|Fic: Take The Edge Off (One Direction, OT5, Explicit, 17k)
||[May. 18th, 2012|05:08 am]
I like you.
gigantic, who has leant her time and home to let me hang around and write this and read bits out loud to her these past few weeks, and then let me come over tonight and stay until literally 3:30 in the morning so I could finish it and she could read it along the way and tell me it was good. Thank you also to violentfires for encouragement along the way, and the 3point5seats girls who looked forward to reading this, and have been there as we all fell down this rabbit hole together. ♥ Hope you all enjoy.So, it's my birthday today! A few years ago in bandom I posted a story on my birthday, and it was really awesome to get comments that day (like presents!) so I thought I would try that this year. Um, except then I had a lot of feelings so this ended up super long. Loudest of love to |
Title: Take The Edge Off
Fandom: One Direction
Pairing: OT5 (Niall/Harry/Louis/Liam/Zayn)
Summary: Who knew what secret gay feelings might be lurking about in the hearts of boys?
Notes: This LJ is mostly for fic, I do the majority of my fannish posting at Tumblr!
Disclaimer: This is fiction.
Word Count: 17,579
“It’s all your fault,” is the first thing that comes out of Niall’s mouth when Harry and Louis walk in on him wanking, naked and spread out on the bed with the Spanish sunshine coming in through the windows. He curls in on himself a bit, but he was really close, just a few tugs off finishing, and he’ll be goddamned if he’s going to stop now. Why aren’t they leaving, anyhow? Niall doesn’t think he’s ever seen Harry’s mouth so pink, all rounded in shock like he’s never seen a hard dick in his life, which is bullshit because the whole reason things even started to feel urgent enough to sneak off was how Harry and Louis were climbing all over each other in the sea, dragging each other under and then rolling around on the shore. It had been hot, and Niall wasn’t made of stone, and every minute had been so tense that all the feelings had just gone all jumbled in his head, and now they’re standing there staring at him like it’s a normal thing lads do, watch each other wank, which it isn’t, Niall’s pretty sure. “The two of you,” Niall continues, “all over each other out there.”
And all over each other in here, as a matter of fact. Louis’ arm is still looped around Harry’s waist, the two of them pressed up close together in the doorway in their swim trunks. Niall hadn’t even been aware that he’d had an interest in guys until a couple of weeks ago, and though figuring it out did make his Justin Bieber obsession suddenly a lot more understandable, it was sort of new and weird and still possibly situational. They were a cuddly bunch, this brand new band he’d found himself stuffed into, and it was hot in Marbella, and he’d had a lot more naked skin pressed to his own in the last week than he was normally used to.
“That’s for us, then?” Louis asks, gesturing toward Niall’s cock.
“What is this, a porno?” Harry says to Louis, turning to him with a look of disbelief like it’s the dialogue that’s really making this whole scene strange.
“Bit of one, yeah,” says Louis, inclining his head in the direction of Niall’s naked body. Niall finally lets go of his dick with a sigh. He sprawls back out onto the bed.
“Did you two want something or did you just come in here to stare at me?” Niall asks, fighting the urge to roll over onto his stomach and hide. Too late, anyway, they’ve seen it. He wonders what they thought about it.
“My robe’s gone missing,” Harry says. “We thought we’d see if you had an extra. Should I get naked too, so you don’t feel self-conscious?”
“You’re so thoughtful, Harry,” says Louis, looking at him with a fond smile. He squeezes Harry’s shoulder. Niall’s dick, which had mostly given up on this situation by now, begins to stir again. Harry beams back at Louis.
“What’s with the two of you?” Niall asks. “Am I wrong? Are you just flirting or are you a proper couple?”
“A couple,” Louis says, rolling the word around in his mouth like he’s contemplating the taste of it. He pulls Harry in closer to him, facing each other so their hips bump together. “I wouldn’t say we’re a couple, would you?” he asks Harry.
“We’ve only cuddled,” says Harry, shrugging. “We have to kiss to be a couple, don’t we?”
“You’ve already forgotten our night beneath the stars? The candlelight, the crying, the gentle sound of birds over the sea?” Louis says, raising a hand to his heart, giving Harry a stricken look. Niall rolls his eyes. He’s naked and now he thinks about it, he’s getting stressed out again. He needed that wank. He considers just asking them to stand there for a bit and not talk, maybe exchange a caress or two. That’s what mates do for each other, right, help out when someone’s having a sexual curiosity crisis? Something like that? Back in Ireland they’d get him nice and drunk and have a chat about it. He likes this a bit better, though, because Louis is quite weird but he’s fit, with the sort of stomach that Niall would like to have if he could be fucked to work for it. Niall likes looking at him, is the point, and Harry’s not bad on the eyes either. He gives up on getting any real answers from them and rolls over, shaking a bit of sand free from his hair.
