the practice space when he insists he’s fine. They get him sorted on the couch, with his leg up to help keep the swelling down, and Harry drapes himself theatrically over Louis’ body, careful not to jostle his foot, and tries to make him swear to never go into another untrustworthy body of water again.

“I’m really alright,” Louis insists, but he holds tightly onto Harry just the same. “I’m on a lot of painkillers, though. How many of you are there right now? And what’s this curly-headed thing I’ve got all over me?”

“Hush,” Harry insists into his collarbone. “We were worried. We tried to practice without you and it was no good at all.”

“Yeah, we weren’t right without you,” Zayn says. He’s perched on the arm of the couch, one hand on Louis’ shoulder. Niall rests his hand on the back of Zayn’s neck, just for a moment, needing the contact. He’s right, they just didn’t quite fit together without Louis, and now he’s back Niall doesn’t know how he didn’t feel the full significance of that absence before.

“Without your rugged charm,” says Harry. He wriggles against Louis, like he’s trying to get closer, which is impossible. He settles for curling a hand into the collar of Louis’ t-shirt instead.

“You are quite rugged,” Liam notes. He leans over the back of the couch and rubs a thumb over the slight stubble on Louis’ chin. Niall’s a bit jealous of it. He can hardly grow facial hair at all. “I don’t know that I could have withstood what you did. I’ve a very low threshold for pain.”

“So I should be more careful when I bite you in the future,” Louis says, raising an eyebrow.

“No,” Liam says, “I need to raise my tolerance anyway.” He and Louis give each other a long look.

Zayn looks at both of them, looking at each other. “Did things just get sexy again?”

“It’s me,” Louis says, all regretful tones. “I bring it out in everyone.”

“Yeah,” says Harry. He tilts his head up and places a kiss on Louis’ neck, then one on his jaw. Louis flits his eyes to each of them in turn, then licks his lips and angles his head down to catch Harry’s mouth in a kiss. Niall’s fingers clench in the back of the couch, biting into the leather almost against his will. Harry’s got one leg between Louis’, and Niall has a sudden vision of Harry slipping off the couch, going to his knees and sucking Louis off. Louis stretches one arm up, still kissing Harry, and gets his hand around Zayn’s thigh, fingers digging in.

Liam’s fingertips go to Niall’s back, right at the base of his spine, and that’s what finally prompts Niall to speak, that casually needy touch. “Might not just be you, mate,” Niall says. He shifts to the side, just enough to bump up against Liam. Liam easily slips his arm around Niall’s waist, like it’s nothing at all to do it.

Louis comes out of the kiss with Harry like he’s coming off being drugged, his lips reddened and eyes flickering open. “Oh?” he says. He tilts his head back a bit, looking up at Zayn, then looking to Niall and Liam. “What’d I miss? Did you all get the orgy started without me?”

“Yeah,” mumbles Harry, hiding his flushed face against Louis’ shoulder. “Sorry.”

Louis laughs.

The rest of them don’t.

Louis’ laughter trails off. “Wait,” he says. “Did you?”

Any explanations are cut off by the arrival of one of the PAs, who asks if they mind getting in a little extra practice on camera in case they need the footage of it. What follows is the most sexually tense version of Torn that Niall has ever heard anyone sing. He has to choke out the rasp in his own voice before he even sounds right, and Harry manages to make his verses sound like he is actually singing them while lying shamed and naked on the floor. It goes on for an hour, but at least by the end they sound like a band again, instead of a collection of feelings made flesh.

The cameramen let them break for dinner, with the caveat that they’ll be back to do some more filming afterward. Niall’s just gone back to his room for a minute, ostensibly to use the loo but actually to scream into his hands, but of course there is no peace, not ever, because Louis limps in after him.

“You need something, mate?” Niall looks down at Louis’ foot, still wrapped up. “I’m amazed you can walk on that.”

“I wasn’t kidding about the painkillers,” Louis says through gritted teeth. “And you weren’t kidding about the orgy, were you?” He somehow manages to make a hobble seem menacing, which Niall would be more impressed by if he weren’t backing up away from Louis and then running into the bed and falling down onto it. Louis stands over him, something unkind in his eyes, and it’s probably fucked up that Niall still finds this kind of a turn-on.

“We’re all just nervous,” Niall tells him. “None of us know what we’re doing.”

