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If you asked 7 year old Niall where thought he would be in 15 years,he definitely wouldn’t have answered with the situation he was in right now; nobody would. Maybe he would have said that he would be a successful boy, married to some super-hot superstar (which is partly true,though most people would think it to be the full truth).

When he dreamed about marriage with the beautiful star, he imagined it absolutely differently.He would love them and they would love him back, they would get married on the beach and have 4 children, (two older boys and twin girls). But things don’t always go as expected.

He did get engaged, and his future husband was a handsome musician, but he wasn’t happy and he knew there would never be a happily ever after for him. He was getting married to Nathan Sykes, part of biggest boy band in the world. That should be his dream come true.

Except it wasn’t.

He loved Nathan with all of his heart and soul, with every bone in his body. But therewas always someone or something Nathan would love more than him; his ex, his mother, his best friend, his music, every single person hanging onto him in a hazy bar, but not Niall.

So he cried, cried and cried, clutching his white tuxedo in his hands. He wanted to rip it into pieces because it wasn’t what he wanted, it didn’t lead to the happy end of the altar where his beloved man was waiting for him with a sincere, glowing smile plastered to his face. This was not the suit he wanted to wear on his wedding day. So he ripped it,dughis fingers into the white material as he tore and cried some more. He ripped it and tried to blame it all on the suit, as if the white clothheld all of his suffering. He ripped it with all the strength, allthe pain, all the heartbreak he had inside him, and he cried more.

He cried for the two years of his life that were stolen from him. He had no friends left, and he wasn’t sure if he still had a family.Every minute of his life had been controlled by his beloved boyfriend, his fiancé and husband-to-be.

He knew that if he went to the church in two hours, where his friends, family and Nathan were waiting for him and said I do, his life would be a lie, filled with endless sorrow. Nathan would never love him and he would never be able to live his life, to take one step and not be told how to take the next. He would never be able to behim.

He didn’t know how it all happened.  He was Niall Horan, 18 years old; living in London with his family.He was studying music history in university when suddenly everything started spinning around. He met Nathan, they went on dates, shared hugs and kisses, and after that there was just contract. There wasn’t Nathan, the guy he met ina bakery, anymore, there was a manager of Nathan Sykes, handing him papers to sign and telling him to accept the terms and conditions of being Nathan’sboyfriend and playing up his public image of truthful boyfriend. Taking the pen in his hand and signinghis name on that stupid piece of paper was his biggest mistake.

After that moment,he lost control of hislife. Everything that was Niall’s was replaced with Nathan’s. He didn’t even have his friends left. Everything in his life was out of his control and Niall felt like he was puppet in an angry master’s hands.His name was even changed to James, because Nathan and Niall didn’t make a good couple name.

Everyday he received lists of people he should meet, thing he should wear, events he should attend. One day he got mail telling him to pack his bags and get ready to move in with Nathan. He didn’t really question it, already used to minimum personal space. At least, Niall thought, that meant that he could see his boyfriend in the privacy of their home (and maybe even talk to him) without cameras being shoved in their faces. He packed his things and waited for the car to pick him up in the evening, not questioning that the order could be a bad idea.

When he was living with his family,he didn’t have to see different girls or boysclinging tohis boyfriend’s side every day. After seeing this happen, he maybe cried himself to sleep every night and decided that he wasn’t as strong as he liked to think.

Special occasions (like meeting Nathan’s family)being announcedby mail was not a surprise anymore.Niall was long used to it, even ifhe cursed himself and the fact that he gave up so easily and was so willing to let his life be controlled by someone he barely knew. But six months ago he got a piece of mail that made his heart stop. Niall learned, via letter, that he was supposed to marry Nathan. He was proposed to and he hadn’t even known about it. He never got to see the manget down on one knee and ask Niall to marry him, never got to say yes, never got to feel the silver band slide on his finger. That was when he realized that he had lost control his life completely. But there wasn’t much he could do at this point, so he styled his hair, dressed in a black Givenchy suit, made himself presentable to show up in front of cameras and confirm his happy engagement to the world, and hopped into a car, driving to a fancy restaurant to take next step of destroying his own life.

He received the date and place of his wedding the next day.

Nobody asked him if he liked the suit, if he wanted his long forgotten best friend from high school to be his best mate, or bothered to show himthe wedding cake. No one asked himfor his opinion on any detail about his wedding. Everything was done by Nathan’s crew.

That was why he cried so much and ripped the suit (which he also wanted to set on fire, along with the flat he shared with Nathan).

He was supposed to be going now, calling someone to get hima new suit, because the old one had been accidentally damaged. But he didn’t. He sat on the floor and pitied himself. When did I become so weak?When did I lose control?He sobbed his last sob and stood up, looked around the messy room with the once beautiful whitesuit lying on the floor, destroyed just like his life. Looking at the suit, Niall thought to himself that everything wasn’t lost yet. Because he wasn’t weak, he had always thought ofhimself as strong person. He wasn’t going to let thoselast two years destroy his whole life. So he picked himself up and went to make things in his life right.

+

Walking 20 meters had never been so hard, and Niall was shaking with every step he took, his stomach feeling like someone was digging a deep hole in the bottom, his heart feeling like it would burst out of his ribcage.  He stood in front of the double doors of the huge church, taking a last look back, barely seeing his car, as it was surrounded by hundreds of cameramen. He finally the first decision he had made in the last few years. He decided it wasn’t worth it, and he couldn’t stand having one more camera lens shoved in his face.

His hands trembled when he reached for the huge knob and ripped the door open. A wedding march began, though hedidn’t hear anything, He didn’t feel any eyes on him, even though he knew everyone was looking at him, gaping because this wasn’t handsome Niall standing in a wedding tuxedo, about toget married. This Niall was in jeans and a plain t-shirt, doing god knows what. The song stopped as soon as it started. Niall’s face was blank and vacant, as he reminded himself of how strong he had to be.

He looked around and nothing in the room represents him. He sees a big colorful church decorated in white and blue, but he didn’t see himself in it. This isn’t a wedding on a beach, decorated in thousands of colorful Hawaiian flowers. His best mate isn’t wearing a purple dress and his mates tie didn’t match his shoes.There are no musicians with mustaches and funny hats. He isn’t wearing a dark blue shirt and his little cousin isn’t carrying the flowers. This isn’t Niall; this is Nathan, or maybe his crew or whomever had been in charge of decorating, but not him. This fact alone makes him want to cry and rip things again, but he can’t, not when he’s already made it this far, not when there’s no turning back.

“Nathan,” he called, tone clipped and voice nearly cracking in the middle of the word. He stopped and chanted to himself, I can do this, I can do this, I can do this.

Nathan turned and looked at him with shock playing in his emerald eyes, silently asking Niall What the hell are you doing?

“I’m leaving,” Niall announces, fury rising in his body. “I’m leaving, and it’s over. We’re over. I’m leaving,” he repeats. “Good luck,” he said in a low voice as he turns around, less fervent than before, and then he’s gone, leaving everything behind.

Niall gets into the car and starts it. He didn’t look back for a second. He can hear Nathan’s best friend calling for him, but he’s too stuck in the moment, in the freedom, and he didn’t care. He pushes the pedal and holds the steering wheel tightly, driving straight into the blazing sun. He makes no effort to think about where he’s going to go until all he can see is green grass and blue sky. He’s panting, trembling, and a panic takes over him. He suddenly realizes that he’s shouting, shrieking, but he has no idea when he started. He screams at the top of his lungs, screams until there’s no voice left in him and he thinks he might explode. His throat hurts from the screaming and crying and he can remember every sleepless night he had spent silently crying and screaming into a pillow because he loves and love hurts.

Niall cries and didn’t stop until he physically can’t cry anymore. He wants to throw up and throw up all of those wasted years along with the bile. He wants to forget that he exists, wants to fall asleep and wake up in his room and find himself enrolled in a university. But he can’t, because the reality is that he’s sitting in his jeep, having just left his fiancé at the altar, and he laughs uncontrollably, frantically, not even knowing why.

That’s when Niall gathers his thoughts and thinks about what just happened, what he had just done. He ran away. There was no longer any Nathan, or his crew, or cameras. Niall was free. So he ran, ran to prove that he was finally free and he ran, ran not knowing where, and he ran, ran until his feet gave up and blood pounded harshly through his veins. Then he stopped and looked around. It was beautiful, peaceful, nature, and he really missed it. He hadn’t had the opportunity to see anything other than fancy restaurants and huge halls and crowded arenas lately. He wanted it, wanted to embrace it, the grass and the sun and the sky, and that was when he remembered that he loved the summer.

He made a decision. He was going to leave. He would go somewhere sunny and grassy and far away from Nathan and the crazy life he had been living. He ran back to the car, packed his wallet, documents, and a hoodie he found in the backseat into his backpack and started driving again. He parked near the airport and walked inside, emptying his bank account and shoving money into his wallet. He then bought a ticket. He knew, paper clutched in his hand with a note saying London to Dallas, that this was his new beginning, his new life, and he wouldn’t be able to come back. He didn’t care.

Niall picked America because it was the land of dreams, and his dreams no longer included marrying a rock star. He had a new dream, he decided, and he wanted to spend as much time in nature as he could. Texas seemed perfect for that.

So maybe Niall hadn’t even finished university, and maybe he wasn’t ready to live on his own. But right now, this was what he cared about, because he was finally leaving the hell he had been stuck in for the last two years. He couldn’t care about things like that. He was starting a new dream and leaving an old nightmare behind. This was a new beginning.

+

The plane is big, not like the private one Nathan and he used to fly on, and it’s funny, but Niall had never had the experience of flying with a stranger by his side. Not obnoxious children, not old women, not even attractive men, but he didn’t complain because it was better having a huge man in a suit sitting next to you, snoring like a horse, than being alone on a plane and waiting for a harsh voice to order you to smile and hold hands with your boyfriend who didn’t care about you very much.

+

After landing, Niall didn’t bother to look around. He took a taxi to a train station and took a train to a small village called Sunray. Arriving in Sunray, Niall looked for a motel to stay in while he searched for somewhere more permanent to live. The next day he took the first step towards living a new life. He changed his name in documents, making them presentable and convincing enough for employers. He went back to his real first name and started using his mother’s maiden name. He was now Niall Gallagher, coming from Ireland to explore new territory.

In a store a block away from the motel, he bought the newspaper and started looking for a job. He spent the whole day cycling applications and considering his chances of finding a tolerable job with no university diploma. At the end of the day, he had two empty packs of crisps, a half-eaten pizza, a nearly-empty can of orange juice, and three job applications to hand in.

