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give you romance and hide your lost chances too

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January cold frosts the ground and what seems like every stretch of fencing in Hertfordshire. The air smells of winter and wood fires, and it hurts when Niall breathes in too deeply, crackling crisp and frigid in his lungs. He's still got his Christmas tree up in the living room, glowing cheerfully through the plate glass door out to his deck. His puffer jacket, jumper, and long-sleeved t-shirt might as well be back inside for how much good they're doing at keeping him warm. His beanie is pulled right down to the collar of his coat, tucked in, just a little sliver left in the front for his eyes to peek through. His ears are still freezing. The barbecue, however, does a bang-up job of toasting his hands, so he hunches closer as he tends to the steaks and hunks of chicken. Sane people don't usually barbecue outside in January, but it just doesn't taste the same from the oven. He'd tell anyone who asked that his relationship with his barbecue is the one true romance of his life.

Willie and Jordan cuddle together on the couch inside by the tree, watching what looks like Pineapple Express. Greg and Fintan were clacking and hollering from the next room before Niall bundled up to go outside, so they're probably playing pool. It's nice. It feels like home, like family.

Something twists in Niall's belly, though. He loves them all, loves being able to relax and spend time where he wants to, when he wants to, with the people he wants to, but it's been three months now, and he's starting to stagnate. The last time he and the boys had a break, Niall was recovering from major invasive surgery, and he wasn't really thinking about anything else. He still goes to PT with the Chelsea lads, but it's just like anyone else going to the gym, now. He's not worried about it every day, not letting it consume him to the point where he can't even work.

Runthroughs for On The Road Again start soon, and Niall's more than ready. He's been practicing the new tracks in sessions with Shoney, learning his parts well enough that he'll be able to run around on stage while he plays, singing into his Britney mic.

Even better than guitar rehearsals are the writing sessions in the studio that Niall's got lined up. Louis and Liam worked there a bit last year when Niall was out of commission, and he's excited to make up for lost time now. Louis'll be there tomorrow for their first day writing together for the new album. Niall's anxious about it, not sure what he should prepare ahead of time, not sure if he'll be able to bring anything particularly useful to the table, but he's game as ever.

He loads up the serving platter with steaks and chicken and huddles back inside--he can clean off the barbecue later, once his vital organs have thawed.

His phone buzzes whilst he's puttering around in the kitchen, tidying up as he goes, getting the veggies out of the steamer, setting the table. It's a text from Louis.

got some ideas for tomorrow

There's a light bulb emoji and COOL in a box. "Come eat," Niall shouts to the rest of the house, thumbing his reply simultaneously.

gonna call you later. gotta brief me so i know what i'm getting into !!

He picks a phone with an arrow, guitar, and horrified cat.

Once everyone's well-fed and toddled off home (Fintan and Greg) or bed (Willie and Jordan), Niall takes a couple of beers up to his study and kicks back in his favourite chair to ring Louis.

"Hey," he says, picking at the knee of his skinnies. "So what am I gonna be up against tomorrow?"

Louis hums on the other end of the line. "Don't sweat it, mate. Just bring yourself, you can blag it from there, I promise. I've got some ideas we can throw around. You'll pick it up right quick, you're a smart lad."

Niall laughs a bit nervously and takes a healthy swallow of his beer. "If you say so. I've got some notes for things we didn't end up using last year that might be something."

"See? There you go. Already one step ahead."

Niall gets updates on the babies and asks after Lottie, he tells Louis about some of the footie talk going on in the Chelsea changing rooms, and by the time he hangs up they've been talking for an impressive two hours. He usually doesn't really like talking on the phone, but Louis pulls it out of him.

It's not surprising that he has trouble falling asleep. After a few hours, he queues up some of the demos Louis and Liam cut last year in the studio for songs they didn't end up using, and he eventually drifts off with his earbuds still in.

*

Niall gets to the studio early, having left himself plenty of time to drive down because traffic is always hell and also his satnav is a messer. He's gone on more than one wild goose chase through central London at its hands.

It's smaller than he thought it would be, plain inside and not particularly sleek. Blond wood mouldings and jambs run throughout the place, there's flickering fluorescent lights, and the walls are institutional white, streaked with black marks that must be from carting equipment in and out. It smells a little tangy, like batteries and printer ink, and something about it is really soothing. Niall checks the text from Julian about where to meet and heads to the control room down a long hallway.

Even after the first few hours of writing, Niall's not surprised that Louis and Liam were so gung-ho about this group, in this place. It's a great laugh, and just like with McFly, he knows he'll feel particularly good after a productive day, some indescribable happiness in him at the thought of successfully writing, at leaving something out there on the table that came from inside him. Millions of people will maybe sing it back to them in a year's time, his words and his notes. Louis glances over at him, John hunched between them humming a melody they're toying with. He flashes a mischievous smile like he can tell what Niall's thinking, like he means let's make it really fuckin' good, mate, the two of us. Niall smiles back, and the back of his neck prickles pleasantly.