“Try to put it into words,” Louis says. “Did you do something with Harry?”

“He started it,” Niall says weakly. “You don’t have any claim on him.”

Louis stares at him, then puts one hand to Niall’s chest and neatly pushes him down onto his back. “Oh,” he says. “I don’t?”

“No,” Niall says, feeling less sure about that now he’s thinking on it. “No one’s with anybody. We’re all just,” he pauses. Hell if he even knows what they all are, or why this is happening. It can’t all just be the situation, can it? Granted everything’s probably accelerated because they all might leave each other forever tomorrow - oh god, that’s not a good line of thought to follow - but there’s something genuine there, he really does, jesus, he really does want all of them. Even Louis. “You can’t have Harry all to yourself.”

Louis puts his hands on his hips. “Can’t I?”

“No,” Niall decides. “He can’t have you to himself, either.” He glares up at Louis, and then sits up only to get a hand in Louis’ shirt and drag him right down to the bed. Louis gets it at the last second, once he’s caught his breath, because there’s a new respect in his eyes right before he closes them to meet Niall in a kiss.

Louis doesn’t really fuck around with the kissing; there’s no hesitance, not like there was with Liam or Harry, and it’s not desperate like it was with Zayn. Louis just goes for it, leading the way, so Niall opens for it and lets him, lets Louis push him over onto his back and kiss him hard, like he’s trying to make a point. Niall doesn’t know what the point is, but it really doesn’t matter. He doesn’t have time for weirdo jealousy issues, and he’ll kiss them all a hundred times if that’s what he needs to do to keep them all steady, keep them from dividing themselves up into pairs when there’s no need to. Harry’s his favorite already, probably, but he can’t imagine limiting himself just to Harry. Why would he need to? Niall wants everything. He wants to nail their audition tomorrow, and he wants to kill it at the live shows, and he wants to win X Factor and he wants to be successful with all of these guys by his side. He also wouldn’t mind touring with Justin Bieber, but that’s neither here nor there.

Louis bites at Niall’s lower lip like he can tell that Niall’s mind is drifting, and Niall bites back, pulling a little hurt noise from Louis’ throat. Niall immediately eases off, but it was clearly a ploy, because then Louis gets a hand in Niall’s hair and drags his head back hard and bites right the hell down on Niall’s neck. Niall lets out a little cry at that, because goddammit why, but it’s not until he hears Louis snicker against his throat that he bucks his hips, gets a good grip on Louis’ sides, and rolls them right over so he’s straddling Louis’ waist. The surprise lets him get Louis’ wrists up, and then there they are, Louis pinned to the bed by Niall’s weight and his grip.

“What now, then?” Louis asks. He shifts his hips up, a dirty grin on his face, and Niall can feel the line of his dick, hard from the fight and pressing up against Niall’s arse. He has a sudden mental picture of them doing this without clothes, Louis thrusting up underneath him, into him, and oh, that’s new, Niall had never really pictured himself riding someone’s cock before, but now he is. Yeah, he really is, and he can feel himself coloring from the thought alone, a flush rising in his cheeks. Louis keeps staring straight at him, too, and there’s this look on his face like he can tell exactly what Niall is thinking, like he can see it too, like he wants to fuck up into Niall’s arse and come inside him. Oh christ, when did Niall turn into such a pervert?

Louis’ face softens a bit, and he stretches his arms upward, taking Niall’s hands with him where they’re gripped tightly around his wrists, sending Niall into a slow sprawl atop him. Niall sighs out a breath and tips over onto his side, letting Louis go. He doesn’t have the energy to be this dominant. He doesn’t want to order anybody around. Why can’t they all just touch each other without being difficult about it?

“You’re a good lad, Niall,” Louis says, patting his cheek.

“I am,” Niall says, disgruntled now. “And I’m not trying to steal Harry from you. I don’t want to steal anybody. You can’t steal people anyway. What’s the point of being jealous?”

“No point, I suppose,” says Louis. “Did you really sleep with him?”

“We wanked each other off,” Niall says, too tired to care about keeping things to himself like a gentleman. “And I snogged Zayn and Liam too. Not at the same time, at different times. So it wasn’t really an orgy.”

