Louis has been working on this stupid puzzle for the last 31 minutes and 42 seconds.
She turns it over in her hand, rattling the tiles against the sides of the square as though it will shake free the solution, nails digging restlessly into the groove she’s dug in the plastic. Louis pushes herself back in her chair with one leg, unlaced boots perched haphazardly against the edge of her workbench, and shifts restlessly as the chair creaks under her weight, body pretzled at odd angles. She glances at the timer resting on the tabletop, on a stack of crumpled, tea-stained blueprints, and then back at the puzzle.
37 minutes and 15 seconds.
It’s not that she can’t find things to do, it’s just that being in space is much more boring than anyone led her to believe. It’s just -- it’s space! She didn’t expect there to be so much of it when she was mapping this trip out in her head.
So, maybe Louis’ spent the better part of an hour mindlessly working on a slider puzzle.
45 minutes and 13 seconds. That has to have been long enough. She’d tried, hadn’t she?
“Louis,” Niall says, eyes fixed on the screen in front of him, “I’m a little busy at the moment.”
He’s hunched over the flight console like a goblin, sat stiffly in his pilot’s chair, discomfort oozing off of him in waves. The room is illuminated entirely by the neon of the monitors spread out in front him, his reflection flickering off the cold walls a sickly green. Niall scrubs distractedly at the puffiness under his eyes, rubs at his dodgy knee. He’s been at it for hours.
Louis is sure that he’s looking at something very important, but the technicolor grid he’s squinting at means nothing to her.
Louis had tried asking about it once, shrugging stiffly, picking at a nail in feigned disinterest. She had dirt under her nails from a mishap in the lab; Louis had shattered a terrarium in an attempt to sneak up on Zayn, left her crouched on the floor sweeping up glass, pinching the bridge of her nose, saying, “Please, Lou, just leave it.” Before that, Liam had shooed her out of the machine shop, seeming genuinely put out by Louis’ meager attempts at joking around. It had been the kind of day where Louis felt like she was rattling out of her skin, too big and clumsy for her own brain.
“You’re serious?” Niall had said back, shortly, like he knew Louis was taking the piss, and she bristled. It felt like this between them sometimes, a constant push and pull of anxious energy, Niall throwing up a wall whenever he felt like Louis was too mean to him, and Louis’ insecurities nagging at her to break a crack in it, tapping against him like a chisel until he bit back and they both were hurting.
“Why wouldn’t I be?” she said coolly, because she hadn’t wanted to pick a fight for once.
“Lou,” Niall laughed, sharp around the edges. “You built the damned thing.”
She’d flushed hot, banged out of the cockpit in a fury, leaving Niall gaping after her in confusion, laughter still settling on his tongue.
He’d found her later, curled up in her bunk.
“I was just sick of feeling stupid,” she’d said, peering over the edge of the duvet where she’d swaddled herself up in it, eyes bush-baby wide and watery. “Like I fucked up the whole day and everyone was tired of it.” She blew a stray lock of hair out of her eyes where it’d fallen. “I was tired of it.”
“Well, what’d you do that for?” Niall had asked, genuinely incredulous, shoving his way into the bunk and throwing an arm around her haphazardly. They hadn’t done this before, back then. “You’re the smartest person I’ve ever met.” He’d kissed the back of her neck, and she’d felt a fondness so unbearable that she had to reach back and smack him gently. If she’d left her hand on his cheek, stroking softly at the baby hairs around his ears, he’d never called her on it.
“But Niall-” she wails now, hanging off the back of his pilot’s chair like a limpet. It rocks back under her weight, and Niall folds himself forward to hunch over the console, jaw set in a line.
“I’ve gotta be here for,” he glances at the monitor, where a wall of incomprehensible bullshit is rapidly filing across the screen, “another four hours at least. I’ll come by afterwards if you want.”
“You’ve got to be fucking with me,” she says. Niall rolls his eyes. “I refuse to believe anything on that screen even passingly resembles a clock.” She squints at the monitor, and another marquee of strange characters zips across the top. She looks at Niall intently and says, “Are you an alien?”
”Look,” Niall continues. “I need to finish this. Like, actually need to if he we don’t want to die in a horrific explosion. Go terrorize Harry.”
Louis wrinkles her nose and sinks more of her weight into the back of Niall’s chair. It tilts back farther, creaking dangerously. Niall stiffens.
“Harry has something flowering today. She told me to piss off and then apologized to a plant for swearing.”
Niall huffs out a laugh and adjusts a few dials. Louis is pretty sure they don’t actually do anything, even though she’d banged them in with a hammer herself. “Definitely sounds like her.”