*

Besides the high of actually doing the writing, Niall's really enjoying getting to hang out with Louis, just the two of them. They can talk about pretty much anything--today it's struggling together through understanding their investments. After a confusing discussion and Googling session, Niall's pretty sure they've figured out yield curves, and they both fall into silence. Usually they have comfortable, companionable silences, but today it feels fraught. Louis is tense and clearly has something on his mind.

"What?" Niall says, kicking gently at his ankle.

"What what?" Louis asks, jerking out of his thoughts.

"What are you worrying about?"

"Nothing. Can't a man just be minding his own business?"

"A man can, maybe, but not you. Not the Tommo Tomlinson." Niall sits up in his seat, head on his hands like a kid waiting for a story. "I know you far too well. Not about to let you sit here stewing in front of my very face."

Louis sighs, looking almost relieved. He furrows his brows into something more annoyed before he says, "You're fucking nosy, aren't you?"

"Out with it. Is it Eleanor?"

Louis just shrugs. "No. I mean I miss her, I suppose, but it's okay. I'm used to it now, that she's not coming back. It's just. I don't know. That's not it." Niall waits, can hear Louis gathering his words together. "It's that we've been doing this a long time now. The band. Things feel different. I feel different."

Niall doesn't say anything, just listens, shifting so his hands are folded still in his lap.

"Well, you know," Louis shrugs. "The lads just aren't really around anymore, are they? Zayn's unresponsive, big surprise. Harry's god-knows-where in the Caribbean, probably barely managing to string a song together between bouts of sunbathing and shagging--"

"I don't think--" Niall starts.

"And Liam's fucked off to LA, hasn't he? So much for the great writing team."

"You're still a writing team," Niall says, shrugging. "Lou, you know we're all still here. Even the rest of them, when they're not here, they are."

"Thanks. Right. That's a completely logical sentence you just delivered there." Louis rolls his eyes and wraps his arms around his stomach, hunching smaller. Niall feels it in his chest.

"You wanted to stay here," Niall points out. "You can't blame them, us, for not needing you around all the time anymore to make sure we have our shit together and get our work done."

Louis laughs, but it's not a particularly nice sound. "I can. I can and I will," he says, as if he's joking. He's not joking, though. Not really. "Vile betrayers."

Niall puts a hand over Louis's knee, risking it even though he'll probably get kicked away. Louis would rather peel his skin off than be touched when he's in a mood. He doesn't move, though, staying still and warm under Niall's hand. Niall squeezes his fingers, rubs a little bit into the patellar tendon, a place that's been hacked apart and sewn back together on himself.

"We do still need you," Niall says. "Maybe just not how you think." He lets his fingers slide off Louis's leg, and Louis lists towards him a little, his thighs opening a bit to push his knee closer to Niall's hand where it dangles in his lap. "I need you, at any rate. Always have."

"No you don't," Louis says, sighing. "You've never needed anyone. I was pissing and moaning back that first year, all the time, about my whole lot in all this. You know I was. And you were in that exact same position and you never complained, never worried about it, not once. You were a weird little sod but you've handled yourself like a man from day one. Never needed bugger all. Pretty proud of you actually, Niall."

It's a second before Niall can absorb it all, but when he does, Niall glows under the praise. He takes stock of his entire body so later he can remember exactly what it felt like when Louis said that, the two of them folded up on cheap plastic school chairs in the break room of the studio. It's not that Louis is meager with compliments--he and Niall have always built each other up. Still, there's a swelling, dizzy feeling in his chest that bleeds out into his limbs, and he can't stop smiling. "Aww shucks, Tommo," he says, and Louis ruffles a hand roughly through his hair, ruining his sad attempt at a quiff.

Niall purrs, rolling an R sound quietly with a little extra breath so he really sounds like a cat. Louis laughs and tugs at Niall's hair before letting his hand gentle, scritching lightly. The softness of his touch surprises Niall, and he huffs a breath out of his nose, not wanting Louis to stop.

He does, though, giving Niall's head an awkward pat. He gets up, stretching his arms behind his head, and Niall has to suppress the urge to stick his face straight into Louis's armpits. He's still the same weird little sod, really. "Better get back to it," Louis says, and takes his cup of tea. His glance lingers on Niall for a bit, calculating.

"Better finish that first," Niall says. It feels like Louis's looking straight through him, like he can tell that Niall's guts are shivering with how happy he is to get Louis's praise. "Can't have tea in the control room."

"Right you are," Louis says, taking a deep draw of tea. "The rule master. I'd forgotten." It could sound cruel, but it doesn't. Just makes Niall pleased to be useful.