“That’s too bad.” Louis sneaks a hand down between them, but he doesn’t go for a grope, he just takes Niall’s hand in his. It’s nice. Niall smiles at the ceiling.

“I’m glad you’re back,” Niall tells him. He tugs Louis’ hand closer, pulling it up to his chest and leaning in when the rest of Louis follows. He kisses Louis, soft and sweet this time. Louis responds in kind. “We can’t do this without you,” he says once they’ve pulled back for air.

“Damn right you can’t,” Louis says.

Zayn snags Niall by the arm on their way to the dining room. “I saw Louis go into your room, did you two have a fight?” he asks.

“No, we snogged,” Niall says.

Zayn stops walking. “What?”

“As if that could possibly be surprising at this point,” says Niall. “Are you and Liam snogging each other yet or are you still just looking at him like he hung the moon in the sky?”

“I am not - doing that, either of those things,” Zayn says, giving him a supremely irritable look. “Also that mark on your neck is enormous, is Louis just going to gnaw on everybody now?”

Niall shrugs. He doesn’t really have anything to say to that, so it’s perfectly fine that Harry exits his room to join them then.

“That is a massive lovebite, mate,” Harry says when he sees it. “That wasn’t me, was it?”

“You’re not the biter in this group,” Niall says. Harry’s eyes widen, and Niall shores up his patience to deal with more jealousy, but instead Harry just zeroes in on the mark, biting his lip as he does it. It’s such an unbelievably filthy stare that Niall backs up a bit, jostling Zayn in his haste to get away from the look on Harry’s face lest it succeed in actually melting the clothes from his body.

“Later,” Harry says, pointing at him. He crooks his finger slightly to the right. “You too,” he says to Zayn. Then he strides off to the dining room ahead of them.

“What on earth was that?” Zayn asks.

Niall watches Harry go. “In your opinion,” he asks Zayn, “What’s gay virginity and how do you lose it?”

After dinner, they get in some more practice until after sundown. They sound good, they do. Whether they sound as good as everybody else, or whether they sound better, which is what they really need to do, is not something that Niall can say for certain. The jitters are back. He wants badly to focus on his bandmates, and what he wants to do to them, but the ticking clock is back in his head, counting down to the audition tomorrow, and not even the crashing waves of the sea outside and Zayn and Louis laughing in the corner can drown it out. He doesn’t realize how long he’s been staring out the window until he feels a touch on his back, and then there’s Liam, smiling at him. Liam slips his hand round to Niall’s shoulder, and Niall curls shamelessly into him, resting his head against Liam’s collarbone.

“It’ll be alright,” Liam says. “We’re great. We’ll make it through tomorrow.”

Niall nods against Liam’s shoulder, feeling the tickle of Liam’s hair on his cheek. “If we don’t though,” he says.

“We will,” Liam insists. He presses his thumb into the back of Niall’s neck, and Niall pulls back to look at him. “We will,” Liam repeats. He looks at Niall, long and searching, and then kisses him. Niall sighs into it immediately, slipping his arms around Liam’s waist and closing his eyes. How is it that this is so calming? Niall’s never particularly thought of himself as a person who needed kissing, not this much, but having this much only makes him want more, the same way each M&M has just enough chocolate to keep you constantly going back to the bag for more. Also, Niall could go for some dessert.

“You weren’t kidding,” says Louis, and Niall and Liam part to look at him. Zayn and Harry are watching too. Niall waits. “Band meeting in my room,” Louis says decisively, no less authoritarian for the fact that he has to lean on Harry to walk. They follow him obediently. Some way or another, Louis has ended up in the room with the biggest bed. It’s not huge or anything, but when he goes to lie down in the center of it, there’s space enough for all of them to sit as well. They could all probably lie down, if they wanted to, if they lay close to each other. Niall swallows, sitting next to Harry, Zayn and Liam both on the other side of Louis’ reclined body.

“It’s our last night here,” Harry says. He looks around at all of them. Louis has a hand on Harry’s ankle, and he squeezes it. “Even if we don’t make it through, I hope we can still keep up with each other, yeah?”

They all nod. “We’re good together,” says Liam. “All of us. Aren’t we? We have something here.”

“Something,” Niall says. He glances at Harry, and bites his lip. Well, they don’t really have the time for second guessing. He puts his hand on Harry’s knee. Somehow, in front of everybody, it feels bolder than any kiss he’s had that day. “I could use some alcohol for this,” he admits.

