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I can hear your heart

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"Payno's gonna bail on your afterparty circuit," Niall says, mouth near Louis's ear while they're backstage at the Billboard awards. "Soph bagsied him."

Louis raises his eyebrows and pulls away; Niall hopes he wasn't too loud, that his breath wasn't too hot on Louis's ear. He should've covered his mouth first, like Louis always does. "And you're gonna be his stand-in, is that the plan?"

"I'm game, that's all," Niall says with a laugh. He shrugs and clasps his hands together, then stuffs them in his pockets, not sure what to do with them. Focusing on getting wasted with Louis after the show and dragging him to karaoke is far preferable to dwelling on the four-person blocking for accepting their award, and how easily Niall's arms fit around their hug huddle with one less body in it. "Not your fuckin' charity case. I'm going to Ed and Taylor's whether you're coming with or not."

"Alright, alright, don't get your knickers in a twist," Louis says, and lays a hand casually across the back of Niall's neck. The hairs on Niall's arms stand up. "We'll join forces. I'm on the pull and you can lure them in for me with your fresh-faced innocence routine. Look like the nice, boy-next-door relationship type they've always wanted, but then you're lovin' 'em and leavin' 'em. Won't even sit still for a Victoria's Secret model."

"You're a bastard, Tommo," Niall says, but he's still laughing.

"And I'm right," Louis says.

He logs out of his Twitter app to keep himself from checking it the rest of the night. Everyone will be melting down about Liam mentioning Zayn, and Niall doesn't have the time for it. None of it's real, no one really knows anything they think they know.

Taylor's party is at the Nobu Hotel at Caesar's Palace, and Ed greets them with a sweaty, bug-eyed hug in the velvet-lined bottle room near the rear VIP entrance of the Nobu Villa. Niall kisses him wetly on the cheek and smacks his back. Ed smells a bit metallic, a bit sour, and Niall wouldn't be surprised if he'd just done a bump or two in the back booth.

He and Louis have far too much vodka, and Louis takes it all the way to bottle service of Patron. Niall only has one shot before he cuts himself off, drunk already but sober enough to know if he gets caught on the way back to the hotel he won't be able to take pictures if he goes any harder, and then he'll never hear the end of it.

A gaggle of them end up in the roped off area with the red backdrop serving as a photobooth. Niall laughs at the printouts, the set with Hozier towering above them in the back row. Niall's wearing a chain and a crown and Louis is hanging off him with a mace in his hand, both of them looking joyful and suspiciously good considering how wasted they are.

Then there's the ones with Louis's rubber knife at his throat, arm around Niall's back, Taylor's claws against his cheek. Calvin and Taylor and Ed are all cuddled up and making idiots of themselves in those. He'd gone for it with Ed in one of them, easy and drunk-affectionate the way he always wants to be.

Niall has to stop himself from getting handsy when Louis is around; he turns prickly and distant if Niall is too demonstrative anywhere but on stage or at a meet and greet. It's one of the worst feelings, being rebuffed by Louis, so Niall's stopped trying. He let the urge to touch atrophy and fall away long ago. Louis instigates still, sometimes, when they're both utterly sober and Louis is in total control, the two of them casually orbiting each other backstage or in hotel rooms. That's when Niall drinks his fill, in those moments he's allowed and only then. It's enough, usually.

They take their pictures and head to the dais in the back corner of the club, all velvet upholstery and low glass tables. A crowd of girls congregates on the couches around their buckets of champagne, unsurprisingly. Niall sings them Bruno Mars while drumming on the table and receives an enthusiastic if tipsy round of applause for his trouble. Louis is tucked obviously against the side of a slender blonde with short beachy hair and a tiny black dress. Niall talks to Nadia, the petite brunette next to him, about Ireland's chances in the Rugby World Cup. She Instagrams her mango martini with her own photobooth printout placed artfully under it like a coaster. "Sick," Niall says, laughing. "Great picture."

Nadia shrugs and grins back at him, cheeks pink and hair glossy-smooth. She's a model, probably. "How am I supposed to rack up likes on it if you tell me that to my face instead of on Instagram?" she says, wryly.

"What's your username, then?" he asks, pulling his phone out of his back pocket and thumbing through his lock code.

"It's private," she says, eyebrow raised, thumbing around on her own phone. She cocks her head to the side, and Niall laughs again, knows the game cold by now. He's vaguely aware that Louis and his blonde have gone off somewhere, so he plays along cheerfully.

"I'll follow you, you follow me?" Niall says, cheeky. Nadia shrugs, but her friend elbows her in the side.

They laugh together for a bit longer, Niall charmed by her sarcasm and the fact that she keeps waving bar staff over to bring them both screwdrivers even though the champagne bottles sweating in the buckets on the table are seemingly bottomless. "Such refined taste," she says, clinking their glasses together and holding his gaze.

Louis reappears by himself after a while only to drag Niall to the pool tables in one of the bars branching off from the main club floor. Niall doesn't ask after the blonde girl, and mimes a phone call to Nadia as he leaves, giving a thumbs up in her direction while she smiles exasperatedly after him.

Niall and Louis dominate at pool, probably as much because everyone they're playing is stoned, drunk, or otherwise chemically altered beyond their abilities to aim as anything else. Niall's on water, wanting to keep a clear head as he and Louis huddle together, wanting to keep each memory crisp. Plus, it wouldn't do to embarrass himself in front of everyone from the Pentatonix to the entire cast of Entourage.

It's gone three by the time Niall figures he ought to pack it in—Louis is nowhere to be found, but John, who's standing in for Basil, texted that the van is in the loading dock waiting for them. The blonde probably came back, or else Louis found someone new to replace her.

Niall heads out towards the garage, fuzzy around the edges but all in all not too terribly drunk, still buzzing a little bit off whatever it was Ed gave him in the champagne room an hour or so ago to celebrate his pool win. He takes a deep breath, steeping in the high of a good night out, an awards show, the fact that running to a Range Rover with tinted windows in the basement of Cesar's Palace is his life now. He texted Nadia to follow them in five minutes or so.

With a sudden, terrifying lurch, someone jumps up on Niall's back, fingers digging painfully into his shoulders. A million different scenarios present themselves—rabid fans, obsessed stalkers, a mugger, kidnapping, literally anything. Niall gasps and bends in half, trying not to panic. A weight rolls off him and someone laughs, an obnoxious, drunk laugh. "Sorry, mate," Louis says, eyes nothing but slits when Niall looks up at him. He's grinning, slightly unfocused. "Gotcha."

"Christ alive, Louis," Niall says, gripping at his own chest, willing his breathing to calm down. He laughs—can't help himself. "You're such a cunt."

"Could do with one'a them now, couldn't you?" Louis says, walking backwards towards the car, facing Niall as he weaves a bit. "Looks like you struck out."

Niall shakes his head, heartbeat returning to normal, skin still prickled up in goosebumps where Louis was pressed against his back. "Fuck you, I did not. She's coming along in a minute, you know how this shit works."

Louis swallows thickly before he laughs again, sharp this time. "Bet you a thousand quid she'll cancel."

"What, why?" Niall asks, bristling. He was having such a good night; he's not in the mood for this.

"She was with Beth, weren't she? And Beth cleared out, so." Louis shrugs expansively, and Niall hasn't a clue who Beth is, but money is on the beachy blonde from earlier.

"They don't have a shared brain, Tommo. One of them can leave and the other one can stay, they're not like—bees or whatever. Those flocks of birds where thousands of 'em all turn the same way at the same second."

Louis just stares at him for a moment. "Deep," he says. "Anyway, you're a twat and I'm not waiting around for her so unless you want to call another ride and more security you're leaving now with me and we'll both be miserable sexless bastards together."

Niall scrunches his face up, sucking hard on his teeth. "You wouldn't."

"I would!" Louis says with a grin, hopping into the car. "Get in or fuck you!" he shouts, just his head sticking out the back window.

Niall stands outside the car, looking mournfully between John and Louis. "How long will it be if I wait?" he asks, and John just shakes his head. Niall sighs and clambers into the middle row of seats in the car, ignoring Louis as he claps him on the shoulder and ruffles his hair roughly.

"That'a boy," Louis says, voice rough. John slams the door shut, and Niall slips his phone out of his pocket to text Nadia.


Niall doesn't speak the whole way up to their floor of the hotel, stroppy and not at all sorry about it because Louis deserves the silent treatment and worse. Obviously Niall's upset that he won't be able to have sex tonight, but even more than that, Nadia was a nice girl and he hates being rude to hook-ups. It's bad form in general, plus she could tell anyone anything at any moment, and Niall's nothing if not obsessively discreet.

Louis walks past the door to his suite and goes straight to Niall's, shoes inexplicably in his hand and socked feet padding on the plush carpet of their deserted hallway. "What are you doing?" Niall asks, resolve withering. He presses his lips together in a tight line, squares his shoulders.

Louis just raises his eyebrows and gestures impatiently at the keycard slot. Niall's shoulders slump again and he slips the card out of his wallet. He lets them both in, something heavy and sudden in his stomach at the smell of Louis's hairspray and cigarettes as he follows Niall inside. Louis doesn't say anything, and Niall won't give him the satisfaction of asking twice. He goes over to the minibar and uncaps an orange juice, slugs half of it thirstily, then empties one of the little bottles of vodka into it. He recaps it and shakes it up, deliberately looking anywhere but at Louis. He slides his phone out of his pocket with his other hand while he's shaking his screwdriver, thumbing through Instagram like he would if he were here alone, trailing pop-up hearts behind every scroll.

Louis's sharp, coiling presence is radiating irritation from the direction of the bed. If it were any other time, he'd be with Zayn right now, the two of them smoking up and annihilating each other in Dark Souls II. Niall feels displaced, one more step than he thought in the staircase. After he takes a healthy gulp of his drink, he lets himself look over. Louis's socked feet are dangling by the dust ruffle, and he's propped up against the headboard, staring at Niall, one hand clutched over his thigh. Niall freezes in his gaze like a deer. "Kind of boring, aren't you?" Louis says eventually, cocking his head and raising an eyebrow.

Niall curls his lip. "Why are you being such a fucking cunt, Tomlinson?" he asks, hands in fists by his sides.

Louis oohs theatrically. "Get you," he says, and pulls his legs up onto the bed, hugging his knees. "That time of the month, is it?"

"You scared off my date, you forced your way in here, and now you're just sitting there taking the piss. We were havin' the craic, Louis, and you just shat all over it for no reason. You're fuckin' unbelievable."

Louis laughs, but it doesn't sound happy at all. "First class ruiner, I am," he says, sarcastically, but Niall can feel him believe it. The fight starts trickling out of him, always tuned to Louis's self-pity.

"Why are you here?"

Louis shrugs. "Beth bailed on me. I was bored. Thought we could have a laugh. We have a laugh, don't we?" His eyes are wide, and Niall's answer feels like the most important thing in the world.

"'Course we do, Tommo," Niall says. He shuffles over to the bed and sits in the middle, where Louis's legs are drawn up, so his side brushes the bones of Louis's shins. He props his arm up on Louis's knees and his chin on top of his own forearm, elbowing straight into Louis's space. Zayn is gone. It echoes around in his head and makes him soft, makes him realise. Makes him want to fill Louis's spaces.

"Are we having a laugh now?" One of Louis's knuckles nudges at Niall's palm where his hand lies limp in the air between them.

"I dunno, are we?" Niall asks, barely above a whisper as the air conditioning switches off and the room is dead silent. His heart pounds.

"I don't think so," Louis says. He pushes his knuckles up into Niall's palm until they're holding hands, somehow, and Niall's mouth goes dry. Louis pulls him in, until Niall's chest is pressed against Louis's knees and they're sharing breaths, tips of their noses touching and foreheads bent together.

The room is spinning, but everything is completely still as well, like a movie where the main character can stop time and walk around inside of it, looking at the same couple kissing on a park bench from three-hundred and sixty degrees. "What are you doing?" Niall asks, willing his mouth to move. The bright numbers on the clock beside the bed read 4:37.

"Having a laugh," Louis says, lips brushing against Niall's. He kisses him then, and Niall can't even process it. It feels like nothing, numb mouths and Louis's hair tickling Niall's temples, his hands clammy on his jaw and the back of his neck. Niall kisses back, though, every ounce of life in him surging to the surface, thrumming through him until he can clutch at Louis, open his mouth and taste his cigarettes over the tang of the screwdriver. The room is near-frigid but he's burning up, every drunk inch of him sweating and shivering up into goosebumps at the same time. He's wanted guys before, but never as much as he's wanted Louis.

Louis slips him tongue and Niall has the sudden sick urge to laugh. He doesn't, though, just takes it in, licks at Louis's teeth and pulls back, teasing. Louis hums under his breath and Niall reads it as a victory, anything at all to keep this going longer, to keep Louis interested enough, to make him want to see a whim through for once. It's a game to Niall, the only way he can think of it without losing himself, without showing his hand, without seeming pathetic.

He just never thought it could happen at all, let alone like this. A shift in a hotel bed, a little drunk but still conscious. Louis orchestrated it all, Niall's just along for the ride, and it's a fire in his heart he has to bank or he'll go mad.