*

Niall lies awake that night, on his stomach under the duvet, face pressed to his electric blanket. He sleeps on top of it instead of under it, loves the sensation as he burrows as close as he can to soak up its heat like a lizard. He's scrolling through his pictures from tour, eventually picking one of himself attempting to balance a football on his nose like a seal while Louis squirts him with Gatorade. It's from Arizona, not really all that long ago, but it feels like it's been a decade. He sends it to Louis with a caption--it's all true!! you're a monster !--and closes his eyes, trying to will himself to sleep.

It doesn't work.

After an hour, he goes out to the kitchen and rifles through his cookbook shelf for something Louis might like. If Louis needs to feel appreciated, which it seems pretty obvious he does, there's no one better suited to the task than Niall. He's been more than half in love with Louis since the very beginning. Painfully obviously, he's always thought. Louis would close himself off, tight-lipped and pained, if he thought Niall was pitying him, so everything has to be subtle and perfectly planned. Niall starts work on an Italian dish that looks fancy but doesn't really have all that many ingredients and will survive a reheating--Louis will love it.

"Had leftovers," Niall says nonchalantly when he slides it across the table to Louis the next day. They're in the studio again, the other guys on a conference call in the office while Niall and Louis work on some lyric changes. "I didn't want it to go to waste, obviously. Thought you might like it. Italian."

Louis eyes him suspiciously, fringe falling over one eye. Niall's fingers twitch with how much he wants to brush it back. "There's laxatives in it," he says.

"Nope," Niall says, smiling. "Also no ground up Viagra, although that would be hilarious."

Louis laughs. "Fair enough. Let's remember that one." There's a long moment where he just looks at Niall, then--studying him, maybe, his eyes measuring and considering. It makes Niall fidgety and there's an anxious laugh bubbling up in his chest. The tension snaps suddenly, Louis turning his face away decisively. He twiddles his fingers looking down at his food, like Wallace and Gromit faced with a plate of the freshest Wensleydale. "Alright then, let's see what you've got, Neil."

Louis moans and chews obnoxiously, smacking his lips as he eats. "Fuck that's good, mate," he says through a huge bite. Niall should probably be disgusted, but he's not, flushed with pride instead, warm in his belly at the praise. "You're a genius chef."

"I tried to tell all of you that I'm the best cook," Niall says, grinning. "No one listened. Harry took a hit out on me."

"Well they don't know what they're missing," Louis says, swallowing thickly. He looks Niall straight in the eyes, practically pinning him in place as he says, "You did a fantastic job, Niall."

Niall's mouth goes a little dry, so when he says, "Thanks," it comes out more of a croak than anything. "I'll--go and get you some water to go with it. Be right back." Louis's eyes follow him knowingly.

When Niall comes back with a cold bottle of water from the vending machine, Louis says, "There's a good lad," and the composure he was able to claw back starts slipping away again.

Niall spends probably too much of the next night coming up with a list of other things he can try with Louis, sneaky little tokens. At first he just wanted to make Louis feel better, but now--he can't deny that there's at least a part of him chasing that giddy twist in his gut when Louis tells him how good he is.

Whenever they're in the studio together, he volunteers to go run errands, make the tea, anything at all that makes Louis's eyes glitter and his mouth quirk up on one side, pleased and spelling it out for Niall. "Know me better than I know myself," Louis says one time, Niall having handed him a packet of crisps and a Red Bull because he could tell Louis was flagging before Louis mentioned it. "What a good boy," he adds with purpose, enunciating every word. If it sounds weird to any of the other guys, they don't mention it. Niall's face heats anyway, and he can't help his nervous laughter. He unties and re-ties his shoes to give himself something to do.

Rehearsals for the new tour start the following week, and Niall's not really sure how their weird little game is going to translate. They still text each other like normal, more than usual, even. Their songs are solid and fun and in the writing sessions it's not all praise heaped upon praise--they pick and pull at each other's work until it sounds right. Everything could stop, the weird back-and-forth, and it'd be okay. Niall would be fine. It's his mantra that night when he falls asleep.

*

The whole crew meet at an aeroplane hangar about half an hour outside of London, the stadium setup they used for rehearsing Where We Are looking welcoming and familiar this time instead of strange and nerve-wracking like the last time they were here.

Niall's in some soft joggers and a jumper he pulled out of a box from ASOS that his agent dropped off earlier in the week. He's got some thick new socks on and the fancy trainers his physical therapist recommended. The hangar's cold but there are industrial heaters dotted around the place, and it's warming up.

Liam's sitting on the edge of the stage already, so Niall heads over and gives him a close hug, arms squeezing around Liam's waist, not letting go until he's had a bit of a cuddle. Liam smells like Paco Rabanne One Million and he's shaved again. "Your lush beard, Payno!" Niall says, mock-hurt. "What have you done! Your face is all naked and cold." He rubs his nose against Liam's jaw, tutting. "Whose picture will I put up on my facial hair vision board now?" He scowls at Liam, who is chuckling properly, eyes squinting up and head ducking down. Niall missed him a lot.

