"So I'm gonna need you to come over to mine," Harry says, when he's done stretching a thirty second story of complete stupidity into a five minute aria. He's leaning against the wall by the door, listing to the side a bit, as if managing to make it all the way into Niall's hotel room was such an epic achievement that he has no energy left for standing up.
Niall declines to congratulate him. "I'm in bed already," he points out. Which is pretty much obvious, since he'd come to the door in his boxers and then crawled straight back under the duvet, but maybe Harry missed it somehow. Harry's in that state where he's missing a lot of things. Started drinking straight after the show, and all right, Niall did too, but he kept it amongst themselves. Harry doesn't exactly keep things amongst themselves. He likes to share with all and sundry.
"You could get out of bed," says Harry. "Come on, Nialler. Five doors down the hall. I'll let you choose whichever one you want."
"So generous," says Niall, and slides down further under the covers. "The girls'll be thrilled."
"Yep," agrees Harry amiably. "So you'll come?"
"'m tired," says Niall. "Interviews all day and then a show and you've still got the energy for this?"
"I haven't," says Harry, plopping himself down on the bed next to Niall. "That's the point. Not for two of them, anyway."
"Then you shouldn't have double-booked yourself, should you?" Niall yawns and gets his arms around Harry's waist, yanks him down till they're on the same level. The problem with Harry is that he doesn't have that little signal in his head that Niall's got, the one that tells him when the night is over. It would be nice if you could lend out a signal like that, let your mates use it when you're through for the night. It's arse o'clock, it would say when Harry's about to let one more person type their number into his phone. Time for bed, mary sunshine.
"It was a mistake," Harry insists, and Niall can tell that he's not interested in borrowing Niall's internal sensor or advice or even Niall's bed that Harry would be welcome to sleep in at any time and occasionally still does, easily and affectionately and without complaining the next morning when Niall's up first and banging about the room. But all Harry wants to borrow tonight is Niall's dick. Not, of course, for his personal use.
Harry must see Niall's exasperation, because very carefully and as if any of it makes sense, he explains, "I had the first girl set up since yesterday and then when the other one turned up backstage today she was really fit and I just forgot about the first one. They're going to show up in five minutes, Niall, both of them, I just need you to take one off my hands."
Niall looks at Harry's earnest face and puts his head in the crook of Harry's neck. Harry smells kind of sweaty, but he's really comfortable. "You need sleep, Harry. Just send one of them home. No, send 'em both home, you need a night off."
"I can't do that! It would hurt their feelings!" Niall's eyes are closed, so he can't see exactly what Harry's doing, but judging from the way the bed is shaking, he's waving his hands around dramatically. Harry is a nice person but also a dickhead but also three years old.
Niall says, "You're weird."
Harry shakes his head. "I'm sensitive."
Niall nods with all the solemnity he can muster. "Then I suppose you'll have to shag them both."
"Niallllll. I'm too tired for that tonight. Please help me out?"
"Absolutely not. Ask Zayn."
Harry heaves a sigh. "He says him and Perrie are exclusive now. I’m not gonna pressure him, that would be dickish."
"You're pressuring me."
"Because you're single, pringle. How long's it been since you've had a shag, anyway?"
"Not long," Niall mumbles, rolling away from Harry. It's been at least a month. It's been since that guy in the city whose name Niall can't remember. The city he'd seen only in glimpses between hotel and van and venue. The guy he'd seen only in a lobby and a corridor and then in a men's room, and they'd come so close to being seen that Niall felt sick inside after, as if he'd almost accidentally blown up a solar system or something, but someone had pressed the right deactivation button just in time.
After a moment, Niall feels Harry's hand on his lower back, moving in a circle. "Okay, Niall. Go back to sleep." Then Harry pats him twice, fast and business-like, before his weight lifts and Niall hears him going to the door and letting himself out.
The next morning Liam declares a band brekkie via group text. He doesn't say where, but it's obvious it'll be Zayn's room, because Zayn can't make it out of bed early enough to stumble down the corridor to one of theirs. When Niall gets there, Liam's already ordered them pancakes, bacon, sausages, eggs, a pastry basket, yogurt, coffee, tea, smoothies, and orange juice, because he's an overachiever. When Harry and then Louis show up, Liam sits cross-legged at the foot of Zayn's bed and talks about the schedule for the day, interjecting thoughts about morale that Niall suspects are the result of some early morning googling for quotations to live by.
Niall listens to Liam politely while he eats. Louis is half-listening and half-dripping orange juice on Zayn's toes where they're sticking out at the foot of the bed. Every once in a while Zayn kicks Louis, but he's still faceplanted on the bed and not contributing much to the conversation. Harry is eating a croissant with his long legs dangling over the arm of the sofa. His hair looks greasy and he's a bit pale, but he's nodding whenever Liam takes a breath.
"…and then after the radio call-in we've got nothing till soundcheck, but I think we should use our time wisely and rest." Liam stares at each of them in turn. He doesn't bother staring at Zayn.
Louis leans up and pokes at the mark on Harry's neck. "Were you listening, Harry?"
"Urhm," says Harry. He's got chocolate on his upper lip from the croissant.
"Didn't quite catch that, actually," says Louis.
"I'm listening," says Harry. "We rest."
"You're looking knackered," Liam tells him sympathetically. He leans over to the trolley and picks out a tall glass of pink speckled glop. "You should have one of these smoothies, Harry, I ordered them with the energy boost extra."
"The what?" says Niall, and then shakes his head, because he doesn't actually want to know. It's weird how he asks questions even when he knows the answer's gonna be irrelevant. Like the way he turns to Harry next and says, "So what'd you end up doing with them, anyway?"
"Them?" Liam asks, getting off the bed to put the smoothie into Harry's hand.
"Girls," Niall explains. "Harry took on a bit too much last night."
"That's new," says Zayn. He lifts his head from the bed at last. "Anything being too much, I mean. Harry, remember that time in Australia—"
"No, you don't," says Liam, sitting back down on his legs. "We've all heard that one before."
"You don't even know what I’m going to say!"
"Trust me," says Liam. "I know."
Harry's examining his smoothie. He dips the straw in and then pulls it out again and licks off the pink goo stuck to the end of the straw. "Last night, Harry," says Niall. "How'd it go?"
"Ah," says Harry. "Well, here's how it worked out. There was no way I was gonna go twice, right, so what I did is, I fucked one of them—"
"Thank you, Harry, that will be all," says Liam. "Anyway, the schedule—"
"Just hold on, Liam," says Zayn.
Harry grins at Zayn. "This is useful information, Liam. I know you're back with Dani for now, but what if you're in this kind of situation someday?"
"Always prepared," agrees Louis. "Go on then. What about the other one?"
"I ate her out," says Harry. "I mean, first I had her ride me a little bit because they both wanted my dick, but then I told her to move up and she was completely fine with sitting on my face instead. Nice girl."
"But you fucked the first one…" Niall's trying to work it out.
"Yeah, she got on me when the other girl moved up."
"And people call me lazy," says Zayn. "So basically you just lay there on your back and let them do all the work."
Harry wrinkles his forehead, offended. "I was still using my tongue and everything! That takes concentration, mate!"
"Were they friends?" asks Louis. "Did you have them snog?"
"Nah, they didn't know each other," says Harry. "It was a coincidence."
"Whoa," says Liam. "They just showed up and you were like hey, threesome, and nobody smacked you?"
"Why would they smack me? I apologized a lot and told them how much I liked them."
Louis snorts. "You're so full of shit."
"Nope," says Harry, "because it was true." He reaches for the pastry basket again, tilting dangerously from the edge of the sofa, and Louis grabs Harry's hand and pulls him to the floor. Harry crash-lands and goes rolling into Niall. "The only trouble I've ever had with a threesome," Harry continues from the rug, "was when the other two were a couple, because there were jealousy issues."
"Those girls in Mexico?" asks Zayn.
"No, they were brilliant. This was in London. The bloke got fussed because he fell asleep and when he woke up I was still snogging the girl. I mean, we'd already got him off but apparently if he fell asleep everything was supposed to stop." He pushes off from Niall's thigh and sits up against the sofa.
Niall keeps his face blank, although judging by the look on everyone else's faces, he's supposed to be staring in shock. "Communication issues, mate," he says.
"Yes!" says Harry. He pulls Niall against his side and slings an arm around his shoulder. "Exactly. I mean, if I'd known he'd be like that I would've handled it differently."
"Oh, I see," says Louis. "Harry gets with a bloke and we're going to pretend this is a story about communication."
"Seriously," says Zayn. "What the fuck, Harry. Shush, Liam."
"I didn't say anything!" Liam complains. "I've given up already! We have twenty more minutes till bus call, so by all means let's spend that time talking about Harry having sex."