“Zayn is on the morning shift until we land, and Liam is being a stick in the mud,” Louis whines, clambering up over the back of the chair to smush her nose into Niall’s shoulder. “No one will pay attention to me.”
Niall looks away from the screen long enough to press a kiss to the top of her head. “I promise I’ll come help you with whatever mischief you’re up to as soon as I’m off. Okay?”
“Fine,” says Louis, licking a stripe up his cheek.
When Niall does knock on her door, Louis is passed out in her bunk, body wrapped around a mostly-empty mug of tea. There are a few widgets strewn on the floor, some whole but most in parts and pieces. Rather than wake her, he climbs carefully over her to snuggle up against her back.
It’s become a habit, since that first time.
Louis grunts and curls tighter around her mug, only relaxing when Niall tucks his knees behind her and kisses her softly on the back of the neck. She can feel the heat of his breath against her, and the beginnings of a shiver work their way down her spine. Niall tugs the mug out of her hands and places it carefully on the floor, replacing it with his hand and twining his fingers in hers.
Louis yawns and shifts back against him, turning her head to kiss him.
"She’s alive,” he says against her mouth, nose wrinkling.
“Oi, less talky and more cuddle-y,” Louis says, shoving at him, and Niall says “Zombie breath,” nosing into her shoulder while she rolls away from him in protest. It’s a shallow attempt; her back is snugged up against him, one foot jabbing violently at his knee until he lifts it up and over hers, twining them together.
“So demanding,” Niall says. He gives in, though, and Louis feels his other arm slip under her head. She moves back into him in inches, slowly enough that she can deny it if he says anything.
She smiles when he kisses her behind the ear and tilts her head to give him better access to her neck. His lips are warm and dry against her skin, his feather-light kisses sending small shivers down her spine. He untangles his fingers from hers and slides his hand down her stomach to the waistband of her pants, then slips his fingertips under the hem of her shirt to brush idly against her skin. The tips of his fingers are callused, and the rough drag of his skin on hers makes the air catch in her throat.
“Better?” Niall asks softly, and her skin prickles in response to his breath against her ear.
“Much better,” Louis mumbles.
She twists her head to catch his mouth on hers, kisses him slow and soft for a minute before she starts to nibble at his bottom lip. Niall moans low in his throat and shifts so that he’s perched above her, allowing her to roll onto her back and underneath him. The hand that had been resting on her stomach slides up under her shirt fully until he finds her nipple and thumbs gently over it until it pebbles up under his touch. Louis inhales sharply and arches her back at the touch, her hands flying up to grip at his shirt.
He grins against her mouth and she bites at him softly in retaliation, the bites turning into more kisses that leave them both panting into each other’s mouth. One of his legs slots between hers and he grinds against her, his erection obvious against her hip.
“Niall,” she murmurs as she slides her hands underneath his shirt. “D’you want…”
“Yes,” he agrees before she’s finished her sentence. He kisses his way up the underside of her jaw to her ear, punctuating each kiss with another soft “yes”.
She lets him suck gently on her earlobe for a moment before she continues, “Mm. I’m so glad you want to come with me to the shop.”
He grinds down against her and starts to suck what she’s sure would have been a marvelous love bite into her neck before what she had said registers and he pauses, pulling back to look her full in the face.
“Go with you… to the shop? Now?”
“Well,” she says, ghosting her hands up his belly to tweak both of his nipples, “Liam’s working on one of my bots, and I thought it would be a good idea to stop in and check on him, make sure he doesn’t need a hand with anything. You know how he is.”
Niall stares at her for a second before he groans and drops his head to her shoulder. He rolls off of her and onto his back, stares up at the ceiling as she giggles and curls up next to him, patting at the bulge in his trousers not unkindly.
“Yeah, alright,” Niall says. “Let’s go.”
“Great!” chirps Louis as she rolls backwards off the bed and onto the floor. Her boots are sticking out from under a stack of papers and she jams her feet into them quickly, not bothering to do up the laces.
“You know,” starts Niall.
“Yes, yes, I know,” she agrees, ushering him off the bed and towards the door. “One of these days I’m going to trip and fall and break my neck, and then you’ll all be sad and lonely and never do anything fun ever again. Thanks, Payno.”
Niall just grunts and adjusts himself, then follows her out into the corridor.