"Better get into marriage counseling, us two," Liam says, and claps Niall on the back. "How's things, Nialler?"

"Can't complain," Niall says, and hops up next to Liam on the stage. They've all been keeping up via their Whatsapp group, per usual, but he still feels a little out of sync with Liam, with all the other boys who haven't been around. Everyone but Louis, really.

They're having a thumb war when Harry slopes in, unkempt yet somehow rich-looking anyway. He's unseasonably tanned and has sun-kissed highlights in his little bun, which is actually pretty robust at this point. Niall scrambles over to give him a hug too, and Harry hugs back strong and warm and lifts Niall clear off the ground with it.

"What'd you bring me?" Niall says, plucking at Harry's nipples through the worn fabric of his t-shirt. He's wearing a flannel shirt over it that Niall's pretty sure either isn't his or that he picked up in a charity shop. It smells like mothballs.

"Actually," Harry says, pleased and cheeky, "you think you're doing shtick, but I did bring you something. I've got a bottle of vintage 1941 Jamaican Rum for you."

Niall lights up. "Give it to me tomorrow then, will you?" Harry sticks his finger up Niall's nose as a response, so Niall snorts it out and kicks Harry in the bum, running back to the stage with a laugh. It feels really good to be back.

Harry starts talking to Caroline over in a corner with a rack of clothes, and Liam pulls Niall into an impromptu jam session up on the practice instruments. He takes Jon's keys and Niall slides on the strap of the guitar sitting in the stand in the middle of the stage. They noodle around a bit, playing some songs from Four and some of the stuff Liam's sent around from the writing sessions that've been going on in LA for the new album. Niall doesn't start playing anything he and Louis have been working on yet, and Liam doesn't ask him to.

Louis finally shows up about forty-five minutes late, disheveled as usual. At least he's beaten Zayn. His hair flips out at the ends where it's pushed back in a headband. He's wearing the same jumper he was wearing in the studio last week, and his joggers are tucked into his socks so he looks like an utter knob. Niall watches him out of the corner of his eye, but he doesn't get up. He and Liam keep messing about, and Niall's not sure if Liam didn't notice Louis come in, or if he just doesn't feel the need to comment on it.

Later on, once Zayn has finally appeared and everyone's settled down enough to go through blocking with Paul, Louis comes over to throw an arm around Niall's shoulders. "I could do with some tea," he says, eyebrows raised like he's said about eight more sentences. Niall scurries off to get him some--there's a little kitchen back by the office at the end of the hangar--and when he comes back, Louis takes it with a genuine smile. "Thanks," he says. "Tastes the best when someone else makes it for you, innit?"

"Suppose so," Niall says, smiling back a bit. It's weird, how to the point Louis's been, particularly in the context of the rest of the lads easing gently back into familiarity. Something shifted while the two of them were writing together, and it's staying shifted, slotted into a new place, a new warmth in Niall's chest knowing this is where they are now.

"Good boy," Louis says, then slurps a long, obnoxious sip of tea. The swoop in Niall's chest comes out of him in a bubble of laughter.

Louis starts asking him for other things after that. Little things at first, the sort of stuff he was already doing. Fetching things, mainly, but it grows into more than that. He has Niall text him footie scores and song positions on the pop charts, lend him clothes, roll joints for him, tweet completely incoherent inside jokes to dozens of millions of people just for the hell of it. Niall does all of it, of course, with a smile and a laugh and an all-over shudder of satisfaction when Louis looks him in the eyes and tells him he's a good lad, so helpful, you're well up for it, aren't you?

"Hey Niall," Louis says one day near the end of rehearsals. He's doing keepy-uppies over on the other side of the stage from where Niall and Harry are working out some movements they could use during the last chorus of Steal My Girl. "C'mere for a second."

Niall scampers over, hands fiddling with the threads on the insides of his pockets. "What's up?"

"You're good at research. Got a good head on your shoulders for a fruitful Googling and whatnot."

"Thanks? I think?" says Niall, pleased but not exactly sure where this is going.

"I've got a little job for you." Louis's cheeks are stained a bit pink and his lips look over-licked. "How about you find me some good porn tonight?"

Niall laughs nervously. "What?"

"No cooking, don't need to do my laundry or anything," Louis says, suddenly sounding unsure, awkward, but trying not to be. It makes everything he's asked for up to this point seem ridiculous in retrospect, and Niall's stomach feels curdly and sick. "Just make me one of your famous spreadsheets or something. Best links you can find to whatever looks good. Haven't got the time to sort through the entire internet meself, have I?" He tries to claw back some chill, but Niall's already riding the sea change. There's no going back from this one. "When you haven't got a girlfriend anymore, things get dire. You could--mix it up a bit. If you want. With the selection. Little bit of everything."

