The whispers roll the cafeteria like waves on the shore, slowly taking over the room until everyone is talking about the same thing. Niall tries to block it out, tries to focus on his study guide as the people around him continue to talk amongst themselves. Niall presses one hand to the ear and uses the other to lift up his turkey sandwich to take a bite. He has twenty minutes to finish memorizing the central nervous system and the people around him are making it next to impossible to focus. And yeah, normally it’s just as loud and unruly, but Niall can hear the excitement in the air, can feel as the energy changes for whatever reason.
Nineteen minutes and he’s starting to feel his own nerves prickle in annoyance. And if he were able to study like he wanted to, he might be able to name the exact location in his brain that’s causing him to feel this way. Or maybe not, he really doesn’t know what he might be able to name, because his concentration is completely shot to hell.
Niall sighs and tosses the packet down on the table, running his fingers through his hair. “I’m never going to get shit done in this place,” he says, watching as Liam smiles sympathetically at him. “What are they all talking about anyway?”
Liam shrugs. “Something about a new student, I guess. I’m not really paying attention. He turns his phone towards Niall and shows him the sketch he’s been doing on snapchat.
Niall bites back a smile and shakes his head, amused with Liam. He’s always doing drawings like that when he’s bored. The last time he sent Niall one he was wearing a top hat with a beard. This time he’s colored himself in completely, like his selfie was a paint-by-numbers.
“You’re a mess, you know that?”
“I had to do something to keep me entertained. It’s not like your offering any kind of conversation today.”
“We have an exam in like,” he checks his watch and tries not to groan, “fifteen minutes. How are you not nervous? You got the answer key or something?”
“No,” Liam laughs, setting his phone down on the table. “I just know that being nervous probably isn’t good for a test about the nervous system.”
Niall stares at him, blinking heavily. “Did you just try and make a joke?”
“Not if it wasn’t funny, I didn’t,” Liam says, swallowing. He smiles and Niall shakes his head at him fondly, grabbing his sandwich and taking a quick bite of it.
The people around them are still whispering to themselves, some of them pointing towards the front of the room. It piques Niall’s curiosity, wanting to know what has everyone ruining his lunch slash study session. But if Niall’s learned one thing since going to school at a small, private university, it’s that the rumor mill is always at work. People are constantly talking about one thing or another, constantly making things up, fabricating stories or completely manipulating them until even the people involved forget the truth. So Niall’s not going to immerse himself too deeply into it. It’ll get to him eventually.
With a sigh, Niall tosses his sandwich down on his plate and shoves it towards Liam. “Will you take care of that? I’m going to head to class, squeeze in a few extra study minutes.”
“Yeah, alright,” Liam agrees, waving him off before he grabs his phone.
Niall tosses his bag over his shoulder and heads out, flashcards in his hands as he tries to memorize the cellular structure of the brain. God help him.
Now that the exam is over, Niall thinks his panicking might have not have been in vain. He was one of the last finished, spending most of the time sweating and obsessing over if he could remember more than just his own name. So yeah, he probably failed and that’s fine, as long as he didn’t completely bomb it.
Niall sighs and runs his fingers through his hair, reaching for his ID so he can scan his way into the dorms when he collides with another body. Their shoulders knock together and Niall groans, rubbing at the source of the pain.
“Sorry about that,” he mumbles, scanning his ID and opening the door. He holds it open for the stranger, who finally looks at him. His blue eyes startle for a second before he smiles, muttering a quiet ‘it’s all right’. There’s something about the way he’s looking at Niall, the brightness in his eyes that makes Niall feel exposed, like the stranger can see right through him.
The boy looks familiar, with soft brown hair brushed out of his eyes, and a smile that’s too sharp to be forgettable. But still, Niall doesn’t think he’s ever seen him on campus before, least of all in the dorms. He’s pretty good about remembering faces, or so he likes to think. So it’s like an itch that he can’t quite scratch to not know where he knows this boy, assuming he knows him at all.
The elevator door opens and Niall steps inside, hitting the button for the fifth floor. He frowns when the other boy doesn’t hit his own button, just bounces on the balls of his feet, clapping his hands together while he waits.
“Do you live on the fifth floor?” The boy asks, looking over his shoulder at Niall. Niall nods because it’s kind of obvious. Why would he hit the five button if that’s not what floor he wanted? “Do you think you could show me to my room, then?”
“Um, it’s kind of like a hotel. There’s a little plaque on the wall that tells you which direction your room is in. Just follow that,” Niall says, shrugging his shoulders as the elevator door opens on their floor.
“Yeah, but I’d really like your help with it,” the stranger says, smiling still. It feels like he hasn’t stopped grinning since they bumped into each other. And part of Niall’s mind is telling him not to help this stranger, because he’s weird and creepy. But that wouldn’t be very nice, would it?
Niall sighs and nods, running his fingers through his hair. “All right, so what room number is it?”
“Five eleven,” he says, holding his hands behind his back, the smile forming as soon as the number is out of his mouth.
“Right, that’s this way,” Niall says. It’s on the other side of the hall, away from Niall’s room completely. Their dorm building has the hall in the shape of a u, two in front of the elevator while the rest of the rooms are in the little side halls. Five eleven is one of the bigger singles, too much money than Niall thinks they’re worth, even though that’s how he feels about most of the rooms in their building.
There’s a little blue card on the door that reads ‘Louis’ and Niall nods, tapping his fingers against the metal. “Well, this is you, Louis.”
“Thank you, I really appreciate your help.”
“It’s not a problem,” Niall says, he smiles at Louis and then moves to step out of the way. Louis steps in front of him, blocking his path.
“Can I get your name?” He asks.
“Right. Well, thanks, Niall,” Louis mumbles, his smile turning softer as he speaks.
Niall nods once more before he steps around Louis slowly, worried that he might try and stop him from going anywhere again. He doesn’t. Instead Louis just smiles at him over his shoulder, digging his keycard out of his pocket. He looks pleased with himself and Niall offers him a wave before he turns onto the main hallway, rushing to get to his room. The elevator dings open as he passes and before he’s asked to help another person to his room, he offers a wave and then throws himself towards his door.
By the next day the rumor mill has quieted down only slightly. It’s enough that Niall is able to ignore it fully, but not so much that he’s clueless to it happening. Luckily for him, the rumors stop once class starts, which is a huge relief because chemistry, as it turns out, is harder than most of the subjects he’s encountered in his life.
It’s not that the subject is hard, necessarily. Niall’s had the periodic table memorized since he graduated high school, when his science teacher at the time forced him to learn it before graduation. But his teacher is dull, his tone low and dragging, like the teacher in Ferris Bueller. And his handwriting is scribble, and by the time Niall’s able to decipher the text on the board, his professor’s mouth has changed subjects.
The wave that hit the cafeteria seems to hit the classroom all at once, starting with the people in back and working its way to the front until the teacher stops, staring at them and then towards the door. Louis is there and Niall frowns, staring at him for a moment before he glances around class. So Louis is obviously the source of all the whispers, the person who has worked the entire school into a frenzy.
Niall sighs as he waits, using the silence as an opportunity to catch up on his notes. But his eyes keep drifting from the board to Louis, who is grinning at the teacher while Professor Lankin nods his head, gripping onto Louis’ hand as they talk. It’s weird, is the thing. Lankin tends to hate distractions, hates when people veer off course and force him to pause a lecture. And it’s the first time that Niall has seen him smile, his cheeks bright red as he shoves his glasses higher up on his nose. Niall thinks he can see the pink on the top of his head where his hair is thinning.
Honestly, who is this new kid? What about him has everyone acting like they’ve never seen anyone before in their lives?
Louis nods at Lankin as he turns, pointing around the classroom. Niall thinks he’s telling him to find a place to sit. He can tell the moment Louis spots him, when their eyes lock and his grin changes again, sharp and happy. He pats Lankin on the arm and walks directly towards Niall, ignoring the stares of their classmates.
“Who knew that we’d have a class together, neighbor,” Louis mutters, taking the seat next to Niall.
It takes the class a moment to gain control of itself, mostly because Lankin is still staring at Louis, who drops his bag down on the ground with a thud. Niall smiles at him and then directs his attention to the front of the room, pencil moving rapidly across his paper as Lankin starts talking again, picking up on where he left off.
It’s still the beginning of the semester, so their lessons haven’t gotten too intense yet. Niall thinks he can remember most of this information from high school, even if that was a year ago. He should have taken this class his first year instead of his second, maybe then he wouldn’t have to worry about not being able to understand his teacher’s monotone voice, which has definitely perked up since Louis’ arrival.
Louis, who seems to be the loudest person in the world, or so Niall would guess. He’s never heard anyone need to make that much noise to get their pencil and notebook out.
“You want some gum,” Louis whispers, holding the pack out for Niall. Niall stares at it and shakes his head. Louis shrugs and shoves the gum back into his bag, dropping it down on the ground once more. He doesn’t get any quieter after that. Louis taps his pencil against the tabletop, making a beat that seems to be on point with Niall’s nerves. “So how do you like this class?”
“What?” Niall asks, voice low and eyes trained on the board.
“This class. Is it all right?”
“I don’t know.”
“The teacher seems nice.”
“Mhm,” Niall mumbles, trying to block the other boy out. Maybe if he can hum in the right places Louis will think he’s listening, or he’ll figure out that Niall doesn’t have the time and patience for him and he’ll shut up.
“Have you had an exam in here yet?”
Niall sighs, tearing his eyes away from the board to look at Louis. “Can you please be quiet? I’m trying to pay attention to the lecture and it’s impossible to hear over you.”
Louis looks confused for a second, brows pulled together as he looks at Niall. The confusion is replaced almost instantly with a smirk. “Right, yeah,” he says, nodding. Niall sighs and then turns back to the board, ignoring the feeling of Louis’ eyes on him.
Louis stays quiet for the rest of class, until Lankin is telling them that they can go. Niall hurries to grab his things before Louis can say anything because he knows that the other boy is going to say something, he can feel it, and the last thing Niall wants to do is to be bothered with silly questions. He needs to get to the library so that he can work on getting research for one of his papers that’s due soon.
On his way out of the room, Niall notices a man standing by the back door dressed in a suit. There’s a stern look on his face, his hands held behind his back as he stares ahead of the room. He doesn’t spare Niall a glance as Niall frowns at him, wondering what he’s doing there.
Part of being a nursing major is that Niall’s forced to certain classes. One of those classes is a writing course, one of the few that he’d rather not take. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with the writing program or the fact that he has to take them, it’s really just about the fact their second assignment of the semester is a research paper that forces them to argue some of the points that they made in their first assignment. And it all just feels counterproductive to Niall. How is he expected to write a mini-essay, only to turn around and write a full-blown research paper about what an idiot he was for the first assignment? But that’s college for you; Niall doesn’t think he’ll ever understand the assignments.
So he’s forced to write this paper and that’s why he’s cooped up in the library, sitting at one of the tables in the back with books spread out everywhere to try and learn more about Internet censorship and the affects it has on societies around the world. And he’s not finding much, at least not in some of these ancient books. But the idea of censorship is pretty much the same for all things, not just the Internet, so maybe it’s not as hard as Niall’s making it out to be.
The library, for the most part, is fairly empty for the middle of the day. Which is nice, because Niall’s able to get lost in his work, making notes of pages with interesting passages that he wants to scan before he leaves.
And it’s when he’s really in the zone that the chair across from him pulls out, dragging against the carpet – some of the chair legs colliding with the table, making too much noise for a library. He tries not to feel annoyed, because honestly, there are like, a million different tables that this person could sit at. He’s three hundred percent positive that the table next to him has been collecting dust since he dropped his bag down on the ground and claimed this table as his own. But whatever, Niall doesn’t own the library, unfortunately.
Niall’s clenching his jaw in annoyance, trying his best to ignore the person across from him, when a sheet of paper slips across the table. It floats down slowly and lands on the book in front of him. It’s a standard piece of notebook paper, white with the blue lines and pink margin. There’s messy scrawl at the top, so messy that Niall has to squint to read it properly.
What are you doing?
Niall blinks and reads it again. Right. Yeah. It’s definitely asking what he’s doing. He looks up and sees Louis sitting across from him, a smug smile on his face, his eyes crinkled, making him look like a pleased little kitten.
“I’m researching for a paper,” Niall whispers, because it should be self-explanatory. He’s in the library with a bunch of books in front of him, it’s either that or studying.
Louis shakes his head and points to the paper in front of Niall.
“No, I’m not doing this,” Niall says, shaking his head.
Louis gives him a look, pointing at the paper again. Niall sighs, shaking his head as he writes back his response. He slides the paper back over to Louis and watching as he reads it, the smile returning. He scribbles something down and slides it back over.
Censorship and how it affects society.
Louis nods as he reads it, like he’s impressed.
Is that something you have to do?
Niall snorts. Obviously, it’s for a class.
No I mean now. Is it something you need to do now?
Kind of, Niall writes, tapping his pen against his chin. It’s due in a couple weeks, but I should probably get a head start. It’s kind of why I’m here, so if you could…
Louis reads the note and tilts his head to the side, fingers tapping against the back of the paper. Niall watches him and waits. There’s movement out of the corner of his eye and he turns, finding the bulky man in the suit from his chemistry class sitting in one of the reading chairs next to the windows. He’s not more than twenty feet away, pretending to – or maybe he really is – read a magazine. Niall stares at him for a while, wondering who he is. It’s quite odd, a grown man walking around campus in a suit. He looks mean and intimidating, more so than any of Niall’s professors. Well, not all of them. But Niall’s writing teacher is definitely out for blood.
Niall tears his eyes away from the man when he sees the note back in front of him.
Are you telling me to fuck off?
No, Niall writes, but he’s definitely thinking it. But it’s not like he’s going to say that. Maybe you could…you know…let me work in peace?
So fuck off?
If that’s what you’re taking it to mean, then whatever. I just need to work on this.
Louis is grinning as he reads it. Niall takes a deep breath and braces him for what the note is going to say.
Okay. I’ll watch. There’s a little smiley face next to it with two x’s for eyes. And across the table Louis smiles at him before he grabs a notebook out of his back. He waves it at Niall and then sets it down on the table, flipping it open and then pulling more stuff out of his bag. Niall sighs as he watches him, because maybe it’s best to not argue about these sorts of things. Louis seems like the type to do what he wants when he wants it, and if he wants to do his homework sitting at the same table as Niall then he’s going to, just like how he roped Niall into passing notes back and forth like they’re twelve and gossiping.
He watches Louis for a beat longer before he turns back to his books, diving back into the world of censorship and pretending he can’t hear Louis humming across from him.
As the week drags on, Niall learns one thing, it doesn’t matter how big he thought his school was or how many classes they offer at any given moment, because fate seems to be fucking with him when he discovers that he has four out of five classes with Louis. It came as a huge surprise when he walked into every single one of his classes and saw the other boy either already sitting down or prancing in the door right after him.
It’s just his luck, to have almost all of his classes with someone who is constantly annoying him and driving him out of his mind.
Four classes together and they live on the same floor. There’s really nothing else to it than the universe testing him in the form of some kind of joke. Whoever organized this is somewhere laughing and if he closes his eyes and concentrates he might be able to hear it… Or it’s just Louis, who is babbling about something while they’re in the elevator. It must be a wild story, since he’s laughing at all of his own jokes but Niall has a headache from the chemicals that their professor was working with in chemistry and he wants to take a nap, since he was studying for his next test in anatomy.
He’s on edge and everything seems to be grating his nerves, which can be the only explanation for why he asks, “Are you stalking me?”
Louis pauses his story and blinks, then breathes out a laugh. “What are you talking about?”
“I mean what I said, are you stalking me? I know our university isn’t that big but you’re in like, all of my classes. You live on the same floor as me. Sometimes you even eat at the same time as me, so…yeah,” Niall says, shoving his hands into his pockets. He feels a little nervous now that he’s said that. “What’s the deal?”
“Well, I signed up for housing and they put me here. I registered a little late, but still had some say in my classes, well before I knew you existed. And as for eating, I’m sorry,” Louis mumbles, squinting at Niall. “I think most people are trained to eat around a certain time. That’s my only excuse.”
“Okay, right,” Niall mumbles, scratching at the back of his neck. “But like, are you stalking me?”