Louis straightens his legs into a vee and he pulls Niall closer, hitching him up with a little grunt that makes Niall's dick twitch in his jeans. "Jesus," he murmurs, lips mashed against Louis's, glad they're both clean-shaven or the stubble burn would be a tale to tell. He's hard, there's no getting around it, and Louis is going to know. Niall loses track of time, everything narrowed to kissing Louis. Niall's thighs are jammed awkwardly under his, and the fact that Niall's leg is falling asleep brings him out of it. They're breathing heavy through their noses like they've been snogging for hours.

Niall slants his eyes towards the clock on the nightstand. They've been at it for two hours and eighteen minutes, in fact. It's light outside, early morning showing at the edges of the heavy curtains.

"Got somewhere to be?" Louis asks, voice raked over gravel but high in the back of his throat, breathed out.

Niall shakes his head, can't help the smile on his face. He noses at Louis's throat and kisses him there, trying not to overdo it. He needs to taste him, to revel in being so close, so free to touch. His cock rubs heavily against his flies, hot and insistent. "Louis," he says, but no words come after it.

Louis slides a hand down between Niall's thighs. Niall hisses and tenses, biting back a whine. "Don't need girls after all, do we?" Louis says, barely audible, lips shaping the words against Niall's ear more than speaking them. He palms Niall's cock, and Niall's cheeks heat. He wouldn't have thought Louis had ever done this before, but if he has, that means Niall has something to live up to, like his cock could be too small or he could be bad at this in a way he doesn't even understand.

"Guess not," he manages, and Louis turns them over, still with the heel of his hand rubbing firm and constant over Niall's dick. He doesn't care that he's a substitute for a girl, he doesn't care that he could be anyone.

"Niall," Louis breathes, a hint of a smile curling at the corner of his mouth as he kisses Niall again. Niall's heart clenches, and he rethinks everything, kisses back with his fingers tight around Louis's shoulders. Louis fumbles with Niall's jeans until he can get a hand on him, and Niall gasps wetly at the feel of Louis's sweaty palm slipping in the slick oozing over his foreskin.

"Christ," Niall says, bitten off, and pushes up into Louis's hand. He can't help it, and he looks like an idiot, but Louis's eyes are hungry and half-lidded anyway. He wanks Niall like he's done it before, though Niall's foreskin is tight and Louis fumbles with it at first. Niall swallows thickly, self-conscious, but somehow it just makes everything sharper, makes him feel more split open and sensitive when Louis touches him, looks at him. Breathes him in. Niall wants to ask Louis to kiss him again but he's scared to, so he closes his eyes and puts his own hand over his mouth instead.

"Look at me, why doncha," Louis says, and his voice shakes, not just from the motion of his hand fast and sure on Niall. Niall opens his eyes and Louis is staring back at him, mouth slack and sweat at his temples. He looks unreal, and Niall trails his hands over Louis's cheekbones, brushing the wisps of his sideburns behind his ears. He doesn't care that it's probably weird, just has to make it feel real for himself as his thighs tense and he fucks into Louis's hand.

"I'm gonna—" he starts, and Louis smiles. Not a smirk, a real smile, and it hurts to look at. He ducks down and Niall can't even register what's happening before Louis's mouth is on him, tonguing at his slit and slurping inexpertly down the whole length of Niall's dick. Niall whines, cringes at what he sounds like but can't focus on anything but the feel of Louis's mouth for long. It's wet and hot and the slide of his tongue under Niall's foreskin makes his entire body buckle. "Louis, no, I'm—" He comes with a panting keen, his whole body shuddering and thighs spread where Louis is pushing them apart, leaning his whole bodyweight against Niall. He sucks on Niall's spent dick as Niall's head spins and he tries to push Louis away, hurting from oversensitivity, trying to cling to the euphoric feeling of that orgasm.

"Mmph," Louis says, loath to let Niall push him back. "Alright, Nialler?" he asks, and this time he's smirking, voice shredded.

Niall nods and reaches out to grab at Louis's waist, to bring him closer, to kiss him hard. He closes his hand into a loose fist before he can embarrass himself, though, just grazing Louis's hip with the backs of his fingers. "What—"

"No questions, no questions," Louis says, waving Niall away with a dismissive hand gesture, like he's a fly or a persistent fan. Niall pulls his knees up to his chest and hugs his arms around them. He shrugs, head spinning, still half-delirious with afterglow yet so self-conscious he'd rather melt into the bed if he could manage it.

"Alright then, if you don't want to get off," he says, tinge of irritation in it. It's just like Louis to bring him so high he can hardly believe it's real and then stomp all over it just when Niall's feeling the best he possibly could.

"I didn't say that." Louis's a bit quieter, not looking straight at Niall anymore.

"What d'you want then?" Niall asks, prepared for Louis to roll his eyes, to make Niall figure it out, to leave all the decisions to someone else because Louis can't be bothered to exert the mental effort. It's easier to focus on that than to think about the options.

Louis sits back on his knees, looking small in front of Niall. He usually seems much bigger, despite their comparable sizes. "You could—" he says, and makes a wanking motion rather than finishing the sentence. Niall takes a deep breath in through his nose. Louis is looking somewhere slightly south of Niall's eyes. Maybe at the tip of his nose. Suddenly Niall can't think of anything but Eleanor, so recently departed, leaving Louis in such a state that he'd deign to spend a night fucking around with Niall. Then there's Zayn—did he do this for Louis? Was this part of the nights in the van?

"Of course, shit," Niall says, scrambling up when Louis's hand starts to sag towards his own lap. He gets Louis's skinnies undone easily but getting his hand in is hard. "Tight as fuck," he says with a smile, and Louis laughs, self-deprecating.

"Yours aren't exactly roomy either," he says, breathless as Niall brushes his knuckles along the length of Louis's prick where it's pushing at the front of his boxer-briefs. His dick is thick but not too long, the heft of it obvious even without Niall's fingers around it. He takes a moment just to himself to sink into the fact that he's never touched someone else's dick before, not like this. He's someone who will wank another bloke. He's someone who wants to wank Louis off. More than that, even.

"Alright?" he asks, getting his hand inside Louis's pants, starting to squeeze and tug at him. He's not as slimy-wet as Niall gets and it makes Niall's ears burn. There are trickles of precome he can work with so he tries to slick the way, overly conscious not to chafe Louis's dick. "Not sure what I'm doing."

"You're a champ," Louis laughs on a heavy exhale. "What d'you mean, not sure what you're doing? You've got the world's land speed record for wanking, I reckon."

Niall laughs, even though he knows it's at his own expense. Just the way Louis says it is funny. "Tell me if I'm about to tear it off or something," he mutters, and Louis just groans.

His prick is hot, at least as thick as it felt still tucked in his pants, and Niall's mouth waters embarrassingly. He hasn't the slightest idea what he's doing, and he's sure he must be pulling at Louis's pubes by accident, smushing his balls, being a general idiot, but Louis's eyes are slipping shut and his mouth has fallen open. He looks up, suddenly, straight into Niall's eyes, and it's disconcerting but weirdly, stupidly sexy. "That's a good lad," he says, chin tilting up, eyes sliding shut again. His hips push into Niall's hands steadily, carefully. It would feel good, that thrusting, the thick dick fucking into him, those hips pressed to the back of his thighs. It would be nice.

Niall moans, though he doesn't mean to, and Louis's attention snaps back to his face. "Like that?" Louis asks, though he sounds softer now. Niall nods, and Louis smiles at him. A real smile, again. It hurts, again. "Good." Niall slips a little in the dribble of precome leaking down the side of the plummy head of Louis's prick, the ragged edge of his bitten-short thumbnail scraping across Louis's slit. Niall hisses the same time Louis does, not expecting it when Louis makes a garbled grunting noise and lists forward, forehead leaning against Niall's shoulder. "Fuckin' hell," Louis murmurs, fine tremors shivering along his limbs everywhere Niall can feel him.

Niall does it again, deliberately, and Louis groans, thready and high. It thrums through Niall like he's unlocked something priceless. He's rougher, then, wanking Louis recklessly until he's shivering and his body is bent up, clenching. He seems almost pained. "C'mon," Niall says. "Sure, it's only me."

Louis's mouth is shut tight but Niall can hear his stifled cry anyway, the airy, swallowed desperation of it as Louis comes over Niall's fist, splattering globs of come on Niall's clothes. Niall's panting as hard as Louis is, watching him shake through it, the rapid tense and release of his belly, the sweaty fall of his fringe over his eyes.

"You okay?" Niall asks, quiet, breathless. He wants to kiss Louis but doesn't know if he's allowed, so he just leans in, angles his face so Louis could do it. If he wanted.

Louis nods, but he's clearly a little bit fuzzy, trying to catch his breath. Niall barely loosens his hand to let go of Louis's dick so he can feel the length of it slide through his fingers one last time. He tries to ignores the lewd, wet sound of it, but his own spent cock flexes anyway.

Louis does kiss him, then. It's tired and half-slack, tasting sour and weird, but it's so good. Niall's never really cared that much about kissing before, always did it because that's what he's meant to do rather than because he really cared that much about getting the shift. He cares now. He'd spend another two hours kissing Louis, if he could, and the fact that he wants to is unbelievable.

Louis slumps down onto the bed in an awkward sideways pile after he pulls away from Niall's kiss, a detached smirk on his face. He seems half asleep already. "Just make yourself at home, then," Niall says, eyeing the spunk congealing on his own clothes. Next time he'll get his mouth on Louis, at least at the end, just like Louis did for him.

The thought of it—both of the blowjob and also simply the possibility of there being a next time—makes Niall's spine tingle and his belly clench hotly.

"'Kay," Louis says into the duvet, and that's the last Niall hears of him before his snoring starts up. Niall tries to keep an empty mind while he changes out of his jizzed-up clothes and into a clean pair of pants and an undershirt, but the feel of Louis's mouth on him, the heft of Louis's dick in his hand, are intrusive thoughts that make his toes curl when all he wants is to go to sleep.


When Niall wakes up, Louis is gone, but it doesn't feel empty or too still in the room. There's a sweating water bottle on the nightstand and Niall's bottle of Duloxetine with two pills sitting on top. There's no coaster under the water bottle and his dosage of the pain meds is only one pill, but in this case it really is the thought that counts. Niall feels warm and loose between his ribs, and actually not very hungover at all. He takes the pills anyway, still a little tacky from Louis's clammy fingertips.

Niall assumed in his heart of hearts that that would be the last of it. Maybe with the empty ache of Zayn being gone, Louis was trying to sabotage them, blowing himself up and taking Niall with him. Nothing feels different when he sees Louis again, though. In fact, they slide together easier than ever before, like Niall has somehow proved himself.

They go out again in LA, night after night piling into vans with Louis's crew plus or minus some contingent from Fifth Harmony—Lauren is a proper laugh—or the stylist girls from the American PR firm who seem to be employed purely to chitchat with them and keep them out of trouble. Or get them into it. Once, Niall even cons Louis into singing karaoke with him, and he doesn't give Niall a dead arm and storm out even when "What Makes You Beautiful" comes on. He sings it with Niall, and it feels like the best fever dream. Louis's grin and the sweat-damp sweep of his fringe and his arm heavy around Niall's shoulders are the only things in the entire world.

More often than not, after their boozy LA nights wrap up, Niall and Louis end up in one another's hotel rooms. At first Louis makes excuses like they're going to watch a film or play PlayStation, but he stops fairly soon after. They always end up panting into each other's mouths until they come, hands sticky with jizz, thighs tired. Niall gives his first blowjob, and gets his first fingerfuck, three of Louis's fingers shoving into him until he's shaking, strung tight and gritting his teeth together to keep from saying anything stupid. It's easy, and they don't talk about it, and Niall clutches at it, appreciates every night for the precarious wish fulfillment it is.


Once they're back in London, Niall figures it will stop, finally. He needs a rest—not from Louis, but a good lie-in, a lazy day in front of the football sprawled on his couch with a smoothie or three. Elsa the housekeeper has been in every week per usual while he's been gone, but he wants to rearrange his kitchen cabinets and drawers, and order some new appliances that Jamie recommended.

When he gets started working on his house, puttering around and cleaning, folding his laundry, making sure everything smells right, it takes a lot to get him out again. He spends eighty percent of his time either golfing or vegging out, listening to Willie gossip about his hilarious coworkers and talking on the speakerphone with his financial planner Toby while he scrubs the burners of his hob.

His phone screen flashes in the middle of his call, and he flops his teatowel over his shoulder and wipes his hands on it so he can check his text without hanging up on Toby. He's droning, and Niall's doing the verbal equivalent of smiling and nodding.

Coming out tonight ?! It's Louis, and Niall frowns, eyebrows jumping up.

"Hey, Tobes, can I give you call back? That all sounds great. You should write it up and email it to Gemma, she'll print everything out for me." Toby makes some vague noise of agreement before hanging up, but Niall's already working on his reply to Louis.

kinda short notice Isn't it ? he texts, with the hourglass emoji.

Is that a no, lad?

Not a no. I just might of had other plans !!, then the calendar emoji.

you don't tho

...nope . where we goin ??

They're going to The Libertine, apparently, which Niall wouldn't necessarily have picked on his own. It's a favourite of some of his footie mates, though, so there'll probably be people he knows there besides Louis and the lads. He tries not to read anything into it, but being home and hearing from Louis instead of assuming Louis is just letting their closeness fizzle the way he's always tended to do before with Niall feels huge.