Harry looks up at the ceiling like he might find answers there. “I think I’d remember the gentle sound of birds,” he says.
“Sweet young Harold,” Louis says softly. He rubs his thumb over Harry’s cheek. If this is only flirting, then Niall would like to see how they actually romance each other. It must be some Disney-level shit, bursting into song and animals chattering in joy and all that. Harry giggles a little, and Niall can perfectly picture little cartoon hearts popping up around his curly head.
“Still here,” Niall says, just in case they forgot. “Still naked,” he adds. He bunches up some of the comforter into a pillow for his head, and looks at them.
“Right, yeah,” Harry says, like he’d needed the reminder. He shrugs out of Louis’s grasp and then, like it’s nothing, just pushes his swim shorts down and off and walks over naked to the bed. Niall’s in the exact middle and he likes it there, so he doesn’t move, but there’s room enough still for Harry to lie down beside, which he does. Niall tries not to stare blatantly at his dick, but then gives up and decides to just do it, because why not? Harry’s clearly a bit mad, so it can’t hurt to get in a peek before whatever he decides to do next. Probably cartwheel off the balcony and fly into the sun, given how cracked he seems already. “There, now Louis’s the odd one out,” Harry says, like that had ever been the issue. “C’mere, you’re a bit stressed, aren’t you? It’s mad, like, all this pressure.” He opens his arms, and Niall edges closer to him. Harry’s skin is hot, like he’s absorbed some of the sun and kept it inside, and it feels quite nice to touch him, with the breeze coming through the windows, cool at Niall’s back. He slips a leg between Harry’s, and when Harry doesn’t object to it, he lets himself settle.
Louis’s still in the doorframe looking at them like they’ve both grown a few new heads, but that’s his problem. “Since when is naked cuddling on offer?” he asks finally. “I didn’t even know that was an option. I feel like you’re cheating on me.”
“Can’t be cheating if we’re not a couple,” Harry says. He sets his curled fist in the center of Niall’s back, a comfortable weight. Niall’s trying not to get hard, but he’s not really putting his best efforts into it. “Can’t be a couple if we’re not kissing.”
“Is that the rule?” asks Niall. “Does it work the same in reverse?”
“No, you can kiss each other and still not be a couple,” Louis answers. He’s stepped into the room and shut the door behind him, but his hand’s still hovering near the doorknob like he might bolt.
Niall feels fingers on his jaw, and lets Harry tilt his face up to look at him. This close Harry’s eyes are green and huge, and Niall figures this is as good a time as any to see if kissing a guy is nice or not. What’s the naked dude cuddling him going to do, anyway, push him away? He closes his eyes too soon, so their noses bump, but the kiss lands after a second, Harry’s lips warm on his. It’s not super different than kissing a girl. There’s a bit of salt sting when Niall opens his mouth, on Harry’s tongue like he’s swallowed seawater, but it feels alright. He moves against Harry, rubbing against him a little, and Harry sighs and kisses him a little harder.
“That wasn’t a suggestion,” Louis says, sounder closer than before, and also much more irritated. Niall feels a cool hand on his ankle, and it startles him enough to pull away. Niall blinks at Harry, then up at Louis. He feels a bit drunk, like he got too much sun exposure. Harry’s a fine kisser. Niall could stand to go in for seconds. “You have a thing for Irish boys, is that it?”
“No, just boys,” Harry says. “You idiot. If you wanted to kiss me yourself, you could have said.”
Niall reclines onto his back, too warm now, mildly frustrated. He didn’t really sign up for gay drama.
“I didn’t even know - “ Louis starts, then cuts himself off, “fine, alright. But I’m keeping my clothes on, I can’t keep up with fast girls like you.”
“Well, I was naked already,” Niall points out, not really offended. Louis ignores him and leans down into Harry’s space. He kisses Harry hard enough that it seems like he’s trying to make a point. According to the clock they’ve got fifteen minutes until it’s dinnertime for everyone in the house. Niall needs to wash the sea salt out of his hair, and probably turn the water slightly cool to take care of his semi. Harry and Louis are full-on snogging now, a proper makeout, and Niall’s starting to feel a little like he’s intruding.
He moves to roll off of the other side of the bed, and Louis shoots out his hand to grab Niall around the wrist. “For fuck’s sake,” Niall says. Now that he’s remembered dinner’s nearly on, his stomach’s started growling.
