The first time it happens, it scares the shit out of them, the way sweet little Niall melts away to be replaced by someone—something—strung-out, dangerous.
After the blonde bounds off stage, they don’t hear a word from him until three in the morning. Zayn receives the text and climbs out of his bed, tugging a shirt over his head before leaving his flat to knock first on Liam’s door and then on Harry and Louis’.
“Found the leprechaun, I’m going to pick him up,” he explains groggily, to which his bandmates nod their exhausted appreciation before retreating to their own beds.
Really, ‘pick him up’ is more literal than Zayn had planned.
After throwing the Irish boy over his shoulder and carrying him from the bar, Zayn buckles him into the passenger seat of his car, careful to make sure the boy doesn’t spill any of his final drink (“An’ one furthuh road!”) on the interior. Right away, Zayn can tell something’s off.
Niall has energy, and not in the normal ‘Louis’-way they’re all used to. It’s unnerving when the kid goes from being in constant motion one second to still as stone the next; when Zayn glances over he can see the tension in Niall’s jaw, one hand fisted around the bottle of alcohol, the other gripping his knee so tightly Zayn worries if he’ll snap a bone.
“Niall?” The older boy asks quietly, frowning when the other’s wide, wild eyes flick over to stare at him. “You alright, mate?”
Niall only stares at him, eyes slightly glassy and giving away no indication that he’d understood or even heard what his friend said. The darker boy glances between the road and his passenger, growing increasingly alarmed when Niall’s unseeing gaze remains unchanged.
Zayn has to wrestle his Irish bandmate out of the car, slinging one of the pale arms across his own shoulders so as to walk him into their building. Niall’s silent the entire way, his body tensed like a bow. The taller boy’s brow furrows; a quiet, drunken Niall isn’t anything he’s ever seen until now.
Something is definitely off.
“Guys,” he calls when, after hauling the unresponsive boy around, he reaches their flats. He bangs a fist against Liam’s door and drags Niall the last few feet toward Louis and Harry’s door, pushing it open and coaxing Niall inside. If something’s wrong, he’s not about to let the blond fall asleep before talking to them first.
It isn’t long before the two tired boys emerge from their rooms, hair tousled with sleep and blinking against the light, and then Liam trudges through the front door as well.
“Something’s up,” Zayn says simply, crouching down before Niall where he sits on the couch. “Niall?”
“He’s a big boy, Zayn, he can handle himself. Come on, get him to b-b- bed,” Louis mutters around a yawn.
Zayn shakes his head, “Nuh-uh, he’s acting weird. Won’t even look at me, see?”
“He’s drunk!” Louis protests, “Of course he’s acting weird.”
But Liam is stepping toward the couch as well, standing to Zayn’s side as he speaks carefully to the Irish boy.
He sighs, “Alright then, let’s get you cleaned up. Come on, I’ll take that.” He reaches down to gently take the bottle still clenched in Niall’s hand and turns to go toss it in the garbage.
Just like that, Niall’s a livewire.
“Give that back,” he orders, voice low as he jumps to his feet.
Liam turns to look at him, a small, good-natured smile spreading across his face. “I don’t think so. You’re done for the night.”
“No! No, you can’t tell me when I’m done!” The normally light Irish lilt in his voice is now heavy, slurred with fury and inebriation. He strides across the room to stand right in front of Liam, who, in turn, squares his shoulders.
“Niall, listen to me. You’ve had enough.”
Those cool blue eyes blaze, that entire lithe frame tense, coiled, ready to strike. Niall’s upper lip curls as he leans close. “Fuck you.”
The temperature in the room drops a couple degrees as the four sober boys freeze. Niall never swears at Liam.
The other three start to inch closer, ready to grab the seething Irish boy if necessary, but Liam only shakes his head. He holds the burning, intensely focused eyes as he raises his palm and brings it swiftly down onto the blonde’s flushed cheek with a smack that reverberates around the deathly silent room. Niall lets out the softest of moans as he stumbles back a step, clutching his hand to his face and staring hard at the ground. The tension drains so completely and suddenly from his body that the other boys can only watch. Those eyes finally raise to meet Liam’s again, filled with a whole new kind of intensity directed straight at his bandmate.
He steps forward again, his eyes wide with feral curiosity. Bringing his hand down to rest at his side, he pleads breathlessly, “Do…do it again.”
Liam stares from him to his fellow bandmates in shock, his confusion showing as he gapes.
It felt…the pressure, the release, oh fucking hell—“Please. Liam, please. Do it again,” Niall’s gasping, looking utterly desperate as he trip over himself to get closer to his best mate.