"Okay," says Harry happily. "See, I was at a club and I was talking to this girl, and I was like, do you want to get out of here, and she was like, okay, but do you mind if my boyfriend here comes too? He's really, really into you. And she pulls this guy over, who it turns out was standing like a foot away the whole time."
"I would've freaked out," says Louis. "Why would she think you'd want to?"
Harry shrugs. "Probably because it was a gay club. I was out with Grimmy."
"See, Harry," says Zayn. "Most people put these minor details at the beginning of the story."
Harry says, "Sorry! Anyway, I thought why not?"
Why not? thinks Niall glumly. There are people who do things because why not. And there are people who do things because it feels more and more like they really fucking have to, because when a tour lasts thirteen months you can't wait till it's over to get your mouth on a dick. Finding distractions used to be easier, and Niall's not sure why. For example, he used to be able to look at a crowd of girls who would give anything for you just to look at them and think, "why not?"
"So you went home with them both," says Zayn.
"Yeah," says Harry. "Why is this such a big deal? We shared that girl in Melbourne, Zayn, you remember that."
"Because you said you helped get him off," says Louis patiently. "Fairly sure if you'd done that with Zayn, I would've heard about it by now."
"Oh yeah," says Harry. "Well, look. The guy went down on me, so I thought—"
"Another minor detail," Zayn cuts in.
"Huh," says Liam. "What was that like?"
"It was like a blowjob, Liam," says Harry, sounding a bit exasperated. Niall wonders if Harry even knows he's rubbing Niall's shoulder, fingers moving slowly back and forth. "I’m sure you're familiar. I was kissing the girl and then he got on his knees and started kind of licking and then—"
"Whoa, okay," says Louis. "Got it, thanks."
"Well, Liam asked," says Harry. "Anyway, I didn't come in his mouth, I started fucking the girl after a while instead, but then I kind of helped her jerk him off when we were done."
There's a pause. Harry slurps noisily at his smoothie. "Wow!" says Liam. "I'm really glad we could all have this meeting for the sake of band morale."
Niall's staring at the remains of the breakfast trolley. "Did you like it?" he asks at last.
"It was all right," says Harry, and his fingers go still on Niall's shoulder. "Interesting. I would definitely recommend it."
Louis's the one who laughs first, and then Niall joins in, a bit too loudly, collapsing over sideways so he can get himself away from Harry's touch. Paris. New York. Ghana. Other guys' dicks. Just a few places Harry's happy to visit. It's not the tourist's fault if there are people who actually live there.
"Although," adds Harry, "you might want to start with a one-on-one kind of situation. Like I said, things went a bit pear-shaped later on."
"Right," says Niall. "Thanks for the advice."
"Well," says Harry. "Little-known fact, it's actually me who's the sensible one."
"Speaking of which," says Liam. "Five minutes." He starts tugging at Zayn's arm.
"Gonna go get my stuff," mutters Niall, and heads out.
Back in his room, Niall zips his bag and wonders if it counts as lying, just sitting there and letting Harry tell him to try it. The thing is, Niall doesn't think telling everybody everything all the time is actually necessary to friendship. Unlike Harry, he can feel close to people without telling them when his shoelace breaks or he sees a swimming cat video or he fucks a guy. Anyway, it's not a big deal, it's just this thing Niall does and thinks and is and usually has to save for later. Like having brown hair, maybe. Niall just has to wait.
Apparently Harry's taken Liam's words to heart, because he does slow down in the week that follows. Which might have something to do with spending most of their nights sleeping on the bus. They're on the road now, actually, somewhere between—well, okay, according to Liam's state map, the rectangle one and the one with a bump on one end. They've been driving for hours, and geography's starting to get a bit blurry. It's the part of the country that never goes for Obama, that much Niall does know. He does his absolute best in performance anyway. You can't blame the fans; most of them weren't old enough to vote.
Niall's got Fast Five playing on his laptop, but he looks up when the volume of chatter gets to be a bit much. It's okay; if he wanted to watch something properly, he'd be in his bunk. But all five of them are in the back of the bus, too bored and too tired to do anything except bounce their voices and bodies and irritation off each other. The air conditioner hums. Niall and Harry are up on the sofa that curves around the end of the bus. The others, for some reason, are on the floor. Louis's trying to explain the rules of a stupidly elaborate card game to Liam, and Liam's nodding wisely, which probably means he's lost the plot. Zayn's arguing about the rules with Louis, even though he's not actually playing.
"Let's just all play with our own rules and we'll see who wins," says Liam finally.
"That makes no sense," says Louis. "There's no fair winner if everyone's got different rules. Zayn, am I dealing you in?"
"God, no," says Zayn, and leans back against Niall's legs. Niall wiggles his toes into Zayn's sides. If he slid off the sofa, he'd be able to use Zayn for a backrest, but if he gets down on the floor he's pretty sure he'll end up having to play cards.
Louis points at him. "Niall?"
"Nah, I don't get it either," says Niall, and Liam smiles at him gratefully. "Harry, you play."
Harry looks up from his phone. "That reminds me, Niall. The thing is, we still need to get you laid."
Niall kick a foot into Zayn's ribs, by mistake.
"Yeah, Harold, that actually wasn't the topic," says Louis, while Zayn grumbles and rubs at his side.
Harry frowns. "Some things are always worth discussing."
Niall flops down on his belly so he can hook his arm around Zayn's neck from behind. "Sorry," he mutters. "Sorry, reflex action."
"Harry reflex." Zayn understands right away. "Kick him, though, not me."
"I will," Niall promises, and sits back up so he can glare at Harry more effectively. It's like Niall saying no last week has put ideas in his head. If you ask Niall, there are a limited set of ideas that should be in Harry's head at any given time. Getting Niall laid doesn't need to be one of them.
"Harry," says Zayn, "come over here so Niall can kick you."
Harry slides over cooperatively. This seems so ridiculously polite that Niall doesn't kick him after all. "I'm worried about him," Harry is telling Zayn. "I mean, here we are on tour and he ought to be making the most of it. He's got his braces off, he's filled out a bit, he's well fit."
"He is that," says Zayn, and drops his head back into Niall's lap to gaze up at him.
"How's celibacy working out for you, Zayn?" Harry asks a little pointedly.
Zayn turns his head on Niall's thigh and sticks out his tongue at Harry. "Easy peasy."
"Zayn's been very good," agrees Louis. "Excellent role models, Liam and me." He starts to deal, slapping the cards down hard. Liam grabs up each card and looks at it carefully, as if an extra layer of concentration is what it takes to make the six of diamonds yield up its secrets.
"This is the card game of sexual frustration, isn't it?" says Harry.
"Eleanor will be here in a week or so," says Louis. "I'm completely fine."
Harry raises his eyebrows. "Uh-huh. You really should deal Niall in as well. Since he's living the life of a monk."
"How violently do monks wank, anyway?" Louis muses.
"Both of you need to shut it," says Niall. He pulls on Zayn's ear, so that he knows Niall doesn't mean him. "Hold your cards up, Liam, Louis's gonna see."
Louis makes a face at him. "Liam doesn't need your help, Niall."
"Yes, I do," says Liam. "Niall, come and sit by me."
"Niall's sitting by me," says Harry. "We need to talk strategy."
"Did you need some advice, Harry?" says Niall. He takes off his snapback and jams it on Harry's head. "I know it's hard for you to know what to say to a girl. I'm here for you, mate."
"I'm just trying to—" Harry starts, and then throws up his hands when Niall starts choking with laughter. "Fine," he grumbles. He yanks off Niall's snapback and shakes out his hair.
"My name is Harry," sings Niall, "and I'm so very fly oh my, it's a lil bit scary."
"Don't hate me 'cause I'm beautiful," carol Louis and Zayn instantly. Niall loves them. "Do the pretty girl rock!" they all sing together while Harry folds his arms and sticks out his tongue until Liam, who's been ignoring everyone, smacks down his cards triumphantly.
"Rainbird run!" he yells.
Louis grabs the cards up and starts checking them over, Harry forgotten. "Liam. That's not a rainbird run. That's not even a run."
"It is by Zayn's rules," says Liam. "Zayn?"
Zayn yawns. "You know what? I'm gonna go give Perrie a ring."
"Have fun," says Harry. He's not looking at Zayn. He puts the cap back on Niall's head, then looks at him gravely and takes a moment to adjust it. His fingers are warm against the back of Niall's neck.
"It's all about confidence," Harry explains a couple of nights later after a show. At least, that's what Niall thinks he says; Harry's mouth is full of pizza, so it's a bit unclear. Then there's a blast of guitar from Harry's phone. Harry stabs it silent without hesitation and says, "You have to assume they're going to say yes."
"Well, yeah," says Niall. "Because they will." Night after night, every time Niall comes forward and opens his mouth, the noise from the crowd surges impossibly loud.
Harry shrugs. "Okay, then. I thought maybe you were getting nervous or something."
Niall opens his mouth wide to put his half-chewed globs of tomato and cheese on display.