“Bit of a matchmaker, are you?” Louis says, having pulled away from Harry, who’s fully hard and looks a bit like he’s been hit by a train.
Niall pulls away, still rather disgruntled. “I was just trying to have a wank,” he says. “Now there’s no time for one, dinner’s on soon.”
“Later,” Louis says. It’s barely a question, but it’s still the first time that Niall’s heard him sound even vaguely unsure. “Would you help me out with Harry, here? Seems like you know what you’re doing.”
“Mate, I haven’t got a clue what I’m doing,” Niall says, shaking his head. It’s true as anything he’s ever said at this point, though he thinks, at least, that this’ll be a hell of an interesting footnote to his X Factor time, whether they make it through or not.
“Stay, Niall,” Harry says. He reaches out and touches his fingertips to Niall’s collarbone, hooking in a bit like he means to pull him closer. It’s that still overwhelmed look on Harry’s face, the way he seems like he couldn’t quite handle Louis alone if Niall left, that does it. “Just kiss me a bit more,” Harry says, begging almost. Niall sets the backs of his fingers to Harry’s flushed cheek and gives him what he wants, kissing Harry warmly on the mouth. He can feel Louis near them, going to his knees at the bedside and starting to touch Harry’s cock, starting to jerk him off. It’s weirdly comforting, knowing he doesn’t have to go that far yet. Not that he doesn’t want to touch Harry like that, and Louis too, but it’s a bit much. This whole situation’s a bit much, but it’s nicer to think about Harry’s tongue in his mouth than it is to worry about whether or not they’ll get their song together well enough to advance.
This could be the only chance they ever have to do this, any of this, he realizes - he’s grown to like these lads so much in such a short span of time, he doesn’t want to leave them all behind just yet. Harry gasps out against his mouth, and shakes beneath him, and Niall tangles a hand in Harry’s curls and kisses his jaw, his throat, the hot skin over his pounding pulse.
“That’s right, Harry,” Louis says, and Niall pulls away to watch Harry come across his own stomach. He blinks at the sight of it. Doesn’t really seem fair that he came in for a wank and ended up watching someone else get off instead, but there are worse outcomes, he supposes. Harry’s coming down already, shivering as Louis traces fingertips over his stomach.
“All right?” Niall asks. Louis quirks an eyebrow at him. “I might have a shower.”
Louis nods, and he smiles suddenly, big and bright. The sight of it makes Niall relieved, somehow, though he hadn’t been aware he was worried before.
“Good idea,” says Harry. “Hey, do you’ve an extra robe I can borrow?”
Of course it hadn’t all come out of nowhere. That week in Harry’s stepdad’s place in Cheshire had been a grand idea, even though it had ended up being less about learning to sing together and more about figuring out each other’s quirks and whether they could all get along as bandmates. Getting the chemistry right, Niall supposed, that had been the important thing. And they’d definitely gotten it right, the chemistry. Too right, maybe, if there was such a thing. Niall reckoned that there might have been a place to draw the line with all the touching, but no one seemed to ever draw it, not the first night where they all got scared by a cow (or a murderer, jury’s still out) outside and dragged their mattresses onto the floor to sleep close together, or the third when Niall ended up bunking with Harry and discovering in short order that: a. Harry slept quite close to whomever he shared a bed with, and b. Harry slept naked. Very, very naked. And probably someone should have said no when Harry suggested they go skinny-dipping at midnight, but instead they’d just all ended up slipping into the water as bare as anything, huddling close until they got used to the temperature and then staying there, all bunched up in the corner, legs brushing when they kicked out to keep their circulation up.
Afterward they’d slipped their shorts on to dry off by the fire, but Niall had still felt naked, still felt the stars on him, as if they’d drifted down from the sky and landed on their bare shoulders like smoke from fireworks, clinging on. Liam had brushed some of the water droplets from Niall’s back, his fingertips a warm surprise but not his smile, familiar already. Liam’s hair had curled back up from the water, and that was the first time that Niall had noticed how good-looking he was. They were all a cute bunch, as teenage boys went, Niall had definitely gotten that impression from the judges, but Liam wasn’t obviously handsome like Zayn or Louis, or charming like Harry, so Niall had sort of missed it, Liam’s sweetness, the way it shown through in his smile. He was noticing it now, though.
“Right lads, back in before you all catch your deaths,” Liam had said, and once they all got into their pajamas or in Harry’s case back into his skin, Niall made it a point to crawl into Liam’s bed before Zayn got there and claimed the other side. In the morning Liam brought him tea without even making him get up first.