Louis laughs and shakes his head, a smile stretching out across his face. He shrugs, the same pleased kitten look on his face from the library days ago. Niall knows, realistically, that Louis isn’t stalking him. It’s a silly accusation that he should apologize for but he’s cranky and tired and…those are the only excuses that he can give right now.
“So now that we’ve got that cleared up,” Louis says, like they’ve actually cleared up anything. “What are you doing on Friday?”
“I don’t know,” Niall mumbles, eyeing Louis suspiciously as he can. The elevator doors pop open and Louis holds his arm out, motioning for Niall to go first.
“There’s a party on Friday. One of my friends invited me. Do you think you’ll be going?” Louis looks at him, blue eyes shining as he kicks at the carpet beneath their feet.
Niall shrugs. “It depends. I mean, like I said, I don’t really know what I’m doing. It depends.”
“Right,” Louis mumbles. “Well, see if you can get it to depend on the party. You’ve got a day to figure it out.”
Niall sighs and finds himself nodding. A party doesn’t sound like the worst idea in the world, especially after the week he’s been having. He could use a night out. Maybe he can get Liam and Harry to come with him, make a night of it.
“I’ll think about it,” Niall tells him. Louis grins and nods, waving at Niall before he turns to head towards his dorm. Niall watches him until he turns the corner. There really is something about that boy…Niall only wishes he could put his finger on it.
Niall’s sat at his desk and working on the outline for his research paper – the one that he still needs to find more research on – and definitely not thinking about the party that Louis invited him to. Liam is lounging on his bed on the other side of the room, his laptop on his stomach as he watches a movie. He’s got his headphones in so Niall’s not sure what he’s watching, can just hear Liam giggle every time something funny happens. It keeps the air in their room light having Liam giggling across from him; it’s almost impossible to find himself getting stressed about having to write eight pages, because every time Liam laughs, he finds himself laughing.
Their wonderful atmosphere is broken up when someone starts banging on their door. Niall swivels around in his chair, looking at Liam who tugs an earphone out of his ear. They share a look, the banging on the door growing more frequent. Niall sighs as he gets up, avoiding the peephole as he swings it open.
Harry shoves the door open, nearly hitting Niall in the face as he rushes into the room. “He’s a prince,” he shouts, waving his arms around wildly as he looks at the two of them. “He’s a prince. It’s the prince.”
“Babe,” Liam says, shutting his laptop so that he can sit up and look at Harry. He spares a quick glance towards Niall, who shrugs, trying to say not my boyfriend, mate. “What are you talking about?”
Harry sighs, breathing a quick burst of air before he says, “The new student that everyone has been ranting about? I haven’t seen him on campus but finally I got super annoyed and finally I just snapped, so I asked Lou why she kept babbling about this and she gave me this look, it was really snotty. Anyway, I asked her why this new kid is getting so much buzz when it’s a new school year, lots of people are new kids, ya know? But apparently this one kid missed a bit of school, was doing his coursework at home because,” he pauses, taking a deep breath – probably for dramatic effect. “It’s Prince Louis. He’s our new student.”
Niall and Liam share a look and Harry groans, throwing his arms up in the air again.
“Are you two complete idiots? The royal family doesn’t ring a bell at all? They’re on our money! Oh god,” he groans, storming across the room. Niall’s laptop is open so he sits at his desk, slamming his fingers down on the keys harder than necessary as he opens a web browser. “I can’t believe I know either of you.”
“Harry, we know who Prince Louis is, but are you sure that he goes to this school?”
“Yes,” Harry cries. “Lou said that he lives in your building.”
Niall gasps, his mouth falling open as he drops down on his bed. It’s really not that difficult to put two and two together. Louis, annoying and frustrating and always-there Louis is the Prince Louis. He’s been a dick to the prince, the future ruler of their country – not…well, kind of. Niall’s not sure the actual duties of royalty anymore. But whatever. It doesn’t matter.
“Oh shit,” Niall mutters, rubbing at his eyes.
“Yeah,” Harry sighs. “He’s pretty cute.” Liam mumbles something from across the room and Harry snorts. “Liam, please. He’s so unattainable.”
“Oh, okay. So if he wasn’t then? What would you do then?”
“I’d do nothing,” Harry says. “Absolutely nothing. I’m just saying he’s cute. It’s an objective observation. Niall, tell him Prince Louis is cute.”
Liam mumbles something again and Harry groans. Niall opens his eyes in time to see Harry dive on top of Liam, shaking his hair in Liam’s eyes, telling Liam that he’s better than some silly little prince. Niall watches them and his stomach churns unpleasantly because he’s been talking to said prince, totally unaware of who he was. Or no. Niall knew that he was familiar, but he didn’t really know how familiar he was until this moment. But all the little things seem to make sense now, namely the mean guy that follows Louis around in the suit. He’s obviously some kind of bodyguard, who has very kindly not killed Niall for being a complete dick.
“Now, stop being so grumpy,” Harry says, breaking Niall from his thoughts. He sits up, straddling Liam’s stomach and smiles at Niall.
“So this prince,” Niall asks, clearing his throat. “How princely is he?” He’s just trying to clear up some facts, just trying to figure out in his head how badly he’s screwed up his future, because there’s no way the media won’t find out he’s been a dick to royalty and then he’ll never have a job. He might as well just drop out of school now and start his future as a hermit.
“He’s first in line for the throne,” Harry says. “His mom is queen now, so when she’s finished or gone, I guess, he’ll take over. So yeah. He’s guaranteed to be king.”
“Oh god,” Niall groans. “I called the future king a stalker.”
Liam and Harry blink at him and then at each other before they turn back to him, identical looks of confusion on their faces. “What,” they mutter, frowning at him.
“Yeah. I’ve got like, a million classes with him and he’s like, everywhere that I am. And I was in a bad mood earlier, just tired and grumpy and I might have…um, no. I definitely accused him of stalking me.”
Harry gasps, bending down and snatching up Liam’s pillow so he can toss it at Niall. “You insulted the prince?”
“I didn’t realize he was a prince when it happened.”
“How?” Harry shouts. “He’s everywhere. You see his face every Christmas. They do specials for him like, that whole week because his birthday. And he was in trouble like, last year for a solid month because of that weed video he did with his friend. And then again when he got caught kissing that girl in the pool. And again when he came stumbling out of all of those bars.”
“I don’t know,” Niall groans, because he remembers all of that. Remembers the video being spread like wildfire on all of his social media, remembers everyone in shock because the prince was doing drugs. And like whatever, it was just a little weed. He’s fine, Niall’s sure. “I thought he looked familiar but I couldn’t figure it out. My mind didn’t automatically think, oh wow, he’s familiar, must be royal. And like, he wasn’t offended when I called him a stalker. He smiled and then invited me to a party. That’s better than like…being locked up for treason.”
“He invited you to a party?” Liam asks, sitting up on his elbows. “Which one?” Niall shrugs. “So you two talk a lot?”
“Every day, yes. We’re chem partners.”
“You are going to that party, then,” Harry decides, rolling off Liam. “We’re all going. You insulted him and you’re not going to make it worse. Besides, after my exam tomorrow I’m going to need a night out.”
Niall just nods and then sighs, lying back down on his bed so that he can think. That’s what he needs, to think about what his life has become. It can’t be that bad, since Louis is always smiling at him. And they’re still talking, so…yeah. Niall thinks it’ll all be okay. It has to be.
The party is held at one of the frat houses, Delta something. Niall’s always wanted to be in one of the frats but they cost too much, so it’s always been a luxury he could never indulge in. But the frat is nice, one of the bigger brick houses with banners hanging out of the windows. There are people scattered everywhere, around the front yard, some of them trickling towards the back. There are people on the porch, a kid Niall knows by the name of Ed on the porch, a guitar in his lap. It’s pretty relaxed, by most standards.
There’s music inside and Niall pushes his way in, Harry’s fingers digging into his arm as they weave through the crowd. He knows that Harry’s only interested in catching a glimpse of Louis, like he’s a portrait in a museum instead of an actual human being.
“Do you see him?” Harry asks, his voice loud in Niall’s ear.
“No, and he’s probably not even here. This is hardly the only party happening tonight, Harry.”
Liam rolls his eyes from next to him and tugs Harry off Niall’s arm. “We’re going to get something to drink. We’ll grab you something.”
“Yeah, alright,” Niall mumbles, waving them off as he continues to push through the crowd. He wants to find a corner; some place that’s not so crowded. He keeps his eyes trained ahead and tries not to think about all the bodies that are packed into the small space. If he thinks about it then he might freak out, so he keeps walking, hoping the back of the house isn’t as crowded.
There’s a beer pong game going on and that’s where Niall finds Louis, wearing a thin black tank that Niall swears is see-through - not like he’s purposely trying to catch a glimpse of Louis’ nipples – and a bright, happy smile on his face as he laughs, tossing the ping pong ball towards the other side. It misses, hitting the corner and dropping down to the ground. The dark-haired boy next to him sighs and shakes his head – Niall recognizes him, knows he’s the one in the weed video and next to Louis in almost all the club pictures – before he tosses the ball. This one lands in the cup and Louis cheers, shouting insults at the other team as one of them drains the cup.
There’s something mesmerizing about watching Louis laugh, the way he tosses his head back and his mouth drops open. It makes Niall chuckle to himself as he leans against the wall, content with the spot he’s found. Bits of Louis’ hairline is sweating, part of his fringe sticking to his forehead and he looks like he belongs here, like this is his house and that’s his table and this is his world. Which it might as well be, being a prince and all. It’s his country, at any rate.
The other team starts their turns and Louis shouts something at them as he looks around at the crowd around them, wanting to see their reactions. He breaks out in a grin when he spots Niall, or at least Niall’s pretty sure it’s him because Louis gives him that smile an awful lot.
“Stan, take my place,” Louis shouts, motioning for someone. A brunette boy steps out of the crowd and Louis pats him on the shoulder before he snags a beer from off the table, walking towards Niall. “So you decided to come and see me?”
Louis smells like beer and his cheeks are flushed, a content smile on his face.
“No,” Niall says, sniffing as he folds his arms over his chest. “I decided to come to the party.”
“No, not for you.”
“Well, you’re just standing here without a drink, so you’re really not here for the party, are you?” Louis says, pointing at Niall’s empty hands before he drains his own drink, shrugging. “And you’ve been standing here watching me.”
“No, I am here for the party but I was on my way to get a drink and heard someone back here screaming like a banshee, so I figured I should check it out,” Niall says, shrugging. Louis brightens at that and Niall realizes what he’s just done…again. “Shit. Um. I’m sorry.”
Louis frowns, head titled to the side. “For?”
“Um…well,” Niall mumbles, scratching at the back of his neck. “You’re the prince and I’ve just insulted you…again.”
Louis’ expression doesn’t change, not like Niall expected it to. He stares at Niall for a long beat, the beer pong crowd behind them cheering loudly as something happens. Niall begins to feel like he’s under a microscope, like Louis can see inside of him and is studying his thoughts carefully, cataloging them for future reference like he might need them at some point.
“You didn’t know that before, did you?” Louis asks and Niall shakes his head no. Because he did know but he really didn’t, at least not on the conscious level that Louis is asking about. “So you owe me a drink.”
“No I don’t.”
“You do, actually. You insulted me, you said so yourself, which means that you owe me,” he says. He pats his pockets and nods to himself. “I’m going to go smoke outside, you get the drinks and meet me out back.”
Louis walks away before Niall can protest. And as he turns to go find the drinks he sees the man in the suit from earlier, walking along the length of the wall, following Louis outside.
Louis is outside sitting under a tree when Niall finds him. He stubs his cigarette out on a tree root and then smiles at Niall, accepting the drink he holds out for him. Niall sits next to him, their elbows knocking together.
“Now we’re even,” Niall says, lifting his cup to his lips.
Louis breathes out a laugh next to him, head lolling to the side so he can look at Niall. “Are we, though?”
“Yeah,” he says. Louis nods and accepts it; drinking the beer that Niall’s brought him. It’s a little warm and flat but it makes Niall’s belly feel warm and that’s all he cares about.
They drink together in silence, the music from inside wafting out of the windows and into the cool October air outside. There’s a bonfire crackling on the other side of the yard, people drinking and laughing around the fire. It’s nice outside and Niall feels his muscles loosening up, the stress of the week dissipating the more that he drinks, even if it is the weakest beer he’s ever had.
The one thing about this party that stands out is the man in the suit pretending that he’s not watching Niall, staring daggers into him before he scans the perimeter again, making sure everything is okay for Louis. Niall can’t help but laugh as he watches him, what a shitty job. And what a shitty thing for Louis, to be followed everywhere he goes because he can’t be certain that something won’t happen to him. It’s kind of sad, actually.
Louis has an eyebrow raised, watching Niall as his laugh turns to a frown. He tilts his head to the side, silently telling Niall to talk to him before he takes another drink of his beer.
“That guy in the suit over there,” Niall says, nodding his head in the other direction. “Is he your security?”
Louis doesn’t have to look away from Niall to know what he’s talking about, instead he just nods and says, “Yeah.” He shrugs when Niall nods, happy to know that he’s right about something. “What about you?”
“What about me?”
“That curly kid in those bushes, he your security?”
Niall frowns and then turns, following Louis’ gaze to see Harry trying to hide behind the bushes next to the house. Liam is next to him, tugging his arm. It looks like he’s shouting something, the muscles in his arms straining as Harry digs his heels in the ground, fighting against Liam.
Niall barks out a laugh as he watches them, unable to control himself because everything about this is just so ridiculous. Niall’s sitting under a tree with the prince of his country while his best friend hides in a bush. And it’s not even because of the alcohol, or because he’s sleeping. This is his life.
“Definitely not my security,” Niall says, turning to Louis with a smile. “More like a friend that wants to meet you.”
Louis nods. “Is he the one who gave me away?”
“I would have figured it out eventually,” Niall tells him, shrugging. He would have, honestly.
“But you really didn’t know before?”
“Guess not,” Niall says, shrugging once more. “I thought it was weird how that guy was always wherever you were, not next to you but close enough that it was odd. And he looks fucking mean.” Louis laughs at that one. “And I knew you looked familiar, just couldn’t put my finger on why.”
“It’s my good looks,” Louis says and Niall snorts, lifting his beer to his lips to stop himself from saying. He doesn’t even know what he would say to that, probably something incriminating, because Louis is cute, obviously, and not just because he’s a prince. There’s an air about him, a light that pulls you in. You can’t help but be attracted to him.
Niall finds Harry and Liam after he’s finished his beer with Louis, when his butt hurts from sitting on tree roots and he desperately wants another. Louis leaves him with a hand to his elbow, smiling at Niall before he saunters off to his friends. Niall watches him for a minute, until Louis’ dark-haired friend turns to look at him, a smirk on his face. And then he’s rushing off, avoiding the boy’s eyes as he goes to find his friends.
Harry finds him first, grabbing him by the arm and yanking him into a corner.
“What the hell,” curses Niall, stumbling as he tries to stop himself from falling over. His glare only lessens when he sees that it’s Harry tugging on him. He yanks his arm out of Harry’s grasp and gives him a look, one that tells Harry to tell him what’s going on.
“With what,” Harry repeats, shaking his head. He slaps Niall on the arm, glaring. “What do you mean with what? What happened with Louis?”
“Nothing,” Niall says, because Harry’s acting like he caught Niall with his pants around his ankles and Louis on his knees in front of him, which—no. He’s not going to imagine that. “He said that I owed him a drink, we drank a bit, talked, and now I’m back here. I might go grab another drink, actually. You two want anything?”
“You will not,” Harry says, grabbing his elbow to stop him from going anywhere. “You’ll tell us what happened.”
“Honestly, nothing happened. Why are you making such a big deal about this?”
“Niall, you’re talking to the prince. The prince,” Harry says, looking at Niall like he’s a small child and he’s trying to teach him something very important. “You’re talking to the person that is first in line to the throne.”
Niall sighs, running his fingers through his hair. “Yeah, I know. But I’m trying not to think about it. If I think about then I’ll freak out. And besides, he’s pretty normal. He’s loud and annoying, not at all like what you’d think a prince to be like.” Niall finishes his speech with a heavy sigh and finds himself disappointed to see that Harry’s not even looking at him; he’s staring over Niall’s shoulder at something across the room. Liam looks bored next to him, mumbling into the rim of his cup angrily, huffing. “What’s wrong?”
Harry shakes his head, reaching out and clutching onto Niall’s arm, shaking him slightly.