Louis flings herself through the doorway of the machine shop with all the muster and determination of a bloodhound, eyes squinting dangerously into the cold, fluorescent room. Liam’s on his back, legs sticking out from under one of her EVA machines, hands probably pawing ineffectively at its guts. Useless, Louis thinks, more fondly than she would like. Liam’s humming to himself, tapping one foot in time while he works on the scuffed steel floor, surrounded by the skid and clutter of Louis’ tools.
Niall sidles up behind her, hands settling gently at her waist so she doesn’t startle, his chin hovering just over his shoulder in a wary imitation of affection. She doesn’t jerk away, this time. Instead, she turns around in his grip and sticks her hands in his face, gesturing wildly, willing him to be quiet. He raises an eyebrow at that, and she widens her eyes in an attempt to be intimidating. Mostly she looks like a fruit bat. Niall’s eyes crinkle around the edges like he’s gearing up for a full belly cackle, and Louis slaps a hand over his mouth to stifle him.
Liam stops humming.
“Lou?” he says, greasy hand emerging from underneath the machine to pull himself out from underneath it.
“No,” Louis says loudly, launching herself at him from the doorway, squatting between his legs to clamp a hand down firmly on each of his knees. “Don’t come out.” She can feel him tense up, then deflate.
“What are you doing, Lou?”
“Nothing,” she tells him, releasing one of his knees to beckon over her shoulder at Niall. When she looks up at him he’s propped against the doorframe, arms crossed.
“Well,” Liam sighs, “while you’re doing nothing, can you hand me that gas grip?”
Louis looks to where his hand is pointing and sees the wrench he’s talking about a few inches from his knee. Niall crouches down silently behind her and looks at her quizzically, but she just shakes her head at him and pantomimes zipping her lips shut. The wrench is large and heavy in her hands, and she turns it over thoughtfully while Liam drums his fingers against his leg.
“So,” he says conversationally, as though they’re seated at the mess hall and he’s not currently half-hidden under a giant mass of pipes and wiring, “Did you give up on your puzzle then?”
Louis scoffs at him and rolls her eyes, even though he can’t see her. “I didn’t give up on anything, I just decided that you might need some help and that the puzzle can wait until later. Aren’t I nice?”
Louis carefully sets the wrench she’d picked up a safe distance away from Liam’s legs, then slides her hands up the tops of his legs and hips to where his shirt has ridden up, exposing a tantalizing sliver of skin. She skims her fingers up under the hem of his shirt and then down, tracing the cut of his hipbones towards his groin. The sound of a bolt getting aggressively tightened past its stripping point echoes out from under the machine as Liam shudders underneath her.
“Lou-”, he chokes out, one hand groping at both of hers. She snatches her hands out of his reach and swats at him playfully, laughing. “Lie still, would you?”
“What are you-,” asks Liam, but he stills his hands and settles them clasped over his stomach.
“I’d quite like to take your pants off, if that’s alright,” she says, fiddling idly with his flies.
Liam sucks in a quick breath of air and she can see his hands clench and release, moving up so he can grip at the edge of the machine to leverage himself out. She pulls his hands back down and leans forward to kiss both of his palms, letting him thread the fingers of one hand into her hair. A sharp nip to the pad of his thumb has Liam inhaling sharply again, his grip tightening convulsively in her hair before he can get the better of himself.
“So?” she asks again, dipping lower to place a kiss on his exposed skin.
Liam groans, and both of his hands withdraw under the machine. She can practically hear him scrubbing at his hair and face as he mulls whether this is a good idea or not.
“Just… don’t steal them, alright? My pants, I mean.”
Louis laughs and starts tugging at his flies. “I promise not to steal your pants if you promise to stop trying to move out from under there.”
Liam sighs and spreads his hands out, palms up, to either side of his body. She turns and beckons to Niall, who has been watching the entire exchange with a bemused look on his face. At her summoning he scoots forward, closer to where she’s knelt between Liam’s legs, but is careful to keep out of any line-of-sight Liam might have from under the machine.
Liam’s cock is already at half-mast when she eases his pants down off his hips and under his bum, and it takes almost no time before he’s fully hard in her palm. She scoots slightly to the side and straddles one of his legs, motioning for Niall to do the same next to her. He raises his eyebrows at her, but does as she’s ordered, and she kisses him quickly and quietly on the temple.
She motions to where she’s slowly stroking Liam’s cock, then to Niall, and makes what she hopes is an encouraging face. Niall looks at her, looks down at her hand around Liam, shrugs and replaces her hand with his own. It’s not like they haven’t all done this together before anyways. She’s always liked the way that Niall and Liam look together, the one small and lithe and the other broad and dense. Like two complementary halves of a whole. She wonders idly how often they do this without her, and how it might be different from when it’s the three of them.