Harry and Louis had been particularly aggressive about making the whole business into a cuddle party with the occasional musical number. At first Niall thought that they were just trying to challenge each other to see who would back off first, like they were playing an intense and never-ending game of gay chicken. It went on and on, until it seemed like they spent most of their time spooning each other no matter if they were lying down or not. It was as they were waiting in line at KFC, Harry leaning back into Louis’ body as Louis nuzzled his neck, that it finally occurred to Niall that they might actually be flirting, that he might not be the only boy on the planet to ever think that he might like both girls and boys, or even, more to the point, the only boy in this band.
From then on he kept an exceedingly close eye on the both of them, ready to notice if they so much as slipped off to be alone together and came back all mussed up, but they never did. At least he never caught them, anyway. Besides, he was increasingly feeling like if the two of them were fooling around, then they would do so in full and clear view of the rest of them, just the same as they openly serenaded each other with pop songs, Harry answering Louis’ stirring rendition of Coldplay’s Green Eyes with I Want To Hold Your Hand, a performance so teeth-achingly sweet that Zayn requested that Harry teach him how to be romantic and Liam offered to be their best man with far more sincerity than sarcasm.
Harry’s methods of teaching romance seemed to be limited to singing while being handsome, but Zayn didn’t seem to mind too terribly when Harry sat at his feet, his arms folded on Zayn’s knees as he gazed up into Zayn’s eyes and launched into a slow jams version of Girls Aloud’s Love Machine.
“Can I just be the best man at someone’s wedding?” asked Liam plaintively afterwards.
“You can be the groom in mine,” Louis said, giving Liam quite the cheekiest wink Niall had ever seen. “Since it seems mine has left me behind so soon.”
“I’ve just got so much love to give,” Harry said, as if were the most tragic condition. “I can’t help myself.” He hid his face against Zayn’s thighs, shoulders rising and falling in a deeply felt sigh. Zayn ran his fingers through Harry’s curls and then let his hand rest there atop Harry’s head.
That might have been the moment to have everyone sit in a circle and take turns rating their sexuality on a scale of straight as planks to gay as Christmas, but instead Niall decided to start singing The Cardigans’ Lovefool, which led to Harry and Liam joining him on backup vocals and Louis joining him on the floor, echoing an occasional line with his chin resting on Niall’s shoulder, so if nothing else they did get a good chance to work on their harmonies.
So it wasn’t like there hadn’t been a precedent already for a lack of personal space and a fondness for cuddling, but as far as Niall knew that had been the first incident of inter-band naked touching. Explicitly sexual naked touching, anyway, because that did have to be clarified. Dinner’s not awkward at all, which Niall hadn’t expected it would be, though he does find himself glancing sidelong at Liam and Zayn more than usual, wondering if they could tell something had happened, or even if they had something going on as well. The world had opened up, now he had proof that he wasn’t the only one who might like a bit of same-sex fooling around, and as far as he was concerned everyone was now at least a bit queer until explicitly proven otherwise. Zayn had been awfully irritable when Niall had dared to share a bed with Liam, now that he thought back to it. Who knew what secret gay feelings might be lurking about in the hearts of boys?
The sun’s gone down by the time it’s just the five of them again, the moon brightening by degrees above the beach where they’re sitting. They’d built up a fire to relax around after three hours of practice after dinner, and Niall’s methodically making his way through a sack of marshmallows, piercing each one onto a stick and toasting them to a perfect golden brown before plucking them off, the fingerprint burn worth it for each burst of hot sugar in his mouth. He’s the best at it, Harry keeps lighting his on fire and then lighting the stick on fire and then panicking and smacking the burning marshmallow into the sand and stomping it out until the danger’s passed and he’s got marshmallow innards all over the soles of his sandals. Liam requisitions the stick from him after one time too many, so Harry’s now making his way around the circle, nuzzling up against whomever has the nicest looking marshmallow. Niall’s in such a fine mood that he almost lets Harry take one from him, but then changes his mind at the last minute and takes it between his lips.
There’s this gleam in Harry’s eye, suddenly, that Niall doesn’t understand until Harry’s moving in and in and in, one hand on Niall’s shoulder as he grins and then sinks his teeth into the half of warm marshmallow still sticking out of Niall’s mouth and bites it away. It’s melty enough that the two halves don’t immediately separate, so Harry just loops a finger into the sticky sugar and winds it around until it breaks away. Niall swallows only to stop himself choking, but he sort of chokes on air anyway when Louis leans over Harry’s shoulder and sucks Harry’s finger clean.