The first application was for a barista position at a local pub. He went there early in the morning, as the paper had said interviews would be held between 9am and 1pm. The pub was decent, not too big and not too small, and the windows were wide open, letting the fresh air in, but Niall could still smell the lingering smoke and alcohol, soaked into the wooden walls of the pub and making him nauseous. He only saw two men and one woman inside. One of the men, tall and lanky, was cleaning tequila glasses and laughing along with the woman, and the other man was sat slumped on one of the barstools.

When he asked them about the vacancy, the man from the barstool (who was wearing a sheriff badge) sent him to see Charlie, the owner of the pub. He was a fat man and smiled at Niall warmly, and Niall thought this was a good beginning.

The interview went smoothly and simply, and Charlie called him British twice. Niall didn’t bother correcting him because he was meant to be leaving that life behind him anyway.

He then took a taxi to the next interview, which was on a farm. The farm was like one of those farms from the movies. It was fenced in and there were wooden barns and sheds, some of which (if not all) were probably for animals.

Niall rang a bell that was hanging on the reddish wooden gate and noticed a big, carved sign that said Twist on top of it.

He was waiting there, standing on the moist ground and looking around at exactly what he had come here to find – nature. He could smell the nature all around him. It reminded him of Ireland and of his family. Family he once had. He wondered if they knew he had left, but everyone had probably figured that out by now. He was sure that his face was plastered all over magazines and he was sure nothing good was written about him. Nathan wouldn’t let his reputation be damaged, and would probably take this entire situation to his advantage, letting papers publish stories about poor Nathan Sykes, left at the altar.

Niall was busy thinking of all the possible articles when the gate opened. He looked up and there was a blonde girl standing in front of him.

“Hello?” she smiled at Niall, full lips stretching wide.

“Hi,” Niall replied. “I, um, called yesterday about a job,” he said awkwardly.

“Oh, you must be Niall,” the girl said, setting a hand on his shoulder. “I’m Taylor.”

Taylor was tall, maybe taller than Niall, and her frame was thin and straight, long limbs showing from a faint yellow dress the same color as her hair. Her blonde locks fell over her shoulders and collarbones, curling even more at the edges. Her eyes were beautiful, defined and almond shaped, a pretty blue color, shining like crystal clear water. Her nose scrunched as she smiled at Niall.

“Come in, kiddo,” she gestured around the farm and stepped aside a bit, hand still on Niall’s shoulder, gripping a bit tighter and leading him inside.

She walked him to where a Hawaiian swing was hanging with two rocking chairs surrounding it, near a cube shaped wooden building, which Niall supposed was a stable. She left then and told Niall to wait there while she got Anne and Robin. When Niall heard footsteps again, it was a woman and a man in their early forties walking up to him.

“Hello, Niall,” the man said loudly when he was about three steps away from Niall. He spoke with a very weak but still British accent, and it made him feel a bit like home.

“Hello, sir,” Niall returned, flashing them a bright smile. “Ma’am,” he said, addressing the woman.

When the introductions were over, Robin clasped his hands together and told Niall they had better get going and show him the farm. They took him around and explained everything about the farm while they walked. Robin and Anne, he learned, were a married couple, and they owned the farm. They were from Britain, Robin told him, but he didn’t say why they were here, in Texas. Niall would be a worker there, if he agreed, and he would have to live there. They showed him his potential bedroom and Niall took note of the white walls, tall wardrobe, and the single bed with a nightstand and a lot of empty shelves. Robin warned him that it wasn’t going to be easy working there and asked him about his past. Niall told them that he was from Dublin, looking for new adventures and looking to discover new things. Robin seemed satisfied with his answer and Anne was fascinated with his enthusiasm.

“Oh, Harry,” Robin shouted over Niall’s shoulder. They were back outside, halfway through the farm, and standing near the hencoop. “Come over here.” Niall looked behind himself, and there was a young boy carrying a saddle over his shoulders. He was walking towards them and Niall could see him more clearly now.

He had pretty, sun-kissed skin and long legs. His eyes were the same color green as Anne’s, but brighter, and they shined when he smiled. His lips were red and heart shaped. He had curls falling down his face, covering faint freckles that Niall could tell were from the sun, dotting his cheeks and the bridge of his nose. Niall figured that not a lot of people probably notice them, but he did and he liked them.

“Niall, this is Harry,” Anne said, putting a hand on Harry’s shoulder, long fingers resting on his collarbone. “He’s my son.”

“Hello.” Niall shyly smiled at Harry and when he looked into his eyes he tried not to think about how Nathan’s were green too.

“Hey,” Harry said loudly, the sound nice and accent stronger than Robin’s. “You’re Irish, right?” he asked, and it was all Niall needed to light up. At least someone didn’t think he was British.

“Yeah, yeah,” he answered. “I am.” Harry’s smile grew fonder.

“So are you going to be working here with us?” He shuffled around and put the saddle down.

“I don’t know yet, maybe,” Niall said, drawing his lips into a thin line as he eyed Robin, trying to figure out his chances of staying, because he actually wanted to stay. He loved it there. He loved the barn with its withered, red paint, the farmhouse, with its purple tiled roof and purple and white curtains that Niall thought was probably Anne’s idea. He loved the animals there, white and brown spotted ducklings, the chestnut horse with a black mane and tail. But most of all, Niall wanted to stay because he was already in love with the forest and the field surrounding the farm. They were breathtaking, promising.

“I hope so,” Harry grinned cheerily at him and winked at Robin. “So, have you seen the farm?”

“We’re just showing him around.” Robin said, gripping his belt loop and looking at the field.

“Oh, come on, you’re boring him,” Harry exclaimed, knitting his brows as he looked at his mother. “I’ll show him around.”

“No, Harry,” Anne’s voice said, soft but strict, “you have to clean the horses.” She hooked her chin in the direction of the horses, where a blond boy in a cowboy hat is petting a white horse.

“Come on, mum,” he got to his knee in a begging stance and Niall thought his eyes looked so pleading and innocent. If he were Anne, he wouldn’t be able to resist. “Lucas can do it.”

“Sweetheart, just go clean the horses,” Anne blinked at him and looked away, clearly having a hard time saying no to Harry when he was making those eyes.

“But-“

“Harry,” Anne’s voice came out sterner. “Horses.”

“Fine,” Harry said flatly, defeated, and he let his shoulder slump as he made a face at his mother. Niall could hardly keep in a chuckle at how babyish Harry seemed. “I’ll see you later then, yeah?” Harry said to Niall, reaching for the stable.

“Yeah,” Niall said, looking at Harry with wide eyes. “Yeah, I guess.” Harry smiled widely at him and threw the leather stable around his left shoulder, walking away from them.

“So, Niall,” Robin coughed to get Niall’s attention again. “Where were we?”

+

When Niall was done with the trip around the farm, it was about two hours after he’d first arrived, and Anne and Robin told him that he could walk around for a bit to see the atmosphere, everything he hadn’t managed to see with them, while they talked privately.

He nodded and took off to where the stable was; hoping to see Harry, maybe ask him some questions about the farm. But all he found was a brown spotted dog chasing chickens around the field, over by where the horses were resting. About fifteen minutes later, Niall walked back to the farmhouse and Saw Harry was there, clutching his mother’s arm and looking at Robin with a pleading expression on his face, forehead crinkled and nose scrunched up, lips formed into an adorable pout.

Niall watched them talk for a while, before Robin threw his hands up in defeat and Harry did a victory jump, hugging Robin and Anne at the same time before taking off and disappearing from view.

When the front door clicked open Niall turned around and pretended that he hadn’t been watching. Robin and Anne approached him and Robin cleared his throat. Niall turned back around, facing them.

“So, Niall,” Robin started, running his thumb along the edge of Anne’s shoulder. “We have decided-“he paused and eyed Niall for a bit while Anne smiled sweetly at him. “-you’re hired. Partly because you seem like a nice guy, and partly because Harry insists that we keep you.” Robin rolled his eyes at the last part, but Niall couldn’t care less, because he was hired and he felt so relieved. He had gotten a job and he was going to live there, on the farm, surrounded by nature and away from Nathan (and more importantly, closer to the freckles on Harry’s cheeks).

“Oh my god,” he breathed out. “Thank you, thank you so much!” Without thinking, he hugged them, pulling a laugh out of Robin as he patted Niall’s back. Niall felt like he was really going to be happy there.

“I’m sorry,” Niall said, stepping back, a blush covering his cheeks as he awkwardly scratched at the back of his neck. “Just got a bit excited.”

“Oh, don’t be sorry, hun,” Anne reassured him, resting a hand on the curve of his arm. “You’re part of the family now.” Niall couldn’t help but grin because Anne’s smile was warmer than the sun shining above them.

+

Niall didn’t even bother to go to his third interview. He went straight back to the motel to pack his things and move to the Twist’s farm.

Before he left the farm, Harry called for him and offered him a ride, which Niall was more than happy to accept. Harry owned an old blue, crumpled pick up, the back of which is close to falling apart, but Harry introduces it as his babe and taps the hood lovingly, so Niall thought the car was better than any Porsche or Ferrari Nathan owned, simply because he could tell that Harry loved it.

Harry asked Niall about his home and Niall told him that he was living with his granny because his parents were dead, and that he left because he wanted to see the world. Niall lied to Harry because it was easier than telling him about how he lost his family to his fame whore of an ex-boyfriend and explaining that he had nearly gotten married two days before. Harry gave Niall an apologetic look and patted him on the shoulder. He told Niall that he was going to love it there, that everyone was going to love him, and told him about the carnival they have every year. Harry promised to show Niall every interesting spot around the farm and how excited he was that Niall was there.

When they arrived at the motel, Niall asked Harry to wait, declining his offer to help him pack, because there really wasn’t anything to pack, just a backpack and a green cap with his name printed on the side. He checked out of the motel and went back to the car, more than thankful that Harry didn’t ask about his lack of things; he just raised an eyebrow and started the car, driving back to the farm.

When they got back Robin gave Niall an old, silver key that went to the door of his room, and told him that he wasn’t going to need it anyway, because “we’re family now, and family doesn’t lock their doors.” Harry patted him on the shoulder and guided him to the dining room, where Anne and Taylor were setting the table with a brunette girl, laughing as the boy with blond hair from before talked to them. Harry and Robin joined them, laughing and talking as Niall stood in the doorway feeling very foreign.