"Fine," says Harry. "You're a master of seduction, I get it."
Niall grins and pushes the pizza box away. "Hey, you're famous, wanna play FIFA?"
"Uh huh," says Harry. "That'd be hot." He leans back against the bed and wiggles his eyebrows. Niall rolls over on the hotel carpet and is digging in his bag for the controller when Harry's phone goes again.
"Just a sec," says Harry to Niall. He starts talking without bothering to move away. Niall gets up and heads for the toilet. When he comes back in the room, Harry's still talking. "Course I want to," he's saying, his voice soft, and Niall rolls his eyes and grabs his own mobile and headphones. "I always want to," Harry goes on, and that's the last thing Niall hears before he puts on his music and Harry's voice is lost.
He's on his stomach reading through his texts when Harry drops on top of his back and yanks off his headphones. "Are we playing FIFA or what?"
"I dunno," grumbles Niall. "You don't have a date? Twelve girls who might've slipped your mind? Yoga lesson? Dentist?"
"Nope," says Harry. "Bit tired, not in the mood for a fluoride treatment." He bites the back of Niall's ear and rolls off him. "My phone's off now, okay?"
"You turned your phone off for me," says Niall. "God, that's romantic."
"I turned it off for FIFA. Let's not get too excited." Harry grabs a pillow, but instead of propping himself up, he just puts his head on it and flops over.
"Oh lord," says Niall. "You're gonna end up sleeping here, aren't you?" He leans over to the bedside table for his laptop and settles in next to Harry.
Harry yawns. "Are you kidding? I know you, Niall, I don't need your early morning punishment."
"Just 'cause I don't sleep till bus call."
"Nah," says Harry. "That's some weird revenge thing you've got going on, morning glory."
Niall stills suddenly. "Revenge for what?"
There's a pause, and then Harry twists and head-butts him in the chest. "Taking up your space, maybe," Harry grumbles, face smushed into Niall. "I don't know, I haven't figured it out yet."
In actual fact, Niall doesn't do it for revenge—after all, you can't be mad at someone for sleeping in your bed without wanting to fuck you. The world is full of people who don't want to fuck you. So it doesn't make Niall mad; it just makes him feel, sometimes, like singing loudly at seven o'clock in the morning until Harry throws a pillow at him. "Let me know when you do," says Niall, and flips his laptop open.
"How does it feel to make it this big?" asks the presenter on some morning show the next day. "Do you ever get used to it?" He smiles brightly and waits.
Niall can practically feel Harry and Zayn sag with exhaustion at the question. Luckily Louis seems to have appointed himself captain of the interview.
"Niall has," says Louis brightly. "Proper diva, that one."
"Really?" says the presenter, but Niall is already cracking up and giving the game away.
Louis soldiers on anyway. "Yeah, he's always like, 'fetch me a coffee! I need champagne in my dressing room! Why is this football not lemon-scented!'" He shakes his head disapprovingly as Niall wheezes into Harry's shoulder.
The presenter leans forward. "Do you want to comment on that, Niall?"
"He would," says Harry unexpectedly, putting his hand over Niall's mouth, "but he's told us he's far too famous to be answering questions."
The interviewer's eyes widen. Americans never seem to know when anyone's taking the piss.
Niall tries to bite Harry's hand and ends up having to yank his fingers away instead. "They're having you on," he says. He pats Harry's knee. Harry presses his knee right back against Niall's. "Harry just likes to tell lies about me."
"Yes," says Louis gravely. "You mustn't listen to a thing Harry tells you. Listen to Niall doing a southern accent instead. It's brilliant."
The rest of the interview is all accents and promo, and they're already back in the van when Harry turns to him suddenly. "But not to you," he says.
"Pardon?" Niall's trying to work out how many days they've got till they reach LA.
"Lies. About you, maybe, very rarely. Not to you." Harry's nodding, worried.
Niall frowns. "Okay. What—never mind. I only said it for a laugh, Harry."
"Good," says Harry. He looks relieved. "Good, good."
Niall shakes his head and flicks Harry's shoulder with his thumb and middle finger. "Yeah, okay. Good."
Harry smiles at him, then leans back in his seat and closes his eyes. It feels like they just agreed on something, but Niall has no idea what.
"The next twitter question," Louis announces at a show the following week, "is, will you tell a lie about one of your bandmates? Zayn, you're up."
"Uhhhh," says Zayn, looking bored. "Liam never dresses up in his Batman suit just for fun."
The girls scream. Liam grins and shrugs. Niall tries to think of something funny to say in case Louis points at him next. Maybe something about Zayn's underwear.
"Now you, Harry," says Louis. "Tell us a lie about Niall, come on."
"Oh, no," says Niall, and everyone laughs. Louis puts a proprietary arm round Niall's shoulder. Niall mimes making a very, very low kung fu kick. His knee hurts.
Meanwhile, Harry's looking Niall up and down consideringly. "Niall is…" He cups his hands to his mouth as if he's telling a secret. "Niall's a terrible kisser." The noise from the crowd makes Niall wince.
Later, in the dressing room, Zayn points a finger at Harry. "Say it once and it's a joke, mate. Twice and I have to wonder what happened in Mullingar."
"Kissing," says Harry sweetly. "Lots and lots of kissing."
"But not of me," says Niall. He remembers that week far too well for something that happened three years ago. How excited he'd been that his new bandmate—really, his bandmate—was coming to his hometown. How he had to keep reminding himself that he wasn't the only one Harry was visiting. How Harry dived into bed next to him after Rebecca Creighton's birthday party and whispered to him about all the things she wanted him to do. It was ridiculous, because Harry was only sixteen and she was actually a grown-up, but apparently she liked him anyway.
"You don't have to tell me," Niall had said, meaning, "tell me more." He wanted Harry's voice to keep going, a slow, lazy drone in the darkness.
"I want to tell you," Harry had said, turning on his side to face Niall. He hadn't even considered the possibility that Niall might not want to hear, and Niall tried not to be angry with him for being right. "She gets me so fuckin' hard."
"Uh-huh," Niall had said. He'd closed his eyes, feeling Harry's casual hand against his chest. When he thinks of that visit, that's what he remembers most: the heat of Harry's touch, his voice low in Niall's ear, the terror of wanting anyone that much. He doesn't need to hear Harry talking about it now, about all the things that didn't happen.
"That right, Harry?" Zayn is asking.
Harry shoots a look at Niall. "I'll never tell."
"At this point," says Niall, "I'm about ready to hook up with someone just so you'll stop bothering me about it." He's lying on a manky green room floor, trying to get a bit of sleep in before they've got to have their hair done. Harry's stretched out behind him, supposedly because he's napping too.
"Good a reason as any," says Harry. His voice is a little muffled.
"Harry? Are you chewing on my hoodie again?"
"No," says Harry, more clearly. "You want to do it tomorrow night? You want to do it together?"
"What?" says Niall, ignoring the prickly feeling he gets at the back of his neck when Harry says together. "When did this become a group activity? I'm not sharing a girl with you, Harry."
"Understood," says Harry. "I just meant going out. Come on, Niall, why not?"
"Aaaah," says Niall, jerking one shoulder. Which means, because you're confused about the things that would actually make me happy, and that's my fault because I've never actually mentioned them, but I think you should probably be able to tell from the way I've been lying here very quietly hoping you'll keep working your way up that hood until you reach my neck without even noticing it, because you never actually notice anything, do you? It's not his fault Harry can't speak shoulder.
"What?" says Harry.
"You just never know what you're getting into. I'd rather just ring someone I've met before."
"Right," says Harry, "but you haven't been doing that, either."
"How would you know?" Niall says, frowning. He really hopes Harry's not going to start being observant, because it could throw off the whole band dynamic and also it's rude.
"Magic," says Harry. "And paying attention." Then Harry's fingers are scrabbling suddenly at Niall's ribs.
"Eeeeee!" Niall shrieks, and launches himself backwards until he's lying on his back across Harry's stomach. It's not a very comfortable position, but you can jab at the gut with your elbows that way.
Harry just lies there. "Remember when you used to be so sweet to me?" he asks.
"You started it," says Niall, and turns himself over so he's looking down at Harry, forearms on either side of his head. It would be a good time to stick his armpit in Harry's face, but for some reason he doesn't. "I'm still sweet," he says.
Harry looks up at him for a moment. Then he rears up, quick as a cat, and licks Niall's cheek.
"Urgh," says Niall, tumbling off him.
Harry looks pleased with himself. "Not sweet. You must still have some make-up on from telly this morning, you definitely don't taste right."
"Did I ask you to eat my face?" Niall mutters, rubbing disgustedly at his cheek.
"In a way," says Harry, and then the PA sticks her head in the door to collect them.