He wears something simple but tight, nice t-shirt and jeans, glad he made sure to have Caroline send him some boots and the Paul Smith pieces she was pushing on him before she split off with Zayn. She sent him a box of jewelry, too, and he stacks on some bracelets without really knowing what he's doing. He brings his hat, knows the paps and Twitter will both be obsessed with puns about it for days but doesn't care.

The club is crowded and noisy, but Niall requests "CoCo" and "Party Rock Anthem" and Louis shoves vodka Red Bulls into his hands like they're water. It's a fucking great time, if he's honest. Some of his other pals come out, and he dances until his knee aches.

He starts flagging around two AM, and texts Louis that he's taking Amy home, doesn't want to wait around or let himself hope for something that he doesn't know he's going to get. Amy's a champ and makes him a ham and cheese toasty and plies him with enough water that he's pretty sure he won't be hungover for the next two weeks no matter what he drinks. They watch an episode of Bob's Burgers which she's just started marathoning on Netflix and won't shut up about, and Niall can appreciate it although his attention keeps wandering. Amy elbows him in the side every time he looks at his phone. "I'm turning it off if you're not going to pay attention, Horan," she grumbles, but she's smiling.

When it rings, Amy rolls her eyes and Niall laughs as he answers, doesn't even see who it is first. "Yeah?" Amy makes a show of pausing the telly.

"Little Niall," slurs Louis. "Where'd you get to?"

"I drove Aims home. I texted you, twat."

"You drove?" says Louis, voice cracking. "You were yodeling, Nialler, I don't think you're in any position to be driving."

Niall laughs again. "I mean, she came in my car with me, driven by my driver. I don't have a death wish. Unlike some idiots I know."

"How's she treating little Niall? I mean, Littler Niall. Very small Niall." Louis asks, and he sounds distracted suddenly.

Niall frowns and shakes his head. "It's not like that," he says, and shrugs at Amy, who looks bored and probably couldn't have heard Louis.

"What, too much of a slut to be satisfied with what you've already got?" Louis says, as if Niall hadn't spoken at all, and it sounds blase, but it makes Niall's cheeks heat and the bottom drop out of his stomach. It's literally the first time either of them have spoken about it at all, even just to allude to it.

"Louis, don't be a cunt. I'm hanging up if that's all you have to say."

"Whatever," Louis says. "Don't come to mine then. I honestly don't give a fuck."

Niall can't even think of a retort to that, stonily sober and still reeling drunk at the same time. "You're making no sense, Tommo," he says, quiet.

"Pathetic," Louis says, but his voice cracks, and he hangs up immediately after without giving Niall a chance to sort anything out at all.

"I have to go," Niall says, thumbing his phone off.

"Drunky mate needs taking care of?" Amy asks, and she's smiling, soft and sympathetic. "You're a good egg."

Niall laughs. "Or just a fuckin' doormat," he says, shrugging. He gets up and finds his shoes kicked off by the door.

"Nah, not a doormat," says Amy. "Just don't get taken advantage of. You make it easy."

"That's the idea," Niall says. Amy gives him a confused look as he leaves, but even he isn't entirely sure what he means.

When he gets to Louis's suite in the Soho Hotel, he uses the keycard Louis gave him at the beginning of the night—"Not bothering with a car all the way out to mine at four AM, am I?"—and Louis looks over at him from the bed, face smoothing out when their eyes catch. Louis isn't blackout drunk after all, but he is naked. Niall's mouth waters traitorously, and the angry yelling he was going to indulge in dies in his throat. He strips off instead, watching Louis's fist bob as he wanks himself, hips canting up.

Niall comes some time later with Louis murmuring filth to him, four fingers up to the last knuckle stretching Niall wide, corners of his eyes wet and all thoughts of doormats obliterated.


They go to Glastonbury together like it's an annual event for them. They each collect a few other mates to come along, and they don't make an itinerary, but it's an unspoken rule that James Bay is their thing, that they'll see him together no matter who else they're with or what's going on around them.

Gilly tags along with Niall, Gilly who he's maybe thought about while wanking more than once, but it's like looking at a magazine compared with Louis next to them, just the smell of him making Niall horny and loose from his temples to his toes.

He slipped on a necklace today, something approximating an artsy ID tag, and he didn't really mean to do it, but Louis tugs at it throughout the day, steering Niall the way he wants to go or just to have something to fiddle with. It keeps Niall in an exhausting state of high alert, but it's thrilling too. He doesn't do anything, doesn't say anything because the paps are everywhere, but it tugs at something inside of him in time with the clench of Louis's fingers every time he does it.

Seeing the acts at the festival is different now than when he went to festivals as a kid. He knows everything that goes into the performances, knows everything that goes into writing and recording the songs, knows the back-end management and PR benefits and on and on. It's fun, of course, and some of the acts are his friends now, or at least almost his friends. He just can't see them without thinking about work, and the next time he'll be playing a stage.

The next leg of their tour is rushing quickly towards them. Zayn is well and truly gone, now. Niall hasn't talked to Harry and Liam all that much, but it's clear Zayn hasn't kept in contact with any of them. The empty place is starting to ache like a pulled tooth, and it's getting harder for Niall to feel like they're going to be able to keep it all together.

"Louis," he says, downing half a bottle of water in one gulp from the fridge in their caravan. They have an entire contingent of security outside, no photographers allowed for miles. James Bay ended not long ago, Gilly and Oli racing off to see Catfish and the Bottlemen. Niall needed non-alcoholic sustenance, and to think about something other than Tamara's hand clutched in Louis's earlier that day. He's not that guy.

"Mm?" Louis asks, rolling a spliff like there isn't a perfectly good pipe in one of the drawers in the kitchenette. He probably forgot it was there.

"What the fuck are we doing?"

Louis looks up suddenly, asks, "What?" sharp and tense.

"The band. The four of us. What the fuck are we doing." Louis's shoulders drop and he sits back, visibly relaxing. Niall can't think what Louis heard, and he's not even really sure what prompted him to say it, besides the warm pint of beer he just finished, the ghost of Louis's fingers tugging at the chain around his neck, the warm feeling in his chest at finding Louis naked on the bed the other night. The sick pit in Niall's stomach that he doesn't feel or care about when his mouth is on Louis's dick or Louis's fingers are inside of him.

"Uh," Louis says, dragging it out, half confusion and half insult. "You're gonna have to give me more than that, I think."

Niall shakes his head, snapping his teeth together, cheeks heating. "Fuck, never mind."

"Bullshit," Louis says, and it's softer this time, his eyes kind. "C'mere. Sharing is caring."

Niall shuffles over with his water bottle clutched in a deathgrip. "Christ, I dunno. I was just thinking about—everything. What I'll do after."

"After what? Everything's fine. We made sure everything would be fine. There are contracts that mean everything has to be fine." The look he gives Niall is gentle, but he's tense again. "You're meant to be the sunshine, aren't you? Just because Zayn did a runner doesn't mean we need to fill the position of the cynic. I'd rather get rid of it, if it's all the same to you. Downsize." He pushes away the rolling papers and grinder on the little table and pats the other bench seat encouragingly.

"I don't like this. I don't like feeling like I'm waiting for something to happen and I don't know what it's gonna be, but it's not gonna be good. Don't like feeling like it's all downhill from here." Niall shrugs, but sits across from Louis. Louis's knee presses deliberately into his. "Not doing too great at being the sunshine, or whatever."

Louis hums, shoulders hunched in. He maybe hasn't heard everything Niall just said. "He's a fucker and we're better without him. Him and e—veryone else. Draggin' us down. If it falls through, I guarantee you'll be fine. We all will be." His voice sounds thin, though, and he won't meet Niall's eyes.

It's painful, and Niall reaches across the table without really thinking, instinct to fix it winning out over reason in the moment. He curls a finger under Louis's chin and kisses him. Louis huffs a surprised breath through his nose, pulling away after a moment, lip-smacking sound of the kiss breaking absurd in the muzzy silence of the camper. "Sorry," Niall says, sitting back in his seat, suddenly sure they're not allowed to do this when they're not falling-down drunk, when they don't have an anonymous hotel room and blackout curtains as an excuse.

Louis shakes his head, and Niall's heart falls at first. But Louis half stands up, just enough to pull the shade of the window next to the table before cupping his hands around the sides of Niall's neck under his ears, kissing him again, properly this time. Niall lets the back of his head thunk against the thin wall of the nook in the caravan, and Louis trails his hands down to Niall's wrists, his slender fingers fitting around the skinny knobs of them perfectly.

Niall hisses a fast breath through his nose as Louis pushes Niall's arms up, palms pressing Niall's wrists to the wall with a thump on either side of his head, elbows bent and chest opened up. Louis pulls back, tip of his nose all that's touching Niall besides his hands on his wrists. His smile is real but a little shaky, and Niall tilts his chin up, trying to capture Louis's lips without moving off the wall, but they just end up nuzzling noses instead. Niall laughs until Louis cuts him off with another kiss, deep and then soft, pulling back so Niall can't reach him every time Niall's about to sink into it and taste him.

"It's three PM," Niall says, eyes wide. He won't be able to take it if Louis realises what they're doing in the middle of it and leaves him here. "There's people out there."

"Yeah, on the other side of two dozen security," Louis says, quiet. Niall swallows. "There's a bed right there, you know." He nods his head to the back room, the queen mattress, the thick duvet. "Not your mum's caravan. Only the best for us now."

Niall nods, wants to twist his wrists in Louis's grip to feel the clench of his fingers but doesn't want to risk him letting go. "What about it?" he asks, sliding his legs apart on the seat, his blush spreading down his neck to his chest, ears hot.

"C'mon," Louis says, and that's all it takes. They're both up and out of the kitchenette, down again in the middle of the big-enough bed with frantic hands and heavy breaths. It's broad daylight, only a little dimmed by the drawn shades, and seeing Louis in full daylight colour as he kicks out of his black skinnies is almost too much. He doesn't always talk when they do this, but he's talking now—"Been thinking about this," Louis says. "Kept looking at you during "Move Together". Christ, Nialler." He sounds rough, wrecked already.

Louis's hard already, too, and Niall grabs at him, pulls their bodies flush together as soon as they're naked, feeling utterly exposed in a strange place, the hot burn of knowing there are people outside the camper scaring the shit out of him even as he can't get enough of Louis's dick sliding in the hollow of his hip.

He's on his back, one leg bent so Louis can slot against him, warm and smooth, belly pressed tight to Niall's cock as they shift together, and it's like he can't possibly get close enough. Something in Niall is desperate still, wants more, anything he can get. "Fuck me," he breathes into Louis's mouth, hands tight around Louis's sides, fingers slotted between his ribs.

Louis pulls back, holding still, and licks his lips. "Yeah?" Niall nods, bringing his calf up to pull at the back of Louis's thigh, the air close and hot between them. They've never done this before, Niall's never done this before, but it doesn't matter. Maybe that's part of it. "God," Louis says, and kisses Niall again, a hand spread over his hip, thumb digging in at the soft fold into his inner thigh.

He leans back to look through the little cabinets built into the wall either side of the bed, but there's nothing in them except for Kleenex and a mini travel bottle of Nivea. He grunts, frustrated, and gets up with one hand over his stiff prick to check in the tiny bathroom. "Fuck," Niall hears from the other side of the caravan, and a thump.

"Come back," he calls, heart racing. He brings his other knee up, starts wanking himself slowly. He's cold without Louis there, untethered without the weight of his body holding Niall down. He doesn't want to think, and with the muffled sounds of Louis in the other room it's all too easy.

Louis peers around the doorjamb, face stormy. "I can't find any fucking condoms," he says, like it's the end of world.

"I don't care," Niall says, belly clenching and knees knocking together softly with the sudden tensing of his thighs around his hand. "Forget it. Don't need one."

"What d'you want to do instead?" Louis asks, kneeing up onto the bed, hands parting Niall's thighs again and making him shiver.

"No, I mean—" Niall starts, then swallows thickly. He meets Louis's eyes and holds them for what feels like an eon, his pulse thudding in his throat. "Fuck me, no condom. It's fine."

Louis's fingers slide up his legs, tighten on Niall's knees, rubbing up and down Niall's scar, over and over, like the slick rope of it is soothing under the pad of his thumb. Niall can't feel it but for the trembling in the surrounding skin. He holds his breath. "Are you sure?" Louis asks, just a whisper.

"Yeah," Niall says. "Should I be worried?"

"No," Louis murmurs, barely audible.

Neither of them move at first, but then they both jerk into motion, Niall going for the lotion and Louis going for the pillows, and it might be funny if it didn't feel like falling off a cliff, every sense heightened and the yawning pull of something huge swallowing Niall from the pit of his stomach to the top of his quiff.

"C'mon," Niall says, situated and ready with lotion in his palm, heating it up. Louis crawls close, the closest he's ever been. Niall wanks him slowly with the lotion, pulls him in gently by the dick to snog him, deep and hot, until he can feel Louis's shoulders shivering, just the barest amount, where he's pressed to Niall's body.

Niall's about to finger himself open when Louis spits, "No," catching him by the wrist. "Sorry," he says, softer. "I just—will you let me?"