The atmosphere was warmer than he was used to; everyone was friendly and he could feel the love floating around the room, wrapping everybody in its grasp. He watched as Robin pecked Anne’s lips and everyone else groaned, but then Harry glanced over and noticed Niall in the doorway and got up, guiding Niall into the room with a huge smile on his face, and Niall’s heart warmed slightly.

Harry sat them down at the table and introduced Niall to everyone.

“Inhabitants of the Twist household,” he said, standing and knocking his fork and glass together, receiving a glare from Anne in the process. “Let me introduce you to the newest member of our pack.” Niall couldn’t help but smile at how lame the joke was. “This is Niall.” Harry beamed down at Niall.

“Hi.” He managed a small wave.

Everybody was looking at him and he, oddly, didn’t feel uncomfortable. He thought it had to do with the atmosphere, or maybe Harry’s hand resting on his shoulder.

“Niall, these are the people you’re going to spend most of your day with.” As he continued, the weight of his hand on Niall’s shoulder lightened. “Gemma,” he gestured at the brunette girl with eyes that matched Harry’s. Gemma waved and smiled at Niall, looking just as friendly as Anne. “Taylor,” the blonde girl from before smiled at him, “and Lucas.” The blond boy reached over the table and shook Niall’s hand, grip strong and fingers tight, and he nodded politely. “You already know my mum and Robin, and that’s Mark.” A boy at the other end of the table, in front of Robin, smiled and nodded at Niall.

“Welcome to the family, Niall,” Mark said. Niall thought that he could soon forget about the mess he left behind him.

After dinner he politely said goodnight, declining the invitation to have a beer with the pals and went up to his room. It was next to Gemma’s, he learned, and he locked himself in the room for the rest of the night.

The next day Niall woke as early as Robin had told him to. The other were already up and working. Robin didn’t give him a hard job, just had Harry take him around. The pair and fed the animals, changed their water bowls, and somehow managed to wash one of the horses.

He and Harry soon became close. Harry was a big bundle of happiness, eyes always shining like a ray of sunlight, and smile even warmer than that. He was always with Niall, taking him to the city and showing him everything around, and always an arm length away when they were on the farm. Harry made Niall laugh, and Niall could finally remember what it was like to be genuinely happy, without worrying about a pop star boyfriend and his crazy shenanigans.

Living with the Twists was great. Niall had to work hard every day, but it was worth it and soon he decided to continue studying. He bought a laptop from a man with a weird mustache and red cowboy boots, and started taking culinary classes online and helping Anne in the kitchen, trying out different recipes and doing his homework.

Everyone was okay with Niall and no one asked about his past. They knew he didn’t like to talk about it. He wished he could tell them everything, but it was for their own good. The less you know, the better you sleep.

Harry showed Niall around to every one of his favorite places, and Niall instantly fell in love with one of them. It was a spot in the forest, surrounded by trees, and Niall often went there, hiding away when work got too much and Harry’s smiles got too wide. It was cool and dark and quiet, perfectly serene. There were trees as far as he could see, and the light that shone through the leaves was a bit dim. Droplets of water often fell from the leaves, landing on the tip of Niall’s nose. Niall loved every single leaf and the world somehow made sense when he was there.

Harry found him there once, sliding down on the grass next to him and knocking their shoulders together. “Do you have dreams, Niall?” he asked, twiddling a damp leaf between his long fingers.

“I did, once,” Niall said, voice clipped, not wanting to think of Nathan or bring him up around Harry.

“Tell me about them; about you.” Harry’s knees were an inch from Niall’s and that warmed his heart. It seemed more intimate and gentle than any touch he’d shared before. Sitting there with Harry, shoulders brushing and thigh to thigh.

“What’s there to tell?”

“Your dreams.”

“Music,” Niall answered, head tilting to look up at the sky. “Nothing specific. I just always knew I wanted to play guitar and sing.” He glanced at Harry and leaned back, lying on the cold ground and searching for figures in the sunrays that filtered through the leaves, warming Niall’s cheeks.

“Why don’t you do that now?” Harry lied beside him, voice genuinely curious, but voice too loud for a content moment like this.

“I do, but circumstances change,” Niall said, trying to keep his voice steady and not let memories take over him. “I still sing sometimes,” he continued, a bit more cheerily and a bit less honest. “I like to sing in the barn, with the horses.”

“And guitar? I bet you were good,” Harry stated confidently.

“I don’t have one anymore. Can’t remember the last time I even held one.” Niall had left all of his guitars at Nathan’s apartment, hanging on the walls of their room.

“Taylor plays, and sings,” Harry said, fingers playing with the grass next to Niall’s thigh, nearly touching his jean-covered leg. “She’s amazing. You should sing together in Charlie’s pub, she sings there every Sunday.” And Niall would have refused, because he was a runaway with a history of unfortunate events written down on pages in his wrecked excuse of a heart. He should be leading the life of a sulking loser, but damn it, why the hell not? Why not take risks and do everything he’d been afraid of before? New beginning, no reins, no worries.

“Yeah,” he whispered, breathing out heavily, releasing tension in his voice. “That’d be great.”

“You’ll be great.” Harry turned his face and smiled wide at him, so sweet and so pretty, and Niall thought it would be the easiest thing to just reach out and kiss him, but Harry turned to look at the sky again. “I have dreams.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah,” he said in a hopeful tone. “I want to be a lawyer. I want to go back to England and study law. I know I’ll be good. I’m good at manipulation.” He paused, and Niall saw him smiling, wide and toothy, and it fascinated him, just how happy talking about his dream made Harry. “Once I go back, I’ll know.”

+

The next day, Harry gave Niall a tiny, old guitar and told him it was his grandfather’s, and they kept it in the attic since he had passed away four years ago. Niall agreed to play with Taylor and strums away at it, playing songs for Harry at night on the rooftop, the curly haired boy’s favorite place in the whole farm.

Weeks went by and Niall and Taylor worked on the song. Taylor had an amazing voice and every time she got a high note right, Lucas pecked her on the lips and she giggled.

+

Niall stood in the tiny backstage room of a pub, strumming now familiar chords when Harry came in.

“Hey,” he greeted Niall, hugging him.

“Hi,” Niall replied.

Harry looked at him with something in his eyes, something unfamiliar and warming. “Here” He reached into his back pocket and pulled out a shiny silver chain with a pendant hanging from it, offering it to Niall. “It’s a rabbit.” Harry said, voice cheerful, yet hesitant. “They say a rabbit’s foot brings luck, but I think that’s gross, so I got you a rabbit with a foot.” Harry smiled at Niall, and Niall’s breath caught in his lungs. It was probably the sweetest gesture anyone had ever shown him, and at that moment he realized he loved Harry, loved everything he did, and he wanted to kiss every freckle on his face. He thought Harry was the best thing to ever happen to him.

“You know,” Harry starts, clasping the chain around Niall’s neck from behind, hand lingering at the other boy’s nape, “tonight, after you finish performing, I was planning on kissing you. But then I realized that everyone will be all over you by that time and I won’t manage. So I’m going to do it now, and you can’t do anything to stop me.” As Harry said this, Niall thought he sounded like a five year old boy telling someone about how he had sprained his ankle.

Then Niall couldn’t think about anything because Harry pressed his lips to the crook of his shoulder, just a simple touch, but it shut Niall’s mind down completely. And then Harry was kissing his lips and time seemed to slow. The lights were so bright and it all got to be a bit too much, but then all the doubts Niall had had, doubts about not being ready to love again left him, and the feel of Harry’s chapped lips pressed to his was enough to make him believe again.

When the kiss was over he didn’t say anything, just smiled, and Harry knew that it was okay, knew that it was going to happen again and the next thing Niall knew, he was sitting on a stool onstage and singing his heart out, glancing at Harry occasionally and wishing on the stars in his eyes, wishing for the future Harry’s lips hold.

They spent that night on the roof of the farm, kissing and laughing, and Niall felt like he was eighteen again; young and free and ready to love, ready to start living. He was sure that running away was the best idea he’d ever had.

Being with Harry is wild.

He did everything in a rush and Niall felt like he’d hardly had time to blink before Harry told everyone and was kissing him in front of his mother. Being with him was entirely different than being with Nathan. Harry kissed Niall every chance he got and made sure he was okay. The first time Harry told Niall that he loved him; he had run up on the stage at the autumn carnival and shouted it for everyone to hear.

That night they made love and Niall was sure he would never forget how it felt; intoxicating, wild with the emotions of being in love, feeling so unprotected and yet secure underneath someone else, the slow, intense, and gentle thrusts taking every last breath away. When they were done and there was nothing more than Harry’s broad chest rising and falling against his, he leaned up and gave Harry another desperate kiss because he belongs to Harry and Harry will never let him go.

Loving Harry was the explosion of a volcano and a tsunami washing over him all at once. He showed Niall off to the town, held him by the waist, and kissed him every time he got the chance. He made sure to bring a huge bouquet of flowers every time Niall and Taylor performed, and gave it to him on the small stage in Charlie’s pub.

In the winter, he wrote I love you in the snow under Niall’s window and built a snowman, placing Niall’s snapback on its head. His hands were frozen and red when he held Niall’s face and kissed him. In the spring, he gave Niall the first rose to blossom from Anne’s garden and woke him sporadically with white lilacs. They spent all of May in the forest, chasing rabbits and riding horses. Summer came with a fiery sun and sticky sheets as a result of their love making in the hot nights. They would lie on the hot mattress afterwards, letting the silence sink in, legs tangled, murmuring soft I love yous and you’re beautifuls and I’ll never leave yous. In autumn, their one year anniversary rolled in and Niall was sure that Taylor dragging him on a six hour trip around the city had something to do with it. When he left Taylor at the mall with Lucas and returned to the farm, Harry was waiting for him, standing at the gates, dressed up especially for him. He told Niall happy anniversary, sunshine, and with a single click, he lit up the entire farm in blinding, colorful lights. Niall was sure that was what heaven looked like; bright lights and even brighter eyes.

He fell for Harry every single day and loved every single part of him. His hands were big and strong, with nicks and scars covering them. They were rough, sometimes covered in blood from work around the farm. His hands told Niall about his day while they would lie on the bed in his room and Harry wrapped them around the fabric of Niall’s skin.

His eyes were clear, with a certain sparkle in them. They were alluring and inviting, with a slight touch of mischief. They glowed with the depth of his infinite love, and Niall loved how they looked when Harry would rock into him, eyelids fluttering closed with such a rush of wild emotions. Niall stared into Harry’s eyes and knew that he could trust them; they would never let him go. But the thing Niall loved about his eyes the most were the brown flecks in the emerald pupils, reflecting a smile that came from the depths of Harry’s heart.