Later, when Niall's back on the bus, he pulls out the hoodie he shoved to the bottom of his bag. There's a small patch of the hood that looks a little stretched out. Niall sits on his bunk and runs his thumb over it, listening with half an ear to the murmur of Zayn's voice on the phone a few feet away. The spot feels kind of stiff, like the knit got wet and dried a bit wrong. Niall draws the curtains across his bunk. Then he lifts the hoodie to his mouth, touches the stretched spot with the tip of his tongue.
Of course it tastes like nothing. Like cotton is always going to taste if you do something pointless like put it in your mouth. Niall wants to smack himself. Instead he folds up the hoodie and puts it neatly back in his bag before dropping back on his bunk and closing his eyes.
Eleanor arrives and travels with them for most of a week, which makes Louis so happy that at least a third of his sharp edges seem to relax. On hotel nights, Liam and Zayn go off to watch films in Zayn's room. Niall finally goes out with Harry.
"This time, yeah?" says Harry to Niall. They're in the car on the way to this club Harry knows. He was there last year, with Zayn.
Niall isn't sure how he let Harry talk him into this. It's not that he minds spending time with Harry. But Harry's under the impression that they're both on the pull, which—it's not that it's entirely out of the question. It's just that Niall still hasn't made up his mind. So he just says, "Let's get smashed," instead of answering the question.
"That would be illegal and wrong," says Harry, but they both know they won't have any trouble being served. "S'ok, we'll find some company instead." Which means that once they're at the club, Harry will start shaking his hair back and looking deliberately bashful at whichever girls are closest. Niall's planning to be a good sport about it, too.
When Trev drops them at the door and Niall sees the crush on the dance floor, the grinding bodies and the pounding beat, it becomes instantly clear that being a good sport is going to be a huge fucking pain in the arse. Harry glances over at him, though, mouths "sorry" right away, and tugs at Niall's hand. They head for the spiral staircase, silver steps and a narrow red railing. There's a door off the balcony at the top, a big man standing in front of it, dressed better than their own security tends to be. He nods at Harry and they're through.
It's a lot quieter in this room, and the lights aren't flashing. Niall pokes at his cheeks with his fingertips, feeling how his face is all squinched up, pressing down to make everything regular again.
"Okay?" says Harry. He puts a hand on Niall's arm, steadying him.
"Yeah, yeah," says Niall. "Wow."
They get drinks, standing off to the side and watching-not-watching everyone else who's made it past the door guy. They get eyed by a few people but no one approaches them to explain how amazing One Direction are. Normally Niall prefers to drink in less pretentious places, but on the other hand that's the reason they're being left alone. Most people in the room are wearing black. He's not. He doesn't fit in. That's a cool thing about being world famous though. You can not fit in at all and people will still be polite to you. People will serve you drinks when you're not old enough and they'll call you beautiful when you're not.
"To criminal behaviour," says Niall, when they're on their second round. He holds up his drink.
Harry stares at Niall's glass without raising his. "Did you know," he says, "the first time I got really pissed, it was actually Gemma's fault."
"Not Gemma," says Niall automatically. He moves closer to Harry, so he can hear.
"Yeah," says Harry. "Because it was her party. She was maybe fifteen or something? Her friend poured some vodka into the punch and my mum had no idea. I was sat on the stairs with all these girls everywhere and I thought I was in heaven."
"Story of your life, mate," says Niall.
"Well," says Harry, ignoring this. "Gem's friend saw me watching her. She brought this glass of punch over and sat down next to me. She said I should drink it, and I should stop staring at her tits, because it was really obvious and actually kind of creepy."
"See, this is why it's good to have an older sister," says Niall. "I don't think Greg was aware. He couldn't teach me these things."
"Yeah, I knew I was getting, like, very valuable girl tips. So I thanked her a lot and then I drank the whole thing."
"Was that all it took?"
"Not quite," says Harry. "But I was pretty well lashed by the time I had three more glasses and started dancing in the back garden."
Niall starts to laugh. "Greatest night of your young life."
"I was actually in a bit of a panic," says Harry. "I was not sure how to stop dancing because I thought that as soon as I stopped dancing that girl was going to take her top off for me—because that was the obvious next step, right?—and I didn't know what I was supposed to do then or if it would be possible for me to touch her boobs without actually looking at them, because the last thing I wanted to do was make her mad."
Niall nods. "Was the girl out there with you or something?"
"Nah," says Harry. "There were some other girls in the garden, but not her. I was convinced she was watching me through a kitchen window, though. Like there was no way I could try that hard and not be seen."
"Oh, Harry." Niall pats his hand consolingly. "So what happened when you stopped dancing?"
"I didn't. Gem came outside and saw that I was drunk and that her friends found me extremely amusing and she dragged me back into the house and chucked some cold water on my head and sent me upstairs. I think she was kind of mad at her friend, too."
"Wow," says Niall. "Did she tell your mum?"
"Course not," says Harry. "Gem's always had my back. Hey, I want to tweet something. What should I tweet?"
Niall tries to adjust to this change of pace. "How about, girls don't like it when you stare at their tits?"
"I think I'll Instagram that crystal cherub thing at the end of the bar," Harry decides.
"Well, yeah," says Niall. "I mean, obviously."
When Harry's done with his crystal cherub tweet ("Really interesting .x") they find a table in the corner and order another round. Harry pushes his chair up to Niall's and starts the main business of the evening. "Those two?" he whispers. The girls he's pointing out are well fit. Of course, almost everyone here is well fit, so it would be stranger if they weren't.
"Um," says Niall. "We're in the VIP room, right? So they're probably VIPs. We don't want to hook up with important people by mistake."
"I dunno, okay? I'm thinking about it."
Harry jabs him in the ribs. "Jeez, it's like you don't know I'm a legendary matchmaker. Yes or no, Nialler, c'mon."
Niall tries to look them over more carefully. "Nah, the dark-haired one looks too much like Amy."
"Fine," hisses Harry, "you can have the blonde. Matchy-matchy."
The blonde one's pretty hot, Niall thinks. "The thing is, she kind of looks like this girl I had during X-Factor."
"Do you have a complex or something?" Harry whispers furiously. "Does every girl you pull have to look completely different from any other girl you've pulled?"
Niall drains the rest of his pint. "No, only with that particular girl I fell asleep during, and it was embarrassing. She told."
"Oh my god," says Harry. "That was what, three years ago? Get over it."
"You never know," Niall says, because as long as he's going to sound like an idiot, he might as well make a full commitment. "I haven't been getting enough sleep these days. It could happen again!"
"That's your excuse? You're afraid you'll fall asleep?"
"And then next thing you know I'm a full-page spread in the Sun, or whatever they've got over here." Niall shrugs, pleased to have found such a plausible excuse.
"Niall. She'll leave right after and you won't fall asleep."
"How do you know?" says Niall. He can't believe Harry is still arguing even after he played the Zayn card. "How do you know I don't have a complex? Maybe snogging makes me sleepy."
"You're ridiculous," says Harry, and Niall nods agreeably. Harry scoots closer and hooks an arm around Niall's neck. "C'mere, you idiot, let's see how sleepy you get."
There's a split second of Harry's face being two inches from his before Niall remembers to squeak and dive away. Harry dives after him, which is probably a good thing. Because if they're just messing about stupidly in a corner then neither of them is likely to attract anyone. Definitely not sexy at all.
"You don't look sleepy yet," says Harry, half on Niall's lap.
"Not if it's you," says Niall, laughing, and then plays that back again in his head. Harry just smiles prettily and flutters his eyelashes. Quickly, Niall adds, "Because you weigh a bloody tonne."
Which makes Harry slide off sideways. "Should've gone for the girls, then," he says, sounding genuinely exasperated. "Too late now." Niall looks up and sees that both girls are gone.
"See?" Harry spreads his hands wide, like he's been personally robbed, and slumps back into his seat.
Niall looks at the doodles near Harry's wrist. Harry will shower every day for the rest of his life, but there are things on his body that will never come off. It's not like it is with Zayn, because half Harry's tats just look like an accident. It's the permanence of them that Niall doesn't understand. There's so much Harry refuses to keep, but the accidents on his skin are an exception. He'll never let them go. Niall thinks of sixteen-year-old Harry with only a star under his arm, and then thinks back further still. "Wish I'd been there," he says.
"Gem's party. See, I was nine or something, first time I got pissed."
"Of course you were," says Harry.
"Me aunt's wedding. I was racing round the reception hall, drinking up what was left in everyone's glasses. I kept climbing up on the stage and then jumping off it."
"Did you dance?"
"I did not," says Niall. "Even at that age I knew better than some." He grins at Harry. "Anyway, by twelve I was an old hand, definitely. If I'd been at Gem's party I'd have got you to stop."
Harry shakes his head. "Throw cold water on me like Gem?"
"No," says Niall. He looks out at the tight knots of people, the crystal cherub on the bar. There's not much here that seems like it's actually happening. He's starting to float a little bit. "I'd've come up behind you and yelled, 'she's not even looking!' in your ear."