Liam sighs and tugs Harry off, shoving his hands down at his sides. “Louis is staring at you. Or here. He’s staring over here.”
Niall turns around and sees that Louis is indeed looking in their direction, leaning against the wall next to the beer pong table. He has a drink in his hand a smirk on his face. He smirks when he spots Niall looking back at him. Someone behind him – Harry – slaps him in the arm and says, “we’re going over there.”
Niall sighs and lets himself be dragged over towards Louis, who straightens up when he notices they’re coming towards him. Niall tries to give him a look, one that warns him not to be that excited, because lord knows what Harry is about to do to embarrass them all.
“You came back pretty quickly,” Louis says, kicking off the wall and meeting them so they’re a little away from the crowd, standing next to the back door. “Are you sure that you didn’t come here for me?”
“Ha,” Niall snorts, shaking his head. “My security detail wanted to meet you. This is Liam and Harry, my roommate and his boyfriend.”
“Right, saw you two earlier in the bushes,” Louis says, grinning at the two of them.
Harry’s mouth drops open but Liam beats him to the apology. “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. He gets—he just wanted—Or um. We were just checking on Niall…or uh, something like that. I can’t remember anymore.”
“No, it’s alri—”
“Your highness, I’m so sorry,” Harry says, bowing his head down slightly. Niall frowns as he looks at him, brows pulling together. “I didn’t think you’d see us, which is no excuse. We’re unforgivable.”
“I wouldn’t say that. A gorgeous boy like Niall, I’d keep an eye on him too if a creep like me came around.” He winks at Niall, laughing lightly at his own joke. Niall bites his lip to keep from laughing as the blush spreads down his cheeks to his neck. He’s not going to indulge Louis as he indulges Harry: he refuses to do that.
“Your highness, you’re far too gracious with us,” Harry says and that Niall does laugh at, because what the hell is he doing?
“Thank you,” Liam says. “And we’re sorry if we upset you, or—I don’t know, invaded your privacy.”
“It’s fine,” Louis assures them and he’s laughing so he must mean it.
“I’m really happy to hear that, your highness.”
“Oh god,” Louis groans, shaking his head. “Please stop calling me your highness.”
“Yes, sir,” Harry mumbles dutifully, standing up a little straighter, like he’s preparing to be scolded.
Louis pulls a face, his nose crinkling as he shakes his head. “None of that either, please. Louis, that’s my name so use it, alright?” Both Liam and Harry nod, their eyes a little wider than they were a second ago. “You don’t have a drink, Niall.”
“No,” he agrees, trying not to glare at Liam and Harry. He’d like to have a drink, but they’re ruining it for him. “I was going to—“
“Let me get you one then, I could use another.” He pats Niall on the shoulder as he passes, his hand dragging down the expanse of his back. Niall shrugs the action off because it’s Louis. He does weird things like pass Niall notes in the library and call him cute and touch his back. It’s whatever. It’s just...Louis being Louis.
Niall turns back to his friends who breathe out, staring at him like they can’t believe any of this. But then they’re tensing up again and Niall understands why when he feels a hand on his back and hears Louis’ voice in his ear.
“I’m an ass, do you two want anything to drink?”
“Yeah, that’d be great,” Liam says, even though his cup his full. He pulls it away from Louis, grinning at him.
Louis points to Harry, who nods.
“Right, I’ll be back,” Louis mumbles, patting Niall once more before he’s gone.
“Oh my god,” Harry mutters, sounding like he’s breathing for the first time in his life. He’s got one hand clutching his heart, the other holding onto Liam tightly. “I think my heart was about to burst for a second.”
“I almost wet myself,” Liam announces, rubbing at his forehead. “That was like—holy shit.”
Niall snorts, choking on a laugh at the looks on his two friends faces.
Louis is late to chemistry, not like Niall is really paying attention to that. Except, it’s kind of hard not to notice the other boy’s not there, when he’s usually poking Niall in the ribs or telling him to move his elbow so that Louis can copy his notes or his assignment, whatever Niall is working on at the moment. So when the other boy comes stumbling into the room nearly ten minutes late, Niall can’t help but roll his eyes. Their professor simply smiles at Louis, nodding his head like Louis already had his permission to disrupt the lesson.
It annoys Niall a bit, to know that Louis is able to bend the rules. But he supposes that it’s not entirely Louis’ fault, seeing as that their professor should have said something, shouldn’t have let Louis into the room with nothing more than a smile. Oh well, he supposes.
Louis sits down next to him and Niall wrinkles his nose at him. His eyes are red and glassy, and he definitely smells like weed, which annoys Niall even more, but he doesn’t say anything. Instead he focuses back on the board and writing down everything that Lankin is telling them, everything he’s writing down on the board.
Halfway through class Lankin tells them to meet up with their lab partners at the tables in the back, the ones used during labs instead of lectures. Niall sighs and starts gathering his stuff, everything that he thinks he might need. They’re not set to be working today, he doesn’t think because the syllabus doesn’t list this as a lab day. But still, he’d like to be prepared just in case.
“How do we know who our lab partners are?” Louis asks, glancing around the room as some of their classmates begin to migrate to the back.
“Uh, it’s me,” Niall mutters, watching as Louis raises an eyebrow at him. “It’s based on whom you sit next to, unless you’re not sitting next to anyone. And then you just sort of…find a person to work with. He explained it the first class.”
“Whom were you working with before?” Louis says, following behind Niall to an empty lab station.
“No one? So you did the labs by yourself?”
“Yeah, but it’s all right. The first couple labs were pretty easy to do on my own, we weren’t really working with chemicals or anything yet, just getting familiar with things, I guess.” He shrugs when Louis looks at him, frowning as he looks around the room. “I didn’t want to ask anyone to be my partner. The numbers weren’t even until you got here, so yeah. I was alone.”
Louis nods, running his fingers through his messy hair. He really does look like he’s spent the entire morning in bed – or smoking, based on his smell beneath his cologne – with his messy hair and loose sweatpants and sweatshirt.
“So we’re partners,” Louis mumbles, tapping his pencil against the table like a drum. “Have you been paying attention, then?”
Niall shocks himself by laughing at that, the sound so loud that he has to clamp a hand over his mouth to stop the stares from their classmate and professor. Louis seems pleased with himself, smiling in a way that could be read as fond but Niall’s not going to read it that way.
“I take it that means you have been paying attention and I’m an idiot for asking, judging by how full your notebook is.”
Niall nods. “Something like that, I guess,” he says, shaking his head as he takes the packet that their classmate passes over to them, glaring at him before smiling at Louis. “And um, we’re mostly just prepping. We have a lab next week and we’re just answering some questions, filling out the first part of this.” He waves the packet around and Louis frowns at it, swatting at it like a cat with a piece of string in front of its face. “And then we also have to set up jobs, roles that each of us are going to take during the lab. And um, after that we’re free to go for the day.”
“Right,” Louis says, rubbing his hands together. “Best to get started so we can get out of here, then.”
As it turns out, Louis does know how to work when he needs to. Not like Niall thought he was completely useless in that department but… he had his worries, obviously. Louis doesn’t know much about the lab but he’s helpful at finding some of the answers in their textbook and in Niall’s notes. He signs himself up to do most of the lab work; since he feels bad that Niall was left alone. Niall assures that it’s fine, that he didn’t really leave him intentionally. But there’s no point in arguing, he guesses, so Niall agrees, even if he does feel a bit nervous about allowing Louis the opportunity to mix chemicals. Lord knows what their next class is going to be like.
When they finish, Louis waits while Niall packs his bag, his foot tapping to the beat of a song. He has his own bag on his shoulders, a Marvel one that makes Niall snort when he gets a good look at it. And as they’re leaving, Niall finds that Louis isn’t the only one who appears to be dressing down for the day.
“Your babysitter isn’t wearing a suit today,” Niall observes, staring at Louis’ security guard, who cracks a smile – the first one he’s ever seen – before he looks back at Louis, feeling proud of himself.
“Yeah, I told Alberto that he should tone it down a bit. He sticks out, like a rose in a rock pile, especially at that party the other night.”
“No one in this lifetime has ever said that analogy, ever,”Niall tells him, shaking his head. “And yeah, it’s probably better that he looks more like an older student than a hit man.”
Louis nods and then squints, staring ahead of them for a moment before he says, “Your friends are funny. The ones from the party, I liked them.”
“Well, they like you.”
Louis shrugs. “I’ve got a way with people.”
“I bet you do,” he mutters, knocking his elbow with Louis’. The other boy grins at him and elbows him back, a pleased little smile on his face. Niall’s not sure what he said to make him look like that, but the look fits Louis’ face. It suits him to be happy.
“Where are you going now?”
“To the library to work on that paper I was researching last week, the one for our writing class that you should probably get started on.” Louis pulls a face and Niall laughs, shaking his head. “Are you going to come and bug me some more?”
“No, I promised a friend that I’d stop by his place, so I’m afraid that you’ll have to pine for me.”
Niall snorts. “In your dreams,” he mutters.
Louis smiles at him, rubbing his thumb along Niall’s chin. “Yeah, definitely,” he mumbles. He pats Niall’s cheek and then walks off, Alberto the security guard trailing behind him. Niall frowns as he watches him go, wondering what on earth just happened.
Liam and Harry are in the dorm when Niall gets back, both of them in the kitchen. Harry’s chopping vegetables while Liam inspects something in a pan, moving a spatula around.
“Sauce is fine, Liam,” Harry mumbles, not even looking up from the cutting board.
Niall looks back and forth between the two of them before he sighs, closing the door with a thud. Harry jumps and turns to look at him, grinning while Liam continues to stare at the sauce in the pan.
“Did I interrupt date night?” Niall asks, because he really doesn’t want to go back to the library and he’s hungry, so he’s hoping that it’s not date night so they’ll feel a little more inclined to throw some scraps his way. He’s too lazy to cook and they’re already doing it, so why not mooch off of them?
“No, you’re fine,” Liam tells him, smiling at him. “Well, I mean. Kind of. But we’re already making you some, so yeah. Not really.”
“Ah, nothing better than a third wheel’s dinner.”
“You could starve,” Harry says, shrugging as he dumps the vegetables in the sauce and oh god, Niall can smell it and it’s delicious and he wants nothing more than to have some. So maybe he can put up with being a third wheel, if it means getting to eat whatever smells so good.
Behind Harry, Liam is shaking his head, and Niall laughs patting Liam on the shoulder as he goes towards his bed. He drops his bag down on the ground, kicking his shoes off so that he can climb into bed. He tugs his phone out of his pocket and checks his messages. There’s one from his mom wanting to know if he’s going to make it home for his grandmother’s birthday. There’s another from Liam asking if he’s going to be out long and if he wants dinner. He laughs and tosses his phone to the side, he’ll reply to his mom later.
He checks Facebook next, hoping that something exciting has happened to someone so that he can find something distracting to read, like a fight or someone airing out their dirty laundry, anything to distract him from the delicious smell in the air. Liam and Harry always make the best food, finding new recipes to make together when they decide to cook for date night, which is more often than when they go out.
There’s not much on Facebook, aside from some kind of article that he’s seen posted more than once. He notices a trend with the people posting it, most of them at his school and curiosity gets the best of him so he clicks it, opens it up and it’s an article about Louis. It’s filled with pictures, and from what Niall gathers, the article talks about how Louis is wasting his education on booze and parties. They call him the partying prince and there are pictures of him from the other night, pictures of him at the beer pong table, laughing wildly.
There’s several inside sources that say how the queen is terrified of his behavior, worried about if he’s actually the best option to be king, despite his birthright. But Niall doesn’t really believe that, because Louis’ mother is young and healthy, from what Niall can remember. He knows that she’s probably not really worried about Louis because he’s young and he has a lot of time before it’s his turn to take the throne, so there’s no way that she’s going to actually tell someone who would blab to these online tabloids about her son.
Niall rolls his eyes as he continues to read. He becomes so engrossed in the article, reading it over and over again that he doesn’t realize that Liam and Harry have finished cooking until Liam is setting a plate down on the bed next to him.
“Thanks,” Niall mutters, biting down on his bottom lip. “Hey, did you see that article about Louis that everyone keeps posting?”
“Yeah, it was a bit rough,” replies Harry, sitting cross-legged on Liam’s bed so that they can share the desk for their table. “Did he mention it to you today or something?”
“No, he didn’t say anything. I just saw it now, actually.”
“Well, that’s good then, maybe that means it didn’t bother him.”
“I bet he’s used to those types of things,” Liam adds, shrugging when Harry gives him a look. “They’ve been writing them since he was like, fifteen. I’m sure he knows not to take them seriously.”
“Do your think royalty read what people say about them? I think I would,” Harry says, nodding thoughtfully. ”It’d be hard not to.”
“Only because you love to have people talk about you,” Niall jokes, grabbing his fork so he can eat.
Harry flips him off and Niall grins, grabbing his headphones and plugging them into his phone. He closes out of the article and starts up some music, wanting to give the two of them their privacy while also forgetting about the shitty things that was said about Louis. There’s no way that anyone who wrote that article has spent more than five minutes with him. Sure he’s got his list of annoying qualities but so does everyone else, so why should Louis have to suffer through shit like this?
Niall manages to calm down about the article by the next day. It amazes him how much it bothered him, how he couldn’t understand why people would want to write something like that but eventually he calmed down. And he’s not sure if it was just a quiet acceptance of what happened, or if the realization that he has a paper due soon and it’s distracting him.
But either way, by the next day he doesn't really remember his original feelings about the article because he’s locked in the library and wondering what he’s going to do about his paper. It’s coming along nicely, he thinks. There are only a few paragraphs left to write before he can wrap it up with a nice conclusion. And hopefully, if he’s managed to get his schedule down, he’ll be able to have most of this wrapped up before he’s due in chemistry.
The chair next to him slides out with a shriek and Niall smirks, already knowing who that could be.
“I’m surprised that you’re awake,” Niall says and looks over to see Louis grinning at him, eyes shining.
“What makes you think I ever slept?” Louis asks, and Niall looks at him then, really looks at him and sees that he does look tired, his eyes a little puffy and red, his cheeks puffy as well. He has his hair hiding under a beanie, wearing his favorite outfit of a hoodie and sweatpants.
“You should sleep,” Niall tells him before he turns back to his paper and starts working again. The thing is, Louis looks really cute when he’s tired. But there’s also some weird surge inside of Niall, one that wants to help fix the puffy redness of his eyes. It could be the training nurse inside of him, the one that knows how bad it is to go without sleep, but Niall thinks that’s probably not it. No, it’s something else that he’s not going to think about.
“And you should do more than just hang out in the library,” Louis says, poking Niall in his side.
“You know, it’s kind of strange how you always find me in here.”
“It’s not strange, I come in here to nap. But then I see you, and you’re much better than sleeping, aren’t you?”
“Your health would say otherwise, I’m afraid,” Niall assures him, shrugging as he continues to write. Somehow he’s in the zone, even with Louis pestering him and tickling at his ribs every couple seconds, when he thinks that Niall’s not paying him any attention. “Stop being a pest, I’m working. And how are you not freaking out, this paper is due next week.”
Louis yawns as he shrugs, arms held high over his head as he stretches out. “I’m almost finished.” Niall raises an eyebrow at that because how is that even possible? It feels like Niall’s been working on this paper nonstop. “What? I do know how to do school work.”
“You could have fooled me.”
“Well, I never said that I liked it. I just said that I know how to do it,” Louis clarifies and Niall nods because he gets that. “Speaking of school work, are you excited about our lab today?”
“Thrilled,” Niall mumbles.
“It’ll be my chance to show you how smart I am.”
“I’m sure it will be.”
Louis grins and snatches Niall’s notebook from him, along with his pen. He flips it open to a blank page and begins doodling, drawing random things on the page. Niall watches him for a moment, watches as Louis draws little stick men doing random things. One of them is riding a skateboard, like the tattoo on Louis’ arm, while another is kicking a ball. Niall stops watching when Louis starts drawing penises on his paper. He shakes his head – definitely not fondly – and goes back to his paper. There are two more paragraphs until the conclusion, he can do this, and he knows he can. And with Louis being quiet, who knows, maybe Niall will be able to actually concentrate.
A finger digs in his ribs and he bites back a smile, choosing to ignore Louis as his fingers fly across the keys.