Harry’s smile was Niall’s sun, his eyes lit up and dimples on his cheek appeared as his face showed his amusement as it grew. His white teeth appeared and the whole world brightened. It was perfect, Niall thought, something he could watch the entire day for the rest of his life.

Harry himself had a perfect body, lithe and square shoulders, made just for Niall to kiss between the blades. His hair was tousled and springy, designed for Niall’s fingers to run through, brown and flopping over his chiseled face. His chest was broad and muscular, reflecting every heartbeat, and Niall loved kissing him there, just above his heart, above the reason Niall lives.

Harry filled the Nathan shaped gap in his heart and Niall loved him. Harry gave him everything he needed and loved him how he needed to be loved. His kisses were soft, blowjobs sloppy, and I love yous sneaky. Niall had his heart in Harry’s hands.

+

Gemma got married to the sheriff’s son, Joe, that July. She wore a knee-length beige dress and had a tiara pinned in her hair.

Harry sat on a bench with Niall wrapped in his arms, chin resting on his small shoulder as they watched couples dance. He told Niall it would be them one day, sitting at a white table with a Just Married sign hanging above them.

“Are you saying you’re gonna keep me?” Niall turned to ask Harry.

“Only if you let me,” he kissed Niall’s ear, the gesture saying I’m gonna keep you forever.

“Is this a proposal? Because it sure sounds like one,” Niall said with a chuckle, letting Harry know that he was kidding.

“It’s a pre-proposal. I’m making sure you’ll never leave me,” he said calmly, yet still sounding dead serious.

“Oh my god.” Niall laughed fully at that, wrapping his arms around Harry’s neck. “I love you so much,” he said as he kissed Harry hard on his chapped lips.

“Is this a yes?”

“Yeah,” Niall answers. “Yeah, it’s definitely a yes.”

+

Life went on and Niall couldn’t be happier, before one evening everything came crashing down.

He was sitting on a rocking chair on the balcony, about to join Harry in his nap, when he spotted two black cars turn the corner – big, shiny jeeps that look familiar, and oh, it couldn’t be. He stood and took a better look at them, where they were parked in front of the gates and Niall’s fears were confirmed when Nathan himself stepped out.

Niall, not wasting a moment, rushed inside, running up the stairs to his room, and packed everything he could before running to Harry’s room. He kissed Harry hard on the lips, causing him to wake up.

“Mmm, whatcha doing, Sunshine?” Harry mumbled, half asleep.

“Nothing.” Niall barely managed saying it without his voice cracking. “Just… I love you, very much.”

“Mm, me too,” Harry said, pulling him down by the collar of his shirt to kiss him again. Niall takes control of the kiss and presses his lips to Harry’s hard and desperate.

“Come lay down with me,” Harry mumbled, eyes closed, missing the hurt written all over Niall’s face as he tried to stop himself from crying.

“I can’t, I have to go,” Niall said, voice cracking. He clutched the shoulder of his backpack and said, “I’ll come later.”

“Mm, ‘kay, come back soon,” Harry told him and turned back onto his side.

“Yeah,” Niall choked out. “I love you, so much.” He pressed a final kiss to Harry’s ear before he sets his green snapback on the edge of the bed disappears from the room.

On his way out of the house, Niall ran into Anne who told him that there was someone asking for him.

“I can’t, I-I have to go. It’s him, Anne, I can’t, I have to go now. I-I – tell Harry  I love him,” he stuttered, tears wetting his cheeks, and even though Anne didn’t understand what he meant, she just nodded and told him that it was okay and to calm down.

Niall took the back door and used the path from the forest that leads into town. When he was out of the trees and running as fast as he could, the sheriff almost runs him over and stops to offer Niall a ride. He drives him to the train station.

Niall took the train to Dallas and bought a ticket to another country. He sat on the plane with tears stuck in his eyes and his broken promises of I’ll never leave you running through his head.

+

He flew to Naples in Italy, and after a week he found a job in a small cafeteria called Squisito. The owner was British and baked English scones, pastries, and delicious pizza. His name was Alex, and he had blue eyes and pretty hair. He gave Niall a small room in the attic, all wooden with a single bed that is pink. Alex apologized for that, but Niall didn’t care. This place was lovely and as long as he was provided a place to live, he was grateful.

Alex had a daughter named Perrie and she had dazzling eyes and pretty, purple hair. She always smiled brightly at Niall and took him under her wing from his first day there.

Niall called her Fussie, because she was buzzing all the time; she was a big bubble of energy and happiness. She liked Niall and Niall thought it was impossible to not like her. Perrie noticed he was always sad and that his eyes were always red, and asked why, but instead of telling her that he cries over Harry every night, he told her he had been having trouble sleeping (“It’s the time difference.”).

He took Italian language courses online, soon restoring everything he studied in high school, and was quickly able to cash and serve customers. He worked hard, waking up at six am every morning, and making three kinds of dough. When he had time he experimented, tried out recipes, decorated pastries, and thought about Harry. It was hard, being away from him, and something tugged at his heart whenever he saw a customer with green eyes or freckled cheeks.

He made heart-shaped pastries and slipped them to every couple he thought was cute. Debbie, Alex’s wife, caught him a few times, but the look in Niall’s eyes that held a sad story behind them told her how badly he was hurting, so she let it go.

After two months of working in the cafeteria, he made an effort to stop crying every night. There was no point, he couldn’t go back. After five months, he only got a clench in his heart and a frown on his face when he thought about Harry and clutched the rabbit shaped pendant that still hung above his chest. He’d been in Italy for over six months and everything seemed to settle down. Then someone came into his life.

Niall was standing behind the counter, arranging the pastries on the shelves while Perrie cleaned the counter. He didn’t bother turning around when the bell above the door went off, figuring Perrie would get it.

“Hello, baby Pez,” a rough and gravelly voice rang in Niall’s ears and he looked up.

There was a boy standing by the door, a backpack on his broad shoulders and a red suit in his hand.

“Oh my god!”Perrie gasped, taking off quickly and jumping on the boy. “God, you’re back,” she breathed out, holding onto him tightly. “Mom, dad!” she shouted, getting everyone in the café’s attention. “He’s back, he’s here, mom. Zayn’s back!” Perrie screamed, and then Alex and Debbie rushed into the room, frozen for a moment as they saw the boy.

“Sweet Jesus, you are back,” Alex said, wrapping the boy in a warm embrace, and the boy patted his back, smiling wide.

Niall stood in his spot, watching the family hug the guy in the doorway and shower him with kisses and I missed yous. He was confused, had no idea who he was, nobody had ever mentioned them having a son. He didn’t know what to do, so he stood awkwardly and watched them. The boy, Zayn, smiled t them and held Perrie’s waist as she clutched his arm for dear life, not letting him go. Then the boy’s eyes landed on him, hazel and warm, but somehow still dodgy. Niall tried to look away, feeling uneasy under Zayn’s intense gaze.

“Who’s he?” Niall heard him ask.

“Oh,” Alex turned and walked to Niall, Perrie and Zayn in tow. “This is Niall, our new help.”

“I’m Zayn,” Zayn said, offering a scar covered hand to Niall.

“It’s nice to meet you,” Niall smiled shyly at him and shook his hand. When he looked up, Zayn was looking at him, eyes warm and smiling a little. He let his hand go as Debbie suggested that they move inside.

+

Zayn was quiet; he didn’t talk much, at least not to Niall.

When he was downstairs, he always stood within an arm’s length of Niall and helped him carry things with a small smile. Zayn didn’t work in the kitchen, or in the café. It had been two weeks since he arrived and all Niall knew about him was the he was Alex’s ward; he’d been living with them since his parents died in a car crash when he was seven. Zayn was a boxer, one of the best in Italy, and was gone on a tour, boxing all around the world.

Two months after Zayn came back, weird things started to happen.

It was a Sunday evening when Niall came back from a shopping trip with Perrie. They’d been in a grocery shop for a whole day and Niall could barely feel his hands, from carrying flour and other supplies in from Perrie’s car.

He went up to his room and was about to lie on his bed and forget that he has an order of chocolate cake to make, when he found a box lying on his bed. A brand new Macbook Air was inside. He didn’t remember buying it, and his birthday was a good ten months away.

Going back downstairs, Niall asked Perrie if she had bought it for him, but she shrugged and told him to accept the gift because he needed it.

The thing was, Niall’s current computer, the one he’d bought in Texas, was really old and painfully slow. It took about an hour to do simple research and was about to fall apart. He was sure it would shut down completely soon, but Niall needed it and couldn’t bring himself to spend so much money on a new one.

He had maybe mentioned it a couple of times, but there was no one in mind who may have bought it for him. He only knows the Edwards’, regulars, the guy who delivers ornaments, and a couple of students from the university a block away. None of them could be suspects as to who had bought him such an expensive gift.

In the end, Niall accepted the laptop, because someone had decided to be generous and trying to guess who it was wouldn’t fix his old one.

In the next couple of weeks, he found three new shirts, a new hoodie, ridiculously expensive cologne, and a new ipod on his bed. So, maybe there was a lack of clothes in his wardrobe, and he’d wanted that cologne for ages, and his ipod’s screen was cracked after an incident with Perrie, but that wasn’t the point. The point was Niall found it creepy. The gifts are always lying on his bed without a note or a hint of who could be leaving them.

When he asked Perrie if she was tricking him, she told him that even if she had that kind of money, she wouldn’t spend it on Niall. Alex and Debbie just shrugged, and Zayn, well he wasn’t an option, he didn’t seem like the kind of guy who would spend 1,500 Euros on stupid cologne.

For about a month, Niall didn’t get any other gifts, but then on Valentine’s Day he got a huge bucket of red roses and a golden heart shaped pendant. He didn’t wear it, though. Letting something other than the silver rabbit hang above his heart felt like complete betrayal to Harry. When Zayn asked him why he never wore it, he shrugged and said he wasn’t a fan of gold.

There were a couple of gifts here and there the next month. A new scarf, as his old one had holes, a warm, gray coat, a cute sweater with cat paws on it, a new earphones. Whoever it was that was leaving these presents must have known Niall really well.

“Okay, it’s really starting to creep me out,” Niall said, going into Perrie’s room, holding up the silver watch. Perrie was throwing paper balls at Zayn, who was trying to ignore her the best he could, distracting himself with a book. “My old watch broke like eleven hours ago.”

“Instant delivery,” Perrie said, laughing.

“It’s not funny,” Niall huffed.

“I don’t get what your problem is,” Perrie said, “you get tons of free stuff.”