“Me too,” Zayn says.

Liam looks over at him, then moves a bit closer on the bed, their knees bumping. He puts a hand on Zayn’s thigh, and Zayn looks down at it. “You don’t have to be scared, Zayn,” he says.

“I’m not,” says Zayn. “I’m not scared.” He shakes his head, and covers Liam’s hand with his own. He swallows, closes his eyes for the briefest moment, and then turns to Liam, touches his cheek with his fingertips, and then leans in and kisses him.

It’s a bit absurd, really, how this makes Niall want to break down into giggles, because honestly it’s one of the sweetest things he’s ever seen, Zayn finally going for it and giving into what clearly has been a crush all along. So he shouldn’t be turning to hide his face in Harry’s shoulder, but he definitely is, hoping no one notices the grin about to split his face at how fucking much he loves this, all of them together. If they don’t make it through, Niall hopes the rest of them don’t mind when he insists that they all like, get an apartment together in London or something and stay in each other’s lives and on each other’s laps, because there’s nothing like this for him Mullingar. There’s probably nothing like this for him anywhere else in the world, he’s guessing, and now he’s had a taste of it he never wants it to stop.

“Alright there, Niall?” Louis asks, gently shaking his knee, and Niall comes up for air, knowing his cheeks are flushed from the situation, from trying not to burst into laughter.

“I’m fantastic,” Niall says. “This is fantastic. Can we all just do this, can this be what we’re doing?”

Harry grins at him, wide and beautiful. “Are you propositioning us?” he asks. “The lot of us, really?”

“Yes, either that or I’m going to crawl out of my skin,” says Niall.

“That’s gross,” Zayn says, but his cheeks are still flushed from kissing Liam, and they’re actually holding hands, so Niall’s too busy being charmed to be insulted.

“Try your clothes first,” Harry advises. He tickles at Niall’s waist, getting him to lift his arms to get his shirt off.

“Nudity, thank god,” says Louis. Lying on his back, he starts to wriggle out of his own shirt. Harry helps him. “I thought this party was going to remain PG-13.”

“With me here?” scoffs Harry. “Please. You two, kit off,” he says to Liam and Zayn, who then look at each other like this might be the place to draw the line - but fuck the line, Niall thinks, and clearly they all agree, because then they’re pulling their own clothes off. Harry’s already gotten his pants off, leaving him naked first, because of course Harry’s naked first. He gets up to go turn on the ceiling fan, bless the lad for his forethought, and Niall watches him go, enjoying the view. When he turns back Zayn, Liam, and Louis are naked too, and behind them through the window he can see the beach. Niall wishes he had a camera, not because he’s some kind of creep or anything, but how often does a person get to look at a bunch of fit naked lads and a beautiful shore? Niall’s not sure he’s ever been more grateful for anything, not even getting through bootcamp in the first place. This has replaced it; this is officially the best.

“Someone kiss me,” Louis demands. Niall’s just leaning over to do it when Liam gets there first, which is surprising. It pleases him to watch, though, because it looks like Louis’ normally rough kisses are being overwhelmed by the pure sincerity of Liam’s affections. Liam’s hand is on Louis’ cheek, and Niall wants that. For a second he gets it, jealousy, wanting something someone else has, but then Harry’s back, joining them on the bed, and Niall realizes that he can have what he wants. He can have whatever he wants, all of them, not all at once because he hasn’t got that many limbs, but they can figure this out. Some way or another, they can. He might have to wait his turn, but that’s okay. Niall’s a patient guy.

Harry grins a hello at him, and Niall kisses that grin right off his face, not bothering with the pleasantries, just lowering Harry to the bed and getting Harry under him. Of course Harry responds like it was exactly what he wanted, so probably it was, and oh, Niall wants to know more about this, he wants to see how it goes when Harry follows someone else’s lead. Niall’s hard, and he rather wants to get a hand on all of them and make sure he’s not the only one, but with his eyes closed as he kisses Harry the sounds in the room seem amplified and he thinks he might know already without having to touch anybody. Probably Zayn and Liam’s moans, they mean something, probably Louis’ pleased chuckle means he’s gotten something that he wanted. Niall’s excited to find out what that was. He’s also excited to try giving someone a blowjob. This seems like the time, if there’s going to be a time.