There’s a note on the door of their chemistry class informing them that class is cancelled. Niall reads it three times before he grabs his phone out of his pocket, checking his school email to find that his professor didn’t even bother to email them about this announcement. And that’s his prerogative, whatever, but the warning would have been nice. Niall could have written his paper at home, in the comfort of his own bed.
“He didn’t even email us,” Niall tells Louis, shoving his phone back into his pocket.
“Of course he didn’t, he’s an inconsiderate prick,” Louis decides.
“Well, I guess that gives us more time to prepare for the labs.”
“I’m not sure how, since we really can’t do anything without the supplies locked in the classroom”
Niall sighs because yeah, right. He hadn’t thought of that. “Well, at least I have more time to finish my paper.”
“No,” Louis whines, grabbing Niall’s arm. “Come hang out with me.” He juts his bottom lip out, thumb brushing against Niall’s wrist as he begs. He does a good job of it, Niall can feel his gut tug as his mind begins to think that Louis could get whatever he wants from him, as long as he doesn’t make that face again.
“It’s due soon,” says Niall, instead of giving in, because he’s really not going to give up on this without a fight. He was doing so well. All he has to do is write his conclusion. He wants to get it over with, one less thing that he has to worry about.
“Come on, you could use some fun. I can see the tension in your shoulders, Niall. Loosen up a bit,” Louis says, tugging Niall away from class when more people start to approach so that they can see the sign behind them. “It’s just one day. I know the perfect place for us to go.”
Louis sticks his lip out some more, properly frowning at Niall. His blue eyes seem to sparkle more, like every fiber of Louis’ body is begging Niall, not just the jut of his lip or the whine in his voice. Niall stares at him and chances a glance at Alberto, who is shaking his head from the doorway of the classroom down the hall. He shrugs when he sees Niall looking and that’s not helping at all. Alberto is supposed to be on his side…or well, on the side that keeps Louis on campus, which is definitely Niall’s side of this whole thing.
But Louis’ right, Niall hasn’t had much fun in awhile, not since the party that they went to. He’s not going to tell him that detail, though. So he sighs and finds himself nodding. “Yeah, alright. Okay.”
Louis takes him to the river, to the little spot under the bridge where people like to graffiti on the walls. Niall’s never been here before but he’s heard about it, heard stories of people coming down here to party. And that’s just the good things he’s heard about this place, but he doesn’t know much about it so he’s not going to think too much about Louis taking him here. At least not when Louis has shown no signs of wanting to have sex with him in the bushes or having meth in his bag. And okay, Niall might be making up the rumor that people do meth here but whatever. That’s beside the point.
“You gonna come sit by me?” Louis asks, tugging his knees up to his chest as he rests against the base of the concrete beam holding the bridge up. There’s a purple graffiti alien on the wall behind him, sticking its tongue out at Niall, taunting him.
Niall ignores him and wanders towards the edge of the river, bending down to grab a rock and tossing it into the water. It ripples where it lands Niall watches the rings spread through the water before he turns back to Louis. “Have you ever been here before?”
Louis nods. “Yeah,” Zayn always finds the most obscure places to smoke.”
“So this is you and Zayn’s spot?” Niall asks, brows tugging together in annoyance. He snorts when he turns back around, picking up another rock and tossing it into the river with more force than necessary. He grabs another and does it again and again.
“No, I’m not.”
“You are,” Louis says and suddenly he’s next to Niall, grabbing a rock of his own and tossing it in. It doesn’t sink like Niall’s; instead it bounces across the water a couple times before it dives under. Probably something he was able to perfect with Zayn. “Your cheeks have gone all pink. And so have your ears.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“So what makes you mad?” Louis asks, like Niall hasn’t said anything. “Is it the fact that I have a spot or the fact that it’s with someone else? Or is it Zayn?”
“I don’t even know Zayn.”
“He’s my friend. One of the few, I guess. Um. My beer pong partner.”
“Oh,” Niall mumbles, clearing his throat. “He’s the one from the uh.”
“The video, yeah.”
Niall nods and he gets it, why they might come some place like this that’s barren during the day, while everyone is at work and school. It’d be just the two of them and unless Louis is dumb enough to pull another camera out while they smoke – Niall hopes that he’s learned his lesson, the backlash was awful – then no one would be here to bother them. “So… um. You and Zayn have a spot,” he mumbles, watching as Louis grins at him, nodding his head in confirmation.
“Yeah, sometimes,” Louis tells him. “It’s nice to get away from Alberto and from everyone. More so everyone else, I guess, since Alberto’s just up the way, watching us like a bird in a tree. But anyway, it’s not really our spot. We just come here sometimes. Zayn and I have been friends forever.”
“So he’s your friend?”
Niall breathes out a sound that could definitely be more of a sigh than an exhale. “Right, that’s good then,” he says, nodding. “You probably need friends.”
“Yeah, so no reason to go all pink,” says Louis, poking Niall in the cheek.
Niall swats his hands away. “You’re a nuisance,” he tells him, grabbing another rock and tossing it into the water.
“You know, I find it hard to believe that you’re still consider me a pest, since you spend most of your time with me.”
“Not by choice, obviously our university is trying to punish me for something, trying to see if I deserve to be here,” Niall teases. “Why else would you explain the fact that you were late starting this year, they obviously wanted to catch me by surprise before they threw you into my life.”
“I had a family thing,” Louis says, cutting him off. “It’s dumb. I could have started on time, but instead they sent me all of my assignments and I completed them at home.”
“Yeah, that sounds like an excuse that people would use when they’re trying to torment me,” Niall says but he’s smiling and Louis laughs, eyes falling shut as he shrugs. “So if you and the school are working together, does that mean that the entire royal family is after me, since you’re using them as an excuse in this?”
“They’re not after you yet. I’m waiting to give them the signal that you’re dangerous.”
“I am,” Niall states, eyes going a bit wide. He’s totally dangerous. Or he can be, if the circumstances were right. But so far he hasn’t had any time to show off his dangerous side. Not while they’re at school or at parties. He needs a little more than that, obviously. Louis is looking at him like he doesn’t believe it, a hint of a smirk on his lips as he entertains Niall. “I’m being serious.”
“I bet you are,” he sighs, moving to sit back down at the base of the support beam. This time when he pats the space next to him, Niall sits down, ignoring the glaring of the purple alien on the wall.
“So how does it work?”
“You know, being a prince in university.”
Louis laughs at that, like Niall’s actually told a joke. And maybe he has, maybe this is something that Louis would find humorous. Niall wouldn’t know; he’s never been in this situation before.
“Oh that,” Louis mumbles. “Well, I think it’s pretty normal…aside from the special treatment about starting late, obviously. And Alberto following me around.”
“Is that required?”
“No, he could have stayed at home, I suppose. But he wouldn’t let me come here alone.”
“Wouldn’t your mom have anything to say about that?”
“She was willing to give me my way until he stepped in.”
Niall laughs at that, at the sour expression on Louis’ face as he talks about it, like Alberto has ruined his life by being here. He looks a little annoyed and a whole lot petulant. “Poor Prince Louis.”
Louis pretends to glare at Niall, nudging his elbow into Niall’s ribs as Niall continues to laugh at him. It’s just so absurd, the whole thing, and Niall doesn’t know what to think about it, what to do about it besides laugh. It seems like the right reaction.
“You know, you’re one of the only people who don’t really ask me about it,” Louis sighs, pulling his knees up to his chest so he can fold his arms over the top, setting his head down and turning to look at Niall.
That cuts off Niall’s laughter. “Oh…sorry,” he mumbles, biting down on his bottom lip.
“No, I mean,” sighs Louis, breathing out slowly and steadily. “You’re curious, I get it. I just mean…you’re the only person who doesn’t…I don’t know… make me feel like I’m on display.”
Niall watches as Louis shrugs, his shoulders bunching up around his ears before they drop down again. He looks at Louis for a moment and he thinks he gets it, how it might feel to be perceived as different from someone else. And Niall’s not sure there really is anything different about them besides titles…and money and how Louis was raised in the palace, but that all is merely an extension of the royal title. It’s all just labels and frivolous nonsense that Niall doesn’t really care about, because yeah, Louis gets his nerves but he’s so… He’s so… He’s so Louis. Or something like that. Niall’s not sure what he is, not yet anyway, but he knows that it’s more than just the prince before his name.
He wants to say that to him, wants to let Louis know that he’s more than just the position he was born into but that doesn’t feel like them. So instead of saying that, he decides to stick to the true nature of their relationship, of their dynamic at this point by saying, “If I was going to put you on display, I’d make you the village idiot.”
Louis laughs, a hearty laugh that causes him to hide his face in his heads as his head knocks back against the concrete. It makes Niall feel warm, the sound, like he’s wrapped up in a blanket of that laugh.
Niall feels a bit of relief at being able to sit at lunch and not have to worry about cramming for an anatomy exam. They’re starting something new this week, some new system that he’s going to have to memorize, but that’s not now and Niall feels great about it. He feels like he does when the clouds part for the sun after a week of shitty weather. He feels good. And hungry, he definitely feels hungry.
Liam is next to him and as they eat he can hear a commotion on the other side of the café, and he knows exactly who it is. Louis Tomlinson’s voice carries across the room, filling Niall’s ears and his lungs, overwhelming him. He rolls his eyes because god, he really is too much sometimes.
“What was that face about?” Liam asks.
Niall shrugs. “Nothing,” he mutters, pointing across the café to where he knows Louis is sitting. “He’s a glutton for attention, isn’t he?”
“I don’t know,” says Liam, his voice taking on a strange tone as he sits up a little straighter. “The prince doesn’t talk to me.”
“Oh please, don’t start with that.”
“I’m only teasing,” Liam assures him, holding up hands to show he means no harm. “But you’re friends, right?”
“Yeah, I guess. He’s all right. He’s pretty fun sometimes, but a right pain in the ass the rest of the time,” he says. He’s not sure why he can’t find it in himself to say only good things about the other boy. He really is great and he can repeat it in his head over and over again, but when it comes to saying it out loud? Niall can’t. And Niall hates it sometimes, how he reverts to teasing the other boy like he’s ten years old and back on the playground, tugging on Louis’ metaphorical pigtails. Louis should hear how great he is, but for some reason Niall’s mouth wants to knock him down a few pegs, let him know that he’s not everything, definitely not Niall’s everything. “Yeah. I guess we’re friends.”
Liam nods and stares at his spaghetti, his bushy eyebrows pulling together. “I think Harry is jealous that he didn’t find the prince first.”
“He would have found him, Harry finds everyone,” Niall says. “And technically, Louis found me, so Harry can’t get mad at me about that.”
“I meant before he found me, not before you found Louis. Or Louis found you, whatever.”
“Oh please,” mutters Niall, rolling his eyes.
“No. No, I’m being serious.”
Niall rolls his eyes. He’s really not going to listen to this. It’s not his fault that he talks to Louis, and it’s not his fault that Harry finds the other boy interesting. And more so than any of that, he’s not going to listen to Liam’s theories that Harry loves everyone more than him because it’s such bullshit that it makes his brain ache.
“You thought the same thing last year when he started talking to Grimmy. You thought same thing when he met Daisy over summer, thought that he was going to fall in love with her because she’s much prettier than you. You’re always thinking that Harry wants someone else,” Niall sighs, running his fingers through his hair. Honestly, he should get paid to do this kind of relationship counseling. “He’s just a…loving guy. He likes people, but he likes you best, even if he gets a bit distracted. Don’t worry about it. Or do, I don’t care. But tell him about it, because it’s unhealthy to hold all this shit in.”
“No, don’t talk to me in that tone of voice,” Niall cuts in, waving his hand around in what he hopes is an authoritative way. “Louis is new, that’s his appeal. And trust me when I say, I don’t think the pair of them really have all that much in common, so don’t worry about it.”
Liam sighs and pouts a bit, stabbing his fork into his food. “Maybe.”
Niall rolls his eyes once more because there’s nothing worse in the world than a pouting Liam Payne. “Please don’t do that, we’ve got class.”
Niall comes home from class to find Louis in his dorm room. He’s got his back turned, rooting through Niall’s things on his desk like half of it is his or something. He’s wearing tight jeans – like absurdly tight, it takes Niall a few seconds to blink his eyes away from the curve of Louis’ thighs – and a loose black tank, one that he suspects Louis cut the sleeves off of himself.
“What are you doing?” Niall asks, when he finally gets his eyes off of Louis’ thighs. He’s human, a bisexual man that happens to enjoy the male form. And he can appreciate beauty when he sees it, so yeah. Sue him. Or no, sue whoever made those jeans. God, Niall thinks he might have to.
“Oh you’re back,” Louis says and to his credit, he doesn’t jump.
“Yeah, what are you doing here?” Niall asks, frowning. The locks on their doors are supposed to keep out other students, not freely let them in when both occupants are out.
“Right. Your friend invited me.”
“Okay,” he mumbles, dropping his bag down on the floor. He shares a look with Liam, who shrugs. They were both in anatomy together, so there’s not a chance that Liam was the one to let him. “And who would that be?”
“Oh, he’s in the bathroom,” Louis says. “You play guitar?”
“And you have this heart checker?” Louis states, pulling the stethoscope out from behind his back. That was in Niall’s closet. It wasn’t hidden, definitely sitting on a stack of books with the rest of the medical stuff that he had to buy last semester, stuff he’ll need again next semester. But it was in his closet, not lying out in the open. So Louis has been here a while. “Is it yours?”
“Yeah, kind of. No,” Niall sighs, shaking his head. “No I mean, it’s mine, but please don’t ask me to listen to your heart.”
“Why? Are you afraid of hearing your name?”
Niall snorts. “You’re feeding me lines, stop.”
Louis grins at him and sets the stethoscope down on the desk before he plops down on Niall’s bed. He pats the space next to him and Niall shakes his head because he’s not going to encourage Louis breaking into his dorm. “At least take your shoes off, get comfortable,” Louis instructs, resting back on his hands to smile at Niall.
Niall sighs and walks past Liam, who is frozen in the doorway that separates their kitchenette from the rest of their dorm. He heads towards his closet and grabs a pair of athletic shorts off the ground. He changes quickly, hiding behind his desk so Louis can’t see him.
As he’s changing, Harry comes stumbling out of the bathroom. “You’re back,” he cheers, a smile spreading on his face.
“You have Liam’s key again, don’t you?”
“Yeah, Liam asked me to wait here while you two were in class.”
“You waited here with Louis?” Liam asks, finally breaking out of his stupor. Niall assumes that he’s shell-shocked, unable to cope with Louis being in their room, kind of like how he acted when they first met at the party, before the alcohol loosened him up.
“Not the whole time,” Harry says. “I went to the vending machines on the community floor, and when I came down I saw Louis getting out of the elevator, so he must have been coming up. Anyway, I asked him to come back here, since him and Niall are so close.”
“Right, so it was just the two of you…alone…in my room. ” Liam mumbles, scratching at his jaw. “I notice my bed is unmade.”
“Yeah, I took a nap.”
Niall sighs and grabs his laptop and his earphones from off his desk. He plugs them up and then crawls onto his bed, lying back and resting his laptop on his stomach. He pats the spot next to him, silently telling Louis to lie down. He does, curling against Niall’s side as he takes the ear bud Niall offers him. He starts the movie that he was watching last night, one of the older Batman movies that he borrowed from Liam. He doesn’t bother starting it over, just hits play and dives right into an action sequence.
It doesn’t do much for the argument that his two best friends are having, so he puts his spare hand over his other ear, wanting to give them some privacy. He can still hear something about Liam being out of his mind, how he should learn to talk to Harry instead of being grumpy and making things up in his mind behind Harry’s back. He can hear Liam fire back that sometimes Harry gets distracted and he feels like he doesn’t know how he’s supposed to say it in a way that won’t make Harry yell at him, kind of like how he’s doing now. There’s silence for a second so Niall sneaks a glance over to see Harry frowning and Liam’s face twisting as he asks Harry not to cry. Harry assures him that he’s not crying, right before the pair of them starts kissing.
Niall rolls his eyes and focuses his attention back on Batman. Honestly, they’re exhausting. He’s not sure how healthy it is, the way Liam gets insecure about it and Harry gets upset about it, but they always find their way back together, somehow, better than they were before. He only wishes they wouldn’t do it in front of him.
Louis reaches out, his fingers settling on Niall’s laptop as he minimizes the movie and opens a word document. He types out the words, is this normal? And Niall breathes out a laugh, nudging Louis’ hand out of the way.