“It’s weird, I don’t know where they’re coming from. I don’t even know anything with this much money.” Niall plopped down on the bed next to Perrie. “How are they even getting into my room?”

“The window,” Zayn interjected, and Niall looked over at him, raising a curious eyebrow. “there’s a pipe next to your window,” he explained, and Niall wondered why he hadn’t noticed it yet.

“Oh,” Niall breathed. “This makes it even creepier.”

“You have a secret admirer, Nialler, stop complaining,” Perrie said. “It’s romantic.”

“I just don’t get it,” Niall whined. “Why won’t they just come and show themselves? I don’t bite,” he pouted and fell flat on the bed.

+

Two days later, Niall went to his room late at night, way too tired from a long day in the kitchen, and all he could think about was soft sheets on his pink bed, and how sweet it would be to sleep.

Cracking the door open, he was ready to collapse into the bed fully clothed, when something, or someone, moved on it, and Niall jumped back in surprise, grabbing the first thing that came to his hands – which happened to be his new laptop – by instinct.

“Hey, it’s me,” a voice said from the dark of his room. “It’s me, calm down,” and Zayn appeared in the flickering light that shone from the hallway.

“Oh my god,” Niall finally breathed out, lowering the computer. “You scared the hell out of me.” He put the laptop back on his desk and reached for the switch, lighting up the room. “What are you doing here?” Niall asked, clearly not noticing the flowers Zayn was holding, which were the same ones he’d gotten on Valentine’s Day.

“I-I brought you this,” Zayn stuttered, actually stuttered and held the roses out to Niall, hand tightly wrapped around them. “Thought I’d finally show up, as long as you don’t bite.” He tried to give a little smile and Niall finally understood.

“It was you,” he blurted out, staring at Zayn through wide eyes. “You all this time.Holy mother of god, you – Jesus.” He ran a hand through his hair, not looking at Zayn anymore.

“Yeah, well,” Zayn answered, still holding up the flowers. “Maybe you want them?”

“Oh, yeah, thank you,” Niall said. He took them carefully, putting them on the desk, and turned back to Zayn. “Why didn’t you tell me?” His voice was curious and a little uneasy.

“I, it’s not a big deal, Niall,” Zayn said shortly.

“Not a big deal!” Niall exclaimed. “Are you insane? You’ve spent a shitload of money on me, are you kidding? Not a big deal? How are you even that rich?”

“I’m a boxer, Niall, one of the best in the country,” he answered with a sarcasm laced tone. “I don’t get my nose broken just because.”

Niall stood silently for a bit, considering if I wanna snog your face off was a proper thing to say.

“I guess I’ll go,” Zayn broke the silence, moving to the door.

“Wait,” Niall reached for his arm, clutching onto the fabric of his shirt, and Zayn’s eyes trailed down the hand on his biceps with a raised eyebrow.  “I don’t even know what to say. I haven’t even said thank you, and oh my god, I have to thank you somehow, and it’s such a big surprise, and I should stop talking before I say something stupid.” He stopped and stood still for a moment before moving closer to Zayn, leaning into his space.

“Niall,” Zayn said, stopping him with a hand on his shoulder. Niall’s expression was somewhere between puzzled and embarrassed, because what if this wasn’t what Zayn had wanted? But then none of this would have made sense. “Stop, that’s not why I did this”

“I know.” Niall stepped into Zayn’s space again. “I just maybe want to do this, okay?”

“Niall, you don’t…” Zayn tried to protest, but it was hard for him to speak when the tip of Niall’s nose was brushing his.

“Shut up, will you?” Niall said, and Zayn obeyed. Niall pressed their lips together and Zayn was sure Niall was lying when he said he didn’t bite, because he soon had a throbbing lower lip to prove it.

“I hope that was okay, or I’ll have to leave the country,” Niall said, hands around Zayn’s neck.

“You’re not going anywhere,” Zayn said, and Niall wanted to laugh, because he had heard that before, he had even said it before, but there he was, kissing another boy, which shouldn’t feel so much like betrayal, but it did, and Niall wasn’t sure how to feel about it.

+

“So, Nialler, got any new things?” Perrie asked the next day while they were cooking scones early in the morning.

“Does a new boyfriend count?” he asked, leaning over the counter where Zayn is messing with flour and sugar, and kissed him lightly on the lips.

“You,” Perrie started, pointing an accusing finger at Zayn. “You huge ass! And you won’t even buy me new shoes.”

“Stop calling me that and maybe I will.”

+

Being with Zayn was easy.

It’d been half a year since they first met and Niall was just starting to discover new things about him. Zayn was shy, and that was new. With Harry, everything was so straight forward. He said everything he thought, did what he wanted, snogged Niall in front of a whole town. But Zayn blushes when Niall so much as pecks him on the cheek in front of Perrie.

Zayn was also very smart, even though he was a boxer. He spoke six languages and his favorite book was Dostioevski’s Idiot. Niall had only heard about that book before, from Anne, and she used to say it was a masterpiece from God himself.

Zayn told Niall about boxing. He started when he was thirteen, and even though he always wanted to be a doctor, the excitement of standing in the rink was addicting to him, and his dream of being a pediatrician faded away with thrown punches.

Zayn took Niall around town and held his hand, showed him every sight to see and places he used to love as a child. They once travelled to Rome, where Zayn told Niall that he loved him.

“Do you know what this is?” Zayn asked, standing next to a statue of a man with a beard, holding Niall’s hand tightly.

“This is a statue from a very old movie, with a very pretty woman,” Niall answered and leaned over Zayn, their shoulders sticking together from the heat.

“Roman Holidays and that woman is Audrey Hepburn, silly.” He kissed Niall’s forehead. “It’s called the Mouth of Truth,” he continued, “and people say if you tell a lie with your hand in his mouth, it will eat it off.”

“It’s like a truth detector, yeah?”

“Yeah, like a truth detector,” Zayn chuckled and pulled him closer to himself as he moved to the sculpture. “You wanna try?”

“Nah, it already looked scary enough.”

“Okay, then I will.” Zayn let go of Niall’s hand and moved it into the mouth of the old, stone faced-man. He was quiet for a bit, making a thoughtful face, eyes crinkled and the left corner of his mouth lifted up, making a tiny scar on his cheek more visible. “I love you,” he said then, looking at Niall with shining eyes and if Niall hadn’t known him, he would have missed the nervous twitch in his cheek.

He knew Zayn loved him, he’d known for a month now; he wasn’t stupid and he could read people like an open book, especially Zayn, who wasn’t good at hiding things.

Zayn took his hand out of the sculpture and beckoned Niall toward him. Niall loved Zayn’s hands. He had long, calloused fingers, with several little scars on his knuckles from the teeth of guys he had fought. Niall loved to kiss his fingers better when they sat in the nearly empty café, Niall’s apron and hair covered in flour and frosting, waiting for 11 o’clock to close down.

“See, it said I wasn’t lying,” Zayn said, taking a few steps closer to the blond.

“Yeah, I guess you’re telling the truth,” Niall said, stepping into Zayn’s space just like he always did before kissing him, and wrapped an arm around his shoulder. “Do I have to stick my hand in to that guy’s mouth to tell you that I love you too?”

“No, I guess not,” Zayn answered, and there was a sparkle in his eyes that told Niall he was happy.

“Well, then, I love you too.”

+

Loving Zayn was simple.

He kissed Niall good morning, and even though Niall woke up at six to make various cake doughs, Zayn always made sure to wake up earlier to surprise him. Niall appreciated it, because he knew it meant that Zayn cared.

Zayn snuck him out every now and then, getting a harsh but loving glare from Debbie, and took him to his room, sometimes to kiss him senseless and sometimes just to lie down and exchange quiet I love yous.

Zayn told him he never loved anyone before, and Niall told him his previous love stories. He told him that he had an abusive ex and how he ran away, but he made sure to mention Harry as little as possible, because he knew if he started talking about him, he’d hurt himself or Zayn, maybe both.

He still surprised Niall with gifts sometimes and Perrie still whined that Zayn hadn’t spent a cent on her. She was like their biggest fan, always running around with a phone and taking pictures and videos. There is one picture in particular that Niall loved, where he was sitting on Zayn’s lap, cleaning his bleeding hand, and Zayn’s other hand was supporting Niall, helping him balance. It was the perfect picture, even if there was fried potato in his hair and Zayn’s shirt was stained with his own blood. It showed how they were, NiallandZayn, a boxer and a cook, taking care of each other. He wanted to put it in his wallet, but it was already occupied with a picture of a green-eyed boy, and getting rid of that picture seemed like betrayal.

Zayn fought all the time. He came home with a bleeding nose or cut on the cheek, sometimes even broken bones. Niall sometimes begged him not to go; he was scared Zayn would get seriously hurt.

“It’s okay, I’ve been worse,” Zayn always told him when Niall had him sitting on the counter in the bathroom, cleaning his cuts. He promised Niall it was better than injuries he’d gotten in France, the UK, and America.

Zayn once flew to France for a fight and Niall made him promise to come back. He maybe panicked more than necessary, but seeing the face of the person you love covered in bruises is painful. Zayn promised, though, he promised he would always come back to him and that he would bring him French cookies.

When he came back he had a broken arm. He did bring Niall French cookies, and presented them to him with a French kiss as well.

Zayn always touched Niall so gently. He was clumsy and rough, broke practically everything he touched. But with Niall, he made sure to be as gentle as possible, like he was made of glass, like he would crack if you squeezed his hips a little too hard. He made sure Niall felt pleasure every time he was pinned underneath Zayn on the bed. He did mind what he felt, as long as he knew that Niall was pleased.

In autumn, when Niall and Harry’s anniversary rolled around, Niall asked Zayn to go on the roof. He sat in silence for the whole evening, kissing Zayn’s hands.

He was happy with Zayn. Zayn loved him, and Niall could see it in his eyes. He would give up everything for Niall, even his life, and Niall was more than grateful for everything he did for him, every punch, every kiss, every I love you, every touch.

“I just want you to be happy, cookie,” Zayn told him one night, wrapped around him like an octopus, not letting anything go near him.

Niall was happy in Italy. He loved the Edwards, he loved his job, he loved Perrie, he adored that Zayn called him cookie, and most of all, he loved Zayn. Zayn who always washed flour out of his hair and won fights for him. Zayn who made him watch Roman Holidays and took him to Rome on their second year anniversary. He couldn’t have asked for anything more. He was happy. But sometimes he still dreamt of green eyes and faint freckles on cheeks while he was lying next to Zayn, wrapped in his arms.