That Louis asks like that makes Niall's chest warm. He nods, pressing his lips together, keeping in the smile. He digs his fingers into Louis's hair and grips tight instead, giving it to him that way. Louis slicks up his fingers and presses Niall open, and even though he's done it plenty by now, Niall will never get used to it. He gasps and closes his eyes, thighs spreading and hips tilting to take Louis in without even having to think about it. Louis makes a rough noise, mouth open and breathing hot against Niall's neck as he twists a second finger in, feeling along Niall's insides until Niall whimpers, the tips of Louis's fingers rubbing into that spot that makes his lower back bow and his hips open like a slut.

"Nngh, yeah," he moans, and claps a hand over his mouth after he does it, embarrassed. He sounds whiny, desperate. Louis pinches at his nipples with his free hand, fucking into him still with his other fingers.

"No one's gonna hear you," he says, voice smiling, and pulls Niall's hand away from his mouth.

Louis obviously isn't thinking about the fact that Louis can hear him. Niall nods and shoves up into Louis's fingers. "Fuck me, Louis," he murmurs, and Louis breathes in sharp through his nose and clenches tight on Niall's thigh, fingers digging in hard, ragged nails catching a bit against his sensitive skin.

"I will if you look at me," Louis says, voice wavering a bit, tucking a third finger up inside Niall, curling them gently.

Niall opens his eyes, blinks a little in the light of the caravan—he'd forgotten that it was mid-afternoon, that even with the shades drawn it was light in here, that Louis would be looking at him, all of him. He shivers. "Hi," he says. "I'm lookin' at you."

"I see that," Louis says, and he grabs his dick, pulling at it a few times like he can't help it while Niall watches, wide-eyed, splayed out with Louis's fingers in him.

"So that's my end held up," Niall says, but it's soft, lingers on his lips.

"Always was a man of my word," Louis says, and shuffles closer, pulling out his fingers to replace with the bare head of his dick, warm and smooth. Niall holds his breath at first, then breathes out as he bears down when Louis sinks into him.

"Oh," Niall says, drawing it out, not even thinking what he sounds like. "Oh fuck." It feels more intense that he ever imagined it would, but better.

"Okay?" Louis asks, tight. He pushes in the last bit before his hips are pressed to the back of Niall's thighs. "Look at me, you gotta—you gotta keep looking at me, Niall—"

Niall pops his eyes open, didn't even realise they'd slid shut, so overwhelmed with the feeling of Louis's dick in him, bare, the thrum of Louis's pulse that Niall can feel all through the core of him. "Sorry, sorry Lou—" Niall pulls him in by the back of the neck to kiss him while he's fully seated, wrapping his legs around his back as well he can, feeling them meld together closer than he's ever been with any other person. "I'm okay. I'm so—fuck. It's so good. Why haven't we done this before."

Louis doesn't answer since it wasn't really a question, just kisses Niall back. "You—it feels—" He doesn't finish the sentence, either, but Niall gets the idea when Louis pulls out and fucks back into him, then again, and again, the noise he makes filthy and half-delirious when Niall presses up into it and tightens around him.

Niall keens when Louis slips a bit on the duvet, shifting them just right so he's thudding into that perfect spot every time he fucks into Niall. He stays like that as long as he can, though the muscles stand out in his arms and chest and it's clear it's a struggle. Niall gets a hand down between them, missing his own dick to feel at where Louis is disappearing inside of him, no condom, just the obscene squelch of lotion and precome and the hot pull of skin. He's always loved Louis fingering him, but it's nothing like this.

He moans, and tilts his face up for a kiss, eyes open as Louis grants him one and allows himself to relax for a second. Niall gets a calf pressed against Louis's arse, holding him in as he wriggles on the bed into a better position, hips up and open on a displaced pillow. It's better for both of them and after Louis starts up again, thrusting with the slick smack of skin on skin, Niall isn't sure he can last much longer.

"Louis," he breathes, "gonna—I can't—" there's nothing but white noise and the feel of Louis inside him, then. Louis's mouth on his chest and neck, Louis's eyes when Niall's able to see anything at all. He reaches down to get himself off but Louis grabs his hand, holds it.

"Me too," he pants. "Let's—let's try and do it together." It'd be a laugh, goes without saying. Niall just entwines their fingers together, doesn't have the capacity to do anything else. He grits his teeth and tries not to come as Louis rabbits into him, erratic and so deep Niall's head thumps against the one pillow between him and the wall of the caravan. The pull in his pelvis is so strong, so consuming, he's sure he's going to lose it before Louis—but then Louis starts to moan, high in his throat, and he barely touches Niall's straining cock. Niall lets go, finally, and Louis pumps into him as he orgasms. Come clings slick and wet around Louis's dick where it's shoving in and out of Niall, wads of it dripping into him, and Niall can feel it, the filthy smear of it, trickling down inside him, warm and thick.

"Christ," he says, blinking open his eyes, staring into Louis's face. He shifts his hips up, follows Louis's dick as he makes to pull out. "No, no—stay," he says, and closes his eyes again. It's disgusting but it feels so good, something so satisfying about the lewd squelching noise, the hot trickle of it. "Oh my god."

"Oh my god," echoes Louis, slotting comfortably against Niall with the pillows underneath them. He settles in, and they miss the rest of the performances that day.


Even weeks later, Niall still can't stop thinking about Glastonbury. They've started the US leg of tour and every minute of his time should be spent on performances, fans, all the new places they're going, the fifth album, the people he's promised to meet and hang out with along the way. He's distracted, though, trying to put on a good face.

He and Louis still manage to hook up in hotel rooms or empty buses, quick and sweaty. Niall hasn't asked about what it meant back at the festival, if anything, hasn't wanted to talk about it, refuses to ruin the memory of it when there's nothing that could be gained. The possibility of peace of mind resulting from a conversation with Louis Tomlinson about a particularly intense hook-up is miniscule compared to the possibility of losing the whole thing in a crashing row or, even worse, one snide lip-curl and a cold dismissal.

Niall hears Louis lying about what they're up to more than once—always claiming he met up with a girl in town or that he just wanted to have a lie-in when Niall knows there wasn't a girl or that Louis was up plenty early enough to have Niall's dick in his mouth.

Niall doesn't even need to lie, more often than not. He's kept himself to himself for so long now that no one expects anything, no one makes a fuss or demands a recounting of his adventures. In a way it's good, because Niall planned it this way, always wanted to have his own life on his own time. But in a way it's lonely, too. He didn't anticipate that part. That training everyone not to care what he was up to meant that sure enough, no one cares what he's up to.

The twinge in his chest is easy enough to forget about when Louis jerks his head at him after a gig, both of them sweaty and still in their stage clothes. Louis may not hold him and ask him how his day's gone or whatever sappy nonsense, but a good orgasm always clears his mind and resets him. His sheets smelling like Louis after doesn't hurt, either.

August is a bit of a blur, with the new single and the break announcement plus the touring as usual. By the end of the month Niall's feeling run ragged, far more than he should. His whole body aches a bit, tender and strange, and he's throwing up even when he hasn't had anything sketchy to eat. He has to pee a lot, too, just like when he's nervous. "Is it anxiety do you think?" he asks Sarah, who he let in on it to make sure she would make him the blandest food she could muster. He's managing to keep down a bit of chicken soup with rice, but it still doesn't taste quite right.

"You'd know better than I would, pet," she says, but brings him a mug of lemon and ginger tea and pats him gently on the cheek. "Sounds like maybe it is. You boys are going through so much right now, makes sense if you're feeling a bit peaky I'd think." Niall looks down at the comforting blue dots on the tablecloth, the same no matter where they are in the world, and nods. He rubs just below his belly button, trying to ease the amorphous discomfort.

Harry has a doctor's appointment the next day, his PA coming into their recording session in the hotel to take him off to it. Niall gets the beginnings of an idea then, and between verses he starts googling on his phone and sending emails to set something up for himself. He's probably paranoid, has been before, but there's no reason not to do something about it and set his mind at ease. Better safe than sorry.

A few days later he has his own doctor's appointment, and makes sure to run the gamut on all the STI tests he could have done.

When he calls into the automated message, a mixture of relief and disquiet swirl in his belly. Clean for everything. On the one hand, great. He hasn't got an STI. On the other hand, still poorly for no discernible reason.

Some days are worse than others, or he'll start out feeling wretched in the morning and then fine in the evening, or he wakes up cheerful and feeling himself again, then is puking all afternoon.

"Louis," he says one evening, pressed up against the wardrobe in Louis's room, wrists above his head. "Sorry, I just—could you. Um. I'm feeling a bit. Weird? Like, uncomfortable. Could we just. You know. On the bed." The words stumble their way out of his mouth and he's sure he's red from forehead to chest, heat flaming in his cheeks.

Louis lets go of him slowly, pulling back. Niall would never usually ask, wouldn't want to risk Louis throwing in the towel, but his body aches tonight. He's simultaneously ravenously horny and tender to the touch in a way that makes satisfying himself almost impossible. "Of course, yeah—sorry, I didn't know," Louis says, padding over to the bed. He looks a bit lost.

"I just mean—sore, like. Poorly. Not uncomfortable with—" Niall makes an awkward gesture, hopefully conveying that he actually rather likes the against-the-wardrobe position.

Louis grins, looking relieved. "Am I gonna catch something from you?" he asks, like he'd rather catch it than not, and Niall doesn't feel quite so stupid.

"Not if you haven't yet. Been feeling poorly for a couple weeks now, I'd say. Can't pin it down. Figure it's probably all in me head." Niall shrugs and sits on the bed next to Louis, unbuttoning the rest of his shirt matter-of-factly.

"Have you been to the doctor?" Louis asks, sharper now, but mouth turned down in concern. He puts a hand absently around Niall's ankle where he's crossed it up over his knee, and his fingers are warm if tight.

"I—uh. Well I got some STI screenings a bit ago, but that's all," Niall says, his heart about to jump out of his chest. Louis just raises his eyebrows. "All clear, obviously." Louis nods, like he expected nothing less.

"Well, you need to see an actual doctor, lad. Get some tests or whatever. Maybe you're—what do they call it. Anemic. That's what makes me mum off and poorly like that. Well, that or she's pregnant." Louis laughs, and Niall laughs too.

"I'm sure it's nothing," Niall says, and puts his hand over Louis's, giving it a squeeze.

"Promise," Louis says, his stern face on, indexing finger jabbed into Niall's chest. "Don't be a fucking idiot."

"Ow, ow, I promise," Niall says, laughing again, curling away from Louis's pointing. "Now, can we get back to—" He pulls at Louis's shoulder, kissing him, keeping his hands light and hoping Louis will follow his lead.

"You sure you're alright for it?" Louis asks, but he's already trailing fingers over Niall's tender skin and tipping him back onto the bed, gentle and slow. They've never really done it this way before, usually pressed for time or just desperate to get off.

"Yeah, just like this," Niall says, and that's what Louis does.

Afterwards, Niall's satisfied but bone-deep exhausted. Louis leaves to sleep in his own bed per usual, and Niall curls into the warm bit of the mattress, presses his nose into the dip in the vacant pillow. The urge to piss is overwhelming, as it often is these days. He struggles up to go to the toilet, but afterwards he doesn't bother putting on pants to sleep in, just drifts off once he's back in bed, something in him settled though his skin still feels tight and his veins hot, like there's too much inside him.

When he wakes up, he blearily manages to stumble into the shower, though he's achy all over. He turns the spray on to let it get steamy-hot while he brushes his teeth, drifting aimlessly. As soon as he steps in, he takes a funny turn, the sole of his foot slipping a bit, all of his weight coming down on his instep and skidding into the side of the shower. He yelps and rights himself with the help of the granny bar bolted to the wall of the fancy shower, but his foot aches horribly as he finishes soaping himself up and rinsing off. He doesn't even bother washing his hair.

The towels are thick and fluffy, huge American ones, and Niall wraps himself in several of them and puts his foot up on the desk in the corner as he rings Merida, the tour medic, to ask what he ought to do.

"Hold tight, lad, I'll come have a look," she says. "Probably just a sprain or summat."

It's not a sprain. "We'll need to get you in for an X-ray," Merida says, shaking her head. "You've fucked it."

"Thanks for that professional diagnosis," Niall says, laughing.

"I'm guessing a break, hopefully just a fracture," she says, gently feeling along Niall's arch and instep. "So you were in the shower, you say?"

"Yeah, I stepped on it wrong. Slid. I was feeling a bit dodgy before, though, you don't think it's related?" Niall grins, covering up the stitches where he joined his old worries to the new.

Merida frowns. "Probably not. If you weren't feeling up to snuff, maybe you were a bit clumsier than usual, though. We'll get you set up with some tests to make sure." She claps a hand on Niall's shoulder, rubbing a bit so Niall can feel the warmth of her palm. She smiles. "You look the picture of health, ducky, so it's surely nothing."

Niall smiles back, but he's still got a sick feeling in his stomach.


The doctor in Buffalo runs a whole battery of tests, and he'll call in a few days with results. Generally, Niall hasn't got any answers at all except for the very obvious fracture in his foot. He's given a boot and strict instructions not to overexert himself for eight weeks, depressingly long enough to extend past the last date of tour. "Hope everyone in the UK and Ireland are in on the moon boot trend," he says to Mark. His purple polkadot socks are visible through the open front of it, and he wiggles his toes just a bit.