Begging. The tension is filling his back again, trailing down his legs and to the tips of his fingers, tickling up his neck until all he can do is let out a dry, deranged sob. The release, he needs—
But then he’s being dragged back, spun around to face Harry, shuddering at the tight hold the younger boy had on his upper arms. His eyes glaze over for the briefest moment, willing the grip tighter on his biceps. Just a few bruises, oh god, that was all he wants—he needs—
That same wary confusion that he’d seen in Liam’s eyes trickles into Harry’s as well when Niall lets out a soft gasp.
He needs something. Anything. The tension, the blinding necessary something that’s just beyond his grasp, teasing and making him tremble with the overwhelming craving for a release. He can’t take it. What’s wrong with him? He can’t take it.
He needs—anything, please—
He lunges forward, pressing his lips forcefully against Harry’s and ignoring the other boy’s muffled protests. His spine curves smoothly as he arches into Harry’s body, pressing closer in his desperation until he’s unceremoniously yanked away from the youngest boy, dragged back kicking and spitting, thrashing and screaming.
Louis quickly lets him go after pulling him far enough away, hastening to join the other three in a semi-circle around Niall. The Irish boy stares back at them, his blue eyes lit and darting to each of them, pleading wildly. Frantic. A cornered animal, half tensing to attack, half eager to bow in submission. This isn’t the alcohol, isn’t Niall acting out drunkenly. This is something else entirely.
Manic. He’s fucking manic.
“Please,” he pants, “please, I need—“ He cuts himself off with a high whine. His vision is blurring, he can’t see, can’t breathe.
“Niall, what’s wrong? What do you need?” He hears one of his friends ask, now unsure of who’d spoken. Louis? Zayn? Harry’s shocked into silence.
“I don’t…I don’t know,” he shakes his head, “Please, help me—let me—”
Then Liam is in front of him, hands on his arms and head ducking down to catch Niall’s unfocused gaze. “What can we do? How can we help?” He speaks softly, soothingly, his cool breath ghosting over Niall’s face.
He closes his eyes, sighing softly.
“Let me—“ Niall begs quietly, and the older boy shushes him.
“Anything, mate, whatever you need—”
The words freeze on Liam’s lips when the blonde abruptly drops from his grasp, down onto the floor in front of him. The kid’s delicate fingers are on his zipper, popping the button insistently, frenzied, and only when he hears the zipper actually being pulled down does Liam snap out of his shock to push the boy’s hands away.
“No, no, no, no. Niall, I—what?”
But then Niall’s looking up at him, so lost and confused and strung-out that Liam’s protests catch in his throat. He looks helplessly over his shoulder at the others, who only look just as utterly baffled as he does, and then Niall’s fingers are back to work, reaching into his boxers and Liam jerks.
“Niall, wait—” he stills the boy’s hands again, only this time the blonde doesn’t look up at him. “Are you sure?”
“Please,” the boy repeats softly, “please…let me.”
Liam lets a defeated sigh escape, shuffling back awkwardly to collapse onto the couch, and Niall stumbles after to fall against his spread legs. Without glancing up to see the deep blush on the older boy’s face, the blonde immediately pulls Liam’s cock free, diving forward to swallow it while his best friends watch in astonishment.
That first time, when Niall loses it, everything is sloppy. They don’t know how to react, how to take care of it. Niall is not okay, he is not himself.
That first time, when, after Liam comes down his best mate’s throat with a strangled groan, Niall folds in on himself against Liam’s legs and jerks himself while chanting, “Need to come, need to come, need to come, please—“
That first time, Niall lifts himself onto the couch, totally drained and sluggish, and curls into Liam’s side like a small child. It’s silent as Zayn drops down on the Irish boy’s other side, draping an arm securely—albeit hesitantly—across his waist, and Harry and Louis place supportive and equally cautious hands on Niall’s shoulders as the boy drifts off.
And that’s how it starts; after every few shows, when it all builds up and Niall lets himself go so totally on stage that he can’t even think straight, his bandmates and best friends carefully take him apart, nurture the little, tiny, broken Niall-pieces, and put him back together, good as new. Until the next time, at least.
Sometimes it takes just one of them, sometimes all of them—one right after the other—until the Irish boy will crash, exhausted and wrung out in the best way possible. He can think. He can sleep.
Sometimes though, it isn’t enough. All four of them will give everything they have, would push, yank, jerk, thrust, lick, touch, and sometimes it just isn’t enough and Niall needs more. Sometimes that nnghsoclosejustalittlefurther-point will dance just outside the Irish boy’s reach. When that happens, they try again the next day.
In some unspoken agreement, they never tell anyone. They can take care of their boy; they can keep him safe.