"Yeah," Niall says, uncharacteristically subdued, processing. "Yeah, sounds great Tommo. Should be--should be fun. I'll bring you some good stuff tomorrow."

Louis nods. "Good. Right. Okay. Better go--um. Get back to that dance. Before anyone chucks themselves off the stage." His attempt at levity falls flat but Niall scoots back over to the other side of the stage anyway. His pulse is racing, and it feels like everyone else in the hangar could see it if they looked.

*

Niall sets up a table just like Louis suggested. He's got all the basic data fields across the top (type of porn, actors, studio, rating), titles down the side. That part is the easy part. The hard part is sorting through sites to try and find things to populate the table with. Niall doesn't know what Louis's favourite kind of porn is, surprisingly, so he doesn't know how to make recommendations. He knows enough to sort out from the assignment that he wants gay stuff and straight stuff, which is a revelation enough in itself.

Everything seems so surreal: that he's even at this point with Louis at all. He can't help but be scared that he's taking it too far, projecting too much into it. But he wants it so much, has wanted it so much. Surely Louis wouldn't have brought it here, wouldn't have sounded so unsure, if he weren't feeling--something.

In the end Niall goes with things he likes himself and puts an asterisk with the caveat in a footnote. It's liberating, in a way, to represent himself like that. Louis will watch these and think of him the way Niall is watching them now, thinking of Louis. He's uncomfortably hard in his jogging bottoms.

There's a video from the gay section of one of the sites Niall's been looking at with a blond guy sprawled on a bed, wrists cuffed to the headboard with strips of something silky. Another guy crouches over him, worshipping his body, both of them fit and smooth--but even more than the visuals, it's what he's saying. Torrents of praise, kissed into the blond's skin, pressed in with fingertips. Their dicks rub together, drippy and straining, but all Niall can focus on is how the guy on top keeps saying things like, "Good boy, you're such a good boy for me. Sweet thing. Look at that body. Look at you." He spreads the blond open, pushes into him, and the noises they make are soft but obscene. He stokes his hands along the blond's sides, keeps talking to him.

Niall cups himself through his jogging bottoms, pressing his left hand to the base of his dick, shifting his hips up into the pressure. He puts that video on the top of the list, mouse in his other hand. Rubbing one out whilst formatting spreadsheets is a new low, even for him. He emails it immediately to Louis before he can wuss out (Subject: Prurient Videography Review for His Royal Highness), and turns off the computer.

He gives himself a world-class seeing to in the shower that night, staring too long at his jizz washing down the plughole after. Once he gets to bed, he falls asleep as soon as his head hits the pillow.

*

"You had a wank, didn't you?" Louis asks unceremoniously the next afternoon, smug smile tugging at the corner of his mouth. The two of them are tucked in the back of one of the cars shuttling them straight to a photoshoot from the rehearsal space.

Niall laughs, immediately embarrassed. He eyes the driver through the partition, but he's talking on his hands-free and not paying attention. "What? Christ, Louis--"

"I asked if you'd had a wank," Louis says again, voice cutting this time. "While you were making that list for me. While you were doing what I told you to do." He's clearly taking pleasure in Niall's discomfort, pleased as usual.

"Maybe," Niall says, laughing again. He can't help it, he doesn't know what else to do, how else to sound. Louis looks mollified.

"That's a yes then."

"Yeah. Yes, I did." He shrugs, sliding his hands under his armpits, elbows in front of himself defensively. He knows he's blushing, and he hates it.

"Good. That's good," Louis says. Niall blinks at him, disbelieving. He figured Louis would take the piss, not--praise him again. For that. "'Cause I want you to do something else for me. Be good for me again. Think you can?" Louis asks, almost pushing with his eagerness. "Do you want to do what I say?"

After a moment, Niall nods, lips pressed together, hands wrapped tightly in the hem of his t-shirt. Louis takes a shuddering breath in, and it makes Niall's guts twist in a good way, seeing that he's affected, too. That maybe Niall wanting to do what he says is good for him. "Then don't--touch yourself again. No wanking at all until I say so." His resolve reflects in his voice, turns his tone from wavering to steely.

"Jesus," Niall says, trying not to mewl. He's already itching for it now, with just the weight of Louis's gaze on him, knowing he can't. Louis won't tell him he's good unless he does it.

"If you can do it," Louis continues, closing a hand gently around the nape of Niall's neck, tightening it as he speaks, voice a whisper, bringing back memories of the thrill of the stage, "if you can be a good boy, I'll help you. After." Niall looks up at him, not entirely sure he understands. He's distracted by Louis's touch, feeling hot and tingly everywhere his fingertips press in. He leans forward a little, just out of instinct, wanting to leave Louis more room to grip him. "I watched the video. The first one on the list."

Niall swallows, eyes feeling gritty. "That's. Okay, then--"

"If you can do what I said, afterwards, I'll reward you." Louis doesn't give any more explanation than that, just squeezes at Niall's neck and slides his hand down Niall's back, nails pressing bluntly along his spine, scratching satisfyingly, making Niall's shoulders prickle up in goosebumps.