"Quit that," Mark says, and Niall does. It hurt, anyway. He'll be getting a call in the next few days with the results of his blood draws, and until then, he just has to suck it up.

The lads are all particularly sound about his foot situation, at least so far. They help him hobble around as he gets used to it, and fuss over him and ask whether he's in pain. Of course they also knock him one if he's in the way when they're running after each other (Liam and Louis) or prancing around blindly (Harry) but overall they're a help, and Niall doesn't feel quite as wretched as he could.

It's also a great distraction from the impending phone call from the doctor—it isn't until he sees the Buffalo area code that he even remembers he was waiting for test results. His belly flips and his pulse pounds in his wrists as he answers.

The doctor speaks slowly and deliberately, very American in his patronising tone. "This is Dr. Gunderson calling with the results of your recent lab work. There are some numbers here that concern me in your blood tests, Mr. Horan. While the hormone levels I'm seeing would possibly contribute to bone weakness and that fracture of yours, it's definitely something you'll want to re-test and make sure to bring to your GP back home. In particular, your progesterone levels are—quite high, though you lack any other symptoms that I'd usually expect in a man your age. Please do get some more tests run, as there can be errors even in the most reliable of processes, and this is a result I've never seen outside of pregnant women." The doctor clears his throat, and Niall thumbs off his phone with a scowl on his face.

Louis's joke from the other night filters in, then, and Niall laughs to himself, at first because it's funny that the doctor would say the same thing, but then because he just can't seem to stop. The lunacy of the moment sees him through ordering a multipack of pregnancy tests online, to be shipped directly to him at their next hotel ("Discreet packaging guaranteed!") in Ottawa.

The box is nondescript, wrapped in plain brown paper as advertised. It's propped against a fancy bouquet on a table in the foyer of his suite, and the juxtaposition isn't lost on Niall as he pops open the various packages. He got a bunch of different brands and types, mostly because he didn't know what any of them meant, but a part of him was maybe also thinking about making sure, as ridiculous as it seems now, looking at the array of sticks and little folded bits of paper that presumably contain instructions.

Liam texts him to go out for dinner with him and Sophia, but Niall ignores it, puts his phone on silent while he chugs several glasses of water. He plays Wanted on Voyage through the wireless speakers in the room as he lines up all the various tests on the counter by the toilet, arranged according to how long he has to wait after peeing on them: longest on the left, shortest on the right. He'll go through left to right so it's the most efficient. This is just what his life is, now.

The ache in his foot throbs a bit, but it's easy to ignore as he kicks his jeans and pants off and holds his dick steady, situating himself over the toilet so he can grab the sticks with his left hand. He starts to pee and passes them all through the stream with assembly-line precision, and would be proud of himself if he weren't also horrified at his choice of evening's entertainment.

When he's done, he puts on the robe hanging in the closet and checks his email until the timer on his gym watch goes off. All of the tests should be ready. He peers around the doorway into the bathroom, and the little row of pinks and pluses and double lines and smiley faces is unmistakable. According to twelve different types of pregnancy tests, Niall is indeed pregnant. He laughs, just a bit of air through his nose at first, but then breaking into actual guffaws as the absurdity of the situation sinks in. His first reaction is, of course, to take a picture of the row of tests, though without anyone to send it to or an account to post it on it feels a bit unnecessary. Next, he googles it. what if male gets positive pregnancy test?

It stops being funny immediately. Cancer comes up in every single hit on the first page. Niall reads through enough of them to get the gist: the hormone that registers positive on pregnancy tests, hCG, is also secreted by tumours. There was a guy that took a pregnancy test as a joke once, and when it was positive, found out that he had testicular cancer.

He sweeps all of the tests into the bin, then thinks better of it and empties the bin into an inside pocket of his suitcase. Then he thinks better of that, too, and grabs the bin liner from the bin, puts the tests in it, ties it off, rolls that in a hoodie, and stuffs it at the bottom of his show bag. He'll throw it away at the venue later, somewhere communal. His hands shake on the zipper. It's freezing in the hotel room, but he's not sure where the thermostat is and moving to go find it seems like an insurmountable task. He stays there, curled on the floor around his bag, until he falls into a fitful sleep.


It's hard for Niall to push the absurdity of the past few days into a corner to forget about. He makes it through the rest of the US tour, though, the same bright face on that he always has. The usual giddiness of his birthday is tempered by the fact that he has a trip to Harley Street looming, and he hardly registers it at first when Louis bundles the two of them onto the plane to Vegas together.

"Just you and me, then?" Niall says, peering out the window. He's still in his stage clothes, as is Louis, who's already started tucking into the pre-chilled bottle of champers on ice in the aisle between them. Niall can't help thinking of the last time they were in Vegas together, can't help wondering if Louis remembers it the way he does.

"And half a dozen of our nearest and dearest, of course," Louis says, grinning as he gestures towards the wayward line of guys making their way towards the plane. He tips his glass to Niall. "Happy birthday, little lad."

The days and nights in Vegas are one and the same to Niall, blurring together in a swirl of colours and dance beats. Spraying a crowd with champagne next to Lil Jon has got to be a career highlight, and he can't say he won't remember lying out on a lounger shirtless with Louis curled under his arm and who knows how many pictures of them making it to Twitter.

He uses the boot as an excuse a few times, not too much, just when he's feeling tired or emotional and isn't sure he wants to be around everyone as much as they want to be around him. He won't let himself think the worst, just pops over to Louis's room and needles him into a good birthday fucking or even just a make-out, if he's there. Which he usually is, if Niall's not out as well. Louis's even worse than Niall at keeping track of the calendar when they're on break, so neither of them knows or cares whether it's technically still his birthday.

By the time Niall flies home, he's exhausted in mind and body. If twenty-two is his last year on earth, at least he started it off right. Willie isn't even home when the car drops Niall off at the gate, so he has blissful silence as he walks through the door and takes a deep breath, the home smell the same as always, the temperature perfect, the surfaces clean and welcoming. Niall sighs happily and flumps down face-first on his bed, forgetting for a rare moment about his alarm set for noon the next day to make sure he doesn't miss his appointment on Harley Street.

He's had to change doctors a few times since moving to London—they've all got private physicians, now, with ridiculously fancy private waiting rooms and spa lighting in the exam rooms that Niall would never have fussed with before. Privacy is paramount now, though, and worth the extra cost tenfold at a time like this. Dr. Ettlinger is the best there is, and the most discreet.

Niall kicks his feet idly, eyes closed but heart racing as the Pure Moods reject tracks blend into one another. He feels like he might throw up at any second. Keeping his lunch down while filling out all the forms had been a challenge.

There's a soft knock at the door, and Niall jumps, slamming the heel of his boot into the metal of the exam table side. "Come in," he manages through a grimace.

"Apologies, Mr. Horan," the doctor says, kindly face and wire-framed glasses putting Niall at ease already. He's looking at a tablet, screen glowing on the underside of his chin.

"You could turn the lights up if you like," Niall says, laughing nervously. "Don't need to put me in the mood."

"Quite," Dr. Ettlinger says, and hits the dimmer switch. He's still smiling. Niall doesn't think he'd be smiling if Niall had cancer. That doesn't seem like the right way to deliver the news.

"So, what's the damage?" Niall asks, hands clasped together white-knuckle tight in his lap.

"Well, Mr. Horan," Dr. Ettlinger starts, the little smile still playing around his mouth. "You'll be pleased to know you don't have any trace of cancer in your body." A rushing sound starts up in Niall's ears, the relief of it almost too much to process. "Many people would also be pleased to hear the next bit of news I have for you." Niall doesn't say anything, just presses his dry lips together. "You're pregnant."

Three seconds of dead air lie between them before Niall starts laughing. Dr. Ettlinger doesn't say anything more, just pulls his stool over to have a seat by Niall, the same damn smile on his face. "What is it really?" Niall asks, once he catches his breath.

"I assure you I'm being completely serious," Dr. Ettlinger says. "It's an astoundingly rare occurrence. One might even say miraculous, if one were prone to such statements. My first specialty is actually in obstetrics, though I've never seen a case, myself. There have been five known on record in the UK throughout history. Five confirmed, at any rate. Most doctors still don't believe it's even possible."

Niall gapes at him, the words rattling around in his head but not quite sinking in. "What—I. What?" He looks around the room, sure there's some idiotic prank happening, an MTV camera hidden in a potted plant.

"Discretion is of course my utmost concern," the doctor says, soothing and quiet. "Discretion and your health. Mr. Horan, I understand this may be difficult news to hear, but with close monitoring and care, I think you and your family will be healthy and happy for many years to come."

Niall swallows thickly, a hand clutching at the soft of his own belly. "My—Jesus. What if I don't, uh. What if I don't want a—family?" He's shaking, tremors all through his arms and legs, and beads of sweat from his forehead are threatening to trickle into his eyes.

"As with any medical decision, Mr. Horan, it's completely up to you. However, I must ardently recommend against termination at this point. The reasoning is twofold: firstly, and most importantly, the changes that have transpired in your body are plentiful and still not completely understood by the medical community. To perform exploratory surgery to locate and remove the fetus—and if the recent history you've provided here," he taps the tablet, and Niall sees the tops of his forms peeking out over the folder under it, "is accurate, it is indeed a fetus and not an embryo—would be exceedingly dangerous. I can't predict success, nor could I predict repercussions. Secondly, while your health and safety of course come above all else, it would be remiss of me not to mention the huge boon to science it would be to have another successful male pregnancy."

"No," Niall says, too loud in the quiet room. "No, you said—discretion. No one can know, no matter what I choose to do, literally no one can know I was even here, much less about—any of this. I'm not—I don't consent to—tests. Studies. That—stuff."

"That goes without saying, Mr. Horan," Dr. Ettlinger says, a hand out in front of him, steadying without actually touching Niall. "But even the routine prenatal visits and medical records would be orders of magnitude more than exist today, and either anonymised or released posthumously or however you see fit to have them kept—well. I'll stop prattling on. There's more important information to impart."

Niall stares at the bridge of Dr. Ettlinger's glasses as he starts explaining anatomical structures and development. The doctor pulls out some photocopied diagrams from somewhere and draws on them with a red Sharpie. Niall can smell it as soon as the cap pops off, and it reminds him of every book signing, every meet and greet. Long lines of girls, security guards milling around, stale coffee. "Does that make sense?" Dr. Ettlinger asks, pointing at some of the scribbles, and Niall freezes, suddenly horrified that he hasn't been paying attention.

"Yes," he says, fingers tight around the edge of the exam table. Dr. Ettlinger looks sympathetic, at least.

"I understand that whether to see this through or not is a very fraught decision for you, Mr. Horan. It needn't be made right this very moment. Let's schedule you to come back in for your first ultrasound next week and you can think it over until then. Alright?"

Niall just nods blankly, putting on a perfunctory smile to confirm the date of his next appointment. Before he's even aware of getting in the car, he's back home, tucked under his duvet, hands clasped low over his belly and heart hollowed out. It's real.

It's Louis's.


Niall doesn't remember immediately when he wakes up. It comes to him in fits and starts, the cancer scare, going to the doctor, the revelation. He left with a nondescript manila folder which is lying next to his bed now and most likely contains test results and prenatal instructions and allsorts which Niall would rather pretend don't exist just now.

He groans and rolls over, staring at the ceiling. He takes stock of his body, starting with his limbs, then his head, then working from the outside in until he finally gets to his belly. He presses his hands to it again, just under the ribcage at first, then a bit lower, then a bit lower. He doesn't even know where a baby would be. He doesn't understand how there's space inside him for that, doesn't understand how a whole new organ could just spring up out of nothing just in time to get—inseminated. Or maybe there isn't a new organ and the thing's just floating around in there, untethered. "You and me both," he mumbles, then scrubs at his face and wishes he could take it back. Acknowledging it at all feels like defeat.

He goes back to palpating his stomach, his abs. The area right around and below his belly button does feel a bit—solid. He's always had a hint of an embarrassing curve there no matter how many crunches he does, but there's less give to it now. It's maybe a bit more prominent. He chews at his lip as he keeps one hand there and moves the other down to his dick, then his balls. All present and accounted for, the same size as always, no apparent shrinkage. He feels back to his taint, then his arsehole, no different than usual, although the question of where the hell the thing's supposed to come out seems suddenly more urgent.

He shifts around on the bed, does a few sit-ups which do seem a tad more difficult. He presses a palm to each of his nipples, brows knitting when they seem sensitive. They're usually a bit sensitive, but they're maybe—slightly—more sensitive now. He pulls at them a little, tucking his chin back into his chest so he can see them, the normal pink colour. They feel fine, not particularly puffy.

He groans and turns over onto his stomach, burying his face in his pillow. That he's even thinking about these things is completely mental. At least if he goes back to sleep, he won't have to think about it again until he wakes up.


They're meant to be doing screen tests for the Apple Music Festival, making sure their wardrobe comes out right on video, that they know where they're meant to be on the stage and which cameras to play to. The whole band is back together in the dressing rooms as if they'd never had a break, as if Niall's entire life weren't balancing on a razor's edge of complete surreal improbability. He'e changing out of his black and white patterned top, tucked between two racks of clothes. The one to his left is theirs, his own section marked with a white tag sticking up in front of his skinnies and his second-choice top, but the one to his right must be Little Mix's. Everything is gauzy, fringy, lacey, and there's at least twice as many hangers for each of them.