Zayn wore his heart on his sleeve, he wasn’t afraid of showing everything he felt, and Niall wasn’t afraid of taking everything Zayn had to give.

Niall lived in Italy for three years before Perrie told him someone wanted to see him. From the kitchen window he saw Nathan standing by the bar, chatting with Alex. Niall turned around to see Zayn standing there, licking the dough of the cupcakes Niall had been about to bake.

“Zee,” he said weakly. “I love you.” Then he ran to his room in the attic, taking all the money he’d saved over three years and putting it in the bottom of his back. He packed as many clothes as he can fit, the laptop and his watch. He put on the red hoodie Zayn had given to him ages ago and goes back to the kitchen. He’s not ready for it, not ready to leave everything behind again.

“What happened, cookie?” Zayn asked when he saw Niall with his backpack on his back.

“It’s him, Zayn.” He was furious, panicked, voice trembling. “It’s Nathan. I have to go, Zee. I love you, but… I love you.”

Zayn’s eyes darkened and Niall could hear him swearing under his breath. He kissed Niall hard on the lips, clutching onto the collar of his hoodie, already bruised knuckles turning white. “Come back to me, yeah?”

Niall couldn’t do it now, he couldn’t make a promise he knew he’d break, not when his biggest nightmare was standing just a wall away.

“Yeah,” he breathed out, flat and sad, because Zayn has you’re my everything written across his face.

“I’ll deal with him, Cookie, I love you,” he said before taking off and rushing out of the kitchen, into the café.

Niall tried not to cry when running away and taking a taxi to the airport. He tried not to admit to himself that he was weak and he couldn’t face the monster that had been hiding in his closet for years.

He flew to Australia. He could have stayed, he knew Zayn would’ve protected him, not let anyone touch him. But running away had become second nature for him. Something in him told him to go, not to stay, and he didn’t want to admit that he didn’t love Zayn enough to stay.

He settled down in Sidney, rented a small flat with one bedroom, a kitchen, bathroom, and living room, its walls painted soft beige. It came with an old white sofa and flat TV.

It was the first time in five years that Niall was living alone, and his life had never felt so lonely. Sometimes he woke up with the taste of blood in his mouth and didn’t know what to blame it on; Harry, cleaning his jaw when he fell from a horse, or kissing Zayn’s blood stained hands.

Soon he found a job in a school near his house. He taught music and gave guitar lessons after classes. He met Liam there, and he was the coach of the basketball team.

Liam warmed up to Niall instantly, showed him the school, and took him to a pub a week later. He bought him drinks and walked him home.

Liam was tall, and looked like Justin Timberlake if you ask Niall. He had massive shoulders and lean legs, a narrow waist and muscled arms. With his body, Niall thought he could be a model. He was bud eyed and reminded Niall of a hamster, but the first things Niall memorized about him were his lips, full and red like strawberries. Sometimes Liam pouts at him before bursting into a fit of giggles and it reminds Niall of Zayn. Zayn used to do that, persuading him with a pouty expression and then laughing into his neck.

Liam officially asked him out a month after meeting him.

After classes, Niall was sitting and waiting for the guitar group to fill the room when Liam strolled in. His light blue shirt was tucked into dark jeans and his hands were holding a worn, brown shoulder bag. He called him professor Horan and asked him to go on a date with him on Friday.

Liam took him to a fancy dinner and Niall almost forgot how to act on a date, because he hasn’t been on one for years. Liam told him he moved there from the UK with his friend Louis and they were living together. He told Niall about his hobby, writing, and that he had published a book.

“It’s nothing much, just a romance about unrequited love of childhood friends, something I came up with one day in the gym while coaching the team,” he chuckled and took a sip of his wine.

“It’s not nothing if it’s published,” Niall said. “Do you know that out of 20,000 novels, only one gets published?” his voice is a bit high pitched, and it makes Liam smile.

“I’m the lucky one then.”

“I’m sure you’re the talented one. I’d read your book.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.”

At the end of the day, when they were standing on Niall’s porch, Liam kissed him, small and chaste.

“We’re two adults, two teachers, and I don’t know if it’s okay, but I’m nervous as hell.”

Niall didn’t answer, he just kissed him with force and dragged Liam into his flat.

They didn’t make anything big out of it. Niall didn’t want to, he was already tired of taking too many chances.

He didn’t want to feel about Liam the same way he’d felt about Zayn and Harry. He and Liam were just boyfriends. They snuck kisses, and if they were lucky, sloppy blowjobs, during breaks. Liam introduced him to Louis. He was a pretty boy with pretty lips and shiny blue eyes. Niall liked him; he was funny and made Niall laugh when they were sitting at the dinner table in his and Liam’s place.

Don’t hurt him, eh?” Louis said, a friendly hand resting on Niall’s arm, when Liam went to the kitchen for dessert. There was something in Louis’ voice that Niall couldn’t quite put a finger on.

“I won’t,” Niall promised and felt the weight of guilt drop in his stomach. He knew, if Nathan were to appear again, he would hurt Liam, and he would leave again, leave everything behind.

Louis was a director at a theatre, and he worked until late. Sometimes Liam left Niall to pick him up, but Niall didn’t mind. They weren’t serious, just boyfriends.

That was before Liam told him I love you.

It happened one night when they had just had sex and Niall was still coming down from his high.

“Nialler?”

“Hmm?”

“You know,” Liam turned around, lying on his side to face Niall, cheek resting on his palm. “Louis says that I love you,” he told him, trying to keep his voice steady, like it was nothing, hiding nerves behind his still wet lips. But Niall had always been good at reading people.

“Do you?” he asked, eyes focused on the ceiling.

“I think I do.”

“Good thing then,” he turned around, pushing Liam onto his back to lie on him, fingers tangling in his hair, “because I think I love you too.” He kissed him wet and sloppy, with too much tongue, and thought that yeah, he did love Liam.

+

Loving Liam was careless.

They went back home from work together, sometimes to Niall’s place, sometimes to Liam’s. Niall preferred his house, because when they were at Liam’s, he became shy and Louis always had an uneasy expression on his face, smiling sadly to himself while reading a book. Niall tried to blame it on the books, he thought every book Louis reads was sad. But he knew Don Kihot couldn’t be sad.

Liam made him feel normal again. They had a laid back relationship, sex in the back of Liam’s car, walking hand in hand in empty streets, went on dates and embarrassed each other with clumsy handjobs in the principal’s office during boring conferences.

They fought sometimes. With Zayn and Harry, Niall didn’t fight much; Zayn loved him too much to upset him and always let Niall win the arguments, and him and Harry hardly ever argued, most of their arguments had been about who would milk the oldest cow.

Niall missed it. He missed Harry, and he felt bad about that because he had Liam. But Liam had Louis, and Niall wasn’t blind to the way Louis looked at him. He tried not to be jealous, but when Liam left him half-hard on the bed at three am to pick up Louis from the theatre, it was kind of hard to say okay and not be jealous. He knew Louis wouldn’t take Liam away, he loved Liam too much to destroy his happiness, and Liam was happy with Niall.

Liam took him to movies and picked him up in the morning to go to work together. He made sure to bring an extra cookie for lunch to give to Niall. Niall had half of his things at Liam’s place, and Liam had his toothbrush at Niall’s.

Niall once called Liam Harry when they were in bed and he was about to come, fingers digging into the skin of Liam’s back. Liam didn’t mention it, but Niall knew he heard it, and he tried not to think about that, to ease his guilt. Niall wasn’t stupid. He could read people and Liam’s eyes were always soft when looking at Louis. And Liam’s book being about unrequited love between a drama student and a football player didn’t help much either.

Niall dated Liam for nine months.

One Sunday Liam called him. They were supposed to go bowling, but Liam asked Niall to come to his place. Liam greeted him with a smile that told him something was off. He sat Niall down on the sofa and brought him a glass of water before slipping into the armchair beside him.

“You know, Niall,” Liam started, “there’s this thing, when you love someone and they make you feel happy, and you feel good around them, and they’re so good and perfect. And you love them, you really do. But then there are times when someone mentions love quotes, or you listen to a love song, and you can’t help but relate it to someone else, this other person unintentionally pops into your mind, and you didn’t mean to think about them. They aren’t perfect or that good as the person you think you love. They have a lot of flaws and smelly feet, but hearing the word love just makes you think of them.” Liam’s voice was trembling as he spoke, and his face had turned red, like he was burning up inside. He spoke slowly and hesitantly, the words leaving his mouth forced out. “And for me,” he paused, taking a shuddering breath, his lips curled into a nervous frown. Niall didn’t need to hear him say it, because he knew what was coming. “It’s not you,” Liam breathed out, heavy and pained, like he had been struggling with those words for a while.

Niall was okay with it; he understood what Liam was talking about, every single word. He smiled a little, but the edge of his smile still held sadness, because it still hurt and he did love Liam. Maybe he and Liam never were star crossed lovers, and maybe he always knew that neither of them were fully in the relationship, but there was still an aching Liam-shaped hole in his heart.

“I’m sorry,” Liam told him, because Niall was too quiet and Liam had reason to apologize. “I love you, but I’m in love with someone else.” Liam finally said what Niall had been thinking all along – you can love several someones in your life, but when you find the person that makes your heart race faster than a rocket ship, you fall in love with them. Loving is a spark, but being in love is a fire, and once it ignites, it’s hard to put that flame out. Sometimes it’s even impossible, and the flame travels all around you, sending every bit of you up in flames.

“It’s fine,” Niall nodded, smile hardly reaching his eyes. “I hope it works out and you guys are happy.” Niall looked over at Louis’ room and smiled, genuine and honestly, because he really thought they’d be a good pair. It had always been obvious and he knew they would be alright, because that gleam in Louis’ eyes whenever Liam was around could only tell one thing. “You should tell him, I know he loves you too.”

Before Niall left, Liam gave him a last kiss on the lips, wordlessly saying every apology he couldn’t think of, and Niall was fine with it. He accepted it and went back to his flat, thinking about Liam’s words and freckles under eyes.

The next day, Niall packed his things and left. He didn’t run away this time. He gave Louis and Liam proper goodbyes and wished them luck. He took their phone numbers and promised to call.

Liam blamed himself and apologized, begged Niall to stay. He tried to convince him that things wouldn’t be uncomfortable and promised to be the best friend ever, to do anything to make it up to him. Niall knew he wasn’t lying, that Liam really would do anything. But he explained that it wasn’t his fault, and that when Liam had been talking about that one person, a certain pair of green eyes had been in his mind.

You love several times, but you only fall in love once.