"Would've broken my heart," says Harry.
"You'd've been confused, that's all," says Niall. "And I'd've had to take good care of you, because you'd have been younger than me."
"I'm still younger than you," Harry reminds him. He widens his eyes, doing his Bambi thing.
Niall says, "Don't."
"Anyway," Niall continues, "I'd've given you a glass of water and put you to bed."
"And then you would've gone back down to the party and found yourself a girl, right?"
Niall bites his lip. "Maybe," he says. "If I thought it was expected of me."
"Niall." Harry's voice is soft.
Niall has a quick drink. He's got to pull himself together. "Anyway, plenty of other girls here," he says. "Knock yourself out." He sets his empty glass back down on the coaster.
"Myself," Harry repeats. "What about you?"
Niall shakes his head. "I think I'm gonna ring Trev."
"Fuck, Niall. Already?"
"You can stay," says Niall. "I can send him back for you."
Harry frowns. "No. No, of course not. I'm going with you." But he doesn't look happy about it.
In the car on the way back to the hotel, Niall stays on his own side of the back seat. They don't talk, which is probably just because they're really tired, but they're not touching each other with any part of their bodies or even clothing and it doesn't feel right. At last Niall kicks gently at Harry's foot.
Harry turns away from the window immediately. "Hey."
"Are we okay?" asks Niall.
"We're fine," says Harry, and kicks him back.
Niall scratches his neck. "I'm sorry I'm not as much fun as Zayn or whatever." Which was the wrong thing to say, because it makes him remember what he knows happened more than once, Harry and Zayn with their hook-ups, too pissed or too careless or both to even want to make it to separate rooms.
"You're fun," says Harry.
"Okay." It could've happened tonight if he'd wanted it to, Niall thinks. Harry right there on the next bed, pulling some girl down on top of him. Niall glancing over to watch. But he has to stop thinking like this. He has to just fucking stop.
"I've always liked being out with you," Harry insists. "I just want you to have a good time."
Or, alternatively, Harry could just fucking stop. "What?" Niall says. There are smudges of exhaustion under Harry's eyes, a spot emerging on his forehead.
"A good—" Harry starts to repeat, but then Niall grabs his jaw and jams his lips on Harry's mouth. Harry makes a surprised sound and Niall's angry at him for being surprised, so he pushes Harry's face away. "Wait," says Harry. His fingers are on his lips, tracing where Niall's have been.
"I don't want a girl," says Niall sullenly. Harry's face is shocked, his mouth hanging open. His mouth is too big, Niall's always thought so. Anyway, it wasn't a good kiss. It was dry and rough and actually pretty stupid. So Niall starts laughing, to make everything okay again.
Harry doesn't laugh back and then headlock him though. He just looks confused, a line forming between his eyebrows.
"Your face!" says Niall, to clarify that he, Niall, has been behaving in a way that is perfectly normal, and it is Harry who is the weirdo who can't take a joke.
"You kissed me," Harry says slowly. Niall forgets sometimes, how long it can take Harry to process reality.
"First time for everything!" says Niall brightly, and laughs again. They're almost back to the hotel. He's going to clean out his mini-bar and collapse. It'll be class.
"Except it wasn't," said Harry, and his eyes are starting to sparkle. "God, Niall. It's like you don't remember our whirlwind romance. Romances. Any of them."
"Stage kissing doesn't count," Niall argues, but he's grinning. If Harry's taking the piss then everything's all right. "And half the time it was only whispering anyway."
"Nope," says Harry. "I know we kissed, because I read about it on the internet."
"Well," says Niall. "I hope it was better than whatever that was just now."
"Hey." Harry reaches for his hand. "You want it good, you have to give me fair warning."
Niall starts giggling again, so that he doesn't climb into Harry's lap.
In his room, alone, Niall thinks about giving Harry fair warning. He thinks about Harry's mouth, and if it opened instead of staying closed, and if he didn't freeze at Niall's touch, and if he let Niall lick him, his neck and collarbones and then straight down to his stomach, and if he let Niall suck him, because he just wants Niall to have a good time. Niall hears him say it again, voice tired and raspy, and Niall wants to say thank you and then stick his dick in Harry's mouth, because Niall thinks that would be a really good time. Then he wipes his hand off very carefully with a pair of boxers that were already headed for the wash and showers for a million years.
The next day and the day after that, Harry acts normal, except that he doesn't start any conversations about girls. He shows Niall a weird tree he found in the hotel courtyard and sings to him onstage with exaggerated devotion and posts a Vine of Niall and El spraying Our Moment all over Louis's trainers. Niall twirls him around during She's Not Afraid and Harry grins at him and hunches a bit so he can fit under Niall's arm and Niall's just happy, like this exact moment is all there is.
Then Eleanor flies back home, and Louis is quieter than usual for the rest of the day. They all go to his room after the show that night. No one says anything about it, but Harry orders all Louis's favourites from room service and Niall gives him extra hugs. Meanwhile, Louis's doing his best to show how fine he is with the fact that Eleanor is now thousands of miles away. Of course, Louis's need to demonstrate his emotional health means that Liam spends some time getting mauled before Zayn exchanges glances with Liam, pulls Louis firmly up against him on the sofa, and starts massaging his shoulders while they talk the show over.
Comfortable in his trackies, Niall sits cross-legged on the carpet with a plate of chips. Harry pops a Corona and starts drinking and scrolling through his phone, snaking a hand every now and then into Niall's chips. Niall should probably move over next to Liam, because Liam never takes his chips. Instead Niall just slaps Harry's hand away. He only manages to hit Harry three times before Harry evades him and swoops the next stolen chip right into Niall's mouth.
"Thanks," says Niall, "but some things I can do for myself."
"I'm helping," says Harry, and feeds Niall another chip.
Liam says, "Settle an argument, Harry. The biggest scream was when Zayn picked up Niall in Louisville last week or when I lifted up Niall's top tonight."
"Why are we having this conversation," says Zayn. "It's not even a question."
"Exactly," says Liam. "Come on then, Zayner, admit when you're defeated."
"You're both wrong," says Louis, leaning back against Zayn. He already sounds more cheerful. "The biggest scream was when Niall and I played imaginary hopscotch during C'mon C'mon."
"Small-time stuff," says Zayn. "Don't you think, Harry?"
Harry's thumbs are busy at his phone, and he doesn't answer. "Harold!" says Louis. "What are you doing instead of voting for me?"
"Texting Grimmy about it. I just thought I should consult with someone impartial."
"That's an excellent idea," says Zayn.
Liam looks outraged. "You're just saying that because he'll pick you, Zayn! Harry, you know perfectly well that Nick plays favourites."
"It doesn't matter," says Harry, frowning at his phone, "because he says he's neutral like Switzerland and he's too old to find those bits on YouTube anyway."
Louis rolls his eyes. "He's such a liar."
"I know," says Harry, "I'm texting him that right now, hang on."
"Harry!" says Liam. "You still haven't answered the question!"
"Maybe I don't agree with the question," says Harry, "Because I'm not in it. I sang half of Little Things to Niall tonight and you're not even putting me in the running?" He tosses his phone aside and flops back onto the rug. When his head hits the floor a bit too hard, he frowns, shoves Niall's plate of chips out of his lap, and puts his head there instead. Then, politely, he says, "Chip, please."
Niall sighs and pokes a chip into his mouth. After three years it's probably a bit late to ask Harry to stop putting his head so close to his dick. "Don't I get a vote?" Niall asks Liam. "Since I'm the one you're molesting?"
"You're not an impartial party," says Zayn. "You're just gonna vote for Harry because you've got him on cuddle duty."
"Am not," says Niall, offended. "Bugger off, Harry."
Harry doesn't move. He's got his eyes closed. He reaches out and scrabbles on the floor for the plate, finds a chip, and waves it around until it connects with Niall's ear. Niall grabs it and stuffs it in Harry's mouth.
"But it was your turn for a chip," mumbles Harry. That's Harry, Niall thinks. You don't know you're supposed to be doing a thing until Harry looks at you with that special kind of confusion, as if all the rules of the thing you're so obviously doing were worked out between you long ago. So he puts the next chip in Harry's hand, and when Harry has trouble finding Niall's mouth, Niall helps him. Meanwhile Louis and Liam and Zayn go back to bickering over who gropes Niall the best.
Niall doesn't exactly mean to, but he tastes, just for a second, the salty tips of Harry's fingers. Harry opens his eyes and looks up at Niall. "Would you really vote for me?" he whispers.
"No," says Niall. He wipes his hand on a serviette so he can gently pull at Harry's hair.
"But I want you to," says Harry, sounding a little petulant. "Pick me."
"We've moved on, Harold," says Louis, which is when Niall realizes that Louis's been listening. "Let's talk about how your project's going instead. You were going to get Niall laid or something?"