Niall takes the initiative while she’s admiring them and leans forward to lick at the head of Liam’s dick, which elicits a groan from Liam. She watches as Niall licks a broad stripe up the underside of Liam’s cock and then seals his lips around the head, his hand circling around the base and stroking slowly.
“Fuck,” Liam bites out, but it’s muffled and quieter than expected. Louis glances down and notices that he’s pulled one of his hands up, presumably to cover his mouth to prevent him from being as loud as he normally is. “God, Lou, your mouth,” he whines through his hand, “feels so good.”
Louis giggles. “You mean Niall’s mouth feels so good.”
Liam stiffens, then shudders all over, one hand groping at her where she’s perched over his leg. His fingers leave small grease streaks on her pants and she sighs mentally about having to wash them later. The things she puts up with for a bit of fun.
“Fuck,” he says again. “God, is that really Niall? Fuck, that’s… Feels so good mate.”
Niall hums agreeably from around his mouthful of cock and takes more of Liam into his mouth, bobbing his head in time with his strokes. Louis plucks at Liam’s hand, runs her fingers down his forearm and over his stomach. She strokes around the base of his cock, brushes her fingers over Niall’s hand and cheek, tugs lightly at his hair. For a few minutes the only sounds are Liam’s panting breaths and the wet noises of Niall’s mouth on his cock.
“Liam. Give me both of your hands,” Louis commands, poking him in the side. He doesn’t ask what she needs them for, just sticks both of his hands out in her direction. Since she’s often in the ducts and wiring herself and hates the feeling of grease and other sticky residues on her fingers she carries a few wipes and a handkerchief with her everywhere she goes. Two of these go a long way to cleaning the grease and dirt off of his fingers and palms, but she leaves the sooty streaks on his arms alone. Never let it be said that Louis Tomlinson doesn’t enjoy her boys a little dirty. In the right places, at least.
As much as she enjoys watching Niall try in vain to fit Liam’s entire cock into his mouth (terrible gag reflex, but he tries so hard, it’s hot and endearing at the same time), having no-one pay direct attention to her is boring. To rectify this, she starts to slowly but firmly shove Niall over. He stops and pulls off, his lips puffy and spit-slick, and narrows his eyes at her.
“Budge over,” Louis says, pushing harder at him. “I want a turn now.”
He sighs and rolls his eyes but does as she says, moving to prop himself against the bot next to Liam’s supine body. Liam pats fumblingly at his thigh. Louis rocks herself up onto her feet and eases her trousers down off of her legs, then kneels down to straddle Liam. She pulls Niall forward and kisses him slowly and thoroughly, one hand curled in the front of his shirt. Her other hand she cups around Liam’s cock, stroking up and down the shaft with a twist of her wrist at the head that she knows he likes.
She realizes how wet she is when Liam slides his hand up the inside of her thigh and and slips his fingers under her panties to rub gently at her clit. She moans and stutters to a stop, rocks forward as Liam slides his fingers further between the folds of her labia, the tips of his fingers dipping into her. He pushes her panties over to the side and slides one finger into her easily, his thumb rubbing circles on her clit.
Louis whimpers softly and lets go of Liam’s cock to balance herself against the bot. She rocks her hips down against his hand and moans through her clenched teeth when he slips another finger into her. “Wanna,” she starts, has to stop to catch her breath. “Wanna ride you. Liam.”
Liam groans and slips his fingers out of her, grips her hip and pulls her towards him. A small foil packet appears in Louis’ vision and she blinks at it for a moment, following the hand holding it down and to the side where Niall is still tipped over against the bot. She stares at him, then back at the condom in his hand. Had he just been carrying it with him? And for how long?
“Have you had that this whole time, just in case?”
Niall shrugs and opens the condom for her, hands her the packet. “Usually have at least one on me.”
Louis avoids thinking about why he always has condoms on his person - how often does he hook up with her or one of the others, though? - and rolls the condom down over Liam’s cock, stroking him a few times after it’s on. She scoots forward until she can line herself up over him and then sinks down slowly , her moans mingling with Liam’s as he slides into her. She pauses once she’s seated fully and just breathes, rocks her hips slightly, enjoys the feeling of having him inside her.
A slightly exasperated-sounding sigh from Niall reminds her that he’s been sitting very patiently while she’s been getting herself off on Liam’s hands and cock. “Liam,” she says breathily, “you should help Niall, too. It’s only the nice thing to do.”