He went to the airport and bought a one way ticket back, with no idea what would happen. He thought up many possibilities while he was on the plane. The only thing he knew was that he just wanted to go back to Harry. He probably wasn’t single, maybe had already gotten married, even had a child. It had been years and Niall wouldn’t blame him for moving on. He left and hadn’t been in touch for four years. Deep down, Niall had a bubble of hope that Harry was still waiting for him. But until then, Niall just wanted to see the freckles under his eyes again.

+

When Niall stepped out of the taxi and was standing in front of the same reddish gates, it was late, somewhere around two am.

He finally worked up the courage to reach for the bell, pulling the slightest bit, and when the familiar sound rang in his ears, he knew there was no coming back, go big or go home. Harry would probably be there in a few minutes, and Niall wasn’t sure if his heart could take that much.

In fact, he was sure he couldn’t handle that much. He thought about running away again, because suddenly there was a figure moving on the other side of the fence, but then the gate clicked open, bell jingling and muting every heartbeat inside Niall’s chest.

“Niall.”

“Hi, Harry.”

+

Everything seemed blurry at that moment. Niall wasn’t sure if he was really crushed to Harry’s chest or if he had just imagined the scent of Burberry and sleep lingering on his own shirt. He wasn’t sure how he got to the kitchen. The only thing he knew was that Harry was sitting there, in front of him, and Niall couldn’t tear his eyes away from the freckles that were still there.

There was a cup of tea in front of him, and Harry sips from his own, hands wrapped fully around the red mug, trembling as he brought it to his lips.

“How are you?” Niall asked, voice as strong as he could manage at the moment.

“I’m fine,” Harry said, bringing the cup to his lips again and downing it. Niall wanted to stop him, warn him that he’d burn himself (he knew that Harry drank his tea too hot, practically boiling, with two lumps of sugar- but no milk, because Harry didn’t think milk and hot water make a good combination), but he knew that Harry was nervous and needed to let those nerves out somehow.

This was what Niall had feared the most, awkwardness hanging over them. He and Harry hadn’t been used to this, but Niall wasn’t sure if there was a himandHarry anymore.

“Where are the others?” That’s all Niall could think about. Even on his first night at the farmhouse, it was never this quiet. Or maybe he was just too stressed to hear anything but Harry’s breathing.

“Gems left,” Harry said. “She’s in New York.” He smiled a bit and it might have been a good sign in any other situation. “She works there, just like she always wanted, on Broadway. Mark is back in Dallas. He has a shop there, and he’s going to get married in two months.” He traced a long finger along the rim of the cup, staring at it. “Mom and Rob are in the city to visit him, but they’ll be back tomorrow.” Harry looked up at Niall, eyes focused on his right cheek.

“What about Taylor?”

“She left too,” Harry said, voice low and vacant. “She and Lucas got married two years ago, they live in LA now. She signed a contract and is releasing an album soon. She’s living her dream.”

Niall looked at Harry and thought this isn’t Harry. He’s changed. The Harry in front of him was gray and worn. His eyes didn’t shine anymore and the hard work of the last four years was written on his forehead, crinkled as he stared at his mug. He suddenly blamed himself for leaving, for coming back.

“And you?” Niall asked, twiddling with an orange napkin on the table. “What about your dreams?”

Harry snorted, looking up at the shelf behind Niall, still not able to meet his eyes. “Some dreams are just,“ he stopped and looked Niall in the eyes with what Niall thought was sadness and regret before continuing, “dreams.” His eyes welled up with tears a bit, a barely audible sniff escaping him, but Niall heard it and knew Harry was about to cry.

They were silent for a while, tense and sad, with a thousand unasked questions and confessions hanging in the air.

Niall’s heart had never felt this heavy.

“I,” Harry started, letting out a breath. “I’ll refill the tea, it’s gotten cold. “ Like us, Niall thought, but of course he didn’t say it. Harry stood at the counter, stirring the tea, and even that sounded nervous to Niall. Niall watched his back, strong and broad, what pajama shirt hugging his frame. His muscles were more defined, he could see from the bulge of bicep peeking out of his shirt sleeve.

He knew that Harry wanted to ask why he left. It was written all over him, and Niall wanted to answer, to explain, but he couldn’t. He had nothing to say, nothing seemed right, and he knew he was wrong. I was weak wasn’t a good enough excuse.

“I love you,” Niall said quietly.

As soon as he said it, Harry stopped stirring, standing still for one, two, three seconds, then he turned, leaned over the counter, hands on the edge of it to support himself. “Niall, you can’t.” He paused, breathing heavily,  and looked around the room, sliding his lower lip between his teeth. “You can’t.” He stopped again, mouth open, speechless. His face wasn’t hiding his emotions anymore; he was open, exposed in front of Niall. He was hurt, furious, angry, frustrated, filled with regret, and tired. “You left, Niall, four years ago. You can’t just come back and tell me you love me, you – you.” He stopped again, a trembling breath leaving him, eyes piercing into Niall’s. “You left me, without a goodbye, without an explanation, without a single note. You have no idea what I went through. I thought you were dead, Niall.” His voice had escalated to a shout as he leaned over the table, closer to Niall.

“I thought it was some suicide thing, I thought you had died, but then the sheriff told me he dropped you off at the station. I looked for you, I blamed myself, I cried every day. I still do sometimes. You have no idea what a mess you made me into. I couldn’t talk to anyone. I remember screaming for months. I nearly ruined my family. And you never answered my calls. I still call sometimes, hoping you might answer, talk to me, explain.” Harry had escalated to crying opening as he relived every feeling he’d had over the years, but he took a moment to collect himself. “I worried, Niall. I loved you,” he said, almost a whisper, laced with honesty and pain. “You can’t, you can’t just come back and demand it all back, you can’t pretend we’re still twenty and nothing happened, you can’t.” Harry slumped down onto a chair, knees giving out. His shook his head.

In that moment, Niall felt as guilty as he ever had before for leaving, for coming back, and he wished the ground would open up and swallow him. He wished it had been a dream and that he could wake up. He wished that this wasn’t the Harry he had to see. It was his fault and he didn’t want to think that Harry had been this much of a mess for all those years.

“I don’t,” Niall said quietly into the silence. “I don’t demand it back; I don’t want to pretend it didn’t happen.” His voice was low, faulty. “I’m not asking for anything. I’m sorry, I just love you. I wanted you to know that. I wanted to tell you that I love you.” He shifted on the chair and began fiddling with his fingers.

“Then why did you leave me?” Harry looked up, face flushed and swollen. “Why?”

“It’s a long story, Harry,” Niall replied.

“Of course it is,” Harry snorted, looking away from Niall, then back to him. “It’s always been something in you, the secret that you’re keeping form me. You said you’d tell me, but you never did. You left before you could, and you took your secret with you.”

“It’s complicated.”

“Then explain!” Harry shouted. “Tell me; give me the explanation you owe me. If it’s complicated, explain it. I’m not going anywhere.”

Niall was silent for a while, considering. Harry was right; Niall did owe him an explanation.

“My name isn’t Niall.” Harry’s head shot up and he looked at Niall, confused and surprised. “I mean, it is.” Niall ran a hand through his hair, as he realized he was confusing Harry even more. He sighed deeply before continuing. “It’s just, people back home used to call me a different name. Don’t worry,” he said in response to the almost scared look Harry was giving him, “I’m not a criminal or something.” He laughed a bit before shifting in the chair. “My name is James Horan, not Niall Gallagher. That’s what they called me back home. Do you remember Nathan Sykes?” He waited for Harry’s nod before continuing. “I met him six years ago, and that’s where it started.”

Niall told him. He told him everything about Nathan, the contract, the engagement, and running away. He told him that if Nathan found him, he would never leave him alone. He told Harry about Italy, about Zayn, about Australia, about Liam and Louis. He told him about his and Liam’s breakup and coming back. “And here I am, asking you for one more chance,” he finished, lips drawn into a thin line, hands clasped together.

“I can’t.” Harry shook his head, trying to suppress the erratic beats of his heart, raging in his chest. “It’s been years, four long years. You can’t come back and tell me you were with other people and ask for another chance. I can’t. I can’t even think straight right now. I’m not even sure if you’re real and I’m not dreaming again. I’m not sure about anything right now and I’m certainly not in a position to make any decisions.” He scrubbed at his face with a hand and sighed deeply before looking at Niall again.

“I understand,” he said, words having to be forced out. “I’m not asking you to take me back right now. I’m asking for you to try, to let us work things out. I love you and I always have, and I’m sure that whatever happens or whoever comes into our lives,” he paused, fighting the sad smile that was working its way to his face, “you’re my endgame.” He knew Harry wouldn’t say anything when he finished, as they were both way too tired for that. “It’s getting late. I should go now.” Harry nodded and didn’t follow Niall when he stood and walked to the all too familiar hallway.

“Niall,” Harry called out. Niall turned around to see Harry sitting in the same spot, not looking at him, hand once again running along the rim of the cup. “Your room upstairs is still empty.”

Niall couldn’t help the huge grin spreading across his features.

Harry led him upstairs. His room was still the same; purple curtains still hung loosely above the old window and the room itself still smelled like damp wood, a scent that reminded him of the happy days he spent on the bed next to Harry.

The next day, Anne and Robin came back to the farm, and Anne hugged him, rubbing his face like she couldn’t believe he was real. Robin hugged him and gave him a smile that said he wasn’t going to be forgiven so easily, and Niall didn’t blame him.

Harry didn’t speak to Niall for two days, aside from instructing him and telling him what had changed when Niall tried to work with the animals. But Niall did catch him staring many times in those forty eight hours, just looking at Niall from the bench next to the hencoop or the window of the farmhouse.

On the third day Harry helped him move bags full of hay and laughed at a joke Niall told. A week later Harry sat next to him on the stairs at night and brought him beer. They talked a little about Harry’s life for the last four years.

“Nothing much, you know?” he said, beer swinging between two fingers. “Cleaning horses, hoeing the field, taking care of the vineyard, feeding chickens. I was Lucas’ best man. Mark got hit by a car a year ago and Robin had a heart attack from nerves. He can’t work much anymore, so I have to be the man of the house.” Harry shrugged, bringing the bottle to his lips, not yet drinking from it, and he looked into the darkness of the woods.

He warmed up to Niall after that. They fooled around like before, when Niall first came to the farm, even went to the pub together and Niall sang there again.

One day Anne sent him to Harry’s room while the boy was taking a nap, to get him to help her with weights.