Yeah. Harry’s a people person and Liam is a Harry person.
Is it because of me? Louis types back and Niall sighs. This week it is.
Louis snorts at that and Niall feels his legs shift from behind the screen of the laptop, one of them draping over Niall’s as Louis turns more on his side, maximizing the movie once more.
“What do you two think you’re doing?” Harry asks and Niall sighs, because honestly, can’t he catch a break just this once?
“I was just asking Niall if he was going to any parties this weekend,” Louis says.
“Thanks, Haz,” Niall mumbles, muting the movie so he can hear the conversation without loud explosions in his ear. “Let me guess, you’re going to one?”
“Yeah,” Louis answers. “You gonna come?”
“Please do.” A throat clears across the room and Louis laughs, smiling at Niall. “You two as well then. I’ll bring Zayn and we’ll make a proper thing of it.”
“If you’re sure,” Harry says and Niall rolls his eyes, unmuting the movie. He’s not going to listen to this.
It’s another frat party in the same house as last time. Niall doesn’t really think that’s too odd, obviously frats are known for different things. Or so he assumes, at least. And this frat must be the one that throws parties, since that’s all Niall’s seen happening here. Or maybe one of Louis’ friends is in it, that Zayn he’s always talking about. Maybe this is his fraternity and Louis is just being a loyal friend, who really knows.
Liam and Harry walk behind him as they move through the crowd, trying to grab a couple drinks before they settle somewhere. There’s more music at this party, more people dancing than there was last time. There’s still another beer pong game going, but Louis isn’t there, not even in the background to taunt the people playing. Niall’s trying not to think too much of it, of not seeing Louis, especially since he’s just grabbed his first drink of the night.
But soon he’s having his second beer and that’s when he starts to get a bit bored. See, he could have stayed at home and drank if all he was going to do was spend his night with the two of them. He sees some kids from his classes and offers them a nod, but it doesn’t go much further than that. And that’s fine, because he’s not here for them; he’s here for one specific person, the only person in his university that he hasn’t seen tonight. And it’s a little bit annoying how Louis invited him here, acted like he wanted Niall to come, but he’s nowhere in sight.
Niall sighs as he accepts his third beer from Harry, resigned to the fact that he’s not going to be seeing Louis tonight. And that’s…whatever. But like he’s been whining for the last twenty minutes, he could have gotten well and drunk in his own room. It would have been better, passing out in his own bed at the end of the night, and he wouldn’t have to worry about anything besides whether or not Liam and Harry can keep it in their pants while he’s sleeping.
But then a little while later – after arguments with Liam and Harry about if they should go home or not, arguments Niall’s obviously lost -he sees Louis walking in through the back door and he rolls his eyes because honestly, why does it always happen this way? And he’s nearly forty minutes into the night and just starting his fourth beer and now the other boy shows up.
Niall’s annoyance doesn’t last long, as it never seems to do with the other boy, when he’s stumbling over towards Niall, grinning at him like he can’t believe his luck. He smells like weed and his eyes are red again.
“You’re stoned,” Niall says in way of greeting and Louis just grins at him, shrugging.
“I’ve been wondering where you’ve been, thought you were going to try and stand me up, Horan,” Louis says, and then he’s greeting Harry and Liam, who are both a little bit more at ease than they have been with the other boy. “Right, come and meet Zayn.”
Louis grabs onto Niall’s wrist and tugs him through the crowd. Liam and Harry trail after them and when Niall checks to make sure that they’re keeping up, he sees Harry waggling his eyebrows at him. Niall rolls his eyes and turns back around, they can find their own way if Harry’s going to act like that. He really doesn’t care, not when Louis’ thumb is brushing against his wrist bone as he guides him towards the bonfire that’s burning out back. There’s a boy sitting there, folded up in one of the lawn chairs and staring at them through half lidded eyes.
“Blond hair and blue eyes,” Zayn mutters, as they get closer, eyeing Niall up and down. “You’re Niall.” There’s a grin on his face that makes Niall’s stomach bubble nervously, but as Niall takes a seat in the chair two spaces over from him, he can tell that Zayn is high as well, which tells Niall where Louis was while he was waiting for him inside.
“Yeah. Um, have we met before?” Niall asks, frowning, because it’s weird that Zayn knows who he is. He’s seen Zayn before, obviously, but he doesn’t think he’s ever seen him in person.
“No, but Louis never shuts up about you.”
“Right, I don’t think you were supposed to mention that,” Louis forces out, clearing his throat. Niall can see his cheeks pinking up under the light of the flames, more from embarrassment than from the heat. “Anyway, that’s Liam and Harry. They’re boyfriends, before you get any ideas.” Louis winks at Liam and Zayn snorts.
Louis pulls his chair closer to Niall and further from Zayn. He grins at him and Niall rolls his eyes, for reasons he doesn’t even know. “Have you been out here the whole time?”
“Yeah, waiting for you.”
“Niall was inside waiting for you,” Harry says.
“Yeah, he was beginning to get all antsy, saying how he might as well go home,” Liam adds, laughing when Niall sighs.
“I didn’t say that.”
“Yes you did.”
“No, I said that if Louis wasn’t going to be here then we should go home so I can pass out in my own bed,” Niall corrects, because he’s not going to be misquoted on this. Although, all he really did is enforce their point, judging by the smirk on Zayn’s face and the grin on Louis’.
“Whose bed were you hoping to pass out in if I was here?” Louis asks.
Louis laughs, clapping his hand on Niall’s knee. It stays there, curling around the bone as Louis shakes his head. “You know, you’re really difficult to do this with?”
“Do what?” Niall asks, brow raised.
“Nothing,” Louis sighs, shaking his head.
“Flirt with,” Harry giggles, biting down on his bottom lip. “Honestly, Niall.”
Louis shrugs at him and Niall mumbles a quiet ‘oh’ under his breath, sighing as the conversation around him continues on. Liam asks Zayn about how him and Louis know each other, how they became friends and what he’s doing at school. Zayn tells them how they met at their private secondary school when they were just fourteen, when they both cut class and hid in the same bathroom. Liam listens and asks all the right questions in all the right places, same with Harry, who seems genuinely interested to know more about the other boy.
Niall tries to listen because Louis had wanted him to meet Zayn, had wanted them all to get together and make a proper night of it, with the five of them getting to know each other. He thinks that Louis probably wants them to be friends, and he’d like that, Niall would. But he can’t focus because Louis’ hand is still on his knee, tracing patterns along the material of his jeans. His fingers dance along the inner seam, moving up and down.
It’s distracting and Niall is staring at the other boys, trying to keep up as Harry and Zayn talk about their History of Ancient Civilizations teacher, one that they share apparently. Maybe. Niall can’t remember how it was brought up, or how the conversation has changed to that particular topic. Because Louis’ hand is on his thigh, thumb brushing against his inseam and Niall’s brain is tuned in to one thing and one thing only, Louis’ fingers.
Niall blinks into focus when Louis squeezes, his voice pouring into his ears. “What?” He asks, noticing that all three of them are staring at him.
“You want?” Zayn asks, nudging his head in the direction of his lap. Niall frowns but then he notices what’s on his lap, the little sheet of rolling paper and plastic baggy from his pocket.
“No,” Niall says, shaking his head. If he’s going to smoke then he likes to do it when he’s drinking but he’s tired and his head is fuzzy from thinking about Louis’ fingers.
Louis declines as well while Liam and Harry agree. So the other three gather together while Louis turns towards him, hand still on Niall’s thigh while the other supports his head, his elbow resting on his knee. He smiles at Niall and says something, or at least his lips move. And Niall thinks that maybe he doesn’t realize he’s stroking along the seam of Niall’s jeans, right at the inside of his thigh. Maybe.
Louis keeps talking about something and Niall keeps trying to get his ears to tune into the conversation, but apparently he can’t use more than one sense at a time, since his eyesight seems to be taking over, turning a little sharper than necessary. No one should be this fixated on a hand on their thigh, but here he is, staring at it like it’s the eighth wonder of the world.
Louis seems to pick up that he’s not listening and his eyebrow quirks, his lips curling into a smile as he stares at him. And Niall’s so overwhelmed in the moment, with this burning desire deep in his gut to kiss Louis, a thing that has never been there before. He doesn’t think this is the right moment, the two of them surrounded by a bunch of people, but he also doesn’t really care. Niall looks at the other three quickly, seeing how they’re focused on each other, engrossed in a conversation. So he takes a deep breath and dips forward, kissing Louis quickly and softly, brushing his thumb against the growing stubble on Louis’ jaw.
He leans back in his chair and sighs once more, because it definitely feels like he took the edge off. Louis smiles at him, a pleased little look on his face and Niall shrugs. He’s not going to keep kissing Louis if he’s going to get all smug about it.
“So how should I look to get that again?” Louis asks and Niall frowns, tilting his head to the side. “You said you’re not going to kiss me if I’m going to be all smug about it, so how should I look?”
“I said that out loud?” Niall asks, swallowing thickly.
“You did,” Louis nods. “But I’m not sure which part I should focus on, how you want my face to look or that you want to do that again?”
Niall shrugs because god, he doesn’t know anything anymore. A couple hours ago Louis was an annoying pest that he tolerated – more than tolerated, all right, he knows that he enjoys his time with him – and now he wants to throw himself on him and kiss him next to the fire, like every cheap romance novel his grandma likes to read. But Louis is laughing at him and maybe he knows enough for Niall, because he’s kissing him again, one hand held firmly on Niall’s jaw while the other shifts around on his thigh, spreading out and holding onto him.
Louis’ thumb is stroking, just high enough that Niall squirms a bit in his seat, pushing forward so he can kiss Louis properly, his mouth falling open when Louis’ tongue flicks out against his lips.
It’s so much and Niall feels like he’s vibrating, like he can’t stop wanting. And there’s tingles of electricity where Louis’ hand is on his jaw and this is all he wants.
But Louis is pulling away far too quickly, teeth tugging on Niall’s bottom lip as they pull apart. “You want to leave?” He asks, voice quiet. Niall still has his eyes closed, his forehead pressed against Louis’.
“Yeah. Okay,” he mumbles.
Louis pats his thigh and slides his hand down to Niall’s wrist, stroking at his pulse point before he laces their fingers together. He’s smiling at Niall when he opens his eyes, allowing himself to be tugged out of the chair.
“I think we’re going to get out of here,” Louis announces and Niall bites his lip, watches as Zayn rolls his eyes at them. But there’s a hint of a smile on his face and so that can’t be too bad, right? Zayn can’t be that angry with him, not with the smile and the wave he offers. Niall waves back and purposely avoids making eye contact with Liam and Harry. He’s sure they’re bound to look far smugger than Louis did after he kissed him.
Louis is digging in his pockets for his room key when Niall hears movement behind them. He tries not to look at the source of the sound as it moves down the hall, stopping just behind him. He takes a step to the right, pressing against the wall in hopes that whoever it is will continue on their way to their room. Only they don’t, instead they stand behind Niall tapping their foot and Louis breathes out a laugh, shrugging. Niall frowns and then turns, seeing Alberto.
“Does he always follow you home?” Niall whispers, voice low as Louis finally digs his key out, unfolding it from a receipt.
“Uh yeah,” Louis mumbles. “Kind of.”
“Is he going to come into your room, because—“
Louis cuts him off with a laugh and points over his shoulder. Niall follows the movement to the door behind them and sees the little blue card on the door that reads ‘Alberto’. Oh, Niall thinks, staring at the card. Alberto lives here. In the dorms. Across the hall from Louis.
“Your security guard lives in the dorms?” Niall asks, not even bothering with a whisper at this point.
“His idea, not mine,” Louis says, shoving the key in the slot and turning the handle. He mock glares at Alberto, who steps around Niall to put his own key in the slot.
“Go to sleep, Louis. Night, Niall,” he says, nodding at them before he disappears into his own room.
Niall stares at the door for a moment before he turns to look at Louis, mouth open slightly as he takes a step into his room. He really can’t believe this is happening. Not like it really affects him any, but—How does something like this happen?
“He thinks that I’m going to sneak out,” Louis explains, tugging Niall in further so that he can shut the door properly. It leaves the room dark but Louis doesn’t seem phased by it, moving away from Niall to find the light, hopefully. “Apparently I like to get into trouble.”
“That’s kind of controlling,” Niall says, feeling out for a wall because apparently Louis isn’t worried about lights, apparently the lights outside are enough, their orange glow doing nothing besides telling Niall where he find Louis.
He can see Louis shrug in the dark as he says, “It’s alright. Some people get a bit wild around me.” A light flicks on at that, a tiny lamp on Louis’ desk that hardly illuminates the room, but it does the job enough that Niall can see more than just the moving shadows. And Niall almost wishes the lights were back off.
Louis’ room is a disaster. There is stuff everywhere, clothes on every surface of the floor, cups on his desk, and paper thrown about. It’s definitely a bit much – a lot much, actually – and Niall doesn’t know where he’s supposed to go, because the kitchen is the only area without a mess on the floor. If Niall tries to step into the room, tries to join Louis where he’s kicking his shoes off and dropping down on the bed, then he’d have to step on Louis’ possessions.
“Do you clean?” Niall asks, tentatively kicking at a pair of jeans on the floor.
“No,” Louis answers, crossing his legs at the ankle. “People clean for me. Well, not here, but yeah. Generally there are people there to clean for me.”
“Yeah, definitely not here.”
“I kind of like the mess. Everything at home is so neat and organized and perfect, but this is-“
“Unsanitary,” Niall finishes.
Louis grins and shrugs, patting the bed next to him. “The bed is clean.”
“Yeah, is it?” Niall asks, still looking around, mostly because he’s amazed at how messy one person can be, how much crap they can have in one place.
“It’s not that bad,” Louis sighs and Niall nods. He knows that.
“I know, just looking for a place to put my stuff.”
“You want a spot in my room?”
“No, I mean for my shoes,” Niall says. And really, he doesn’t know what he’s looking for but that sounds decent enough. He lets out deep sigh and shrugs because if he’s going to be here then he might as well live it, so he kicks his shoes off, watching as the first one flies across the room, landing somewhere near the closet door. And then he does the other one, which soars across the room, hitting Louis’ desk.
Louis is laughing wildly on the bed, clutching his stomach. Niall jumps on the bed next to him, climbing up until he’s lying down next to him, their bodies pressed together on the tiny twin mattress.
“So,” Niall huffs, trying to make himself comfortable, “you’re living in the suite.”
“Not a suite, but yeah. I didn’t really think it would work out if I tried to room with someone else.”
“No, I can’t imagine why it would.”
“You could room with Alberto?”
Louis laughs and turns on his side, rolling into Niall. “He’d go crazy if he was forced to spend every waking moment with me and then some.”
“Maybe, but he must like you enough if he’s choosing to live his life in the dorms just to keep you safe.”
“Yeah, I know,” sighs Louis. “Or no, I know that. Alberto is great. But sometimes it’d be nice if he wasn’t there, if I could run to the corner store for a soda and a bag of chips in the middle of the night like everyone else, alone.”
Niall nods and sighs in sympathy. He doesn’t really know what that’s like, wanting to do something but not being able to because someone has to be there, because he can’t do it alone. And Niall’s sure that Louis could, if he wanted to, but—Niall really doesn’t know how any of this is supposed to work, how Louis’ life functions compared to his own.
“I can’t imagine that your life is very easy,” Niall tells him, turning his head to the side to look at Louis.
Louis nods. “Yeah, but you know, it’s not all bad. I do have a cute boy in my bed, one who talked about wanting to kiss me. And that’s pretty great.”
“Hmm, you’ll have to introduce me to him.”
“You know what,” Louis laughs, rolling on top of Niall. His elbows dig into Niall’s ribs as he sits up, straddling Niall’s waist. Niall laughs as Louis grabs his hands, pinning them above his head with a grin.
“You’re a menace.”
“Well, you’re the one who said he wanted to kiss the menace. Or did kiss him, didn’t you?” Louis says, letting go of Niall’s hands to stroke his thumb along Niall’s cheek. “Sometimes I think you call me a menace and annoying in a twisted playground way of flirting with me.”
Niall sighs because yeah, that sounds about right. He’s not going to tell him that he does it so he doesn’t feel anything for him, which is such a joke, because look at him. He has a lapful of Louis and he’s calling him names. “Sometimes you’re cute,” Niall tells him, because he’s still not going to stroke Louis’ ego too much.