Harry glances up at Niall, pauses. "Working on it," he says finally.
"You are not," says Niall.
"Niall doesn't like me bothering him about it," says Harry. "Gets him proper wound up, in fact."
"Fuck off, Harry," says Niall, trying not to sound wound up. He sticks a chip in Harry's mouth.
Harry grabs Niall's wrist. "S'what I've done, haven't I?" says Harry, mouth full. Niall jerks his hand away, too hard, and then, unwillingly, looks back down at Harry.
"I saw a girl in the front row tonight," muses Louis, "perfect for Niall, I'd've thought. Tits out to—"
"Louis," Harry says sharply, and Louis stops with the surprise of it. "He doesn’t want to hear it," says Harry more gently, and hearing that, having Harry try to protect him or something, is about the most embarrassing thing ever.
Louis looks curiously at them. Then he shrugs and turns his attention back to Liam and Zayn.
"You didn't have to say that." Niall keeps his voice low.
"That's all right," says Harry. His head is a warm weight in Niall's lap. "I didn't want to hear it either." He holds a chip up to Niall.
Niall ignores it. "Why?"
Harry puts the chip in his own mouth and licks salt off his lips. "Dunno," he says, and shakes his head, which means rolling it back and forth in Niall's lap. He ends up with his face smushed against Niall's stomach. Niall can feel Harry's breath through his top. Then, unbelievably, the tip of Harry's tongue.
"Don't," says Niall, because something very inconvenient has started to happen. Just a little bit. Something he can probably prevent from happening any further if he starts thinking about, like, broken sound equipment or something.
"Just get off," says Niall, and pushes at Harry's head.
"But I'm only—" Harry starts, and then Niall sees it, the precise moment when Harry realizes and his eyes widen. No one else, thank goodness, seems to be paying attention anymore. Harry should scramble up, obviously. Harry should get himself away and then start a conversation about Liam's new haircut. He doesn't. He rolls his head again, right against Niall's half-hard dick, and looks back up at Niall, questioningly. It's rude. It's inappropriate. It's not what they do. Niall shoves again at Harry's head and this time Harry rolls off.
Niall visualizes discarded electrical wiring. That usually works.
Harry sits up, too close to Niall. He whispers, "That wasn't for the girl in the front row, was it?"
"Jesus Christ, Harry," says Niall. "Shut the fuck up." He gets to his feet. "I'm gonna turn in," he announces. "Dead on me feet."
"Me too," says Harry instantly.
"You should stay here and keep Louis company," Niall tells him.
"We got it covered," says Liam, nodding to Zayn. "You two go on."
Harry follows Niall out into the hallway. Niall doesn't look at him. He hopes Harry's not planning to apologize. He doesn't want to have a weird conversation about things being weird. Getting hard at stupid moments is just something that happens, and they don't give each other shit about it and make it more than it is.
"Well, good night," says Niall, at his door. He's glad they don't have to share anymore. It's nice to be really rich and successful.
"Niall," says Harry tentatively.
"Oh, what is it now," says Niall, exasperated.
"I want to come in," says Harry.
Niall shakes his head, but then he's holding the door open for Harry and Harry's walking in and shutting the door behind him. Niall pulls off his trainers and sets them neatly by the wardrobe. He's not hard anymore, so that's good.
Harry's standing awkwardly at the foot of the bed. He clears his throat. "Look," he says, "I've been thinking about it. Like, uh, I maybe get it now."
"Congratulations, mate," says Niall. "Have a good night." He tries to smile.
"Don't," says Harry. "Don't close me out like that."
"You're here," says Niall shakily. "How can I close you out when you're already—here."
There's a pause. Harry's eyes are steady on Niall's. Niall isn't really in the mood for him to say something understanding and stupid, or to offer to go pick him up a boy from the hotel lobby. "It's late," he says. "I'm gonna go brush my teeth."
There's a flash of disappointment on Harry's face. It makes Niall feel a little bit guilty for not telling him a lot of feelings and crying on his shoulder, so he says, "Keep me company."
Harry leans in the doorway and watches Niall brush his teeth. He says, "Am I the only one who knows?"
Niall spits. "A few guys, here and there."
"In the band, I mean."
"Yeah," says Niall. "You're probably the only one who gives a shit what kind of sex I'm not having."
"Then I'm special," says Harry, pleased. "Hey, do you mind if I brush my teeth too?"
"Seriously? Make yourself at home."
Niall wanders out and peeks down through the window curtains at the inner courtyard, deserted except for a security guard. Everything's quiet except for the gargling sounds coming from the sink. Harry's left the door open, so when Niall turns his head he can see him standing there making faces in the mirror while he brushes. Niall looks closer, and yeah. It's definitely—
"That's my fucking toothbrush," says Niall.
Harry takes it out of his mouth and looks at it. "Yeah?" He puts it back in his mouth. "I did ask," he says, his mouth full of foam.
"I thought you were going to use one of the unopened ones!"
Harry shrugs. "It was easier this way."
"God, you're a wanker," says Niall, going back in and sitting down on the closed toilet seat. "You don't use other people's toothbrushes, it's gross."
Harry rinses and spits, then runs the toothbrush under the tap. He holds it out to Niall. "You want me to throw it away?"
"It's going to hurt your feelings if I say yes, isn't it?" says Niall.
"Nah," says Harry. He drops the toothbrush into the bin, slides down to sit on the tiled floor next to it, and says, "So, remember when you kissed me?" As if he's following up on a conversation about the new album or something.
"Um," says Niall. "Yeah."
"Was that like, you actually wanted to kiss me, or you were trying to tell me you were into guys, or what?"
Niall carefully doesn't look at Harry's mouth. "I was pissed."
"You don't wanna tell me?"
Niall pulls a hand towel from the bar, throws it at Harry's face. "You know what I was wondering?"
"I think it's quite obvious by now," says Harry, throwing the towel back, "that at any given moment almost no one knows what the fuck you're wondering."
"When you were having that threesome."
"No, with the guy and the girl."
"Right," says Harry, sitting up a little straighter.
"You said the guy got upset because you and the girl were snogging. Do you think he was upset because he wanted the girl to himself or because he wanted you to himself?"
"Erm," says Harry. "I am not completely sure." His face is grave. "But he didn't stay upset, though."
"Why not?" says Niall. "Did you apologize a lot and tell him you liked him?"
"In a sense," says Harry. "I pretty much sort of, you know."
Niall raises his eyebrows and waits. Harry's not usually one to beat around the bush.
"I sucked his dick," says Harry.
"Oh," says Niall. He bites the inside of his cheek, hard enough to hurt a little.
"It was nice," Harry adds. He looks up at Niall, tentative. "I think—if I did it again I'd probably still like it."
"You mean with that guy?"
"No," says Harry. "Not with that guy." He holds Niall's gaze and waits.
Niall jumps up and says, brightly and stupidly, "Well!" Then he flees the bathroom, because for a luxury accommodation it's still way too small when Harry's taking up so much space on the floor and breathing so much air all the time.
He has a fleeting moment of wanting to keep going, leave Harry behind, walk down the hallway back to Louis's room where everything is the same way it's always been. He gets stuck, though, at the mirror fixed to the wall near the door, and he's still there when Harry emerges from the bathroom and comes to stand behind him. Niall doesn't look at him, because he's staring at a skinny pale boy with blond hair and brown roots who's overdue for a dye job. He's never looked in the mirror and thought gay before. But it's different now, because Harry worked it out. So when he looks in the mirror, he sees what Harry knows. He sees it written all over his face. That's why he closes his eyes. That's when he feels Harry's lips on his neck.
Niall trembles. He says nothing. Harry might bite or blow a raspberry or start tickling him; any minute now Harry might start being one of his best mates again. But what happens is that Harry opens his mouth, and Niall feels Harry's breath on his skin. Niall wills himself not to move. Harry shifts a little to the left and mouths at him again. It's a kiss. Harry's kissing him.
When Niall opens his eyes, he sees that his cheeks have gone red. There's another boy behind him, but the mirror doesn't show him much of Harry's face, because most of it is pressed to Niall's skin. Harry kisses his way to the back of Niall's neck, and then licks at the top of his spine. Niall takes a deep breath and reaches behind him, puts a hand on Harry's hip. Then he closes his eyes again, because he doesn't want to see himself anymore. He doesn't want to see how much he wants this. Harry makes an encouraging sound and moves closer. Niall feels Harry's knee pressing into the back of his leg, feels Harry's hand on his jaw, gentle. He puts a hand to the wall beside the mirror for balance, wants to press himself against it, wants to press his dick against something, god, but he can't make himself turn around. When Harry drags his hand down Niall's body, Niall arches back into him before he can think better of it. Harry's mouth is on his neck again, his hand slipping down over Niall's stomach, then up again, under his top. "Whatever you want," he breathes against Niall's neck.