Niall hesitantly stepped into Harry’s room, sweaty hand gripping the doorknob before he tiptoed to the bed. He saw his snapback on the nightstand, worn and dirty, the fabric ripped along the rim. Above Harry’s bed was a picture of them at the summer carnival, eyes looking into the lens, the wide smiles on their faces shining brighter than the lights in the background.

“Harry,” Niall said quietly, shaking his arm a little. “Hey, wake up.”

“Mmm,” Harry groaned. “Whatcha doing Sunshine?” He said the exact words he’d said when Niall left him, and the moment flashed before Niall’s eyes. Harry had been just like this, voice raspy from sleep, accent thicker, cheeks flushed and his hand moving to pull Niall onto the bed.

“Waking you up,” Niall whispered softly in Harry’s ear. “Anne’s calling you.”

Harry yawned widely and opened his eyes, looking at Niall where he sat on the edge of the bed. “You know, last time you were here you left for four years.” Harry shifted to lie more comfortably on his back. “Are you planning on running away again?” Niall shook his head and moved his hand a bit closer to where Harry’s arm was resting.

“You still have it,” he said, picking up his snapback and looking at it, then to Harry.

“Yeah. I wear it sometimes, when I miss you.” Niall didn’t miss the sleepy, red cheeks flaming a bit more and he certainly didn’t miss his own heart pounding a little faster at the confession. “You still have it,” Harry said, raising his hand to Niall’s neck, where the silver chain rested, the rabbit pendant hanging from the end. His knuckles brushed Niall’s skin and he couldn’t help the hitch in his breath.

“Yeah, it brings me luck.” Harry smiled toothily at him.

+

The autumn carnival was two months later and Niall worked hard, decorating the farm in bright colors, and cleans the horses, making their stirrups presentable and shiny. Mark and Gemma came to visit and Gemma brought her three year old son, William, with her. He looked a lot like Harry, with his big curls and wide eyes. Will fell in love with Niall instantly and brought him a red rose from Harry. Niall drank a bit and chatted with everyone he hadn’t seen since he got back.

When it was late and the music got too loud, Niall left to go to his safe spot in the forest, looking at a familiar nest in the tree. Harry found him there, as Niall knew he would. He slipped next to him on the damp ground and passed him a bottle of beer, sitting quietly for a while.

“Six years ago, at this carnival, I first told you I loved you. You jumped on me on the stage, nearly knocking over Mark’s drums, and whispered it back. I knew you meant it. You know why?” He paused, not to give Niall time to answer, but to steady his nerves. “I always showed you off, but you always hid me safely, said I was your secret. When I shouted it to the whole town, you only told me.”

Niall sat still for a while, remembering the memory himself. He’d sat on Harry’s hips with the entire town looking at them and whispered a quiet I love you into his ear, kissing him hard on the lips. It seemed like a movie now, all sunshine and blinding lights, just happiness and no bad memories. He missed it, being you and with Harry, without the history of unfortunate love stories.

“Harry.” Harry was quiet, not saying a word, but thinking hard, and Niall knew that. But he wasn’t sure how much he knew about Harry anymore. This wasn’t the Harry he used to know. He had changed and Niall couldn’t help but blame himself. “Do you still love me?” Harry tensed, taking a long breath. Niall thought he wasn’t ready for it, not ready for I love yous, still hadn’t forgiven him.

Maybe Harry didn’t love him anymore. Maybe Niall had read his eyes wrong, and that gleam didn’t mean anything. He couldn’t blame him if that were the case. He probably wouldn’t either.

Niall’s eyes started to tear up, blurred moonlight shining through the branches. Because Harry was silent, so silent Niall wasn’t sure if he was breathing at all. He wasn’t looking at him, eyes fixed on the pine tree. Niall looked away, down at the bottle between his feet, disappointed and heartbroken again. It’s all over, he thought, letting a tear fall, but fighting back sobs as he didn’t want Harry to know he was crying. Closing his eyes, he thought about where he would go. Canada, probably.

But then there was a brush of knuckles above his cheekbone, a small, gentle touch against his skin. He opened his eyes and Harry was looking at him, eyes watery. He cupped Niall’s cheek and continued to stare at him. Niall felt the same way he did six years ago, on his wedding day, like he was waiting to wake up from an endless nightmare and just run. He couldn’t breathe, fingers craving to hold something. He lost his last change to get a grip on his life and he wants to run away, run from Harry, and never think about how much he fucked up.

He was about to jump to his feet and run away, he felt like he couldn’t breathe and was about to have a panic attack and run, but then Harry was kissing him, and everything stopped for a minute, every worry haphazardly pushed to the back of his mind, and the only thing he could comprehend was the taste of Harry’s lips. He tasted like safety, familiarity, home, and longing. When he pushed back and pecked him again, everything was dizzy in Niall’s world and the only thing that mattered was HarryHarryHarry. Harry pecked Niall again and again, sucking on his upper lip, teeth brushing his cupid’s bow. It was needy, desperate. Their noses brushed and Harry looked him in the eyes.

“I still do, Niall, I still do,” he breathed out, holding Niall’s face in his hands, index finger rubbing at his temple, wet with Niall’s tears. “I could never stop.” He kissed Niall again, making him feel so desired, so loved.

Niall laughed then, and cried, sobs breaking into waves of breathy laughs. He was hysterical, drowning in a happy utopia. His face was a teary mess, he was a mess all over, but Harry smiled at him, just sat and smiled, finally happy. It was like the last four years hadn’t happened and there were no scars on his heart. He stood then and pulled Niall up with him, pressing their palms together. “Welcome back.” He gave Niall’s hand a gentle squeeze and walked them back to the old farm and a new beginning.

Harry slept with Niall that night, just slept, holding onto him tightly, like he might slip away, fade into the night. Harry woke him in the morning with a cheesy line from some old movie.

They worked together on everything, tried to fix everything that had been broke. It wasn’t like before. They had been through a lot and had matured, but there was still a hint of mischief in Harry, and Niall still needed someone to protect him sometimes. Anne said it was a matter of time, and Robin looked at Niall with the same admiration he’d had for him four years ago.

They were okay. They maybe weren’t where they left off, but they would get there soon.

+

Six months later, when spring arrived, they moved to London. Harry hadn’t wanted to move. He thought Nathan would find them and Niall would run again.

“I have my demon to face, once and for all.” Niall said as reassurance and kissed Harry sloppily on the lips.

They rented a small flat there with only one bedroom, and agreed that if they ever fought, Harry would be the one to sleep on the couch. Harry started filling out applications for law school and they opened a little bakery with the help of money Anne had given them. Niall cooked and Harry worked as a barista.

Niall called Liam and Louis occasionally. He found out that they were together, and Liam invited them to their one year anniversary party. Niall told them he was busy with the bakery and Liam promised to visit and meet Harry.

He even saw Zayn once, in a commercial for a great battle in the academy of sport, and Zayn’s named flashed across the screen.

+

Niall and Harry sat in the audience and watched as Zayn fought with a bigger, black fighter. He was furiously throwing punch after punch. Niall had never seen Zayn like that before, as Zayn had never allowed him to go to the battles.

Zayn punched the guy in the jaw, then the abdomen, and with a final hit to the shoulder, he sent his opponent stumbling to the floor. Zayn was announced as the winner, raising his hand in triumph. He was panting and looking around the arena when his eyes fell in Niall.

Niall could hear his heart beat starting to race, bumping against his ribcage with every beat. He smiled and left, reaching for Harry’s hand and dragging him with him.

He met Zayn at the edge of the ring, where he was leaving with a black and gold-embroidered belt thrown over his shoulder. He stood there staring at Niall, who was smiling at him.

“Hello, Zee,” he said quietly.

“Hi, Cookie,” Zayn replied, tone soft and sad. Niall thought for a second that he might miss it, seeing Zayn after a battle, exhausted with a mixture of sweat and blood running down his forehead, flinching every time Niall brought an alcohol-coated cotton swab to the cuts on his skin.

“This is Harry,” Niall gestures to Harry, who is pressed against his back with a shy smile on his face, trying to avoid the awkwardness; he didn’t want Zayn to do something that may hurt all of them.

Zayn reached to shake Harry’s hand with his bandaged, bloody one, and said “I’ve heard a lot about you,” causing Niall to blush.

“How are you?” Niall asked, keeping himself distanced, safe for everyone.

“Aside from the agonizing pain, I’m okay,” Zayn said, trying to get a laugh, but he flinched at his own chuckle. At least one rib broken, Niall thought. “Are you happy?” Zayn asked then, looking at Niall and ignoring the yells of his coach.

“Yeah, I am,” Niall said, reaching for Harry’s hand. It sounded selfish, he knew, but he also knew that Zayn would understand.

“I’m fine then,” Zayn said, and Niall couldn’t stop himself from letting go of Harry’s hand and hugging Zayn, because there was a cookie shaped tattoo on his chest, below his collarbone, and just above his heart. For others, it must have looked ridiculous – a first class boxer with a cookie tattoo – but for Niall, it was heartbreaking.

“I’m sorry,” he murmured into Zayn’s sticky neck, trying to avoid the blood on his skin.

“Don’t be,” Zayn said, squeezing his waist, and Niall just wants to repeat it over and over again, because he could feel just how much Zayn loved him, just as much as Niall loved Harry, and Louis loved Liam.

“I promised to come back.”

“It’s fine,” Zayn murmured, letting Niall go. “You were never meant to be mine.” Niall stood silently, watching Zayn look at him, and he remembers the first time they kissed, and seeing a photo of a purple-faced Nathan on the first page of a magazine. Niall still hadn’t thanked Zayn for that, and he probably never would, because this wasn’t the time for that. But then Zayn’s coach approached, whispering something into his ear, and Zayn nodded, then looked at Harry.

“Yeah?” he asked, and Niall could hear the rest of the sentence without Zayn even having to say it. Take care of him, yeah?

“Yeah,” Harry agreed, and Niall’s heart ached.

Zayn stepped forward and kissed Niall’s forehead, lingering, a hand on his scalp, brushing his hair back before he left, disappeared into the crowd of screaming men.

The next day, Niall started cooking chocolate cookies with blood-red frosting and called them Zee’s Cookies. Harry didn’t say anything, just smiled and squeezed his hand.

Time passed and they settled down, Harry finally making his dream come true and passing university. Niall’s dreams came true, too; he had Harry by his side, and that was all he wanted, all he needed.

Niall went down London’s streets and didn’t fear that Nathan may be somewhere near the café where they first met, because he had Harry by his side, and Harry was stronger than any monster hiding in the closet. Niall thought he might even thank Nathan if he ever saw him again. He wouldn’t have met Harry if he hadn’t run away, and life without Harry sounded like hell itself.