On the other side of the fire, Zayn and Liam are staring at them, mouths open just enough to edge on comical. A wave crashes on the shore. Niall licks his lips. He takes another marshmallow from the bag, the rustling plastic loud in the quiet, and stabs it through with his stick.
“Questions?” says Louis. “Comments?”
“I’d like the marshmallows when you’re done with them, Niall,” says Zayn.
Liam scratches his head. “Was it just me, or did things suddenly get quite sexy?”
“I think that was about as sexy as usual, don’t you, Harry?” Louis says.
“No, that was definitely sexier than usual,” Zayn says. He’s got his hand out for the sack of marshmallows. Niall hands it to him, and lets their fingertips brush in a way that’s unexpectedly deliberate. “I think I’d notice if things had been that sexy before.”
“Yes,” says Liam, and then again, more emphatically, “yes.”
“So what you’re saying is,” Louis says slowly, “is that you’ve been keeping track of how sexy we are.” He points at Liam, and then at Zayn. Liam looks behind him, as if someone else might be standing there, taking notes on their varying levels of sexy. “Maybe keeping a running tally of sexy incidents.” He narrows his eyes. “A chart,” he says, like that’s the final straw.
“No - what?” Liam shakes his head. “No chart. I’d just noticed, you know, things. Like when we got scared at your stepdad’s place, Harry, and we all curled up together on the floor, I didn’t think that all the snuggling there was necessary - not that I didn’t enjoy it! I did! - but then when I woke up, Zayn was so close to me, and it was sort of, you know. And there were other times,” he rushes on, avoiding Zayn’s eyes.
“You were awake for that?” Zayn asks, his voice pitched higher than Niall had previously heard it.
“And while we were sleeping so innocently right next to you,” Louis says, shaking his head as if terribly disappointed by their heretofore unknown perversions. Now Liam had brought it up, Niall did vaguely recall looking over at one point and seeing Zayn and Liam’s heads awfully close together on their pillows. He’d thought it was cute at the time.
From the corner of his eye Niall sees Harry start to shiver a little in the cooling evening. When Harry moves closer to the fire, Niall taps his arm with a knuckle and spreads his bent knees, jerking his head to indicate Harry should join him. Harry flashes him a grin and shuffles over, tucking himself into Niall so his back is to Niall’s chest. Niall wraps his arms around Harry’s waist and rests his chin on Harry’s shoulder, sighing. It’s quite as nice as he expected it would be, sitting like this. He closes his eyes briefly, enjoying the warmth, and when he opens them again it’s to find the rest of the boys staring at them.
“What’s that, then?” Zayn asks, seeming still eager to get everyone’s minds off of any transgressions committed in Cheshire. “That’s sexy too!”
“More loving, really,” says Liam, frowning a bit. “I think it’s very sweet.”
“It is very sweet,” Harry confirms. He squeezes Niall’s knee. Niall turns his face a bit to kiss Harry’s temple and gets foiled by a face full of curls instead, but as he holds back a sneeze, he figures it’s the thought that counts.
“It’s romantic,” Zayn says, in a tone that Niall feels is unnecessarily accusatory. “Are you two in a romance? Is that what’s going on?”
“I’ve been getting that question a lot lately,” says Harry. “I’ve got to work on all this animal magnetism.” He shakes his head at himself, his whole posture radiating sorrow.
“I’m in a romance,” Louis announces. Niall raises his eyebrows at him, watching as Louis gets up, makes his way around the fire, and drapes himself around Liam’s shoulders. “Liam and I have something very special. Special and sexy. Incredibly sexy.” He slides his hand from Liam’s knee in further to his inner thigh, staring at Harry.
Liam’s gone still, like a man who’s locked eyes with a snake in the grass. Louis nuzzles Liam’s neck, and then bites down.
“Now wait a moment,” Zayn says. He flails his arms around a little, but when that doesn’t make Louis let go, he takes his marshmallow stick and hits Louis with it, square on the shoulder. Louis startles back with a cry and dives away, putting Liam between the two of them. He clutches Liam’s shoulder.
“Oi, let’s not have things get violent,” Harry says, making as if to pull forward. Niall doesn’t let him, just squeezes his arms tighter around Harry’s waist. Across the fire, Liam’s got one hand over where Louis bit his neck, and the other around Louis, comforting him.
Ignoring Harry’s wriggling, Niall says, “No, let’s see what happens. Early in the evening for bloodshed, lads.”
“Louis hurt Liam,” Zayn says, looking as offended as if he were the lovebitten party. He’s gotten back in close, pushing Liam’s hand away to examine the mark on his neck. It’s nothing, Niall can’t even really see it in the firelight. Still, Zayn strokes his thumb over it like it’s the crushed petal of a precious flower or something like that. He leaves his hand on Liam’s neck when he glares over at Louis.