Niall gives her a surprised look, like he wasn’t expecting her to say or do anything even though he’s the one who had indicated displeasure with the current state of events. She looks pointedly at where the front of his trousers is tenting. She’s not going to make him sit there with an obvious boner while she gets herself and Liam off in front of him - she’s not that cruel.
“What can I do?,” Liam asks, his voice low and gravelly. Louis takes one of his hands and places it on top of Niall’s erection, helps him unzip Niall’s trousers and ease his cock over the waistband of his pants. Niall groans and shifts himself around to make the angle of Liam’s wrist less awkward, wraps his own hand around Liam’s and squeezes gently. Liam strokes him firmly and flicks his thumbnail against the underside of the head of his cock, eliciting a shocked gasp from Niall and a small moan from Louis.
Niall glances up at her from under the fringe of hair that’s fallen into his face. “Like what you see, then?”
Rather than answer him she reaches over to pull him forward until she can lick into his mouth, bite at his lip and suck on his tongue. Her movements cause her to shift and Liam slips out of her a bit, causing them both to collectively gasp.
“Fuck,” says Niall. He’s flushed from his face clear down under his shirt and his hands are grasping restlessly at nothing atop his thighs. “I’m gonna come.”
“Yes,” moans Louis. “Wanna see.”
Liam moves his hand faster over Niall’s shaft, swirling his thumb over his slit every time he reaches the head. A few beads of precome have leaked out, leaving the head of Niall’s cock shiny and wet. Niall curls forward around himself and pants, his breathing gone sharp and ragged. When he comes he closes his eyes and tips his head back, a long groan escaping from between his lips. Louis can feel herself get wetter as she watches him come, and Liam thrusts his hips up against her, burying himself in her completely.
Feeling like she can’t wait any longer, Louis starts to move against Liam, rocking herself up and forward and then back. He grabs her by the hips and holds her up so that he can get enough leverage to thrust up into her. She groans and leans forward, bracing herself against the bot, and lets him fuck up into her again and again. Liam is cursing steadily under his breath, which means he’s going to come soon as well. Louis wants to get one of her hands off of the bot so she can touch herself, but every time she tries she almost smashes her face into its side.
Niall presses himself against her back and slides one arm around her waist, snakes his other hand down so he can circle two fingers against her clit. She cries out wordlessly and presses back against him, caught between his chest, the bot, and Liam. Her orgasm builds low in her belly, sharp spikes of pleasure every time Liam thrusts. His rhythm speeds until he’s pounding up into her raggedly, bouncing her back against Niall.
He comes with a shout, thrusting hard into her one last time and holding himself sheathed completely inside her. Niall’s fingers are rubbing faster against her and she feels like she might fly apart at any moment. Niall bites down on the join between her neck and shoulder and sucks, and she tips over the edge of her orgasm and into it. Distantly she can hear her own voice as she babbles nonsense and what might be Liam’s and Niall’s names. She’d deny it if they asked her about it later, though.
Louis basks in the afterglow of her orgasm for a minute, patting sleepily at Niall’s arms wrapped around her waist. Liam’s hands feel nice as he runs them from her knees to her waist and back. She lets them hold her for another minute before she swats at Niall and pushes herself up and off of Liam. She rolls to the side and grabs at her pants as she goes, but just shoves them under her head so she can sprawl out on the floor.
Liam groans and lets Niall help him get the condom off and tied before he does up his pants and rolls out from under the bot. His face and neck are streaked with grease, as is his shirt, and his eyes are a bit glassy post-orgasm. He crawls over to where she’s laid herself out and drops down next to her, looping one of his legs over hers and rubbing his sweaty face into her neck.
“Uck! Gerrof!,” she groans, pushing at his shoulders. “What is this? Unhand me at once.”
“Nope,” says Liam, snuffling under her ear. “Shan’t.”
Niall flops down on her other side and presses against her as well, kisses her shoulder and her temple. She sighs. “Fine. We can cuddle. But only for, like, ten minutes max. You’re both sweaty and disgusting.”
Liam grins against her neck and Niall curls closer to her, humming happily.
“Ugh,” she mutters fondly.
Louis can’t believe she let Harry talk her into watching some bugs hatch. If that’s what’s even going on. There’s some weird egg-looking things in a tank and they’re just kind of… sitting there. Harry is staring raptly at the glistening mound, her face suffused with a sort of calm joy. Louis can’t believe she agreed to this. Obviously Harry owes her something nice for making her sit here and watch bugs hatch.
Something happens inside the tank that makes Harry sit up straight, one of her hands darting over to grab at Louis’ knee.
“Lou! Look! It’s hatching!”