Jade's section is the first one with a little tag sticking up that he can see, so Niall rifles through it curiously. She wouldn't mind, would love it, probably, considering how often she's threatened to hand him over to her drag queen mates when they go out together. He laughs it off, just like he does when Lottie wants to make him up for Snapchat, or when Lou wants to dye his hair whichever pastel pink is most on-trend this season.

All Jade's outfits are two-piece, and Niall snorts, imagines if he had to wear something like that at the best of times, not to mention in his current—condition. He peers down at himself, appraising, and the freak baby belly pushing at his waistband is much more noticeable now that he knows to look for it. Girls get the worst of everything.

"I dare you to," Louis says, voice coming suddenly from behind Niall's right ear. Niall starts, jumping comically high and flailing as he tries not to land on his bad foot.

"Jesus fucking Christ, Louis," he gasps, hand clutched over his bare chest. Louis refusing to wear shoes the majority of the time means he's a sneaky bugger when he wants to be.

"Sorry," Louis says, but he doesn't sound sorry at all. He's got a wolfish grin on and he's waggling his eyebrows suggestively. "Go on then."

"What are you even daring me to do?" Niall asks, though he regrets it right after he's said it. Give Louis an inch and he'll take a mile and then some. Niall can't seem to keep his wits about him, heart thumping obviously, the fact that he's half naked making him break out in goosebumps even though he's not cold. Louis is too close to him, like he'll be able to tell, like he'll be able to smell it on Niall.

Niall tucks a hand self-consciously over his belly, sucks it in as far as he can, and tries to inch away without being obvious about it. It's hard, though, everything else in him wanting to be closer to Louis, wanting to rub up against him and taste him. He'd kill for so much as a hug.

"Put one on," Louis says, eyes bright. He nods to the rack, grin even bigger now, like Niall's a sure thing.

"Right now?" Niall says, voice cracking higher in disbelief. He laughs automatically.

Louis looks around, a few people scattered here and there throughout the rest of the room. "Hmm," he says, gears turning. He clearly hadn't thought it all the way through. "I mean—yeah. Right now works. So what if they see you, really. It's just a laugh, right?"

Niall does laugh, another nervous one, fingertips pressing into the flesh of his side where his arm is wrapped around his belly. "Louis, don't be stupid. Someone'll take a picture." Louis looks like he's about to protest, and Niall doesn't want to let him get the bit between his teeth. It's not even that he doesn't want to be made a fool of, just that having Louis around him again is intoxicating and he needs to drag it out. Wants as many excuses as possible to get him alone now that they're home and out of hotels again. "Listen. I'll do it—"

"Now there's a good lad—"

"But later tonight, okay? When no one's gonna miss the clothes and no one's gonna Snapchat me trying to fit my arse into Jesy Nelson's pleather mini." Niall takes a steadying breath, not sure if he hopes Louis takes it for the silent plea that it is or that he's oblivious to how strungout Niall feels right now.

"It's a deal, Neil," Louis says, holding out his hand for a shake. "Though I think you'd find plenty of room in Jesy's skirt for your arse, to be fair."

"Uh, thanks?" Niall says, taking Louis's hand limply. "Right then. Usual room in the Soho?" Louis nods and gives Niall's hand a squeeze.

"If you chicken out," he murmurs, lips almost to Niall's ear, hand warm and tight around Niall's still, "there's a forfeit." Niall's chest swoops and his dick twitches uncomfortably. He's not sure if he's more or less likely to show up with the ridiculous costume in hand, now.


It's a bit after nine PM by the time Niall slips into VIP parking at the Soho Hotel, tucked well out of view of any errant paparazzi. He's been tweeting nothing but the usual sorts of tweets all day, all week even, and there's no reason anyone would expect him to be here. He's up to Louis's suite in less than five minutes, garment bag slung over his shoulder, Louis's room key tucked in his hand.

He lets himself in rather than knocking, and it's not immediately clear where Louis is. Niall goes straight to the bathroom from the main entrance without investigating. He hangs the garment bag on the back of the door and tries not to laugh, taking deep breaths instead. He shakes his head as he shucks off his clothes and boot and stands naked in front of the mirrored wall over the sink.

He's still so skinny, no different at all, really, to anyone else's eyes. Spindly legs, noodly arms, just enough chest hair to save face. He turns around, looks over his shoulder at his bum, not as flat as it once was thanks to Mark's Prussian squat routines. His thighs have a bit of meat on them now, too, but he's still got the thigh gap Amy used to tease him about all the time. "I should Instagram you in my leggings," she'd say. "Crop everything else out. I'd be an internet sensation, people thinking I had your gams."

With a smile, he unzips the bag and looks over what he managed to filch from the wardrobe rack. He's got what he's pretty sure is one of Jade's tops, a cage-looking leather thing with laces that should mean Niall can loosen the bottom of it enough around his ribs so it'll fit. Under that he's got a lacy white mini skirt, which had a pair of weird satiny shorts with it. Niall figured they were meant to allow dancing in such a tiny skirt without any major telly censorship issues. He left those back on the rack. He tried to pick things he thought he could get on himself and which would allow easy access, just in case Louis managed to stop laughing long enough to want to fool around a bit.

Instead of copping any of the boots the girls wear—the least likely of any of it to fit him, honestly—he grabbed a funny little cloth bag with what turned out to be a pair of shoes folded up inside it. Just little black slipper things, sequinned but stretchy, and they do fit over his feet. Those are easy to pull on, and so, embarrassingly, is the skirt. It fits him almost too well, just enough hips and bum to keep it taut, dick hanging well out of the way of the pull of it across his front. It only goes down to about mid-thigh properly, the lace hanging a bit lower to skim the top of his scar.

Getting the top on is more of a challenge, but he manages, glad that Jade has a reasonable A cup so it doesn't look too gapey and weird against his chest. It smells good, like horse tack, and Niall focuses on that, on the feel of it against his skin, instead of letting himself glance in the mirror and back out at the last second when he sees what a prat he looks like. Never let it be said that he wouldn't do any-fucking-thing for Louis Tomlinson. He ignores how hairy he feels, and how clumsy, as he shrugs on a robe and pulls it closed over the whole mess.

He follows the soft hotel light down to the second bedroom, the one Louis always prefers, red and grey and white. The closer he gets the weirder he feels, so he starts humming "Black Magic"—it's just floating there in his mind, and he grabs it. He sings a bit, then another bit, and soon he's crooning the whole tune to himself as he shimmies out of the robe and hobbles into Louis's room like it's just another nightly round of poker.

"Shit," Louis says, looking up from his phone. He's curled at the end of the couch, the wooly blanket from the back of it pulled round himself all the way up to his neck. It only takes a split second for his startled eyes to crinkle up, and he laughs, bright and happy.

Niall smiles back at him at first, but then starts to wilt a bit, not sure what he's meant to do besides stand there and be ridiculed. "Alright, then," he mumbles, but Louis's waving a hand at him.

"No, no, Niall, this is brilliant, I can't believe you did it—fuckin' 'ell. C'mere, let's have a look at you." He flaps his hand harder, shoves the blanket off and sits up, phone face down on the end table. He's lit up, animated, not foggy with booze or smoking or anything. Niall feels fully looked-at, Louis twinkling up at him, and he's blushing all over, he's sure of it. With so little on, Louis will see it, too.

He's hyper aware of his belly, of course, in the crop-top and the tight stretch of the skirt. His shoulders feel too broad and his chest too narrow, like he's a clown standing there in a jumpsuit.

Louis has a hand out, so Niall takes it and lets Louis pull him up flush with the edge of the sofa between his legs. "You're a thief," Louis says, giddy. "Whose are these?"

"Uh," Niall says, casting around for something that's words. "Top's Jade's, bottom's—Perrie's? Shoes were just sitting in a bin thing, dunno about those."

"Give us a spin," Louis says, tugging on Niall's hand until he turns around. It's a relief to stop sucking in quite so much for a second. Louis stops him turning with a tap to his bum. "That's enough." He laughs again, bubbly and sweet, hands grasping tight around Niall's hips, fingertips rubbing in the lace, and Niall wants to melt into the floor. He's about to get hard, and he'd never live it down. "Why'd you pick these, then?"

"I could get into 'em, I thought," Niall starts. Then, tentatively, "And—out of 'em."

Louis makes a pleased, curious sort of hum and spins Niall around the rest of the way with his hands on his waist. Niall hisses when he steps on the bones in his foot wrong, and Louis's face falls. "Shit, shit, I'm sorry," he says, and rushes to get Niall down on the couch next to him. "Fuck, I'm a wanker, have I cracked the whole thing back open?"

Niall laughs through the sting of pain and shakes his head, trying to maneuver on the couch with his foot in the air and an arm clutched around his middle, plus the top digging into him and everything just generally a shambles. "I'll live," he manages, and pushes Louis's fussing hands off him.

It's stupidly clear, in that moment, that Niall is in love with him—completely in love with him, and that he has been for ages now. It seems like he could tell him, maybe. He could do just about anything right then.

Louis tilts himself towards Niall on the couch and kisses him, tasting like minty gum and smelling like hotel shampoo. "Hey," he says, and Niall just raises his eyebrows, keeps kissing. "I quite like it, you know."

Niall laughs, just a little, smiling as he says, "Do you really? I feel like an utter gobshite."

Louis looks a bit pink himself. "Are you—" He doesn't finish his sentence, just slides a hand up Niall's tiny skirt, straight between his legs, slow and maybe even tentative. Niall holds his breath as Louis grazes his dick, the hot space between his thighs.

"Nngh," Niall says, as Louis exhales, shaky and low.

"The answer to that would be no," Louis says, and Niall wriggles a bit, spreading his legs and feeling the lace slide up his hips as he does.

"Is that good?" Niall asks, pushing up into Louis's hand, dick fattening up as the two of them curl together, breathing each other's air between kisses.

"It's good," Louis murmurs against the corner of Niall's mouth. "Developed a taste for the slutty ones, I think."

Niall shivers at that, sure Louis can feel it when he kisses him. Niall's knocked up against all laws of god and nature because of what a slut he is for Louis. It's a sick thrill in his gut, in the hot line of his cock. He makes a sound in the back of his throat and pushes away.

Louis is just about to squawk his disapproval when Niall gets the waistband of his trackies pulled down. "Shh," Niall says, watching as Louis's dick springs free, red and wet and straining for him in his skirt and bustier like it's not the silliest he's ever felt. "Gonna earn my bad reputation," Niall says, wiggling his bum a bit as he swallows Louis's dick, hot and thick at the back of his throat.

He's always had the worst gag reflex, but Louis secretly likes it when Niall chokes on him, he's sure. He does it now, over-eager, making slick wet gagging noises as he sucks Louis down. He doesn't care, is used to it by now, even likes the taste of it. He just keeps pushing through it, uses his hands when he can.

Niall's eyes water and his face gets red, but Louis's hand is in his hair, the other one slipping under the leather straps of the top, Louis's nails tracing along their edges, dragging over Niall's sensitive skin. Niall works the flat of his tongue along the spine of Louis's dick, gets inside his foreskin, playing with it, making Louis hiss and groan. "Christ, you're good," Louis says. "I can't even—seeing you choking on my dick in that fucking skirt, I'm—"

Even if Louis hadn't said anything, Niall would know he was close. The way his belly clenches, his thighs shaking—he comes with Niall's lips sealed around the fat head of his cock, tongue playing in the slit of it. He's got a knuckle tucked up into Louis's taint, pressing and rubbing at it, knows exactly what's good by now. Niall swallows every spurt of come, licks it off the roof of his mouth and from the insides of his cheeks, making a show of it even though none of it got on his face. "Mm," he says, with a cheeky smile. "Guess you're right, must be a slut."

"You do always swallow," Louis says, limp-dicked and limp-limbed, drained and damp but looking utterly content. Niall feels proud of himself. "What about you?" Louis asks after a comfortable silence.

"What about me what?" Louis bends his head up at an awkward angle to gesture with his chin towards Niall's obviously hard and leaking dick pushing at the tight material of his skirt. "Oh, I dunno," Niall says, trailing off. For some reason sucking Louis's dick didn't feel weird with a baby in him, but having Louis get him off isn't sitting as well.

Louis sits up straight. "Niall Horan, you need to be rushed to A&E immediately," he says, voice deadpan serious. Niall clenches his hands into fists, trying not to panic, trying to figure out how he could tell. "No man in the history of humanity who just sucked dick that hard has ever turned down an orgasm in return. There must be something horribly wrong with you."

Niall tries to get his breathing back under control. That Louis meant it as a joke isn't even a relief. Everything slows down, narrowing to just the moment he's in, nothing before it or beyond it. "There is," he says. No smiles, no laughter, nothing. Just plainly, as if he weren't sitting next to Louis's soft dick in a Little Mix costume with come clogging his throat and a fractured foot.

"What?" Louis hunches forward, immediately knows Niall's serious, that he's not about to pull something. His eyes are dark, mouth drawn. It's like after Zayn left, and the bottom falls out of Niall's stomach.