“Oh no, I’m all the time cute. Don’t think I don’t see the way you look at me when you think I’m not paying attention.”
“Well, I stand by what I said, sometimes you’re cute.” He grins at Louis, who mutters something under his breath about showing Niall what a menace he can be. But he doesn’t do much of anything beyond digging his fingers into Niall’s ribs, grinning down at him as Niall squirms beneath him, twisting and curving, his body bucking up into Louis’.
Louis stares down at him, licking his lips. Niall breathes out harshly, tracking the movement carefully. And he can feel the air in the room changing, thickening up with want as Niall’s skin flushes. Louis snaps out of his trance quickly, kissing Niall. Niall gasps in shock, curling his fingers around Louis’ waist, touching the hot skin beneath his shirt. And Louis doesn’t miss a beat, his tongue darting into Niall’s mouth, barely giving him a chance to catch his breath. Niall’s head goes fuzzy as he kisses Louis properly, with his mouth open and their tongues brushing together.
There’s still a lingering taste of the bonfire in Louis’ mouth, and it makes him feel overwhelmed, like he’s still there, breathing in the smoke, breathing in Louis.
Louis curls his fingers in Niall’s hair, tugging on the strands and making Niall groan into the kiss. Louis smiles at that, pleased with himself for pulling the sound of Niall, so Niall pinches his hips, slides his hands further up Louis’ shirt and then drags his blunt nails down Louis’ back, feel as he presses more into Niall after that.
They kiss until Niall feels like he’s drowning, his lungs burning. And while Niall catches his breath, Louis sits back on his heels, tugging his shirt off. Louis presses his fingers under Niall’s shirt, pushing it higher up until Niall gets the hint. Louis falls out of his lap as he pulls his shirt off, but he makes himself comfortable between Niall’s thighs, spreading them as far as he can so he can settle between them.
Louis drags his hands up his thighs and then along his stomach, up to Niall’s chest where he pinches his nipples because even when they’re kissing he’s a little shit. But Louis is grinning at him, lips red and thin and so wonderful.
“You’re too much, Niall,” he says, voice gravely and low as he dips down to kiss him once more. He holds Niall’s jaw in his hands and then he’s sliding them into his hair, pulling at the ends.
Niall bites down on his lip and Louis tugs on his hair again, like he’s trying to start a fight with him, a little war to see who can get the other to make more noise. And Niall is winning, because much like when they’re not making out, Louis doesn’t know how to keep quiet. He’s groaning and letting out little whines when Niall bucks his hips up, the harsh material of their jeans rubbing together. But Niall can feel Louis, can feel him under his jeans where he’s getting hard, where his dick is bulging.
“Niall,” Louis breathes into the kiss, using one hand to clutch at Niall’s shoulder as he grinds down, Niall’s legs wrapping Louis’ thighs. Niall blinks his eyes open to see Louis’ staring at him, no longer kissing him as they breathe into each other’s mouth. “Niall,” he says again, like he’s trying to ask Niall a question that’s just not coming.
Niall nips his lip and cants his hips up, because he knows what Louis is asking and he knows that he wants it, whatever it is. So Louis grinds his hips down again, a slow, steady movement as he watches Niall’s face. Niall’s hands slide down Louis’ back and grip onto his ass, pushing him forward so that Louis’ can feel him, so that he can feel how hard Niall is from him, for him.
“Fuck,” Louis curses, canting his hips forward again, a little harder than before, and Niall breathes out, his head tipping back, eyes falling shut. Louis bites at his throat, sucking at the expanse of skin as he continues to move his hips and it feels so good, the movement, the friction, moved in time with the noises that Louis is making above him. “God, this is perfect, Niall. You’re so fucking perfect.”
Niall almost wants to switch, wants to have Louis’ legs wrapped around his waist and grind his own hips down, and press his own lips on Louis’ neck, but this is perfect. Everything about this is perfect. Niall shifts his leg up a little higher, digging his nails into Louis’ back and fuck. Fuck. That changes everything, lining them up so that Niall’s aching cock is pressing against Louis’.
“Louis, don't—god,” he breathes, chasing Louis’ mouth until they’re kissing again, holding onto each other, and grinding their hips together.
It’s been forever since Niall has done this, not—well, not this entirely. But Niall hasn’t grinded against anyone while still wearing clothes since…god, it’s been ages. And his belly is starting to twist pleasantly, warmth spreading from his chest down to his toes, which curl in his socks when Louis tugs his hair and grinds down at the same time.
“Louis, Louis,” he gasps, fingers trying to grip at his back, sliding down until he’s grasping at Louis’ ass, helping him along.
“Yeah, fuck. Niall, me too,” Louis says because of course he knows, of course he can feel the twitch in Niall’s cock, the way his body is reacting to this. And Niall runs his tongue along Louis’ bottom lip before he bites down and Louis is going tense above him, hips faltering as he comes.
Niall gasps in shock, his back arching up as he comes as well, the image of Louis’ mouth dropping open branded on the back of his eyelids. Louis drops on him with him a huff, hips still moving as he shifts around. The air leaves Niall’s lungs because Louis is much heavier post-orgasm, a dead weight now that they’re not grinding together.
“Now that we’re twelve again,” Louis giggles, biting Niall’s neck. “Fuck, that was fun.”
“Get off me,” Niall groans, shoving at Louis’ chest until he’s rolling off of him, lungs happy to be breathing properly again.
“I was hoping to get my mouth on you, if we’re being honest here.”
Niall laughs, throwing his arm over his eyes. “Well, if you give me ten minutes.”
Niall frowns at the hopeful tone of Louis’ voice because he was kidding. Kind of. A little bit. “More like twenty, maybe.”
Louis hums next to him, fingers curling around Niall’s wrist. “You want some clean shorts to wear?”
“I could just go to my room.”
“No, you’re sleeping over.”
“Glad I had a say in that,” Niall groans as Louis rolls on top of him to get off the bed. He pulls his arm off of his eyes when Louis hits him with a pair of shorts in the face, throwing them from across the room. “Thanks for that.”
He takes his time getting out of bed, slowly getting out of his clothes so that he can clean himself up. Coming in your pants always seems like a good idea when it’s happening, less when Niall has come caked to his skin, embedded in his pubic hair. Niall drops his clothes down on top of one of his shoes and then walks to Louis’ bathroom, the shorts in his hand as he tries to find a clean cloth to clean himself up.
Louis is standing outside of his closet, finally undressing, and when Niall’s done with his own cloth, tossing it into the nearly empty hamper, he soaks another one and then tosses it to Louis.
When Niall’s finished, he crawls back into Louis’ bed, surrounded by the smell of sex and Louis Tomlinson. The sheets smell like Louis, and so does the shirt that he snatched out of a folded pile of clothes on Louis’ desk chair. Niall sighs as he breathes it in, pulling the sheets up to his chin.
Louis shuts the light off and then gets in bed next to him, tugging on Niall’s arm until Niall’s chest is pressed against his back, hand on the soft curve of his stomach. Niall breathes out against the back of his neck, pressing a kiss against the skin.
Niall wakes up exhausted the next morning, which is such an odd concept, because he slept and he shouldn’t be tired. But he is, deep down in his bones tired, where his limbs feel heavy as he tries to shift around. Or maybe it’s just Louis lying half on top of him, using Niall’s body as some kind of pillow. It traps Niall to the bed, makes him unable to move and that would be fine, really, if he didn’t think Harry and Liam would be worrying about him, wondering where he is, even if he’s sure they already know.
Part of Niall wants to get out of bed just so that he can clean, so he can organize Louis’ clothes and show him how much bigger his dorm can look when he’s not trashing the place. And he would get up and do it, but that would mean disturbing Louis, and Niall really doesn’t want to do that. So he lies there, lies partially under Louis and watches him sleep.
Louis looks so peaceful when he sleeps, so much so that Niall would never suspect that he’s quite the terror when he’s awake. Niall tries not to groan when he feels all of his defenses crumbling as he watches Louis sleep, because god, he’s too much for Niall, not just the whole thing where his personality is so big that it fills up every room. It’s more than that, because Louis has found his way to get under Niall’s skin and nip at all the parts of Niall that matter, like his mind and his…well, he doesn’t want to sound cheesy, but definitely his heart.
As Niall looks around the room and the urge to clean it continues to grow, he remembers their conversation from the night before, specifically the bits where Louis talked about enjoying the mess. Niall doesn’t understand that, because he can’t stand living in filth, but he also can’t understand what it must be like to not even have that choice, to be forced to live a certain way because his house had workers there to take care of every mess, of every little spill. And it hits Niall again how strange it must be to be royal, to live a life where something as mundane as making a mess brings Louis joy. So Niall doesn’t understand it, but he’s not going to say anything, even if the urge to do so is crawling underneath his skin.
Louis really is annoying, Niall thinks, as he can feel a swell of emotions in his chest. And he really doesn’t know what to do about it, if he should freak out or not. Because it’s not too much, not yet, but it almost kind of is. Because Louis is really cute and he’s nice and he’s funny and he’s so much wrapped in one person that it feels like Niall can’t breathe.
“God,” Niall groans, wishing he could freak out about this in private.
“Not god, just me,” Louis says, voice low as he wakes.
“Shit, you scared me.”
“Sorry, your thinking woke me up.”
“You can’t possibly know that I was thinking.”
“I can, actually, which is exactly why I’m awake,” Louis groans, rolling across Niall so he can stumble out of bed. His shorts are hung low as he stretches, showing off the soft curve of his stomach. “You want breakfast?”
“No, it’s alright. I’ve got some cereal in my room that I can make, I’ll be alright.”
“Nonsense, I’m making you something.”
Louis sets the kitchen up, Niall sitting in the swivel chair from his desk behind him – he had to put Louis’ folded clothes away to use it, which is fine, he wanted to clean – so that he can watch Louis work. He moves across the kitchen with ease, more ease than Niall would expect from someone who probably has chefs that make his every meal. But Louis grins at Niall as he flips another pancake, winking at him when he tosses chocolate chips in it. Niall laughs and cheers him on from his spot, convincing Louis that they need some eggs, that they need to turn this into a grand affair. Louis nods in agreement, cracking some eggs and dropping them in a bowl. He’s pouring in a bit of milk when someone knocks on his door.
“You stir, I’ll get that,” Louis says, handing Niall the bowl and opening the door.
Niall can see Alberto standing behind the door, and Niall offers him a smile but there’s a look on his face that makes Niall’s smile drop as he ushers Louis out into the hall. Louis steps out and then Niall’s alone, stirring the eggs, and waiting. And Niall continues to wait, continues to stir the eggs until there really is no more stirring to be done. So he takes his time finding a pan and greasing it up, waiting for it to heat up before he drops the eggs in. He pours a little more pancake batter in the other pan and gets to work, figuring that he might as well finish breakfast while he waits.
It’s nearly ten minutes later when Niall putting the food on Thor plates when Louis comes back in the room. He looks tired and angry, annoyed about whatever he just talked to Alberto about and Niall turns the stove off, watching as Louis paces the room, breathing harshly.
“What’s wrong?” Niall asks, because he really can’t take much more of this.
Louis rubs at his face, pulling his hands away harshly and turning to look at Niall. “Okay, I want you to understand that what is happening is going to be fixed.”
“Okay… I don’t understand what that means.”
“There are pictures of us kissing last night on the Internet.”
Niall blinks and watches as Louis tries to study his face, tries to see what Niall’s reaction is going to be. And he doesn’t even know what he’s supposed to think, it’s not as bad as he was expecting, and it’s just kissing, so the pictures can’t be that bad…hopefully. “Okay,” Niall says, when Louis looks like he can’t take the silence much longer.
“When I came to school, not just this one, but every school I’ve ever gone to, there’s a deal made with the press, with the paparazzi. The deal is that they’re not allowed to follow me around and take pictures of me while I’m at school, that I’m to be given privacy and in compliance with that, we’d give them updates about how everything's going for me here, stuff like that,” Louis explains, releasing a deep breath.
“But these pictures, they were taken by someone at the party, someone here at school, I’d imagine. We don’t have a deal with them, obviously, so I can’t stop them from being assholes. But um, we’re working to get them removed, as best we can and making sure that no one can use them again.” Louis shakes his head as he runs his fingers through his hair, sighing. “I didn’t realize—I don’t know. I wasn’t thinking when you kissed me, wasn’t thinking that we shouldn’t have done that, at least not publicly. I mean, fuck. People are so fucking awful sometimes, Niall. But you kissed me and I mean, isn’t it obvious how much I wanted that? But we’re going to fix it, Niall, I promise. Luckily it doesn’t even mention your name, just refers to you as a blurry blond.”
Niall listens to Louis’ rant and tries to keep up with him, tries to keep up with the shaking of his hands as he rambles on about making sure that nothing is printed with his name attached. And Niall doesn’t really care about that, doesn’t care about his name and picture in the paper when Louis looks so scared, so terrified of what’s happening, of how Niall’s going to respond.
“It’s fine, Louis,” Niall tells him, because he doesn’t want to see that look in Louis’ eyes, it’s too much, too vulnerable. “I’m not mad at you. And I’m not mad that it’s happening. I mean, it’s less than ideal, and it’s really fucking annoying that someone would do that, but it’s not your fault. We’re just kissing, and you said that my name isn’t attached.”
“I’m really sorry, Niall.”
“It’s not your fault, why are you apologizing?”
“Because it happened. I don’t know. I’m sorry,” Louis says, shrugging.
Niall laughs, shaking his head as he steps towards Louis, cupping his cheeks in his hands. “It’s alright, okay? I’m serious.”
Louis breathes out harshly and nods, his lips curving upwards. “God, you’re so perfect, you know that?” He mumbles, kissing Niall softly.
“I think understanding is the descriptor that you were hoping to use.”
“No, you’re incredible. Stuff like this, it wasn’t supposed to happen, not to me, but especially not to you.” Niall nods and then shrugs, patting Louis on the cheek before he drops his hands down to his sides, because he’s really not mad and he’s not sure what Louis wants him to say, what he wants him to do. “Alright,” Louis says, rubbing his hands together. “Breakfast looks fantastic, you ready to eat?”
“Yeah, you have any juice or something?”
Louis wrinkles his nose and points to the stove as he steps around Niall to grab the kettle out of the cabinet, where he had to hide it so they could cook. “You can have your nasty juice, I’m going to make some tea.”
“You know,” says Niall, dumping some orange juice into a glass, “it’s sort of blowing my mind watching you do all this.”
“Yeah? Turning you on, Horan?”
“No, I’m just shocked that a prince can cook when he can’t even clean his room.”
Louis glares at him and reaches out to tweak Niall’s nipple, laughing when Niall squeaks in surprise, batting Louis’ hands away.
The last thing Niall expected after spending the night at Louis’ place is for Harry and Liam to be so quiet about it. He’s been back for over a day, leaving Louis’ place shortly after dinner because he really did need a shower and Louis promised Zayn that he’d go see a movie with him. Niall saw both Harry and Liam when he got back into the dorm, a dopey grin on his face as he staggered towards his closet. But that was a full twenty-four hours ago. And nothing, not a peep out of either of them about how Niall spent the night at Louis’ place and cooked three meals together.
They're both on the other side of the room; textbooks lay out across Liam’s bed as they do their homework together. And whatever, that’s not a problem, because Niall knows that Harry likes to tell everyone that he works so much better with Liam next to him. Which is such a load of shit, because Niall’s seen them study together, seen it turn into a game of footsie that made his eyes sore from how hard he rolled them. But they’re studying now and it’s quiet, almost too quiet.
Niall keeps sneaking looks at them, trying and waiting for them to say or do something, because they know he slept at Louis’ place and yet nothing. He expected the third degree, expected their room to have a spotlight in the center with a metal chair and table waiting for him like a police interrogation from a movie. And he’s being denied his rights to brag about how great Louis is and he won’t stand for it.
So he snaps, slamming his textbook closed and throwing his legs over the side of his bed so that he can sit up and glare at them. “What is going on? Why aren’t either of you saying anything?”
Liam and Harry share a look, silently communicating while Niall waits impatiently, arms folded over his chest.
“We didn’t want to say anything,” Liam says.
“Someone took a picture of the two of you last night,” Harry says, biting down on his bottom lip.