Louis puts his earbuds in then, and they sit in silence for the rest of the car journey. Niall is hyper-aware of his own breathing, of Louis's, of the heat of him sitting so close. He tries to think of gross things, to ward off a stiffy he won't even be able to take care of for the foreseeable future, but it's rough. They get to the location for the photoshoot and are whisked into wardrobe, and Niall's busy enough he makes it through the rest of the day without too much trouble.

The next day is fine, too, and the next. They don't have rehearsals at the hangar, but Louis checks in with him via text.

Still good?

There's a red X and an aubergine, because Louis is a cheeky fecker, and Niall texts back a thumbs up.

Day four, though--he's definitely losing his grip on the situation. He's strung so tight he might snap, a ball of nervous energy when he goes to practice guitar with the band. He goes to the pub afterwards with Eoghan and Willie which helps to chill him out, and he's finally loosening up when his phone buzzes in his pocket, startling him straight into the air.

"Shit!" he spits, and excuses himself to the toilet to read it properly when he sees it's from Louis.

come over tonight

There's no emojis, no punctuation. Niall swallows and takes a deep, shaky breath. It still feels unreal, in a way, but he texts back immediately.

Can be there in an hour!

He sends it with the SOON emoji.

good.

*

He makes it to Louis's in almost exactly an hour. He had to ditch Eoghan and Willie, but they were understanding--particularly since he'd been in such a weird mood. Louis buzzes him in through the gate without a word, and Niall parks behind the Mystery Machine in the curved driveway.

He tries the front door before ringing the bell, and it's unlocked, so he lets himself in. Louis is sitting on the steps inside, soft jogging bottoms on and a too-loose vest, feet endearingly bare. Niall's chest hurts--Louis is lovely, as he always is, but there's something vulnerable about him now. Like maybe he thought Niall wouldn't come. Like maybe this is as weird-but-good for him as it is for Niall.

"Hi," Niall says. He's overdressed in his black skinny trousers, white t-shirt and grey blazer with the black velvet collar. He kicks off his shoes and drops the blazer on top of them.

"So, did you do it?" Louis looks up at him, fingers tight on his knees, features sharp.

Niall lets his mouth fall open a bit, unsure which way to answer, which way Louis meant the question. "I haven't--had a wank. At all. Four days." He clears his throat. "If that's what you mean."

Louis grins, pleased. His whole face changes, smooth and sweet now, instead of the hooded sharp look. He switches between gaunt and soft like they're a frown and a smile. He looks proud, and Niall feels his own cheeks heating already. "I know," Louis says. "I could tell, actually."

Niall laughs through his nose, just a huff of air, but he doesn't find it funny. "Well, great. So glad everyone I know's been mocking my blue-balls for the past four days 'cause I can't keep the tortured grimace off my face."

Louis shakes his head fondly and stands up, gesturing towards the next floor with a flourish that reads as nervous to Niall. Niall follows him up the stairs, obedient. "Nah, you're fine. I'm just observant, me. Had a particular stake in the outcome, didn't I?"

"I do like it when you have a stake in my outcome," Niall says, laughing genuinely. Louis kicks back at him but Niall jumps out of the way, and as soon as they get to the top of the stairs it turns into a tussle, all laughter and elbows.

"Hey," Louis says, all of a sudden, stilling in a crouch over Niall's prone body on the hall carpet.

"Hmm?" Niall tries to slow his breathing, to stop his thighs from shivering where Louis's round hips are spread across them.

"You were good," Louis says. "This is gonna happen. I don't break promises." And with his thumbs brushing Niall's jaw, he kisses him, right there on the floor. It's gentle, nothing like the fight Niall was expecting, nothing like the rough sharpness he'd always assumed Louis would have. Instead they kiss warm and wet, hands sliding up underneath each other's shirts, pressing their chests together. Louis scrapes light patterns against the skin of Niall's sides, and Niall opens up under him, slides his tongue in to Louis's mouth to taste his cigarettes, his minty gum. Louis's hands fit perfectly against Niall's jaw, down his neck, up to the soft places behind his ears.

He can't help groaning, but he manages to pull back from the kiss, breathing hard and heart pounding. "I've seen you break at least a dozen promises," Niall says eventually, desperately trying to hang on to some dignity, to have some control over the situation. It's slipping away from him.

"Not any I wanted to keep this much," Louis says, closing his thighs tighter around Niall's hips, kissing him again. "Come on, we're not slags doin' it on the floor, are we?" he asks, smiling against Niall's mouth and batting at his shoulder. "Let's be classy and make it to the bed." Niall scrambles after him when he gets up. "There's a good boy," Louis says, eyes dark, and Niall's dick twitches in his pants, hard already just from a cheeky snog on the floor. He hasn't come in four days, and it hurts.