A glance into the tank shows that Harry is right - one of the eggs has split down the middle and a small furred appendage is waving gently through the crack. Louis shudders and pats at the hand gripping tightly at her leg. “Great.”
“Oh, oh, look at his little legs!”
Harry is visibly excited, her hands fluttering over to where Louis is seated and back to her own body, as though she could transfer some of her energy and excitement just through her touch alone. She reminds Louis of the butterflies they sometimes have fluttering around the greenhouse just adjacent to the hatchery, flitting quickly from flower to flower and occasionally coming to rest, only to dart up again at the smallest provocation. Dressed in her colorful lab coat and trailing headscarves, Louis thinks, one wouldn’t be out of place to think that Harry was another one of the strange insects they had aboard the ship, albeit a very large one.
Harry places the very tips of her fingers against the side of the tank and brings her face as close as possible to the glass, her breath misting slightly as she watches more of the eggs break open. One of the bugs has made its way entirely out of the remains of its shell and is trundling slowly across the dirt floor of the enclosure. Harry coos softly at it and turns to where Louis is sitting. “Aren’t they just perfect?” she asks, her eyes wide.
Louis coughs. “I’m pretty sure that is the most disgusting thing I have ever seen.”
The bug, as though it heard her comment, lets out some sort of slimy excretion. Louis is sure it would smell awful, but thankfully all of the tanks are hooked up to the lab’s air filtration system. Harry frowns at her and turns back to the tank.
“It’s okay, little babies. You’re beautiful to me. Don’t listen to mean old Louis. She just doesn’t appreciate you.”
Louis rolls her eyes and mimes gagging herself.
“Look, Haz, I was promised monkeys when I signed on to this trip. Mammals, at least. Something nice and furry and warm-blooded that doesn’t have a shell and can’t poison me in my sleep. I’m not picky! I’ll take anything! I’d even accept something cold-blooded! Lizards, frogs, whatever, just something that isn’t a bug!”
“Louis,” Harry says, wandering over to another tank, “All life is beautiful.”
“Ugh!” Louis throws her arms into the air dramatically, refusing to follow Harry to her new perch. “You know you’re just going to grind these things up and use them for fertilizer for your plants. There’s no point in them other than that.”
She turns to see Harry has pulled the giant beetle Zayn hatched a few weeks ago out of its tank. “Ew! God, Haz, it’s so ugly and gross.”
“He’s not ugly,” says Harry, huging the beetle closer to her chest and rocking it gently, one hand stroking over its multi-colored carapace.
The door opens behind Louis and she hears someone walk in and then a long-suffering sigh. Zayn.
“Harry. Please put the six million dollar lab experiment back in its tank.”
Harry frowns over Louis’ shoulder. “His name is Charles, Zayn. He’s a valuable member of this ship, just like everybody else.”
Louis swivels around in her chair and flings herself out of it to bury her face in Zayn’s shoulder. Zayn smells nice, and she pats Louis gently on the back. Louis groans softly, “Zaynie, I want a puppy. Or a monkey. A lemur. Something soft and furry and definitely not a weird beetle that you’re going to feed me indirectly. Please.”
Louis can feel Zayn’s laughter through her ribs. “Sure, Lou. Just as soon as we land, all the monkeys you could want. I promise.”
“Ugh, fine, be that way,” Louis grumbles, fingers digging into the soft flesh of Zayn’s hips. Zayn laughs and steps back, pulling away from Louis’ questing hands. She smiles and catches both of Louis’ hands in her own, brings them up to her mouth to kiss her fingers. Louis melts and relents, pulling Zayn back towards her for a quick kiss.
Zayn kisses her softly on the mouth and then pecks her on the tip of her nose. “You two want to go scavenge up some parts from a mech Niall… found?”
Harry sidles up behind Louis and folds herself down so she can rest her chin on Louis’ shoulder. “Sure,” she says. “But only if you’ll let me come back and hang out with Charles later.”
Louis rolls her eyes and reaches back to tug at Harry’s curls. “You’re such a weirdo, Hazza.”
Harry smacks a kiss loudly against Louis’ ear and then skips out of the hatchery, calling back over her shoulder, “But you love me anyways!”
Louis is lying propped against a wall in one of the rec rooms, Zayn’s head in her lap, with one foot shoved under Niall’s thigh where he’s sprawled out on the floor. Liam is standing in the corner frowning at what may have at one time been a cleaning mech. The mech might have sharpie markings covering its casing, and bits of its gears and wires spread around it in an artistically arranged swirl. Louis may or may not know how it ended up that way. Zayn and Niall may or may not have helped her find out how it ended up that way. Harry had mostly watched and given suggestions on how things should look. Theoretically, that is. None of them would ever deface a regulation ship’s mech.