"Louis, please—I wasn't going to tell you, at least not like this, but I—you have to believe me, okay?" Louis pulls his trackies back up as Niall scoots closer, one knee tucked under him. He's definitely not hard anymore. He grabs one of Louis's hands, just to have something to do with himself other than bite his nails when he says it.

"Yeah, okay," Louis says. "Niall, you can tell me anything." He sounds small.

"It's really—um. It's really rare and it's only happened like five times before ever in the world, but it is possible and um—I'm. I'm pregnant. For real. With, um. From back at—Glastonbury." He's chewing on his lip as soon as he's got the words out, and suddenly the room is freezing cold, the traffic on the streets below is deafening, the smell of the potpourri from the bathroom down the hall is nauseating.

Louis just stares at him, doesn't say anything at all. It's better than laughing, it's better than yelling. It's better than accusing him of making it up. Niall takes Louis's hand that he's holding and presses it to the curve right below his belly button. "I swear to god, Louis. I swear to god and on me mam's life and on Bobby and the band and everything I've ever loved, I'm being serious. I—I went to the doctor. Like you said, before. I went to two doctors. It explains everything, all that stuff. Even breaking my foot. I—fuck, I peed on so many sticks, Louis." Niall's starting to tear up, is worried he'll start crying properly if Louis doesn't shut him up soon.

"It's okay," Louis says, staring at his hand under Niall's. Then the tips of his fingers curl into Niall's skin, five soft points of pressure on his belly. Niall takes a deep, shuddering breath.

"Come home with me?" he asks suddenly, wanting nothing more, and Louis nods.

"Not in those clothes, though," Louis says after a moment, and tries for a shadow of a smile. "C'mon then, let's get your boot back on and all."

Louis helps Niall shuffle back to the bathroom and undoes the laces on his top for him. Niall shrugs out of it and uses Louis as a stabiliser as he hops out of the skirt one-legged, as well. Louis rubs absently at the little red imprints across his chest and sides from the straps of the top while Niall puts his real clothes back on, including pants. His jeans are just starting to feel snug, and Louis's eyes are heavy on him when he buttons his flies.

He sits on the lid of the toilet to get his boot back on, but Louis knocks his hands away, gets down on the tiles to do it himself. "My turn," he says, and lines it up properly, pulling all the velcro tight but not too tight. "You're a sight, Niall Horan," he says, eyes on the straps as he does them up. "Hopping about on one foot, doing Little Mix drag like you haven't a care in the world when you're about three breaths from losing it in there." He nods towards Niall's head, and his tone is gentle.

Niall shrugs. "Didn't really think there was another option," he says. Louis gives him a lingering look, and it's warm, like he's seeing more than what's there, Niall skinny and exhausted and hunched on a toilet with his foot in a boot. "Don't suppose you fancy driving?"

"I always fancy driving," Louis says.

The trip home slips by without Niall aware of much of anything besides Louis's eyes flicking over to him more often than they probably should, considering he's meant to be watching the road.

Once they get in, Louis makes a beeline for the kitchen and puts on some tea, and Niall teeters unhelpfully around the dining room and the hallway before remembering the manila folder on the floor next to his bed. He brings it to the front room just as Louis's setting their tea on the coffee table. "Look, I'm using coasters," he says, flumping onto the couch.

"They were already out, in those exact positions," Niall says. "You'd have to move them or put the tea down somewhere you couldn't reach to not use them."

Louis laughs quietly. "Take what you can get, I say."

Niall waves the envelope at Louis, dropping it onto the middle cushion between them and sitting on the far side of the couch. "They gave me that. At the doctor. Haven't looked at it yet. Didn't think I could handle it, to be honest. But maybe it'll help like—make it real for you. Or something."

Louis doesn't touch it at first, just sipping his tea and staring at it like it's about to move. He must sort something out for himself, though, because then he does—just picks it up and slides it open like it's not the scariest thing Niall's ever had in his possession. As he leafs through pages of it, asking a few off-handed questions, mumbling a bit as he sorts through it all, he puts them down on the couch so Niall can see them too, if he wants. He was right—it's mostly printouts of lab results, prenatal instructions and what to expect week by week.

Niall's eyes have glazed over and he's just sort of sitting suspended around the warmth of his tea mug, not sure what to do with the fact that Louis is looking at Niall's hCG levels while Louis's baby is sitting in Niall's pelvis. Nothing feels very real anymore.

"Hey," Louis says, hand warm around Niall's good ankle. "Come back, hm?" Niall blinks over at him. "We don't have to keep looking at this. It's—a lot. Obviously." Niall just shrugs. "How 'bout we go to bed?"

"Yeah, alright," Niall says, but he takes the mugs to the kitchen to wash up despite Louis's protests.

Louis tucks in close around Niall, and it's only then that Niall realises they've never been here, in his bed, in his house, the two of them, since this whole thing started. Normally being spooned feels claustrophobic to him, but Louis pressed along his back, lips at the nape of his neck, makes him feel real again.


Niall's ultrasound is scheduled for Wednesday, the one day he has between the Apple Music Festival and the O2 shows. He has it on his calendar in his phone as a knee follow-up, but coloured red instead of the usual blue—as if he could forget.

Louis doesn't stick around at Niall's, of course. He leaves in the morning with a peck on the cheek and a hesitant hover before his driver picks him up and takes him home. He does check in daily after that, nothing baby-related, at least not overtly, but Niall would be lying if he said he didn't relish every text and phone call and pop-round. They go out together after their various work commitments as well, like they used to, though now Niall isn't drinking and Louis helps cover for him when people ask questions. In general he feels worlds better for having told Louis, though the obvious thoughts weigh him down.

He's in the car on the way to the Roundhouse, phone in hand, just staring at the red date on the calendar. He's read all the pages in the packet, now, and it seems pretty clear that the safer option is to go through with the whole thing rather than try and terminate it now, based on the scant other occurrences. Beyond that, he's utterly clueless and hasn't the first idea how to figure it out.

His parents seem like the obvious next step after Louis, but the sheer number of things he'll have to tell them first to get through it all is terrifying. That he likes boys, that he and Louis have been sleeping together, that they're not together together, that he somehow managed to get pregnant, that it's dangerous for him and might not turn out okay, that if it does he isn't sure he wants to keep it. His head spins just considering where to start.

Niall likes other people's children well enough, but he's not a nurturer. Hasn't ever really wanted children other than in the sort of amorphous, distant way you're supposed to want children. He'd do anything for Alaia or Theo, but as a well-loved uncle. He would never trust himself with their lives, that's for sure. He's not sure he's even capable of loving a baby properly.

That makes him jealous of Louis, as well. Of how good he is with babies, how sure he is he wants a family of his own, how easily and well he loves every child he meets and they love him back, particularly the littlest ones. Niall's not even properly Louis's—boyfriend? Partner? He's nothing to him besides a friend with benefits that got complicated. All he ever had to offer was that he was easy, reliable in his simplicity, and now he hasn't even got that going for himself. Louis is going to love the baby more than he's ever loved Niall. It could be the only thing holding them together at all once the break starts—if Louis wanted a fresh start before, he certainly can't have one now, not if Niall keeps it. He might resent Niall for it, though of course he'd never blame the kid. Maybe Niall should just give it straight to Louis after it's born and be shot of the whole thing, before any of them start hating each other.

By the time he gets to the venue he's tied himself up in horrible knots. The lads are pleased to see him, and Louis gives him a reassuring smile, but it doesn't help much. Being on stage is far better, seeing the faces of the crowd, singing to forget. It's one of his better performances, actually, until right before "No Control" when he gets a wave of dizziness and nausea, the pain in his foot flaring. He crumples into a chair off-stage and presses a cold bottle of water to his face, the back of his neck, gulping it and trying to take deep breaths through his nose. It doesn't feel like any of the illness he's had so far since June, but it's not quite like a panic attack either, so he just breathes as well as he can through it and goes back out like nothing happened.

Louis shoots him concerned looks across the stage, but Niall shrugs him off. The show ends well and they head out with Little Mix afterwards to celebrate—Louis looks smug all night long.


Niall drives himself to the doctor's office on Wednesday morning, not wanting to bother Louis about showing up in case he'd rather not. If he changed his mind, Niall would understand, obviously. They haven't talked about details since last week, and it's either because Louis doesn't want to push Niall on it or because Louis doesn't really care.

just going in Now !! he texts, not sure what sort of response he's hoping for. Someone taps his shoulder, and he almost has a heart attack before he realises it's Louis.

"Hi, sorry," Louis says with a contrite expression, shoulders by his ears.

"I'm a wreck, not your fault," Niall says, laughing and shaking his head, hand clutched to his heart.

"Figured you'd drive yourself," Louis says, a hand at Niall's waist like he doesn't even know he's doing it, "so I got a car. I can drive you home after."

"People might—" Niall starts.

"Fuck 'em," says Louis, waving his hand like he's clearing the air of midges.

It's a different exam room this time, but still fully furnished and upholstered, with what's meant to be soothingly dimmed lights and relaxing music. Louis is lounging on the couch like it's a hotel room, and Niall's already up on the table, looking in the drawers along the side of it. "Should I take my boot off, d'you think?"

"Nah, they'll tell you what to do," Louis says, leafing through a magazine. He looks up, eyes disappearing in his smile. "You like that."

"Shut it," Niall says, laughing, and chucks a tongue depressor at him. He already feels a thousand times better than last time he was waiting for Dr. Ettlinger.

Of course right when Louis shys the magazine at Niall in retaliation is when the doctor comes in, clearing his throat primly. "Sorry," Niall says, still laughing a little under his breath. "We, uh. This is the father. Other father? It said in the packet I could bring someone, so—" he trails off, Louis having had enough time to straighten everything up again. "Louis, Dr. Ettlinger. Dr. Ettlinger, Louis."

"Nice to meet you," says Louis, but he doesn't get up off the couch.

"Hello, Louis, nice to meet you, too. I'm so glad Mr. Horan has someone with him for this. It was good of you to come." He smiles blandly at Louis, tapping on his tablet.

"The least I could do," Louis says, and gets up to stand by Niall at the exam table.

"Now, normally there would be an ultrasound technician doing this portion of the exam," Dr. Ettlinger says, "however in these particularly singular circumstances, I'll be performing the entirety myself." He opens a drawer in the side of the table and takes out a gown leaving it on the counter. "Please change at your convenience, Mr. Horan. I'll return shortly. You may put the boot back on once you're in the gown, if you prefer."

Louis sits back down on the couch, feet up, watching intently as Niall sits on the exam table. "Well?" he says, and winks.

Niall rolls his eyes and takes his gown behind the screen in the corner to change, but it's only for show. He'd strip in an exam room and put on a hospital gown for Louis any day.

"Nice," Louis says. "Let's turn around and see the ol' bum flap."

"Luckily, this is a classy establishment. There's a second tie in the back," Niall says smugly.

"Shame," Louis says, popping his gum. "At least they made you change. They usually didn't, with me mum. At least not the ones I saw." The doctor knocks and Niall and Louis both chorus, "Come in!"

The exam isn't that bad, to start with. Dr. Ettlinger does pull what appear to be stirrups out of the end of the exam table and Niall's whole body clenches involuntarily, but he doesn't ask Niall to use them.

There's mostly a lot of gland-feeling and stomach-tapping, borderline painful explorations of Niall's pecs—"There's shouldn't be too much tissue development. We'll discuss breastfeeding at a later appointment."—and of course his pelvis, Louis visibly on edge in the chair he pulled up next to the exam table as the doctor pokes at prods at the slight round of Niall's belly. "Hmm," Dr. Ettlinger says. He's been explaining everything as he does it, but the editorial is new.

"Hmm?" Niall says.

"What's hmm?" asks Louis.

"Nothing," the doctor says. "Not as of yet, at any rate. I'm making some conjectures that I'll check when we have a look at the abdominal ultrasound. You're just over twelve weeks pregnant, Mr. Horan, so I don't think it will be necessary or in fact useful to do a transanal ultrasound. I've just decided I'd rather be cautious, here, and only go through with the tests that are absolutely required to ensure your health."

"Yes, that," says Louis. "That's the ticket."

"Is that alright with you, Mr. Horan?"

"Obviously," Niall says, laughing nervously. "Does that mean I can put my pants back on for the abdominal part?"

"It does indeed." The doctor slides the stirrups back into the exam table while Niall gets his pants back on in the corner, scrambling back onto the table. He's weirdly excited, suddenly, to see his insides. Even if there's nothing there at all, and it was all some horrible mistake, having Louis here to see it too makes it another adventure.

"Will you be wanting a DNA test, Mr. Horan?" Dr. Ettlinger asks while snapping on his gloves.

"Like a paternity test?" Niall asks.


Niall laughs. "No need, I don't think. I haven't been with any other guys. Or girls, for that matter. So it's gotta be Louis's. Or—is there some sort of self-impregnation sort of thing that could happen? Please say no."

"Not unless you have an identical twin," the doctor says. Niall grins and shakes his head, then catches Louis's eye, and Louis is smiling, soft and real. Niall never really said he wasn't sleeping with anyone else, before. His chest feels full and warm.