“It was sexy hurting,” Louis mutters. “I’m sorry, Liam.” He puts his head on Liam’s shoulder, all dejected penitence. Niall rolls his eyes.
“It was a bit sexy, really,” Liam says. He sounds surprised to hear the words come out of his mouth. “No one’s ever done that to me before.”
“Alright,” says Harry. He claps his hands together, startling Niall out of his almost zoned-out focus on the ridiculousness in front of him. “I’ve a theory I’d like to test. Who here is a virgin?” He raises his own hand, and then looks expectantly at the rest of them.
There’s something about Harry’s complete lack of shame about it, the way he doesn’t even blush, that makes Niall fall in love with him a little bit, suddenly and briefly. The feeling passes, and then he’s just good-looking Harry Styles who Niall likes as a person and also is excited to kiss again, but Niall is left inspired. He raises his hand as well.
Zayn shrugs, after a moment, and raises his hand. Louis and Liam look at each other, and then at the rest of them. “I lost mine last year,” Liam volunteers.
“When I was sixteen,” Louis says, looking at the sand.
“Alright,” Harry says, nodding. “Who here likes boys as well as girls?” He raises his hand.
Well, this seems like a particularly pointless situation in which to lie. Niall raises his as well.
“Likes boys…how?” Liam asks.
“Like mates, yeah?” says Zayn, raising his hand. “Or like. Like maybe if you could say a guy is fit or not. Like you could see how a girl might like him.”
“Yeah, that makes sense. I could see how girls might like all of us.” Liam nods. He raises his hand.
Louis is still staring at the sand at his feet. Harry stretches his leg, and nudges Louis’ toe with his own. “Louis? Did you want to raise your hand as well?”
“I might,” Louis says slowly. “I might not like girls. I’m not really entirely sure, but. I think. Perhaps just boys.”
“Oh!” says Liam. “Do you mean you’re gay, then? Wait, this was a gay question?”
“More of a bisexual one, really,” says Harry. “The question swung both ways.”
“Good for you, Louis,” Liam says, hugging Louis close. “I’m glad you came out to us. We love you no matter what.”
“Yeah!” Zayn says. He moves in to hug Louis as well. “Sorry I hit you with a stick.”
“It’s alright,” Louis says, his voice muffled a little, buried in the hug. It isn’t another moment before Harry’s up, with Niall behind him, and they’re joining in the group hug wrapped around Louis. Niall closes his eyes, appreciating the moment. Once he does, it all hits him; he rather loves these guys already, all of them, and in this moment he can’t imagine anything more crushingly awful than not making it through to the live shows. Leaving this behind would be worse than failure. This is about Louis, though, so he doesn’t say anything, just lets the hug go until its natural conclusion.
Once they pull back, it’s not far. They all stay huddled close to Louis, to each other. Niall’s knees are resting against Harry’s and Liam’s, and all their hands are still on each other, keeping in contact, no one disconnected from anyone. It’s good, sitting this close, sharing warmth. Niall’s never had anything like this before.
“So that was a gay question, then,” Zayn says. It breaks the tension, and they all laugh. Liam hides his face in Niall’s shoulder, giggling.
“Bisexual,” Harry corrects him, grinning widely. “Curious, even. It’s a spectrum, human sexuality.”
“You’re quite smart,” Louis says, an edge of suspicion in his tone. “Where did you learn about all this stuff?”
“Wikipedia,” Harry says.
“A spectrum?” Zayn asks. “Like you might be somewhere in the middle? Not just straight or gay?”
“I knew some bisexual girls in school,” Liam says. “They were quite nice.”
“You’ll be LGBT Ally of the Year at this rate, Liam,” Harry says. He reaches across Niall and pats Liam’s knee. “It’s like, there are different ways you can be, right? Like you might be mostly straight, except sometimes you get a crush on a guy. Or you could mostly date guys romantically, but sometimes sleep with girls. There’s lots of ways to be, it’s very interesting. I’m not quite sure where I am yet, but I do know I like both girls and boys.”
“Me too,” Niall offers. He isn’t quite sure where he is on that spectrum either. Faced with a choice between Justin Bieber or Demi Lovato, he might just seize up and die.
“I’ve only really dated girls,” says Liam, after a moment. “But I think I might - I’d be interested to try, I suppose. Just to see.”
Zayn looks up at the stars, and keeps on staring at them as he says, “Me too. Except I did like a guy once.”