“Leeeeeeyummmmmm,” warbles Harry from where she’s hanging backwards off of a workout bench. “Liam. Leemo. Payner. Stop fussing and hang out with us.”
“Yeah, Leeyum,” Zayn chimes in, her eyes closed but a smile on her face. “Stop frowning and come over here.”
Louis smacks the ground next to her invitingly. Liam looks over his shoulder at the four of them, then back at the mess on the floor. He sighs, his shoulders curling slightly, and spins around.
“I don’t suppose any of you know how this cleaner got this way?” he asks, his gaze fixed entirely on Louis. With his hands on his hips and his head cocked accusingly, he looks every inch the safety officer. Louis sticks her tongue out at him and focuses her attention on carefully braiding a thin copper wire into Zayn’s hair.
Harry giggles and loosens her grip around the bench she’s on, seemingly forgetting that she’s currently mostly upside down, and tumbles awkwardly to the ground, her giggles halting abruptly. Louis, Niall, Zayn, and Liam all stare at her until she bursts into even louder giggles, and the room echoes with their combined laughter.
The room quiets, no sounds but for the steady whoosh of the air circulating above their heads and the stream of beeps and whistles that indicate all is well. Louis gazes fondly at her ragtag bunch of misfits, grateful not for the first time that she found herself placed on this ship. She can’t imagine what her life would have been like if she’d been assigned to a different crew. A lot more boring, probably. No, definitely a lot more boring.
The sound of heavy booted feet pacing up the corridor rings into the room and they all freeze, staring at the doors. “...swear we fixed its home function,” filters through the walls and they turn to stare at the mostly-disassembled mech, then back at the doors. Niall is the first one to break, leaping up and dashing to the opposite side of the room where another set of doors exits out into the residential quarters. Louis and Zayn tumble over each other in their haste to get to the doors, and Harry hisses from behind them, “Wait for me!”
Louis pauses at the doorway and looks back to see Liam standing resignedly next to the mech. He shrugs and shakes his head at her, makes shooing motions with his hands. She blows him a kiss and a wink and dashes out the door after Zayn and Harry; Liam will explain to the nice service men that he found the bot just like that and was going to come find someone to fix it - how fortuitous that they would show up when they did!
She’ll have to remember to bring him one of her contraband movies the next time they hang out as a thank-you.
The only problem, Louis thinks to herself as she smears nutritional paste around her plate with her last remaining chip, is that ship food is so boring. Well, it’s not really the only problem. Lots of things about being stuck on a spaceship are boring. Right now it just happens to be that dinner has her attention, and so that’s the most boring thing.
Someone clatters down into the seat opposite hers, startling her into whipping her gaze up sharply, but it’s only Liam, a tired smile on his face. She scrunches her nose up at him and looks back down at her plate, then sighs and pushes it away from her. “I miss ketchup,” she says aloud, staring mournfully at the mess she’d left.
“You know you’re supposed to get the paste or the fish and chips, not both, right?,” asks Liam, as though he hasn’t teased her about using the weird meal replacement paste as a condiment before. He scoops up some of the paste onto his own spoon and pops it into his mouth, only wincing a little bit at the taste.
“It tastes like weird tomatoes, Liam,” Louis responds, kicking at his ankles under the table. “Of course I’m going to put it on my chips.”
Liam just shrugs at her and tucks his feet under his chair where she can’t reach them. “Suit yourself.”
Louis sighs and props her chin on her hands to watch Liam eat. He’s a very fastidious eater, and finishes his meal quickly, leaving almost nothing on his place. Once he’s finished he yawns and leans back in his chair, folding his hands and cupping them behind his head.
“So,” he starts, and Louis tenses herself unconsciously at his tone. “We missed you last night, me and Harry. Well, I missed you, anyways. Had to listen to Haz talk about how amazing he thinks Zayn’s bugs are for about an hour.”
Louis snorts at him. “Suuuuure you did. If by ‘missed me’ you mean ‘thought about you while I was attached to Harry’s face’.”
Frowning always makes Liam look like he’s about to tell you about something terribly boring, like taxes or that your bunk isn’t up to safety regulations for vigorous physical activities. Louis thinks about this while wishing he would stop frowning at her and just leave her alone with her thoughts.
“What do you mean, attached to Harry’s face?”
Louis bristles at him. “I mean, I don’t really want to know about whatever debauchery you got up to, thanks. I don’t tell you about what I do with Harry when you’re not there.”