Niall freezes. "Don't," he says, but too softly, and Harry just crowds into him a little closer. Niall can feel Harry's dick now, hard against his bum. It doesn't mean anything. It doesn't mean Harry wants Niall specifically. Getting hard is the easiest thing in the world to do. Then the pressure is gone and Harry's knees thud against the carpet. Niall tenses all over. Harry's hands are sliding up his legs. Harry's mouth is on, fuck, the back of his knee, and it makes Niall want to crumple, fall down and into Harry and never get up, except that Harry pulls away to say, "God, I want you," and Niall can't if he's going to say that shit, he just can't.
With an effort, Niall turns to face Harry, steps back and bumps right into the wall. "Harry," he says, "don't."
Harry looks at him with absolute confusion. As if he'd been set loose in a public square and no one had recognized him. "Why not?" he says, and Niall would kind of like to slap him, except that Harry's still on his knees and he looks so disappointed.
"Because of—that," says Niall. "Because I'm not a why not."
Harry swallows. "I didn't mean it like that."
"Look," says Niall, and he sinks down till he's kneeling at Harry's level. "I know you want to make me happy and like, thanks? It's nice of you? But this is real life for me."
"You don't get it," says Harry. "I want to."
The words drop solidly into Niall's ear, familiar as the opening chords to What Makes you Beautiful. No matter how many times they play that song, those opening chords are still going to make people scream.
"Then don't say it," says Niall. "Don't tell me, because I don't want to hear."
"What the hell," says Harry. "You want me to pretend I don't want to blow you?" He shuffles backward and Niall thinks that's it, he's leaving, one more day of life unfucked by Harry Styles, but instead Harry tugs off his t-shirt like it's going to win him the argument. He gets caught a bit by the neck of it and then shakes himself free. "You don't believe me?"
"I definitely believe you want me to get laid," Niall says.
"I definitely can't stop thinking about you getting laid," says Harry, and he flicks his eyes over Niall's body. "What do you want me to say? I just want to help out a mate? I've been touching you by accident, 'cause I'm accident-prone?"
"Maybe," says Niall. "As long as I haven't heard you say it to a million other people, then we're good." He knows his hard-on's still visible in his trackies. It doesn't seem worth trying to hide.
"A million," says Harry. "What are you, the Mirror?"
"Sorry," says Niall. "It's just—" He looks at Harry's hurt face. "I know you don't like to disappoint people." It's a problem, he thinks, the way Harry likes to please. The way he's proud of himself for services rendered.
"I will be disappointed," says Harry, "if you don't take your clothes off."
"Christ," says Niall. There's a silence, in which Niall considers how much he wants Harry's hands all over him. He thinks of twelve-year-old Harry, dancing drunk in the garden and making plans to follow all the rules. He remembers there was at least one time in Harry's life that a girl kept her top on. That might be why he gives up and pulls his vest over his head.
They sit there on the floor, two boys, half-bare, facing each other. They could be about to play FIFA, or order pizza, or wrestle until someone has an unfortunate erection. "I know you don't want me to tell you," says Harry, "but I—"
Niall puts a hand to Harry's mouth and Harry moves his lips against Niall's hand, stops talking. Niall wants to put his mouth where his hand is but kissing didn't go very well last time so he just curls over and puts his face in Harry's lap instead, pushes the top of his head into Harry's stomach. Not being able to look at Harry makes it less embarrassing, the way he's going to take what Harry gives him even though Harry probably can't tell the difference between wanting him and wanting to please him, between wanting everything and wanting one skinny pale boy whose hair has never really been blond. Niall himself knows the difference exactly. Fiddling Harry's top button open, undoing his flies, Niall feels more selfish than anyone knows. He wants Harry. If it pleases Harry, the way Niall squirms himself down, his forearms on Harry's thighs, the way Niall mouths at his hard-on through his pants the way he couldn't manage to kiss his lips, well, yeah. That's an accident.
Harry touches Niall's hair, his neck, the bones of his back. His breathing is a little shuddery, but his hands are slow, gentle. "Niall," he says, his voice low, and Niall lifts his head. "It's okay," says Harry, "It's just—I never really got to touch you before." He draws his fingers up Niall's ribs and stops just short of where Niall gets ticklish. "I mean, I know we always—but it's different like this."
Niall snorts and reaches into Harry's pants, trying to sort out how to get his cock free. "Right. It's different."
"I mean," says Harry, and he puts his hand over Niall's wrist, stopping him there, "you're different."
Niall is careful to shrug. "It's just me, mate." He looks down at Harry's dick in his hand, rubs his thumb speculatively up and down. "Niall," he adds, pointlessly, and Harry starts to laugh.
Then Niall laughs too, because he's easy like that, and when Harry leans forward it seems even easier to meet him halfway and start kissing. "I remember your name," Harry whispers against his lips, so Niall bites his chin for being a dick about it. Harry bumps the side of Niall's face with his face, and technically it's completely unsexy, but somehow it makes it possible for Niall to kiss Harry with his mouth open. And then sliding his tongue into Harry's mouth, wrapping his arms around Harry's neck as Harry bends him backwards, feels like the stupidest, simplest thing. Niall pushes his hips against him, trying to get his cock solidly up against Harry's groin. Harry pushes back, grinds against him, lets out a surprised-sounding groan, and then pulls back a little.
"Minty-fresh," says Niall.
"You were the one who wanted to brush," says Harry, a little absently. His hands are still on Niall's sides.
Niall runs his finger along the ridge of Harry's bottom front teeth. "You didn't have to copy me."
"Well," says Harry, muffled because Niall's finger is still in his mouth. "I'm following your lead."
"Oh," says Niall, taking his hand back. "Um—"
"Since you're the gay sex expert," says Harry. "You probably know what the fuck we're doing on the floor, too."
Niall thinks about this. "I don't know. We're always on the floor." He looks behind Harry, to where the bed is. It seems really enormous all of a sudden. "We could be on the bed," he offers. "Just throwing that out there."
"See?" says Harry. "I would've never thought of that on my own." He bounds up happily, pushes his jeans and pants the rest of the way off, and sits on the edge of the bed. "C'mere."
Niall pulls his trackies and his boxers off, because apparently this is a thing they're doing, even though Niall doesn't really remember how and when that decision happened. He gets a hand on himself for a moment, just sort of for re-orientation purposes. Getting back in touch with reality-based anatomy. Harry watches him, intent. Niall goes over to Harry on the bed and stands between his legs, puts his hands on Harry's shoulders.
"You know what's cool?" says Harry. "Don't worry, it's definitely not something I've said to anyone else."
"What's cool?" asks Niall patiently.
"How we both have dicks. It's brilliant!"
"Wow," says Niall. "Okay." He pushes Harry over backward in a friendly kind of way. Then he climbs up next to him. They lie side by side, facing each other. Niall reaches out first, brings his hand down Harry's chest, over the birds, presses his thumb to one of Harry's nipples. Harry's breath catches, and he reaches out in turn, starting at Niall's shoulder and just stroking down Niall's arm, then his side, then his stomach. His eyes are wide and serious. They touch each other cautiously and then less cautiously. Niall leans in to kiss him again, and Harry plunges toward him gratefully; he tastes less toothpasty this time. Mouths slipping together, they grope at each other until Harry's enthusiastic, curious hand reaches the vicinity of Niall's dick. Harry goes for his balls first. Niall jerks in surprise, and then inches himself closer to Harry and a little bit higher on the bed, letting Harry feel him out, liking it, the way Harry can hold his balls in his big hand, the way Harry moves to his dick, holding him firmly, jacking him a couple of times and then waiting to see how Niall reacts.
"Gimme your hand," says Niall, and when Harry does, he raises it to his mouth. He licks Harry's palm. He licks between his thumb and index finger. He sucks on Harry's fingers, one after another. They're still a little salty. Harry watches him. He only makes a sound when Niall releases his fingers and flicks his tongue again, lightly, against the centre of Harry's palm. Then Harry lets his hand be guided back to Niall's dick. Niall dips his head forward again and they kiss while Harry starts wanking him, hand sliding up and down, and it feels so good Niall would be swearing, except for how Harry's tongue is in his mouth, licking in too deep for words. Niall groans and rolls onto his back and Harry follows him, letting go of Niall's dick to get himself on top, pushing his face into Niall's neck, his cock slotting into the dip by Niall's hipbone. Niall squirms, loving the weight of him, the way Harry's body presses his dick to his stomach.
"You're right," says Niall, "it's brilliant," and he pushes up against Harry, runs his hands down his back, pauses, thinks fuck it, and moves on to Harry's bum, squeezing, running his fingers along the crack.
Harry thrusts down against him in response. "Are you gonna fuck me?"
"What?" says Niall.
Harry pushes himself back up, straddling Niall's hips. "You know," he says. "We could try it?"
"Not a fucking chance," says Niall. "Jesus, Harry, I can grab your arse without sticking something in it. You've been with like one other guy before? Slow down."