Niall stares at the ceiling—no tiles in this place, just a blank, smooth ceiling. He's got an arm behind his head, one by his side. He'd make Louis hold his hand if he didn't value his dignity quite so much, or at least what's left of it considering he's splayed out on an exam table in his pants with his gown rucked up around his pits and a baby inside him.

"This will be a bit chilly, Mr. Horan," Dr. Ettlinger says, squirting the ultrasound jelly just like in every movie and TV show Niall's ever seen. He hisses in a breath and Louis laughs a bit through his nose, still perched on the edge of his chair.

There's some pressure but nothing too bad, some awkwardness as the minutes of the doctor staring at the obstructed screen drag on. Louis's foot is tapping, and after another moment, Dr. Ettlinger is smiling and turning the monitor—finally—towards Niall. "Mr. Horan," he says, and his smile is broader than it's ever been, "not only do you have a healthy twelve-week-old fetus in a surprisingly robust uterine-analogous structure, you have two. Fetuses, I mean, not the uterine-analogous structures." He pushes his glasses up his nose with one latex-gloved finger, still grinning.

"What," says Louis. Niall can't say anything, he's just staring at the screen and the very obvious two babies on it.

"Do you have many twins in your extended family, Mr. Horan?" the doctor asks.

"None," Niall manages, mouth dry. He looks at Louis, eyes wide.

"Um, I do," Louis says, and Niall can't exactly tell, but he looks like he's trembling. "Two sets of twin siblings meself, actually." Niall looks back at the screen. He takes Louis's hand, now.

"Normally I'd say that has no bearing on the outcome here," says Dr. Ettlinger, "but I suppose in times like these we can't be sure of anything, can we? Now, besides the astonishingly wonderful news that there's two of them, I can also tell you that they've got lovely strong heartbeats, all their limbs present and accounted for, generally well-formed and at low risk for issues that we can catch with early detection." He sets about wiping off Niall's belly and sorting out his instruments. "I'm afraid I must switch off the screen now, gentlemen, but I'll have a printout sent to you, Mr. Horan, as high-quality as you like. I'll leave you to discuss for a bit now, shall I? There's quite a bit to digest. Please feel free to check out with the receptionist in the private waiting room when you've had a chance to dress."

Once the doctor's gone, Louis hits a button on the side of the exam table to raise the end of it on a diagonal, so Niall can lean back comfortably. "Thanks," he breathes, staring still at the empty monitor.

"Niall," Louis says, adjusting his grip on Niall's hand. "It's real. Like—there's. You're literally actually fucking pregnant."

"I know," Niall says. "I did tell you that, to be fair."

"Twins," Louis says. He puts his palms on Niall's cheeks, fingers scritching through Niall's hair. "Two." Niall nods. "And they're—I did that." Niall nods again. "My babies. In you."

"I'd say they're mine, at this point, but—"

Louis kisses him hard, leaning over the exam table, chest to chest, hands pushing into Niall's hair, gripping at him. "Is this okay," he gasps, and Niall just nods, wrapping his arms around Louis's back, any excuse to get him closer. "Christ," Louis says, "I got you pregnant, Niall. I fucked you raw in that caravan and you were just so—fuck. D'you remember it? I still think about it all the time, how you felt, the way you looked when I came in you, the way you held me in after."

Niall laughs into his mouth, trying and failing to pull him up on the table too, to get a better angle. "Do I remember it? Louis, god, I've wanked off to it probably every day since."

"And now this. That made this," he says, hand pushing up under Niall's stupid hospital gown to cup his belly. "I put those in you," barely a whisper against Niall's ear. "Filled you right up, so much there's two of them."

Niall groans, and Louis manages to get up onto the table, Niall's thighs splayed around him. Niall's boot smacks into the end of the table and it rings out, loud and metallic. Louis laughs into his hand and Niall tries to sit up without shoving the both of them off onto the floor. "Shh, hang on," Louis says, and slides off the end of the table, pulling out the stirrups and unfolding them. Niall just watches as Louis grabs his boot and plunks it in one of them. "There," he says. Niall draws his other leg up, slips his other foot in the second stirrup.

"Are we playing doctor?" he asks, laughing but shaky. Louis just pushes back up his body, kissing him and nuzzling at his neck, a hand rubbing over his belly. "I'm gonna get fat," he murmurs, and Louis squeezes his side.

"Yeah, 'cause you're full of my babies." Niall should laugh, but he doesn't, just makes a muffled sound in the back of his throat, dick twitching awkwardly between them. His whole body feels hot from the inside out. He blushes hard, turning to look at the canisters of tongue depressors. Louis feels it, hitching their hips together. "Shh, hey, me too," he says, curling a finger under Niall's chin. Niall pushes up with his feet in the stirrups, knees bent and legs spread, nothing but the hospital gown on over his pants, and feels utterly filthy. His dick is straining and wet already, and he'll die if he doesn't come.

"Louis," he says, clutching at Louis's biceps.

"What?" Louis asks, stopping completely still. "Are you okay?"

"I'm fine, I just—fuck me." His eyes are wide and his thighs are shaking, but he's never wanted anything more.

"Here?" Louis says in a shocked stage-whisper. "Now?"

"Well, you don't have to obviously, but I th—"

Louis lunges for the drawer with the ultrasound lube in it before Niall can even finish his sentence. "I can't believe this is happening. Any of this. Who the hell are you, Niall Horan. Best thing that ever happened to me, I fucking swear." He kisses Niall on the way back up, fumbling with the cap on the jelly.

"You don't need a condom," Niall says, grinning as he wriggles his non-booted leg out of his pants, which he's regretting putting back on, now. They're smeary-wet and in the way.

"Didn't think I needed one the first time, did we," Louis says, laughing as he smears the gel on his cock, like he can't even tell it's cold, or doesn't care. "Now look where we are. If you get more pregnant from this," Louis says, shaking his head as he leans down to finger Niall open, practiced and perfect, "it's your own fault."

"I am a bit of a slut," Niall laughs, but it turns into a moan as Louis presses a third finger into him.

"You're a slut and I'm a pervert," Louis says, scootching up the table, one hand on Niall's raised leg as he lines himself up. "Match made in heaven." He fucks into Niall with a sharp thrust, and Niall's teeth clack together as he gasps.

"Oh god," Niall whispers. Louis doesn't draw it out; they don't know when or if the doctor will be back, although he'll knock first at least. The stirrups and the incline of the table put Niall at a distressingly perfect angle, and he's already so turned on he's gripping at the back of Louis's shirt and biting down on a mouthful of it to keep from crying out after five minutes. He's never felt so full, Louis's dick slick with medical lube, prying him open and hitting him so deep he's seeing stars. And Louis's babies in his belly, Louis's mouth on his skin, Louis's hands clutching his sides, sliding up to pull at his nipples. Everything feels too sensitive, too much. "Louis, I'm—" Louis doesn't even get his hand down between them before Niall's coming, nothing touching his dick, just the relentless weight of Louis fucking into him.

He grits his teeth together as he comes, whining instead of sobbing with it. The stirrups rattle as his legs try to draw up, and he wraps his arms tighter around Louis, back arching and hips working to fuck himself down on Louis's dick through the last of it, or as best he can pressed to the exam table. He's coming all over the inside of the hospital gown, and he doesn't even care.

"Oh, Jesus," Louis says, voice wrecked. "Niall." He starts to pull out, but Niall grabs his hips, the sag of his jeans where they're pushed down. Louis groans and pumps into him instead, forehead tucked against Niall's shoulder as he loses it, creams him again in the low light of the exam room, ultrasound gel slippery between Niall's arsecheeks and smeared over his inner thighs. Niall pushes into it, feels every flex of Louis's dick around the wads of come.

They're a messy heap by the time Niall's stopped shivering through aftershocks, but it hasn't even been twenty minutes since the doctor left them.

"Fuck, I have to—we have to clean this all up," Louis says, pulling out as gently as he can. Niall makes an unhappy noise. "I have to clean it up. I think you've done quite enough, to be fair."

Niall doesn't argue, just gets himself out of the stirrups and onto the floor, hobbling around to get himself dressed and the gown discreetly stuffed at the bottom of the laundry bin in one of the cabinets. He's sitting on the couch, feeling the slick dribble of come and lube in him still, sickly pleased, when Louis finishes putting everything to rights. He flumps down next to him on the couch, and after a moment, the backs of his fingers stray to Niall's belly, stroking softly, almost absently.

"I guess we should—go, then," Niall says, loath to break the moment. He looks at Louis and he can't keep the wicked smile off his face, though. "I seriously can't believe that just fucking happened. Any of it."

"C'mon, Nialler, your chariot awaits."


The UK tour starts in London, and while they aren't really doing anything differently, it feels different to Niall. It feels warmer, closer, and every time he's around Louis it's a struggle not to just tuck into his side and stay there. They have hardly any time alone, Louis’s family in town and Niall’s friends crashing at his place at all hours. Lottie does mention going shopping on Sunday with the girls, though.

"Gonna have an empty house tomorrow, then?" Niall asks Louis before the Saturday show, just the two of them in the space under the stage for scant minutes until Liam and Harry come back from getting their hair done.

"Yeah, fancy a kickabout in the garden?" Louis asks, lacing his shoes. He grins up at Niall. "Just the lads, hmm?"

"If the lads is you and me, then sure," Niall says. "I’m not having Oli bicycle kicking me in the belly right now if it’s all the same to you."

Louis rolls his eyes. "First of all, I’d murder him, second of all, obviously it means me and you, don’t be stupid."

Having a set time to speak with Louis is helpful in that Niall’s not scrambling for it during work, but a pain the arse when he’s stressing himself out about it all night after the show. He wants to plan what he’s going to say beforehand so he doesn’t fuck it up, but the usual I know you didn't sign up for this or it was just sex, of course I don't expect you to want the rest of it are needlessly martyring. There's no way I'm doing the rest of this alone is too far the other direction.

He falls asleep before he gets anything sorted out at all, and his hands are tight on the wheel all the way to Louis’s the next afternoon.

Niall wasn’t entirely sure whether having a kickabout was a euphemism or not, but it turns out Louis meant what he said. Niall does most of the kicking and Louis does most of the goalkeeping, though Niall doesn’t necessarily think they need to be quite so stringent about what he can and can’t do. "You know I was mostly kidding about the bicycle kick thing," he says, taking a modest shot at the upper left corner.

"I wasn’t," Louis says, catching it neatly. "You’re a bit shit at footie, aren’t you?" He grins, pushing his fringe out of his eyes. He’s wearing Rovers kit today, and Niall can’t say he minds. He eyes the swing of Louis’s shorts around his thighs.

Niall retaliates by leaving the garden without another word, just a muffled laugh. "Sore loser!" Louis calls after him, but Niall’s already got the fridge open in the kitchen and can barely hear him. He’s still staring at the row of lagers along the bottom shelf when Louis comes up behind him. "I’ve got juice," he says. "Since the family’s around."

Niall sighs, closing the fridge with a quiet click and sitting at the kitchen table. Louis follows, and the two of them sit in silence for a long moment. Niall picks at his cuticles, and Louis's heel starts bouncing, just a bit. "You know they said I have to have it. Them."

Louis looks at Niall like he's an idiot. "Yes. Of course you're having 'em."

Niall swallows. "I don't have to keep them, though. After. Louis, I can't—I can't take care of them both by myself."

Louis grabs Niall's hand in both of his. "Niall. First of all, yes you could. You could have twelve nannies if you wanted. I know you like to pretend you're a normal lad, but you're not, and if you want to keep them and raise them by yourself—you absolutely could."

Niall nods, feeling blank inside, not sure what to say. "Yeah, I. Sorry—"

"But I'm—you don't have to. Do it alone. If you want to keep them." He moves one of his hands to Niall's belly, just hovering until Niall nods at him again, and then he rubs lightly, finding the top of the round bit, thumb sliding against the curve.

Louis’s done it plenty of times before, but in the quiet of his big house, juice in the fridge, it feels overwhelming. "So you want to like. Keep them also. With me. If I keep them," Niall says.

"Well, I'm hardly going to split them between us, am I," Louis says, with a small smile. "Dibs on the taller one." He runs his hand up over Niall’s chest to brush the backs of his fingers over Niall’s cheek. "Was there something else?"

"I'm in love with you, Louis," Niall says. His pulse races, and it feels right, but Louis’s house suddenly seems much smaller. "I don't just want to hook up. It hasn't been just hooking up for me—um, ever, really. Not with you."

Louis looks—happy. Relieved, even. His voice shakes when he finally says, "I didn't think you liked relationships."

Niall laughs, sliding his chair closer to Louis’s. "I didn’t think I could get pregnant."

Louis laughs too, tipping in to press a soft kiss to Niall’s lips, then another, one hand warm on Niall’s jaw, thumb brushing at his stubble. "It hasn't been just hooking up for me, either. Never was. God, Niall, I was such a jealous prick." He shakes his head, smiling, takes Niall's hands in his. "What I mean is that I love you, too," he says.

Niall closes his eyes and smiles, his chest swooping, like every single part of this entire fucking year has been worth it, just to hear that. The warmth from Louis loving him, from saying it, is the best feeling there is. He’s had him the whole time, even when he didn’t know it; more than ever, the pack of worries at his door seems manageable with Louis here. "What does that make us, then?" he asks.

Louis laughs, rough and tired, his eyes shining. "Parents."