“Lou…,” he says, leaning forward in his chair so he can reach across the table for her hand. “You know that none of us are, like, dating each other, right? Other than you? I mean, we’re all dating you, obviously. But just not each other?”
Louis just stares at him. “What do you mean you’re all dating me?”
“I mean,” he says, frown deepening, “we all love you, and we’re all friends, but we love you. We talked about it, and none of us wants to give that up, so we don’t mind that dating you means we all occasionally get naked together. I mean, it’s not like it’s a hardship to make out with two beautiful girls at once.”
By the end of his explanation Louis is gaping at him in confusion. “You and Niall just had sex like, last week,” she whispers loudly. Liam just shrugs.
“Niall and I had sex with you last week, and it just happened to be at the same time, and so we also got off with each other. Neither of us is much into blokes, outside of when we’re with you.”
Louis feels hot, and scratchy, like she might start crying if she stays here, so she yanks her hand out from under Liam’s and storms out of the mess hall. She ignores his calls after her and walks swiftly in the direction of her room. What the hell was he talking about, all of them were dating her. That was the most ridiculous thing she’d ever heard! One person couldn’t date four people. That was weird. But five people could definitely all be sleeping together. Couldn’t they? She’d thought that was what they were doing. But now… What were they doing?
She makes it to her room without breaking into tears in the hallway and smacks her hand against the lock. The door springs open and she launches herself over the mess on her floor and into her bed, curling up around a pillow. The lights in the room seem too bright and harsh against the wall she’s staring at, and that has to be why she feels a few tears track down her cheeks. Nothing to do with feeling embarrassed about the fact that apparently her four best friends had all been dating her this entire time and just hadn’t thought it was important to mention.
It only takes a few minutes for the first knock to come, and then Zayn pokes her head in past the door jamb. “Lou?,” she calls gently. “Liam said you were upset?”
Louis just curls tighter around her pillow and shakes her head. She listens as Zayn picks her way across the room and feels her mattress dip slightly as Zayn perches on the edge. Zayn sits quietly and just strokes her back for a minute before she breaks the silence. “Are you mad at us?”
Louis grunts and scrubs her face against her pillow. “I’m not mad. At you. I’m not mad at you. I just. I don’t understand.”
Zayn hums. “We all love you. You know that right?”
“Do you want to stop dating us?”
Louis laughs and squeezes her eyes shut. “I didn’t even know I was dating you!”
Another knock sounds at her door, this time revealing Harry’s curly head when it slides open. “Is everything okay?,” she asks.
“Yeah, Haz,” answers Zayn. “Louis just needs a minute. Right, Lou?”
Louis sighs and presses the heels of her hands into her eyeballs. “Yeah. Just. Gimme a minute. I’ll be out in a sec.”
She can’t see if Harry does anything in response, but she hears the door slide shut again, leaving just her and Zayn alone in her room.
“How…,” she asks nervously, “How did you all decide that this was what you wanted? How come none of you said anything to me?”
Louis can feel Zayn shrug next to her. “We thought you knew? None of us realized that you didn’t know what was going on. We would’ve said something, otherwise.”
Louis lies there for another minute, Zayn stroking her back reassuringly. Finally she sighs and heaves herself up into a sitting position, then spins herself to face Zayn. She smiles weakly and juts her chin towards the door. “I should probably tell the others I’m not mad at them, too.”
Zayn cups her cheek with one hand and leans forward to bump their foreheads gently together. “Only if that’s what you want to do.”
Louis nods and lets Zayn help her up. They shuffle back across her floor, careful not to trip over anything, and the door slides open to reveal Liam, Niall, and Harry staring worriedly into the room.
“Lou,” starts Liam, anguish on his face. She holds her hands out, palms facing him, then beckons them all towards her.
“I’m not mad at any of you,” she says, stepping into the middle of them. “I’m a little confused why any of you would want to actually date me, much less date me while you think I’m dating other people, but I’m not mad.”
Harry is the first to wrap her arms around her. “We love you, Lou.”
“Yeah,” agrees Niall as he adds himself to the hug.
“Very much,” adds Liam, stepping up to wrap his arms around all three of them.
“Pretty sure I already said it, but yeah, we do,” finishes Zayn as she presses herself to Louis’ back.
Louis sighs. “I love you all, too, you know. Even if I’m too dumb to figure it out.”
Four voices chorus at once to tell her how she’s the smartest person they know and beautiful and wonderful and and and…
Maybe dating four of her best friends isn’t the worst thing that’s ever happened to her.