Now the curiosity’s got hold of him, and he’s interested in seeing how everyone else is handling this naked and aroused situation. He leans up off Harry, resisting Harry’s needy sound at the loss of their kiss, but allows it when Harry leans up and kisses at his neck, sucking a mark there. It’s hard to focus, feeling that, but he does get a good look at the others. It’s a bit hard to get the full picture with Zayn and Liam already kissing again and jerking each other off. His sizing up is blatant enough that Louis gives him an amused grin. “Are you comparing the size of our cocks?” Louis inquires. “Thinking about what you’d like to do with them?” Harry leans away at that, his focus on Louis now.

“Yes,” Niall says, because he was. He looks Louis in the eye, and the blatant challenge there is too much to resist. He licks his lips and then grasps Louis’ cock in his hand, carefully straddling one of Louis’ legs. Harry takes Louis’ face in his hands, and Niall takes advantage of their distraction to test his own mettle, taking Harry’s cock in his other hand. He bites his lower lip, stroking upward on both of them and smiling to himself when they moan into each other’s mouths.

“You’re something else, mate,” Zayn says, and Niall looks over from his double handjob, distracted by Zayn’s comment and also the way that Liam and Zayn are shuffling around each other, upsetting his rhythm. Liam’s leaning up against the headboard now, and he’s brought Zayn back between his legs so he can jerk Zayn off that way. It’s a good call, Niall thinks that probably it’s a bit easier from that angle. Liam’s staring at him too, his hand moving on Zayn’s cock, and Niall’s not sure how exactly Zayn’s still managing to get on his case about being a bit - whatever. Sexually free, is what Niall’s going to call it. Enthusiastic, even. Why isn’t anybody bothering Harry? Harry’s the one always talking about sex. Probably all those filthy grins he keeps giving people. It’s Niall’s face, probably, that throws everyone off. He’s always had a virginal look about him. Maybe that’ll change after tonight.

“Don’t insult the person giving me a handjob, please,” Louis requests, arching his neck back to look at Zayn. “Niall is a very nice boy. Good heart. Firm grip. A saint, really.” Niall rewards that with a nice firm twist to Louis’ cock that has his hips thrusting up into it.

“Wasn’t insulting,” Zayn mutters. He rolls his head back onto Liam’s shoulder, one hand digging into Liam’s thigh as he pushes up into Liam’s grip on him. Niall’s never really watched gay porn before, he’d never really thought to. This is pretty good, though. He might start. “I was just saying.”

“There’s nothing wrong with liking sex,” Harry points out. He strokes his tongue over the tendon in Louis’ neck. “I think it’s beautiful, really. The enthusiasm.”

“I’m going to suck your cock for that, Harry, thank you,” Niall says. Harry looks fucking overjoyed at that, and Niall beams at him.

“That’s what you get when you respect people’s sexualities, Zayn,” says Harry. “Blowjobs.”

Zayn looks like he’s going to say something else, but then Liam gets a hand in his hair and pulls his head to the side, kissing him sideways and successfully quieting him. Niall’s already slipping down the bed when Louis stops him though, physically pushing him away with a hand on his shoulder just before he gets his mouth on Harry’s cock.

“Hey,” Harry and Niall both cry out, upset enough to break Zayn and Liam’s kiss.

“Me first,” Louis says. “I want to be the first to suck Harry off, will you let me, Harry?”

“Goddammit,” says Niall. He leans huffily back, and then throws himself down in the space that Louis left vacant, finally paying attention to his own erection. He doesn’t want to have to jerk himself off, but he’ll do it at this point, just to spite anyone else that wanted to touch his cock but got too distracted. It’s a sad state of affairs when a guy can’t even give a blowjob when he has the urge to. Louis’ going down on Harry now, and it sounds spectacular, both from the noises that Harry is making and the wet, sloppy sounds of Louis doing it. Niall gets a good grip on himself, watching them.

“Let me, Niall,” Zayn says. He looks a bit guilty now, as well he should. “I haven’t sucked anyone off before, but I’ll try it on you, alright? Can I?”