"Strip off, let me see you," Louis says, perched at the head of the bed. Niall peels off his t-shirt and skinnies without much finesse. "Those too," Louis adds, wagging a finger at his briefs.

Niall's dick springs out when he pulls them down--it's pink and straining towards his stomach, bobbing under the weight of how hard he is, drippy and messy with how much he wants Louis, with how much even just being here in this moment is making his skin prickle and shiver. It should be embarrassing, but it isn't. Louis licks his lips and his eyes are hungry. "Lie down," he says, and Niall does, on his back, feet up near the headboard where Louis is sitting. "Look at you. Such a good boy, Niall."

It's just like the video, and Niall's shaking with how much it is, with the flayed feeling of being so naked in front of Louis. He could rip the piss out of Niall at any second, could mock him or push him off the bed and laugh in his face like it was all just a prank. He doesn't, though. "You're really very lovely," Louis says instead. He trails his hands up Niall's skinny legs, gently over his knobby knees. He pays special attention to Niall's scar, to the knotted tissue under it and the developing muscles around it. He leans down to kiss it, and even though there aren't any nerve endings in Niall's scar, he feels it more than he's ever felt anything.

"Aren't you going to take those off?" Niall asks, voice hoarse, nodding at Louis's clothes, trying to pull back from the overwhelming feeling in his chest.

"Not right now," Louis says. "All about you, isn't it? My good boy." Niall's breath catches and Louis sighs, content. "Can't believe you lasted four whole days. Thought you were gonna burst. You did so well." He slides his hands up Niall's legs farther, kneading at his thighs, pressing kisses to the soft folds where they spread into his hips.

Niall just draws in a hiccuping gasp as Louis's breath ghosts around Niall's cock, the tight pull of his balls, the crease of his taint. "Fuck," he whispers, his own hand over his mouth. He doesn't have to worry about being too loud in Louis's house, but it feels right anyway.

He chokes in surprise when Louis licks at the tip of his cock, lapping at the precome blurting out the slit. Louis's mouth is plush and hot and perfect around him, throat opening like he was made for it. "Louis, no--" Niall starts, about to panic. "I'm gonna--I haven't in so--"

He comes straight away, eyes squinting against tears with how good it feels, how embarrassed he is by barely being able to last two minutes. "I know," Louis says, voice thick with come as he leans up to kiss it back to Niall. He pulls back, a string of what could be either spit or jizz snapping between them, smearing across his lips. He looks so gorgeous, so filthy, Niall can't even process that he's there, that it's all happening to him. His dick gives a tired twitch. "Taking the edge off." Niall raises his eyebrows. "I said I was gonna fuck you," Louis says, grin sharp. "Remember that thing about promises."

Niall nods like a bobblehead, chest heaving. "You've--?" Niall starts, barely able to string a sentence together, gesturing between the both of them.

"I'm--yeah," Louis says. "Not an expert, but." He shrugs, like he's trying to play it off. Niall doesn't care, knows it must've been several years at the very least. Mostly he just can't think of anything except Louis's hands on his thighs, stroking around his hip flexors, fingers pressing between the flesh of Niall's arse and the rumpled sheets of the bed.

"Don't care," Niall murmurs. "Want you to." Louis tilts his head up, a finger curled under his chin. "Please."

Louis kisses him again, then. "Yeah you do." He gets his hand between Niall's legs, knuckles pressing insistently at his perineum, and Niall sucks in a breath, thighs spreading open and slutty as he aches to have Louis's fingers in him. "You're so good, Niall," he says, words half-whispered against Niall's lips. "Look so good. I've been thinking about you, you know? Thinking about this. About how you'd look. How you'd sound saying my name while my cock was in you. Pretty. Such a pretty thing." His voice is gravelly, worn and thick with emotion and Niall squeezes his eyes shut; Louis talking to him like that is almost too much. He reaches out, aching for contact, and Louis comes to him, presses close, the lines of their bodies intersecting, his hands warm and solid on Niall's sides, his mouth grounding Niall everywhere he bites open-mouthed kisses, pinking up Niall's skin, proving he's been there.

Louis circles his fingers around Niall's hole, pressing in just enough, and Niall keens in the back of his throat, bows the small of his back, hips canting up towards Louis's hand. He's begging with his body but he can't even feel embarrassed, everything narrowed down to Louis whispering praise and endearments in his ear and the slick, vulgar sounds of squirting lube between his thighs. "Gonna make it good for you," Louis murmurs. "As good for you as you are for me, right?" Niall groans, shoving helplessly against Louis's fingers, and they slip into him, spreading him open, too much and too good. "Say yes, Niall," Louis says, an edge to his voice, almost desperate. 