“Yeah, I know,” says Niall, frowning because really? That’s it? “Louis told me.”
“Right, yeah. But like, I mean, are you okay with that?” Harry asks.
Niall shrugs. “They weren’t really taking a picture of me, they wanted one of Louis, and they got it. They shared it, and now they’re all slowly being banned from the Internet or whatever it is the Queen does when she’s pissed and wants pictures of her kids off of the Internet.”
“So you’re really not mad?” Liam asks.
“No, it’s not like Louis is the one who uploaded it. Maybe then I’d be a little more pissed about it.”
Harry looks at Liam before he grabs a pillow and chucks it across the room at Niall, hitting him in the face. “Why didn’t you tell us that you were dating the prince?”
Niall laughs, rolling his eyes. “We’re not dating, we’re just…”
“No,” Niall says, shaking his head. And then he sighs, shrugging. “I don’t know. We’re just enjoying ourselves, that’s all.”
“Right, well, you deserve that,” Liam says.
“Yeah, you deserve your prince charming.”
Niall snorts and tosses the pillow back at Harry, hitting him around the knees. ”No jokes like that, you’ll embarrass yourself.”
Liam laughs as Harry sticks his tongue out at Niall, throwing the pillow back over to him.
A few days later Niall sees Louis again, finds him and Zayn on the far side of campus smoking when he’s returning from getting a coffee. He hesitates for a moment, wondering if he should go and say hi. He figures that they made each other come in their pants, so he should be allowed to say hello if he feels like it.
Niall feels less hesitant about approaching when Louis spots him, face breaking out in a grin as he waves Niall over.
“Wasn’t expecting to see you today,” Louis says, tugging Niall into his side, wrapping his arm around his waist, fingers digging into the skin. “Hmm, you smell like Christmas.”
“Ate a peppermint a minute ago, needed to get the taste of coffee out of my mouth,” Niall explains and then he leans over, smiling and waving at Zayn. “Hi, Zayn.”
Zayn nods, blowing smoke out as he passes the spliff to Louis. “Hey,” he says, resting his head against the brick wall behind him, eyes half lidded and a lazy smile on his face.
Niall pulls back and watches Louis, watches as his cheeks hollow out before he’s blowing smoke into the air, watching as it disappears. “You shouldn’t smoke on campus,” Niall tells him, trying not to sound like his mother. “If you got caught then you’d get in trouble, they could kick you out.”
“Wouldn’t kick me out,” Louis says. “Kick him out, though.” Zayn flips him off and Niall laughs, looking around to find Alberto a few paces away, sitting under a tree with a book in his lap. “We’re giving him a break.
Louis grins at him, passing the spliff back to Zayn. “Been making him chase us around campus all morning, bit of a game.”
“More like Louis being a little shit,” Zayn says. “All wound up and looking for a way to release some energy.”
“There has to be more productive ways to do that.”
“You suggesting something, Horan?” Louis asks, brow raised and Niall snorts.
“Wouldn't you love that.”
Louis leans forward and kisses the corner of Niall’s mouth, batting his lashes at him, and then he curses as Zayn’s foot collides with his thigh.
“No, none of that,” Zayn says. “You start that shit you’re not gonna want to stop, and you promised we’d hit up that comic book shop after Alberto had his time. I’m not going to get blown off again.”
Louis sighs and turns back to Niall. “You want to come?”
“Can’t. I want to go home and prepare for our chem lab tomorrow.”
“You can’t prepare.”
“I’m going to try. Plus I have to finish our psych assignment.”
“Oh right, finished that last week after class, was pretty easy.”
Niall shakes his head because it’s not easy for him, he’s been staring at it for the last four days, trying to get the words to stop looking like gibberish and form a sentence that makes sense to his brain. “What are you doing later?” Niall asks, because he refuses to ask Louis to please tell him the hidden secret to their assignment.
“Zayn’s friend is having a get together. We’re gonna crash that for a while.”
“Well, have fun then,” Niall says, smiling at Louis before he presses their lips together. He waves to Zayn when he stands, wishing that he could blow off everything to spend more time with Louis, to see what he’s like when it’s just him and his best friend up to no good. But he can’t, because he refuses to fall behind. He needs this, needs the degree at the end of this long, agonizing tunnel that is college.
Niall chews nervously on his nail beds as he listens to Professor Lankin give out instructions for their lab. The seat next to him is vacant, void of the body that usually occupies it. And Niall is trying really, really hard not to freak out about the fact that his partner isn’t here. It’s only three minutes after the official start time of class, so he’s not going to panic, even though he can feel his hands are shaking and the angry, anxious bubble of energy is beginning to build up in his chest. Every other person is present, ready to start the lab, so that means Niall won’t even be able to partner up with someone else whose partner has disappeared on them. And he’d call him, of course he would, but that means he’d have to have Louis’ number, which is a thing neither of them have ever bothered to trade before.
Basically Niall’s screwed. And in the worst possible way, because as much as he pays attention in this class, for all the notes he takes, and assignments he gets completed, he’s really bad at this class. It’s a requirement for his nursing program and he just wants to get it out of the way before he dives into it fully. And yeah, okay, so he has no idea how well Louis will handle this lab, but at least if they fail then it’ll be together.
Louis promised that he would be here, he promised, so Niall’s going to trust him. He is. Louis is always late, always running into class after ten minutes and giving Lankin that stupid smile that gets him out of trouble, unless of course he comes to class with Niall, and then he’s on time. So it’s only been…fifteen minutes and Niall’s not going to freak out.
But then Lankin is instructing them to grab a pair of safety goggles and move to the back of the room where the lab stations are.
Niall tries to stall. He gathers the supplies and sets everything up in what he assumes is a productive way, spreading the beakers out evenly as his classmates all get started. But there’s only so much stalling that he can do when Lankin nods at him, telling him to get a move on if he wants to finish on time, and he does, oh god does he.
“Okay,” Niall mumbles to himself, rubbing his sweaty hands against his jeans.
Right. He’s already gathered the supplies, so that takes care of step one. He’s on a roll.
“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry,” says a breathy voice as someone collides into his side. Louis. Oh thank god. “I overslept, fuck. Don’t let me party the night before a lab again.”
“Okay,” Niall mutters, breathing out a sigh of relief as he takes in Louis’ ruffled hair and pajama bottoms. “You didn’t even change your clothes.”
“Like I said, I overslept,” Louis tells him again, pinching his bottom lip as he reads the instruction sheet that Niall was holding. “Seems easy enough.” Louis looks up and grins at Niall, the bags under his eyes prominent. “Stand back and watch me work, Niall.”
“Gladly,” Niall says, stepping out of Louis’ way and watching as the other boy really does get to work, moving around their lab station effortlessly.
It’s a few days later, nearing the end of the week when Louis knocks on Niall’s dorm door. He’s holding up a piece of paper with a smile on his face and Niall frowns, because a smile like that really can’t mean anything good.
“What’s going on?”
“I found out our chem grade, the one for our lab.”
“How?” Niall asks, snatching the piece of paper from Louis. “He said it would take a week.”
“Okay right, this is where it gets a bit weird,” Louis says, pushing his way into Niall’s dorm, snatching the paper back before Niall can actually see the grade. No fair, Niall thinks, closing the door. “I went to his classroom and said that I needed the grade early, I told him that I’m supposed to be reporting home this weekend about how I’m doing in all my classes. So obviously I’d need some of my more recent assignments to really give my mom an accurate grade, so he did it for me.”
“You’re using your prince status to cheat,” Niall accuses, snatching the paper from Louis. He goes through the grade sheet, trying not to pass judgment on how Lankin actually grades them, since most of it is through his spy work as he walks around class and stares at them all. But at the bottom is the grade he was looking for, a ninety-three. “Oh my god,” he mutters, trying to keep his mouth from falling open, because he didn’t expect that they’d do so well. He had no idea what he was doing –even though he tried to prepare- and was mostly following Louis’ lead. And he had seemed like he knew what he was doing, so that was enough for Niall. But apparently Louis actually knew what he was doing, not just putting on a show like Niall was.
“You got us an A,” he says, staring up at Louis. “I can’t believe this.”
“I did, yes. And I’ll take my thank you in the form of kisses,” Louis says, patting his lips.
Niall laughs and leans forward, pressing their lips together. “I doubted you,” he tells him. “I thought we might not pass.”
Louis shrugs. “It’s not a big deal, just a chem lab. We got lucky on this one, it was actually pretty easy.”
“No, I feel bad. You got us an A, and I thought we were going to fail,” Niall says, frowning down at the sheet of paper. “Let me make it up to you.”
“Niall,” Louis laughs, shaking his head. “That’s really not necessary.”
“Please, Louis. Please let me do this.”
“I don’t know. What do you have in mind?”
Louis frowns, looking at Niall thoughtfully. Niall hopes that it’s not something crazy and wild, something he can’t get himself out of, because he really does want to make it up to him, but he also has his limits.
“Meet me at my place later tonight, and bring some jammies, Horan, because you’re sleeping with me tonight.” He winks at Niall and then leans forward, kissing him quickly before he passes him, moving out of Niall’s room before he can say anything. And well, Niall’s not going to complain about being asked to sleep at Louis’ place, not after what happened last time.
Instead of bringing a change of clothes, Niall dresses down in a white shirt and black athletic shorts, something he’d wear to bed, and goes to Louis’ dorm room. There are takeout boxes scattered around the kitchen, along with bags and wrappers, and it makes the kitchen look just as bad as the rest of his dorm.
“Glad I didn’t change my clothes,” Louis comments, smiling at Niall as he closes the door behind him.
“You said to bring something to sleep with, so I decided to just wear it.”
“Yeah, good,” comments Louis. “That means I can change out of these jeans.”
“That would be more appropriate, since you did say pajamas were necessary…for what though, I’m not sure.”
“Right, about that,” Louis mutters, running nervous fingers through his hair. “So this is kind of dumb, I guess, but I realized that we really haven’t been on an actual date, and I know that I should have asked you, but like. I don’t know. I figured that you’d be okay with going out on a date with me.” Louis squints as he says the last part, like he’s bracing himself for rejection. But then Niall nods at him, because obviously. “Okay good, because I sort of created a first date for us.”
“A slumber party,” Niall says, letting Louis take his hand and tug him into the mess of his dorm.
Except, when Niall steps into the main part of Louis’ room, where his bed and desk are, he finds that the mess has been cleaned up. Well, not entirely. He’s still Louis, after all, so the mess is mostly shoved in semi-appropriate locations, with the clothes being pushed into the closet, papers stacked up on the window ledge on the radiator box, since the heat isn’t on, and the desk is cleared with two chairs in front of it. On top of the desk is Chinese food in bowls, a box of pizza, and little bowls filled with jellybeans and other candies and chocolates.
“So this is what you planned,” Niall says, as Louis lets go of his hand and moves across the room to change into a pair of shorts.
“Yeah, think we earned it. Now, sit down. I didn’t know what you wanted, so Alberto and I got it all.”
“I can see that,” Niall says, taking his seat while Louis rushes back into the kitchen, coming back with two bottles of cider and a mischievous grin on his face. Niall takes the cider and grabs a fork, scooping some noodles onto a plate in front of him.
“Do you have any preferences on movies?”
“Not really,” Niall mutters, slurping a noodle in his mouth. “You’ve done pretty well at surprising me with the rest of tonight, might as well keep it up.” He reaches out and steals a jellybean, grinning at Louis as he pops it in his mouth. “Just nothing too serious. I’m not sure cider and jellybeans really sets the mood for that.”
“Ah, well, I’ve got the perfect thing.”
Louis sits across from him with a huff, grinning broadly as he grabs a slice of pizza. Next to him, Step Brothers starts up on the television and Niall rolls his eyes, because everything about tonight is just so Louis, Louis as Niall knows him, and it feels perfect.
“How romantic,” teases Niall, watching as Louis laughs.
“What can I say, I know how to please my men,” Louis jokes back, winking as he stuffs his mouth full of pizza.
They eat together, talking about school and assignments they have coming up. Louis surprises him again when he says how he’s nearly finished with his psych readings, along with the packet of questions accompanying them, and of course with his chem sheets. Niall’s not sure why he’s so surprised, because Louis has proven himself time and time again, proved himself more than capable of completing the assignments. It’s just the notes and paying attention in class that he doesn’t want to do, because neither of them actually affect his grade. They talk about their families at home, about how Niall’s not as close with his brother as Louis is with his sisters, about how Niall’s dad is a butcher and his parents are divorced. Louis doesn’t dive into the secrets of his family, but Niall doesn’t blame him when it comes to that. And through it all they laugh at the movie and enjoy the food on the table.
Halfway through the movie, they shift to Louis’ bed, shoving the desk out of the way and turning the TV towards the bed so that they can see it properly. And then they lie in bed, tossing jellybeans into each other’s mouths and reading the inspirational messages on the wrapper of the Dove chocolates in between kisses.
It’s wonderful and Niall’s so happy, this warm feeling radiating from his belly and upwards, making him feel content to just lie next to Louis, their lips moving together slowly and lazily.
Louis tastes like cider and sugar, so sweet that Niall’s head spins at the overwhelming sensation of it. And it’s not the most extravagant of first dates, but it’s one of Niall’s favorites.
“I want to ask you something,” Louis murmurs, pressing a kiss to the corner of Niall’s lips.
“Yeah? And what’s that?”
“We’re holding a garden party at home this weekend. I have to go back and attend it, since it’s the last one of the season. I want you to come,” Louis says, fingers carding through Niall’s hair and scratching pleasantly at his scalp. “You can bring Liam and Harry, whatever you need to make yourself comfortable, but yeah. You don’t have to, I just. I don’t know, sort of started thinking about what it would be like having someone there for me.”
Niall blinks at the question, because he knows about the royal garden parties and how important they are, how much everyone looks forward to them. But he never saw himself going to one, let alone going as the person that’s there for the prince, one of the people that everyone is going to be paying attention to.
“Louis,” Niall breathes out, because he doesn’t know what to say. He doesn’t want to disappoint Louis, but he doesn’t want. God, he doesn’t even know what he wants. “I don’t know what I’d do.”
“You walk around and eat food. And admire me, obviously.”
“Are you sure?”
“I asked, didn’t I?”
“No, I mean,” Niall sighs, shaking his head, “are you sure that you want you want someone like me there?”
Louis laughs, pressing another kiss to the corner of Niall’s mouth. “You’re the only person I want there.”
And that’s…well, how can Niall say no to that? “Yeah, okay then,” Niall agrees, watching as Louis’ face breaks out into a smile, right before he presses his lips against Niall’s harshly, gripping onto his hair.
“So yeah,” Louis says, clapping his hands against his thighs. “Niall’s already agreed to go, so what do you two say? You want to come along?”
Niall sits on his bed and stares at his two friends. They’re both staring at Louis, their mouths slightly agape and he doesn’t blame them. He thinks his face might have looked the same when Louis asked him the night before. But that’s why it was his idea to make Louis tell them, so that they’d feel more inclined to believe that they were really being invited to spend the weekend with the royal family in the palace. One of the palaces, because apparently they have quite a few, Niall has figured out.
“So, you want us to come to your house this weekend?” Harry asks, his eyes squinted as he asks the question carefully, like he’s talking to a wild animal that could spook at any moment.
Louis nods. “Yeah. Niall’s coming and so is my friend Zayn, who I hear you’ve been spending time with behind my back.”
“He asked us to hang out,” Harry says, holding his hands up. “And it was only the one time.”
“Three times,” Liam corrects.
“Two of those were to trade notes for an exam,” Harry defends. “You can’t be angry about that.”
Louis laughs, his eyes wrinkling around the edges as he shakes his head. “I really don’t care,” he says. “But I would like for you to join us at my place this weekend, if you want to come.”
Liam and Harry share a look, and Niall sighs, lying back on his bed and staring up at the ceiling. He doesn’t have time for a silent conversation, not when he’s desperate for them to say yes already, just for peace of mind that he won’t be alone.
“Wait, does that mean that we’re going to meet your mom?” Liam asks.
“Yeah, probably,” Louis says, followed by a gasp on the other side of the room. “I’d set you up with a room at the house, so you don’t have to stay in a hotel. Unless you want to, then I’m sure I can arrange that as well. And since you’re together, you can have a room together. Zayn has his own room, since there was a while where he slept there more often than he did at home.”
“The house? You live in a palace, Louis.”