Harry shrugs. "Just a thought."
"Not on the first time," says Niall, propping himself up on his elbows.
"Oh god," says Harry. "I was hoping, but really?"
Niall reaches out and grabs some pillows to put under his head. "Really what?"
"This is just the first time? We're doing this again?"
Niall thinks back to what he just said. He shouldn't be expected to talk and remember things with Harry practically sitting on his dick. "Um."
"Good," says Harry, satisfied. "That's really good. Because this is fucking incredible. Sorry! Sorry!" He leans down and presses his forehead against Niall's and whispers, "This really sucks, I haven't had awful sex like this in years, would you please touch my dick again now?"
"Idiot," says Niall fondly. But when they start kissing again, getting Harry's cock back in his grip does seem like an urgent matter: something he wants, something that will be pleasing, at this point it really just feels like the same thing. Sighing with relief and satisfaction, Harry sits up again, one hand flattened over Niall's chest. Niall strokes him slowly, then licks the fingers and palm of his other hand and switches, spreading his spit and Harry's precome down over the swollen length of him. Harry watches, brow creased in fascination, like he never tires of watching the extremely interesting things his cock does. Niall can appreciate that. He likes how Harry's dick looks in his hand. He likes how Harry's stomach tenses when Niall starts wanking him in a more goal-orientated kind of way. Even the fucking butterfly monster seems hot. He uses his other hand to tug Harry forward a little, because he wants his dick under Harry's arse, and Harry gets it right away, grinds down against Niall in short little jerks. Niall feels him tighten, slows his hand torturously over every slick and rigid inch.
"Niall," Harry groans. "Niall, Niall, fuck, Niall." He leans back, arching up, and Niall watches the line of his neck, the sheen of sweat there, and speeds up again. Harry takes a great, gasping breath as he curls forward, his eyes meeting Niall's with a wild kind of focus as he comes.
When Niall takes his hand away, Harry lurches downward, and it's not so much a kiss as his mouth falling onto Niall's. It's sticky in between them. Niall swipes the back of his hand against the duvet and then holds Harry close, trying not to buck up too impatiently against him.
"Thank you," says Harry, a little breathless.
Niall can't keep the grin off his face. "I like a boy with manners," he says, and then feels suddenly light-headed. It's just an expression, but it's echoing in his head: I like a boy, I like a boy, something he said out loud to a bandmate. Something he said to a boy he likes.
"I like—" says Harry, and then pauses. "I like a boy with a hard cock." He grins triumphantly down at Niall, Harry who shoves himself into Niall's bunk sometimes when Niall's napping and curls up around him, Harry who pretends he wants Niall to teach him guitar and never gets more than five minutes into a lesson before giving up and just trying to make Niall laugh, Harry whose come is smeared over Niall's chest.
"Speaking of which," says Niall, and jerks his hips up against Harry.
"Yours, specifically," says Harry, and then he slides down Niall's body and starts sucking Niall off.
Niall props himself up on his elbows again so he can see. Harry gives head wet and messy and not particularly deep. He makes throaty noises that sound like someone puzzling over a particularly difficult logic problem, if that person really, really liked logic problems. Every once in a while, he looks up at Niall, and at first Niall tries to nod encouragingly, like a supportive blowjob mentor, but then he loses track of this objective and just gapes at Harry instead. It's good, so good, and then it's better, and when Harry closes his eyes and starts pushing his tongue over and over against the underside of his dick, Niall can't hold himself up anymore, not even to see the flush on Harry's cheeks or the shine of his lips as they drag over his cock. He just manages to squeeze Harry's shoulder in warning before he drops backward on the bed. Harry puts a hand on Niall's stomach. He seems to be trying to nod his head without letting Niall's dick slip out. Niall's hips twitch. He reaches out blindly, grabs Harry's arm, and comes hard into the wet suck of his mouth.
Harry keeps him in his mouth for a little too long. He rests his head on Niall's thigh, and then he crawls back up beside him. He looks pleased with himself and that's all right, Niall thinks, he absolutely should be. Niall smiles at him and spreads his hand over Harry's face. "All right," he says. "I believe you now."
Harry peels Niall's hand off his face, puts it to his mouth quickly and a little guiltily, and then drops onto his back, still holding on to Niall's hand. "Told you so," he says.
Niall's mostly conscious of skin, sweat, and the sound of their breathing. He puts a leg over Harry's leg and looks at the ceiling. "The answer to your question," he says after a while, "is that I wanted to kiss you."
"Ah," says Harry.
"I always wanted to," says Niall, because he'd like Harry to know that this is important. No matter what happens next, tonight a thing happened, and Harry should know it.
Harry rolls over to face him and puts a hand in Niall's hair. "Why are you allowed to say that kind of thing if I'm not?"
"'Cause I'm special," says Niall, and he's going to leave it at that, a joke for Harry to work out later, and then he realizes it's not much of a joke. "'Cause I don't go double-booking myself."
Harry's fingers press hard on his scalp for a moment, and then he goes back to stroking Niall's hair. "I don't think I'll be double-booking anyone for awhile," he says.
"Could be difficult to avoid," says Niall. "When you make so many plans."
"Well," says Harry. "About that. Nialler, if you—if it was okay for you tonight—"
"We could, like, do this. We could maybe, for awhile, not make any other plans."
Niall closes his eyes. "All right," he says, and he keeps his voice calm. "Worth a try."
The next day, they're back on the bus, Harry leaning against Niall on the sofa while they watch Liam and Louis's kabillionth round of whatever that stupid card game is. Now that Liam's worked out the rules, it's obvious that he's going to make Louis play it every single day until he wins.
Niall has his arm around Harry, and every once in a while Harry turns his head so that he can nuzzle Niall's neck. Harry didn’t make it back to his own room last night. And in the morning Niall woke up early and felt Harry's heavy arm flopped across his chest and went right back to sleep.
"You let me sleep," Harry had said, pleased, when Niall finally opened his eyes and saw Harry perched on the bed next to him, wide awake.
"Yeah, well," said Niall, and blinked at him, not sure what was happening next.
"I think if we start snogging right now," said Harry, "we'll feel much less weird later."
This turned out to be true. Harry's been around kind of a lot today, and Niall's not felt weird at all.
Louis is studying his cards. "I'm bored," he says. "We have to go out tonight so I don't have to play this game again or possibly ever."
"You're the one who taught it to me!" says Liam. He draws two cards and discards one.
"I remember that," says Louis, "and then I weep. So are we going out?"
"Eh," says Zayn.
Louis rolls his eyes and draws a card. "Let me rephrase. Liam?"
"Harry will," says Liam, and starts rearranging the fanned-out cards in his hands.
"Erm," says Harry, "actually think I'll stay in tonight." He whispers, "Okay?" into Niall's ear.
It's not absolutely remarkably new, the way Niall's got his fingers on Harry's side, under his t-shirt, the way Harry's head is tipped onto Niall's shoulder. But Zayn looks at them again anyway, sharply, and then nudges Louis with his foot. "Look at these fuckers," he says.
"What?" says Louis. He looks over briefly and Niall shrugs. Louis reaches out to pat Harry and Niall's ankles where they're hooked around each other. "Cute," he says, and then turns back to Liam.
Liam hasn't looked up. He rifles through his cards one more time, carefully, then lays them out, one after another, on the floor in front of them. "Rainbird run," he announces with great solemnity.
Louis stares disbelievingly. Then he says, "Sod it," and throws his cards in the air.
Niall watches the cards drift down. It seems like a good time to stick his tongue in Harry's ear and kind of squelch it around.
"Now who's gross?" says Harry.
"I'm sensitive," says Niall, and waggles his tongue in Harry's face. Harry rolls his eyes and snatches at it, unsuccessfully. He looks so frustrated that Niall gets the giggles and falls off the sofa. Harry digs into his sides with bare toes until Niall grabs his ankle and pulls him down too.
Niall hears, as if from a great distance, Liam's hopeful voice. "Rematch? What about you, Niall? Harry?" and then, "Oh, never mind."
"Right?" says Zayn. "Hey, we've got a couple of hours still, you wanna watch the new Iron Man again?"
Then they're alone in the back of the bus. Niall rolls on top of Harry and rests his forehead against his. "Zayn's guessed," he tells Harry. "I don't think Louis and Liam caught on."
"Fine," says Harry. "Then Zayn can take care of telling them."
"You don't mind?"
Harry carefully bonks his nose against Niall's nose, first from one side and then the other. When Niall opens his eyes, Harry's face is still so close. "It's good if they know," says Harry, "but I don't feel like talking about it."
"That's new," says Niall. He tries to imagine last night as a Harry story. Which details would be omitted. Which middle point Harry would present as the start.
"Because you're new," Harry tells him.
Niall shakes his head. "I'm Niall."
"Yeah," Harry says, and kisses him. "I noticed."