“I think we’ve all come out to each other tonight,” Niall says. “That’s really cool.”
“Yeah, it is,” says Harry.
They all go in for another group hug. It feels even better than the last one.
“Early morning tomorrow,” Liam says finally. “We should all go to bed, don’t you think? Rest up.“
They grumble but rise, gathering their things and snuffing out the fire. It’ll be another long day tomorrow, practicing and soaking up the sunshine. Niall’s getting quite a nice tan for a change, instead of burning up as usual. He chooses to take is as a sign that this trip is blessed, and that they’ll definitely make it through.
On the way back in, Niall bumps Harry’s shoulder. “What was your theory, anyway?” Niall asks him.
“Oh,” Harry says. “Well, I had a theory that if I asked questions then you’d tell me the answers. I was right.”
Niall nods, because fair enough. “Yeah, alright.”
They exchange smiles, and before they all break apart to go to their separate rooms, Harry grabs Niall’s hand and squeezes it, just once. “Tomorrow, yeah?” Harry says.
“Yeah,” Niall says. Whatever Harry means, Niall agrees with it. Tomorrow. It’ll be a good one.
The next day, Louis gets stung by a sea urchin and has to go into the hospital, which is not a particularly good start. Harry comes back from the hospital looking like death. He repeats what the doctor said, that it’s not very dangerous and probably won’t even require an overnight stay, but Niall’s shaken by it, and so are the rest of them. They’re so close to this, they’re so fucking close, they’ve been getting better at practice every day and, and - Niall doesn’t even realize how long he’s been staring off into space, hiding in the empty workout room next to the window, biting his nails, until he feels warm fingertips on the back of his neck. He closes his eyes and hangs his head for just a second, taking in the unintended comfort of it, then looks back at Zayn.
“We have to try to practice,” Zayn says, looking uncomfortable. “In case it ends up just being the four of us.”
“I’m freaking out, man,” Niall says, the words bursting out of him, sudden and helpless. Once he says it he realizes he’s shaking a bit. He’s honestly not sure who starts it then, if it’s Zayn’s hand on the back of his neck pulling him in close or Niall just moving in on his own, but in a moment Zayn’s hugging him tightly, and Niall’s got his face buried in Zayn’s neck, holding on. It doesn’t even feel like it’s helping, though, it just makes nerves crawl up further into Niall’s throat, like he’s choking as he clutches at Zayn. It can’t just be the four of them, they can’t go through without Louis, and if they don’t go through without Louis they won’t go through at all, and then that’s it, that’s it, that’s it -
“Hey, hey, it’s alright,” Zayn says. With his fingers wound in Niall’s hair he pulls back a little, forcing Niall to look at him. “I swear, we can,” he starts, leaning their foreheads together, close and warm, and Niall loses focus on what he’s saying because up this close Zayn’s eyes are big and dark, as frantic as Niall’s own must be, and his face is hot against the palm of Niall’s hand when he touches it. Niall can’t look at him anymore, so he closes his eyes, and he can’t listen either, in case whatever Zayn says turns out to be lie, so he quiets Zayn with a kiss. Or maybe meets him in one, because Zayn doesn’t seem surprised at all, he just gasps a little and opens to meet him, going with it when Niall backs him up against a wall. Niall’s heart is still pounding, but this, this is what he needed, this is answering his pounding heart.
Zayn’s rougher than anyone he’s ever kissed, scraping his teeth over Niall’s bottom lip, and Niall thinks, suddenly, of what it would be like to kiss Louis, or Liam, how it would compare to this, how kissing Zayn compares to kissing Harry, how even though they were naked yesterday when he and Harry kissed, this feels so much more like kissing a boy, the slight rasp of stubble on Zayn’s chin, the press of his body against Niall’s. Niall pushes his hands beneath Zayn’s t-shirt to feel the hot skin of his waist and Zayn kisses him even harder, aggressively almost, his tongue pushing into Niall’s mouth and fingers tightening in Niall’s hair, holding him there so Zayn can kiss him like he wants. Zayn gets his hand under Niall’s shirt too, sliding upwards to cup the lower curve of his ribs, and and Niall’s not thinking of anything anymore, anything but this and how good it is, how hot he feels, the give of Zayn’s skin when he digs his fingernails in just the tiniest bit.
The door opens and Zayn jerks back fast enough that he bashes his head against the wall. Niall’s still staring at him, at his reddened, kissed mouth when Liam comes into the frame of his vision and puts his hand on Zayn’s shoulder and turns him a bit so he can see the back of Zayn’s head.