“It’s home, okay?”
“Okay,” Harry mumbles. “So you want us to come with you?”
“Yes. Again, yes, I do,” laughs Louis, looking down at Niall, who shrugs. “These things are really fucking boring, and I won’t be able to like, talk to you guys the whole time, but my mom usually lets me run off with Zayn a bit early while she and my almost step-dad continue to mingle with everyone, so yeah. It’ll be fun, right?”
“If you say so,” Liam mutters, while Harry jumps up from the bed. Niall sits up on his elbows at the noise, watching as Harry rips open Liam’s closet and starts finding something for his boyfriend to wear. Louis cackles at the sight and Niall smiles and feels as a heavy weight is lifted from his shoulders. He’ll need his friends this weekend. He’s not sure how, or why, but he’s not sure he’ll be able to do it without them, going to Louis’ family home for the weekend this soon after they’ve met, this soon after they’ve…whatever it is they’re doing.
The palace is nice, obviously, but Niall wasn’t expecting it to be as nice as it is. It looks like a museum, with tall, ornate ceilings with gold trim and chandeliers that probably cost more than he’ll ever make in his life. There’s art on the walls, oil paintings that look centuries old. And they probably are, the royal family has probably been collecting them since the dawn of time.
Niall has never seen anything like it, and he probably never will again.
People flutter by, carrying vases of flowers and moving about as they prepare for the garden party. Niall wonders how many of them are there on a daily basis, how many of them live inside these walls. Louis tells them that there is room for all of them, that they each have a bed within these walls. Niall couldn’t imagine that. His father’s home is just large enough for him, his brother, his dad, and their cat. Three people and it’s almost too crowded, but not here. The ultimate place to play hide and seek, or so he’d imagine, when he sees Louis’ younger twin sisters running around wildly through the halls.
Liam and Harry seem to share his fascination with the palace as they all crowd into Louis’ bedroom for the afternoon. Zayn seems unphased by it all, greeting one of the guards at the door by name, and then another woman with flowers. Niall can’t imagine getting to that point, at least not yet, when everything with Louis is still so new.
But seeing Louis’ home, Niall gets it. Niall understands why Louis likes the mess and the clutter, why his dorm looks like the aftermath of a tornado. There’s not a single speck of dirt or dust in the entire place, not a single item out of place. There’s no shoes by the door, no coats hung up on a rack, or crooked frames on the wall of everyone throughout the years, nor is there the sweet smell of something cooking in the kitchen and music coming from the stereo on the bookshelf like at Niall’s home. And seeing all of this, seeing the starkly clean and official, slightly cold atmosphere of the palace, Niall finds himself understanding a bit more about Louis than he did before.
Niall understands the mess, Louis’ tendency to avoid work and responsibility. He understands why Louis dresses like he’s ready for a nap at any moment, how he’s all about having fun, but still manages to get his work done when no one is looking. And he even understands why Alberto would want to keep a closer eye than necessary on Louis, because he thinks even Alberto gets Louis’ desire to experience a life that isn’t really is. And Niall thinks he also understands the reason Louis is drawn to him, has been from the moment that they met. They’re different, in every way. Niall doesn’t need mess because nothing about his life has ever been perfect, and he needs school, needs to do well and overwork himself, because this is his only chance.
But mostly he understands the balance that they bring each other, how Louis has helped him learn to loosen up in this short span of time, while Niall has helped Louis figure out that his studies really are important. Or maybe he’s getting it all wrong, he’s not sure. But he does feel like he gets it, and that’s important to him.
“Come on, there’s a food tent back here that has all the good food,” Zayn tells them, weaving through the crowd of people. Niall’s not sure how it can have all the good food, when he’s only seen the same food as they wander through the insane amount of people on the palace lawn.
Niall’s heard about it, seen pictures and clips on television, but he never imagined through all of that that the actual experience of it would be so wild. It’s almost like a music festival, without the music and drugs, with people dressed better and showered. The smell is incredible, perfumed and floral and fresh, less dirty and muddy.
“So what happens at these things anyway?” Liam asks, grabbing a little sandwich off a tray. “Like, besides wandering around and eating.”
“Talking, mostly,” Zayn says. “Hoping for a chance to see and talk to the Queen. Or anyone in the family.”
“This isn’t your first time,” Niall says.
“Nope,” Zayn confirms. “Louis doesn’t like doing these kinds of things alone. If he could convince his mom of it, I’d be out there walking around with him, but there are some things she won’t budge on.”
“She gave you a room.”
“Yeah, well. She was probably tired of me occupying one of the guest rooms for an entire summer, figured she’d do me a favor or something.”
“Look at their hats,” Harry says, staring wide-eyed at a woman in a lilac dress. The hat on her head is tall, with a wild swirl sticking up at least seven inches. “She kind of looks like a teletubby.”
“That one looks like she’s from the capital,” Niall says, pointing out a red puffy one, with red and pink and black feathers sticking out of it and partially covering the woman’s face. “I think Effie wore that in the first Hunger Games movie.”
Harry giggles behind a tiny piece of chocolate cake, but Niall doesn’t know what he’s laughing at, he’d wear a hat like that if he had the chance. He shakes his head as Liam and Harry continue to point out the fashion they saw, taking note of how the men stand tall and proud, chests puffed out, wanting to look good for their chance to speak with the royal family as people gather food and then wander off.
There’s a weird maze of people merging outside of the tent, forming a walkway in the center as they form on two sides. Niall sees Louis’ mother walking through it, her yellow dress standing out in the warm afternoon sun. And Louis is there as well, looking handsome in a smart navy tux. Niall smiles as he watches him chat with people, watching as he gestures wildly and laughs with them. Alberto isn’t far off, watching Louis protectively, as he always does.
Niall can’t help but admire the other boy, admire the way he falls into this role so effortlessly, even if Louis doesn’t see it, even if Louis or the assholes that write for those gossip sites don’t believe it. But Niall can see it as people bow their heads and shake his hand, all of them happy for just a moment of his time, to talk to him.
“It suits him, doesn’t it?”
Niall jumps, clutching a hand to his chest as he turns to see Zayn standing next to him, sipping on a glass of something white and bubbly. “Yeah, a bit.”
“He loves it here,” Zayn tells him, taking another drink. “Most of the time, anyway.”
“Most of the time?”
“No one would love this all of the time. Everyone always wants to be on the other side, want to live how they haven’t before. Royals are no different, especially ones like Louis.”
“Is there anyone else like Louis?” Niall asks and Zayn laughs, grinning down at him.
“You’re pretty good for him, you know? He likes you a lot.”
Niall sighs and nods his head. “Yeah, figured that one out when he first tried passing notes with me in the library.”
“Passing you notes?” Zayn asks with a light laugh and a quirk of his eyebrow.
“Yeah, like we were twelve or something.”
Zayn laughs and Niall can’t help but laugh with him, and hating that he knows there’s a fond smile on his face as he thinks back on it. “See, the perfect future king.”
Niall nods along, his gaze flicking back towards Louis and thinks yeah, he would be wonderful. And Niall’s happy that he lives in a world where he’ll be able to see it happen, where he’ll be able to see Louis flourish and grow into himself, grow into the person that he – and Zayn, as well – know that he’s capable of being, the person Louis thinks other people don’t see. Yeah, Louis will make an amazing king.
Niall is lying in his fancy palace bed, in the most ornate room that he’s ever seen, with a gold chandelier hanging above his bed. The bed is soft and lush, and Niall thinks that he’ll never in his life find anything as great as this bed. And he wants to savor every moment of it, because he’s tired, from a day out in the sun, and then an afternoon spent running around the palace halls causing mayhem with Louis, the boys, and Louis’ little sisters.
But the palace is eerily quiet at night, in stark contrast to how it was during the day. And it’s because of that quiet that he notices his door creaking open, watches as the shadow moves across the ceiling. He freezes, clutching at the blankets as a figure slips across the room. And then Louis is there, crawling into bed next to him and Niall loosens his grip on the blankets, breathing out a sigh as he rolls onto his side.
“Hi,” Louis murmurs, smiling at Niall.
“Hey,” Niall mumbles back, grabbing Louis’ hand under the blankets. “You supposed to be in here?”
“Was a little lonely in my room,” Louis tells him. “And it’s my house, I can do what I want.”
“Hmm,” Niall hums. “And that only extends to when you’re in your house?”
Louis laughs, soft and quietly, letting go of Niall’s hand to slip his arm around his waist. “Was today okay? I know I didn’t get to talk to you at the party, but did you have fun? Was it alright?”
“Was fun,” Niall remarks thoughtfully, thinking back on how him and Zayn and Liam and Harry had a cake-eating contest, tried to see how many they could shove into their mouths at one time. Or how they rated people’s hats – mostly the women’s, because top hats got boring after a while – and tried to guess what Louis was talking about with people based on his movements. It was fun…well, most of it. “I talked to your mom.”
“You did?” Louis asks, sitting up on his elbow to stare down at Niall. “You didn’t mention that.”
“I was on my own, trying to find the others and then I saw her. Seemed rude to keep walking, so I stopped and we talked for a bit,” Niall says. He hadn’t seen her before then, hadn’t had a chance to properly introduce himself when they first arrived and Louis showed them all where they’d be sleeping. “I think she knew who I was.”
“Yeah, sent her a picture of you ages ago.”
“Are you serious?”
Louis shrugs. “I don’t keep secrets from her.”
“I’m hardly a secret,” Niall says.
“You would be if I hadn’t told her,” Louis says. “And besides, she would have figured it out anyway. Probably tomorrow at breakfast. She’s really good at picking things up, which is exactly why I don’t keep secrets from her.”
“I’d reckon you’re shit at keeping secrets period,” Niall jokes, laughing when Louis’ pinches his side. “You’ve got a big mouth.”
“You know, I was going to say that I’m happy you came here with me this weekend, but now I’m not quite sure I can say it and mean it,” Louis teases, his blue eyes shining. And it should be ridiculous, the way he glows even in the dark, but Niall thinks it might just be his imagination.
“Who would you be bugging if I wasn’t here?”
“Mm, fair point, so I guess I am happy you’re here,” Louis says, reaching out to run his fingers through Niall’s hair, his hand trailing up Niall’s arm and to his hair. “You know I really like you, right?”
“Yeah, I do,” replies Niall, feeling like the air has been sucked out of his lungs. There’s a fondness in Louis’ eyes that has been there since the day they met, and Niall’s stomach twists and flips, and flutters against his will. He’s ass over tit for this boy and he doesn’t even know when it happened, when he went from wanting to whack Louis upside the head to wanting to wrap his arms around him and just hold on, hold on and never let go.
“You going to say anything else to that?” Louis asks, eyebrow quirking up as a smile forms.
Niall breathes out, resting his hand on Louis’ elbow. “I guess you’re not as much of an annoyance as I thought you were,” he says, grinning as Louis’ eyes narrow, his smile stretching further.
“Are you flirting with me?”
Niall laughs, turning his head to kiss Louis’ wrist. “You’d like that, wouldn’t you?”
“Oh I would,” Louis says. “I’d love nothing more than to take you back to my room so that we can fool around in my bed, but I think I can sacrifice that plan in favor of staying in here with you.”
Louis shoves at Niall’s shoulder, pushing him flat on his back so that he can roll on top of him, straddling his waist as he leans down to kiss him. Niall sighs into it, sliding his hands up Louis’ thighs and dipping them under his shirt, feeling the smooth, warm skin of his back. As Louis’ tongue flicks out against his mouth, Niall smiles into the kiss and thinks yeah, he really likes Louis, too.
Niall wakes with a shake to his shoulder, Louis’ voice murmuring encouraging words, trying to rouse him out of his sleep. He groans and tugs the blanket up, mumbling for Louis to go away, but the other boy just laughs and keeps on shaking him, not easily discouraged by something like Niall’s biological need to sleep. No, that would be just silly of him.
“What do you want, Louis?” Niall asks, shoving his face into his pillow to block the light coming from Louis’ phone. Damn the thing and it’s flashlight feature.
“Wake up, I want to show you something.”
“Show me later. I need my sleep,” Niall says. He’s tired, not just from the long day, but Louis has him worn out, his body still stiff from their before bedtime activities. Unless Louis wants to suck him off again, because Niall thinks he could wake for that, it’ll help him fall back asleep. “Are you trying to have sex?”
Louis laughs and tugs at the blankets, pulling them off Niall’s body. “No, now please wake up,” he pleads and Niall groans, sitting up and swinging his legs off the side of the bed.
It’s still dark outside, the morning light just barely visible on the horizon as Louis grabs his hand, intertwining their fingers together so that he can tug Niall out of the room and through the palace halls. Niall doesn’t bother asking where they’re going; instead he rubs at his eyes tiredly and let’s himself be pulled along. There’s no one up yet, so no one is around the stop them ask where they’re going, which is both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because he doesn’t want to have to speak to anyone at this ungodly hour, and a curse because he’d like for someone to ask where it is Louis is taking him.
Louis pulls him outside, waving at the palace guards in some sort of way that must mean to leave them alone, because they do, turning away from them and staring forward like they always do, like little statues. Louis continues to pull Niall along, who has finally found it in himself to remember how his feet work, as they move across the lawn. The grass is cold and wet beneath Niall’s feet, morning dew already appearing as it soaks the bottom of his pants.
“Where are we going, Lou?”
“Almost there,” Louis says.
The open lawn begins to fill with trees as they approach the end, right by the little canal where ducks and other wildlife are, all of them awake before the sun like they are. Niall knows very little about the palace garden, other than some of the things planted here date back centuries, or so he’s heard anyway.
“It’s just through this tree,” Louis notes, pulling back the branches of a Weeping Willow and Niall frowns. “Just trust me.” Louis tugs Niall forward under the branches fall down behind them, shielding them from everything else.
Niall continues to let Louis pull him around until they’re walking through the other side of branches, towards a smaller opening that he hadn’t seen before, one blocked off by the trees. It’s over the canal, a little bridge that leads to a tiny patch of land where a statue is hidden. Louis grins at him as lets go of Niall’s hand, letting him move forward on his own now.
The bridge is a little rickety, surprisingly so for a garden so well kept, and the fountain is rusting around the bottom, where the copper is turning green. The inscription on the plaque is no longer legible, so Niall’s not sure what he’s looking at, who this person is that would be hidden from everyone else.
Louis sitting on a little bench, eyes closed with a soft smile on his face as the rising sun casts a warm, pink light on his face. Niall watches him for a moment, watches as his eyes blink open and he stares ahead, patting the space next to him like he knows Niall is watching him.
“I come here sometimes, when I’m stressed or want to be alone. I think anyone else knows about it, or at least they don’t both with it since the trees have overgrown and it’s usually pretty dirty, covered in leaves in the fall,” Louis says. “Or maybe they just know not to bother me here, I don’t know.”
“Hard to imagine a place like this has anything secret,” Niall says.
Louis smirks and shrugs, like there are secrets to the palace that not even Niall knows about it. And he’s sure there are, a place as big as that. “Think everyone just knows it’s mine,” he says. “I spray painted the back of this bench, just to see if anyone would clean it, but they haven’t yet. That was two years ago.”
“Wait until your mom finds out you’re a graffiti artist,” Niall jokes, relishing in the way Louis smiles. “Might have to black mail you with that.”
“Or you could share it with me,” Louis says, and Niall frowns, not understanding what he’s saying. “Remember when I took you to the spot under the bridge, how you were jealous that I had a spot with Zayn.”
“I wasn’t jealous.”
“I was not,” protests, folding his arms over his chest.
Louis laughs, shaking his head. “You were, but all right. Anyway, I thought about it after that, what I could do to make a space that’s ours, a place I have that no one else does. And that’s this, my shitty bench and bridge and statue.”
Niall breathes out and looks at Louis, who shrugs. A man with the world in his hands, offering Niall a tiny piece of it, the only piece of it that doesn’t belong to the public or anything, just Louis, at least in theory. A tiny little nook of the palace where Niall can see the sun steadily rising, with bursts of orange and pink in the sky that casts glows across Louis’ skin. Niall’s chest tightens and he laughs, shaking his head.
“You know I really like you, Louis,” Niall tells him, this time free of any of his usual remarks, just honest and open.
Louis grin is blinding and Niall would have to look away if Louis wasn’t pushing him back against the iron armrest of the bench and kissing him like it’s the only thing in the world he wants to do.