"Yes," Niall moans, needy as Louis curls his smart fingers, stroking up inside him until he gasps out, working at that spot until Niall's dick is hard again. The intensity of the sensation in him is crazy, makes him feel like he's about to melt into the bed, like he could come again right now even though he's barely recovered from the first time. "Fuck, Louis--"

"Hang on," Louis says, and it's torture when he pulls his fingers out. Niall does hang on, though, runs through all Louis's words in his head, and bites at his lip when Louis is back, his wet dick pressing at Niall's hole. There's an empty condom packet on the nightstand, but Niall's so lost in it he doesn't even care, hands going up to the headboard as he arches his back and bears down, mewling when Louis's dick pushes into him, prying him open, heavy and hot and feeling impossibly big. 

"Oh god," he sobs through gritted teeth, and Louis's hands are delicate on his chest, nails just long enough to scratch gently over his skin. His palms grip at the sides of Niall's ribs just under his pits as Louis's hips start working, fucking into Niall with the slick squelch of lube and the slap of his thick thighs against Niall's. 

"You feel so good," Louis says, breathy and shaking. Niall looks at him, eyes wide and damp, and Louis's face is open in a way he's never seen it. "Fuck, Niall, I'm--this is so amazing." He starts fucking in earnest then, and Niall bites back his cries, humming deep in the back of his throat. "You can--let me hear you," Louis says, breathing hard as he slots himself closer, presses Niall's good leg up against his chest so he can get the angle just right to make Niall choke out a throaty moan. His whole body is hot, on fire, shuddering around the thick weight of Louis inside him. Niall's hard again, like he hadn't just come, but he holds it off as Louis fucks him, hard and slow and perfect, doesn't want to let himself lose it when having Louis like this is so good.

Louis kisses him, long and deep, folding him practically in half, then presses his lips to Niall's ear. "Gonna come," he says. "You're gonna make me come with that perfect arse. Love it. Love being in you. Clench up for me, love." Niall does, muscles strung tight and shivering, and after a few more thrusts Louis comes, hips working shallow and erratic, mouth open and gasping against Niall's lips. The feeling is incomparable, just a haze of the sounds Louis makes and the way his arms clutch tight around Niall's chest, holding him as close as he can while he rabbits against Niall's arse and the backs of his thighs. "You too," Louis murmurs. "C'mon." He's slowed, but his pulse is still ticking fast. Niall feels it through his whole body, starting in the fat girth of Louis inside him, holding Niall spread wide.

"Yeah, gonna--" Niall starts, the urgent need to come washing over him all of a sudden with Louis's command, his dick harder now than it was before, smearing at his belly as he folds up, feet propped on the mattress, working himself on Louis's cock as fast as he can before it softens.

Louis wraps a hand around him, pressing his thumbnail to Niall's slit, the other hand twined in Niall's hair. "My good boy," he says, and Niall comes again, desperate and hard. He barely messes himself, Louis having swallowed the lion's share of his load earlier, but he's still shaking with it, the aftershocks shuddering through him long after he would've thought he'd finish. "Just like that," Louis says, kissing him, holding him tight and close, fingers drawing patterns against Niall's fever-hot skin.

Niall doesn't have the wherewithal to clean up, but he's cognizant enough to know that Louis takes a flannel to his belly and chest, to the sensitive skin of his hole and behind his balls. Louis tucks the both of them into his bed with soft words and soft kisses to Niall's slack mouth.

*

Niall wakes up to the sun trying to push through the edges of the blackout curtains in Louis's room, everything warm and close. It could be stifling, but he just feels calm, comfortable. Louis is big-spooning him, hand resting small against Niall's belly, nose pressed to the nape of Niall's neck. Niall feels sore in the best way, spine-deep and satisfying.

It's a bit hard to slide out of Louis's grip, but he's a deep sleeper and Niall can manoeuver well when he needs to. His phone says it's seven o'clock, which is the perfect time to wake up in someone else's bed. Late enough that he's actually had some sleep, but early enough that there won't be too many people about when he leaves.

And he is going to leave. He always does; it's easier that way. Lying next to Louis now would mean staring at the ceiling, loving Louis and pining. Wanting it to be real, wanting it to be something it isn't to Louis. It would mean that when Louis wakes up and sees Niall's still there he'll have to deal with the awkward and overwhelming notion that Louis is barely concealing how much he wants to shove Niall out the front door.

"Hey," Niall hears from the bed, barely more than a hoarse croak. "Get back here," Louis says. He reaches out and grabs Niall's wrist from the pile of duvets, yanking him off-balance until he falls back down into bed. Louis laughs as Niall flails, then climbs on top of him and flopping down like needy dog, belly-to-belly, his nose tucked into Niall's neck.

He falls back asleep as quickly as he managed to tumble Niall into the bed, a warm, smiling weight on Niall's chest. Niall wraps his arms around Louis, holding him close, smelling his sleep-sweat and the faint traces of cigarette smoke in his hair, and he's never felt more right, more sure that this--that he--is good.