“Are you alright?” Liam demands, leaning in close and ruffling a bit of Zayn’s hair like he’ll be able to uncover an injury that way. “You really knocked yourself good there.”
“Yeah, fine,” says Zayn, though he looks rather dizzy. “It doesn’t hurt that - I’m lying, it hurts like hell.”
Niall straightens his clothes, then his hair, then touches his mouth, wondering how obvious it looks, then quickly takes his hand from his mouth because that probably makes it even more obvious. And does he have something going with Zayn now, or what, what does it even mean anyway to kiss somebody when you’re all rushed up on adrenaline? Niall’s no fucking good at this. He hates stress, stress is the worst, it’s so much easier to just not have anything to worry about, and just like that his heart’s up again and he doesn’t even know why.
“Well, you didn’t have to pull back like you’d been burned, I saw you two kissing through the window,” Liam says, so it least it solves that one, at least they don’t have anything to hide. “I mean unless you had been burned. Niall, did you burn him?”
“No.” Niall touches his mouth again. It does feel pretty warm. “I am quite hot though.”
He doesn’t realize what he’s said until Liam raises an eyebrow at him. “It seems Zayn would agree. Am I the only one not caught up in a romance now?” His words are casual but his voice betrays him, rising at the end into something like a squeak. It seems like he’s going for a huffy look, but instead he just looks sorrowful, like a puppy denied a treat.
“I don’t really know what’s going on, to be honest,” Zayn says. “Niall was upset because of Louis, and then we were - I don’t know, since last night I can’t stop thinking about how we’re all, you know.” He gestures at the air. “Like we are.”
DTF, Niall thinks, but doesn’t voice it, because it’d probably scandalize Liam beyond repair. And anyway it’s a bit crude, he’s not just thinking he’d like to fuck everybody (well, he is now, and now he’s picturing it, and that’s something that’ll need further consideration), but he really likes these guys, and he wants to kiss all of them, too, especially now. Just to see. And maybe it’d be nice to cuddle up a bit more, he could get used to being in close proximity to them all the time, sharing space and heat. He just wants to touch them, he wants to touch everybody now, he’s had a little bit and it’s not enough. It’s not enough.
“I still don’t even know if I’m like that,” Liam says. “How are you two already so sure? Zayn, I thought you’d only liked one boy before? Was it Niall, then?” He looks hurt, for some reason, and Niall blinks at him, not quite - oh.
“It wasn’t Niall,” Zayn says. Niall takes an involuntary step back, even though of course he knew that, of course. He’s just reminded, rather unpleasantly, that it had been Harry and Louis that had wanted each other first, too, and now it seems that Liam and Zayn have something as well that Niall would just be fitting in the middle of, there lurking around the edges. Just as Niall feels a bit of a sulk coming on, Zayn steps up, putting a hand on Niall’s arm. “I didn’t mean it in a bad way or anything, I do want - ah christ, I don’t know what I want.”
“I want to win,” Niall says truthfully, meaning it in every way he can. “C’mere Liam, let’s get you sorted out,” he says, and brings Liam in with a hand on his waist. He gives Liam a moment, the smallest moment to consider what’s about to happen, and then kisses him firmly on his startled mouth. Maybe it’s petty, getting in there before Zayn like he got to Harry just before Louis, but Niall will take what he can, and he wants to take all of it.
Liam doesn’t quite relax, but he does kiss back, his hand rising to touch Niall’s cheek. He’s a good kisser, hesitant but sure once he’s got going. Good enough that for a moment Niall forgets they’re not alone. Liam’s a better kisser than Harry, probably because he’s had more practice.
Niall pulls away first, before he really feels like he’s done with the kiss. He’s gotten what he wanted, for now anyway, and Harry’s probably looking for them. “How was that?” Niall asks Liam. Out of the corner of his eye, he can see Zayn staring at them, mouth parted in shock. “You officially in our ranks?”
“What?” Liam asks, blinking at him. He touches his own mouth, like he’s checking to make sure it’s still there and in good shape.
“He wants to know if that convinced you either way,” says Zayn. He looks at Niall, but there’s less jealousy in it than Niall had expected. He looks grateful, almost. Like he’s glad he didn’t have to be the one to go for it. “If you like boys for sure or not.”
“Well, I liked that,” Liam says, blushing deeply. His voice is steady though, and Niall grins at him, wide and sudden.
“Good lad,” Niall says, slapping him on the back like a teammate who’s made a particularly fine shot. “Let’s go find Harry then, we need to practice in case Louis can’t make it in time for the performance.” He’s no longer particularly worried, though. Somehow, the good bout of snogging had drained away most of his fears.