“Jesus, yes,” Niall says, wishing the English language had a stronger affirmative. He lifts his hips up, fairly offering his cock to Zayn to suck, and Zayn moves down the bed a bit so he can do it properly. Liam lays down next to Niall then, pulling him into a kiss so Niall’s first moan when Zayn gets his mouth on Niall’s cock is swallowed right up. There are hands all over him, Zayn’s on his hips, Liam’s on his chest, one of Louis’ hands on his thigh and there’s Harry, too, taking Niall’s free hand where it lies between them and threading their fingers together, all of them together so good that Niall might come right then, from the sheer overwhelmingness of it all.

Zayn’s actually decent at this, not that Niall’s had many blowjobs to compare it to. Niall doesn’t want to be the first to come, but fuck it, he will if he has to, that’s the whole point, isn’t it? Liam’s kissing him quite sweetly, allowing for the fact that Niall’s not very coordinated right now. Zayn’s taking him deeper with each go, figuring out how much he can take in, and that alone is really hot, the idea that Zayn is learning on him, that he wants to.

Niall’s close, he’s so close, and then Harry gasps next to him, first nothing comprehensible and then words, and it takes Niall a second to let the syllables coalesce in his head before he realizes that Harry said, “Fuck me.”

“Oh god,” Niall groans against Liam’s lips at that, and helplessly thrusts his hips up, and comes in Zayn’s mouth. It’s totally not Niall’s fault that that set him off, Harry’s groan practically came along with high def images and Niall’s still seeing them as he comes, picturing Harry getting fucked, the way that his mouth would drop open, the noises he would make. Zayn’s pulled off his cock and is choking a bit, clearly not having expected that, and Niall feels sorry, he really does, but also he needs someone to volunteer to fuck Harry right now so he can watch. Up close. Please.

“Geez, Niall,” Zayn says, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.

“Sorry,” Niall says. “Thank you.” He reaches down and pats Zayn’s shoulder.

Liam reaches over Niall, touching Harry’s arm. “Are you sure, Harry? Won’t it hurt?”

“I don’t know,” says Harry. “Maybe. I don’t care. Louis, will you do it?”

Louis is sitting back now, Harry’s legs spread out in front of him, looking down at Harry’s naked body. “You want me to?” he says.

“Yeah.” Harry squirms under him, spreading wider. “I want to try it. In case - you know. In case we don’t make it through.”

Niall nods, touching his fingertips to Harry’s jaw. He leans in and kisses Harry when Harry turns to him. “I get it, mate,” he tells Harry, and Harry smiles at him gratefully.

“Yeah,” says Zayn. “In case we don’t.” They all look at each other, feeling the heaviness of it, the doubt. They might not make it. This might be it. “Go on then Louis, if you don’t, I will.” He gives Harry a filthy grin, and Harry laughs, reaching across Niall to pull Zayn down to him and in for a kiss.

“Oi there, no one said I wasn’t up for it,” Louis protests. “We need things, don’t we? For all this gay sex.”

“Gay sex,” Harry says, raising his arms triumphantly. “This band is the best. We have to win, basically.”

“We have to,” Niall agrees, liking Harry’s logic. “Isn’t there lotion or something?”

“Yeah, it’s good,” Zayn says. He gets up and heads to the bathroom, emerging with a little bottle of lotion. “Citrusy.”

“Take my place in the middle,” Niall tells Harry. “There’s more space.” Really he just thinks it’s the best position from which they can all watch Harry get fucked - oh god, Harry’s going to get fucked and they’re going to watch - but Harry doesn’t need to yet know the depths of Niall’s desire to look at him. He thinks about fucking Harry himself and feels sort of dizzy at the thought, and can’t even entertain the idea of Harry fucking him. That’s too much.

Niall crawls over Harry as he moves into the space Niall vacated. “On my back, do you think?” Harry asks. It seems like he’s asking all of them, which makes Niall’s heart fill to bursting with love, for some reason. They all nod, and Harry spreads himself open so Louis can get between his legs, his knees up, baring him. Niall wishes that Louis would have let him suck Harry’s cock. Harry has a really nice cock. Niall would like to get to know it better. “Start off slow.”

“I will,” says Louis. He slicks up two fingers, biting his lip as he looks between Harry’s legs, beneath his balls, to where Harry’s got his hands spreading his arse cheeks open, putting himself on display. It’s not quite fair that Harry can do that, something so wanton, and still look so beautiful, Niall thinks. Harry’s skin is flushed pink, and his eyes are wide, curls around him on the pillow, a perfect picture. They’re all gorgeous, all of them, especially now, but Harry’s special, Harry’s really got something. Niall kisses his cheek, because he can, then his jaw, his neck, and he feels the first moan vibrate against his lips when Louis pushes a finger into Harry’s arse.

“Careful,” says Liam, leaning in to see. He and Zayn are jostling each other a bit for space at the end of the bed, Zayn next to Louis, watching as he opens Harry up. Liam’s across from Niall, only able to see how Louis’ fingers disappear into Harry’s body.

“I am being careful,” Louis says. He strokes his knuckles across Harry’s trembling stomach, and just like that they’re all touching Harry, soothing hands tracing across his stomach. Niall brushes his fingertips over Harry’s nipples and Harry arches into it, turning his face toward Niall in a mute request for a kiss. Niall grants it, kissing Harry softly, giving him an anchor. “How does it feel, Harry?” Louis asks.

Harry pulls away from Niall’s lips, and breathes out. “Good,” he says. “Another.” Niall keeps on looking at his face, at the way his eyes widen and lips part at the feel of it. Louis starts to push them in and out, Niall can tell from the way that Harry’s body moves into it, his hips pushing back to take them in deeper. He knows jealousy again for a moment; he wants this too, wants to be this close to someone, feel someone inside. He wonders which of them would want to fuck him, how it would feel if they did.

With one last kiss to Harry’s jaw he pushes away, wanting to see how it looks from Louis’ perspective. Harry makes a sad sound when he goes, but Liam lies down then, turning Harry’s face toward his so he can get a good look at Harry, so he can make sure Harry is safe.

“How does it feel?” Niall asks Louis, crawling to where he can see. Louis’ fingers are sunk in to the knuckle, moving halfway out and then in again. Harry moves with each thrust almost gracefully, like he’s a natural at this, meant to take Louis inside.

“Fucking amazing,” says Louis. He’s got a third finger ready to go in, and he pulls the first two almost all the way out before wedging the third alongside. Niall holds his breath as he slides them in together, so slowly that it makes Niall ache inside in sympathy. It’s stunning, seeing Harry up close like this, so vulnerable, his body opening up to take Louis in, the tight little hole between his cheeks clenched tight around Louis’ fingers. “He’s so tight. So good, Harry.”

“I want it,” Harry says. “I’m ready, okay?” Niall places a hand on his hip, digging his thumbnail into the curve of Harry’s hipbone just to see how he reacts. He’s wild-eyed already. God, he looks like he’s dying for it.

“Give it to him, Louis,” Zayn says. He’s blatantly touching himself. Another movement catches Niall’s eye, and he realizes that Harry’s touching Liam too, jerking him off even as he’s being overwhelmed by what Louis is giving to him.

Louis swallows, looking up and down the length of Harry’s body, stopping at his face. Whatever he sees there must convince him, because he carefully draws his fingers out, spreading more lotion over his cock while he does it. Niall can’t take his eyes away as Louis moves in closer, positioning the head of his cock right up against Harry’s hole. It looks so small, even reddened and gaping a little from Louis stretching it open with his fingers. Niall knows, logically, that Louis’ cock will fit inside, but he still can’t quite believe the way that Harry opens to take him. Louis holds his cock up close, pushing the head up against Harry’s hole, and then Harry breathes out and his body just gives, Louis’ cock sliding inside an inch, then another, another until he’s all the way in.

“Oh my god,” Harry says, an edge of pain skirting around a tone that’s mostly just - full, is the only way that Niall can think to describe it, like his heart’s as full as his body and he might break open at any moment. Louis holds still, letting him adjust, his eyes locked on Harry’s face, watching for any sign that he might want to stop. Niall notices that Louis is trembling. God, both of them are.

“Alright, Harry?” Louis asks, and Harry nods before Louis can even finish the question, starting to work himself on Louis’ cock already, shifting up and then back, taking Louis in. “Oh thank god,” says Louis, and starts to thrust. He takes Harry’s hips in his hands, and goes for it, not fucking Harry particularly hard but definitely fast. Niall’s world feels like it’s narrowed to all of them on the bed, the way Harry’s hole opens up around Louis’ dick when he goes deep, the red spots on his skin where Louis has clung on tight and then changed up his grip, Harry’s hand moving on Liam’s cock, Zayn touching himself as he watches. No one’s touching Harry, Niall realizes, except on the inside, and that’s it, that’s the only thing that can tear him away from watching this.

He doesn’t bother telling Harry what he’s going to do, just gets his fist around Harry’s cock and starts to stroke him. Harry looks like he’s about to lose it already, but Louis can’t be far behind, so Niall goes straight in for it, firm jerks of Harry’s cock, slipping over the head to pick up the pre-come there and make the way slicker. Harry starts to cry out, helpless little bitten-off noises that make Niall want to flip him over and see if he’ll scream when he’s really pounded into. Liam moans and says Harry’s name, and Niall feels his own cock jerk as he watches Liam come over Harry’s fist and across his stomach, striping his hipbone.

“God, Liam,” says Zayn, and then he’s coming too, jerking himself over the same part of Harry’s body, his come crosshatching Liam’s, painting Harry like a perverse canvas. With them done there’s only the sound of Louis pounding Harry’s arse, Harry’s increasingly desperate noises as Niall jerks him off, the slick sounds of Niall’s fingers on Harry’s cock. Suddenly inspired, Niall leans down and takes Harry’s cock into his mouth, just for a taste - and that’s what he gets, because Harry comes after no more than ten seconds, filling Niall’s mouth up with it. It’s not too bad, somehow hotter than Niall expected. He chokes a little when Louis thrusts hard, sending Harry’s cock deeper into his mouth, but rides it out until he has to pull away.

Harry looks utterly spent, like there’s nothing left to him as Louis finishes, thrusting in hard and staying deep as he comes. Niall crawls up the bed to lay beside Harry, and kisses him on the cheek. Harry offers him an exhausted smile, settling back into the pillows. He groans, the tiniest sound as Louis carefully pulls out of him, petting his thighs.

“Good show, everyone,” says Louis. There are tired nods all around from where everyone is sort of flopped wherever they managed to fall. Louis crawls atop Harry and joins the pile of exhausted boys. It’s all sort of sweaty and gross, but Niall can’t really be bothered. He feels fucking great.

“We should win tomorrow and get really famous and buy a really big bed,” Harry says.

“Really big,” says Zayn. “Like big enough to do flips across. Like twenty feet wide.”

“We’d need a big room. I guess if we had the money for a big bed though, we’d probably have big rooms too,” says Louis.

“We need rest,” Liam says. “We can’t all sleep here. Let’s all get some sleep and then kill it tomorrow, eh? Then we’ll see what size beds the future brings.”

“The biggest,” Niall says. He hauls himself up with some reluctance, and heads into the shower to rinse off. One by one the others join him, sleepily bumping against each other and washing off. They leave the towels in a pile that hopefully no one in housekeeping will question tomorrow.

“Tomorrow, then,” Harry says, once they’re all out. Louis heads back to Harry’s room with him, which Niall can’t blame him for. He wouldn’t fancy sleeping on those sheets either.

Niall gives everyone a kiss goodnight. He realizes that he can no longer pick a favorite.

The next day, Niall’s lovebite has faded enough that it blends into his tan.

Also, they make it through to the live shows.

Harry and Liam do a Twitcam the first night the show airs, when they’re all shacked up in the X Factor house. The bed situation is horrific. Each one can barely hold two at a time. Luckily there’s alcohol in the house; turns out making it through the judges’ house didn’t relieve Niall’s anxiety. Well, it did, but now there are live shows. They can’t really go out, but they can sneak shots and nuzzle up on each other. Which they’ve been doing, in various combinations. Liam and Harry didn’t even bother putting their shirts back on before they started up the Twitcam. They’ve been on it forever, too, and Niall is bored.

With vodka stirring his veins and Zayn’s hand slipping down to the small of his back, maybe holding him up a little, Niall asks, “Can we all have sex?” because it’s not right that they’re just sitting there, not taking advantage of their time together. Why do anything else, for even a second? Niall doesn’t want to wait. He could be back in Ireland, a tiny footnote in the seventh season of a reality show, without a band, without Zayn and Liam and Louis and Harry, without their hands on him ever again, and nothing seems as urgent right now as that.

After all, this could all be over tomorrow.